Snow Day = Graphics Day

We had a snow day Friday, which is much different in South Carolina than it was in Illinois. First off, they called it at about 6pm the night before (unheard of), and we didn’t get snow until late Friday night, although the freezing rain and sleet all day did make the unsalted roads fairly treacherous. I’m not complaining, to be clear. Plus, I had been forewarned by my new coworkers to expect it, so I took home a whole stack of new graphic novels we got in this past week, and put my snow day to good use!

51vjlju6ullDrowned City: Hurricane Katrina & New Orleans, by Don Brown (2015)

Opening line: “An unremarkable wind leaves Africa and breezes toward the Americas.”

Don Brown, gaining a reputation for his graphic non-fiction for young people following The Great American Dust Bowlpresents a graphic representation of the most horrific natural disaster our country has seen so far this century: Hurricane Katrina. His artwork is haunting, and he will give students new to this topic a lot of surprising and jarring details about this disaster. I wanted to love this one, but found myself having trouble connecting one panel to the next, and also found some of his details confusing or strangely placed. I wished for a more cohesive narrative. And although written for a slightly older audience, I loved A.D.: New Orleans after the Deluge much more.  1.5 stars

51p2bmkuorjlLost in NYC: A Subway Adventure, text by Nadja Spiegelman, illustrated by Sergio Garcia Sanchez (2015)

Pablo is new to NYC, and although he is used to new places (as his family moves a lot), he’s not at all used to the NYC subway system. He quickly becomes separated from his class on their field trip to visit the Empire State Building, and has to navigate the crazy colors and numbers to get himself to the right place. A very quick read, but the drawings are full of rich and fun details that could easily let you spend a long time on each page. 2 stars

51fryuowq-lThe Unbeatable Squirrel Girl: Volume 1, by Ryan North and Erica Henderson (2015)

Opening line: “Squirrel Girl, Squirrel Girl! She’s a human and also a squirrel!”  (sung to tune of the SpiderMan theme song)

I don’t read a lot of superhero comics, but Squirrel Girl is one I can get behind. Doreen (aka Squirrel Girl) is starting college at Empire State University, simultaneously trying to blend in as a regular college student (although stuffing her enormous tail into her pants gives her a hiney rivaling Kim K’s), and jumpstart her career as an awesome superhero. As part squirrel, Doreen can climb and leap with the best of them, but her real power lies in her ability to communicate with and instruct squirrels to do her bidding, besting even the strongest of villains. Plus, she and her sidekick Tippy Toe are generally hilarious. I’m a big fan. 2 stars

41vjt-xeoalTrickster: Native American tales, A Graphic Collection, ed. by Matt Dembicki (2010)

This is a compilation of more than 20 Native American trickster tales, adapted into graphic novel format. Each story is collected from a different Native American storyteller or author, and is illustrated by a different artist. I have to say, with the vast variety of stories and artists, some I liked better than others. A couple of my favorites included the brightly-colored “Mai and the Cliff Dwelling Birds” and the dark and haunting “Coyote and the Pebbles.” There were others, however, that I did not enjoy, like “When Coyote Decided to Get Married” (in which everyone was turned to stone because Coyote was pissed that one of the maidens he sent for was tarnished goods) and “Paupaulenalena” (which combined a hard-to-read font, creepy pictures, and a super bizarre story). I don’t know. I guess I feel good that we have it in my library, but it was not my favorite of the pack, to be sure. (1 star)



Answering all the mysteries

The Chronicles of Harris Burdick, by Chris Van Allsburg and 13 other authors (2011)

Eighteen years ago, Chris Van Allsburg published The Mysteries of Harris Burdick, a 32-page picture book, with 14 titled pictures, each labeled by one line of text. Suppooooosedly, Van Allsburg found the drawings in the office of one Peter Wenders, a children’s book publisher, who told him they had arrived in the hands of Harris Burdick, who brought them in to see if the publisher would like them and promised to return the next day with the full stories. BUT THEN HE DISAPPEARED, never to be seen again. So, knowing a good thing when he sees it, Van Allsburg published them drawings on his own. (You know this is a big ploy, right? There’s no Harris Burdick or Peter Wenders. You know this.)

Seventeen years ago, as part of a second grade class assignment, I finished writing Mr. Burdick’s story “Under the Rug” with a genius, twisting narrative, including some aliens.

Last year, Jon Scieszka rewrote my story, in a mildly less exciting way. Thirteen others, including Van Allsburg himself, Sherman Alexie, Walter Dean Myers, Lois Lowry, and Kate DiCamillo, contributed to complete Burdick’s fantastical and incredible book. This. is. awesome. It’s like my childhood dreams come true. I think my favorite is Stephen King’s expansion of “The House on Maple Street.” It’s imaginative and powerful and complicated and full of heart.

One thing: In most libraries, it seems to have a big “J” label on the spine, placing it in the children’s section, and I’m not sure it belongs there. I’m not saying there aren’t kids who would appreciate it, but I think this book is more directed toward the adults like me, who grew up with Harris Burdick, imagining the possible stories to accompany his pictures. Some of them are pretty dark, pretty elaborate, and the narratives may go over kids’ heads. But if, like me, you grew up with these images floating around in your head, go get this short story collection and indulge yourself.

2 stars