Book review: The Magic Fish by Trung Le Nguyen

Book Reviews

(En Français par ici!)

This book found its way to me at the perfect time! With all the Asian targeted racism stories going around in the news, I’ve been worried for my mom, cousins and friends, while feeling unsettled because I pass for white. Navigating all of this peacefully is quite difficult, but reading this book made me feel seen, and it felt great to connect with another Vietnamese artist through his work. This week, I’m sharing The Magic Fish by Trung Le Nguyen, aka Trungles.

What strikes me the most about this book is how clear the drawings are. The line work is precise and detailed, and everything is clear and immediately understood. I find this very impressive! The artwork support the story and never gets in the way of the narrative. Because of this, it is so easy and pleasant to get absorbed in the book and focus on the characters and their experiences. I also really enjoyed how each branch of the story has a particular colour. This gave the book a cinematic feel as it bounces between fairy tales, memories and present day life. It also made everything very clear, and again, easy to understand and follow. I was also very impressed by how monochromatic pages ended up being so interesting and more sophisticated in a way.

Once you get over how amazing the art is, the story itself is very touching. We follow Tiến, a young teenager who struggles with coming out to his parents. The author adds a layer of complexity to this already difficult situation by highlighting the language barrier between Tiến and his parents. This book also addresses immigration in a very tender and raw manner. Many of the elements surrounding the life of Vietnamese immigrants reminded me of my mom’s and my own story. It is fascinating to relate to a book in this way. It’s also very interesting to focus the story to the “after”. Most stories I’ve read about Vietnamese immigration focus on the journey of Boat People, the war that lead to their exodus, or their lives in refugee camps, whereas this book is set many years after the family is settled in the United States. This brings themes of identity, culture and belonging even more complex and rich.

Finally, if you are a graphic novel nerd, I’m sure you’ll be impressed by the layout of this book and how the author seamlessly goes from one story line to the other. I particularly enjoyed how fairy tales intersect with the main story and how Asian versions of classic fairy tales like the Little Mermaid or Cinderella are depicted. Being an avid reader of fairy tales, this was refreshing and made me want to learn more about Vietnamese and other Asian folklore.

Overall, you need to read this book! The story is touching and so relevant in our current context. I enjoyed every page of this graphic novel, and the characters stay with you even when you’re done reading. Humour, folklore, family, love, resilience and hurt; this book will take you on a roller-coaster of emotions. I’m in complete awe both with the writing and illustrations, and I’m sure you will be to!

The Magic Fish, by Trung Le Nguyen aka Trungles, RH Graphic

Not yet translated!


 

Book review: The Magic Fish par Trung Le Nguyen

Ce livre a trouvé son chemin vers moi au moment idéal ! Avec toutes les histoires de racisme ciblant les Asiatiques qui circulent dans les médias, je suis inquiète pour ma mère, mes cousins et mes amis, tout en me sentant déstabilisée parce que je passe pour blanche. Naviguer dans tout cela de manière pacifique est assez difficile, mais la lecture de ce livre m’a donné le sentiment d’être vue, et j’ai été ravie d’entrer en contact avec un autre artiste vietnamien à travers son œuvre. Cette semaine, je vous présente The Magic Fish de Trung Le Nguyen, alias Trungles.

Ce qui me frappe le plus dans ce livre, c’est la clarté des dessins. Le travail du trait est précis et détaillé, et tout est clair et immédiatement compréhensible. Je trouve cela très impressionnant ! Les illustrations soutiennent l’histoire et ne gênent jamais la narration. C’est pourquoi il est si facile et agréable de se laisser absorber par le livre et de se concentrer sur les personnages et leurs expériences. J’ai aussi beaucoup apprécié la façon dont chaque branche de l’histoire a une couleur particulière. Cela donne une impression de cinéma au livre, qui oscille entre les contes de fées, les souvenirs et la vie présente. Cela a également rendu le tout très clair, et encore une fois, facile à comprendre et à suivre. J’ai également été très impressionnée par la façon dont les pages monochromes sont finalement si intéressantes et plus sophistiquées d’une certaine façon.

Une fois que l’on se concentre sur autre chose que l’art, l’histoire elle-même est très touchante. Nous suivons Tiến, un jeune adolescent qui a du mal à faire son coming out auprès de ses parents. L’auteur ajoute une couche de complexité à cette situation déjà difficile en soulignant la barrière de la langue entre Tiến et ses parents. Ce livre aborde également la question de l’immigration d’une manière très tendre. De nombreux éléments entourant la vie des immigrants vietnamiens m’ont rappelé l’histoire de ma mère et la mienne. Il est fascinant de s’identifier à un livre de cette manière. Il est également très intéressant de centrer l’histoire sur “l’après”. La plupart des histoires que j’ai lues sur l’immigration vietnamienne se concentrent sur le voyage des Boat People, la guerre qui a conduit à leur exode ou leur vie dans les camps de réfugiés, alors que ce livre se déroule plusieurs années après l’installation de la famille aux États-Unis. Cela rend les thèmes de l’identité, de la culture et de l’appartenance encore plus complexes et riches.

Enfin, si vous êtes un fan de bandes dessinées, je suis certaine que vous serez impressionné par la mise en page de ce livre et la façon dont l’auteur passe d’une histoire à l’autre. J’ai particulièrement apprécié la façon dont les contes de fées s’entrecroisent avec l’histoire principale et comment les versions asiatiques des contes de fées classiques comme la Petite Sirène ou Cendrillon sont représentées. Étant une lectrice assidue de contes de fées, cette histoire était rafraîchissante et m’a donné envie d’en apprendre davantage sur le folklore vietnamien et asiatique.

En résumé, vous devez lire ce livre ! L’histoire est touchante et tellement pertinente dans notre contexte actuel. J’ai apprécié chaque page de ce roman graphique, et les personnages restent avec vous même lorsque vous avez fini de lire. L’humour, le folklore, la famille, l’amour, la résilience et la douleur ; ce livre vous emmènera dans une montagne russe d’émotions. Je suis en admiration devant l’écriture et les illustrations, et je suis sûre que vous le serez aussi !

The Magic Fish, par Trung Le Nguyen aka Trungles, RH Graphic

Ce livre est sorti l’automne dernier et n’est pas encore disponible en français.

Book review: Jane, le renard et moi, par Isabelle Arsenault et Fanny Britt

Book Reviews

(In English here!)

Cette semaine je vous partage un autre de mes livres favoris: Jane, le renard et moi, écrit par Fanny Britt et illustré par Isabelle Arsenault. Il s’agit d’une découverte qui date de l’année dernière pour moi et que j’ai lue et relue, encore et encore.

Par où commencer? Dans cette bande dessinée, ou plutôt roman graphique, on suit une jeune adolescente qui navigue avec plus ou moins d’aise les amies, l’école, l’intimidation, la solitude et le fait de grandir. Hélène est touchante, et on se reconnait facilement dans ses relations avec les autres. L’histoire est magnifiquement bien écrit: on évite les cliché, mais on ressent les émotions poignante de la jeune Hélène avec beaucoup de sensibilité.

Ce qui est fascinant avec ce livre c’est la parfait aliance du dessin et de l’histoire. À de nombreuses reprises, les illustrations expriment avec clarté les émotions d’Hélène sans avoir recourt au texte. Le dessin donne l’impression d’avoir été fait au crayon à papier et le style brut reflète très bien l’état vulnérable du personnage principal.

Mais ce n’est pas parce que le gros des images est en noir et blanc que l’on manque de détail. Le style est précis et on reconnait facilement des endroits, des situations et des objets de la vie de tous les jours ce qui rend l’histoire encore plus touchante puisqu’on peut facilement s’y identifier. Plusieurs thèmes sont abordés ainsi sans necessairement y faire directement allusion: la maternité, la vie de famille, l’image corporelle, l’amitié, l’empathie, et bien d’autre.

En fait, les seuls moments ou un peu de couleur fait irruption c’est lorsque Hélène imagine des scenes du roman qu’elle est en train de lire: Jane Eyre. Ces scènes imaginées ajoutent beaucoup d’humour et forment un univers parallèle à celui de Hélène.

Finalement, il n’est pas difficile de comprendre pourquoi ce livre à reçu de nombreuses récompenses et à été traduit dans 8 langues. L’histoire est touchante et invite le lecteur à se replonger dans sa propre enfance, le dessin est évocateur et riche, et la combinaison des deux crée un livre poignant auquel on repense souvent. Ce livre plaira aux adolescents comme aux lecteurs plus expérimentés. Un must!

Jane, le renard et moi, par Fanny Britt et Isabelle Arsenault, La Pastèque

Aussi disponible en anglais : Jane, the Fox and I, Groundwood Books


Book review: Jane, the Fox and me, by Isabelle Arsenault and Fanny Britt

This week I am sharing another of my favorite books: Jane, the Fox and Me, written by Fanny Britt and illustrated by Isabelle Arsenault. It is a discovery I made last year and which I have read and reread over and over again.

Where to start? In this comic book, or rather graphic novel, we follow a young teenage girl who navigates with varying degrees of ease through friends, school, bullying, loneliness and growing up. Hélène is touching, and you can easily recognize yourself in her relationships with others. The story is beautifully written: we avoid clichés, but we feel the poignant emotions of young Hélène with great sensibility.

What is fascinating about this book is the perfect combination of drawing and story. On many occasions, the illustrations clearly express Hélène’s emotions without resorting to text. The drawing gives the impression of having been done in pencil and the raw style reflects very well the vulnerable state of the main character.

But just because the bulk of the images are in black and white doesn’t mean there is a lack of detail. The style is precise and you can easily recognize places, situations and objects from everyday life, which makes the story even more touching and relatable. Several themes are approached in this way without necessarily alluding to them directly: motherhood, family life, body image, friendship, empathy, and many others.

In fact, the only time when a little color pops up is when Hélène imagines scenes from the novel she is reading: Jane Eyre. These imagined scenes add a lot of humor and form a parallel universe to Hélène’s one.

Finally, it is not difficult to understand why this book has received numerous awards and has been translated into 8 languages. The story is touching and invites the reader to go back to his own childhood, the drawing is evocative and rich, and the combination of the two creates a poignant book that is often recalled. This book will appeal to teenagers as well as more experienced readers. A must read!

Jane, le renard et moi, par Fanny Britt et Isabelle Arsenault, La Pastèque

Available in English : Jane, the Fox and I, Groundwood Books

Book review: Slow Down, by Rachel Williams and Freya Hartas

Book Reviews

I’ve been so excited about this book for so long! I love Freya Hartas’ illustration style, and it is through her that I learned about this book. Here’s my review for Slow Down, written by Rachel Williams and illustrated by Freya Hartas.

This book is a collection of 50 natural phenomena to observe and enjoy. It is meant as a book to help children explore nature and mindfulness.

First, what a great idea! This would have been the perfect book for me as a child, but it is frankly the perfect book for me as an adult. If you love learning, love nature and want to observe and understand the world, this is the perfect book for you too! Rachel Williams did a wonderful job at picking out phenomena that are both easy to observe but interesting to understand. Plus, you’ll learn about animals, plants and weather! Even as an adult, there were some things in the book that I didn’t know and was impressed to learn about.

Now, the illustrations are what got me hooked on the book. As I mentioned, I learned about the book through Freya Hartas, the illustrator. What I love most about her illustrations is that whatever subject she is drawing, they’ll have a personality. This makes every single page fun to explore and get lost into. Her colouring is also so bright and alive. It was a pleasure to see her detailed illustrations page after page.

Also, this book is a very beautiful book that makes an incredible gift. It is big and hardcover which makes it perfect for little hands dragging it to the park or the garden. Every page is filled with details both in the illustrations and in the text. I loved this kind of books when I was a kid: you could jump into any page and find a little detail to notice and appreciate. More over, as each phenomena takes two pages of the book, this could make a great book for a reluctant reader. I could imagine myself reading just the two pages and sending off kids to explore nature. It’s a great resource for the young naturalists in your life. A strong point of the book is also that it presents both rural and urban natural scenes so everyone will be able to find something to observe.

Finally, I would put this book on every to-read list there is because it is such a great invitation to observe and appreciate the wonder and excitement of nature. For this reason, I think it is an incredible tool to help children and their parents understand how fascinating the natural world is. This for me is primordial if we want to preserve nature in any significant way. It is much more easier to protect something you love and know after all.

Slow Down, by Rachel Williams, Illustrated by Freya Hartas, Magic Cat Publishing

Book review: Kodi by Jared Cullum

Book Reviews

Another rainy day find: the beautifully sweet and woderfully illustrated graphic novel, Kodi by Jared Cullum.

I promise that I don’t only buy books on rainy days, but this one is another great rainy day find. I couldn’t resist this album all drawn in watercolours AND about a bear.

First and foremost, the illustrations are beautiful. Jared Cullum strikes again with wonderful watercolours where light, textures and colours create a soft and descriptive world. I’m particularly impressed by how effectively he renders light and shadows. It is such a big difficulty for me; it’s mesmerizing to see a master at work.

Another thing that I really enjoyed was the rhythm of the story. Some pages are almost cinematographic, and you find yourself racing along with the characters. With often little words, Cullum creates whole scenes and emotions, touching and sometimes comical.

I also really enjoyed his character design. His bear is everything a child would love: big and strong, yet also vulnerable and gentle. The little girl is strong and willful and so relatable. The grandmother is also quite extraordinary with her tiny hands and big body that seems to me made for hugging. I also loved how the townspeople are depicted. Frankly, all the characters have something unique and special. I found myself wondering about each one of them. The possibilities for spinoffs are endless!

Finally, if nothing else will do it for you, the story of friendship between a bear and a little girl will warm the coldest of hearts. Filled with unlikely companions, this story is soft and beautiful, while still appealing to children and adults alike. Themes of friendship, trust and loyalty are explored in a story where camaraderie and love conquer all. I cannot wait for the other books to come out! In the meantime, I strongly suggest adding this title to your to-read list! (psst, you can even grab a signed copy!)

Kodi, by Jared Cullum, Top Shelf Production Publishing