Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Action, Adventure, and a Fairytale Twist

I have decided to stay on the subject of graphic novels for a little longer. Lately, it seems everything I see is about graphic novels. Books such as, “Geronimo Stilton” and “Diary of a Wimpy Kid” are a cross between a chapter book and a graphic novel. Then you have “Captain Underpants” and “Babymouse” which are graphic novels pretending to be chapter books.

All the major publishing houses are looking for some way to tap into the graphic novel market. You’ll find successful middle readers being converted: “Warriors,” Artemis Fowl," and “Skeleton Key” come to mind. Movie and TV franchises like “Star Wars,” “Indiana Jones,” and “Twilight Zone” are not immune either. Popular titles including, “The Boxcar Children,” “The Hardy Boys,” and “Nancy Drew” are also getting inked. I’m only surprised there are no plans for “Harry Potter” as a graphic novel… or are there.

Just like traditional books, though, there are good, bad and ugly stories in this genre too. The newly published “Calamity Jack” is a prime example of the “good.”

“Calamity Jack”
By Shannon Hale and Dean Hale
Illustrated by Nathan Hale
For ages 8 - 14
Shannon and Dean Hale return to the graphic novel genre with another rollicking adventure in
“Calamity Jack.” When we last left Rapunzel and Jack (“Rapunzel’s Revenge,” they were embraced in a fairy tale kiss and poised to live happily ever after. Or so we thought.

“Calamity Jack” begins with a flashback to Jack’s birth in the city of Shyport and quickly progresses through his formidable years. We learn that his mother owns and runs a bakery in a tenement house and that Jack was generally up to no good. Along with his partner in crime, a feisty pixie named Pru, Jack decided to run a scheme on Blunderboar, a corrupt giant. When some magic beans get out of hand and the scheme goes awry Jack has to leave town quickly. With a certain golden-egg-laying-goose under his arm Jack goes west.

After “Rapunzel’s Revenge” and the fairy tale kiss, Jack and Rapunzel head back east to the big city of Shyport. Unfortunately everything has changed. Buildings are crumbling, giants appear to run the city, Jack’s mom is being held prisoner by Blunderboar, and average citizens keep turning up missing. Oh yeah, I almost forgot the giant ant people that are terrorizing the city. Jack and Rapunzel team up with Pru and young newspaper man, Freddie Sparksmith, to rescue Jack’s mom, bring down Blunderboar and save the city.

Like “Rapunzel’s Revenge” the action is set in a strange fantasy version of the American west. Only this time the adventure is moved off of the frontier and into a bustling city. The characters are well developed through dialogue and the illustrations. Nathan Hale brings the characters to life with rich colors, layers and humorous facial expressions. The dialogue is witty and quick as are the dangerous and exciting situations. “Calamity Jack” is a worthy follow-up to “Rapunzel’s Revenge.” Read as a pair or on its own you and your kids will enjoy the tale.

Also of interest:

“Into the Volcano”
By Don Wood
For Ages 8 – 14
This suspenseful adventure follows two young boys as they are whisked off to the island of Kocalaha,
to stay with family they never even knew they had. The adventure is fast and furious with lava flows, surfing, underground exploration, kidnapping and treasure. Presented in the form of a graphic novel “Into the Volcano” depicts each twist and turn of the plot with vivid clarity. Unfortunately many of the twists and turns have no real explanation and some of the illustrations depict gruesomely frightening scenes -- younger readers be warned. The strange plot twists and frightening elements won’t matter too much to readers though; they’ll be too caught up in the excitement.

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