Monday, August 18, 2014

Nonfiction Monday: Nathan Hale's Hazardous Tales: Treaties, Trenches, Mud, and Blood by Nathan Hale

Another superlative history graphic novel from Nathan Hale is always a cause for celebration. In this volume, he tackles a hugely complicated subject: World War I.

After some preliminary badinage amongst Nathan Hale, the Hangman, and the Provost, Hale reluctantly agrees to explain the war using "cute little animals" (requested by the Hangman) and the story begins. The author explains the causes of the war and graphically shows how country after country was drawn into the conflict. As the years go by and the war spreads, its increasing toll is shown in increasingly horrific images of Ares, God of War, devouring all he sees. Finally, the conflict ends as country after country surrenders and the warring countries pack away the monstrous creature of war. "War is built and controlled by human hands -- humans start it, humans stop it." The narrator finishes by saying the war is best summed up by those who experienced it and the book ends with quotes from World War veterans, including Ernest Hemingway, J. R. R. Tolkien, and Winston Churchill. After this sobering conclusion, a spread of simple panels shows the changes World War I brought from technological advances in weaponry to the deaths of millions. The final page shows the three narrators having a little relaxing break and a nice story to relax before they tackle the next tale.

The appendix lists a bibliography and a revolt by the research babies, who inform the author that he is not allowed to do a whole war all at once again! They do, reluctantly, supply a photograph of Cher Ami, the heroic carrier pigeon.

My only...not exactly a critique, more of a hopeful pining, is that so far Nathan Hale has concentrated pretty heavily on mainstream, white male history. Fascinating, awesome retellings, but still... Of course, trying to pack an entire war into one book is not easy, but it would be great to see some future tales featuring more women and minorities. I was disappointed that none of the women who played important roles in World War I were mentioned, including Edith Cavell, or any of the Russian women who actually fought in combat, not to mention the women's involvement in civilian life. There were quite a few quotations and individuals spotlighted to explain how they felt about war, but only one (Juan Pima) was not a white male. In the final list of how the war changed history, no mention is made of how the death of almost an entire generation of men had an impact on women's roles in society. However, I'm eagerly hoping that Hale is just hitting his stride and we'll be seeing more minorities, women, and untold stories featured in future books.

Verdict: It's hard to imagine fitting an entire war into 124 pages of comic art, but Hale manages to do it and not only that, he explains it in a way that's clear, simple, and striking for a middle grade audience. Kids who read this will not only have a few giggles over the quarreling narrator and the animal representation, they'll also be sobered by the realities of war and maybe spend some time thinking about the people behind the history they learn in school. Highly recommended.

ISBN: 9781419708084; Published 2014 by Amulet/Abrams; Purchased for the library

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