Review of the 48-Hour Book Challenge: Gray Horses
Mother Reader's 48 Hour Book Challenge has officially begun. I'm working this Saturday so my reviews will be a little slow in coming, but I'm up to the challenge. To begin, I think I may be the only person who throws a couple children's graphic novels into the reviewing mix. And this first book is well worth considering.
We are on the cusp of a new era. An era in which children’s librarians like myself must wade through pools of graphic novel dreck to find those few shining books to add to our library collections. Teen librarians have it SO much easier. I mean, try naming ten fabulous children’s graphic novels off the top of your head. Go on. Name 'em. Fortunately, publishers are sensing this immediate need and they are acting accordingly. Now we have books like Raina Telgemeier’s, “The Baby-sitter’s Club: Kristy’s Great Idea” and Jennifer Holm’s, “Babymouse” filling our shelves. Less flashy, but no less impressive, is Hope Larson’s quiet and mysterious, “Gray Horses”. If I were to call any cartoonist the Marjane Satrapi of children’s GNs, Ms. Larson would earn herself the title. High praise. Good book.
Noemie is new to America. Coming straight from Dijon, France she’s living on her own and attending college here in the U.S. for the first time. Initially shy, Noemie quickly captures the attentions of two other people. One is Anna, Noemie’s neighbor and classmate. The two quickly become fast friends. The other person is a mysterious boy who takes pictures of Noemie when she’s not looking. Noemie would probably spend a lot of her time worrying about this boy if it weren’t for the dreams she has at night. Each night she dreams of a girl who’s attempting to ride a horse as far from her mother as possible. As Noemie learns more about her home and draws some connections between herself and her horse, she begins to unravel the mystery of a young girl who left behind a part of her herself long long ago.
So is this book children’s? Obviously the heroine is college aged. Would kids be able to find anything a young adult like Noemie did exciting? Certainly. “Gray Horses” is remarkable partly because its story is interesting to kids of all ages. Also, the dream story definitely involves a child and not a young woman, so the mystery is perfect for children of all ages. Now obviously your average “Captain Underpants” reader is not necessarily going to be able to follow and enjoy “Gray Horses”. But for those girls who love Paul Danziger, Phyllis Naylor Reynolds, and want a GN equivalent, this is the book for them. Noemie’s tale itself is very low-key. Concerned parents won’t find a drop of sex, violence, or even off-color language here. Two of the characters take a slug from a flask, but who’s to say what’s in it? This is just a beautifully drawn story with a measured mystery.
Larson is clever with her storytelling. Since Noemie is French it wouldn’t make any sense at all for her to think her own personal thoughts in English. For that reason she is subtitled much of the time. The real French words and phrases pop up throughout her speech while their English equivalents hover not far below. And the illustrations in this book as a whole are beautifully put together. Larson weaves together a horse motif throughout the pictures that’s easy enough to miss if you’re not looking for it. Her particular style is more rounded and adept than many of the graphic novelists working in children’s literature these days. And just as a side note to all you librarians out there, the binding job on this book is heads and tails better than that cheap manga you keep having to replace. Thumbs up to Oni Press for their stronger glue!
So if you’re in the mood for some high quality graphic novels that are child appropriate and written with more than a little pep, “Gray Horses” may certainly be for you. As good a tale as any of the children’s books being written today and a lovely example of everything that’s great about graphic novels. A GN title worth fighting for.