The Graphic Canon of Children’s Literature is gorgeous. Editor Russ Kick had gathered an astonishing array of talent to create graphic versions of a range of children’s stories, everything from “Little Red Riding Hood” to The Time Machine, several of Edward Lear’s poems, old children’s rhymes, and the Harry Potter series are also included among other splendors.
Fairy tales and rhymes are completely told and illustrated. Novels are, of necessity, either told in excerpt or else in highly-condensed form designed for an audience already familiar with the book in question. The chapter from Pinnochio stands almost on its own. The Oz novels (all fourteen of them), are told in a highly condensed form by Shawn Cheng as are the Harry Potter posters by Lucy Knisley, a retelling of the series that only those who have read or watched the series will understand. Other novels are similarly oblique, though always worth looking at.
The range of tales alone makes the collection stand out. Added to this is a selection of talented artists sporting a wide array of styles ant techniques. There are so many riches that it is impossible to pick any favorites. There is Maelle Doliveux’s worldess cut paper Aesop’s tales; Leslie Barne’s elaborate “Firebird,” also wordless; Mathew Houston’s’s angular, geometric Time Machine; and Keren Katz’s “Fables for Children” by Leo Tolstoy done in colored pencils and hand lettering. Each selection is prefaced by a short introduction giving something of the story’s background and a brief description of the artist’s materials and stylistic choices. There are also sixty images in a gallery at the end, each illustrating a single aspect of a story.
This is the Graphic Canon of Children’s Literature, but is it for children? Your mileage may vary: As Kick points out, many of the stories now considered children’s stories are not very childlike in the sense that the twenty-first century speaker uses the term. Pinocchio is dark, violent, and never short of extreme consequences for the puppet’s misbehavior; “Little Red Riding Hood” has versions where the woodcutter never comes, and/or where she strips before getting into bed with the wolf and being eaten. “The Little Mermaid” throws herself into the sea after the prince marries someone else. None of the book’s creative talent shies away from the darker aspects of the tales. Indeed, they often embrace the violence involved. The results are brilliant, but parents and teachers are advised to read the book for themselves before deciding whether it is suited to the children they have in mind. Actually, parents and teachers should read the book anyway, simply because it is good.
The Graphic Canon of Children’s Literature is wholeheartedly recommended to adults who like children’s books and fairy tales, lovers of the graphic arts, and to any children ready for the grimmer side of the equation.
The Graphic Canon of Children’s Literature: The World’s Greatest Kids’ Lit as Comics and Visuals was published in October of 2014 and is available now.
Publisher: Seven Stories Press
Date: November 4, 2014