Comic Solutions


Screen Shot 2016-07-04 at 2.55.45 PMBirdsong
James Sturm
Toon Books
April 2016

*Disclaimer: I attended Center for Cartoon Studies and know James Sturm*

One red bird, two cruel children, and a powerful wizard come together to tell a story unlike any other. Because in this book, you tell the story. You write the words. You…decide what the pictures mean and what’s happening in them. Told in the tradition of Kamishiabi, Japanese paper theater, James Sturm has crafted a series of illustrations that may tell the most heartbreaking story ever.

How do you write a review for a story that changes, depending upon who tells the story? The answer is…its difficult. Because you can’t write about the story, since what you read might not be what the next person reads. And it’s difficult to write about the pictures, because, again you’re reading the story and the next person might read something different!

So here’s what I’ve come up with: In this book you get to decide the story. YOU. The reader. Or maybe the child next to you. Or the child next to them. Or you can all take turns. Whatever the case may be, the basis for the story is that two cruel kids are mean to animals and then apparently get turned into animals themselves. But what happens in between? What happens at the end? That’s up to you. And the book allows you to write the story in, if you choose to, as the left handed pages are blank with white space. Maybe you can erase it after you tell it one way and write down a different way. Or maybe you can just insert pages so that you can see the different ways that you’ve told the story and keep your favorites. Or maybe you just let the blank pages speak for themselves. That’s up to you though.

This is the type of book that would be great to engage reluctant readers, by allowing them to submit what they think happens. Let them be the author for the day, with a master illustrator by their side, already having provided the images. They can inspire and engage each other and the group can talk about the different things they see in this book or don’t see. That’s what this story is about. You getting to make the choices. What do the characters learn from their (mis)adventures? Do they find forgiveness? Do they continue on their path to cruelty? Or maybe something else all together.

The one quibble I have with this book, is that in Kamishibai, you can move the pages into different orders. Which really adds a different element to the story being different each time. While that may be somewhat more difficult to produce in book form, it would have been an interesting challenge that I’m sure could have led to a special edition of the book being published.
While the book is geared towards younger readers, I would recommend it for all ages, for the critical thinking skills that are needed to interpret the images and to create a cohesive and compelling story.

Review copy provided by Toon Books

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