Trickster: Native American Tales A Graphic Collection edited by Matt Dembicki (2010)
Juvenile Graphic Novel Nonfiction, 231 pages
A unique collection of Native American tales from various tribes. Trickster is an enduring figure in many tribes, taking various forms such as Coyote, Raven, Wolf, etc. This is the first collection of Native American tales I know of that are in the graphic novel format. Each tale has been told by a Native American teller, and the illustrator was matched with each teller. There are funny stories, and more serious stories. I am most familiar with Coyote or Raven tales, but I have been fascinated by Native American tales for a long time. This collection introduces a part of Native American culture to a wider audience. My favorite story is the first, “Coyote and the Pebbles”, told by Dayton Edmonds and illustrated by Micah Farritor. It is a Creation story about how the stars came to be in the sky (the animals asked the Great Mystery for more light at night, Great Mystery said the animals must gather pebbles and arrange them in the sky, Coyote was late to the meeting and the sky was full of pebbles by the time he came to put his pebbles in the sky, he tripped and messed up all the animals’ pebbles and scattered them everywhere and now the animals exclude Coyote from their company). I know beautiful is an overused word, but the illustrations are just so wonderful and match the tale so well. I don’t see a lot of Native Americans these days, and it is essential to keep their culture alive as much as possible. Suggested for grades 3 and up.
A Monster Calls: Inspired by an idea from Siobhan Dowd by Patrick Ness (2011)
Young Adult Fantasy, 224 pages
Conor wakes up in the middle of the night expecting the monster from his nightmares, but a different monster awaits him. An ancient yew tree that can talk to Conor, grow in size, and leave branches and leaves in his room when Conor wakes up in the morning. Conor is not afraid of this yew tree, though. He has something far more frightening to anticipate: his mother’s eventual death from cancer. This ancient being says he has been called by Conor, and he has 3 tales to tell. When he is finished, Conor will have to tell a fourth tale, the tale of the monster that Conor truly fears. The marriage of horror and grief is perfect for this story—–when Conor first faces down the tree, and it realizes that Conor is not afraid of him, I so identified with that. I empathized very much with Conor, I lost my husband to suicide suddenly and I feel like I have never been through a darker period than that and hope to never experience again. I have also watched my stepfather die at home slowly and painfully from liver cancer. I wanted to enter into this book and put my arm around Conor and tell him it would be all right. Jim Kay’s illustrations perfectly complement the text, which was a story that Siobhan Dowd started but could not complete because she herself died of breast cancer. Kay’s illustrations are appropriately dark and menacing, and exactly how I would picture this monster as described in the text. Suggested for grades 6 and up.
Cold Cereal by Adam Rex (2012)
Juvenile Fantasy, 421 pages
Talking rabbit-men, leprechauns, unicorns, the Lady of the Lake, and other characters of the King Arthur legends, and other magical creatures, along with cereal companies and cereal commercials. Fantasy and mystery together in one story. It could be overwhelming to some readers, but I loved this mix of traditional fantasy with the modern world. Scott, his sister Polly, and their mother have come to live in Goodborough, New Jersey because their mother has gotten a job with the GoodCo cereal company and all the employees have to live in the town. Scott thinks he is hallucinating when he starts seeing magical creatures, but he comes to find that they are real and that GoodCo is using the magic from the magical creatures for its own selfish ends. Intended as the first book in a trilogy, the story was full of action and adventure throughout and definitely left me wanting to read the next book (which most likely has not been written yet).
The Underneath by Kathi Appelt (2009)
Juvenile Fantasy, 313 pages
Ranger is chained up underneath the crumbling-down house of his abusive owner, Gar Face. A stray cat, who is pregnant, shows up one day looking for a place to have her babies. Ranger tries to warn her, but she stays. She and Ranger raise her two children, Puck and Sabine together. Gar Face is the way he is because that is how his father raised him, and he has no love left in his heart. He is trying to capture and kill the Alligator King, the largest alligator in the area. Grandmother Moccasin is a snake who was able to change into human form, but once you change back to snake, you can’t go back to being human. Grandmother wants revenge because her daughter, Night Song, has changed to human and left her behind.
There is a lot going on here, but I loved this book. I was afraid to read this one because I did not think I could take the scenes where Gar Face abuses Ranger. It was hard to read those scenes, and not want to go into the book so I could take care of Gar Face myself, but ultimately the whole story with all its parts fits together very well. The ending is neatly tied up, but I was glad because there was so much pain and misery throughout the book, with just enough love and kindness to get me through to the end when Ranger, Puck, and Sabine are finally free. Suggested for grades 4 and up.