“You’d find it easier to be bad than good if you had red hair…”

Anne of Green Gables: a graphic novel adapted by Mariah Marsden and illustrated by Brenna Thummler. Andrews McMeel Publishing, 2017. 9781449479602. 230pp.

I’ve tried to read the original novel by L.M. Montgomery a few times — it’s a favorite of my friend Liz and her family — but it’s never hooked me. But this relentlessly colorful graphic novel finally did the trick.

Anne Shirley is a red headed orphan girl sent to siblings Matthew and Marilla Cuthbert’s farm. (It’s in Avonlea, on Prince Edward Island, but I don’t think that’s mentioned.) The Cuthberts wanted a boy to help out, and seem about to return Anne to the orphanage when her chattiness and sunny disposition gets the better of them, and they keep her. She falls in love with her new home, charms Matthew Cuthbert in particular, and makes a friend, all while having hilarious misadventures. The summers are green, the falls have spectacular colors, and her competition and interactions with fellow student Gilbert Blythe speak of their relationship to come.

“I became insane, with long intervals of horrible sanity”

Poe: Stories and Poems: A Graphic Novel Adaptation by Gareth Hinds. Candlewick, 2017. 9780763681128.

I’m a huge fan of Hinds’ graphic novel adaptations of classics (his version of The Odyssey is my favorite), but not of Poe’s fiction, yet  Hinds’ amazing skill pulled me through. First there’s a legend at the beginning of the book, a list of recurring motifs in Poe’s work. Hinds then puts the appropriate symbols at the beginning of each story and poem to let readers know know which will contain thing like, for example, murder and rats, so that readers they can decide for themselves to keep reading a particular story or skip it.

My favorite adaptation, “The Mask of the Red Death” (contains Death, Disease, Scary Sounds), about a bunch of upper class folks who try to seal themselves away from a plague, features the creepiest masquerade costume I’ve ever seen — a disease personified. Don’t skip to the end of the story, it’s freaky. There’s a lot to love here: “The Cask of Amontillado,” “Annabel Lee,” “The Pit and the Pendulum,” “The Tell-Tale Heart,” “The Bells,” and of course “The Raven.” There’s also a lot to freak you out. The rats in “The Pit…” would send my wife screaming. And don’t miss the creepy details drawn into the feathers of Hinds’ raven, which include skulls and skeletal hands.

The Sheer Joy of Colors

This Beautiful Day by Richard Jackson, illustrated by Suzy Lee. Caitlyn Dloughy / Atheneum Books for Young Readers, 2017. 9781481441391.

Lee’s black and white and oh-so-blue Wave was so beautiful that, after finding it in a bookstore, I read it three times before I made it to the counter. This one also has a lot of that wonderfully blue water as three kids enjoy a rainy day. And then even more color explodes on the pages as more happy kids with umbrellas join them, the sky clears, and the gray goes away.

 

 

Little Red Riding Sheep by Linda Ravin Lodding, illustrated by Cale Atkinson. Atheneum Books for Young Readers, 2017. 9781481457484.

I can’t think of a folk tale where color is more important. Retellings don’t usually do much for me, but this one features a Heidschnucke sheep named Arnold who refuses to be in a traditional version tale and talks back to the writer/narrator, bringing more light into the forest, casting his friends in key roles, and finally just changes the story to altogether. My favorite picture is of his friend Einer, a muskrat, making his scary face.

Pocket Full of Colors: The Magical World of Mary Blair, Disney artist extraordinaire. Amy Guglielmo and Jacqueline Tourville, illustrated by Brigette Barrager. Atheneum Books for Young Readers, 2017. 9781481461313.

After two colorful picture books, round things out with a bit of nonfiction about artist Mary Blair, who collected colors wherever she went. She was one of the first women to be hired by Walt Disney Studios, but the men there rejected her colors as too vivid and wild. After she left and became a successful illustrator on her own, Walt Disney himself invited her back to use her colors to design the It’s A Small World ride.

Choose Wisely

Romeo And/or Juliet: A Chooseable-Path Adventure by Ryan North. Riverhead Books, 2016. 9781101983300.

I would have read an adaptation of Shakespeare’s work by Ryan North anyway (I’m a big fan of Dinosaur Comics, his Squirrel Girl reboot, and his page-by-page analysis of the novelization of Back to The Future). But getting to read a version of this story where I could help Juliet not make bizarre life choices was the best. There were symbols on the choices so I could follow Shakespeare’s (even if they were crazy) and some entertaining editorializing in the wording. If you end up picking the same path as Shakespeare, you can unlock a secret character! And there were some great running jokes about what they were doing when they were not in the play. If you like this one, be sure to pick up North’s choosable-path version of Hamlet, To Be or Not To Be, which is also available as a video game.

The Lost Boy

The Wendy Project by Melissa Jane Osborne and Veronica Fish. Emet Comics / Super Genius, 2017. 9781629917696. 96pp.

Chris at Comics Dungeon introduced me to Emet Comics a while back, and it’s great to see the company’s first graphic novel. All the comics I’ve ever seen from this small press, which focuses on comics from diverse creators that empower women, are absolutely beautiful. I recommend you visit their website and sign up for their newsletter.

Wendy is driving her little brothers John and Michael across a bridge when their car crashes through the guardrail. John and Wendy are fine, but Michael’s body can’t be found. Wendy insists that she saw him fly away into the sky and also that a bright (fairy-like) light caused the crash. Needless to say no one believes Wendy, so she’s sent to a therapist. And…

Well, you should read this short graphic novel. It’s an inventive, well-written take on grief and blaming oneself, and Fish’s art is spectacular: everything is black and white except the traces of magic, including the magic in Wendy’s notebook (which refuses to get lost), Michael’s teddy bear, and a boy named Peter.

(Full disclosure: I’m a huge fan of Peter Pan, and my favorite adaptation/version is by French comics creators Regis Loisel.)

Thrice Upon Three Board Books

  

Rapunzel by Chloe Perkins, Illustrated by Archana Screenivasan. Little Simon, 2017. 9781481490726. 24pp.

Snow White by Chloe Perkins, Illustrated by Misa Saburi. Little Simon, 2016. 9781481471855. 24pp.

Cinderella by Chloe Perkins, Illustrated by Sandra Equihua. Little Simon, 2016. 9781481479158. 24pp.

The board books are all part of the Once Upon A World series, short retellings of classic fairy tales for very little kids set in different places around the globe: India (Rapunzel), Japan (Snow White), and Mexico (Cinderella). The tales themselves are short and simple — details aren’t changed at all to make the text refer to the cultures where the stories takes place. (The one exception I recall is that in Snow White the text mentions that the seven dwarves have teacups in their cabin.) It’s the art that sets the stories in other lands. The books make the unstated point — that these stories are universal — and they totally work.

Who Let the Spectral Dogs Out?

The Hound of the Baskervilles by Arthur Conan Doyle. Grosset & Dunlap, 1902.

A country doctor comes to Baker Street with a problem. His friend, Charles Baskerville, has died suddenly, apparently due to an ancient family curse: he was frightened to death by an unearthly demon dog. His heir, Henry Baskerville, may be in danger. The story starts off with the familiar scientific deductions of Sherlock Holmes, but then the detective sends Dr. Watson on his own to the family estate to keep an eye on the heir until Holmes can join them. Dr. Watson’s descriptions of the general spookiness of Baskerville Hall and the surrounding countryside turn the book into a haunting gothic romance, complete with neolithic dwellings, scary animal noises, and the Grimpen Mire: a deadly bog that can swallow a pony.

I really enjoy how different Watson is from Holmes. His point of view as the narrator turns these stories into exciting adventures, spooky ghost stories, and romances, much to the disgust of the no-nonsense Holmes. At the start of The Sign of Four, Holmes complains (about A Study in Scarlet): “Detection is, or ought to be, an exact science, and should be treated in the same cold and unemotional manner. You have attempted to tinge it with romanticism, which produces much the same effect as if you worked a love-story or an elopement into the fifth proposition of Euclid.” I think this is only a burn if you’re Holmes. Pretty sure I would snag a copy of this notional mathematical love story.