Saturday, December 31, 2011


By Adrian Neibauer
Staff Writer

THREE SHADOWS by Cyril Pedrosa and translated from French by Edward Gauvin is the saddest and most moving graphic novels I have ever read. Louis and Lise are a husband and wife who are raising their young son, Joachim, in an unnamed rural, European landscape. Their small family is filled with simple pleasures and lots of love as they work together on their farm. However, everything changes when three mysterious shadows appear on the horizon haunting the family.  Never explicitly stated at first, we learn later that the shadows beckon for the young Joachim. Joachim’s father, Louis, flees with Joachim in a brave, yet foolish attempt to outrun his son’s fate: death.

Throughout the story, we learn just how far a parent would go to protect their child. Embedded within this story are deep and complex discussions about fate, life, and death; as well as plenty of opportunities for older readers to practice the skills of making inferences and predictions.

THREE SHADOWS is completely pencil-drawn. Pedrosa’s use of black and white charcoal prepares the reader for the dark tone of the story. Pedrosa is a former Disney artist/animator and this experience serves him well here. He writes little dialogue, yet conveys much action, movement, and emotion.  he characters seem to animate themselves as you turn each page. 

Pedrosa’s artwork forces the reader to stop and think. His attention to detail gives readers all the clues they need to make accurate predictions and to infer about the plot. Each page can be used as a talking point or a stand-alone example of the novel’s themes and symbols.

THREE SHADOWS is a more adult graphic novel that can be used effectively in any high-school literature classroom. That said, I always advocate taking grade-level appropriate sections/pages of any graphic novel in order to illustrate how to accurately use any comprehension strategy or model the use of these strategies. 

Making predictions, inferences, and then synthesizing this information takes practice to do well.  Often, students make superficial predictions, which lead to inaccurate inferences. THREE SHADOWS gives students a chance to analyze how the visual elements of the story contribute to the meaning, tone, and beauty of this text. For example, the beginning of this story has a set tone of simplistic happiness. This, however, changes very quickly and with only a few words.

Teachers can guide students to make inferences by asking questions like:

  • What clues do we have that something bad is about to happen? Both visual and textual?
  • What clues do we have about the character’s thoughts and feelings?
  • How do you think the characters will respond to this change?
  • What do the shadows want?

Teachers can teach inferences by modeling for students how to read with a particular question in mind. Keeping this question present gives students opportunities to chart any facts they find and the inference it leads to. For example, when reading these next pages, keep these questions in mind: 

  • What do these figures want?
  • What is the purpose of these figures?

Teachers can use a simple two-column chart with FACTS on one side and INFERENCE on the other in order to record students’ answers.
Synthesizing is about taking all reading and thinking practices and putting it all together to comprehend reading. In THREE SHADOWS, readers can synthesize in various ways:

  • Describe how the narrator’s point of view influence how various events are described.
  • Compare and contrast two or more characters, settings, or events in the story.
  • Draw on specific visual and textual details

In a high-school literature classroom, discussion of literary elements and themes oftentimes plays a greater role than teaching specific reading strategies. THREE SHADOWS has such deep motifs and symbols, students can participate in rich discussions. For example, THREE SHADOWS explores themes such as mortality, fate, and fairness. The overarching symbols of life and death are throughout the story as well. Teachers can have students discuss questions such as:

  • Can fate be changed? How?
  • How does Louis’ decision to take Joachim away show strength? Weakness?
  • How does Lise’s decision to stay show strength? Weakness?
  • Why do the shadows come for Joachim?
  • How does the shadows’ symbol change from the beginning of the story to the end?
    • What does this change say about life and death?
  • How does Joachim and Louis’ relationship mirror that of life and death?
  • How would THREE SHADOWS be different if told from another character’s perspective?

Author & Illustrator: Cyril Pedrosa
Translated by: Edward Gauvin
Format: Paperback
Pages: 268
Color: Black and White Pencil
Publisher: First Second
ISBN-13: 978-1-59643-239-0

I would highly recommend this book for any high-school literature classroom.  Certain sections can also be used in the middle grades (6-8) for discussing the graphic novel’s major theme of fate.  However, due to some mild language and non-sexualized nudity, THREE SHADOWS is best kept in high-school literature courses.  

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