Saturday, August 02, 2008

Into the Volcano by Don Wood

Into the Volcano
by Don Wood (Yes, that Don Wood, of Don and Audrey Wood fame.)
Blue Sky Press (a Scholastic Imprint)
October, 2008
appropriate for grade 3 and up
review copy compliments of Sally at Cover to Cover

This week I've reviewed some books that made me say, "WOW!" mostly (only?) because I know they will reach some of the readers in my classroom. And I've reviewed some very simple graphic novels that will give beginning readers an appropriate early experience with the graphic novel format.

Now it's time for a book (a graphic novel) that makes me say an unconditional, "WOW!"

A WOW in every way, shape and form.

A chin-drop, I'm-gaga sort of WOW.

Don Wood's Into the Volcano is visually stunning and has a story that is packed with action, adventure, mystery, and surprises.

Quick plot summary to set the stage: Two brothers are suddenly taken out of school by their father and told they must travel to a volcanic island to help an aunt they've never met. Once they get there, they are taken on an expedition that involves a boat ride into an erupting volcano and a journey through underground lava-tube tunnels. All the while, the volcano is shaking the entire island and rivers of lava are blocking the exits.

Background on how this book came to be (excerpted from the editorial director's "Dear Reader" letter in the front of the ARC, and Don Wood's bio in the back):
"Don and Audrey Wood left California seven years ago and moved to the jungle side of a Hawaiian Island...Don and Audrey introduced us [editor and her son] to the wonders of their jungle life: late-night hikes to see Madame Pele splash her molten lava into the sea; an awesome hike through a lava tube that was formed in the 1400s and was 60 feet below the surface of the land..."

"Don Wood...lives surrounded by tropical jungle, not far from one of the longest lava tubes in the world. As the nearby active volcano pours rivers of lava into the ocean, Don and his wife, bestselling writer Audrey Wood, frequently hike at night across newly formed terrain to watch molten lava enter the sea. Don and Audrey hand-cleared a space int eh jungle themselves to build and off-grid house overlooking the ocean. A surfer and sailor, Wood also dives and kayaks around the island, and enjoys hiking through ancient lava tubes."
I had to tell you all of that so you would know why the art in this book is so stunning -- Wood didn't imagine it, he's lived it. And best of all, he takes us places and shows us sights we would never in all of our lives be able to see in person: waves (small gentle, huge crashing, gigantic washing-over-the-boat, and perfect-for-surfing waves), beaches of green sand, lava flowing, lava hitting water, a pod of whales blowing under a moonbow, untamed jungle. And we get to experience it through the characters the way he has: boating, climbing, spelunking, and surfing.

As important as the setting is in this book, Wood does not neglect character. The main characters are complex, and they change in satisfying ways. The supporting cast is a bunch of characters. Literally.

This story is perfectly suited to the format of graphic novel. There is no way it would have worked as a text-only novel and the story is too mature for a picture book. This book is not to be missed.

Early glowing review at Educating Alice is what caught my attention.

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