Author/Illustrator: Hervé Tullet
My rating: 4 of 5
We are presented with a page, completely blank save for a solitary gray spot. Invited to tap said spot, we do and are presented with an explosion of spots of all colors. And now that we have colors to work with, we’re challenged to try combining them to see what happens when we mix it up.
Mix It Up! is certainly not the sort of picture book to which I am accustomed. It isn’t actually a story at all. I’m honestly at a loss as to how to even categorize it. It’s an interactive experience for kids presented in book format; that’s the best explanation I can come up with. A bit more complex that your usual “name the colors” book, Mix It Up! visually and experientially teaches kids color theory, what happens when you mix different colors, how to create shades and tints, that sort of thing. It’s all very vibrant and interactive–rather than didactically telling the reader what’s happening, it invites us to see and discern for ourselves. This book is great for kids that need a bit more interactivity as it asks them to tap, shake, squish, and tilt the pages as they go along; fortunately, the pages are actually sturdy enough to withstand this kind of abuse. As far as recommended age goes, I think Mix It Up! is best suited for a slightly older demographic than most picture books, although it could be pretty flexible. My two-and-a-half year-old niece enjoys the first half, but the latter parts where more inductive reasoning is required are a bit beyond her appreciation yet. I’d say around five would be the ideal age for this book, but it would depend on the kid. For any age, it’s a great introduction to color theory.
Author: Marguerite Abouet
Illustrator: Clément Oubrerie
Aya, vol. 2
My rating: 3.5 of 5
The town of Yopougon is booming with life. While Adouja struggles to care for her new baby, her father roams the streets taking pictures of everyone he can in an attempt to identify his grandson’s father. Adouja’s friends try to help her with the baby while attending to their own lives as well (like Bintou’s new boyfriend). A beauty pageant is in the works for the whole of Yopougon. The local beer factory struggles to stay in business, making uncomfortable cuts in employment to do so. All over town, couples pair off and make love. And in the midst of it all, young Aya lives circumspectly, kind and beautiful, devoted to her studies and her friends.
Aya of Yop City was a graphic novel I randomly picked up off the shelf after seeing it mentioned several times in various places. I’m glad I did, even though it isn’t my favorite graphic novel by any means. For one thing, it provides a really insightful look at daily life in Ivory Coast in the 1970’s–and how often do you find a book that takes you there? I think this is the first book I’ve found that is set in Ivory Coast at all, regardless of the time period. And I think the style and plot of this book allow it to present a good picture of the culture, which is really neat. Furthermore, the story is funny (especially Hyacinte going around taking snapshots of everyone) and warm. I found the author’s explanations in the back of the book about child-rearing in this sort of community was also really interesting, as well as the way this is played out in the plot. The art is really attractive and bright; it fits the story well and gives a great feel for the community. On the other hand, I found the extent to which the book was scattered around numerous people and plots to be somewhat distracting. And the number of affairs going on in the story was a bit much. . . . I guess what I’m trying to say is that I would have enjoyed this graphic novel even more if it had been more focused on Aya herself, who is a fascinating character. Maybe it’s my own fault for jumping in on the second volume (although I have to say that this volume is generally quite easy to get into without feeling like you missed a lot from the first volume). In any case, for those who enjoy graphic novels full of drama and culture, I think Aya of Yop City would be an interesting choice to try.
Author: Heather Tomlinson
My rating: 4.5 of 5
Once upon a time, four children were the best of friends: three humans, a boy and two girls, and one fae, a drac who loved mischief and gave the other three a salve that allowed them to see the true form of the fae. Years passed, and the four grew apart. Princess Aurelie lost her mother and became caught up in great responsibilities as her country descended into war. Her dear friend Netta was blinded by another fae, angered by her ability to see him truly, and now she refuses to leave her quiet country town. Loic, the drac, is convinced that his friends abandoned him on purpose and has isolated himself in the world of the fae. And Garin has returned to his home country with his parents–a country that is at war with the land of the princess he loves. Yet none of them have forgotten their affection for each other, and as circumstances rage around them, the four find themselves once again drawn together. . . . And just perhaps, the bonds they share will be enough to save them all.
Having never read any of Heather Tomlinson’s work, I was intrigued by the cover and summary of Aurelie, which promised something along the lines of a new fairy tale or maybe a retelling. I really wasn’t expecting the story that unfolded, though–a politically-charged, romantic fantasy along the lines of Tamora Pierce and Megan Whalen Turner’s writing. I loved it! The plot and the prose are tight and sure, making this a short but engaging tale. The multiple perspectives (of all four friends) work very well in this context. I found it particularly intriguing that Tomlinson chose to give first-person perspective to the three “secondary” main characters–Netta, Garin, and Loic–while writing Aurelie’s perspective in third person. It’s unusual, but it works; I actually didn’t notice until a good ways into the story. The slightly French feel to the story gave it an interesting flavor as well, something more along the lines of Perrault’s fairy tales as opposed to the Brothers Grimm, say. Aurelie was exciting and sweet both, full of unexpected turns and great characters, and I would highly recommend this story, especially to those who enjoy the works of authors like Pierce and Turner.
Author: Joann Sfar
Illustrator: Emmanuel Guibert
In Victorian England, the daughter of a professor of archaeology has found herself in some rather unusual company. Her name is Lillian, and her companion is none other than Imhotep IV–one of her father’s mummies now up walking and talking, still wearing his grave wrappings underneath the dashing tailcoat and top hat. Remarkably, the two fall in love, although it seems their romance is fated for difficulty as one thing after another seems determined to tear them apart.
What a remarkable and unusual graphic novel! The Professor’s Daughter is truly rather absurd, jumping into the story with a walking, talking mummy (actually more than one) with no explanation–and perhaps even more absurd, featuring a young woman who would love said mummy. And yet there is something quite charming about this spunky, daring couple. Their hijinks, while ridiculous from one perspective, are also rather romantic and exciting. In a sense, the feel of the story is reminiscent of some of Elizabeth Peters’ books, what with the Egyptology and the strong, extraordinary heroine and such. Guibert’s art is truly enchanting with subtle tones and great facial expressions. I think it’s also nice that this is such a short graphic novel (only 64 pages for the actual story) that it could easily be read in one sitting. So, if you’re able to just go with the oddness of the unexplained walking mummies, I think The Professor’s Daughter is a particularly charming graphic novel–definitely recommended.
Author/Illustrator: Princesse Camcam
One snowy night, a lone red fox wanders into town, drawn by the warm lights in the houses. Everywhere she goes, she is shooed away, until at last she finds a warm, quiet place in a greenhouse. She hides in there to have her babies, away from the cold and unobserved apart from one little boy who brings her a gift. In return, when she and her babies leave the town, they bring flowers from the greenhouse which they leave in the boy’s room for him to find when he wakes.
I love wordless picture books, and Fox’s Garden was an exquisite find. The story is told entirely with pictures, and what lovely pictures they are! I think–and I could be entirely wrong–but I think the creator drew on paper, cut the pictures out, arranged them, took a photo, then Photoshopped some extra details in. In any case, the results are simply stunning in their simple clarity. The largely-monochromatic color scheme makes the colors that are used stand out beautifully, and whatever technique was used created a remarkable three-dimensionality to the pictures. I also liked the physical layout of the book–it’s short and wide so that the pictures are almost panoramic. Unusual and attractive. The story itself is sweet–touching and warm yet simple enough for children to follow–but not overdone and saccharine. I would truly recommend Fox’s Garden, especially to readers with younger children.