Saturday, May 11, 2019

Review - Charcoal Boys

Charcoal Boys
by Roger Mello
Date: 2019
Publisher: Elsewhere Editions
Reading level: C
Book type: picture book
Pages: 46
Format: e-book
Source: NetGalley

From Hans Christian Andersen Award and Batchelder Honor Medal-winning author Roger Mello, a poetic and sensitive portrait of child labor in Brazil's charcoal mines.

Beautifully illustrated by Roger Mello with sophisticated, highly textural paper cut outs, Charcoal Boys follows a young boy working in Brazil's charcoal mines. The boy's strength and resilience shine through the darkness in this moving condemnation of child labor.

(synopsis from Goodreads)

What an utter waste of time. This is one of those pretentious picture books that's only going to appeal to graduate students who want to prove how smart they are.

This is not a "moving condemnation of child labor". This is an author trying to look clever. The story, such as it is, is told from the point of view of a hornet, who apparently hasn't bothered to learn how to correctly use grammar. The sentence fragments were driving me to distraction! Anyway, this hornet tells the story of a boy and his albino friend who work for the coal mines. There are some plot points about the boys starting a brush fire with a cigarette, the boy stowing away on a truck to go and see a steel mill (which is still narrated by the hornet, even though it couldn't possibly have known what the boy saw), the albino kid and his mother being taken away, a lost key (which is never explained)... and the hornet finally killing the boy with a sting.

What the...?!

I was interested in reading this because I thought it would be an interesting look into child labour or coal mines in Brazil. Instead, all I got was a pretentious story told by a child-killing hornet.

I'd encountered Roger Mello's illustration work before. I wasn't that crazy about it. I don't really like it here, either. The collages sort of fit with the text, but since the text is so weak, I can't really get excited about the illustrations. I doubt kids would find much to enjoy about them, either.

Actually, I doubt kids would enjoy this book at all. It's too heavy on the text, there's no story to speak of (and what's there is so sparse and littered with unanswered questions that it's not going to be very satisfying), and the supposed subject matter is barely even addressed. If you really want to read a book about the misery some children face, I'd recommend a book like Michel Chikwanine's graphic novel memoir, Child Soldier, instead.

Thank you to NetGalley and Elsewhere Editions for providing a digital ARC.

Premise: 2/5
Meter: n/a
Writing: 1/5
Illustrations: 2/5
Originality: 2/5

Enjoyment: 0/5

Overall: 1.17 out of 5

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