The Speed Abater by Christophe Blain
Assignment: #1 of three graphic novels
Publication info.: New York : Nantier Beall Minoustchine/ComicsLit: c2003. 80 p.
Grades: 9 and up
George Guilbert, a young oceanographer, is the new helmsman on the aging French naval destroyer, the Bellicose. In the opening pages Guilbert is introduced to another young helmsman, Louis Bleno, and coxswain Sam Nordiz. The three find themselves estranged from the majority of the ship’s crew as the destroyer sets outs to hunt down an enemy submarine. Guilbert and Bleno, the newest of the crew, become seasick and are unable to fulfill their duties. In an effort to escape the effects of the rolling ship, Guilbert and Bleno with Nordiz as their guide enter the forbidden world of the destroyer’s lower regions. This underworld fascinates them as they navigate through ladders, pipes, decks and bulkheads. An unfortunate accident as the threesome face the ship’s huge speed abater, almost seems laughable, and causes near disaster as the ship’s gears are brought to a halt. Thus the three have to decide whether to face the wrath of the ship’s captain, a possible court martial, or possible starvation if they remain in the depths of the ship. The language of the sailors and some of its content seems very suited to the maritime life that is depicted. The novel’s oversized format lends itself to the drawings of the ship’s exterior, and the huge parts that run the ship and contrast with the cramped confines of the ship’s interior. Along with the scale of the novel, Blain also uses color to separate the parts of the destroyer. Above deck, Blain uses grays, blues and black, while below deck the colors become more intense with bright oranges, yellows and red that stand out against the black and gray drawings and mirror the mood of the story. The artwork is very stylized, with some characters almost undistinguishable from another, yet the parts of the ship seem to be realistic. Despite the tension of their circumstances, and the skill of the artwork, the novel ends up leaving the reader somewhat disappointed and frustrated trying to following the dialogue.
Booktalking ideas: 1. Show pictures of destroyers from WWII to the present. Ask students what length of time do they think a ship spends out at sea? What kind of missions might a ship be assigned? What is a helmsman’s responsibilities?
What happens to military vessels when they are taken out of service?
Clive Barker’s The Thief of Always by Kris Oprisko
Assignment: #2 of three graphic novels
Publication info: San Diego : IDW Publishing, c2005. 132 p.
Genre: Fantasy, horror
Grades: 7 and up
Not to be confused with Clive Barker’s 1992 fantasy novel with his own black and white illustrations, Oprisko’s adaptation takes Barker’s novel and presents the fable in graphic novel format. This is the first volume of three intended to cover the original story. Ten year old, Harvey Swick, is bored with the routine of his ordinary life and wishes for something more despite his mother’s caution to not wish life away since life is too short and it doesn’t solve anything. Like most children who don’t think their parents were ever young or could possibly understand what they are experiencing, Harvey knows he will just die if something more doesn’t happen in his gray February world. Something more does happen in the mysterious appearance of a visitor, Rictus who entices Harvey to leave the grip of the February beast and travel to Mr. Hood’s Holiday House where life is always bright and full of possibilities. Harvey is enticed to follow and meets two other children, Wendell and Lulu, and the housekeeper and cook, Mrs. Griffin. Each day is a marvel with four seasons enjoying springs and summers with abandon and celebrating countless Halloweens and Christmases. But not everything is as magical or as wonderful as it first appears. Harvey soon learns evil resides in the Holiday House as well and that there seems to be no escape from the grip of the house and Mr. Hood as he attempts to take more children’s souls. Harvey and Wendell manage to find their escape from all the terrifying monsters that inhabit the house and who try to prevent their leaving. Upon their return they find that days away from their families are in reality years, thirty years for Harvey. Harvey and figures out away to confront Mr. Hood and to take back what was stolen from him and the other children. The graphic novel is wonderfully illustrated with fairly realistic drawings of the children and adults and the nightmarish drawings of the monsters. The story and drawings pull you along. The dialogue is distinguished from the speakers whose only wrongdoing was being human and wanting more and the dark red, gray and black dialogue bubbles that signify evil. The dialogue is not overdone but complements the illustrations. I enjoyed the book and now want to read the original.
Booktalking ideas: 1. Scan some of the author’s drawings of Harvey Swick’s home at the beginning, the Holiday House with its four seasons. Ask students who hasn’t wished the gray days of February gone and wished for something more exciting? Are there tradeoffs for getting everything you wished? 2. Read the first three pages of the novel to the students especially the first line, “The great gray beast February had eaten Harvey Swick alive. Buried in the belly of that smothering month, he wondered if he would ever find his way out.” p. 5
Grease Monkey by Tim Eldred
Assignment: # 3 of three graphic novels
Publication info.: New York : Tor Books, c2006. 352 p.
Genre: Science fiction, comedy, coming-of-age
Awards: Winner of Best Book for Young Adults 2007, ALA
Grades: 9 and up
An alien armada wiped out nearly 60% of Earth’s population, and fortunately for mankind and gorillas, friendly aliens help them rebuild by using their advanced technology. These generous aliens accelerate the gorillas with rapid evolution so that their intelligence will provide Earth with additional help to get them into space. Cadets Robin Plotnik and Kevin Nedelmat arrive at the Fist of Earth, part of the Earth’s space fleet. Both dream of becoming fighter mechanics and making a name for themselves. Kevin chooses poorly and finds himself hanging out with a group of wise guys and slackers and is eventually heading back to Earth. Robin, the protagonist, on the other hand, is assigned to work chief mechanic: Mac Gimbensky, an eight-hundred pound gorilla with a reputation of disposing his assistants who mess up. Apparently Mac’s reputation is more talk than reality. Robin and Mac become close friends by sharing a common affection over a pulp fiction writer. They maintain the space fighters for the Barbarians, the women-only group of pilots who beat all other teams in the rankings. Although this life is challenging, Robin soon realizes he’s found his calling. Robin enjoys Mac and the Barbarians as a group of talented outsiders who strike envy in the form of ridicule from other pilots on the ship. Besides learning how to deal with challenging work, and a difficult mentor, Robin struggles with his first romance, friendship, betrayal, politics, and, worst of all, embarassing parents. Robin's transition from awkward youth to a mature young man make the novel fun to read. Over 350 pages the novel is pretty daunting, but you keep reading. There are twenty-four adventures, three vignettes, and bonus material that keep readers going. The art helps tell the story instead of just illustrating it with included diagrams of the ship, and individual fighters, that add depth to the book. Despite the black, gray and white drawings, this lack of color seems to work. The dialogue is fun and the narrative engaging.
Booktalking ideas: 1. Raise the question of what would happen if the world came under alien attack, and most of the human population was eliminated. How would you reenergize Earth? What animal species do you think could be given intelligence so that it could work alongside humans? What are some of the consequences of this? 2. Bring in other science fiction works to help promote the work, like movies Star Wars and the Planet of the Apes, and the book Enders Game.