Tag Archives: graphic novels

Non-Fiction Monday Lily Renée, Escape Artist

Lily Renée Wilhelm was a young girl when Austria was invaded by Nazi Germany, her life story provides a fascinating glimpse of the changes and struggles that many people faced during these tragic and dramatic times. Her family had been well off, but as the Nazis rose to power her whole life changed, she was fortunate to find an escape on a Kindertransport to England, though her parents stayed behind. Once there, though she was poorly treated by her sponsor family, which led her to take a number of jobs. When England declared war on the Nazis, she was classified as an Enemy Alien and required to report to the government. She worked as a nurse during the Blitz. At this point the government began to crack down more on these “enemy aliens” and started rounding them up, Lily tries to escape but eventually turns herself in. She’s fortunate that her parents have escaped to America and she is allowed to join them there. Once there she finds that her parents have grown old struggling under Nazi rule and Lily takes a huge variety of roles to support her family. Fashion model, pieceworker, catalog artist, and eventually becomes a comic book artist.

Lily’s life was fascinating, and a good fit for children who want to learn about the period. Nothing TOO bad happens to her, her parents live, she escapes Austria and England. In Lily Renée, Escape Artist the story is told in graphic novel format. The art is evocative of the era, capturing the spirit of the age and the terror of Lily’s experiences. Unfortunately, the narrative of the story really fails to bring the story to life in that it doesn’t always match the format. The appeal of a graphic novel biography is that it brings the action and drama of the figure to life, and the actions they took and experiences they had are visually depicted. However, this book reads like a non-graphic novel biography superimposed upon the graphic novel format. There is a lot of tell and not as much show, which makes it hard to see Lily as a real character. It is a fine balance, to provide information while still telling a story, and certainly this book succeeds at providing enough information to show that there are great stories in Lily’s life. It also leaves the reader wanting those stories, wanting that closer knowledge and personal connection. If I couldn’t get more stories, I wanted more facts. I’d never heard about the British detainees, and would have loved to learn more, and see pictures and some of the newspapers they said they wrote.

How cool is this--Lily Renee drew this--this is what I want to know more about!

While not a perfect biography, I still think that the story of Lily Renée is compelling enough to draw reluctant readers into her world. Hopefully, we will find more biographies of fascinating characters like this.

Fish You Were Here

Recently I was ordering some graphic novels for the children’s collection, when I discovered the Pet Shop Private Eye series. This series is a perfect match for our collection, it is funny, easy to read, and doesn’t have any materials questionable for kids. Since graphic novels are told with pictures, it can be difficult to distinguish what is appropriate for children. We had Nancy Drew in our Graphic Novel collection until it became apparent that the written descriptions of crimes were less disturbing then the visual.

In Fish You Were Here the fourth volume of the Pet Shop Private Eye Series, the absent minded shop owner is looking for an assistant. His interviews are silly, with important questions like on a scale of 1 to 10 have you ever ridden a llama? The various animals comment as different candidates come and go. Finally it seems like the perfect candidate has been found. Viola LOVES animals, and seems to be a fount of knowledge, rushing around to help all of the animals and show the shop owner all the things he’s been doing wrong. But when the shop owner leaves, things change and not for the better. The animals must figure out what happened and hopefully get their beloved shop owner back before it is too late!

This is a great entry in a fun series. I’ve only briefly skimmed through the other volumes in the series, and I had no problem picking up this one and starting with little knowledge of the other books.
That is a good feature for me, because it is hard at the library to recommend books if the first in the series is ALWAYS checked out. With this series I feel kids could start at any point. The illustrations are colorful, the text not too complex, and the story is funny. I think this book will appeal to both boys and girls from second grade up.