Posted in Fiction, Graphic Novels, Middle Grade, Non-fiction, Teen, Tween Reads, Women's History

February graphic novels bring magical realism and STEM nonfiction

First Second is a graphic novel powerhouse. Every season, I know I’m going to see good stuff from the authors and illustrators that First Second publishes. Here are two we’ve got coming in February.

Snapdragon, by Kat Leyh, (Feb. 2020, First Second), $12.99, ISBN: 9781250171115

Ages 10+

Magical realism infuses this story about a girl who befriends the town witch. Snapdragon’s heard the rumors about the “roadkill witch”, but when Jacks – a loner constructs skeletons from roadkill to sell to veterinary schools – rescues Snap’s dog, she finds herself cultivating a friendship with the loner, who takes her on as an apprentice. But Jacks also has rituals she goes through, to put those roadkill spirits to rest, and Snap is pretty sure that Jacks has a little bit of witchcraft after all.

Snapdragon is a story with depth. Lumberjanes writer Kat Leyh creates a magical, yet real cast of characters: Snapdragon, the daughter of a single working mother, is bullied at school and by her mother’s cruel ex-boyfriend. Her friend, Louis, who prefers to go by Lulu and wear skirts and nail polish, is tormented by his brothers. The two bond over their mutual love of a a horror movie series and Lulu finds comfort and safety in Snapdragon’s home. Jacks and Snap discover a connection between them in a subplot with Snap’s grandmother.

Snapdragon has a starred review from Kirkus.

 

Astronauts: Women on the Final Frontier, by Jim Ottaviani & Maris Wicks, (Feb. 2020, First Second), $19.99, ISBN: 9781626728776

Ages 8-12

Meet the first women to travel into space in this nonfiction graphic novel that has big appeal for Science Comics fans. Astronaut Dr. Mary Cleave navigates readers through the history of women and space travel, starting with the Soviet space program that made Valentina Tereshkova the first woman in space, and illustrates the long road American women had to take to get Group 9, NASA’S first mixed-gender class, to the stars.

The most frustrating thing about Astronauts is reading how seemingly determined the U.S. government was to keep women out of space. The graphic novel tells multiple stories from different points of view; the Mercury 13 and Women in Space Program both ended up going nowhere, while the Soviet Union focused on sending just one woman – Tereshkova – into space. (And she didn’t even tell her mother before she went.) It’s disheartening to read that science journalists imagined conversations between women – female scientists – and Mission Control consisting of, “this little thingamabob has jiggled off the gizmo”. Even when NASA got it together and began recruiting women for the space program for real this time, their concerns about dress codes and complete ignorance of basic physiology left me frustrated and even more determined to get my STEM/STEAM programming firmly entrenched here at my library. The second half of the book, focusing more on Mary Cleave’s space shuttle missions and NASA training, are a welcome relief. There are some great and hilarious anecdotes throughout, and Mary Cleave’s love for space exploration and science comes through, making me hopeful that this book will inspire many, many kids. There are references, a bibliography, and working sketches.

Astronauts has starred reviews from Kirkus and Publisher’s Weekly.

Posted in Graphic Novels, Non-Fiction, Teen, Uncategorized, Young Adult/New Adult

Open Borders presents the science and ethics of immigration

Open Borders: The Science and Ethics of Immigration, by Bryan Caplan/Illustrated by Zach Weinersmith, (Oct. 2019, First Second), $19.99, ISBN: 9781250316967

Ages 14+

It’s no secret that immigration is a hot-button – one of the hottest button – topics in current events. One one side, we have those who would welcome new immigrants, for cultural and humanitarian reasons; on the other, those who want to restrict the flow of people into the country, whether to protect the current citizenry, the culture, or the economic status quo. Economist Bryan Caplan has written Open Borders: The Science and Ethics of Immigration as a proposal to both sides. He argues in favor of open borders, noting that doing so could eliminate poverty worldwide, not spiral us deeper into it; raise the global education and skill level, and lead us – as a whole – into a new age of prosperity for all.

The book, masterfully illustrated by Zach Weinersmith, presents Caplan’s argument using comprehensive research, communicated with a plain-English tone and artwork that’s colorful, multicultural, and translatable to audiences who don’t have a background in economics. The book is conversational and never preachy, and Caplan takes on reasons detractors have fallen back on time and again to argue against open borders, showing, using hard numbers, why open borders may be the next best way for us to advance.

This should be used in high schools and colleges: there are lists of resources and further reading; copious notes and references, and the straight-talk explanations, with clear illustrations, will really assist students, especially those who may stumble with pages of numbers, charts, and data. Once presented in the frame of a story, with a real-life, current events situation to anchor it, the numbers take on a life and meaning.

Open Borders has a starred review from Booklist. Author Bryan Caplan’s webpage is a treasure trove of articles and information, including cartoons and role-playing resources(!).

Posted in Fantasy, Fiction, Graphic Novels, Middle Grade, Tween Reads

Is Lily the Thief in over her head?

Lily the Thief, by Janne Kukkonen, (Nov. 2019, First Second), $14.99, ISBN: 9781250196972

Ages 10-14

Originally released in Finland in 2016, Lily the Thief is a middle grade fantasy adventure starring a young thief who’s desperate to break out of the apprentice role and take on bigger and better assignments in the thieves guild. The Guildmaster only gives her the little jobs, the low-profile stuff: pick-pocketing; trespassing; stealing little things here and there. Durine one little assignment, though, she stumbles onto a big job, but it puts her and her mentor into some very dangerous crosshairs. There are cults, gods, and treasure to be found, but there’s also blackmail and danger. Lily’s got to keep herself alive!

Lily is a good pick for your fantasy readers and your graphic novel fans who love Ben Hatke’s Zita and Mighty Jack books, and Faith Erin Hicks’ epic Nameless City epic series. Colors are earthy, and Janne Kukkonen creates moody settings for the thief’s tale and uses shadows and light to create an almost sinister, creeping feeling as Lily gets closer to uncovering big secrets that could cost her more than her wages. Lily is a likable character; a street urchin-turned-thief, who uses her brains and her skills to get out of tough situations.

Posted in Fantasy, Fiction, Graphic Novels, Middle Grade, Teen, Tween Reads

Truckus Maximus: Bread, Circuses, and Gladiator Monster Trucks!

Truckus Maximus, by Scott Peterson/Illustrated José Garcia, (Oct. 2019, First Second), $16.99, ISBN: 9781596438149

Ages 12+

In this dystopian YA graphic novel, the Roman Empire never fell and now, gladiators duke it out on the track: Truckus Maximum is a competition where combatants race monster trucks to the death (Gen Xers, think Rollerball meets Death Race 2000). Team Apollo leader Axl is the best driver who can pull a win out in the worst of circumstances and adheres to a strict moral code. If he wins his 1000th match, he’ll be free – but at what cost to his teammates? Piston is a racer that’s new to Team Apollo. She takes chances, she lives and drives recklessly, and Axl sees something in her that no one else does. Can he teach her to rein herself in before she gets herself traded off to a worse fate than the track?

If you have manga fans, give them this one! The artwork is very manga-inspired, and the storyline is fast-paced, with car aerodynamics and explosions aplenty. There’s good world-building – I like the idea of the Roman Empire’s enduring and not moving past this whole entertainment-or-death business. It’s a popular dystopian theme, from The Running Man to The Hunger Games, and fits where we are as a media-obsessed, “if it bleeds, it leads” society. Axl is an interesting character, with his stoicism and the big moral choice ahead of him. In a society where everyone is corrupt, the good guy becomes the outlaw – and the team owner and the emperor himself are all in, trying to sway Axl. Piston is Axl’s foil, made of passion where Axl represses everything. Her bad decisions get her tossed off one team, and leave her future with Team Apollo pretty tenuous until she starts to harness her own power and channel it in more positive ways. But having a bit of that wild streak also means pulling out some big risks, and that may be what Team Apollo needs.

Truckus Maximus is a fun read, and should be popular with tweens and young teens. I’d like to see this as an animation.

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

Jen Wang does it again with Stargazing!

Stargazing, by Jen Wang, (Sept. 2019, First Second), $12.99, ISBN: 9781250183880

Ages 9-13

Jen Wang’s given us cyberpunk fantasy with In Real Life (2014) and high fantasy with The Prince and the Dressmaker (2018). With Stargazing, readers get a more contemporary story with, as Kirkus notes, a true portrayal of the diversity within the Asian-American community.

Christine is a Chinese-American girl from a more traditional Chinese family. She is focused on school and her music, until her family moves YuWen Lin and her daughter, Moon, into the in-law apartment where Christine’s grandfather used to live. YuWen and Moon are a struggling family, and the hospitality offered by Christine’s family is much appreciated. Christine and Moon are encouraged to spend time together, but the two are polar opposites: Moon is a vegetarian Buddhist who loves K-Pop and is rumored to get into fights. Despite their differences, Christine and Moon grow close, with Moon introducing Christine to a lighter, more fun side of life, letting her relax and let her guard down. Moon confides in Christine, telling her that she belongs in outer space, and that beings from space speak to her. When Moon meets a Caucasian girl that shares many of her interests, Christine’s jealousy takes control, and she puts Moon into an embarrassing situation; Moon reacts with her fists, which leads to an episode that lands Moon in the hospital.

Jen Wang weaves an intricate story of family expectations, social groups, and the complexity of navigating friendships in Stargazing, giving us some of her best storytelling yet. Influenced by events in her childhood and growing up in an Asian-American family, the story has depth and incredible emotion. Whether she’s giving us cyber farmers (In Real Life) or a friendship between two schoolgirls who love K-Pop, Jen Wang always manages to make her character’s humanity the central focus of her stories. Christine and Moon are so real, so strong, that their voices come right off the page and speak to readers; telling them about their stories, their lives, their struggles. When Christine writes that she doesn’t consider Moon Asian, we see the conflict between a traditional Chinese household versus a more contemporary, Westernized Chinese-American household. Christine’s mother holds Chinese lessons in her home; YuWen runs a plant nursery and watches TV with her daughter at night. While Christine listens to more Westernized music, Moon embraces K-Pop and dance routines. The two families present a glimpse into the diversity of Asian-American families, both connected to the culture in different ways.

Stargazing is a definite must-read and has starred reviews from Kirkus and Publisher’s Weekly. Newsarama has an interview with Jen Wang that’s worth reading.

 

Posted in Fantasy, Fiction, Graphic Novels, Middle Grade, Tween Reads

The team-up I’ve been waiting for: Mighty Jack and Zita the Spacegirl!

Mighty Jack and Zita the Spacegirl, by Ben Hatke, (Sept. 2019, First Second), $14.99, ISBN: 9781250191731

Ages 8-12

The latest Ben Hatke graphic novel brings together two of his best series: Zita the Spacegirl and Mighty Jack. It’s a team-up he teased in 2017’s Mighty Jack and the Goblin King, and I have been waiting patiently for two years to find out what was going to happen.

After Zita and her friends arrive from their space-hopping adventures, Jack and his family have been housing and feeding the group. Lily, Jack’s neighbor, who helped him fight the giants and rescue Maddy, his sister, is on edge, though. Is she jealous of Zita, or is there something more to it? Meanwhile, the giants are growing stronger and getting ready to invade above-ground: the gate between worlds is growing weaker, and they’re ready to use it to their advantage. Zita, Jack, Lily, and Maddy have to get ready to battle once more.

I’ve been a fan of Ben Hatke since 2012, when I first read Zita the Spacegirl. I love Hatke’s art, I love his storytelling and world-building, and I love sharing his books with the kids at my libraries. Hatke is a great storyteller, giving each of his characters a rich backstory and exciting quest. He also weaves the fantastic with the everyday, giving us robots, dragons, giants, goblins alongside a terrified mother, the complexity of navigating tween friendships, and the frustration of being “ordinary”.

Mighty Jack and Zita the Spacegirl is a wonderful chapter in the Zita/Jack saga. Is it the end? Well… you just have to pick it up and read it for yourself. Mighty Jack and Zita the Spacegirl has a starred review from Kirkus.

Posted in Fiction, Graphic Novels, Intermediate, picture books, Preschool Reads

Cats, Cats, Cats!

Call it the librarian in me, but I love cats, and stories about cats are the perfect mix of cuddly, funny, and just plain sweet. Here are a few new and coming-soon books featuring some favorite furry friends.

The Pawed Piper, by Michelle Robinson/Illustrated by Chinlun Lee, (July 2019, Candlewick Press), $16.99, ISBN: 978-1-5362-0165-9

Ages 3-7

A girl wants a cat to cuddle, so she sets to work, creating a trail for a potential new pet to follow, with all sorts of cat-friendly stuff, like yarn, soft cushions, boxes, and catnip. At first, her grandmother’s cat, Hector, shows up to visit, but wait! Hector’s brought friends! Many, many friends – in fact, it appears that Hector has brought all the cats to the girl’s house! The girl is thrilled at first, but feels awful and guilty when she notices all the missing cat posters going up around her neighborhood. She didn’t want to take anyone else’s cat, after all; she just wanted one of her own. After she returns all the cats to their homes, she discovers a happy surprise: one cat has been hiding in her drawer, and has given birth to kittens! Those cats get homes, too, except for one little one: that one is just for the little girl.

The Pawed Piper is a sweet “I want a pet” story that kids will love and laugh along with. The endpapers get in on the fun, plastered with Missing! cat posters across the front endpapers; the same posters stamped “Found!” across the back endpapers. The watercolor and pencil artwork makes for a soothing, enjoyable setting to a fun story. A fun addition to pet storytimes, and for cat and pet fans.

Big Cat, by Emma Lazell, (July 2019, Pavilion Children’s Books), $16.95, ISBN: 978-1843654292

Ages 3-7

I laughed out loud at this sight gag-heavy story. A girl named Isobel tries to help her grandmother find her lost glasses (the kids will find them easily – ask them!) when they come across a giant cat. It’s a friendly cat, and Gran welcomes the cat in, with all of her other cats. Gran, who still can’t find her glasses, doesn’t seem to notice that she’s inadvertently adopted a tiger, but the other cats sure do! He’s eating their food, he’s taking up all their space, and making life very inconvenient. Thank goodness Big Cat’s mother and father show up – with Gran’s glasses! – to take their son home. Gran’s reaction when she finally realizes that she’s been letting a tiger live with her is laugh-out-loud funny; her housecats’ reaction to the tiger living with them is even funnier; their protest signs and facial expressions are kidlit comedy gold. Big Cat is going into my regular storytime rotation for sure. My 7-year-old and I read it last night and decided that we need to read this very, very often, because it just made us feel happy.

Big Cat was originally published in the UK, and is Emma Lazell’s debut picture book. I’m already looking forward to her next one, That Dog!, which looks like it’s being published in the US next spring. This is one of those books where text and art come together perfectly to create sight gags, with perfectly innocent text wandering around the artwork. The artwork is bold and bright, with hilariously expressive eyes. There are such sweet moments in here, too, like the giant hug that Mother and Father Tiger give their son when they finally discover him at Gran’s. It’s just a great book filled with wonderful moments and I can’t wait to read it again and again. There’s a free, downloadable activity kit, too, with mazes, coloring sheets, and a Missing! poster (that you could probably use with The Pawed Piper, too…).

Kitten Construction Company: A Bridge Too Fur, by John Patrick Green, (Oct. 2019, First Second), $17.99, ISBN: 9781626728318

Ages 7-9

The follow-up to last year’s Meet the House Kittens, this latest in the Kitten Construction Company series has Marmalade and friends facing a new construction project – building the new Mewburg Bridge! But Marmalade is afraid of water, and what do bridges cross? WATER! The kittens figure out a workaround, and they have to call subcontractors in to help with the demolition work. When the Demo Doggos show up to the site, though, Marmalade’s biased feelings about dogs stand in the way of true teamwork. Everyone is going to have to learn to work together to get the bridge done!

John Patrick Green creates stories that make me happy. Hippopotamister is all about a hippo finding his purpose; the first Kitten Construction Company story was about being taken seriously; and now, A Bridge Too Fur is about overcoming fears and biases, and embracing teamwork to make one’s corner of the world a better place. He tells big stories in a small space, with adorable artwork and situations that appeal to young readers while teaching them how to be a positive force in the world. That is good stuff, and that is the kind of book that flies off my shelves here at the library. Kids come for the cute animals, stay for the positive messages. There’s some fun humor on the down-low that sharp-eyed readers will catch, like references to a possum street artist named “Panksy”, and Marmalade knocking a mic off the podium when he goes to speak (because, that’s what cats do). A “How to Draw Kittens” section teaches readers to draw some of the characters in the story.

You simply can’t go wrong with a John Patrick Green graphic novel. The Kitten Construction Company is such a good series for intermediate readers; add this one to your collections.

Posted in Fantasy, Graphic Novels, Non-Fiction, Teen, Tween Reads, Young Adult/New Adult

July graphic novels: A Hawking bio and a witchy middle grade noir

Hawking, by Jim Ottaviani/Illustrated by Leland Myrick, (July 2019, First Second), $29.99, ISBN: 9781626720251

Ages 12+

If your science and biography sections don’t have an Ottaviani/Myrick section yet, you may want to get to work on that. This is the second collaboration the two have worked on; the first being Feynman, a graphic biography on physicist and Nobel laureate Richard Feynman.

Hawking is in parts biography and science comic for teens and adults, moving easily back and forth between Stephen Hawking’s life story and explanations of physics, black holes, and the universe at large. The story begins with Hawking’s birth, 300 days to the day after Galileo’s death, wanders through his early adolescence as a teen who speaks “Hawkingese” and appears socially awkward; his marriage to Jane Hawking and his diagnosis with motor neurone disease, also known as ALS; his research and ultimate pop culture fame, and his later years, second marriage, and the degenerative path of his disease. First and foremost, this is a story about science; there are pages devoted to discussions between defining voices, including Newton, Faraday, and Einstein, about cosmology, light, and gravity. Jim Ottaviani captures Hawking’s voice – the graphic novel is narrated by a fictional Hawking – and shows up a glimpse of the man behind the legend. Award-winning illustrator Leland Myrick‘s artwork is unfussy, providing scientific sketches as easily as he captures Stephen Hawking’s wry smirk and his ability to disappear into a cloud of physics, even in a crowded room. The end of Hawking’s story will catch readers right in the feelings – I choked up a bit. An author’s note discusses how graphic novels are a good medium for narrative nonfiction, and I couldn’t agree more. Jim Ottaviani is an New York Times-bestselling author whose graphic biographies also include The Imitation Game (Alan Turing) and Primates (Jane Goodall, Dian Fossey, and Biruté Galdikas), so the man knows how to plot out a graphic biography. There is a nice list of references that will give interested readers even more material to look through.

I love graphic novel bios – they’re a great way to get tweens, teens, and adults interested in reading biographies, and the graphic medium allows for great explanations of topics that may be difficult in solid print (like physics!). If you have readers who have aged up from Science Comics, hand them Hawking. A definite must-add to your (growing!) graphic novel biographies.

 

Grimoire Noir, by Vera Greentea/Illustrated by Yana Bogatch, (July 2019, First Second), $17.99, ISBN: 9781626725980

Ages 12+

This beautifully illustrated graphic novel has a few plots going on at once: set in a town called Blackwell, where all the girls are witches, a teen named Bucky yearns for power of his own – despite the fact that no witch can leave the town. Ever. Bucky’s younger sister, Heidi, is kidnapped, and Bucky joins forces with his estranged friend, a teen girl named Chamomile, to look for her. Within this main story are threads of other plots; the hostility Chamomile’s father, Blackwell’s deputy, has toward Bucky (who also happens to be the sheriff’s son); a coven of Mean Girls/The Craft witches called The Crows, who want to set plans in motion that will set them free to leave Blackwell, and a ghost of the very first witch, a child named Griselda, whose death at the hands of witch hunters set the curse on Blackwell’s daughters into motion.

The storyline has moments where the storyline becomes confusing to follow, but has some touching relationship bits that I’d like to have seen more about. The relationship between Chamomile and her father runs deep, and we only get a surface glimpse, for instance. Will we get more Blackwell stories from Vera Greentea and Yana Bogatch? We can sure hope so; I think there’s a lot more to tell in a town with a history like theirs. Tween and young teens will enjoy this human, paranormal tale with a twist.

 

Posted in Graphic Novels, Preschool Reads, Toddler Reads

Sara Varon’s Hold Hands eases fears

Hold Hands, by Sara Varon, (June 2019, First Second), $17.99, ISBN: 9781596435889

Ages 3-6

It’s a day in the life of a preschooler in this adorable graphic novel by award-winning graphic novelist Sara Varon. Her adorable animal characters all hold hands: camels hold hands with giraffes, the sun and the moon share a hand-to-hand clasp as they pass in the sky, cats and dogs walk hand-in-hand, even the title page of the book sports colorful letters with sweet, smiling faces, holding onto one another. The whole day is seen as a series of hand-holding moments: a little bear holds hands with his mother, father, and brother during morning routines and on the way to daycare; holds hands with teachers and friends during the school day; during playdates; on the way home, and during bedtime stories and nighttime routines. The rhyming text is short and sweet, assuring readers that every time is a good time to hold hands: “Hold hands when the day is new, when you need a pal, or when one needs you”; “Hold hands with your buddy when you’re on the go, especially if your teacher tells you so”. The illustrations are colorful, boldly outlined, and loaded with sweet details, like a father wearing bunny slippers, or a heart charm hanging off a mom’s rear view mirror. Sara Varon emphasizes the power of connection by creating little starbursts around each hand-holding relationship.

Hold Hands is perfect for kids in daycare and preschool, and it’s an adorable testament to the power of physical contact. A must-have.

Posted in Fantasy, Fiction, Graphic Novels, Middle Grade, Tween Reads

Set sail for big graphic novel storytelling in The Island

Island Book, by Evan Dahm, (May 2019, First Second), $22.99, ISBN: 9781626729506

Ages 8-12

Sola lives as an outcast within her small community on an island. She is cursed – that’s what everyone says – because a Monster came to the Island when Sola was a child; everyone around her ran, but Sola alone stood before it, and it reached out to her. The destruction left in the monster’s wake, coupled with its interest in Sola sealed it: the rest of the Island branded her. As Sola reaches adolescence, she’s curious: what drew the Monster to her? Tired of living with everyone’s fear, and wanting answers, Sola leaves the island, taking to the open water. As she travels, she discovers that the Island isn’t alone: there are new lands and people to meet.

Island Book is Sola’s story. A quietly strong female protagonist, she faces adversity at home and has a curious streak that contributes to her own community’s distrust and fear of her. The plot meanders on a bit in spots, but is mostly a solid story about courage and curiosity; about friendship and working together, and about opening oneself up to new ideas and experiences. The characters are humanoid but not human; the artwork is bright and the nature is beautifully depicted.

The first in a new series, Island Book is a good choice for middle grade book discussion groups, too. Ask kids if they’ve ever felt like Sola, unable to change someone’s mind or looked down on because of their age. Does Sola do the right thing by going off on her own? Would Sola’s community encourage relationships with other beings?

There’s a soundtrack for Island Book available, along with two books of development artwork, through author Evan Dahm’s website. There’s a great review by the AV Club here.