I grew up with a shelf lined with Moby — pocket edition illustrated classics—and I can still feel the rough cream paper and imagine the black & white pictures on every other page. Reading those was like popping mouthfuls of M&Ms: I could easily go through a handful in one sitting. Reading those classics in their entirety later was like savoring a fine Swiss chocolate bar. Reviewing Stone Arch graphic novel editions of classics? Much closer to the M&M side of the spectrum.

I read four of the approximately 40 titles that are published by Stone Arch Books in their Graphic Revolve: Classic Fiction series, The Aeneid, Romeo and Juliet, Les Miserables, and The Picture of Dorian Gray. (See previously posted review for six additional series titles here.) Each 80-page hardback graphic novel starts out with a two-page spread of the main characters. The abridged story takes about 65 pages, and the book ends with several appendices, such as author and background information, a glossary, discussion and writing prompts, further historical context, and reference to any film adaptations. All four novels are measured at a Grades 2–3 reading level, with an interest level marked as Grades 5–9, which seems accurate.

Each of the four graphic novels was written and illustrated by different sets of people, but there is cohesion across them. The novels use similar layouts and the same fonts and shapes for narrative and dialogue elements. Of the four I read, the art of The Aeneid was my favorite based on the imaginings of the Greek gods and the vitality of the battle scenes. It’s much easier to follow which god is which when there is a picture of them in front of you. Romeo and Juliet was the most cartoonish of the four, and its dialogue was the most distracting because it tried to add a Shakespearean flavor while keeping the lexile level low. “What is love? A kind of madness, a suffocating bitterness, a comforting sweetness?” is paired with “You have to relax! See other women!” The Picture of Dorian Gray was interesting, but forced to ambiguity many times because of the age-inappropriate nature of Dorian’s licentious behavior. Les Miserables is one of my favorite books of all time, so it’s very difficult for me not to see all of the flaws, but it was a simplistic retelling of the story that successfully captured elements of the historical context and the emotional conflict. All of the novels succeeded in condensing the plot lines down to 65 pages of pictures and small text boxes, but that comes at a cost to the integrity of the original work, as is true of any abridgment.

As a whole, I was not impressed by these graphic renditions of classic novels. The glossaries in particular were ridiculous, defining words like “foreigner” and “sin” while failing to define words like “bourgeoisie” and “alchemist.” With scores of illustrated classics and more innovative manga retellings of classics available, I don’t see a compelling reason to add these titles to a collection. If you’re using them to get children to read, I think it would be better to use graphic novels that are more age appropriate (and that weren’t all originally written by dead white guys). However, these editions offer background and context that is helpful for understanding the stories, and they might interest people who collect novelty editions of their favorite books.

Classic Fiction Series 
The Aeneid
by Diego Agrimbau
Art by Marcelo Sosa
ISBN: 9781496561138
Stone Arch Books, 2018
Publisher Age Rating: Grades 5-9

Romeo & Juliet
by Hernan Carerras
Art by Aleta Vidal
ISBN: 9781496561121
Stone Arch Books, 2018
Publisher Age Rating: Grades 5-9

The Picture of Dorian Gray
by Jorge Morhain
Art by Martín Túnica, Pablo Túnica
ISBN: 9781496564092
Stone Arch Books, 2018
Publisher Age Rating: Grades 5-9

Les Miserables
by Luciano Saracino
Art by Fabián Mezquita
ISBN: 9781496561114
Stone Arch Books, 2018
Publisher Age Rating: Grades 5-9

  • Joy

    Past Reviewer

    Joy is an MLS student at Emporia State University. She has an MA in Rhetoric and Composition from the University of Kansas and has spent most of her career facilitating instruction--teaching college composition, tutoring at college writing centers, and training software customers. When she's not freelance copy editing or wrapped up in a book, she's likely playing with her pitbull, Nina Simone, drinking craft beer, or volunteering at an equine therapy program. She has a weakness for lists and spreadsheets, and she'd love to swap reading stats with you.

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