Monday, September 1, 2014

NONFICTION MONDAY: Two Graphic Nonfiction Titles


In The Red Baron, graphic artist and author Wayne Vansant illustrates the incredible story of Manfred von Richthofen, whose unparalleled piloting prowess as a member of the Imperial German Army Air Service made him a World War I celebrity, both in the air and on the ground. In his signature style, enjoyed by readers of Normandy and Bombing Nazi Germany, Vansant beautifully depicts the fearsome intelligence and mid-flight awareness that would earn Richthofen eighty documented air combat victories over the Western Front in the halcyon days of military aviation. From his beginnings as cavalry member and a pilot-in-training to the years he spent commanding Jasta 11 from the cockpit of his fabled red plane, to his eventual leadership of the ultra-mobile Jagdgeschwader 1 (aptly nicknamed "Richtofen's Flying Circus" by nervous foes because of the group's colorful airplanes and mobile airfields), The Red Baron brings the story of this legendary figure to life. Richthofen died young under controversial circumstances, but the Red Baron's astonishing skill and tactical acumen lived on far long after his death and helped usher in a new type of warfare that would reign supreme twenty-five years later: war in the air.


This is one of a series of graphic novels dealing with war created by Wayne Vansant. And considering the popularity of the topic and the popularity of graphic novels its sure to be popular.  I'd heard of The Red Baron long before picking up this book but it was interesting to read his story in the graphic format.  Student readers will be fascinated by the depictions of early air warfare, the techniques and strategies used as well as the personal prowess of Richthofen.  I think the one thing that came through loud and clear was how dangerous it was to be a pilot during the war.  Vansant does a nice job of covering different aspects of the air war including the flying, scouting, fighting, guarding, and other activities of the different units, but also how the units operated.  Other famous flying aces of the war from the various participating nations are also included in the story.  This is a great way to introduce young readers to the importance of and impact of the past.


Ernest Shackleton was one of the last great Antarctic explorers, and he led one of the most ambitious Antarctic expeditions ever undertaken. This is his story, and the story of the dozens of men who threw in their lot with him - many of whom nearly died in the unimaginably harsh conditions of the journey. It's an astonishing feat - and was unprecedented at the time - that all the men in the expedition survived.

Shackleton's expedition marked the end of a period of romantic exploration of the Arctic and the Antarctic, and this is as much a book about the encroaching modern world as it is about travel. But Nick Bertozzi has documented this remarkable journey with such wit and fiendish attention to detail that it's impossible not to get caught up in the drama of the voyage. Shackleton is a phenomenal accompaniment to Bertozzi's earlier graphic novel about great explorers, Lewis & Clark.


Nick Bertozzi's Shackleton makes for a great adventure story told in graphic format.  He does a remarkable job of including a lot of details and keeping the story moving.  A story like this can easily get bogged down in details, especially considering how much time Shackleton and his men spent waiting.  The black and white illustrations work well for an environment that was mostly white and gray.  I think what came through strongest to me was the sheer determination of Shackleton, there is no other reason that the whole crew would have survived the brutal conditions.  It's not only a great survival story, but a story about the importance of having good leaders.  The sheer amount of detail in the illustrations is amazing although it does make some of the illustrations kind of small.  Despite the lack of color, Bertozzi still manages to convey the difficult conditions the men had to live with, the cold, the wet, and the lack of a variety of foods (who wants to live on dog, seal, and penguin for months, yuck!).

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