Monday, June 6, 2011

You Can Never Read Too Much, Part 3

Moon Rabbit

Written and Illus. by Natalie Russell

Viking, a Division of Penguin Young readers group, copyright 2009

32 pages, counting the endpapers, with pp. 1 & 32 pasted down


468 words of text

This is a very whimsical story with gorgeous illustrations in a muted palette of oranges, blues, grays, browns, and greens. The illustrations carry the story, which is slight, but engaging. A little rabbit enjoys her life in the city, but wishes to meet a friend. One day she meets another little rabbit in a park far from the city. They bond, but the little rabbit misses her life in the city and returns home, knowing that there is someone out there to be her friend and that he is coming to visit.

I think I would have loved this story as a teenager. Not sure how engaging it is for a child—is it reassuring to know there is someone to be your friend? The leave-taking is bittersweet—why must they part? But the other little rabbit will come visit.

Just what is this story about? Friendship? Loving your life? What does it tell us? I don’t know, but I love the visuals enough to stay with it and to study it. Publishers Weekly says, in a starred review, “Children (and adults) will appreciate this gentle take on the often-perplexing conflict between satisfied independence and the joys of companionship.”

Brown Rabbit in the City

Written and Illus. by Natalie Russell

Viking, an Imprint of Penguin group (USA), Inc., copyright 2010

32 pages, counting the endpapers, with pp. 1 & 32 pasted down


A retelling of the Country Mouse and the City Mouse, this story feels a bit more satisfying than Moon Rabbit and the illustrations are at least as charming, in the same soft pallet. Brown Rabbit rides the bus to visit his new friend, Little Rabbit. Little Rabbit is so eager to show him the city that she rushes him everywhere, barely taking time to speak. She wears him out and when he slips away from the party without telling her she is sad and realizes how she has been neglecting him. She finds him at her favorite café. He tells her he didn’t come to see the city, he came to see her. The next day she takes him to a quiet garden where she has a present for him, a guitar. His bus comes and goes but he stays, playing with Little Rabbit because, “After all, they had all the time in the world.”

This story is about friendship, what it means to be a friend. And, unlike the fable, these rabbits are able to enjoy each other’s environments and styles of living.

The two books are produced in identical formats, trim size, typeface, palettes, style of illustration. And the rabbits are drawn in the simplest way, yet convey a lot of emotion. They are adorable. Would these stories be published if they were not accompanied by this great art? Not sure, especially the first one.

Junie B. Jones and the Stupid Smelly Bus

Written by Barbara Park, Illus. by Denise Brunkus

A First stepping Stone Book, Random House, copyright 1992

69 pages

The first in a series of Junie B. Jones books. Junie B. has a very believable kindergarten voice in this book. Somewhat like Clementine, she has a knack for getting in trouble as she acts on every whim. Full of action and humor, this lightly illustrated first chapter book, with a reading level of 2.0 should appeal to most kids. Although Junie B. is a girl, with shiny shoes and skirst like velvet, she gets in enough trouble that boys will enjoy her pranks, although they might be reluctant to be seen checking this book out of the library. I think part of the appeal and humor for the reader will be that he/she is older than Junie B. and will know things that Junie B. doesn’t know.

Moon Theater

Written and Illus. by Etienne Delessert

Creative Editions, an imprint of the Creative Company, copyright 2009

32 pages not counting plain endpapers

122 words of text, one line per page.

This is a book carried by its illustrations, which are intriguing. The Swiss-American artist is the illustrator of numerous books. I’m not sure if he’s written many other books. He has an edgy, European feel to the dark paintings.

It is books like this, which, fanciful as it is, perpetuate the misunderstanding that the moon “starts anew every night.” I have a hard time seeing beyond this aspect of the text. I think the story lacks any real story arc—it is about preparing to send the moon out into the evening, setting the stage of the night. Would I have liked this as a child? Probably yes as a teenager. The illustrations are intriguing to me. But now the text bothers me because of the fallacies inherent in it. Am I ruined forever?

Market Day

A graphic novel written and inked by James Sturm

Drawn & Quarterly, Montreal, copyright 2010

Dark earth-toned, very limited palette of many shades of brown and tan, tells a dark story of the demise of hand-made goods in Eastern Europe at the beginning of the 20th century.

If I hadn’t read the back cover I wouldn’t have had a clue what the story is about beyond a tale of grave disappointment. I feel I am still learning how to read a graphic novel. The artwork of this is quite fine.

Stitches, a memoir…

A graphic novel by David Small

W. W. Norton & Company, New York, copyright 2009

329 pages

Drawn in scratchy line with soft sepia/gray washes, this book tells a bleak tale of the author as a child and his dysfunctional family. It is a tale of survival and ends with a happier prospect—we know (and he acknowledges) that the David of this story survives cancer and his non-loving parents. He grows up to marry and to become an award-winning illustrator. His art is the survival tool that helps him through the bleakest, darkest of times.

I read this book in one sitting, again feeling as if I don’t know how to read a graphic novel. There must be a balance between studying the art and pouring over the words to move the story along. It was a satisfying reading experience, as was Maus. Market Day was perhaps too bleak for my taste and the character never appealed to me. I lacked empathy or connection with him and his life.

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