Thoughts on writing and reading for boys and young men.
There comes a time in every rightly-constructed boy's life when he has a raging desire to go somewhere and dig for hidden treasure. -Mark Twain, The Adventures of Tom Sawyer

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Jules Ffeifer, selected works

Jules Feiffer is an illustrator. A cartoonist, to be specific. A Pulitzer Prize-winning cartoonist, to be precise.  In 1979, he published Tantrum, one of the first actual graphic novels (a “novel told in pictures,” as opposed to a “comic book”).  And he illustrated Norton Juster’s children’s classic, The Phantom Tollboth.  But he's made important independent contributions to children's lit, as well. A couple of fine examples?  His middle grade novel The Man in the Ceiling and his picture book Bark, George, both written and illustrated by Feiffer.

Bark, Georgeby Jules Feiffer
HarperCollins, 1999

In Bark, George, George’s mother tries to teach him to speak like a dog, but instead he speaks like a cat, duck, pig, and cow. It’s simple and silly, and the pictures are hilarious. We see the frustration and embarrassment on his mother’s face as George speaks to her (and the vet) with every sound but a bark! And as the vet pulls the animals that make each sound from George’s mouth, Mom is mortified. When the vet finally pulls out a cow, George's mother passes out, flipping over in the background.  Feiffer uses the simple pattern of George making a strange noise, the vet pulling out the corresponding animal, and Mom making a face throughout the story, which sets up reader expectations nicely and maximizes the effect of the surprise ending: George saying, “Hello!” Recommended for ages 3+.

The Man in the Ceilingby Jules Feiffer
HarperCollins, 1995
The Man in the Ceiling, an amusing and creatively rendered story of how “every ‘failure’ is a bit of future luck,” follows Jimmy—a budding comic book artist who yearns for the admiration of schoolyard critic Charley Beemer—and Jimmy’s uncle, who takes his crack at success on Broadway. One of the novel’s aspects that I particularly enjoy is the way in which Feiffer’s narrator often addresses the reader directly, especially to offer commentary on the illustrations. At one point, the narrator directs the reader to refer back to a specific drawing earlier in the book, just to prove that Jimmy is right about an argument he’s having with his mother.  And in another instance, the narrator says Jimmy’s latest illustration cannot be displayed because the book would never be published with such drawings! But the narrator never distracts us from the story at hand—a poignant tale about not giving up, that resolves itself in a role reversal between Jimmy and his uncle, with one beginning the story as the motivator and becoming the motivatee (and vice versa). Recommended for ages 9-12.

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