Tuesday, November 24, 2009

"Thanks For Getting The Second Book In A Series"

I rather liked the first volume of Jellaby by Kean Soo. Well, except for the part about the book not having an ending, of course. But I try to be open-minded about the whole serial thing. I do understand that once the serial is completed, a reader can go through every volume and have a complete reading experience.

But you really do have to have access to every volume in order to get that experience. Jellaby: Monster in the City, begins with Chapter Six, the first five chapters appearing in the first volume. Even I, who had liked that first book, had trouble getting into the story and the characters again. I had trouble seeing how the actual monster carrying-on in this book was related to the first book. And I can't tell if this book is the end of the story. The first book ended right in the middle of some action. This one ends at a point that could be an ending or could be a calm between storms.

How might someone who is being exposed to this serial for the first time with the second book respond? "Thanks for getting the second book in a series," was what I heard from a family member who read Monster in the City after finding it here at Chez Gauthier. Read that "Thanks" as meaning "What were you thinking?"

While I do understand the attraction of a completed serial, as a writer I still have a lot of trouble understanding why I would want to intentionally write a book that won't be accessible to many readers as an individual work. Even once the serial is completed, so many libraries don't carry all the volumes of a series. You often can't find them all in bookstores. I want to communicate with readers. I want to be understood. A real serial puts up so many obstacles that can prevent that happening.

I will say, though, that Jellaby: Monster in the City had a cool twist on the Puff the Magic Dragon storyline. Think Puff the Magic Dragon meets Fringe or The X-Files. But you have to make your way through half the book to get there.

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Saturday, November 07, 2009

Are Formulas Important For Some Reason?

You may have noticed that I'm on a little graphic novel kick this fall. That's why I picked up Amulet Book One: The Stonekeeper by Kazu Kibuishi.

What really struck me about this book is how incredibly formulaic it is. The word "rigidly" might apply. In a prelude, a child sees her parent killed. At the real story opening, the rest of the family is heading off to a creepy new home (new homes are always bad news) that has been in the family for years. (As I was reading this today, I thought about how these days, old family homes are probably sold to create new subdivisions.) Immediately, the kids find a mysterious...um...piece of jewelry, are led into a strange world, and have to start a quest to save their surviving parent. (Did she seem just a little bit bitchie to anyone else?) A mysterious and brilliant ancestor figures into the story. (I'm not sure if that last part is original to this formula or if I just saw it in The Spiderwick Chronicles movie.) Some cute characters are thrown in as helpers.

Maybe there is some reason why adhering to formulas like this are important in children's literature. Isn't repetition of words and sounds supposed to help them learn to read? Maybe reading the same formula/pattern/storyline over and over again assists them in some way I've just never heard about.

As luck would have it, David Elzey has just reviewed the second book in this series at The Excelsior File. He liked it a great deal more than I liked the first one. In fact, if you do just a little bit of digging around on the Internet, you'll find that this is quite a well-regarded series.

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Monday, November 02, 2009

More Graphic Novels

I was in my favorite library last week, and what do I see on their new book shelf, but another Ottoline. I thought, What the heck, Gail. Give the series another shot. And that's how I came to read Ottoline Goes to School by Chris Riddell. I liked this Ottoline better than the first. It has a little more substance, what with Ottoline being attracted to a new friend and Mr. Munroe (whatever he is) feeling left out. The new friend is interesting because she is both upper class snotty and sympathetic at the same time.

The Ottoline books, this one in particular, use a lot of oddball names and situations, which always annoy me in a children's book. This one is so lovely looking, though, and the basic story good enough, that I was able to turn a blind eye toward all the Orvillises and Wilburtas. Plus, Riddell is British, and I should try to show compassion toward the British because no doubt they are still suffering from all those years of Monty Python's influence. That can't be a good thing.

I've also just read To Dance: A Ballerina's Graphic Novel, which is not a novel at all but a memoir by Siena Cherson Siegel, illustrated by Mark Siegel. Because To Dance is a graphic...I hate to say "novel" when it so clearly isn't...written for young readers, I was able to read it quickly. And reading it quickly made me feel immersed in Cherson Siegel's young life as a ballet student. It definitely made me feel that having such a strong vocation so young must be very special. Maybe it's not, of course. Maybe a lot of kids lose their youths to studying for a vocation. But that's not the feeling I came away with from To Dance.

Cherson Siegel writes about reading A Very Young Dancer by Jill Krementz. I wondered if her own book would end up being another generation's A Very Young Dancer?

I have only one reservation about this book. Though not a ballet fan, by any means, I recognize many of the dance names of the period when Cherson Siegel was studying ballet--Balanchine, Baryshnikov, Suzanne Farrell, etc. I think it's unlikely child readers will know those names, and I'm not sure how that will affect their enjoyment of the book. On the other hand, the fact that dance is visual and this memoir is written in a graphic format may mean that child readers can see who these people were and having previous knowledge of them won't matter.

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Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Quick! I Have Books Due At The Library!

I did a little graphic novel reading this fall, and I can't renew the books at the library again, so I guess I'd better blog about them, if I'm going to.

First, I read a couple of the Babymouse books by Jennifer L. Holm and Matthew Holm. I think what makes these books work is that they are graphic novels. While the stories are fine, the basic plots of the two I read, Skater Girl and Puppy Love, weren't particularly unique. But joining those plots with the graphics and the mouse, definitely elevated them.

I found it a little unusual that the books sometimes use a third-person narrator who speaks directly to Babymouse and wondered if kids found that confusing. Presumably not, since there are a lot of Babymouse titles.

Our library classifies Ottoline and the Yellow Cat by Chris Riddell as a graphic novel, though I think I'd describe it as more of a heavily illustrated novel for younger readers. It's a beautiful looking book with an interesting basic story, though I could have done without the Cousin It-like character, myself. Readers frequently have to stop reading to study the illustrations, which do, indeed, sometimes tell part of the story. (Though sometimes they're just illustrations.) I wondered if young readers would find that frustrating. On the other hand, a young, not-very-enthusiastic reader might find it a relief to stop and enjoy the scenery.

If you go to the Original Artwork From Children's Book Illustrators site, be sure to watch the slideshow of Riddell's Illustrations to Unwritten Books. It's very clever. Among my favorites...Hot Comfort Farm and Wuthering Tights. But there's lots of good stuff there.

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Tuesday, August 25, 2009

So, If It Became A TV Show, That Would Be Weird, Too

Slate has an interesting article about a comic book version of Fahrenheit 451. The author, Sarah Boxer, says that in the original book, "Comic books are the only books shallow enough to go unburned, the only ones people are still allowed to read."

She also says, "Fahrenheit 451 seems to be just as much against movies, theater, and television as it is against comic books...In the novel, insipid housewives spend their time memorizing scripts for soap operas starring themselves..." One character is supposed to be addicted to these programs called, "parlor walls."

Jon and Kate! Except Kate isn't insipid. Jon maybe.


Tuesday, July 07, 2009

New For Me

Graphic Novel Reporter is a site from the same folks that gave us Teenreads.com and Kidsreads.com. I think I like the layout of Graphic Novel Reporter better than the other two. Plus graphic novels get less attention at the sites I usually go to, so Graphic Novel Reporter had a lot more new content for me than the other sites do.


Monday, May 11, 2009

Just When You Think You Can't Take Any More Vampires

A couple of weeks ago, I was looking at the new YA books in my local library. Vampire, vampire, vampire. Vampire schools. Vampire this. Vampire that.

I didn't even take them off the shelf. I used to enjoy the occasional vampire book, but, come on, publishers. This is getting ridiculous.

Then by way of Oz and Ends I learned of Pinocchio: Vampire Slayer. In a graphic novel, no less.

Perhaps that's the will to read vampire fiction that I feel stirring within me.

Training Report: Two segments for the 365 Story Project, and not much planned for the rest of the week. Then I decided to work on this essay I started last week. Or the week before. And while going through my Word files, I found that I had done six pages on this topic...I don't know. Last year, maybe? How mortifying! How lame is that?

Except, Zen suggests that instead of being horrified at my ineptitude, I should be grateful. Hey, I had a much better start on this thing than I thought, and did some more on it today. So, yeah. Om. Grateful.

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Sunday, March 01, 2009

And Our Final Winner Is...

The last Cybils nominee I'll be discussing this year is Emiko Superstar by Mariko Tamaki with graphics by Steve Rolston, winner in the YA category.

Emiko was one of the two finalists that most clearly dealt with a teenage character and was also a complete novel. How very interesting that the other book that fits that description, Skim, was also written by Tamaki. The books, both published the same year, are very similar, right down to including a secondary lesbian character. But while Skim could be said to deal with generalized teenage angst, Emiko Superstar's main character is much more outer directed. She discovers a new interest--performance art--and pursues it. I think the character evolves far more than the main character in Skim does. In the event that you like to see main characters evolve.

It was definitely interesting to see an author take what was close to being the same basic outline and treat it quite differently.

Another interesting point about this book--it was published by Minx, which just ceased publication (I was going to say "went belly up," but that's so inelegant) in January.

So that, folks, is all she's writing on Cybils 2008. Enough is enough, wouldn't you say?

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Saturday, February 28, 2009

Not All Graphic Novels Are For Kids

Three Shadows by Cyril Pedrosa is a very impressive work, the story of a father trying to deny his child's impending death. However, in spite of its appearance among the YA graphic novel finalists for the 2008 Cybils, I don't see how it can possibly be classified as YA. The story portrays an adult father going through various stages of grief over losing his young child. That's not a traditional YA theme. On a most superficial level, it doesn't even include any teen characters.

That doesn't mean the book isn't good.

Life is "simple and sweet" for Louis, Lise, and young Joachim until they notice three shadowy figures outside their farm. The figures, it turns out, bring death, and they are bringing it for Joachim. Lise wants to enjoy the time she has left with her son, but Louis takes his boy and runs. He's determined to save his child from death.

Sounds grim, doesn't it? Well, it is. But what it's not is maudlin. This isn't a manipulative weeper, trying to impress us because it's about death. I don't know if it's the supernatural element or the graphic format or just good story telling (through both text and art work, in this case), but Pedrosa treats his material as...oh, I don't know...maybe...literature? While many books about death, particularly a child's death, do little more than make readers feel badly, as if being able to move them to tears is an indication of the author's skill, Three Shadows seems to me to be an attempt to actually understand a life event through art.

Pedrosa is an experienced author of band dessinées, and his work in Three Shadows is very sophisticated. This is an excellent, adult work, and would make a great addition to a library collection of adult graphic novels.

Pedrosa has some interesting things to say about comics, which he holds in high regard:

"But in the past few years in France, as soon as a book of bande dessinée is something other than the 46-page color hardcover format I described, the book gets called a roman graphique, borrowing from the US term of graphic novel. I don’t know who the clever marketing whiz was that came up with the idea, but it’s clearly designed to lend a stamp of cultural approval by associating with novels, i.e. with “serious” literature for real readers, those with brains...

...Yet these “graphic novels,” as the term is used in France, owe nothing to the novel or to literature. They are pure, and often beautiful, comic books: the language they use, regardless of how inventive the forms used may be, is the language of comics. That’s what gives these creative works their power, and that’s what explains the very distinctive pleasure that their readers take in the process."

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Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Learning You're Related To Fairies Is Not Necessarily A Good Thing

Okay, folks, it's time to talk about the Cybils YA graphic novel finalists I didn't cover during Cybil season.

Today we will begin with The Good Neighbors: Kin by Holly Black with graphics by Ted Naifeh. This is the first book by Black I've had a chance to read. I've seen the movie made from her Spiderwick Chronicles, and I saw her moderate a panel discussion at Readercon last year. My impression is that she's interested in fairies as subject matter, and sure enough, The Good Neighbors has fairies. Mysterious, possibly evil fairies. My guess is probably evil.

Rue is an angst-ridden teenager whose mother is missing and whose father appears to be depressed. That's kind of ho-hum for YA, but then she starts seeing creatures other people don't see. This doesn't make her feel any better. Neither does finding out that she's connected to these beings through her missing mother. And then there's the creepy grandfather.

The Good Neighbors: Kin includes a couple of either classic or stereotypical YA situations: the child who learns a secret about a parent and the child who learns there is something special about herself. Kin is the first book in The Good Neighbors serial, and I can't say a great deal happens in it. Rue is miserable and finds out all these secrets about her family and herself and then the book ends.

Ted Naifeh's artwork for this book was some of the most attractive I've seen in the graphic novels I read this past year.

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Monday, February 23, 2009

A Winning Fairy Tale Variation

I happened to read Rapunzel's Revenge by Shannon Hale and Dean Hale with graphics by Nathan Hale, winner of the Cybil award for elementary/middle grade graphic novel, right after reading Shannon Hale's adult novel, Austenland. I was struck by how similar they were.

Okay, Austenland is a light romance about a twenty-first century woman off at a Jane Austen theme park to work out her Pride and Prejudice fantasy and Rapunzel's Revenge is a reworking of Rapunzel set in the American west of the late nineteenth century. But they're both feminist-tinged reworkings of what I think of as traditionally girly fairy tales/fantasies. One involves a woman meeting a man who is initially unpleasant but turns out to be a real catch and the other involves a woman being saved by a man who turns out to be a real catch. Hale gives these two stories a contemporary mid-section, but she doesn't change the fairy tale ending.

In the case of Rapunzel's Revenge, Rapunzel isn't a passive figure who is saved by a man as she is in the original fairy tale, at least as it's commonly known. She saves herself, she saves others, and she still gets a very positive ending. Actually, this scenario of a female overcoming adversity could almost be described as our new, twenty-first century fairy tale, especially when, as here, all comes out well in the end.

Rapunzel's Revenge has more going for it than just girl power because it plays with more than just the Rapunzel story. Jack and the Beanstalk and that golden egg laying goose tale I've never been a hundred percent clear about both enter the scene. We have the Old West equivalent of an evil witch here, one who uses spells to enslave others. I wondered if there were more fairy tale twists that I wasn't getting. For instance, Rapunzel saves a golden haired child who is kidnapped and keeps complaining about having to eat sticky gruel. Is she supposed to be Goldilocks?

It doesn't matter, though, because there is a basic story in Rapunzel's Revenge that readers can enjoy even if they've never even heard of Rapunzel, herself. And while I've dwelled on the female interest in the fairy tales Shannon Hale deals with, Rapunzel's Revenge is not just for girls. Rapunzel's male sidekick gives boys someone to identify with, too.

Rapunzel is a first-person narrator in this case, so when we see narrative boxes in this graphic novel, they are used for her to tell us things in her voice. Nonetheless, the story is still carried primarily by graphics and dialogue.

Rapunzel's Revenge is the kind of graphic novel I particularly like--a real, complete story.

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Friday, February 20, 2009

A Complete Adventure

Into the Volcano by Don Wood is another one of the elementary/middle grade graphic novelCybils finalists I'm determined to tell you all about.

Volcano is a well-done graphic novel (no narrative and plenty of wordless panels where the images carried the story) that is also a realistic adventure. It has that classic kidlit device of the missing, mysterious parent, but in this case she is not some fantasy figure but (be still my heart) a scientist! (This feminist-leaning woman of a certain age could just weep.) She's also sort of an adventurer out to collect some kind of pearl. She has a falling out with her sister who is also a partner in her pearl gathering scheme. Her two sons, who had been living in what appeared to me to be the United States with what looks to be their wealthy father, are invited out to visit their aunt, who plans to use them to help find scientist mom and the pearls.

In a volcano.

So the kids take part in a dangerous adventure that is resolved by the end of the book. Personally, I'm always satisfied when a story is wrapped up at the end of a book, and this one also involves a change for one of our main characters. Meaning readers get some character development with their adventure.

In the event that you are one of those adults who can't resist pushing a little education with your kids' recreational reading, you can check out Wood's Story Behind Into the Volcano for an account of his research--told graphically.

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Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Something To Share With The Young Ones

There's a Wolf at the Door: Five Classic Tales, Retold by Zoe B. Alley and illustrated by R.W. Alley, is another of the Cybils finalists for elementary/middle grade book in the graphic novels category. It's a graphic charmer, though I don't know that I'd call it a novel. It's more of a collection, as its subtitle suggests.

In this book, five "wolf" stories are linked together--The Three Little Pigs, The Boy Who Cried Wolf, Little Red Riding Hood---You get the idea. The same wolf moves from story to story, always getting the worst of any situation he finds himself in. The retelling of these stories is witty (the sheep in The Boy Who Cried Wolf keep up a running commentary on their young shepherd, for instance.) The book is the size of a picture book, meaning the panels are large, which should be a help for young readers.

A couple of quibbles--There's a lot of narrative in the panels. The images aren't left to tell the story. They often end up illustrating narrative instead. And, oddly enough, there are often dialogue tags. Instead of using a dialogue balloon above a character to indicate he's talking, dialogue will sometimes appear in a circle or a square with quotation marks and a tag, as in "Give it your best shot," said Blake. It's almost as if the author and illustrator weren't interested in creating a "true" graphic novel type of work but more of a traditional picture book in panels.

And that's okay. The book is entertaining and attractive, whatever it is.

Last fall someone commenting here raised the question of whether or not graphic novels could be read aloud. I think adults reading with one or two children could make There's a Wolf at the Door work as a read aloud, particularly if they stuck to just one tale at a time.

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Tuesday, February 17, 2009

An Edgy Tale Of Little Outcasts

Superficially, Jellaby, a Cybils nominee for elementary/middle grade graphic novel by Kean Soo, is a traditional story of the unhappy, isolated child who bonds with some kind of similar outcast. This particular story has considerably more edge, though, in large part because our protagonist, Portia, isn't a stereotypically sympathetic child. Sure she is a fatherless child who has nightmares. But she can be plenty demanding and argumentative, especially regarding Jason, the other class misfit, who you'd expect her to buddy up with.

Those eyebrows...that mouth...This girl is drawn in such a way that makes it clear that she's comfortable putting up a fight.

One night after a bad dream, Portia finds a purple creature out in her yard. Feeling pretty confident that the thing isn't going to eat her (I'm so glad she's the kind of kid smart enough to realize that's a possibility), she takes him in. He's sort of her special pet, one that is a bit nicer than she is and encourages her to help out Jason when he's attacked by bullies.

And so our three outsiders are brought together and end up on a journey to learn Jellaby's origins. Portia's nightmares about her missing father suggest they might learn something about him, too.

This is a graphic novel that does a good job of combining its graphics and text. The story is shown totally through images and dialogue. I didn't see any boxes of narrative.

It is, however, a serial. There isn't anything remotely like a complete storyline here. That's not a drawback for those who enjoy serials, but it does mean that it's hard to make any kind of comment on the quality of the overall work because the entire work isn't here.

What is here in this first volume is engaging and easy to read for elementary and younger middle grade readers.

The second book in the serial, Jellaby in the City, will be published in April.

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Saturday, February 07, 2009

And Then You Die

I have an obsession with Beowulf, perhaps because it's the only classic epic I think I understand. To me it expresses the most basic fact of human life--We achieve when we are young and strong, then grow old and die. "Come in what shape it may, death will subdue even thee, thou hero of war." (Hinds' version.) This to me seems far more profound then what little I got from The Odyssey--Men are pigs.

I first became aware of Gareth Hinds' graphic version of Beowulf two years ago, and just stumbled upon it on the new book shelf at the library this past week. I can't tell you how satisfying it is to read something that grabbed my interest once upon a time, because usually I just forget about these things.

I think you have to have read a traditional version of this story to really appreciate what Hinds has done here in terms of telling the tale with so little text. Yes, there are pages with larger narrative boxes then we usually see in a graphic novel and there are no dialogue balloons at all. But there are far more wordless pages, pages that take us through entire battles. This Beowulf really demonstrates how a graphic novel can show action.

The overall visual impression is stunning, and the narrative sticks to the original storyline. There's no sex in this Beowulf the way there was in 2007's movie version. You can't pretend that Beowulf got what was coming to him because he did the nasty with someone he shouldn't have.

In this graphic Beowulf, just as in the original old text, Beowulf got what is coming to all of us.

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Thursday, January 08, 2009

You Will Believe You Are At Camp

Chiggers by Hope Larson made me feel that I didn't miss anything by not having gone to summer camp. On the other hand, I recognized a lot of what was going on in this charming graphic novel, because summer camp sounds a whole lot like college dorm life, minus the sex and drinking.

Chiggers is about young Abby's experience at summer camp. She was looking forward to more of the good times she'd had in previous years with her friend, Rose. But Rose, an older camper, is now a Cabin Assistant. So Abby is on her own, struggling with making new relationships with new people who often aren't in the same scheduled activities she's in and who sometimes talk about her in the bathroom and who she works things out with, after all, in time for everyone to promise to write when camp's over.

It could be argued that there's no real story here, with a traditonal plot and a climax. It's one of those Zenny books that you just have to enjoy moment to moment.

And I did.

As a graphic novel, Chiggers works very well. I will admit that there were a couple of characters I had trouble keeping separate for a while, but otherwise the graphics did what they were supposed to do--they showed setting and background and action. The opening pages, in particular, did a wonderful job of showing us a young girl getting ready for and going to camp. And, though I've never been to camp, I've left some kids off at one, and the pages where Abby is lying on her bunk by herself waiting for more people to show up expressed exactly what I think must have been going on for the young Gauthiers. For that matter, it's what goes on when you're the first one to arrive at the dorm in the fall. Except for the lying down part, it's what happens when you're the first one to arrive anywhere.

I do wonder how boy readers will react to Chiggers, if it's just a little too estrogen-ridden for them. That's not a complaint, though. I'm just curious.

Chiggers is a finalist for a Cybil in the elementary and middle grade graphic novel category.

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Sunday, December 28, 2008


I have to admit, my interest in Tintin is limited to the fact that a young relative was a big fan a few years back. In fact, he learned the splendors of interlibrary loan because of his love of Tintin. I, myself, am not a tintinologist.
Nonetheless, I read all of A Very European Hero in The Economist.

Link from the child_lit listserv.


Thursday, December 11, 2008

It Did Grow On Me

This fall I've been hearing quite a lot about Skim by Mariko Tamaki and Jillian Tamaki. When I finally got hold of a copy, myself, I felt a little let down.

Skim is a goth girl Wicca wannabe in a private girls' school. She and her best friend are those outsider girls you always see in teen movies and, well, teen books. Skim and her best friend get on each other's nerves and grow apart. Skim falls in love with a teacher. Someone commits suicide. A popular girl is also depressed. Skim and the popular girl have something in common.

I felt that this wasn't a particularly original situation or storyline. However, I will admit that I finally got drawn in to the story. I just can't say I was bowled over by it.

I wonder if this is a YA book that really is best appreciated by YAs. I certainly believe that depression and misery are part of adolescence, but now that I'm no longer an adolescent, myself, I tend to find that scenario trite. A teenage reader of this graphic novel may very well feel that she's stumbled onto Truth. I found the teacher/love interest, Ms. Archer, who kisses Skim and then abandons her, damn close to a predator, and at the very least creepy. I had a feeling, though, that she was meant to be more benign than that. My jaded grown-up eye may have just perceived her differently.

Skim is nominated for a Cybil in the YA graphic novel category.

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Tuesday, December 09, 2008

And You Think Things Are Bad Now. It Could Be A Whole Lot Worse.

I'm going to say right up front that as a general rule, I'm not terribly fond of apocalyptic novels. They tend to be very similar, I think. Everything's dreadful. People are suffering. Humankind usually brings the whole thing down on itself through messing with nature, religion, war, science, global markets. Somehow it's my fault.

In the graphic novelIn the Small by Michael Hague we're brought down by a mysterious blue light. After the light is gone, all of humanity (or so it appears) has shrunk. How will people survive when almost every creature on the planet is larger than they are and evidently carnivorous? Personally, I was impressed by how many family pets had been waiting their chance to turn on their human masters.

The survival aspect of the story is interesting and moves along quickly. However, the main character, Mouse (that's got to have some kind of meaningful significance) Willow, has premonitions or visions that make it possible for him to know just what needs to be done. What's more, as he's leading a group of co-workers from his father's office out to the 'burbs, he runs into one of those stereotypical street people who also has visions. Street guy's visions mesh very nicely with Mouse's.

The whole vision thing seemed out of place to me. It seemed like a quick and dirty way of giving a teenage boy a leadership position. His sister back home is quite a mighty sprite, and she doesn't need any visions.

Though some of the human figures in the panels seem a little roughly drawn, I don't think that's unusual in graphic novels. This is a color novel with glossy pages.

In the Small has been nominated for a Cybil in the Elementary/Middle Grade Graphic Novel category, though the publisher describes the book as young adult. Since the main character and his sister, the other big figure in the story, are teenagers and there are no major child characters in the book, young adult seems a more appropriate classification to me.

Parenthetical.net reviewed this book back in October.

Michael Hague was interviewed on In the Small at Newsarama.

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Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Still More On Graphics

Fuse #8 reviewed Cybils nominee Jellaby earlier this year.

Cybils nominee Skim has been named one of the New York Times Best Illustrated Books for 2008. Take that, Governor General.

J.L.Bell has more on the demise of Minx at Oz and Ends.

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Monday, November 24, 2008

What's With Her Eye?

As part of my crash course on graphic novels, I read Graphic Novels: Stories To Change Your Life by Paul Gravett. The book covers scads of graphic novels with excerpts from each and an analysis. Plus the graphic novels are organized into topics, such as "The Long Shadow: Surviving war and its aftermath" and "The Undiscovered Country: Childhood's happy days or painful memories."

So now I've read about a great many (adult) graphic novels. Which means that I should be able to talk about books I haven't read!

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Friday, November 21, 2008

Some Graphic Links

Parenthetical.net has a few more posts up on Cybils nominess in the graphic novel category:

Little Vampire by Joann Sfar Oops. Dans Anglais

Johnny Boo by James Kochalka From Burlington! I love Seven Days!

Knights of the Lunch Table by James Cammuso.

under the covers has a post up on How to Write Comics, which both Bibliovore and I think ought to have some relation to writing graphic novels.

And, finally, Oz and Ends writes about
Sons of Liberty , a historical fiction graphic novel.

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Monday, November 17, 2008

Maybe Graphic Nonfiction

I remember enjoying a book when I was young about a girl who disguised herself as a man so she could fight in the Civil War. So the premise behind No Girls Allowed: Tales of Daring Women Dressed as Men for Love, Freedom and Adventure by Susan Hughes and Willow Dawson certainly appeals to me.

I have to say, though, that I didn't find this graphic presentation of short pieces on seven different women particularly successful. A lot of the panels required those little narrative boxes to explain what was going on, and I still sometimes found myself confused. The snakes that appear in the story of Alfhild, a Viking princess, threw me, for example. A prince arriving to see her kills two snakes that appear out of nowhere. The princess then says, "Sir, you have killed my vipers." He apologizes and says, "It was the only way for me to win your hand in marriage!" The next page includes a confusing panel that suggests the king had set up the kill-the-vipers-marry-my-daughter scenario. The scene appears to show Alfhild discussing the marriage proposal with her family. In fact, we're told in a box that that is what she's doing. But at the bottom of the panel, another box of text appears in which we're told that her father delayed consulting her. The graphics and text actually appear to contradict one another.

Some of the women's motivation for taking on the life they do isn't very clear, either. That's particularly the case for Alfhild and Esther Brandeau.

The accounts of nineteenth century women work better, probably because there looks to be more documentary evidence and more for the writer and illustrator to work with.

Another confusing aspect of the book: Some of the stories are based on historical fact, while others are based on legend. I think that makes the overall project less focused than it could have been.

So I didn't feel the book worked all that well, either graphically or as nonfiction. The subject matter may be of high interest to young readers, but I'm not sure if twenty-first century children feel the narrowness of women's lot in life the way children of earlier generations did.

For a different reaction and an interview with the author see Big A, little a's New Voices Blog Tour: No Girls Allowed.

No Girls Allowed is a Cybils nominee in the graphic novels category. (Though it definitely isn't a novel.)

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Friday, November 14, 2008

Graphic Novel Problems Up North

Cybils nominee Skim has been nominated for Canada's Governor-General's Award for children's literature, but only for the author, not the illustrator.

Sacre bleu!

Link from Blog of a Bookslut.

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Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Does This Sound Deep Or What?

Another graphic novel post at Oz and Ends. This one is about 2007 Cybils nominee Robot Dreams.

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Tuesday, November 11, 2008

More On Graphic Novels

Parenthetical.net has a few reviews of Cybils nominees:

Benny and Penny in Just Pretend by Geoffrey Hayes

Babymouse Monster Mash by Jennifer L. Holm and Matthew Holm

Nightmare on Zombie Island by Paul D. Storrie

The New York Times reviewed Cybils nominee Skim by Mariko Tamaki with illustrations by Jillian Tamaki

Then J.L. Bell at Oz and Ends talks about how graphic novels are treated in Great Divides in the Comics World. Included in the post is a link to a Christian Science Monitor article, Graphic novels, all grown up, which includes a definition for graphic novels: "...extended-length illustrated books with mature literary themes..."

Of course, mature means different things when you're talking YA versus adult graphic novels and something else entirely when you're talking graphic novels for kids. But for those of us who are educating ourselves on the subject, it's a start.

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Monday, November 10, 2008

Graphic Novel Column Covers Cybils Nominees

Colleen Mondor has a Graphic Tales column up at Bookslut that includes a number of Cybils nominees:

Skim and Emiko Superstar by Mariko Tamaki,working with Jillian Tamaki and Steve Rolston, respectively;

Coraline by Neil Gaiman, adapted by P. Craig Russell;

The Good Neighbors: Kim by Holly Black with Ted Naifeh.

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Thursday, November 06, 2008

Graphic Novels Are For Kids! Like Dead Dogs!

Oz and Ends has another post on graphic novels, this time on Laika, another Cybils nominee from last year. In it, J.L. Bell says, "...in our culture the comics format lowers the perceived age of a book's readership."

Discuss among yourselves.

Be sure to read the comments about YA and graphic novels.

Yeah, and I agree with all those who would like to be spared another story about a dead dog.

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Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Yes, It Does

Personally, I believe there's an under-the-radar sort of genre involving books about early-twenty-something characters who are coming to terms with the fact that life, well, sucks. That pretty much describes, in a nutshell, the graphic novel Life Sucks by Jessica Abel, Gabe Soria, and Warren Pleece.

The basic set-up for this book is just brilliant. Two years before the start of our story, our hero, Dave Miller, applied for a night job at a convenience store so he could attend community college during the day. The store owner, Radu, (who prefers to be called Lord Arisztidescu) is an immigrant (from some eastern European country, I'd guess)who turns Dave into a vampire. Now Dave must be Radu's...er, Lord Arisztidescu's...low-wage slave--through eternity! As if that isn't bad enough, Dave can't tolerate the idea of blood so he can't go around preying on humans. This means he'll never become a strapping, healthy vampire, just a miserable, little weak one with a job working permanent nights. Really permanent.

Yes! Life does, indeed, suck!

While not necessarily roll-on-the-floor funny, Life Sucks definitely is drole and clever, particularly if, like me, you enjoy dark, subtle humor. There's lots of humorous takes on traditional vampire lore. And, I guess, traditional convenience store lore.

I can't say I loved the art, but it is dark and moody to fit the subject matter, and it carries the narrative very well. I read a rather lame graphic novel a couple of weeks ago that had to use a lot of what I think you might call narrative boxes because the graphics weren't telling the story by themselves. Nothing like that here. The art carries everything but the dialogue.

This book would be a big draw for your older, edgier YAs who are already beginning to suspect that life sucks. While I was reading it, I was wondering who I knew who might like it for Christmas.

Life Sucks is one of this year's graphic novel Cybils nominees.

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Monday, November 03, 2008

Let's Look At Some Graphic Novel Posts

For the last few weeks I've been staying on task with writing much better than usual because I've been trying to treat it as a practice and think of myself as in training. While I have no problem blowing off work to zone out on the Internet, it seems that I can take training far more seriously. I've been staying away from the computer card games for a couple of weeks now.

The unfortunate flipside of this is that while I'm working better, I'm not able to keep up as well with all the blogs I follow or my listservs. So today I'm going to try to do a round-up of posts I've been missing on the graphic novels nominated for a Cybil.

Both Pink Me and A Fuse #8 Production reviewed Chiggers by Hope Larson.

Parenthetical.net reviewed Magic Trixie by Jill Thompson.

Parenthetical.net also reviewed Rapunzel's Revenge by Shannon Hale.

Sam at Parenthetical.net has been incredibly busy, also reviewing In the Small by Michael Hague.

And then Oz and Ends has a post on Camp Babymouse, by Jennifer L. Holm and Matthew Holm, which was a Cybil nominee in 2007.

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Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Coraline Goes Graphic

Parenthetical.net reviews Coraline. I wasn't looking forward to reading the graphic version of Coraline because, like the reviewer at Parenthetical, I wasn't crazy about the original book. This review makes the graphic novel sound more enticing.

Parenthetical.net also reviewed Three Shadows.

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Merchant of V.

Pink Me reviews Cybils nominee The Merchant of Venice. Gareth Hinds also did a graphic novel version of Beowulf, by the way.

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Is It YA? Is It Adult?

J. L. Bell discusses the graphic novel Flight at Oz and Ends. What's particularly interesting about his post is his question regarding whether or not Flight is Young Adult and the ensuing discussion in the comments.

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Monday, October 27, 2008

Graphic Reviews

The Excelsior File reviews a graphic biography of J. Edgar Hoover. Earlier in the month, it carried a review of Cybil nominee Prince of Persia.


Old Wine In A New Flask

I gave up reading a graphic novel a couple of days ago because the "episodes" were filled with old military/war stereotypes. A graphic novel format doesn't make old story lines and situations new again.


Friday, October 24, 2008

Graphic Novel Resources

Cynthia Leitch Smith offers a graphic novel resource page at her website. Make particular note of the link to YALSA's Great Graphic Novels for Teens site.


Monday, October 20, 2008

The Graphic Novel Nominees

The Cybils site has this year's graphic novel nominees nicely listed for you. They've broken them down into two categories: Elementary, Middle Grade and Young Adult.

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Getting Started On Graphic Novels

So I began my "study" of graphic novels with Buddha, Volume 1: Kapilavastu by Osamu Tezuka. Evidently Tezuka is a big name in manga.

I know very little about this Japanese genre and tend to think of it as being adult comics with a lot of characters with strange big eyes. (According to anime.com that's Tezuka's influence.) At this point, I'm not sure whether or not manga has influenced the interest in graphic novels over the last ten years or so here in America or what it's relationship is at all. This tribute site says Tezuka's artwork gives the illusion of movement, and my impression is that graphic novels do do that, so he may have had some kind of influence on graphic novels overall.

Or maybe not. Maybe graphic novels just coincidentally share that with Tezuka's work.

Buddha: Kapilavastu doesn't really have that much to do with Buddha. He's born in this book, but most of the story involves other characters, which the back cover says are Tezuka's original characters and not from Buddhist tradition. The two most major are a slave, Chapra, and a pariah Tatta. The question "Why do humans suffer?" does come up, and Chapra and Tatta do suffer. But their suffering is interesting and adventurous while most books about characters who suffer tend to be, at least in my experience, ah...well, not interesting and adventurous. Improving, maybe.

A couple of interesting notes about the artwork--the pariah boys are naked in most cases, and there's a reason I know they're boys, if you follow my drift. Almost all the women are naked from the waist up, and they are all attractively portrayed, even the Buddha's mother who is pregnant, though we would never know if the text didn't tell us.

I have no idea what to make of that.

You also see facial expressions that are unrealistic in an over-the-top humorous sort of way, even though what is happening to the characters isn't necessarily humorous.

Again, I'm not sure what to make of that. I got used to it, though.

I can't say that I loved Buddha Volume 1, but there's something about it that's so intriguing that I'm hoping to move on to Volume 2. Oddly enough, no library in our consortium owns it, though some libraries have Volumes 5, 6, and 7.

That's right. I don't know what to make of that.

I'm wondering if Osamu Tezuka the Akira Kurosawa of graphic novels. Which would be really interesting because I just saw Seven Samurai this past summer.


Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Graphic Novel Basics

You can read Graphic Novel 101:FAQ by Robin Brenner at The Horn Book website. Just to get you started on your graphic novel education.


Monday, October 13, 2008

An Educational Experience, Though Not A Pleasant One

Nearly a month and a half ago I decided it had been a while since I'd read a book for younger readers, so I picked one up at the library. It just happened to be a graphic novel. I found out later that I'd be one of the judges for the Graphic Novel Division of the Cybils, which made reading the book I'd already picked up a little more interesting.

The book was interesting in a truly dreadful way. It was one of those degrading younger kid books that relies on what passes for wordplay and stupid humor. It was combined here with gimmicky images that appeared to be there to make kids' eyes pop.

I think that in a graphic novel the images should not just be illustrating scenes. The images should actually take the place of narrative. They should show true action, as in movement of plot.

Take The Invention of Hugo Cabret, for instance. Hugo Cabret isn't a graphic novel, but I think it could be said to have graphic elements. Sections of the story are told through pictures. Those pictures don't just illustrate some text the reader reads. They actually show us what is happening without words. Many of the scenes I recall involve movement. Our hero runs through a train station, under a clock, and up some stairs, while being chased by a guard. None of that is written down anywhere. We see it happen in the images and understand what has happened when the story picks up with text again.

I think that's what's supposed to be going on with a graphic novel. The images aren't supposed to be redundant. They aren't supposed to repeat what we read in a panel. They're supposed to replace the narrative that would occur around dialogue.

All the images did in this book I'm taking about was illustrate. They didn't make the story clearer. In fact, they made the story more confusing. I had trouble telling what had happened at one point.

In addition, what minimal plot exists in this book includes a hefty hole because it's the second book in some kind of series. All of a sudden the main character starts talking about someone from the first book and takes off to see him.

Poor plot, images that don't do what they're supposed to, and lack of respect for readers all work together to create a chaotic piece of writing for an age group that has only recently learned to read.

Why am I not mentioning the title? Because I can't balance the negative with positives here, because I can't think of any. So why I am writing about it at all? Because what I think of as this book's problems as a graphic novel have helped me clarify my thinking about graphic novels in general.

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Tuesday, October 07, 2008

Graphic Novel Imprint Stops Publication

No sooner do I develop a new interest in graphic novels, then I learn that a graphic novel company publishing YA no less has ceased publication. Why a US alternative to manga failed in The Guardian suggests the problem was that "the quality wasn't actually very high." He singles out The Plain Janes by Cecil Castellucci, Minx's first novel, as an example.

The Comics Reporter has a more sophisticated account of Minx's demise. The author, Tom Spurgeon does say, "...it could simply be the books just weren't doing it for their intended audience. They were books you could convince yourself might be successful, not books that you were stunned to find out weren't." (The intended audience, by the way, was teenage girls.) But he also quotes a former inventory manager at Borders as saying the bookstores didn't shelf the books in the right place and that DC didn't ask them to. I'm not a hundred percent clear on where the right place was, though, and why a bookstore needed to be told by a publisher where to shelf books.

Link from Blog of a Bookslut.


Monday, October 06, 2008

At Last It Can Be Told

I'm going to be a judge again for the Cybils! I'll be a Round II judge for the graphic novel category. Graphic novels--very hip and happenin' as one of my cousins likes to say. (Of other things.)

I think I've been very plain here that I can become obsessive when I get interested in something. I've felt obsession coming on ever since Kelly asked me back in September if I'd throw my lot in with the graphic novel folks. I don't believe my work for the Cybils will actually begin until after Christmas. But this fall I plan to be reading graphic novels and reading about graphic novels to get myself prepared for the rigors of judging.

You'll be hearing more about this, believe me.

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Sunday, June 17, 2007

Starting The Tour

I've been feeling a little overwhelmed by the magnitude of The Summer Blog Blast Tour. So very, very much reading for me to do. Nonetheless, I was able to get to Finding Wonderland's very good kick-off interview with Gene Yang, author of American Born Chinese. He has some interesting things to say about culture. After the interview you'll also find a list of additional links for more reading on Yang and his writing.

Remember how I went on and on about trying to read The New York Sunday Times? Well, I did finally get to the Book Review, which had what seemed to me to be a rather odd review by Ned Vizzini of American Born Chinese. While the overall review ended up being favorable, it started out raising the question "Is it so bad to grow up Asian in America?" The first two paragraphs sounded as if he were wondering, Hey, why do they need a book?

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Thursday, May 17, 2007

Love That Monkey King

I love the term feral reader. That's how I feel about myself--I'm a feral reader with a poor attitude. I usually find it difficult to enjoy books I'm supposed to enjoy. Award winners, for instance. If a book has some kind of sticker on it, I can usually be assured I'm going to find it formulaic or a victim story or derivative or sappy or often some combination of all the foregoing.

Notice I didn't say the book would be any of those things, just that I'd find it so.

Even honor books often rub me the wrong way.

But I really am delighted when I can be like everyone else and love one of them sticker books the way I love American Born Chinese by Gene Luen Yang. Oh, man. I loved all the parts and never saw what was coming.

I've read a few graphic novels over the years, but I've never read one that I so completely "got." The panels completely merged with the text so that I just knew what I supposed to know as I was reading.

Or I thought I did. Maybe I didn't know what I was supposed to know, just what I thought I was supposed to know. Nonetheless, I loved the book.

If, like me, you want more of the Monkey King, try visiting the Monkey Kingdom.

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Monday, February 19, 2007

A New Beowulf

I just discovered the blog AmoxCalli through one of its contributors,Gina MarySol Ruiz. (A member of the Cybil's nominating panel for graphic novels, by the way.) Sol has posted a review of Beowulf, a graphic novel by Gareth Hinds. You can check out the book's publishing history at The Comic.Com.

I was interested in a graphic novel adaptation of Beowulf not because I'm a major fan of the story but because I keep going back to it. I read it in college (Classic and Folk Epic class) and later read Grendel by John Gardner. (Hmmm. Do I still have that somewhere?) Like Sol, I also read Seamus Heaney's Beowulf. I found that version quite readable and, for what it's worth, a relative who might have been around middle school age at the time read it, too.

I don't know what it means when you're drawn to something you can't actually claim to love or to be terribly knowledgable about. Well, for one thing, it means I'm going to notice a graphic novel version. But beyond that I'm at a bit of a loss.

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