Giants Beware: kids' graphic novel that will delight adults too

Rafael Rosado and Jorge Aguirre's Giants Beware is an absolutely delightful kids' graphic novel about a brave young girl who dragoons her friends into going off in search of giants to hunt. Claudette and her friends live in the fortress town of Mont Petit Pierre, whose most famous story is of how the old marquis vanquished a horrible giant who terrorized the town by feasting on babies' toes, chasing it back to its mountain lair and then building the walls around the town to keep it out (and the people in) forever. Claudette can't fathom how the old marquis could have been so irresponsible as to leave the giant alive and still a threat to Mont Petit Pierre, and she is determined to hunt the giant down and kill it. She enlists the aid of her little brother, a timid boy called Gaston (who yearns to be a pastry chef) and her pal Marie, the current marquis's daughter, who plans to become a princess some day, and trains for it by lying on piles of mattresses with peas beneath them and suchlike.

Claudette and Gaston's father is the town blacksmith and a former hero himself, until a misadventure with a dragon cost him his legs and one arm. Now he works with a stoic (but kindly) assistant, and is gruff and fierce, and somewhat disapproving of his son's lack of machismo. The kids conspire to distract him so they can get into his secret stash and raid his hero supplies and equip themselves to stalk and kill the giant of the mountain. The smith's assistant catches them at it, and gives them a bag of magic to help with their quest. Only he takes them seriously — everyone else assumes they're only playing when they say they're setting off to find the giant, until it's too late, and everyone realizes the kids have gone outside the town walls. The smith and his assistant set off after them, as does the current marquis, a fat bourgeois who promises the local farmers a daily stipend to help him.

What follows is an utterly charming, action-packed quest story with loads of surprises, and high and low comedy, and bravery and tension. The kids are really likable, and the action and humor are both broad enough to amuse even small children and witty and sly enough to keep their parents laughing and gasping too. I read Giants Beware aloud to my four year old, along with her nine-year-old friend, and they demanded a re-read. I was only too happy to oblige — there was plenty more to enjoy in a second look at the terrific art and the joke-packed layouts.

The story pays off in lots of ways. There's a nice little moral about the dangers of provincialism, a good message about living up to one's fears, and a lot of hints at a broader story about Claudette's father's tragedy and the loss of her mother that make it clear that this story doesn't inhabit a vacuum, but rather is situated in a big, thought-through world. As a graphic novel, Giants Beware fires on every cylinder: comedy and story, art and layout, surprise and characterization. It's one of those rare books that kids and grownups can fully enjoy together — a real treat.

You can get a taste for the book at the Chronicles of Claudette blog.

Giants Beware