Alia’s Mission: Saving the Books of Iraq – Mark Alan Stamaty

aliaMark Alan Stamaty’s graphic story will resonate with anyone who has ever visited a library. Its simple black and white drawings tell the story of Alia, a woman who lives and works in Iraq during Saddam Hussein’s reign. Iraq is on the verge of chaos as Britain and the U.S. are planning to invade the country and remove Hussein from power.

Alia is the head librarian at the Basra Central Library. We are told that “ever since she was a little girl, books have been a source of happiness and adventure for her.”  When she reads the story of how the Mongol Invasion destroyed the Baghdad library resulting in the loss of  “irreplaceable treasures” Alia worries that something similar could happen to her beloved library. alia1 When the fighting starts in Iraq, Alia feels compelled to save the books in the library. When she can’t get her own government to help her, she starts moving the books herself.

Alia’s Mission: Saving the Books of Iraq is a simple story, geared for younger readers.  It only took me about ten minutes to read, but don’t let that deter you from checking it out. Alia’s story proves what book lovers already know: books are worth fighting for.

The Lost Boy – Greg Ruth

lostboyGreg Ruth has a successful career as a writer and comic book artist and has worked for Dark Horse Comics, DC/Vertigo and even illustrated Barack Obama’s picture book Our Enduring Spirit.

I saw The Lost Boy sitting on a shelf at Indigo and thought it looked and sounded interesting and as I am always on the hunt for graphic novels to add to my small but growing collection, I added it to my shopping bag.

The Lost Boy is the story of Nate who moves to a new town and a new house with his parents. His father tells him that he gets to choose any room he wants and upon a desultory inspection of the rooms upstairs Nate finds an old tape recorder under a loose floor board. Even more strange, there’s a note with his name on it which simply says: Find him.

The tape recorder belongs to Walter Pidgin and when Nate presses play he hears the voice of Walter, a boy about the same age as Nate.

“These are the facts,” Walter’s voice says. “Six dogs and three cats have gone missing in the past ten weeks. The pattern is too deliberate to be coyotes.”

Walter tells his tape recorder that something ‘unnatural’ is at work in Crow’s Woods and it turns out he’s right.

lostboy2 When Nate meets Tabitha, a girl down the street, she’s able to tell him that Walter went missing many years before and when the ‘otherworld’ starts encroaching on the real worl, Nate and Tabitha decide that they need to go into the woods to find out just what happened to Walter.

I found myself getting confused by the players – and maybe that’s because there’s this complicated world which is unveiled by talking dolls and bugs. Cool, but a perhaps too convoluted for one reading. I liked the art in The Lost Boy better than I liked the story, actually – although the story had a lot of potential.

Nevertheless, a worthy and intriguing additiong to my classroom library.

A Family Secret – Eric Heuvel

family secretEric Heuvel is a Dutch comic book artist, so A Family Secret, a story which takes place in Amsterdam during the second world war, is perhaps a topic especially close to his heart.

Jeroen is looking for items to sell at a flea market held on Dutch Queen’s Day. He decides to head over to his grandmother’s house, hoping to score some good stuff without actually have to visit with his grandmother. Snooping through the attic, he comes across a scrapbook filled with items marking the German occupation of Holland.

“I”ll tell you why I started this scrapbook,” his grandmother tells him. Jeroen is thinking: I hope this doesn’t take long. It turns out, though, that her story is riveting.

When I was twelve or thirteen I read Anne Frank’s Diary of a Young Girl. It was one of those turning point books for me, as I am sure it was for many other young people. Here was a real teenager, coping with typical teenage problems but under extraordinary circumstances. Decades later, while visiting Amsterdam, I was priviledged to visit the house where she and her family were hidden away. I can’t begin to explain to you the feeling of stepping behind the hidden door and heading up the stairs to the annex where she spent just over two years of her short life.

A Family Secret tells another one of the, I suspect, hundreds of thousands of personal stories about that horrific time in history. Jeoren’s grandmother tells of her father, a Dutch police officer, forced to make choices she doesn’t understand until years later, about her brothers, one who joins the resistance and one who joins the Nazis and of her childhood friend, Esther, a  German Jew who fled with her parents to the safety of the Netherlands…only to discover there was no safe place for them.

The graphic novel format of this particular story makes it a perfect read for reluctant readers, but all readers should get something meaningful out of the personal choices the characters are forced to make in times of great distress.

These atrocities continue to be written about, as they should. We should never be allowed to forget.

Stitches – David Small

I am not a graphic novel aficionado, but David Small’s Stitches  has been on my tbr radar for a while. Small’s memoir of growing up in 1950’s Detroit with an older brother, a radiologist father and a bat-shit crazy mother (although the discovery of her secret life makes her a tad more sympathetic) has won a slew of accolades and was a finalist for several major awards including the National Book Award.

I can’t comment on the quality of the art – or how it compares to the art of other graphic novels because I don’t have any frame of reference. All the pictures are simple and black and white, but they were very effective drawings.

The story of David’s life begins at six. The reader learns a little bit about his family, his absent father, his cold and distant mother.  Memoirs aren’t meant to dissect an entire life; rather, this is the story of one life-altering moment. A growth on David’s neck, discovered when he is 11, must be removed. The diagnosis: a cebaceous cyst. It takes David’s parents three and a half years to organize the surgery – not just one operation, but two. When David wakes up from the second operation, he discovers that his vocal chords have been severed and he is, for all intents and purposes, mute.

I read Stitches in an afternoon. It’s a sad tale, made darker because of the author’s muted drawings. For anyone wondering whether it is possible to have a worthwhile life after a craptastic childhood, Stitches is proof-positive.