Posted in Fiction, Graphic Novels, Middle Grade, Middle School, Realistic Fiction, Tween Reads

Measuring Up brings together two worlds

Measuring Up, by Lily LaMotte/Illustrated by Ann Xu, (Oct. 2020, Harper Alley), $12.99, ISBN: 9780062973863

Ages 8-13

Twelve-year old Cici is a Taiwanese girl whose parents are moving to Seattle. She’s not thrilled about leaving her life behind in Taiwan, especially her A-má, the grandmother that helped raise her. While she and A-má video chat, she misses her grandmother terribly and wishes she could bring her to the States. School is okay, but there are the inevitable comments from bullies; even her new friends tend to lump her in with “Chinese” as opposed to “Taiwanese”. Cici wants so much to bring A-má to Seattle to celebrate her 70th birthday, and a kids’ cooking contest offers her the perfect chance to do it: the grand prize will pay for A-má’s ticket! Cici has a few hurdles to overcome, though: her father’s insistence on prioritizing schoolwork over everything else, including cooking; the fact that she only knows how to cook Taiwanese food, and being intimidated by one of the other contestands, a girl named Miranda, whose family owns a popular restaurant and who was practically raised in kitchens. With some help from a friendly librarian (hi!) who introduces her to Julia Child, Cici begins finding her own “courage and conviction” – and that inspires her as she finds herself in her new country.

Cici navigates two worlds in Measuring Up: her Taiwanese world and her new, American world; neither of which make her entirely comfortable all the time. She struggles to “fit in” with her American friends, with new activities like sleepovers – that don’t sit so easily with her parents – and her discomfort with her friends seeing “how Taiwanese” her home life is. Learning to cook with Julia Child’s recipes, and Child’s willingness to not be perfect, gives her the confidence to step outside her comfort zone. Working with Miranda is intimidating at first, but with her newfound confidence, Cici begins trusting herself and finds her voice in the competition and with Miranda, too. It’s an exciting development to watch unfold across the pages, and the colorful artwork is eye-catching. Readers who enjoy slice-of-life, coming of age books like Shannon Hale’s Real Friends books, Victoria Jamieson’s All’s Faire in Middle School, Remy Lai’s Pie in the Sky will love Measuring Up. The New York Times has a great article on food-related novels for kids, too; it’s a great piece on how we connect food, family, and culture. and and Visit author Lily LaMotte’s webpage and find out more about the book, including a recipe from the story.

Posted in Fiction, Graphic Novels, Humor, Middle Grade, Middle School, Tween Reads

Chef Yasmina and the Potato Panic

Chef Yasmina and the Potato Panic, by Wauter Mannaert, (Feb. 2021, First Second), $14.99, ISBN: 9781250622051

Ages 10+

Yasmina is a young chef who loves to work with food. Her dad works in a french fry restaurant (frites! frites!) where he coworkers eat their fill of fast food, while Yasmina makes sure to send her father healthy greens, spring rolls, and vegetable dishes. The family is strapped for cash, so Yasmina gets her fresh ingredients from her wacky friends at the neighborhood garden and, occasionally, from the mysterious neighbor’s rooftop garden. But something weird is afoot when the community garden is bought out by a wealthy corporation and plowed over with scientifically enhanced potatoes that cause some strange behavior in anyone who eats them! Not only are they obsessed with the taters, they’ve started barking, slobbering, and howling at the moon. Yasmina needs to find out what’s going on, fast!

Yasmina is quirky, but tends to be a little hard to follow. The smaller panels contribute to this; it’s hard to see what’s going on and subtle nuances may go missing with a first read. The artwork is fun and colorful, with exaggerated facial expressions and body behavior, but the main point of the plot – the genetically modified foods versus the small community garden – may get lost. Overall, an interesting read that I’m going to put in my library and talk up, because I think it’s a good book for discussion, but this may be an additional purchase for strapped budgets.

Posted in Fantasy, Fiction, Fiction, Graphic Novels, Intermediate, Middle Grade, Middle School, Non-fiction, Realistic Fiction, Teen, Tween Reads

I’m back with more graphic novels!

Hi all! I gave myself a mental health break for the holidays. I didn’t get anything done around my home, as I’d hoped, but I did take a break, knit, and read for a bit, and it was nice. I hope you all had warm and happy holidays, and are safe and well. Let’s finish this year strong and look forward to a better 2021.

In the meantime, I’ve got some graphic novels to crow about.

The Great Gatsby, by F. Scott Fitzgerald/Illustrated by K. Woodman-Maynard, (Jan. 2021, Candlewick Press), $24.99, ISBN: 9781536213010

Ages 12+

The Great Gatsby is getting lots of graphic novel love lately; Fred Forham’s vision was a 2020 CYBILS graphic novel nominee. K. Woodman-Maynard’s envisioning of the Fitzgerald classic is much more surreal, with dreamlike watercolors and narration blended into the background: Nick’s words wander around rugs and through lightbulbs, run over sidewalks, and curl into cigarette smoke. The story of Jazz Age love and murder feels like a series of beautiful watercolors, but a large chunk of the story is missing, making this hard to follow for readers who haven’t read the original story. In her author’s note, Woodman-Maynard even states that she was excited by the metaphors in the story, and it was not her intent to be “an exact literal interpretation of the novel”. As a surrealistic exploration and companion to the original, Woodman-Maynard’s book certainly provides a compelling look. Get a look at a chapter excerpt here, thanks to publisher Candlewick.

 

Beetle & The Hollowbones, by Aliza Layne, (Aug. 2020, Atheneum Books for Young Readers), $21.99, ISBN: 9781534441538

Ages 9-13

First, I have to make a huge apology here: I was invited to a blog tour for Beetle back in August, which also happened to be a point where things were falling apart here, and I blew the date. I am still embarrassed and mortified, because I really work to keep to things like that. So I hope this post makes up, in some way, for the oversight. That said, Beetle & Hollowbones is adorable! A homeschooled goblin-witch named Bettle befriends Blob Ghost, a blobby ghost that inhabits space at the local mall in the town of ‘Allows. Blob Ghost – or, BG, as Beetle calls them – is relegated to the mall, so Beetle happily visits, and is sad when she has to leave. Beetle’s old friend Kat shows up for a sorcery apprenticeship with her intimidating Aunt Hollowbone, and Beetle is fascinated: Kat’s cool, she’s social media famous, chic, and great at magic, to boot. The two start spending time together, to BG’s disappointment, but when Aunt Hollowbone’s awful plan to raze the mall becomes public news, Beetle realizes she has to save BG and find a way to release the mall’s hold on them.

A story about friendship, doing the right thing, and standing up for yourself, Beetle & The Hollowbone’s illustrations are beautiful and vibrant, with adorably creepy creatures that I could easily envision in an animated series. This is the kind of story my library kids love: warmth, family, and friendship, with some magic to infuse the tale.

Beetle and the Hollowbones has starred reviews from Kirkus, School Library Journal, Publisher’s Weekly, and Booklist. It is also a CYBILS 2020 Graphic Novels nominee.

 

Galileo! Galileo!, by Holly Trechter & Jane Donovan, (Aug. 2020, Sky Candle Press), $13.99, ISBN: 978-1939360083

Ages 8-13

Narrated by the historical Italian astronomer Galileo Galilei, Galileo! Galileo! is the story of NASA’s mission to Jupiter. We get a brief recap of Galileo’s life, for an understanding of why the mission bore his name; the narrative then moves into a comprehensive, illustrated lesson on the history of aeronautics and space missions. Holly Trechter’s time as a NASA Ames History Archives intern provides great insights, including a peek at Carl Sagan’s letter-writing campaign that saved the Galileo after budget cuts by the Reagan administration. Holly Trechter and Jane Donovan make Galileo Galilei a cartoony, amiable character who explains the science and politics of space travel in friendly, understandable terms, and the artwork is colorful and includes diagrams, maps, and colorful illustrations. Back matter includes discussion questions. Give this to your Science Comics and History Comics readers for sure. Galileo! Galileo! is a CYBILS 2020 Graphic Novels nominee.

 

Bear, by Ben Queen & Joe Todd-Stanton, (Aug. 2020, Archaia), $24.99, ISBN: 978-1684155316

Ages 7-12

This is another CYBILS 2020 Graphic Novels nominee that I really enjoyed. An original graphic novel from Pixar writer Ben Queen and illustrator Joe Todd-Stanton and published by BOOM! imprint, Archaia, Bear is the story of the relationship between a guide dog and his human. Bear is service dog who lives with Patrick, the blind man he takes care of. Bear and Patrick are happily living together, but when Bear suddenly loses his vision; he worries that he’s lost his purpose. He gets separated from Patrick while trying to get advice from a raccoon, on getting his vision back, and ends up on a grand adventure where he’ll meet bears, run through the streets and subways in Manhattan, and try to find his way back to Ulster Country. Bear is gentle and noble; he will do anything for Patrick, and in turn, Patrick will stop at nothing to find Bear. I loved the relationship between these two, and I thoroughly enjoyed the raccoons, largely played for comic relief, and Stone, the bear who takes it upon himself to keep Bear safe on his travels. The story is also a positive portrayal of a blind character: Patrick repairs vending machines, is a passionate reader and “a decent athlete” who applies for a guide dog in order to pick up more machines on his service route; he hears that having a guide dog will allow him to travel faster than walking with a cane.  The book also gently corrects ableist language; when Patrick mentions having a “seeing eye dog”, the trainer responds that they are called “guide dogs”.

Beautifully illustrated with gentle colors and empathetic characters, Bear will make my graphic novel  shelves when we reopen. Until then, I’ve handed this one to my Kiddo. Results to come.

 

Twins, by Varian Johnson/Illustrated by Shannon Wright, (Oct. 2020, Graphix), $12.99, ISBN: 978-1338236132

Ages 8-12

Twin sisters Maureen and Francine share a room and a life, but starting sixth grade is BIG. Francine, the more extroverted, can’t wait for the chance to start meeting new people and having new experiences, but Maureen is more introverted, more hesitant. She misses dressing like her twin, and she’s really not thrilled that she has no classes with her; when Francine starts calling herself “Fran”, Maureen doesn’t know who this alien who took off with her sister is! Maureen is also intimidated by her school’s Cadet Corp, especially her instructor, Master Sergeant Lucinda Fields. Maureen, the straight-A student, is frustrated by her difficulty in getting marching in formation down and the overwhelming experience of middle school, so discovering that Francine and their parents were behind the decision to put the girls in separate classes AND enroll Maureen in Cadet Corp makes her take action: she decides to run against her sister in the race for Class President. A story of growing up and facing adolescence with all its challenges, Twins features main characters of color in a strong family and a relatable story that anyone with siblings – and close friends – will recognize. It’s hard enough growing apart from one’s best friend, but what happens when that best friend is your sister – and a person you share a friendship group with? I loved the story, the relationship between the sisters and the relationship between family members, the realistic frustration of sharing friends when you have a falling-out, and the challenges of taking on new experiences. Give to your Varian Johnson readers and your graphic novel fans that loved the Invisible Emmie, Becoming Brianna, New Kid, Class Act, and the Nat Enough books.

Twins has starred reviews from The Horn Book, School Library Journal, Publishers Weekly, Kirkus, and Booklist. Twins is also a CYBILS 2020 Graphic Novels nominee. See the full list of honors at Varian Johnson’s webpage.

Posted in Fiction, Graphic Novels, Humor, Middle Grade, Middle School, Tween Reads

More Graphic Novels!

I’ve got more graphic novels! Let’s get to it.

Nori, by Rumi Hara, (May 2020, Drawn & Quarterly), $24.95, ISBN: 978-1-77046-397-4

Ages 10+

Three-year old Noriko – Nori, for short – lives in Japan’s Osaka suburbs and spends most of her time with her grandmother while her parents are working. Set in the 1980s, Nori is all about a little girl’s adventures as she explores the world around her, accompanied by her best friend: her grandmother. The book contains five short stories and is infused with Japanese culture; the events of World War II still reverberate with the adults around Nori, and cultural festivals bring the excitement of the city alive in the pages. Nori brings childhood memories alive for readers: a part in a school play; chasing rabbits and watching neighborhood kids play with crawfish and beetles; she even wins a trip to Hawaii for herself and her grandmother, which leads to a healing moment for a family who’s lost their own matriarch. Black and white artwork has one-color moments for contrast and interest. Nori is a celebration of childhood and the special relationship between a child and grandparent and middle school-aged readers and young teens will especially love this.

Nori has a starred review from Publisher’s Weekly. Read an interview with Rumi Hara on We Need Diverse Books, and visit her website for more information about her work. Nori is a nominee in the 2020 Cybils Graphic Novel category.

 

Marge’s Little Lulu: The Fuzzythingus Poopi, by John Stanley, (Sept. 2020, Drawn and Quarterly), $29.95, ISBN: 9781770463660

Ages 6+

This collection takes me back to my childhood in the best of ways. I used to read Little Lulu reprints when I was growing up, alongside issues of Richie Rich, Casper, and Archie, to name a few. Little Lulu comics were all about the adventures of Little Lulu Moppet and her best friend/frenemy, Tubby; originally published by Dell Comics in the 1940s and 1950s, they’re all about childhood adventures like having snowball fights, trying to gain admission to the “No Girls Allowed” clubhouse, telling stories to a sick friend, and various – hilarious – money-making schemes. This is Drawn and Quarterly’s second Lulu collection, and is filled with reprinted Lulu and Tubby comics, “Lulu’s Diry” diary pages that ran in individual issues, and a cover gallery. The stories are loaded with imagination, like the clip where Lulu houses a ghost who’s been ousted when the house they haunt is torn down; imagines herself in a desert and has to retrieve a nickel from a sewer grate (still in the desert!) by using strands of her hair, leaving her bald. She foils a burglar claiming to be Santa Claus because “he didn’t have a twinkle in his eye!”, and rallies the neighborhood girls together to fight back when they find themselves targeted for snowball attacks by the boys.

Great for new readers who want fun, day-to-day stories of childhood and adults who grew up with Lulu, Tubby, and Alvin. This is a keeper. Read more about The Fuzzythingus Poopi and read an excerpt at publisher Drawn and Quarterly’s page; discover the impact Little Lulu has had on comics, culture, and feminism through this Comics Alliance article and this New Yorker piece.

 

Mary: The Adventures of Mary Shelley’s Great-Great-Great-Great-Great-Granddaughter, by Brea Grant, (Oct. 2020, Six Foot Press), $18.99, ISBN: 978-1644420294

Ages 12-16

Mary is perfect for every goth tween and teen you know. She’s the 5 times great-granddaughter of Frankenstein author Mary Shelley, and she’s from a family of overachieving women dedicated to that legacy. They’re all writers of renown, especially her superstar author mom, who can’t understand… Mary’s ennui? Lack of interest? The fact that she’s not an overachiever in school or life just yet? The thing is, Mary does have a very special family gift, and it makes its debut in these very pages. Mary can heal monsters. Actual, real-life monsters do exist, and Mary discovers that one night when she reattaches one walking dead guy’s foot. He tells his friends, and they tell their friends… and so on, and so on, and so on, as the old commercial goes. Monsters of all sorts show up at Mary’s with some amusing results, and Mary doesn’t know what to do with herself and this gift! Does she walk away from this gift, or does she embrace it?

Work with me: this is relatable! Teens feel the pressure to know what they want to do with their lives by the time they’re seniors in high school. Imagine the stress of being Mary Shelley’s descendant? When there’s a shrine to your many times-great grandmother, who wrote an enduring classic at the age of 19, in your very own home? Imagine discovering you are good at something… it just happens to be something unusual, or different, and the extra stress that can carry with it! Mary is a teen trying to find her way in a family of high-achieving, highly valued women, and isn’t quite sure that being known for healing monsters is what she wants to be known for. To accept her gift and embrace herself is a journey that most tweens and teens can get on board with. Brea Grant’s moody artwork gives great atmosphere to the story, and the dialogue is wonderfully snarky and introspective all at once. Please buy this for your collections and the readers in your life.

Don’t believe me? EW has an excerpt and article on it. Check it out.

 

The League of Super Feminists, by Mirion Malle/Translated by Aleshia Jensen, (Oct. 2020, Drawn and Quarterly), $16.95, ISBN: 9781770464025

Ages 12+

A fantastic guide to feminism for tweens, teens, and beyond, The League of Super Feminists explains the basics of feminism: YES! you can still enjoy princess movies! NO! You don’t have to hate men! What we need everyone – EVERYONE – to understand is how to critically evaluate the media that makes men knights and dragon slayers, and women damsels in distress. That women don’t come in one size: skinny, white, blonde. That women need to build one another up, not tear each other down. That boys and girls can be friends! Diving into such topics as gender, representation, inclusivity, consent, and beauty, The League of Super Feminists uses a range of characters to illustrate and explain these concepts and deconstruct myths and falsehoods for readers. Written like a conversation between the friends, the book is fun, upbeat, and playful, but always self-aware and smart. Mirion Malle never talks down to readers; it’s straight talk that lets everyone know that feminism is good for all, leads to healthy thinking and self-image. A great beginning to an ongoing conversation. See an excerpt on publisher Drawn and Quarterly‘s webpage. Aleishia Jensen’s translation from the original French to English is flawless and picks up all the nuances set forth by Mirion Malle.

Read more about The League of Super Feminists at publisher Drawn and Quarterly’s webpage, including an excerpt on representation. Read an interview with Mirion Malle on We Need Diverse Books.

Psst… makes an excellent holiday gift for the tween in your life. Just saying. The League of Super Feminists is a nominee in the 2020 Cybils Graphic Novel category.

And one to look forward to!

 

Forever Home, by Jenna Ayoub, (Feb. 2021, Boom! Studios), $12.99, ISBN: 9781684156030

Ages 9-13

This sweet, funny haunted house story is perfect reading for kids who are big on comedy. Willow’s a girl who’s been raised all over the world: her parents are in the Army, and that means moving around every couple of years. She’s had to say goodbye to friends too many times, and she doesn’t want to move again! Her parents have just bought Hadleigh House, an old, pink house in need of some TLC, and Willow is happy to finally set down roots: but Gladys and Viola, the ghostly Hadleigh sisters, want their home all to themselves – and the two ghosts that live with them, the Lady and Thomas, a World War I veteran. The sisters raise a ruckus, but they don’t count on the fact that Willow can see and hear them, and she lets them know she isn’t going anywhere. A touching story of belonging and family, Willow is a smart kid who has no problem digging in her heels to stay in the home she loves; Viola and Gladys are delightfully mischievous ghosts, and The Lady’s habit of killing husbands and fiancees is played for laughs as it’s alluded to, never quite addressed. Thomas’s backstory is poignant, and he emerges as a sweet, almost tragic figure. Forever Home has a little bit of comedy, a touch of bittersweet, and enough affection to make this a sure bet for readers who get a kick out of spooky comedies like The Addams Family and The Boxtrolls. Good for middle grade, great for middle school.

 

Posted in Fiction, Graphic Novels, Middle Grade, Non-fiction, Teen, Tween Reads, Young Adult/New Adult

Graphic Novels check-in: CYBILS and some new books!

The TBR catch-up continues. Wow, did I overextend myself over the quarantine, but who can blame me? The books have been AMAZING. I know I’ve been light on the middle grade novels, but I promise you, they are coming, too. For now, here are a couple of CYBILS nominees, and some new books for you to investigate.

 

Black Heroes of the Wild West: Featuring Stagecoach Mary, Bass Reeves, and Bob Lemmons : A TOON Graphic Novel, by James Otis Smith/Introduction by Kadir Nelson, (Sept. 2020, TOON Graphics), $16.95, ISBN: 9781943145515
Ages 8-12
This is a MUST buy for your nonfiction and graphic novel shelves. The New York Times calls Black Heroes of the Wild West “Comics That Dismantle the Cowboy Myth”, and I couldn’t put it any better. Three profiles: Stagecoach Mary Fields, a woman who ran her own business, was a stagecoach driver, and played cards and chomped cigars with the best of the boys; Deputy US Marshal Bass Reeves, the first black deputy US marshal west of the Mississippi, who was charming and caught the bad guys with style; and Bob Lemmon, a Texas horseman who calmed wild mustangs by making them believe he was one of their own. Incredible lives, told in small moments in this book that will whet kids’ (and adults!) interests with stories of life in the Wild West. I loved the stories, the artwork, and the incredible history lesson that unfolds in the back matter. It’s time to recognize the diversity of the Old West, and it’s time to celebrate the Black Lives that helped build the U.S. TOON has free, downloadable lesson plans, videos, and teachers guides for Black Heroes of the Wild West, and the book received a starred review from Booklist. One can only hope there’s a second volume in the works. Black Heroes is a CYBILS graphic novels nominee.
Manga Classics: Anne of Green Gables, by L.M Montgomery/Adapted by Crystal Chan/Illustrated by Kuma Chan, (Nov. 2020, Manga Classics), $19.99, ISBN: 9781947808188
Ages 12+
I’ve been happy to have Manga Classics available for my tweens and teens who struggle with reading the classics, but devour manga. This latest one gave me the chance to sit down again with Anne of Green Gables, the classic story of the orphan reluctantly adopted by older siblings Marilla and Matthew Cuthbert, taking place on Canada’s Prince Edward Island. The artwork will immediately draw in manga readers, and the story is faithfully adapted here. Anne’s melodrama is wonderfully translated from words to pictures, and Marilla’s ice queen exterior is softened considerably by the artwork, which shows the struggle to keep herself at a distance as this quirky red-headed girl wins her heart. Manga Classics has been doing justice by my library kids for a few years now; I’ll make sure to keep this one handy, too. If you have readers who are interested in diving deeper, display and booktalk author LM Montgomery’s illustrated biography, House of Dreams; Anne’s life is heavily influenced by the author and will make for a wonderful author study for middle and high school students. Anne of Green Gables is a CYBILS graphic novels nominee.
Last Pick: Rise Up, by Jason Walz, (Oct. 2020, First Second), $17.99, ISBN: 9781626728950
Ages 12+
The third book in the Last Pick series is finally here! Last Pick is a sci fi trilogy where Earth has been taken over by a cruel alien race; they’ve taken countless humans as slave labor across the universe, but the disabled; the elderly; the too young are left behind. These “last picked” have banded together to fight the alien menace, and Wyatt – a teen boy with autism – is at the head of the revolution. His sister, Sam, has been sent off into the stars, but she’s been fomenting revolution, too, with her new girlfriend, Mia; an underground freedom radio broadcaster. In this final chapter of the trilogy, everything that’s been put into motion over the last two books is coming together, and the aliens won’t know what hit them. The artwork ad action explode off the page while the very human story of resistance, family, and burgeoning romance keep the reader turning pages. This is one of the best sci-fi series in recent years, with intense, smart portrayals of characters who are left behind and how take charge to save a planet. I recently took part in a graphic novels panel, Librarians Love Comics!, and one of my colleagues mentioned how much he liked this series, so don’t just take my word for it. Last Pick is librarian-approved.
The Challenger Disaster: Tragedy in the Skies (History Comics), by Pranas T. Naujokaitis, (Oct. 2020, First Second), $19.99, ISBN: 9781250174291
Ages 8-12
It’s the year 2386, and the students on Space Station Sagan are celebrating Challenger Day. The students begin their presentations, and through the magic of AI and holograms, meet the seven members of the 1986 Space Shuttle Challenger crew, hear about their selection and training for the Challenger mission, and what went so horribly wrong that day in January 1986. Written as nonfiction within a fictional setting, The Challenger Disaster creates fun, engaging characters and lets them interact with actual people from US history to deliver a narrative that is great for history and STEM readers, and graphic novel readers alike. Each member of the 1986 Challenger crew is developed and invites readers to meet the people behind the legend, behind the headlines. Back matter includes an afterword from the author about growing up in a post-Challenger world and additional Challenger facts. The artwork introduces a fun science fiction feel while solidly addressing the nonfiction portion of the book. Sketches and diagrams throughout will help readers gain an understanding of the many moving parts it takes for a space shuttle to come together, and the discussion on the story behind the disaster is sobering and, quite frankly, chilling. It’s a mistake that should never have been made, and it brings home the risk of stepping outside our front doors.
Fangirl: The Manga (Volume 1), by Rainbow Rowell/Adapted by Sam Maggs, Illustrated by Gabi Nam (Oct. 2020, Viz Media). $16.99, ISBN: 9781974715879
Ages 12+
The manga adaptation of one of Rainbow Rowell’s most beloved novels is here, and written by a force in fandom, no less. Sam Maggs has written comic book storylines for Star Wars, Star Trek, Captain Marvel, and more; she’s written Geek Girls Guides to the Galaxy and the Universe; she’s even written an original middle grade novel, Con Quest, which takes place at a thinly veiled facsimile of San Diego Comic Con. So of course she’d be the person to adapt a love letter to fan fic, fandom, and finding your own way. Cath and Wren are twin sisters heading to college. Wren is ready to make changes and become her own person, but Cath is more of an introvert, holding onto her fanfiction and her fandom for Simon Snow, a Harry Potter-esque type of story about magic and vampires. As Wren branches out and gains new (and sometimes dubious) experiences, Cath finds herself inching out of her own comfort zone thanks to her roommate and her boyfriendish friend and a classmate who’s a little too stuck on himself but so good-looking. At the same time, Cath worries about their dad, who’s alone for the first time in years, and frustrated with her professor, who doesn’t see fanfiction as a legitmate form of writing. This is only Volume 1, but its so well-adapted that the Rowell fans are going to be howling for more. The subtle shifts from “real” life to Cath’s magnum Simon Snow opus, Carry On, are wonderfully placed throughout the book, and seriously – were two characters ever better suited for a manga interpretation than Simon and Baz? The artwork is perfect; readers will love seeing their favorite characters with life breathed into them. A manga interpretation of Fangirl is going to bring new fans to Rainbow Rowell’s fanbase as the manga readers discover this series – I hope there are plans for a Carry On manga next.
Posted in Fantasy, Fiction, Graphic Novels, Middle Grade, Realistic Fiction, Tween Reads

CYBILS graphic novels check-in

The CYBILS Round One reading goes on. I’ve read 60 of 107 nominees so far, and my shortlist… well, it’s pretty long. I’ll be going through my shortlist a few times and talking books with my other Round One judges before we can provide the next round with a shortlist to go to, but it won’t be easy. There’s been some good stuff written and illustrated this year. While I can’t go into too much detail, since these are more nominees, I didn’t want them to be missed. Enjoy.

Stepping Stones, by Lucy Knisley, (Sept. 2020, RH Graphic), $20.99, ISBN: 9780593125243

Ages 8-12

I am a Lucy Knisley fan, and I’m excited that she’s writing graphic novels, in her autobiographical style, for middle graders. This is her first middle grade book, a fictionalized story of her life when she and her mom moved to a farm with her mother’s boyfriend. In the story, Jen is not happy about leaving her life in the city to live on a farm with her mom, her mom’s bossy boyfriend, Walter, and Walter’s two daughters, Andy and Reese, who spend every weekend with their dad. Jen thinks Andy is bossy and a know-it-all, like her dad, and Reese is weepy and cries for her mom. Gradually, the three girls become friends – stepsisters, even – as they start talking and discover that they’re not worlds different, after all. An author’s note gives readers the real details about Lucy Knisley’s farm years, complete with photos. Her storytelling style makes readers feel like they’re reading her journal or diary; her artwork is cartoony realistic, perfect for Raina Telgemeier and Victoria Jameson fans. You’ll love the farmer’s market scenes, where Jen finally asserts herself and owns her talent, and the nature scenes make you realize why Jen’s mother packed up and left the city for greener pastures. Pick up Stepping Stones if you’ve never read a Lucy Knisley book before, then look up her other books for yourself.

Dungeon Critters, by Natalie Riess and Sara Goetter, (Sept. 2020, First Second), $14.99, ISBN: 9781250195470

Ages 9-13

If your Dungeons & Dragons campaign was made up of furry animal friends, you’d have Dungeon Critters. A group of animal adventurers are on the case to uncover a mysterious plant and a sinister plot, all surrounding Chirp – one of the adventurers, and a member of the royal family – and longtime rival, The Baron. Go on dungeon crawls, dance at fancy balls, and join the Dungeon Critters on their quests for adventure, as they figure out their complicated feelings for one another. It’s a fun adventure, cartoony, colorful artwork, frenetic energy, and tons of jokes. Gender and sexuality are fluid – Chirp, for instance, has she/her pronouns but is a prince; Rose and Juniper are two Dungeon Critters who have she/her pronouns and are crushing on each other. A positive, diverse, fun adventure for middle graders.

Posted in Graphic Novels, Middle Grade, Teen, Tween Reads, Young Adult/New Adult

A CYBILS graphic novel rundown

I know, being on the CYBILS first round, I can’t give TOO much away about graphic novels I’m reading, but I did have these on my TBR before I was nominated to judge, so… I’ll just talk them up a wee bit. To whet your appetite for what’s coming.

Softies: Stuff That Happens After the World Blows Up, by Kyle Smeallie, (Oct. 2020, Iron Circus Comics), $15, ISBN: 9781945820489

Ages 10-14

This is sort of Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, with a dose of stuffed animals tossed in for good measure. Earth blows up: kablooey, just like that. But there’s a survivor! Kay, a thirteen-year-old girl, is floating around in space when she’s rescued by Arizona, an alien space-junk collector, and his cybernetic pet Euclid. Arizona looks like a cuddly pink space stuffie that you’d find on the shelves in Target, and Euclid would definitely have his own action figure. There are laughs to be had, especially when Kay explains where she’s from, time and again, to blank faces – we’re not that well-known in the universe after all – and the levels of bureacracy that pop up time and again, as the new friends make their way through space. Softies is comprised of short stories, put together into one volume. The artwork is cartoony and very kid-friendly; the material is probably better suited for higher middle grade to middle school. There are some chuckleworthy moments and some sweet moments as Arizona and Kay try to figure things out together in this new relationship they’re forging. The storytelling has some lags, but overall, kids will get a kick out of it. Good to have for those tough-to-pin-down middle school collections.

 

The Magic Fish, by Trung Le Nguyen, (Oct. 2020 Random House Graphic), $23.99, ISBN: 9780593125298

Ages 12+

Told in parallel narratives between fairy tales and real life, The Magic Fish is the story of Tiến, a Vietnamese teen who loves his family but lives with a secret that he fears will change things. He’s gay, and doesn’t quite know how to come out to them. He shares stories with his parents, particularly his mother, and we can see the story within the story here: each is about suffering, and eventually, rising above difficult circumstances, which mirrors not only Tiến’s life, but his mother’s escape from Vietnam to America and her longing to be with her mother. The artwork itself is breathtaking; the fairy tale scenes are incredible, dreamlike; Tiến’s reality is realistically drawn with fleshed-out characters and expressive body language. Sensitive, beautifully drawn, and perfect for teen collections. The Magic Fish has starred reviews from Publishers Weekly, Booklist, Kirkus, and is an Indie Next pick.

Witches of Brooklyn, by Sophie Escabasse, (Sept. 2020, Random House Graphic), $12.99, ISBN: 9780593119273
Ages 8-12
I LOVED this magical story! Effie is a kid whose mom has passed away, and she’s brought to Brooklyn to live with her aunt, Selimene; a woman she’s never met before. Selimene and her partner, Carlota, are two “herbalists” who just seem plain weird to Effie, until she discovers that the two women are… shhhh… witches. Good witches, to be sure, but witches! And shortly after arriving, Effie discovers her hands start glowing and that she’s a witch, too! Could this day get better? You bet – she makes two great friends in school, and when she arrives home, discovers that her favorite pop star, Tily Shoo, is in her house in need of Selimene and Carlota’s help. Everything is fun about Witches of Brooklyn, which also has wonderful storytelling and statements about family. Great artwork, great character development and storytelling, and  – let’s hope – more to come. Give this to your Lumberjanes readers and while you’re at it, hand them a copy of Emma Steinkellner’s graphic novel, The Okay Witch.
Swamp Thing: Twin Branches, by Maggie Stiefvater/Illustrated by Morgan Beem, (Oct. 2020, DC Comics), $16.99, ISBN: 9781401293239
Ages 12+
Twin brothers Alec and Walker Holland are sent off to spend their last summer before college with their rural cousins after catching their father having an affair. Alec, the studious one, buries himself in a lab where he continues working on a project that takes everything in him – a bit literally – to keep going, while Walker hits the social scene. The two brothers find themselves diverging this summer, with tensions and memories forcing their way between the two. And the swamp… well, that’s just waiting for someone, isn’t it? Maggie Stiefvater is an amazing YA writer, and Morgan Beem has a nice list of comics illustration to her credit. She creates an eerie atmosphere with her green and murky artwork, giving Maggie Stiefvater’s creepy storytelling a wonderfully oogie vibe. I’ll be honest, the story dipped for me a few times when Alec gets caught up in his botany discussions, but the overall storytelling is strong and macabre; very American Gothic.
Posted in awards, Cybils, Graphic Novels

Cybils Check-In: Graphic Novels

Yesterday was the closing date for the 2020 Cybils nominees: did you get your picks in? So now, the reading begins. Actually, the reading’s been going on; I’m a first-round judge in Graphic Novels this year, so my Holds list runneth over with all sorts of great nominees.

This year, because of… well, 2020 being 2020, Graphic Novels is collapsed into one category, and we’re reading both YA and Middle Grade graphic novels, which fits perfectly in my wheelhouse. I’m thrilled with the graphic novel storytelling happening these days; there are great autobiographical stories, like Robin Ha’s Almost American Girl, and great realistic fiction, like Nat Enough. Fun fantasy stories, like Dungeon Critters, and all the superheroes you can imagine, thanks to DC’s middle grade and YA original graphic novels. I’m proud of this medium and what it’s accomplished: there’s a lot of respect for the power of sequential storytelling now, and being part of the Cybils Graphic Novels panel means so much.

No spoilers here – I won’t be writing about the novels we’re discussing, but full disclosure, several novels were on my review list before they were Cybils nominees. I’ll review those as I normally would, mention that they are a Cybils nominee, and that’s it.

 

I’ve got a stack of books to get to, so I’ll close here for now. More to come!

Posted in Fiction, Graphic Novels, Middle Grade, picture books, Preschool Reads

Picture books by graphic novelists and a graphic novel to welcome your week

How’s everyone doing? Are you all getting the hang of school this year just yet? Me, neither. But I do have some fun books to share, so let’s greet Monday with cheery stories.

 

My Pencil and Me, by Sara Varon, (Sept. 2020, First Second), $18.99, ISBN: 9781596435896

Ages 3-7

I love a good meta picture book, and Sara Varon’s latest, My Pencil and Me, fits that bill wonderfully. Sara herself stars in this story, along with her dog, Sweet Pea, and her special pencil. Not sure what to draw, Sara turns to Pencil for advice, and Pencil is ready and willing to guide her! What unfolds is an entertaining romp through the creative process, where Pencil encourages Sara to “go around and collect ideas”, and “draw recent adventures”. Deciding on the setting of a baseball game she attended last week, Sara creates characters and adds a plot: in this case, a baseball game between imaginary and real friends. When an inevitable conflict arises, Sara must put her story in the hands of the imaginary friends to save the day! It’s adorable, it’s filled with humor, and is a smart guide to creative writing that kids will love. A photo of Varon with the real Pencil and Sweet Pea, and some imaginary friends hanging around, places the reader and makes things a little more tangible. Endpapers highlight different pencils, pens, and paintbrushes strewn about the white background, with our very own Pencil smiling up at us, illustrated, and standing out on its own.

Sara Varon’s artwork is always so much fun to enjoy, with imaginative creatures and animals alongside people and real(ish) situations. There’s overall narration and word bubbles, and panels throughout, making this another addition to picture book/graphic novel shelves. She’s great at capturing small moments, and she’s great at telling larger scale stories, all with her relatable author’s voice and charming artwork. Invite your littles to tell you their own story using Pencil’s guidelines – and, of course, have plenty of Pencils on hand for your littles to personify for themselves. (Or crayons, naturally!)

 

Julia’s House Moves On, by Ben Hatke, (Sept. 2020, First Second), $18.99, ISBN: 9781250191373

Ages 4-8

In a sequel to Ben Hatke’s 2014 story Julia’s House for Lost Creatures, Julia, her house full of friends, and the House itself all realize that it’s time to move on. The only thing is, things don’t always go to plan, and when things get underway before Julia’s plans are ready, she’s got to do some quick thinking. Because Julia always has a plan. The story of what to do when life gets in the way of your plans, Julia’s House Moves On is about endurance, resilience, and maybe – just maybe – the fact that sometimes, it’s okay to throw your plans to the wind.

I have been a Ben Hatke fan for a long time now, and his work never ceases to bring the wonder. Julia’s House Moves On has stunning watercolor work and a story that brings heartache and joy in equal parts. Moments like Julia’s House soaring through the sky; a Sea Queen holding the House in her hands; moments like these and so many more are just breathtaking to behold. There’s magic in these pages. A must-add for your dreamers and your planners alike.

The Nutcracker and the Mouse King: The Graphic Novel, by E.T.A. Hoffman/Illustrated and Adapted by Natalie Andrewson, (Sept. 2020, First Second), $18.99, ISBN: 9781596436817

Ages 7-10

Let the holiday book love commence! The graphic novel retelling of the beloved Nutcracker classic is both fantastic and surreal. Organized into 14 chapters, the story of Marie and Fritz Stahlbaum has all the characters readers have come to know – or discover: Fritz’s Hussar soldiers and Marie’s doll, Miss Clarette, the wicked Mouse King and his army, and the Nutcracker. The story unfolds like a fever dream, shifting between Marie’s dreams and the wide-awake storytimes told by their godfather, the children’s uncle Drosselmeyer. It’s manic, often creepy, and a new spin on the classic tale. Give this to your adventure and fantasy fans. An author’s note talks about the original story versus the adaptation that Natalie Andrewson ‘wanted to tell’.

A frenetic adventure that’s going to be read at Christmastime and beyond.

Posted in Fantasy, Graphic Novels, Teen, Young Adult/New Adult

Fantasy Graphic Novels for Teens

Ever After, by Olivia Vieweg, (Sept. 2020, Graphic Universe), $16.99, ISBN: 9781728412924

Ages 12+

Translated from the German 2012 graphic novel Endzeit, Ever After is an unsettling zombie apocalypse story. Two German cities – Weimar and Jena – are survivor outposts in the days after the zombie apocalypse. Two young women, Vivi and Eva, travel from the harsh conditions in Weimar to Jena, hoping for a better life, but both women have secrets. Vivi is tormented by visions of her younger sister, while Eva is in the middle of a transformation. The two form an unlikely friendship on the road, protecting one another from the living and the dead. The story is focused on the two women for the most part, making it an interesting character study in personality. The colorful manga-inspired artwork is a stark contrast to the bleak story, and there are some very graphic moments that may not appeal to some readers. The story drops readers into the beginning of the story with very little context, so it is a little fiddly at first, but I hit my stride pretty quickly. It’s an interesting new take on zombie stories; if you have readers who enjoy zombie horror, consider adding this to your shelves.

Endzeit was made into a movie in 2019.

 

Daughters of Ys, by M.T. Anderson/Illustrated by Jo Rioux, (Aug. 2020, :01First Second), $24.99, ISBN: 9781626728783

Ages 12+

Award-winning author M.T. Anderson and illustrator Jo Rioux create a feminist fantasy with a Celtic influence with Daughters of Ys. Ys, a seaside kingdom, is shaken when its Queen, Malgven, passes away. Her two daughters, Rozenn and Dahut, are horrified to discover their father in the arms of other women so soon after their mother’s passing, and grow apart. Rozenn, the heir to the throne, would rather be in the wild, surrounded by animals and nature; Dahut enjoys palace life and all the attention that comes with being the “beautiful daughter” – but she’s got a secret directly connected to the monsters that threaten the Kingdom of Ys: the monsters that Queen Malgven used to be able to keep away.

Based on a classic folktale, The Daughters of Ys has M.T. Anderson’s hallmark storytelling, with epic fantasy fleshed out with strong characters and complex relationships. Jo Rioux’s artwork beautifully creates a Celtic-inspired world, and her lush artwork gives the fluid feeling of the seaside kingdom surreal life. She uses shadows and moody coloring to wonderfully dramatic effect. Hand this to any of your fantasy readers, and for anyone interested in more reading about Ys, this Wikipedia page has some very good information and links.

MT Anderson has won multiple literary awards, including the 2006 National Young People’s Book Award for his book The Pox Party. His 2018 book with M.T. Anderson, The Assassination of Brangwain Spurge, was nominated for the National Young People’s Book Award.

The Daughters of Ys has a starred review from School Library Journal.

Teen Titans: Beast Boy, by Kami Garcia/Illustrated by Gabriel Picolo, (Sept. 2020, DC Comics), $16.99, ISBN: 9781401287191

Ages 10+

The creative powerhouse that brought us the Raven original graphic novel is back with Teen Titans’s Beast Boy! Garfield Logan is 17 years old, and he wants things to happen! Senior year is almost over, and he can’t figure out how to get in with the in crowd, instead of being the pizza-eating, video-game loving nerd that everyone overlooks. Tired of being short and scrawny, he stops taking the supplements his parents always give him, and things start happening. He grows six inches overnight. His voice gets deeper, and he’s strong. Like, STRONG. And fast. It’s almost like he can… channel different animals? He starts taking dares from the social crowd, and Gar sees his chance for social currency! But although a big dare pays off, it also kicks something into motion, and Gar decides he needs answers from his parents. They’ve been keeping things from him, and it’s time they ‘fessed up. But his parents, and his best friends, Stella and Tank, aren’t the only people with a vested interest in Gar. A guy named Slade Wilson is skulking around town (DC fans will know that when Deathstroke shows up, that’s never good news), claiming to have some of the answers Gar’s looking for, but Slade is playing a longer game, and someone higher up is very, VERY interested in Gar.

I loved this Beast Boy origin story! I will be honest, though – while it doesn’t end abruptly, it does end with a lot of questions unanswered, so I hope there’s a second book in the works. There are nods to the Teen Titan fans know, including his green hair, his fanboy, upbeat attitude, and his self-deprecating humor. Kami Garcia nails it, as always, and Gabriel Picolo does his favorite Teen Titan (read the author and illustrator notes at the beginning of the book) justice by capturing Beast Boy’s look and attitude perfectly. Another DC YA graphic novel hit.