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January 12, 2012

2011 Wrap: Books, Part II (Graphic Novels & Comic Books)

My seven-year-old, Dash, spent a little less of his time reading graphic novels in 2011 than he had in 2010 (and a little more trying to create his own, thrillingly enough—more on that another time). But a few of them made enough of an impression to reach the top of his, and therefore this, list.

It's no surprise that George O'Connor's Hera was first on the list; the initial book in his wonderful Olympians series of graphic novels was the subject of this blog's very first post ever. Even with our expectations sky-high for volume three, O'Connor managed to surpass them, taking a challenging and difficult mythological character and finding a way to spin her sympathetically. Like the first two volumes, Zeus and Athena, these get read over and over and over again. We're both really looking forward to seeing what he'll do with Hades, which comes out later this month.

Dash's other favorite this year was a rare nonfiction graphic novel: Matt Phelan's Around the World, which tells the tales of three amazing 19th-century solo circumnavigations. I think the biggest challenge for Dash is differentiating it from the fiction—sometimes it's hard to believe that Nellie Bly, Thomas Stevens, and especially Joshua Slocum really, truly made these journeys. Regardless, Phelan makes it all a vivid, unforgettable read.

But there's a third graphic novel, sort of, that I neglected to mention on the blog this year, though I meant to, and even thought I had. (That's kind of indicative of what 2011 was like overall, I'm afraid.) Nursery Rhyme Comics: 50 Timeless Rhymes from 50 Celebrated Cartoonists seems topical only for younger kids, by nature of its text. But its appeal is much broader, in fact, because each of these rhymes (some classic, some obscure) is illustrated—and really, more than that, its story told—by a different prominent artist, from Jules Feiffer ("Girls and Boys Come Out to Play") to the aforementioned George O'Connor ("For Want of a Nail") to David Macaulay ("London Bridge Is Falling Down," appropriately enough) to Gahan Wilson ("Itsy Bitsy Spider," again appropriately, and not so itsy bitsy) to Roz Chast ("There Was a Crooked Man"). Needless to say, the artists' takes on their respective rhymes are endlessly imaginative, and the book as a whole serves as a great example of how stories can be interpreted in an infinite number of ways. It's also a treasure as a sampler of so many of today's best active cartoonists, and neither Dash nor my three-year-old can get enough of it.

Next wrap post: Our family's favorite chapter books of the year.

[Cover image courtesy of First Second Books]

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