One of our recommended books for 2019 is Queen of the Sea by Dylan Meconis

QUEEN OF THE SEA


Cult graphic novelist Dylan Meconis offers a rich reimagining of history in this beautifully detailed hybrid novel loosely based on the exile of Queen Elizabeth I by her sister, Queen Mary.

When her sister seizes the throne, Queen Eleanor of Albion is banished to a tiny island off the coast of her kingdom, where the nuns of the convent spend their days peacefully praying, sewing, and gardening. But the island is also home to Margaret, a mysterious young orphan girl whose life is upturned when the cold, regal stranger arrives. As Margaret grows closer to Eleanor, she grapples with the revelation of the island’s sinister true purpose as well as the truth of her own past.

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Cult graphic novelist Dylan Meconis offers a rich reimagining of history in this beautifully detailed hybrid novel loosely based on the exile of Queen Elizabeth I by her sister, Queen Mary.

When her sister seizes the throne, Queen Eleanor of Albion is banished to a tiny island off the coast of her kingdom, where the nuns of the convent spend their days peacefully praying, sewing, and gardening. But the island is also home to Margaret, a mysterious young orphan girl whose life is upturned when the cold, regal stranger arrives. As Margaret grows closer to Eleanor, she grapples with the revelation of the island’s sinister true purpose as well as the truth of her own past. When Eleanor’s life is threatened, Margaret is faced with a perilous choice between helping Eleanor and protecting herself. In a hybrid novel of fictionalized history, Dylan Meconis paints Margaret’s world in soft greens, grays, and reds, transporting readers to a quiet, windswept island at the heart of a treasonous royal plot.

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  • Candlewick Press
  • Hardcover
  • June 2019
  • 400 Pages
  • 9781536204988

Buy the Book

$24.99

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About Dylan Meconis

Dylan Meconis is the author of Queen of the SeaDylan Meconis is a cartoonist, writer, and illustrator who created the graphic novels Family Man, Bite Me!, and Outfoxed, which was nominated for a Will Eisner Comic Industry Award. She lives with her wife in Portland, Oregon.

Praise

“[A] captivating coming-of-age story… The best graphic novels suggest rather than decree. They allow readers to search for truth in what is shown and said, but to find it in the silence between the words, the space between the images. The beguiling ‘Queen of the Sea’ stands solidly among them.” The New York Times Book Review

“The art, reminiscent of Raina Telgemeier’s style, creates levity during perilous situations. The book is dense with dialogue, often feeling more like a work of prose than a graphic novel. As a result, this complex work will be more accessible to those familiar with graphic novels…Certain to charm sophisticated graphic novel devotees.” School Library Journal (starred review)

“Meconis offers an atmospheric alternate history inspired by the childhood and succession of Queen Elizabeth I in this quietly ambitious graphic novel…Art in soft, earthy colors brings this singular story to life in styles ranging from simple line drawings to elaborately styled text illuminations. The island world is richly developed, both in its physical particulars and its close-knit community (fascinating digressions into topics such as convent time, hand gestures used at table, and chess and embroidery flesh out daily life), and Margaret proves herself an endearing heroine with a strong voice full of humor and wonder. Her perspective transforms a storm-wracked rock into a vibrant world of hidden treasures.” Publishers Weekly (starred review)

“Meconis’ humor and storytelling gifts here wed seamlessly with her evocative pen-and-ink and gouache illustrations, which are rendered in warm earth and sea tones and brim with movement, expressively capturing even Margaret’s interior monologues. With its compelling, complex characters and intrigue-laden plot, this will have readers hoping it’s only the first of many adventures for Meconis’ savvy heroine.” Kirkus Reviews (starred review)

“Meconis fills her panels with naturalistic figures colored with expressive watercolor washes, which add rich emotional depth to the story. When Margaret shares folktales or stories, Meconis uses brasher colors and inky brushstrokes in a style resembling marginalia in illuminated manuscripts, and occasionally embroidery embellishes the background of pages. It’s a stunning visual package, and the slow-burning story of Margaret’s gradually opening world is made all the more captivating by the well-researched historical setting, immersive world building, and engrossing characters.” Booklist (starred review)

“[A]n engrossing graphic novel by Dylan Meconis set in an alternative Tudor realm in which England is Albion… In unspooling an exciting story of political intrigue drawn from the real life of Elizabeth I, the author introduces readers ages 10 to 16 to the disciplines of cloistered life, treating with interest and respect such practices as the veneration of holy relics and the codified gesturing of silent meals.The Wall Street Journal

Discussion Questions

1. What is life like for Margaret growing up on the Island before Eleanor arrives? What kinds of tasks fill her days? Who does she spend time with? What does she learn to do? What aspects of life on the Island help make the nuns self-sufficient? In what ways do they rely on the visits of the Regina Maris?

2. The nuns are a big part of Margaret’s life. What does she learn about their pasts? Why are they on the Island? What are some conflicts she has with Sister Agnes? How does she feel about Sister Agnes at the end of the story? Explain the mission of the Elysian order and how the nuns fulfill it.

3. Who is William, and why do he and his mother end up on the Island? Describe the friendship between William and Margaret. What does the friendship show about Margaret? What does she make Eleanor promise about William and his family at the end of the story?

4. What does Margaret learn about herself from the nuns and others living on the Island before Eleanor’s stay? What else would she like to know about herself? When Margaret realizes that she cannot leave the Island, the knowledge changes the Island “from a wonderful place — the only place — to a grim one” (page 126). Why does she feel this way?

5. Summarize what Margaret finds out about her parents. How does she learn it, and what is her reaction? Why do you think Sister Agnes lets her hear the informa­tion? The motto of Eleanor’s mother’s family is Je sais qui je suis (page 319). How could that motto be applied to Margaret’s life?

6. Why does Eleanor come to the Island? Explain her heritage, history, and rivalry with Catherine. Why does Eleanor want to be queen again? What are the obstacles in her way? From what you see of Eleanor in the story, discuss whether you think she would be a good queen.

7. Who is Francis? Why does he come to the Island? Why is Eleanor initially angry at him? Describe their relationship. What are some ways that Margaret helps Eleanor and Francis? Why does she help them? What are Francis and Eleanor planning to do at the end of the story?

8. Eleanor teaches Margaret how to play chess. How does the game relate to Eleanor’s life and her political strug­gles? Explain why Eleanor says that the queen is “the most valuable piece on the chessboard” (page 317). How is Margaret like a pawn that can sneak across the board and become “a new queen” (page 318)?

9. Eleanor tells Margaret that she will tell her what she knows about William when Margaret can beat her at chess. Why does Eleanor lie about this? What are other examples of how she treats Margaret early on in their relationship? In what way is Margaret a threat to her? Describe how Eleanor’s attitude toward Margaret varies and what it is at the end of the book.

10. What characteristics of Mother Mary Clemence make Margaret dislike her? How does Mother Mary Clemence treat Eleanor? How does she treat those who were already on the Island? Why do you think she is so hostile? Explain why she is worried near the end of the story when Eleanor and Francis disappear.

11. When Margaret is thinking about who would be a bet­ter queen, Eleanor or Catherine, she compares Francis and Mother Mary Clemence, who she describes as “the opposite of Francis in every way” (page 284). How are they opposites? What does Margaret conclude about which queen would be better? Do you agree?

12. Francis explains to Margaret, “Our Queen Eleanor can feel great joy, Margaret. But I do not know that she could ever be happy” (page 377). Why does he think that? Do you agree? Discuss his statement that “a wise leader cannot force her people to be wise, but a cou­rageous leader can convince her people to be brave” (page 376).

13. What do you think will happen to Margaret, Eleanor, and Francis after they swim to the ship? How has Margaret changed during the story, and what do the changes suggest about the kind of adult she’ll be? What do you think will happen in Eleanor’s relationship with Francis in the future?

14. When Eleanor describes jumping in a puddle as a child, Francis points out that Eleanor’s nurse was almost sent to prison for not stopping her. What are some of the other unreasonable punishments in the story from the past, in the present, and threatened for the future? What did King Edmund do to his enemies, real and per­ceived? How about Catherine? Why do you think there was so much harshness and violence in politics then?

15. Early in the story, Margaret and William read about forgiveness. When William vows to avenge his family, Margaret says, “Seeking revenge is a sin. You’re sup­posed to forgive your enemies” (page 101). Why does she think that? Do you agree? Who does Margaret for­give, and who forgives her? When else is forgiveness important in the story?

16. What role do secrets and betrayal play in the plot? Name some secrets that Margaret keeps or are kept from her and how they affect her. How are secrets and betrayal important in Eleanor’s life? Who else feels betrayed or deceived at various points in the story, and why?

17. Why do you think the book is titled Queen of the Sea? Recount the story of the Queen of the Sea (page 262) and talk about how it ties in to the rest of the book. What is the legend about selkies, and when does it come up? Discuss ways in which the sea is central to Margaret’s life.

18. Captain Marley talks about the importance of sons and tells Margaret that when a queen marries, her husband will become the ruler. Why are males considered more important than females in the time period in which this book is set? Describe some of the strong women portrayed in the book, including those in legends and saints’ stories. What kind of power or strength do they have?

19. Discuss the interaction between text and illustrations in the book. Find places where the pictures reflect the words and others where they portray things not in the text. What information do you learn from the art about the time and place and how people lived?

Essay

When I talk to my dad on Father’s Day, he always has the same joke for me: “You know, I always expected to be called Father. Just not by my kid.” A good Lithuanian Catholic boy raised long before the reforms of Vatican II, my father left home to attend a conservative seminary at the tender age of fourteen. He was completely confident in his calling to the priesthood, buoyed by the examples already set by his aunt (Sr. Mary Florence, RMS) and uncle (Fr. Charles Salatka,  later Archbishop Salatka of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Oklahoma City). So he was indeed called Father Meconis well before he was ever a father to this Meconis. (My existence proves that there were some unexpected detours ahead.)

I grew up in the far more permissive world of the 1990s Pacific Northwest, waking up early each Sunday with my mom to attend a small, progressive Methodist church packed with openly gay members. Services there were always heavy on social justice, light on dogma. My dad stayed home, claiming to have attended enough church for one lifetime and annoyed by the Protestant tendency to natter about bake sale committees at the expense of ritual awe. Awe, or at least silence and the lighting of more than a token couple of candles, was strictly reserved for Holy Week and Advent. I thrived in that open community, chattiness and all, but I did come to love those special seasons of darkness best.

I was also spellbound by the contrast offered in my father’s stories of the vanished monastic world of the seminary school. The Roald Dahl-esque tales ranged from the draconic (a priest clouting him across the face with a book for the offense of smiling in the library) to the antic (midnight escapes through the steam tunnels to smuggle in precious, forbidden hamburgers) to the operatic (complex schemes to unleash justice on student bullies and faculty tyrants). At my own school we called teachers by their first names and were firmly instructed that classrooms were “no putdown zones.” It was a wonderful place, but short on dramatic material. So the rosewood and silver chalice given to him at that ordination and my cartoon-covered ceramics experiments were simultaneously worlds apart and yet sharing a shelf in the family china cabinet.

There was one crucial shared element in our formative years: the beach. Every June, the seminary threw open its heavy medieval doors and released its adolescent inmates into the sunshine of 1960s Southern California. My dad spent many idle afternoons bodysurfing on green waves, surrounded by bikini babes and gently stoned surfers.

And every June, my parents, our neurotic corgi, and I piled into the station wagon and drove out to a quasi-abandoned seaside township on the Washington coast peninsula. The water was considerably colder, but I learned how to bodysurf anyway, in hypothermic fi teen-minute spurts. I also spent long hours wandering the beach, collecting sand dollars, racing waves, gazing out at the surf, and pretending that I was a sea goddess or a selkie. I followed a little river back to a secret tidal island, found mysterious pathways through the woods, picked blackberries for jam. When it rained (and it usually rained), I read endless fantasy novels and drank endless cups of powdered cocoa and fiddled at endless craft projects and drew endless pictures on an endless ream of dot matrix paper. On Sunday mornings, my dad would play a recording of the Gregorian chants he’d sung at school. The little wooden cottage would be transformed into an ancient and holy place — at least, until the album ended and my dad switched over to Jimmy Buffett. (He insisted this was also a form of sacred music.)

The unassuming beach village had another, less obvious dimension that gradually caught our mutual attention. My dad, a history buff and researcher par excellence, began to ferret out the history of the little town and its lonely monuments. A humble cabin gift shop, well-stocked with irresistible beach kitsch, was the former hideout of a Soviet double agent who had escaped from federal lockup. The mysterious weathered pylons that stood watch on the beach were the vestiges of a vast nineteenth-century resort hotel lost, twice, to fi re and storm. The rocky point visible from the little river was the site where, in 1775, a crew of Spanish sailors came ashore, hammered a cross into the sand to claim it for Spain, and promptly fell into battle with warriors of the Quinault tribe who had called the coastline home for the better part of ten thousand years.

His findings gradually bent my attention from the joys of high fantasy to the boggling and heartbreaking magic of history. The cool detachment from large historical events in distant places was slowly replaced by a fascination with the daily lives of the people, now lost to time, who shared a geography with me, or a language, a ritual, a favorite food, a physical sensation. The whole world was overlaid with lost stories, and ghosts were paradoxically much easier for me to understand than my classmates. Traveling to a new place in the present — a hard sell for a homebody kid prone to motion sickness — also became a chance to travel to its past.

These days, my dad attends church with my mom, chattiness and all, and I go to a church in my own neighborhood, three hundred miles and one major city away. Every few months we meet up at the little cottage in the little town on the edge of the Pacific. My dad has the Gregorian chants downloaded on his iPad. He brings a history book, and I bring my watercolors.

Most people ask me how on earth I came up with a middle-grade hybrid graphic novel about an only child growing up in an isolated island convent in an alternate version of the sixteenth century.

My father thinks it’s pretty obvious.

Dylan Meconis