February 24, 2010

Cybils Graphic Novel Finalists, Elementary & Middle Grade

Now that we're no longer under our judging-period decree of silence, I can post my impressions of this year's graphic novel finalists. This was my first time on the round II committee for graphic novels--last year I was a YA judge--and it was a very different experience from being on the round I committee. The finalist titles all had compelling merits, and though I had definite personal favorites, I think they're all worth featuring here. I'm looking at the elementary and middle-grade selections in this post, and I'll look at the YA finalists in a future post (or two).

The Secret Science Alliance and the Copycat Crook by Eleanor Davis gets some extra kudos from me for having a) a female author/illustrator and b) more than a few stylistic nods to graphic godfather Chris Ware. In terms of the graphic storytelling, I found it a little busy, but the book is peopled with fun (and multicultural!) characters, each with their unique form of endearing nerdiness. The story's a reasonably familiar but fun one about foiling a crook, with echoes of classic superhero tales with the kids as the heroes. As characters, the kids possessed realism in addition to humor, and each was a fully realized character with his or her own quirks and flaws. Readers will love the zany, off-the-wall inventions that fill the kids' hideout and help them catch the copycat crook--and it's a neat way to sneak in bits and pieces of true-to-life science. Well-deserved congrats to Ms. Davis on her winning title.

Eric Wight's Frankie Pickle and the Closet of Doom has a very cute, Indiana-Jones-like premise. It's endearing to see Frankie's imaginings in comic form as well as his (mis)adventures throughout the story. At the same time, it's a sort of moral tale, in the way that many classic children's books are--teaching through misadventures and ensuing hilarity and/or havoc, not unlike Ramona Quimby. Though it's more of a hybrid form than a straight GN, the use of comics vs. text is nicely done. A fast-paced read that should have broad appeal for younger kids and is fairly gender-neutral. The humor and references to Indiana Jones will probably keep parents enjoying it, too.

Amulet, Book 2: The Stonekeeper's Curse by Kazu Kibuishi is the second book in what I think is a trilogy--I didn't have a chance to read the first one before having to read this one, but now I'd really like to. This might have been my favorite for the younger set in terms of the visual aesthetic--it combines the best of both stylistic worlds of manga and traditional American comics, and leaves behind the goofier elements. The characters are very expressive and sympathetic, and I enjoyed how color was used to unify the overall feel of the book. The robots and animal creatures have a kindly and fantastical appeal without being too saccharine--there's definitely danger and fighting to balance the cuteness. The story also has an epic Narnia-ish quality that gives it a classic feel. The good-vs-evil setup, while not necessarily breaking new ground, is executed in a unique way. Because I liked it so much in every other way, I kind of wished the dialogue was a little more striking...but overall, this was a definite keeper for me.

You can check out my review of the other two GN finalists for younger readers, Adventures in Cartooning and Creepy Crawly Crime, in this earlier post.


Anonymous said...

I have been singing the praises of The Secret Science Allience to my library kids, and they're loving it as much as I did. Haven't read the other two yet - I'll have to check them out!

Color Online said...

I've linked your review at Color Me Brown Links.

a. fortis said...

Cool--thanks! Glad you guys liked the reviews. Now to find time to post the rest of my Cybils thoughts...