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Battle of the Books

Round 1, Match 7: The Volcano Beneath the Snow vs. This One Summer

JUDGE – NATHAN HALE

A Volcano Beneath the Snow
by Albert Martin
Knopf/Random House
This One Summer
by Mariko Tamaki & Jillian Tamaki
FirstSecond/Macmillan

COVER BATTLE

THIS ONE SUMMER: The cover of This One Summer is absolutely gorgeous. It’s a drawing of two adolescent girls caught midair as they jump into rolling blue waves. Both girls are cut off by the top edge of the book. We only see one girl’s face. This makes the image seem like a quick snapshot, a moment that’s gone in seconds. The typeface is beautifully hand rendered in loose but bold strokes. I love everything about this cover. No. Wait. I don’t like the “New York Times Bestseller” lettered into the cloud. Come on. Get that noise off this beautiful cover.

A VOLCANO BENEATH THE SNOW: Volcano in the Snow’s cover looks important. It’s dark mahogany with a fancy gold border. There are crossed flags at the top (something I always enjoy). Beneath the angry red title is a photo of slavery chains exploding. This is serious stuff. It looks like something you’d find in your veteran grandfather’s study, on his war books shelf. It’s handsome.

One thing is missing from the cover of this John Brown biography, though: John Brown (I’d also accept an actual volcano beneath some snow.) John Brown may have the greatest, most dramatic face in American history—and I’m counting Lincoln. The craggy forehead, the huge eyebrows, the Old Testament beard, the smoldering eyes—John Brown was made for book covers. While the cover is solid, I have to dock it points for not featuring some of that John Brown eye-candy.

COVER WINNER: THIS ONE SUMMER

BOOK FEEL BATTLE

THIS ONE SUMMER: This is a light, seemingly slight (but actually quite substantial) book with buttery soft paper covers (I was given the softcover edition). It’s got a nice eggshell sheen and a wonderful cameo of a girl on a bike on the spine. The interior paper is to die for, matte, lightly grained, with a barely noticeable blue fleck. First Second couldn’t have done a more gorgeous job on this package. It is 320 pages long—nearly a hundred pages longer than Volcano Under the Snow, which surprised me.

A VOLCANO BENEATH THE SNOW: Blood red endpapers—a great touch. The book also has a classy two-inch margin on the outside edge of the page—I love that. It gives the book an almost square shape. There are also very sharp double borders around all of the photos and illustrations inside. The paper is nice, a clean, glossy–but not too glossy finish. It’s super heavy.

BOOK FEEL WINNER: THIS ONE SUMMER

HISTORICAL RESEARCH BATTLE

THIS ONE SUMMER: No bibliography, no footnotes, no sources! I am shocked. How am I supposed to trust the historicity of this book? This is virtually useless in a history class!

A VOLCANO BENEATH THE SNOW: Now this is more like it. Wow. Twenty plus pages of notes, a Further Reading section that even has a Useful Internet Sites page! Image credits, and a monster index–this is how it’s done, This One Summer. I am amazed at the wealth of great images used in this book, wonderful photos, etchings, and posters from the period. This stuff can be tricky to get rights to. And the author has provided a treasure trove of images here.

HISTORICAL RESEARCH WINNER: A VOLCANO BENEATH THE SNOW

(c’mon This One Summer, you’re not even trying)

DRAWING BATTLE

THIS ONE SUMMER: Wooo-WOW! This book features incredible, incredible draftsmanship. Jillian Tamaki uses clean brush-strokes that are never too tight and never too loose, so much clean control but just a breath away from sketchy abandon. She’s an absolute master of the form. It’s all done in monochromatic blue. The linework is SO good, that any more color would spoil it. The eye for detail here is astounding, there’s a panel featuring the back of a car (page 123 middle panel) that just perfects the moment. A lot of artists would skimp on the details of something so mundane as the back of a car. Tamaki can draw emotion on faces, lithe bodies in water, lyrical stuff—but she also nails mundane details. There’s a panel showing a junky back yard, amid the junk there’s a child’s sandbox, most artists (myself included) would have just drawn a little bucket and shovel (or skipped the sandbox entirely, because it was only background detail.) She drew one of those plastic turtle sandboxes. She even nailed the weird expression those turtle sandboxes have. Can you picture that turtle’s expression? Tamaki can, which means she either, has a photographic memory, or has carefully taken photo reference of each panel in this book. Either option shows amazing dedication to comic creation.

I could go on for hours about these drawings. The main character’s mother, for example, is a major part of the story but doesn’t have a lot of dialogue; most of the way her character comes across is how she’s drawn. She’s thin and unhappy, long lines have formed in her face. You can tell the main character will look the same as her mother when she is older. This is something I’ve experienced many times with real children and parents, but never in a comic.

Good grief. If I could draw half as well, I would die happy.

A VOLCANO BENEATH THE SNOW: Albert Marrin can’t draw worth a damn. Or if he can, he chose not to put any of his drawings in this book. This is seriously, the worst comic book ever.

DRAWING BATTLE WINNER: THIS ONE SUMMER

(where are the drawings, Volcano? where are they!!?)

CONTENT BATTLE

THIS ONE SUMMER: This is the story of two girls spending a summer at their respective lake houses. Both girls are right at the edge of adolescence. This is the main character’s last summer as a child. Before her lies teenagerdom and sex, beyond that looms adulthood and–even more terrifying: the weird mechanics of potential motherhood. The girls deal with this by renting horror movies and stalking the local teens. I want to say this is a coming of age story, but it isn’t. It’s a snapshot—like the cover. It’s a series of moments that pass by quickly. It’s funny and sad and I loved every panel. I wonder if teens and young readers are capable of appreciating this book the way an adult can. Adults know how fast those summers are gone. The poignancy may be lost on young readers.

A VOLCANO BENEATH THE SNOW: Hot damn I love John Brown! I have drawn two John Brown comics in the past few years, one on the Bleeding Kansas period, and a section dealing with Brown in an upcoming Harriet Tubman book. He is endlessly fascinating. Was he a visionary or a terrorist—or a visionary terrorist? This book wasn’t available when I was researching those stories, and I wish it were. It is packed with facts, quotes, and I already mentioned the wealth of photos and illustrations. Early in the book there is an astounding graphic listing John Brown’s twenty children by name birth and death. Marrin has a way of incorporating quotes from history into his prose that I really like: His nose, “hawked and thin,” looked like that of a flesh-eating bird. Thin lips, pressed tightly together, formed a straight slash under his nose. His voice was “deep and metallic,” like a bronzed bell. Those descriptors come from two separate sources–both listed in the notes section, but used together to form a terrific portrait of Brown. (You’d think he’d get a shot at that cover…)

I was very interested to see how the author handled the gorier aspects of Brown’s life—particularly the Pottawatomie Massacre, where Brown and sons hacked some pro-slavers to death with broadswords. I was not disappointed. The description, though brief, didn’t shy away from the brutal attack, and even focused on the horrific scene of a mother begging Brown to spare her fourteen-year-old son’s life, (don’t worry, he spared him. Not the other guys though.) The author goes on to explain that Brown, “chose his victims not to punish actual crimes, but to shock and horrify others.” It’s an even-handed, well-researched book on a fascinating and dangerous American. Will young readers want to tackle it? I’d like to think so, but the overall presentation is a little dry. Well written and meticulously put together? Absolutely. History buffs will eat it up.

CONTENT BATTLE: TIE

TIME BATTLE

THIS ONE SUMMER: I read this book in two sittings. I would have read it in one, but I forced myself stop to make it last longer. I’ve since looked through it multiple times just to enjoy the drawing. (unnnngggg. So, SO beautiful!)

A VOLCANO BENEATH THE SNOW: This is a hefty book. It took seven nights of reading (even though it’s a hundred pages shorter than THIS ONE SUMMER. It will certainly go on my reference shelf for future fact checking.)

TIME BATTLE WINNER: A VOLCANO BENEATH THE SNOW

(it just lasts longer. the sad truth of graphic novels, they end too fast.)

TOTALS WINS:

THIS ONE SUMMER: 4

A VOLCANO BENEATH THE SNOW: 3

WINNER: THIS ONE SUMMER

— Nathan Hale

For This One Summer, suffice it to say that the sheer emotion imparted through the Tamaki sisters’ images and words captured the fleetingness and timelessness of friendship, relationships, and life. (Shout out to my fellow Kid Commentator for a great description of the book!) I’ll make the case for Volcano. Young readers will be fascinated enough by Brown’s thrilling and terrifying story to stick with the rest of the history, although it may be a bit dense, as Hale notes. But I disagree with Hale that Brown needs to be on the cover: while it would be really cool (!), Volcano (as Hale knows) places Brown not only in his own life, but in the era of slavery, the Civil War, and Reconstruction. Marrin’s incredibly nuanced presentation falls short only in the few places where more detail would be helpful. If kids are going to stick with him, would adding a little clarification on the Emancipation Proclamation hurt? While he is right that the Proclamation had a huge effect on the war as a military measure and on slave freedom, he doesn’t make clear that in itself it freed 0 slaves, even in Union-occupied Confederate areas. It merely declared that the slaves in the Confederacy were free (actually excluding Union-occupied parts, although of course Union soldiers freed these anyways – check the Proclamation). But that’s a minor quibble, all things considered. Volcano, illuminating Brown’s status as a religious and moral martyr, terrorist, and “force of nature” who bent the course of American history, might well stand up to the shorter, more suspenseful Port Chicago 50 in its immediacy.

– Kid Commentator RGN

I agree with Hale wholeheartedly on this one! Although I enjoyed A Volcano Beneath the Snow, and yes, it was very informative, I liked almost everything about This One Summer. This One Summer portrayed as a graphic novel made the blink-of-an-eye summer so much more real. Graphic novels go by quickly, so do summers, and making the book go by quickly, as well as the plot, really amplified it. Even now, being only a teen, time flies by so quickly, and reading that in a book is refreshing and sad at the same time. The way Tamaki captures the little moments, like lying in the dark and seeing a slowly flashing light on an old Macbook computer really brought the book to life, and gave off the message to savor the little things in life.

– Kid Commentator NS

THE WINNER OF ROUND 1 MATCH 7:

THIS ONE SUMMER

 

Comments

  1. Anonymous says:

    Yay for Nathan Hale! Not only is his commentary witty, he made me more aware of all the different things that sway me when I evaluate a book! A tour de force!

  2. I really hated This One Summer, but I laughed so hard while I was reading this judgement that I can’t even be mad.

    • Second the motion. That’s exactly my reaction too!

      • I am curious about why you both disliked This One Summer. More opinions the better.

        • Meredith says:

          I really didn’t like the main character. I thought she was mean, and not in an interesting way (which would have made it at least engaging to read about). I did appreciate that she started to change near the end, but for me, that happens way too late in the book. You can’t make me forget how lame you were by being slightly nicer in the last 10 pages!

          • But that’s the thing. Yeah, she was mean, but she was a teenager! (Or ‘tweenager’, I don’t remember if she was a teen or not. Haha.) Teenagers are supposed to have that kind of sullen, “I don’t want anything to do with anything or anyone” attitude, and I think that was one of the many realistic aspects of the book. I mean, have you ever met a teenager who had the same outlook as an adult or their younger friend?

          • Ah… I totally see how one can feel really cold about a book due to disliking the character. I’m not sure, although, how she’s mean. I feel really sorry for her — being pretty much shut out by her mother and having to deal with growing up and worrying about what’s happening with your parents and your own life. Do you feel that she should have been holding it altogether much better and more understanding? Is she mature enough for that?

          • I don’t expect anyone to agree with me on this but I don’t think either kid in This One Summer was the “main character”. The main character is Mom. And this is a book for adults, not teens. What teenager is going to be able to relate to artificial insemination? I’m not saying that the subject matter is verboten for teens. I’m saying I don’t see them able to relate to such a problem. They are at the time in their life when bodies are as perfect as they ever will be and the concerns of artificial insemination just is not relevant to them. Having said that, I do agree with our judge’s analysis otherwise.

          • Meredith says:

            Maybe mean is the wrong word. I would certainly not be her friend, even when I was also a teenager. But I know a lot of sullen teens, and I think that being young is no excuse for being rotten to other people. But again, my biggest problem was that I thought she was boring and unpleasant. If she had been interesting and kind of a jerk, I could have enjoyed it more.

  3. Sam Bloom says:

    These judge’s decisions are getting better and better. This may be one of my favorites of all time. I would have chosen VOLCANO (Team NF!!!!) but it’s hard to argue with THIS ONE SUMMER, which I lurved. Kelly Barnhill has a tough couple of acts to follow!

    Battle Commanders, have you guys ever invited past judges to come back and judge again? Because I so want to keep reading judgments by Hartman and Hale.

    p.s.-Spot on comments from the kid commentators, as usual. They are both AWESOME.

    • Battle Commander Battle Commander says:

      We’ve toyed with it. But so far we’ve managed to get wonderful new ones every year!

      • Sam Bloom says:

        Right on… and we’re loving the wonderful new judges from this year! Kudos! Replying to Jonathan (whose reply is below where I’m typing now, but who knows where it will be in relation to where this ends up?! The mystery of nested replies) I love the idea of more illustrators/smart book people from other areas of the spectrum. It definitely gives a new wrinkle to the judgments. (This particular post is a good example… bring on more graphic novelists!)

    • Jonathan Hunt Jonathan Hunt says:

      Sam, I always expect them to do it, but every year they come back with a fresh slate of judges. We also had Roger Sutton and Anita Silvey (scholarly types) and an illustrator (Yuyi Morales). I would be open to more of each kind of judge, too.

  4. Eric Carpenter says:

    I agree with Sam. This is one of the best judgement we’ve ever seen. Ranks up there with MT Anderson’s and Mac Barnett’s.

  5. So, this has nothing to do with this battle really, but I just want to throw out there for anyone considering using A Volcano Beneath the Snow in the classroom that it would be WONDERFUL to pair it up with Stephen Vincent Benet’s Pulitzer Prize-winning John Brown’s Body (1928), or selections from it. If you don’t know it, it’s an epic poem – I mean, a FULL LENGTH epic poem – about the American Civil War. I have never been a Civil War buff at ALL but as a teen I adored this book, which made the Civil War so accessible because it was both a poetic and a “fictional” account (it follows a dozen different original characters throughout the war) – but it also throws in a LOT of actual history, with the narrative voice acting almost as an orator. In A Volcano Beneath the Snow, the account of John Brown’s siege at Harper’s Ferry, complete with his unfeeling conversation with his dying son, was so familiar to me that I got out Benet’s John Brown’s Body to compare the scenes – and they are almost identical, apart from Marrin’s being written as straight prose and Benet’s being in verse. Benet absolutely did his research as thoroughly as Marrin. Brown’s full speech from his trial is there (word for word), and his comment about the beautiful country as he’s led to the scaffold. Marrin mentions the invented story of John Brown kissing a baby on his way to his execution and comments, “When I taught junior high school in the late 1960s, our American history textbook had a picture of the scene, without explaining that it never happened” (p 145). Benet’s poetic account written in 1928 includes a mention of the kiss in exactly the same context as Marrin:

    “The North that had already now begun
    To mold his body into crucified Christ’s,
    Hung fables about those hours – saw him move
    Symbolicallly, kiss a negro child,
    Do this and that, say things he never said,
    To swell the sparse, hard outlines of the event
    With sentimental omen.”

    Some of Benet’s verse positively soars, and I think it’s really interesting that both these books – about the same length (mine are even the same *shape* – they stack nicely!) – frame their very different yet very accessible tellings of the Civil War around John Brown. I think they’d make great companion reads. (Benet’s book is still in print.)

    Incidentally I want to add that I think Marrin did a fantastic job of conveying the hysteria and mayhem surrounding the abolition of slavery. We think of our own country as being in a state of upheaval, with a deep rift of misunderstanding between two uncompromising factions – but reading Volcano, I feel like I can’t IMAGINE what it must have been like living in those times, when the nation was so divided that it fell to destroying its own cities and slaughtering its own children in thousands. Wow.

    • boy do I wish I could crank out fiction the way I crank out cybergibber.

      • Battle Commander Battle Commander says:

        We love your cybergibber! I (Monica) am going to definitely check out Benet’s poem. For me reading VOLCANO brought back my experience listening to James McBride’s National Book Award winning novel, THE GOOD LORD BIRD. McBride also did his research. After listening to the Pottawatomie Massacre section I was so horrified I went and did a bit of my own research to confirm it. And then later was so impressed with Marrin’s take on it. Definitely need to find the Benet poem.

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