Revving up for reluctant readers
HELL-RIDE TONIGHT. By David Clayton - 0 00 323047 3.
SUZUKI GOODBYE. BY SAM McBRATNEY - 0 00 323050 3.
THE EXTERMINATORS. By Ian Gregory. - 0 00 323051 1.
THE SOLDIER WHO NEVER WAS. By Mick Gowar. - 0 00 323049 X.
SIR GAWAIN AND THE RUGBY SEVENS. By Mick Gowar - 0 00 323048 1.
Collins Pounds 2.99 each or mixed pack including teacher's notes Pounds 17.70. 0 00 323045 7
Dennis Hamley praises a set of graphic novels designed for teenagers requiring special encouragement in reading.
At its best, the graphic novel is a hybrid art form with its own rules, purposes and integrity. But in adapting this deceptively straightforward genre for reluctant readers, is there not a grave risk of its becoming a half-hearted comic, no more than an attempt to dilute text by slipping it in between a lot of pictures? A benchmark for me among graphic novels is Martin Rowson's The Waste Land (Penguin 1990), a brilliant, hilarious conflation of Eliot and Raymond Chandler, so deftly conceived as to illuminate both, where art and text become indivisible. I resolved, when turning to this pack of graphic novels for pupils with special needs in secondary schools, to keep such an awesome comparison out of my mind.
I soon found that at the very least I was reading fast, compulsive narratives which were all well served by their illustrators, with a good balance of picture to text, using the genre's conventions well. The stories are varied. David Clayton's hero in Ricky and the Ram-Raiders is scared stiff of Big Jock McLintock, PE teacher, and the ordeal of his version of rugby, but through foiling a ram-raid, ends with an odd understanding of him.
In Hell-Ride Tonight, the narrator and girlfriend Jan are caught up in a horrific progress with wild bikers. Sam McBratney's well-crafted Suzuki Goodbye tells of Caroline, John and Bill and the come-uppance of a crooked motorcycle dealer. As one would expect from Sam McBratney, a tragic element is beautifully handled.
Ian Gregory's The Exterminators has Max and Nina taking on the computers who rule the world, with Captain Jirk and crew of USS Gordon Bennett being no help at all. A nice satire. In The Soldier Who Never Was, Mick Gowar writes a very funny fantasy based on the old tall story of Lieutenant Kijhe and the Great Sneeze.
So far, so good. Five excellent stories illuminated by their format. Then I turned to the last, Mick Gowar's Sir Gawain and the Rugby Sevens, and realised the comparison with Rowson was not so inappropriate.
Here is the genre used close to its full potential. In a Camelot of wimps, Gawain is a thug. Merlin suggests he fights the Green Knight - purely to get rid of him. They fight to a standstill, then team up and challenge Arthur's court to tournament by rugby (Camelot 0, Barbarians 87). The same internal principles which drive Rowson's book make this a work of distinction: everything it refers to is newly illuminated.
Excellent Teacher's Notes by Max Turton and Dirk Roth round off this production. In interest levels and reading difficulty, these carefully edited books hit, I think, their intended readership, and I rate the pack as one of the best things to appear for special needs English for years.