BONE #1: Out From Boneville by Jeff Smith
My prior knowledge of the Bone series is this: The school librarian at my K-4 elementary school had a sign hanging by her desk saying that students who wished to take out the Bone books needed parental permission. It was the only series or book that came with this caveat. Not Harry Potter, not Jackie and Me with its repetitive use of the N-word, just Bone.
The very first book in the series does not set off any alarm bells for me in regards to content. In fact the main thing I’ve noticed in regards to age appropriateness is that a lot of the book is just going to go way over the heads of younger kids. For example, Fone and Phoney have a conversation about how Phoney built an orphanage over a hazardous waste landfill. Phoney believes this is two community services rolled into one, plus it’s the ultimate tax shelter. I just can’t see any of that making any sense to an elementary school student much less striking a comic note. The one thing that did strike me in terms of content was that in a graphic novel anything scary that happens is very visual. Readers can’t just skim over descriptions of scary looking creatures and battle scenes, because they are right in front of their eyes. For the appropriate age group, it shouldn’t matter much, but younger children may have quite specific fears that stem from the images.
Out of Boneville is the first book in a series and it shows. Fone Bone and his two cousins have been thrown out of Boneville. After wandering around a vast desert, they find their way (quite separately) to a lovely valley. Fone has some nasty run-ins with scary creatures but appears to be under the protection of a dragon. The book ends right in the middle of the story, with the cousins reunited, but danger and evil ready to strike. Readers will find themselves wondering what is going on and many will want to move on to the next book. I’d love to hear from people that finished the whole saga. Did you like it? Was there character development? Do all the books feel interconnected or did you feel they could be enjoyed without the greater context of the series?
Good stuff: The illustrations are cute (on the downside, this may be what is drawing an inappropriately young audience). I didn’t have any trouble following the plot and I did kind of want to know what was happening next.
What didn’t work for me: I didn’t love that Thorn is drawn as a sexy woman complete with clothing that frequently reveals her body. Some of this is just my reaction to the frequent undressing/sexualization of women by the comic book world. It’s unclear she needs to be in skirts slit all the way up the thigh in order to be an interesting and crush worthy character. There’s also a fair amount of dialect, with th’ standing in for the and lots of words ending in n’ instead of ing. I think that might be slightly difficult for some readers, but it shouldn’t be a huge deal.
Age Recommendation: I would say this is appropriate for Grades 5 and up. I don’t know what happens in the rest of the series that made my school’s librarian require parental permission for check-out, but I trust her. The fact that this episode feels so much like part of a series will spur many readers to continue and as I’ve said before, I’m not sure exactly how scary or sexual the series becomes. I also felt that while younger readers might enjoy the book on a basic adventure level, that more mature readers would have a better understanding of the characters that would lead to better enjoyment of the book.
Sex, Nudity, Dating – A human female is shown undressing to order to bathe. She shows mainly thigh. Bone is shown with a hearts over his head. There is handholding. One bone asks another if he has a “thing” going on with a woman. The woman removes all of her clothes to bathe. We are not shown her body, but rather her clothing by the side of the pool. Bone goes in the water with her. At one point her gown slips down and her cleavage is visible, as are her thighs.
Profanity – “shut up”, “God,” “holy cow”, “oh my God”, “dork”, “darn”, “stupid”,
Death, Violence and Gore – A character threatens to kill another character. The townspeople plan on stoning someone. Some creatures want to kill another and eat it for supper. They are pretty scary looking creatures. They are shown eating from small bones. They repeatedly try to eat various creatures in the book. Gran’ma threatens to tear someone apart. There’s talk about a slaughterhouse/petting zoo. An evil being in a black cloak calls for Fone to be killed and is raising an army.
Drugs, Alcohol and Smoking – A character is shown smoking a cigar. Two characters head to a place that brews good drinks. Phoney orders a beer.
Frightening or Intense Things – The rat things have surrounded the farmhouse. One person stays behind to flight while the others try to run for safety. They are pursued. While it is not said outright, it is implied that death pays a visit to Phoney and warns him that he has come for him.