Friday, February 15, 2013

Big Bad Ironclad!

The second book in the series of Nathan Hale's Hazardous Tales, Big Bad Ironclad gives an account of the "Anaconda Plan" of General Winfield Scott to cut off the Confederacy's access to supplies and major water routes. This plans kicked off an arms race between North and South. In response to this move, the southern forces attempted to break blockades and were aided in their efforts by the creation of the first ironclad vessel the C.S.S. Virginia (formerly called the U.S.S. Merrimack), which could ram and destroy wooden ships. Faced with this new, devastating technology, the Union was forced to respond with its own upgraded vessels. Their first ironclad vessel, the U.S.S. Monitor, was commissioned into combat in order to turn the course of the naval conflict.

I really enjoyed this book. It and its precursor might just be the best Social Studies focused graphic novels I have ever read. One of the big surprises I got reading this one was just how much I did not know about the people involved in the American Civil War, particularly a complete ignorance of the exploits of William Barker Cushing. He was decorated for multiple acts of bravery on the Union side, for example, sinking an ironclad ship with a spar torpedo. Hale also did an excellent job portraying other notable figures such as Secretary of the Navy Gideon "Father Neptune" Welles, Confederate Navy Secretary Stephen Mallory, Assistant Secretary of the Navy Gustavus Fox, and the innovative Swedish inventor John Ericsson with memorable verve.

Another surprise I got reading this sequel to One Dead Spy was that it was actually completed before the ostensible first book of the series. Creator Nathan Hale also has drawn two other graphic novels, Rapunzel's Revenge and its sequel Calamity Jack, as well as a variety of children's books, including Frankenstein: A Monstrous Parody and The Dinosaurs' Night Before Christmas. He shares a lot of fun artwork and news via his blog.

Reviews I have read have been positive, commenting on the crisp art, humor, and well-researched information. Kirkus Reviews called it "livelier than the typical history textbook but sillier than the many outstanding works on the Civil War available for young readers," and added,  "this will appeal to both history buffs and graphic-novel enthusiasts." Degolar offered his opinion, "The book pulled me in and kept me eagerly engaged to the end. And, perhaps most importantly, when I finished I wanted to know more about the people and events depicted." Librarian Laura Given enjoyed the book, writing, "This book grabbed me from the first frame with its goofy hangman character who loves Children's Story Hour - all the way to the back matter where author Nathan Hale admits to outsourcing his research for the book to adorable babies."

Big Bad Ironclad! is published by Amulet Books. There is a preview available at Amazon.

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