Who’s Afraid of the Big Bad Fox? by Benjamin Renner; First Second Books, $15.99, 188 pages, ages 5-8.
Can’t a fox get a break? Apparently, no–not even the fluffy egg-laying hens are afraid in Benjamin Renner’s mapcap graphic novel making it’s English-language debut next month. Originally published last year in French as Le Grand Méchant Renard, the book chronicles the woes of a wannabe terror, a hungry fox whose antics only provoke the ire of his intended victims. Even under the tutelage of the old master of fairy-tale disaster, the wolf, this fox “as ferocious as a geriatric tortoise,” appears destined to nosh on berries and twigs for the rest of his days. At least, until the wolf hatches a plan to steal some eggs. The fox succeeds, but can he bring himself to eat these fluffballs? And what happens when he develops an attachment to his brood–who soon enough believe themselves to be baby foxes? Will the new family escape the clutches of the scheming wolf? Will the hens have pity on a poor fox seeking redemption? Renner’s slapstick, subversive, and sly saga will keep readers of all ages clucking with joy. While the artwork certainly has the feel of a cartoon strip, there’s a freshness and sophistication here that reveals a master at work. Pre-order this finely executed graphic novel to ensure hours of summer reading enchantment.
Shackleton: Antarctic Odyssey, by Nick Bertozzi; First Second Books, $16.99, 128 pages, ages 12-18. (Publication date: June 17, 2014)
Amateur and professional explorers worldwide will mark the centennial of Ernest Shackelton’s ill-fated yet miraculous voyage to the Antarctic this year. Entire documentaries and symposiums are devoted to understanding how the entire crew survived in polar conditions after their ship became trapped and ultimately crushed in pack ice. There’s even a cruise called the Shackelton 100 that will recreate the route of the Imperial Trans-Antarctic Expedition.
For adventurers staying close to home, Nick Bertozzi’s graphic novel replicates the voyage through a riveting and wholly original approach to telling this story of survival. Historians have meticulously documented the expedition, but in this account Bertozzi changes the point of view by inviting the reader onto the Endurance alongside the captain and his crew. Each panel illustrates the minutiae of life aboard a sea vessel – from chronicling Mr. Orde-Lee riding a bicycle across the ice, to a chapter called “Last Dog” which delicately handles the issue of starvation and self-preservation.
Bertozzi’s black and white illustrations overflow with visual detail while creating a solid and engaging story. Ships, men and various polar creatures are at once grand and familiar. While the author is quite deft depicting each man in the story, Shackelton stands out from his crew; a tall, dark-haired commander determined to bring all twenty-eight crewmen home after almost two years lost at sea.
Writing and illustrating stories of great explorers seems second-nature to Bertozzi, whose previous work includes Lewis and Clark, an equally inventive examination of two great explorers. Could Amelia Earhart or Thor Heyerdahl be next?