In which Annie (high school teacher, mother of two young girls and a younger boy) and her aunt Deborah (children's bookseller, mother of two young women in their 20s) discuss children's books and come up with annotated lists.

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Early reader mysteries and fairy tales in comic book form

Dear Aunt Debbie,

We are the happy recipients of another excellent birthday box from you, this one for Eleanor's 7th last week. Your boxes are the cause of much excitement in our house, as the kids know there will be something for each of them, no matter the occasion. Sibling presents on birthdays are the best.

Isabel was particularly excited to find that this box included several comic book/graphic novels. We have all become immediate fans of the early chapter-level graphic novel series Guinea Pig, Pet Shop Private Eye, by Colleen AF Venable and Stephanie Yue, which you mentioned in a recent post. Eleanor likes the detective/mystery aspect of the adventures of the guinea pig Sasspants, who is pressed into working as a private eye by a hamster named Hamisher. Isabel likes the superbly silly humor throughout. The pet shop is run by a scatterbrained man, Mr. Venezi, who labels the cages of all the animals with the wrong names. As a result, the hamsters all think they are koalas; the chinchillas are called camels, etc. There's a lot of opportunity for reading aloud with accents and dramatic voices, which you know we enjoy. I also appreciate that Sasspants, the protagonist, is female, and wants to do nothing more than lie back in her cage with a good book. She's my kind of detective.

Perhaps the biggest hit so far is Fairy Tale Comics: Classic Tales Told by Extraordinary Cartoonists, edited by Chris Duffy. It's a gorgeous book: 18 fairy tales, retold and illustrated by contemporary cartoonists. There is great variety in the style of illustration, and in the choice of stories. The girls immediately gravitated toward the familiar -- Little Red Riding Hood, Snow White, Rapunzel -- and enjoyed pointing out the ways in which the retellings differ from the versions we know well. Raina Telgemeier's Rapunzel is a particular favorite: Rapunzel jumps out the window after the prince and saves both of them by using her hair as a rope.

After that first pass through the book, we're starting to read some of the lesser-known stories: "Azzolino's Story Without End," from "The King and His Storyteller"; "The Prince and the Tortoise," from 1001 Nights; the English tale "The Small-Tooth Dog." Here's a page from Luke Pearson's retelling of the Japanese tale "The Boy Who Drew Cats":

I love coming into the living room to find each girl poring over these densely-illustrated pages. Even Will loves flipping the cover open. Another hit -- thank you!

Love, Annie


  1. Hi Annie! I am so in love with your kids just from your descriptions of what they read. I want to be in a book club with Eleanor and Isabel! And I'm taking frantic notes for Jonah, who is galloping through everything (gah, Superman chapter books! I managed to sneak in Nate the Great instead and those have been a big hit (with both of us!) so far). I bought him Bone -- I think he'll be ready for it in the next six months, hopefully -- and Zita the Spacegirl is waiting for us at our local bookstore.

    We just came across a book we both loved that I had to come recommend to you -- I kept thinking of you and your girls as we read it. It's called Rapunzel's Revenge, by Shannon and Dean Hale (yes, Shannon Hale who wrote Princess Academy -- I kind of love her), and it's a graphic novel retelling of Rapunzel with kind of a Wild West feel, where she uses her hair as a lasso and a whip and saves the day all over the place. It's funny and surprising, and one of the first longer books I've read with Jonah where I couldn't wait to get back to it and see what happened. (There's a sequel called "Calamity Jack," too, which we haven't read yet, but I plan to ask the library for it.)

    My only warning about it is that there are guns in it, although our heroes never use them...I'm trying to put off the inevitable gun thing that apparently all little boys go through, so I kind of mumbled around those parts, but he didn't seem to mind. :)

    Anyway, the awesomeness of the heroine plus the humor plus the graphic novel element made me think of Eleanor and Isabel (and especially now I see your post on the fairy tale retellings)...see what you think! I hope you like it, too! :)

    And enormous big hugs to Eleanor for liking my books -- she is SO AWESOME.

    Tui :)

    1. Thank you, Tui! I can't tell you the number of times recently that Eleanor has looked up from one of your books (Pet Trouble, Who Was Harry Houdini?, The Menagerie) and said with a sigh, "I love Tui's books!" Maybe we can do a mom/kid book club sometime in the future?

      I've put Rapunzel's Revenge on our library hold list, and look forward to checking it out. Eleanor has read Princess Academy, and really enjoyed it, so Shannon Hale will be a big selling point. Thanks for the recommendation -- I'll keep you posted!