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The Unsinkable Walker Bean

Review

The Unsinkable Walker Bean

written and illustrated by Aaron Renier

THE UNSINKABLE WALKER BEAN falls into a classic genre of children's stories, the not-particularly-tough kid who discovers his true abilities when he is sent on a dangerous quest. The book starts with Walker's grandfather, an admiral, telling him about the two mer-witches who destroyed the city of Atlantis and were banished to the depths of the ocean. Transformed into enormous lobster-like creatures with human heads, they use pearl-covered skeletons to see the past and the future. The magic bones can reveal the future, but anyone who looks upon them risks becoming deathly ill.

The story begins when one of the skulls is stolen and ends up in the admiral's hands. Unable to resist, he peeks inside the cloth bag that covers the skull and is stricken by the curse. The admiral knows that his only chance for survival is to return the skull to its rightful owners, but his son William, a ship captain, and a mysterious doctor (who is obviously phony) are scheming to sell it to a rich man up north. So he summons Walker to his bedside and tells him to go along on the voyage and make sure the skull is returned.

Walker snatches the skull but loses it again when he is assaulted by a mysterious red-headed girl. Pirates raid the town and set it ablaze, and the captain gives chase. The pirates blow up the ship, and Walker goes overboard but is rescued by the youngest member of the pirate crew, a boy named Stiv. It turns out that Genoa, the red-headed girl who assaulted Walker, is also a member of the pirate crew, and while she and Walker are wary of one another at first, they become allies. The mysterious doctor is on the ship as well. Everyone has an interest in the skull, for different reasons, and Walker must draw on all his ingenuity and skill to divert the ship to the mer-witches' home. The stakes get even higher when the pirates realize that the mer-witches are chasing them.

Walker's grandfather has equipped him with a head full of stories and songs and a box with special items, and each of these elements plays a part in the story. As a result, the plot is very tight and there are a lot of "A-ha!" moments as the reader recognizes the significance of an object or incident. The delight is in the details of this story, as well as in watching Walker overcome his timidity to become friends with the pirates and use his ingenuity to get them out of one tight spot after another.

Aaron Renier's art is detailed to the point of being overwhelming at times, but as with the plot, he knits things together visually to tell his story in an elegant way. Younger readers may find the crowded panels overwhelming and the monsters too scary, but anyone who has seen Pirates of the Caribbean can certainly handle this book.

The ending is fairly dramatic but leaves some loose ends; Renier plans this as the first book in a trilogy, although that isn't obvious from the cover, and he clearly has more story to tell.

Reviewed by Brigid Alverson on August 17, 2010

The Unsinkable Walker Bean
written and illustrated by Aaron Renier

  • Publication Date: August 17, 2010
  • Genres: Graphic Novel
  • Paperback: 208 pages
  • Publisher: First Second
  • ISBN-10: 1596434538
  • ISBN-13: 9781596434530