Readers of Courtney Crumrin and the Night Things, the Eisner Award-nominated first installment in Ted Naifeh's Courtney Crumrin series, should definitely not skip the bitingly witty and insightful introduction penned by Kelly Crumrin (Naifeh's real-life girlfriend). It speaks of childhood fears and the outgrowing thereof and sets the stage for the book's dark and sardonic tone.
This graphic novel largely sets Courtney, the protagonist, against almost everyone else in her life: her clueless parents, her shallow classmates, and of course, "the night things" themselves; her only true ally is her Uncle Aloysius, feared and reviled by all except Courtney, his kindred spirit.
Courtney is a girl without a country. Isolated and different from everyone who surrounds her, she is drawn into a dark and magical world of goblins and monsters and uses her quick wits and strength of character to save herself and others.
The language captures the essence of pre-teen angst, and the black and white ink artwork evokes the darkness, doom, and gloom of both Courtney's mood and the scary situations in which she finds herself … the drawings of the goblin market are especially memorable.
The intended audience, according to the "Youth / Age 7+" stamp placed by the publisher, seems to be elementary school students, but it's perhaps more suitable for a middle school or even early high school audience due to some of the language used, a situation when Courtney is kissed by a boy against her will, and some of the more frightening scenes.
Without being preachy at all, this book shows young readers that even the scariest things in life – be they monsters or loneliness – can be overcome when a person is clever and brave.
That the smartest, toughest, most sensible character on the scene is a bad-assed young girl makes me really excited that this series exists and pumped to read book two.
The first book in the Amelia Rules! series hilariously and heartbreakingly depicts the coming of age theme. The characterizations of Amelia, her parents, her aunts, her teachers, and her friends bring to life the chaotic existence of life's players through the eyes of a precocious and unforgettable 9-year-old girl.
The story is an episodic look at Amelia's life through a series of experiences and adventures, including surviving the hell of gym class as well as family holidays.
The writing is sharp and funny, and the illustrations are wild, colorful, and in the vein of a traditional comic strip. The book is quite entertaining and amusing and somehow also manages to impart the grief and isolation experienced by a child of divorce.
The intended audience is elementary school children, but the book can certainly be enjoyed by tweens, teens, and even adults, at whom the author winks throughout the book with references to Stan Lee, Elvis Costello, the Replacements, and Billy Joel.
This is an appropriate selection for any child who is suffering from the effects of divorce, and it beautifully demonstrates the "true spirit of Christmas" in a section of the book that made this reviewer cry into her cappuccino while reading at the coffee shop.
It's also a wonderful example of the age-old childhood theme of how one's friends can become one's family when young people feel alienated from most of the adults in their lives … these kids are almost like the elementary school version of the Brat Pack.
This book is hereby deemed by me to be an essential selection for all elementary school, middle school, and public libraries because of its ability to bring forth laughter and tears and to make lonely kids feel less alone.
At first glance, this book might seem silly and superficial, but its comic nature is tinged with sadness and realism, Amelia is ultimately introspective and wise, and the book conveys some great life lessons. One of the best lessons is from Aunt Tanner, who tells Amelia, "Any time you find magic in this world, you have to fight hard to keep it."
The world we knew is gone. The world of commerce and frivolous necessity has been replaced by a world of survival and responsibility. An epidemic of apocalyptic proportions has swept the globe causing the dead to rise and feed on the living.
So says the back cover of The Walking Dead, Volume One: Days Gone By, written by Robert Kirkman with art by Tony Moore.
This 2006 book is the first in a continuing series and features Rick, a police officer, as its protagonist. He's an honorable, handsome, very resourceful man who loves his wife and son. The story follows Rick as he awakens from a coma to find the world around him irrevocably changed … it's human vs. zombie now, and he must find a way to survive against all odds. He meets a range of other characters, representing all walks of life, who form a camp in the woods to hide from the zombies.
Kirkman's realistic writing style aptly captures the excitement, the fear, the suspense, and the heartache, and Moore's excellent black and white pen and ink illustrations convey the terror, grotesqueness, and emotion of the story with intimate, intricate detail.
This book is essentially the story of one man's journey toward survival and shows the prevailing goodness of humanity in the darkest of times. It reminds me of Cormac McCarthy's Pulitzer Prize-winning The Road in the way it portrays the desperation and loneliness of man when faced with the apocalyptic unthinkable.
Adults might consider reading this as an accompaniment to The Road because they both focus on surviving with loved ones in a desolate, ever-changed, terrifying world. (I'm not recommending The Road for young audiences, as I am still somewhat traumatized by reading it at 33.)
There's some rough language in The Walking Dead, and the zombie scenes are certainly disgusting and graphic, but a mature teen can definitely handle it, and teens will also probably enjoy the romantic tensions in the story.
The Walking Dead, a unique and devastatingly moving twist on the traditional zombie genre with its focus on love, family, emotions, and the ties that bind – particularly touching is the scene when the characters sit around the campfire in the snow sharing what they used to do in their "past lives" – is an essential selection, in my opinion, for public libraries and possibly even high school libraries. It will definitely leave readers wanting to read the next volume and find out what happens next.
One! Hundred! Demons! is a wonderful book by Lynda Barry, a cartoonist, novelist, and playwright whose work appears all over tarnation. The deserving recipient of both an Alex Award and the 2003 Eisner Award for Best New Graphic Album, this is the sort of book that makes a person want to sing from the mountaintops about the glories of autobiography and the lessons learned from one's own childhood and life.
The coming of age theme is brought to life by Lynda Barry's look back at her own -- she is the main character and unflinchingly casts herself in an often unflattering light. The plot is an episodic series of anecdotes about Barry from early childhood to adulthood.
Barry's writing style is an appealing combination of humorous, self-deprecating, and lyrical, and the art is bright, colorful, and engaging – in addition to the cartoon watercolors of people and places, Barry employs the use of collages made of photographs, glitter, and other real-life, tangible items to portray her nostalgia.
She takes herself and the reader on a walk down memory lane by recreating her experiences in a way that everyone can relate to on some level – we have had pain in our childhoods, we have felt out of place, we have loved and lost people and pets and beloved childhood blankets and stuffed animals, we have kissed people we shouldn't have, we have tried to create art that means something to us, we have been insanely glued to the TV during the 2000 chad-related presidential election drama. A
ll of us have done these things in whole or in part, and Barry has the amazing gift of tapping into the experiences that make us all human both collectively and individually.
While perhaps only adults have enough perspective and life experience to be able to relate to the whole range of stories told here, older teens can certainly appreciate some of them, will definitely relate to the mortification factor, and will enjoy the book on a different level. This book has a wonderful, whimsical ability to make the heart break and soar.
In Michel Rabagliati's Paul has a Summer Job, the title character, like Thoreau and countless others before him, chooses to lose the trappings of real life and go to the woods in order to find himself.
The plot follows him as he drops out of school and starts and quits a mindless job he hates before deciding on a whim to spend the summer in the woods as a camp counselor, where he evolves, to his initial surprise, into the Paul he really is deep down and the Paul he wants to be.
The writing style is largely introspective and lets the reader see deeply into Paul's soul and psyche. The black and white pen and ink illustrations wonderfully capture the natural setting of the woods – the trees, the hills, the lake, the wildlife – and the personalities of Paul, his fellow counselors, and the young campers.
The purpose of this book is to take a look back at a defining moment in the history of Paul's life and how his summer as a camp counselor indelibly changed him, and it is achieved very effectively with heartfelt nostalgia and affection towards his old friends and experiences at camp.
This book is primarily suited for older teens – there is brief nudity and a sex scene, but it's depicted sweetly, not gratuitously. Readers who have spent a summer at camp, whether as a camper or counselor, will recognize themselves in these characters – the sacred, special, hilarious times at camp and the bonds formed between those who were there become frozen in one's memory and heart, and this book captures that sentiment beautifully.
Paul, sitting around a campfire, singing under the stars: "There you are, in the middle of nowhere, with a group of people you like, and suddenly, you lift off. Without noticing it, you're in a bubble. You become one with the world around you, and everything else just fades away."
(Be sure to check out the other books in this series: the prequel, Paul in the Country, which won Rabagliati the 2001 Harvey Award for Best New Talent, and the sequels, Paul Moves Out and Paul Goes Fishing.)
The Tale of One Bad Rat by Bryan Talbot is the story of a young English girl's quest to survive the wounds of being abused by her father as a child. Helen is both terrified and brave, both scarred and healing, and both enslaved by her past and striving to break free.
The story follows her from her days as a homeless young girl in a cold London winter after running away from home to her odyssey through England's Lake District, the home of her hero, Beatrix Potter, as she finds a new family and strives to confront and disentangle herself from her abusive father.
The writing style is lyrical and powerful, drawing the reader into Helen's journey, and the watercolor illustrations are simply beautiful – they capture Helen's transformation wonderfully and depict the outside world with highly detailed attention, from the streets, buildings, and bridges of London to the spectacular countryside of the Lake District.
The book portrays, through the life of one girl, the idea that abuse is survivable, that a person can overcome his or her darkest and deepest pain, and that we are all stronger than we think they are.
Several scenes will become indelibly imprinted in the reader's mind, particularly a scene in which Helen stands alone atop a hill overlooking Lake Derwentwater, crying and shaking her fists at the sky, proclaiming that her abuse was not her fault, and also a scene in which she fearlessly stands up to her father.
Suitable for older teens due to its mature content, only a reader with a heart of stone would not be moved to tears by this book. Both its story and art are incredible, it masterfully connects Helen's experience with the life and works of the legendary Beatrix Potter, and its message is powerful and enduring.
(It won the 1996 Eisner Award for Best Graphic Album: Reprint, was nominated for a 1996 Harvey Award, and in 2006, YALSA named it on the list of Great Graphic Novels. You can find more information on the book here.)