{comic} revealed

Hidden : A Child’s Story of the Holocaust

Written by Loïc Dauvillier; Illustrated by Marc Lizano

Color by Greg Salsedo; Translated from the French by Alexis Siegel

First Second Books, 2014.

Ages 6-10; Grades 1-5.

 Encouraged to talk about her evident sadness, a grandmother shares her memories long hidden about her experience as a child in 1942 Paris. Opening in the late hours of evening (the dark) in the privacy of a home, steeped in themes of hiding and silence, the novel will eventually affect a catharsis that moves the reader to compassion and tears. And yet, it will be a story the reader will loathe to tuck away and forget.

The continual exchange between grandmother and granddaughter Elsa escapes the contrived as the young Elsa struggles to understand how a young Dounia Cohen’s life is upended by the horror of a mass eradication of Jews in Paris. Elsa alongside Dounia wonders at the lies adults will tell, the sudden cruelty of her neighbors or their heroics, the loss of a parent, the importance of a courageous community. The gently told story does not skirt the horror and sorrow. The portrayal of the injustice Jews and their sympathizers faced honors the intellect of a grade-schooler. The sequences are those Hidden’s young audience would understand, the fear and heartache of losing their parents, schoolroom humiliations, inexplicable displays public violence… They will find contemporary relevance in subjects of honesty, loyalty, identity, bullying, and loss. I was struck by how contemporary the novel makes the holocaust–how present. I was moved by the silence after that final narrative line at the bottom of page 68; how its said into the quiet; how Elsa sleeps in innocence.

One of the marvels of Diary of Anne Frank is how the reader connects with her youth. Elsa’s sympathies reflect her youthful audience. Dounia as young and old help them cope. She is the wise grandmother and the child witness. She shows fear and regret and incredible courage. The story reinforces what is right and good without the heavy-handed messaging.

Dauvillier understands the power of the oral historian in couching his story. He creates a connection to the present and the past not only through a framework and a paced movement from one to the other, but in reemphasizing the connections visually. Elsa is the unfreckled version of her grandmother when young. And while the story is told, Elsa is safe in the arms of the older Dounia/Simone. Hidden closes out of doors in the daylight in a tender exchange of reconciliation that forgives the silence and celebrates sharing the unspeakable.

I admit to being uncertain about the art when the book first came out, and I did find following the text a bit tricky at first. I appreciate, however, the accessibility of the cartoon work. Lizano manages the expressive without unbalancing the gentility in the narrative. He provides meaningful settings even when the image shouldn’t be rendered in anything more than words. He provides meaningful renderings when the language for child-audiences are inadequate. A lot of frames are close-ups, emphasizing subjectivity and a sympathy with the character and situation. The viewer is just as often cast as an observer of distances and emptiness, of the foreign. Lizano and Salsedo are fearless with darkening tints and shadows.

 

I was deeply impressed by Hidden. It approaches a difficult narrative with a caution that does not underestimate its young readership*. It leaves an impression that is empowering and interventionist, rather than crippling—an impression not only meant for the youngest of us.

Hidden would be a great graphic novel for intergenerational story time, and I shouldn’t think it only for educational venues or historic commemorations. Put this one on the any-day shelf.

——–

*something I see more in translated European texts.

{images belong to Marc Lizano}

{picture/book} rules of summer

Rules of Summer by Shaun Tan. Arthur A. Levine (Scholastic) 2013.

 “Never break the rules. Especially, if you don’t understand them.”–back cover copy.

Rules of Summer, in its most simplified description, is about two brothers’ summer adventures. The story is told by Shaun Tan so there is the surreal and the incredible wordless impact of his imagery. Fans of Tan’s work should already have the book read or on their radar. If you don’t know Tan (for whatever reason), you may begin here.

“This is what I learned last summer” is how the story begins. And it is fair to assume the voice is that of the younger brother, but as the story progresses there are moments where the elder might have inspired a new rule as well. As it is, each of the double-page spreads “tells of an event and the lesson learned*.” And as the publisher also observes, “By turns, these events become darker and more sinister.”

Like the past tense framing of the story alludes, some rules aren’t realized until after they are broken. We understand how much is left unknown and unspoken and the genius of the book is how much it reflects these notions. There is a very very clever brain behind all the beauty on the page.

I mentioned surreal, and indeed there is a strangeness to the realist settings, but there is also a surreality to the story itself. The dark and the whimsical coincide, the summery tones in the color also have texture, and it opens with a more ominous tone than it closes.

Rules of Summer also opens on the title page with the younger running; you can practically hear him calling out to his elder brother not to leave him behind. His older brother doesn’t leave him behind—which is terribly important to the narrative. The summer ends and the sun is setting outside the darkening room where the boys watch television together and the walls hold drawings that commemorate their adventures.

The books dedication reads “for the little and the big,” which is precisely who it is for. Also, a good book for brothers and for people who have a folkloric imagination.

—–

*Would be amusing to take a double-page spread and try to write a story that would inspire that image.

{images belong to Shaun Tan; read more about the book via Tan’s site, here}

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read in participation w/ #Diversiverseamdu150

{comic} this one summer

If the summer narrative isn’t your glass of lemonade, it isn’t mine either, but I had to see what all the raving was about and I was very pleasantly surprised. Make it your book club read. Make it the first comic you’ve decided to read if you have been harboring a mistaken belief that comics can’t be accessible, female-friendly, and/or literary.

This One Summer by Jillian Tamaki & Mariko Tamaki. First Second 2014. Hardcover, 319 pages.

This One Summer has the cinematic quality of classic Summer films like Stand By Me, but it has the added bonus of escaping the sentimental or the nostalgic.

Rose returns to Lake Awago as she does every summer with her family. Her sisterly friend Windy returns as well. But unlike the seemingly carefree summers of earlier years, Rose’s parents are fighting and soon she and Windy are as well. Circling the adolescent turning point is a crush, pregnancy, and classic horror films–which makes sense.

this-one-summer-art-excerpt

The publisher describes the book as an “ultimately hopeful story about a girl on the cusp of her teen age—a story of renewal and revelation.” “Ultimately” is a key term. The novel left me on the brink of despair for the increasingly irritating protagonist. Why did she seem so familiar? She is a naïve preteen whose imagination is limited by any number of things. She ignores realities that stare her in the face, or accompany her every day in the form of a best friend. She’s pretty much everyone.

The Tamaki’s infuse their summer drama with plenty of humor and charmingly odd relatives. Windy is a spirited girl you hope will be spared from the typic behaviors the more seriously matured Rose begins to express.

I appreciated the pop culture references and the game playing of M.A.S.H–that took me back to my youth. That Rose’s mother wears a Bikini Kill t-shirt was unexpectedly characterizing. Rose’s mother isn’t apparently going through something quite deep and distracting until the last portion of the novel. Initially, she just comes off as unpleasant, especially in juxtaposition to the fun father figure. Yet there she is appearing to be a fan of a late grrrrl! punk band. There is a feminist appeal in This One Summer, but more: a definite female appeal to the complexities of the body and the body politic.

this one summerBeing a girl is complicated business, and while boys have their own things going on (which the book alludes to), there is a female-centricity that should be unsurprising and anticipated in a book by two female creators.

A lot of secrets are simmering in This One Summer. And it is a lovely aspect to the novel that not all secrets are revealed before the Summer (and thus the novel) concludes. Even so, Rose has to come to grips with their consequences, even if the consequences indirectly affect her. The novel questions whether we have to know the details to afford someone the grace they need. It questions why we tend to favor one person in a scenario over the other; why do we jump the conclusions we do, side with/defend the people we do. Windy’s confrontations with Rose are beautiful.

The strangeness of This One Summer is the kind of cultural discussions one can arrive at without the book directly engaging the reader in it. The narrator, Rose, introduces us to summer traditions and observable changes and the like, but really we are reading an indie film about a summer vacation at the lake. You can run with the symbolic nature of summer or of a body of water and the female body if you want. But the profound effect of the novel is in the culmination of both the mundane and the emotionally charged moments.

thisonesummer_sm-26

 

The novel needn’t be too heavy to threaten an easy recommendation. This One Summer does not close with a lengthy voice-over by Rose, summarizing her journey in a deeply contemplative gesture, but a clever youthful quip, a ticking of a clock, and a series of images that close a chapter and leaves a pile of symbols on a summer cot once occupied by a young girl-on-the-cusp.

Between the artwork (love the hue of the ink, the dimensions, movements) and the content, This One Summer is one to buy for any adolescent-upwards female in your life.

{images belong to Jillian Tamaki & Mariko Tamaki}

amdu150

this read is a part of the “A More Diverse Universe” event.

{book} the colorless

When Tsukuru first hears Haida’s recording of Franz Liszt’s ‘Le mal du pays,’ from the Years of Pilgrimage suite ‘Year 1: Switzerland,” it is described as “a quiet, sorrowful piece that began with a slow, memorable theme played out as single notes, then proceeded into a series of tranquil variations” (68). Tsukuru asks Haida about it. Haida says, ‘Le mal du pays’ is French and is “usually translated ‘homesickness,’ or ‘melancholy’, or as precise a translation as can be managed ‘a groundless sadness called forth in a person’s heart by a pastoral landscape’” (69). Tsukuru adds that the piece evokes “a calm sadness without being sentimental.” This section describes Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki. Murakami transcribes a quiet sorrowful piece replete with tranquil variations.*

a delightfully well-designed cover.

Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage: a novel

By Haruki Murakami

Translated from the Japanese by Philip Gabriel

Knopf 2014.

In High School Tsukuru Tazaki used to be part of a group comprised of five. He was one of three boys and the only of the five whose name did not include a color. The latter wasn’t the only thing to make him different, but the balance had already been struck. Like the trait that decides 5 fingers make the most harmonious human hand, the five young people found a miraculous society within and between themselves. But perhaps what they had was not as true a harmony as first believed (322).

“I’ve always seen myself as an empty person, lacking color and identity. Maybe that was my role in the group. To be empty.” […] “An empty vessel. A colorless background. With no special defects, nothing outstanding. Maybe that sort of person was necessary to the group.” (179).

Moving away  for college shouldn’t have changed things as dramatically as it had, yet suddenly Tsukuru was shut out. It is a long sixteen years later that Tsukuru is tasked with finding out why.  Murakami writes a deeply compelling mystery—in Tsukuru Tazaki.

The mystery as to what Tsukuru could have done and how all might finally find resolution is the spine and is much like rails drawing the reader along, yet Murakami is building a station with Tsukuru Tazaki that is rife with such beautiful complexity the “colorless” becomes riveting. Murakami must take pleasure in his ability to move readers through the most ordinary sequences of life in pursuit of the most poetic; and he uses the most ordinary of characters to do it.

The novel is one of those places where the figurative can be rendered quite literally, and unreality resides in simultaneity with reality. It is the perfect space, other than the dreaming and memory, for Murakami to explore his preoccupations with the waking, conscious existence of liminal spaces. Can a desire become strong enough to knock on a door an impossible number of miles away? Are evil spirits merely psychic projections? Can a mild-mannered handsome boy harbor a violent, ugly aspect and not recall it? Can he harbor a intimate desire so deep, he could mistake the real for a fantasy (and vice versa)?

Tsukuru Tazaki learns that all number of paradoxes exist, some of which are comforting, others disturbing. We can die and be regenerated inside these vessels that refuse to pass away. A musical score can transport the most vivid recollections into the present, even the presence of persons long lost (258). And we wonder at whether differences between our existence and absences are substantial enough to matter.

Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki also understands that some explanations are never found, sorrows never redeemed, conflicts never resolved, and there are apologies made that shouldn’t satisfy forgiveness but will—because we cling to life, stupidly, dangerously, and with a profound love for it. A few readers who are going to hate this book.

Murakami can be infuriating in the way he allows characters and storylines to drift off into inexplicable disappearance. But none of it is wasted in its contribution to the whole. His novels are annoyingly coherent. The rewards just come in unexpected ways—which is a reward in and of itself.

Murakami’s genius is in that ending. He draws us out of another one of Tsukuru’s fugue-like states, this one listing among his lovely self-reflections, when he perches us once more on that brink between life and death. Murakami presents us with a character no one should have ever doubted, not even Tsukuru himself. It is quite brutal. It is perfect.

———-

*Here is one variation, when Tsukuru is contemplating his self-characterization of an empty vessel.

“Maybe I am just an empty, futile person, he thought. But it was precisely because there was nothing inside of me that these people could find, if even for a short time, a place where they belonged. Like a nocturnal bird seeks a safe place to rest during the day in a vacant attic. The birds like that empty, dim, silent place. If that were true, then maybe he should be happy he was hollow.” (258)

When Natalya was reading Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki, she found ‘Le mal du pays’ and played it for us. You’ll want to do the same.

RIP IX's Lavinia by Abigail Larson———–

of note: a Reader’s Imbibing Peril (RIP) read, there is mystery, melancholy, and allusions to devilry.

{book} mirrors

Zetta Elliott offered a free copy of her book to interested reviewers. Please do not believe that I proceeded to read and review The Magic Mirror with bias. If you’ve spent any real length of time here on ‘omphaloskepsis’, you know I’m a fair and balanced reviewer, but I felt it should be clarified nonetheless.

Pageflex Persona [document: PRS0000419_00052]The Magic Mirror

By Zetta Elliott, Illustrated by Paul Melecky

Rosetta Press, 2014.

“When a boy at school hurts Kamara’s feelings, she goes home and asks her grandmother if the mean words are really true. Gramma tells Kamara to go upstairs and clean the old mirror in the guest room. But when Kamara starts to rub the glass, she discovers that the mirror is magical! Kamara sees brave women from the past who faced many challenges yet never gave up hope. When the historical journey ends in the twenty-first century, the mirror once again shows Kamara her own reflection. She sheds her self-doubt and instead draws strength from the courage of the women she met in the magic mirror.” publisher’s copy.

It would be tempting to only promote The Magic Mirror as a more-than-suitable accompaniment to a grade-schooler’s studies of African American History.* Elliott captures a great deal in those shifting portraits through time. I can already imagine children choosing a portrait to expound on for the class, or as a personal project to learn more about a time witnessed.

However, more should be said about its personal impact. Elliott lays the groundwork in the opening pages, the timelessness of a soul. Despite the difficulties of aging, “grandma hasn’t changed inside” (2). She has a vitality and Kamara describes her as a safe place. What Kamara comes to see in the mirror is her legacy. She sees in the mirror courageous women exemplifying perseverance, hope and determination.

Not all of the historical reflections are easy to confront. Elliott buoys the text by anchoring the scenes upon the women she wants Kamara (and the reader) to see and know. They lend their courage to face, endure and overcome to Kamara (and reader). After one sequence, Kamara recognizes that “though they are trying to humiliate her, they have not touched her soul” (24). More, Elliott wants Kamara (and the reader) to know that these women live on. Kamara takes strength in what she’s learned in the magic mirror; which for the reader is the book.** “I stare at my reflection and see traces of the brave and beautiful women from my past. I know their pride, courage, and determination are still alive in me” (30).

Elliott’s story escapes the sentimental in its declarative voice. Hers is an extremely powerful use of the first person narrative, “I stare,” “see,” and “I know.” Kamara has heard some “hard words” from a boy at school, but what she’s seen and knows to be true is there to sustain her; like the relationships where her grandma and mother provide safe, empowering, loving homes from which to become.

The Magic Mirror is the first person narrative of Kamara’s struggle, journey and discovery, but I get the feeling hers is one that can be shared. The Magic Mirror, like the most precious of books, can be a safe, empowering, loving home to inspire one to become hopeful and courageous–to know they are beautiful.

I’ve a fond wish for readers to find less academic reasons for The Magic Mirror.* I imagine children (and adults) looking in mirrors and seeking out the stories that make them proud and that speak of a timeless beauty born of courage, hope, and determination—stories not unlike The Magic Mirror.

——————–

A word on the illustrations by Paul Melecky: I feel sure I would have called the scenes captured in the mirror as “portraits,” but the illustrations are framed stills, color shaped by loose lines that grant the images movement (and thus life); too, are those facial expressions. The illustrations hold the story and historical moment as complexly as Elliott describes them, creating a wonderful partnership between author and illustration.

All of the illustrations are of the mirror. It’s of interest that the story begins with an illustration of Kamara looking in the mirror, but does not close with another one her as her legacy dawns on her. Instead we are left with the last image of a young woman in graduation robes embraced by family. “One day I will go to college, too” (30), Kamara knows, confident in the pathway since created for her. What is left for Kamara and the reader to imagine is: what scene will be played out for future generations looking in that magic mirror. It isn’t a question of what legacy she will leave, but what moment in her life might exemplify that which still lives in her.

——————–

*this is not to say I wouldn’t love public, school, and classroom libraries to stock copies of this one–I just want to avoid the party line that this is one that will educate; which it will, but it is also quite moving.

**Rudine Sims Bishop’s essay “Mirrors, Windows, and Sliding Glass Doors” came to mind as I read The Magic Mirror, “Literature transforms human experience and reflects it back to us, and in that reflection we can see our own lives and experiences as part of the larger human experience. Reading, then, becomes a means of self-affirmation.”

recommendations: obviously this is a powerful book for girls, but I wouldn’t restrict this to gender lines, nor racial either. Both the writing and book length are excellent for younger readers up through the grade school years. It would be cool to have print-outs of the mirror to encourage writing/illustrating our own legacies of courage, or imagine a present/future scene wherein the reader can describe themselves.

 

{comics} atypical

“a sweeping tale of one young family fighting to find their place in the universe.”

Saga : Volumes One & Two by Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples

Image Comics 2012 & 2013 respectively.

from Volume 1

This waiting for the next volume to come off hold at the Library is excruciating. It isn’t that I do not have other things to read, it’s just that Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples’ Saga is that entertaining. Also, they leave you with these cliff-hangers. I just checked and I am 1 of 14 on the request list for Volume 3. Volume 4 is not even out yet; not until DECEMBER! I would like to now curse those rave reviews and that striking cover on Volume 1.

cropped from cover of Volume One

Volume One: “When two soldiers from opposite sides of a never-ending galactic war fall in love, they risk everything to bring a fragile new life into a dangerous old universe” (publisher’s comments). This “fragile new life” is both their relationship/family and Hazel. And it is some future Hazel who is our narrator, telling her parent’s story, telling a story, shifting through past tenses. We get other story-lines as well, with rarely any of Hazel’s commentary: the unionized assassins, the prince whose head is a screen.

I immediately fell in love with Staples’ artwork. Visually, Alana brought to mind Pink!, which can only be a good thing. The creatures are kick-ass. The placement of panel on page, compositions, color-work, all crafty-goodness. The lettering for Hazel’s voice says young, but not childish; her sarcasm perfectly applied. The, ah, language is profane and if you played a drinking game for every penis making an appearance you’ll get a nice buzz. Saga will keep your fellow public transit commuters reading over your shoulder and/or blushing and gasping. Yeah, now I know why nearly every introduction to Saga uses “adult” in its marketing. I think the humor and relationship foibles make for an unexpected romantic comedy that will appeal to the older audiences as well. Then there is just flat-out smart, subversive craftiness of the comic. The out-sourcing of the war between Wreath and Landfall? Whatever would inspire such a notion?

from Volume 1

Honestly, this is one of those comics to experience to really believe just how excellent it is. The timing of the wit, the dead-pan delivery, the provocative and absolute irreverence… I was sitting alone in a quiet house with a dog staring at me as I laughed like a maniac–especially during Volume 2 and the reading of Alana’s bodice-ripper.

cropped from Volume Two cover

Volume Two: “Thanks to her star-crossed parents Marko and Alana, newborn baby Hazel has already survived lethal assassins, rampaging armies, and horrific monsters, but in the cold vastness of outer space, the little girl encounters her strangest adventure yet… grandparents” (publisher’s comments). We meet Marko’s parents, when he is both a child and now an adult. It is amusingly awkward, of course, and necessarily intense. We also get Marko and Alana’s “meet-cute” and Hazel’s conception. Neither does Volume 2 abandon other lines from the first volume, with an exciting introduction to a troubling twist. You’ll know with the first volume whether you want to read the next, but the second could be the clincher if you weren’t entirely sold on the series.

from Volume 2

The family drama set against the action/adventure in space is brilliantly balanced. I mean, anyone who’s had a babysitter like theirs understands why Marko has to hurry off to rescue her after his mother over-zealously banishes her to the nearest planet whereupon horrors compound.

Bibliophiles, certainly Lit Majors, will completely dig this volume. Saga could make for a good Book Club read. Saga might look like a farce to break up the monotony of high-minded literary works, but I wouldn’t underestimate its effectiveness in drawing out the deadly serious.

Volume Three: promises that “the couple’s multiple pursuers [will] finally close in on their targets.” What could possibly happen next? The way Vaughan cross-cuts action, splices the narrative together, his play is diabolical in that it is tricky to anticipate. Some techniques are classic to earthbound tales, but the situating it in sci-fi fantasy makes his storytelling more interesting. The cleverness of couching the family drama in SFF is in the opportunities it provides to play with expectation (as well as rescuing it from Lifetime). Saga‘s realm of imaginative play makes it all the more important that Vaughan and Staples are so strong in their characterizations and in reinforcing the core.

The core: the family: an affectionate narrator, a soldier who has sworn-off killing, and a security guard who reads bodice-rippers that are “boring.” Just my kind of awesome.

from Volume 2

recommendations: For those ADULTS who like or dislike rom-coms, action-adventure stories, SFF, comics, the obscene…you’ll find Saga gloriously atypical.

of note: Volume One won the 2013 Hugo award for Best Graphic Story; Volumes Two and Three won an Eisner for Best Continuing Series, Best Writer (for Brian K. Vaughan) & Best Painter/Multimedia Artist (interior art) (for Fiona Staples) 2014.

{images are Fiona Staples’)

{comics} many happy returns

Zita-Cover-300rgbThe Return of Zita the Spacegirl

By Ben Hatke

First Second 2014.

Zita-Interior-FULL-91That the entirety of Ben Hatke’s The Return of Zita the Spacegirl is an epic jailbreak comes as no surprise. From the very first book in the series, Zita has been held against her will—or has she? We know her slip through the portal and into Space was an accident. We know she wants to return home. In the course of the first book, she discovers herself lost more than once and the second risks dangerous compromise. But since then, Zita has become the Spacegirl, how could she possibly go back?

The series has been packed with difficult choices for Zita. I consider such turmoil a favorite one of the adventures’ many charms. Too, that at the center of her conflicts are friendships and her desire to the right thing and do something meaningful. She rejects the accusation that she is “Zita the Crimegirl,” a “danger to society,” but Hatke throws that perspective out there. I mean, she did steal a spaceship and consort with known criminals. Then we come to learn that this particular adjudicator is corrupt. Heart matters, and it prevails; what it isn’t is painless.

Zita the Spacegirl has always been an entertaining adrenaline jolt of adventure with inventive creatures and awesome characters. Zita is sassy, earnest and resourceful. She is caring and yet heartless in the way children can be. Zita has also proven to be intelligently written by a storyteller willing to explore challenging situations that will resonate with his young audience. I love how Zita struggles to maintain courage in the face of difficult circumstances, and where she finds the friends and resources to help her along the way.* I love the persistent themes of identity and loneliness. Love how the forms of imprisonment vary.

Zita-Interior-FULL-141

I was reading through my reviews of books one and two and appreciate the consistency in this series. And Hatke’s stories do not wane, but rather quietly ups the ante. We reach a conclusion that leaves us reeling, literally. The fast-paced and heightened suspense of a spacegirl’s adventure pops and we are left with a wake.

The Return of Zita the Spacegirl was always going to be bittersweet, and Hatke does not disappoint. He writes in many returns and it is completely satisfying. He also writes a gorgeous twist or two. That ending is fantastic. I may have called Hatke a naughty name, but it was with the utmost affection as I laughed out loud and closed the book.

Must own. Add it to the back-to-school list. Shop for the Holidays already. But make sure your library (personal and/or private) has this series.

———-

*Notice how Hatke builds his heroes by trial rather than prophetic gifting. Notice how much the stories value imagination, grit, and daring.

{images are Ben Hatke’s}