As an early literacy advocate, I am a huge proponent of graphic novels and comic books. Graphic novels can help hook reluctant readers, build visual literacy, and challenge students to read analytically. Do not let the presence of pictures fool you; as in picture books, there is often more to them that meets the eye.
The Hunt is On (Seekers of the Aweto Book 1) , shortlisted for the 2022 Global Literatures in Libraries Initiative Translated Young Adult Book Prize, is an adventurous story that would appeal to readers of graphic novels, lovers of manga, and those looking for a new fantasy series to delve into.
Set on the famous Silk Road, The Hunt is On centers on family of aweto seekers. The aweto is neither a plant or an animal, but resembles both; it is a growth that appears on the heads of chadolos, colorful earthen deities. Awetos have great medicinal power, capable of healing any ailment. Those who seek and find them are able to sell them for high prices.
The aweto seekers are a mother and her two sons. The older son is named Qiliu. He sports a shock of bright red hair and a pair of insect wings. His younger brother is named Xinyue, and he has a peculiar gift: he is able to command hordes of insects by playing his drum. The insects lead the two boys and their mother, Bu Ren Niang, to chadolos and in turn, the awetos.
The family nears the the lands of the Sanamo tribe in the Gobi Desert, where the people expectantly await their chadolo to give birth to a child. Keen on protecting their deity, the tribe is thrown into high alert at the sounds of approaching drums and the drone of insects. Qiliu takes flight into the village, accompanied by his brother Xinyue on his back. A battle ensues between the two brothers and the tribe, and the seekers are successful in their quest for the aweto.
The removal of the aweto, however, causes the chadolo to dissolve back into the earth. In the chaos, Xinyue falls into a hole in the earth, where he discovers that the chadolo has indeed given birth to a tiny earth deity. In its last moments, the chadolo entreats Xinyue to care for her child, much to his dismay.
The younger boy tries to keep the baby chadolo hidden as the family makes its way to the city’s open market to sell the aweto. Unbeknownst to the aweto seekers, warriors from the Sanamo tribe are on their trail, following the fields of flowers growing in the desert as a result of the infant chadolo’s powers.
But in the market everything falls apart. Xinyue finds himself alone, but with more question than answers. Here is where Book 1 of Seekers of the Aweto ends, leaving the reader with more to discover.
Author and illustrator Nie Jun has given readers a captivatingly colorful book full of sweeping intrigue. The comic panels are full of action and movement, and there is worldbuilding aplenty. Thankfully Jun provides definitions for his new vocabulary in fine print at the bottom of the pages in which it appears. There is nothing stilted about Edward Gauvin‘s translation; the text, including sound effects, only adds to to book’s action filled panels. The Hunt is On is a fun and engrossing read.
Written and illustrated by Nie Jun
Translated from Chinese by Edward Gauvin
Graphic Universe, an imprint of Lerner Publishing Group, 2021
Originally published 2019, Beijing Total Vision
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Klem-Marí Cajigas has been with Nashville Public Library since 2012, after more than a decade of academic training in Religious Studies and Ministry. As the Family Literacy Coordinator for Bringing Books to Life!, Nashville Public Library’s award-winning early literacy outreach program, she delivers family literacy workshops to a diverse range of local communities. In recognition of her work, she was named a 2021 Library Journal “Mover and Shaker.” Born in Puerto Rico, Klem-Marí is bilingual, bicultural, and proudly Boricua.