The Unsinkable Walker Bean
Unsinkable Walker Bean
Aaron Renier
ISBN 9781596434530
First Second/Roaring Brook, 2010.
4 ½ stars
Keywords: aaron-renier adventure graphic-format pirates unsinkable-walker-bean

The Unsinkable Walker Bean
by Aaron Renier

Here’s a book that young men and women can both savor. Nothing is quite what it appears to be in this highly imaginative graphic novel. Part pirate tale, part ghost story, Aaron Renier’s lavishly illustrated yarn stars unlikely hero Walker Bean, whose only real champion is his bedridden grandfather—Admiral Bean.  For years, the Admiral has told Walker a bedtime story about Tartessa and Remora, a pair of ocean bottom–dwelling merwitch sisters. The siblings constructed a wall of bone-shaped pearls with which they could view the world above the surface. One of these bones—a skull—goes astray and lands in the hands of a treasure-seeker. Admiral Bean, tempted by the skull’s taunting, took a forbidden look at the merwitches’ errant skull and instantly freed the sisters from their fathoms-deep prison. They’re now pursuing the skull at full throttle. The Admiral sends young Walker out on a mission: to return the skull in order to save his life and the lives of their townspeople.

Walker succeeds in stealing the skull from his grandfather’s men, only to be kidnapped by his grandfather’s alleged physician, Dr. Patches, and pulled aboard a pirate ship! A double-page spread of the pirate ship in midnight blue and velvety purple explodes into golden and orange circular inset scenes that appear like images viewed through a telescope (“POW! BOOM! KRKK!” go the sound effects). Walker comes to and discovers that Shiv, a boy his age, has been keeping him hidden in the bowels of the pirate ship. Neat coincidences unite the boys—Shiv knows the song about Leechi Boura that Walker’s grandfather always sang to him, and recognizes the importance of the travel gifts the Admiral entrusted to his grandson. The hideous gargantuan merwitches finally appear, dwarfing the giant pirate vessel. The author-artist tucks in some highly satisfying details, such as a message-in-a-bottle that really delivers, and rival pirate-gal Gen, who turns out to have a soft spot and a green thumb. The best part of all is that the young protagonists perceive things the adults can’t see (such as Dr. Patches’ despicable character), and they alone—with a little advice from the Admiral—can set things right. This high-seas adventure will hold your teen spellbound.

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