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

Conquering social anxiety through Improv

Improve : How I Discovered Improv and Conquered Social Anxiety, by Alex Graudins, (Sept. 2022, First Second), $17.99, ISBN: 9781250208231

Ages 14+

Graphic novelist Alex Graudins – you may recognize the name from Science Comics and History Comics – uses her pencils to tell her story in this autobiographical graphic novel. Graudins illustrates her history of social anxiety, often at odds with her desire to be part of the “theatre kids” groups. Intrigued by improv, she signs up for improv classes as a way to work through her anxiety and negative self-talk. As she works with others in the group, she learns to work with the ebb and flow of her anxiety spikes. Part autobiographical study and part improv guide, Graudins explains different routines, made more helpful through illustration, letting readers see skits that explain different improv games, including “One Word at a Time”, where partners create a story through alternating words and “Advance & Expand”, where partners direct each other to move the story along (advance) or provide more detail (expand). Graudins is frank about her struggles with depression as well as the camaraderie and support that her improv groups provide. Graudins’s realistic artwork has a cartoon softness – think Raina Telgemeier and Victoria Jamieson – that puts readers at ease. Back matter includes an author’s note, further reading, and additional improv games make up the back matter.

An excellent addition to YA biography collections. Teens will connect with the graphic delivery and appreciate the honest and creative discussions on anxiety. Visit Alex Graudins’s webpage for more of her artwork and webcomics.

 

Posted in Fiction, Graphic Novels, Middle Grade

Prunella and the Cursed Skull Ring is sweetly ghoulish

Prunella and the Cursed Skull Ring, by Matthew Loux, (Oct. 2022, First Second), $18.99, ISBN: 9781250162618

Ages 8-12

A girl discovers a skull-shaped ring that transforms her into a skeleton girl, earning her the ire of her monster-fearing neighbors in this delightfully weird and macabre story by Time Museum creator Matthew Loux. The town turns on her, including her indifferent mother, who mistakes a lushly groomed dog for her daughter, banishing her and setting Prunella off on a journey to find a way to reverse the curse. She meets other monsters on the way, all of whom readily accept her, and realizes that maybe the so-called “monsters” aren’t the villains after all. Befriending Captain Rip Skeleton and a floating skull named Francis, Prunella quickly becomes a story of friendship and adventure, leaving Prunella with decisions to make at the end of her journey. Cartoony artwork makes for a friendly cast of ogres, skeletons, and ghosts. Prunella is a young girl with a head of ample red hair held with a bow that stays intact through her transformation. Give this one to your Margo Maloo fans. A good purchase for graphic novel collections that like a little dark humor.

Prunella and the Cursed Skull Ring has a starred review from Kirkus.

Posted in Graphic Novels, Realistic Fiction, Teen, Young Adult/New Adult

The Greatest Thing takes a real look at adolescence, art, and anxiety

The Greatest Thing, by Sarah Winifred Searle, (Feb. 2022, First Second), $17.99, ISBN: 9781250297235

Ages 13+

A fictionalized memoir, The Greatest Thing follows Winifred as she starts the school year after her two closest friends go to a different school. Winifred is talented, creative, and plagued by anxiety. Uncomfortable with her body, she engages in habits like “tricking” her body into “forgetting it was hungry by making it sick”. When she meets new friends April and Oscar, her world opens up: the three friends love art and also deal with self-esteem and anxiety; together, the three find their voices by creating a zine, Gutterglimmers. Eventually, Winifred – with the help of her supportive mom – seeks help, and starts finding comfort in real life as well as the pages of her zine. Filled with helpful instructions on making a zine, and positive portrayals of nonbinary and pansexual characters, The Greatest Thing provides an honest and raw look into adolescent anxiety and depression, and the role art can play in working through emotions and feelings. If you haven’t purchased this book for your YA graphic novels collections yet, you really should.

Visit Sarah Winifred Searle’s website and seem more of her artwork and learn about more of her books.

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

Marshmallow & Jordan is a gentle friendship story

Marshmallow & Jordan, by Alina Chau, (Oct. 2021, First Second), $22.99, ISBN: 9781250300607

Ages 8-12

Set in Indonesia, Marhsmallow & Jordan is a story of friendship and finding one’s own way. Jordan is a middle schooler who loves basketball: even an accident that put her in a wheelchair can’t stop her, mostly. She can’t compete with the team like she used to, but still serves as captain. She’s feeling a bit unfulfilled, when she rescues a hurt white baby elephant that she promptly names Marshmallow. The two new friends quickly become attached. Meanwhile, Jordan’s basketball coach recommends she try out for water polo after Marshmallow digs Jordan a pool, letting her take to the water without worrying about her wheelchair weighing her down. The training isn’t easy, but Marshmallow’s loving support and her own determination keeps Jordan focused on practice and success. But Marshmallow is hiding a secret of her own. Rich with warm colors and Indonesian culture and a diverse group of characters, Marshmallow & Jordan is a great middle grade story that works as a book club pick and a realistic fiction piece. Back matter includes a glossary of Indonesian terms, an author’s note, Indonesian facts, and food recommendations.

Visit Alina Chau’s author website for more information about her books, to sign up for her newsletter, and connect to her social media. Read an interview with Alina Chau at SLJ’s Good Comics for Kids, TeachersPayTeachers has free Indonesian activities, including an animal word search from Teach With Mrs. T’s Class and a map of Indonedia from The Harstad Collection. Britannica for Kids has information about water polo.

 

Posted in picture books

Julia’s House comes to the end of its journey with Julia’s House Goes Home

Julia’s House Goes Home, by Ben Hatke (Oct. 2021, First Second), $18.99, ISBN: 9781250769329

Ages 4-8

The third book in the Julia’s House series will tug at heartstrings. The last time readers saw Julia’s house, in last year’s Julia’s House Moves On,the house had sprouted wings and was flying; Julia’s plans in the literal air. Now, the house lands, but takes a terrible tumble and rolls away, leaving Julia holding only the sign from her door! As she tries to track down the house, she gathers her Lost Creature friends, who’ve all been tossed and tumbled as the house bounced away, but just when she thinks she’s found the house, she makes a distressing discovery. Can she and her friends make things right again? A touching close to the Julia’s House trilogy, Julia’s House Goes Home shows a maturing Julia; a main character who’s gone from always having a plan, to learning that it’s okay to throw your plans out the window and just live in the moment, to having your plans fall apart in front of you – and having your friends be there to catch you when you fall. Readers familiar with Ben Hatke’s books will delight in seeing familiar monster friends and a wink to his 2016 story, Nobody Likes a Goblin. Watercolor artwork gives a moving, wistful, yet comforting feel to the story, and the back endpapers offer a sweet epilogue to sharp-eyed readers. I really loved reading all three books together. It’s a very gentle story that unfolds and invites you in to spend some time with it.

You can follow Ben Hatke’s Instagram for more of his artwork.

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

Pepper Page Saves the Universe!

Pepper Page Saves the Universe (Adventures of the Supernova, Book 1), by Landry Q. Walker, (Feb. 2021, First Second), $14.99, ISBN: 9781250216922

Ages 8-12

What happens when a comics superfan discovers that she IS her favorite superhero? That’s what happens to orphaned Pepper Page, a high schooler who loves her Supernova comics more than anything: she can rattle off major storylines, lament retcons and canon versus headcanon and fancanon with the best of us fangirls, but imagine if you woke up one day to find a supreme being telling you that you’re really Wonder Woman, and all these comics have been chronicling your adventures? It’s a little much for Pepper to handle; thank goodness she’s got her cat companion and her two best friends to help out. When they aren’t under a supervillain’s influence, that is. Comics fans will love the nods to comics fan favorites like Peter David and the iconic Jack Kirby; there are tips of the hat to Golden and Silver Age comics throughout the story, and this is just a great new series to get in on right now. Parents and caregivers, read along with your tweens and share your comics knowledge! I know I will. Have Zita the Spacegirl fans? Get them reading this series immediately.

Pepper Page Saves the Universe has a starred review from The Bulletin of the Center for Children’s Books.

Posted in Animal Fiction, Fiction, Fiction, Graphic Novels, Intermediate, Middle Grade

Peter and Ernesto’s next adventure: Sloths In the Night

Peter and Ernesto: Sloths In the Night, by Graham Annable, (April 2020, First Second), $17.99, ISBN: 9781250211309

Ages 7-10

Peter and Ernesto are on their third adventure! This time, their friend Bernard goes missing, possibly in search of a rumored dragon that lives in a nearby temple; it’s getting dark, though, and the jungle is no place for a sloth to be at night, especially on his own. The friends head out on their own adventure to find Bernard, and possibly, the dragon, and meet a host of hilarious animals along the way.

The Peter and Ernesto books are adorable stories about friendship, embracing differences, and working together. They never disappoint, and are perfect for chapter book readers and middle graders who love a good animal or friendship story. Peter and Ernesto are like Bert and Ernie; Frog and Toad; George and Martha. They’re friends who love one another, differences and all; they push one another outside their comfort zones (with hilarious, sweet results); they embrace all of their friends, together, and they are always thrilled to make new friends. Graham Annable’s cheerful artwork is immediately recognizable: kids will know, as soon as this book shows up on shelves, that this is a new Peter and Ernesto story.

If you haven’t had the fun of experiencing a Peter and Ernesto story yet, treat yourself.

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

Go With the Flow needs to be in every school, in every library, available to everyone, everywhere

Go With the Flow, by Lily Williams and Karen Schneemann/Illustrated by Lily Williams, (Jan. 2020, First Second), $14.99, ISBN: 9781250143174

Ages 12+

Hazelton High School has a problem: there are never feminine hygiene products available to their students. There never seems to be funds available to get these products in stock for students. But there always seems to be money to get new uniforms or equipment for the football team. What the heck? Sophomores Abby, Brit, Christine, and Sasha are 100% DONE with the leadership in their school blowing off their complaints and their needs, so they take matters into their own hands in this brilliant graphic novel by the creators of The Mean Magenta webcomic Lily Williams and Karen Schneemann.

Go With the Flow is crucial reading for everyone, because the problem of access to and affordability of feminine hygiene products is a growing crisis. Using a microcosm of high school, Go With the Flow illustrates the value placed on sports programs versus providing free and accessible pads and tampons to their students. As the girls come together to brainstorm solutions, they realize that this isn’t just a schoolwide problem, it’s a global problem. Using statistics, research, and infographics, Lily Williams and Karen Schneemann blend these facts and figures in with a storyline that will empower and rile up female-identifying readers – and hopefully male- and non-binary-identifying readers, too! There’s an LGBTQ+ positive subplot, fleshed-out, likable and relatable characters (I cringed in sympathetic recognition as the new girl bleeds through her pants on her first day at school). The two-color artwork will be familiar to Mean Magenta readers. Back matter includes comprehensive information about menstrual equality, including links to further reading.

Give this to your realistic graphic novel readers first and let them spread the word. Have menstrual equity resources available for anyone who wants them. Here are a few to start:

The ACLU’s Menstrual Equity Handbook

Period.org: The Menstrual Movement

PBS.org: How Access to Period Products Removes a Barrier to Education

Girls Scouts NY: These Girl Scouts Brought “Menstrual Equity” to 200 Brooklyn Schools

BRAWS.org: Bringing Resources to Aid Women’s Shelters

Tennessean: Lack of Feminine Hygiene Products Keep Girls Out of School

 

Posted in Graphic Novels, Non-Fiction, Non-fiction, Tween Reads

Secret Coders and Science Comics – Comics that help kids love learning!

There are two more Science Comics coming your way from First Second, along with another Secret Coders volume. Let’s jump in and see what’s good!

 

Science Comics: Robots & Drones – Past, Present, & Future, by Mairghread Scott/Illustrated by Jacob Chabot, (March 2018, First Second), $19.99, ISBN: 9781626727939
Recommended for readers 9-13

The latest volume of Science Comics takes a deeper look at robots. With Poulli, a birdlike robot that’s also the first machine to ever fly through the sky (back in 350 BCE!), as our guide, readers get a guided tour through the history of robotics, and learn what is versus what isn’t a robot. New, programmable coffeemakers? Robots! Remote-controlled cars – not really. Kids get a refresher on simple machines (levels and pulleys) and how those simple concepts formed the building blocks for more complex machines, eventually leading to modern technology, robots, and drones. There’s a focus on the good robots and drones can accomplish (for those techno-phobes who see The Terminator as our eventual future) and the human component of computer programming. Isaac Asimov, legendary scientist and science fiction writer who gave us the Three Laws of Robotics, gets some recognition here, too.

There’s a nice shout-out to libraries and after-school programs as places to go to learn more about getting into programming and robotics, and some cool pop culture nods that parents will recognize (Star Trek and KITT from Knight Rider, to name a couple). The artwork features diverse characters putting their learning into practice, and the history of robotics covers diverse areas of the world. Poulli is a friendly, cute guide that will appeal to readers, and the language – as with all Science Comics – is easy to understand but never dumbs down information.

There’s a Hall of Awesome Robots, spotlighting 25 robots from history; a closer look at how drones work, and a glossary of new terms to finish up the volume.

Me? I immediately add the newest Science Comics to my shopping cart ; they’re a great add for my “True Story” nonfiction section, where I put books that may get lost on the actual nonfiction shelves, but will grab attention on their own. Plus, my True Story section is next to my Graphic Novels shelf, so it’s a win all around.

 

Secret Coders: Potions and Parameters, by Gene Luen Yang and Mike Holmes,
(March 2018, First Second), $10.99, ISBN: 9781626726079
Recommended for readers 8-12

While we’re talking about robots and programming, there’s a new volume of Secret Coders coming at you. The fifth installment of the series sees Hopper, Eni, and Josh going up against Professor One-Zero and his evil Green Pop. The stakes are high, especially now that Hopper’s dad’s fate lies in the balance! We get a lot more of Professor Bee’s origin, and the fight for the mystical Turtle of Light will keep you turning pages. Yang and Holmes challenge readers with more logic puzzles and codes to work through, and provide detailed explanation through their characters.

Science Comics: Sharks – Nature’s Perfect Hunter, by Joe Flood,
(Apr. 2018, First Second), $12.99, ISBN: 9781626727885
Recommended for readers 8-13

Science Comics has a one-two punch in March and April, first with Robots & Drones, next with Sharks. Kids LOVE sharks. The introduction nails it with its opening line: “Lots of kids, including many of you who are reading this book, go through an ‘I love sharks’ phase.” Shark books move off my shelves faster than just about any animal, tied only by dinosaurs (and we’ve already got a Science Comic on them), so this book should be going in your cart, sight unseen. But since that’s not what I do – and because I still do love sharks – here’s a bit more to whet your shark appetites.

 

The nonfiction narrative is tied together with a story about a fictional group of shark seekers, which leads into a discussion about the bad rap sharks have gotten over the years. The classic movie Jaws kicked off shark paranoia back in the mid-1970s, and that’s explored here, as is the fact that Jaws author Peter Benchley became a passionate shark conservationist in the aftermath of his book and subsequent movie.

Readers get a history of sharks from the prehistoric era until the present, with a look at shark physiology. migration patterns, variety, and eating habits. Spoiler alert: we don’t taste very good to them, and any biting is purely accidental.  We also get a peek at the one sea animal that can take down even a great white… and it ain’t man. A shark family tree, glossary of terms, and a more accurate clarification of how to phrase shark incidents (the section’s called “Don’t Say ‘Shark Attack'”).

As I was writing this review up, one of my library kids peeked over my shoulder and saw the page scans. When I told him Sharks was coming out in April, he yelped, “Are you kidding me?!” which just goes to show you, Science Comics: Sharks is going to be a hit. I may have to order two copies.

Posted in Fantasy, Graphic Novels, Humor, Science Fiction, Tween Reads

The Return of Zita the Spacegirl – A WhatchaReading Review!

Great sagas come to an end – maybe. But we’ll get to that. For anyone who hasn’t heard of Ben Hatke’s Zita the Spacegirl, I urge you to get to a library, a bookstore, or a friend with an enviable graphic novel collection and check her out, because she is fantastic. I first met her when Chuck, our editor monkey, handed me a copy of the first book and said, “You have to read this. It’s all you.” And it was. I quickly read Legends of Zita the Spacegirl, and was delighted when a review copy of Return of Zita the Spacegirl showed up on my doorstep a couple of weeks ago.

Check out my review on WhatchaReading!

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