________________ CM . . . . Volume XVI Number 30 . . . . April 9, 2010


Hope and the Walleye.

John Toone. Illustrated by G.M.B. Chomichuk.
Winnipeg, MB: Alchemical Press (www.alchemicalpress.com), 2009.
26 pp., pbk, $9.00.
ISBN 978-0-9813550-2-3.

Grades 6 and up / Ages 11 and up.

Review by Danya David.

*** /4


but walleye is
dark on top,
invisible from
above, she is off
again on her
and hope, eyes
open, feeds off
her strength and
their journey.



Hope and the Walleye is the story of an unlikely camaraderie forged between a bold girl named Hope and a freshwater pikefish called Walleye. Picturebook writer John Toone and illustrator GMB Chomichuk team up to present this rapid, edgy, and memorable graphic novel that's an ode both to the strength and vigour of a young girl representing her environmentally aware generation, and to the similar resilience and resourcefulness of the walleye- a fish native to North American lakes and at risk of destruction due to pollution and overfishing. This totally unique graphic novel throws the reader into a world full of motion, illuminating slices of lives that converge around efforts to survive and prevail despite all odds.

     The story is visually and verbally vigorous, presenting a feast for both eyes and ears. Visually, illustrator "GMB" Chomichuk gives the reader tantalizing close-ups of faces and objects; we see Hope's determination through the rendering of her face in sketchy though deliberate black ink that's textured and coloured through watercolour paints. Chomichuk's artwork is filmic-- he uses close-up shots frequently, especially with depicting the walleye, capturing the fish's fine characters like the tension reflected in its eyes. These types of intense close-up panels are interspersed with other types of ‘camera angles.' The ink/watercolour mix is a striking and effective media coupling and also specifically suitable for this work because it brings an edginess that speaks to the pure, raw character of both the girl and the fish, while complementing the punch and poetry of the text.

     The minimal use of text in this work is effective. The words that are present are potent and condensed, working on various thematic, narrative and aesthetic levels. In addition, the absence of much text leaves space for the pictures to sound. At times the images roar with the engines of the city, and at times they rush with the vitality of flowing rivers.

internal art

     Great deliberation is exercised with the construction of the panels. Scenes and images are conceptually and thematically linked, rather than, for example, being arranged according to literal/chronological sequencing. Because of this slightly more complex or abstract relationship between frames, a deeper level of reader engagement is engendered with the story as a whole.

     This is but one way in which Toone and GMB Chomichuk make brilliant use of the graphic novel format, making readers discover on their own what's between the lines, or rather, between the panels. The duo also plays with panel size (and shape to a certain degree), deliberately altering size and positioning in order to affect the story's pace and flow, inducing momentum at certain points in order to highlight key moments and ideas.

     However, the cogency of this work is minimized in two ways. First, on a thematic level, Toone and GMB Chomichuk tend to convey spaces in a polarized manner- that is, the city- e.g. urban life, industry, technology-- is portrayed (through the words and the pictures) as only dank and evil, whereas nature merely equals goodness. The polarized depiction of these two worlds makes the story somewhat didactic, which is a turnoff for the reader. Interestingly, Hope seems to be the savior and mediator between worlds; this works from a narrative point of view, but also verges on cliché.

     A second concern relates to language level. Though the written text is dense, layered, rhythmic, edgy, and utterly poetic, it may be too preoccupied with aesthetics to be accessible to young readers: "to screams of/ machines and cries of/ ‘timber!' in the east/wind, hope shutters,/ and after the smoke/ drifts no shade/ remains." Some concepts seem too adult, for example when Toone writes that Hope "becomes of the heavens". Such intriguing but obscure references are difficult for a child (let alone an adult) to comprehend. This kind of language also brings along with it a kind of dogmatic adult voice which interferes with Hope's legacy as an empowered child capable of effecting change on her own.

     Overall, Hope and the Walleye is compelling, and the story in general is passionately rendered. Ultimately it is full of vigor and compassion- what better qualities to promote in a young person?


Danya David is a graduate of UBC's Master of Arts in Children's Literature program.

To comment on this title or this review, send mail to cm@umanitoba.ca.

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