Sunday, December 12, 2010

Harvey by Herve Bouchard and Janice Nadeau

Young Harvey tells of the time in early spring when his father died of a heart attack. He and his little brother Cantin (who is taller than Harvey) raced toothpicks in the gutter after school that day. Harvey draws a dot on his toothpick to represent Scott Carey, the character in the movie The Invisible Man who shrinks so small nobody can see him. When they got home, an ambulance was in front of their house. Later, at the funeral, an uncle lifts Harvey to his shoulders so that he can have one last look at his father in his coffin. The final five wordless double-page spreads show Harvey disappearing.

The story is told through smudgy, delicate illustrations by Janice Nadeau and minimal text by Herve Bouchard. There is a melancholy retro feel to the artwork. In places it becomes abstract, suiting the story perfectly. I liked the subtle repetition of patterns; the village roof tops are echoed by the diamonds on Harvey's father's sweater and these later drift upward (like his essence departing) and then form a starburst with a white void in the middle (perhaps where he's gone into the light).

Harvey won two Governor General awards for French language children's literature last year, one for text and one for art. It was Nadeau's third GG - quite an accomplishment. The book has since been translated, but I haven't seen the English edition yet. I'm curious about the part where Harvey shares his mother's views on the horrors of spring, using the word "maudite" (damn) eleven times.

Harvey was recently the subject of discussion on the Graphic Novel Librarians list. The concerns centered around where this book is best shelved in a library. After reading the book, I'd say that its main audience is children in Grade 4 - 7. A review in CM Magazine recommends it for Grade 3 - 8. Edmonton Public Library has it with the children's books. In the USA, it appears to be going into teen collections. One person recommended that adults are the likely audience, calling this a challenging book. A librarian in a middle school (Grade 5-8) decided this book was entirely unsuitable for their collection, due to "an entire page being devoted to unnecessary language." (Which would be the one full of maudite).

What I found disturbing was a post by another middle school librarian who said they are keeping it behind the desk at her school for at least a year. The reasoning is that a student at the school lost a parent to a heart attack 6 months earlier and they don't want this student to come across the book as he browses the graphic novel shelves. I sincerely hope that someone at that particular library will take the book from behind the counter and book talk it to the bereaved student, giving him the opportunity to share Harvey's sadness. It would likely help any grieving young person to feel less alone.

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