Friday, March 13, 2009

Into the Volcano by Don Wood - review

Into the Volcano by Don Wood

Into the Volcano is an intense mystery-adventure coming-of-age chapter book in comic book style - something of a departure for Don Wood, the illustrator of such picture books as Piggies and The Napping House.

Two brothers, Duffy and Sumo, visit their mysterious aunt in Hawaii, who sends them off on a perilous expedition into the bowels of an erupting volcano, accompanied by strangers whose skills are obvious, but whose trustworthiness is not.

The dangers faced by the boys are terrifying, especially an interlude during which Sumo, wracked by guilt and indecision after he thinks his brother has fallen to his death, is trapped in the dark on an underground cliff, and is visited by the specter of Death. That the children have been exposed to such peril knowingly by the adult who has been entrusted with their care is a dark vein running through the story.

A prose book with this content would probably be suitable for children in grades 3 to 5, and in fact, Sumo and Duffy appear to be no older than nine or ten, but Wood’s artwork brings the perils they face into startling focus, making the book more suitable for grades 5 to 7.

Keenly observed depictions of the Hawaiian landscape and geological processes lend an impressive veracity to this exciting and unusual offering; Into the Volcano is a rare example of a graphic novel for young people that is neither manga nor mainstream.

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