Tommysaurus Rex, by Doug TenNapel, Scholastic (Graphix), 2013, 238 pages. Age/interest level: 8-12.
Ely’s best friend is a dog, which seems pretty normal except that Tommy (the dog) is his only friend. Ely’s parents worry about this, but worry takes a back seat when Tommy is hit by a car. To help Ely get his mind off the grief, his folks send him to stay at Grandpa’s farm where steaks come with the territory and he can drink all the root beer he wants. There’s work involved too, but after a few days of aches in hitherto-unsuspected muscles, Ely can handle that. What he can’t handle is Randy, the neighborhood bully. After Randy smears his face with dog poop, Ely finds the perfect instrument of revenge: a real, live Tyrannosaurus Rex, who was apparently hibernating in a cave on the farm for the last few eons.
Except for his inconvenient size, Rex is a great pet: friendly, playful, loving—and terrified of fire. There’s a reason for this, and a reason why Randy is a jerk, and a reason why Tommy was taken—all to be revealed in TenNapel’s gripping graphics style and lively color. Boys will love it, not least because of its frank exposition of the dinosaur digestive process. But also for the heartfelt themes of fatherhood, forgiveness, and friendship. The story goes where we don’t necessarily want it to go, but it’s hard to think of any other way it should end. If your kids read it, alternate endings would be an interesting discussion topic.
- Worldview/moral value: 4.5 (out of 5)
- Literary/artistic value: 4
Jane, the Fox, and Me, by Fanny Britt and Isobelle Arsenault (translated from the original French). Groundwood, 2014, 101 pages. Age/interest level: 10-up.
“Helene weighs 216.” That’s what the mean girls scrawl on the door of the restroom stall: “And she smells like B.O.!” Wherever Helene goes, they’re always lounging and smirking right around the corner: Genevieve, Anne-Julie, Sarah and Chloe. Now in junior high or middle school (or whatever they call it in Montreal), Helene has become the designated outcast. She seeks solace, like girl punching-bags from time immemorial, in books. Especially the latest, the best book she’s ever read: Jane Eyre. Jane is a kindred spirit—cast-off, small, and picked-on, who manages to grow up to be “clever, slender and wise”—so maybe Helene can too. But it’s a long way to grown up, and in the meantime she has this image problem. She sees herself actually weighing “216” or “316” (pounds, or kilos?); while trying on plain and fancy bathing suits before going off to school nature camp, she’s either a ballerina sausage or an undertaker sausage.
Yet in panel after panel of this understated graphic novel, we see her as normal—even on the skinny side. And maybe the world isn’t quite so mean as she thinks. During the week at nature camp, we see a friendly circle of faces around the campfire turn mean and hostile when seen through Helene’s narrow lens. Gradually the reader comes to understand that, though the bullying is real, Helene is using the wrong strategy to deal with it. It takes a fox with kind eyes, an exuberant girl named Geraldine, and the conclusion of Jane Eyre to convince Helene that positive relationships can build one up more than negative relationships tear one down. Just look at Mr. Rochester: He is maimed, blind, unkempt—and she still loves him. He can’t believe it. Neither can I. Something like that would never happen in real life—would it? By then the panels—dominated by dark doorways, grim landscapes, boxy buildings, and Helene’s perpetually weary expression–have softened and begin to glow with color. Thus it is when we start to get out of ourselves . . . and realize that Somebody still loves us.
- Worldview/moral value: 4
- Literary/artistic value: 4
For graphic novels based on classic stories, go here, and don’t miss our reviews of two other TenNapel books. Doug TenNapel himself shared his thoughts about the strengths and weaknesses of graphic novels, especially for Christians and homeschoolers, in our exclusive interview. We also interviewed Avengers artist (and Christian) Sergio Cariello. Follow the links for more reviews and thoughts. As for Jane Eyre (book and movies), we talked about her here.