Monday, November 17, 2008

Maybe Graphic Nonfiction

I remember enjoying a book when I was young about a girl who disguised herself as a man so she could fight in the Civil War. So the premise behind No Girls Allowed: Tales of Daring Women Dressed as Men for Love, Freedom and Adventure by Susan Hughes and Willow Dawson certainly appeals to me.

I have to say, though, that I didn't find this graphic presentation of short pieces on seven different women particularly successful. A lot of the panels required those little narrative boxes to explain what was going on, and I still sometimes found myself confused. The snakes that appear in the story of Alfhild, a Viking princess, threw me, for example. A prince arriving to see her kills two snakes that appear out of nowhere. The princess then says, "Sir, you have killed my vipers." He apologizes and says, "It was the only way for me to win your hand in marriage!" The next page includes a confusing panel that suggests the king had set up the kill-the-vipers-marry-my-daughter scenario. The scene appears to show Alfhild discussing the marriage proposal with her family. In fact, we're told in a box that that is what she's doing. But at the bottom of the panel, another box of text appears in which we're told that her father delayed consulting her. The graphics and text actually appear to contradict one another.

Some of the women's motivation for taking on the life they do isn't very clear, either. That's particularly the case for Alfhild and Esther Brandeau.

The accounts of nineteenth century women work better, probably because there looks to be more documentary evidence and more for the writer and illustrator to work with.

Another confusing aspect of the book: Some of the stories are based on historical fact, while others are based on legend. I think that makes the overall project less focused than it could have been.

So I didn't feel the book worked all that well, either graphically or as nonfiction. The subject matter may be of high interest to young readers, but I'm not sure if twenty-first century children feel the narrowness of women's lot in life the way children of earlier generations did.

For a different reaction and an interview with the author see Big A, little a's New Voices Blog Tour: No Girls Allowed.

No Girls Allowed is a Cybils nominee in the graphic novels category. (Though it definitely isn't a novel.)

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