Friday, February 5, 2010

Riveting Reads: The Bone Series

I get that one of my major flaws as a book review columnist is that I tend to flock toward popular adolescent literature. But…it’s my job! It’s in my nature. I’m an educator; a high school teacher who specializes in teaching struggling readers. In one class, for example, I teach about fifteen sophomores, all of which hate reading. I’m not talking about mild discomfort around books. No, I mean these kids loathe reading. They loathe the very act of picking up something—anything—with words on it. Motivating this particular class is like trying to get them to rip out their own teeth with a rusty spoon. (In fact, I’m willing to bet that many would consider that a viable alternative to reading.) So, I spend a good portion of my life hunting down, slicing open, and devouring the meat of good adolescent literature. No apologies.
I don’t just want your kids to read. I want them to love to read!

That said, here’s my latest endorsement:
Get a copy of any of the books in the Bone series (Scholastic: Graphix, 2005) written and illustrated by Jeff Smith. It’s a graphic novel series appropriate for teens! What do I mean by that? The violence (blood, guts, and gore) is almost non-existent, and the women in the series aren’t…bursting out of their costumes, so to speak. And if you’re one of those who think reading graphic novels is a step backward for your struggling reader, please be aware that almost all, if not all, elements of literature can be applied to graphic novels. Most themes are equivalent to themes in classics, and graphic novels with their masterful art and thrilling plots are infinitely more captivating to teens; the Bone series included.

There are nine books the series beginning with Out from Boneville. In the beginning of the series three bone-shaped and colored cousins, Phoney Bone, Smiley, and Fone Bone get kicked out of Boneville because of Phoney’s “shady business deals”. They quickly become lost and wind up in a bizarre valley full of giant bugs, scores of locusts, a red dragon, a cow-racing grandma, and the love-able, yet vicious, quiche-loving rat creatures. Fone Bone even meets and falls in love with a girl named Thorn, who incidentally is the key to saving the world from the sinister King Dok and the locust-orchestrator, the Hooded One.

Artistically, Bone is unparalleled. The illustrations of the rat creatures are layered with personality. On one panel, the rat creatures can look like furry fat bowling pins with red-eyes like jewels and ears that express emotion much like a dog’s: perked for curiosity or stooped for subordination. They converse innocently about quiche (usually) and for a moment you just want to buy one of those cute-little guys for your kid. However, in the next panel, Smith transforms them into feral beasts! The rat creatures snarl to reveal a mouth full of dagger-sized fangs. In this same stance their eyes slant slightly back, their claws seem to double in length, and their ears take on a horned-shape like a devil. And if I’m not doing it justice, trust me! Smith is a brilliant author and artist.

Find the complete Bone series in one huge omnibus for forty bucks at or purchase the series from scholastic or at your local bookstore. Also, for mature readers, Jeff Smith writes graphic novel series called Rasl.

Enjoy. These books won’t put you or your kid to sleep like the way say…Moby Dick might. (That comment merits a wink-wink for the die-hard Bone fans.)

(As published in The Foothill Breeze Feb. 3, 2010)

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