Nathan Hale's Hazardous Tales, written and illustrated by Nathan Hale, 128 pp, RL 3

I can't even begin to tell you how much I love Nathan Hale's new series, Nathan Hale's Hazardous Tales! But first, I have to tell you that I do not enjoy reading about history. Any history. I'm not proud of it, but that's the way it is. I need to have my facts wrapped in some kind of fiction and frequently enjoy historical fiction (as my reviews will attest to) but I just don't like reading works of non-fiction. I don't like reading books about battles, either. And, while Nathan Hale's Hazardous Tales have a lot of historical facts and battles (appropriately bloody, meaning just graphic enough to keep boys interested but not awake at night) I find the books in this series to be entirely readable and completely, utterly enjoyable. Besides the awesome, incredible fact that the author/illustrator of this great new series has the same name as the actual historical figure himself, Hale happens to be the superb artist who provided the illustrations for Shannon and Dean Hale's (no relation) excellent graphic novels Rapunzel's Revenge and Calamity Jack. And, Nathan Hale has a ridiculously creative imagination and a great sense of humor. I laughed out loud over and over as I read One Dead Spy, the first book in the series.

Nathan Hale, the creator of Nathan Hale's Hazardous Tales, not the historical figure, is a bit like the Sneaky Chef, slipping spinach into brownies. Hale's books are surprisingly full of historical information, from maps to a fantastic "A Little More Biographical Info About . . ." section at the end of the book that shows portraits, paintings and sculptures of the people mentioned in the book, birth and death dates and other pertinent information. Hale, the author, not the spy, also provides a two-page comic that doubles as a bibliography, in which he introduces the people who helped get this book to the shelves, from his editor and art director at Ambrams Amulet to his agent to the Correction Babies who run the research lab that makes sure all of the facts in Hale's books are accurate. Yes, that's right, I said Correction Babies. They run the "World's first history department staffed entirely by adorable babies!" I have no idea how Hale got the idea for this bit, but it is hilarious especially because the babies are so serious. There is even a Correction Baby. As Hale writes, "Our babies do exceleny research, I've heard it is almost 76% accurtate. When we DO get something wrong in the book, our CORRECTION BABY sees that it gets fixed." Correction Baby is super-cute and very funny and answers five questions in the first book and five in book 2, Big Bad Iron Clad! Also, you can actually send an email to Correction Baby and she will answer! I wanted to know if Nathan Hale really had a big mole on his neck and Correction Baby confirmed that, not only did he have a mole, but kids really did tease him about it. But, I'm getting ahead of myself! 

It is crucial that readers begin the series with the first book, One Dead Spy, in which Hale sets up the delicious outer layer that makes consuming these historical facts so yummy. The book begins on September 22nd, in Manhattan, New York, as Nathan Hale is about to be hung for spying against the King. Nathan Hale, the Hangman and the Provost are the main characters in this outer layer of story. As the Hangman and Hale discuss last words, a Bald Eagle lands in the hanging tree. With a squawk, the Bald Eagle flies down to Hale, a giant book with the title, "The Big Huge Book of American History" appears underneath his feet and he is closed up inside of it. When it opens again moments later, Hale steps out filled with all the past and present historical knowledge of America. He uses this knowledge to buy himself time, telling the extremely interested Hangman and the extremely skeptical, agitated Provost tales of our country's future triumphs. Brilliant! Hale leavens the intensity and the boring bits with fascinating facts and humor, usually comic relief from the Hangman. My favorite character in One Dead Spy is Henry Knox, also known as Knox the Ox. A former bookstore owner and military strategist, Knox also served as the first United States Secretary of War. Hale presents Knox as a gung-ho gun enthusiast (he read about them in the books at his bookstore) who can spout facts about artillery like nobody's business. Knox is the man who, after the raid of Fort Ticonderoga, figures out how to get sixty tons of heavy metal across Lake George and the Hudson River, some 300 miles,  and delivered to General Washington for the Siege of Boston. You'll just have to read One Dead Spy to figure out how he does that!

Hale's life story and military career as a spy ends swiftly and sadly, but, thanks to illustrator/author Hale, he has the chance to keep telling stories, delaying his own hanging, in the series Nathan Hale's Hazardous Tales. In book two, Big Bad Ironclad!, we jump ahead to the Civil War and learn about the use of submarines in battle. Again, there is a biographical section, a fantastic bibliography, the "Anaconda Timeline of Will Cushing's Civil War," a History Activity Corner where you can learn how to build the Monitor with "plastic bricks you already have" (ie: Legos), and, yes, the Correction Babies! In Will Cushing, Hale finds another fabulous, funny main character to lead readers through this passage of history. Cushing was kicked out of the Naval Academy for playing pranks, then invited to join the navy as a volunteer when the Civil War started. He was kicked out of the Navy a year later and invited back again, much America's benefit. I need to take a minute here to talk about Hale's skill as a visual story teller. Not only does he have do see his story, scene by scene, setting by setting, as he tells it, he also has to work out the plot and the dialog that appears in the word bubbles. To me it seems a bit like being ambidextrous and being able to write with both hands a the same time. Sitting down and writing a book is one the, but figuring out how to describe your story with words and pictures, knowing what to cut out, what to keep in and what to highlight is amazing to me. Sometimes Hale uses two whole pages to show a scene, sometimes he fits fourteen panels into one page, and it all works. It all tells this amazing story of our country's history. Not only do I admire Hale for his ability to make history interesting to me, but for his masterful, visual storytelling skills that make this graphic novel feel like reading a traditional novel. These books are a whole historical meal, and not lunch - dinner!

Source: Review Copies

I love extra bits in any book, and Hale is especially generous with behind the scenes looks in his new series. I especially loved this page that appears in  Big Bad Ironclad! that shows Hale's past works and talks about his new project.
Nathan Hale and Tom Angleberger, (The Strange Case of the Origami Yoda fame) spent some time together at the recent ALA Convention in Anaheim - in costume! On his blog, Hale shares the story of how, when going to the costume store to buy a tricorn hat, he got talked into the whole deal. When his publisher found out he had this costume, they insisted he wear it to the convention. Promoting his new book Fake Mustache, Tom Angleberger dressed up like Jodie O'Rodeo, the awesome roping, riding heroine of the book for the convention and the two costumed authors spent some time wandering around Downtown Disney where, Hale says, "We didn't look out of place at all."

Angleberger at my localest-indie-bookstore (40 miles away) The Yellow Book Road.

Another little bit from the ALA Convention: Hale, who recently authored the book Frankenstein, a spot-on parody of Madeline by Ludwig Bemelmans, had the above offer going at his booth. Wish I had been there to partake!!

 Speaking of books, look at this spectacular illustration which is the cover art for the 2012 Kids Need to Read wall calendar. KNR is a national non-profit dedicated to promoting childhood literacy and addressing the crisis in library funding that currently exists in the United States. It was started in 2008 by science fiction writer PJ Haarsman, actor Nathon Fillion, and Denise Gary.



And, finally, as the mother of two sons, both of whom have grown up going to Legoland because their Dad grew up playing with the old school blue, red, yellow and white Legos and we live 20 miles away, I just had to share Nathan Hale's Lego versions of his Twelve Bots of Christmas and a photo of his take from the awesome Lego store in Downtown Disney. I have shopped this wall of Legos and filled my own bucket before and it is SO MUCH FUN!!!

Popular posts from this blog

Be a Tree! by Maria Gianferrari illustrated by Felicita Sala

Under Earth, Under Water by Aleksandra Mizielińska and Daniel Mizieliński, 112 pp, RL: ALL AGES

Fox + Chick: The Sleepover and Other Stories by Sergio Ruzzier