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Through the Woods
Through the Woods, Emily Carroll
McElderry Books, July 2014
Reviewed from final copy
Just yesterday, we had our annual visit from an NYPL teen librarian to get students public library cards and do a bunch of booktalks. The book that got the strongest reaction? Emily Carroll’s Through the Woods. Both classes had teens verbally enjoying the spooky pictures (and one class had a quick debate about the appropriate audience. “Picture books can be for all ages,” said one very wise teen). With 3 stars, blurbs from Kate Beaton and Lucy Knisley, and beautiful art and writing, these five short stories will suck you in.
The outstanding elements here are the art and design. The pictures are detailed, creepy and disturbing. The design — flowing, floating panels, captivating and fantastic two page spreads, and twisted, scrawled words — add to the feeling of unease. A number of visual motifs weave the five stories together: woods all over the place; people traveling; many girls in cloaks; teeth, teeth, and blood. Carroll’s images are shocking and memorable: vicious scratches on an arm, teeth tearing apart a piece of meat, mouth opening and teeth parting to reveal the monster inside. The repeated images pull the stories together visually and thematically.
Carroll’s words are sparse but effective and evocative: “Each night it bled through the halls of her new home, a low keening that seeped from the floors, walls, stairs, ceilings…from the house’s very bones.” The sentences are poetic and interesting, and are beautifully arranged on the page, interacting with the pictures, twining in and out of the panels.
But what’s strongest about the collection could make it vulnerable in RealCommittee discussion. The visual elements, the design elements, are where this title’s strengths lie. Will committee members be willing to concede reliance on visual literacy when there are so many strong (and more traditional) titles to consider? And even more importantly, this is a strong year for graphic novels. Will Through the Woods stand out enough to take a medal? I would guess no (my money’s still on This One Summer)…but I’ve been wrong before!
About Sarah Couri
Sarah Couri is a librarian at Grace Church School's High School Division, and has served on a number of YALSA committees, including Quick Picks, Great Graphic Novels, and (most pertinently!) the 2011 Printz Committee. Her opinions do not reflect the attitudes or opinions of SLJ, GCS, YALSA, or any other institutions with which she is affiliated. Find her on Twitter @scouri or e-mail her at scouri35 at gmail dot com.
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