Holy Lands

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One Navajo, one Jew: two distinct “holy lands.”

Our recent ten day sojourn in Santa Fe, New Mexico reminded me of how culture and personal vision determine which particular portions of Mother Earth we hold sacred.  Writing from the small adobe house we were renting, I was also struck anew by how these views may clash.

10 06 Pecos kAt Pecos National Monument, only ruins remain of the large pueblo that once housed 2000 people, traders as well as foragers, farmers, and hunters.  These ruins include kivas, the circular and ancient Indian underground sites for religious ceremonies.  From the 16th century onward, invading Spanish soldiers—accompanied by proselytizing Catholic priests—did not care that this land was worshipped by generations of pueblo dwellers as well as the hogan-dwelling Navajo.  (The nearby “Four Corners” region, the intersection of present-day Arizona, New Mexico, Colorado, and Utah, remains the site centrally sacred to the Navajo.)  Spain and its priests tore and twisted these ancient, sacred bonds—a rupture bitterly epitomized for me by one fact, repeated in local museum exhibits: Pueblo dwellers froze one winter for lack of firewood, while Catholic missionaries forced them to craft 600 wooden crosses. 

imagesEven as I reread Willa Cather’s achingly beautiful Death Comes for the Archibishop, with its depiction of the powerful faith and dedication of its central characters’ 19th century real-life inspirations, Archbishop Jean-Baptiste Lamy and Bishop Joseph P. Marchebeauf, I could not forget the suffering inflicted by their proselytizing predecessors—cruelties that led Native peoples across the Southwest, in 1680 C.E., to rebel violently.  Even as I visited the cathedral Archibishop Lamy built, where colorful Penitente-style Stations of the Cross and a statue 10 05 sf kof Saint Kateria Tekawitha remind us how some Native peoples adopted and have upheld strong Christian beliefs, other Santa Fe sights and sounds counterbalanced that perspective.  On Indigenous Peoples Day (formerly Columbus Day), Santa Fe’s central plaza was filled with tribal leaders, dancers, and drummers—with prayers spoken, danced, and drummed for ancient, non-Christian gods.  Many local crafts also testified to those ancestral beliefs and traditions.


10 09 Indig Peoples Day c

As a Jew, I cannot escape the parallels here with modern Israel: the ways in which jerusalemthe Jewish state has taken and continues to usurp lands once owned by Palestinians.  Reclaiming its “holy land”—holy according to Judaism’s sacred books—Israel has exiled some Palestinians and shunts others into restricted areas even more tightly guarded than the “Indian reservations” of the U.S. old Wild West.  It is this volatile, toxic situation that today breeds suicide bombers and hair-trigger Israeli army guards, and brings weapons instead of worship to Jerusalem’s Temple Mount, which is also sacred to Muslims.   

510iAbLLsHL._SX328_BO1,204,203,200_I am not alone in seeing these painful parallels between Israeli policies and the brutal, ethnocentric colonization of North America.  One notable commentary about this is Michael Chabon’s award-winning novel The Yiddish Policman’s Union (2007).  This speculative work is set in an alternate-history Alaska, where a Jewish state sanctioned by the U.S. government has displaced the Native Tinglit from their ancestral lands.  While the novel’s narrator, a Jewish detective, is able to solve its central murder mystery, with Biblical prophecies about Israel revealed to be part of the plot, the underlying tensions among Jews, Tinglits, and the powers-that-be remain unresolved.  At the novel’s end, as the Jews’ 60 year-long mandate in Alaska is set to expire, readers are left to wonder whether another diaspora, more armed conflict, or both will occur.  As in today’s real-life Israel, there are a plethora of possible outcomes to consider and negotiate—none of them easy or wholly satisfactory.

Can one’s personal vision transcend such earthly divisions and conflicts, reflecting an appreciation of Mother Earth’s sanctity not linked to any religion or culture?  Does one have to have ancestral connections to land to find it holy?  Our visits last images (1)month to Santa Fe’s Georgia O’Keefe Museum and to this artist’s former studio-home in nearby Abiquiu provided life-affirming, humanist answers.  We saw in intimate detail how this Wisconsin native, who also had found inspiration in city canyons, adopted New Mexico’s austere desert landscapes as her ultimate spiritual home.  O’Keefe’s secular art works are paeans of praise as sincere as any prayers. 

Yet this genius of abstract art was privileged by more than talent.  She had the wealth she and her husband, world-renowned photographer Alfred Stieglitz, had earned to secure her isolated comfort and privacy, purchasing and renovating a large adobe homestead.  And that comfort, though simple in lifestyle, was maintained throughout O’Keefe’s long life in New Mexico through the willing labor of her Pueblo neighbors and companions.  They, on the other hand, had and still keep control of their property only according to rigid, centuries-old Spanish land grants.  Ironically, as I learned on our tour, those documents require non-blood relatives to vacate their home if a lineal descendent no longer lives there.  Family feeling and history are not, according to New Mexico law, bonds holy enough to secure those plots of Mother Earth.

crane-petroglyph-josh-ewing-1920x1080_wide-f4117ba36b6977379cab7e1a004619232a6ac7ed-s2500-c85 (1)Nor is such legislated cruelty or the desecration of sacred sites confined to outdated laws or past events.  The looming crisis at Utah’s Bears Ears National Monument, which contains burial and archeological sites sacred to the Navajo and other tribes, is just one example.  As recently as last month, President Trump threatened to remove  Bears Ears from the list of official national monuments, land protected by law from purchase and development.  Tribal leaders are prepared to fight such a decision in court and through on-site demonstrations as well.  They will agitate and demonstrate much as displaced Palestinians have in the past, when peaceful resolutions to such conflicts were still probable outcomes.  Of course, as seen on current newscasts, the possibility of violence at U.S. demonstrations is becoming a new “normal.”  U.S. citizens need to keep our own Native American challenges in mind, averting and mending wrongs, even as we question Israel’s policies on land use and access. 

61nvAR96seL._SX331_BO1,204,203,200_I am ruefully aware, though, that I reflect here as the privileged past   tenant of an unencumbered, “Airbnb” adobe house, luxurious by many standards.  I and my husband were tourists in this land holy to some people and underdeveloped according to others.  Similarly, as a diaspora Jew I do not live with the daily struggles and stresses of life in Israel, with the different challenges inhabitants face.  That in fact is one criticism that some Israelis have levelled at a new anthology I find moving and insightful about Israel’s largest internal conflict: Kingdom of Olives and Ash: Writers Confront the Occupation (2017).  Its editors, Michael Chabon and Ayelet Waldman, include Palestinian authors among other international voices, inviting first-hand accounts of sacrilege as well as the sacred.  Unfortunately, these experiences seem twinned, regardless of which holy land one venerates or visits.  Conflict continues to profane our better instincts and the beauty, if not the sanctity, of Mother Earth. 

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Korean Tales

40937628-Map-of-Location-of-Korea-and-Flags-Stock-VectorNorth Korea remains forefront in U.S. news, as both countries’ boastful, ambitious leaders toy childishly with nuclear threats.  We here in the U.S. can only hope and work within our political system to avert such disaster.  Novels such as Adam Johnson’s The Orphan Master’s Son [2012] confirm how our freedom to protest still contrasts vividly with the brutal silences imposed in North Korea.  But that all-prose masterpiece is written with adult and possibly older teen readers in mind.  Which works—in particular, graphic works—aimed at younger audiences bring deeper understanding of North and South Korea, their culture and people, while at the same time offering reading pleasure?  Which works show that—regardless of politics or frightening headlines—Koreans and folks in the U.S. are more alike than different?  This feels like an apt moment to spotlight a delightful, brand-new graphic novel and to revisit an acclaimed, sometimes controversial graphic novel series.

51avYkrw60L._SX398_BO1,204,203,200_Where’s Halmoni? (2017)  is the first book that artist Julie Kim has authored as well as illustrated.  It charmingly brings to life the Korean folk tales her immigrant parents carried with them to the United States.  Its clever, vivid storytelling deftly combines words with images in whimsical as well as dramatic ways, as Kim depicts the fantastic adventures of two Korean-American children visiting their grandmother, their “Halmoni,” in her home.  I think Kim is too modest in her blog, writing that she “thrives on telling little stories with lots of big pictures.”  This graphic story book will satisfy readers of all ages, even though it is clear that youngsters ages 5 through 9, the apparent age of characters Joon and Noona, are its target audience.

webLandscapeLooking for Halmoni, whose aromatic red bean soup they smell but who is also mysteriously absent, this brother and sister pass through a marvelous doorway into a magical world—one where the landscapes echo those of traditional Asian art and creatures from Korean folklore. Careful readers will find additional pleasure in observing that these landscapes and creatures—including goblins, a tiger, and a fox—also harken back to Halmoni’s household decorations.  This is just one way that Kim’s full-color illustrations silently enhance her storytelling.  Others include her figures’ expressive body language and boldly drawn facial expressions, including the eye-to-eye glares Joon exchanges with that mythological tiger.  The book’s wordless double page spreads also  communicate moods ranging from tranquil mystery to energetic conflict, while  telling close-ups emphasize key moments in Joon and Noona’s adventures.  They encounter Korea’s legendary, very hungry rabbit, pacify friendly goblins with the remaining snacks in Joon’s backpack, and defeat that fierce tiger by winning a game of “rock, paper, and scissor”!  When the tiger proves to be a poor loser, the sly fox comes to their rescue. 


Readers will be intrigued by Kim’s smartly unconventional choices in presenting dialogue.  While Joon and Noona speak English, the creatures they meet speak Korean, written here in the Hangul characters used in Korea.  It is fun figuring out what is being said during these clearly-illustrated, well-paced encounters!  We can double check just how spot-on our translations were by referring to the “What did they say?” page that follows the story’s satisfying conclusion, when the children are back in Halmoni’s home, being served some of her delicious soup.  On the next page, Kim explains the origins of her creatures in Korean folklore, adapted here to reflect her own vison as a Korean American artist. This delightful book does not end here, though.  Not mentioned by any early reviewers, Kim includes an almost wordless bonus feature on its interior covers.  Front and back, they show Halmoni installing and using that magical door into wide-ranging fantasy land.  Perhaps that is one answer to the question, “Where’s Halmoni?”

Teens on up will gain further insight into experiences U.S. readers and Koreans share—along with some of our cultural differences—when they read an award-winning graphic novel trilogy by author/illustrator Kim Dong Hwa. I first reviewed this South Korean’s Colors trilogy (The Color of Earth, The Color of Water, and The Color of Heaven [1992; 2009]) here in 2013.  Its first volume was singled out as one of YALSA’s Top Ten Graphic Novels for Teens and one of Booklist’s Top Ten Graphic Colors by Kim Dong HwaNovels for Youth. Its author has explained that his lifelong fascination with how girls transform into women, his mother’s own life, and the high value Koreans place on mother-daughter relationships inspired him to create this series.  It is set in rural, 20th century Korea, but its insightful depictions of how a hard-working, widowed mother and her daughter interact—as well as how both boys and girls handle the physical changes of adolescence—are relevant and dramatically effective today.  Unfortunately, this trilogy also received some notoriety—unjustifiably, I believe—in 2011 as the second most frequently challenged book for young readers in the United States!  It is sex that drew the ire of its critics.

colorTri_01As I have noted, the close, loving relationship between Ehwa and her mother, who runs a tavern to support them, is depicted in acute, sensitive detail, as is village life in general. The psychological development of Ehwa and her playmates, ages seven to thirteen in The Color of Earth, is also handled deftly.  Believable situations lead them from discovering the physical differences between girls and boys, to first menstruation and wet dreams, onward to first innocent “crushes” and the realization that adults experience such emotions, too.  In The Color of Water, Him Dong Hwa includes teen masturbation and adult sexuality.  In The Color of Heaven, he further develops his life cycle approach towards emotional and physical development by depicting 17 year old Ehwa’s wedding night and the sexuality of village elders, whose bodies sometimes fail to “rise” to their desires.

Colors by Kim Dong HwaThroughout the trilogy, Kim uses symbols in words and images to represent sexual feelings and emotions.  Randy men are beetles, children becoming adolescents resemble new butterflies, while specific emotions and people are associated with individual kinds of flowers.  These connections, often rooted in Korean folklore, are noted by asterisks in the text, with brief, helpful explanations then given at the bottom of the page.  Kim conveys the joy of Ehwa and her husband Duksum through images of waves, clouds, and bright sunshine as well as partial glimpses of their nude bodies. 

color-earth-05Throughout these books, Kim uses a range of black-and-white line drawings to show village settings and outdoor scenes in skillful, realistic detail.  One’s eye lingers on the page to absorb their intricate, satisfying patterns, textures, and details.  Yet at other times this veteran illustrator employs some non-realistic visual conventions—such as “cat tongues” on the faces of mischievous kids and “stitched” mouths on the faces of embarrassed characters—typical of both manhwa (Korean comics) and manga (Japanese comics).  (Unlike manga, Korean comics are published and read “Western style”—front-to-back and left-to-right.)  Kim also varies panel and image size to great effect, using double-page and one-and-a-half page spreads for dramatic emphasis. 

I agree with this Korean author/illustrator who, in an interview said that, while some “Korean . . .  cultural background from the book will be unfamiliar and exotic . . . Americans are equipped with sufficient knowledge and willingness to learn.  In kingsejongaddition, no matter where and when a life takes place, there are similar things happening all over the world.”   Besides your local library, bookstore and schools, the web offers many resources to acquire more knowledge about Korea.  One current opportunity offers interactive challenge and fun for the young people in your life.  The Sejong Cultural Society, based in Chicago and since 2004 dedicated to advancing awareness of Korean culture, sponsors an annual writing competition based on its on-line folktales or novel.  The deadline for current submissions is February 28, 2018!   Let’s engage in such peaceful connections, even if our current leaders insist on foolishly hawking issues and differences that threaten war.



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Hurricane Times

images (3)Cartoonists around the globe responded swiftly to Hurricanes Harvey and Irma.  Some artists focused on the political or scientific conflicts that swirled around these storms, while others focused on the disasters’ human dimensions.  Now Maria has entered the fray.  I am certain that these hurricanes will in time inspire longer graphic works, but this seems an unfortunately apt moment to look back as well as ahead, revisiting a graphic novel and a comic book written in response to 2005’s Hurricane Katrina. It too was a brutal category 5 force storm.  First discussed in my December, 2013 blog post, these works yield relevant insight into this past month’s devastation and what hurricane survivors may experience in the months ahead.   So today I am reproducing part of that earlier post,  originally titled “Weathering the Storm.”  Readers tween and up will be most absorbed by the details and language in the following works.  They will also best appreciate the web-based sequel to one book I discovered while writing today.

61+Cofw2lDL._SY498_BO1,204,203,200_Artist/illustrator Josh Neufeld began A.D.: New Orleans After the Deluge (2009)    after serving as a Red Cross volunteer with victims of 2005’s Hurricane Katrina.  In his Introduction and Afterword to this non-fiction book, Neufeld provides statistics about the impact of the devastating storm.  He explains how he chose to “tell the story from the perspective of a range of real people . . .” as well as describing “certain key experiences” about “evacuating the city, facing the flooding, being trapped in the Superdome or Convention Center, and losing all your possessions.”   Neufeld interviewed and kept in touch with seven adults who had lived through Katrina, vividly recreating their different personalities and experiences before, during, and after the storm.  An underemployed Black counselor living with her extended, female family; a White, ‘Yuppie’ husband and wife; an Iranian-born shopkeeper and his Black, working-class buddy; a middle-class Black teenager, son of a pastor; an upper-class, gay White doctor: these are the real people whose lives Neufeld dramatically captures, the “beating hearts and souls of A.D.,” to whom he dedicates this book.


We come to know and care about these people through Neufeld’s sharp, skillful renditions of their words, deeds, and emotions.   A.D. opens with a section about “The Storm” itself, zooming in from outer space with boldly-drawn, then    finely-detailed views of New Orleans.  We see Katrina’s dramatic impact on the cityscape, sometimes in powerful double spread images, before we ever meet its citizens.  But how quickly we ADimage1 (1)come to know them!  Abbas and Darnell’s initial, cheerful determination that they can ‘wait out’ the storm is captured in their sparkling fist-bump, Darnell saying “Bro, we are all set.  It’s gonna be just like ‘Survivor’!” Yet too soon we see in dramatic double spread images how shaken they and others are by Katrina’s incredible devastation.  In the center of one dark-grounded double page, Darnell and Abbas are shown in chest-high muddy water, imagining lighter-colored snakes and alligators swirling around them.  A few pages on, the real danger of mosquitos to them is suggested by another, atypically humorous double spread, with one page’s tiny “G’night” ironically facing the other’s image of a giant, buzzing mosquito.  The next morning, the men are covered in bites.


Neufeld uses double spreads more often to convey painful realizations and realities.  He depicts from an overhead, distant perspective the horde of homeless victims waiting to shelter in the city’s Convention Center.  In close-up, Neufeld later shows the anguished faces of these people, with their escalating, rumor-fueled fears captured in three word balloons widely-separated across the pages:  “There ain’t gonna be no buses comin’!”  “They gonna open the floodgates and drown us!”  “THEY BROUGHT US HERE TO DIE!”   The two-tone contrast used throughout A.D. heightens the impact of such scenes.  (The reason for shifting from one color combo to another, though, is not clear.)   In smaller panels, color contrast also conveys Denise’s silent, bleak anger as her extended family is turned away from its promised shelter. Her articulate bitterness bursts out later, during Katrina’s immediate aftermath, in a word balloon superimposed over a desolated neighborhood, when she remarks, “This isn’t my life.  This is the life of someone I wouldn’t even want to shake hands with.”  Neufeld then shows us Denise herself, her hand covering a probably tear-filled face, as she goes on to say, “I think a big part of me was swept away in that hurricane.”

A.D.’s concluding section, titled “The Return,” updates readers about its protagonists and New Orleans’ efforts at recovery through 2008.  That remains a mixed success.  As Denise, now successfully employed full-time notes, “I am home.  But it’s not over.”  A large panel depicting the FEMA trailers that were supposed to be temporary shelters contains Denise’s final remark: “We’re not all home yet.”   That is the last, powerful image in Neufeld’s book.  Yet he and his seven protagonists have remained in touch; A.D’s Afterward describes some of their activities through 2010.

There are even more recent updates.  In blog posts, New Yorker Neufeld describes how—after 2012’s Hurricane Sandy blasted the Northeast—some of the seven contacted him to see how he had weathered that storm.       Neufeld himself was active in Hurricane Sandy relief efforts, some focused on book collections, with projects extending into November, 2013 For the 10th anniversary of Katrina, in 2015, Neufeld also interviewed six of the seven A.D. survivors he had profiled for a web-based graphic feature article.   In it, they discuss their lives during the past decade and their views about New Orleans’ future.  Readers will appreciate this finely-crafted update, as well as how Neufeld depicts the physical changes an added ten years have brought to these folks!  I also found Neufeld’s own September, 2017 blog post   detailing similarities he sees between current hurricane news items and A.D. sadly fascinating.

51pzi7GylmL._SX360_BO1,204,203,200_Another graphic work springing from Hurricane Katrina further shows how monumental storms bring out both the best and worst in people.  Dark Rain: A New Orleans Story (2010), written by Mat Johnson and drawn by Simon Gane, with Lee Loughbridge providing grey tones and color and Pat Brosseau the lettering, is a well-done fictional crime caper.  Its central plot is a bank heist made possible by the chaos Katrina causes.  The book’s events include episodes of violence—with dramatically lettered sound effects such as “BANG,” CREEACK,” “BRAKA BRAKA,” and “BOOM”—typical in action-packed comic books.  Similarly, its ex-con hero and its villains—a brutal mercenary soldier named Colonel Driggs and a self-satisfied, snobbish bank manager—are familiar types we have met before.  (Ex-con Dabny, the book’s hero, has only broken the law once before, to raise money for his young daughter.  This former customs inspector gets involved in the heist when an old cellmate asks for a ride.)    Yet the fast-paced action, expressive drawing, shifts between wide and close-shot images, and dramatic use of a limited, dark color palette elevate Dark Rain beyond a typical crime comic.  It tells its tale so very well.  Sophisticated readers may anticipate much of its outcome, including Dabny’s romance with a strong-willed woman he rescues and his reunion with his daughter, but seeing how the story lines develop and how characters cope with Katrina’s dangers and difficulties hold our attention enjoyably.

DRGNK.HC #1.final.qxpNearly half of Dark Rain’s focus is on the hurricane’s impact on its protagonists and the ordinary citizens of New Orleans and neighboring communities.  Some of these communities welcome refugees, while others turn them away.  Poor, Black citizens of New Orleans, already an underclass in ‘the Big Easy,’ fare worst in the days following the storm.  Yet Johnson and Gane also show how some characters defy stereotypes and expectations.  Young gang members help the ill and elderly suffering outside the Superdome, even as their gang clothing and rough appearance cause more conventional citizens to fear them.  Katrina’s ‘dark rain’ is brightened by the goodness of some people, even while it foils some of the worst aims of Colonel Driggs and his mercenary force, itself ironically named “Dark Rain Security.”

Dark Rain interior page

One character in Dark Rain remarks about a wrecked neighborhood, “It ain’t right.”  Dabny replies, “Not a matter of right or wrong.  It’s a hurricane.  It’s a flood.  It’s not a question of right or wrong, it just is.”  Yet Dabny’s view of natural disasters—a view many nowadays, including most scientists, share—has not always been the dominant one.  Cultures world-wide have created myths or used religion to explain the occurrence of torrential rains and floods.

Clashing views about the origin and solutions to natural disasters continue today, in 2017, with at least one cartoon about Hurricane Harvey already drawing controversyDoes Default-ImageSmall_12one wait for rescue by heavenly messengers or pitch in and help one’s neighbors?   In the weeks and months ahead, people’s patience and goodness—and government leaders’ savvy and sincerity—will undoubtedly continue to be tested in these matters.   Relief for Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico has been dangerously slow and frustrating.  These are tests we can ill afford to fail, particularly as other political disasters loom with growing, frightening frequency.  Unfortunately, it seems that diplomatic wisdom remains in shorter supply right now than political trumpery.





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Trending–Heroes and Icons

Screen_Shot_2017-08-18_at_10.59.55_AM“Popularity” changes and is rarely “one-size-fits-all.”  We could see such trending last month in back-to-school clothing sales and, more significantly, the toppling of Confederate monuments that lionized slavery’s defenders.  Heroism is time and culture-sensitive.  This is equally true of the superheroes who figure in many comics, past and present.   Even well-known heroes may have their costumes and roles filled by very different people.   

truth04In past posts, I have discussed the comic book adventures of a Black Captain America; a Pakistani-American, Muslim Miss Marvel; and a Hispanic Spiderman. These incarnations of iconic heroes of course battle evil, but their cultural diversity has them facing some challenges that never confronted the original white wearers of their costumes.  These diverse heroes will never be popular with the KKK, but they have been a hit with a much wider audience.  (Yet is the popularity of an icon’s new holder always reliable?  Donald Trump, now occupying the iconic position of U.S. president, is still trending well with many people who voted for him, but. . . .)

Superman_S_symbol.svgToday I look at two fresh takes on traditional superheroes, one relatively little-known and the other a world-wide icon.  The first, with its 4th grade main character, will have particular appeal for kids in this back-to-school month.  Yet the Moon Girl and Devil Dinosaur comic book series will also charm older readers sympathetic to tween-age woes.  On the other hand, even though Superman comics are read by all ages, the characters and focus of offshoot graphic novel It’s a Bird . . .  make it best suited to readers teen and older.

51fPtjaBsTLThe Moon Girl and Devil Dinosaur comics (collected to date in three volumes, 2016-2017) revamp a late 1970s comic series featuring prehistoric heroes Moon Boy and Devil Dinosaur.  (This “good guy” creature was named Devil due to its red hide, permanently scorched red in a fire it survived.)  In the current series, set in the same comic book universe as Ms. Marvel, writers Brandon Montclare and Amy Reeder’s hero is nine year old Lunella Lafayette, a Black girl living with her parents on the Lower East Side of Manhattan.  Until a time warp brings Devil Dinosaur to 2016 New York, Lunella’s biggest problems have been dealing with school and parents.  Lunella is genius-level smart and scientific, but her public-school classes bore her, getting her into trouble.  Knowledgeable but sassy Lunella answers back in ways that can befuddle her science teacher.  For instance, that well-meaning adult does not recognize the debunked scientific term “phlogiston” when Lunella snaps it out. Her parents’ worries and expectations frustrate Lunella to tears, even though she loves them.  These problems intensify once Devil Dinosaur appears.

MGDD_2Affected by the same alien gas that mutated Kamala Khan into Ms. Marvel, Lunella experiences a much less useful mutation.  She has episodes of  uncontrollable, temporary exchange of consciousness with Devil Dinosaur!  These lead everyone to think that the girl genius is having mental breakdowns.  This series’ delights include its spot-on depiction of school life, with sharp characterizations of Lunella’s classmates and teachers, including the newest student, another scientific whiz kid who is really an outer-space alien.  Secretive “Marvin’s” rebellious relationship with his loving parents mirrors Lunella’s. 

Moon_Girl_and_Devil_Dinosaur_Vol_1_9_Textless (1)Despite these increasing problems, Lunella does not retreat from challenges.  She becomes crime-fighting Moon Girl (a name derived from a favorite t-shirt), using her smarts and scientific know-how in combination with Devil Dinosaur’s strength and size to battle assorted villains.  Some of these foes are villains from other Marvel comics, just as some of Lunella’s allies are superheroes such as the Hulk and the Thing, as well as Ms. Marvel herself.  Over the course of the three volumes, Lunella comes to realize the value of friends as well as allies, of fitting in as well as standing out in a crowd.  Yet the authors also support her exceptionality and its relationship to scientific progress.  Each chapter (originally a separate comic book issue) begins with an apt quotation from a real-life science high achiever, often a woman.  One is geneticist Rosalind Franklin’s remark that “Science and everyday life cannot and should not be separated.” 

Artists Natacha Bustos, Marco Failla, and Ray-Anthony Height—working with colorist Tamira Bonvillain and letterist Travis Lanham—advance plots and ideas here in effective, very enjoyable ways.  From the details of science-loving Lunella’s room to inserted panels with close-ups of emotional faces, to panels drawn at differing angles to emphasize changes in height or spread across pages to emphasize action and motion—visual elements meld seamlessly with well-crafted text.  Bright, bold colors suit Lunella’s personality as well as classroom interactions and the physical confrontations that occur more frequently than quiet moments for tumblr_inline_ob093xaqPb1rqpcix_500Moon Girl and Devil Dinosaur.  Similarly, the sound effects that accompany Lunella’s perpetual race to get to school on time as well as her heroic battles are amplified by apt changes in font and color.  The “TAP TAP TAP” of roller skates is shown differently than “DIIING” of the late bell and the “ROAR” of angry Devil Dinosaur.  Lunella is such an engaging character—imperfect but growing, fierce in ambition but also in love and loyalty—that I am willing to overlook what felt like too many “guest appearances” by other superheroes in Volume 3.  I look forward to Volume 4 of Moon Girl and Devil Dinosaur’s collected adventures, scheduled for publication in January, 2018.

41CeONSKvCL._SX322_BO1,204,203,200_Why do some superheroes, such as the original Devil Dinosaur, remain little-known while others, such as Superman, become icons?  Author Steven T. Seagle tackles this question in It’s a Bird . . .  (2004; 2010; 2017) which won artist Teddy Kristiansen an Eisner Award for best interior art in 2005, upon its first publication.  (The pair has collaborated on other successful graphic novels, including Genius, which I reviewed here in 2014.) In this semi-autobiographical work, Seagle explores how personal as well as cultural reasons may influence popularity.

The narrator of It’s a Bird . . . , a comic book writer, is dismayed rather than thrilled when he is offered the rare chance to write Superman stories for its franchise owner, DC Comics.  We slowly learn that he Its-A-Bird...interior-1associates this hero with the dreaded family secret he discovered as a five year old—the fact that Huntington’s Chorea, an incurable and fatal disease, runs in his family.  He is wearing a Superman t-shirt and reading a Superman comic when he overhears a telling hospital conversation and glimpses the medical report about his grandmother, dying from this disease.  In interviews, Seagle has spoken about his family’s Huntington’s disease, and he dedicated It’s a Bird to his Aunt Sarah, who “did not get to see it.”  Along with letterer Todd Klein, artist Kristiansen does a masterful job of conveying these early experiences—half-read pages, stern adult faces and bewildered children drawn with child-like simplicity, in muted water colors.  Only the comics image of Superman and a remembered, parallel “S” on the medical report are colored boldly.  Later, we see that t-shirt “S” and tearful eyes also recalled in red.


A major portion of It’s a Bird . . .  depicts how the narrator/Seagle comes to terms with his family’s genetic burden—the ways in which keeping silent about it and his fears have affected his personal relationships as well as the professional opportunity that now stymies him.  As he tries to put off any final decision about writing Superman, we are shown each of the culturally-defined character traits of this iconic figure, and how these stack up in the real world. 

94b8367b4d6d6ec66fd0d902a0d27851--superman-superheroIt’s a Bird . . .  spotlights the ways in which many people in the U.S.A. are even greater “outsiders,” with their own “secret identities,” than the character of Superman is.  The idea of an ubermench or “superman” has historical precedents which have been twisted to oppress rather than help.  Also, in real life as well as this novel many people besides Superman have sought to create their own “fortress of solitude,” often with unfortunate results.  Each of these and other iconic aspects of the Superman character is given its own several page sidebar, depicted in a separate, unifying color scheme and in a different, identifiable artistic style, ranging from Cubism to the four-color dots of old-fashioned comics.  There are apt font changes, too.  I especially like the entire page devoted to different versions of the letter “S,” and to the double spread about the “The Alien,” with  full color and grey-tone images illustrating Seagle’s “rap” about all those treated as alien in 21st century America. 


 It’s a Bird . . .  is itself just the kind of personalized take on Superman that its narrator finally decides to write, accepting the offered job.  He decides to stay fully in the race that is life, to “turn the page and know what was going to happen next.” The final frames show this character telling two small boys, who resemble himself and his brother as kids, that what is up in the sky is neither a plane nor a bird  but “Superman. . . . You can see him if you look close enough, but you really have to Its_a_Bird_-_GN_p124-600x321want it.”   Superman is both cultural icon and the personal favorite of the narrator’s immigrant taxi-driving friend because Rafa wants to believe in this figure, in the American dream.  In his words, “Superman versus anyone?  It’s Superman.  America, baby, red, white, and blue.” 

These kinds of sophisticated insights into iconic popularity, along with emphasis on adult choices and many sidebars, are elements that direct this work towards older readers.  Ironically, this narrative and visual richness would, I believe, not be a hit with the current resident of our own iconic White House.  While I can easily see President Trump saying something to small children about Superman (after all, there are frequent news shots of him holding the hand of a grandchild), I cannot squareimagine him handling the complexities of It’s a Bird. . . .   Its language and storytelling are too far removed from the non-avian tweets President Trump favors, and his pronouncements about racism and statues (as well as many other topics) show how poorly he understands or can work with shades of grey.  I remain hopeful that this president’s popularity will wane enough to unseat him.



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Not Just “For the Birds”

imagesSaying something is “for the birds” is an old-fashioned put-down.  It means “not worth much” and actually refers to the horse droppings on city streets that birds once ate.  (So my saying that President Trump’s policies are “for the birds” would not be a polite and positive comment on his environmental views.)  Today, however, I highlight two recent works—a graphic novel and a picture book—whose positive focus is on (or for) birds.  Moreover, through their enchanting arrays of words and images, these books go beyond their avian story lines to raise other intriguing, meaningful ideas for readers.  Tweens on up will appreciate the graphic novel Audubon, On the Wings of the World (2016; 2017), while readers as young as four will enjoy the picture book The Fog (2017).   

61e5sK-OAaL._SX366_BO1,204,203,200_Created by French author Fabien Grolleau and Belgian illustrator Jerem Royer (and translated into English by Etienne Gilfillan), Audubon, On the Wings of the World is the life story of one of France’s most notable immigrants to the U.S., John James Audubon (1785 – 1851).  Today Audubon is renowned for the lifelike, extensive images reproduced in his masterwork, Birds of America (1827 – 1839).  It is considered one of the world’s greatest ornithological studies.  (Some of its illustrations appear in the graphic novel’s End Notes.  All are also now available online.)   Both the large, influential National Audubon Society, advocating for the environment since 1905, and the smaller Audubon International organization are named in honor of this immigrant naturalist and painter.  He left journals and notebooks documenting the extensive, difficult travels he undertook to find and depict our young nation’s wildlife.  Yet Grolleau and Royer in their graphic novel go far beyond these fascinating facts, themselves sometimes embellished by Audubon’s imagination or later recollection.

In the Foreward, Grolleau writes that their “retelling . . . should be read as a more ‘romanticized’ version of Audubon’s life . . . . [which they] hope will give a fuller sense of the man than the mere facts ever could.”  And, indeed, this book is as much images (1)about how scientific passion and artistic obsession can take hold of a person, separating him from family bonds and social conventions, as it is about Audubon’s achievements.  Grolleau and Royer wow readers with their multiple accomplishments here: sophisticated storytelling that smoothly uses images to convey emotion and mental state as well as factual details.

Narrative boxes identify events with place names and dates, but these events—situated in five broader geographical locations—are not always told in a linear 9781910620151-1way.  For instance, the book’s opening scenes on the stormy Mississippi River reoccur later in the novel, shown from a different angle.  This technique will intrigue some readers but may put off others.  Similarly, some readers may find much to ponder in how obsessed Audubon, hearing a strange bird call, can leave his wife mid-sentence, just as she is telling him she is again pregnant.  Other readers may simply be dismayed or appalled.  (We see Audubon leaving his family on their own for years at a time.)   The novel’s images also clearly show, however, that Audubon was equally hard on himself in his scientific pursuits and artistic endeavors.

Double-spread and full page images show how flocks of birds and fantastic, sometimes frightening visions consume a fever-ridden Audubon.  He imagines birds with men’s heads, and “converses” with the spirits of his two dead daughters and his own father as they seem to emerge from the swirling Mississippi.  At other Audubon3_1024x1024points, Audubon starves, purchasing paints rather than food with his limited money.   Later, in his final years and days, when he is afflicted with dementia, we see how Audubon envisions himself turning into a bird.  We also see how his family has come to reconcile themselves with the impact of Audubon’s unswerving obsessions on their lives.  Wordless panels and sequences of wordless pages are eloquent throughout this novel.  Water colors softly color its pages, where street and nautical scenes, bird and human bodies are precisely drawn but human features are cartoon-like.  (On the Wings of the World won a European comics award for its success with this drawing style, known in French as claire ligne [clear line].)

AUDUBON_Inside_61-764x1024Readers are left to wonder whether the ornithologist sees more or less than the rest of us, whether he is insightful or self-deluded, through Royer’s depiction of some fantastic elements.  There appear at one point to be mermaids in the Mississippi, while a whole new Bear constellation seems etched into one night-time sky.   Some panels feature montages, showing sequential events all seeming to take place in a circle outside of time.  One of these large panels features a variety of creatures, including a squirrel and warbler, which Audubon imagines watching him as closely as he has observed them! 

517NQqk5ILL._SX364_BO1,204,203,200_Such reversal of observer with observed is the premise of the picture book I am pleased to discuss today.  The Fog (2017), written by award-winning Kyo Maclear and illustrated by Kenard Pak, is told from the view of Warble, a small yellow bird who is “a devoted human watcher”!  Warble  has identified hundreds of these fascinating creatures, numbering each one and labelling it by its observable characteristics.  Besides delightful interior images of Warble’s observations, the book’s end papers are filled with images—and their accompanying mock-serious  descriptions—of more than a dozen identifiably distinct human “types.”  Readers young and old will laugh at Pak’s charmingly penciled, then computer-manipulated illustrations of such figures as # 663 SPOTTED AUDIOPHILIC FEMALE (JUVENILE),  #667 SILVER-CRESTED CLAPPER (ELDER), AND #674 SWIFT RED-CAPPED PITCHER.  Yet The Fog is not just humorous but looks at what happens when Warble’s world experiences a mysterious, dramatic change. 


A dense fog of unknown origin obscures and drastically limits sight lines in Warble’s northern homeland, “Icy Land.”  How other avians and Warble itself adapt to this loss is one part of the story here.  Another is the relationship Warble establishes with what seems to be be a “lost” human specimen, the creature he identifies as #675 RED-HOODED SPECTACLED FEMALE (JUVENILE).  Young readers c_fq51zwaaee5kowill delight here in recognizing what Warble does not: his new friend, with her own binoculars, is a bird-watcher.  Working together, they send a message about the fog out into the world.   Replies eventually come back, letting them know that other parts of the world have also distressingly been obscured.  Then, the fog slowly lifts as mysteriously as it had appeared.  Warble and his human friend remain close, though, enjoying each other’s company and their restored view of wonderful nature. 

While The Fog may be enjoyed on its plot level—a simple fantasy in which engaging characters survive a physical challenge—it also functions as an allegory.  Several  IMG_20170413_133911 (1)reviewers have noted that its global fog may represent climate change, so evident these days in our real-life Arctic and Antarctic “icy lands.”  In an interview, author Maclear acknowledges that this fog may also represent a state of mind—depression or anxiety, which lessen when one connects with others.  Maclear says that the impact of such moods, and how to manage them, are themes she has dealt with in her award-winning works for adults.  The most recent of these, a non-fiction memoir titled Birds Art Life (2017), not coincidentally examines a year of city-based bird-watching. 

IMG_20170413_134058Perhaps as another way to manage mood, Maclear reveals how much she enjoys collaborating with illustrators in her many award-nominated works for young readers.  She explains, “I love creating things with other people.”   She works with illustrators by being “specific about what I’m intentionally leaving out.  Whenever you see words in the art, I’ve  written those.  Other times I leave gaps and ask the illustrator to please fill it.  To create a wordless spread that captures a certain sensibility . . . .”  Kenard Pak, who has illustrated other nature and bird books with several authors, certainly meets and exceeds those goals in The Fog.   

Are you ready to venture into bird-watching with some young readers?  Author/illustrator Annette Le Blanc Cate’s award-winning Look Up! Bird-Watching in Your Own Backyard (2013) is a fine first resource, particularly for those of us in 614hvm6rmdL._SY416_BO1,204,203,200_North America.  The Audubon Society produces more detailed regional field guides for North America, as well as hosting a website guide and a mobile guide app.  The Society also lists its own “best books of the year” about birds world-wide.  Of course, check out the library for information about birds near and far, real and imagined.  The library will help you all to “fly” around the world—without wings!





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Beyond Graduation: Leaving and Returning Home

downloadJune brings proud smiles and commencement speeches for graduates of all ages.  For many older grads, another rite of passage will soon follow: leaving home for college or that first full-time job.  At least, this is the idealized version of how teens leave the safety of their family homes for the wider world.  As we see in a deeply satisfying new graphic novel, not all teens have such good fortune.  Readers tween on up will find much to enjoy and ponder in Soupy Leaves Home (2017).  It does a great job making its 1930s USA setting accessible to contemporary readers while highlighting emotions and ideas not limited to  one time or place.  And—since it shows an individual coping with and surmounting personal obstacles—Soupy Leaves Home is a tonic that eases today’s too-often sickening nightly news.  Its straightforward, hopeful sentiment is not trumpery.

41lJaofZd3LThis tale of seventeen year-old Pearl, who disguises herself as a boy and takes to the rails as a hobo named “Soupy,” fleeing her abusive father’s fists, began as personal therapy for its award-winning author Cecil Castelluci.  In interviews, Castelluci has described how she latched onto researching hobos in Depression-era America at a hard time in her own life.  There were female hobos, many of whom dressed as men as they participated in hobo life, with its own code of ethics and justice system.  Those are important plot elements here.    Pearl learns to trust others and herself through her strong friendship with fatherly hobo “Ramshackle,” who has never lost his power to dream.  She is inspired to return home to confront her family and seize her own dream of higher education, still unconventional for women in the 1930s.  Illustrator Jose Pimienta brings Castelluci’s character-driven story to life vividly and insightfully.

soupy2Color is key in this novel.  A changing array of richly-saturated monochrome pages conveys both the intensity and the progress of Soupy’s literal and emotional travels.  As the young hobo begins to open up to the world, some panels and the less frequent full-page and double-page spreads also open up to  two or more colors.  In one such spread, Soupy comes to realize that, like “mulligan stew . . . . [t]he most important ingredient of all” in life “is kindness and an ear to the person everyone shuns.”   Other dual or tri-colored scenes show Soupy’s final courageous return home, once she realizes that “I have to go and face my things or else I’ll never be free.” There, as throughout the novel, joyful imaginings and dreams are depicted in multiple colors—as shapes and figures swirl fantastically through the air. 

download (1)Illustrator Pimienta’s significant role in this novel is also evident in its many wordless pages and panels.  We see Soupy’s fears and doubts in her deftly-etched features, as she reacts to and reflects on events.  For instance, we see how she comes to call herself “Soupy.”  When asked by other hobos for her name, disguised Pearl is ladling up some stew.  That panel contains her one word reply, “Soupy,” which is confirmed by the next wordless panel, a close-up of her hands on that soup bowl.   Similarly, we later see college student Pearl’s success as a well-rounded person depicted in her triumphant body language.  She is posed as a confident traveler, her now woman-styled hair comfortably worn with “boyish” clothing.  Pimienta more than fulfills author Castellucci’s goals for this novel. 

1616554312.01.S00H.LXXXXXXX_1024x1024As Castellucci explains, having written all-prose as well as graphic novels, she  chose to write this book as a graphic novel because “Soupy is kind of shut down [as a character] and a comic book allows you to have silence.  It also allows you to have scope and vistas.”  Those long views, Castelluci goes on to say, help communicate how different the 1930s were, particularly for hobo travelers, and are important as well for the “magical” imaginings of her characters.  It is fascinating to learn how Castelluci collaborated with illustrator Pimienta.  She outlined page content, but he determined panel placement and highlights.  Castelluci says that with this “full collaboration,” she was able to take her deliberately overwritten pages and “throw out a lot of .  .  . text.”  The remaining dialogue is lean and powerful.  Pimienta himself says he was moved by the book’s “sweet” script, able to relate “to several of the characters, not just Soupy.”  He researched online and through photographs not just general 1930s backgrounds but also specific locations for the small town details depicted in Soupy and Ramshackle’s country-wide travels.  Castelluci provided information about hobo signs, which also appear in a useful appendix to the novel.

61jB6kbKc1L._SX372_BO1,204,203,200_Mature tweens and teen readers interested in hobo life and/or Depression era USA might appreciate two other, hard-hitting graphic novels on this topic.  The multiple award-winning Kings in Disguise (1988; 2006) and its sequel On the Ropes (2013), written by James Vance and illustrated by Dan E. Burr, explore how labor problems—union organizing and strike-breaking—dramatically affect the life of teen-aged hobo Fred.  Unlike Soupy, who comes from a relatively affluent home, Fred takes to the rails due to poverty and scarce jobs.  Drawing upon real-life events between 1932 and 1937, these powerful, comparatively downbeat books were reviewed here in September, 2013.  (Author James Vance died, I was dismayed to learn, just a few weeks ago.  I now want to reread these books in tribute to him!) 

wildboysoftheroad-lobbycard4Related works in a different storytelling medium—one in which the images move—include some Hollywood films.  Author Castellucci cites The Journey of Natty Gann (1985) and Sullivan’s Travels (1941) as her movie inspiration, to which I would add director William Wellman’s classic film Wild Boys of the Road (1933).  Despite its title, its main characters include a teen-aged girl hobo.  Unlike Soupy, these young characters do not return to their own homes, but Wellman’s studio bosses—concerned with public reaction to the hard-hitting film—insisted that it have a happy ending comparable to Soupy’s story.  A  judge surprisingly listens to and helps the down-and-out teens.    

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Bigger Than Life? Tall Tales and “Fake News”

00THISLAND1-superJumboWe Minnesotans love tall tales—especially ones about Paul Bunyan.   Kids read about how his huge feet supposedly stomped out our 10,000 lakes and how the giant chopped down thousands of trees with one ax stroke.  The communities of Bemidji and Brainerd boast the largest statues of this lumberjack and his blue ox Babe, but other Minnesota towns also will be celebrating on June 28, now officially Paul Bunyan Day.  It is not clear which city official or marketing professional dreamed up this holiday, which might even have begun in Maine, our state’s biggest competitor for Bunyan fame

51sISSsccoL._SY417_BO1,204,203,200_While individual states stake claims to particular tall tale heroes, such folk lore figures are found throughout America’s landscape.  This phenomenon provides one lens through which to view a recent, highly-anticipated graphic novel, Cathy Malkasian’s Eartha (2017).   Its titular central figure—the gentle giant Eartha—is as good-natured and righteous as Paul Bunyan and all his kind.  She charges off to help others and fight villains as unselfishly and quickly as any legendary hero.   Yet if we use only this lens we will distort author/illustrator Malkasian’s creation, which contains a more complicated world-view than the typical tall tale. 

As award-winning Malkasian notes at her website, her graphic novels “explore characters and ideas . . . . They can be disturbing, sad, silly, confusing, and even subtle.”  Or, as Malkasian wryly notes in her author biography on amazon.com, her books are “intended for adults, despite any information to the contrary.”  I would unreservedly add teens (and some mature tweens) to readers who would appreciatively read EarthaHowever, a potential confusion of the appropriate audience for Malkasian’s graphic novels may come from her distinctive visual style, choice of genres, and economical storytelling.  Taken together, they might erroneously suggest that Eartha is a work for younger readers.


In this graphic novel, pencil drawings in muted colors emphasize emotions in the features of softly-shaded, cartoon-like characters. This expressiveness extends to the talking cat which is a major character in this fantastic saga, set on a world divided between the rural community of Echo Fjord, Eartha’s home, and the City Across the Sea.  Folks still plow with oxen in Echo Fjord, which until recently has94edeaeba76cc3a4cb9f780302034929._SX1280_QL80_TTD_ been the destination and resting place for physical manifestations of city-dwellers’ unrealized dreams.  When Eartha bravely sets out for the City, she takes a rowboat.  The highest level of technology in Echo Fjord is its massive drain pipes, while the City—with its stone and off-kilter stucco buildings reminiscent of 19th century Europe—deploys broadcast and aeronautical technology typical of the 1920s and ‘30s.  Malkasian depicts a world outside of conventional time and history, where even the moon seems part of a fairy tale, oblong in shape over the Fjord but looming round over the City and its seaside. 

EARTHA-09This fairy tale mode—with its presumptive audience of younger readers—is   further suggested by the many wordless panels Malkasian uses to convey action.  Shifts in perspective among these finely detailed images as well as their sequence are telling.  For instance, when she sets out for the City, we see low, close views of determined Eartha as she drops into and wades along the reservoir leading to a drainage outlet.  The giant hero fills each of these panels.  When Eartha then slides into its long chute to reach the sea, we see her from behind and at a distance.  Next, close-ups show Eartha straining to row the boat she luckily finds, struggling too not to capsize it. As she rows onward, side and overhead views drawn from a distance dramatically show how even enormous Eartha is dwarfed by the sea’s vastness.

Furthermore, dialogue when used is relatively brief.  Although such style is  characteristic of picture books and other graphic works for younger readers,  the flaws and problems of the City-dwellers are ones that bedevil adults (including lust and emotional longing)—and the city-wide crisis that has cut short their dreams is one endemic to the 21st century.   Malkasian critiques aspects of human nature and satirizes social trends in ways that—given that Eartha was completed before President Trump’s election—eerily echo today’s headlines, sound-bites, and Tweets.


City dwellers’ greed and need for social status are shown in their willingness to trade all belongings, including mementos of their loved ones, for what now substitutes for money in their world: biscuits stamped with the latest news!  These supposed bulletins are all just four words long, and absurdly juxtapose nouns and verbs to describe disasters such as “Corn accident mauls has-been.” The wealthiest citizens are the plumpest, prominently gorging on biscuits in public as they loudly bemoan the news they compulsively swallow.  These characters do not see the irony in the City’s biscuit-news motto, displayed under its largest radio receiver, “The World in a Bite.”  They are like many people these days (such as President Trump) who cannot stay away from social media and 24-hour a day news stations.  In a recent interview, Malkasian confirmed this inspiration, saying “I’m really worried about addictive technologies and social media.  I’m really concerned about what it’s doing to people’s brains and outlooks.” 

635879102861483913-60292387_aa odyssey tweetIronically, given our president’s charges about official news organizations spreading “fake news,” it is those Tweet-like cookies which are phony.  That gigantic radio receiver does not work!  The cookies are the brainchild of a successful (if unhappy) baking magnate whose minions terrorize City dwellers as they bilk them of their possessions.  The rule of law in the City has become “Acquisition is Justice.”  As the United States’ chief executive today uses his business experience to gauge and set public policy, along the way tweeting unsubstantiated accusations about people and groups, the absurdities in this novel begin to seem frighteningly less fantastic and more probable.

Eartha2_0715In Eartha, Malkasian resolves these problems with a fairy-tale like dovetailing of several plots, revealing connections and family relationships that aid gentle giant Eartha in her quest.  She is able to help free the City from its web of deceitful news and return triumphantly to Echo Fjord and her true love Maybelle, to a world where now not just acquisition but “everything mattered.”  These are the feel-good, if ambiguous, last words on the novel’s last page, depicting a snoozing Eartha as she pillows snoring Maybelle and their noisily slumbering friend Old Lloyd.  They are content, even if readers are left to wonder about the ultimate impact of epitaphs, with their supposed end-of-life insights, that now blanket City streets in paper bulletins.  Will people there take these sometimes cryptic messages to heart, and strive for more authentic goals than social prestige and wealth?   We do not know for sure.  It is a kind of hopefully uncertain ending that will resonate best with older readers.

51zsCBNqxYL._SX396_BO1,204,203,200_For those seeking more clear-cut conclusions and purely humorous tales, this month readers young and old might relish several 51PJPpHreQL._SX408_BO1,204,203,200_delightful picture book additions to Paul Bunyan’s legend: The Bunyans (1996; 2006), written by award-winning Audrey Wood and illustrated by David Shannon, details the adventures of Paul, his wife Carrie McIntie, and their two enormous children.  Minnesota author Marybeth Lorbiecki posits a different, bigger-than-life true love for Paul in Paul Bunyan’s 51OPs+iIH4L._SX346_BO1,204,203,200_Sweetheart (2007; 2011), illustrated by Renee Graef.  There, gigantic Lucette Diana Kensack’s part – Ojibwe heritage is added to the tale.  And another Minnesota author, Phyllis Root, creates a “little” sister for Paul in Paula Bunyan (2009), illustrated by Kevin O’Malley.  Little Paula is only as tall as a pine tree!

Happy Paul Bunyan Day—and happy reading each and every day!



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