Showing posts with label graphic novels. Show all posts

7.15.2018

things i heard at the library: an occasional series: #29

It's TIHATL, Summer Reading Club edition!

Summer Reading Club is in full swing in Canadian libraries. In more than 2,100 libraries around Canada, kids are earning prizes and recognition for reading. Thanks to Toronto Public Library and a certain sponsoring bank, we all have lots of free stuff to give away.

The most popular kids' series ever,
still going strong after almost 15 years.
Our motives are simple: kids who read during the summer do better in school in September. SRC also helps remind parents of pre-readers to read with their little ones daily.

Our children's library is very busy. The first day of SRC, we signed up 180 kids! After two weeks, we're well over 600 participants. When kids register, or when they come in to "report" and collect prizes, it's a great time for some one-on-one conversations with our young customers. Some won't say one word without their parents' prompting, but others are so forthright and articulate! It's really a pleasure chatting with them. What have I heard?

"My favourite books are the ones where things happen, and you know, you don't know what's going to happen, and you think things won't happen, and then they do happen!"

"I love reading about space, and planets, and the universe. I'm going to be an astronaut and go to Mars -- when I'm six!" This boy was amazing. At not yet six years old, he knew so much about astronomy! And he wasn't just regurgitating facts without engaging, as you sometimes see with kids who are on the autism spectrum. This boy was relaxed and social, and had clearly synthesized what he had read. We had a great conversation about his impending Mars visit. His mom and I looked at each other in amazement.

Two sisters wanted to read about... it sounded like churchills.

"Miss, can we bring our churchills to the library?"

"Your ... what?"

"Our churchills!"

"I'm not getting it. Can you say that again?"

"Our CHURCHILLS! Can we bring our CHURCHILLS to the library?!!"

Finally I am forced to admit, "I don't know what that is."

"They are little animals, they have a shell, and their little arms and legs and head sticks out of the shell, and when they're afraid, they can go inside it. We have two baby churchills and we want to bring them to the library!"

I try not to laugh. They are hearing the word from their parents, who are new English speakers.

"Do you mean turtles?"

"Yes, yes, tur-tills!" Without missing a beat, they now begin to pronounce the world tur-till with great enunciation.

"I don't think your turtles would be very happy at the library."

"We would help them! We would show them all the books!"

"But you know what, all the kids would want to see the turtles and pet them, there would be a huge crowd, and I think the turtles might be afraid."

They nod with great seriousness.

I ask, "Would you like to read some books about turtles?"

"Yes yes yes yes yes!!!"

"Do you want to read stories with characters who are turtles, like Franklin, or information about turtles?"

"Information! Information about tur-tills! Tur-till information!"

The book on having a turtle as a pet is nowhere to be found, but we find lots of books about turtles in the wild. I try to shield them from books about endangered sea turtles, but they are too fast for me. Fortunately, they are only looking at the pictures, so they're not bothered by the sad stuff.

"Tur-tills! Tur-tills! Mommy Mommy we have books about tur-tills!!"

Currently the hottest ticket, by the
creator of Captain Underpants
* * * * *

[What should we set for your first reading goal? How many books will you read before you come in for your first prize?]

"100! No, 500! No, one thousand! No, three. Three books."

[What kind of books do you like to read?]

The most common answers are Diary of a Wimpy Kid, Dork Diaries (Wimpy Kid for girls), Harry Potter (still and apparently forever), Percy Jackson (hero of the Rick Riordan series), Narnia, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. For the younger readers, the most popular answers include Disney Princesses, Ninjago, Pokemon, LEGO, Barbie, various superheroes, and Transformers. (Notice anything?)

For graphic fiction (which kids call comic books), girls are still looking for anything by Raina Telgemeier, especially her new adaptation of The Baby-Sitters Club. Everyone is still reading Amulet. This year's kids have not heard of Bone, but I can talk them into trying it. This is especially great because, being slightly out of fashion, Bone is easy to find.

The graphic hybrids are hugely popular: Geronimo Stilton and related spinoffs, Big Nate, Captain Underpants, Dog Man (this year's runaway hit), and the seemingly eternal Diary of a Wimpy Kid. I often steer girls to Marissa Moss' Amelia's Notebook series, which predates Dork Diaries and is way better.

If you phrase the question, "Do you like funny books, scary books, adventures, mysteries...?" the number one answer, by a huge margin, is funny. Scholastic has the results of a survey about what kids and parents look for in books.

The best answer I heard in a long time was: "I like books with words and pictures! I'm very particular about what I read."

12.26.2017

what i'm reading: rolling blackouts, graphic novel that asks many big questions

I see by the wmtc tag "graphic novels" that I intended to write about graphic books I read and enjoyed...and I see by the scant number of posts with that tag that I have not been doing so! The last wmtc post tagged for graphic novels is from four years ago, almost to the day.

In any event, I want to tell you about a graphic book I just finished and really enjoyed: Sarah Glidden's Rolling Blackouts: Dispatches from Turkey, Syria, and Iraq.

In 2010, Glidden traveled with three friends who had journalism visas to the three countries in the book's title. Two of the three were part of a nonprofit, progressive media collective; the third was a former US Marine who served in the Iraq War, and was a childhood friend of one of the journalists.

Glidden doesn't merely report on what they found -- which would be interesting in itself. She stands outside the frame, as it were, and writes about their process and all its implications -- the ethics of their interviews, the industry constraints, the impossible dilemmas, the necessary compromises. The weighty responsibility of telling other people's stories, how stories are shaped into narratives, and how narratives influence our perception -- these questions are contemplated, explored, and challenged, as the inside view of how journalism happens is revealed to the reader. The question at the heart of Rolling Blackouts is "What is journalism?".

Dan, the ex-military friend on the trip, has a strange -- and often unwelcome -- perspective on the invasion of Iraq. From a privileged, middle-class background, with no family history of military service, he was an unusual enlistee. What's more, Dan insists that he was opposed to the invasion and actually protested against the war, but enlisted so he could improve the outcome. (Seriously?) He also insists that he has suffered no ill effects from his participation in the war, despite losing four friends. The journalists' attempts to mine and disrupt his odd perspective forms one of the recurring themes of the book.

But Rolling Blackouts is definitely not self-absorbed navel-gazing. We meet Kurdish Iraqis whose lives were improved by the removal of Saddam Hussein, and we meet Iraqi refugees living in Syria, whose lives, and the lives of their children, and generations to come, were destroyed by the US invasion. There is an Iraqi man who has been deported from the US, separated from his young family, because he was -- perhaps falsely -- accused of connections to terrorism. There's a young Iranian couple, both artists, on the brink of resettling in Seattle. There's a United Nations refugee administrator, an Iraqi taxi driver, a "fixer" who helps introduce the crew to potential interview subjects, and many other encounters. To each story, Glidden brings compassion and empathy, and an insistence on nuance in a world that is seldom black and white.

I really enjoyed Glidden's illustrations, soft watercolour snapshots of tiny moments in time, the kind that our memories are made of. The compassion and empathy with which Glidden approaches her subjects is evident in her lovely art. I also loved and appreciated the book's simple and extremely readable font. I wish more graphic book creators would think about the accessibility of their typeface choices. I understand that fonts are art, but when typeface impedes access, something has gone awry.

Rolling Blackouts is an ambitious book, aiming to do many things at once, and succeeding in all of them.

12.27.2014

what i'm reading: four classic graphic novels for adults who think they don't like graphic novels

Despite the increased attention given to graphic novels in recent years, many readers don't consider graphic novels when thinking about what to read next. In this "what i'm reading" post, I highlight four graphic novels considered classics of the form.

At least three of these books are included on high school and university curricula, and taken seriously as literature. These are certainly not the only graphic novels to achieve that standing, but if you asked a bunch of non-graphic-fiction readers to name some well-known and influential graphic novels, these would likely top the list. Each is worth reading, and perhaps will lead you to explore the format. (Or not.)

First on any such list has to be Maus (now known as Maus I: My Father Bleeds History). Art Spiegelman is the godfather of the modern graphic novel, and this book, first published in 1986, might be his best work. It is a foundational work of graphic fiction, and a definitive work of the Holocaust.

Maus is both disturbingly realistic and a fable. In this Holocaust tale, the Jews are mice, the Nazis are cats, the Poles are pigs, the French are frogs, and the Americans are dogs. The effect invites the reader to imagine familiar events in new ways. That alone is a tremendous feat.

To write Maus, Spiegelman interviewed his father Vladek, a Holocaust survivor, about his experiences. The book recounts those, but also reflects on the burdens of the next generation, and the burdens of knowledge that successive generations must confront.

To date, Maus is the only graphic fiction to win the Pulitzer Prize. The Wall Street Journal called it "the most affecting and successful narrative ever done about the Holocaust"; the New York Times anointed it "the first masterpiece in comic book history".

Maus II: A Survivor's Tale: And Here My Troubles Began (1992), which I own but have never read, focuses on Spiegelman's difficult relationship with his father, illuminating the unique experience of the adult children of Holocaust survivors.

In 2011, Spiegelman published MetaMaus: A Look Inside a Modern Classic, a beautiful "making of" book. There is also The Complete Maus, 25th Anniversary Edition, which dates that quarter-century from when Spiegelman was publishing the material in serial form in his Raw, his comics magazine.

Persepolis: The Story of a Childhood is Marjane Satrapi's memoir of growing up in Iran during the Islamic Revolution.

Satrapi weaves a condensed but vivid history of Persia/Iran into her family's history and her own coming-of-age. Satrapi was a rebellious, outspoken child raised by Marxist parents who were also descendants of Iran's last emperor. She witnesses the overthrow of the Shah, the installation of the Islamic Revolution, and the devastating war with Iraq with a child's incomplete understandings and sensitivities - and also a child's egocentrism.

Persepolis is funny, sad, sweet, and revealing. It is political, historical, and deeply personal. I think most Western readers would find the history portions fascinating and new.

The stark black-and-white drawings are powerful, easy to interpret, and deepen the reader's understanding - something graphic novel illustrations should, but don't, always do.

Persepolis was originally published in French; the English translation was published in 2003, Persepolis 2: The Story of a Return in 2005, and the excellent movie adaptation came out in 2007.

Ghost World, by Daniel Clowes, is an ode to teenage alienation.

Two girls, best friends, spend their days wandering around their unnamed town (somewhere in the US), criticizing everyone and wondering what shape their lives will take. As they grow up, they also grow apart, as each must decide whether to leave behind the shield of ironic detachment and cynicism and participate in the world.

Clowes quite brilliantly captures a type of teenage experience that is easily dismissed or misinterpreted from the outside. You can feel the longing that lies beneath the cynicism.

Like our two anti-heroes, Ghost World is more a meandering collection of scenes than a fully realized story, the form perfectly reflecting the characters' reality. (If I recall correctly, the movie, which I liked very much, is stronger on plot than the book.)

It's a fast read, but can leave you wondering what you missed. But then it's worth reading a second time.

Chris Ware's Jimmy Corrigan, the Smartest Kid on Earth was, I believe, the first adult graphic novel I ever read.

Ware's illustrations are more complex, less straightforward, and more varied than any other graphic novelist I'm familiar with. His style can make for a challenging read.

Add to that, the story itself is extremely sad - a study of generations of abandonment, loneliness, fear, and depression. Jimmy Corrigan is very good, but I recommend it with a warning sticker. Although I read it many years ago, just thinking about it makes my heart ache.

7.14.2013

what i'm reading, children's books edition: # 8: the invention of hugo cabret

In the aftermath of the flood and with our impending move, when I'm not dealing with those events, all I want to do is read and blog. If you enjoy my "what i'm reading" posts, you'll be happy. If not...

* * * *

I've long wanted to read The Invention of Hugo Cabret by Brian Selznick. Now that Martin Scorsese has adapted it into the movie "Hugo," I wanted to make sure I read it before seeing the film.

The Invention of Hugo Cabret is a wonderfully inventive and engaging book. It combines elements of picture books, graphic novels, and even flip books within the "chapter book" format for older children. It's a big, fat book - which itself has appeal for many readers - but roughly half the pages are filled with black-and-white pencil illustrations. These are pencil drawings, also by Selznick.

Typically, a group of illustrations form a sequence of images, first seen from a distance, then zooming in closer, and still closer. Because of this technique, many people describe the book as having a movie-like quality. Here's an example:










Unlike in conventional chapter books, where illustrations echo or amplify some action already explained in the text, the illustrations in Hugo Cabret are used to move the story forward, like this:
One night, the old guard in the museum forgot that Hugo’s father was up in the attic, and he locked the door, trapping him inside. Hugo had no way of knowing what happened next.


No one knows how the fire started, but it rushed through the whole building in minutes.
I love these wonderful illustrations and the way they are used, but they're not even the best part of the book. The writing is simple, precise, and elegant. The plot is twisting and convoluted, full of suspense and surprises. For the more sophisticated reader, the book is also playfully self-referential: a magical book about magic (which also features books about magic), a movie-like book about the magic of film, a mystery about missing pieces. It is set in 1931 Paris, so it's peppered with elements of history and place.

This is a beautiful, daring, exciting, suspenseful, charming, and sometimes profound book. Highly recommended.

1.20.2013

what i'm reading, children's books edition: # 4

Still Classic?

A Wrinkle in Time, Madeleine L'Engle, 1962

A Wrinkle in Time has always been one of my favourite books. Although I have re-read it a few times over the years, I approached it for this series with some trepidation, a bit concerned that I might no longer recommend it to young readers. I needn't have worried. The book - continually in print since it was first published in 1962 - was reissued last year in a special 50th anniversary printing, and with very good reason.

From the moment we begin, we are drawn to Meg - confused and frustrated, feeling like she can't do anything right. Scrappily defending her odd younger brother. Clinging to her mother's calm faith that her father will return. Feeling destined to never fit in.

And as we're identifying with Meg, the mystery begins to unfold. Who is this strange Mrs. Whatsit, and how does she know a secret about Meg's mother, one that even Meg didn't know? Family bonds, the pressures of conformity, and the shifting landscape of our own self-esteem quickly become entwined with time travel, the limits of our known world, and the battle against the nameless evil, fascism. The language feels fresh, the characters alive. We follow them into a fantasy, only to learn a basic truth: that we must find our own moral courage, and we must witness the power of love. This book is timeless.

Where to go from there? There are the other four books in L'Engle's "Time Quintet": A Wind in the Door, A Swiftly Tilting Planet, Many Waters, and An Acceptable Time. I haven't read them all, but young people love series, and I wouldn't hesitate to recommend anything by L'Engle. However, I would recommend following up in a different direction.

* * * *

Madeleine L'Engle's A Wrinkle in Time, The Graphic Novel, adapted and illustrated by Hope Larson, 2012

Madeleine L'Engle died in 2007, so she didn't live to see her greatest work thrive in a new format. I suspect she would have loved it. The award-winning author and illustrator Hope Larson has brilliantly adapted A Wrinkle in Time into a graphic novel. It's faster-paced than the original, as you might expect, but true to both plot and feel.

A reviewer at io9.com calls it "a love letter" to the original.

On HuffPo, Hope Larson writes about why she took on the project and what was involved.

* * * *

And finally, I want to (again) mention a contemporary children's novel that pays homage to A Wrinkle in Time: Rebecca Stead's 2009 When You Reach Me.

Miranda, the protagonist of When You Reach Me, is obsessed with A Wrinkle in Time. She carries the book with her and reads it again and again. Perhaps that helps prepare her for what is to come. This book is a daring meld of a realistic story with something fantastical and other-worldly. It is a treasure.

* * * *

Previous books in the Still Classic? series: My Side of the Mountain, Hatchet, Little House series, The Borrowers, From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs Basil E. Frankweiler.