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Wednesday, March 5, 2014

(MMGM) Nathan Hale, author of Donner Dinner Party {Review, Interview, Giveaway}

I'm thrilled to have Nathan Hale stopping by the March MG Madness today to chat about his new book, Donner Dinner Party! Plus, you can check out my review and enter to win 1 of 10 copies...

Donner Dinner Party
(Nathan Hale's Hazardous Tales #3)
by Nathan Hale

The Donner Party expedition is one of the most notorious stories in all of American history. It’s also a fascinating snapshot of the westward expansion of the United States, and the families and individuals who sacrificed so much to build new lives in a largely unknown landscape. From the preparation for the journey to each disastrous leg of the trip, this book shows the specific bad decisions that led to the party’s predicament in the Sierra Nevada Mountains. The graphic novel focuses on the struggles of the Reed family to tell the true story of the catastrophic journey.
This popular topic is a perfect addition to the Nathan Hale’s Hazardous Tales brand, and a great showcase for Hale’s storytelling skills.

When you think of the Donner Party, you rarely think of fun and laughing, but Nathan Hale’s Hazardous Tales: Donner Dinner Party is both a fun and laugh-out-loud reading experience! I’ve never had such a good time reading about cannibalism (yes, that does sound really wrong!).

Using a graphic novel format, Nathan Hale tells the real story of the Donner Party expedition, incorporating a vast amount of information, while focusing on the Reed family to give readers a unique perspective on the terrible, tragic events that unfolded on that disastrous trip to California.

This is my first Nathan Hale’s Hazardous tales, but it certainly won’t be my last! Hale is a smart, creative storyteller who brings the past to life with his informative, yet entertaining comics. Most older readers know about the infamous Donner Party, but Hale introduces young readers to this tragic event in history by telling them the real story without lavish exaggerations.

There’s nothing funny about what happened to the many people involved in the Donner Party, but Hale manages to make learning about it a lot of fun! Through witty illustrations, accessible text, and not shying away from the gritty facts, this book is super engaging, captivatingly informative, and impossible to put down. The more grotesque facts (cannibalism, murder, death, oh my!) are presented honestly and respectfully, but simply, without being garish or gory, and in a way that is completely appropriate for the middle-grade audience.

Hale’s simple, amusing illustrations bring in some much needed humor and capture the story perfectly!

My Final Thoughts: Young readers will be absolutely enthralled by this harrowing ordeal and Hale’s engaging way of exploring it. Nathan Hale’s Hazardous Tales: Donner Dinner Party is bound to inform, entertain, and create lively, thoughtful discussion.


What three words best describe Donner Dinner Party?
Donner, Dinner, and Party do the trick pretty well. Nobody has ever had to ask me what the book is about.
Can you give us your best one sentence pitch to convince readers, especially reluctant readers, to give Donner Dinner Party a try?
All of the grisly details of the Donner Party's tragic cross-country journey, told with humor and scares, in a comic book style.
Grab a copy of Donner Dinner Party and answer the following:
favorite page?
favorite character or scene to illustrate?
favorite fact you learned while researching for this book?
Favorite page: 92-93, it's a spread, showing all of the members of a snowshoe party, known as the Forlorn Hope, who set out to get word to Sutter's Fort about the trapped Donner Party.
Favorite character and scene to illustrate: James Reed, easy. He's the guy who causes most of the trouble in the Donner Party. His shortcut is what gets everyone in trouble. My favorite scene of his to illustrate was his "road rage" scene, where he gets into a fight with a wagon teamster that ends in...well, you'll have to read the book.
Why did you decide to include the infamous Donner Party tale in your Hazardous Tales graphic novel series? Was it hard presenting this story factually, while still keeping it appropriate for a middle-grade audience?
The Donner Party story was a perfect fit for the Hazardous Tales series. When my editor asked what subject we'd explore for book number three, I said, "How about the Donner Party?" and she said, "Perfect." It fits the bill perfectly: action, danger, great characters--many of them middle-graders themselves! This is a story that really appeals to the gross-out/ghost story/urban legend fan, but it's all true. I've seen Donner Party books for young readers that skip the cannibalism. This, to me, is truly inappropriate. Without the cannibalism, the Donner Party would be forgotten--the gruesome parts are what make the story live on. Sad, but true. I didn't want to skimp on the horrifying details of the story. At the same time, I didn't want to relish the gore, or seem like the book was celebrating the human suffering inherent to the tale. Middle graders deserve to know the truth about history--even the horrible stuff. So the murder, the starvation, and the cannibalism, are all in the book. No actual gore is shown in the illustrations. You won't see people chowing down on severed arms, or anything like that. But you will learn the details. I've had a lot of positive reviews from teachers and worried parents, surprised at how respectful the treatment was.
What made you decide to write the Hazardous Tales as graphic novels instead of traditional novels?
I love graphic novels. I meet many young readers who would read ANYTHING if it was presented in a graphic novel format--they'd read the phonebook if it had panels and word balloons. Stories from history work wonderfully in the graphic novel format, because you can see what's going on. In the first book, ONE DEAD SPY, there is a segment where the Battle of Bunker Hill is shown. With a cartoon, you can see why the hill (hills--Breed's Hill was actually the important one) was a good strategic point, you can see the little cannons shooting little cannon balls down into the British ships floating in Boston Harbor. You can see the British trying to angle their cannons back up at the hill but not being able to shoot high enough. This type of thing is difficult and wordy to describe, but in a simple cartoon, you can understand it in seconds.
For the Donner Party, the images show the wagons, how everyone fit inside, what the trail looked like as they passed through the plains and Rocky mountains. To the young reader, the cartoon characters--all real, historical figures--when seen walking, talking, shouting in word bubbles, etc. become very relatable.
Also, with a graphic novel, you can use visual metaphors that wouldn't work in a text-only title. For example, in DONNER DINNER PARTY, the "Specter of Death" looms over the camp. In a novel, that's just a turn of phrase, in a graphic novel, you can see the specter. The Grim Reaper becomes an continuing figure in the book, silently following the party. Wordless, it's not a character, but a visual reminder of the reality of death in the party. You can't quite pull that off in a narrative-only book of non-fiction.
What kind of exciting and informative tales can we look forward to next in this series?!
Just a few weeks away, in May, the fourth book in the series will be released. It's about World War One. It's called TRENCHES, TREATIES, MUD, AND BLOOD. It's a doozy. Unlike other Hazardous Tales stories, this one will cover an entire war. From the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand all the way through to Armistice Day. It's a monster, more information than any book in the series so far. This year marks the 100th anniversary of the start of WWI, so hopefully many readers will be jumping into this book.
As an author who writes books for the middle-grade crowd, why do you think middle-grade is so important? What do you love about writing and reading middle-grade?
I think the middle-grade reader is maybe the most exciting reader there is. They are curious. They are young enough to feel wonder, but old enough to enjoy sarcasm. They haven't solidified their reading habits yet (okay, some have, like my graphic novel-reader, mentioned above). When it comes to books, they are up for anything!
What is your all-time favorite middle-grade book, middle-grade hero, and middle-grade heroine?
Hmm. Well, since I'm a graphic novel guy, I'll give you my favorites from graphic novels.
Favorite mg book: Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind by Hayao Miyazaki (maybe a little more YA than middle grade, but really all-ages)
Favorite mg hero: TIE: Tintin/Scrooge McDuck
Favorite mg heroine: Marjane Satrapi in Persepolis (also a bit more YA than MG) Runner up: BABYMOUSE! (she paved the way for the current crop of great mg graphic novels!)
Fill in the blanks:
I’m really awesome at ___.
I’m really embarrassed to admit that ___.
The last great book I read was ___.
I'm really awesome at waterskiing. But I've never owned a boat. All my life I've had to attach myself to people who did have boats, so I could waterski behind them.
I'm really embarrassed to admit that I know most of the words to classic Broadway musicals. I had a job as a stage manager as a teen, I saw way too many musicals, way too many times.
The last great book I read was UZUMAKI: Spiral into Horror by Junji Ito. Holy moley, this is a graphic novel for teen readers, but also one of the scariest, weirdest books I've ever read.
I ask this question in all my author interviews, but I’ve never been both so excited and apprehensive about anyone’s answer before... If you were to create and bake a cupcake inspired by Donner Dinner Party, what would it look and taste like, and what would you call it?
When the Forlorn Hope snowshoe group finally made it over the pass and down the mountain, they found a Miwok village. The Miwok tribe gave them bread made from acorns. So I would make a simple acorn-bread cupcake, wrapped in a dried leaf. It would be called the Forlorn Cupcake.
(that's the reasonable, respectful answer. Here's the one you want:)
A cup full of snow, mixed with a few charred pieces of human leg meat. I call it the Donner Donut.

Thanks so much, Nathan, for stopping by! That cupcake sounds, umm, unique, lol!

Nathan Hale is the author and illustrator of many exciting graphic novels and picture books for children, including One Dead Spy and Big Bad Ironclad (the Nathan Hale's Hazardous Tales series), Yellowbelly and Plum go to School, the Twelve Bots of Christmas and The Devil You Know.

He is the illustrator of the Eisner-nominated graphic novel Rapunzel's Revenge and its sequel, Calamity Jack. He also illustrated Frankenstein: A Monstrous Parody, The Dinosaurs' Night Before Christmas, Animal House and many others. 

Win 1 of 10 hardcover copies of 
Donner Dinner Party!
The awesome peeps at Abrams have donated ten copies for ten winners.
-US only
-ends 3/31
-ten winners will each get one book
-must be 13+, one main entry per person
-winners will be emailed and must claim prize within 48 hours
-all entrant emails will be collected by Abrams. By entering the giveaway, you are subscribing to the Abrams Kids eNwsletter. As a subscriber, you'll be the first to know about new titles, upcoming author events, just released videos, teaching guides, exclusive giveaways and so much more!


Carl Scott said...

This kind of reminds me of the horror comics I used to see when I was a kid. No doubt it's somewhat similar. I can only imagine how gruesome it might get. Thanks!

Unknown said...

This sounds wonderfully, grossly, intriguing. I know my children would devour (pun sort of intended) this version of history. I'm looking forward to reading the book myself, quite frankly. It sounds like my kind of book.

Brenda said...

History in a graphic novel format sounds like a winning combination.

alicia marie said...

I'm a big fan of graphic novels and his sounds like something I'd definitely enjoy!

Charlotte said...

I need to get this for my history loving graphic novel loving son!

Michelle @ In Libris Veritas said...

This does sound fun in a dark way. This is such a cool why to tell a historical story.

Unknown said...

(This is Darith L)

Definitely sound interesting. I'd like to learn more about this part of US history.

Jillyn said...

I love seeing the incorporation of history into a graphic format for kids. This is such a great concept.

Stitchin in the Sip said...

Donned expedition has always been a fascinating part of history. It's gruesome yet true. What a great subject for kids! I'm sure my class would love it.

Lauren Goff said...

I glanced through the copy the library where I work has and the art is beautiful! I would love to have a copy of my very own :)

I think it's great that historical stories are being put into graphic novel format!

Orchid said...

Definitely interesting that you didn't gloss over the facts of the Donner Party.

I am very curious as to what the art looks like in the graphic novel since I enjoy reading them.

Myrna Foster said...

That was an awesome interview! Thanks for the giveaway!