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Round 1, Match 7: The Volcano Beneath the Snow vs. This One Summer
JUDGE – NATHAN HALE
|A Volcano Beneath the Snow
by Albert Martin
|This One Summer
by Mariko Tamaki & Jillian Tamaki
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)
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!!?)
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
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.)
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:
About Battle Commander
The Battle Commander is the nom de guerre for children’s literature enthusiasts Monica Edinger and Roxanne Hsu Feldman, fourth grade teacher and middle school librarian at the Dalton School in New York City and Jonathan Hunt, the County Schools Librarian at the San Diego County Office of Education. All three have served on the Newbery Committee as well as other book selection and award committees. They are also published authors of books, articles, and reviews in publications such as the New York Times, School Library Journal, and the Horn Book Magazine. You can find Monica at educating alice and on twitter as @medinger. Roxanne is at Fairrosa Cyber Library and on twitter as @fairrosa. Jonathan can be reached at email@example.com.
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