By Kevin Hodgson
STORY SUMMARY & REVIEW
THE UNSINKABLE WALKER BEAN is a tour de force of storytelling and art as Aaron Renier really nails the whole concept of young boy embarking on an adventure of a lifetime. Unsinkable, indeed. Here, the young Walker Bean is racing against the clock to return a stolen “skull” to the bottom of the ocean before the magical witches who guard their treasure horde come to get the skull.
There are hints of Atlantis in Bean’s quest, metallic creatures that come to life, a crew of pirates who bend the story in strange ways, and elixirs worthy of witchcraft. Added to Bean’s relentless struggle is the fate of his dear grandfather, who has ignored advice and gazed at the skull. As a result, the old man is now bed-ridden, hanging on to life by only a thread. The return of the skull (sealed up in a bag that changes hands every time you blink) is the only hope for saving Bean’s grandfather.
While there are many familiar elements to THE UNSINKABLE WALKER BEAN, the story moves at a quick pace and deftly uses the elements of the 190-page graphic novel to create a large canvas of characters, plot twists and heart-pounding adventure. There is a note about a Book 2 in the future, and I can tell you, I’ll be waiting anxiously for the continuation of the story.
The artwork in THE UNSINKABLE WALKER BEAN is as interesting as the story, from the first page to the last page. Aaron Renier and his colorist, Alec Longstreth, worked to develop a custom palette of 75 colors, which are the only colors they used throughout THE UNSINKABLE WALKER BEAN. This palette gives each page a familiar feel, but also, they expertly use darkness and lightness to great effect for tone in different elements of the story. The book itself is oversized, and Renier uses that scale to his advantage, creating some entire scenes across two pages when the adventure hits an unusually exciting spot. You turn the page, and the story becomes this large canvas of art.
IN THE CLASSROOM
This book would be perfect for a curricular study around adventure and survival stories, as Walker Bean again and again must outwit pirates and magical creatures, and more, to save his grandfather. I also liked that Renier includes some of his earlier sketches of characters and scenes at the end of the novel. This view into the mind of a graphic novelist is valuable and makes the potential of young writers writing and drawing their own stories even more possible.
Reading level: Ages 9-12
Publisher: First Second
I would highly recommend this book, and in fact, I would suggest that it be on the top of any list for book purchases this coming year for middle school classroom, in particular. It may also find a nice home in some high school classrooms for independent reading. There is no profanity to be worried about. There is some violence, but nothing too gory or bloody.