Australian Graphic Novels for Christmas

KidglovzGraphic novels for children and young adults are not just comics. Many do have the highly visual elements of comics: multiple panels on a page and text in speech bubbles; but graphic novels are books rather than magazines and come in diverse forms. Many picture books include what I regard as the fundamental element of a graphic novel: framed (or even unframed) panels.

Some book buyers may be wary of buying graphic novels for children, assuming that the content may be ‘graphic’. Of course, content in graphic novels can be ‘graphic’ in the sense of ‘explicit’ but graphic also implies ‘visual’ and it doesn’t take long to flick through a graphic novel aimed at children to check that the content is age appropriate.

How the SunBob Graham is known as one of Australia’s best picture book creators for children. Have a look at most of his books and you’ll notice that many pages are composed as framed panels (pictures inside boxes). Graham’s most recent book is How the Sun Got to Coco’s House (Walker Books). By the second double page, Graham’s story splits into a framed and unframed wide panel showing the sun over an icy horizon. Then it becomes a full double-page spread to show the immense size of a whale, before breaking into three different-sized panels. Graham’s masterful composition and form create a unique reading and viewing experience.

boy bear

Another Australian master of the graphic novel in picture book form is the incomparable and fondly remembered Gregory Rogers. His award-winning ‘Boy’ series, beginning with The Boy, the Bear, the Baron and the Bard (Allen & Unwin) has recently been published as a trilogy. Encourage young readers to explore Rogers’ Shakespearian London and Renaissance Europe. His colour, verve, humour and innovation are breath taking.

TeddyNicki Greenberg is also recognised as a world-class Australian creator of graphic novels. Her latest book, Teddy Took the Train (Allen & Unwin), is intended for younger readers than some of her others such as Shakespeare’s Hamlet and The Great Gatsby, and is ably reviewed here by Dimity Powell.

Australian publisher of Indigenous literature, Magabala Press, is publishing Australia’s first Indigenous graphic novel trilogy. It’s by Brenton E McKenna and begins with Ubby’s Underdogs: The Legend of the Phoenix.Ubby's Underdogs

This has recently been followed with Ubby’s Underdogs: Heroes Beginnings. The stories are set in Broome and will particularly appeal to readers in upper primary and junior secondary school (about 10-14 years). McKenna is a very popular and dynamic figure at writers’ festivals.

KidGlovz (A&U) is written by Julie Hunt and illustrated in black and white by Dale Newman. This is an exquisite collaboration about a young musical prodigy, Kidglovz, who is virtually a prisoner of his uncle and forced to practise and perform the piano. He hears sounds as music and is befriended by tightrope walker, Shoestring, who tries to help him. Kidglovz stands alongside Brian Selznick’s books such as The Invention of Hugo Cabret, Wonderstruck  and The Marvels.

Review – Teddy Took the Train

Teddy Took the TrainLoss is a natural part of life. Nearly all of us have experienced it, losing a pet, a loved one, a favourite piece of antique china, mental sanity. As adults, we are equipped with strategies and understanding enough to assist us to the next station in life, to get over it. However, when a child is faced with the sudden loss of say, a beloved toy, feelings of desperation and grief amplify because of their less refined fields of reference.

This new picture book, Teddy Took the Train by Nicki Greenberg mirrors an identical incident my Miss experienced several years ago (cue Pinkie, the Rabbit) and is one I’m positive many a distracted parent has had to contend with.

Teddy and DotDot loves days out in the city with her mum. They enjoy many child-cherishable moments together like shopping at the markets and munching on buns for morning tea. Teddy is Dot’s silent companion and experienced commuter. He and Dot take in the world together through the rain-splattered windows of the train home, oblivious to the crushing crowds surrounding them because after all, for a child the window seat is everything.

Distractions spring up everywhere but when mum cries to follow her at their stop, Dot has to make a hasty exit completely forgetting about Teddy. Her best mate’s absence goes unnoticed at first. Splashing in storm puddles creates too much here and now pleasure that is impossible to ignore. When the crushing reality that Teddy is missing hits, Dot is plunged into despair.

But wait, did the train take Teddy or did he take the Train? Dot suspects this is exactly what Teddy had in mind all along and is using this opportunity to get to the picnic he’s been invited to at Bear Bend; crafty old bear.

Nevertheless, he is taking an awfully long time to get back home. Concerns creep into Dot’s curly-haired head as she counts the hours of his disappearance and is torn between hope and dismay. Thankfully, Dot is made of sturdy stoic stuff and gives our roving ted all the credit he deserves.

Nicki GreenbergGreenberg portrays this familiar tale with visceral warmth and verve. Her use of causal rhyme moves Dot and Teddy’s day along at a comfortable pace that allows young readers to becoming fully absorbed in Ted’s adventure.

The illustrations, executed in a variety of mediums including scanned objects and digital collages provide plenty of stop and seek moments and create an authentic inner-city-storm-day mood.

I’m not going to tell you if Dot and Teddy are ever reunited. It’s the kind of anxious desperation many of us (as kids) have lived through and that future generations who insist on taking their toys everywhere with them, will have to endure. Needless to say, Pinkie, the Rabbit never made it back after his trip around the Brisbane train network, but we like to think he found a new little girl (or boy) to roam the rails with, and is seeing the world in the way only a stuffie can.

Experience Teddy’s amazing adventures for yourself and with children 3 to 5 years old, here.

Allen & Unwin April 2015