Thursday, June 7, 2007

Hybrids, Part 2

This week we continue our series on what we’re calling “hybrids” – books with a mixture of prose and comics.

Thieves and Kings by Mark Oakley

Thieves and Kings, as far as I can tell, is the original all-ages hybrid. First published in 1998 as a regular comic book, we read the compiled Volume One (The Red Book). Thieves and Kings is a mix of long prose passages with fantasy illustration and comics. The story revolves around Rubel, a young thief with a mysterious past, and his quest to serve the princess he is sworn to. Thieves and Kings has all the expected fantasy elements, along with some new twists.

Before I get to the girls’ reviews, I need to give you a little insight into the process of writing these reviews. Usually, I choose the books for the week and ask the girls to read them, though I try to let them choose whenever possible. Then, they read the books and either type their own reviews or dictate them to me. It’s a pretty simple process and usually goes pretty smoothly. But not with this book.

I told the girls about two months ago that we would be reading these “hybrid” books and, since they take a bit longer to read than the average comic or graphic novel, that they should get started. They had no problem with the other books on my list, but as the weeks passed, I found that they became more and more resistant to reading Thieves and Kings. They said they just couldn’t follow it and had real problems with the vocabulary – and these are kids who devour fantasy books like Harry Potter and Eragon. So, the girls’ reviews here will be based on their aborted attempts at reading the first volume.

Personally, I found the first volume a bit hard to read in places as well. The prose is sometimes awkward and I had to reread quite a bit. The type is small and dense. I found, however, that it was worth the effort, as the story is classic fantasy with wonderful characters and the art is enchanting. The transitions and interweaving of prose and comic are well-done, but I think a bit less prose and a bit more comic would have made the first volume of Thieves and Kings better. I bought Volume Two (The Green Book) yesterday, and I’m looking forward to diving in.

Unfortunately, I can’t really recommend it for kids, not because there is anything objectionable in it at all, but because, based on the girls’ reactions, they might not be able to follow the story. I do highly recommend it for adults. Maybe if I can talk the girls into reading it along with me I can get them interested and we can do another review later.

Sarah says: I really don’t want to read Thieves and Kings because when I first started reading it, I couldn’t understand anything that was going on and there are too many big words. It was very slow at the beginning and I didn’t want to keep reading because it was getting very boring. My mom said that it gets really exciting later but I still didn’t want to read it because I didn’t understand what was going on.

Shelby says: I read about 5 pages and I didn’t understand half of the words and I didn’t really understand what was going on. So I just stopped.

Fashion Kitty by Charise Mericle Harper (Hyperion)

I spotted this book in a non-kids section of my local comic shop and showed it to Sarah, who immediately sat down on the floor and started devouring it. She finished reading it in the car on the way home and then disappeared into her room and read it twice more. She asked me to read it with her on the fourth round. The prose is mostly in the form of captions and sometimes sentences actually continue from a balloon into a caption. It’s an interesting mix and quite easy to read. Fashion Kitty is definitely a kids’ book, rather than all-ages, but it was quite entertaining and funny. I recommend it for elementary classrooms and libraries, and it would make a great gift for any little girl.

Sarah says: Fashion Kitty is about a young cat named Kiki Kittie that turned into a fashion hero. It all started on her birthday, but I’m not telling how. Her mother lets Kiki and her little sister, Lana, choose their own wild clothes. Kiki wears fashionable and wild clothes. Lana, on the other hand, wears stockings like scarves. This book has basically half text and half comic. Fashion Kitty is for girls that are six to eight-years-old. Most kids at these ages usually don’t like to read chapter books because they take a long time, so this would be a great book for kids my age. I enjoyed Fashion Kitty.

Travels of Thelonius (Fog Mound) by Susan Schade and Jon Buller (Simon & Schuster Children’s)

I can’t even remember how I accidentally discovered this book, but I’m certainly glad I did! It doesn’t even register on the comic radar – the author and illustrator have done plenty of children’s books, but no comics or graphic novels, though Jon Buller seems to be a cartoonist at heart and did write one book about how to draw superheroes.

Thelonius is a chipmunk living in a post-apocalyptic, humanless world. When he is swept away from his woodland home by a rainstorm and finds himself in a crumbling human city, adventure abounds. I know, I know – a post-apocalyptic children’s book? Yeah, but it really works. Buller’s illustrations/comics are cute and sweet, and it’s never frightening. The rather dire environmental warning is made palatable by the cute animals and everything seems to be alright for them in the end.

I wasn’t impressed with the first couple of chapters – the text and dialogue felt like it was written by a fifth grader – but in Chapter 4 things really took a turn for the better; Travels of Thelonius ended up being one of the better all-ages books I’ve read in a while. The art, while it is definitely cartoony, is marvelously expressive and detailed, and the blue tones are a great compliment to the nice line work. The story is incredibly original. Okay, so the environmental message is a bit heavy-handed at times, but it didn’t take me out of the story. The transitions from text to comic are pretty seamless and I found that I didn’t even notice them, and it felt like there was a nice balance between the two. I’m really looking forward to the second volume, Faradawn, due out this fall.

Travels of Thelonius is highly recommended for libraries and classrooms. There is a miniature naked man near the end (it kind of makes sense in the story) but he’s only shown from behind and it’s not offensive at all. With Travels of Thelonius Schade and Buller have managed to pull off an almost impossible feat – it will be enjoyed by kids who don’t like to read as much as by those who do.

Be sure to visit Susan Schade and Jon Buller’s site to see the map that somehow got left out of the book.

Shelby says: The beginning is sort of slow and you might get a little bit bored and not want to read the rest, but you should. As soon as Thelonius meets Fitzgerald the porcupine, the story starts flowing a bit better. The story is entertaining and it’s cool how it’s all talking animals and non-talking animals talking about humans and how they once lived on the earth, but they don’t anymore. The full-page drawings that aren’t comic are really detailed and it looks really cool. The comic ones aren’t as detailed, but they’re still cool. The text part was a little bit too long sometimes – there should have been more comic. But they went together smoothly. I think this is good for kids eight to adult, if they read past the beginning part they will enjoy it.

Sarah says: Deadly fog, ruined cities, and talking animals – oh, my! Travels of Thelonius is very funny but dramatic. It is about a young chipmunk that gets carried away from his home, a tree, to a mysterious land. This land is from one of the creepiest legends he knows, the City of Ruins. (I think it’s San Francisco or New York City.) He meets a porcupine and a bear. They travel to The Fog Mound, which is a big plateau. The Travels of Thelonius gave me a message that us humans should be very careful and not pollute the world or we will go extinct, and the book might be true! (Except for the talking animal part.) I think that it is for ages six to adult – anybody who can read would like it. I reeeeeeeeeeeally like this book and it is my favorite graphic novel (for right now). I want to read it over and over because I might find something new in the pictures.


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