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Favorite New Graphic Novels November 12, 2013

Posted by ccbooks in Book Reviews.
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Here are two very different but equally fantastic graphic novels that I recently read. One was just named a Best Illustrated Book of the Year by the New York Times, and involves my first love among literary classics, Jane Eyre. The other is a humorous and thought-provoking tale of friendship for all ages.

janeJane, the fox and me is by Fanny Britt and illustrated by Isabelle Aresenault, translated from French by Christelle Morelli and Susan Ouriou. Helene’s old friends have turned on her, writing mean comments about her weight in bathroom stalls at school. She takes the bus alone where she reads her new favorite book Jane Eyre and tries to ignore the whispering from the back seats. She struggles through shopping trips for bathing suits with her mother, listens to the music of  the McGarrigle sisters and dreads an upcoming school camping trip. But just like in Jane Eyre, the story ends well, thanks to an encounter with a fox, and an unexpected friend.

One of the strengths of this book is how Helene retells the story of Jane, summarizing it concisely and focusing on details that speak to a young reader. She recounts what I recall as my favorite moment in the book when I was ten,  Jane creating a picture of herself and a contrasting one of Miss Ingram. Helene’s wish to be Jane is evident from her repeating of the phrase “…she grows up to be clever, slender and wise.” When Jane has to leave Rochester, Helene imagines her to be a sausage, the same way she imagines herself in a bathing suit. So it is an even bigger revelation at the end of the book, when Jane ends ups with Rochester, both in love with each other. Something like that would never happen in real life, Helene thinks. Would it? By the end of the Jane, the fox and me, though, Helene believes in happy endings, having found one of her own. This is a wise and wonderful book, perfect for anyone who loves a good story, an outside heroine or yet another proof of the everlasting power of reading.

duckOdd Duck, by Cecil Castellucci and Sara Varon begins with Theodora, a duck who is perfectly happy with her life just as it is. The odd duck is her new neighbor Chad and he has some very strange ideas about swimming, building strange art projects and skating and sledding in winter. Of course eventually they become friends, bonding over stargazing and condiments. But then a snide remark by someone leads to an argument over who exactly is the ‘odd’ one. Will they mend fences? And does it really matter if someone is odd, as long as they are a good friend?

Like Jane, the fox and me, this book sends a gentle message without ever being preachy. The details in both the images and the words are numerous and always funny (Theodora uses an egg replacer when baking, and after the argument with Chad, suffers from ‘general malaise’ and ‘uncontrollable twitchiness’). The story throws a twist at you–we expect Theodora to befriend Chad in the end and to finish with a nice lesson about appreciating those who are different from us. We don’t expect her to have to re-evaluate her own actions and habits and to realize that her relationships with other ducks in the town are perhaps not as friendly as she thinks. However others judge you though, being unique is a good thing, as Castellucci and Varon make clear in this delightful tale.

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