Category Archives: graphic novel

Thoughts on Newbery: The Day After (and El Deafo Redux)

Well, saying I’m pretty happy today is an understatement. First of all, congratulations to all honorees, committee members, contenders, creators, publishers, readers, writers, editors, marketers, publicists, librarians, and everyone else who had a stake in these awards. Secondly, EL DEAFO!!!!!!!!!!!

After telling my 4th graders that it was the day of the award announcements and about my hopes for winners, highlighting El Deafo as the one I hoped for the most while also telling them why it was unlikely, I went into the hallway to watch the announcements while someone else was teaching them. The period ended just before the final two awards were announced so I went back and a few of my students stayed to watch while some 6th graders started coming in for a class they have in my room. When El Deafo was announced I screamed and jumped about. Now I often scream and jump about when I’m at the announcements in person, but the practice isn’t something most people associate with me at school, especially my students. So the kids were rather amazed, not quite sure why I was behaving this way. After they headed off to art class, I tried to express my enthusiasm to some colleagues who smiled benevolently and went back to whatever they were doing. Thank goodness for twitter where there were others who understood and shared my enthusiasm.

I’m very happy with The Crossover getting the medal and Brown Girl Dreaming getting the other honor — both were on my short list — but my heart is with El Deafo.  I just hope that its honor does not cause ALSC to sit back and feel this proves that the criteria don’t need to be changed. They do. While El Deafo, as I proved, shines for its text, in many other fabulous graphic novels the text does not work as well without the art. On Sunday I ended up in a lively twitter conversation about this — I argued then, before, and now that the criteria need to be altered so that it is easier for graphic novels to be considered with their art and design being considered in a positive way, not if they make the book “less effective,” as in the current criteria.

As for the other awards, let’s talk Caldecott. I was especially thrilled with three personal favorites of mine,  The Right Word, Viva Frida, and Sam & Davegetting honors. And then, This One Summer, my oh my. I love it, but it never occurred to me to think of it for Caldecott. Kudos to the Committee for be more out-of-the-box thinkers than me. It is a beautiful book and highly deserving of the award. That said, its honor doesn’t get ALSC off the hook in terms of relooking at the Newbery criteria. Still needs doing. And then the Sibert Awards. Awesome to see The Right Word get the medal followed by a fabulous array of honors.






Filed under graphic novel, Newbery

Thoughts on Newbery: El Deafo

I don’t usually do single titles for this series, but am making an exception for Cece Bell’s El Deafo, a graphic novel that is getting some serious Newbery buzz. About this affecting and funny childhood memoir, I wrote elsewhere, “While Bell doesn’t shy away from issues dealing with her hearing loss, doing so with wit and a refreshing lack of self-pity, it is the search for a good friend that will resonate most with young readers.” I’ve definitely been part of the buzzing (say over at Heavy Medal where I put it as the first of my 3 votes for their online Mock Newbery), but also have been dubious about its chances due to this part of the criteria that the award committee is required to follow:

2. Each book is to be considered as a contribution to American literature. The committee is to make its decision primarily on the text. Other components of a book, such as illustrations, overall design of the book, etc., may be considered when they make the book less effective.

However a rereading focusing on the text has changed my mind. First of all, I found it surprisingly easy to do. This is because the text carries the story completely. Those panels where it is necessary to look at the art to make sense of the text are not critical to making sense of the story overall.  I also found in this reading a new appreciation for the voice, one that I realized is very much brought out through the writing. As Nina Lindsay notes here, “Cece’s emotional arc of self-awareness, her coping mechanisms and challenges in navigating friendships, are all delivered in a voice that is as lively in the text as in any non-graphic novel this year.” I agree wholeheartedly.

Something that really struck me on this rereading is Bell’s use of text boxes and speech bubbles. She uses them as a poet does line breaks, building scenes, expressing feelings, and so forth. Take this text from pages 44-45. Look at the way the text builds in the way that lines in a poem would do. (I have taken the liberty of using caps, parentheses, italics, bolding, and line spacing to differentiate as a poet might well do.)

I can hear everything my teacher says and does! In the classroom…


(I will gain the wisdom of the ages!)

…in the hallway….


(I will discover the secrets of my fellow man!)

…in the entire school building….


(I will –wait! Is she using the bathroom again? Ha! Ha!)

…and possibly in the entire world! And no one else can hear what I hear!


(Holy Hearing Aid, Batman—)

(I will amaze everyone –)




So how about looking at El Deafo as one does a work of poetry and considering the textual elements in those terms?

Something else that wowed me on this rereading was the pacing. In the overall story arc, there is such fluidity in the way we move from scenes featuring her hearing loss to those about friendships to the smaller ones –say those with her siblings and mother— that offer texture to the overall book. This is a complex work and Bell elegantly weaves these different threads in and out of each other without ever dropping a single one. Highly distinguished plotting, I say.

Then there is setting, something that you’d think was largely established in the art. But not so, I say. I think there is a great deal that gives you the sense of the time period in the text. Go take a look at Pages 77 – 80 when Cece struggles to make sense of television; the shows that she watches are all of a particular time. In fact, they almost seem like little Easter eggs for adults as kids now are not going to even know what shows like The Waltons are. Not to mention, it is a way of watching television that doesn’t tend to happen for kids today, I suspect.  And just about all of it is text-based. (I grant you the Star Trek panel is definitely funnier with the image, but not critical to the overall story. Also, it will mean more to adult readers than children of today. The rest of them work perfectly just with the text, I’d argue.)

Characters. Beautifully developed through text, especially in terms of friendships. Consider this on pages 48-49:


It’s all kind of sudden, so I think about it for a minute or two…

[writes list of pros and cons]

Frenz with Laura? 

Yes                                                       No

Fritos                                                    kinda pushee 

        duz not mine heerin aid__                       ______             

… and then I say:


What else? Bell communicates vividly through text the ups and downs of childhood. While it is set in her childhood of a few decades past she has managed to beautifully capture certain universals — first crush, the need for a best friend, sleepovers etc. Take this little bit on pages 94-95 from the sleep-over when the other girls want to do her hair and make-up, something Cece hates, but struggles to get out of:



(That’s the dumbest question I ever — wait a minute! Here’s my chance to get out of this!)


I don’t believe we can. Messes up the hearing aids, and stuff.




And so, for the moment I rest my case.(I may update this post when I have more time.)  This book, in my opinion, can absolutely be considered the most distinguished children’s book of the year using the current Newbery criteria.


Filed under graphic novel, Newbery

Learning About Africa: Abina and the Important Men: A Graphic History

Abina and the Important Men is a compelling and powerfully illustrated “graphic history” based on an 1876 court transcript of a West African woman named Abina, who was wrongfully enslaved and took her case to court. The book is a microhistory that does much more than simply depict an event in the past; it uses the power of illustration to convey important themes in world history and to reveal the processes by which history is made.

The above is from the publisher’s description of Trevor R. Getz and Liz Clarke’s Abina and the Important Men: A Graphic History  which has just been honored by the Africana Awards as one of its “2013 Best Books for Older Readers.” It is an outstanding presentation of the complexities of slavery in late 19th century West Africa as well as remarkably clear and thoughtful consideration of the difficult work of doing history. Additionally, it also brings to us one of the “silenced,” the many in history we just don’t learn about because there isn’t  enough of the primary source paper trail that we tend to rely on when piecing together the past.

Here’s what I just wrote about it on goodreads:

Outstanding. This book seems to have gone under-the-radar in the broader world and it shouldn’t have. I had seen something about it a while back and finally had the time to read it and it is fantastic. It is, as the subtitle indicates, a graphic history. That is, it is a history book and one unapologetically didactic. And as far as I know, pretty unique.

The book consists of several parts. The first is an illustrated “graphic history” (so described in the flap copy) based on the 1876 court transcript of an attempt by Abina, a young West African woman in what is now Ghana and was then termed the Gold Coast to convince the “important men” of the court (jury, judge, lawyers, etc) that she was a free woman not enslaved. It might seem to have been a simple case, but it was not. What the author and illustrator do remarkably well is articulate the complexity of the situation. That is, while slavery by then had been long ostensibly been outlawed in the British Empire (of which the Gold Coast was part) there had also been tacit overlooked versions of it being maintained by wealthy men who helped supply the palm oil then eagerly wanted in Europe. The graphic novel part of the book is moving, compelling, and riveting. The art is well done and artist and author have done an excellent job weaving together what they know with what they imagined about the case and Abina. ( The author says this isn’t historical fiction and I suppose it isn’t a novel, but he and the illustrator have had to imagine things so I’m not sure what it is then.)

But that isn’t all. The graphic story is followed by a facsimile of the transcript, and then a section titled “Historical Context” that provides a clear series of essays on a variety of relevant topic such as “The British Civilizing Mission,” “Slavery in the Gold Coast,” and “The Atlantic Slave Trade and Abolition.” Next comes a section titled “Reading Guide” that is fantastic. The author unpacks the many troubling aspects of attempting to consider the many aspects of the story. And so he considers “Whose Story is This?,” “Is this a ‘True’ Story?,” and “Is This ‘Authentic’ History?” Finally, there is a section on “Abina in the Classroom” with different ways of using it. While the focus is on college teaching, it is clearly accessible to high school students too. The book closes with excellent back matter including the preliminary sketches by the artist for the comic.

There are many, many reasons to find and read this book and to get it into the hands of teens, those who teach high school world history, and more. Not to mention it seems perfection for those needing to address Common Core issues.  (For those interested in classroom use I recommend exploring H-Net’s Abina Forum which has a number of posts related to its use in the college classroom.)

The most important reason for me is that this is a smart and beautifully done attempt to bring to life one of the silenced. As the author notes, history is told by use of material that we have about the past and too often we don’t have anything about so many because they did not leave paper trails. We happen to know about Abina because someone left a transcript of her court case. And because Getz made it his mission to get it out to us.


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Filed under Africa, graphic novel, History, Learning About Africa

Barry Deutsch’s Hereville: How Mirka Got Her Sword

The quaint Hudson River village of Cold Spring, where I just spent a month, is deserted on weekdays and so I couldn’t help wondering about the Orthodox Jewish couple, the woman with her hair covered by a scarf and the man in a formal-looking white shirt and black pants, I saw on the otherwise empty Main Street one morning.  I got my answer a little bit later when, on a walk along the river, I heard cheerful voices and looked out to see the same pair, waving at me as they paddled about in kayaks.

While no kayaks show up in Barry Deutsch’s remarkable graphic novel Hereville: How Mirka Got Her Sword, plenty of other things do — a pig, a witch, some nasty bullies, a wise step-mother, knitting, and that sword.  I knew nothing about this book, but after reading Betsy Bird’s rave review, I requested it pronto. (Thank you, Jason Wells at Abrams, for sending it so quickly!)  I’m not sure I can add much to Betsy’s review other than to say — it is all that and more.  This graphic novel is bright and fun and clever, the characters real and multi-faceted, and the art spectacular.  Deutsch uses comic vernacular perfectly — expressions, movement, panels, speech bubbles — all in the service of his warm, wise, and wonderful story.

It is the story of Mirka who wants to fight dragons.  While  I’m not going to reveal if she gets to fight anything I will say that how she gets that sword is exciting, smart, and fitting.  Kids are going to snap this one up, I promise you, boys and girls alike.  Some will go for the delightful Mirka. Others will eat up the adventure.  There will be those who will especially enjoy the relationships in her big family.  Others will appreciate the peek into Orthodox Jewish life.  It is a book that can be entered and enjoyed in these ways and multiple more, I have no doubt. Superb.


Filed under comic, graphic novel

Many Anne Franks

That’s my 7th grade diary given to me in 1964 by my grandmother along with a copy of Anne Frank’s diary right before we left for a year in Germany.  When we visited the recently-opened Anne Frank House a few months later I realized that my diary was just like Anne’s.  Presumably my grandmother bought it in Frankfurt (before she and my father fled in 1936) and then gave it to me years later.  I was almost twelve when I first read Anne’s diary ; it had a profound impression on me and so I’ve been always interested in related books.  As survivors die off (say my father two years ago), we grapple with how best to honor Anne and all who suffered because of the Holocaust.  I’m particularly interested in those about Anne, say:

  • Francine Prose’s excellent Anne Frank: The Book, The Life, The Afterlife. (This book is for adults, but is simply superb. Prose shows what a literary gem the diary is.)
  • The Anne Frank House’s engrossing Anne Frank: Her Life in Words and Pictures. (Love this one. Does a fantastic job of putting the story into context with primary sources.)
  • Sharon Dogar’s forthcoming fictional imagining of Peter van Pels’ diary, Annexed. (Still processing my feelings about this one.)

And the latest, a graphic novel version of the diary coming from the Anne Frank House.  Having read their two previous graphic novels, The Search and A Family Secret, I’m a bit dubious.  I requested them from their American publisher (thank you, Macmillan) after reading about them, but I found the writing unfortunately mediocre and so I’m extremely wary of this forthcoming graphic novel of the diary.  They (just as does Sharon Dogar) are looking for hooks to bring young people to the diary itself.  Very laudable, but I guess I’m still for giving them the real thing.


Filed under graphic novel, Holocaust

SLJ’s Day of Dialog

On Tuesday I attended School Library Journal’s Day of Dialog “a free, day-long program where librarians, publishers, authors, and vendors meet to discuss issues that affect the book and library world for children and teens.”  Running in the Javits alongside BEA it was absolutely splendid.  My thanks to SLJ for doing this and congratulations to everyone involved in creating such a stimulating and worthwhile day.  (A special shout-out to my Newbery 2008 bud Luann Toth, SLJ’s book review editor,  as I know she did a lot of the hard work to put these incredible panels together.)

It began with breakfast and I saw many friends of the librarian, reviewer, and publishing sort.  All day long editor-in-chief Brian Kenney and Luann  did a fine job keeping everything on track — ringing an adorable little bell to signal beginnings and ends.  (The only thing I’ve experienced that sort in this world is Mimi Kaden’s kitchen timer at the Harpercollins previews.)

The first panel was “Steampunkery” and since I love the genre it probably was my favorite of the day.  Moderator Cory Doctorow was terrific, asking the sort of questions that got great answers back from the panelists. And wow, what a splendid collection they were — authors Scott Westerfeld and Cherie Priest, and librarian (and self-identified fangirl) Karen Grenke.  Fortunately, rather than my trying to recap it all for you, SLJ filmed it and you can view it for yourself.

Could anyone top that?  Well, the next panel, “Drawing the Line Between Picture Books and Graphic Novels”  was pretty amazing too.  Moderated by Roger Sutton, the panel consisted of David Wiesner (who is working on a graphic novel of his own — don’t know about you, but I can’t wait to see it), Laura Vaccaro Seeger (who was fascinating, explaining how the die cuts in her work function in an intriguing animation sort way), George O’Connor (who is doing those cool Greek god books and is pretty god-like himself), Mark Siegel (who has to have a few clones to do all that he does — run FirstSecond and his own work and be a dad and…), and Wendy Lukehart (a really smart and informed DC librarian). Is there a line between picture books and graphic novels?  Not according to this panel.

The luncheon speaker was Cornelia Funke.  I’ve heard her before and she did not disappoint this time.  She spoke about learning from child readers that the character in the Inkworld they most connected to wasn’t a child, but the adult Dustfinger.  And so that gave her the confidence to create an adult protagonist for her new book Reckless.   She spoke with such excitement about this new book world (set in the 19th century — wondered if it too would be steampunk although she didn’t say that) that she got me excited about it too. And then she read the first chapter getting me even MORE excited.  So when they announced there would a drawing for 25 signed copies of ARCs I dropped my card in and was delighted to discovered at the end of the day that I’d won one! (Victoria Stapleton took this photo before I won— I was just holding the book because I wanted it. And then I got it — so thank you, Victoria, Zoe, and the others at LB. )

Interspersed throughout the day were sessions of publisher’s pitching new books.  Short and informative pitches came from Sterling, Sourcebooks, Random House, Penguin, Macmillan, Little Brown, Houghton Mifflin, HarperCollins, Harlequin, Candlewick, and Brilliance Audio. Nicely done, all of you!

The final panel of the day was “The Care and Feeding of Tweens.” Moderated by Vicky Smith, the panel consisted of Rebecca Stead, Tim Green, Gennifer Choldenko, Robie H. Harris, and Lisa von Drasek (superstar librarian at Bank Street College).  Lots of wonderful talk about what are tweens, who created the title (marketers), and what means most — the kids themselves.

The day ended with cocktails, book signings, and lots of schmoozing.  A truly excellent day — again my thanks and congratulations to all involved.

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Filed under animation, Children's Literature, graphic novel

Gene Luen Yang’s Prime Baby

I moved from the Midwest to a New York City suburb when I was in high school and in addition to learning that my in-University City-fashionable mini-skirts were dowdy as hell in Dobbs Ferry, I was dismayed to discover that the major newspaper of the area DID NOT HAVE A FUNNY PAGE.  The daily paper still doesn’t, but for a brief and lovely time the weekend Magazine did contain a few serial comics by a bunch of wonderful graphic novelists.  One of my favorites of these was Gene Luen Yang’s Prime Baby now out in book form.

It is the story of Thaddeus who is none too happy with his attention-hogging baby sister.  A sardonic, isolated, and book-smart (if not people-smart) eight-year-old seeking the right sort of attention from his parents and peers, Thaddeus is a cranky, but endearing protagonist.  And when he determines that his little sister has something to do with a bunch of aliens…well, read this witty graphic novel to find out if this is all about sibling jealousy, math nerditis, singalongs, or world domination.


Filed under comic, graphic novel

Revisiting: Little Vampire


At a recent HarperCollins preview I learned about the latest vampire-classic mash-up: Little Vampire Women.   Yes, Louisa May Alcott, who was no slouch herself when it came to a thriller, is collaborating with one Lynn Messina on a new edition of Marmee’s girls’ story, the undead meeting up with pickled limes this time round.

The title immediately made me think of Joann Sfar’s Little Vampire which is another species entirely.  I fell in love with the little fellow some years ago in the graphic novels Little Vampire Goes to School and Little Vampire Does Kung Fu! and was delighted when First Second reissued them and an additional story (Little Vampire and the Society of Canine Defenders) in one volume.  An excerpt from the school one can be read here.


Filed under Classic, comic, graphic novel

Coming Soon: Matt Phelan’s The Storm in the Barn


Matt Phelan‘s The Storm in the Barn is a beautiful, moving, and singular graphic novel, the story of eleven-year-old Jack Clark, his family, and his town during the 1937 Dust Bowl in Kansas.  Phelan’s palatte, sparse text, lines, and dusty images evoke the time and place perfectly.  It is a tricky thing to tell a tale that is both ultra-realistic and tinged with the supernatural, one that is both fable and historic.  Go too far in one direction and the story becomes overly moralizing; go too far the other and it just falls flat.  Phelan straddles the line perfectly. The atmosphere is thick with dust, with sadness, with pain, with wonder and, finally with hope.  Jack is a moving protagonist, worried about real things, inquisitive, scared, and ultimately brave.  This is an Americana story — the images harken back to the iconic photographs of Dorothea Lange, there are references to that very American literary fairy tale, L. Frank Baum’s The Wizard of Oz.  Keep an eye out for it this fall — it is a wonder.


Filed under Children's Literature, comic, graphic novel

Baby’s First Internet

Baby’s First Internet – The Morning News

Kevin Fanning is a Contributing Writer to The Morning News. Cartoonist Kean Soo is the creator of Jellaby.

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Filed under comic, graphic novel