The Scholastic Connection

This article originally appeared in the Fall 2001 edition of The Lantern, A Newsletter from Arthur A. Levine Books—An Imprint of Scholastic Press

The Shark GodThe last time I returned to Hawaii, I visited Volcanoes National Park. A recent eruption had brought gifts from the locals to appease Pele, the goddess of fire. Seeing the bottles of rum and taro leaves, I found myself believing again in the legends from my childhood. I was struck by their ability to shape perceptions and define reality. Rafe Martin has adapted one of these powerful legends for The Shark God, the story of two children whose act of kindness toward a shark leads to their death sentences. Their parents must appeal to the fearsome Shark God for help. I recently spoke with Rafe about his newest work.

Jen: Why is it important for children to hear traditional tales?
Rafe: Folktales are the building blocks of the imagination. They deal with the great values of human character: justice, kindness, good humor, faith, perseverance, respect for life—kind actions versus cruel ones. They show children what happens when we walk down one path in life or another, demonstrating clearly the effects of certain thoughts and actions. Also, folktales are a human legacy, and adults have a responsibility to share this legacy with children today so they can grow up with the wisdom and experience of our ancestors from around the world and throughout the past.

Jen: What attracted you to this particular story?
Rafe: The story embodies one of the great human themes, which is justice. It shows us what the newspapers usually do not, that good will be rewarded and evil punished. I was also attracted to a flood story where the natural world acts and responds to human cruelty. The shark is the profoundly wise natural power while it is the human king who has a cruel heart.

Jen: Did you adapt the story for this new format?
Rafe: The original story is quite grim. Two boys are killed, and their father goes to the Shark God seeking revenge. In the end, everyone in the village is eaten by sharks. Still, I felt that the themes, setting, and implicit faith of the story could work as a picture book. I always tell a story differently because there is no way around it. The storyteller or writer’s job is to help the story live today as authentically as possible...being sure that details are accurate and the great themes of the original present. But one can only draw on one’s own understanding and one’s own literary and life experiences. In the end this changes the tale from its original text. Fortunately a story can still be re-created so as to be as powerful in its own way for readers and listeners today as the original.

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