Get Graphic - The Unsinkable Walker Bean by Aaron Renier

Title: The Unsinkable Walker Bean
Author & Illustrator: Aaron Renier
Publisher: First Second
Publication Date: August 2010
Genre: Graphic Novel, Middle Grades, YA

How I Got It: from the library

Goodreads Summary:
Walker Bean never wanted to be a high-seas pirate waging a pitched battle against the forces of the deep. It just worked out that way.

Mild, meek, and a little geeky, Walker is always happiest in his grandfather’s workshop, messing around with his inventions. But when his beloved grandfather is struck by an ancient curse, it falls on Walker to return an accursed pearl skull to the witches who created it—and his path will be strewn with pirates, magical machines, ancient lore, and deadly peril.

Author/illustrator Aaron Renier brings everything he has to this swashbuckling adventure story. Drawing from sources as disparate as Tintin, Treasure Island, and Harry Potter, Renier has woven together a breathless tale that will leave readers’ ears ringing from the cannon-shot and their eyes dazzled from the glowing stares of sea-witches.
I purchased The Unsinkable Walker Bean for students who enjoyed the Tintin books. (The Tintin comics are insanely popular with our elementary and upper school students.) It was supposed to have action, adventure, mystery, magic, and general swashbuckling awesomeness. It delivered.

The story starts out with Walker's grandfather telling him how atlantis was destroyed by giant evil sea creatures, sisters that had the body of a lobster and the head of a woman.  They would suck on the bones of their victims and their magic would coat the bones creating giant creepy magical bone-pearls. The sisters stacked the bone-pearls to create a giant wall in which they could see the past, present, and future. Not just anyone could see into these pearls, the person had to have blood as thick as the witches in order to survive the ordeal. When we next see the grandfather he's green with illness and dying. It seems he's stumbled across one of the bone pearls (in this case a talking skull) in his travels and was cursed when he looked upon it. Grandfather shoved the magic skull in a bag and barely made it home. He wants his Walker's father to take the skull to an island chain and throw it back in the ocean or everyone will be doomed. Walker's father is a greedy drunk and has already lined up a buyer for the skull. The Grandfather knows his son is week and he charges Walker with safeguarding the skull and ensuring that it is returned to the ocean.

Then there are pirates, incompetent navy sailors (Walker's dad is one), crazy inventions, a bad guy that smells like pickles, an AWESOME pirate ship with a garden growing on it, dogs, bears, sword fights, underwater rescues, mayhem... The Unsinkable Walker Bean totally delivered on the action and fun I was looking for. The story is jam packed with ideas and hints at future plots, but it works. 

As great as the story is the illustrations are a style that is hit or miss with my kids. I compare The Unsinkable Walker Bean to the Tintin books, but these illustrations are pretty far from the clean and stylized look of Tintin. Personally I hate the drawing style used in The Unsinkable Walker Bean, can't stand it. A lot of students will flip through the books and I can tell they don't like the pictures, other kids are willing to go with it. I try to point out the great underwater illustrations and the super ugly lobster mermaid witches, that tends to close the deal. 

I tell my students that if they can get past the unattractive illustrations then they are going to love The Unsinkable Walker Bean. Just flipping through the book they can see monsters, sword fights, that awesome section with the star covered tarp over the boat, the shipwrecks, MONSTERS! The Unsinkable Walker Bean has a lot going for it, and a lot going on, but the story comes together successfully. I've not yet had a student read the book and not like it. This is a nice solid read for those who enjoy Tintin or boy's adventure stories.

Related Reviews:
Bren's Book Blog review
100 Scope Notes review


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April 30, 2014 at 3:05 AM
Z-Kids said...

One of our favorites!

May 14, 2014 at 12:23 PM
Find Handmade said...

Not sure ZIf I agree with your saying the illustrations are unattractive - but great to see another graphic novel review - congratulations!

March 30, 2015 at 8:42 PM

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