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Thoreau at Walden Hardcover – April 22, 2008
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The latest high-quality graphic-format book from folks associated with the Center for Cartoon Studies introduces another significant historical personage, Henry David Thoreau. Although the life and work of the nineteenth-century transcendental philosopher and protoenvironmentalist might seem an odd choice for adaptation into sequential art, Porcellino, alternative comics writer/artist and master of the minicomic, has found a way to translate Thoreau’s thinking into an involving read that exudes lightness and tranquility. Marrying his minimalist line work to Thoreau’s minimalist philosophy, Porcellino manages a striking unity of words and art that works as an effective ode to simplicity. Thoreau’s writings, excerpted out of chronological order, are recast into a narrative that moves from the philosopher’s self-ostracism from society and his time at Walden and into the feeling of calm reverie he took from his experiences. This will be a difficult sell to casual readers, but budding philosophers and readers looking for an unusual work will be delighted. Extensive endnotes include explanations and attributions for the excerpts and a short bibliography. Grades 8-12. --Jesse Karp
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The book begins with an outstanding introduction by D.B. Johnson introducing Thoreau to readers.
The body of the book is displayed comic-style with a mixture of captions and speech bubbles. Those who already know the story will enjoy picking out the famous quotes and anecdotes, while students new to Thoreau will be provided with an introduction that's likely to stimulate further reading. Although many of the famous quotes are included, many are left out. It's interesting to think about what you would include and exclude in creating this type of graphic interpretation.
The last section of the book provided insights into the way Porcellino wove Thoreau's text throughout the book. It was particularly interesting to read passages by Thoreau that appear as wordless illustrations in the book. For instance, Thoreau's experience with an owl is told by Porcellino without the use of words.
I envision teachers pairing this experience with the Henry series by D.B. Johnson including Henry Hikes to Fitchberg. It would also be interesting for young people to take a virtual visit to Walden Pond using Google Earth. Those interested in reading the entire works of Henry David Thoreau can read most of them at Websites online.
This is one in a series of graphic biographies from The Center for Cartoon Studies. Each book provides an interesting insight into a well-known person.
I highly recommend Thoreau at Walden along with the other graphic biographies from The Center for Cartoon Studies.
Every other commenter (thus far) has mentioned the "simple" drawings, some indicating that the simplicity of the drawings enhance and reflect the simplicity of Thoreau's life during his great experiment. I'm all on board with the desire to go with simple drawings for that very reason. However, these drawings were more than simple. They were unsophisticated. While Thoreau's life was indeed simple, it was very deep and profound as well.
I'm not a graphic novel expert by any means, so my references at this point will be childrens books. I wonder how Thoreau at Walden might have been different if Patrick McDonnell (The Gift of Nothing) or Peter Reynolds (The North Star) had illustrated this book instead. Both McDonnell and Reynolds create very simple illustrations, but you're unlikely to look at them and wonder, "Could a fifth grader have drawn these?" I know that when I look at their illustrations - Reynolds in particular - I feel compelled to study them in order to understand how so few lines create something so interesting. This is not a desire that ever overcame me while looking at Porcellino's illustrations in Thoreau at Walden.
As I said at the beginning, it's a wonderful idea. If you like Thoreau, this book could make an interesting addition to your library. I just wish the illustrations had captured the sophistication of Thoreau's words as well as the simplicity of his life.
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