Americus, by MK Reed and Jonathan Hill

This substantial graphic novel is about book-banning, libraries, the power of fiction (of fantasy in particular), fitting in at high school, losing friends, making friends, and figuring out who you really want to be … for starters. Neil and his best friend Danny graduate from grade eight and start high school with some trepidation. Both are devoted readers of a fantasy series, “The Chronicles of Apathea Ravenchilde”, finding it in both inspiration and escape. However, Danny’s religious-fanatic mother begins a campaign against the books. To say only that much makes it sound like a simplistic children’s tale in which everyone will learn a nice lesson about tolerance and the importance of reading, but it’s a complex, multi-layered story, with well-developed characters and evolving relationships, intended for teen readers and with lots of appeal to adults as well. The problems faced by the several protagonists of Americus go beyond book-banning: religious intolerance, homophobia, bullying, poverty, loneliness, friendship, and first love all form important elements of the plot. There are no simple endings.

Unlike some American graphic novels, the art is very sharp and clear. Snippets illustrating the Apathea Ravenchilde series are interwoven through the story as characters read the books, but these snippets also echo some emotion or event the primary world characters are experiencing, subtly illustrating the way that the characters are able to take strength to endure their real-life problems from the fantasy world in which the stories immerse them. At the end, the stories of the main characters, like that of their hero Apathea, are left in a safe place, but continuing. We know that they, too, will have new battles to face in the years to come, but that they will take strength from their past small victories.

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Testing … just to get you started: Father Christmas, by Raymond Briggs

Father Christmas by Raymond Briggs

The holidays are a time for old familiar rituals. One favourite Christmas book of Ook’s is Raymond Briggs’ Father Christmas. You might also be familiar with Briggs as the author of beloved picture book The Bear.

Father Christmas and Father Christmas Goes On Holiday aren’t conventional picture books. They’re written and illustrated in comic-book  from, with many panels on each page and only a few words. They’re not meant for reading out loud, but they’re definitely something the whole family can sit down and enjoy together. Much of the story is carried in the art, as is the humour. Father Christmas is an overworked, crotchety man who dreams of holidays in the sun. He lives alone with his cat, dog, two deer (called “the deers”) and a small flock of hens who provide his breakfast eggs. He is not a lover of the season. “Blooming Christmas here again,” he mutters, waking up on December 24th, his dreams of a deckchair on the beach shattered. The pictures follow him as he does his chores, fixes his breakfast, says good-bye to dog and cat, and heads off on his rounds, grumbling all the way about tight chimneys, soot, the modern tendency to leave a bottle of Coke instead of a nice glass of brandy …. He gets tangled in tv aerials, parks on a lighthouse’s beam of light to make a delivery off the coast of Scotland, and finishes up at Buckinghmam Palace, returning home, nodding off in his sleigh, just as the sun is rising. That’s not the end of his day. There are his animals to take care of and his own Christmas dinner to prepare. (And a stack of travel brochures to read.) Take your time over it and ask your kids to help you explore the details: his teeth in the glass at his bedside, chamber pots under a farmhouse bed, his dog watching sadly from the window as he goes off to work, weather headlines in his newspaper promising yet more snow.