Run Far, Run Fast
Run Far, Run Fast (copyright 2007)
Run Far, Run Fast is the most beautiful and innovative work of graphic fiction ever to grace the printed page.
The Pestilence has arrived. With it come death and fear, hiding and desperation. A young girl is hastened out of her dying town and told by her mother, “Run far, run fast.” The child obeys and travels from village to castle, castle to countryside, in search of shelter. Wherever she turns, the Pestilence has already appeared. Scared and tired, she finally meets a stranger who knows something of this plague. He is kind and learned, but the girl cannot know whether his knowledge will be enough to save her family. Timothy Decker explores the bleak yet breathtaking world of fourteenth-century Europe in this quiet story of hope during desolation. Stark pen-and-ink drawings emphasize the realism of this romanticized period, and straightforward prose creates a truly haunting tale
Selected by White Ravens Catalogue – 250 Outstanding International Children’s Books of 2008.
English Language Section – International Youth Library – Schloss Blutenburg, Munich, GERMANY
First Place Cover/Jacket – Adult Graphic Novel Series – 2009 New York Book Show
Illustrations by Timothy Decker Art Direction and Design by Helen Robinson
If David Macaulay fictionalized medieval family life in a plague year, he might produce something like this solemn graphic narrative, set in 1348. In pen-and-ink panels notable for their architectural renderings, Decker describes “one small girl in a time of great fear,” when “the gates of the city were locked to keep the Pestilence out.” The anonymous girl, a carpenter’s daughter, lives humbly, surrounded by windswept fields, sagging barns and thatch-roofed cottages. When her father falls ill and soldiers quarantine their home, the girl’s mother helps her escape, saying, “Run far, run fast.” Wandering along dirt roads, through wolf-infested forests, the girl seeks safety in fortified towns and with an enigmatic guardian, the narrator. Readers may guess the purpose of this man’s birdlike mask; several people disaffectedly display the swollen nodes that signal plague. Throughout, Decker evokes the paranoid ambience, if not the gruesomeness, of death-ridden villages. Handwritten exposition appears on the verso pages, while uncaptioned, tightly spaced thumbnail sketches on the recto pages chart the girl’s travels. But while Decker sets the stage gracefully, his drawings of people are awkward. Mitten hands and blank, oval faces suffice for secondary characters, but the central girl’s face conveys only indistinct sorrow. As in his The Letter Home, an idiosyncratic account of WWI, Decker imagines a famously horrific situation and replaces terror with unsettling quietude. Ages 10-up.
Treading a narrow line between picture book and graphic novel, Decker employs the strengths of both formats to convey a sense of desperation and, ultimately, hope. As the Black Plague encompasses fourteenth-century Europe, a young girl is freed from captivity by her mother and told to escape the town – and the plague itself. The power of the story springs from the book’s picture-book simplicity of layout, composition, and text. The open space in the pictures, the brevity of the prose, and the darkness of the subject matter capture the isolation people feel in desperate times, but the story never loses track of the fact that, while there may be no assurances, there is power and hope in human kindness. Echoing issues examined in Decker’s The Letter Home (2005), this profound tale best suits advanced readers prepared for its subtle, potent message.
Library Media Connection:
This is a story about a young girl that must find somewhere safe to go because the plague has invaded her medieval town. The story itself, although short, gives a very clear indication of what these children must have experienced during this time, I found no part of this story that was watered down to appease the younger reader. Yet, it was simple enough for them to understand and to receive the message of this horrible epidemic. The author’s pen and ink drawings with no color reflect the starkness of the story. At times, I felt that the pictures might he too scary for young readers, even though the story itself explained the illustrations quite reasonably for them, I felt it interesting to include pictures of little girls in a ring holding hands most likely singing “Ring Around the Rosy,” This would be a good educational moment to explain the meaning of this nursery rhyme.
… Decker has a new book that just came out, Run Far, Run Fast. This time around he writes about an unnamed plague, “the Pestilence”, in the 14th century. The protagonist is a young girl who is literally running for her life. She has a family she loves, and until the age of ten her life is good. But then the Pestilence arrives and her father becomes ill and the local townspeople quarantine their home, boarding up the doors and windows. After dark her mother helps her escape; “run far, run fast” she whispers and the girl must go, she must leave all that she loves so she might live. In the pages that follow, Decker writes of how she walks and walks, encountering many people all of whom are also walking somewhere else – all of them trying to get someplace safe. The cities are walled and their entries barred – to keep the Pestilence out – but it “could not be caged”. She meets the narrator and they talk about the Pestilence, how it can be stopped, no matter how rich the offering. The girl loses her fear as she understands that fear will not make a difference – nothing will make a difference. She returns to save her family but finds only her brother, in the guarded “pest house” where the sick are shuttled together in a larger attempt at quarantine. The girl and the young boy escape to her kind benefactor who provides kindness and a place to try and heal. She finds peace at last, and safety.
Just like Letter, Run Far, Run Fast celebrates the basic tenants of human kindness and empathy – it is a book that makes the compassionate care of others its centerpiece. Again Decker’s drawings are black and white and spare but again they pack a quiet punch. Combined together the two books tell the kind of stories that I have found nowhere else. They glorify kindness, but in an adult manner. I think they are both just amazing and I hope Decker keeps doing the same kind of work for a long long time.
Time Out New York Kids:
Timothy Decker conjures a much earlier historical era, the Middle Ages, in his fictional Run Far, Run Fast. The subject is a grim one: A young girl’s mother urges her to flee when the plague invades their village, and she wanders the countryside alone in search of shelter. Along the way, the child encounters deserted villages, sick and disfigured fellow travelers, and a pervasive sense of fear. The characters endure their trials with expressions of haunting, resigned dignity. On one eerily effective page, framed by fleas that surround a border of tiny, presumably pestilent mice, a masked figure silently comforts the dying. Somber black-and-white sketches evoke the fear and horror of a dark time in a way that a history text cannot, and with the nameless girl as their guide through the devastated landscape, readers can easily imagine themselves in her time and place.