I do a lot of reading for collection development in my school, and this week I’m in the mood of working smarter not harder – there just ain’t enough time to read and review all of the things that I want to! So, I have decided to start working some of the titles the read for work into the blog. First up is Joris Chamblain’s beautiful graphic novel Cici’s Journal, which follows a young and aspiring writer as she investigates the mysterious people in her neighbourhood.
Title: Cici’s Journal
Author: Joris Chamblain
Publisher: First Second
Publication Date: November 7, 2017
Genre: Comics, Graphic Novel, Middle Grade Fiction, Children’s Fiction
Themes: Friendship, Family
Features: Writing exercises, Drawing exercises.
My Rating: 4.5 / 5
Cici dreams of being a novelist. Her favorite subject: people, especially adults. She’s been watching them and taking notes. Everybody has one special secret, Cici figures, and if you want to write about people, you need to understand what’s hiding inside them. But now she’s discovered something truly strange: an old man who disappears into the forest every Sunday with huge pots of paint in all sorts of colors. What is he up to? Why does he look so sad when he comes back?
In a graphic novel interwoven with journal notes, scrapbook pieces, and doodles, Cici assembles clues about the odd and wonderful people she’s uncovered, even as she struggles to understand the mundane: her family and friends.
I have a confession to make before I start this review – I initially requested this title from NetGalley, was turned down, and then shamelessly waited until it was purchased by the public library so that I could borrow it. I REALLY wanted to read it. You see, within our district we have bee having a debate about children’s journal/ diary books (Big Nate, Dear Dumb Diary, Diary of a Wimpy Kid, Dork Diaries, etc.) and whether or not they appeal to the lowest common (read crass and bawdy) denominator, or if they can have more value than being lumped in the class of ‘at lest they get kids reading’. With journal in the title, I was convinced that Cici’s Journal was going to be another text to enter this fray. Thankfully I was wrong.
Instead of being met with a book that plays on cheap jokes, stereotypes and crude humour we are presented with a story that is deep, insightful, and encourages readers to consider the impact of their actions on others. Our three leading ladies are complex and entirely individual, and all have distinct passions, talents, and ambitions. They all have different family dynamics, and how these circumstances impact behaviour and development is subtly explored.
I was initially struck by the blended delivery, with large portions of the book taking the form of a traditional text narrative relayed in notes, on journal pages, and even as simple back story as opposed to being a straight up graphic novel. The transition between the two mediums is always at an appropriate time, like when details are needed to the carry the story or set up the plot, and the transition between textual and visual representations just seem to flow. The switching back and forth between text and comic creates a dynamic reading experiences, and forces you to be engaged and observant, rather than simply along for the ride or there for the pictures.
On that note, the artwork itself is absolutely beautiful. The colours are vivid, there is a clear distinction between what is Cici’s voice and what is story telling, and the panel layout is easy to follow. The full page spreads are expressive and tend to focus on thinking or emotional moments rather than action, and the use of light and dark is is incredibly effective in setting moods. I was absolutely floored by Michael’s artwork in part one, and would go so far as to describe it as cinematically gorgeous.
In part one, The Petrified Zoo, readers are introduced to some lofty concepts like memory and nostalgia, loss of community icons, communicating the thoughts and feelings that are hardest to verbalize, and finding the courage to try new things. Now add in the fact that the story revolves around the children of a community banding together to help an old man and I’m 100% on board. Part two, Hector’s Book was just as good! It tackled subjects including the loss of loved ones, PTSD, toxic friendships, and navigating the transition from elementary to middle school. With topics likes these, I have to say that I’m impressed – especially when the target age group starts around 10. Comics or not, this ain’t no cotton candy reading!
However, when reading The Petrified Zoo I made note that I was uncomfortable with how easily and frequently Cici intentionally deceived her mother. And more to that, how often she expected her friends to participate in the deception. But, I was pleased to see this issue wholly addressed in part two with some pretty serious and realistic consequences. While I don’t necessarily agree with lying being part of our heroines identifying character traits, I do think that it is good character building and provides many impactful and teachable moments.
Finally, I absolutely loved the creative writing tips and techniques embedded throughout the stories. Everything from the imagination games to the character development cards, to the research and daily journalling can all be easily applied in practice. Whether readers are engaging in these activities on their own, or they are being lead through the book in a class, all of the prompts are fun and easily enacted. I can see curriculum connections in a great many areas – Language Arts, Health, Social Studies – and genuinely think that this would be an interesting book to consider for course inclusion.
Would I recommend this book? A million times yes! And not just for teachers, but for kids too – it’s so good! This is definitely one of the more sophisticated graphic novels on the market for children right now. Whether or not this is a book for seasoned readers or for those branching out from comics into more textually based works, Cici’s Journal is sure to appeal to a wide range of readers. I am curious to see what further instalments have in store, especially with regards to the relation between the girls and the unfolding drama between Cici’s mom and Ms. Flores.