Last Saturday Brian and I did the Graphically Speaking program of the Keep Toronto Reading Festival. This is the second year we’ve done this comics-workshop for kids and both times it was a lot of fun.  We had about 25 in attendance and I’m kicking myself for not taking photos because we had some really creative little people drawing with us.  I’ll remember for next year.

As part of the festival, we’ve been asked to share our favourite books and honestly, it’s really a lot harder to narrow it down than I thought it would be. There are so many great ones out there so I’m doing my top 5:

In God We Trust, All Others Pay Cash
By Jean Shepherd

More people know this book than they realize.  It contains all of the essays that made up the screenplay for the movie, The Christmas Story and many more. I love Shepherd’s observations and almost tactile descriptives.   It’s a very humourous look at life for a kid in depression-era mid-western America.  There is an abridged version simply called “A Christmas Story”, it’s also on a wonderful audio book  read by Dick Cavett.  If you’re a Shepherd fan, itunes has a terrific collection of his radio show The Brass Figlagee.  It’s free and one of my favourite things to listen to while I’m drawing.

A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court
By Mark Twain

You just can’t go wrong with Mark Twain.  I really enjoy his short stories, it’s the most fun to read his stuff with a southern accent in your mental narrative, but I think of all his work that I’ve read, A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court is by far my favourite.  It’s got it all, adventure, humour, time-travel and those entertaining segways and attention to details that are so characteristic of Twain’s writing.

The Best Christmas Pageant Ever
By Barbara Robinson

I think I have read this book every year since the third grade, it’s become a big part of my Christmas traditions.  It’s a children’s book, about a hundred pages so it’s a short read but completely delightful and has by far the best opening paragraph of any book I have ever read;

“The Heardmans were absolutely the worst kids in the history of the world.  They lied and stole and smoked cigars (even the girls) and talked dirty and hit little kids and cussed their teachers and took the lord’s name in vain and set fire to Fred Shoemaker’s old broken-down tool house.”

Robinson’s narrative is a lot like Shepherd’s and so is the familiarity with the characters.  I’m pretty sure everyone knew (or were) kids like the Heardmans in their neighbourhood.  It helps if you’re familiar with the Christmas story, and even funnier if you’ve ever been in a nativity pageant.  (I was the angel of the angel of the lord in mine, anyone who knows me will see the irony in that.)

Y The Last Man
By Brian K. Vaughan

Moving on to some of my favourite comics and graphic novels, Y The Last Man is definitely one that  stands out.  Absolutely not a kid’s book.  It’s a post-apocalyptic story about a plague that wipes out all of the male creatures (the Y chromosome) on earth except one man and his monkey.  Excellent adventure and not at all what I expected.  When a friend of mine referred it to me I could only imagine what the last man on earth would be up to, but that’s not how it goes at all.  Lots of secret service, secret society, waring gangs and family conflicts really flush out the whole story.  It’s hard to put down and there are at least ten volumes that I know of now.

The Calvin and Hobbes lazy Sunday book : a collection of Sunday Calvin and Hobbes cartoons
By Bill Waterson

No comics lover should miss out on Calvin and Hobbes.  It’s a wonderful series of comics about a boy and his imaginary/stuffed tiger Hobbes.  Of the entire collection this book is probably my favourite.  Partially because it was a gift from my best friend but mostly because it’s got the strip in it where Calvin is making faces because he doesn’t like his dinner and that cracks me up…come to think of it, there were quite a few where Calvin didn’t want to eat his dinner so I’m sure there are some in the other books as well, but this one is still my pick of the litter.

That’s it, the top five…I could go on and before I wrap this up I should probably give a shout-out for Robert Sabuda’s pop-up books.  I don’t care what age you are, these books (The Wizard of Oz in particular) are beautiful.  The pop-ups on each page are so perfectly illustrated and so intricately engineered, I find something new every time I open one. Oh! And the Hornblower books, if you like Historical fiction! They’re great too, (the BBC did an excellent job on the series) and on the nautical theme, if you haven’t read Treasure Island yet, stop whatever you’re doing and go get it, while you’re at the library, you’ll also want to get the License to Grill book the food network put out.  It’s AWESOME and Bar-B-Q season is upon us!