Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Little Orphan Annie

"It's a Hard Knock Life for Us" but "The Sun Will Come Out Tomorrow", even in "NYC". The Emerson Middle School Troupe of performers put on a magnificent production of "Annie" last week-end. The songs continue to cheer me at odd times of the day as the melodies trip the light fantastic in my head while visions of the performers dance before my eyes. Bravo, middle school performers and supporting crew. You are amazing.

The play also got me thinking about my first introductions to Annie. I must be old because I remember the comic strip with curly-haired Annie and the well-dressed Daddy Warbucks. Think for a minute of all the comic strips that have touched the lives of people over the years. Some of you may now want to bemoan a presumed lack of comics in today's world. Wait! There are many comics for you to enjoy.

Perhaps the most popular books in the Emerson library are the Garfield, Calvin and Hobbes, and Far Side collections that rarely stay in the library more than a day before being checked out again and again.

Tin Tin and Asterix also have a great following.

The "regular" comic books that we have also get good use whether they are the old favorites like Superman and Archie or the more recent Manga types.

What I want to talk about here, however, are the graphic works that are becoming increasingly popular for all ages of readers.

Babymouse by Jennifer L. Holm and Matthew Holm now numbers ten in this popular series. The girls are drawn to them because of the pink, pink, pink that permeates these joyful stories, but recently I have had a few boys bravely open the books and are just as hooked as girls in grades two to six. I am hooked, too. Babymouse reminds me a little of Walter Mitty because she has wild dreams of what should be happening to her, only to be shaken back to reality. They are set in school or other familiar kid settings and are full of the friendship highs and lows that are such a part of life. The graphics are inviting and add much to the tales. Parents will enjoy these books as much as their kids. I am especially fond of book 10, Babymouse: The Musical for all of its references to popular musicals from all eras.

There are many folks at Emerson who are not so patiently waiting for the second in the Jellaby series by Kean Soo. The first in the series takes the interesting creature that is Jellaby and the little girl who finds him right to the brink of an exciting adventure in the city and then stops. What will happen next? It's due out April 21, 2009. We are all waiting.

Bone by Jeff Smith is read and re-read by boys. It is full of odd creatures, exciting adventures, and lots of humor. More than one parent has reported that these were the books that turned a reluctant reader into someone who now consumes all kinds of books in great gulps.

I laughed out loud more than a few times as I read The Magic Pickle by Scott Morse. The plot is wonderfully outrageous. A young girl finds a very special pickle that has been created in a lab under her bedroom. Jo Jo joins the pickle in a crusade to stop the Brotherhood of Evil Produce. Together they will save the world...or will they?

On a more serious note, check out Satchel Paige: Striking out Jim Crow by James Sturm and Rich Tommaso. While the famous African American pitcher Satchel Paige is in the story, it really focuses on a young sharecropper who wants to play in the Negro League. Paige strikes him out almost immediately and the sharecropper returns to his home town. The realities of the segregated South factor into every aspect of his life. One day, Satchel Paige comes to town for a demonstration game against the land owners. It is on this day that Jim Crow strikes out. Graphic novels can give a feel of the time and place in ways that a regular novel can not. This is a wonderful example of that skill. One can not help but feel the tension and the elation in that baseball game.

There is one very special graphic novel that does not have a single word but must be studied carefully by a more mature student to be understood and appreciated. The Arrival by Shaun Tan tells the story of a man immigrating to a new country where he must establish a life for himself and his family. The beauty of the story is that this could be any country because it is no real country. The finely crafted pictures make that clear from the unidentifiable script on the buildings to the strange little creature who befriends him. There is much to be found in this book. You will want to read it over and over to find all the details in the pictures. The story will change with every reading. Or you can just enjoy the high quality art that fills each page.

There are many more graphic novels out there waiting for you to discover them. Whether you are 6 or 60 they are there for you.

Adults, there are some great graphic novels for you, too. For example, Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi is one that has gotten well justified praise for its look into life in Iran before and after the Shah. There are many more. Tell me what ones you have found so I can enjoy them, too.

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