First, let me remind you that my expertise is not comic books or graphic novels. I DID grow up reading lots and lots of comic books of the Archie & Veronica and Baby Huey variety and have read many graphic novels for young adults. The TOON books have their own special place in my classroom. I am a fan. I am just not an expert and have trouble evaluating them. Given the large number of exceptional graphic novels this year (and stay tuned for a guest post on that very subject by Heavy Medal’s Jonathan Hunt next week), I imagine that the Caldecott committee members are spending some quality time reading about the elements of graphic novels and educating themselves further about them. I know I would be cramming right about now. (Simply cruising the net for some online education is making my head spin just a little bit.)
Now that I have made my disclaimer, I must say that I was taken by Odd Duck from the very beginning. It is not a comic book, but it shares enough characteristics to make it feel quite different from a traditional picture book. In a good way.
I loved the look of this one. We have mostly traditional double-page spreads mixed with half- and quarter- page panels. When the characters (or narrator) talk, it is often (but not always) in word bubbles. The font looks handwritten but is easy to read. The colors are slightly muted and the pages are filled with details that show us everything about Theodora and Chad. Though there are many words on most pages, the story is easy to decipher without the words, and the illustrations add much.
More than anything, this book is very, very funny. Here we have another version of The Odd Couple (just made that connection this second) — Theodora has a plan, a schedule, a neat house and is so controlled that she can balance a cup of tea on her head…while swimming. Or riding a bicycle. Enter new neighbor Chad, and we can see that Theodora’s world is about to be rocked. Chad has a pot of weeds on his front porch, a busted window in his house, and a giant cardboard chicken in his yard (among other things). Theodora can hardly wait for Chad to travel south for the winter. He does not — and their friendship is born.
The cartoon style is perfect for this comic tale of unlikely friendship, misunderstanding, self-knowledge, anger, and forgiveness. The spread with the slamming doors is one of my favorites. Theodora’s curtains look like they are writhing in anger — perhaps about to burst into flames! When the two friends reconcile, the pace slows as each duck walks carefully toward the other’s house in a familiar dance of apology that is full of familiar trepidation for anyone who has had to swallow pride and hope for the best.
While many friendship books drown in lessons and sweetness, this stays true to its quirky core and lets the characters work things out for themselves.
Now, I think I should go make a cup of tea. If only I could balance it on my head. Or had two odd friends to share the pot with.