cover image Les Misérables

Les Misérables

Marcia Williams. Candlewick, $17.99 (64p) ISBN 978-0-7636-7476-2

Williams’s sweet-tempered pen-and-ink drawings take some of the sting out of the misery of Hugo’s original—but not much. Jean Valjean’s seesaw journey between sin and redemption personifies the misery of Second Empire France. At times, Williams’s familiar comics sequences seem disconcertingly light in contrast to the harsh setting, with toy-size cats and mice pursuing each other around the margins as the human characters suffer within. Yet the wealth of her imagination brings the tale to life for readers who may already have encountered the story in the form of the musical or its soundtrack. She keeps all the characters straight, summarizes the twists and turns of the story clearly, and uses oblong panels like stage sets with lucid narration beneath, while dialogue appears in speech balloons. The famed sequence in the sewers is rendered in typical style as mice journey through the sludge with Valjean and a cat sits watching on a bridge as Valjean’s nemesis Javert ends his life in the Seine below. It’s an unimpeachable resource, if not always an easy one to enjoy. Ages 8–12. (Feb.)