Winding Oak's Bookology Magazine

Holiday reading

The Lord of the RingsMy favorite gift of all time was the paper­back boxed set of The Lord of the Rings by JRR Tolkien that my moth­er gave me when I was fif­teen. I still vivid­ly remem­ber lying on my bed at my grand­par­ents read­ing the first few chap­ters late on Christ­mas Eve. There was an over­head light in that room, with two large win­dows over­look­ing a moon­less win­ter night. There were no cur­tains, so the dark was very close. Read­ing through the first few chap­ters, I got to the part where the Night Rid­ers were chas­ing Aragorn and the hob­bits to Riven­dell … and I had to put the book down. The excite­ment was so high, and my sense of the dark out­side so strong, that I couldn’t go on. In hind­sight, not sleep­ing much that night, I should have read more … but the pow­er of the book was so strong that I lived with­in its pages for the rest of that school hol­i­day. I read the tril­o­gy twelve times in the ensu­ing years. There are dozens of prized fan­ta­sy nov­els on my shelves because I enjoyed the expe­ri­ence of liv­ing in oth­er worlds with­in the pages of those books. Thanks, Mom, for a gift that changed my life. Books.

If you’re look­ing for some books that will keep your kids’ noses buried in a book dur­ing the hol­i­days, I have a few graph­ic sug­ges­tions. These are my picks for graph­ic nov­els I’ve enjoyed immense­ly this year.

I’ve already writ­ten about the Tiny Tyrant books (First Sec­ond) … they’re still at the top of my list for gasps and laughs.

TintinIn Octo­ber 2011, Peter Jack­son and Steven Spiel­berg will release The Adven­tures of Tintin: the Secret of the Uni­corn. If you want to be real­ly cool, you’ll buy your young read­ers The Crab with the Gold­en Claws, The Secret of the Uni­corn, and Red Rackham’s Trea­sure. These are the three books on which the (first!) movie is based. By read­ing the books first, the kids in your life will be experts about what’s com­ing up. And there are many more Tintin books, so chances are you’ll start a fer­vent hunt for the oth­er titles. It’s hard to resist Tintin, Snowy, Cap­tain Had­dock, Pro­fes­sor Cal­cu­lus, and the nifty duo of Thom­son and Thomp­son.

City of SpiesIn a some­what sim­i­lar style, with a soupçon of the super­hero comics, there’s City of Spies (by Susan Kim and Lau­rence Kla­van, with art­work by Pas­cal Dizin, pub­lished by First Sec­ond) fea­tur­ing the Amaz­ing Adven­tures of Zir­co­ni­um Man and Scoot­er! In June 1942, young Eve­lyn is sent to stay with her avant garde, dis­tract­ed, and some­what neglect­ful aunt, Lia Spiegel­man. Eve­lyn has a high­ly evolved imag­i­na­tion and she’s a good artist—both of which pro­duce a com­ic book with the afor­men­tioned super­hero duo. There’s talk of spies every­where, so they fig­ure promi­nent­ly in Evelyn’s work. As she and the build­ing superintendent’s son Tony become friends and explore the city, they become con­vinced there are real spies around them and they seek to solve the mys­tery. In a breath­less adven­ture, Eve­lyn and Tony are embroiled in a heart-stop­ping, spine-tin­gling, can’t-turn-the-pages-fast-enough sto­ry that sat­is­fies. Even though Eve­lyn goes back to live with her father, there’s promise at the end of the book of anoth­er tale. I can’t wait.

Cat Burglar BlackIn Cat Bur­glar Black (writ­ten and illus­trat­ed by Richard Sala, pub­lished by First Sec­ond), young Kather­ine Westree, who goes by K., was raised in an orphan­age where the creepy matron trained all her charges to be thieves and pick­pock­ets, ben­e­fit­ing her nefar­i­ous goals. When she becomes a teenag­er, K. is invit­ed to the Bell­song Acad­e­my for Girls. Every­thing about K.‘s life is a mys­tery, par­tic­u­lar­ly her extra­or­di­nary abil­i­ties as a cat bur­glar. It turns out that the oth­er girls at the Acad­e­my have sim­i­lar tal­ents … and their head­mistress has spe­cif­ic mis­sions planned for them to obtain cer­tain arti­facts. Through­out the tale, K. main­tains a sense of moral­i­ty, work­ing to solve the mys­ter­ies that sur­round her. From its spooky char­ac­ters to its thrills-and-spills, this is absorb­ing read­ing.

The Indestructible Metal MenIn four short books, Can­dlewick Press presents Paul Collicutt’s Robot City Adven­tures. In this alter­nate real­i­ty, robots live among us, work­ing, act­ing, serv­ing on the police force, being train con­duc­tors … and being trains! That talk! It isn’t always an easy co-exis­tence between robots and humans; there’s a sign of big­otry here and there on the part of both races. I’ve read The Inde­struc­tible Met­al Men and Mur­der on the Robot City Express. In the first, a ship sinks one hun­dred years ear­li­er while cross­ing the Atlantic, strik­ing an ice­berg, and going down quick­ly into a chilly sea with far too many peo­ple still on board. Three exper­i­men­tal­ly “inde­struc­tible” robots and their inven­tor Hen­ry Green­wood do their best to save the oth­ers, but they go down with the ship. Fast-for­ward to “the present” and the three Met­al Men come back to life, each hav­ing a hom­ing bea­con for the oth­ers, and they com­bine their envi­able forces to defeat an evil mas­ter­mind. In the sec­ond book, Mur­der on the Robot City Express, the Express is out to set a world speed record and celebri­ties galore are on board to max­i­mize their pub­lic­i­ty poten­tial. From all walks of life, sci­en­tists, writ­ers, actors, and sports stars, robots and humans alike are excit­ed about their swift ride to des­tiny … until one of them is mur­dered. Who did it? And why? Will Har­ri­son, the con­duc­tor, solve the crime before the train reach­es its des­ti­na­tion? Will the train, out of con­trol, reach its des­ti­na­tion or will it send every­one on board to a hurtling death? The oth­er two books in the series are City in Per­il! and Rust Attack! Paul Col­li­cutt, the Eng­lish­man who writes and draws this series, is inter­viewed on Graph­ic Nov­el Reporter. You’ll want to save this link to share with your favorite read­ers … they’re going to want to know every­thing about the mind and tal­ents of said Paul Col­li­cutt.

FoiledIn Foiled, author Jane Yolen and illus­tra­tor Mike Cav­al­laro (First Sec­ond), young teen Aliera Carstairs lives for her fenc­ing lessons. Invis­i­ble at school, with a mad crush on cute boy Avery, Aliera takes solace in her abil­i­ty to impress knowl­edge­able sword­mas­ters with her skills. Fenc­ing since she was eleven, she endures heat and long hours and gru­el­ing work to improve her abil­i­ties. She has a superb sword with a fake jew­el on the han­dle … some­thing she picked up at a tag sale for two dol­lars. When Avery pays atten­tion to her in sci­ence, she’s flat­tered. When he asks her out on a date, she’s elat­ed. Aliera nev­er sus­pects. Her world changes on that date and noth­ing will ever be the same again. Aliera devel­ops pow­ers that will sat­is­fy even the most reluc­tant read­er. Cavallaro’s illus­tra­tions are out­stand­ing, draw­ing me so thor­ough­ly into the book that I walked through the sub­way tun­nels along­side Aliera and Avery. A sure-fire gift.

Zeus: King of the GodsFor fans of Rick Riordan’s books about Greek demi-gods and heroes, a good choice is George O’Connor’s Zeus: King of the Gods. From its metal­lic cov­er to the Olympians Fam­i­ly Tree I will cher­ish, to the exten­sive back mat­ter with notes about the Greek lan­guage, links to web­sites and … that’s just the stuff that isn’t the sto­ry. Wrap­ping the myth of Zeus’ exis­tence in a nar­ra­tive sto­ry­line with won­der­ful­ly evoca­tive draw­ings of the chaos of the young earth, this is a spine-tin­gling tale of way the new race of gods won their free­dom from the Titans. Who can resist this tale of irre­sistible chutz­pah and deter­mi­na­tion? The ancient myths have nev­er seemed so acces­si­ble. The reward is in the last line, “And that is a tale for anoth­er day.” There will be more!

The OdysseyHave you tried get­ting your teen to sit down and read Homer’s The Odyssey? My favorite trans­la­tion is Robert Fagles. I didn’t pick up the book out of curios­i­ty and become absorbed imme­di­ate­ly. I was led to the book by the Her­cules car­toons of the mid-1960s, then read­ing Edith Hamilton’s Mythol­o­gy to find out more. When I dis­cov­ered The Odyssey was set in Greece, I picked up the book and plowed my way through. It’s an excit­ing tale with unfor­get­table char­ac­ters and mind images, worth the tra­vail. Today’s read­ers have Gareth Hinds’ pal­pa­ble and lus­cious graph­ic nov­el ver­sion of The Odyssey (Can­dlewick Press). Work­ing in pen­cil and water­col­or, every pan­el is worth study­ing. The Cyclops, Scyl­la, the met­al dogs out­side King Alci­noos’ palace, Posei­don swamp­ing Odysseus’ boat, and the home­com­ing … I am so grate­ful to have these images to look at again and again. It’s what Hinds has done by care­ful­ly select­ing the lan­guage and mak­ing it immense­ly read­able that makes this book a must-have for every home. Every­one can, and should, read this ver­sion of the clas­sic sto­ry.

Whether the young peo­ple in your life are read­ers or haven’t yet dis­cov­ered that they are, there are graph­ic nov­els here to tempt any­one.

Heads-Up Event: For those of you with­in dri­ving dis­tance of Min­neapo­lis, join CLN for “The Graph­ic Nov­el Today,” a pre­sen­ta­tion by edi­tor Mark Siegel of First Sec­ond Books, on Feb­ru­ary 26th from 1:30 to 3:00 pm at the Crowne Plaza Hotel Min­neapo­lis West in Ply­mouth, MN. You’ll find more details and reg­is­tra­tion here.

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