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Friday, April 26, 2013

Ayun Halliday's first graphic novel! _Peanut_!

Halliday, Ayun; Hoppe, Paul (2013)  Peanut  New York:  Schwartz and Wade.

     When Amy and I first moved to Chicago 25 years ago, one of the first theatre experiences we had was a show called "Too Much Light makes the Baby Go Blind".  On a small stage above a funeral home, a troupe of young actors would present 30 plays in 60 minutes.  The plays were cleaver, funny, personal, political, heart-rending, confusing, wonderful, odd, pointless, offensive, and deeply moving.  Each week the audience would roll a die and the ensemble would write that many new plays for the next week. We would see the show every couple of months and it was always new, always fresh, always interesting and thought provoking. One of our favorite actors was Ayun Halliday.
     The show is still running in Chicago ( http://neofuturists.org/toomuchlight/ ) but Ayun has moved to New York.  She is the creator of a wonderful 'zine called The East Village Inky ( http://ayunhalliday.com/the-east-village-inky/ ), the author of a very funny book for grown-ups called The Big Rumpus and now she has come out with her first graphic novel, Peanut.  (To be fair, Ayun wrote it, but Paul Hoppe did the excellent illustrations.  Thing is, I don't know him so much.)






     Peanut is a really fun book at first.  Then it is full of cringe moments for a while, then it has a satisfying ending.  Sadie is moving to a new school where no one will know her.  A chance meeting with a girl who has a peanut allergy gives Sadie the idea of ordering a med-alert bracelet and tellling everyone she is extremely allergic to peanuts.  It works and soon she has a group of friends and even a wonderfully nerdy boyfriend.  Sooner or later, though, the truth will come out and you can tell when you are only a third of the way into the book that it is going to be ugly when it does.  By that point, though, you will genuinely like Sadie, and so you will have to ride it out with her.
     Hoppe's drawings are clear and direct and he really does a nice job of conveying emotion through facial expressions and body stances.  Using red as a spot color also works in this book, causing scenes with Sadie in them to jump off the page. 


 
     This book would be great for middle school or high school.  Teachers could pair it with other novels about truthfulness and trust.  It is not perhaps deeply profound, but it has something to day.  Now, go buy this book (or check it out from your amazing library.)

Two reviews of R. J. Palocio's _Wonder_. (I'm conflicted.)

     Okay, let me say first of all that I loved the book Wonder (by R.J. Palacio (2012) New York: Knopf).   Secondly, though, let me say that I understand, I think, why it did not win a Newbery Award last year.  So I really am of two minds about the book.  So I will start out with a paragraph or so telling you why I think you and your middle school or high school students will love this book.  Then you can stop if you want, order the book, read it, and be happy.  But if you want to read on after the image of the book cover, you can find out what I think was the book's Achilles heel.
     The main character,  August (Auggie) Pullman was born with a coincidental combination of unfortunate birth defects.  His eyes are proportionately two low on his head.  He has not external ears, he has a cleft palate and a misshapen nose.  Growing up, Auggie loved Halloween each year because he could wear a mask.  He wore an astronaut;s helmet to the park every day, and his parents end up deciding that he will be homeschooled. 
     As the book opens, though, Auggie is getting ready to go to school for the first time -- Middle School.  In the story that follows, we see Auggie's journey through his eyes, the eyes of his friends, and the eyes of his sister.  Middle school brings equal measures of ridicule, bullying, and friendship; exultation and terror; conquered fears and awkward mistakes; sadness and triumph.  It is a powerful and moving book.  My freshman daughter liked it.  I am betting you will too. 
      It would also be a really effective book to introduce the subject of bullying and unkind behavior to a middle school or high school classroom.  Get hold of Wonder and read it soon.



     And yet....  when I got to the ed of the book I wondered by it hadn't won a Newbery.  I thought about that, then realized that although the ending was emotionally satisfying, it had left a part of me feeling empty.  Took me a couple of days before I figured it out.  The main conflict that is introduced in the book involves a fellow student of Augies who seems to have it in for him.  And in fact, that kid's parents are also pushing for Augie to be put in a different school.  This main conflict develops and is ultimately resolved -- but just about the time when it is really getting cooking and the reader is starting to worry about Augie, that conflict gets replaced by another short-term conflict and when we return to the main conflict, it just sort of evaporates.  Strangely, this doesn't ruin the book, but it does leave one wishing that the author had not dodged the difficult part of the story.  Having said that, Wonder is R.J. Paloacio's first novel, and I for one am really looking forward to seeing what she does next. 

Monday, April 22, 2013

List of graphic novels good for a middle school or high school literature class

Hello All,
What follows is my running list of graphic novels that would be appropriate for high school or middle school.  It is an annotated list (though some annotations are more full than others) and some recommendations seem to focus on whether or not the GN has vulgarity, nudity, or other challengable material.  This is not because I wish to ban those GNs or pass judgement on their worth based solely on their objectionable content, but rather because the purpose of this blog is to inform teachers about books that would work in their classroom.  So if you want to read stuff with objectionable content, you are welcome to, I just want to save teachers from buying books they will be unable to use in their classroom.  Anyway, here is the list:

Literature
Baum, L. F. and M. Cavallero (2005). Wizard of Oz. New York, Penguin.
Good adaptation of the book.  Cavallero is the same artist as on the Jane Yolen Foiled books.


Bruchac, Joseph; Davis, Will (2009)  Dawn Land New York:  First Second. 
Native American legend story.  Very well done.  Excellent art.  Very interesting story.  Some vulgar language and implied adult situations. 



Castellucci, C. and J. Rugg (2007). The Plain Janes. New York, Minx.
Several girls named Jane use art to wake up their sleepy town.  Reverberations of 9-11.



Chadwick, Paul.  (2005) Concrete: Depths.  Milwaukie,OR: Dark Horse.  This book is about a guy who ends up in a body that is composed of rock and then he has to figure out what to do with himself.  It sounds lame, but it is a remarkably interesting series of stories.  I liked this one a lot.  There is one scene with nudity that may make this particular volume problematic for high school.



Doyle, Sir Arthur Conan; Culbard, I.N.J.; Edginton, Ian (2009)  The Hound of the Baskervilles London:  Self Made Hero Publishing     Very nice adaptation of the original story.  Very faithful to the original text.  There is a new one out now:  A Study in Scarlet.



Eicher, Glenn; Bertozzi, Nick.  (2009)  Stuffed.  New York:  First Second.  Tim inherits his father’s curio museum, and finds that, among the artifacts is a stuffed African warrior.   He, and eventually his brother Free, work to return the statue to its native land.  Thematically there is a lot here about brother to brother relationships, father to son relationships, racial relationships, and the question of doing the right thing at the cost of all relationships.


Eisner, W. (2000). A Contract with God. New York, DC Comics.  Excellent shorts stories that deal with New York and Judaism.  One particular story is problematic and changeable.



Giardino, V. (1994). A Jew in Communist Prague: Loss of Innocence. Nantier Beall Minoustchine, New York.
Good piece -- nicely portrays life of a marginalized family under totalitarian rule.  Coming of age/sex scene might make it difficult to use even with high school students.



Gaiman, Neil  (1991) Sandman:  Preludes and Nocturnes New York:  DC.  Very interesting fantasy novel.  Humans imprison the embodiment of Dream through sorcery.  Chaos ensues.  Dream eventually escapes and must reclaim three talismans of power.  Along the way, some interesting portrayals of the best and worst of humanity.  Very influential graphic novel.  Some vulgarity, some nudity, some occult references.



           
Geary, Rick; Shaw, Stanley W.; Ryan, Johnny;  Weber, Lisa K.  (2005)  Graphic Classics:  O. Henry  Mount Horeb, Wisconsin:  Eureka Productions.  Adaptations of O.Henry Short Stories including The Ransom of Red Chief, Gift of the Magi, The Cisco Kid, and others.  Many different adapters, so the styles and the quality of different adatations vary a lot – but bottom line, it was a pretty good book.



Hale, S., D. Hale, et al. (2008). Rapunzel's Revenge. New York, Bloomsbury.
Excellent book with intertextual references to classic literature.  Themes of self-reliance, independence, friendship, justice, and exploitation.  Excellent for fifth or sixth grade.

Hale, S; D, Hale, et al.  (2010) Calamity Jack New York:  Bloomsbury  Even better than Repunzel’s revenge.  Does a great job of establishing a whole world. 

 


Hicks, Faith Erin.  (2012)  Friends with Boys  New York:  First Second.    Maggie has been homeschooled her whole life and now is starting high school.  She worries about finding friends and finding her way through the big building.  Fortunately, her oldest brother, a likable member of the theater group, is around, as are her twin brothers (though they are usually too busy fighting with each other to be of some use).  Maggie meets Lucy (a hyper, but likable kid) and her moody punk brother Alistaire and things seem to be going okay.  Maggie's only other problem is that she is haunted by a ghost.  Very good story with a lot about childhood (and a group of kids who are not into drugs, drinking, or hyper-sexuality.)  It is a good book.  Main themes are developing your own identity, defining friendship, and developing courage by standing up to what you fear (ghosts or bullies)


    
Hinds, Gareth (2010) The Odyssey  Somerville, MA: Candlewick
      A few years ago, Marvel comics came out with a graphic novel version of the Iliad.  Then there was the graphic novel 300 about the Spartans holding the pass at Thermopylae.  And I remember thinking when I first saw them how it made perfect sense for a comic version of these ancient Greek stories because they read like comic books anyway, with the gods and demigods as superheroes.  In each of those cases I found though, that it didn't quite work.  The Odyssey and the Iliad are not really comic book stories -- the fit isn't as perfect as I thought.
     Then along came George O'Connor.  His Olympians series showed that the stories of the Greek Gods could be done and done well.  (If you haven't read them yet, do so).
     I was so excited about O'Connor's work that I missed Gareth Hind's graphic novel version of the Odyssey that came out in 2010.  It is brilliant.  His artistic style is very different from O'Connor's stuff -- O'Connor is more confident and more vibrant -- Hinds seems muted and cautious by comparison -- but frankly, I don't care -- because Hinds nails The Odyssey perfectly.  I'll include some images below.  You can see what I mean.
     But here is why I am excited -- this is The Odyssey.  He captures it.  First of all, he tells the story in the right order.  His images help us picture the action, but for the first several pages, the text still carries the bulk of the meaning.  By the end of the first chapter or so, you will be hooked.  The blinding of the Cyclops, the sirens, the book of the dead, and best of all, Odysseus gets his revenge on those freeloading suitors.  This is the kind of a graphic novels that will pique studnets' interest in reading the original.
     I guess what I am trying to say is that I really liked it.  Get hold of it and read it. 

Homer; Thomas, Roy; Sepulveda, Miguel Angel (2008)  The Iliad  New York:  Marvel  Excellent rendition of the epic poem.  Emphasizes the theme of manipulation by the gods over the theme of petty jealousy among the Greeks.  Very nicely done!


Huizenga, Kevin, (2006) Curses.  Montreal:  Drawn and Quarterly   Amazing short stories dealing with hope despair, religion, morality, how to live, etc.  The story “28th Street is a kind of modern fable.  Quest story.  Excellent.  Maybe for use with upperclassmen.




Johnson, Mat, & Pleece, Warren (2008) Incognegro New York: DC.  Story of a black reporter who can pass for white and uses this to pose as a KKK guy and attends lynchings to cover them – gets names and stuff.  He has decided to retire, too many close calls, then he finds out that his brother has been arrested in the South.  He goes down there to try to solve the crime.


Kafka, F. and P. Kuper (2003). The Metamorphosis. New York, Three Rivers Press.
Very nicely done adaptation.  Good art (though somewhat presentationalist)  Black and white
           
Kubert, Joe. (2003) Yossel, April 19, 1943.  New York:  ibooks.  GN about a Jewish boy with an amazing drawing talent who is trying to survive the Nazi occupation.  He experiences life in a ghetto, death camp, and as part of the Jewish resistance.

Kuper, P. (1991). The Jungle (Adaptation of Upton Sinclair's novel). New York, Nantier, Beall, Minoustchine.

Larsen, Hope (2010)  Mercury  New York: Atheneum   Tara’s mother’s house burned down, Tara is living with her Aunt and uncle while her mother works in Western Canada.  Josey is living on the Canadian frontier with her mother, father and sister when a stranger arrives and persuades her father to join him in developing a gold mine.  The way these two stories stitch together is excellent.  Good story.


Lat.  (1980)  Town Boy.  New York:  First Second.  Memoir of a child growing up in Malaysia.  Excellent. 

Lee, Tony; Hart, Sam; Fujita, Artur (2009) Outlaw: The Legend of Robin Hood Somerville, MA: Candlewick    Excellent retelling of the Robin Hood story!

Lemire, J. (2007). Tales From the Farm. Atlanta, Top Shelf.
Won an Alex award.  Kid mourns late mother -- doesn't understand dad, bonds with brain damaged former hockey player who may be his real dad -- also kid imagines alien invasion.  Hockey player plays along.

           
Lemire, J. (2007). Ghost Stories. Atlanta, Top Shelf.
Two brothers, both hockey players, torn apart by an affair between the unmarried one and the married one's wife.  Told by the unmarried one as a senile old man looking back on a fruitless life.

London, Jack: Kuper, Peter, Howarth, Matt; Geary, Rick, Emerson, Hunt.  (2003)  Graphic Classics;  Jack London.  Mount Horeb, WI: Eureka Productions.  Not the strongest art or storytelling in the world, but some of these might be good examples of how to translate classic literature to GNs.  Some stories have adultish material.

Melville, Herman; Sienkiewicz, Bill  (1990)  Moby Dick.  New York: Berkley.
Excellent adaptation (though greatly abridged)  Art is fabulous.

Modan, Rutu (2008)  Jamilti and other  stories.  Montreal:  Drawn and Quarterly.  Excellent and interesting short stories,  mostly they take place in modern-day Israel.  Very occasional nudity, but the figures are so small, it is not really titillating.

O’Connor, George (2010)  Athena:  Grey-eved Goddess.  New York:  First Second.  Excellent book.  The Fates narrate.  Focus is Athena, but that includes the story of her birth and the stories of Medusa, Perseus, and Arachne.


O’Connor, George (2012) Hades: God of the Dead.  New York:  First Second.  Excellent.  As usual, this is not really a book about Hades, but it is the story of Demeter and Persephone.   The art work is excellent and absolutely enhances the story.  Begins with a beautiful second person sequence of what it is like to die if you are Greek. 

O’Connor, George  (2011)  Hera: The Goddess in her Glory  New York:  First Second.  Excellent look at the labors of Heracles from Hera’s perspective.

O’Connor, George (2013) Poseidon: Earth Shaker  Nw York:  First Second.  First Person narration by Poseidon.  Includes parts of the Odyssey and the story of Theseus.

O’Connor, George  (2011)  Zues: King of the Gods  New York:  First Second.  Excellent look at the creation of the earth from Zues’s perspective.
Pyle, Kevin C.  (2007)  Blindspot.  New York:  Henry Holt  Interesting piece about a kid who’s war games with his friends are, to him, more real than the rest of his life. 

Reed, G., F. Irving, et al. (2005). Frankenstein, The Graphic Novel. New York, Puffin
 
Satrapi, M. (2003). Persepolis: The Story of a Childhood. New York, Pantheon.

Satrapi, M. (2004). Persepolis 2:  The Story of a Return. New York, Pantheon.
           
Seagle, S. T. and T. Kristiansen (2004). It's a Bird. New York, DC.
Not really about Superman, but a memoir about the author's childhood struggle with his mother's fatal illness and the effect that has on his later life.


 
Shakespeare, W. and McDonald, John (2009) Romeo and Juliet: The Graphic Novel  Lichborough: Classical Comics.    Not a bad adaptation generally, and completely unabridged.  Traditional costumes and sets.  The word does not always suit the action.  This company also publishes a plain text version and an abridged version using the same art.

Shakespeare, W. & Vieceli (2007) Manga Shakespeare Hamlet.  London:  Self Made Hero Press.


           
Shanower, E. (2004). Age of Bronze:  The Story of the Trojan War. Orange, California, Image Comics Inc.

Small, David.  (2009)  Stitches.   New York:  W.W. Norton.
In this memoir, David has to come to terms with having a lump in his neck, having two operations to have it removed, finding out that it is cancer, finding out that his radiologist father may have caused the cancer by treating David’s respiratory problems with x-ray radiation when he was younger, discovering that the second operation has cut away half of his vocal cords, leaving him mostly mute, and finding out that his mother has a female lover (handled fairly sensitively – no nudity).  Not very hopeful, but an amazing piece all the same. 

Spiegelman, A. (1986). Maus I. New York, Pantheon.
           
Spiegelman, A. (1986). Maus II, a Survivor's Tale. New York, Pantheon.

Talbot, B. (1995). The Tale of One Bad Rat. Milwaukie, Oregon, Dark Horse Books.
Excellent.  Deals with sexual abuse.


Tamaki, Mariko (2009?)  Skim  Teenage goth rebellion, witchcraft, underage smoking, vulgar language, hinted lesbian relationship – BUT—Skim goes down a dark road and comes out stronger – rejects witchcraft.

Telgemeier, Raina (2010)  Smile.  New York:  Scholastic.   Raina is due to get braces when she falls and knocks out to of her teeth.  This GN, though, is less about her orthodontic adventures and more about how she matures from middle school into high school and eventually ditches her friends (who seem to ridicule her a lot) for a new set of friends she can feel more comfortable around.


Thompson, C. (2004). Blankets. Marietta, GA Top Shelf Productions.
Good story – deals with conflict between fundamentalist religion and artistic expression.  Some nudity.

Vance, Jack; Ibrahim, Humayoun (text 1961, adaptation 2012)  The Moon Moth.  New York:  First Second.  Excellent adaptation of a difficult but excellent science fiction story.  It is a ind of detective story set on a planet of self-interested beings who communicate only through music. 

Vaugan, Brian K. and Henrichon, N. (2006) Pride of Baghdad, New York, DC
During the bombing of Iraq by American forces, four lions escape from the Baghdad Zoo.  Has a lot to say about the randomness and senselessness of war.  Maybe pair with All Quiet on the Western Front
 



Yang, G. L. (2006). American Born Chinese. New York, First Second.  Excellent.  Main theme is identity in terms of race and culture.

Yang, G. L.  (2010)  Animal Crackers.  San Jose, California:  SLG Publishing.   Excellent funny book – deals with bullying, identity in terms of religion, and romance to boot.  Good stuff.
           
Yang, G. and D. Kim (2009). The Eternal Smile. New York, First Second.
A series of Short Stories -- recurring Themes include redemption, trust, fantasy, and the role of women.   Excellent.    

       

Yang, Gene; Pham, Thien (2011) Level Up  New York:  First Second.  Excellent story.  Dennis tries to figure out his destiny as a gastroenterologist or a computer game tester.  Angels/pac man ghosts accompany him.  Satisfying ending.  Themes deal with identity in terms of work and calling.

Yang, Gene (2008) Prime Baby.  New York:  First Second.      What an excellent book.  Thaddeus becomes convinced that his sister is an alien being.  Turns out he is wrong, she is a gateway for alien beings to enter the Earth (she pukes up space slugs).  It isn’t an invasion exactly, though, the aliens are missionaries of smiles and happy feelings.  Thaddeus tries to trick them into invading so that he can become the president of the world.  He manages to get the government to incarcerate his sister – then he starts to miss her.  Good good stuff.


 

Monday, April 15, 2013

Jane Yolen rocks -or- Curses Foiled Again

           So the sequel to Jane Yolen's graphic novel Foiled is out.  It is called Curses Foiled Again (2013, First Second Books) and here are ten reasons why you should read/buy it.

1.  It completes the story begun in Foiled (Well, sort of.  There is still room for the story to continue -- but it seems much more complete)Aliera Carstairs is a high school student who works hard, likes to read, and is passionate about fencing (sword fighting, not chain link and picket fences).  She has been taking lesson for years and is very good with a foil.  In the first book her mom was at a garage sale and bought her a fencing foil with a red jewel at the end of the hilt.  It turned out that the foil was enchanted and allowed her to see the faerie world all around her.  This led to some odd and otherworldly experiences and the discovery that her lab partner was a troll.   Now in the second book, we are drawn into the real conflict -- a save-the-world-from-utter-destruction kind of thing with plenty of close calls, plot twists, narrow escapes, and surprising revelations. Good stuff.

2.  Mike Cavallaro's illustrations are exciting and engaging.  The use of color to indicate the separation between the mundane wold and the faerie one is well handled.  The facial expressions are particularly well-rendered.

3.  The cover is a parody of the original poster for Star Wars, only instead of Luke Skywalker standing with his sword upraised and Princess Leia looking frightened at his feet, it is Aliera assuming the triumphant hero position, and her lab partner Avery looking frightened at her feet.

4.  Aliera looks like a normal college student, neither overly buff nor looking like a super heroic barbie doll.

5.  The good guys use their brains as least as much as their brawn.



6.  Unlike Foiled, the end of Curses, Foiled Again seems like it is a real ending (even though it leaves the possibility of a sequel open. )

7.  You will find yourselves rooting for Aliera in the final battle.

8.  There are relatively few graphic novels with strong female heroines in them -- support this one.



9.  Baba Yaga, the witch of Russian folklore, makes an appearance. 

10.  My high school freshman daughter liked it.  (and it would be good for males or female students.  I would say a really good fourth grade reader could handle it.  Otherwise 5th through high school with this one.)

Friday, April 5, 2013

Graphic Novels that your gym teacher should own

Graphic Novels for the Health/PE Classroom
When I took PE in middle school and high school, there was very little reading involved.  I think it there had mean more I might have had a better attitude toward health and exercise.  The books below might be helpful for a PE teacher interested in bringing more reading into her health/PE class.  They also might make a huge difference for some studnets who really need them.



Katherine Arnoldi (1998) The Amazing True Story of a Teenage Single Mom, Hyperion.
Black and white.  Good story. This takes us through the lows of the main character’s life (some of which are pretty scary) but then ends on a high note when she gets help and s able to attend college. The art is pretty bad, though. 







Marchetto, Marisa Acocella (2006) Cancer Vixen, New York, Alfred Knopf.  Woman gets cancer, moves from a shallow life into a committed one. Some vulgar language here.  This one might be hard for teenagers (who consider themselves indestructible) to relate to.







Siegel, S. C. and M. Siegel (2006). To Dance: A Ballerina's Graphic Novel. New York, Aladdin.  This is a story that upper elementary girls might like.  The main character gets a chance to study with a famous dancer and choreographer.




           
Winick, J. (2000). Pedro and Me: Friendship, Loss, and What I Learned. New York, Henry Holt and Company.
Judd Winick develops a friendship with Pedro who has (and eventually dies of) AIDS while they are living in a communal house as part of MTVs Real World.  Dispels some myths of AIDS.




Robinson, Alex (2008) Robinson, Alex  Too Cool to be Forgotten  Marietta, GA: Top Shelf.  Middle-aged Andy goes to a hypnotist to quit smoking and ends up going back in time to when he was in high school.  One strong theme here is choices.  Language and frankness may be an issue if contemplating using this one in class.

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

The Fault in our Stars by John Green is a most excellent book.

     Reading The Fault in our Stars by John Green (2012 New York: Dutton) is kind of like riding a roller coaster -- but one of the old wooden coasters that goes up and down really fasts with quick turns that you don't seen coming -- not one of those new gleaming monsters that seem to spend all their time corkscrewing you all over tarnation.  The Fault in our Stars takes a lot of quick turns.  The plot line isn't predictable, yet it isn't really jarring either -- and the language is really breathtaking.  These people you are riding this coaster with, Hazel and Augustus, are really smart and really funny and it is fun to spend time with them.
     I remember after I saw and loved the movie Juno, someone I was talking with pointed out that real teenagers can't possibly be that clever all the time.  I remember replying to that person that it was obvious they didn't teach high school for a living.  It is true that there are many high school students who could not be as clever as Hazel and Augustus, but there are also some high school students that are at least that smart. I have known a fair number of them.  The person I was talking to may have objected that such people would have to be pretty remarkable high school students.
     Well of course.  Do you really want to read about people who are unremarkable?



          Oh, yeah, the plot.  Look, I am willing to tell you about the plot, but I don't think it is going to give you a clear idea of what the book is like.  For what it is worth, though, here you go.  Hazel has cancer.  It has already eaten up so much of her lungs that she needs supplemental oxygen.  At a support group mee3ting, she meets Augustus.  Augustus also has cancer.  Hit has taken one of his legs already.  They a drawn together by a mutual love of reading and eventually by a mutual love of a book called An Imperial Affliction.  The book ends inclusively, though, and Hazel has always dreamed of tracking down the books highly reclusive author, Peter Van Houten to find out what happens to the characters in the end.  Augustus actually makes contact with Van Houten and arranges through the Make-a-wish foundation for the two of them to fly to Holland, where Van Houten lives, to ask him personally.  They go.  Things get complicated. 
     Didn't help did it?  Okay, how about this, here are the opening lines of the book:
          "Late in the winter of my seventeenth year, my mother decided I was depressed, presumably because I rarely left the house, spent quite a lot of time in bed, read the same book over and over, ate infrequently, and devoted quite a bit of my abundant free time to thinking about death.
      "Whenever you read a cancer booklet or website or whatever, they always list depression among the side effects of cancer.  But, in fact, depression is not a side effect of cancer.  Depression is a side effect of dying.  (Cancer is also a side effect of Dying.  Almost anything is really.)"
     I find that funny.  (Full disclosure:  I am fighting cancer myself.  Maybe it isn't as funny if you are not fighting cancer.  I don't know.)  I find the whole book funny, and touching, and sometimes deeply moving.  Maybe the plot doesn't convince you.  Maybe the opening line doesn't convince you.  Okay.  I still think you need to read it.
     

    

Monday, April 1, 2013

Science Graphic Novel -- Genetics and DNA!

     Okay, this one is not an April Fools joke (like the last one was).  Mark Schultz has written an amazing graphic novel that makes the most complicated aspects of genetics study understandable (though you may have to read it a couple of times).  The Stuff of Life:  A Graphic Guide to Genetics and DNA (2009) is illustrated by Zander Cannon and Kevin Cannon (who both worked on the wonderful GN on the space race: T-Minus.   They claim they are not related).  It is an amazing book.



     So the story line is kind of kooky.  Bloort 183 is an alien biologist on a world of highly evolve starfish-looking critters.  The people of Glargal reproduce asexually and are falling prey to genetic destabilization because their genetics lack diversity.  Bloort 183 has made a study of how genetics work on earth and is delivering that report to the (somewhat dense) leader of Glargal, Floorsh 727.  This may seem like a silly contrivance, but this gives the creators of the book the chance to explain things on a basic level and ask themselves clarification questions. 
     The images do an amazing job of clarifying the tasks and capabilities of different cells and protein chains.  Though they sometimes take some liberties (by shaping some protein chains as a par of scissors, for example) it makes it easier to understand and remember.  The book has a fair amount of history as well, describing how scientists first uncovered human's genetic structure. 



     Best of all, this book doesn't talk down or over simplify.  Alll that we know about genetics is here,   At the same time, the book doesn't try to impress us through being incomprehensible.  And as a result, whether you are studying for a college genetics final or just want to learn how everything works, it is accessible and amazing.
     If you teach science to high school students (or college students for that matter), this book should be in your classroom library.

Graphic Novel of Lord of the Rings (Good news, bad news)

     1 April 2013

The good news is that later this year, the first in a series of graphic novels based on J.R.R. Tolkien's Lord of the Rings (LOTR) series will be coming out.  The bad news is that there will be English and American versions and the English version sounds a whole lot better to me.
   So last week I got an email from Arnold G. Sloof publishers (or AGS -- they are a tiny imprint of MacMillan) that they are teaming up with Oxford/Lirpa Books (Lirpa bought out tiny George Allen and Unwin about a decade ago -- Allen and Unwin were the original publishers of Tolkein's Lord of the Rings series.  Then Oxford bought Lirpa)  According to the email, although the rights to LOTR as a series of books were sold to Collins back in the eighties, and although the movie rights were sold long ago, there was a clause in the original contract with Collins that allowed Allen and Unwin to retain rights to "media and formats not yet developed").  When Lirpa accquired Allen and Unwin they began a legal battle in England to get the Graphic Novel to be declared a new format.  Last December a judge ruled in their favor. 
     In January, they started hunting for authors to write the adaptations.  Apparently they are in final negotiations for J.K. Rowling to write the adaptation (Woo hoo!) and for Brian Talbot (Tale of One Bad Rat) and Alan Lee to do the art.  (The memo says "Although the advances for such work are considerably below what Rowling is used to, the percentages are worth getting excited about.  Rowling says she is interested in the project, though, because she loves Tolkein's books).
     Here is the bad news, though.  Negotiations for the U.S. version are already finalized, though, and I wish I could say I was excited about the choices.   AGS announced in the same memo, that the American version will be written by Stephanie Meyer (Author of the Twilight series) and the the art will be done by Dav Pilkey.  Most of you are familiar with Pilkey as the author of the Captain Underpants books,  but he was actually an excellent children's book illustrator (check out The Paperboy --it is a wonderful book).  Pilkey tends to draw in a cartoony way -- not my first choice for this series (especially with so many talented US bord graphic novel artists aroung -- why not Alex Ross?) 
      I am more disturbed, though, by the end of the AGS/Oxford Lirpa memo, which has this quote from Stephanie Meyer:  "I am really excited to be able to be a part of this project.  I actually had never read the Fellowship of the Rings books before this.  I think they are a lot of fun (though I am only just finishing the first book.)  I think there are some exciting ways we can bring out some of the aspects of the books that most people don't notice when they read.  Like the romance.  There are a lot more love stories going on in those books than most people think.  I think we can bring that out more in our version."
     AGS/Oxford Lirpa says that Meyer will stick to Tolien's original story for the most part, but they are giving her some leeway to alter things to make it a better fit for American audiences.  The only change that Meyer is on record about is possibly introducing a dwarf love interest for Gimli.
     Frankly, this terrifies me.  Tolkien created an excellent world and one of the best narrative movements of all time.  I don't want anybody messing with it -- partiuclarly a writer whoose greatest achievement to date is a series of badly wirtten vampire books (perhaps i am not being fair).  I am also unclear about why the publisher feels we have the need for two versions in the first place.  The original LOTR was written in British English.  Since it is the second best selling novel of all time, I would have to say that it seems to have crossed the Atlantic just fine.  Maybe they are hoping that fans will buy both versions  Sigh.
     Sloof/Lirpa says the American version is due out first, probably next Spring.