Oct 24 2012
Nathan Hale is the illustrator of the Rapunzel’s Revenge & Calamity Jack graphic novels with Shannon Hale (no relation — she’s also the author of several critically acclaimed YA novels). Mr. Hale has now decided to leverage his fortuitous name (identical to that of a certain historical figure), to create a series of graphic novels for kids about American history. He calls these books Nathan Hale’s Hazardous Tales, and I am here to tell you that in my opinion they are absolutely brilliant.
The first two titles in the series are One Dead Spy and Big Bad Ironclad, published by Amulet Books (a division of Abrams). They are narrated by the historical Nathan Hale, with a hangman and a British guard as his fictional audience / peanut gallery. He first tells his own story (One Dead Spy) and then the story of the major naval clashes of the Civil War (Big Bad Ironclad!). With a deft touch for cutting away everything extraneous, and a healthy helping of silliness to spice things up, the two Nathans make these tales accessible and fun in a way that had me laughing and shaking my head with admiration all the way through. This is the point in my review where I have to admit that American history is my Achilles Heel. In school I excelled at most academic subjects, including math, science, and English. But American history I almost failed twice. For some reason I find it difficult to retain historical information, and American history in particular. Some of my friends are gasping with shock here, but yes it’s true, my brain and American History are like reversed magnets, oil and water, republicans and democrats, truth and advertising… you get the idea.
I am not exaggerating when I say that Nathan Hale’s Hazardous Tales are the most engaging history books I’ve ever read. Quite possibly a real history buff would argue that this is “dumbed down history” but if so then maybe that is just what some of us need. The books are not lacking in historical detail — they’re actually quite dense. I’d say they pack significantly more factual punch than Larry Gonick’s critically-acclaimed History of the Universe for example, while being just as funny, and narratively more compelling (I love Gonick’s work, but it doesn’t really stick with me. Hale’s effort seems, so far, to be sticking better). In short, these are books I wish I’d written, and I will definitely be looking for the next installment.