Wednesday, July 28, 2010

REVIEW: Tiny Tyrant (Volume One)

Tiny Tyrant: Volume One: The Ethelbertosaurus
Trondheim, L. & Parme, F.  (2007).  Tiny Tyrant.  New York:  First Second.

63 pages.

So, I was at my (Super-awesome-NERDY!) children's book club meeting and one of the other members raved about the graphic novel, Tiny Tyrant.

Well, I looked on Amazon and saw that the first volume cost less than what I usually pay for a latte (what, I order large and get soy milk?) so I figured, why not?  Buy me it, me!

And so now, Ladies and gentlemen of Portocristo and other lands, i can tell you that Tiny Tyrant rocks!  King Ethelbert is hilarious!

Appetizer:  Ethelbert is the six-year-old king of Portocristo and as the name of the graphic novel suggests, he is a tiny tyrant.  Throughout the six short graphic stories in this first collection, King Ethelbert demands a dinosaur be named for him, tests his new bodyguard by taking a contract out on his own head (and speaking as someone originally from Michigan, I was very excited to see one of the groups of people who attempted to assassinate the king, came from my home state:

Page 20.  The Michiganders are coming!
Side note--how many government organizations just flagged this blog for my use of the words "Glad" with "assassinate"?) and cause you know that's exactly how Michiganders dress these days.)

 Ethelbert also goes on a motor race against a princess with a large vocabulary, insists on meeting Santa Claus to discuss his diet, becomes addicted to reading a comic book series by an author who refuses to meet with a king and decides all of his subjects need perfect children (meaning robot versions of the king).

Sounds pretty entertaining, yes?  It is!

I was particularly fond of the story "Books are Our Friends" because Ethelbert, for the first time ever, expresses interest in a book instead of his usual video games and tv shows.  But some of his staff members are worried about whether the graphic novel series has any value.

That right there raises questions of the purpose of children's literature.  Mmm, good discussion.

But then, readers, BUT THEN!  When Ethelbert isn't able to meet the author of the comic book series, he then bans it throughout the country.

And that my friends is a whole other delicious discussion.

I'm thinking I may have to assign this book to my undergrads down the road (if I can figure out how to magically combine my lessons on graphic novels, censorship and age appropriateness to somehow be discussed in a mere two hours).  But maybe for the time being I'll just scan a few pages here or there as optional reading.

The stories feel a lot like cartoon shorts.  And the pages are structured like a comics page in a newspaper.  So, it should be pretty easy for young readers to ease into reading the graphic novel.

But having said that, there is one big, red flag about using this book with kids.  Like, this red flag is so huge, if you took it off its flag pole it would cover a house and several of your neighbors' houses.  The one potential problem with this graphic novel is the issue of age appropriateness.  Ethelbert is six-years-old, but the vocabulary used throughout the stories could be difficult for even some ten or eleven-year-old readers.

Words like assassination and cloning are used.  And a couple of the stories features a characters who says things like, "An ideal device to warn motorists of your presence on public thoroughfares when, in the evenings, you take your mongrel out for his defecation" (p. 28).

Of course, Ethelbert learns that large vocabularies can be excellent for coming up with insults, a lesson the reader can also take to heart.  So, there is a huge advantage.

And as a kid, I remember just skipping over the pesky "big words" when I read Calvin and Hobbes.  And I still loved those comics.

So, on the grand scale, the vocabulary wouldn't stop me from recommending this series to eight or nine-year-olds.

But, since a lot of humor that appeals to adults as well as kids, this would be a good graphic novel for a parent and child to read together.

Of course, if the kid happens to ask, "What's 'non-Euclidian' mean?" that adult is on his own to explain.

One of the really interesting tensions in this book, especially after learning that it was first published in France and then translated later, is the way that class and the monarchy are represented.  King Ethelbert often makes excessive and ridiculous requests of the prime minister and citizens.

I wouldn't be surprised if one of the later volumes of the series included a national revolution.  (I'm currently awaiting Volume Two in my mail.  Please get your bum to my door a little faster, Mr. Postman.)

And now that I've made mentions of both assassinations and revolutions in this post, I think it's time to hit publish.

Dinner Conversation:

Some times, a picture says more.  Here are some of my favorite images from the graphic novel:

Page One of Awesomeness

Page 33 of fun cuteness.  I'm going to run around talking about how I'm perfectly proportioned too.  I don't think it will be as funny coming from me though.

Page 43.  Isn't this caption feature fun?!

Tasty Rating:  !!!!!

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