Saturday, February 18, 2012

Book Review- The Jungle Book



Released at the end of January, I couldn't get to The Jungle Book until recently. Published by Campfire, this is a part of their classics series. Adapting this piece of beloved literature was put into the hands of scribe Dan Johnson, who also worked on Campfire's Robinson Crusoe and Oliver Twist. Dan has been a regular at our library's last two mini-cons and has already said he plans on making the trip to this year's event on June 15. Knowing that, I still decided to give a very honest assessment of what did and did not work in this version of the Jungle Book. So here goes...


If your only experience with the Jungle Book is the Disney animated film, then you will find there is much to discover and enjoy in this book. It has been awhile since I read through Rudyard Kipling's collection of animal tales, but this one takes the stories of Mowgli, a baby adopted by a pack of wolves and raised by the Law of the Jungle. While he is being raised among the wolves and being educated by Baloo the bear and watched over by Bagheera the panther, there is always the knowledge looming that Shere Khan the tiger is waiting to kill Mowgli. Shere Khan is referred to as being lame. This doesn't make him weak, it just means he is not fast enough to hunt like other tigers. Shere Khan feeds off of the easy pickings of livestock and humans. His lack of speed also means the tiger will stand and fight, and no creature in the jungle wants to have to go toe-to-toe with a predator of that size. This makes Shere Khan a great villain- ruthless, self-important, exploiting the weaknesses of others to his gain, acting on the belief that might makes right, and failing to face and adapt to his own weakness.

Dan Johnson does a fantastic job of turning long, descriptive narrative by Kipling and breaking it into three parts- setting, dialogue, and action. The print version of the Jungle Book needs those added passages of description and background to make the story clear. Johnson knows that with a visual + written format, not as much of this is needed. He can get to the business of telling the story with a high pace, or with emotional moments played out in the dialogue between characters.

Amit Tayal illustrates this story. The look he choose for this book was cartoonish- moving at times towards a Sergio Aragones style. It didn't really work for me at first, but then I realized it would've looked sillier if realistic, beautifully rendered animals were seeming to speak to the man-cub. Tayal's pencils really come alive when there is an action sequence to draw, creating tension even when you know what is going to happen.

Overall, the Jungle Book is well-written and holds your attention over the span of 104 pages. The art may take some getting used to, but if it grows on you this will be a very enjoyable read. If it doesn't, the book will still be a great introduction to a great piece of literature. Plus, there are several pages of extra trivia and background information and a nice poster kids can put on their wall. I give The Jungle Book a hearty 8 out of 10 points.


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