Showing posts with label graphic novel. Show all posts
Showing posts with label graphic novel. Show all posts

Saturday, 20 October 2018


Zenobia by Morten Dürr and Lars Horneman (UQP) ISBN 9780702260254 HB RRP $19.95

Reviewed by Nean McKenzie

This graphic novel is about a young girl who is a refugee from Syria and her dangerous journey away from the war in her country. Through evocative pictures and minimal, well-chosen words, it is a gentle but tragic story that doesn’t shy away from reality. Created in Denmark, where it won a national illustration award, Zenobia deals with an important international issue. It will no doubt will be read by older children and adults around the world.

Beginning at the end, the reader is not lulled into a sense that this book has a happy conclusion. Rather, the story is about how Amina got there and who she was. There are three stories in one and they are depicted by different colours. Amina’s present at the start is full colour. When she remembers her mother back in Syria in the past, the illustrations are in shades of brown. And the story of Zenobia, a great warrior queen of Syria, is in purple and orange. The colour changes are very effective in indicating time, but also in changing the mood of the story.

The first words are after ten pages of pictures, which strengthens their impact. Then at the end of the story there is no need for words again – this is quite powerful.  The story of Zenobia, told by Amina's mother, helps to make the book a bit less bleak. Zenobia acts as a source of strength and comfort for Amina after the ship wreck, even when everything is going wrong. Also Amina's memories of playing hide and seek and cooking with her mother, are very touching.

For children learning about refugees Zenobia clearly depicts how people like Amina have no choice but to leave. And while it is a very hard topic, it is important for children to understand what is happening in the world. Still, some younger readers may find it upsetting.

This graphic novel is the ideal format to depict war and desperation in such a quiet but emotive manner. Zenobia is an important and haunting read for upper primary school upwards.

Saturday, 22 July 2017

The Dreaming Collection

The Dreaming Collection written and illustrated by Queenie Chan, (TOKYOPOP) 2010, PB  RRP $26.99 ISBN 9781427818713

Reviewed by Pauline Hosking

This omnibus edition comprises Volumes 1-3 of The Dreaming graphic novel, a mystery-horror story inspired by Picnic at Hanging Rock, for readers 13+ years. The illustrations are fabulous. Each page overflows with action and emotion and  the backgrounds are full of realistic, careful, architectural features. Many teenage girls will love the detail on the Victorian costumes and the manga inspired look of characters.

Less successful is the storyline which has occasional lapses in continuity. Twin sisters Jeanie and Amber arrive at a mysterious boarding school deep in the Australian bush. Here they must pretend they are NOT twins, because the scary ancient principal, Mrs Skeener, doesn’t tolerate twins. Slowly, Mrs Skeener’s secrets, and the secrets of the school, are explained.  Ever since the school was founded, girls have wandered into the surrounding bushland and vanished. The third volume reveals that the disappearances are the work of the Quinkan. These are wicked aboriginal night spirits which lure sleeping children into the bush.  After a dramatic climax, evil is thwarted and the school burns to the ground. But the experience has damaged both sisters and they grow apart.

In an interview included in the book Queenie Chan admits she has taken ‘quite a few liberties with the Quinkan’.  These may not concern the US audience or publishers of the books, but they did worry me. 

Overall, though, The Dreaming looks amazing and has enough suspense to keep young readers eagerly turning the pages.

Friday, 21 July 2017

Fabled Kingdom Book 1

Fabled Kingdom Book 1 by Queenie Chan, (Bento Comics) PP RRP $14.99 ISBN 9781925376029

Reviewed by Karen Hendriks

Queenie Chan has written and illustrated The Fabled Kingdom Book 1, an intriguing graphic novel that updates fairytales into a modern world.  Its striking cover will draw readers, and gives a glimpse of what will unfold.

The book, which suits readers from 12 years and up, is the first in a series of three, with three central characters, each being based upon the era of kingdoms. It is divided into seven parts that clearly depict the journey of the book’s protagonist Celsia. She is a modern-day ‘Red Hood’ who is training with her grandmother to become a healer in a small village deep in the woods. Things are not all as they seem and before long, Celsia discovers her grandmother isn’t her real grandmother. Thus she flees her village on a quest of self-discovery. Quillon, Celsia’s childhood friend who is entrusted with keeping her safe, joins her, along with Pylus, a loveable faun, whom she meets on a never-ending brick path.  Each character plays their role, but it is refreshing to see a strong female character as the leader and decision-maker.

With unanswered and puzzling questions about her origins, Celsia must seek out her true-born grandmothers who are both powerful queens of magical kingdoms. By uncovering the truth of her heritage, Celsia is able to save the troubled kingdom of Fallinor whose people have been asleep for 60 years. Invasion and politics of the day has kept this troubled kingdom hidden behind a big, black wall of brambles. In her quest, Celsia is finally able to understand her own identity.

Detailed manga-style comic illustrations strongly support the written text and add layers of meaning to the story while the text is imaginative and well-written with a steady pace that is sure to keep readers gripped and wanting to know more. Different fairytales with an original spin appear throughout the story. The Fabled Kingdom certainly won’t disappoint readers of this genre.

Author-illustrator Queenie Chan who has a background in graphic design, is based in Sydney: her first professionally published work was The Dreaming Series. She has also worked with best-selling authors such as Dean Koontz and is well-regarded for her work in the Australian graphic novel and comic industry.

The reviewer, Karen Hendriks, is a children’s author and speaker whose

Thursday, 8 June 2017

Bruno - Some of the More Interesting Days in My Life So Far

Bruno - Some of the More Interesting Days in My Life So Far by Katarina Valckx, illustrated by Nicolas Hubesch (Gecko Press) PB $19.99 ISBN 9781776571253

Reviewed by Dawn Meredith

The cover of this graphic novel to suit readers aged 5 to 9 years is very appealing with its simple cartoon style architecture and a small black cat, Bruno, as the main character. In some ways the content of this book is rather adult in its sentiment. To me it feels like the sort of story a parent would tell a child at the end of a trying day.

All the characters in this story are animals, with Bruno’s best friend being a horse called Ringo, his other friend Gloria being a shop keeping cow, Georgette the turtledove and his nemesis “the Dreadful Gerard” who is a grey wolf.

Six different days are examined in this book, the first being: A peculiar day, followed by, A rainy day, A day when the power went out, A stupid day (that ends pretty well), A much less interesting day and An almost perfect day.

Bruno is a rather compassionate little fellow who rescues smaller animals from a dire fate such as a tiny fish being forced to drink milk and nearly dying because it’s kept out of water. Bruno defends his little canary friend Tweety from an intimidating crow by letting out his ‘inner lion’ and roaring ferociously.

When Bruno’s friend Gloria calls him over to help her with a tiny problem – a canary flying around inside the shop he assesses the situation immediately:

“At Gloria’s, I saw the canary right away. He was all crestfallen.”

Hilariously, Tweety speaks but mixes up his words. Bruno is the only one who seems to understand him.

 “Caramel for the bridges,” Tweety said.
“You see? He talks nonsense.”
“Would you like to come on a picnic, Tweety?” I asked.
“Motorcoach,” Tweety replied, with a faint smile.

These stories are powerful in their simplicity with themes of friendship, compassion and awareness of differences. It reads more like an allegory or parable rather than a true story. Bruno has a matter-of-fact way of stating reality as he intuitively deals with the elements of his day, such as a car full of wild boars making a nuisance of themselves, or the situation where he had to let out his inner lion. After misunderstanding a situation with a raccoon and a crate of carrots, Bruno realises he can’t save everyone and always do the right thing.

“So much for helping the poor. I didn’t become a hero after all. At least, not that day. But I’d done my best and that’s not bad. (Ringo told me that to cheer me up.) Georgette suggested we go and get ice cream. The last item on my list! It’s not as easy as it seems to have a perfect day, but good ice cream helps a lot. Yum.”

In many ways Bruno represents the best in all of us, the inner coach who spurs us on to be optimistic about life and to do our best despite failures. I think this book is suitable not only for children but perhaps for adults too. There’s a really nice message here – an acceptance of what life throws at you and encouragement to hold onto simple faith in the goodness of things.

“That day, the power went out on my street. At night, so as not to be in the dark, I lit candles. It was very pretty. Since they don’t happen very often, I really like days when the power goes out.”

Wednesday, 21 December 2016


KidGlovz by Julie Hunt, illustrated by Dale Newman (Allen & Unwin) HB RRP $24.99 ISBN 978 174238527

Reviewed by Dianne Bates

Here is a graphic novel, both fable and saga, which is illustrated in black and white throughout. Its readership would appear to be for children aged 8 to 12 years, and it might also have appeal for older, reluctant readers.

KidGlovz is a musical genius, a wonder child. His gift is so precious that he is kept under lock and key by his ‘Uncle’ Dr Spin who manages his concert career and has insured his fingers for a six figure sum. Spin also starves the boy to keep him small. It's a miserable life for the boy who just wants to play his own compositions.

Although Newman was short-listed for the 2016 Crichton Award for New Illustrators, she missed out on first prize. But there is no denying her talent. The KidGlovz realistic illustrations – in soft black pencil and sometimes ink wash – are quite extraordinary.  So, too, is the book design. The illustrative story is framed and presented not only in conventionally, but in a wide variety of interesting ways. Sometimes the story can be read from left to right in a ‘road’ that weaves across the page and back, or in a full or double-page spread, or in a series of unframed illustrations.  Every single page is interesting and shows so much talent. The whole story is told through speech and thoughts, both  presented in bubbles.

Based on her son, Newman’s portrayal of nine year old Kid shows an alone and lonely child who dreams big. He grieves the loss of Lovegrove, his first piano teacher. His guardian Dr Spin is seen (and speaks) malevolently; he’s a true bully and opportunist. A chance to escape comes when Kid forms a friendship of sorts with Shoestring, a tightrope walker and thief, who is keen to make the grade with his Uncle's gang by kidnapping the boy prodigy. 

Plans go awry; the boys make their escape and after playing on a piano disastrously with an injured hand, Kid and his friend end up in a fantastical underworld of giant shepherds, the Brothers Caprine, who live on Goat Mountain and rescue the boys. There's a faithful dog, Hugo, an invisible rope, fortune tellers, dreamers and more. All through his incredible adventures, Kid mourns the loss of his music. ‘I’m nothing without my music. My life is over,’ he says.

The saga continues, but happily all ends with a much yearned-for reunion. Then Kid faces his ‘Uncle’ who has committed fraud. This book has a long and fairly complicated plot but any reader who enjoys a battle of good versus bad is likely to be rewarded.

Published in 2015, KidGlovz won the 2016 Queensland Literary Awards.

Sunday, 16 October 2016


Brobot by James Foley (Fremantle Press) PB RRP $14.99
ISBN 9781925163919

Reviewed by Teena Raffa-Mulligan

Award-winning illustrator James Foley has produced a reader pleaser with his latest release, a junior fiction graphic novel with maximum appeal for children in middle to upper primary.

Brobot is about a girl who believes she can build a better brother than the one she has. Joe is messy, smelly and impossible to control. Sally Tinker, who has the trophy to prove she’s the world’s foremost inventor under 12, eliminates these imperfections in Brobot, which is ‘just as a brother should be’.

The amazing Brobot cleans up messes, fixes broken machines, is never smelly, sticky or wet and as an added bonus has a built-in cupcake machine. Best of all, Sally can control her robot’s every move with the Brobo-remote.

But when the control gets broken and Brobot is out of control Sally reconsiders the merits of young Joe.

Foley’s own inventiveness comes to the fore in Brobot, which lives up to its promise as ‘a hilarious graphic novel for young readers’. He has cast appealing characters in a quirky tale that will resonate with kids who have sometimes frustrating younger siblings.

The level of humour in the drawings is right for the target age group and the comic-style format will draw in young readers who might be reluctant to read a standard novel.

Sunday, 28 August 2016

Small Things

Small Things written and illustrated by Mel Tregonning (Allen & Unwin)
HC RRP $29.99
ISBN: 9781742379791

Reviewed by Anastasia Gonis

This wordless graphic novel for all ages is one of the most emotional books I’ve ever read. Because the story depends on examining the illustrations/artwork carefully, the messages it carries are accentuated many times over.

The themes that make up the book are connected to loneliness: depression, loss, helplessness, anxiety, aloneness and fear. These collective feelings begin as small things that gradually evolve into a voracious appetite that consumes the sufferer.

The boy is sad. He feels like an outsider, and no-one includes him in their circle because he is quiet and withdrawn. An insidious darkness has crept over him. It is absorbed by his skin therefore he carries it with him everywhere. Others can’t see it. That makes it worse.

This darkness assumes many identities: exclusion, inferiority, sadness, fear, and heartache. These are bricks in a wall that builds around him. He feels parts of him are breaking away as he becomes more isolated and increasingly hopeless.

He has stopped thinking clearly. All he can hear is his emptiness so he prefers silence. An effort made to reach the boy can’t get past the darkness which is now a relentless force.

The boy feels like a failure. He has retreated from the world. His body is there but it’s just a shell. He feels cracked all over, feels he is falling apart, and tries to keep himself together.

He is approached by a family member who persists. She knows how the boy is feeling. She exposes her damaged self to the child – the cracks, the pieces missing. That is when he realizes he is not alone in the way he feels. Other family members assure him that it’s common for people to feel anxious, have imperfections and fears. He begins to recognize something of what he feels in almost everyone around him and feels comfort in the sameness. He finds the courage to reach out to others.

In 2008, Mel Tregonning began illustrating this graphic novel. In 2014, she took her own life. ‘Illustrator Shaun Tan completed the final three illustrations in Mel’s book in 2016’. My wish is that this review pays homage to Mel’s work.

Wednesday, 24 August 2016

Small Things

Small Things written and illustrated by Mel Tregonning (Allen and Unwin)
HB RRP $29.99
ISBN 9781742379791

Reviewed by Daniela Andrews

Small things turn into big things when they lack attention. Small things, small acts of kindness, can change a person’s outlook on life. Small things make an impact … and deep is the impact this book will make.

The protagonist in this story is a lonely, school-aged child, laden with social anxieties. These worries start to eat away at him, expressed chillingly in the pictures by tentacled, demonic creatures. His grades at school are affected, along with his relationship with his family. He has trouble sleeping at night. 

The story is told entirely in vivid, black and white illustrations so expressive that to accompany them with words would do them a disservice. The front cover, showing a close-up of a child’s face consumed with sadness, is stark and confrontational. It is impossible to walk past this title without reaching for it.

A comic-strip style is generally maintained for the illustrations inside. The dimensions of the boxes are pleasantly varied, as is the number of pictures on each page. This style perfectly sets the pace for the story. Readers are also treated to breathtaking double-paged spreads, allowing space to pause, reflect and empathise.

I was reminded of Anna Walker’s Mr Huff when I first started reading this, but in premise only. The illustrations in this book are extraordinarily lifelike and much darker, intended for an older age group – perhaps upper primary to early secondary.

This book is hauntingly beautiful in its own right, more so because the author took her own life before she was able to complete it. Her family collaborated with award-winning artist Shaun Tan to piece the story together, thus producing an insightful window into mental health awareness. Shaun has contributed the final three illustrations in the book. They show the character understanding that he is not alone in his worries, that such feelings are universal and that reaching out to people is the only way to keep the demons at a distance.

Friday, 22 April 2016


Rockhopping written and illustrated by Trace Balla (Allen & Unwin) HB RRP$24.99 ISBN 9781760112349

Reviewed by Dianne Bates

From its front cover and then onto its fly pages and title page with numerous illustrations of Australian flora and fauna, it’s obvious this graphic picture book is about venturing into our country’s bush. First, though, Balla acknowledges the cooperation of a number of Aboriginal organisations which gave her permission to include cultural references. Indeed, throughout the book Balla has chosen to use Jardawadjali/Djab Wurrung place names followed by English names in brackets. The story is set in Gariwerd (the Grampians) and acknowledges those clans whose country it is.

The first page starts with a boy and a man lolling in a boat wondering where the (Glenelg) river water comes from and the man responding, ‘How about we go and find out something, kid?’ Thus it is that Uncle Egg and ten year old Clancy spend some time organising for a long walk and then the beginning their trek. The story is told in comic book style with lots of small and detailed illustrations showing things such a spread of what they take with them and later the vast wilderness. On the trek, which Clancy often finds strenuous and tiring, there are many adventures and some misadventures, such as when he falls off a rock onto an outcrop.

Throughout the story the reader checks out the many plants and animals along the way, all of which are labelled. Clancy communes with nature up close and from afar and learns much from being still and observant. On day five, he and Uncle Egg come upon the river which has Clancy wondering about the history of the place – of gold-miners, Chinese gardeners, squatters, bushrangers, and of course, natives who lived off the land.

There is a lot of writing in this book which isn’t story text; Balla thanks many people who collaborated with her to create the book, including numerous Indigenous peoples. It would take days to read every single word and examine all of the illustrations. The drawings in this book are wonderful and will reward the patient reader with many hours of discovery and learning. No doubt Clancy and his uncle’s adventure will resonate with children who enjoy bushwalking with their families, and might even inspire them to take an extended walk.

This is Balla’s second book, the first, Rivertime, winning the Readings’ Children’s Book Prize, the Wilderness Society’s Environment Award and short-listings in three other state and national book awards. This one, too, is sure to win awards. Suitable for readers 6+ years.

Thursday, 24 December 2015


Tabby by Stephen Kok, illustrated by P.R Dedelis (Sigmate Studio) RRP AUD $18.95 ISBN 9780994289902                                                                  
Reviewed by Ellie Royce

This graphic novel Tabby is a classic tale interpretation of Romeo and Juliet where two rival cat family groups are challenged to get along together despite their differences. Tabby’s idyllic world is changed when a new family of cats move into the neighbourhood and Tabby Junior falls in love with a cat from the other family!

The 70-page novel is fast- paced and full of images complex enough to inspire thought and stimulate the imagination. Language is clear and connects the images to form a coherent, flowing story-line which poses some interesting moral questions and deals with some important emotional issues in a fun, engaging and easily understandable way.

Graphic novels have earned their place in promoting literacy and as Tabby is an Australian- created graphic novel – not Japanese Manga  or American Superheroes -- it surely deserves a place in Australian libraries and classrooms, as well as on the bookshelves of reluctant readers and lovers of visual storytelling. The great little section at the back of the book which follows its evolution and shows the development of the characters and story is an extra bonus!

It is recommended for readers between 7-12 years.

Friday, 16 October 2015

Coco Banjo has been Unfriended

 Coco Banjo has been Unfriended written and illustrated by N.J. Gemmell (Random House)
PB RRP $14.99
ISBN 9780857987358

Reviewed by Jaquelyn Muller

The day Emma Chippendale decided to sit with Sally Haggerty on the bus to my grade three excursion to (the old) Parliament House in Canberra, was a dark miserable day in my then extremely short life. This was tragically relived upon reading Coco Banjo has been Unfriended.

There may be 30-something years separating myself from Coco Banjo, but the inconsolable dismay at being ditched by your best friend, is not restricted to a generation I’ll have you know.

This gorgeous graphic novel comes alive with the images working in harmony with the relatable characters that every kid experiences in primary school, right down to the cranky headmistress, who declares fun punishable by times tables and the hoity-toity mean girls hell bent on creating more misery than a soggy egg sandwich.

Coco Banjo is an off-beat little girl with a career mum who works away, so she pulls in the attention of readers with her flowery terminology and whimsical personality, however she is relatable as she grapples with the everyday challenges of being a girl in middle year primary. Clothes, sleepovers and school camp room allocations are interwoven with embarrassing parent behaviour and a repressive school dictatorship destined to quash the creativity of any ten year old.

A variety of fonts and graphics cleverly break up the text, which make this book perfect for reluctant and voracious readers alike. The pages come alive with punchy dialogue and comical illustrations in the same way that the My Life, Treehouse and Wimpy Kid book series’ have embraced the modern graphic novel.

At the root of all the chaos of Banksia Bay Public, is Coco Banjo’s commitment to positivity and kindness with enough mischief (or as I like to all it creative thinking) to get her out of trouble.  She is an empathetic character and the friend we all need through the monkey bars of life. The very Aussie backdrop is a tribute to our lucky way of life and Gemmell has shared her love of Australian culture in the scenes she has created.
The first book in the series was released earlier this year with Coco Banjo is Having a Yay Day and the third book is set for release next year with Coco Banjo and the Super Wow Surprise. Nikki Gemmell is the author of four novels for adults. Her other children’s titles include the The Luna Laboratorium and the The Icicle Illuminarium.

Monday, 28 September 2015

The Bad Guys: Episode 1

The Bad Guys: Episode 1 by Aaron Blabey (Scholastic Press)
PB RRP $9.99
ISBN 978-1-76015-042-6

Reviewed by Jenny Heslop

Aaron Blabey is back. And this time he has created a junior chapter book/graphic novel which should be read by everyone between the ages of seven and ninety.

Mr Wolf is sick of being seen as the bad guy. So, along with his somewhat reluctant friends Mr Shark, Mr Snake and Mr Piranha, he sets out to prove to the world that he is a nice guy. And the best place to start is with rescuing a cat. But what if the cat does not want to be rescued by a gang of nice guys with really big teeth who surround the base of the tree? And can they survive Mr Piranha’s constantly bad gas? Can Mr Snake stop swallowing the wrong things? What did happen to Mr Shark’s hat? Are these characters really capable of being nice guys? This first episode of The Bad Guys answers most of these questions and many more in a laugh-aloud roller coaster adventure.

Chapter headings such as Cruising for Trouble set the tone for each chapter well, and the text and pictures work hand in hand to create the humour and characters of the story. The humour is dry and sarcastic and the four bad guys have very distinctive, individual personalities. The illustrations of the laid-back shark, a somewhat sly snake and an often car-sick piranha are fabulous. Mr Wolf experiences so many emotions throughout – frustration being a top contender - which are all depicted with a variety of facial expressions that will have the reader in stitches.

I really enjoyed this book. I laughed aloud so often that my family kept asking me what I was reading. Then they devoured it themselves when it was their turn. I hope the next instalment is out soon.

Monday, 2 February 2015

War Brothers

War Brothers by Sharon E. McKay, art by Daniel Lafrance (Walker Books)
PB RRP $19.95
ISBN 9781406358377
Reviewed by Anastasia Gonis

Anything involving hurting children in any way always shatters me. This confronting graphic novel was painful to read. It will affect many readers the same way, but it is something we must all know about. The telling took tremendous courage.

All begins in Gulu, Uganda, 2002. Kony Joseph leads the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA). He’ a man who manipulates the word of God to his advantage, uses it to justify his horrendous actions, and calls it the true Christian way.

‘My country knows this man simply as Kony, the leader of an army of abducted children’, fourteen year-old Jacob of the Acholi tribe writes in the retelling of true events.

He writes about the boys and girls abducted from their villages, families and schools, and forcefully recruited into a child army. They are ordered to kill or be killed themselves. Their lives become ‘full of unthinkable violence and brutal death.’ The fate of the girls is equally unbelievable. Some are maimed. Others are forced to breed children fathered by the commanders, considered pure, to be future rulers of Acholiland.

This heart-rending novel is also ‘a story about hope, courage, friendship and family.’ It takes all of these and more, to attempt escape and face possible death at every movement; every sound.

The text is supported by magnificent art that magnifies each word and action a thousand times. It engages all the senses and emotions and the reader will physically feel the children’s suffering.

This book was hard to finish and harder to write about. It contains extreme violence therefore discretion should be used when choosing the readership, regardless of it being directed at the 14+ age group.