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.
For ages 9-12.
on June 26, 2015
This is a terrific graphic novel for kids. I read it to my five-year-old and she really enjoyed the story and the pictures; this was her first introduction to the genre and it was interesting to see how she came to understand how the text and images fit together -- as an adult you forget that it's really different than reading simple prose!
I really enjoyed that the characters were quirky and multidimensional and the story wasn't too violent (as many graphic novels are wont to be). One of the takeaways from the story is that you just can't rely on stereotypes to tell you who someone truly is: a huge giant can be friendly, a wannabe princess can be smart, a tough cookie can be vulnerable. This in and of itself is not a unique message among children's literature, but what was refreshing about Giants Beware is that you're not beaten over the head with it -- the characters are allowed to develop more naturally, and the overall plot is very strong and stands on its own.
I look forward to reading more of The Chronicles of Claudette!
on September 8, 2012
Graphic novels are by far the most popular genre of books in my school library. They come and go on a daily basis, so I'm always on the lookout for new ones to add. While there are many available graphic novels, many of them I don't find particularly enjoyable, the kids might, but I don't. However, I really enjoyed this one.
Not only are the characters delightful with more depth than one might expect in a graphic novel, but the plot has some delicious twists and turns. I loved the twist at the end which I did not predict. I knew something would happen that would encourage Claudette to think more before she rushes into things, but the ending was a nice surprise. I also liked how her friend and brother were given a chance to shine also. I appreciated Claudette's courage in standing up to the local bullies, even if her actions were rather rash at times. A lot of times secondary characters fade so much into the background that you hardly notice them. That is not the case here. The illustrations are gorgeous and very appealing, the writing crisp and easy to follow. This is one graphic novel that I can recommend very highly indeed.
on November 23, 2012
I've been trying to grow my graphic novel/comic collection in my classroom and Giants Beware was one of my first forays into this territory. My fourth grade students adore this book. What's more, it has a quiz on Scholastic's Reading Counts program. I have to repeatedly tell one of my boys to put this back on my shelf when independent reading time is over.
Having read the book myself, this is a fun, engaging adventure story with a gentle sense of humor and a great cast of characters. Highly, highly recommended.
on May 17, 2015
Why is it SO HARD to find comic books – heck, books of any kind or genre – for young kids with compelling female protagonists who kick butt and aren’t looking for or being sought after by a guy? This is one of the good ones. My daughter loves it. That my own kid doesn’t look like nor has any desire to look like one of the “girls,” it’s wonderfully refreshing to SEE a drawn girl who looks like my own. More than a great story (and it is a great story), this is representation at its best. Love it.
on August 31, 2015
I bought this for my 7-year old twin boys who insisted I read it until we finished--before bed, at breakfast table, in the car, etc. Turns out I loved it even more than they did! Story was wonderfully paced with non-stop action and complex characters, expressive + dynamic + refined artwork. One of best books we've read this year. Who doesn't like a spunky girl giant slayer with bravery to spare?
on August 22, 2014
Wonderful story, wonderful art! My 9 yr old daughter LOVES this book and is eager to read more graphic novels because of it. Claudette is sassy, determined, and brave, and her friends are loyal and interesting in their own right.
on March 9, 2013
I snap up any graphic novel with a great story, message, and visuals. Giants Beware! delivers on all three! With a strong female protagonist, this might remind some readers of the recent Disney movie Brave - and, indeed, it offers the same appeal to my girls, ages 7 and 9 - but in a very different way. We originally got this from our local library, but after reading it once, we all agreed that it needed to be a permanent part of our library. I hope to see more from these authors!