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Monday, August 1, 2016

Three Excellent Graphic Novels -- with three amazing female protagonists

Stevenson, Noelle (2015) Nimona.  New York:HarperCollins.



Opening lines;  Lord Ballister Blackheart:  "What?  Who are you?  How did you get in here?"
Nimona:  "Hey, Boss!  The name's Nimona."
Clanking sound as he extends his metal arm.
Nimona:  "Oh. huh.  The agency sent me.  I'm your new sidekick."
Lord Balckheart:  "That makes no sense.  Why would they send some kid to be my sidekick?"

Thus begins the story of Nimona and Lord Blackheart.  Nimona thinks of Blackheart as the most accomplished villain ever and wants to learn to be just like him.  She is disappointed when she finds out that Lord Blackheart has rules -- he doesn't kill people indiscriminately, least of all his arch nemesis, Sir Goldenloin.  When, with Nimona's help, Blackheart discovers corruption in the kingdom, he needs to seek out his hated enemy Goldenloin to help.  And somewhere along the way Nimona realizes that Blackheart is close to uncovering her secret, that she is not just a shapeshifting kid sidekick, but far more.

Stevenson draws here characters right on the edge of cartoony and realistic and is remarkably good with using the panel divisions to tell the story in a way that is funny and gripping at the same time.

This is a fun and funny story that would be great for middle school and older readers who have read some comic books or fantasy (doing so will help them to get more of the jokes.)  It is remarkable story about loyalty, friendship, and, strangely (for a book with the villain as the main character) about doing the right thing.

There is nothing particularly controversial about this book.  Though in the interest of thoroughness, I should mention that some adult readers might wonder if the book is implying a relationship that is more than friendship between Blackheart and Goldenloin, but any such implications are speculative at best (and no student-reader shy of high school is likely to consider them. )  Bottom line, it is a wonderful book.  Buy it.





Bell, Cece (2014) El Deafo.  New York: Abrams.



Opening Lines:  "I was a regular little kid.  I played with my mom's stuff.  I watched tv with my big brother, Ashley and my big sister, Sarah.  I rode on the back of my father's bicycle.  I found caterpillars with my friend Emma.  And I sang."

On page 2, however, Cece gets very sick.  She is rushed to the hospital where she is diagnosed with Spinal Meningitis.  Eight pages later, she is out of the hospital but eventually realizes that she is deaf.

And what happens next is amazing.  the best books in the world let you get inside the mind, body, emotions, and life of another person.  Bell's drawings and writing take you inside Cece's life.  You see her triumphs and loses and struggles to fit in while wearing a clunky hearing aid around her neck.  Bell draws all her characters as rabbits.  While I have no idea why she chooses to do this, I can tell you that it works.

The bottom line is that this is a story of a little kid trying to fit in and having a hard time of it.  So yea, it is valuable as a way to live inside the shoes of a deaf person for a while, but it might be even more important as a story about how schoolmates can be jerks, but also how eventually things get better.

Fourth graders and up would enjoy this one.  Cece discovers at one point in the story that she can listen in when her teacher leaves the room but forgets to take off the mic that hangs around her neck, and as a result, Cece becomes invaluable to the class as a lookout when they are engaging in mischief of one sort or another.  I suppose some parents might object to the rule-breaking but it serves to make a point about the difficulties of fitting in socially with a difference when you are in late elementary school.  Buy this one too.




Cliff, Tony ((2013) Delilah Dirk and the Turkish Lieutenant.  New York: First Second.



Opening lines:  Constantinople (Istanbul) 1807.
 Lieutenant Erdemoglu Selim:  "Tell ne friend, who is this?"
Cafe Owner:  Hm?  Ah.  Halukoglu Bahadir.  Freshly returned from Siam I hear."
Selim:  "Mm, yes.  He's been telling stories of it."
Owner:  "Sound's very exotic."
Selim:  "Very."

Selim leads an uneventful life working in the court as part of the Janissary Corps.  He likes cafes, hates fighting, loves a good cup of tea, and avoids stress at all costs.  Unfortunately, he is sent to interrogate a recently caught thief who seems to be a combination of Indiana Jones, Wonder Woman, and maybe that sword-wielding elf who unaccountably appeared in the second Hobbit movie.  She loves the tea he brews for her and tells him her whole story.  As Selim is reporting to his superiors, Delilah Dirk escapes and soon Selim finds himself branded a traitor and, along with Delilah, on the run from his own fellow troops.

And there begins a romp through the middle east that is the sort of non-top action and wisecracks that would make Indiana Jones proud.  The illustrations are reminiscent of the best comic books -- they move the action along and make the story magically bombastic.

This one is good for fourth grade and up as well.  There is a bit of violence, but really more property damage than lives lost.  This, too, is one you need for your classroom library.


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