Friday, January 06, 2012

A Little Barbarian

Yesterday was publication day for a clever little graphic novel for younger readers called Fangbone! Third-grade Barbarian by Michael Rex. Actually, it was publication day for the second book in the series, too, The Egg of Misery. I received an advanced galley of the first book last month.

In Fangbone's barbarian world, he isn't taken seriously as a warrior because he's a child. He's enthusiastic but treated as a servant. He's ambitious, though, and plans to one day have his own army. When his leader is ordered by the clan master to send someone to another land to hide the big toe of Drool (what that's about is slowly revealed--no info dump at the beginning of the story), the older barbarians feel they are all too adept at fighting to leave the battle. So Fangbone volunteers to become the protector of the toe.

The other land where he's sent to hide? Ours, where he ends up in a third-grade classroom where this little barbarian fits in amazingly well.

Fangbone is the kind of time/world travel story I enjoy. I much prefer seeing someone from the past or another reality arriving in the here and now than someone from our time/world going somewhere else. The outsider/outcast perceiving and commenting on our real society is far more intersting to me than a character perceiving and commenting on a society that no longer exists or even never existed.

We do get commentary here. Bullies? A third-grade barbarian doesn't have to worry about them much, and not because he's violent. It's that barbarian attitude that takes care of threats. Bill, a boy with ADD, takes Fangbone under his wing, explaining toilets to him (You didn't think they'd have those in a barbarian world, did you?) and giving him his first taste of hot wings. Fangbone is flummoxed when Bill's mother asks for the magic word. He knows many, but "please" isn't among them. And when Fangbone is called upon in class to ask a question about why the sun rises, his response is a sort of creation story from his culture. It's the truth, as he sees it, and the episode raises questions about respecting the beliefs--any beliefs--of others.

One of the things that makes this book work for me is that there is a real story here. Sometimes with books for younger children you get a lot of jokes strung together. Fangbone has a mission. A mission has its own narrative drive.

Another aspect of the book I liked is that the graphics truly carry their weight by helping to tell the story. I don't care to see a lot of boxes with traditional narrative at the top, leaving the images to just illustrate text. With Fangbone we can pick up setting, action, and even character through the graphics. What a face that little Fangbone has.

Plot Project: A week or so ago, I read a review in which the reviewer talked about a premise giving direction to a plot. I think that could have happened here. Once the author came up with the idea for a barbarian in a classroom, the next logical step to plotting would have been to think of a way to get him there. Once he came up with the way to get him there, he had his character's mission. And with the mission would come a plot.


Charlotte said...

That sounds like a fun one--thanks!

Michael Rex said...

Hi. Thanks for the thoughtful review. You really seemed to get everything I was shooting for, especially letting the art give as much info as possible. And, yes, the idea for the character/premise did come first, and he lead me to the stories. I believe that most high-concept stuff works best that way. If you would like to know more about Fangbone, and my other books, please visit my blog at