"Delilah Dirk and the Turkish Lieutenant" by Tony Cliff (First Second Books)
Taking the gender-role reversal route to elevated levels of insanity and delight, Cliff's heroine, Delilah Dirk, is an impossibly capable girl with little patience for anyone around her, let alone a soft-spoken and somewhat gentle lieutenant in the Turkish janissaries, Selim, whose main hobby is making special tea blends. When the two end up as adventuring partners, it's up to them to find a middle ground between Dirk's audacious personal style of problem-solving and Selim's more cautious approach.
The two meet while Dirk is a prisoner in the palace where Selim works -- he's her interrogator -- but a misunderstanding about his intentions toward the prisoner -- he swear's he's trying to kill her and she backs him up, but no one believes them -- send them fleeing over water and sky. Selim tries to separate himself from the unpredictable and dangerous path life has chosen for him, but Dirk's allure proves stronger than he guessed, and once he accepts this, it takes everything he's learned from his experience with Dirk to truly embrace the lifestyle as his, as well.
Anyone trying to give their daughters a good alternative to the Disney Princess monolith would do well to take a peek at Delilah Dirk -- there's a lot for girls here, doing away with the entitled preciousness of so much girl-marketed entertainment these days while wisely not just transplanting uncomfortable machismo in its female characters. Dirk is very definitely a girl, and a well-written one at that -- she's just not one whose inclined to sit around and wait for a male to sweep her off her feet. She'll take a quiet, calm Turkish lieutenant who respects her and treats her as an equal instead.
"Over The Wall" by Peter Wartman (Uncivilized Books)
This imaginative and intimate adventure has hints of Asian-Pacific cultures as it follows the quest of a villager girl to find her brother in the city that her people once dwelled in. The problem is that the city is surrounded by two walls -- one physical and one mystical, designed to keep people out and demons in. Each year the village sends a group of boys on their test to become men -- a kind of monster-laden walkabout -- but with supernatural forces at play, a failure might mean the boy is wiped from the village memory.
Wartman explores the meaning of naming things as a way to give clarity to the unknown and seize some part of understanding in a universe that offers no easy labels.
To his credit, Wartman doesn't pile the story on with too much folklore or back story, and in the process create clutter to obscure the real pleasures of the outing-- he leaves concepts thankfully obscure and open to interpretation.
The world he has crafted does ask more investigation, though, but this is as much to do with the rich illustration work as with story and character.
"Anna and Froga: I Dunno ... What Do You Want To Do?" by Anouk Ricard (Drawn and Quarterly)
French cartoonist Anouk Richards returns with another volume devoted to her slightly dysfunctional group of friends, which include a little girl named Anna, a frog named Froga, a cat named Ron and a dog named Bubu.
This collection works to expand the circle a bit, or at least explore the edges of it if not add girth to the simplicity of the middle.
Added to the mix are a friendly Yeti named Michael who has come down with a cold and Ron's cousin Jason, a wisecracking cat in a skull and crossbones t-shirt, who doesn't seem to have a filter. He causes a few problems in the group.
As with the first English-language volume from last year, Richards' cartoons are charming and simple, which should grab kids' eyes as it introduces them to a circle of friends who might well act more realistically than others encountered in children's books. Investigating darker aspects of childhood, like bragging, lying and bossiness, Richards manages to create traits that kids might recognize in themselves and others, but displayed in situations that examine them on the appropriate level with no lecturing or judgment.