This is the second installment in Nordling and Bosch’s unique graphic tales, Three Story Books. Three wordless but overlapping stories are told through three parallel panels, running across each spread.
The opening spread introduces the story and how to read it. The reader can follow the top story, which shows the adventures of a lone fish who swims all alone, “Because I don’t need anybody else.” The second storyline shows a hungry barracuda who eats everything, “Because nobody can stop me.” The bottom panel follows the story of a school of small fish who swim together, “So we can help each other.” You can also read each page in the traditional format, from top to bottom.
The storyline is not particularly new; it’s a tried and true plot that will be familiar to fans of classic picture books like Leo Lionni’s Swimmy. The hungry barracuda and the lone swimmer learn a lesson when the school of fish gets together to protect themselves with the beginning and ending notes confirming the moral. However, the unique art style of the three stories gives an additional perspective to, well, different perspectives.
The art is divided into three long panels which are then further divided into threes so each spread has a total of eighteen panels until the pictures and stories are joined together in the last two panels. The jigsaw puzzle of panels will encourage readers to mix and match the stories and characters as they think about different actions and their results. Bosch’s cartoon fish have tiny but detailed faces, with comical expressions from determination to indifference to shock and surprise. Alert readers will be able to follow the subtle and sometimes humorous details that reappear in panels from page to page and add new dimensions to the story.
It’s an interesting artistic concept and could work well in a school setting, teaching narrative structure or looking at stories from different perspectives. However, while it’s certainly unique and well-done, it’s one of those graphic novels that strikes me as just a little too unique, at least for the average public library. It’s available only in paperback or expensive library binding and is formatted to look like a picture book. While a picture book audience might enjoy looking at the fish and figuring out the story, it seems like it needs an older audience to really appreciate the art and layout. The exception would be if you can get kids who like I Spy or puzzle books interested in the series. Unless they’re willing to pick it up, it’s only a good addition to a collection with an audience interested in art and more complex narratives, but not something the average graphic novel reader would pick up off the shelf.
by Lee Nordling
Art by Meritxell Bosch
Lerner Graphic Universe, 2015