I’m getting a lot of reading in these days – NOT teaching, along with prepping for a courses next Fall and Spring make for a well balanced reading load right now.
This post is a) really late but still counts as MONDAY, and b) shorter than usual. I hope you forgive both issues.
Squish#5: GAME ON! by Jennifer Holm and Matt Holm
I’m not going to lie. I love the Squish series. I’m not crazy about Baby Mouse – I just never connected with her problems or the stories or the supporting characters. I know loads of readers who adore both Baby Mouse and Squish, so I know it is possible, but it is simply not for me.
Squish is an amoeba, he loves Twinkies, comic books – especially Super Amoeba, and has trouble in school with the cool kids. He’s an Everyman character, as long as everyman is a single celled organism. He’s got two best friends, Peggy who is all about smiles and rainbows and happiness, and Pod who is more serious.
In this book Squish’s gets hooked on a video game called Mitosis! He overdoes it, gets bad grades, doesn’t sleep enough, becomes obsessed (which is bad). The funny thing about Squish #5 is although the message is preachy (keep all things fun in balance with responsibilities) it doesn’t read as simply or didactic. Instead it shows the trouble caused by obsessive game play OVER all everything else, like reading comics or interacting with friends and family.
The illustrations are bright and bely a complexity that might get past the novice reader of comics and graphic novels. The Holms use a slime green color to illustrate Squish’s real life, and a simple gray scaled color palette to illustrate when we are reading comics or playing Mitosis! along with Squish. This clear color distinction is not the only way the authors help organize the story for readers. In addition, the panels used for Squish’s real life are dark and bold but irregular, showing a fluidity to his reality. This fluidity translates into other parts of the illustrations, like his hat which changes to mirror Squish’s mood and focus. The panels have lots of quick transitions that utilize overlapping panels that not only help guide the readers attention, but also communicate the mood of the story. On the other hand, the Super Amoeba comics are presenting in grays with rectangular and regularly spaced panels with light lines and regular gutters and are, really, much less visually interesting.
GAME ON! might be my new favorite on the series.
And now for something completely different.
Yummy: The Last Days of a Southside Shorty by G. Neri and Randy Duburke
This award winning graphic novel is a fabulous biography that tells the story of Robert Sandifer, AKA Yummy, who was at the heart of Chicago’s notorious gang violence epidemic in the 1990s. The book is told from the point of view of a fictionalized character Roger, who’s older brother is in the same gang as Yummy.
Robert (Yummy) Sandifer was 11 when he accidentally shot a young girl. He was aiming for a suspected rival gang member but shot Shavon Dean instead.
It is a hard book to read. From the brilliant use of subtle shading in the cover, to the black and white illustrations, to the stark everyday struggle and horror of Yummy’s life. All of it is just hard to read, but harder still to see.
This is a rare book that should be used to underscore the systemic ills of our day. The problems that lead to a vacuum of humanity in which gangs fill the void. Yummy tells the tale of one young man by putting him and his action into context with the world around him.
Do you have a list of artists that no matter what they do, you are in? I have a few …
P¡nk. She can sing a phonebook, a dictionary, and random encyclopedia entries and I’d go to iTunes and buy the entire album (do we still call them that?) Here are a few reasons I am a huge fan – her Grammy performance of Glitter in the Air and her tribute to The Wizard of Oz at the Oscars.
Anything painted by Rene Magritte makes my head hurt in the most wonderful ways. I think the fact that Scoot McCloud used Magritte’s work to explain representations of iconic images helped me better understand some of the layered complexity of graphic novels and comics.
There are others, but in general, what attracts me to artists is a sense of fun, commitment, and flexibility. There is a change over time that you see when artists express their own growth and learning through their performances.
Gene Luen Yang is a graphic novelist that is in the same category. His range in storytelling is amazing. From American Born Chinese in which a young boy, Jin Wang, deals with his own identity, subtle and not so subtle racism, romance, and a crazy cousin. Oh, and toss in is a dose of the Monkey King folk tales on the side just for good measure. I think what makes ABC so wonderful to teach with is the Chin Kee character. He is the best and more excoriating presentation of all of the Asian stereotypes rolled into one disturbing and guilt inducing character. I have had students cry after discussing Chin Kee and all the horror Yang shows the reader by putting it all out there and making it very hard to turn away.
Then, when I thought I had a solid handle on the kind of artist Gene Yang is, he went and created Boxers and Saints. I remain in awe of the historical work that must have gone into this two book set as well as the way he develops the protagonists, Bao in Boxers and Four-Girl in Saints. My friend and colleague Sterg Botzakis wrote a great review over at Graphic Novel Resources.
Yang’s newest novel with Sonny Liew, The Shadow Hero is a million miles away from either ABC or Boxers and Saints and yet it is completely his work.
This book is a solidly middle-grade book with loads of fun, excitement, and dashing heroes, including a few cameos by a SuperMan like character that influences the story early on. Set in 1930s Chinatown – I can’t help but read it as San Francisco – the novel tells the origin story of a little known comic book super hero called The Green Turtle. The Green Turtle was originally written by Chu Hing as a short run comic book but it never caught on like other superheroes of the time.
What makes The Shadow Hero such a rich graphic novel is the complexity of the characters lives. Hank Chu, the protagonist, is a young man growing with immigrant parents. Both Hank’s parents are from China but have very different back stories, as well as different expectations of America. Because of their differences, Hank grows up with a loving but distance and slightly disappointed mother, and a loving and grounded father. Hank dreams of taking over his dad’s shop when he grows up, but his mother has other aspirations.
Hank’s relationship with his mom is … complicated. And that is the element that keeps this books moving forward in interesting ways. All the characters have well rounded back stories that gave me a sense of real life struggle and joy. Oh, that and the painfully bad martial arts training montages, the tricky protection clauses. and the eventual butt-kickery-ness of the hero. All of that.
Sonny Liew’s artwork is at once classic pulp comics with loads of motion and action, and a rather dull color pallets that resist bright white gutters that we have become used to with the high quality paper and printing available today.
One comic convention that Liew uses with striking effectiveness are recessed panel groupings. He frames the action as a larger panel with several internal panels showing details and shifts in point of view, while still keeping the larger context in view for the reader.
The effect this has on my own reading is that I am focused on the intimate and furious action as Hank’s mom sews a superhero costume, loosing herself in the task while I, as the reader, am still aware that time is passing.
The Shadow Hero is an immigrant story, a superhero origin story, and a story about the lengths a young man will go to in order to become a hero in his own eyes. I enjoyed reading and re-reading this novel and plan on sharing it widely.
I’ve been catching up on reading that I put off during the teaching year. That means I am reading lots of children’s and young adult books, but it also means I am reading books for me … just me … BWA-HAHAHAHAHA!!!! I revisited Augusten Burroughs DRY, which feels like visiting an old friend who got me through some rough patches. I am also reading exciting academic works such as Eliza Dresang’s Radical Change: Books for Youth in a Digital Age which is helping me understand reading graphic novels is new ways.
In addition to the reading, summer for academics means it is the season to write. I’m working on revising articles that I hope will be in press soon, as well as a chapter based on work I started on this blog, as well as new articles based on projects that are slow but fruitful, such as looking at representations across Lambda and Stonewall award winning LGBTQ YA books.
But, enough about me. Lets talk books!
I have to admit a shameful secret – I had never read any of the How to Train Your Dragon by Cressida Cowell books. None. Not one. After seeing the second movie ***** SPOILER ALERT ***** and once again being amazed and impressed with the darkness and loss the movies have as part of the over all ethos I wanted to go back to the source material. In both movies something bad happens … Hiccup looses a limb in #1, and a parent in #2. This kind of emotional hardship isn’t seen in most movies today and my sons appreciate movies that don’t talk down to them and pretend life is nothing but rainbows and sparkles of goodness. But, maybe that’s just our family. ***** END SPOILER ALERT *****
I read this with my nine year old son and we were both surprised – in a good way – with the differences between the book and the movie. We discussed the departures from the book, especially the characters – we especially missed the twins and their outrageous craziness but liked the expanded adversarial relationship between Hiccup and Snotlout. When talking about Astrid, my son put it best, “Yeah, she’s cool and all but really? Do we need kissing? We’re kids!”.
The best part of the book? Toothless talks! Well, technically, all dragons talk and Hiccup is able to interpret them for us. Getting the view of the world from the dragon’s perspective was a terrific reading experience. Understanding dragons from thier own point of view allowed for a much more complex story and made Toothless’es act of bravery MORE impressive. He’s a droll little lazy dragon who takes bribes and doesn’t do anything he doesn’t want to do. In addition, the more than giant dragon called The Green Death is terrific and scary all at the same time.
We are planning on reading the rest of the books as the summer rolls on.
In celebration of a long lived life, I re-read Nancy Garden’s 1982 Annie on My Mind.Ms. Garden (May 15, 1938 – June 23, 2014) was a trail blazer if there ever was one. I’d like to say her book, written in a series of flashbacks by a college freshman at MIT was the beginning of a new era in YA literature featuring healthy, mutually loving relationships between lesbians, but it was not. It still stands out as the exception, rather than the rule and is a book I recommend to teachers, parents and readers alike.
The book cover has been changed over the years. The original featured a rather dower set of girls on the Staten Island ferry to the current one with a romantic photo of two girls looking at the rings that exchanged as Christmas gifts. But, what is most important is what happens inside the book or, perhaps, what does NOT happen. No one dies, goes insane, gets electroshock or sent to a camp for reprogramming. It isn’t that the romance progresses without a hitch, rather it is that the problems are surmountable, the issues are real, and the solutions are within reach if the girls are brave.
As for the test of time – the book holds up because the story is good and the characters are real.
Thank you Jarrett J. Krosoczka for writing Platypus Police Squad: The Frog Who Croaked. I am a huge fan of his Lunch Lady series (see previous post) so I was excited to download the audiobook and start in on it. The story is complex with lots of twists and turns and reads like a great version of noir mystery. Read by Johnny Heller, the audio book reminds me of Raymond Chandler’s The Big Sleep but without all the drugs, sex and blood and with more illegal fish.
In this piece of kids noir detective Rick Zengo is the new kid in the squad and Corey O’Malley is the old vet who needs to show him the ropes. They have some trouble messing as a team but that quickly gets dealt with as they have bigger fish to fry. Yes, they happen to be platypuses, but don’t let their bills fool you, this is a hard hitting, action packed detective story. Although it isn’t as awesomely goofy as Lunch Lady, it still has loads of puns and lots of word play. This is a more serious book that requires the reader to track the story and remember loads of small details that become more important as the story progresses.
A great read aloud for some classes. I also highly recommend the audiobook.
I’ve been enjoying the end of the semester bustle of Boston University and the beginning of the summer away from BU.
I finally had time to finish Gina Damico’s Croak trilogy. I heard the author talk about the series back in December and I felt intrigued. I started the series with Rogue (the last) and enjoyed it but felt a bit lost. I picked up the other two and re-read them all.
Lex is having trouble with adolescence. She’s aggressive and out of control, getting into fights and breaking noses and other bones. Her twin sister has no such tendencies and her parents don’t understand where the violence comes from. But Mort, Lex’s uncle, understands all too well. He understands because he was the same, in so many ways, he was the same.
Mort is an agent of Death, he is a cloaked grim reaper and he is now in charge of Lex’s summer vacation. It is a great series, Croak building to Scorch which answers many questions and introduces new characters and issues. Finally, Rogue answering all the questions that can be answered and leaves the ones that can’t be. The beauty in the series is that it isn’t all nice and happy. People die, Lex makes mistakes, people forgive her. Mort never gives anyone all the information, least of all the reader. There are heroes and villains and lots of running around barely getting out in time to get into even more of a mess.
Although I review, read, recommend, and think about graphic novels most of the time now, I only began reading the medium a few years ago.
I read Spiegelman’s Maus early on in my exploration of the medium. I didn’t like it. I felt he made fun of the Holocaust. I mean, cats and mice? Is there a more tired metaphor? The insertion of his mother’s suicide seemed so random and, self aggrandizing.
The horror of more than six-million murders played out in black and white, simple animal drawings. The books received a Pulitzer and I didn’t understand what all the huff was all about. Simply said, I didn’t understand.
I have, in the few short years since beginning my study, read and reread Maus. Each time the reading takes longer. Each time I read fewer pages at a time. I spend more time thinking about it. Each time I read these books I understand more, but still, I don’t understand the horror at all.
Another series that I read every once in a while is Jeff Smith’s Bone. I’m not a big fan, although I understand why it is popular. The series is fun, silly and sometimes exciting. My favorite is The Great Cow Race, probably because Grandma is such a interesting character, and that is the thing. I’ve never been very interested in Bone or his cousins. Instead, I have wanted more than the small backward glances Smith provides to how Grandma, a queen, became an old lady running a race with cows.
Rose gives all those details. The book is definitely a part of the Bone series with the same bright colors, the same strange mix of characters that are realistic representations and highly unlikely fantasies. People, dragons, and rat men are all present. There is a hint of the origin story of the Lord of the Locust – which will be the next book I read.
It is the end of Spring semester here at Boston University, which means that my reading hours are being used for other things. It also means, my writing hours are geared toward research articles and grading.
But, just like the chick-a-dees and blue jays that are hopping around my trees and urging Spring to come, take off its coat, and stay for a while, I got a box of book that I recently ordered in the mail. So, I’m looking. I’m skimming. I’m treating myself to a read now and again and here is what I have.
This one is going to take me a while to finish. I can take it in small pieces, but as a whole it is an overpowering book.
Yossel is an historical account of WWII, the Warsaw Ghetto, and the life of one boy who drew. Kubert uses a heavily, pencil or coal sketch style on paper that appears to be newsprint but feels much heavier.
The images are sketches, with the dividing lines left intact, reminding me that it is a person who drew the portraits. The voice is of a young boy seeing a world filled with Nazi horror, and becoming numb to the horror.
La Perdida by Jessica Abel (2006)
Another black and white graphic novel, very autobiographical. The story focuses on a young American women who decides to live in Mexico City. It details her relationships, her acquisition of language, as well as the culture she comes to understand.
The illustration style is sometimes heavy handed, suffering from too much cross-hatching to show shadows and depth. Like many autobiographies Abel uses an abundance of written text instead of trusting the illustrations to carry more of the story.
So far, I’m not a huge fan, but the story is compelling.
Although not a graphic novel, I needed something to lighten the mood a bit. The cover is very wistful and sort of drab, using a dark watercolor pallet with one bright spot (the red shoe).
I suspected the story was going to be yet another Disney-fictation of Hans Christian Andersen’s mermaid tale.
I was wonderfully wrong.
This is a beautiful story that sneaks up on you in the veil of “Yeah, I’ve seen this a thousand times before”. Instead, it is the story of Minnow, who discovers the power of asking AND finding the answers to her own questions.
Last week the students in the children’s literature class I teach turned in their mid-term projects. I love this time of the semester, because it is a great time to see what I have missed or to reread some fabulous things that these students discovered.
A student, we’ll call her Lauren (because that is her name) teaches second grade. She discovered the Owly series by Andy Runton and talked to the class about it with such enthusiasm I went to the library the next day and grabbed all of them. I’ve been re-reading them over the weekend and am once again struck by the richness of the stories.
This almost wordless series provides an emotional authenticity that few books achieve. Runton uses black and white inked drawings that invite the reader in to truly co-construct the meaning. The dialogue is presented using standard talking or idea bubbles but instead of words, the ideas and emotions are communicated with embedded images.
These deceptively simple books are packed, so take the time to read each panel, each page, and don’t be afraid to backtrack!
Another student, Cheryl, found Annie Sullivan and the Trials of Helen Keller by Joseph Lambert.
I looked at this graphic novel a while ago but never got around to reading it. I’ve got it again on my shelf and I am struck with the use of ASL (I can only assume it is American Sigh Language) as text. Again, the use of visual representations of what would traditionally be handled by words.
And, then because I am just so freaking excited to see the next SAGA installment!!! SAGA by Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples (illustrator), is not a graphic novel, instead it is a comics series published monthly that I read in the collected form.
Full disclaimer and disclosure — I am NOT recommending the series for kids or school reading – at all. It is full of sex and nudity and aliens being very much not human, and blood and war and really weird aliens doing totally normal stuff like falling in love, and hating each other, and trusting, and having very bad days. It is also full of really weird stuff … like magic and planets that hatch space eating babies that shoot black stuff out of all three eyes out into space. There are rocket ships shaped like skulls, and like trees. There is loyalty and treachery, lust and kindness. The series surprises me each time I read it.
Reading the series reminds me of watching Tele Novellas with my grandmother when I was young and had no idea about the world. That, and the Star Wars bar scenes or the scenes with Jaba the Hut (but with sex and way more blood).
In which we continue with
A MONTH OF FABULOUS GRAPHIC NOVELS IN NO PARTICULAR ORDER!!!!!
(But, maybe it will be a year instead of a month).
I recently spoke to a class of preservice secondary teachers about YA literature, picturebooks and graphic novels. There were some great questions from the students, including finding resources such as Nerdy Book Club, Google Books, as well as the value of a great teen librarian.
One student voiced concern about “lightening” the curriculum by not including Shakespeare in the “original” form. I am not proud of what I said, “Actually, unless you are having the kids read off of wine stained sheets of parchment shared with syphilitic, illiterate actors in drag, then you aren’t sharing the original.”
What I should have said is the basis for this blog post.
After looking through dozens of graphic novel adaptations of Shakespeare’s plays, from No Fear Shakespeare to the Classics Comics editions, as well as a mistaken adventure into Kill Shakespeare territory. But, after thinking there was no way to adequately transform plays I found Gareth Hinds work. For me what makes Hamlet or Macbeth or Lear worth the experience has never been struggling through the olde English on the page. Instead, Shakespeare has always been about hearing the colorful and entrancing language pour forth and paint a picture of terror, retribution, and duplicity standing shoulder to shoulder with loyalty, fidelity, and love.
Hinds work gives me the same kind of aesthetic experience as seeing a great production on the stage or screen. His illustrations are full of life and passion and they reflect a diversity of character and perspective that other adaptations lack.
When I first saw his Romeo and Juliet adaptation I was pleasantly by the obvious play to multicultural experience. Romeo has dark skin and kinky hair and looks Black or African American. On the other hand, Juliet looks somewhat Indian.
R and J is not one of my favorite plays and I don’t understand why we, as a society, have decided that high school freshmen need to read a play about a spoiled girl and a reckless boy selfishly destroying their families. But, for all of that, Hinds provided a new, much more colorful look at this tired teen trope. He stays with Shakespeare’s language and pacing of the story.
What makes Hinds R and J so much better than any of the others out there is his ability to give the reader a sense of emotional agitation. It is as if by the ways he uses uneven paneling, vibrant colors, implied movement that I can feel the train wreck quality to the story. Hinds uses quick transitions, disjointed panels, and constantly shifting perspectives, as in the fight scene on page 8 and 9, to keep the reader tense and uncomfortable. Tybalt’s hatred of Benvolios is seen clearly in panel 2/page 8. Note the sneer on his face, the tension in his muscles and the emerging red background.
In addition, Hinds gives us an overhead view of the entire fight, panel 1/page 9. See the guys running into the fray from the upper right and left corners? Although there is no actual movement, the implied motion is clear and cringe worthy. No good ever comes of a bunch of twits fighting in the street.
After reading R and J, I decided to seek out Shakespeare plays I actually enjoyed to see what Hinds did with them. Luckily for me he did my favorite of the tragedies, King Lear. There is nothing better than seeing the prideful king taken down a peg or eight, while Kent’s (for reasons I have never understood) loyalty is proven over and over. Cordelia’s level headed thinking and behavior along side her sister’s scheming ways remind me of Grimm Brother’s Cinderella. Although, I must admit I have never really understood or cared about the Edmund subplot, it was good for a laugh now and again.
Hinds delivers on a great play and more so. But, because I knew the play much better than R and J, I realized the text is original to the play but it is abridged. His selection of what to keep and what to leave make perfect sense. The illustrations do much of the work, and so there is no need for characters to explain their motives, or actions. We can see that Edmund is lying most of the time and why his brother Edgar takes on so many roles throughout the play.
In Lear Hinds uses fewer panels and instead relies on complex placement and character orientation to show the ways people are moving, both in space and in their loyalties. He often uses lightly colored paths to help the reader understand the order of events.
The changes in lettering, color schemes, and orientation make this a challenging book to read but it is well worth the time and effort.
Although Hinds changes his style dramatically, I thought after reading these two plays that I was ready for anything he was going to throw at me. And so I gladly picked up Merchant of Venice. But, I wasn’t ready … not at all.
Merchant is slate greys and dull blues with stylized pen and black ink. Each page looks like a piece of fine-point Scrimshaw or some sort of scratch art done on a computer.
Oh, and did I mention it is set in what looks like the 1920s? No? Did I mention he adapted the language to modern English? Yeah, cause Hinds is that kind of genius.
I finished Grasshopper Jungle by Andrew Smith. It is a wondrous read the is at once completely banal and full of everyday adolescent angst filled emotional subjects like love, sex, and identity, as well as end-of-the-world-threatening, megalomaniacal, out-of-control, mad science gone wrong. The narrator, Austin, presents these topics in the same tone. Or, should I say he alternates between overly and underly (it’s a word) dramatic tone and neither ever seems quite appropriate. And yet, it is always right.
Austin may or may not be bisexual, or gay, or something. He loves his best friend Robbie (who is gay), who loves Austin and whom Austin might be IN love with but he’s not sure. Austin is sure that he is in love with his girlfriend Shann (who is not gay). The idea of Robbie and Shann kissing makes Austin horny – of course, life makes Austin 16 year old horny.
The book is filled with intertwining and complex relationships such as Austin’s boss – who is also Shann’s step-father and the brother of the megalomaniacal, out-of-control, mad scientist, who is dead but still makes a rather important appearance. There is a fair amount of history, and some geography and … The important thing about this book is OH MY GOD JUST READ IT!!!!!!!
In prep for my children’s lit class this week I am also re-reading …
The illustrations provide a sense of peace and beauty, as well as respect for the ocean.
But the true beauty of this biography is being able to follow Cousteau as a boy who was curious about film making and oceanography. This is a terrific example of an interesting, beautiful non-fiction pciturebook.
I am also rereading A River of Words: The Story of William Carlos Williams by Jen Bryant. I used to say I was not a poetry person. I think that is not an accurate description. I think I am a very picky poetry person. It can be a difficult genre for me to read, but then I will find someone who plays with words in a way I understand, who paints pictures and reveals new ways of seeing the world that I can share in. One such poet is Carlos Williams.
I want to love this book because it brings poetry into the hands of kids. I want to love this book because it is a stunning example of mixed-media illustrations. I want to love this book because it explains how this poet was also a doctor and how not giving up poetry helped him be a better doctor. But, it is a difficult book for me to read. Although the illustrator does offset the prose into beige text boxes, the actual poetry is often presenting as part of a tableau that confuses written text with illustrations. I can view these pages as pieces of art but the pleasure of reading is more often lost to me.
The mixed-media creates a jumbled and confusing reading space for me that I find exhausting. I want this book to be truly multimodal so that I can hear the written prose and poetry while taking in the illustrations. Then, I could truly love this book.
To begin with I have been rereading George O’Connor’s series about the Greek gods of mythology, The Olympians. I wrote a teacher guide for First:Second on the series (I’ll link to that as well) and I wrote a blog post (Go here for that ….) featuring Hades.
The basics about the whole series are — great color, exciting stories, seriously weird characters, and so much more variation that I expected. I terrific set for most classrooms, just be sure to read them before putting them on the shelf – there are references to sex, very short skirts on some of the men, and extra-marital affairs seem to be had by all. The vocabulary is no joke either! Also, terrific author’s notes about O’Connor’s research.
My partner and I have been reading Diary of a Wimpy Kid: The Third Wheel with our younger son. I traveled a bit last week and so I missed out on the middle part. I’m not a big fan of the Wimpy Kid books for my own reading, I just don’t like or hate Greg enough to care what happens. I think the books are heavy handed and moralistic (not what I look for in a book). But, and this is important, both our sons have loved this series … and so I read the books and try to connect with my boys.
I read Eleanor and Park by Rainbow Rowell … Click here for that post … I started reading Fangirl after that on the recommendation of a student in my children’s literature class. Fangirl is a BIG book, and has lots of stuff going on, including twins going to college and making mistakes, roommates, roommates ex’s, new love, fanfiction, a book withing the book, and plagiarism. Did I mention it was really-really long?
I can imagine it being a great read for YAs who read big books about people having feelings but somehow it didn’t stick with me. I can’t put my finger on my issue, but I am pretty sure it was me and not Rainbow.
A girl begins the story by taking a large red crayon in hand and creating a door that begins the journey. The detailed pen and ink with watercolor drawings are breathtaking. Taking the time to read all the tiny bits and pieces, to see the questions and the connections across the story was and continues to be an engaging process.
This book is so deserving of the Caldecott honor! In addition Aaron Becker has a terrific web page that includes a documentary about the making of Journey (StoryBreathing), a book trailer, and links to his blog, and other cool things like signed prints (just in case anyone wants to send me things for my office walls).
I am currently reading Andrew Smith’s Grasshopper Jungle thanks to my friend Kristin. The book is weirdly wonderful, just the kind of thing I love. The characters and story stay with me when I am not reading it. In fact I think I can hear it calling me from the other room. I’ll write more about it when I am done.
George O’Connor is a history guy who has created a series the retells/recalls/reillustrates the Greek mythologies of The Olympians published by First:Second.
So far there are six in the series … Zeus, Athena, Hera, Hades, Poseidon, and Aphrodite. Each is a little different, depending on the stories O’Connor chooses to tell, and each relies on the others to fill out the complex and interrelated mythology.
And what an interrelated mythology it is! Luckily O’Connor gives the reader this handy-dandy family tree at the beginning of every book. I refer to it often to check and see if I am creeped out by Hades in general, or specifically because he is kidnapping and wooing his niece!!!! And by wooing I mean sweeping down in his big chariot of death and taking Persephone to the underworld and telling her he is going to marry her because Zeus said he could.
The gods marry each other at an alarming rates. They also have affairs with each other, with other immortals, with mortals, and with various and sundry animals. They scheme and plot and generally act like middle school children with too much time and power.
O’Connor uses color to evoke mood and set tone effectively throughout the series, but I think he is at his best in Hades. The tale O’Connor tells is also the story of hoe Persephone came to the underworld. I was familiar with the deal she strikes with Hades – she gets a set amount of time on earth in exchange for living with him as his wife/mistress/companion for the rest of the time. But this tells how that deal came about in the first place.
As it turns out Persephone is a surly teenager who pretty much looks like this when she talks to her mother, Demeter.
The image (p. 14) of Persephone having a total hissy-fit at her mother while her friends look on is the perfect illustration of her world. Demeter is a concerned mom who made mistakes as a teen-god and wants to protect Persephone. (Demeter also happens to be the god in charge of all the things that grow and feed the piddly mortals on earth).
More important than the look of scorn from Demeter and general fed-upness from Persephone (I have a non-deity friend with a head strong daughter, and they look like this a lot) is the assault of perky color O’Connor uses to illustrate the world at this moment. The ground Demeter walks upon is a violent verdant landscape. The brush in the background is a rich thicket of dark green foliage. Even the clouds reflect a tinge of light green from Demeter’s handywork.
Here, in contrast, O’Connor gives use Hades and Persephone just after he snatches her from that same field and goes to the underworld (p. 22). Hades is darkness and shadows that swaollow light and give back nothing. Notice Persephone’s blue dress is not little more than a muddy, slightly tinted purple color. The background of the panel is a rich darkness bounded by the bright white gutter that sharpens the contrast.
The stark color shift helps set up the tenor of the story. As Demeter searches for her lost daughter, the rich and plentiful earth suffers from her neglect. When we do see some color in Hades’ underworld it is because of Persephone. The earth is dimmer, becoming a shadow because of Persephone’s absence. The underworld is become less drab because of her presence. O’Connor uses color to tap into our visual sense and tell part of the story.
There are 6 books thus far in the series with more to come. My favorites are Hades, Zeus, and Athena, although Aphrodite is fabulous, and Hera is a whole new way of looking at the story of Hercules. Oh! And Poseidon gives more details about the extended family.
Forget it. I love them all.