Tuesday, September 25, 2018

Reader's Diary #1910- Chad Sell: The Cardboard Kingdom

Lately I've been finding so many great books with diverse characters. Chad Sell's graphic novel The Cardboard Kingdom definitely belongs in this category.

It revolves around a bunch of kids from a variety of races, with a variety of family make-ups, and characters from the LGBTQ spectrum. However, by focusing on the diversity, I'm making the book sound more didactic than it is. While there are moments when a child or a parent wrestles with their identity and questions of acceptance, for the most part diversity is simply treated as the norm... because it is normal! Instead, the book's major theme is celebrating imagination.

Set during a summer, the kids all come together building kingdoms and costumes out of cardboard, honing characters and imagining all sorts of adventures. It really took me back to my own childhood and made me nostalgic for the days pre-smartphones.

Interestingly, though Chad Sell's name is the only one on the cover, most of the chapters are co-written with a variety of other writers. The artwork helps somewhat from keeping the book from seeming disjointed, but Sell's writing should also be credited with keeping the characters feeling consistent throughout.

The art is bright and simple, sweet, fun and full of energy.

I will note, however, that I thought there'd be some sort of Marvel tie-in based upon the cover. Am I the only one seeing the Hulk, Captain America, Scarlet Witch, and Loki on there?

Monday, September 24, 2018

Reader's Diary #1909: Sandra Cisneros: Eleven

In my first year of teaching it became an informal ritual in my grade 3 class for me to sing Shirley Ellis's "the Name Game" for my students, substituting their names in as they'd go into fits and giggles once they were the star. Well, most. It turned out that one little girl found it humiliating to discover her name rhymed with Banana. I had no idea she'd been feeling like this until her mom called me and I felt terrible. While sometimes teachers are clearly douchebags, sometimes they're just humans who make insensitive mistakes. It was with that in mind that I commiserated somewhat with the teacher in Sandra Cisneros' short story "Eleven" even though the story is about, and from the perspective of, the student. I'm sure the teacher would agree that it's not her shining moment, but would probably be mortified to learn that she came across as such a villain.

The story has a pretty powerful voice though and Cisnero easily sells the trauma with authenticity. Even a non-eleven year old would likely relate to her feelings of insecurity.

Saturday, September 22, 2018

Reader's Diary #1908- Eoin Colfer and Andrew Donkin (writers), Giovanni Rigano (artist): Illegal

One of the acknowledgements at the end of Eoin Colfer and Andrew Donkin's graphic novel Illegal is to those who talked to the authors "about their experiences but who wished to remain anonymous." I was glad to see this note, even if I wished it had been at the front of the book and perhaps with a little more insight into the process. Without this info ahead of time, I admit being on guard that the story of a Ghanaian refugee's journey to Europe maybe shouldn't be told from a couple of white guys with a white illustrator. Sure the subject was important and topical and sure I felt emotion why reading it, but I wondered someone from Ghana would consider it accurate and sensitive and focused on the right details.

The story revolves around a boy named Ebo whose range of expressions do a remarkable job of capturing his fear, his bravery, and his love. This connection is especially important as, once he succeeds in his journey to Europe, his humanity will be called into question (as the title implies).

Illegal is aimed at younger readers but makes a lot of use of flashbacks that I wonder wouldn't be confusing for them. Perhaps I'm not giving younger readers enough credit. As an older reader, I think I would have liked more backstory at the beginning and more follow-up on the end, but all in all, I was pleased.

Friday, September 21, 2018

Reader's Diary #1907- Joseph Kesselring: Arsenic and Old Lace

Besides having heard of the title before, I'd not seen any production or adaptation of Joseph Kesselring's play Arsenic and Old Lace before. I'd assumed it would be a cosy, murder mystery sort. And a few pages in, I suspected it would be too quaint for my tastes.

Then the dark farcical comedy started and I loved it. I suppose there might be some modern readers who might balk at the depiction of mental and cognitive illness depictions, but for what it's worth, the character that appears craziest at first (a man who believes himself Teddy Roosevelt), turns out to be one of the least villainous. It any case, it's all in over-the-top jest with witty met-asides about the theatre in general. It's fast paced and full of eccentric, hilarious characters, and all in all, I loved it.

Thursday, September 20, 2018

Reader's Diary #1906- Ru Xu: Newsprints

Ru Xu's graphic novel Newsprints revolves around a young girl named Blue who so badly wants to sell newspapers that she's willing to disguise herself as a boy, boys being the only one considered socially accepted to take on such a task. While working as a newsie she meets a scientist who may have a major role to play in the current war, as well as an mysterious character named Crow.

I quite enjoyed the manga-styled art, especially with sepia tones lending to the story's pseudo-historical fiction setting. As well, I thought the themes of pursuing dreams, even despite society's expectations, to be important and handled well. Would these be enough to appeal to modern younger readers who mightn't care a whit about newspapers? I'm not sure.

There are some steampunk elements that eventually make the story more exciting but for me the pacing was off, taking a little too long to get to such elements.

Monday, September 17, 2018

Reader's Diary #1905- Gary Beck: The Audition

Gary Beck's "The Audtion" is a timely story of an awkward audition. I say it's timely as the director spends too long leering at the actor's breasts, but let's face it, this would have been unfortunately timely ever since males have been directors. But at least now more people are more loudly calling bullshit.

While the director's behaviour may be typical, the rest of the audition is anything but. Told from the actor's point of view, we hear her confusion and doubts but she nonetheless is unflappable and acquiesces to the odd requests. Will it be enough to land her a role and would she even want one?

"The Audition" is a quick but interesting piece with a rich voice.

Friday, September 14, 2018

Reader's Diary #1904- Jeff Lemire: Roughneck

I've read most of Jeff Lemire's output and the record shows I'm a huge fan. But when I started to read Roughneck I wasn't sure at first that I'd get into it. Revolving around a ex-professional hockey player named Derek Ouelette, he's one of Lemire's most off-putting protagonists, hard drinking and choosing to "solve" problems with his fists.

But it's a testament to Lemire that he managed to squeeze some empathy out of me. Ouelette is a victim of domestic violence himself and like many such victims, unfortunately, he's perpetuating the cycle. As is his sister, newly returned into his life, pregnant, with an opioid addiction, and on the run from her abusive ex. Through Derek's concern for his sister, I became hopeful for some redemption (nothing could make up entirely for his past wrongs), but was kept on my toes wondering if he was already too far set in his ways.

Along the way, Jeff Lemire's scratchy style works well for the hard living themes and the watercolouring adds to the melancholy atmosphere. There's also a dog that makes an appearance for symbolism but I'm a little undecided about that as of yet; maybe too similar to the crow character in Essex County?