Thursday, August 13, 2009

The Storm In The Barn

I'm very excited to feature Matt Phelan's new graphic novel published by Candlewick, The Storm In The Barn (ISBN: 9780763636180). Matt's book will be available next month. The setting is Kansas, 1937. Eleven-year-old Jack Clark faces his share of ordinary challenges: local bullies, his father’s failed expectations, a little sister with an eye for trouble. But he also has to deal with the effects of the Dust Bowl, including rising tensions in his small town and the spread of a shadowy illness. Certainly a case of "dust dementia" would explain who (or what) Jack has glimpsed in the Talbot’s abandoned barn -- a sinister figure with a face like rain. In a land where it never rains, it’s hard to trust what you see with your own eyes -- and harder still to take heart and be a hero when the time comes. With phenomenal pacing, sensitivity, and a sure command of suspense, Matt Phelan ushers us into a world where desperation is transformed by unexpected courage.

I asked Matt why his book will appeal to boys. Below is his response; I couldn't agree with him more:

"I think that reading graphic novels (or comics or whatever you like calling them) is a different kind of reading and just as valid as reading a prose book. It involves a balance between the words or dialogue and the pictures, which are equally important (in fact, much of The Storm In The Barn is told through pictures alone). Reading graphic novels requires effort. I think boys are very adept at this kind of reading and my hope is that my book will reward their effort with a thrilling, satisfying story."

When I saw Matt's unique style for the first time, I said, "Wow! I see the ghost of Bill Peet here." When I was a boy, Bill Peet was my favorite writer and illustrator. I bought my daughter a copy of Farewell to Shady Glade before she was even born. During summer break when I was a boy one of my favorite things to do was go to the school library and checkout Bill Peet books. When I was about ten, I got to the checkout counter with my mom, and a very well-meaning librarian said, "He's too old for picture books." I'm still slightly wounded by this remark. Luckily, Mom replied, "He can read anything he want's to." Today, I'm thrilled to find Bill Peet's work on the shelves of bookstores across the US.

I had to ask Matt if Peet influenced his work. Below is Matt's reply to my question:

"I would definitely say Bill Peet was an influence. Not only his books (which I read as a kid) but also his storyboarding work with Disney. There's a great book called Paper Dreams which is all about the Disney story artists and Peet is all over it. His storyboard drawings for Dumbo, Dalmatians, and Jungle Book are amazing!"

Thanks again Matt for your very cool book. It's a tall tale, thriller. I'm sure it will resonate with young readers today and inspire them to seek out other books.