It shouldn’t be this hard. I know why it is hard. I acknowledge that I could never do it myself. I submit to the understanding that when it comes right down to it, few have the talent, wherewithal, drive, and chutzpah to get it done. Still and all there’s this little part of my brain that wonders why there aren’t more really drop dead spectacular full-color graphic novels for kids out there. The Bone series raised the bar and since its publication we’ve seen a significant increase in kids’ interest in reading novel-worthy graphic texts. Still and all, when kids come into the library each week and ask me where the new graphic novels are, I have to throw up my hands and confess that publishers just aren’t churning out really top-notch full-color comics of The Secret Science Alliance and Jellaby ilk at a sufficiently rapid rate. Part of this just comes down to cost. Full-color comics are pricey after all. Part of it also comes down to the fact that it’s difficult to find authors and illustrators that are really good at telling a kid-friendly visual narrative. So when I discover someone new I’ve a tendency to overreact. That said, I don’t think I’m being ridiculous when I gush to you about Jorge Aguirre and Rafael Rosado’s Giants Beware! Perhaps the first in a series, perhaps a single stand-alone title, all I can really say is that it is chock full o’ charm. Good for boys, great for girls, fabulous for gatekeepers, this might even win over those folks who don’t normally go in for comics. Great GNs for kids may come out once in a blue moon, but when they’re as good as this little number you may decide that it was worth the wait.
Claudette’s lot in life chafes her something fierce. If she had her way she’s be out there, sword in hand, battling baby-feet-eating giants and sea creatures and dragons and who knows what all. Instead she’s stuck living in a village with her best friend Marie, a girl who aspires to be a princess, and her little brother Gaston, a pastry chef in the making. When she can take it no longer, Claudette decides that she needs to plunge into an adventure of her own. Tricking Marie and Gaston into accompanying her, she sets out to destroy the mythic baby-feet-eating giant that terrorized her villagers in the past. Along the way she and her pals get in and out of various scrapes before at long last discovering that sometimes “monsters” aren’t all they seem to be.
The trick to any good graphic novel is the melding of text and image. In this particular case the book got a leg up when Rosado and Aguirre worked together to come up with the story. So while the general plot is familiar (girl learns that prejudices can be dangerous, yadda yadda yadda) the delivery is original. I know I’ve seen character types like Claudette, Gaston, and Marie but there’s something about them here that seems one of a kind. There’s a lot to be said for their relationship too. You really definitely have the feeling that these three have been together for years. Their relationship is friendly and comfortable. It doesn’t hurt matters any that their dialogue is fabulous. Whipsmart and clever, it flows beautifully from page to page.
As for the art, the style is vaguely reminiscent of Joann Sfar and his ilk, though perhaps even more kid friendly. Rosado also has a particular gift for the wordless gag. At one point early in the tale a rowdy boy lofts an insult in Claudette’s direction. Her two panel reaction is perfect. She takes two fingers and points them at her eyes, then points those same fingers at the boy. The message is clear. I’ve got my eye on you, sucker. Watch yourself. A lesser artistic team would have wasted time and space with dialogue and copious images. Here, the succinct storytelling allows the creators to pack a huge amount of story in a tiny space.
You know how movies will sometimes be held up against The Bechdel Test and fail miserably? The test is pretty simple: Does this work contain two female characters with names that talk about something other than boys/men? You can pretty much call Giants Beware! one of the most successful children’s comic books to pass that test in years. Claudette to begin with is fantastic. She’s your average spunky redhead, but with a healthy bloodthirsty streak you can’t help but appreciate. Lots of books have girls like this but few take the time to give her a female friend. Either you’re a spunky loner or you’re a non-spunky friendly sort. The great thing about Marie is that she’s a girly girl who gets along like gangbusters with Claudette. Sure they have different life goals but they’re pals through and through. It’s like the friendship between Juno and the cheerleader in Juno. Best of all, while Claudette doesn’t go in for any kind of princessy stuff she’ll defend Marie in a heartbeat when other folks make fun of her. “At least Marie has a career goal!” she shouts. I’m a sucker for mutual respect.
The book ends with several small mysteries left suspiciously unsolved, which leads me to think that a sequel should be imminent. Unfortunately I know how long these kinds of books can take and I suspect that in the event this book proves to be the hit it deserves to be, there may still be a lag time between this and subsequent episodes. That’s okay. The nice thing about Giants Beware! is that its storyline really is self-contained and doesn’t need a sequel to be thoroughly enjoyed. Adventure and friendship and jokes and more are the name of the game in this rousing little adventure. Consider pairing it alongside Barry Deutsch’s Hereville: How Mirka Got Her Sword for a particularly good girl-with-sword epic graphic novel pairing. For kids of all ages, a real treat.
On shelves April 10th.
Source: Final copy sent from publisher for review.
Like This? Then Try:
- Hereville: How Mirka Got Her Sword by Barry Deutsch
- Rapunzel’s Revenge by Shannon & Dean Hale
- Zita the Spacegirl by Ben Hatke
- 100 Scope Notes
- Charlotte’s Library
- Paige in Training
- Musings of a Librarian
- Stumptown Trade Review
- Sharon the Librarian
- Literate Lives
Professional Reviews: Publishers Weekly
Other Reviews: Barista Kids
Interviews: Both Jorge Aguirre and Rafael Rosado talk about the book over at Good Comics for Kids.
Misc: Plunder the wonderful Giants Beware! blog if you’ve half a mind to.
First comes the book trailer:
Then howzabout a little inking demo to round this review out, eh?