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Book Reviews, Graphic novels

The Murder of Abraham Lincoln

by Rick Geary 2005 / 80 pages Author and illustrator Rick Geary has created a series of graphic novels about Victorian-era murders. While I don't think I'd be much interested in reading others in the series (I don't feel a need or a desire to learn about Lizzie Borden or Jack the Ripper) The Murder of Abraham Lincoln is a title I would recommend to anyone interested in American history. It starts with Lincoln presenting his second inaugural address. Geary gives a brief accounting of the end of the Civil War, and intersperses it with parts of Lincoln's speech - it is a great opening to a great book. We are then told a little of assassin John Wilkes Booth's background, and his motivations, and are introduced to the co-conspirators. The last third of the book takes place after Lincoln is killed, and shows us the man-hunt for Booth, as well as the country's reaction to the assassination. A graphic novel is a compelling way to tell this story, first because Geary uses this format to show us the layout of Ford's theatre (where the assassination took place), escape routes, and other maps, and second because pictures, properly used, can tell, if not a thousand words, at least a couple hundred or so. This volume is only 80 pages, but there is a lot of information packed into it - it gives readers a great feel for the time, and insight into the still brewing conflict that had almost split the country asunder. The only concern I have with this volume is that it casts some suspicion on Secretary of War Edward M. Stanton. The author doesn't directly accuse Stanton of having a hand in the assassination, but he does raise questions about him: "Was he guilty merely of overzealousness in the execution of this office - or do his actions indicate an intent more nefarious?" I'm only passingly familiar with other accounts of Lincoln's life and death, but have never heard these questions before, so I wonder how legitimate they might be. But Stanton is a relatively minor character in this story, so this is only a minor concern. I would recommend this book for anyone 12 and over (the illustrations have been done with restraint - there is no gore to speak of) and I'm sure adults will enjoy it, and find it educational as well....

Book Reviews, Graphic novels

Harriet Tubman: Fighter for Freedom!

by James Buckley Jr. and Izeek Esidene 2020 / 94 pages Harriet Tubman (1822-1913) was an American black woman born into slavery who escaped the South only to go back again and again to show other slaves the way to freedom. She also served in the American Civil War as both a guide for Northern forces, and as a nurse. Even during the war, she continued making trips to free slaves. Biographies can sometimes be dry and dusty, but one advantage of this comic-book format is that it allows for an era that survives only in black-and-white photos to be brought to life in full color. One wonderful surprise in this secular book, was how Harriet is shown repeatedly pleading to, praising, and thanking God. It was made obvious that what she was doing was based on a love for her Lord. She could be brave because she knew she was in God's hands. Like the other American-focused editions of this "Show Me History!" series, this comic is narrated by two kids, a boy and a girl, which makes it all the more accessible for early readers. Sam, is actually a young "Uncle Sam" and his friend Libby, clad all in green, is also known as "lady liberty" (aka the Statue of Liberty) and their back-and-forth banter really adds some fun, especially in Tubman's life, which is otherwise a pretty serious story. This has me excited to check out other titles in the series. Cautions In a book in which God is being praised dozens of times, I don't think it a stretch to presume that the one time someone "interjects" God's Name that it is been done as a short prayer of thanks. I include the instance here for you to decide. Harriet's niece Kizzy is escaping and desperately looking for her aunt. On spotting Harriet ahead, Kizzy says to her husband: "I see her, John, oh Lord... I see her!" Another caution concerns how the book presumes that the South's secession was a problem that needed to be solved by war. While estimates vary, at least 600,000 soldiers died in the war, or more than 2% of the population of the time. And that doesn't even include the uncounted number of civilian deaths. Southern slavery was wicked, but Great Britain ended slavery without a war, so it is worth considering if Abraham Lincoln did the right thing. The indivisibility of the country is also worth considering in our own time when up until just recently abortion was legalized nationwide for 50 years, leading to more than 60 million deaths. Might that number have been smaller had pro-life states had the ready option of leaving the union? I will add though that the fact this comic doesn't question the righteousness of the Civil War is hardly unusual, and in that sense, it is not all that notable. Conclusion At 94 pages, this has the room to go a lot deeper than most kids' biographies ever do. I think it'd be great for any kids 10-14 who wanted to learn about either US history, or about some of the Christians who helped fight slavery. So far I've checked out two others in this "Show Me History!" series. Benjamin Franklin: Inventor of the Nation was also very good. The man himself is PG-rated – he had kids out of wedlock, and possibly two wives at the same time – so even though the comic only briefly touches on those details, that one might be better for teens than preteens. And, in sharp contrast with the Harriet Tubman title, there's really no Christian content. But his life as an inventor, printer, diplomat, and one of the American Founding Fathers is quite the read! Abraham Lincoln: Defender of the Union was also a quick and easy read, but it shares a caution with Harriet Tubman. The book presumes that the Union had to be preserved, even at the cost of 600,000 men's lives. That's an especially big part of this book, make it a bigger caution in this case, so I might go with a different comic Lincoln biography: Rick Geary's The Murder of Abraham Lincoln. ...

Book Reviews, Graphic novels


by Megan Wagner Lloyd illustrated by Michelle Mee Nutter 240 pages / 2021 It's Maggie's 10th birthday and she's finally going to get the puppy she's always wanted! Of course, she's ready the moment she's dressed to head out to the animal shelter, but it takes a bit of prodding to get mom and dad out the door. Mom is pregnant and has to get her exercises in, and both her parents are more than a little distracted prepping for the baby's arrival. Maggie wants a puppy in part because she figures her parents are going to be focused on the baby and not her. Her younger twin brothers have each other, and Maggie figures if she has a puppy then she'll have her own best friend and someone who'll always pay attention to her. Those are big expectations for a little pup! The first plot twist is that, after finding just the puppy she wants, Maggie discovers she's allergic. And not just to this pup but everything with fur or feathers! Maggie is devastated. And feeling extra lonely. But she isn't defeated. Not all pets have fur and feathers, so Maggie makes a list and starts investigating options like turtles, hedgehogs, lizards, and even a tarantula. None of them are a good fit. Just when Maggie is feeling her lowest, a new girl and her dad move in right next door. Claire is just a grade older than Maggie and looking for a best friend – it's a wonderful match! Second plot twist: Claire gets a dog not realizing that means Maggie can't come to her house anymore. It's quite the rollercoaster ride for Maggie, with another big up and down to follow soon after, but thankfully it does end on a high happy note. Cautions There are a few cautions, mostly minor, with maybe the most notable simply that at one point Maggie sneaks a mouse and cage into her room without her parents knowing. Going behind your parents' backs isn't behavior we wanted modelled for our kids, but I'll add that Maggie gets her comeuppance. She thinks she knows better than her parents about what's good for her, but as the itching gets worse and worse, she discovers her parents really do know best. Language concerns amount to five instances of "OMIGOSH." Other considerations: the mom does yoga, but that pops up once, for a of couple pages, and then is over – the spiritual element isn't really hit on – and it's mentioned that the next-door neighbor's parents are divorced, but we're never told why. Another caution concerns the impact Maggie's disappointment might have on sympathetic young pet lovers. I'm sure this will get some sensitive souls crying on Maggie's behalf. Conclusion There are a number of pluses for this book, including the general education it offers on allergies. Maggie meets a boy at school who has his own food allergies, and we follow along as she gets her desensitization shots. As more and more kids these days seem to be getting various allergies, this is a book to show them that they are not alone in their struggles. And it can also clue classmates in on how hard those struggles might be. The reason I might buy this for my own kids (even though it is available at the library) is because a lot of kids' fiction today is about angst – about how no one else in the world understands them. That's something to watch out for because it reinforces an idea that's common enough, but isolating. What kid is going to turn to their mom or dad if they think their parents just don't get it? What I really liked about Allergic is that the parents, even when they are distracted and busy, aren't just written off as irrelevant. Maggie thinks no one is paying attention to her and that she's all on her own, but she learns that she's actually got it wrong. I'd say that's the moral to this story, but I'll also add that this point might evade many a young reader. But this is such an engaging story that I think you can count on your kids eventually getting it, because they're going to read this one again and again....

Book Reviews, Graphic novels

The Strongest Man in the World: Louis Cyr

by Nicolas Debon 2007 / 27 pages This is a fun bit of Canadian history: Louis Cyr was a Quebec circus performer who, in the late 1800s, was known as the strongest man in the world. Even today, with the benefit of our modern nutritional and strength training practices, some of his lifting records remain unbroken. This is why he is also known by many as the strongest man who ever lived, (but those folk are obviously forgetting about Samson). This is an artistic but accessible graphic novel treatment of his life. By that I mean it is beautiful – simple but impactful – and yet it is the sort of comic that all but the youngest children would love to read. The book begins in the year 1900, and the doctor has just told Cyr he must retire. Cyr is going to listen... after one last performance. And as he prepares for his grand finale, Cyr looks back on his life, telling his daughter how his career began, how he met and married her mother, and how he is able to walk away without regret. Despite being a showman who had to toot his own horn to bring in the crowds, Cyr seemed like a humble man, which is what made this appealing for me. Many a sports book celebrating the seemingly superhuman abilities of this or that athlete can be written in such a laudatory way it is hard to tell if the writer thinks they are talking about an extraordinary man, or a god. In The Strongest Man in the World it is always clear Cyr is a mere mortal, the book beginning and ending with him heading to retirement, and his strength starting to fail, as all mortal strength eventually will. If I had to come up with a caution it might be that Cyr was also an eating champion, bragging that he could out glutton anyone, which, of course, isn't something to brag about. But that'd be it. So this is an interesting bit of Canadiana that would be a particularly good read for any boy, ten and up, who needs help getting interested in history....

Book Reviews, Children’s picture books

Don’t let the Pigeon drive the bus!

by Mo Willems 2003 / 40 pages Pigeon desperately wants to drive the bus. But the bus driver, who has to leave for a little while, tells readers before he goes, “Remember, don’t let the pigeon drive the bus!” Pigeon isn’t going to make it that easy though – for the rest of the book he asks, begs, pleads, whines, and sulks about wanting to drive the bus. The drawings are pretty simple cartoons, but the artist lets us see all Pigeon’s emotions in his body language. Pigeon uses every excuse you’ve ever heard a child use: “I never get to do anything!” “What’s the big deal?” “I’ll be your best friend!” “No fair!” “I bet your mom would let me.” That, of course, is the point of the book, that no matter how inventive a child’s questioning – his whining – might become, no is still going to be no. That’s an important lesson for any child to learn, and this is a fun way for them to learn it. Parents will enjoy reading the book out loud, mimicking Pigeon’s angst and frustration, and kids will enjoy just how silly Pigeon acts. And it will only take a little prodding from mom or dad to have junior realize that sometimes he acts silly too, just like Pigeon. I’d recommend getting the hardcover version of this book because I think your children will ask you to read it again and again. And that’s not too bad, because it is a fast read – there are only about 175 words in the whole story, which means this review is actually a bit longer than the book! There are also seven sequels, and with that abundance comes a warning. While Mo Willems' Elephant & Piggie series can be enjoyed with or without mom and dad's involvement, there is a real sense in which these Pigeon books should be rated PG for Parental Guidance. A somewhat bratty bird in a very limited dose is one thing, but with repeated readings, and with 8 books in total, parents will need to make sure their kids understand we are actually laughing at Pigeon’s ridiculous behavior, and shouldn't be looking to copy it. The Pigeon Finds a Hot Dog! (2004) – The Pigeon finds a hotdog but also meets a Duckling who has never had a hotdog. What's a self-absorbed, but not utterly selfish Pigeon to do? Don’t let the Pigeon stay up late! (2006) – Parents will love this for how it gives them a term for their kids can't-we-stay-up-5-more-minutes? pleas. “That’s enough guys,” I’ll tell them, “You’re being pigeons and it is time to stop.” The Pigeon wants a puppy! (2008) – This could be inspiration for parents who wonder if their kids really want a pet and the responsibility that comes with it. Pigeon gets a brief test drive with a puppy and changes his mind (now he wants a walrus). The Duckling gets a cookie!? (2012) – The Duckling reappears, this time to ask us, the readers, to give him a cookie. Pigeon wonders why Duckling gets one, and doesn't. The main message kids will get is that Pigeon has never asked... at least, not politely. The Pigeon needs a bath! (2014) – Pigeon hates bathes but once he runs out of excuses he gets to have some wonderful wet fun. The Pigeon has to go to school! (2019) – Pigeon shares his worries – in his usual bombastic way – about going to school for the first time. Reading this with a child who has their own concerns could be a great conversation starter. The Pigeon will ride the roller coaster! (2022) – Pigeon imagines the roller coaster will be exciting... but it only sort of is. This one struck me as only okay, and I'd ranked it 8th out of 8. ...

Book Reviews, Graphic novels


by John Patrick Green 88 pages / 2016 Hippopotamister isn't strictly a comic or a picture book – it is as much the one as the other – but regardless, it sure is fun. Hippo and Red Panda live in the City Zoo, which is falling down around them. Not only are the gates and habitats falling apart, the lion's mane "wasn't very regal" and "the walrus's smile wasn't very bright." So Red Panda decides to leave the zoo and get a job among the humans. And every now and again he comes back to the zoo to tell Hippo that "Life outside the zoo is great!" An observant child is going to notice that while Red Panda is always enthused, he's also always holding a different job whenever he reports back. It turns out, as we learn when Hippo finally decides to join him on the outside, that Red Panda is great at lining up new jobs, but not so great at holding on to them. So every day it's a new job and a new hat, and a new and funny way for Red Panda to mess up and get himself and Hippo fired once again. Hippo, though, turns out to be quite skilled at all sorts of jobs, and after trying on all sorts of hats, realizes that he might be just what his failing zoo is looking for. Maybe he can run it! The story concludes happily, bringing Red Panda back home, too, with a job that suits his own unique talents. CAUTION The only possible caution I can think of is that at one point Red Panda, instead of catching fish, ends up with a mermaid that may or may not be topless - we can't tell because she has her arms strategically and tightly crossed (see the picture). This is the only picture that is even mildly risqué. CONCLUSION Hippopotamister is a sweet funny story that any child in the early grades will enjoy, and it might be just the thing for a reluctant reader. RELATED REVIEWS: more picture book/comic book crossovers A great riff off of Abbot and Costello's famous routine Who's on First? I don't know anyone who doesn't enjoy the Elephant and Piggie series Mo Willems has another fun one with Don't Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus ...

Book Reviews, Children’s picture books, Graphic novels

Mo Willems' "Elephant & Piggie"

From about three years old and up, my daughters and I have all loved Elephant and Piggie and their whole 25 book series. When I'd bring a new one home from the library often times my littlest would squeal with delight – before having kids I always thought that was just an expression but now I know better. They are great books for preschoolers and also very fun for first graders just learning to read, and even for third and fourth graders to act out. Piggie is the more expressive of the two friends, but Gerald the Elephant can get bouncy and loud too. It's one adventure after another for two very good friends who are thoughtful, fun-loving, curious and most definitely loud (it's no coincidence that nearly every book title is capped off with an exclamation mark!). My daughter loves the stories because the drawings and the characters are just so energized! The plots are simple enough for her to follow, and bring up situations that she understands like dealing with a friend breaking a toy, learning to throw a ball, and cheering up a sad elephant. All of the books are full of silly fun, and most of them teach simple moral lessons without being obvious about it. For example, in Listen to My Trumpet, Piggie's performance is so bad, Elephant doesn't know quite how to tell her. So he praises her for what he can: her trumpet is shiny, and she can play it loud, and she holds it very well. But when Piggie insists on hearing his opinion of her playing, he is honest. Fortunately, it turns out that Piggie wasn't trying to play music, but was instead trying to sound like an elephant, so it all works out in the end. What a great lesson in, and example of, honesty and tactfulness! Another feature I appreciate is that the stories are generally limited to two characters. That makes it a bit simpler to handle giving them different voices. I can go with a high voice for the girl Piggie, and low for Elephant, and that's pretty much the limit of my vocal ability - if a third character shows up they are stuck with my normal voice. And I love that there are 25 of these. When I would eventually get tired of one book (long before my daughters) I could bring home another one from the library, to her squealing delight! They are recommended for 3-9, but nostalgia has even our older kids looking at them now and again. The following are short reviews of each title, by publication date (2007 to when he stopped in 2016). in alphabetical order. These come in durable hardcovers, with each story at 50+ pages, and the whole series has now been collected in 5 "biggie" books for a pretty thrifty price. Today I Will Fly! You may think pigs can't fly, but when Elephant tells Piggie that, it doesn't discourage her in the least. And, with a little help from a friend, she does get off the ground! My Friend is Sad When Elephant is sad Piggie decides to cheer him up by dressing up as a cowboy, then a clown and finally a robot. But he still doesn't cheer up. Why not? Because he is sad that Piggie wasn't there to see them too! One caution: parents may want to note that while friends are a blessing, they are not everything. I Am Invited to a Party! When Piggie is invited to a party, she turns to Elephant to figure out what to wear because "he knows parties!" Good clean silly fun! There Is a Bird On Your Head! Piggie gives the moment by moment commentary as first one bird, and then two, land on Elephant's head, build a nest, and have eggs that soon hatch. Complete nonsense, and lots of fun. I Love My New Toy! Piggie has a new toy she really wants to show Elephant. But when she shows it to him, he accidentally breaks it. Piggie does not deal with this very well, even though Elephant is very sorry. But when it turns out the toy isn't really broken after all, Elephant shows Piggie where her priorities should have been: "Friends are more fun than toys." I Will Surprise My Friend! After Piggie and Elephant see two squirrels having fun jumping out and surprising each other they decide to try it too. They agree to meet at a the big rock. But when they both arrive on opposite sides of the rock, and thus don't see the other, each begins to wonder what happened to the other. The humor here comes in the contrast: Gerald wonders if Piggie might have fallen off a cliff, or been abducted by a giant bird, or whether she might be fighting a scary, scary monster right now while Piggie wonders if Gerald might have gone for lunch. Funny, but Gerald's wondering made this a bit borderline for my three-year-old, making this the only book in the series I wouldn't read her right before bedtime. Are You Ready to Play Outside? Piggie want to play outside. She really wants to play outside. But then it starts to rain. What's a pig to do? Maybe a change of attitude, and a good friend, can help her have fun no matter what the weather. Watch Me Throw the Ball! Elephant is very good at throwing a ball. Piggie... not so much. But she sure has fun trying! A caution I might add for this one is on boasting. All of it is done in fun, but there sure is a lot of it here! Parents will want to point out that boasting in our strength, if we actually mean it, is disgraceful (Prov. 11.:2). Elephants Cannot Dance! Elephants cannot dance – it even says so in a book! But as Piggie reminds her friend, that doesn't mean you can't try! And while Elephant is not very good at doing most dances, he can do a very good rendition of "the Elephant dance." This is a title that, with some parental guidance, can be used to teach children that while they will not be good at everything, they can still try to improve, and they have their own unique talents and abilities. Pigs Make Me Sneeze! Is Elephant allergic to Piggie? Could his best friend be making him sneeze? Or might there be another reason for why Elephant is sneezing all the time? More silly fun! I Am Going! Piggie is going, and Elephant is having a hard time dealing with it. I was hoping this one could be used to teach my daughter how to deal with the "It's time to go home now" situation, this title would just exasperate the drama. Elephant just cannot stand being apart from Piggie, and, it seems, he never has to be. Though I love the series, this is one isn't all that good. Can I Play Too? Elephant and Piggie are going to play catch, but then Snake asks if he can play too. But Snake does not have arms, so how can he play catch? After a few misadventures Piggie, Elephant and Snake figure out how to play the game so then can include everyone. With a little commentary from mom or dad, this is could be a great way to teach kids about thinking of others, and include others in what they do. We Are in a Book! Piggie and Elephant discover that they are in a book. They then have great fun when they realize they can get the reader to say whatever they want (and they really want the reader to say "Banana"). But when Elephant discovers that, like all books, this one is going to end, he and Piggie figure out a way for the fun to continue - they ask the reader to read the book again! This is an inventive book, but a tad taxing if daddy wanted to read just one more book. I Broke My Trunk! This is a laugh-out-loud story for both parent and child. How did Elephant break his trunk? Did balancing a hippo and rhinoceroses on it have anything to do with it? Nope. Or at least, not directly. This is my favorite in the whole series. Should I Share My Ice Cream? Elephant wants to be a generous soul. But share ice cream? It's so yummy! Elephant spends so much time wrestling back and forth that by the time he finally decides to share, his ice cream has melted! But don't worry – Piggie sees that her friend is sad, so, to cheer him up, she offers to share her ice cream. Happy Pig Day! It's "Oinky Oink Oink!" (that's pig for "Happy Pig Day!") and Elephant feels left out – he doesn't have a snout, or hooves, and he is not pink! But then Piggie explains that "Happy Pig Day!" isn't just for pigs; it is for anyone show loves pigs! So that certainly includes Elephant! Listen to My Trumpet! When Elephant hears Piggie playing her new trumpet he has to figure out a nice way to say she is very, very, very, very, very bad! He does a good job, which makes this a fun and instructive book. Let's Go for a Drive! Elephant wants to go for a drive. And if you are going to go for a drive you need lots of stuff, like maps, sunglasses, umbrellas and luggage to carry it all. Fortunately his friend Piggie has everything they need. Or does he? Lots of fun repetition in this one that your child will catch on to quickly and be able to shout out along with you. A Big Guy Took My Ball! Elephant is incensed at the injustice of it all when Piggie comes to him for help, because "a big guy took my ball!" But then he finds out the big guy is really big – he's a blue whale! Fortunately he's a gentle giant, just looking for a friend. I'm a Frog! When Piggie says he's a frog, a surprised Elephant believes him... only to find out that Piggie is just pretending. When this was written in 2013, there was no transgender angle, but now it could be used to highlight how, just as Piggie was never actually a frog, other sorts of pretending also don't make it so. My New Friend Is So Fun! When Piggie makes a new friend, Elephant gets a more than a little insecure. But Elephant eventually realizes he can make new friends himself and still be best friends with Piggie. Waiting Is Not Easy! Piggie has a surprise for Elephant... but he has to wait for it. A looooooooong time. And Elephant is not so good at waiting. Fortunately, the surprise really is worth the wait. I Will Take a Nap! In one of the more surreal episodes, Elephant takes a nap... and dreams about taking a nap. I Really Like Slop! Piggie's slop does not look good. But he likes it a lot, and want Gerald to give it a try. Gerald finds the flys a little off-putting, but after some persistent encouragement from Piggie he gives it a tiny try. And lives to tell the tale. Oh, the things we do for our friends! The Thank You Book In their last book, Piggie wants to be sure to thank everyone who's been involved in the series. But he almost forgets one very big thank-you. Thankfully Elephant is there to help....

Book Reviews, Children’s picture books

Who's on First?

by Bud Abbott and Lou Costello illustrated by John Martz 40 pages / 2013 If you've ever seen the ol' Abbott and Costello "Who's on First" routine, then to "sell" this book to you all I need to share is that this is a faithful rendition. The comedians have taken the role of a bear and a rabbit, the colors are all bright and bold and the script is straight from the 60+ year old original. If you've never heard the "Who's on First" routine, then a word of explanation might be due. In this comedic bit Costello asks Abbott about his baseball team. But poor Costello gets a mite confused because the baseball team has some unusual names. The first baseman, for example, has the name "Who." So when Costello wants to know "Who's on first?" the unsatisfactory answer he gets from Abbott is "Exactly." The gives you a taste of what this is all about. (I did my own homage to this routine when I had to create an illustration for an article about how only boys - not girls - have the Y chromosome). I read this to my five year old and she got parts of it, but I would say this is probably best suited for the 7+ crowd. I was trying to think of any cautions I could add and the only think I could come up with is that there is a bit of yelling in the book so this might not be one to read to a rambunctious lad. It is a great fun book that is sure to get some giggles out of your little ones. I'd recommend this as a great one to get from the library rather than own, since it is based on a joke, and jokes don't stand up to repeated reads quite like good stories do. But it is a very good joke and wonderfully executed. ...

Book Reviews, Graphic novels

The Comic Book Lesson

A graphic novel that shows you how to make comics by Mark Crilley 2022 / 156 pages Emily is a young artist with plans for a comic book - she wants the hero to be a "pet finder" coming to the rescue of any and all who have lost their furry friends. But it's one thing to have a story and the skills to draw it and yet another to know how to transform it into comic book form. So how can she bridge that gap? She just needs the right sort of mentor. What author Mark Crilley has given us is a story showing aspiring cartoonists how they, too, can learn what Emily wants to know – we get to come along for her journey as she meets three talented ladies who are willing to teach. First up is an encounter at the comic store: Emily discovers that the store clerk, a high schooler named Trudy, is a fantastic artist working on a comic project of her own. Emily's enthusiasm and persistence ensure that one impromptu lesson becomes more. Trudy teaches Emily things like pacing – how including adding a couple more frames can make a scene more dramatic – and how a character's eyebrows communicate more about their emotions than a smile or frown. Trudy is so impressed with Emily's work that she introduces her to Madeline, a friend who's already a published cartoonist. The lessons Madeline teaches include: the importance of a "broad" establishing shot before going in for close-ups, and the need to script a comic before you begin drawing it. Madeline, in turn, introduces Emily to her own cartooning mentor, Sophie, who has yet more to teach Emily, like the proper order for word bubbles, and the need to eliminate any possibilities of confusion. While I don't like to include spoilers, for the sake of young readers, I'm going to include one. During her time with Sophie, we find out why Emily was so earnest about her hero being a pet finder: because Emily wasn't able to rescue her own dog. Her loss is poignantly told, which made my one daughter sad enough that she stopped reading. I suspect though, that she might pick it up again. If your child is a sensitive soul, it might help to give them a heads up beforehand. Cautions I'm going to list a few cautions that aren't all that relevant to the mid to older teens this is aimed at, and I only include them because some 10-year-olds and even younger could really enjoy this comic, but with some parental guidance. This is one of the tamest, safest "how-to-cartoon" books you can find (Maker Comics: Draw a Comic is another, though it covers different ground). But parents need to know that comics today contain loads of weirdness. Whether it's the way women are depicted as impossibly buxom and skinny, or the heroic witches, ghosts, and demons that feature in more and more stories, or the queer agenda that's inserted in comics for even the youngest ages, there is a lot of twisted stuff out there. The Comic Book Lesson isn't pushing any of that, but in a few instances this secular work does "bump" into this weirdness. So, for example, Trudy mentions the "Electric Angel Nurse Mizuki" comic she's authored, and we're shown the cover depicting a nurse with wings. Madeline mentions she is writing a comic book about assassins for hire. A customer asks for a copy of Raina Telgemeier's Smile, which is a fine book, but whose sequels take a queer turn. And the 12-or-so-year-old Emily is depicted at a comic store and convention without her parents, which are weirder places than we'd want our 12-year-old to go without us. That's about it. Nothing too bad, but some of it worth a discussion, especially for younger readers. Conclusion Comics can combine not simply exceptional writing but outstanding art, doubling the creative potential to explore. That's why Christians really should dive into this medium. The Comic Book Lesson is a solid piece of "edutainment" that'll give young aspiring artists an introduction to the general approach needed to be able to expand and refine their skills. This is not so much a "how-to-draw" book – there are loads of other books like that – as it is a "how-to-decide-what-to-draw" book. It's about learning how to plan out panels and pages like cartoonists do. For more, watch the video below where the author gives an in-depth (20 minutes long) introduction to his book. If your child loves The Comic Book Lesson, they may be interested in the author's The Drawing Lesson, (2016, 138 pages) which also uses the graphic novel medium to teach, this time about shading, negative space, how to hold a pencil, and seeing things as an artist does. It's a great book, suited for 12 and up with no cautions or concerns other than one use of the word "Jeez." ...

Book Reviews, Graphic novels

Fuzzy Baseball: Triple Play

by John Steven Gurney 2022 / 176 pages This is, as the title references, three stories in one, each involving the Fernwood Valley Fuzzies baseball team taking on a different opponent. The Fuzzies are quite a cuddly team, even if their manager is a bear. Other players include a koala, a wombat, and a penguin. In the first story, we're introduced to their biggest fan, Blossom Possum. But when the Fuzzies keep losing to their rivals, the Rocky Ridge Red Claws, this fan decides she has to do more than cheer from the sidelines: Blossom tries out and makes the team! But can a little possum really get a hit playing against the fearsome critters of the Red Claws? What can she do versus a crocodile, warthog, bull, rhino, or wolf? As you might imagine, there is a happy ending. In the second story, the team travels to Japan to play the Sashimi City Ninjas, a polite, but very cocky lot that leaves some of the Fuzzies feeling intimidated. Things get crazy when the Ninjas are able to amplify their baseball skills with a "morfo-power blast" – this is riffing off of Asian cartoons where characters often have some kind of secret power boost they can employ when they most need it. But when the Fuzzies take advantage of this power blast too, it's homeruns all around, but, as Blossom notes, "This isn't baseball." A fun quirk to this story is two alternate endings, the first where it was all a dream, and the second where it wasn't. In the third story the Fuzzies discover that the team they are playing are actually robots. Can they beat mechanical wonders? The Fuzzies are up for finding out. Cautions This is a collection of what was first three separate books – Fuzzy Baseball, Ninja Baseball Blast, and RBI Robots – and while I have no concerns with any of them, I'll mention the fourth book, Di-no hitters. This time the Fuzzies are playing a team of dinosaurs, and as you might expect the book is filled with loads of evolution-presuming jokes. So, pick up Triple Play, but give book #4 a miss. Conclusion This is a kid's comic that sticks to that target audience: it's fun, creative, and while this isn't really trying to teach kids anything, whatever morals there are to the stories (maybe, "be a good teammate," or "work hard," etc.) are ones we can appreciate. This would make a fantastic Christmas present for any kid who likes baseball, fuzzy animals, comics, or even none of the above. ...

Book Reviews, Graphic novels

The Arrival

by Shaun Tan 2007 / 128 pages I am an immigrant of sorts, having moved across the border to the US, and while it was easy enough to adapt it did give me a small bit of insight into what my parents and grandparents must have experienced when they moved from the Netherlands to Canada decades ago. While I didn’t have to learn a new language, my children are going to learn an entirely different history. They say “zee,” not “zed.” And almost everyone I know seems to have a gun in their home. Small differences. My parents had to deal with much bigger ones, and for their parents it was stranger still. It was hard to ask for help because they didn’t know the language. And they needed help because things were done so differently here. Fortunately, they weren’t the first – others from the “old country” had come before, so there was some help to be had. This may be an overly long introduction to a book that has no words. To cut to the chase, Shaun Tan’s graphic novel may be the very best possible way to share the immigrant experience with the second and third generations. It tells the story of a father who leaves his country, his wife, and his daughter, to head overseas to find a better place for them all. It is a very strange world that he finds. One of the first things we notice is that even the birds look different. In fact, the reader will notice that these birds don’t look like any birds anyone has ever seen. It only gets stranger in the pages that follow: the man encounters a mystifying immigration process, and documents that are written in a language that doesn’t look like any that the reader will know. The buildings, the food, the transportation – there is a uniqueness to it all. This new country looks like no real country on earth. So what is going on here? The first time I read this graphic novel I didn’t understand what was happening and stopped reading about halfway through. This time around a helpful niece alerted me to the fact that this was about the immigrant experience, so what the artist was doing, by making everything just slightly peculiar, was creating a world where the reader would feel the same sort of discomfort and confusion that a new immigrant would feel upon arrival. That little insight was a big help, and turned this from a mystifying, even frustrating story, to an absolutely brilliant one. I will admit to being a bit slow on the uptake here, as the title, The Arrival, should have provided me the only clue I’d have needed. But in my defense, Shaun Tan’s creation is utterly original so I have not ever read anything like it. We follow the father as he sets out to find a job, finds an apartment, tries to get the coffee machine (if that’s what it was) to work, and tries to figure out where to find food and what sort of food he likes. Along the way he meets several helpful people, including people who had immigrated years before, and were happy to help someone newly arrived. So the book is, on the one hand, about the immigrant experience, and on the other is a story about the impact we can have in helping strangers. The young father would have been lost but for the kindness of strangers. This is a large book, both in the number of pages, and in the size of the pages – 128 pages and about a foot tall – with scores of details to discover on every page. So even though it is wordless, this is a good long read. I would recommend this to immigrant grandparents as a gift they could give to the grandchildren, and one they might want to "read" with them. I would also recommend it to anyone who loves art - this is a beautiful book. Finally, I would also recommend it to students who are struggling readers. This is a book with dimension and depth, even though it doesn't have words. So it requires something of the reader - it can stretch them - even as it makes things a bit easier by doing away with dialogue....

Articles, Book Reviews, Children’s picture books

100+ wordless wonders for creative kids, wanna-be readers, and reluctant ones too

If you can remember waaaay back to when you first learned to read, what probably sticks with you is that feeling of triumph. It takes a lot of work, a lot of sounding out of all those letters before a kid can turn them into words and sentences. No wonder then that when we first pull it off, kids everywhere can't wait to get home and regale mom and dad with tales of how "Pat and Matt found a cat." For that excitement to last kids will have to be introduced, not simply to reading, but to books worth reading. That's a real challenge early on because long before kids can read the simplest of sentences they've already been introduced to complex stories. Whether it's Bible readings at the dinner table, audiobooks in the car, a picture book on the couch with Grandma, or The Wilderking Trilogy read by dad at night, non-readers are already refining their literary palate years before they enter school. That's why, after that initial triumph that comes with reading those first few dozen "Pat and Matt" books all on their own, it's not unusual for a first grader to get frustrated by just how boring these simplified stories are. That's where wordless, or near-wordless, books can be a help by serving as an encouraging supplement to their necessarily boring early readers. And the very same features that make them a help for early readers make them a go-to for struggling readers too. If a child's reading skill level just isn't there yet, we can encourage him to keep at it by feeding him stories that are way more exciting, but which deliver their content in a manner that's more accessible. And for the preschoolers who desperately want to be grown-up just like their older siblings, and do what they do, wordless books are a treat. They can read too, maybe with a little help from their dad at first, but then afterward they'll be able to read the story to Grandma all on their own! But in addition to pre-readers, early readers, and struggling readers, there's one other pint-sized demographic that can really benefit from this genre. If you have an artistically inclined child, it can be eye-opening to them to see just how much can be said simply by the way a scene or a character is drawn. Some of these books include lushly detailed, full-color pages that a child can pour over for minutes at a time. Other pictures amount to just a few well-placed lines. What a fascinating contrast for a creative kid to explore! But the best reason to read any book? Simply because it's great. Wordless books often operate like a joke, with the bulk of the book as the mysterious setup, and the last few pages, a punchline that makes the rest of it clear. That means, they'll be at their funniest when mom or dad is along for the adventure, to help puzzle things out. You might have to show your kids the ropes, teaching them how to follow the visual cues, but once you go through it with them the first time, they'll be equipped to return to it repeatedly and enjoy it all on their own... or even "read" it to a younger sibling. Quiet and kind (19) These might make for nice bedtime or naptime reads. Ben's Dream by Chris Van Allsburg 1982 / 30 pages A boy has a geography test to study for, and falls asleep with his textbook on his lap. He then dreams of floating past the Great Wall of China, Mount Rushmore, the Statue of Liberty, the Leaning Tower of Pisa, and more. At the Sphinx, he even sees his friend, and when he wakes up, he discovers she dreamt of floating past the Sphinx too and seeing him there. Was it just a dream? While this is largely (20+ pages) wordless, it does begin with three pages of text, and then another three to end. The Boys by Jeff Newman 2010 / 40 pages Simple but brightly colored pictures make this a fun one to figure out – I had to flip back and forth through the pages a few times, so your kids will likely need you alongside to think things through. But you'll both enjoy this gentle story of a boy, newly moved to the neighborhood, and the elderly "boys" that he ends up befriending. He wanted to play baseball but couldn't get invited to play with the other kids. The elderly gents were more welcoming, so he started hanging with them...and humorously, starts acting like them, in dress and habits. These gents know a boy has to be a boy, so if he's going to follow their lead, then they are going to show him what it's like to play like a boy. It's sweet, with a happy ending for all... which for these gents means getting back to sitting on their bench and watching those other "boys" play ball. Blanket by Ruth Ohi 2022 / 32 pages A little girl (or, rather, a cat) is having a bit of a gray day. She gets up, wraps herself in her blanket and just huddles underneath. Her friend dog shows up, ducks under the blanket, and he proceeds to quietly encourage her, using a flashlight to make shadow animals on the inside of the blanket, and building a blanket fort with her. The Depth of the Lake and the Height of the Sky by Kim Jihyun 2021 / 48 pages A boy from the city heads off with his family to visit his grandparents in the country. There he discovers the wide woods and a beautiful lake. While some tales like this descend into fantasy at this point, the fish he finds under the water are a realistic, though wonderful sort. That makes this a nice quiet tale, but so quickly over that it'd be best to borrow rather than buy. The Farmer and the Clown (3) by Marla Frazee 2014 / 32 pages When a clown baby falls off the circus train, a long-bearded farmer takes him in. He teaches the toddler a little about farming, and the clown teaches him about clowning. When the circus train returns in search of the baby, they have to go their separate ways. But in a twist on the last page, we see the farmer won’t be lonely – a monkey has jumped off the train to visit. That sets up the sequels The Farmer and the Monkey (2020), and The Farmer and the Circus (2021) where the farmer visits the monkey and boy... and then finds the love of his life: a lady clown! Float by Daniel Miyares 2015 / 44 pages A boy crafts a paper boat out of an old newspaper and sails it in the new puddles and streams created by the still happening rainstorm. When the boat gets swept through a storm drain, he manages to track it down to the local river... but at this point it's just a soggy sheet of paper. He returns, saddened, to his home. But dad knows just how to encourage him. After the boy gets dried off and given some hot tea, dad shows him how to make a paper airplane! (This inside front cover shows how to fold a paper boat, and the inside back cover shows how to make a good paper airplane.) The Lion and the Mouse by Jerry Pinkney 2009 / 40 pages When a tiny mouse disturbs the naptime of the King of the Beasts, the King seems intent on having a quick snack. But instead, after some back and forth with the tiny petitioner, the lion lets the mouse go. Why? Readers already familiar with this Aesop's tale will remember that the mice have pledged to help the king if ever he is in trouble. But in Pinkney’s almost entirely wordless version because there are only a few squeaks, one owl screech, and a lion’s roar, what the mice have promised isn't as clear. But no worries, we can follow along well enough. Then when hunters trap the mightly lion in a net, it is the mouse that comes to the rescue, chewing through the rope to set the lion free. The moral of the story? Even the strongest among us will eventually need help too.  Mr. Hulot at the Beach by David Merveille 2014 / 32 pages A man just wants to read his newspaper at the beach. But an errant beach ball, a lost shoe, and a digging dog all get in the way. Fortunately, Mr. Hulot is a laid-back sort and a good sport, treating his misfortunes as the minor matters that they are. That might be the best reason to get this one: to see a man meet frustrating circumstances calmly.  Every little kindness by Marta Bartolj 2021 / 72 pages This sweet book starts off with a sad girl who has lost her dog. But as she sets out to cover the town with posters of her pup, she does a kindness to a street musician, giving him her apple. A passerby sees this good deed and then picks up someone else’s litter to throw it away. He in turn is seen by a little boy, who does his own good deed, and so on and so forth. By book's end one of the good deeds turns out to be a man returning the girl’s lost dog. The color scheme here is fun, with muted colors, but with the do-gooders always holding or wearing an item of red to attract the young reader's eye. A bonus: it’s a special treat that this story is quite long! Pip & Pup by Eugene Yelchin 2018 / 32 pages A newly hatched and curious chick pecks a sleeping pup, who doesn't appreciate the interruption and chases away the frightened chick. This doesn't seem like the best of beginnings for a friendship, but when a thunderstorm scares the pup – dogs hate thunder – the chick returns to cautiously comfort him...which is much appreciated. It's a simple sweet story. Sidewalk Flowers by JonArno Lawson and Sydney Smith 2015 / 30 pages On a walk through the city, a girl gathers the wildflowers she finds growing here and there in the cracks in the concrete and then gives them out as small bouquets to the people she meets. The author makes a fun use of color, starting things off black and white, with only the girl's red coat sticking out. But the yellow of the first flower she spots also shows its vibrancy. And as she gives the flowers away, each page becomes more and more colorful. The point? I think it's just that being kind, even in small ways, brings a vibrancy to the world around and the gift giver too. One caution: the first bouquet she gives out is placed atop a dead bird in the park, which might make some small ones a little sad. the surprise by Sylvia van Ommen 2003 / 24 pages A thoughtful sheep figures out how to dye her own wool, then shave it off, have it turned into yarn, and then goes through all the work of knitting it into a surprise present for a good friend. Only downside to this charming book is how fast it's over. Wallpaper by Thao Lam 2018 / 32 pages When a little girls moves into a new neighborhood, she spots the kids next door playing. But she can't quite screw up the courage to try joining them. Instead she discovers a a bird peeking out of turned up corner of her wallpaper and investigates what else is under there. Layer upon  layer is pulled up revealing world upon fun world. But in the end, she turns away from these fantasies, and heads next door to introduce herself. Waltz of the Snowflakes by Elly MacKay 2017 / 32 pages A girl who doesn't want to get dressed up to see the ballet gets completely won over by a performance of The Nutcracker. She's a bit sullen at the start, but it might be because she's shy, as is made clear at the ballet when she sits next to a boy she seems to know, but who she still isn't eager to talk to. However, as she awakens to the performance, she can't help but share her enthusiasm with this friendly lad. Wave by Suzy Lee 2009 / 40 pages A girl takes a bit to warm up to the ocean, but she gets there. A calm, short book, with the only downside being that it is a quick read because there isn’t all that much to see on each page - just the girl, waves, and sand. See a video of it here.  Where’s Walrus? (2) by Stephen Savage 2011 / 32 pages When Walrus escapes from the zoo, his keeper looks for him everywhere. He's hard to find because in each two-page spread, Walrus is disguising himself by trying to look like those around him: dancers, firefighters, artists, and swimmers. The disguises will be easy to see through for the pre-school to Grade 1 audience this is intended for, but Walrus will still be fun to find. And while he does finally get caught, Walrus gets a happy ending. In the 2015 sequel, Where’s Walrus? And Penguin?, a friend joins him in his escape, and he gets an even happier ending, finding the walrus of his dreams. Art adventures (7) There's a lot of creativity going on here, with different canvases, chalking up the pavement, or perhaps doodling on the nearest sheet of white paper. Draw! by Raúl Colón 2015 / 32 pages A boy imagines himself going on an African safari to draw all the different animals, all of whom are happy to have their portraits taken...except for the rhino! Draw the Line by Kathryn Otoshi 2017 / 48 pages Two chalk-wielding boys back into each other as they're drawing on the concrete. When their two lines become entangled it starts off as great fun, but a roughhouse tug-of-war leaves them both miffed at each other, and as they both pull hard on their joint line, it ruptures into a deep chasm between them. It takes a bit of time for hot heads to cool, but the two learn that by working together, they can erase the chasm and be together once again. This could be a good one for parents to read with kids and discuss how our tempers can make small things bigger, and how God calls us to self-control. Journey (3) by Aaron Becker 2013 / 40 pages If your children loved Crockett Johnson's Harold and the Purple Crayon you'll want to check this one out. While Johnson wrote her own sequels, Aaron Becker's Journey might be the most worthy successor. There are some notable differences: Harold's world is a blank page, ready to be drawn on, while Journey has lavish full-color spreads; Harold is narrated, while Journey is a completely wordless book. But in both books, a child equipped with a large crayon and an even larger imagination sets out on an adventure of their own crafting. In Journey, a girl’s dad, mom, and sister are all too busy to play with her, but when she finds a large red crayon on her bedroom floor she discovers she can make her own fun. She uses the crayon to draw a door on her wall, which she can then open and walk through into a whole other world of wonder. A quickly drawn red boat allows her to float down a forest stream to a castle that has moats running all throughout it, and friendly guards who wave her through. Like Harold, she too, in a moment of quick thinking, conjures up a balloon to save herself from a big fall. The adventure continues into the clouds, where she comes upon a strange king, his stranger airship, and an imprisoned beautiful purple bird that looks almost as if someone – someone with a purple crayon – had drawn it! Of course, she has to free the bird, and of course it isn’t easy, leaving her requiring some rescuing herself. In the sequel, Quest (2014), red crayon girl, and the purple crayon boy she meets at the end of the previous book meet an orange crayon king right before he is dragged away by soldiers. They set out to rescue him, using their own crayons and the orange crayon the king left behind. But to do that, they need to find three more crayons and, as the title indicates, have to go on a quest, and they'll have draw the tools and the animal friends they’ll need along the way. The conclusion to this wordless trilogy is Return (2016), in which the girl’s dad discovers the red door in his daughter’s bedroom and enters this other world in search of her. While the girl rescues them both with a quickly drawn submarine (these crayons work even underwater!), it’s dad who devises and draws (Wait, he has a crayon too? Has he been here before?) the trap that catches the evil king. These are all great fun, and deserve a slow “read” and then “reread” as children will be sure to notice all sorts of details on a second run-through.  Rocket Boy by Damon Lehrer 2017 / 30 pages A little boy of four or five makes an impressive drawing of a rocket, which then comes off the page and flies away. He draws a car to go follow it, then meets a little girl who wants to draw too. The story ends with him returning home, and we get to see that little boy waking up in his bed, and we get a glimpse of his real artistic level as he sets out to make a stickman rendering of the little girl he met in his dreams. A sweet story, that might require a little explanation from an adult. The Typewriter (2) by Bill Thomson 2016 / 40 pages Three kids find a typewriter in a box on a merry-go-round and discover that whatever they type on it appears. That’s good when it is “ice cream” but not so good when it is “giant crab.” After their adventure, the kids leave the typewriter behind for others to enjoy. Chalk is a very similar book, except this time the kids find a bag of chalk at the playground that they use to draw creations that come to life. Things get exciting when a boy draws a T-Rex! What’s remarkable about Thomson’s art is that it is nearly photorealistic! A third book following this theme, Fossil, has a boy discover fossils of creatures, all of which then appear, and the last of which, a pterodactyl, flies off with his dog. It’s fun but begins by saying fossils show us creatures “that lived 10,000 or more years ago,” a timescale that falls just outside of the biblical reality. Busy times (12) There's a little bit of action to some of these tales, which might inspire some gallivanting about the house. Cars and Things That Go (7) by Stefan Lohr 2018 / 14 pages This rugged foot-tall book reminded me of the "Where's Waldo?" series in that each spread is jam packed full of busy people and the longer you look, the more there is to find. This isn't strictly wordless as the first two-page spread does have text to highlight 17 different groups we're to spot in each of the 6 double-page spreads that follow. Each group has a story of sorts: James owns a fast car, and "drives way too fast" and ends up in a fender bender a few pages in, and then is towed, and Noah drives a semi-trailer delivering footballs, but to where? This is part of the "My Big Wimmelbook" series, so I was excited to check out the other 10 or so. Six others are every bit as fun: A Day at the Zoo Animals Around the World At the Construction Site Dinosaurs Fire Trucks! On the Farm However, there is a same-sex couple featured in three others: All Aboard the Train, A Day at School, and My Busy Day. Another, Christmas Village, is much more Santa than Savior, and a fifth, Good Night, shows someone showering covered only by strategically placed bubbles. All can be given a miss. The Boy and the Airplane (2) by Mark Pett 2013 / 40 pages A boy gets a toy airplane as a present and an errant throw results in the plane getting stuck on the top of a roof. We then get to see him try everything from a ladder (too short) to a lasso, to a pogo stick, to try and recover his plane. When nothing works the boy settles on a long-term strategy that, while it will require patience, is sure of success: he plants a seed and waits for it to grow into a mighty tree that will be tall enough for him to climb and recover his plane. I am not going to spoil it here by telling you the end, but it is sweet and completely satisfying. The sequel, The Girl and the Bicycle (2014), is every bit as good and ties up ends you didn’t even know were loose from the first book.  Fish by Liam Francis Walsh 2016 / 32 pages This is a weird but very fun one. A boy and his dog pass by a jogger on their way to a day of fishing. But the first thing the boy catches is the letter "F" followed by an "I" and then an "S" but when they catch a "Q" they throw it back. So what letter are they still after? An "H" of course! But it's not quite that simple, as a squadron of "B"s buzz over them, and a giant "C" threatens to eat them! Once Upon a Banana by Jennifer Armstrong 2013 / 48 pages When I first brought this home, I gave it a read to all three of my girls. After I was done our youngest, all of three, was off on her own "reading" the book to herself. It's been a family favorite ever since. The story is one big chase scene, with monkey owner chasing monkey, and then grocer chasing monkey owner, and then some dogs joining the chase, and a skateboarding judge, and a mom, and her baby in its stroller. Oh, and there's a big garbage truck in the mix too. It's crazy and frantic with loads to look at on every page.  The Hero of Little Street by Gregory Rogers 2012 / 32 pages This is a favorite because it has a Dutch flavor, and so do I. The story begins with our hero – a little boy with a Charlie Brown-esque look about him – managing to lose a trio of bullies by popping into a museum. And since he's there anyway, the boy decides to take a look. After he contemplates some modern art pictures and sculptures he comes across a room full of masterpieces, including Jan van Eyck's "Portrait of Giovanni Arnolfini and his Wife." While passing by the piece our hero catches the eye of Giovanni's little dog, and down the pup comes, right out of the painting!  The two of them then dance and jump and chase one another through the museum, until they come across a sheet of music lying on the ground. Where did it come from? Ah, wait! The two of them notice that it must have been dropped by that lady at the piano - that lady in Jan Vermeer's painting "Girl at Piano." So, in they jump, right into the picture, and return the music to the grateful girl. This leads to some more dancing, accompanied by the girl at her piano, before our hero and his dog head off further and deeper into this painting, opening a door and entering Little Street, Delft in seventeenth-century Holland! To say this is an inventive book doesn't suffice! An art-loving parent could use this to introduce their children to some of the masters, and anyone of a Dutch heritage could use it to show what the Netherlands looked like three centuries ago. Young children will love it for the sheer rollicking adventure. It ends with our hero back in modern-day, but now equipped by his time-traveling artistic adventure with just the tool he needs to help him with those bullies. Animals (13) Sweet stories for kids who love animals. A Ball for Daisy (2) by Chris Raschka 2011 / 32 pages Daisy is a cute little pup who loves her big red ball and plays with it everywhere. Things take a tragic turn when another dog, trying to get in on the fun, pops the ball! But don’t worry, a happy ending is coming – after a few pages of Daisy being sad, the owner of the dog who popped the ball brings over a brand new one, and this time it is blue. A 2013 sequel, Daisy Gets Lost, has a half dozen more words than the wordless original but has the same quiet tension: Daisy chases her blue ball into the woods, then chases the squirrel she discovers, and gets lost for a dozen or so pages before being rescued and hugged by the little girl who owns her. Dog on a Digger by Kate Prendergast 2016 / 32 pages Heavy machinery, paired up with Man's Best Friend – how could any red-blooded boy resist? This begins with Dog #1 waking his master because he's eager to head to work, sitting side by side in their excavator. For lunch the two head to a friendly food truck lass who has her own pup. It's when this Dog #2 wanders off and gets himself into a heap of trouble that brave and ingenious deeds need to be done, with a little help from some heavy machinery. This is a great one and it comes on extra heavy paper that school librarians will appreciate. Prendergast's earlier Dog on a Train (2015) is also fun, but the drawing is just a little messier, and the story a little simpler, so, unusual as it may be, the sequel is actually better than the original. Fly! by Mark Teague 2019 / 32 pages When a baby bird falls out of the nest, its mom suggests it fly back. He has some creative, alternative suggestions, told with pictured thought bubbles, on how he can get back up. Flora and the Flamingo (3) by Molly Idle 2013 / 44 pages Flora dances an elegant and energetic duet with a flamingo. My favorite of the “Flora’s feathered friends” series is the 2014 sequel, Flora and the Penguin, which sees her switch up dance partners, and Flora and the Peacocks (2016), which has her dancing with two others for even more fun. The only downside to these wordless wonders is that they include flaps and foldouts that might need reinforcement to hold up to school library use. But if you’re buying it for a child or grandchild who likes to dance, these will be inspirational. (Don’t confuse these with the two other “Flora books” – featuring an ostrich in one, and baby chicks in the other – which are board books intended for babies.)  Found. by Jeff Newman and Larry Day 2018 / 48 pages I've not before seen so much poignancy packed into wordless pages. On a rainy day, a little girl spots a lost soggy little puppy in the street below her apartment window. She races down to retrieve him and when she brings him home, she has all sorts of dog supplies at the ready. How comes she's so prepared? An observant reader will notice a "Missing" poster for a dog named Prudence posted on the bulletin board in her bedroom. And that name comes up again when she feeds the pup his chow in a bowl labeled "Prudence" – this little girl has suffered a loss, but is now finding some solace via this pup-in-need. But when she spots another "Missing" poster, this time for the little pup, it takes her just a bit to figure out the right thing to do. She'll suffer another loss, but she'll do for this boy what she wished someone would have done for her: return an owner's lost dog. That's going to have little readers a little weepy (shucks, it got me a little misty) but never fear, there is a happy ending. On the way home the girl spots a dog in the Humane Shelter window that looks in need of a friend. This is a remarkable book, even in the small details, like how it maximizes the use of every page (even the inside back and front covers). Such a delight! Owly & Wormy: Friends all aflutter! (2) by Andy Runton 2011 / 40 pages While Owly stars in his own graphic novels (which I review below), he also teams up with his friend Wormy to tell a couple of shorter picture book tales. In this first adventure the two buddies plant flowers in hopes of attracting butterflies, but end up attracting caterpillars instead...and they are eating the flowers' leaves! Owl and Wormy are initially disappointed but befriend the caterpillars, only to have them abruptly disappear. Quite the mystery to kidlets, but parents, knowing what caterpillars turn into, will be able to anticipate the happy ending. In the 2012 follow-up Owly & Wormy: Bright lights and starry nights!, a stargazing expedition goes awry when Owly loses his telescope. But some scary-seeming, but actually friendly bats, help Owly find what once was lost and then show him how to use it. Penguin Sets Sail by Jessica Linn Evans 2020 / 32 pages Penguin’s penguin friends just seem to like eating fish; he wants adventure! So he sets sail and then meets new friends who love adventures too...and returns home afterward to share them with old friends. The simple story makes this one for parents and preschoolers to enjoy together, while some Grade 1 children will enjoy it too. Time Flies by Eric Rohmann 1994 / 32 pages A bird flies into a museum, and flutters around the ancient dinosaur skeletons, which, for reasons unexplained, come alive. Or has the bird simply been transported back in time? It's unclear, but what's very clear is how cool these dinosaur pictures are. And because there are no words, there's no evolutionary proselytizing – hurray! Whose Footprints Are These? by Gerda Muller 2022 / 36 pages I've yet to use the word delightful, so I'll do so here: this is a delightful story about a boy and his dog, with the twist that w don't ever see them until the last page. What we see instead are their footprints, beginning with the boy's naked footprints trailing from his bed, to wear they become sock prints, and take us the breakfast table. Then it is out the door, now with a set of dog prints right alongside. Very fun! Favorite authors (21) A few authors have specialized in wordless books. Henry Cole (3) When his pet cat Spot goes out the third-story window and into the big broad city, a boy searches for him, posting “Lost” posters as he goes. This is a lot like a “Where’s Waldo?” book, but in Spot, the Cat (2016, 32 pages) we’re trying to find the cat and his boy. And it has a happy ending. In a 2019 followup, Spot & Dot, the boy helps a girl find her lost dog, but accidentally lets his cat out. So, this time we get to search for two pets. When a young girl discovers a runaway slave hiding in her family’s barn, she has to make a decision about what to do. Will she help by keeping quiet, or will she tell the Confederate soldiers that are riding about? There’s lots of subtle detail in Unspoken: a story from the Underground Railroad (2012, 40 pages), including a couple of appearances in the sky of the Big Dipper and its North Star that slaves used to find their way to the Free North and Canada. This isn’t a complicated story, but because it is all “unspoken” it’s a good one for children to read along with their parents. You can hear the author "read" it here.  Mitsumasa Anno (2) Better known as simply Anno, he has written a number of wordless books, but at this point the only one readily available in North America is Anno's China (2016, 60 pages) in which we take a trip inland on the country's Yellow River. Time is a little bit fluid, as we travel without comment from scenes in that are probably during the 1920s, to a two-page spread showing the uncovering of the Terracotta Army statues, which happened at some point in the 1970s. While there is no text on the picture pages, Anno concludes with a dozen text pages explaining what's happening in each of the scenes he's shared. These explanations can be done without – younger children will just follow along the river journey without worrying about every detail – but are also a welcome addition for older readers who want to understand more. Harder to find is Anno's Britain (1982, 48 pages), a homage all things British. A man on horseback travels not only through the countryside, but through hundreds of years of the island's history. Barbara Lehman (7) In Museum Trip (2006, 40 pages) a little boy on a class trip to the museum stops to tie his shoe and loses track of the others. He then discovers a small door in the wall that leads to a room with 6 small mazes on display. Next thing, we see a little version of him running through each maze, one by one. Has he actually shrunk, or is this him daydreaming and just imagining he’s running through them? Either way, readers in Grade 1 and preschool will enjoy working through each of these simple mazes. As the boy makes his way to the middle of the last maze we get a glimpse of him having a gold medal hung around his neck. Right afterward, he’s big again, and manages to track down his class. So was his maze adventure just a daydream? Well, on the final panel, as the class leaves the museum, we see the boy discover he does have a gold medal around his neck...and we see the museum director has one around his neck too! Kids who enjoy the mystery of this tale will enjoy the author’s Red (2004, 32 pages) and Red Again (2017) books which are more mysterious still. They should be bought as a set, with the ending of the one serving as an introduction to the next, and vice versa (or as my one daughter put it “They’re a circle!”). Sticking with this mysterious theme is the secret box (2011, 48 pages) in which generation after generation of children going to the same boarding school discover the same box, with a treasure map that allows them to meet up with the children who have discovered the map before. Some wordless books are too mysterious, such that it's hard to know what on earth is going on. This almost crosses the line, but Lehman’s friendly, detailed drawings ensure this is a fun one.  Less mysterious, but lots of fun, is the author’s Trainstop (2008, 32 pages) where a girl goes on a train ride and encounters little people in need of a big friend. Another favorite is Rainstorm (2007, 32 pages) about a boy wandering through his big house all alone before finding a key that unlocks a truck. The trunk opens into a very long tunnel under his house which leads to… well, you’ll have to get the book to find out! Absolutely charming is Lehman's most recent, a fractured fairytale called Little Red and the Cat Who Loved Cake (2021, 64 pages). In this case, Little Red is a boy, and he and his dad, Big Red, run a bakery. For a surprise, they want to give grandma one of their cakes, but their cat would really like a piece. So off Little Red goes, asking for directions from all sorts of other fairytale characters like Jack and Jill, Miss Muffet, and Peter Piper. Meanwhile, the cat sneaks ahead and tries to disguise itself as grandma, but is found out…and offered a slice of cake. Very fun!  David Wiesner (5) Flotsam (2006, 40 pages) shows us what happens when a boy discovers an old-style underwater camera washed up on the beach and then brings the film in to be developed. There he discovers pictures, seemingly taken by underwater creatures themselves. The world they live in when we aren’t looking is something to behold: little mermaids and mermen, robotic fish, giant turtles carrying shell cities on their backs, and even what looks like aliens taking rides on guppies. Each picture is another discovery. The very last snapshot is of a girl holding up a picture. And in that picture is a boy holding a picture of a girl who is, in turn, holding a picture of a girl. A peek through a magnifying glass shows this goes deeper still, and further back in time. The boy’s microscope reveals more still. This is inventive and fun, with the only caution being that the young target audience may have to be informed that though the photos look quite realistic, this is fantasy, not fact. A little boy falls asleep and we get to come along to his dream in Free Fall (1988, 32 pages). As dreams often do, one scene streams into the next as the boy goes from meeting a dragon to growing giant-sized, to flying home on a leaf. It makes sense only in the ways that dreams do. But the smart-eyed reader will be able to spot on the last page, when the boy wakes up, all the objects in the room that inspired the different parts of his dream. This is best read slowly. When a long flyball is hit into the outfield, a boy declares, “I’ve Got It!” (2018, 32 pages) which are the only words in the story. But does he really have it? One dropped ball is followed by another, and it’s almost like there are obstacles (getting bigger and bigger) just reaching out to trip him up. His repeated drops have his teammates moving in closer to catch it for him since he can’t. But then, in one last stretching leap, our boy in red jumps past the obstacles and beats his teammates to the ball for a wonderful game-winning catch. This is a very fun story, but I could see some kids needing a little help to understand what’s going on. In Sector 7 (1999, 48 pages) a boy on a field trip to the Empire State Building meets a rambunctious cloud (he discovers that clouds are people!) who takes him back to “Sector 7” high up in the sky where the clouds get their orders about what shape of cloud they should be. But the clouds seem a bit bored with these shapes and ask the boy to draw them up some alternatives. What fun to see clouds mimicking the sea creatures he draws! Eventually, the cloud returns the boy, but his visit to Sector 7 might have some lasting impact, as the clouds quite like being fish-shaped. The only words we read in Wiesner's Tuesday (1991, 32 pages) tell us the time, and that it is indeed a Tuesday. For reasons that are left entirely mysterious, at around 8 pm, a swarm of frogs suddenly starts flying (or is it their lily pads that are doing the levitating?). They flock into town, chase some birds for fun, watch a little telly, and then, just as they are heading back, dawn breaks, and the sun’s rays seem to sap their flying powers. That leaves the whole lot of them hopping back to their pond. This is silly nonsense and kids are sure to love it. Mercer Mayer (4) Mayer wrote a cute series of 6 small books that continue a story from one to the next. In a boy, a dog and a frog (1967, 32 pages) a little boy and his dog discover a frog, then briefly lose it in frog, where are you? (1969). Frog stars in frog on his own (1973) though his friends do show up in time to help him escape from a cat’s clutches. The frog gets jealous when a new frog shows up in one frog too many (1975). There are two more in the series, but the “friend” in a boy, a dog, a frog, and a friend is a turtle that at first seems set on drowning the dog and then seems to get drowned by the dog, before reviving and everyone becoming friends. Not so fun. And in frog goes to dinner, the frog makes a surprise appearance at the family’s restaurant outing causing a ruckus, which is fine, but the book’s conclusion with child and pets laughing about the trouble they caused is off-putting. One is enough (4) Sequels don't always work. So while these are all quite good, there's a reason, in each case, not to track down the next in the series.  Good Dog, Carl by Alexandra Day 1985 / 40 pages This is not technically wordless, as, in addition to the title, there are 9 other words. But it's on this list because the bulk of the book is the dog Carl silently babysitting his charge. The story is a bit bizarre, with mom leaving her baby in a rottweiler’s charge, But aside from letting baby have a trip down the laundry chute, and a short swim in the aquarium, Carl does turn out to be a decent babysitter. Shucks, he even manages to give the baby a bath! There are many, many sequels, but they all lack the originality of the first. Field Trip to the Ocean Deep by John Hare 2020 / 40 pages A child on a class field trip to the ocean floor gets separated from the group when he goes off to see a sunken pirate ship. While the class's submarine searches for him, he gets to meet ocean floor animals, share his photos with them, and meet what might be a plesiosaurus who poses for him. A fun, quirky, bright, wordless adventure.  There is a sequel, Field Trip to the Moon, which swaps out gray moonlings for the sea creatures, and a girl with crayons for the original’s boy with a camera. The gray aliens love the crayons, leaving the girl with only the gray crayon in her pack. But that’s okay - she can still draw them! Aliens are an outgrowth of evolutionary theory that says life happening by accident is so easily done that “they” must be out there, so I like the first better than the sequel. That said, the second is more a celebration of crayons than aliens. A third, Field Trip to Volcano Island, doesn't live up to the two that preceded it. The Adventures of Polo by Régis Faller 2002 / 80 pages A little dog living on a small island begins his adventure by tightrope walking on a line attached to his beach. It takes him across the water, then up into the sky, and finally sliding for a soft landing onto a fluffy white cloud. The opening pages give you a good idea of what’s to come with the dog Polo traveling via cloud, boat, air bubble, airplane, tree elevator, balloons, submarine, iceberg, and finally a rocketship mushroom. Along the way, he meets all kinds of friends including some happy face moonlings. It’s a stress-free, busy adventure that children, particularly those in Grade 2 and under, will love. There is a sequel, Polo: The Runaway Book, but the free-form adventure borders on chaotic randomness so in this case, one is fun, and two might be too many.   Pancakes for Breakfast by Tomie dePaola 1978 / 32 pages A woman sets out to make pancakes only to discover she is short of eggs. While that is easily remedied – just a quick trip to the henhouse – it’s quite the delay when she finds out she is also short of butter. Finally, she discovers she is short of syrup! And when she heads out to get that, she returns only to discover her pets have gotten into everything. But don’t worry, there is a happy ending! Charming cartoonish pictures make this a book kids will love to read repeatedly. DePaola has another wordless book, but The Hunter and the Animals strikes me as an anti-hunting book so I don't recommend it. Noah's Ark (2) Most Bible storybooks are problematic in that they so often mangle the biblical text. What I appreciate about both accounts here is that, because they are wordless, they actually require that you go to the Bible to read the original account. So it is not meant to replace Bible reading, but is instead meant to spur further thinking on God’s Word. Both can also serve as a corrective to the common misrepresentation of the Ark being so tiny that the giraffes had to stick their necks out the windows. Noah’s Ark by Peter Spier 1977 / 48 pages This is a beautifully illustrated, nearly wordless account, with only three of the 48 pages containing text: two are biblical quotations and the other is given to an English translation of a 400-year-old poem about the Flood by Dutchman Jacobus Revius. The rest is filled with seemingly simple, but incredibly detailed pictures of Noah and his family as they build the Ark, bring in the animal pairs, and feed and care for them inside. Some of the detail is whimsical  – a mouse is shown trying to push an elephant's foot off of its fellow mouse's tail – but we also see the floodwaters overtaking the animals that were left behind. This is no cutesy, sanitized account! I will add that a friend still thought the pictures a tad too whimsical – that they were making a joke out of things. I disagree, and the only problem I had is one picture where it appears as if Noah (rather than, as the Bible says, God) is closing the Ark doors. But we can choose to assume God is on the other side sealing them shut. Noah by Mark Ludy 60 pages / 2014 Mark Ludy's wordless account of Noah's life will fascinate young and old. There's so much to see on every page, and the wordless nature of it invites parent and child to discuss all that's going on. Noah's wife is shown here as a lighter colored black, while Noah himself is maybe Grecian, Roman, or perhaps Sicilian. What both most certainly are not – and what they most probably were not – is a British or Scandinavian sort of white. That might bring questions for the many a child and adult who, having grown up with picture Bibles that have a white Adam and Eve, and a white Jesus too, have presumed Noah was white as well. But it is more likely that Adam, Eve, and maybe many of the generations that followed had some sort of middle brown skin, as that genetic coding can contain within it the possibility of both darker and lighter skin in the generations that follow. Another corrective: while evolutionary theory portrays Man as being much simpler back in history, the Bible details some big advances being made from one generation to the next (Genesis 4:20-22). They were no primitive dummies so it is helpful to see Noah shown as living in a fairly advanced level of industry and technology. They aren't in a rocket age, but they aren't living in caves either. Finally, we also get a good idea of the sheer magnitude of the Ark, correcting the silly bathtub toy picture some might have stuck in their heads. This is not a book that we should ever let overshadow the biblical account, but when we put it in its proper place – like that of a commentary that helps us reflect on what Genesis 6-9 is actually saying – then it can be a wonderful aid. I will offer a couple of critiques: while there's a dinosaur and some mammoths to be seen working on the Ark's construction, neither can be found in it. Also, while animals two by two can be seen making their way to the Ark, there don't seem to be any groups of 7 (Genesis 7:2). Of course, we don't see every animal arrive, so maybe we just missed those, and they'll be found in any expanded future edition of the book. Comics/graphic novels (14) The biggest fault with wordless books is they are so quickly done. But, thankfully, some of these graphic novels are huge. And the longer length allows a couple of these to tackle their topics with some depth. Owly: The Way Home & The Bittersweet Summer (5) by Andy Runton 2004 / 160 pages This is two stories in one, and at about 80 pages each, they have room for some real fun. In the first, we get introduced to Owly, who, as you may have guessed, is an owl. The forest creatures are afraid of him because, well, he's an owl, and they know that typically owls eat creatures like them. But not Owly. He's a kinder, gentler owl, and all he wants to do is feed his fellow birds seeds. Sadly, no one trusts him, and Owly is all alone... until the night of the big storm! Then Owly finds a worm, half-drowned, and nurses it back to health. Worm, realizing he hadn't been eaten, trusts and befriends Owly, which is the start of something beautiful. It's never really explained what Owly does eat, but we can be certain that it isn't cute little worms! In the second story, Owly and Worm meet a couple of hummingbirds and have a great time until the little speedsters have to head south for the winter. But don't worry, they'll be back come Spring! It'd be more accurate to call these "talkless" rather than "wordless" because, even as the dialogue between Owly and his worm friend is limited to symbols and punctuation marks – a question mark when one of them is puzzled and an exclamation mark when they are excited – there's the occasional shop sign or even a whole encyclopedia page entry on hummingbirds that does require the reader to be able to actually read. If you're considering getting this for your school library, you'll be interested to know there are two editions of this story, the first in black and white with this symbol-based dialogue, and the second, now titled simply Owly: The Way Home (2020) that is in full-color and adds in a minimal bit of verbiage between the characters. While I really like the original near-wordless version, it was sometimes a bit hard to decipher what Owly and his pal were saying to each other, so the second editions are probably the best way to go. Everything in this series seems to be gentle and kind including Just a Little Blue (1st edition 2005 /2nd edition 2020, 130 pages), Flying Lessons (2005/2021, 144 pages), A Time to Be Brave (2007/2022, 132 pages), and Tiny Tales (2008, 172 pages). South by Patrick McDonnell 2008 / 42 pages South is by the creator of the comic strip Mutts, Patrick McDonnell. He imports one of the strip's characters into this comic-like book, Mooch the cat. Now cats might not seem all that sympathetic to birds, but when Mooch comes upon a poor cute little bird who, we see, has been left behind by his flock when they headed south, Mooch lends a paw. Mooch really is a stand-up sort of cat, so he takes the bird under his wing (so to say) and the two of them set out to reunite this lost little one with his family. Since cats can't fly, the journey takes place on foot. Soon enough bird is united with his flock, and it comes time for Mooch and the bird to say their goodbyes. It was at this point that my four-year-old daughter was a bit overcome - goodbyes are always hard! But I reassured her that Mooch and bird would see each other again when Winter turned to Spring. Kunoichi Bunny by Sara Cassidy and Brayden Sato 2022 / 32 pages When dad takes his little girl Saya out in her stroller, she brings her "ninja-bunny" Kunoichi along, and it is a very good thing she does. The sharp-eyed Saya spots two cats fighting, and puts an end to their dispute with a well aimed fling of her bunny. After dad retrieves Kunoichi, they board a bus, where Saya saves the day again. A distracted mom lets go of her stroller only to have it pitch towards the bus stairs. Saya flings Kunoichi in the way, so the stroller comes to a safe stop. As they continue on their stroll, Saya and Kunoichi rescue a baby duck and a little boy, and brighten the day of a sad grandmotherly lady. This busy day ends with Kunoichi getting a much needed wash and dry, so she can join Saya in her nice clean bed. This is a sweet story that kids will enjoy reading multiple times. The Flamingo by Guojing 2020 / 142 pages A little Chinese girl from the big city goes to visit her Lao Lao - her grandmother - who lives in the country, near the beach. She asks about a pink feather Lao Lao keeps in a cup, and hears a story about how, when her grandmother was little like her, she found an egg on the beach, which turned out to be a baby crane, which she then raised until it grew big enough to fly with the others. There's some sadness, as the crane flies away, but it returns each year again. The book concludes with the girl drawing a comic adventure for her Lao Lao in which the three of them - little girl, grandmother, and a now giant crane – fly off on adventures together. While this isn't strictly wordless, there are quite a few more pages than words (roughly 100). And it's a sweet, slow and beautiful story, more appealing to girls than boys. It Goes Without Saying: Peanuts at its Silent Best by Charles Schultz 2005 / 160 pages Over 50 years Charles Schults sprinkled Peanuts with a liberal dose of “pantomime” strips. This has been a fun one for my kids to dip into, enjoying pages at a time, but it isn’t really the sort of book you’d read front to back. As clever as these wordless strips are, 160 pages is too much of a good thing at one go. If your kids like this, they might also enjoy Garfield Left Speechless. It doesn’t have the same charm – Garfield is sometimes mean-spirited in a way that Snoopy never is – but it has some of the same slapstick creativity. Jim Curious: A Voyage to the Heart of the Sea (2) by Matthias Picard 2014 / 52 pages This is very, very fun. Our hero, Jim Curious, emerges from his house equipped in a deep-sea diving suit, and as he slides into the sea the pictures transform – now everything is 3D! This is a large-format book, more than a foot tall, and the author makes full use of the giant pages to give us so much to see and explore. The story is comprised of Jim Curious exploring, and us just marveling at all there is to see. He passes by a sunken pirate ship, World War II fighter, and grocery cart, then floats right up to a giant whale, and, finally, discovers the ruins of an underwater city. Here the adventure takes a surreal twist as Jim finds a door in the bottom of the sea. As he opens it, where does it lead but back to his own house – somehow this is his own front door! But this time, when he walks through and emerges once again from his little house, things have gone all topsy turvy. The air is now where the sea had previously been, and sea is where the air had been – whales and fish and octopi are swimming past the windows of his house! It is a funny ending to this gorgeous visual feast. The only downside to the book is that it does require 3D glasses (two pairs are provided) and also has one double foldout section, where the pages fold out from the middle. Jim Curious is clearly intended for young readers but the glasses and the double foldout are just not the sort of thing young children will do well with: the foldouts are going to get torn or crumpled and the glasses will be broken or lost. That means that, despite the book being wordless, it still needs to be read with mom or dad present. There is a sequel, just as surreal, and also 3D, which kids will also enjoy: Jim Curious and the Jungle Journey (2021). The Arrival by Shaun Tan 2007 / 128 pages I am an immigrant of sorts, having moved across the border to the US, and while it was easy enough to adapt it did give me a small bit of insight into what my parents and grandparents must have experienced when they moved from the Netherlands to Canada decades ago. While I didn't have to learn a new language, my children are going to learn an entirely different history. They say "zee," not "zed." And almost everyone I know seems to have a gun in their home. Small differences. My parents had to deal with much bigger ones, and for their parents it was stranger still. It was hard to ask for help because they didn't know the language. They needed help because things were done differently here. Fortunately, they weren't the first – others from the "old country" had come before, so there was some help to be had. This may be an overly long introduction to a book that has no words. To cut to the chase, Shaun Tan's graphic novel may be the very best possible way to share the immigrant experience with the second and third generations. It tells the story of a father who leaves his country, his wife, and his daughter, to head overseas to find a better place for them all. It is a very strange world that he finds. One of the first things we notice is that even the birds look different. In fact, the reader will notice that these birds don't look like any birds anyone has ever seen. It only gets stranger in the pages that follow: the man encounters a mystifying immigration process, and documents that are written in a language that doesn't look like any that the reader will know. The buildings, the food, the transportation - there is a uniqueness to it all. This new country looks like no real country on earth. So what is going on here? The first time I read this graphic novel I didn't understand what was happening and stopped reading about halfway through. This time around a helpful niece alerted me to the fact that this was about the immigrant experience, so what the artist was doing, by making everything just slightly peculiar, was creating a world where the reader would feel the same sort of discomfort and confusion that a new immigrant would feel upon arrival. That little insight was a big help, and turned this from a mystifying, even frustrating story, to an absolutely brilliant one. I will admit to being a bit slow on the uptake here, as the title, The Arrival, should have provided me the only clue I'd have needed. But in my defense, Shaun Tan's creation is utterly original so I have not ever read anything like it. We follow the father as he sets out to find a job, finds an apartment, tries to get the coffee machine (if that's what it was) to work, and tries to figure out where to find food and what sort of food he likes. Along the way he meets several helpful people, including people who had immigrated years before, and were happy to help someone newly arrived. So the book is, on the one hand, about the immigrant experience, and on the other is a story about the impact we can have in helping strangers. The young father would have been lost but for the kindness of strangers. This is a large book, both in the number of pages, and in the size of the pages – 128 pages and about a foot tall – with scores of details to discover on every page. So even though it is wordless, this is a good long read. I would recommend this to immigrant grandparents as a gift they could give to the grandchildren, and one they might want to "read" with them. I would also recommend it to anyone who loves art - this is a beautiful book.  The Only Child by Guojing 2015 / 112 pages This will be enjoyed by both younger and older children, but in two very different ways. For the pre-schooler this is strictly a flight of fantasy, about a boy who goes off in search of his parents, and finds an elk guardian instead who takes him up amongst the clouds. For the older reader, this is the story of China's one-child policy, and how it left parents, robbed of any siblings to act as their own child's aunts or uncles. That would sometimes mean they'd have childcare problems. If grandma wasn't available, there were no other relatives to turn to, so a toddler might be left on their ownsome at home, as both parents went off to work. This is the story of one such child, and yes, it does take a fantastic turn when the elk shows up. But for the older reader, the author's purpose – to capture some of the lost and lonely feelings many Chinese children felt – will be clear and compelling. Snow White by Matt Phelan 2016 / 216 pages This is Snow White inventively reimagined as a 1920s Depression-era American tale. The "king" is a stock trader who has managed to survive the stock market crash. The stepmother is still a queen, but this time of the Ziegfeld Follies, a popular Broadway show. The mirror is now a stock ticker, and the seven dwarfs are seven street-smart kids. Prince Charming? Well, I shouldn't give too much away! This is near wordless, going entirely so for a dozen pages at a time, but interspersed with some sparse dialogue. That makes this a very quick read. Fairytales are typically for children, but this is too somber to attract little ones. Done in black and white, it has a dark, noir style...all but for the last few pages with their happily-ever-after full-color conclusion. So this is something adults could even enjoy, but tweens are the target audience – this has been a very popular one among the 12 and unders in our house. Harder to find (12) While these don't seem to be in print right now your local library may have a copy because they were once quite deservedly popular. Where is the Cake? (2) by Thé Tjong-Khing 2007 / 32 pages Thé Tjong-Khing was born in Indonesia, studied in the Netherlands, and is now one of the Netherlands’ best-known illustrators and authors. His books have been translated into several languages, and Where is the Cake? must have been the easiest as there was only the title to translate. The main story involves a chase after two possums who have taken Mr. and Mrs. Dog’s cake. The action takes place on large pages (even a bit larger than the pages of a magazine) so there is plenty of room for detail, and for a host of different animals. There are more than 30 characters on each page, and almost as many storylines! I read this with my two-year-old daughter and we had great fun trying to keep track of what everyone was up to. It lends itself to a lot of interaction – I was constantly talking to her about what must have happened “in-between” the pages and congratulating her as she found Mr. and Mrs. Dog once again. She loved it, and her dad did too because it was a book I could read again and again (as parents are often required to do) and keep finding new things. A sequel, Where Is the Cake Now?, continues the story and is also very good (if not quite the match of the original). This one is hard to come by in English, but because it is wordless, can be had in other “translations” including Dutch. Ice (5) by Arthur Geisert 2011 / 24 pages Of all the wordless books I've run across Arthur Geisert's Ice is one of the most entertaining. It is the story of a clan of pigs, living together on an island and enduring a hot, hot summer. The island's water reservoir is just about empty, so the pigs get their airship ready. Then they sail off, traveling 'round the world to the North Pole where they snag and drag an iceberg back to their home. Ice saws and pickaxes are used to carve up the iceberg and deposit it in their reservoir. Ice for everyone! My two-year-old and I lingered over each two-page spread, noting the many things that the pigs were up to. The next day I had a fun time hearing her version of the story as she "read" it aloud. The only downside to the book is its small size – it is over too quickly. We were grateful to discover there is a sequel, The Giant Seed (2012), in which the piggy clan finds a giant – several stories tall! – dandelion seed, complete with the fluff at the top. They plant it, and, it turns out, they've done so just in time. It grows a dandelion with its own fluffy heads and then, when the island volcano threatens to blow, the pigs can all sail away, one pig to each dandelion fluff. Geisert has at least a couple other wordless pig books. In Oops (2006), a pig boy spills his milk at breakfast, and, as one thing leads to another, that spill eventually leads to the utter destruction of his family’s precariously perched house. That would seem a sad ending, but the last page has the family relieved that while the house is gone, the family is okay – it highlights that family is more important than things. But do be careful drinking your milk! More wordless piggie fun can be found in Hogwash (2008) where pig parents let their piglets have a muddy day of fun before the moms and dads use the most marvelous of machines to clean up their kidlets en masse. Then, in Lights Out (2005), a little pig is told by his parents to turn off his lights at precisely eight, but the problem is, he can't fall asleep with the lights off. So he devises a mechanism – a Rube Goldberg machine of sorts – that turns off the lights, but the whole process of pulleys and pendulums and bouncing balls and more – takes a good long while to eventually douse the lights... by which time he has fallen asleep. There are 36 words in this one, but all on the first page. The Story of an English Village (4) by John S. Goodall John Goodall's books are unique, unlike any other wordless stories I've seen. Most wordless or near-wordless books are intended for the pre-reading set. But Goodall's books seem to be aimed at an older age group. He has a series of "The Story of..." titles that tackle "an English Village," "the Seashore," "a Farm," and "a Castle," and in each, the lack of words leaves viewers lingering over each picture. So this isn't wordless to make it accessible to the very young; it is wordless to bring the focus to the pictures, and the impressions left by them. For example, in The Story of an English Village, Goodall starts us with a picture of a 13th-century castle under construction on a large hill, and then in the following two-page spread, he shows us this same setting in one hundred year leaps, until we arrive near our modern day. These are pictures to linger over, then flip back to, comparing the next century with the last.  In this book and many others, Goodall makes creative use of a single half-page stuck between each two-page spread. This is a bit hard to describe, and apparently was unique to Goodall – he may have invented this technique – so let me try to make things a little clearer. Imagine a book with a picture spanning both pages – a two-page spread – and right in the middle of these two pages is a single half page. This page is full height, but only half the width of the book's other pages, so when this half-page is turned from the right side to the left, it gives us a new perspective on the goings on in the middle, while leaving the outer edges unchanged. If you didn't follow that, let's just say it is pretty cool and you should track down one of his books to check it out. Goodall has many other wordless books, and most seem worth checking out, with the exception of his "Naughty Nancy" series about an obnoxious little girl mouse, who is more nasty than naughty. Holland by Charlotte Dematons 2013 / 54 pages This is a treat for any with ties to the Netherlands, even if a generation or two removed. Each two-page spread highlights one location, but sometimes different time periods. For example, in the opening picture, we see a three-masted schooner fighting off a British galleon while a giant modern-day container ship sails by. In another spread of today’s Amsterdam, we see Van Gogh painting in his studio. Pages are big – this is a tall book – and there is so much to see. This is a very fun way to tour the country, its culture, and its history.  Last and least (9) These are only okay, but if your children are flying through all the others, and your library has them, then they might be worth a borrow too. Aquarium by Cynthia Alonso 2018 / 36 pages A girl loves fish, and when one jumps onto the dock, she takes it home with her and tries to find a good-sized home for it. That involves filling most every container in the house with water, including the swimming pool. When the fish jumps from the swimming pool into the small puddle beside it, the girl decides it needs something bigger and returns it to the lake. The last page shows her joining it, and more fish friends. Good Night, Garden Gnome by Jamichael Henterly 2001 / 32 pages A child's outdoor tea party features her toys and a garden gnome too. When it's time for bed, the toys are brought back inside, and the gnome is left behind, where we discover that when no one is looking, he comes alive and does some garden tending. He braves the family dog to retrieve a lost toy and brings it to the girl's window sill. Well drawn and charming, but very short and simple. Flood by Alvaro F. Villa 2013 / 32 pages A beautiful little two-story home by the river is loved by its family, threatened by a storm, protected by sandbags, and then abandoned when the water gets too high. We see the water sweep in, and the family return to the devastation… and begin to rebuild. It ends with the house fully restored.  Hank Finds an Egg by Rebecca Dudley 2013 / 40 pages This is almost a stop-motion presentation, with a stuffed bear, in a clay-crafted forest setting, discovering an egg out of its nest. He tries to return it to the nest high above, and after a couple of failures, succeeds with some tiny help. It’s a nice story with a feel-good ending. red hat by Lita Judge 2013 / 32 pages When a little girl washes her red knit cap and hangs it out to dry, it becomes a play toy for the animals. They have great fun chasing it, but return it completely unravelled. The girl isn't bothered though, and not only sets out to re-knit it, but knits red caps for the animals too. the whale by Ethan and Vita Murrow 2015 / 32 pages While no one talks in this story, some reading is required at the beginning and end, when newspaper accounts describe, first, how a pair of children 50 years ago claimed they'd spotted a gigantic spotted whale, and how two more children, five decades later, finally confirm this legendary beast's existence. It's exciting, but the required reading at the front and back does detract some from the wordless charm. Wolf in the Snow by Matthew Cordell 2017 / 48 pages A boy trudging through the snow, making his way home from school, comes across a lost wolf cub which he befriends and then helps find its pack back. The effort exhausts him but when he collapses in the snow the grateful wolf pack then helps his parents find him. A fun story, well drawn, and it would have rated higher except that the wolves are drawn so realistically a little kid could read this and think it is passing on accurate information on the friendliness of wolves. Zoom (2) by Istvan Banyai 1995 / 64 pages It’s easier to explain what this book is about by describing it backwards. At the end of the book we see Earth from millions of miles away - just a white dot on a black canvass. But, a page earlier, we’ve zoomed in, and can see oceans and clouds. Next, we see things from the perspective of a pilot miles up, then as he flies lower, we see people as ants, and on and on the zooming goes. There is no narrative, but it is intriguing. A sequel, Re-zoom, is equally so....

Book Reviews, Graphic novels

Maker Comics: Draw a comic

by JP Coovert 2019 / 124 pages Cartooning was a fascination as a kid, so I've read a few different books on how to do it, and I think this might be the best overall introduction I've seen. One of its strengths is the way it teaches - via a comic adventure! Our guide Maggie, and her dog Rex, are trying to fulfill her grandfather's dream of having a comic library, but the villain of the piece, Dr. Stephens wants to turn the building into a parking lot. How can they stop him? A discovered treasure map might lead to just what they need to buy the building. Alongside their treasure quest, readers are given 6 projects to complete: Learning the parts of a comic Planning a comic strip Drawing your comic strip Making a one-sheet, 8-page comic Printing your one-sheet comic Make a bigger comic book There's piles of information here, but kids only have to use the bare bones of it – just a pencil and a sheet of paper – to start making their own mini-comic books. And if they get into it, then they can dive back into the book to learn more about the different pencils, pens, brushes, and techniques they can use to get better. There isn't a lot of help offered for actual drawing techniques – kids will have to turn elsewhere to find more on that. What this book is about is equipping kids to get a running start in presenting their story or joke in a polished and yet still easy-to-do manner, even while their art skills might be at the stick figure level. They can get excited about starting and completing an actual comic. The only caution is a minor one, a passing mention made in one of the comic captions about dinosaurs living 65 millions years ago. My 10-year-old daughter and I have read another in this "Maker Comics" series and found Build a Robot a lot harder to get off and running with – you need to have a spare small motor lying around. That said, Draw a Comic does have us interested in checking out others, like Grow a Garden and Bake Like a Pro. We did discover though, that like many books published after 2020, one of the later additions to this series bent their knee to the LGBT lobby: the kid in 2021's Conduct a Science Experiment has two moms. ...

Book Reviews, Children’s picture books, Graphic novels

Lindbergh: The Tale of a Flying Mouse

by Torben Kuhlmann 96 pages / 2014 How did man first learn to fly? It seems we had a little help. This is the story of a little mouse who made the very first transatlantic flight, back when Charles Lindbergh was but a lad. As our story begins we learn what first motivated this mouse to seek the skies. In the late 1800s, another invention was becoming quite popular – the mousetrap! – which had this furry inventor seeking somewhere safer to live. Where could he go? Why not America, a place that welcomed immigrants of all sorts (whether man or mouse)? That was a good destination, but when he tried boarding a boat, he barely escaped the harbor cats. They were guarding the docks, and there was no getting past them. It was there, however, as the little mouse was hiding in the shadows, that he was "struck" by inspiration: "Suddenly wings flapped against his face! Ghostly creatures flew through the dark. They looked like mice, with tiny eyes and huge ears. But they flew with powerful black wings. The little mouse carefully studied the strange flying relatives, then scurried home..." Why not try flying to America using wings like bats! In the many pages that follow we see the mouse draft plans, secure supplies, evade owls, fail, try again, fail once more, and then finally make his way into the skies. What makes the book so special is the enormous, gorgeous, detailed pictures. I want to make the case that this should be shelved in the graphic novel section of the library, even though it isn't what most would think of as a graphic novel. There are no word bubbles, but there are whole sections where the story is told entirely by sequential pictures. It might be accurately called a picture book, but that makes it seem like it's for little children (what older kids read picture books?). This is not a children's story. That's in small part because it has a grim bit here and there – one mouse is depicted in a newspaper picture as clearly dead, caught in a mousetrap, which would be an unexpected jolt to readers in the lowest grades. It might also be too tense with the owls determined not simply to frustrate his flight, but to eat our little inventor. The bigger reason this is older fare is simply the length and depth of the story. The mouse draws schematics that deserve to be closely examined – there are echoes here of Leonardo da Vinci. And he is playing a cat and mouse game on a few levels, not simply with cats, but owls, and people too. So, yes, this visual feast belongs best in the graphic novel section where boys in Grades 4 and up will discover it and love it! Caution The only caution, other than age appropriateness due to the aforementioned grim bits, would concern not this book, but a sequel in the author's "Mouse Adventures" series. In the next book, Armstrong (2016), another mouse takes things even further, developing the first ever rocket to the moon so he can prove that it is not made of green cheese. It's another inventive story, and the only nit I have to pick comes afterward, in an appendix of sorts. There we're told that Galileo Galilei "contradicted the Church's view at the time and his work was banned while he found himself accused of heresy." This is true, but without context, it contributes to the popular idea of Science as the ultimate authority, especially over and above what the Church teaches from the Bible. What this overlooks is that the Church's problem here was its reliance on faulty science in the first place – Aristotilean science – rather than the Bible. Most kids aren't likely to even ingest this section of the book. But this particular lie is a pernicious one, used as a universal solvent to undermine clear biblical teachings on origins, sexuality and gender. While it's only a small mention of a potent lie, it is also delivered to a young audience, which is why I'd give this one a skip for a school library. I'd also skip on Einstein (2020), not because of specific problems, but because there were parts of this picture book/graphic novel that as an adult, I didn't even understand. I think this one was too ambitious, considering the target audience. Conclusion That said, this story is the very pinnacle of creative genius. It will teach children at least a little about what it took to first developed powered flight, providing as fun and wonderfully illustrated an introduction to the topic as you'll find. For more, take a look at the book's trailer below. And if your child enjoys this one, they'll likely also love the third book, Edison: the Mystery of the Missing Mouse Treasure (2018) in which a mouse invents underwater travel to recover the illuminating invention his ancestor created. ...

Book Reviews, Graphic novels

We Hereby Refuse: Japanese American resistance to wartime incarceration

by Frank Abe and Tamiko Nimura 2021 / 160 pages After the Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbor, tens of thousands of Americans of Japanese descent were rounded up and placed in detention camps around the US. They lost their jobs, their businesses, and even their homes, not because of any crimes committed, but simply for their ethnic roots. This same indignity wasn't forced on German or Italian Americans, even though Germany and Italy were at war with the US. Just Japanese Americans. And despite the obvious discrimination against them, the vast majority went without protest, believing that quiet acceptance was a way of showing their loyalty and patriotism. What the graphic novel We Hereby Refuse recounts are the stories of Japanese Americans who did protest, in very different ways. One protester was an otherwise quiet young lady. Mitsuye Endo was a 21-year-old typist who lost her job when she was ordered to report to the internment camp. A lawyer asked her to sue the government for causing her job loss. He recruited her because she seemed the ideal candidate at a time when everyone was scared of Japan: she did not speak Japanese and didn't follow a Japanese religion like Buddhism or Shinto. She even had a brother serving in the US army. And she had also done everything the government had ordered her to. She was quiet and still she stood up, her case eventually going all the way to the Supreme Court, where she won. Another story shared is that of Jim Akutso, who repeatedly tried to sign up for the Army but was refused because of flat feet. After he was imprisoned in a detention camp he was found out he'd been drafted, but now he refused. His reasoning was that if his country wasn't willing to let him live freely, then he wasn't going to fight to protest the freedoms he didn't even have. His refusal was condemned by many other Japanese Americans, who thought his actions cast them all in a bad light. He was convicted of draft-dodging, and moved from the camp to a regular prison, and given a sentence that extend past the end of the war. Cautions I'm not familiar with the history here, so I can't really assess how fair the presentation is. I suspect that certain historical figures, particularly the Japanese Americans who acted as go-betweens for the prisoners and the US government, might dispute the way they are portrayed. However, the broad overview seems to be reliably done. I don't generally recommend books that take God's name in vain, but I'm making an exception here because this is not simply entertainment but educational, sharing an event that needs to be more widely known. For Christian parents or librarians who might like to strike a line through it, the abuse occurs just once, on page 128. Another caution concerns age-appropriateness. Near the end of the book, an older woman kills herself in despair. She's shown beginning to wrap a lamp cord around her neck, and while it doesn't get more graphic than that, the act itself isn't something young children need to read about. I'll also note that I've seen the authors making appearances on podcasts sharing their personal pronouns, so I rather suspect their politics and worldview do not line up with my own. But that difference wasn't evident in the book itself. Conclusion This was compelling, but I didn't find it an easy read. Some of that was due to my unfamiliarity with Japanese names, which had me confusing different characters so that I'd have to flip back and forth to keep things straight. But I was happy to keep flipping because it's a story worth knowing. We Hereby Refuse is a reminder that the government is powerful, and with power comes the need to use that power with great restraint. What happens when it doesn't act with restraint? We get victims by the thousands and tens of thousands, as happened here. Another lesson? The need for brave individuals to challenge government abuses, in the hopes of reducing the number of victims. This would be a great purchase for Christian schools, and for parents to buy and read with their children. The serious subject matter means this is probably for 14 and up. The 4-minute video below, offering some local news coverage, gives a good overview of the book. ...

Book Reviews, Graphic novels

Manga Classics: Anne of Green Gables

by L.M. Montgomery adapted by Crystal S. Chan 308 pages / 2020 Anne is an orphan girl living in the Prince Edward Island of the 1870s, sent by mistake to the home of an aged brother and sister who need help with the farm work. The mistake is, they asked for a boy. Instead, they got the imaginative, effusive, emotional, red-head Anne. And once they meet, they can't let her go. While Lucy Maud Montgomery was a Canadian author, and Anne of Green Gables (first published in 1908) a very Canadian story, it's always been incredibly popular in Japan too. So it makes sense that her story would be given a manga treatment. Thankfully, the adaptation is faithfully done, and at 300 pages, given the space it needs to tell the story well - only a very few scenes are given an abridged treatment. If you're unfamiliar with manga, the style does take some getting used to, in the first place because the Japanese read right to left. That means what would be the back of the book to us, is the front of the book to them. Even though this is in English, it's still formated in that "reverse" style. Another feature that will strike readers as unusual is the way manga will sometimes depart from a semi-realistic style of drawing to something much more cartoonish, and then go back to realistic all in the space of a few frames, or even in the same frame. So, for example, while Anne's strict and controlled adoptive "mother" Marilla is depicted with realistic eyes, the emotional Anne has eyes in all sorts of styles. Most often they are doe-sized, but when she is angry or perturbed, they become big black dots, and sometimes she is drawn with no eyes at all. If that strikes you as very strange, just consider how a Western reader will know that a lightbulb over a character's head means they have an idea. That's a bit of cartoon "emoticon shorthand" to let readers know something without spending a lot of words on it. Manga has its own, different cartoon emoticons, and they do need to be learned. But just like the lightbulb, they aren't hard to figure out. Cautions Cautions here are only the same ones that we'd have for the original source material. At one point Anne is being taught how to pray, and her first prayer, while not exactly disrespectful, certainly isn't what it should be. But the point is, she doesn't know how to talk to God, and still has to be taught, so I don't think this should be much of a concern. Then there's also Anne's stubbornness. When a classmate, Gilbert Blythe, calls her "Carrots," Anne breaks her chalk slate over his head. You'd think that would make them even (or put Anne in need of apologizing to him) but Anne resolves to never speak to Gilbert again. And she keeps to that pledge for years! The book shows this to be ridiculous, and I only mention it here because this comic format makes Anne accessible to a younger audience that may need a little parental guidance to recognize just how bad Anne's stubbornness really is. Finally, in an afterword to the story, the adapter Crystal Chan notes that she is a feminist who "loves the elements of feminism in Anne of Green Gables." "Feminist" is sometimes synonymous with supporting "a woman's right to choose" so that might have parents concerned about whether this ideology is hidden within. But there is no need for worry: whatever sort of feminist the adapter might be, she has stuck closely to the original 100-year-old material (unlike the recent Netflix adaptation). Conclusion This is a fantastic, faithful, adaptation of a great book. Teens should skip straight to the original, but for younger readers, or the reluctant sort, this will be a great way to introduce them to this dynamic lass. If you do intend to get a copy, be sure you get the "Manga Classic" version, as there is another comic, that one by C.W. Cooke and Tidalwave Productions, that only tells part of the story, ending abruptly and with no conclusion coming. I've included its cover image to the right here, to make it easier to identify what not to get. Don't accidentally get that one while you're searching for this manga adaptation....

Book Reviews, Graphic novels, Teen non-fiction

Luther: Echoes of the Hammer

by Susan K. Leigh illustrated by Dave Hill 2011 / 144 pages I think this is the perfect complement to Luther: the graphic novel, which might be the more exciting of these two Luther comics, but which also plays a little looser with the details. Meanwhile Luther: Echoes of the Hammer is a more reliable history lesson, even as it isn’t as dramatic. I tested this graphic novel on two of my nephews with mixed results. The older one, heading to grade 10, was happy to take a look, and thought it would be a great way to learn about Luther. The other, two years younger, seemed to think it was too much biography and not enough comic book for his tastes. As far as comics go, this one is quite an involved, even heavy, read. Interspersed throughout are explanations of key events, like the Diet of Worms, key terms, like “indulgences,” and key figures, like Charles of Spain, the Holy Roman Emperor. These one or two-page insertions really add to the narrative and make this a highly educational comic. However, a few of these insertions will also trouble informed Reformed readers. In one list of Luther’s adversaries, Calvin is numbered among them! While it is true Calvin and Luther had their differences, it is surprising to see Calvin listed as an opponent. Especially when, some pages later, we find Erasmus listed as one of Luther’s supporters! While Erasmus was, like Luther, critical of the Roman Church, he never left it, and this led to strong, vitriolic disagreements with Luther. In fact, Luther once called Erasmus, “the very mouth and organ of Satan.”  It is downright silly, then, for the authors to list Erasmus as a friend if they are going to list fellow Reformer John Calvin as an adversary. The only other quibble would be the overestimation the authors have of Philip Melanchthon, describing him as “a great Reformer, second only to Martin Luther.” Second? Really? How can they overlook Calvin like that? Those quibbles aside, this is an impressive book. The writing is crisp, succinct and engaging. The artwork is attractive and while only half the book is color (the other half being black and white) it worked. Many of these pictures are also instructive, worth the proverbial thousand words. For example, in the pages covering Luther’s visit to Worms, illustrator Dave Hill shows us the man’s quiet passion, his many supporters, and his opponents marshaled together. This gives us a good understanding of the setting, and thus a better understanding of the courage it took for Luther to stand up for what he knew to be true. Older teens will enjoy it, and many an adult too. (Also worth a mention is that the same team of authors and illustrators have created a sequel, focused on his wife – Katie Luther is a little shorter, and a little less involved, but also quite enjoyable.) To get a sampling of what's inside click here....

Graphic novels, Teen non-fiction

Luther: the graphic novel

by Rich Melheim illustrated by Jonathan Koelsch 2016 / 72 pages I’ve reviewed other “comic biographies” and never enjoyed one more. Luther is scripted like a movie, has witty dialogue with actions scene interspersed, and the artwork is of the same quality you would find in Marvel or DC comics – it is fantastic! Educational comics, as a genre, are valuable in that they make learning history a lot less painful. But very few of these educational graphic novels are the sort that a teen would just pick up and start reading. Luther is the exception. I don’t want to over-hype it – a kid who reads nothing but superhero comics will still find this a bit of a stretch – but it really is as good a comic as you will find. Cautions Since this is intended for teens, I’ll note a few cautions. The word “crap” is mentioned three times, “ass” once, and “old fart” once. But when you consider this is a comic about the notoriously potty-mouthed Luther, this is really quite tame. I’ll also note there is a depiction of Christ on the inside back cover of the book that is not part of the story, but rather part of an ad for other comics by the same publisher. Also: the comic treats as fact, the famous conclusion to Martin Luther’s speech at the Diet of Worms where he is said to have declared: “Here I stand. I can do no other. God help me. Amen.” There is some dispute as to whether he ever said these words. Conclusion The comic has several strengths including the overall picture it gives of the happenings going on in the broader world that made it possible for Luther to both spark this Reformation and live into old age and die a natural death. I’ve always wondered why the Emperor didn’t just have him killed. Perhaps it was because, as we learn in this comic, Charles V was busy contending with Turkish expansion and might not have wanted to risk alienating any of his German princes. Another strength is that while this account is sympathetic, it does note one of Luther’s weaknesses: that sometimes Luther’s pen got the best of him and he could write some “terrible and hateful words” denouncing Jews, Calvinists, and Anabaptists alike. Overall this is a comic that teens and adults (who aren’t embarrassed to be seen reading a comic) will certainly enjoy. It is available at Faith Inkubators....

Book Reviews, Graphic novels

Canada at War: a graphic history of World War II

by Paul Keery, illustrated by Michael Wyatt 176 pages, 2012 Halfway through Canada at War, I realized it was filling in an odd gap in my education. I had read about the Dutch experience of World War II in great kids’ books like Anne de Vries’ Journey through the Night and Piet Prins’ Scout series, and a love of classic war films like Casablanca and Twelve O’Clock High had given me a good sampling of the American perspective. But I don’t know if I've ever seen the war through Canadian eyes. Canada at War is a “graphic history” – otherwise known as a comic – but it would be a mistake to dismiss this as fluffy kids’ stuff. It is weighty and well-researched and would be best understood as an illustrated history textbook. It includes chapters on: Canada before the war Canada’s early defeats defending Hong Kong from the Japanese and attacking German-held Dieppe, France The creation and impact of Canada’s Air Force The Canadian Navy’s seemingly impossible task of protecting the Atlantic supply chain from U-boat attacks The costly lessons our Army learned in Sicily and Italy The joint invasion of Europe The Canadian role in the liberation of the Netherlands and the final defeat of Germany Author Paul Keery, and illustrator Michael Wyatt do a masterful job of explaining, in just 176 pages, how Canada went from having next to no military to, in the space of just five years, becoming the third most powerful fighting force in the world. And they give readers a good understanding of just how much we owe the 1 million men who served. Cumulatively the pictures are worth many thousands of words. Descriptions can’t quite convey the information available in a picture of a sailor waste deep in water on a leaky Corvette assigned to protect otherwise defenseless supply ships on their way to Britain. There is also a lot packed into a single frame, when we see a bomber pilot relaxing at his home base, happy to have survived another bombing run, but knowing that he has only a 1 in 4 chance of living through to the end of his tour. The style of the visuals is also striking: it’s a mix of quite realistic computer animation and solid simple lines. Illustrator Michael Wyatt shows us action and lots of it, including planes being blown apart and submarines being sunk. However, Wyatt uses great restraint, showing the results of war – the blood, death, and destruction – without dwelling on the gory detail. This bloody detail is most often muted, either by being obscured (oftentimes by making use of silhouette images) or by being skipped right over. For example, in one exchange we see a soldier with blood on his face, but only learn how it happened from the caption. But as should be expected in a “graphic history” of World War II, there are a few “graphic” frames. That said, Canada at War is intended for a young adult readership, and these pictures are unlikely to shock them. I've included a few of these frames immediately below this review so that parents can evaluate the visuals for themselves. This is an impactful book that will give this generation a far better understanding of what their grandparents and great-grandparents endured to give them the Canada they see today. ...

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