Friday, September 12, 2014

TOON Books Reviews

When I grew up I read comic books, like most young boys. I read Superman, Batman, and the likes. It wasn't high literature by any means, but I was reading right? When I was in high school and college, I discovered Japanese comic books, also known as manga. Manga at least had many genres, and you could find series with better writing and more depth than most American comics. Recently, I have discovered an even higher brow of comics, called graphic novels. I feel behind the times, however, as they have been around for a while, and I am just discovering them. Today, I will be reviewing two from the publisher TOON Books.

Theseus and the Minotaur is a Greek myth that needs no real introduction or explanation. Master French cartoonist, Yvan Pommaux, does a masterful job starting the story from the very beginning though. We learn of Theseus' mom, Princess Aethra, and how both Poseidon and King Aegeus, "had" her. We see a brief glimpse of her raising her son, Theseus, but during that time we learn a great deal about the background and bitter hatred between Aegeus, King of Athens, and Minos, King of Crete. We are then taught where the Minotaur came from. It wasn't explicit, but there were a few images that were surprising. After this, we see Theseus as an adult and learn of his feats, before he finally meets his father, Aegeus. Theseus then goes off to slay the Minotaur, and does so with some help that he received from King Minos' daughter.

There were things I liked and disliked about this book. Let me start with what I didn't like. For starters, it did not read like a comic book. There were text bubbles, but they were few and far between. It more felt like reading a narration than characters interacting. The other thing I didn't like was the sexual themes in the book. Yes, it's Greek mythology, so it is to be expected, but the suggested reading level is 8+. With these themes, it should be middle school, and probably late middle school at that. What I liked is that this adaptation stayed true to the mythology. I also liked that there was phonetic pronunciations of the hard to pronounce Greek names. This is helpful for kids and adults alike. The index and further readings at the ends were also a nice touch and super helpful. Last, but not least, the illustrations were great, but of course I knew they would be! Overall, a very good graphic novel, just use your judgment on what age to let your children read it.

Hansel and Gretel is a joint collaboration of Neil Gaiman and Lorenzo Mattotti. I decided to review this book, because my wife loves Neil Gaiman, so I thought I'd finally give him a shot. The illustrations in this book are shades of black and white. These monochromatic illustrations present a very shadowy and haunting story. That makes them perfect for accompanying this chilling tale that many of us only think we know. This, however, is a Brothers Grimm fairy tale, so it's supposed to be dark.

The story stays true to the original version, with the exception of the mother. In the original, I believe it was the father's second wife, not first wife. This makes the story a little darker, because it is the wife (mother) who convinces the father to leave the children in the woods to starve. The rest of the story is pretty well known. They go to a witch's house. She tries to cook them. They stuff her into and oven and escape. They then find their way home to their father. The mother died from unknown causes, so it's mostly a happy ending. At the end of the book is a brief history lesson on the story of Hansel and Gretel, which would be good for older readers in a school or homeschool setting. Overall, I was very pleased with Lorenzo Mattotti's illustrations and Neil Gaiman's storytelling lived up to my wife's hype.