Book Review: Nightlights by Lorena Alvarez

My initial reaction to Nightlights by Lorena Alvarez was, embarrassingly, “huh?” I was excited to receive a review copy from the publisher because the art looked beautiful, the setting was unusual in a children’s book, and my nine-year-old loves graphic novels.  I expected this to be a rave review all around, but upon receiving the book, I found I didn’t know what to make of it. Sure, the illustrations were as beautiful as I had expected, and the story’s Colombian setting isn’t one often found in books for kids. Those things are true. But I wasn’t expecting a story that was so dark and creepy. Could I share this with my sensitive nine-year-old? It was the stuff of nightmares, I thought.

The book, however, has stuck with me in a way that had me rereading it multiple times. To appreciate the illustrations. To make sense of the story that seemed so unsettling and almost unfinished. It was a book that wouldn’t let me go. That alone must mean something, I thought.

As I reread the story again and again, I found it shifted from the dark and creepy nightmare I saw at first to something empowering. The little girl in the story encounters a strange darkness and instead of running from it, she finds a way to live with it. To allow what might have been scary to be part of her world. The openness of the ending, so unsettling at first, seemed more appropriate when viewed through this lens.

Maybe the monstrous character of Morfie is Sandy’s doubt and insecurity. Maybe the story shows Sandy learning to live with that kind of anxiety and still be creative. I’m not sure what the author intended. But I know that Nightlights deserves to be read. Maybe more than once.

More about Nightlights:

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January Book Pick: Goliath by Tom Gauld

One of the new features on the blog for 2013 will be monthly book picks, and for the kickoff, I have Goliath by Tom Gauld, a graphic novel version of the familiar Bible story.

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You probably remember Goliath as the fearsome giant, right?  He terrorized the Israelites until David finally vanquished the terrible enemy, at least that’s how the original version of the  story goes.  In Gauld’s retelling, Goliath is a gentle soul who works an admin position in the army.  He’s big, all right.  A real giant, but he’s hardly the great enemy we expect.

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One day he is reassigned from the desk to the front lines and given a script to read with the challenge we know from the Bible.  Goliath is reluctant, but he is assured that it is a war of words, that he’ll be fine.

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The result is a heartbreaking look at war that reminds us that our enemies are human too.  The book is short, but it is quite powerful.  You can see a seven page preview on BoingBoing.

Recommended for anyone interested in alternate versions of old stories, as you know I do.  Including teens, according to School Library Journal.

Disclosure: This post contains affiliate links.  Book reviewed from library copy.

Comics as a Gateway Drug

Art Spiegelman famously said, “Comics are a gateway drug to literacy.”  I can attest to this as it seems my daughter is hooked.

Embarrassingly, it all started because one day I was too busy to read to her when she asked for a story.  Being a resourceful sort of parent, I set her up on my computer with the TOON Books web site, where she could have the stories read to her. I could do my thing, and she could do hers. It quickly became her favorite place on the web (overtaking the #1 spot long occupied by PBS Kids). There are only a handful of stories, but she happily “reads” them again and again.

On a recent Saturday afternoon at the library, she was positively delighted to discover the TOON Books are “real books too” when she happened upon Stinky by Eleanor Davis.  We took a Benny and Penny book home that day, and I put the soon-to-be published Benny and Penny in Lights Out on hold for her.  My daughter has loved books since she was tiny, but I’ve never seen her so excited about them until these comics.  You want to know the best part of being a parent? Watching your child find something they love.  Best thing ever.

Connecting with these books has Ladybug drawing and writing more. She is making up stories and putting on puppet shows based on the characters she loves.  These books have inspired a theatrical storytelling from my four-year-old that is kind of exhausting but mostly awesome. She is currently of the opinion that all books should be read very dramatically with different voices for each character.  She’s happy to play Penny in any reading of a Benny and Penny book.  She recites from memory of course. :)

My daughter’s entry in our library’s summer reading program illustrates Benny and Penny in the Toy Breaker.

Since I’m now the graphic novel guru in my office (or I try to be anyway since our real Graphic Novel Guru left us for another job) this TOON into Reading guide landed on my desk.  If I was ever in doubt of the value of comics before, I certainly have been won over to them now.

The activities page in TOON into Reading with my daughter’s comic.

Now if you will excuse me, my daughter is about to put on a puppet show with her Benny and Penny popsicle stick puppets.  I don’t want to miss it.

Disclosure: Amazon.com links are affiliate links. A portion of purchases made via these links earns a commission for this blog. Thanks for your support!

What’s Next for Comics? What’s Next for Stories?

Are digital devices a “Gutenberg moment” for comics and graphic novels?

It seems an appropriate question to consider on the blog since it is Minneapolis Indie Expo weekend.  There is no better place to explore indie comic artists and publishers than MIX.   It was also timely that Kerri Miller explored the question on her show on MPR earlier this week with Scott McCloud, author of the fabulous Understand Comics, and Karen Green, librarian and columnist at Comixology.  It was a fascinating discussion for me, whose knowledge of graphic novels is probably greater than the average person–since it is an important aspect of my job–but far from an expert.

I am also an outsider on the ebooks vs. print books argument since format really isn’t an issue for me.  I am in it for the stories.  I am, however, very interested in the ways that format and story interact as I mention in my post about Jonathan Safran Foer’s Tree of Codes.  McCloud actually mentioned that both print books and electronic books have been getting more interesting since the advent of ebooks as people become more aware of format and choose to use the format to its full possibilities.  It’s a changing scene for story no matter the format, and I am excited  to see where we are headed.

  People have strong opinions on how we ought to read books, especially books that are art as well as text, and I am not out to change anyone’s mind.  I am merely watching, reading, and listening to the conversation–here is a great post about iPads & literacy–and enjoying the stories–Tina’s Mouth: An Existential Comic Diary (which comes out in January 2012) and Empire State: A Love Story (Or Not) were recent favorites.

The MPR show ended with urging listeners to check out their local libraries–especially graphic novels.  Now that’s good advice, but don’t miss the Mpls Indie Expo.  You have ’til 5pm today.  After that you’ll have to wait until next year to have all that great talent in one place.

Reading Silence

Christopher Hitchens, National Book Award Finalist for God is Not Great, recently wrote about his journey into voicelessness in this Vanity Fair article.  He said, in part:

“Like health itself, the loss of such a thing can’t be imagined until it occurs. In common with everybody else, I have played versions of the youthful “Which would you rather?” game, in which most usually it’s debated whether blindness or deafness would be the most oppressive. But I don’t ever recall speculating much about being struck dumb. (In the American vernacular, to say “I’d really hate to be dumb” might in any case draw another snicker.) Deprivation of the ability to speak is more like an attack of impotence, or the amputation of part of the personality. To a great degree, in public and private, I “was” my voice.”

His words reminded me of another National Book Award Finalist, Stitches by David Small, a graphic memoir in which Small loses his voice after a surgery as a young teenager.  Small takes readers into his family and the way that secrets and silence played such a huge role in his life long before he found himself all but silent.   It is a powerful story that is ultimately about finding one’s own voice and the perspective that temporarily losing such an important aspect of our identity can bring.

This video gives you a glimpse into the book: