Zahra’s Paradise (Amir & Khalil*)

I auditioned this graphic novel as a kind of bookend for Persepolis. It’s a compelling story, driven by a brother’s search for his brother who (was?) disappeared after a protest in Iran in 2009. After a first read through, I was struck by my inability to find a pattern in what the authors (and the names are pseudonyms; the book flap says they’ve chosen to remain anonymous “for political reasons”) chose to explain. As for the graphics, the responsibility of ‘Khalil,’ I didn’t see many that merited a second look, but I am not an experienced graphic novel readerand I recall having the same reaction after my first read through of Persepolis. After much consideration and conversation, I have many more thoughts about the artwork in that book. The few frames that initially invited a second and third look are astonishingly powerful. Equally powerful is the mother’s prayer near the end of the book. No kidding. Tears and chills.

Though there are some difficult images in Persepolis, the nudity here is more prevalent and seems – again at first glance – less essential.

This book does contain a fair amount of reference material at the back that would definitely supplement any efforts to teach this book. And the Omid Memorial, replicated at the end of the book, will absolutely break your heart.


Drama (Telgemeier)

The top 10 list of 2016’s most challenged books came out, and I immediately seized on it as a reading list. The first one I found at home was this graphic novel which I found delightful. I’m a big theatre geek. The scene when Callie steps into her favorite book reminds me of what graphic novels can accomplish in ways that ordinary ones can’t. I think Telgemeier captures the awkward adolescent dating scene and language quite well. As for the gay characters and the kiss, they are presented in a manner that aligns with the book.

As for those who object to it (and the other 7 books on the list that are challenged because of issues related to sex and gender), get the (*&$ over it. These are good books. These are stories that need to be told; in fact, they are long overdue. Children need them. Don’t be afraid. They aren’t contagious. Read them and learn. Or don’t. Just don’t get in anyone else’s way.

March: Book Three (Lewis, Aydin, Powell)

I think this is the best of the trilogy. Two things struck me right away. First, there’s less of Obama’s inauguration. Second, the art seems different – darker and less confined to the boxes. The story continues to be amazing. Though I knew most of the names and the incidents, it was quite something to realize that these pieces of history I knew were all pretty much happening at the same time. I appreciated Lewis’ candor about the in-fighting between and among various groups – SNCC, SCLC, etc. – as well as the beginning of impatience with Dr. King.

Now I issue my regular challenge to those who make graphic novels. If you want us to use them in schools, you must make them cheaper. You might even turn this trilogy into a school edition box set. This is a story that needs to be told, and this was a great way to tell it.

National Book Award for Young People’s Literature

Jerusalem: Chronicles from the Holy City (Delisle)

This was a challenging book. It’s hard for me, with my own particular bias, to say whether it’s balanced. It’s certainly ambitious and detailed. There are many moments for consideration, more because of the context of living in a such a place as a resident (and not a tourist) than because of the art. I’m not an experienced reader of graphic novels, so perhaps some of Delisle’s choices eluded me.

I like that he is an adventurous narrator and don’t mind that he portrays himself as a clod. But winging his presentations and consistently including images that he had to know were likely objectionable to the given audience? Well, that just seems unnecessarily provocative. And his remarks about being a housewife? (His wife, who works for Doctors with Borders, has been posted there for a year.) Again, here he crosses the line between cloddish and sexist.

So, it’s an engaging and challenging read. I’d be interested to read it again and to discuss it with others. Would I use it in a classroom? Very hard to say. I doubt it.

The Lost Hero (Riordan, adapted by Venditti, art by Powell, color by Collar)

We’re deep in Rick Riordan land here at the house, and my son wanted me to read this one, one of the first I brought into the house. It was an effort to bridge the gap between his comic book stage and novels. And it worked. He’s absolutely hooked into Riordan’s stuff and has pretty much finished it. We’re working on finding him alternatives until Riordan’s new series comes out in September.

In any event, our son, 8, warned me that now that he’s read some of the novels that he didn’t think much of this graphic novel adaptation anymore. You know what? He’s right. Venditti’s adaptation moves between quips and lengthy, awkward and sudden exposition. I found Powell’s art overwrought. The books are better. Mythological tales seem a natural fit for graphic novels. This one just doesn’t work.

The Lost Hero (Riordan) – by guest blogger, Ezra

When the book started I thought yes more Greek mythology though eventually it crossed with Roman mythology and the lightning thief.

Before the Roman mythology came into the book I started studying a bit on Roman mythology(for fun) so when I saw the Roman mythology I was exited.

Earlier in the book it clashed with the Lightning Thief and my dad is actually reading The sea of Monsters every night to us.

The pictures were marvelous just plain amazing.

Though the book actually is Percy jackson/Roman mythology/Greek mythology for the entire series.


#Lets do this!!!!!!!!!!!!!

March: Book Two (Lewis, Aydin, Powell)

John Lewis’ story continues in this, the second installment of what I’m becoming convinced is an important trilogy. It’s certainly one that I will hope will be priced within range for school use. The juxtaposition between Obama’s inauguration and developments in the 60s continues. And things get complicated here. There are divisions about tactics. There are arguments about language. There is more (brutally depicted) violence. There are criticisms of Dr. King. New names emerge – Bayard Rustin, the Kennedy brothers, John Seigenthaler, Malcolm X, Stokely Carmichael.

The illustrators are aware of the power of their tools. Consider the cover, with the image of a burning bus, Freedom Riders fleeing for their lives. Consider the back, a stained glass picture, with Jesus’ face shattered and missing. (You find out why when you read the story.) The writers are also aware of the power of words, letting much of John Lewis’  controversial speech during the March on Washington run over several pages and then printing it in its original form in the back of the book. Why, I wonder, doesn’t it get more attention? I know it was overshadowed by King’s, but it deserves its own place in history.

An important, teachable, necessary book.