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Thursday, February 25, 2016

Two Graphic Novels, One of Which Absolutely Grabbed Me

O'Connor, George (2016) Apollo, the Brilliant One  New York: First Second

Opening lines:

Okay, so normally I start out any given book commercial with the opening lines of the book.  I can't do that for this book because after I read it the first time, my daughters grabbed it and read it.  Then i read it the second time and my wife asked if she could bring it to her fourth grade classroom to show let one of her students (who is crazy about George O"Connor's Olympians series) read it.  I said that would be okay as long as he got it back to me quickly and he agreed.  But then he loaned it to one of his friends to read overnight and that kid loaned it to another kid and while I am sure it will find its way back to me eventually, I don't have ti now.  But I think the opening lines must be working pretty well, at any rate.

In the other books of the Olympian's series, George O'Connor has shown that he is a master of the graphic novel format.  For example, point-of-view in graphic novels is a very tricky thing.  The first several books int he Olympians series were told in third person (though usually with an interesting focus).  When he got to Poseidon, O'Connor decided to try first person.  He had to trash several finished drafts to get it to where he wanted, but it is an excellent book.  All this is to say that Apollo: The Brilliant One may be the best yet for point of view.  Apollo's story is told by the nine muses, each one bringing a different perspective to the understanding of this multi-faceted Greek god.  Apollo, you might remember from your grade school days, is the god of everything from the sun to music and poetry and a bunch of other things.  He is also incredibly heroic and incredibly flawed.

O'Connor manages to bring all the multiple (and sometimes contradictory) stories about Apollos into a coherent narrative that is true tot he myths, but is also delightfully readable.  And O'Connor's images are clear enough and detailed enough that they give young graphic novel aficionados and neophytes alike plenty to enjoy.

Oh, and by the way, Apollo is published by First Second books, hands down the best graphic novel publisher in the business.  It is also First Second's tenth anniversary of making awesome graphic novels.  I should probably send them a card or something, because they have made my life richer with graphic novels like Zita the Space Girl, Boxers and Saints, and too many more to mention.  Maybe you should send them a card too.

The book is probably best for third grade through high school.  If you teach in one of those grade levels, buy this book.  Your best readers and your students who are still becoming your best readers will thank you.

Prince: Liz (2014) Tomboy  San Francisco: Zest Books

Opening Lines:

I wish I could be as enthusiastic about Liz Prince's Tomboy as I am about the George O'Connor book.  The idea of this book is excellent.  It is a kind of autobiographical sketch of a young tomboy and how she has trouble fitting in with boys and girls.  As this is the experience of a lot of girls who are not so girly, it obviously has a broad appeal.

The difficulty I had with this book is that the main character is hard to like much of the time.  She seems to be very self-focused (to be fair, what little kid isn't -- but somehow other books minimize this).  Since it is a kind of growing-comfortable-with-who-you-are/coming-of-age story, it makes sense that there would be some vulgar words in it, but there are a lot of them.  And Liz is saying them when she is in middle elementary school.  I know that some little kids talk like this, but that may make it hard for kids who don't talk like that to connect with Liz.  It would certainly make it hard to keep this book in a classroom library.

And then there is the fact that Liz has a (perhaps justifiable) persecution complex).  I get this too.  I am a nerd and always have been.  Middle school was rough for me until I found friends who didn't care about my nerdiness and in fact celebrated it.  Liz finds acceptance finally in the punk rock world.  But it takes a long time, and that hope in the end feels empty in some ways.

The line drawings are nicely rendered.  They are pretty sparse, but effective for the story.  It might not be a bad story for you to check out, but it would be hard to share it, in the context of your classroom, with the students who might benefit from it, without having the book challenged. I would have trouble recommending an age level for this.  It is certainly appropriate for adults, but they are perhaps the ones who need it least.

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