Monday, January 11, 2010

Blog Tour Introduction: Calamity Jack (and a review of Rapunzel's Revenge)

Over the next three days, a handful of other book bloggers and I will be discussing Shannon and Dean Hale's Calamity Jack.

Shannon Hale is no newcomer to children's literature.  She is so far best known for Princess Academy, which won a Newbery honor.  Her husband Dean also worked on Calamity Jack.  Nathan Hale (absolutely in no way related to the previously mentioned Hales) did the artwork for the graphic novel.

Since Calamity Jack is the sequel to Rapunzel's Revenge, I thought I'd kick off this tour with a review of the first graphic novel in the series.  I'm very glad to have this book tour as an excuse to read Rapunzel's Revenge, since I'd already heard good things about it and had checked it out from the library a few weeks ago.

Hale, S. & Hale, D.  (2008).  Rapunzel's Revenge.  New York:  Bloomsbury.


144 pages

Rapunzel's RevengeAppetizer:  Set in the western territories before laws were imposed, Rapunzel has grown up on a grand villa with a mother, Gothel, who can control the growth of plants.  Rapunzel has never known what existed beyond the walls of her home.  Curious, she finds a way over the wall and discovers Gothel has been keeping many secrets from her.  Unhappy with Rapunzel's new rebellious nature, Gothel imprisons in a tower in a tall tree, hoping to crush her spirit.  But as Rapunzel's hair grows during her imprisonment she becomes determined to seek her revenge and free the others Gothel holds hostage.

At first, having a version of Rapunzel set in the American West was a little disconcerting.  But it grew on me when I saw the way race, gender and the lawlessness of the setting were presented.

The illustrations are essential for making meaning from the story (as they should be).  I liked that certain action sequences are repeated a couple of times throughout the text to add a level of meaning to show how Rapunzel has changed.  For example, the story opens with a bored twelve-year-old Rapunzel playing in the villa and falling into a fountain.  Later the same imagery is represented, but in a very different context.

I also liked that Rapunzel is presented as a strong character who saves herself instead of relying on a prince.  I do like me my tough princess figures.  Rapunzel's empowerment continues throughout the story since she uses her long hair to defend herself, when in traditional stories her hair is aesthetic and there for the man to gain access to her, erm, chamber.

I also liked the character of Jack, who is a smart young outlaw with some fairy tale secrets of his own.  He becomes Rapunzel's partner/sidekick/boss (the two debate their roles) on her quest.  I liked the uncertainty both characters felt over whether they would be able to trust one another after they first met and how their relationship develops from there.

I did have one very slight problem though.  I don't like the title, Rapunzel's Revenge.  While revenge is part of her goal, I feel like Rapunzel is on a quest for much more than just that.  And I think using "revenge" in the title limits the implications of what she struggles to do.

But having said that, I have no idea how I'd want to re-title the book.  None.  Ol' West Rapunzel?  No.  How I Learned to Never Trust a Rich Ol' Lady with Magical Powers?  Meh.  How I was kidnapped multiple times and still came out well-adjusted?  No.  My bondage, my freedom.  Taken.  The Solitary Girl?  Meh.  Girl in the tower?  Eh.  Do you have any ideas, dear readers?  What title would you choose?  I'm curious.  Let me know in the comments.

Dinner Conversation:

"Once upon a time, there was a beautiful little girl.  That's me there.  I lived in a grand villa...with loyal servants...tasty food...and my mother...or who I thought was my mother.  But more on that in a minute."

Rapunzel's Mom:  "I'm your mother.  That woman took you from me!  All these years, I thought she killed you...It was my fault.  I was pregnant and craving greens...Gothel threatened punishment for the theft, but we never imagined she'd take you." (pp. 16-17).

"There were three books in the tower.  By the second year, I had them pretty well memorized...And then I started to find other ways to pass the time...To keep from going batty I made use of my dratted hair...As soon as I thought my locks were long enough, I tried to lower myself out of the tower" (pp. 30-31).

Jack:  "Look, uh...I've got a proposal for you, if you're interested."
Rapunzel:  "What is it?"
Jack:  "I've spent the past months...uh, earning some gold, only to be picked clean of it by a bunch of outlaws.  You're pretty handy with, so I'll help you get to Gothel's villa if you help protect me and my property..."  (p. 50).

To Go with the Meal:

A fun and engaging re-imagining of a couple of fairy tales, readers will already need knowledge of fairy tales to understand the story completely (and to connect the clues about who Jack is).

This is a strong feminist text with a lot of action and even a bit of romance, so a teacher could have it in their classroom for students in the sixth grade through high school.  (I actually think I might use it for the spring quarter with my undergrads).

Since Rapunzel's Revenge shows some of the conditions and power dynamics of the old west, it could be paired with a more historically accurate account of the time and location to deepen students' understanding of history and to satisfy those students who have trouble engaging with facts alone.

Tasty Rating:  !!!!

To find out more about the Hales, Rapunzel and Jack, you can visit Shannon Hale's website, Nathan's blog or any of the participating bloggers' sites below:

Sally Apokedak, Reading is my Superpower,, Through the Looking Glass Book Review , Booking Mama, Cafe of Dreams, Becky’s Book Reviews, The Hungry Readers, The Friendly Book Book, My Own Little Corner of the World, Book Blather, GreenBeanTeenQueen, Book Crumbs , Abby (the) Librarian, Dolce Bellezza,, The Book Cellar, Carrie’s YA Bookshelf, Bookshelf Monstrosity, Everyday Reading, Frenetic Reader,, Maw Books

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