Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Miki Falls and Diary of a Wimpy Kid

We’re back from our hiatus! Now that we’ve adjusted to the homework load and the school play is over, we have a huge stack of great comics and graphic novels to tell you about. First, let’s be clear about this column – our mission is to get the word out about great comics and graphic novels that are kid-friendly or all-ages. The girls are so busy with homework and activities, I’m not about to ask them to read or review anything they are not interested in. All books reviewed in this column are chosen by Shelby (12) and Sarah (9).

What does all-ages mean? You can read my definition of all-ages here. My litmus test is not whether I would give a book to my own kids, but whether I would feel comfortable giving it to one of the kids in my class (I teach a reading intervention program for grades 3-5). I specify what I feel the age range for a book is based on appropriateness and interest and I will always try to mention anything that might be even slightly inappropriate in a classroom or public library setting.

Now that the ground rules have been re-established, here are this week’s reviews!

Miki Falls: Spring, Summer, Autumn, and Winter by Mark Crilley (Harper Teen)

Mark Crilley’s Akiko stories (graphic novels/comics as well as chapter books) are wonderful kid-friendly sci-fi fare and show up on many “best-of all ages” lists. His newest work, a four-volume set, will appeal to a slightly older and mostly female audience. Miki Falls is Crilley’s own version of a teen romance manga…with a fantasy twist.

The four volumes, Spring, Summer, Autumn, and Winter, tell the story of Miki, a Japanese high school student, who falls for the mysterious Hiro. I definitely found myself drawn into the story and I liked the fantasy elements, but it is quite sappy and romantic – I’m sure I rolled my eyes a couple of times in each volume. Crilley’s take on manga is gorgeous; beautifully shaded and just lovely. At times, however, I felt a bit claustrophobic because of the large percentage of “close ups” on faces. When the point of view widens, the art really shines.

Even if you’re not a romantic, this series is really worth picking up for Crilley’s unique and dynamic page layouts. The shattered panels and overlays intensify the action while the placement of captions and dialog is quite intuitive and easy to follow, even for a novice comic reader. I like the page layouts in Miki Falls more than any other book I can think of at the moment.

I’d recommend Miki Falls for teen and tween girls (ages 10 and up). There’s nothing inappropriate at all – the romance is confined to kissing. Miki Falls will pull in not only manga readers but all girls in the age group. Put these volumes in your classroom or library and I’ll bet they won’t spend long on the shelf.

Shelby says: Miki Falls is about this girl named Miki who meets a boy at her high school named Hiro. She finds out that he has something to do with magic. The art is really good, but my friend doesn’t think it is manga. I think she thinks this because she’s used to the regular manga instead of an American version. I like it because it looks cartoony yet it’s detailed and pretty in a way.
The layout of the pages is kind of cool, like when there’s a picture of someone looking surprised he just shows their eyes and then another picture is in between their eyes. The panels are laid out on the page well because they’re not exactly straight all the time; they look like shards of glass or something. It makes it more interesting.
Sometimes things are explained over and over but I guess that’s how it is in love stories. I like that it’s in Japan so there are lots of pictures of Japanese houses, gardens, shrines, etc. That’s really pretty. (I’m obsessed with Japanese stuff!) The way the love and the magic are put together is really creative. Teen girls would like these books because it’s all about how you feel and how popular you are and about love and relationships.

Sarah says: Miki Falls is a really cool story. At the beginning it shows her doing something strange that has something to do with the title and at the end it reveals why she did it. None of the panels are really straight, they’re all crooked sort of. It’s love and romance, if you want that, and it also has a bit of fantasy and fairy tale, too. I think pre-teens would really like it (which is Shelby) and I liked it because of the magic part. It’s really a girls’ story because it’s from a girl’s point of view and it’s all about this lovey-dovey stuff and most boys aren’t interested in that until it is about them.

Diary of a Wimpy Kid and Diary of a Wimpy Kid; Roderick Rules by Jeff Kinney (Amulet Books)

Diary of a Wimpy Kid spent 39 weeks on the NY Times Bestsellers Children’s Chapter Books list, and was just knocked out of first place by its sequel, Diary of a Wimpy Kid; Roderick Rules. How’s that for comics in the mainstream? The rub here is that this isn’t really a comic or a graphic novel -- it’s actually a hybrid of comic illustrations and text. I found an interview with Kinney in which he says, “I had always wanted to be a cartoonist, but I found that it was very tough to break into the world of newspaper syndication. So I started playing with a style that mixed cartoons and "traditional" writing, and that's how Diary of a Wimpy Kid was born.” In most cases the cartoons are not integral to the story – the text is completely readable on its own – but there are some places where the “punch line” is contained in the illustrations.

Diary of a Wimpy Kid was first published as a webcomic on Funbrain, one of the most popular kids’ educational websites. Funbrain is also running On The Rocks (also called Wally and Osborne) and Silent Kimbly, two really great webcomics for kids (also available at Lunchbox Funnies). Could the new generation of comics readers develop their habit through online comics? Hmmmmm. I think dedicated webcomic sites are unlikely to draw kids in, but putting webcomics on sites where kids are already going feels like a slam dunk.

Because the webcomic was written in the form of a diary, it translates perfectly into book format. The “diary” of Greg Heffley details all the trials and tribulations of middle school popularity, nasty older brothers, and unwanted parental attention. Kinney does a good job of showing the world from a kid’s perspective, but the adults are not all completely useless and stupid, which is usually what you get in this genre. He also manages to keep things pretty tame and appropriate for ages 9 and up while still giving it a realistic feel and a lot of laughs. Kids who start out loving Captain Underpants will easily move “up” to these books. They’re kind of the boys’ version of the Dear Dumb Diary series, though most girls will enjoy the Wimpy Kid books as well.

Diary of a Wimpy Kid illustrates the phenomenon of children wanting to read about (or watch TV shows about) kids who are just a bit older than they are. The protagonist is in seventh grade, which would make him 12 or 13 years old, but the book really appeals to the 9-11 crowd. Shelby (age 12) only read about five pages of the first book before she decided that it just wasn’t for her – “It was supposed to be funny but it was just stupid.”

Sarah, who is nine, loves it.

Sarah says: Diary of a Wimpy Kid is about a boy named Greg whose mom bought him a diary to write down his “feelings.” Instead, he calls it a journal and writes about all the funny things that happens to him. It’s really funny. My favorite character is Manny, who is Greg’s little brother. I like him because he has a huge mouth and he’s really funny and he always gets scared. Some of the other characters are Roderick, his big brother, who is in high school and is the drummer for his band, Loded Diper, and Greg’s best friend, Rowley, who is really dumb and always says, “Come over and plaaaaaaaaay!” which embarrasses Greg a lot. My favorite part out of the two books is when Greg talks about the first day of preschool someone asked him, “Do you like ice cream?” and he said, “Yes,” and so the person said, “Why don’t you marry it?” and he didn’t know that it was a joke so he didn’t want to go back to preschool. The picture is his imagination where there’s him in a suit and a ice cream cone in a wedding dress getting married. It’s my favorite book right now and it’s fun to read over and over because you always laugh out loud. I think most eight-year-olds to adults will laugh at Diary of a Wimpy Kid. Shelby doesn’t like it because she’s a middle-schooler and middle-schoolers don’t like anything, just like Greg in the book!


At March 2, 2008 at 6:27 AM , Anonymous Mark Crilley said...

Thanks so much for reviewing Miki Falls! I'm so glad you enjoyed it, and thanks especially for the kind words about the layouts. You really made my day!


At April 24, 2009 at 8:00 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

I might consider reading Miki Falls because it is English and I have seen some of Mr. Crilley's videos.

At January 31, 2011 at 3:58 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

Miki falls is the best book ever i could read it over and over again if i wanted to!
Do you think you could make more series of Miki Falls? Oh and by the way i have read every book so far in Diary of the wimpy kid and it's great!! :D


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