Search on SLJ.com ....
Subscribe to SLJ
Follow This Blog: RSS feed
A Fuse #8 Production
Inside A Fuse #8 Production

Review of the Day: Amulet by Kazu Kibuishi

amulet cover Review of the Day: Amulet by Kazu KibuishiAmulet (Book One: The Stonekeeper}
By Kazu Kibuishi
Graphix, an imprint of Scholastic
$21.99
ISBN: 978-0-439-84680-6
Ages 10 and up
On shelves now

Meh.

Every story, whether it’s being told orally, as a book, as a graphic novel, or in a kind of performance is allowed to reuse old tropes. Particularly when the story being told is appropriate for kids, there’s a talent in figuring out how to use familiar images and objects in new and exciting ways. It’s what distinguishes the good writing from the knock-offs. The storyline that involves a hero who finds a powerful object of some sort that could be good or could be bad is one pretty classic example. Everything from The Lord of the Rings to Harry Potter brings it up, and so when I saw that Amulet (Book One: Stonekeeper), a new graphic novel series by Kazu Kibuishi also worked the idea in, that was pretty cool. Sadly the book ultimately disappointed me in terms of its storytelling and original content. It’s not a bad graphic novel by any means, but if you’re looking for a title about kids on a quest, there are certainly others I would recommend instead.

Emily and Navin’s life has taken a turn for the better, or worse, depending on whom you talk to. Emily, for example, is not too thrilled that their mom has moved them into a new old house in some town called Norlen. Their mom, however, is determined to make the best of it. Ever since their father died in a car crash the kids have found money exceedingly tight and it’s time for a fresh start. That fresh start, however, is complicated when Emily finds a mysterious hidden amulet in her great-grandpa’s library and a big octopus-looking thing in the basement kidnaps her mom. Wait . . . what? It seems that things in this house are not what they seem, and before they know it Emily and Navin discover that they have a quest on their hands. Somebody wants their amulet. Someone else wants them to harness its power for good. Now with the help of a troop of small robots, these kids are ready to do whatever it takes to bring their family together once again.

A feeling of familiarity is usually noticed more by adult reviewers than by kid readers, but there’s no avoiding the sense of déjà vu in some scenes within this book. For example, Spiderwick fans will recognize the idea of kids moving into a creepy old mansion with their mother (a mansion that used to belong to an old male relative with odd otherworldly interests). Which is not to say that there aren’t new ideas as well. I don’t remember ever having seen a disgusting octopus-like creature that holds living prey in its belly in a book before. And a robot rabbit. . . it sounds familiar but not so much that I can identify the source. The plot itself is a small series of adventures, one by one, like different levels. The video game elements of such a tale do come naturally out of the storytelling, but they’re such static, predictable moments that it’s hard not to feel like the book is just an excuse for an Xbox game or upcoming action film.

I dunno, maybe I’m being too harsh on it. There are some pretty amusing moments, after all. For example, when Navin gets to fly a plane the view of the steering wheel is quite clearly Nintendo-inspired. That’s probably going to be a joke kids get more often than adults (which I appreciate). I liked the repeated images of hand clasping and then consciously letting go. The art is fine, though I think I liked the book a lot more when I read it in full-color (as hand-painted by Kibuishi’s wife Amy). Generally though this isn’t the strongest comic you’ll find on the market for kids today. Serviceable, but not extraordinary.

On shelves now.

Other Blog Reviews:
The Book Pirate, 100 Scope Notes, Bookami, Oz and Ends, A Year of Reading, Geekdad (a Wired magazine blog), Book Spot, Thoughts on writing and other afflictions, The Orange Room, Bookslut, and Read About Comics.

Misc:

share save 171 16 Review of the Day: Amulet by Kazu Kibuishi
Elizabeth Bird About Elizabeth Bird

Elizabeth Bird is currently New York Public Library's Youth Materials Collections Specialist. She has served on Newbery, written for Horn Book, and has done other lovely little things that she'd love to tell you about but that she's sure you'd find more interesting to hear of in person. Her opinions are her own and do not reflect those of NYPL, SLJ, or any of the other acronyms you might be able to name. Follow her on Twitter: @fuseeight.

Comments

  1. Dan Santat says:

    Awww Elizabeth, a negative review for my friend Kazu? Maybe the story will be more enticing if you realize it’s part of a five book series and you read it as a whole? (I could be wrong) Oh, and you’re spot on with the video game references.

  2. Fuse #8 says:

    That was J.L. Bell’s point in his review. He said the fact that the characterizations were a little two-dimensional might be due to this being the first part in a series. But I don’t think that works for me. For example “Jellaby” was this perfect little book that also happened to be the first in a series and didn’t need subsequent titles to make the first one strong. Weep not for my criticisms. Any man who has already sold his film rights to a project that involves Will Smith’s kids is gonna do just ducky without my blessing.

  3. ifahren says:

    “if you’re looking for a title about kids on a quest, there are certainly others I would recommend instead.” Could you suggest some titles? My Bone kids are hungry, and I have little of GN epic/quest that reaches a younger audience. (I have K-4 and sometimes 5).

    I’d give Amulet a better than “meh” rating, just for the strong family/emotional content. Time and sequels will be telling.
    I’m optimistic. ‘Course, sometimes the glass IS half empty. Meh.

    Ifahren

    • Dawn says:

      Giants Beware and Zita the Space Girl also fit the kids-on-a-quest bill, I think. For older kids, the Percy Jackson series is questy and fantastic. The first two in the Percy Jackson series exist as both novels and graphic novels, but the novels are far, far better.

  4. Fuse #8 says:

    Yup. The family connection was nice. Spiderwickian nice. And I feel your lack of GN epic/quest for middle grades pain, because finding quality titles is sometimes hard. Here are a couple I like (though this comment feature will jumble them all together instead of making them into a nice little list): “Rapunzel’s Revenge” by Dean & Shannon Hale (great dual gender book), “Magic Pickle” by Scott Morse (less questy, more superheroey), “Mouse Guard” by David Petersen (gorgeous visually), “Jellaby” by Kean Soo (who is a pal of Mr. Kibuishi), “The Arrival” by Shaun Tan (toootally a quest, I say), “Coraline” by Neil Gaiman (based on book), “Redwall” by Brian Jacques (based on book), and “Artemis Fowl” by Eoin Colfer (based on, you guessed it, book). Oh! And “Into the Volcano” by Don Wood. Can’t believe I almost forgot it.

  5. ifahren says:

    I appreciate the suggestions, Fuse. Thanks for letting me pick your brain.
    ifahren

  6. Shanie says:

    love the book

  7. Dawn says:

    I cannot believe Amulet got a “meh”–to each their own, I guess. What I love about this book is the enormous range of kids who love it. I have it in my grade 9 classroom library, and it’s my go-to book for reluctant readers, especially those of the male variety (although lots of girls read it too). My 5 & 7 year old daughters also love it. Your critique about the book using many recognizable tropes is fair (Kibuishi himself has described it as a bit of an homage to Star Wars), but the artwork is so dazzling and do engages readers that I find that instantly forgivable. In my English classroom, Amulet has literally made readers of non-readers. Kids who claim to hate reading come alive when they discuss the book (the main thing they love, other than the art, is the balance of plot development and action). This past year, I had a kid who avoided learning conversations at all costs, except when we had a long, past-the-bell conversation about when book 6 might come out, and where the story might go in the next installment, and how many books would be in the series. While my young daughters also love Zita the Space Girl and Giants Beware, Amulet is the only one of these books that holds equal appeal for older kids.