Skip to main content

Bluffton: My Summers with Buster, written and illustrated by Matt Phelan, 240 pp, RL: 4

Bluffton: My Summers with Buster is the newest graphic novel from Matt Phelan. This is Phelan's third graphic novel, The Storm in the Barn and Around the World, being the first two. All three of these books are set in the past, featuring historical events and figures who left their mark on the world, if not changed it outright. With Bluffton, Phelan tells a more personal story as he did in The Storm in the Barn, with a fictional protagonist watching history unfold around him. It's the summer of 1908 in Muskegon, Michigan, the summer they arrived.

The text, and even the plot itself, in Bluffton is sparse, Phelan's illustrations doing the work of telling the story, setting the scene and evoking a feeling. Henry, the son of a hardware store owner, watches as the vaudevillians arrive to spend the summer in Bluffton, a nearby town on the edge of the lake. Henry wants to follow the laughing, colorful people, the elephant and the boy who does backflips, but the trolley is full. Eventually, Henry makes his way out to Bluffton where he makes fast friends with Buster. Henry soon learns who Buster is and what his family does for a living and he want to know more, maybe even learn a bit from Buster. But Buster is reluctant, telling Henry that it's very easy to get hurt.

Henry is angered by this and his jealousy almost alienates Buster, but Buster's joy at having a summer free from work and free to play is hard to ignore. The boys play baseball, pull pranks and skip rocks across the lake, scenes and stories from Buster's life are interspersed with these moments. The vaudevillians leave the Actor's Colony at the end of summer, but the impression Buster leaves on Henry is long lasting.

Henry decides to develop an act for the town talent show that leads to some subtle but profound realizations about  time, place and innate personalities. Phelan's touch is gentle, both with his story and his gorgeous watercolor illustrations. He gives the readers just enough information about Buster Keaton to pique their interests with an Author's Note that points readers toward resources to explore for further examples of Keaton's genius. As he did with Around the World, Phelan masterfully presents young readers with a lyrical vision of a talented person who accomplished something great, inspiring them to learn more about the subject. I know I'm going to queue up some Buster Keaton movies to watch after reading Bluffton: My Summers with Buster.

Source: Review Copy


Popular posts from this blog

Made by Dad: 67 Blueprints for Making Cool Stuff - Projects You Can Build For (and With) Kids! by Scott Bedford

On his personal website, Scott Bedforddescribes himself as an "Award Winning Online Creative Professional" working within the advertising and design industry. What is more interesting (and applicable here) is how hisWhat I Made website came to be. While sitting in a Starbucks with his restless young sons, trying to enjoy his latte, Bedford created something out of coffee stir sticks that ended up keeping his boys entertained, finishing his coffee in peace and sparking (re-sparking, really) his creative drive and reminding him of the "enormous joy gained from making things, even simple things, and that this joy is not the complexity or quality of the finished project but in the process of making itself. On Bedford'sWhat I Made website, he even shares Six Cool Coffee Shop Crafts for Kidsthat you can try out next time you want to enjoy your coffee and your kids are making that difficult. I've shared two below - be sure to check out the website and see the rest!


POP-UP: Everything You Need to Know to Create Your Own Pop-Up Book, paper engineering by Ruth Wickings, illustrations by Frances Castle RL: All ages

POP-UP:  Everything You Need to Know to Create Your Own Pop-Up Book with paper engineering by Ruth Wickings and illustrations by Frances Castle is THE COOLEST BOOK EVER!!!  I know that I haven't dedicated much time to pop-up books here, but they have always held a special place in my heart, and the phrase "paper engineering" is a favorite of mine. Although I didn't know what it was at the time, I did go through a paper engineering phase when I was ten or so. I would sneak off to the back of the classroom during independent work periods and go to town on the construction paper and glue and make these little free-standing dioramas. A huge fan of The Muppet Show (the original), I reconstructed the all-baby orchestra from an episode, drawing and coloring each baby and his/her instrument then gluing them onto a 3D orchestra section I had crafted out of brown construction paper.  I also made a 3D version of Snidely Whiplash throwing Nell off a cliff with Dudley Do-Right wa…

The Seeing Stick, written by Jane Yolen, illustrated by Daniela J Terrazini

The Seeing Stick is an original Chinese fairy tale written by the prolific (and prolifically award winning) Jane Yolen. First published in 1977 with illustrations by Remy Charlip (author and illustrator of the brilliantly fun picture book Fortunately and friend and muse to Brian Selznick, who asked him to pose as George Méliès while he was working on the Caldecott winning The Invention of Hugo CabretThe Seeing Stick was reissued with new illustrations by Daniela J. Terrazini in 2009. I have not seen Charlip's version, but Terrazini's is a beautiful work of art and the book itself is yet another magnificently packaged book published by Running Press, the house that brought us Steven Arntson's The Wikkeling, yet another superbly and uniquely packaged children's book with artwork by Terrazini. Interestingly, both The Wikkeling and The Seeing Stick were designed by Frances J Soo Ping Chow.

The Seeing Stick begins, "Once in the ancient walled citadel of Peking there l…