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 picture books, Preschool Reads, Toddler Reads

Celebrate your siblings!

A Celebration of Sisters, by Harriet Evans/Illustrated by Andrés Landazábal, (June 2020, Kane Miller Publishing), $11.99, ISBN: 978-1-68464-052-2

A Celebration of Brothers, by by Harriet Evans/Illustrated by Andrés Landazábal, (June 2020, Kane Miller Publishing), $11.99, ISBN: 978-1-68464-051-5

Ages 2-6

These are the sweetest books that celebrate the sisters and brothers in our lives: half-sibling, step-siblings, adopted siblings, the siblings we choose for ourselves. Endpapers show siblings running across the pages of each book, smiling, arms thrown out wide. The rhyming text rejoices in the relationships between siblings, old, new, and expected: a girl hugs her mom’s pregnant belly; groups of siblings wander across puddles, comfort each other at bedtime, ride amusement park rides, and sing to babies together. It’s a joyous celebration in words and pictures, a multicultural families celebrate their relationships together. Only children aren’t left out, either, as the author recognizes the importance of the families we create: “You might find your brothers in the friends you make”; and “Friends can become sisters as you grow up together, facing dark storms and enjoying fair weather”.  Jubilant illustrations and happy rhyming verses make these great readalouds.

Posted in picture books, Preschool Reads, Toddler Reads

B is for… Beautiful Baby Book!

B is for Baby, by Atinuke/Illustrated by Angela Brooksbank, (March 2019, Candlewick Press), $16.99, ISBN: 9781536201666

Ages 0-5

An adorable baby gives her grandfather and older brother a surprise visit in this adorable book of words, all featuring the letter B. Baby climbs into a basket full of bananas for a little nibble, but big brother puts the basket on his bicycle and goes on a bumpy trip to their Baba’s. Brother rides across the African landscape, where readers can see baobab trees, birds and butterflies, bougainvillea flowers, and buses and bridges, until they reach Baba’s home. When Baby pops out of the basket, it’s a happy surprise! Baba brings his grandchildren inside for some biscuits and cuddling, and Brother rides home and returns Baby to Mama’s arms.

I love Atinuke’s Anna Hisbicus books and her wonderful stories about African daily life. B is for Baby is another glimpse at family life, this time, aimed at younger children and early readers. Angela Brooksbank, who worked with Atinuke on Baby Goes To Market, introducing readers to a West African market. The mixed media artwork is sweet, loaded with hugs and cuddles, and lovely nature landscapes. What a fun way to introduce new readers to the letter B!

B is for Baby has a starred review from Kirkus.

Posted in picture books

Two siblings support each other in Benji, the Bad Day, and Me

Benji, the Bad Day, and Me, by Sally J. Pla/Illustrated by Ken Min, (Oct. 2018, Lee & Low Books), $17.99, ISBN: 9781620143452

Ages 5-8

Sammy is having a terrible, horrible, no-good, very bad day. He’s been in trouble at school, the cafeteria ran out of pizza for lunch, and he had to walk home in the rain. When he gets home, he discovers that Benji, his little brother who has autism, is having a bad day, too: but a bad day for Benji is totally different. Benji has a special hiding place and a block city set up, and Mom even wraps Benji up “like a burrito” in a special blanket when he’s having a bad day. When Sammy has a bad day, no one seems to notice – or so he thinks. Because Benji does notice, and in a touching moment of sibling affection, gets out his blanket and leads Sammy to it. Because Sammy his his little burrito.

Benji, the Bad Day, and Me will resonate with anyone who loves Judith Viorst’s classic, Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day; Sammy’s frustrated narrative is so close to Alexander’s, readers may wonder if Sammy’s about to pack it all in and head for Australia. Sally J. Pla is wonderful at using this narrative device to introduce readers to a story about siblings and the challenges of being a sibling to a child with autism. Sometimes, it may feel like one’s feelings get lost, or no one’s paying attention, but Sally Pla and illustrator Ken Min show readers that family will always be there for you. The story is inspired by the author’s experiences of “sibling rivalry and neurodiversity, all wrapped in a big blue blanket”. Ken Min‘s acrylic and colored pencil artwork uses digital enhancements to give us a warm household; Benji’s isolation shows in the cool blue color depicted inside his box fort; a color repeated in Sammy’s recollection of Benji’s appointments with his occupational therapist, who Sammy refers to as “Super-Happy Lady”. As Benji gazes out at Sammy, reduced to tears when he hits his final straw, the shadow falls across Benji’s face, warming up his eyes and nose as he gazes out at his brother. Sammy and his family appear tan-skinned, with dark brown hair.

Benji, the Bad Day, and Me has a starred review from Shelf Awareness and is a solid add to your collections. It is a strong book to suggest when explaining neurodiversity, autism acceptance, and exploring sibling relationships. As author Sally J Pla notes on her website, “I once heard someone describe autism as “not a spectrum, so much as a constellation.” I love that. We are all stars shining with different lights.”

 

Posted in Uncategorized

The Tale of the Mighty Brobarians!

Brobarians, by Lindsay Ward, (March 2017, Two Lions/Amazon Publishing), $17.99, ISBN: 978-15039-6167-0

Recommended for readers 3-7

“Two barbarians, once at peace – Uh-Oh! – were now at odds.” Otto and Iggy are brothers and barbarians, but when Iggy stages a takeover of the land, Otto fights back and the two go to war. Told as an epic tale, Brobarians is the adorably fun story of two brothers and their disagreement, resolved only when a higher power interferes.

This book is adorable. The endpaper maps that depict Otto’s (he’s the bigger brother, so I assume he created them) layout of his and Iggy’s territory, the illuminated manuscript-like exposition that leads into the tale and the epic storytelling style are wonderful. If you’re a fan of sword and sorcery movies like I am, then you’ll hear the Conan the Barbarian-like narration in your head and squeal with joy.

The art – cut paper, pencil, and crayon on chipboard – escalates, dipping into the brobarians’ imaginations to render them as fierce (but still really cute) brothers on wild steeds. The fonts are exaggerated, colorful, providing readers with a wholly fun storytime experience. You can’t read this in a monotone, you just can’t. I read it to my little guy and immediately slipped into epic narrator mode, with mock gravity and urgency at different points of the story. I was rewarded with belly laughs, which are wonderfully contagious.

You need this book for the kids you love. Heck, you need this book for yourself. Let’s try and see my kid get this off my bookshelf, where it lives next to my Red Sonja comics!

About the Author
Lindsay Ward would never have written this book if she hadn’t stayed up late one night watching Conan the Barbarian. She finds the idea of baby barbarians to be very funny . . . and hopes you do too. Lindsay’s recent books include Rosco vs. the Baby and The Importance of Being 3. Most days you can find her writing and sketching at home in Ohio with her family. Learn more about her at www.lindsaymward.com or on Twitter: @lindsaymward. She’s got Brobarians activities coming soon, too – keep an eye on the website!

Praise for BROBARIANS:

“Highly cinematic, both in imagery and narrative soundtrack…Good and campy and a fine opportunity for vocabulary building.”—Kirkus Reviews

“As readalouds go, it’s pretty epic.” – Publishers Weekly

 

Giveaway!

One lucky winner will receive a copy of BROBARIANS courtesy of Two Lions (U.S. addresses). Enter a Rafflecopter giveaway here!

Posted in Fiction, Intermediate

Dragons pop off the page – for real! – in Dragon Hunters!

31409133The Dragon Hunters (The Dragon Brothers Trilogy, #1), by James Russell/Illustrated by Link Choi, (Apr. 2017, Sourcebooks Jabberwocky), $16.99, ISBN: 978-1-4926-4861-1

Recommended for readers 5-10

Brothers Flynn and Paddy are on a rescue mission: their dog has been kidnapped by a dragon! Mom thinks it’s all part of their goofing around, but the boys are determined and set off to rescue poor Coco from the dragon’s clutches – hope they can get out unsinged!

The Dragon Hunters – originally published in New Zealand in 2012 – is a fun, rhyming fantasy tale for grade school level kids, but preschoolers will also appreciate the rhyming tale and the cartoony art. The dragon is bold, red, and mean, gorgeous in its sinister ferocity. Pages alternate with full color art and sketches (I’ve got an ARC – this may not be the case with the finished version), and the longer length of the tale gives it an old-school, epic poem feeling.

The best part of this book? The augmented reality! Download a free app for your tablet or smartphone, hold it over the map endpapers of the book, and see the map come to life! There’s a little bit of sound, but the real thrill is seeing the landscape come to life, complete with little dragon flying over the mountains and the steaming Putrid Plains. My little guy went nuts for it, and so did my coworker’s tween daughter. I tried to capture it using my phone camera, but the Dragon Hunters site does this far better justice than my overworked Samsung. Take a look:

The site also offers free coloring sheets, which makes my passive programmer’s heart SING.

The Dragon Hunters is the first in a trilogy, all of which are publishing this year. The Dragon Tamers hits shelves in June, and The Dragon Riders arrives in August. James Russell has a chapter book series called The Dragon Defenders coming out this year – let’s hope it reaches American shores, so middle graders can enjoy Paddy, Flynn, and Coco.

Artist Link Choi’s work on The Dragon Hunters was a finalist for New Zealand’s Russell Clark Medal for Illustration. See more of his illustration at his website.

 

Posted in Preschool Reads

My Beastly Brother, by Laura Leuck/illus. Scott Nash (HarperCollins, 2003)

beastly brotherRecommended for ages 3-6

A young monster reflects on life with his older brother, who can be  truly beastly or very kind. Ms. Leuck uses two monster brothers to illustrate the ups and downs of sibling relationships. The younger brother makes a laundry list of his older brother’s “beastly” – a double entendre here – behavior toward him: he will not allow him to play with his stuff, feed his pets, and outdoes his younger brother at everything he does, from burping to spewing spider spit. He throws his toys away, bothers him, and never lets him win.  But when he has scary dreams of humans coming after him, the younger monster learns that sometimes, his beastly brother is not so beastly after all.

Scott Nash’s cartoon illustrations bring humor to the monster family; they are not scary at all.  He turns the idea of the traditional family on its head by creating a monster nuclear family, complete with details like eyeball wallpaper and skull upholstery. The humans are the monsters in this tale; to that end, Mr. Nash illustrates the young monster’s nightmare with scary humans with frozen smiles and outstretched arms. The text is black, bold font on a stark white background, with a single image beneath the text, allowing the illustrations to take center stage. The monsters, other than being hairy, are fairly normal.  Their faces are pleasant and expressive, with large eyes and big smiles fully of pointy teeth. The boys wear jeans and t-shirts; Mom wears a pink dress with a spider print pattern, and Dad mows the lawn in shorts, a t-shirt and a baseball cap.

Laura Leuck and Scott Nash’s monsters show up again in My Creature Teacher.

This would be a fun book to incorporate into a family read-aloud. There are many family printables available for coloring on DLTK, along with family puppets, and poems.

HarperCollins offers an author webpage that allows interested readers to sign up for author updates.