In the last few months, I’ve had the pleasure of reading a handful of young adult and children’s graphic novels. Here is a rundown of those titles, featuring the latest from Faith Erin Hicks, a standout from Benjamin Renner, as well as a look at cartoonist and illustrator’s Liz Climo’s latest collection!
The Divided Earth (The Nameless City #3) by Faith Eric Hicks, color by Jordie Bellaire*. The Divided Earth is the grand finale in The Nameless City trilogy, written and drawn by Eisner-winning Canadian graphic novelist Faith Erin Hicks. This sweeping, often intense, combat-filled fantasy series centers around two main characters, Kaidu and Rat, who become firm friends in spite of forces trying to tear them and their world apart. Inhabitants of The Nameless City have experienced sustained invasions at the hand of menacing regimes; the latest invaders and current occupiers are the Dao…and Kaidu is one of the Dao, being forced into military training. When Kaidu meets Rat, an orphan who lives with monks, he meets a very unexpected ally- one who pushes his physical limits as well as his perceptions about how The Nameless City should be governed. As the series moves on, a proposed offer of peace to The Nameless City goes off the rails first by murder, second at the hands of a corrupt, vindictive prince who wants to rain damage. Not only is the bond of Kaidu and Rat’s friendship tested, but the two are also pushed to the edges of their physical and mental capacity as The Divided Earth– definitely the most action-packed of the series- swells with one attack after another. The entire series is richly detailed (backed by a solidly drawn, interesting story), beautifully and dynamically rendered, with a cohesive storyline that ensures readers who have been with the series from the beginning will stay engaged and breathless through to the end.
The Big Bad Fox by Benjamin Renner. Oh my goodness, this one had me in absolute stitches! The Big Bad Fox, from Oscar nominated cartoonist and filmmaker Benjamin Renner, been sitting on my to-read pile for far too long. One day before lunch a few months ago I abruptly decided: THAT’S IT! I’m going to read it RIGHT NOW! So I did. In one, fantastic, hysterical sitting. A very hungry fox – tired of eating turnips- wants nothing more than to be considered menacing and terrible….and to steal and eat some delicious chickens from a hen house. Fox is never considered threatening, though, and the hens and guard dog laugh at him and mess him about. Fox makes a deal with an unscrupulous wolf that if fox steals some chicken eggs and helps them hatch- then ta-dah, proper FOOD for both of them! Only, as the reader can guess, when the little chicks hatch, they love, love, love their big not-so-bad fox mommy and fox experiences a moral dilemma. To eat or not to eat? How fox raises the chicks, how they learn about the world around them, and how the big show-down between fox and hens and fox and wolf goes down is just dynamite.
What other graphic novels have I been reading?
Fake Blood by Whitney Gardner is a truly entertaining and oddball story about a middle schooler named AJ who has a big crush on a classmate named Nia. Nia, as we learn, is pretty obsessed with vampires and things take a bit of turn when AJ decides to become- well, dress up and sort of act– like a vampire to gain Nia’s attention and respect. Some pretty surprising and eye-opening consequences occur as a result of AJ’s transformation! Fast-moving, a little quirky and altogether fun, Fake Blood is solid pick. Jarrett J. Krosoczka‘s unforgettable graphic memoir Hey, Kiddo has garnered much critical acclaim this year (Hey, Kiddo was also recently named a National Book Award Finalist!), so there are a plethora of detailed reviews about this excellent title. My two cents: it is all at once deeply moving, uncomfortable, tragic, beautiful, and significant all at once, and about subject matters (namely parental incarceration) not readily talked about or offered in books for teens (or children). Short & Skinny, by Lio cartoonist Mark Tatulli, is an entertaining and approachable middle grade graphic novel memoir based on Mark Tatulli’s experiences during the summer of 1977. It was the summer that Star Wars: A New Hope released, left an indelible print on Mark, and sparked his lifelong love of film and the creative arts. The graphic novel also touches upon confidence and body issues, bullies, and how Mark (with the help of family and friends) finished production and filming on a small-scale take of Star Wars (the ingenuity Mark and his friends and family showed is amazing!). Unicorn Theater is the latest entry- book number 8- in the wonderful, funny, and clever Phoebe and Her Unicorn series from cartoonist/author/illustrator Dana Simpson. Phoebe and Marigold- along with Marigold’s sister, Florence!- spend their summer at a drama camp, with Phoebe feeling a bit jealous of the time that Marigold and Florence are spending together without her. While perhaps lighter on plot and layers than previous entries, Unicorn Theater is lighthearted and savvy and full of the sweetness and charm readers have come to love and expect of the series. Liz Climo‘s Best Bear Ever!: A Little Year of Liz Climo is the newest, fabulous collection of animal-centered comics from the popular cartoonist/children’s book author/animator. Climo’s The Little World of Liz Climo and Lobster is the Best Medicine are two humour favourites of mine- so unbelievably sweet and terrifically funny and smart! Reading Best Bear Ever! was an experience of pure happiness and laughs, and I savoured every bit of it (thus making it prime for re-reading when I need a pick-up!).
*I received a copy of The Divided Earth courtesy of Raincoast Books in exchange for an honest review. All opinions and comments are my own. The book has been published and is currently available.