Queen of the Sea

I know, I know, I promised you a Charles Darwin book list, and first I give you the Liddy family and now this– don’t worry, you’ll get it! (I still love those books, but I’m easily distracted, as we all know.)

But I just read the most fantastic graphic novel and I have to tell you about it while it’s: a) fresh in my mind, and b) NEW. AVAILABLE. BUY IT NOW. (I got it at my local Children’s Book Shop, you can surely buy it at yours!)

Queen of the Sea.jpg

I’m still pretty new to the graphic novel medium, but, boy do I love it! Especially done so well as Dylan Meconis’s Queen of the Sea is: it feels fresh, new, yet timeless. It will last. Graphic novels done properly have everything I love about really good picture books, but on steroids. (Or maybe picture books done properly are like perfect graphic novels pared down to the pristine essentials. I don’t know which way it really goes, but they’re obviously related.)

The point is this: Dylan Meconis, in this case, is both verbal and visual storyteller and she gets it on point in both regards. This is perfect and you need it in your life. I’ll tell you why.

So, the story is set in Albion at the end of the reign of King Edmund, who leaves behind him two daughters: Eleanor, who ought to take the throne, and Catherine, who does take the throne, and rules with a high and bloody hand. The story is a loosely-veiled alternate history of the early days of Queen Elizabeth I, in fact, and it’s really got everything in it: folklore, mystery, history, a recipe for Truly Terrible Gruel, allegory, A FREAKING EMBROIDERY LESSON– I kid you not, this book is packed… and it never, for a fraction of an instant, feels overwhelming.

The story is gripping and moves along at a beautiful, measured pace, doubtless in part because the text is pared down to move quickly, but the art is so dynamic and blossoms so vividly on each page that it slows you down to catch each glorious detail. And the interjections about the monastic life, embroidery, and folklore simultaneously slow things down a bit more (“ah,” you catch yourself thinking, “what an interesting side note!”) and enrich the text (“oh,” you think ten pages further along, “that’s what that was for!”).

It’s a feat of storytelling genius, in other words. If Alan Moore could possibly have written for children, it might look something like this. OK, if you know Alan Moore’s work I just blew your mind, and if you don’t, you’re confused. Let me explain: a) To fans of Alan Moore: I know, the thought of Moore writing for kids is laughable, and the idea of comparing anyone to his genius is sacrilege. Stay with me a moment. b) To the uninitiated: Alan Moore pushes boundaries with his storytelling (the whole fictionalized history thing makes me think of that) and he also creates verbal mosaics of different styles, voices, and ideas. Dylan Meconis does this brilliantly with her wide array of characters and formats, from hagiography to history to witty and biting dialogue about chess, and so much more.

One of the overarching feats of Queen of the Sea is that it’s fresh and new, and a lot of that is down to the voice. It’s so easy for history books to get it wrong, but this is written very specifically for children without talking down to children, on the one hand, or speaking to adults while pretending to be for children, on the other hand.

The story is thrilling, the art is beautiful, and my six-year-old daughter is fascinated by it to a degree I find unfathomable. (It’s way, way too old for her and all she know is that it’s about a girl beside the sea. She’ll get there in four years, approximately.) That’s the attraction of the art at work. But the attraction of the words is just as strong: my brother-in-law was visiting, and he must have gotten about halfway through it, just drawn in by the story and the art, in the few hours he was in the house, while simultaneously being a charming guest. That’s how quickly the magic works.

And that’s the other wonderful thing about this graphic novel, although I feel sort of bad saying so: It’s so quick and easy to read. I don’t mean it’s “easy” as in “light” or “fluffy.” It’s just that it took me about two hours to read the whole thing. That’s it. Then I thought about it and went back over it and am now gushing to you, so it stayed with me. But graphic novels move. They move fast.

That makes me think about audience. This is obviously– perfectly– a book for nerds. I’d have loved it as a history nerd in middle school. (Around age 9 or 10, probably, or any age over that.) But I wonder whether it wouldn’t also entice a reluctant historian? “Who are these dead people I have to learn about?” I imagine someone whining. “Well,” says Dylan Meconis, “let’s talk about that, shall we?” It’s a hook into another world, just like any great work of fiction, but it’s also a hook into the world of history.

And that’s why I think it’s going to last. It’s not just a work of fiction, it’s also a work of history. And a good one. Good histories and good novels last. This is both, and I think it will prove timeless as a representation of how a brilliant twenty-first century mind grappled with the sixteenth century. I hope it does. And I hope for two other outcomes: a) That others will look at Dylan Meconis’s groundbreaking work and decide to follow in her footsteps in their own way, and b) that Dylan Meconis will continue writing and drawing for children. We need her work!

Here’s the catalogue link again.

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Kate Thompson: Liddy Family Trilogy

Dear lovers of literature, today you get a special treat: Irish lore brought into the modern context and turned into a trio of the most satisfying novels I’ve read lately. Novels that will break your heart and heal your soul and make you laugh out loud.

Now the first thing to understand is that Kate Thompson (that’s her website there) writes whereof she knows: she writes about her own world, Ireland, and its music and literature. She writes with touching love about this material and its dual nature: ephemeral, yet lasting.

The stories are actually pretty straightforward and almost beside the point for what I want to tell you about, which is family and history and the power of nature.

The first novel, The New Policeman, introduces you to the family we come to love: the Liddy family in Kinvara, which is passionate about music and dancing. J.J. Liddy is just a boy, profoundly attached to his family and its history. He’s particularly attached to the music they play. But one day he realizes that time is leeching out of Ireland into another dimension and he finds himself over in T’ír na n’Óg (the land of eternal youth from Irish lore) trying to save both worlds– the world of his earthly family, and T’ír na n’Óg, the land he soon realizes is equally connected to his family history.

That’s where we start, in the world of J.J. Liddy from about 70 years ago. But then we fast-forward to 2007, the “present day” of The Last of the High Kings, which takes us into trickier territory. This novel embroils us in not only the history of changelings and magic, but also in family tensions and, deepest of all, the first stirrings of terror over the fate of the world: global warming.

The final novel, The White Horse Trick, takes us into the future: J.J. Liddy is no longer in Ireland, but in T’ír na n’Óg. But Ireland is in dire trouble, and his family is– well, I’m not going to spoil this for you. Suffice it to say: the hints of global warming have completely manifested themselves in this novel and it is heart-breaking to see the horrors which overtake beautiful Ireland, and yet the ending is one of the most nuanced and healing literary experiences I’ve read.

So that’s the three books in a REALLY tight nutshell. Remember, these are novels, and I just summarized each in a matter of, oh, 75-ish words. Let me give you a better taste of what they mean now that you know a taste of the content. These aren’t just novels about Ireland and its lore, represented by T’ír na n’Óg, nor are they depressing news stories about the dangers of global warming. You can get the first by reading a guide book or the Acallam na Senórach. You can get the second anywhere you look– with a few sadly notable exceptions.

No, the notable thing about Kate Thompson’s novels is that they are, as I said at the very beginning, about what she knows: her own small slice of Ireland. They’re set in a very narrow space which she loves so profoundly that her characters, J.J. Liddy especially, walk the ground with joy coming out of each step. J.J.’s daughter, Jenny, runs barefoot through the grass and stones. Their friend Mikey literally gives his afterlife for the joy and love he feels for the land and its people. The púka loves it so much that I’m not going to explain that bit to you, but, trust, me he loves it. And the fairy folk have their own relationship from T’ír na n’Óg which is difficult to explain, too, but is part and parcel of the whole history of Ireland.

Which brings me back to T’ír na n’Óg and the story of stories and music: See, here’s the thing. Most books about a place, deeply rooted as they are in that place, are very restricted. Think of the beauty of Nathaniel Hawthorne’s books: you can’t get much better than them, can you? But they’re restricted in time and place. So, you will point out to me, are Kate Thompson’s books. Isn’t that what I just spent a paragraph saying, that they’re restricted to a small slice of Ireland, what she knows, and that’s what makes them so good?

Excellent reading comprehensions skills, well said! BUT. Part of what makes them so good is that they go deep. Historically deep. Geographically deep. Into geology of the past and the future. They cover the story of that small slice of Ireland from historic lore to the projected far future. Oh my God, are they good. So, T’ír na n’Óg is part and parcel of that history and, so she suggests, that future! The source of all music and history and lore, T’ír na n’Óg, is going to endure, no matter what we do to the earth.

So, T’ír na n’Óg isn’t just lore and storytelling: it’s hope, too.

OK, maybe it’s all fairy tales. I mean, look, realistically speaking, once we ruin the earth, how many of us really believe that we have a T’ír na n’Óg to preserve music and culture, etc.? And yet literature and contemporary stories are full of ways out. And, to my mind, this is one of the most beautiful, satisfying, and, somehow, sensible ways out I’ve read. As in, it makes sense within its own story. I get it, in a way I didn’t “get” Wall-E, for example (nothing against Wall-E, it broke my heart, too, but it wasn’t “my” story the way the Liddy books are), and I think even non-Celticists will fall in love with Ireland and T’ír na n’Óg and feel a burning wish to preserve both the land and the stories of the land upon reading these books.

To sum up: These are family stories on every level. The family of the Liddy clan, of their extended clan in T’ír na n’Óg, and of Ireland beyond that level, and also the family of the human race. As you read, you will fall in love anew with everything to do with earth, its beauty, and its stories.

And, if you do read these books and want to know more about T’ír na n’Óg? Drop me a line and we can talk stories! Maybe I’ll write an Irish story reading list here, to link to this entry…

Now, go forth and read!

DRUMROLL

Today is the Changeling’s birthday, and the end of the fundraiser giveaway. I ran the random number generator, and it has been won by the Conrad-Mandel clan!

The Wall
Thank you so much, to them and to everyone, for all of the generous donations which, in the end, came to over $600. Unfortunately, they are all necessary, all appreciated, and there’s no sign of this work coming to an end anytime soon.

That being said, Peter Sís’s book The Wall proves that walls can be pulled down and bravery is rewarded.

Thank you, everyone, your donations gave help to many, and hope to me. I hope that you’ll all consider reading this book and taking its message to heart.

REMINDER: The Wall giveaway

Dear Everyone,

This is just a note to remind you of The Wall giveaway in support of RAICES. If you haven’t donated yet and want to be entered for the giveaway, please make your donation by July 17. This is the donation link. You wonderful people have already blown past my goal, but I know we can do even better, so please contribute! Here’s that tantalizing signature and doodle to entice you again…

img_20190620_160932

After July 17, we’re going to talk biographies! I’m a dork, and find the prospect VERY EXCITING.

IN ALL CAPS, no less.

Thank you, and remember– two more days to donate here!

 

Instructions Giveaway Winner!

So, which of you fabulous folks won this beautiful book?

Instructions

Heather! Heather, I’m emailing you right now to check where you’re going to want me to send this book and whether you want gift wrapping or a note.

This is a book about fairy tales, but also about journeys and adventures and kindness. Well, what could be more appropriate for this beautiful gift you’ve given us? If only I could give a copy of this to each kid trapped at the border right now, too! Heather, enjoy it, and thank you.

Check back later for The Wall giveaway, and in the meanwhile, if you want to be considered for that giveaway, please read this post and donate here.

THANK YOU

Dear readers, you have helped me reach my goal early. You don’t even know how much that means to me, so I’m going to show you the only way I know how: with a book.

Instructions

My giveaway for the signed edition of The Wall is still running, but to one of you early donors I will be giving a copy (not signed, I’m afraid) of one of the most heartening and inspiring books I know– Instructions. If you donate before tomorrow morning, you’ll be eligible to be included. I’ll do the random draw tomorrow and contact the winner then! Here’s the link to the original post and the fundraiser.

Thank you so much! Check back tomorrow for the winner of Instructions!

Happy Canada Day!

Happy Canada Day to all of you Canadians out there!

I’m so proud to count myself among your number, and, right now, for two special reasons:

a) Do you know how many Canadians needed to donate to my very USA-specific fundraiser? None. They could have looked the other way and said “not my problem.” But did they? No! And that’s one of the things that makes me so proud to be Canadian– we don’t look the other way. We participate, not nosily, but consciously and conscientiously. Thank you, Canadians, for donating to RAICES today and every day.

b) BOOKS! Do you know how many fabulous books are coming out in Canada these days? As the Changeling would say, “A thousand million hundred TRILLION!” A lot. I’ll tell you about three. (OK, sort of four.)

I already told you about Albert’s Quiet Quest, but it’s Canadian and worth a reminder today!

Albert's Quiet Quest

Now, this next one is a wistful book: Paws and Edward by Espen Dekko and Mari Kanstad Johnsen.

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Paws and Edward is about the sweet, large, lumbering Paws who used to chase rabbits and go for long walks and now needs rest. A lot of rest. Ultimately, he falls asleep one last time, but Edward goes on to dream of Paws’s younger days when he used to chase rabbits with vim and delight. It made me cry right there in the book shop, I admit, but that was OK, because when they showed me the ARC they warned me it would. I’m going to argue a bit with the suggested age range here (ages 4-7) and say it would work for slightly older kids, too, because the text is nuanced and any kid going through the life and death of a senior pet will need that nuance for comfort. This is not a “Rainbow Bridge” style comfort talking about where your pet goes after death, by the way. This is straightforward: Paws was here, and now is dying. Edward is sad, but is comforted by dreams of Paws’s youth. There is no false comfort, at all. It is heartbreakingly sad, but comfort and healing comes in the form of reality and memories, and in letting your kid know they’re not alone. I highly recommend it for any kid going through deep personal loss.

OK, so maybe my theme for Canada Day is sad Canadian books? Because Ojiichan’s Gift (also from KCP!) by Chieri Uegaki and Genevieve Simms, is also rather sad.

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When Mayumi is little, her grandfather, Ojiichan, makes her a garden, and every year she visits him and they tend the garden together. Raking the gravel is her favourite part. Then, one year, he’s grown too old to stay in his home and has to move– leaving her garden behind. But Mayumi, slowly working through her grief, finds a way to preserve her garden and their joint connection. Like Paws and Edward, this is recommended for ages 3-7 but I think will work at an older age, too. It’s not in the least sentimental– it’s a straightforward story of grief, love, loss, and connection. I loved it, and I think you will, too.

That’s been a lot of heavy stuff, but Canadian kids’ lit is often very fun, light, and funny– just check out the adorable Mole Sisters books by Roslyn Schwartz! They’re all great, but check out The Mole Sisters and the Piece of Moss.

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In this delightful story, the mole sisters, who normally live underground, decide to show a piece of moss a good time. They take it up, to the top of the world, roll down with it, look at the stars (“They’re so pretty… just like us.”), and finally take the moss home with them to snuggle into at night. Joyful, fun, and unsentimental, the mole sisters have fun wherever they are and whatever havoc they might be wreaking!

Dear readers, I hope I’ve shown that there is quite a range of Canadian lit for kids– and I’ll continue to highlight whatever comes out whenever I can! I’m proud to be Canadian, today and every day, and proud to share our glorious words and images with the rest of the world– so go to your local book shop today and ask for the finest in Can lit!