If David Macaulay fictionalized medieval family life in a plague year, he might produce something like this solemn graphic narrative, set in 1348. In pen-and-ink panels notable for their architectural renderings, Decker describes "one small girl in a time of great fear," when "the gates of the city were locked to keep the Pestilence out." The anonymous girl, a carpenter's daughter, lives humbly, surrounded by windswept fields, sagging barns and thatch-roofed cottages. When her father falls ill and soldiers quarantine their home, the girl's mother helps her escape, saying, "Run far, run fast." Wandering along dirt roads, through wolf-infested forests, the girl seeks safety in fortified towns and with an enigmatic guardian, the narrator. Readers may guess the purpose of this man's birdlike mask; several people disaffectedly display the swollen nodes that signal plague. Throughout, Decker evokes the paranoid ambience, if not the gruesomeness, of death-ridden villages. Handwritten exposition appears on the verso pages, while uncaptioned, tightly spaced thumbnail sketches on the recto pages chart the girl's travels. But while Decker sets the stage gracefully, his drawings of people are awkward. Mitten hands and blank, oval faces suffice for secondary characters, but the central girl's face conveys only indistinct sorrow. As in his The Letter Home , an idiosyncratic account of WWI, Decker imagines a famously horrific situation and replaces terror with unsettling quietude. Ages 10-up. (Oct.)[Page 63]. Copyright 2007 Reed Business Information.
Gr 4 Up-- When the Pestilence strikes her father, a 10-year-old girl is told by her mother to, "Run far, run fast." Readers accompany her on a perilous journey of survival, and learn, just as she does, about the devastating effects of the plague. Decker combines elements of a picture book and graphic novel, alternating a more traditional text page with one of a central image surrounded by vignettes. Interestingly, the people are drawn with no mouths. Striking pen-and-ink illustrations tell more of the story than the spare text. For instance, on the opening page, a map of Western Europe with a fateful date in Roman numerals (1348) establishes the setting. Children are playing ring around the rosy on vignettes framing an image of the pope surrounding himself with fire in an attempt to ward off the plague. The grays and blacks convey the grim nature of the text, and nothing is spared in the illustrations. There are depictions of death and of the persecution of certain individuals thought to be responsible for the disease: stark images of people being put into barrels and floated downstream. Readers, along with the protagonist, may not understand all that is happening, but if they do go on to read about the Black Death, they will no doubt recognize events pictured here. The doctor is identifiable by his traditional medieval mask with a distinctive pointed nose. Though ineffective in combating or even understanding the plague, the man offers kindness and some small hope at the end of this book. An intriguing title.--Robin L. Gibson, Granville Parent Cooperative Preschool, OH[Page 116]. Copyright 2008 Reed Business Information.