The Dam Keeper by Robert Kondo and Dice Tsutsumi, 160 pp, RL 4

The Dam Keeper began life as an animated short film by Robert Kondo and Dice Tsutsumi, the duo behind Tonko House, who met while working for Pixar. In 2014, the film was nominated for an Oscar and now The Dam Keeper is continuing on, five years after the film ended, as a graphic novel duo. I didn't know this before I read this gorgeous, haunting, humorous graphic novel, but that didn't ruin or detract from my enjoyment at all. In fact, it was a tremendous treat to read the graphic novel, then purchase and watch the movie with my family, then screen the movie for my students, grades 1 - 5, 300 kids in all, over the course of the week. It was a joy to watch my students watch the movie, a theme of which is bullying, noticing the differences in perceptions and understanding, as well as emotional reactions, in the different age groups. In fact, Tonko House partnered with the San Francisco Film Society to develop a pilot program that inspires the social, emotional and creative expression of children. The Dam Keeper Educational Project has been implemented in school in the Bay Area, but there is also fantastic study guide with discussion topics and character development activities that I was able to use with my students with great success. If you work with kids, or even have kids, this is a must. Scroll to the end of this review for a short video about The Dam Keeper Educational Project.

The dam of the title is sturdy construction, with living quarters, that, along with the windmill that sits atop it, keeps the deadly black fog from overwhelming Sunshine Valley. Young Pig is the son of the builder of the dam. Pig's father taught him how to maintain the dam and then he abandoned Pig, walking out into the darkness that is the fog. Few inhabitants are aware of Pig's tireless efforts and huge obligation, save his best friend, Fox, and now Hippo, the town bully. When the pattern of the fog begins to shift and become more violent, Pig, Fox and Hippo find themselves on the other side of the dam - alive but in a very strange new world.

The movie and graphic novel of The Dam Keeper have a unique, dense, painterly style that is combined, incongruously and marvelously, with adorable animals who, for the most part, behave badly. Both the movie and graphic novel also play with dark and light in ways that are very moving and occasionally astonishing. I don't think I have the words to do justice to this work of art in either form, but I have no doubt that, watching the trailer, you will see what I mean. And, once you watch the animated short and know that the story picks up five years later in this graphic novel, you WILL want to buy it. And it is well worth every penny - the design of The Dam Keeper is luxurious, from the dust jacket, to the book case, to the thick, creamy pages, the artistry of the creators extending to the creation.

Coming in 2018

Source: Review Copy of the book, 
purchased movie

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