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Young adults: 'Little Prince' as graphic novel

'The Little Prince," Antoine de Saint-Exupéry's classic French novella, seems an unlikely candidate for transformation into a graphic novel. Joann Sfar, the French adapter who has a slew of popular graphic novels to his credit, has said that at first he didn't want to adapt the 1943 story because the illustrations are such an integral part of the original. He changed his mind, however, when he saw the possibilities for showing the differences between an illustrated book and a graphic novel.

Sfar's adaptation of "The Little Prince" (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, $19.99, ages 10 and up) is successful because the narrator's wistful voice takes on a new tone when the reader actually sees the downed pilot who tells the story as a character in Sfar's drawings. Sfar marries a contemporary graphic-novel sassiness with the contemplative philosophical issues that have made the book such a classic. In this telling, Saint-Exupéry's opening recollections about how he learned to talk to grown-ups (the trick: keep things on the simple, literal level they understand) occur as his plane is going down in the middle of the Sahara. The pilot is conversing with the smoke from his cigarette - a fantastic, malleable cartoon figure that takes on different forms, including a boa constrictor. The conversation ends with the smoke-creature playfully admonishing the pilot, "And by the way you shouldn't smoke in a book for young people," as it extinguishes the cigarette in its smoky paw.

When the Little Prince makes his appearance, his hair, scarf and childish stature match Saint-Exupéry's drawings, but the face is definitely a Sfar creation. For an admirer of the original book, the gentle images of the pilot as annoyed grown-up and loving father or friend will be the ones that stick in the mind, though I have no doubt that for anyone reading the story for the first time in this edition, the odd grown-ups the Little Prince visits during his flight from his planet will be more dramatic.

***

"HALF BROTHER," by Kenneth Oppel

Canadian author Kenneth Oppel writes his own brand of science fiction: satisfying stories for readers with a scientific turn of mind. His latest novel, "Half Brother" (Scholastic, $17.99, ages 12 and up), is about the fuzzy line between chimpanzees and humans.

Ben Tomlin's scientist parents have designed a project that involves adopting a chimpanzee and raising him as a member of the family. Zan is as great a handful as any human baby - and in addition, every detail of his life must be documented. It becomes clear that while Ben's father may insist on being called Zan's "Dad," he's not really going to involve himself in the daily care ("No surprises there," his wife mutters); that's what graduate students are for.

Although no one will admit any feeling as unscientific as jealousy, decisions must eventually be made about whether the baby is a scientific specimen or a member of the family. Oppel's humor is more in evidence in this book than in earlier ones, as when Ben interrupts a disagreement between his parents about him by observing that "the specimen is in the backseat!"

While he is exploring the tensions in Ben's family, Oppel gives readers plenty to ponder: How far can you trust a creature that does not know its own strength? What is the difference between animal communication and human language? What makes Zan more human - his ability to use words or his ability to notice that Ben is sad and his desire to comfort him?

***

"THE SCORCH TRIALS," by James Dashner

James Dashner's "The Scorch Trials" (Delacorte, $17.99, ages 12 and up), a sequel to "The Maze Runner," further develops the dystopian world run by an organization carrying the seemingly unambiguous acronym WICKED. The boys who escaped the puzzle of the maze at the end of Book One, only to find themselves caught in a larger puzzle, have finally grasped that they are the subjects of a creepy experiment. They are now given to believe that the survival of the human race depends on their successful completion of a new series of life-threatening tasks - and they are in competition with a tough group of girls. The trials take place in a scorching desert, which is all that remains of the equatorial regions of Earth after the devastation of sun flares. This is wonderful action writing - fast-paced and mercilessly violent, but smart and well observed, excellent for readers moving on from "Percy Jackson" to "The Hunger Games."

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