The Girl Loves Ink | Amadeo, Maladeo, and Reading Ladders

Inspired by R.O. Blechman’s Amadeo & Maladeo, Catherine explores the idea of the right read for the right reader at the right time.

Back in February, I was mailed a copy of Amadeo & Maladeo by R.O. Blechman to review. I got the opportunity to sit down with adorably-sized graphic novel for a few hours when the family car went in for what I was hoping would be a quick oil change and lookover. What it turned into was six hours of me, armed with Amadeo & Maladeo, Starfire, and my comic pulls for the week, hanging out in the lobby of my local TiresPlus while I waited for a hose to be delivered from a car dealership because there was a gigantic hole in my current one. Not even the mechanics could tell me what happened and my little Chevy Sonic was the piece of fascinating news for the morning and early afternoon.

So. Amadeo & Maladeo.

amadeo-maladeo-headerPublished earlier this year by Fantagraphics, Amadeo & Maladeo: A Musical Duet is the tale of two children set against the background of the late 1700s in Europe and North America, it is a tale of two musical geniuses and where their talent takes them, it is a tale of fate. The things that I loved about this graphic novel were the same things that I disliked about it. When paging through the novel, the observable illustrations are easily consumed and the vocabulary is easy, barring the occasional non-English word. At times, I felt like I wanted to seal the book in wrapping paper and send it to a friend who is about to be a father, but the use of extensive geographical location and other choices in the vocabulary of the story also make it inaccessible to a younger child. I could definitely see Amadeo & Maladeo being a graphic novel that a child could grow with. The opening chapter is titled “The Child Prodigy” and looking over the book now, I feel like that perfectly sums up the audience that would most appreciate this novel.

That being said, the book deals with many themes that would more than likely go over the head of a child: children born outside of wedlock, debt, death, homelessness, vanity, and human trafficking (and the happy, narrow escape from). All of these things are explored in a fashion that is easily understood with a staying power that leaves you thinking about particular scenes a month after you’ve read the novel. This trait is best demonstrated by the clear, plastic book sleeve that wraps around the novel’s exterior. On the book sleeve is a statue that evokes Amadeus Mozart, if he ever smiled, and the praise for the novel, and when you remove the book sleeve, underneath is what could be considered the shadow of that same statue and the synopsis of the book.

So, there I was, sitting in TiresPlus, thinking about this book I just finished reading. Reading books lately has been a herculean struggle because I’ve moved into that phase of after-undergrad where I’m cranky because I want to go back to school—and cranky because finding a job is not nearly as easy as they make it out to be (those jerks). Due to my current temperament, I find myself thinking of ways to pull school into what I happen to be doing at the time and Amadeo & Maladeo ended up being the perfect solution for something that had plagued me during my last semester of school: a reading ladder for graphic novels.

amadeo-maladeoThe idea of a reading ladder is that someone starts at the very bottom and as they continue to read, they read more and more difficult content, hopefully branching out into other authors, genres, etc. In my young adult literature class, we had to construct reading ladders and I chose to build mine strictly using graphic novels and comic books (which was a challenge in some places and a total joke in others). A part where it was a challenge, for me, was figuring out a good solid foundational text that would be accessible enough for a younger reader to enjoy, but also challenge them the way that a non-graphic text might—there’s a whole debate around whether graphic novels are easier or harder to read than non-graphic texts, and between you and me, I think it’s totally silly.


I was able to come up with one author, at the time, that really nails accessible graphic novels: Raina Telgemeier. Her art is easy on the eyes, the coloring tends to not be overly flashy, and the stories are applicable to the audience reading it. While Amadeo & Maladeo may not be exactly applicable, I am really happy that I can add R.O. Blechman and his graphic novel to my list of authors and books that can be used to build a solid and strong graphic novel reading foundation without having to sacrifice staying power. | Catherine Bathe

To learn more or to read a brief excerpt of Amadeo & Maladeo: A Musical Duet, visit

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