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Bluffton: My Summer with Buster Keaton by Matt Phelan

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Genre: Graphic Novel

Release Date: 7/23/2013

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About the Book: In the summer of 1908 a visiting vaudeville troupe is spending the summer in Bluffton. Henry and his friends have a chance to visit and spend time with tightrope walkers, exotic animals and make friends with a young slapstick performer named Buster Keaton. Buster is indestructible-he be tossed around, jump anywhere and never get hurt. Henry longs to learn Buster's tricks, but Buster wants to play ball with Henry and his friends.

GreenBeanTeenQueen Says: I remember first hearing about this book at ALA Midwinter last year. All of the librarians gasped with excitement when they heard Matt Phelan and Buster Keaton used in the same sentence-myself included. So when an advanced copy crossed my desk at work, I knew I had to read it.

Happily, I was not disappointed. Bluffton is a story about Buster Keaton told through the eyes of Henry, a boy from a neighboring town who is fascinated with Keaton's vaudeville lifestyle. Matt Phelan is a genius when telling Keaton's story and I think this is the strongest part of the book. Instead of telling Keaton's story through his own eyes, he tells it through those around him, who are interested in his life and want to know more. Keaton, in the meantime, is somewhat reserved and more interested in having a typical summer playing ball and spending time outside with friends then around his fellow vaudeville cast mates.

Because of this storytelling style, I felt we got even more insight into what life was like for Buster Keaton. I felt this was more emotionally powerful because we as readers, along with Henry, are interested observers in Keaton's life. We are outsiders like Henry and I was both fascinated and concerned for Keaton. I thought his life was amazing, but also a bit sad, as you could sense the emotion of him wanting some normalcy from Phelan's artwork.

The artwork, as always from Phelan, is fantastic and I can't wait to see the finished copy, as advanced copies of graphic novels don't hold a candle to the finished product. The illustrations help tell Keaton's life and his amazing abilities and tricks. Matt Phelan does an excellent job of transporting readers back in time to 1908 and I felt like I was spending my summer in a small town in Michigan, just looking for something fun to come along.

As much as this is a story about Buster Keaton, it's also a great look back at history. Henry doesn't just spend the summer with the vaudeville performers, but they are living in a small town, trying to decide if the family store is for him, and figuring out his feelings for a classmate. It's all a very sweet, charming look back at a piece of American history.

I don't believe readers need to have a prior knowledge of vaudeville or Buster Keaton before reading this graphic novel, but expect to have readers asking for more information upon finishing! This book is sure to peak readers interest in this time in history as well as this amazingly talented young man. A great addition to any graphic novel collection that is perfect for middle grade readers. Bluffton is also a wonderful tie-in to biographies and history for cross curriculum reading.

Full Disclosure: Reviewed from an advanced copy sent from the publisher


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