A mage awakens in a mysterious field surrounded by sweeping landscapes and crumbling relics. His purpose unknown, he embarks on a journey with stunning magic in tow, meeting a faithful companion or two along the way. Though this is the set up for many a fanciful tale, the mage soon realizes that this world is not kind to wanton adventurers. There are monsters with abyssal maws that can swallow beings whole, creatures that maul and mutilate for their own cryptic ends, and a corrupted force that seeks to end the mage’s wanderings permanently. Death and carnage rule this land, thrusting unrelenting horror and pain onto the mage at every opportunity. It will take all of the mage’s magic, strength, and perseverance to abate the darkness, but seldom does one attempt such a feat and come out unscathed.
Mage and the Endless Unknown delivers a horror fantasy both memorable and unnerving, its mysteries culminating in a narrative readers will want to revisit more than once to see if they can truly decipher them all. The story is conveyed mostly through images without much clarifying text. As a result, an ominous silence follows our protagonists, encouraging a sense of unease as they encounter peril after peril. Readers looking for a story with a clearly defined plot and explanations for its more abstract elements may be somewhat disappointed, but Miller still creates a sort of dreamlike cohesion during its progression. The reader shares the mage’s lack of knowledge about this strange place, which instills a greater sense of empathy for him as he meets creatures that become more frightening and deadly as the journey continues.
Ultimately, the graphic novel’s aloof and ambiguous tone makes it rife with interpretation, leaving the reader with the task of deciding what it means to them. Though Miller gives some context towards the story’s end, there are still questions one may have towards its meaning and purpose. For me, the process almost became somewhat existential, thinking about certain themes like the pains that inevitably come from living, the weight of trauma and fighting to survive, about how, through all of that suffering, one can still achieve a sense of peace and rest. Despite the constant darkness the mage faces, there is a light of hope at the end, one that reassures and soothes old wounds. Mage and the Endless Unknown has a good amount of layers to it, some of them terrifying, some of them uncomfortable, even some wondrous, but at its core there is something that encourages reflection, whether regarding the mage’s tale or our own.
With an art style that incorporates influences from manga and Western comics, Miller exhibits a great knack for illustrating the uncanny and grotesque. The creatures are drawn with such rigid, realistic detail, providing a stark contrast to our more rounded, charming, and cartoonish-looking mage. Some of their designs defy explanation other than as eldritch-inspired horrors, one sporting a long, wormlike body and tendrils made to literally get under your skin, another a large flying beast with a single gazing eye and a leechlike mouth, the opening of which taking up an entire page. Their designs and presentation have a Junji Ito-esque aesthetic about them, mainly in their bold outlining and how startling they come across when one’s guard is down. While these monstrosities are abundant throughout the graphic novel, Miller balances their presence with a natural world that appears genuinely captivating. Dark forests may appear intimidating with trees that loom and close in all around, but also include gentle waterfalls that house ethereal jellyfish creatures that seem more benign than some of its other residents. Giant mushrooms provide a safe napping space for the mage, while lush, intricate flowers are a source of small comfort. Here, beauty thrives even among such malevolence, which could either be a small reassurance or an opportunity to garner a false sense of security. The backgrounds, with all their enigmatic structures and ruins, hold more secrets of this world, prompting readers to spend time to soak in each page rather than rushing through to get to the next one.
Mage and the Endless Unknown will likely appeal to those interested in a manga-like style combined with darker elements and a vague mode of storytelling. There is a good amount of disturbing imagery in this comic, coming from its inclusion of body horror, gore, and violence, so this title will fare better with an older audience. The publisher has designated the comic as a Teen/Young Adult title, which I believe is apt considering its content. Librarians and educators looking for original graphic novels with unique presentations, memorable visuals, and an engaging mystery should consider purchasing this title.
Mage and the Endless Unknown By SJ Miller Iron Circus, 2023 ISBN: 9781638991199
Publisher Age Rating: Teen/Young Adult NFNT Age Recommendation: Adult (18+), Older Teen (16-18), Teen (13-16) Creator Representation: Nonbinary
The Woman in the Woods and other North American Stories marks the fifth volume in the series of cautionary fables and fairy tales. The eight tales in this volume are from Indigenous nations, told and illustrated by Indigenous artists, and highlighting tales from Odawa, Chickasaw, Métis/Cree, Métis, Ojibwe, Tania, Navajo, and S’Kallam societies. The editors asked each of the authors to ask for permission from the Elders and/or nations to retell and rework the stories for inclusion in this anthology as they recognized and respected the protocol inherent in the gathering of the stories from the people. Unfortunately, there are no source notes included in the collection, making it of less value to educators, librarians, and storytellers than I had hoped. True, the intended audience is middle school readers, not scholars, but the authenticity of each of the tales should be paramount for them as well. I do appreciate the fact that each of the tribal affiliations has been identified for the tales.
While the tales are rendered in black and white with various hues of grey, the cover itself jumps with colour. Ironically, the story alluded to on the cover is not included in the collection. Editor and cover artist Alina Pete remarked that she had hoped to include the creation story of Sky Woman and Turtle Island, but she could not find anyone that had permission to tell this story. Sky Woman fell to the water-covered world and fell on the back of Turtle. One by one, the animals dive into the water to try and find land until Muskrat is successful in bringing back soil. Sky woman spreads the soil on Turtle’s back to create the world as we know it. She shows Sky Woman dancing for joy and two constellations on the back cover featuring two of the characters from the tales within the covers.
Most of the illustrations in the book itself have simple backgrounds, focusing on the characters of each tale. The different styles of illustrations make each of the stories individual in a collection continuous from tale to tale without any commentary. Most of the illustrations are rendered realistically, although one or two stories have manga-like characteristics and vary between historical and contemporary settings. They also vary in length.
The anthology begins with the Odawa creation story, “As it was told to Me,” retold and illustrated by Elijah Forbes, which demonstrates that the world needs the balance of good and bad to exist. It is followed by a trickster rabbit story about the cost of vanity from the Chickasaw people. “Chokfi” is written by Jordaan Arledge and illustrated by Mekala Nava. The next two stories are located closer to this reviewer. “White Horse Plains,” from the Métis settlement St. Francois Xavier, relates the tale of the dangers of greed and conflict. It is written and illustrated by Rhael McGregor. The second Métis tale is possibly the most familiar character in the collection for me. Written by Maija Ambrose Plamondon and illustrated by Milo Applejohn, “The Rougarou” tells the story of a werewolf like monster and a young boy who befriends the Rougarou. I must admit that while I am familiar with many Rougarou tales, this is the first time I have encountered this one. Alice RL’s Ojibwe tale of “Agonjin in the Water” relates a tale of another story of friendship between a human and a mythical creature: the mythical, Mishipeshu the Great Water Guardian of the lakes and rivers.
The Taino story that follows gave its title to the anthology. It is written and illustrated by Mercedes Acosta and also focuses on the relationship between a woman and a spirit of a young girl who sees the mysterious “Woman in the Woods.” The penultimate tale, “Into the Darkness,” is a Navaho shapeshifter tale about a character so frightful that no one dares to speak its name. It is written by Izzy Roberts and illustrated by Aubrie Warner. The final tale, written by Jeffrey Veregge and illustrated by Alina Pete, is a romantic tale from the S’Kallam people. The Moon in “By the Light of the Moon” falls in love with Octopus Woman, the Queen of the Salish Sea in Puget Sound. The bright light of the Moon makes it possible for the Moon to watch her dance and to send her kisses. The power of the kisses has a surprising repercussion.
The stories are followed by two pages of concise biographies of the creators including their tribal affiliations and, in most cases, their sexual orientations.
Recommended for middle school and public library collections. Because the book is part of the cautionary fables and fairy tales series, most of the stories have strong lessons imparted in the story line, but they are not dogmatic and do allow the power of the storytelling to shine through. I just wish there were adequate source notes—did I say that already?
Cautionary Fables & Fairy Tales, vol. 5: The Woman in the Woods and Other North American Stories Edited by Kate Ashwin, Kel McDonald, Alina Pete Iron Circus, 2022 ISBN: 9781945820977
Publisher Age Rating: 10-12 Series ISBNs and Order
NFNT Age Recommendation: Middle Grade (7-11) Creator Representation: Cree, Metis, Navajo, Bisexual, Queer, Genderqueer, Nonbinary, Trans, Two Spirit Character Representation: Cree, First Nations or Indigenous, Metis, Navajo
Charlie Lamonte is thirteen years old, queer, black, and questioning what was once a firm belief in God. So naturally, she’s spending a week of her summer vacation stuck at an all-white Christian youth backpacking camp. As the journey wears on and the rhetoric wears thin, she can’t help but poke holes in the pious obliviousness of this storied sanctuary with little regard for people like herself . . . or her fellow camper, Sydney.
As the Crow Flies By Melanie Gilman ISBN: 9781945820069 Iron Circus Comics, 2017 NFNT Age Recommdnation: Teen (13-16)
Have you heard the one about the skull who borrowed body parts to pass himself off as a human so he could trick the village beauty into marriage? No? Well, what about when the daughters of Frog and Snake had a playdate? Okay, fine. But surely you’ve heard the story of the crocodiles who voted on whether or not to eat a man that had saved one of their lives? No? Wow, have we got some stories for you!
Girl Who Married a Skull and Other African Stories Edited by C. Spike Trotman, Kate Ashwin, Kel McDonald Art By Various Creators ISBN: 9781945820243 Iron Circus Comics, 2018 NFNT Age Recommendation: Tween (10-13)
The five short stories in this black and white anthology embody diversity in female protagonists, settings, and types of monsters while exemplifying effective horror tales evocative of a virtuoso storyteller sitting around a campfire with an attentive older audience. They are arresting in their execution and filled with unsettling suspense married with the recognition of various human experiences, especially lonesomeness while surrounded by family and community. Here we discover that not is all what it seems when you seek consolation and friendship in the dark unknown. While none of the tales literally take place at the legendary crossroads at midnight, they all exemplify what could possibly happen when the supernatural is invited into your heart and home.
The 350-page book itself has heft, lending its weight to the seriousness of the material within and the well-developed characters in each story. In the first tale, “The Girl in the Fields,” the reader is introduced to Frankie, a queer teen whose relationship with her religious older parents is volatile. She begins a friendship with a voice and eye through the fence to the peculiar neighbour’s farm. The growing friendship soon descends into a perilous adventure with the monster, who may not be exactly as advertised. This gruesome story is followed by a tale about an entirely different type of monster. College student Christina, in “Mattress, Used,” finds an old stained mattress that is being discarded. Since she has been sleeping on a pile of blankets, she regards this as a major piece of luck. Unfortunately, Christina’s health, well-being, and education are the currency paid for this “find.”
“The Boy from the Sea,” features Nia, a young girl, who is vacationing at the beach with her family. Left on her own, she is befriended by a young boy who only visits at night. His antics and promises arouse suspicion in Nia’s older sister with devastating and long-lasting results. The next tale also takes place by the water with an antagonist much more recognizable as a monster than in the previous tales. The water creature in “Our Lake Monster” began as a popular tourist attraction maintained by a family but when the creature grew and caused a fatality, the family and monster went into hiding. The monster kept growing and the family decided to sell it for research purposes. However, things quickly go amiss when the youngest member of the family disagreed with the decision.
“Kindred Spirits” is the final story, and my favorite. An elderly woman, living in isolation beside a bog, is surprisingly open to a friendly visit from a corpse from the bog. The woman, after communicating with the corpse and the others who subsequently arrive for tea, consults the library and local history experts for information about the cadavers. Armed with the knowledge and understanding of the nature of her nocturnal visitors, she immediately panics but realizes that, perhaps, the situation is not as dire and dreadful as she imagines now that she has friends.
Howard’s black and white illustrations are evocative, spooky, suspenseful, and often grotesque. Her use of crosshatching on white backgrounds adds to the intensity of the stories being told. Howard is skillful with facial expressions, portraying unmistakable realistic and vivid characters of diverse ages, ethnicity, and body types. The atmosphere in each of the tales is distinct but efficiently retains a cohesion to the overall ambiance of the volume. Her ingenious use of shadows creates an effective spooky intensity in each of the tales, establishing and maintaining suspense and tension, often beyond the final panel.
All these tales together offer a glimpse into the unsettling horror that can be awaiting each and everyone of us. While many monsters may be supernatural, the fear and longing driving both the humans and the monstrous is not so far out of bounds, closer perhaps than the famous crossroads at midnight. I highly recommend this graphic novel, which began as a Kickstarter project, for teens and adults who love to read horror and to be frightened safely within the covers of a book.
The Crossroads at Midnight By Abby Howard Iron Circus Comics, 2020 ISBN: 9781945820687
Title Details and Representation Publisher Age Rating: 13+ NFNT Age Recommendation: Adult (18+), Older Teen (16-18), Teen (13-16)
The Banned Book Club by Kim Hyun Sook, is based on the personal experiences of the author, who grew up during a time where South Korea was under a totalitarian government. It begins with Hyun and her mother arguing over her choice to go to school. Her mother wants her to give up school and continue to work in the family restaurant. Hyun ducks out to end the argument and attend her first day of school. Once off the bus, she is surrounded by protestors and police. Tear gas is exploding all around her, people pushing their way through the cloudy air to escape arrest. Hyun makes it to class and the teacher informs her that they need to stay away from Communist activities and not participate in protests.
Hyun wants to remain above the fray and avoid politics. She decides to join the folk dance team. They perform a dance for the school, which ends up turning political. She meets a young man on the team named Hoon who begins introducing her to new ideas. He runs the school newspaper and hides political messages in the articles. Hoon develops a crush on Hyun and the feeling turns mutual. He begins drawing her further into danger. She must decide how far she is willing to go.
The simplicity of the black and white artwork draws you into the horror of the situation. When Hyun first gets on campus, she experiences a moment of contentment. She is on a bus, headed to school, with a smile on her face. The minute she steps out, she is greeted with chants for the President to step down. The scene pulls back to reveal riot police with shields moving towards the protestors. Scenes shift to different angles, adding to the tension and chaos of the scene. There are two scenes of torture in the book. One is brief with the person having scrapes and bruises on their face. The other, while only a few pages seem as if it goes on forever. Part of it is left to the imagination as we see the objects he has been beaten with. The other act is quite cruel with the person’s face being smashed into the ground.
In the beginning, I found the title hard to get into as I had no familiarity or understanding of Korean history. The title Banned Book Club made me believe the story would be about how books changed the lives of students living in a brutal dictatorship. It was this aspect that I kept hoping would appear. After 94 pages the story began to take shape and I could see clearly where the author was going with the narrative. The theme became about how a young girl learns how to stand up and find her voice living with a government who wants to shut down any opposition or free thought. I highly recommend this book and suggest that readers learn about the Gwangju uprising to deepen their understanding. This graphic novel is most appropriate for older teens, but probably will be more appreciated by adults who are interested in historical events.
Banned Book Club By Hyun Sook Kim Art by Hyung-Ju Ko ISBN: 9781945820427 Iron Circus Comics, 2020 Publisher Age Rating: OT
Browse for more like this title NFNT Age Recommendation: Older Teen (16-18), Adult (18+) Character Traits: South Korean Creator Highlights: Own Voices, BIPOC Creator
Cautionary Fables and Fairy Tales is the umbrella title for a series of three compilations themed after a specific region of which this one is the third. The first two cover Europe and Africa while the fourth one, on Oceania tales, is in publication. All have been funded through Kickstarter efforts.
I had high hopes for this collection of Asian folktales, but was dismayed to discover that few of them have source notes or any markers for context. The geographic location is mentioned, but no background is provided for readers who may not be familiar with yokai, kitsune, demons, and other supernatural beings from Japan, China, India, Georgia, Laos, Myanmar, Turkey, Iraq and Tibet. I was very pleased, however, with the reworking of “The Ballad of Mulan” which followed the ancient tales rather than the Disney film. Aside from this tale and a few others such as the title story and “Urashima Taro,” most of the stories may not be familiar with young audiences. This is not a criticism, but it is also where source notes could have made this an outstanding addition to the ongoing reworkings of folklore in the comic book format.
The length of the stories varies as does the black and white art work in this anthology. Several of the tales have been modernized to including texting and other nods to contemporary life, but the vast majority have retained the ancient settings; particularly those by a diverse range of illustrators including Gene Luen Yang, Nina Matsumoto, and Carla Speed McNeil. Most of the other creators in this collection are known better through their webcomics and indie titles. The illustrations range from manga-like cartoon-y artwork to detailed and realistic penciling and the application of black and shadows. The mood of the stories is also as diverse as the tales themselves, with a mixture of light and dark themes. Some of the tales are excerpts from longer legends and books such as Yang’s “From the Journey of the Monkey King” from American Born Chinese. All the tales offer warnings or advice for the protagonists and the readers. Unfortunately for many of the protagonists, there is a great deal of pain in learning these lessons. They do, as the overall theme indicates, offer a cautionary edification for the reader.
I wish I could recommend this for library collections but the lack of source notes for this storyteller is truly a stumbling block. There is no need in today’s publishing world not to respect the tales and culture from where the stories originated. Very few of the entries even acknowledge that the individual tale has been adapted.
Tamamo the Fox Maiden and Other Asian Stories By C. Spike Trotman, ed. Kate Ashwin, ed. Kel McDonald Art by Carla Speed McNeil, Gene Leun Yang, Nina Matsumoto, et al ISBN: 9781945820342 Iron Circus, 2018 Publisher Age Rating: all ages NFNT Age Recommendation: Easy Readers (5-9), Middle Grade (7-11), Tween (10-13)
Browse for more like this title Related to…: Inspired by myth, Retelling
Mary Capelle Frantz’s debut graphic novel, The Chancellor and the Citadel, creates a fantasy world in which middle grade readers encounter the moral quandary of hurting others to protect the ones you love. The story also explores how fear can turn to anger, and anger can lead to poor decisions.
In this fantasy world, spirit beings are safely ensconced in a fortress, protected from the humans who want to harm them. They are protected both by city guards and by the Chancellor, a hooded, mysterious guardian. When a group of humans approaches the city gate, the Chancellor goes out to meet them. She tries to reason with them, but they attack her, and she is forced to kill the would-be intruders to keep her city safe. One boy survives, and the Chancellor sneaks him into the citadel to get him to a healer. When the city finds out that the Chancellor killed so many people, some fear that she has too much power, while others are grateful for her protection. However, the Chancellor doesn’t know if she’s done the right thing. She is plagued by guilt and seeks answers from a higher power, who tells her that “There are no bad guys. There are no good guys, either. But there are those who do bad things.” The story plays out as the spirits discover the presence of the human the Chancellor rescued, and many doubt the Chancellor even more. Ultimately, the cycle of fear turning to anger and anger leading to death must be broken.
The art and style of the spirit world reminded me strongly of Girl in the Himalayas by David Jesus Vignolli. Both artists have a similar style for illustrating spirits and sprites as charming little puffs with eyes. Noelle Stevenson’s Nimona also came to mind due to the a strong female lead and similar graphic style–especially in the faces–for the characters. Speaking of faces, by hiding the face of the Chancellor in the shadows of a cloak, the reader gets to imagine whether the Chancellor is a male or female (or neither) and if the Chancellor is more human or spirit. This tactic opens up the character to all kinds of possibilities. While the ARC I reviewed was mostly in black and white, the previews of full color made the comic come to life with light and warmth.
The storyline is a good balance of containing a driving plot while also hinting at a much larger world with further back stories to explore. You can read the book and be satisfied by the story without having too many questions. However, if your interest is piqued, you’ll want to know more about how the humans and spirits came to hate each other and who the Chancellor really is and why she covers her face. Frantz also explores gender roles in this story, with the sweet healer boy, Olive, contrasted against the stoic and brooding Chancellor. Early on, the Chancellor reminds Olive, “Soft doesn’t mean weak; gentle doesn’t mean frail,” a message that makes the book worth keeping on the shelf.
Ultimately, it’s a great addition to a middle grade collection for its playful art, its handling of morality and gender roles, and its world building. I recommend it, and I hope to read more about the Chancellor someday.
The Chancellor and the Citadel By Mary Capelle Frantz ISBN: 9781945820267 Iron Circus Comics, 2018 Publisher Age Rating: Middle Grade
Faster-than-light space travel costs less than an iPhone: how would it change your life? This is the simple premise of the Kickstarted anthology FTL, Y’all!: Tales From the Age of the $200 Warp Drive, which asks creators for their takes on space travel made widely available to the masses through simple schematics uploaded to the internet.
The stories in this anthology vary widely in almost all aspects: art, tone, setting, characters, and even length. There is some variation in quality, as well, with some stories I felt worked better than others. On the whole, though, I enjoyed the vast majority of them. Of course, this is a highly subjective thing, and there are so many different types of stories in this book that there is likely something for just about everyone.
Creators’ approaches to the prompt range from events taking place very soon after FTL (Faster Than Light) travel becomes available to far in the future, when Earth and humans’ lives have already transformed significantly. There are lighter, funnier stories, such as “M.S.P.I.P.S.P.”, in which a mother and daughter suffer the challenges and indignities of spaceport travel that closely resembles modern-day airport struggles. Stories like “Failsafe” tackle heavier topics, such as a character attempting suicide by black hole. Some stories address or comment on issues in our current society, such as “Space to Grow,” in which a young astrobiologist blogger deals with attacks and harassment online. There are stories that focus solely on humans and how Earth is affected, while others include aliens and distant planets.
One of the stand-out best things about this anthology is the diversity of the characters depicted. In a genre that still tends to heavily favor white cis men, this book is a breath of fresh air, with quite a number of characters of color, women, queer characters, and non-binary characters. Additionally, the stories tend not to focus on these specific qualities, but allow characters with these identities to simply exist and be represented in the world. There is very little biographical information provided about the writers and artists, but I suspect there are also a number of creators from groups very underrepresented in science fiction. It’s always great to see new voices and ones that are not often given space or recognition.
The art style of each story is completely different, and readers will probably have likes and dislikes among them. They range from very stylized and cartoony to more realistic, from overly detailed and even crowded to much more sparse. The one story whose artwork I personally struggled with was “I Want To Be Alone.” Each panel packs a lot of very exaggerated detail, and I found it very difficult to parse, to the point where I wasn’t sure what was going on. It’s a style that might have worked better in color rather than black and white. Other than this, I liked some better than others, but found they all generally worked to set tone and mood while effectively conveying the action.
The publisher suggests FTL, Y’all! for adults. This is probably the safest place to shelve it, but I suspect some older teens would enjoy the book as well. It does include some heavy topics, depiction of death, and some swearing, but only in certain stories, and there is nothing too graphic or objectionable. If stories were pre-screened and selected beforehand, most of the content would be appropriate for younger teens, too. On the whole, it’s a book focused on people, connections, and interpersonal relationships presented in the context of a fun sci fi-themed exploration of human nature.
FTL, Y’all!: Tales From the Age of the $200 Warp Drive Edited by C. Spike Trotman, Amanda ISBN: 9781945820205 Iron Circus Comics, 2018 Publisher Age Rating: Adult
Browse for more like this title Character Traits: Japanese, Black, Hawaiian or Pacific Islander, Lesbian, Gay, Nonbinary, Creator Highlights: Own Voices, BIPOC Creator, LGBTQIA+ Creator
In this graphic anthology for youth ages 8-12, a collection of creators come together to present various reimaginings of African folklore and fairy tales. Spanning fables from Nigeria, Egypt, West Africa, Zimbabwe, and more, The Girl Who Married a Skull includes origin stories that explain why no one likes hyenas (they’re mean) and why turtles live in water (they don’t want you to eat them) as well as tales that highlight wit, bravery, and female strength. While some stories suffer from rather lackadaisical endings and look like coloring pages for toddlers, I found this little collection both amusing and playful.
For example, in the Nigerian fable of the book’s title, the main character is cheekily named “disobedient daughter.” She’s one of the most beautiful girls in her village, and all of the boys are in love with her. But it’s the dashing stranger (really a devious skull in disguise) who ultimately wins her hand in marriage. When the skull starts shedding borrowed body parts and returning them to their eager owners, (we’ve been previously warned that things are going to “get a little weird”) she realizes her mistake too late. Now she’s stuck in the underworld, expected to do the cleaning, washing, and household chores for the skull and its mother. It’s one of the more clever stories in the collection, and you can tell that writer and artist Nicole Chartrand had a lot of fun playing with the girl-meets-boy trope, as well as the unfortunate girl-wants-to-marry-boy-after-five-minutes-of-knowing-him plot device.
Other stories include a gorgeously illustrated portrayal of bird politics, an assassin in space, and an exploration in fairness with a crocodile. There is literally something for everyone. A couple of adaptations fell flat for me. Next to their more thoughtful counterparts, the overly simple artwork and fast pace makes them feel like obnoxious commercial breaks during a Saturday cartoon. However, these are rare moments, and young readers might welcome the light-hearted respite from the more involved stories.
The diverse artwork does well to complement the vast array of folktales, incorporating bold, loud lines in tales like “Why Turtles Live in Water” and “Gratitude” to express the collection’s zanier stories. In more contemplative tales, like the Zimbabwean “Chiefs Heads,” the illustrations are soft, almost delicate. My one complaint is that the illustrations are in black-and-white. African culture is known for its use of rich color and it seems a shame not to honor that in a visual representation of its folklore.
It’s important to note that there aren’t many titles out there that expose American children to cultures outside their everyday experiences, that present such a varied palette of artistic styles and moods, and that are both educational and fun all at the same time. The Girl Who Married a Skull manages to incorporate all of these elements into a wonderful introduction to African culture. Highly recommended for young fans of mythology, magic, and adventure.
The Girl Who Married a Skull: and Other African Stories By Kate Ashwin D. Shazzbaa Bennett Mary Cagle ISBN: 9781945820243 Iron Circus Comics, 2018 Publisher Age Rating: Middle grade (8-12)