Thursday, September 05, 2013

Books in 2013: #24 Hyena in Petticoats by Willow Dawson

Another graphic novel book club pick, Hyena in Petticoats is an historical graphic novel detailing the life of Nellie McClung, Canada's pioneer in the women's suffragette movement. McClung is a fascinating character whom most Canadians probably only know from those infamous 1990s Canadian Heritage Minute commercials:

I fortunately had great Canadian history teachers in school who covered McClung extensively, so I knew quite a bit about her, especially that wonderful mock Parliament that they show in the commercial above.

Dawson's book covers all the major points of her political career: her attempts to be heard, gathering various other strong women together who believed in the right of women to vote, her difficulties with the Premier, and her ultimate victory. In our graphic novel group discussion, many of the other participants didn't like Dawson's illustrations, but I love them. The square heads and round rosy cheeks are very specific to Dawson's style, and I think she's an immensely talented artist and writer. However, I thought the story itself was a little bland, and when I was reading it I wondered if maybe it was more suited to a younger readership. It was with much satisfaction that I turned it over at the end and realized it's in Penguin's Puffin series, meaning it was intended for younger readers. In that case, I think it's the perfect book to hand off to my daughter when she's about 10. One nitpick: I'm not sure what kind of personal autobiographical information is available on McClung, but where Dawson goes over in detail the historical side of McClung, she glosses over very quickly some shocking moments, such as, "And then her husband was put in a sanatorium..." "And then her son killed himself..." When those moments happened (usually shown as a single frame with no more explanation) I couldn't help but think, "What?! What happened to her son? How did that affect her?" But alas, there was nothing more. I'm unsure of whether it was omitted because of a dearth of detail about anything surrounding the afflictions, or if Dawson was asked to pare that material down for a younger readership?

In any case, the pictures are delightful, the story is a good one to pass on to a younger generation, and this is great subject matter. Note to the publisher: publish Dawson's work in full colour! In colour, her pictures are even more glorious than they are in black and white.

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