The Great Amulet Quest, Part 1by Bobby Acosta on Jan. 04, 2012, under Classroom, Comic Books, Opinion, Reviews
Last week, I discussed delving deep into what I prefer to call “Mr. Acosta’s Class Library” and beginning a long session of reading of the books that I’ve chosen for my kids to read. All are comics, all hold the title of all-ages, and, if following the check out habits of my students is any indication, all are excellent reads. Are they excellent in the minds of adults? That remains to be seen, but if kids like them, then maybe that’s all that matters.
As for the minds of adults…
That’s what I’m here for, I suppose.
Unfortunately, as much as I read (and anyone within my inner circles of friends and family will tell you it’s a lot) there hasn’t been a whole lot of time in my 2nd year of teaching to read anything extra outside of my weekly Wednesday comics, and sometimes even those manage to sit around for a few days at a time occasionally.
So, with it being Winter Break, I set up two massive challenges: To read through the series that I have selected for my students but never actually read.
The first challenge…
The series only has 4 volumes out so far, so the story is incomplete, but as far as fantasy adventure series go for kids, this is one of the most tight knit, well crafted ones I’ve ever come across.
The series is published by Scholastic Books Graphic Novel publishing line called “Graphix” to make it seem cool for kids, I suppose. This particular series is handled and primarily drawn by Kazu Kibuishi. So far, a new volume has come out every year since 2008 and the most recent volume, #4, just came out in September.
As far as popular comics go in my class, this one stands above the others.
Volume 1: The Stonekeeper
The series centers around the young brother and sister characters, Emily and Navin. As Volume 1 begins, their family suffers a terrible strategy: Emily and Navin’s father is killed in a car accident and their mother suffers a near emotional breakdown in the coming years.
Forced to move around from home to home to get away from their past, Karen (mom) finally settles on an old family home. Inside, their true journey begins as all three are (literally) led into a world where gigantic slugs will kidnap your mother and wearing an amulet around your neck can grant you powers of unknown properties.
Beginning so dark is an interesting way to start a book aimed at children. I know that many of my kids are used to seeing things die in movies, video games, etc. However, this is different. Yes, death is something that will interest young readers that can comprehend what is going on, but the way that it’s handled is also important. This is not meaningless death. This is death meant to impact readers and place them in the position of losing an adult. This credit goes to Kazu Kibuishi’s expert handling of characters.
Death should never be shied away from in stories, even stories meant for all-ages. If there is a strong message behind it, then by all means. In the case of Amulet, the death of their father David leads Emily, and to a lesser extent her brother Navin, on this journey. Choices are made that are not based on Emily’s inner thoughts, but they’re based on her desire to run away, just like her mother.
These interesting choices, coupled with the plain fact that our main character is a female (an appealing decision) make Emily and interesting and compelling lead. Even when faced with the descent into a world of fantasy, following clues left by great-grandfather, she never falters. Only in her body language do we ever see a hinge of doubt or fear.
And therein lays Kazu Kibuishi’s strengths. He exhibits an artistic style in the vein of Japanese comic books, but never crossing into the absurd, as many do. That style is fine in some areas, but for this series, I believe that the style strikes the right mix of Americanized realism and Japanese fantasies, creating a unique world of new borders and adventure.
Within their first experiences in the new world, both Emily and Navin are attacked and are forced to hunt down gigantic squid monsters that kidnap their mom. Within these pages, we are given lush, painted backgrounds and forests that draw the reader in right away. I know that for a fact, because I was as well.
So, Emily and Navin chase their mother as fast as they can, but they end up needing the help of the great-grandfathers former robot servants, with names like Miskit, Cogsley, Botthe, Theodore and Ruby. Once assisted, an expertly choreographed aerial pursuit begins. What I’ve come to notice in modern comics is that less emphasis is placed on action and excitement. This comes from the monthly publishing format of regular comic series, I suppose. They need to get books out on a schedule and create books that warrant monthly buying. So, lately, comics have come to emphasize a tad more dialogue than action on numerous occasions.
And when action is placed in comics, it’s usually chaotic and hectic with no flow. In monthly comics, though, that works. In over-sized graphic novels like
Amulet, you have a little more time.
The flow and reading fluency of these action sequences, like the ones where they chase the squid monsters through a tunnel and when Emily uses her great-grandfather’s amulet to duel with an “evil” elf prince are some of the best I have read in a while. I can see why even my boys like them.
So, with only the first volume done, I realize that I may have reached my limit of discussion time. Fortunately, I was not planning on finishing this Quest in one article. There is way too much to discuss.
However, I did get out the simplistic pieces: Kazu Kibuishi’s fantastic artwork that creates an alienated land of fantasy and excitement. Complimenting his artwork, is his mature writing. Too much of supposed “all-ages” comics keeps the word selection to a mundane, uninteresting level because some authors believe that “for kids” means “keep it simple”. You can have complex, mature storytelling that children can really get into. And, as I’ve come to discover, adults as well
Since we spent this week discussing the overall positive points of the series (artwork and writing), we look at each of the volumes and the strong themes that come from each one. What do Emily and her brother Navin really give back to young readers?
- In addition to writing for the column “Comic Matters” for the Tucson Citizen website, Bobby Acosta is also a 5th Grade Elementary school teacher, frequenter of local comic book shop Heroes & Villains, and explorer of the importance of comics. Contact him at email@example.com