Posy Simmonds, your gateway to Graphic Novels

If you are new to graphic novels or want realistic graphic stories, Posy Simmonds could be your gateway to graphic novels. She is best known in the UK; both Tamara Drewe and Gemma Bovary were published in serial form in The Guardian newspaper. Simmonds artwork retains the soft-edged realism of sketches and are often combined with large blocks of narrative text; a combination that works perfectly for her satirical relationship dramas. These books share many elements: a heroine who has physically transformed herself, self-involved husbands, infidelity, a frump in his fifties who imagines himself to be the centre of the story, and death.

Gemma Bovary is narrated by Raymond Joubert, a middle-aged French baker and drama queen who is convinced he must save his new Anglaise neighbours Charlie and Gemma Bovary from repeating the tragic mistakes of Gustave Flaubert’s Madame Bovary! He steals Gemma’s diaries and is dismayed that Gemma barely acknowledges his existence. Instead she obsesses over her decor, her ex, her body.  She disses both the annoying French locals and the pompous English week-enders yet barely mentions her romantic liaisons. From the outset of the novel you know who is dead–what you don’t know is how it happened.

Posy Simmonds sampleTamara Drewe is set at an idyllic writer’s retreat in the English country side and is primarily narrated by Beth, wife of self-involved popular writer Nicolas Hardiman; she manages both his career and the retreat. The story shifts perspective often, giving us insights into every character. This includes two teen girls, Jody and Casey, who find the drama of Tamara’s life far more interesting than anything else in their boring village. Their neighbour’s life is so interesting, in fact, that Jody is willing to break the law to get the whole story. The frump of this tale is Glen Larson, a fiftyish academic who has convinced himself that the young and beautiful Tamara finds him attractive.

Both books are from the adult collection and are most appealing to readers who have been through a break-up, but could be read by anyone over age 12 who enjoys the social commentary often found in murder mysteries. Although adultery is a major element there are no explicit scenes. Both books reveal vanity, insecurity, stupidity, ego and hubris as the culprits of everyday tragedy. If you’d like to check Simmonds’ work out for yourself, Tamara Drewe can be read entirely online, thanks to the Guardian Archive

Posy Simmonds page on the Lambiek Comiclopedia

Read a brief review of Gemma Bovary from the NY Times

Pocket Full o’ Books in-depth review of Tamara Drewe with artwork samples.

Image from the Guardian Archive

Jane, the Fox & Me written by Fanny Brit, illustrated by Isabelle Arsenault, and translated by Christelle Morelli and Susan Ouriou

Jane, the Fox and Me coverHélène is struggling with a dreary school life of no friends, teasing and poor self-image. Her current strategy for respite is in reading Jane Eyre and reflecting upon how, despite the great adversity she faces as she grows up, Jane remains resilient to the things that unfold in her life.

Much to her dismay, Hélène learns that her class will be spending four days together at an isolated nature camp in the woods. It’s bad enough to have to deal with rejection and teasing during school hours. Having to spend time away from home is something that Hélène certainly is not looking forward to.

While it is somewhat helpful to escape in reading, she is still not immune to the her classmates’ bullying at camp. She bunks with the other “outcasts,” but can’t break the ice. Just when the bleakness is starting to feel all-encompassing, she experiences a moment of connection with a fox. She is inches away from petting it when one of her bunk mates spooks it away.

Hélène is about to give up on hope entirely when a friendly face, Géraldine, comes to join the outcasts’ tent. Géraldine’s friendship helps break the spell placed upon Hélène, and a bit of colour starts filling Hélène’s life as she starts to see her life in a different way.

Simply put, a beautiful book. Arsenault’s use of gray tones, colours and various fonts captures the feelings that are represented within the words. The experience  and feelings of “not quite fitting in” and being unhappy with oneself are well addressed. Moreover, the book shines positive light on the one parent family dynamic of Hélène, her two brothers and their mother.

Read other reviews of Jane, the Fox and Me from the New York Times and Publishers Weekly.

Another blogger’s review of the novel at edge of seventeen.

Combating Bullying

Bullying Canada

Stop A Bully : Safe and Anonymous

Pink Shirt Day

20 Innovative Ways Schools Are Combating Bullying BullyingPrevention.com

Kids can play active role in combating bullying among peers, experts say Macleans magazine

Cyberbullying MediaSmarts

Do you have anti-bullying tactics that are working for your school/organization? Please share in the comments!

Ten: On a Mission

The legends of King Arthur’s knights are inseparable from the idea of questing: to slay or capture or rescue. In this week’s Ten, we share some other stories centred on a mission. The quests below vary from the weighty — a quest to save a life, or answer an important question — to the silly, and even the every day. The stories demonstrate that approaching a task as a mission can help to turn fear to determination, tedium to adventure, and entertainment to challenge. May we all do more questing!

Running out of Time by Margaret Peterson Haddix
Jessie’s quiet life in a frontier village takes a surreal turn when she is sent out alone to obtain medicine for local children dying of diphtheria, and finds that nearly everything she thought true about her life is an illusion. Continue reading

Ten: Saying Goodbye

Modern kids’ and YA fiction doesn’t go easy on its readers. Some of the best books out there look honestly at topics as real and raw as war, racial injustice, and poverty, giving readers a safe space to engage deeply with these topics, and guidance to help them understand and respond in healthy, constructive ways. This week’s Ten highlights stories about loss and grief. Though the stories are sometimes painful to read, they almost always end with hope: in friendship, memory, and new things to come.

Mockingbird by Kathryn Erskine
Caitlin’s brother, Devon, used to help her understand how things worked and what she was supposed to do. A handy thing when you have Asperger’s, and a lot of what people do (and expect) really doesn’t make sense. But Devon was killed in a school shooting, and with their dad turning his back on the world in an attempt to cope, Caitlin’s left pretty much on her own to figure things out. A counselor at school helps some, and so does her friendship with a younger boy she meets at recess. But Caitlin wants closure, and she’s going to have to find it for herself. Continue reading

Word after Word after Word by Patricia MacLachlan

Word after Word after Word coverThe kids in Miss Cash’s fourth grade class have their very own, real, live author for the last six weeks of school. Each day, Ms. Mirabel teaches them a little bit more about writing: that people might write for lots of different reasons — to tell a story or ask a question or figure out what they think or feel about something; that different people write in different ways; that writing gives you a chance to be brave. The story focuses on a group of friends within the class, and explores the ways that each child takes on Ms. Mirabel’s challenge to be brave. Russell, who helps his parents by watching his baby brother Oliver every afternoon, writes about missing his dog, Everett. May expresses her frustration with her parents’ determination to adopt another child, and her surprised affection for the funny-looking baby who arrives. Lucy struggles to write something free of the sadness that surrounds her mother’s cancer. Gradually their writing, and the conversations that surround it, help the children to understand and share their experiences a little bit better.

Word after Word after Word is a beautiful story. There’s no doubt that the children are more articulate — and certainly more sensitive to each others’ feelings – than most real people of any age. As Ms. Mirabel points out, though, sometimes writing something unreal — a parable, a metaphor, a remarkably compassionate child — helps to communicate something true. I think that MacLachlan may have managed just that.

Check out more reviews from Shelf Elf and The Deakin Review of Children’s Literature.

Find some great questions and activities in the publisher’s teaching guide for Word after Word after Word.

Belly up by Stuart Gibbs

Belly Up coverWhoever heard of a park mascot that shot poop at his audience?

Living with his Scientist parents who work at FunJungle theme park and zoo, one of the best in the world, is twelve-year old Teddy. Though his life is already somewhat unconventional, things take a big turn when the park mascot Henry the Hippo is found dead. While being the park mascot, Henry’s habit of shooting poop at his audience hadn’t won him any popularity contests. Sensing something fishy about Henry’s death, Teddy takes it upon himself to find out why the hippopotamus was found “belly up.” Along the way he meets Summer, and together they start to uncover the long list of possible suspects who could have killed Henry.

Gibbs’ story, set within the animal theme park, is full of interesting animal facts. Like Carl Hiaasen’s Hoot, Belly Up also addresses conflict between corporate and environmental protection values. While fun and engaging, there is some mild swearing and, at one point, vivid imagery involving an animal autopsy. Filled with potty humour and funny dialogue, and with a tiny hint of romance, Belly Up is an adventurous mystery that is both entertaining and suspenseful. A true delight from beginning to end.

Read other reviews from Kirkus Reviews and 5 Minutes for Books.

See a book trailer:

A Crooked Kind of Perfect by Linda Urban

A Crooked Kind of Perfect coverThe walls at Zoe’s house are full of diplomas. And Zoe’s helped her dad earn every one. While Zoe’s mom keeps the family afloat, Mr. Elias works his way through courses from Living Room University. Unfortunately, none of the careers he’s trained for can actually be practiced from the living room, and since he has a hard time leaving the house, the next step is always another course from the catalogue. So when Zoe decides that she wants to learn to play the piano, perhaps it’s no wonder that her dad offers a paper keyboard.

Eventually, Mr. Elias does make it to the music store, but between the hustle and bustle of the mall and a convincing salesman with a catchy little tune up his sleeve, somehow Zoe ends up with a Perfectone D-60 electronic organ. It’s not what she had in mind, but it does come with lessons, and soon Zoe’s plunking away at “Forever in Blue Jeans,” the piece she’ll be playing in the Perfectone Perform-A-Rama.

Meanwhile, at school, Zoe’s best friend has moved on, leaving Zoe to make do with the boys who swarm the boxes of cookies her dad has been churning out in pursuit of his latest diploma. Wheeler Diggs likes the cookies so much he follows her home, and becomes a nearly constant presence in the Elias kitchen. Nothing in Zoe’s life seems to be going the way it’s supposed to.

But maybe it’s perfect after all.

Zoe’s dad can’t hold a job; her mom works long hours to keep things together. Both make mistakes, but demonstrate repeatedly how much they love their daughter and do their best to provide what she needs. For all their flaws, the Elias family is a team – one whose small victories will have readers cheering by the end.

Check out other reviews from Publishers Weekly and Pinot and Prose

Visit Linda Urban’s blog for news, interviews, personal musings, and some great resources for teachers and writers!

Cover image from A Crooked Kind of Perfect by Linda Urban. Copyright © 2009. Used by permission of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. All rights reserved.