Zita is a hero. If you’ve got an elementary schooler who likes graphic books — and let’s face, it, what elementary student doesn’t? — you MUST introduce him or her to Zita The Space Girl (First Second).
A lot of good stories center on theme of redemption. Author and artist Ben Hatke includes so many layers of redemption here you almost feel absolved of your own poor choices after you’re done reading it. I don’t mean to imply the story is pedantic or preachy — on the contrary, the narrative is super fast, delightfully suspenseful, and full of imaginative characters.
Check out this spread. Zita wakes up and sees this colorful, frightening world.
How awesome — close-ups of various parts of the foreign creatures, which is what a girl would notice when she wakes up in a new world. Then a wide shot of the entire place, which is sure to freak you out when you look around!
Zita finds herself in this new world after she discovers a “jump crystal” in a tiny meteor that has crashed on planet earth. The crystal is in the form of a big red button that her timid friend, Joseph, begs her not to push. Being Zita, however, she pushes the button. At first nothing happens. As she opens her mouth to mocker her friend, a portal opens up to another wold and Joseph is grabbed by a strange looking creature and dragged through.
After initially running away, Zita summons her courage and presses the button again so she can go rescue Joseph. This is the first phase of her redemption. At the end of the book, Zita rescues Joseph but must make a very difficult decision: only one person can go back through the portal; should she send Joseph or go back home herself? This decision completes Zitas’s redemption. But along the way, all the misfits in her band of rescuers — a turncoat flute player, a flying battle orb that isn’t as tough as it thinks, a rattling robot who was once a bomb, and a giant mouse hiding out from law enforcement — act heroically in a way that redeems them also. So the story is very satisfying.
Hatke’s beautiful art is another reason to get a hold of this book. I love the muted colors which inhabit most of the panels until the new city appears to shatter the color scheme, or a comet streaks in a blaze of fire across the sky. Several times Hatke uses a splash page, or carries a panel across the spread, to great emotional effect. At one point, Zita’s pal Piper says to her in the last panel on the right hand page, “Now do you understand how difficult this really is?” The panel just shows Zita’s concerned-looking face. When you turn the page, a giant, imposing castle takes up the entire page, giving the reader a taste of the despair Zita must feel.
If you have, or are, an elementary school reader, you need this book. I’ve now read two more Zita books, because I love this heroic girl and her colorful adventures.