Monday, June 25, 2007

Glister and The Arrival

Glister by Andi Watson (Image)

Glister, a young British girl who lives in a decrepit old house with her father where she has become accustomed to strange goings on, receives in the mail a mysterious teapot containing the ghost of a writer. The ghost of Phillip Bulwark-Stratton enlists Glister’s help in finishing his final novel but, unfortunately, is a rather dismal writer and Glister’s task becomes unbearable. After Glister’s unsuccessful attempt to get rid of the teapot and the ghost, the story takes a wonderfully surprising turn at the end.

I have to admit to a strong affection for anything that combines spooky with cute, as well as being a bit of an Anglophile, so I was predisposed to like Glister from the outset. It’s a rather quiet tale – no chase sequences or horrifying spectres –but what it lacks in action it more than makes up for in quirky characters and literary ambience. I really enjoyed Watson’s drawings and I read Glister through several times just to admire his work. The story is so delightfully charming that I couldn’t help but smile through the whole thing. I sincerely hope this is just the first book in a very long series.

Glister is appropriate for all ages, but younger kids might have a hard time with it due to the Britishness of the vocabulary. After about five pages Sarah asked me to read it with her, and once I got her through some of the words (malevolent solicitor, guineas, constitutional) she really enjoyed it. It’s definitely not a just kids’ book and will probably be most popular with adults. The copy we read wasn’t a final version, and we had some trouble with the font (Sarah read “father” as “fat her”) but hopefully those little problems will be remedied in the published version.

Glister would be a wonderful addition to any library or classroom and might actually be a fun companion to upper grade studies of Victorian writers such as Dickens and the Bronte sisters. It would be great fun to have older students study Edward Bullwer-Lyton, one of the inspirations for the teapot ghost, and write submissions for the very entertaining Bullwer-Lytton Fiction contest (though I’d keep them away from the very adult romance section!).

Glister will be available in August. Read the Newsarama interview with Andi Watson about Glister here.

Shelby says: I liked Glister because the drawings are really cool and old-fashioned. It’s cool because there’s lots of details but you can still tell what they’re doing. My mom had to explain the last part but after she explained it I liked it a lot – it’s a good ending. If you think that ghost stories are scary, this one isn’t, because the ghost is actually funny. It’s good for everyone but some kids wouldn’t really understand it. I think it should be for eight and up and maybe parents and kids should read it together.

Sarah says: I liked Glister because it’s about ghosts and disguises and teapots and stuff. It wasn’t scary – it was a nice story about a ghost. A young girl, Glister, gets a teapot in the mail that has a ghost living inside of it. The ghost wants to finish a story he was writing when he died. Glister has to type the rest of his story, but she doesn’t want to do it because there are a lot of chapters and the book is sad and boring for her to write. There is a surprise ending but I’m not telling you! It’s very exciting to read because you don’t know what’s coming next. I needed my mom to read it with me because I didn’t understand some of the words and I didn’t know what was going on. When we read it together I really liked it. I think Glister is good for people that like stories with surprises during the whole book and people that can comprehend hard words.

The Arrival by Shaun Tan (Arthur A. Levine Books/Scholastic)

Imagine you have left your home and family behind and traveled to a foreign country to make a new and better life. You can’t speak the language and everything is strange to you – the food, the buildings, the transportation, even the animals. How will you make your way? How will you find a place to live, a job, something to eat? The Arrival wordlessly tells the tale of one such immigrant and allows anyone from any country or walk of life to live the experience along with him.

This is the most fitting use of the medium of sequential art that I have ever seen. By eliminating language, Shaun Tan has created a world that is foreign and strange to everyone, sometimes frightening and sometimes wonderful, but just tied to our reality enough that it draws us in. Some of the basic elements of our world are there – the people are humans, the weather and seasons are the same as we know them, and some of the clothing may look familiar – but Tan has changed and added so many fantasy elements that this new city will feel foreign to everyone. The landscape, the plants, the food and the way it is purchased and prepared, the written language, the transportation, the animals, and the customs are all completely fabricated by Tan.

The story, though meant to put the reader in slightly confused state of mind, is perfectly clear and easy to follow. Tan makes great use of devices that can only exist in the graphic medium – evoking the passage of time through a sequence of panels featuring only clouds; calling out each character’s story by varying the page backgrounds; conveying emotion by varying the tones of his drawings from dark and gray to glowing, golden sepia. He is a truly gifted artist and the care and devotion he put into this book shows in every page and every panel.

If I have any complaint at all about this book it’s that the main character’s journey seems just a bit too easy. Everyone he meets is helpful and friendly – the prejudice and fear of strangers that exists in our world seem not to exist in the world of The Arrival. All of the immigrant character’s background stories are harrowing, but the new land they are living in seems to be a utopia.

That slight reservation aside, I think The Arrival should be compulsory material for the study of immigration at any level – in fact, it should be the first thing students read when they begin studying the topic. The publisher recommends ages 10 and up, but Sarah, who is eight, really loved it. In addition to its educational value, The Arrival will have very broad appeal both inside and outside of the comic and graphic novel world and I am convinced that we will be hearing much, much more about this book.

The Arrival will be available in October. Visit Shaun Tan’s website to see preview pages.

Shelby says: I have read this book about ten times already and I want to do it again. I like how the background colors change when the scene changes. Sometimes it’s black and then it’s a light brown. The little creatures that everyone has in the city are drawn really creatively. For a wordless book, it’s done really well because you can always tell what’s going on. The story is really cool, but some parts are really scary for little guys. There are skulls and it shows a guy with one leg. This is because this old guy is telling a story about war. This book is probably perfect for artistic people over ten. It would really help kids understand how immigrants come into other countries.

Sarah says: The Arrival is about a guy from another country coming to a big city like New York, but the whole story is very different. Instead of the Statue of Liberty it’s a different statue. The language looks like an alien language. When I read it I felt like the guy – I didn’t understand anything going on in the town so I felt like I was him. When people helped him it helped me understand a bit more. It really does make me feel like I’m from another country and I’m coming to this place that I have no clue about. I sort of didn’t understand part of it, the parts where people were telling their stories, but when my mom told me that those were other people’s stories, I understood it. I liked the part when the new guy’s alien pet thingy shows him around his house and helps him. I would love to have a pet like that!

The artist, Shaun Tan, is a good artist and shows many details. I felt like this place could be real. My favorite part about the book is not actually part of the story – it’s before the book starts and after the book ends. He drew passport photos based on real people who traveled to America at Ellis Island. I liked them because they look real and they look like they’re old and have crinkles in them. These pictures show me the looks of people who come from different countries and the feelings the people would have had when they came to America. I think that it’s for about ages 9 and up because I can fully understand it. I think both adults and kids would like it a lot.


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