Finding Nemo: Reef Rescue
written by Marie Croall
illustrated by Erica Leigh Currey
The coral reef where Nemo lives is dying, and he and his father must find the cause and stop the devastation. This quest takes Nemo and his companions on a series of thrilling (but not too scary) adventures as they roam the ocean searching for the answer to their problem.
The personalities are simple and bold, and each one is established in the opening pages: Plucky Nemo, his timid and protective father Marlin, their ditzy friend Dory, and surfer-dude sea-turtle Squirt. That makes this graphic novel enjoyable even for those who haven't seen the movie.
The travelers' first step is to locate Gill, a tough, battle-scarred fish whom Nemo befriended during a period of captivity in an aquarium. Gill and Nemo find the cause of the problem: giant starfish, covered with poisonous spines, are eating the coral. Marlin is trapped and nearly eaten by one of them, but Nemo rescues him just in time.
Next, Nemo gets blown off course by a stray current and ends up in the tentacles of a giant squid who is trapped near the surface of the water because he is caught on a fishhook. The adults try to free him but end up trapped by his tentacles instead, and Nemo and Squirt cleverly pry them out and then remove the hook. In parting, the squid suggests they seek help from a mysterious clan known as "The Tribe."
The Tribe are made out to be wild and dangerous, but they turn out to be a school of shrimp, tricked out in My Little Pony type topknots and polka dots. Despite their girly looks, they are formidable fighters, and they love to eat starfish. They return to Nemo's coral reef and working together, the two groups vanquish the starfish and rescue the reef.
Despite the implicit ecological theme, this story is really about courage. Marlin is often scared to go into a situation but always rallies when he sees that it is the right thing to do. He also feels bad that Nemo looks up to Gill as a hero, but Gill reassures him that "Nemo looks up to you more than you realize." And everyone gets a chance to be brave, as they all rescue each other from the various perils presented in the story.
All this is told in a bold, dynamic style, with plenty of action but little real violence. The action is sometimes hard to follow, but the narration picks up the thread nicely so the reader never really gets lost. The vocabulary is simple, and difficult words (such as "tentacle" and "coral") are repeated frequently. Most pages have five or six panels, with multiple word balloons per panel. Currey uses a lot of different panel types, often breaking the borders or using diagonal shapes to emphasize action, which helps pull the reader into the story. With its straightforward adventures and familiar, likeable characters, Finding Nemo: Reef Rescue is a fine choice for early-grade readers.-- Brigid Alverson