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, 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 Fantasy, Fiction, Graphic Novels, Middle Grade

Mighty Jack and The Goblin King: An incredible re-imagining of a classic tale!

Mighty Jack and the Goblin King, by Ben Hatke, (Sept. 2017, :01First Second), $14.99, ISBN: v

Recommended for readers 8-12

It’s here! The sequel to Mighty Jack (2016) is here! And the best part? It’s AMAZING.

Mighty Jack introduced us to Jack, his autistic sister, Maddy, and neighbor, Lilly. The trio discovered a magical garden that got a little out of control; Maddy was kidnapped, and Jack and Lilly set off through a portal, determined to bring her back. Mighty Jack and the Goblin King picks up with Jack and Lilly arriving in a way station of sorts; a crossroads between worlds. Lilly is injured, forcing Jack to continue alone, where he discovers the giants’ plan for his sister: to feed her to a mechanical “beast” that will grind her bones into dust, and eat her, securing their ability to rule until the next time the beast needs to be fed! Lilly, meanwhile, has been rescued and is being cared for by goblins, who plan to marry her to their goblin king.

Spoiler alert: It’s not David Bowie.

 

Posted in Early Reader, Fantasy, Fiction, Fiction, Intermediate, programs, Storytime, Summer Reading

Storytime: Nobody Likes a Goblin, by Ben Hatke

nobody-likes-a-goblinNobody Likes a Goblin, by Ben Hatke, (Jun 2016, First Second), $17.99, ISBN: 9781626720817

Recommended for ages 5-10

If you read my stuff enough, you know there are a few authors and illustrators that I adore; Ben Hatke is one of them. From Zita the Spacegirl to Mighty Jack and Little Robot, he creates fun, exciting characters, very human stories, and beautiful art. I am eternally grateful that he has also started sharing the love with picture book readers; first, we had Julia’s House for Lost Creatures, and now, Nobody Likes a Goblin.

It’s the sweetest little book about a homebody goblin who lives in his cozy dungeon and hangs out with his best friend, Skeleton. One day, a gang of dumb old adventurers barges in, loots Goblin’s treasure, and makes off with Skeleton – RUDE. Goblin sets out to rescue his friend despite the oft-repeated cautionary advice, “Nobody likes a goblin.” But Goblin doesn’t care, because he has a friend to save!

goblinImage Source: GoodReads

How cute is this book? It’s got adorable messages about friendship and being brave, not worrying who likes you or not, and just doing what you do. I decided to read this one to some of my slightly younger kids on a preschool-aged summer camp visit a few weeks ago, and they seemed to enjoy it. They kind of “ewwww’d” my poor Goblin at first, but when I told them that he was just a nice little guy and didn’t bother anyone, they were more sympathetic. By the end of the book, they were cheering for him. I encouraged them to hiss and boo the adventurers who were mean and went into poor Goblin’s house, breaking things up and stealing his toys, and was that very nice? NO.

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

Mighty Jack is a new twist on a beloved fable

mightyjack_1Mighty Jack, by Ben Hatke (Sept. 2016, First Second), $22.99, ISBN: 9781626722651

Recommended for ages 9+

Jack is home for the summer, taking care of his autistic sister, Maddy, while his mom works two jobs to make ends meet. Maddy doesn’t talk often, but when she does, it’s about something that she’s passionate about – and she’s passionate about the box of seeds she discovers at a flea market. Before Jack knows what he’s agreed to, he’s traded his mom’s car for the seeds. Maddy’s happy, but Mom is not.

The seeds are planted, and a magical garden grows, delighting Maddy and their neighbor, Lilly, until things get a little out of hand. When a dragon appears one night, telling Jack that there’s evil in the heart of the garden, Jack is faced with tough decisions and their consequences.

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: I love Ben Hatke’s books. From Zita the Spacegirl to Little Robot, to his storybooks (Julia’s House for Lost Creatures and Nobody Likes a Goblin), I love his very human characters – even when they’re a little something other than human. He brings the magical garden to life with vibrant greens, reds, yellows and purples, and his dragon is beautiful and menacing, all at once. Hatke weaves a very real story about a struggling family into his fantasy tale, and that’s where his strength lies: making the everyday extraordinary.

This is a definite add to your graphic novel bookshelf, and you’ll find yourself wondering when the next volume is due out. Because there has to be one, right? After that ending? Don’t leave me hanging, Ben!

Take a look at some more of Mighty Jack:

mightyjack_2mightyjack_3

 

Posted in Preschool Reads

Julia’s House for Lost Creatures is an adorable look at friends and sharing responsibilities.

juliaJulia’s House for Lost Creatures, by Ben Hatke (:01 First Second, Sept. 2014). $17.99, ISBN: 9781596438668

Admittedly, I’m a Ben Hatke fan thanks to the Zita the Spacegirl series; when when I saw that he had a picture book coming out, I jumped to review it. I knew it was going to be adorable as well as fun, and I was right – Julia’s House for Lost Creatures is a sweet look at friendship, individuality, and sharing responsibility.

Julia’s house comes to a quiet, seaside area and decides to settle in. At first, Julia enjoys the warm fire, toast, and tea, but soon realizes it’s just too quiet. So she posts a sign that states the house is for “Lost Creatures”, and in no time, goblins, trolls, ghosts, and more homeless or lost creatures show up. Everyone’s happy at first, but Julia becomes frustrated by everyone’s refusal to make a mess and leave it for Julia to clean up. When the noise reaches critical mass, Julia sequesters herself in her workshop, only to emerge with a solution that will make everyone happy.

The book delivers several sweet, but important messages – Julia offers her home to misfits of all sorts; all “lost creatures” are welcome there. It’s not an exclusive club, or a place allowing only certain types. It appeals to anyone – or anything – that’s been shut out somewhere else. And it brings home the point that everyone pitches in to make their home a happy place. Julia creates a chore chart, so all of the creatures know exactly what to do. I love these messages and I love Hatke’s art, done in watercolor for this book. It lends a soft quality to the art that makes the story even sweeter, more dreamlike. There are few, short sentences per page, making this a great read-aloud candidate. The font is usually black and fairly low-key, unless Hatke wants to make a point; then, the font is large and takes on the character of the sound, whether it’s Julia’s exclamation or the sounds of a house that needs some help.

This book is due out in September of this year, and I can’t wait to get it on my library’s shelves. I’ve already got a storytime planned around it!

Posted in Teen, Tween Reads

Summer Reading for Tweens and Teens! Refeatured Reviews!

The New York Summer Reading Lists for Tweens and Teens Summer Reading look pretty fantastic this year. I’ve read a few of the books on the list, so I thought I’d reshare those reviews to get you started.

city-of-ember

The City of Ember is a great beginning to a hugely popular series. Imagine a post-apocalyptic society that went underground to survive. They live off the meager light produced by generators. But after so long underground, the power is going out in Ember. There’s been rumor that there’s a way out… who will be brave enough to uncover the truth about Ember?

 

 

icefall

Icefall is an amazing book that I was lucky enough to read when I was on the Cybils Awards panel a couple of years ago. A Viking warrior king’s children are sequestered away while their father is at war. A storm encloses their stronghold in ice, and they learn that there’s a traitor in their midst.

 

 

 

zita

Zita the Spacegirl is a graphic novel series that I’ve evangelized from day one. I love the story, I love the art, and most importantly, I love the character. Zita is a spunky Earth girl who finds herself in space on an adventure. Her adventure continues in Legends of Zita the Spacegirl and Return of Zita the Spacegirl – don’t miss out on this series.

 

 

indarkness

In Darkness won the Michael L. Printz Award in 2013, with good reason. This taut story of a young Haitian gang member trapped in the rubble of a hospital in the aftermath of a catastrophic earthquake is compulsively readable, equally parts fascinating and brutal.

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

Legends of Zita the Spacegirl is out of this world!

legends of zitaLegends of Zita the Spacegirl, by Ben Hatke. :01 First Second (2012), $18.99, ISBN: 978-1-59643-806-4

Recommended for ages 8-14

I just realized that while I’d reviewed both Zita the Spacegirl and the upcoming Return of Zita the Spacegirl, I never wrote a review for the second book in this great series – so I re-read it in order to remedy the situation.

When we rejoin Zita in the second book in her series, she has found intergalactic fame as The Girl Who Saved Scriptorious. Creatures from all over the galaxy are clamoring to meet her, and fame has become a bit overwhelming for Zita. When she encounters a robot that looks just like her, she decides to let the robot handle fame while she and Mouse take off to relax and be anonymous for a while. The only problem is, the robot is an Imprint-o-Tron, which eventually tries to replace their targets – and when two aliens seek “Zita”‘s help in saving their planet from the interstellar scavengers, the Star Hearts, Zita-bot is all too happy to lend a hand, stirring up trouble for Zita and her friends.

I am a big Zita fan, and this second book has every bit of the spirit of fun and adventure that the first book (and the upcoming third) do. We see a slightly different Zita here -she’s overwhelmed by fame, she wants to go home, and she ultimately learns about the power of sacrifice – she’s a more mature Zita who is still, at heart, a kid. The Imprint-o-Tron reminds me of Pinocchio, who wanted to be a real boy. The Imprint-o-Tron, or as I started calling her, the Zita-bot, isn’t bad – she’s following her programming, and she really seems to want to be Zita, to face the exciting adventures that Zita does. There are some great messages to be found in this second book.

There are some great resources on the Web for using Zita materials in the classroom. Comics Are Great has a downloadable lesson plan, along with an hour-long podcast dedicated to the book, where teachers, librarians, and cartoonists discussing the book.

The Zita trilogy is a great middle-grade graphic novel series. She stands as a good role model for any girl or boy who seizes the power of imagination and inner courage.

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!

zita3