Going Nuclear

imagesGoing nuclear?  A recent, award-winning picture book; another acclaimed, older picture book; and some classic and in-progress graphic novels remind us just how terrible this military choice has been.  These works center upon the World War II atomic devastation of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.  Last month’s visit of Japanese Prime Minister Abe to the U. S., along with President Trump’s ongoing, careless remarks about expanding our own and other national nuclear arsenals, solidified my focus for today’s blog post.  In fact, I almost ‘went nuclear’ myself contemplating any presidential directives or government policies that might emerge from such recklessness. 

ypl-stelson-sachikoSurvivors of atomic bombing eloquently testify to its horrors.  Sachiko: A Nagasaki Bomb Survivor’s Story (2016), written by Caren Stelson, recently won a Silbert Honor Award among other accolades for its sensitive rendering of Sachiko Yusui’s experiences.  Six years old in 1945 when the U.S. dropped atomic bombs on Japan, Sachiko remarkably survived this attack but has been affected lifelong by it and its aftermath.  A city in ruins and chaos; family deaths; radiation sickness and later cancer; and social stigma within Japan are all described here.

Stelson’s book skillfully interweaves Sachiko’s impressions and beliefs with clear, thorough sidebars that place these experiences within historical context.  These even-handed accounts satisfied me as an adult reader even as I perceived how useful they would be for tweens and teens.   Similarly, the front and back material here–including maps, timelines, a family tree, and a glossary—are useful, visually-striking aids for all readers.  Those of us interested in book “backgrounds” will also appreciate the author’s Preface and end Note, explaining what inspired Stelson to write the book, how she interviewed now-elderly Sachiko in Japan, and how she has remained in touch with Sachiko and her peace initiatives.   (Stelson is, as I am, a Twin Cities resident, and her first meeting with Sachiko here in 2005 at a local Peace Garden event heightened my interest in her author’s journey.)

Striking words and photographs propel the pace of this biography, which appropriately emphasizes events in 1945 day by day before moving post-war to monthly and later yearly accounts.  Powerfully short, percussive sentences detail Sachiko’s experiences.  Even before the atomic bomb, frequent air raids on Nagasaki led to “Nights turned to nightmares.”  Fearful school officials had shut down her school, disappointing Sachiko, who had looked forward to starting first grade.  She was instead playing house on August 9, 1945 when

51xh2gefusl         An eerie, blinding light burst in the sky.  Reds, blues, greens spiraled.  Hot,       deafening, hurricane-force winds roared, and at the center of the explosion, a giant fireball flamed, hotter than the surface of the sun.

The earth shuddered.

Sachiko shot up into the air.

She slammed down into the ground.

Stones, tiles, branches, leaves rained on top of her.  Piled up.  Pushed her down.  Buried her.  Dirt poured into her nose and mouth. 

Photographs, including one of the family’s treasured “grandmother bowl” which miraculously remained intact, illustrate these and other vividly detailed experiences. In side bars, wartime propaganda posters also show how each enemy dehumanized the other, while photographs are again important as Stelson recounts how global proponents of peace and non-violence influenced Sachiko. Mahatma Gandhi, Helen Keller, and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. are her idols.  In late adulthood, she became a spokesperson for peace.  Sachiko’s words are the book’s telling epigraph:  “What happened to me must never happen to you.”

The atomic bombing of Hiroshima, three days earlier on August 6, 1945, has also led to 519y0ma5pl-_sl500_sx424_bo1204203200_a memorable body of works by survivors.  The simpler, shorter text of Junko Morimoto’s picture book My Hiroshima (1992; 2014) makes it more accessible to younger, elementary school readers than Sachiko’s biography. Yet this author/illustrator’s sparse words combine eloquently with her powerfully drawn images, moving readers of all ages.  

 She uses color and image placement to great effect, with subtle hues and delicate lines reflecting daily life before the bombing.  Darker hues and rougher figures with greater shading convey the devastation brought by the A-bomb, a drawing of its fiery flare immediately contrasted with a black-and-white, double-spread photograph of decimated Hiroshima.  One double spread, wordless illustration—a three-layered view 6675612-3x2-940x627of the bomb mushrooming in a bright blue sky, bracketed top and bottom by darker flurries of explosively whirling, broken bodies—is stunning in design and execution.  Some of these images in rearranged order appear in an affecting 2012 interview with Junko Morimoto.  Available on-line, this ten minute talk updates us about Junko’s life as an adult, including her ongoing efforts to promote peace and nuclear disarmament.  As part of these efforts, My Hiroshima is currently taught in all of that city’s elementary and junior high schools. 

I blogged here in April, 2014 about Hiroshima survivor Keiji Nakazawa’s powerful, ten volume graphic novel Barefoot Gen (1975 onward; 2004 –2010).  Strongly autobiographical, the brutal black-and-white drawings of this renowned series depict 51yu5wf4tbl-_ac_ul320_sr226320_its author/illustrator’s experiences as a six-year-old (here named “Gen”) when the A-bomb hit.  He saw and heard his father and brother die in its immediate aftermath, pinned under remnants of their wooden house as it burned.  Keiji and his mother were unable to rescue them.  This scene, along with the burned, mutilated bodies of other survivors, figures on the final pages of volume one, A Cartoon History of Hiroshima.  Volume two, The Day After, continues to depict the horrific physical aftermath of the attack, along with showing the ways in which survivors helped or refused to help others.  The blunt, bold-lined images and stark narrative here make this classic series, translated into several languages, best suited to readers tween and older.  Later volumes dealing with post World War II Japanese society would similarly be of most interest to these older readers.

Barefoot Gen had a powerful impact on Raina Telgemeier, another impressive graphic novelist I blogged about recently.   In her September talk in the Twin Cities, she mentioned that Nakazawa’s series would figure in her next book, a graphic autobiography. In a recent interview, Telgmeier has explained further, noting that she was a ten-year old in fifth grade when she first read Barefoot Gen.  She reveals, “I went 692663-_sx540_through a nightmare of depression after that and felt it was my responsibility to tell everybody about this book and relay what had happened [in Hiroshima].”  She was even more horrified when a few years later the U.S. became involved in wars in the Middle East.  Fortunately, Barefoot Gen still later also had a positive impact on Telgemeier.  She says that it taught her that comics “were one of the most powerful mediums to tell a story.  I still carry that philosophy with me, that comics can do so much.” 

I look forward to reading Telgemeier’s autobiography, now a work in progress, when it finally appears in print.  There is no date set yet for that.  In just another week, though, on March 7,  another graphic novel related to atomic energy in Japan is scheduled for 61ikvjx9m6l-_sx354_bo1204203200_publication.  Rather than bombs, it deals with nuclear power plants.  In 2011, an earthquake and tsunami caused the Fukushima nuclear power plant in northern Japan to have three dangerous melt downs.  Results of the radiation spewed out then are still being analyzed and debated.   Author/illustrator Kazuto Tatsuta says that Ichi-F: A Worker’s Graphic Memoir of the Nuclear Power Plant (2015; 2017) is about daily life during the clean-up rather than the melt-downs themselves.  Since nuclear power plants are a controversial topic world-wide, I am curious to see how and if this graphic novel remains as neutrally focused as its creator claims it is.  Whether the topic is atomic bombs or atomic power plants, it is hard not to “go nuclear” when considering all the moral issues, political problems, and practical dangers these scientific achievements pose. 


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Carrying a Torch for Miss Liberty

30690905-2148252c-240Watch out for the acetylene torch! 

This Valentine’s Day, “carrying a torch” holds new meanings for me.  Besides being an old-fashioned term for infatuation, it brings literal torches to mind.  I am a student in a course in “Balanced Sculpture,” with the help of an able instructor learning to create my own versions of Alexander Calder’s now-classic  mobiles and stabiles.  This involves my wielding and welding with an acetylene torch, among other metalsmithing tools.  Some sculpture pieces are riveted together, another technique I have learned.  My Rosie-the-Riveter mother and machinist father would have been both proud and bemused at this return to our working-class roots.  

Coincidence and current events, though, also bring a specific, iconic torch to mind—the one proudly on display on New York’s Ellis Island, upheld by the Statue of Liberty.   As a New York City native, I was used to seeing Lady Liberty, her monumental form just part of the city skyline.  I did not even visit this national landmark until well into adulthood, returning to New York City with my husband and young son as sightseers.  Even though I was the grandchild and great-grandchild of immigrants whose ocean voyages ended at Ellis Island, I had not felt a pull to visit its immigrant inspection buildings, now a museum, until then.   But chance and the nightly news have me rethinking this scenery.   

20170222_094853-1For reasons unknown to me, a human-sized replica of the Statue of Liberty adorns a lakeshore driveway near the Minnetonka art center hosting my class.   A quick literature search reveals just how often Lady Liberty has been physically recreated for civic or commercial purposes.  There are even other Liberty replicas here in St. Paul and Duluth I have not seen.   I may not learn the story behind that Minnetonka statue unless I feel pushy enough to knock on a door and ask!   But it is the immigrant experience with Miss Liberty that came to mind again just last night,  as I and my husband engaged with a different art form.

We attended a moving performance of Promise Land,  a play created by the local theater ensemble Transatlantic Love Affair, staged at the Guthrie Theater.  In the words of its directors, this production “tell[s] the story of two people finding their way in this country, searching for home away from their homeland.”  In other words, immigrants.  A post-play discussion revealed that this play was first conceived a handful of years ago, becoming part of the Guthrie’s announced season schedule last year.  It is only bittersweet coincidence that the new Trump administration’s stance on immigration makes Promise Land’s themes so topical. 

web_showpagebanner_promiselandThis is certainly not the first time that fear and racism have shaped U.S. immigration policy.  The Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 is just one instance that comes to mind.  Yet this is the moment when I, my friends, and family can take action to protest such bigotry, such beliefs so antithetical to American ideals and values.  This is the moment when we can add our voices to ones that question whether the Trump administration is acting against the U.S. Constitution, even as we recognize that its creators were flawed individuals who themselves variously upheld slavery.  

At one point in Promise Land, as the assembled actors peered out into the audience, recreating the awed response of immigrants viewing America’s shore line for the first time, I imagined their viewing the Statue of Liberty.  The harsh realities the play’s central characters, a young brother and sister, encounter align with the sweatshop dangers that typified New York City immigrant life, even though there were other official ports of entry.  The reality of America was so often less golden than the streets or mythical mountain that figured in immigrant dreams.   Harsh work conditions and rapacious individuals too often took advantage of immigrants. 

030126552e9d94ee487de7287826c285In Promise Land, though, it is not an acetylene torch that accidentally causes harm but a factory boiler that explodes.  Or, to recast this in terms of current events, it is the massive machinery of government, misused or overused, that is currently damaging American values and people’s lives, not individuals whose hopeful eyes still light up at the sight of Miss Liberty.  These would-be immigrants are “carrying a torch” for her and the U.S.A. that will shine brightly long past Valentine’s Day . . . if U.S. policy under President Trump’s administration does not extinguish their dreams or further tarnish our lawful ideals.   

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Emancipation and Inauguration–Days Old and New

Old scroll paper with pen and ink.Three award-winning picture books are my focus today.  Read on.

Life-altering changes brought by the stroke of a pen or the tick of a clock—the beginning of African-American History month brings many thoughts to mind.  One is how the official dates we commemorate, such as Emancipation Day on April 16 or the Presidential Inauguration on January 20, note only legal changes.  The real transformation in people’s lives is often a much longer and messier process, if it occurs at all.  Along the way, we may also find ourselves celebrating other dates, such as June 19 (Juneteenth), the day in 1865 when African-Americans in Texas finally learned of their freedom.

Similarly, many Americans and others world-wide right now have found more to celebrate in January 21, a day of massive protests against President Trump, than we did in his January 20 inauguration.  Ironically, while African-American History month is about reclaiming and naming little-known or unknown events and people, it is the marchers-filled-the-streets-from-sidewalk-to-sidewalkmassive amount of information already available about President Trump and his views which galvanizes our opposition to him.  Inauguration has not transformed the belligerence, prejudice, and ignorance of world events and their complexity he displayed as a candidate.  With one stroke of pen last week, rather than officially free a race this president essentially outlawed the immigration of a religious group from seven countries!  I despair of his interest or ability to probe beneath the surface of events, to learn about the silenced or hidden stories which impel the fine books I am highlighting today.  President Trump’s superficial and narrow-minded outlook makes it even more important for us to discuss such books ourselves and bring them to the attention of young readers.  

61ojalfobdl-_sx456_bo1204203200_ Freedom Over Me: Eleven Slaves, Their Lives and Dreams Brought to Life by Ashley Bryan (2016); Freedom in Congo Square (2016), written by Carole Boston Weatherford and Illustrated by R. Gregory Christie; and My Name is James Madison Hemings (2016), written by Jonah Winter and illustrated by Terry Widener all examine lives shaped by the U.S. laws and “best” business practices of their time—in other words, slavery.  I have little doubt that President Trump, so boastful of his past use of legal loopholes to avoid paying taxes and now deploying business “savvy” and self-interest to guide his administration, might prior to 1865 himself have owned slaves.  If this pernicious system benefited his “bottom line,” why not?  I see little in the “prosperity Christianity” our 45th president espouses or his non-existent history of civic involvement that would have allied him with abolitionists.  This thought makes the premise of author/illustrator Ashley Bryan’s remarkable picture book even more chilling.

Freedom Over Me is multiple award-winner Bryan’s moving meditation on a routine business document—an 1828 estate sale offering Bryan found among a collection of pre-Civil War, slave-related documents he purchased years ago.  Along with farm animals and equipment, as just more items to be sold, eleven slaves are listed solely by name, gender, and price.   In interviews, Bryan explains he imagined the ages of these people, visualized them with the faces of his own family and friends, and then contemplated not only what jobs they might have had on a small cotton plantation but also what their hopes and fears—their dreams—might have been.  In Bryan’s words, they then “told me . . . [their] dreams.”  Bryan wrote free verse poems to accompany his dramatic, profound visual depiction of the lives lived and longed for by these eleven people as he sensitively imagined their plight.

freedom-over-me-9781481456906-in03Each person is depicted twice.  A frontal, full-page facial portrait is first, heavy pen and ink lines shaping water-colored features, with this portrait displayed against a collage of contemporaneous documents (ads, newspaper headlines, laws).  The muted tones of these pages’ backgrounds are recreated for the page-long accompanying poems, each titled by the slave’s “official” name, and describing that person’s life on the plantation.  How much that life thwarts the dreams that slavery distorts but does not destroy is evident in Bryan’s second portrait of each slave-for-sale.


Vivid colors there depict the many strands of past life, present hopes, and future ambitions that a second accompanying poem describes.  Some images are realistic but others are expressionistic in their swirled layering of scenes or juxtaposition of elements.  Each of these “Dreams” poems, displayed on its own vibrantly-colored page, contains the hidden or imagined African name the enslaved person might have prized, one connecting him or her to heritage and skills denied and demeaned by U.S. law.  Readers can observe how music is so important to each person and within their community of slaves.  Expressions such as the “song of my hands,” “our songs and stories,” and “bodies [used] to beat out rhythms” are tellingly frequent.  Frustated and furious, metalworker Bacus finds voice in another way, with a “heavy hammer . . .” [sometimes] serving, “striking the note,” while earth tiller Mulvina recreates in her dreams “African song patterns” in Christian hymns that offer a different kind of comfort: “ He’s got the whole world in his hands.”  

61mefqp4fwl-_sx387_bo1204203200_In Freedom in Congo Square music is also foregrounded as a force which sustained and united slaves.  This picture book, though, highlights one specific historical location.   As the Foreward by historian Fredi Williams Evans and Author’s Note by Carole Boston Weatherford explain, Louisisana retained French laws specifying Sundays as holy days of rest.  Even slaves were exempted from work on Sundays, able then to pursue their own interests, including small money-making projects.  Congo Square in New Orleans, today on the National Register of Historical Places, was a place where slaves from surrounding areas congregated on Sunday afternoons to sell or trade their wares and produce.  Just as importantly, they could sing, dance, and share news—all activities that briefly liberated their spirits. 

81hq15vjglOrganized by days of the week, Weatherford’s rhyming couplets detail the labor and harsh treatment slaves endured as they anticipated Sunday’s respite.  On one page, she writes “The dreaded lash, too much to bear.  Four more days to Congo Square.”  This daily countdown is illustrated by single and double page illustrations populated by elongated, often angular figures posed in moments of emblematic labor.  Even in sleep, their servitude weighs on them.  Christie depicts plantation nighttime with even more grim simplicity, positioning rows of stick-like slaves within stark, hull-like houses—a visual reminder of how shackled prisoners were brutally transported on slave ships from Africa.   

freedom_in_congo_square_spread_13-for_chelseaAs Sunday nears, Christie’s illustrations show the impact of increasing anticipation.  Figures unbend and facial features become more apparent.  And—oh—what a transformation Sunday itself brings!  As people leap and sway in rhythmic curves, playing musical instruments and dancing, Weatherford’s words themselves curve and bend across doublespread pages.  The book’s intense color palette brightens along with people’s spirits.  One doublespread illustration stands out in particular, featuring musical instruments and tribal masks against a background patterned as a tribal woven cloth.  A glossary at the back of the book will help younger readers of this book, which does not stint in language or approach to the complexities of slave life in the United States.

51fay1ckqsl-_sx377_bo1204203200_This complexity—and the fallibility of more than one president—is also on display in My Name is James Madison Hemings.  As Jonah Winter explains in his Author’s Note, this book is based on an 1873 newspaper interview with Hemings, who claimed and is widely believed to have been one of President Thomas Jefferson’s six children with his slave, Sally Hemings.  Winter used details from this interview as he imagined what James Madison Hemings might have thought and experienced as a child and teen, telling this fictionalized biography from that young person’s viewpoint.  “How could a father enslave his own flesh and blood?,” when voiced by the child himself, becomes an even more damning and perplexing question for readers.

Emotionally-distant Jefferson is literally a half-seen or distant figure in most of Terry Widener’s illustrations, painted in soft, quiet colors that convey a past lit by daylight and dim candle or firelight.  These somber colors also reflect bemused James Madison’s 1113-bks-asim-2-master180life of work and limited opportunity.  Although he was spared harsh field labor, he received no formal education, becoming a woodworker and learning to read only through the kindness of one of Jefferson’s legitimate adult daughters.  Jefferson, author of the stirring words “all men are created equal,” nonetheless listed his children with Sally Hemings as possessions—along with livestock and equipment—on his plantation documents.  He only granted these children freedom in his will, after his death.  While we know from his newspaper interview that James Madison Hemings became a successful carpenter, readers may wonder along with him whether his “father would [ever have been] proud” of his son’s achievements.

Similarly, I can know President Trump’s thoughts and feelings about more recent events only through his words and deeds.  For me, these remain dismaying.  So far, for instance, he has not explicitly apologized for ignorantly describing Congressman John R. Lewis, civil rights leader and hero, as “All talk, talk, talk—no action or results.”  If I 51gyekjadal-_sx346_bo1204203200_thought this president had the patience and interest to read it, I would recommend to him the three volume graphic autobiography of Congressman Lewis, March (2013 – 2016), written by John Lewis with Andrew Aydin and illustrated by Nate Powell.  (March, Book 1 was reviewed here in November, 2014.  I reviewed Book 2 here in May, 2015.)  March, Book 3 [2016] recently won prestigious American Library Association awards in addition to the 2017 National Book Award for Young People’s Literature.  This trilogy is such further fitting reading—for President Trump, for anyone–for African-American History month!  Realistically, though, I would be heartened just to learn that our new president is reading and listening to reports from legislative leaders and heads of government agencies, giving serious consideration to any edicts he signs and messages he sends.

I wonder what news the upcoming Presidents Day—this year observed on Monday, February 20—will bring.  Officially held in honor of Washington and Lincoln, what celebrations or protests will mark this holiday during the first year of the Trump Administration?  Will other days in the coming month—for better or worse—prove more memorable?



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Vantage Points: Staring into 2017

download-3Two new graphic works have helped me deal with my thoughts and feelings about the recent presidential election.  How could so many people have voted for Donald Trump, when so many more of us are dismayed and frightened at his rise in political power?  For us, the hopefulness of New Year’s Day is overshadowed by the looming prospect of President-elect Trump’s inauguration on January 20.  We –along with many people around the globe–fear what his formal ascent into office will bring.  From our point of view, he is so unfit to govern.

417ynaja9tl-_sy410_bo1204203200_Fittingly, the books that have given me further insight and perspective on the recent past and this new year are ones that emphasize physical  vantage points.  Brendan Wenzel’s picture book They All Saw A Cat (2016) will hold appeal for all ages, pre-readers on up.  The Gaze of Drifting Skies:  A Treasury of Bird’s Eye Cartoon Views (2016), edited by Jonathan Barli, will enthrall detail-loving readers tween and older.  Both books are also vastly enjoyable in themselves—without any thought given to current politics!

they-all-saw-a-cat_int_dogsmalThe charming, colorful pages of They All Saw a Cat use line, color, and perspective to show how dramatically viewpoints differ in the natural world.   Author/illustrator Wenzel creates thirteen vignettes spotlighting different ways a cat is seen.   Where a growling dog sees a thin, cringing cat slinking away and a fox giving chase perceives a fearfully fluffed-up cat racing away, a terrified mouse has an entirely different view.  Its predatory feline foe looms large, with out-sized teeth and claws, all against a blood-red background.  Another potential victim, a fish, views they-all-saw-a-cat_int_mousesmallthe seemingly enormous eyes of the cat through the watery, soft-focused lens of a fish bowl.   These differences and others are united by the image and refrain of “The cat walked through the world, with its whiskers, ears, and paws. . .”

they-all-saw-a-cat_int_fishsmallThrough a bee’s multifaceted eyes, the cat is a series of dots, while to a flea riding its rump the cat seems a savannah of gigantic grass.  I  particularly like the double page spread that opposes the below and above ground views of a worm and a bat, each apprehending and creating images that rely on senses other than sight.  The upside-down view of the worm, sensed through vibration and shown as multiple straight lines, has a symmetrical counterpart in the dotted, right side-up view theyallsaw4-300x123echolated by the high-flying bat.  The scientific facts underlying these colorful pages may for young readers provoke discussion and possibly research. (One flaw here is Wenzel’s omission of back matter pages, providing basic facts and perhaps offering further resources.) 

This picture book ends in satisfying flourishes, with several pages reinforcing our awareness of the viewpoints of others.  A delightful image of the cat drawn as an impossible composite of the book’s differing perceptions is followed by a double-spread featuring all the characters, including the young boy for whom the cat is a pet.  Finally, we see that even the cat has its own limited perspective: peering into a pool, the feline sees only a wavering, watery version of itself.  Readers are taken out of ourselves to think about how others see the world and themselves.


Applying this lesson to President-elect Trump, I have somewhat more understanding of the vastly different views of people who voted for him.  But I still find it impossible to empathize with Trump himself, even if I grant him his own distorted world view.  I feel too much like the mouse, aware that I am by background and belief prey to the increasing number and scope of predators that a predatory President Trump brings with him.  I do not have the ability of some other prey, such as the high-flying bird in They All Saw the Cat, to soar above and away from my seemingly small and ineffectual enemies.  And what will happen once that bird lands and is perhaps within their grasp . . .?

61ynpxifl-l-_sx398_bo1204203200_I am also fearful that impatient President Trump’s view from the White House will remain as distorted as it has been from the 66th floor of his New York City penthouse.  From great heights, whether literal or metaphorical, others do indeed seem small and insignificant.  It takes time and patience to perceive and recognize all that is unfolding below.   That is one of the tenets that fueled the cartoon fad spotlighted by editor Jonathan Barli (himself a graphic designer and historian) in The Gaze of Drifting Skies: A Treasury of Bird’s Eye View Cartoons.

As Barli explains in his introduction, this fad flourished in late 19th through mid-20th century newspapers and magazines, at its peak from 1900 -1920.  Readers then had the time and inclination to pore over panoramic views, which typically lacked a visual focal point but through visual details implicitly commented on their subject matter.  Some of these popular cartoonists poked fun at human nature, while others were more pointedly critical about contemporary life and nostalgic for less-hectic times.  At their most popular, bird’s eye view cartoons were drawn as full page or even double-page spreads, typically in black-and-white.  Color only became standard well into the 20th century.

s-l400-1Barli divides his 176 page book—meant to be savored slowly—into seven chapters: Small Town U.S.A., The Big City, The Battlefields, Abroad, Back Home, Lands of Fantasy, and Once Again, in Color.   (Omitting a Table of Contents with this information is a flaw here.)  Readers who peruse cartoons such as “The Joys of Spring” or “The Skating Season Opens” for the many actions they depict will smile and wince with delight.  In other crowded scenes, such as “The 5:15” or “Anything to Satisfy Them! . . .  The Bicyclists,” the expressions on individuals’ faces also reward careful viewing.  Fans of Dr. Seuss will note with delight how his four cartoons here, aptly placed in the ‘Lands of Fantasy’ chapter, are filled with very active and expressive cats, fish, turtles, as well as other, less easily-identified critters!   In this chapter, Seuss fans will also enjoy Arch Dale’s “The DooDads Meet the Sea Serpent.”

With the Christmas shopping season just over, I note the frequent appearance of its hectic events—along with other holidays—as bird’s eye view topics.   Some of my other tumblr_ofpilrzufh1qif71to1_1280favorites in this compendium include (for their distinctive takes on the fad) “A Ball’s Eye View of a Home Run” and “Worm’s-Eye View of Us—A Fire.”  I also enjoy the vertiginous, angled perspectives in “The March Wind” and “Their First Day Back Home,” the latter cartoon also making effective use of shaded drawing, atypical for this fad.  Careful or return readers will note the different drawing styles of specific artists (though having to turn often to the back page list of illustrations for full artist names is another design flaw here). 

Would President-elect Trump take the time to see what is happening in “The G-L-O-R-I-O-U-S Fourth!”?   Or would he not notice in this cartoon (by Johnny Gruelle, later a children’s author and illustrator) the several blazes either in full flame or just starting as fire crackers explode?   What explosive impact might President Trump’s impatient, opinionated take on patriotism have on our country as he avowedly works to “make American great again”?  Much of the world is watching, wondering, and worrying. 


A first step still to be seen would be President-elect Trump’s willingness to plan for reports and prepare for high-level meetings and contacts.  Will he move past aptly-named tweets and casual penthouse-level views to see the whole picture in depth?  Or will he continue dangerously to accept and promulgate superficial, sometimes inaccurate information, ignoring details and differences?   One memorable bird’s eye cartoon here by Harrison Cady (another children’s book illustrator and author) is titled “A Quiet April First at Tinkham’s Corners.”  Close perusal, though, shows just what tomfoolery and minor disasters are actually taking place on that April Fools Day.  All great fun . . .  on the page, at least, enhanced by the gap between cartoon title and content.  But if the U.S.A. ends up with a president who never reads beyond titles or headlines, the savage joke may be on us. 

As we stare into 2017, let us continue to look far, wide, and deep—and encourage others to do the same.  Different viewpoints should not blind us to real dangers. 


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More or Less Grimm

6a00e5535ff83b88330105367edf8d970b-800wiChristmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, Winter Solstice, and other festive occasions . . . .

Two recent, compelling fairy tale volumes would make excellent gifts this holiday season.  Matt Phelan’s Snow White: A Graphic Novel (2016) and Shaun Tan’s The Singing Bones (2015; 2016) are my enchanting focus today.  Viewed separately or together, these books’ very different visual takes on classic stories demonstrate the wonderful breadth of unfettered imagination.  Readers tween and up will appreciate these works rooted in folk tales first collected and published by the German brothers Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm between 1812 and 1857.   Those original Grimm stories were more violent and darker than many modern versions, watered down to be “suitable” for younger audiences—most famously by cartoon mogul Walt Disney.  Phelan and Tan’s books, while not totally grim, remain truer to the original tales. 

414pgqjpeyl-_sx402_bo1204203200_Award-winning author/illustrator Phelan (first reviewed here in December, 2013) drew on iconic photographs and films to set his Snow White primarily in Depression-era U.S.A.  Living in 1918 New York City, Snow is a happy, well-to-do child whose later tribulations take place after the 1929 stock market crash precipitates the Depression.  The black-and-white, sepia, or lightly tinted pages of this book reflect photos and movies typical in the 1920s and 1930s.   Before full-color films became the norm, silent black-and-white movies sometimes had a few tinted scenes to reinforce changes in mood or action.  Vivid color—the red of blood and the deceptive lushness of poisoned apples or lips—is used sparingly here, to great dramatic effect.  Similarly, the book’s happy ending (after a dramatic kiss, not in a forest or castle but a department store window!) is reinforced by pages drawn and water-colored in a range of pastel colors. 



snow-white-2Phelan effectively updates and anchors Snow White to this specific time and place in many ways.  Her evil stepmother is a Ziegfeld Follies star whose desire for the spotlight is exceeded only by her greed; here, she is inspired by messages from a seemingly demonic stock exchange ticker tape machine, rather than a magic mirror.  Her plots, machinations, and evil deeds are effectively conveyed by telling close-ups, another cinematic technique Phelan employs.  His knowledge and love of silent films is also evident in the many wordless scenes in the book, some as long as ten or twelve double spread pages.  The electrifying end to that murderous Follies star’s schemes —in a chapter aptly titled “Up in Lights”—is almost totally wordless, yet very rich in emotion as well as fast-paced action.  Sound-effect words and street signs, along with facial expressions, communicate so much in these pages, as they do throughout the book.


This story’s Depression-era characters include seven homeless boys, living hand-to-mouth on the streets and in a hobo encampment, who are Phelan’s fairy tale “dwarves,” sheltering, rescuing, and for a time mourning Snow White.  Their initially suspicious, pugnacious faces are eloquent, even when all their leader will reveal about them is the dismissive, wary phrase, “We’re the Seven.  That’s all you need to know.”   Readers may become misty-eyed when each boy, mourning Snow’s apparent death, whispers his name into her ear. 

download-1Phelan strives for such emotional response in his works.  In an interview , he has said “that emotional connection is  . . . something I aspire to in my work.”  That is why his drawing is not totally realistic in style: as he puts it, “I’ve always loved sketches and art that has a ‘just enough’ quality to it.”  He adds that, rather than using a guide sketch, after much time in preparation and initial thumb-nail sketches (Snow White: A Graphic Novel took three years to complete), he draws freehand from those sketches, working “quickly on each panel.  I want a certain energy to the line and the watercolor.”   Phelan’s typical use of un-bordered, irregularly sized panels and double spread pages, some without any panels at all, adds to the vibrancy of his story-telling goals and technique.


While Matt Phelan avoided reading multiple written versions of Snow White, wanting “to approach the story fresh,” Shaun Tan’s fairy tale volume was inspired by the written word.  Specifically, after designing the cover and a few internal illustrations for 51jqd0yuisl-_sx383_bo1204203200_a German language edition of Grimm’s fairy tales, Tan was hooked!  That book was a translation of noted British author Philip Pullman’s Fairy Tales from the Brothers Grimm (Viking, 2012), which contained Pullman’s favorite fifty tales.  Tan (reviewed here in August, 2014 and April, 2015)  was so entranced by Pullman’s language and storytelling that he went on to identify and create sculptures in The Singing Bones for seventy-five Grimm tales.  Tan’s book, however, does not contain complete versions of these tales.  Instead, a significant passage from a tale appears on the left hand page, with Tan’s related sculpture appearing on the opposite right-hand page.  Noted fairy tale scholar and translator Jack Zipes is the author of these passages, as well as the Annotated Index summarizing the tales’ plots.

imagesAward-winning Tan’s imaginative take on each tale differs dramatically from Phelan’s.  Rather than situating the tales in a particular time and place, Tan’s sculpture captures the emotional center of each story, recreating people, creatures, and items with minimal detail and dreamlike distortion.  In his Afterward, Tan writes that he was “inspired by Inuit stone carvings and pre-Columbian clay figurines . . . .”  He used papier-mache and air-dried clay, colored with acrylic paint, metal oxides, and shoe polish, to create his small-scale pieces.  Elsewhere, Tan notes that some of his  paper sculpting techniques were folk craft taught by his Malaysian/Chinese father.    With input from his skilled photographer wife, Inari Kiuru, Tan then designed for The Singing Bones the photographed versions of his three-dimensional art.   

9781760111038-3These are powerful, haunting images.  Tan embodies the story of Snow White in a sculpture of the evil queen or stepmother, red with violent envy; sharp-featured with consuming, murderous ambition; shadowed by pride which has made her spiked crown as large and important as her barely human head.  His Hansel and Gretel are both too hungry and too greedy for sweets to see the dangerous, powerful witch lurking behind the download-2seemingly harmless old woman who then invites them inside her candy-studded cottage.  The reader, though, sees that monstrous figure as well as the cracks in the cottage, with its doorway that also resembles the opening of a clay oven.  It is the weariness of toiling Cinderella, falling asleep inside the sooty bed of a fireless chimney, rather than her glass slipper and romance, that Tan emphasizes.  And it is the dangerous naivety of Little Red Cap, contrasted with the wolf’s smug assurance and size, rather than her final rescue that Tan embodies in highlight. Readers will want to linger over these familiar tales, and also make good use of the index to discover the full stories behind the many compelling pieces born of lesser known tales.

2244Like author Neil Gaiman, who wrote the Foreword to The Singing Bones, I long to touch these pieces, to revel in their textures and also view them from different angles.  My desire here is also fed by my own dabbling in clay this past year, producing pieces heavier on emotion than realism.  It was researching folk tales for possible inspiration for my future sculptures that led me to discover Shaun Tan’s three-dimensional art!   Now, I need to see which tales apart from the Grimm brothers might spark some more of my own amateur efforts.  First up: a look into the folk tales of my own Eastern European Jewish heritage.  


51ywroazv6l-_sx491_bo1204203200_Are you interested in other graphic works depicting folk or fairy tales from different traditions? There are many picture books depicting “Cinderella” stories around the globe.  Ed Young’s award-winning Lon Po Po (1989;1996), set in China; John Steptoe’s acclaimed Mufaro’s Beautiful Daughters (1978; 2008), set in Africa; and Tomie de Paola’s Adelita (2002;2004), set in Mexico, are only a few.  I myself plan to catch up with an award-winning volume of Native American graphic folk tales, edited by Matt Dembicki, Trickster: Native American Tales, A Graphic Collection (2010).  It features the combined efforts of Native storytellers with comic book artists.

Happy reading—and happy holidays!


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Twenty-first Century Genius

genius-007Two graphic novelists were among the twenty-three creative people recently awarded an annual MacArthur “Genius” grant, with its hefty prize money.  The MacArthur Foundation “celebrates and inspires the creative potential of individuals through no-strings-attached fellowships.”  I was delighted to see that novelist Gene Luen Yang, the current U.S. Ambassador for Young People’s Literature, was one winner. (I had discussed Yang’s great works in Gone Graphic posts for August, 2013; March, 2014; September, 2014; and February, 2016.)   But who was Lauren Redniss, the other graphic novelist being acclaimed by the MacArthur Foundation—and what were her works like?  I knew nothing about her! 

Today I am going to describe the three awesome Redniss books I just finished reading.  Teens or tweens interested in graphic works, art, biography, or in these books’ topics will revel in these gorgeous non-fiction volumes. Older folks will be fascinated, too!  Redniss’ deserved acclaim as a twenty-first century “genius”  also showcases and extends some techniques already familiar to fans of literature gone graphic. 

61yotly9i4l-_sx361_bo1204203200_Redniss is an art professor who has been praised by the National Book Foundation for “marrying the graphic and visual arts with biography and cultural history.”  Redniss herself recently said,  “I think I am drawn to people who are undaunted by hardship.  It puts things in perspective.”  Her first two books are unconventional biographies of extraordinary people, dancer Doris Eaton Travis and scientist Marie Curie, boldly showing and yet also at times just hinting at how they felt about the dramatic course of their lives.  Her third book shifts further into science, focusing on weather and climate change.

Century Girl: 100 Years in the Life of Doris Eaton Travis, Last Living Star of the Ziegfeld Follies (2006; 2012) primarily uses collage to document the life of its  subject, who lived to the remarkable age of 106.  Sepia-hued as well as full-color photographs, old newspaper clippings as well as hand-lettered text, are juxtaposed with physical mementos of Doris Eaton Travis’ life.  Born in 1904, thanks to her “back-stage mother,” Doris began performing on vaudeville stages as a four year-old, and after fame in the Ziegfeld Follies she and her siblings appeared in Hollywood’s silent movies. 

d1a839bce638bdb522c1ec0e8e32b825Redniss documents the different ways family members handled success and its loss, into and through the 1930s and 1940s, as the  Great Depression and World War II impacted their lives.  Giddy, silly, saucy, and even some sad images mark the passing decades.  Her sisters and brothers faltered, some just having plain bad luck, while Doris went on to a new career and success as a dance instructor, working with the Arthur Murray chain of dance schools.  Her passion for dance continued throughout her long life and her lengthy, complicated second marriage.  Along the way, this trouper entered college as a 77 year old “freshman,” and became a college graduate at 88!  The volume’s final pages include photographs of 100 year-old Doris onstage as well as of her musing about her life.  

Redniss frequently uses double-page spreads in this book (and her others), often shifting the background color and images to great dramatic effect.  Black is a frequent background color, also used on pages that mark transitions. A number of such spreads are wordless, communicating solely through the juxtaposed images.  What readers “see” here sometimes depends on how carefully we look at pages and remember others.  The cracks apparent on one close-up of a doll’s-head are telling at a low point in Doris’ family life; the tin soldiers one brother loved to play with as a child say something else about him when they re-appear at the end of his life, as he takes shelter with Doris and her husband. 


White, hand-written text, sometimes irregularly spaced, also contributes to the immediacy and rhythm of Redniss’ impressions of Doris’ life.  Another technique Redniss uses to convey emphasis and emotion, highlighting events or brief statements, centurygirl-131is to isolate them in the center of otherwise empty or nearly empty pages.  The left hand side of one such spread states in black letters on a white page:  WITH STRENGTH IN NUMBERS AND A SOLID PEDIGREE, THE EATONS SEEMED UNSTOPPABLEThe facing right-hand white page shows Doris with one of her brothers, with these ominous words as follow-up: BUT TIMES CHANGED. Redniss’ ability to identify and use apt words from interviews as well as printed sources is another storytelling strength she brings to this book (as well as her others). 

51tm3cpkybl-_sx351_bo1204203200_Print materials also complement images in Radioactive: Marie & Pierre Curie, A Tale of Love and Fallout (2010; 2011), another breathtaking biography, which was a finalist for the National Book Award.  Here Redniss uses collage to show how Marie Sklodowska (1867 -1934) battled discrimination against women in science to become the degreed research partner (and later wife) of Pierre Curie.  Together, the couple in 1903 earned a Nobel Prize in Physics for their discovery of radioactivity.  After Pierre’s death, Marie Curie in 1911 earned an astonishing second Nobel Prize for her further work on the radioactive element radium. 

Yet these were not Marie Curie’s only accomplishments and struggles.  She (and Pierre) developed cancer and other  diseases through exposure to radioactive elements; they persevered with their research despite this, just as Marie persevered even after Pierre’s shocking, traffic accident death—researching, rearing radioactive-660x453her daughters, finding and losing another, somewhat scandalous love, and even contributing to France’s frontline efforts during World War I.  Radioactive uses text deftly chosen from letters, journals, and other written accounts to tell a profound love story as well as a history of science.  Moreover, the “fallout” of its subtitle extends beyond Marie Curie’s lifetime into the present day, as the book details the negative as well as positive results of the Curies’ discoveries.  Redniss interposes accounts of nuclear bombs and accidents at nuclear power plants, as well as advances in nuclear medicine, smoothly into the book.

Collage and the placement of images and text for dramatic effect again figure prominently in this book’s blue-rich, color saturated pages.   Photographs, maps, and a crypt rubbing as well as original drawings hold our attention in its page-turning narrative.  At one point, we literally have to turn the page to find the answer to this question about widowed Marie’s new love, scientist Paul Langevin:  “Who wouldn’t rejoice in the union of Paul and Marie—a coupling of giants?” At the bottom of the next double-spread of vivid, contrasting colors  is the answer, “His wife.”!  

blue_radioactiveFor the rich blue shades predominant here and the sometimes eerie images,  which often seem to glow and resemble half-developed photographs or x-rays, Redniss used a specialized technique–cyantope printing.  As she explains at the end of Radioactive and in a related TED Talk, this chemical process depends on exposure to ultraviolet light.  For Redniss, cyanotypes were a method evoking and paying tribute to Marie Curie’s work with radioactivity.  Redniss goes on to explain how she manipulated the resulting blue images to add or change colors.

61agsqhveul-_sx372_bo1204203200_-1Similar thought went into Redniss’ choice of graphic techniques for her award-winning third book, Thunder & Lightning: Weather Past, Present, and Future (2015).  Her author’s note explains that she selected copper plate etching (and its contemporary offshoot, polymer plate etching) as a tribute to the centuries of records kept by weather-studying scientists and artists.  Master printers helped Redniss produce black and white prints, which she then hand-colored. The beautiful and totally wordless chapter 7, titled “Sky,” was hand-drawn by  Redniss, using colorful oil pastels. 

Double page spreads again dominate in this engrossing volume, which moves from unusual weather events to typical climatic conditions, from how individuals challenge themselves in extreme environments (such as distance ocean swimming) to how communities fare in extraordinarily harsh climates, such as the Arctic Sea’s Svarlbard islands. Color is extraordinarily important in this volume, whether vivid or pale.  We are awed by the intense orange-reds of deserts and forest fires and entranced by the dim greys of gallery-1445870542-tandl-p28-29polluted city fog and Arctic “snow blindness.”  Redniss illustrates the latter in four double spread pages, where we peer into soft grey-tones, attempting to make out the faint shapes there just as a snow-blind person might struggle to see in white-out conditions.  Black is again used effectively as background to a typeface Redniss created herself for this book.

In this history which ranges from eras in which weather was worshiped to ones in which humans, both deliberately and inadvertently, change weather events  and climate, Redniss continues to weave a strong narrative.  Diaries, letters, and personal interviews combine with newspaper accounts, official documents, and Redniss’ own words in this volume.  Attempts to predict the weather are both detailed precisely and slyly mocked, as in the pages devoted to the Old Farmer’s Almanac.  This good-natured laughter is one kind of humor in Thunder & Lightning. How much—and yet, how little—thought people seem to have given to climate change may confound readers, causing rueful and dismayed laughter, even as we marvel in appreciation or dismay at related images.   On issues where there is reasonable debate, such as whether humans should deliberately manipulate the environment, Redniss presents the conflicting viewpoints through entertaining anecdotes and images.


Twenty-first century genius Lauren Redniss is a master of some techniques you may have seen before in graphic works.  For example, collage and found objects figure in memoirs by Ozge Samanci (reviewed here in August, 2016), by Lucy Knisley (July, 2016 review), and in novels by Jennifer L. Holm and Elicia Castaldi (September, 2015 review).   Extended wordless passages also have a long history and other contemporary, excellent practitioners—such as Brian Selznick, Shaun Tan,  Peter Kuper, and Erik Drooker.  (See the Gone Graphic postings for November, 2015; April, 2015; and February 2014 for details.)  Level-headed Redniss herself demurs at being labelled a “genius.”  Possibly she might be more accepting of this label if “genius” meant nowadays what it did in 17th and 18th century England—the spark of creativity inside every person. 

lr-nyt-13However one feels about such labels, I am glad the MacArthur Foundation award drew my attention to Lauren Redniss’ gifts.  I intend to catch up with her earlier “Opt-Art” pieces for the New York Times, some cached at her website.  And I definitely will look for her next graphic novels.  Redniss has said that she is now at work on a book about an Apache tribe in Arizona, focusing on three generations within one family.  I am eager to see how she portrays those lives and that history. 



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Lively Looks at the Day of the Dead

 29700866772_5465f2b9ef_k-640x420A spirited crowd welcomed author/illustrator Raina Telgemeier to the Twin Cities the other week.  Tweens in family and class groups filled a large university auditorium, excited to meet the popular, award-winning cartoonist, on national tour to promote her brand-new graphic novel, Ghosts (2016).  This funny, tender-hearted book, colored by Braden Lamb, is one of two works I am spotlighting today, both centered on the November 1- 2 celebration of la Dia de Los Muertos—the Day of the Dead.  Author/illustrator Duncan Tonatiuh’s recent picture book biography, Funny Bones: Posada and His Day of the Dead Calaveras, a 2015 award-winner, is the other.  Both are great reads for any age, and at any time of year.  Especially in October, though, these works can add piquancy and food for thought as Halloween images and activities loom large around us.   La Dia de Los Muertoes celebrates a very different view of the supernatural than the one Halloween traditionally promotes.

518xic8gdhl-_sx346_bo1204203200_The 6th grade protagonist in Ghosts, Catrina Allende-Delmar, is both skeptical and fearful of ghosts.  She and younger sister Maya are not familiar with the Mexican-American traditions that their mother, the daughter of Mexican immigrants, shunned in her own youth.  They do not know that, during the Day of the Dead, loved ones who have died are remembered with joy, honor, and affection.  Music, festive food, and dancing are the background notes to this holiday now celebrated beyond Mexico, with Halloween’s fearsome skeletons figuratively transformed into lost loved ones.  In Telgemeier’s fantastic novel, this transformation is a literal one, as the windy environs of Catrina and Maya’s new California hometown are filled with ghosts.  They may be encountered even on ordinary days, not just during this community’s welcoming Dia de Los Muertos celebration. 

Acknowledging death and what mght lie beyond it is particularly important to Catrina 640and Maya because Maya has cystic fibrosis—a degenerative, fatal disease.  As the younger girl poignantly tells Cat, “I have to talk to a ghost . . . . I want to know what happens when you die . . . . Dying isn’t pretend . . . .”  Telgemeier’s story insightfully depicts how Maya’s illness has shaped family choices, and how—despite the love between the sisters—Cat sometimes resents the priority given to Maya’s needs.  The author/illustrator also realistically depicts how cystic fibrosis typically affects its victims, the main ailment being difficulty in breathing.  Ironically, it is breath or wind which also “gives life” to Telgemeier’s ghosts. 

Despite these serious problems, Maya is an ebullient kid, quick to make friends, and Ghosts is an upbeat, well-rounded novel, not didactic in the messages it conveys.  Making new school friends, meeting new neighbors, and the good-natured back-and-forth of possibly acquiring an early-stages boyfriend are also depicted here.  Food is the fun-filled way the girls’ mother comes to terms both with her heritage and the memory of her mother.  And there is as much merry-making here as there are anxious moments before Cat discovers just how well-intentioned those ghosts are.  Deserted carnival buildings and rocky coastlines at night are two of the eerie, windswept settings that ratchet up Cat’s fears. 


Visually, Telgemeier combines cartoon-like drawing with more sophisticated narrative techniques.  Sometimes, the images within panels contradict the words with fine dramatic irony; at other points, images support and extend a character’s words.  Tense situations, such as Maya’s being taken ill or a spooked Cat running from her fears, are made more forceful through the alternation of close-ups with long or mid-distance views and changes in perspective.  Several action-packed wordless episodes—some extending as long as ten pages—capture the reader’s attention, leaving us breathless in the best possible way!  Colorist Lamb does a fine job of enhancing text and word balloons as well as balancing composition through color choice.  Ghosts ends on a high note, one maintained by the down-to-earth, informative author notes and thank you that conclude the book.



Telgemeier’s sly sense of humor is further confirmed as we turn to Duncan Tonatiuh’s 814udotafrlpicture book biography, Funny Bones: Posada and His Day of the Dead Calaveras (2015).  Cat and Maya’s welcoming (human) neighbors are named the Calaveras family.  As Tonatiuh explains, the Spanish word calaveras literally means “skull.”  Calaveras has also come to mean the satirical skeleton images, associated with the Day of the Dead, best known through the work of Mexican artist Jose Guadalupe Posada (1852 – 1913).  Posada was himself no slouch in the humor department!  He poked fun not only at politicians but at the vanity and foibles of wealthy and working class people too. 

This picture book is visually rich in so many ways.  Tonatiuh depicts Posada and some other Mexicans with darker skin tones and facial features that reflect their Aztec heritage.  Many of Funny Bones’ pages are bordered bydownload-18 bones alternating with other emblems that indicate the passage of time—for instance, the pencils of Posada’s youth give way to inkpots as Tonituah describes how the artist began to etch his work.  And even life’s ups and downs—growing families, disastrous floods, fame and success, war—are depicted with cohesive visual flair, with centered images often arranged in circles.   I particularly relished the double page spreads showing how the Dia de Muertos was celebrated during Posada’s lifetime and Tonatiuh’s final imagining of what Posada’s calaveras might “look like nowadays.”  Those roller blading and skateboarding skeletons are a hoot!   


Young readers will relish these images along with Posada’s more serious, sometimes frightening calaveras.  Those are reproduced and offset here by Tonatiuh on separate, different-colored pages, with thoughtful questions about what these complex images might mean about human nature, life, and death.  Answers are left up to the reader.  Along with such food for thought, Funny Bones also provides more down-to-earth information.  It has clear, sequential images and brief explanations of the steps involved in the artistic processes of lithography, engraving, and etching.  Tonatiuh’s colorful images and crisp words are a fine tribute to Posada’s art and a holiday that celebrates life as much as it does death.  I think readers will be as eager as I was to read the author’s note and bibliography, which also contains information about where one may see Posada’s work in person in the U.S. A.


What sorts of skeletons will you be creating or looking for this October?  Spooky or kooky . . . terrifying or terrifically friendly?   Possibly la Dia de los Muertos is already one of the holidays you celebrate.  Perhaps it is time for a new (or new “old”) tradition for you and the young people in your life.  Perhaps you do not have to choose—after all, October 31 is followed by November 1 and 2.  First Halloween and then the Day of the Dead?   As Cat and Maya might say, “Wheeee!”!


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