Saturday, April 24, 2021

Review - The Secret Garden: A Graphic Novel

The Secret Garden: A Graphic Novel

by Mariah Marsden
illustrated by Hanna Luechtefeld
Date: 2021
Publisher: Andrews McMeel Publishing
Reading level: C
Book type: graphic novel
Pages: 192
Format: e-book
Source: NetGalley

Green-growing secrets and magic await you at Misselthwaite Manor, now reimagined in this graphic novel adaptation of Frances Hodgson Burnett’s tale.

Ten-year-old Mary Lennox arrives at a secluded estate on the Yorkshire moors with a scowl and a chip on her shoulder. First, there’s Martha Sowerby: the too-cheery maid with bothersome questions who seems out of place in the dreary manor. Then there’s the elusive Uncle Craven, Mary’s only remaining family—whom she’s not permitted to see. And finally, there are the mysteries that seem to haunt the run-down place: rumors of a lost garden with a tragic past, and a midnight wail that echoes across the moors at night.

As Mary begins to explore this new world alongside her ragtag companions—a cocky robin redbreast, a sour-faced gardener, and a boy who can talk to animals—she learns that even the loneliest of hearts can grow roots in rocky soil.

(synopsis from Goodreads)

The Secret Garden is one of my favourite classics, so of course I jumped at the chance to read this graphic novel adaptation of the story. Unfortunately, it didn't live up to my expectations, it doesn't do the original story justice, and it's liable to annoy people who are tired of whitewashed history.

The main problem I see here is that, if you don't know the original story, you're going to be confused because the format leads to a glossing-over of many plot points and the character development is weak (and inconsistent with the original). For some reason, the decision was made to remove any mentions of India from the story (purportedly because "they don't do justice to the history of British oppression in colonial India"), rendering Mary an inexplicable orphan with no backstory and no reason for her appalling behaviour toward those she feels are beneath her. The British were in India and they acted like racist jerks; can we please not try to "fix" the problem by ignoring it?

In the original story, Mary is a lot more sour. Here, we see a badly developed child character going through the motions of the story. Even the artwork doesn't really convey the emotions of this hurt little girl very well, as the drawings make everyone look much the same. Colin is probably the best developed out of all of them, but only because he's such an over-the-top character to begin with.

I can't put my finger on the intended audience here, either. There's not a ton of text (there are many panels with no text at all), so it might be okay for younger readers. However, like I mentioned earlier, those who are unfamiliar with the original story are liable to be confused and/or underwhelmed by the rather thin plot as it's presented here. There is some historical information at the back, along with a strange glossary that defines many words that are only used in the author's note. While the factual information about Frances Hodgson Burnett, India, and the English countryside is nice, I don't really know why we needed a glossary. (And I don't know why India was too taboo a topic to include in the graphic novel itself, when it was okay to put in the notes at the end.)

Perhaps fans of the novel who want to read every adaptation will get more out of this than I did. I love the original story... but this graphic novel definitely did not measure up.

Thank you to NetGalley and Andrews McMeel Publishing for providing a digital ARC.

Plot: 2/5
Characters: 2/5
Pace: 3/5
Writing & Editing: 3/5
Illustration: 2/5
Originality: 2/5

Enjoyment: 2/5

Overall: 2.25 out of 5 ladybugs

Sunday, April 4, 2021

Review - The Boy, the Mole, the Fox and the Horse

The Boy, the Mole, the Fox and the Horse

by Charlie Mackesy
Date: 2019
Publisher: Ebury Press
Reading level: C
Book type: picture book
Pages: 128
Format: e-book
Source: library

Discover the very special book that has captured the hearts of millions of readers all over the world.

'A wonderful work of art and a wonderful window into the human heart' Richard Curtis

A book of hope for uncertain times.

Enter the world of Charlie's four unlikely friends, discover their story and their most important life lessons.

The boy, the mole, the fox and the horse have been shared millions of times online - perhaps you've seen them? They've also been recreated by children in schools and hung on hospital walls. They sometimes even appear on lamp posts and on cafe and bookshop windows. Perhaps you saw the boy and mole on the Comic Relief T-shirt, Love Wins?

Here, you will find them together in this book of Charlie's most-loved drawings, adventuring into the Wild and exploring the thoughts and feelings that unite us all.

(synopsis from Goodreads)

I'm not usually a fan of picture books that are aimed at adults. And despite the fact that this is about a little boy and a trio of animals, I can't really see this appealing to very young children. It's mostly just a collection of insights and sayings, accompanied by rather abstract, scribbly illustrations, that would be perfectly at home on coffee mugs and t-shirts.

But, you know what? It's still incredibly charming.

Aside from the questionable grammar and the sometimes hard-to-read text (cursive-impaired millennials should have fun!), the book is strong, with a lovely premise and engaging characters. The plot is thin, but this is a book that's focussed more on "being" than on "doing"... so it works.

This is a book that's pretty much all quotable moments, so it was hard to choose a favourite! But I think the horse's advice is very wise...

Quotable moment:

Premise: 4/5
Meter: n/a
Writing: 3/5
Illustrations: 3/5
Originality: 4/5

Enjoyment: 4/5

Overall: 3.67 out of 5