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Winged migration – Little Monarchs earns graphic novelist new accolades

By Melissa Wagoner

It’s been a big year for award-winning graphic novelist Jonathan Case and his newest book, Little Monarchs – published by Holiday House in April 2022. 

Chosen to represent Oregon’s literary heritage at the upcoming National Book Festival by the Oregon Center for the Book and the State Library of Oregon, the honor means an interview with Case will be preserved for posterity in the Library of Congress and his book will be featured on the National Book Store’s shelves. And that’s far from all.

“I was also honored at this year’s Oregon Book Awards,” Case added. “It was the only graphic novel this year.”

Perhaps the most notable honor came when Little Monarchs was nominated for what would have been Case’s second Eisner Award – the comic book industry’s equivalent of the Academy Awards – in the category of Best Publication for Kids aged nine to 12. 

Jonathan Case -- second from the right -- sitting on the Panel for Educators and Librarians, known as Interactive and In-person, at the 2023 Eisner Awards at San Diego Comic Con.          Submitted Photo
Jonathan Case — second from the right — sitting on the Panel for Educators and Librarians, known as Interactive and In-person, at the 2023 Eisner Awards at San Diego Comic Con. Submitted Photo

Although not the ultimate winner, “it’s always really fun to visit San Diego,” Case said of his attendance at this year’s awards ceremony. At the San Diego Bayfront Hotel he sat on the Panel for Educators and Librarians – known as Interactive and In-person. “It was really great to see familiar faces on stage.” 

It was also rewarding to learn what a big impact his book – the tale of ten-year-old Elvie, and her biologist caretaker Flora, and their quest to save humanity from extinction by following the path of the monarch butterfly’s migration – has made in the lives of readers. 

“What an incredible book for our time,” one reviewer wrote online. “Case’s book addresses so many issues that are facing our children (and us adults): politics, climate change, vaccines, and death, without getting lost in the quagmire. It offers readers respite from the headlines while also tackling… [them] in a way that is digestible… The graphics are as awesome and creative as the storyline…   A must for any child’s bookcase!”

Which was, in fact, Case’s goal when he started the book in 2010.

“I was going to be a dad soon,” Case said, recalling the impetus for writing a book geared toward children. “I wanted to get back to a childlike space of imagination.”

The father of three – Dorothy, Otis and Miriam – Case describes the process of writing Little Monarchs as one of self-discovery, as his life – outside his role as an artist and writer – continued to unfold.

“Part way through is when we lost our son…” he said, recounting the way that loss – partnered with his discovery that monarchs are believed to hold the spirits of the departed by those who celebrate Dia De Los Muertos – shaped the narrative of the book. 

“That spoke to me in a way it wouldn’t have if I hadn’t been on that grief journey,” Case said. “And I ended up writing Otis into the book in that spirit so that I could preserve a link between us.”

Now, with the book’s popularity growing, that link will be preserved even further in personal collections, at local libraries and even the Library of Congress. 

“These are things that have the potential for staying power,” Case said.

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