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Friday, October 01, 2010

Into the Volcano

Into the Volcano
by Don Wood

Ages 9-12+

Blue Sky Press (a Scholastic Imprint)

Don and Audrey Wood are much loved in our house - right from Silly Sally to The Big Hungry Bear to The Napping House to Quick as a Cricket. And judging by how the house has been ringing with Sumo and Duffy and Come-and-Go and Pulina and Mango Joe... we can safely add Into the Volcano to the list.

Into the Volcano is a visually striking, intense, and exciting graphic novel packed with adventure for all ages.

Graphic novels aren't an underground cult anymore, primarily targeting adult audience with their rather mature content. The wide array of award-winning graphic novels designed for the young audience are used intentionally by educators and librarians to motivate children to read. Can graphic novels be considered "literature"? and is it really "reading"? Based on some of the wonderful graphic novels we've come across, there is no doubt in my mind about its potential and merits.

Some narratives flow well in pure text, some topics/concepts are best presented in picture books, and some themes unfold well as wordless picture books; however, there are some stories which can be justified only by a presentation that combines elements from these various forms - much like a movie - the facial expressions/body language, the dialogue, the sequential arrangement of visuals all work together to make reading graphic novels an experience to savor.

Into the Volcano starts off with a bang. One fine day, two brothers Sumo and Duffy Pugg are unexpectedly pulled out of school by their father. They are instructed to embark on a trip to visit an aunt they've never met, who lives in a far off volcanic island, Kocalaha. As soon as they land, they are hustled off on an expedition, with very little information and no inkling of what's in store: a perilous boat ride, an erupting volcano jolting the entire island, with rivers of lava blocking their exits...

Aside from this mainline plot, this is a sort of coming-of-age story where the boys have to overcome their personal limitations, and learn about greed and treachery the hard way. The main characters grow in complexity as the novel unfolds, and the rest of the characters are quite unique as well.

The author bio in the back flap of the book notes that Don Wood took nearly five years to to complete this novel, and most of the images and experiences are first-hand: Don and Audrey Wood live in a tropical jungle not far from one of the longest lava tubes in the world.The images Don Wood presents are through his eyes as a surfer and a sailor, a spelunker and a climber - large waves, gentle wave, tall cliffs, narrow trails, streaming lava, boat in stormy seas, undersea lava tubes... sights we may never get to see otherwise, places we may never get to explore, experiences we may never have imagined...

I had borrowed this book from the library for myself, thinking that my five year old is too young for this. After all, every once in a while, it is nice to pick a book we like as parents, which are not necessarily unsuitable for the children, but are probably not in their radar at this time. And I must admit that my preconceived sense of aesthetics and composition got the better of me initially, allowing me to build up some resistance to appreciating the book. But, by chapter seven the book certainly grew on me. We just read one chapter a day - chapters are short but packed with visuals - but the mounting tension made it tough to wait another day to read what happened next.

Quite a few aspects of the plot, of the characters, are clearly not designed for the under-8 age group, and so, my daughter did miss the nuances, the complex narrative, the shades of gray, wondering who is good, who is bad, why do they trick each other, how are the Pugg boys allowed to do such unsafe things... however, the book did make an impression, setting us off down the path of learning about volcanoes, lava tubes and stormy seas.

And, the book certainly made an impression on both the adults in our family as well, which doesn't happen too often.

[picture courtesy]
[cross-posted at Saffron Tree]

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