Bluffton by Matt Phelan

The art is gorgeous, of course. Have you seen his other books? Both Storm in the Barn and (my personal favorite) Around the World also feature the gorgeous watercolor, pencil, and ink of Matt Phelan.

Bluffton is about the summers that famous film pioneer Buster Keaton spent in Bluffton, MI. We hear about these summers from the perspective of a fictional main character, Henry. I wouldn't have known that Henry was fictional except that it says so right in the back of the book. The relationship between Henry and Buster (and others) feels very authentic, as does the plot in general. Of course, the book is born of Phelan's lifelong fascination with Buster Keaton, so you know, there was a lot of research.

Despite having been well researched, the book never feels like it was written by a robot. Also, the book is not so perfect and glossy that you're like "how was that even made?" No, you can see how it was drawn, complete with tiny imperfections. I noticed one panel in particular where the coloring went outside of the border:

That sort of thing would be easy to clean up, digitally or otherwise. But I feel like it adds to the character of the book, and maybe even helps establish the book's setting -- a century in the past.

Bluffton is certainly appropriate for ages 8 and up, but my guess is that it will appeal more strongly to teens and adults (especially those who already know a little bit about Buster Keaton). I don't know how the book would read for someone who has no idea of who Keaton is. Speaking for myself, Bluffton made me want to re-watch some of Buster Keaton's films; I got my first taste of them in my college's Intro to Film class. I want to share them with my kids and watch their faces. It looks like there are some on YouTube.

This book is so well done. That's really the bottom line. In Bluffton, Matt Phelan perfectly mixes dialog and illustration. Let me show you what I mean. An interaction like this one could be totally hackneyed with extra descriptions. ("... she said. Suddenly, Henry realized he was sitting on a heart-backed love-seat with a girl who had just said the L word..." No.) The pictures just do it so well.

I hope you'll check this one out, if it interests you. If not, may I once again recommend Around the World? My review is here, and I also recorded my book club's reaction.

UPDATE: I watched The General with our five-year-old son and it was priceless! My review of that is here.
If you make a purchase after following one of these links, I receive a small commission at no extra cost to you. Amazon - Bluffton: My Summers with Buster KeatonBarnes and Noble - Bluffton: My Summer with Buster Keaton 

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