Queen of the Sea by Dylan Meconis (9781536204988)
Based loosely on the story of Queen Elizabeth I and Queen Mary, this graphic novel is remarkable. Margaret has been on the island since she was a baby, cared for by the nuns that live there, not knowing who her parents are. The island has only a few residents, including goats and chickens. The nuns help those whose ships sink or crash making their way around the island, and they take in political prisoners as well. In fact, when Margaret is old enough to be curious, she discovers that the nuns are all political prisoners on the island who became nuns after being sent there. Things change when William arrives, the first person Margaret has ever known who is about her own age. But their friendship is short lived and he is taken back to Albion. The next person to arrive is Eleanor, the deposed Queen of Albion, sent to the island by her sister who is now queen. Margaret struggles to connect with the aloof Eleanor, even after her own origins are revealed as being entwined with Eleanor’s. As Margaret learns more about politics and royalty, she is caught up in a web of power that she has to find her way through or lose everything she holds dear.
This is not a slim graphic novel, but more of a tome. Meconis tells a sturdy tale, a graphic novel that reads fully as a novel with well-developed characters whose motivations are cleverly concealed but are always understandable when all is revealed. Margaret has a bucolic upbringing on the island, filled with the care of the nuns, their strict rules, and helping with the animals. As she learns the truth, the book changes around the reader, the beauty of the island becoming more like the prison it is.
The pairing of an imaginative world with roots in real history makes for an incredible read. Those who know the English history will love the parallels between the stories, glimpsing that history often enough to keep it well-rooted. Margaret is a great lens to view the history through, providing context to the world around her as she learns things alongside the reader.
A stellar graphic novel for middle grades. Appropriate for ages 10-13.
Reviewed from library copy.
Once Upon a Goat by Dan Richards, illustrated by Eric Barclay (9781524773748)
A very naive king and queen tell their fairy godmother that they want to start a family. They’d like a child that they can place either on the hearth next to a vase or out in the garden by the roses. They say that a boy would be great, but “any kid will do.” So at the next full moon, they open their castle door to discover a baby goat on their doorstep. They reluctantly bring the goat into their perfectly designed home where it immediately starts eating things, butting statues, and even pooping on the floor. When they remove the goat to the garden though, they eventually rush out on a rainy night to rescue it and bring it back home. They think it is only for one night, but soon the goat has lived with them for months. When the fairy godmother returns though, she is surprised about the goat and realizes that a mistake has been made! When the human child is discovered living with a goat family, she abruptly moves the children back to their biological parents. However, families aren’t quite that simple.
This fractured fairytale sets up the scene very quickly and the entire story moves at a wonderful pace. The text is simple and carries the story well, offering just enough detail to create plenty of humor. The chaos of a goat in their perfect lives is just right, eating everything in sight and destroying plenty of the rest. It’s a great metaphor for any new child entering a home and the destruction of the ideal plans that have been made. The resolution of the confusion of the child and kid is very satisfying and will have readers cheering along.
The illustrations by Barclay are wonderfully detailed and rich. He uses a nice mix of simple scenes and then more elaborate ones with some images having elaborate borders and others showing the splendor of the castle. The mix is very successful, always paying attention to leaving enough white space for the eye.
Let’s not kid around, this is a great picture book. Appropriate for ages 3-5.
Reviewed from e-galley provided by Knopf Books for Young Readers.
Queen Panda Can’t Sleep by Susanna Isern, illustrated by Mariana Ruiz Johnson (9781635920956)
When Queen Panda can’t sleep, none of her servants sleep either. After the Queen hasn’t slept for days, her servants send out a decree that anyone who can make the Queen fall asleep will win a bag of Chinese pearls. Many came to attempt to make the Queen sleep. She tried counting sleep from Mongolia, heard dull stories, listened to a lullaby from Paris. She swayed in a Kenyan hammock, was massaged with a branch from Australia, but nothing worked. Finally, someone came and yawned big, putting everyone else to sleep, except the Queen. With all of her servants fast asleep though, she had to cook her own meal and do other chores. Soon her eyes her drooping and she got sleepy!
This new twist on a traditional story where people are set a royal challenge has animals from around the world vying to put the Queen to sleep. With nods to a variety of cultures, the story is set in China with a very red-eyed panda as queen. The story sticks to the traditional format until the ending where the queen solves her own problem by getting busy and tired.
The illustrations have a folktale flatness to them that works well with the story. They have all sorts of animals in them from foxes to storks to cats and toads. The images use an interesting color palette of greens, oranges, and yellows.
A bedtime story that will hopefully have children snoring long before the Queen does. Appropriate for ages 3-5.
Reviewed from library copy.
Snow White by Matt Phelan (InfoSoup)
The Snow White tale is redone with a new setting and great villains in this graphic novel. Snow White’s mother dies in 1918 and she is left with her father who is the King of Wall Street. Soon after her mother’s death, her father falls for the Queen of the Follies, a performer who immediately sends Snow White away to school. When the stock market crashes, her father survives only to die suddenly. Snow White returns home to find that there is no place for her there, only to be rescued by seven small urchins on the street. Meanwhile, her stepmother takes her dire instructions from a ticker tape machine that orders her to KILL.
With all of the magnificence of the roaring 20s that then tumble into the Great Depression, this graphic novel version of the beloved tale truly rethinks the story and recreates it in a new and vivid way. Keeping true to core parts of the original story, this version has the wicked queen, a new version of the seven dwarves, the huntsman ordered to kill Snow White, and apples. Throughout there is darkness, violence and murder. Exactly what any great noir mystery needs.
If you have enjoyed Phelan’s previous graphic novels, he continues his use of watercolor in this book. Done in grays, blacks, blues and shot with touches of red, the art has a painterly feel to it that is unusual in graphic novels. There is a lovely roughness to the framing of the panels, giving the entire book a natural and organic feel.
A brilliant retelling of a classic tale, this dark story is a striking and brilliant departure. Appropriate for ages 9-12.
The Sleeper and the Spindle by Neil Gaiman, illustrated by Chris Riddell (InfoSoup)
When a group of dwarfs travels through their tunnels in the mountain to another land, they discover that a sleeping curse is spreading across the world and will soon threaten the kingdom they live in. It all originated with one castle, an angry fairy and a young princess. The dwarfs return through the mountain and let their queen know of the danger. Though it is about to be her wedding day, she goes with them. They discover a land falling fast asleep and that the sleepers will follow them slowly. The castle has a hedge of thorns around it that seems impenetrable. Inside the castle is an old woman who is the only one left awake. She knows that no one can pass the thorns and considers killing the beautiful girl asleep on the bed to lift the curse, but she doesn’t. It is the queen alone who can figure out how to pass the thorns and who will recognize the evil for what it actually is.
Gaiman takes the Grimm story of Sleeping Beauty and makes it lush and incredibly beautiful. His prose is gorgeous, lingering on small things and building a world that is filled with a deadly magic. The queen herself is a great character, much more interested in being a heroine than a queen and having adventures rather than a gorgeous wedding dress. Gaiman does not cringe away from a woman saving another woman, and then he does an amazing twist to the story. One that readers will be shocked by and one that allows it all to click into place, hauntingly.
Riddell’s illustrations are done in pen and ink, made shimmering by touches of gold throughout. Yet it is truly his art which shines here, the details of people asleep as spider’s weave webs across their faces, the dark beauty of the queen and the blonde beauty of the sleeping girl. There is also a beauty to the old woman that is unique and special and to the dwarfs too with their roughened features. The setting too is brought clearly to life as they traverse it.
A glorious new feminist version of Sleeping Beauty that twists and turns before a very satisfying ending. Appropriate for ages 8-11.
Reviewed from library copy.
The Queen of France by Tim Wadham, illustrated by Kady MacDonald Denton
When Rose woke up in the morning, she was feeling royal. So on went the crown, jewelry and skirt that turned her the Queen of France. The Queen of France walked up to Rose’s mother in the garden and asked if she had seen Rose. Rose’s mother explained that she hadn’t but that she hoped that Rose would remember to clean up her room. The Queen of France was also interested in the ugly rose bushes that Rose’s mother was planting, but the queen’s finger was pricked by a thorn, so she had to find the Royal Physician. The queen found Rose’s father, but not the Royal Physician. The queen then took off her crown, and became Rose again. She bandaged her finger and cleaned her room. She then dressed as the queen again and headed to Rose’s mother. The queen asked if Rose’s mother would be fine with the queen switching places with Rose. Rose’s mother considered the idea, but explained that she would miss Rose very much if she left. The queen left and Rose returned to herself for dinner. Until that evening, when Rose felt scary…
Debut author, Wadham has created a picture book that celebrates imaginative play in a very charming way. Rose is supported by her parents in her play, both of them happily participating as Rose changes characters. The parents remain supportive and kind throughout, never questioning that Rose is playing rather than cleaning her room, just giving broad hints that it should be done.
The illustrations add to the charm of the book, with their soft palette of pinks and blues and a lovely mix of modern and old fashioned feel. Yes, this is a pink book with glitter on the cover, but it is a book that both boys and girls will enjoy thanks to its quality. Rose’s body language changes as she becomes the queen, her nose high in the air and her feet prancing high. I particularly enjoy the small clutter in the rooms: toys on the ground, bowls on the counter.
Highly recommended, let’s hope Tim Wadham continues to create books like this with their deep understanding of childhood. Appropriate for ages 4-7.
Reviewed from library copy.
Also reviewed by: