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‘We need the literature of other countries to expand our
horizons and stimulate our ideas. Without it, we are not only
diminished, we are starved’
(The Times, Magnus Linklater 29/06/05)
Legend of Sally Jones (The)
by Jakob Wegelius
Age Range: 9-11
This stunning graphic novel is a prequel to the award-winning The Murderer's Ape by Finnish author and illustrator Jakob Wegelius, translated by Peter Graves. It follows the story of Sally Jones' life before she met her friend, Koskela, known as the Chief, and found a home on board the Hudson Queen.
One hundred years ago deep in the African rainforest during a tropical storm, a baby gorilla is born. Because there is no moon or stars in the sky the gorilla elders prophesise that the new born gorilla will face many misfortunes. It does seem as if their prediction might be coming true when their troop is ambushed by an illegal hunting expedition and the young gorilla is captured and taken to a local market in the town of Léopoldville where she is to be sold. Bought by Ali Kazdam, a Turkish ivory merchant, she is smuggled to Europe on a passenger liner swaddled like a human baby and given a false passport in the name of Sally Jones.
This is the first of many trials and tribulations that Sally must endure as she attempts to break free from her various captors. As well as the sadness of her plight there is also plenty of adventure as she travels the world from the Congolese jungle to the grand bazaar of Istanbul, from Borneo to London, Singapore and beyond. Although Sally is often at the mercy of human cruelty she has to become inventive just to survive. Her capacity for learning new skills: from a master jewellery thief, assistant to a magician, reading and training as a ship’s engineer is second to none because she really is an exceptional gorilla.
Wegelius’ text and artwork displays the humans Sally encounters as selfish and exploitative with a callous disregard for the land and its animals. There is also a strong anti-colonial message that runs throughout the story. It is the illustrations in particular that convey the range of emotions that Sally experiences and are what makes this book so special. There is just so much depth within each picture and their exquisite detail in terms of capturing emotion are superb. Sally’s mournful eyes follow the reader throughout every page and her deep despair is evident in their expression and her body language. On the rare occasion when she smiles, at the end of the book in an almost photographic pose with Koskela, it just lights up the page.
Unlike the usual format for graphic novels, most of the pages in The Legend of Sally Jones have only one panel; some are given ornate gold frames to indicate their importance such, as the Turkish ivory merchant or the Egyptian prince, while Silvio the magician’s is adorned with symbols from a pack of cards.
Sally is a very compelling heroine and readers will enjoy this as a stand-alone story and, if they haven’t already read The Murderer’s Ape, it will almost certainly make them want to do so.