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Review: History’s Kid Heroes series

Lerner has a new series coming out from its Graphic Universe imprint. The series–called History’s Kid Heroes–tries to bring “…historical fiction into the graphic novel format using strong characters and exciting storylines” but only partially succeeds.

The Lifesaving Adventure of Sam Deal, Shipwreck Rescuer
Written by Candice Ransom; Adapted by Amanda Doering Tourville; Illustrated by Zachary Trover
Grades 3-5; Ages 8-11
Lerner/Graphic Universe, October 2010, 32 pages
Hardback ISBN 978-0-7613-6177-0; $26.60
Paperback ISBN 978-0-7613-6196-1; $8.95

The Snowshoeing Adventure of Milton Daub, Blizzard Trekker
Written by Margaret K. Wetterer and Charles M. Wetterer; Adapted by Emma Carlson Berne; Illustrated by Zachary Trover
Grades 3-5; Ages 8-11
Lerner/Graphic Universe, October 2010, 32 pages
Hardback ISBN 978-0-7613-6175-6; $26.60
Paperback ISBN 978-0-7613-6194-7; $8.95

The Stormy Adventure of Abbie Burgess, Lighthouse Keeper
Written by Peter Roop and Connie Roop; Adapted by Amanda Doering Tourville; Illustrated by Zachary Trover
Grades 3-5; Ages 8-11
Lerner/Graphic Universe, October 2010, 32 pages
Hardback ISBN 978-0-7613-6172-5; $26.60
Paperback ISBN 978-0-7613-6191-6; $8.95

On the one hand, the History’s Kid Heroes series offers a unique addition to graphic novel collections. Historical fiction can be hard to find in graphic form, especially for younger readers, and the series’ focus on kids as heroes creates stories which should catch the attention of juvenile library patrons, particularly those who like disaster stories. The creators offer up tales that feature a both boys and girls, always a nice touch. It is sadly still too rare to see African-American characters in graphic novels, so the inclusion of Sam Deal–who helps the famed Pea Island (NC) African-American rescue crew–is welcome. Trover’s art ties the series titles together. His style is simple, but effective. His panel layouts are clear and easy to follow. He has a good eye for historical details which get the point across without crowding the page and his characters’ faces are expressive and engaging.

Unfortunately the series has some issues which keep it from being the best it can be. First off, each book starts off with several paragraphs of plain text which set the scene, rather than using graphics to do so. It seems a shame that the series creators wasted a perfect opportunity to use graphics to tell their tale. Secondly, while the creators do not often make the mistake of telling rather than showing or of using a text box to state what can be seen happening in the panel, the books still don’t feel as dramatic as they should. They lack that extra “oomph” which makes a disaster story feel so exciting. Finally, of the three titles reviewed here, two of the main characters–Abbie Burgess and Milton Daub–are based on real people. Having read those two first, it was slightly jarring to get to Sam Deal’s story and realize that he was a fictional character. It almost made it feel as if the series’ creators were not able to find an African-American kid hero in their search for compelling characters.

Lerner/Graphic Universe is on the right track trying to add historical fiction to the graphic novel world. There definitely needs to be more. I also like that they are focusing on the role that children have played in American history. But I feel that this series isn’t what it could have been. It’s not a terrible addition to a collection, but Lerner has done better work recently in its Graphic Universe imprint. I’d like to see it back on more solid ground.

This review is based on a complimentary copy supplied by the publisher. All images copyright © Lerner/Graphic Universe.

Snow Wildsmith About Snow Wildsmith

Snow Wildsmith is a writer and former teen librarian. She has served on several committees for the American Library Association/Young Adult Library Services Association, including the 2010 Michael L. Printz Award Committee. She reviews graphic novels for Booklist, ICv2's Guide, No Flying No Tights, and Good Comics for Kids and also writes booktalks and creates recommended reading lists for Ebsco's NoveList database. Currently she is working on her first books, a nonfiction series for teens.

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