Amulet, Book One: The Stonekeeper (Scholastic/Graphix)

amulet-header.gifThis all-ages series from the editor of the Flight anthologies may tread on familiar territory, but its unique creatures and fantastic artwork should be a hit with children and adults alike.

 

 

188 pgs. FC; $9.99

(W / A: Kazu Kibuishi)

 

Kazu Kibuishi is perhaps best known as the editor of the Flight anthologies, first for Image and then for Villard, but those who actually read the table of contents know that he has also been a contributor to each installment. His short stories have always been among the best in each new edition of Flight, but his talent, both in telling a story and in drawing, seemed to be overshadowed by his role as editor.  His new book, however, is a solo effort, giving him the chance to prove his mettle as both writer and artist in a longer work.

To any fan of children’s literature, Amulet‘s plot will be very familiar; it is definitely not breaking new ground when it comes to its core concept. The book features a young girl named Emily who suffers the tragic loss of a parent and is thus forced to move with her remaining family members to a creepy old house in the middle of nowhere which has been in the family for years. Once there she discovers that someone from her family has a connection to another world, a world of fantasy and magic, and it is her destiny to continue to serve as that link between our world and theirs.

The cover to Amulet, Book One, by Kazu Kibuishi. Click for a larger image.Amulet‘s beginnings clearly parallel many other examples of children’s fare throughout the years, with everything from the Narnia books to Harry Potter following similar tropes. But even if Amulet doesn’t have the most original of starting points,  what is much more important for a novel aimed at children is that the fantasy world it’s set in must seem unique and engages their imaginations. An audience, especially an audience of younger readers, can accept a familiar idea if it’s dressed up in a new and interesting way.

It is in this regard that Amulet shines, for Kibuishi has worked painstakingly to make the world of Amulet stand out from the familiar. He has built up a world filled with intriguing creatures, like gaseous blobs which float and hover menacingly over Emily and her brother Navin, or scary, disgusting walking octopi with huge mouths and windows in their sides. Amulet also contains a number of incredibly interesting locations, such as a house with a glowing tree growing in its foyer, a dwelling which also doubles as a giant mechanoid. This kind of stuff instantly wows the audience, be they kids or adults.

Kibushi also recognizes, like most great children’s authors do, that kids don’t always care as much about plot exposition if they get sucked into what they’re reading. He wastes no time telling us why things are happening (or even WHAT is happening) and simply chucks us into the story, knowing that once the action grabs hold, we’ll stick around for the explanations later in the series. While this lack of plot detail regarding where the mysterious amulet Emily finds originated or why Emily’s family is connected to this other world might frustrate older audience members, kids are sure to just go along for the ride.

Amulet wins us over with its whimsical tone, very similar to that seen in Kibuishi’s earlier contributions to Flight. The character Miskit, first introduced as a hulking figure in a dark trenchcoat, intimidating and large, initially frightens the children, but this image is turned on its head as he rescues the kids from trouble and reveals his true self to them: a rabbit inside a mechanized man suit. The book charms us with its sense of wonder and makes us feel safe, so that even when the story goes to some very dark places, we feel comfortable in the knowledge that everything is going to turn out OK in the end.

Contributing heavily to that comfort is the craftsmanship Kibuishi puts into his art. The character designs mentioned above are truly astounding, and the color palette in his work is rich and textured. The fantasy world of Amulet is at times awash in grays and browns, making it seem drab or perhaps even a bit terrifying, but the most fantastic elements of it shine in bright pastels of pink or yellow, so they stand out even more from the ordinary world around them. As the main character, Emily clearly needs to be delineated from every other character, and Kibuishi clothes her in a lavender hooded sweatshirt that automatically attracts the eye on the page.

All told, while older audiences might find parts of Amulet to be old hat, the book’s true audience, children, are sure to devour the book and be begging for more, and even cynical adults will be won over by the unique creatures and fantastic art. Amulet seems the kind of story that, given time to grow, could find a place amongst the ranks of the greatest fantasy series for young adults, as highly regarded as another children’s comics its publisher Graphix is releasing, Jeff Smith’s Bone. | Steve Higgins

Fore previews, character bios, and more, visit http://www.scholastic.com/amulet/

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