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 Non-Fiction, Teen, Young Adult/New Adult

Blog Tour: Writers in the Secret Garden – Fanfiction, Youth, and New Forms of Mentoring

Who would have ever imagined that fanfiction would not only go mainstream, but be so popular? In the last 5 years since I’ve been librarianing, I’ve been to academic and pop culture panels on fanfic in the library; I’ve seen fanfic programs for middle graders and teens bring kids into the program room, I’ve seen novels like Carry On go meta and be about fanfic within a YA world, and I’ve seen my friends’ kids starting their own fanfic accounts so they could contribute to their fandom. It’s a wonderful thing to behold. One of my colleagues wrote her MLIS thesis on fanfiction. Now, University of Washington professors Cecelia Aragon and Katie Davis have given us Writers in the Secret Garden: Fanfiction, Youth, and New Forms of Mentoring; an in-depth exploration of how teens and tweens support and learn from each other through their participation in online fanfic communities like and AO3.

Writers in the Secret Garden: Fanfiction, Youth, and New Forms of Mentoring, by Cecelia Aragon and Katie Davis,
(Aug. 2019, MIT Press), $25, ISBN: 978-0262537803
Ages 16+


Writers in the Secret Garden was sparked by a conversation in 2013, after a slew of news storied claimed young people couldn’t write/weren’t writing. Aragon and Davis extensively studied what was happening on from both education and human-centered data science perspectives. Some of their findings include:

  • Most adults either have a negative view or are unaware of fanfiction, and the impact it is having on the lives of many young people today.

  • On alone, 1.5 million authors have published over 7 million stories and shared over 176 million reviews of those stories.

  • The median age of authors on the site is 16, with over 87% between the ages of 13 and 25.

  • 84% of authors on the site are female; and more fanfiction authors identify as gender-nonconforming (9%) than male (7%).

  • Young people are teaching each other how to write through the feedback they give. This new type of mentoring is unique to networked communities. Called “distributed mentoring,” it is described in detail in the book.

  • The quality of the writing improves in response to the amount of distributed mentoring the author received. (650 reviews predicts as much growth as one year of maturation).

  • Despite the fact that readers post reviews anonymously, comments are overwhelmingly positive, with less than half of one percent gratuitously negative.

The discovery of this vast and vibrant resource for kids who have something to say has been especially meaningful to Aragon as she recalls her own hidden efforts. When Cecilia Aragon was ten years old, she read The Lord of the Rings and fell in love with the world Tolkien created. But, in her opinion, there weren’t enough female characters, and she also had some ideas for scenes that should have been in the books. So, she sat down and wrote her own version in a spiral notebook that she kept hidden. No one ever saw it, and she never told anyone about it until recently, because she thought it wasn’t “real writing.”

“Fanfiction is a private universe — a secret garden — that has become a welcoming community, particularly for those from marginalized groups,” says Cecilia Aragon.  “In it, young people are mentoring each other to become skillful writers and thoughtful readers – and they are doing it entirely on their time and their own terms.”

The research group at the University of Washington maintains a Tumblr about their research.


Posted in Early Reader, Preschool Reads

Niko Draws a Feeling: What do you see?

niko-draws-a-feelingNiko Draws a Feeling, by Bob Raczka/Illustrated by Simone Shin, (April 2017, Carolrhoda Books), $17.99, ISBN: 9781467798433

Recommended for ages 4-8

Niko loves to draw the world around him. Everything inspires him, and ideas flow through him, from his brain down to his fingers. He captures feelings, not images: the ring-a-ling of an ice cream truck; the warmth of the sun; the hard work of a mother robin building a next. No one seems to understand Niko. They’re looking for the bell of the truck; the sun and Niko’s face; the mother robin. Niko captures the feelings these things inspire, but no one seems to grasp that, until he meets Iris, a new girl moving into the neighborhood. She understands exactly what he has to say, because she feels, rather than looks.

I adore this book. It reaches in and touches the reader, just like Niko’s drawings. Younger children will appreciate that someone out there understands what they’re trying to communicate, much like Niko and Iris finding one another. Raczka and Shin create a story that relies on feelings and emotions inspired by the world around us, and reminding us that art, like feeling, is abstract, and able to be communicated in many ways. Simone Shin’s mixed media, digital and acrylic paints give us a world that looks like it could have been drawn by Niko himself.

There are so many ways to use this book beyond a simple storytime. Ask kids to draw their own feelings, their own experiences of the world around them. Let them explain what they see, and see it with them. Pair this with Andrew Larsen and Mike Lowery’s A Squiggly Story for a great storytime on self-expression and art.

Bob Raczka is an award-winning children’s author and poet. Simone Shin is an award-winning illustrator.

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

It’s Sweater Weather! (the graphic novel, not the forecast)

sweater weatherSweaterweather, by Sara Varon (Feb. 2016, First Second), $19.99, ISBN: 9781626721180

Recommended for ages 10+

You may have seen Sara Varon’s work before – she’s given us fun, all-ages graphic novels like Bake Sale, Chicken & Cat, and Odd Duck, and we’ll also be getting President Squid this year (review coming). She draws friendly, fun animals (and squids) in a cartoon style that makes you just want to curl up with these characters, have a cup of tea, and chat.

Sweaterweather is a re-issue of the original 2003 version, with extra stories and content. It’s done in two-color, and is part graphic novel story collection, part peek into Sara Varon’s creative brain. We have stories, essays, and journal entries existing together, an invite for kids and teens to take a load off and enjoy socially awkward animals wandering around Brooklyn and hey, while you’re here, see what goes on in the mind of a creative person!

Kids who love graphic novels and animal fiction will enjoy Sweaterweather for the stories. Creative kids will appreciate the big picture Sara Varon displays for them, and maybe, get them journaling and doodling on their own.

Sara Varon’s author website is great for burgeoning artists and fans. There are sections devoted to her books and illustrations, updates, and links to pages for her favorite illustrators and designers. She’s also an award-winning author/illustrator: Odd Duck was selected by Kirkus Reviews as one of the Best Children’s Books of 2013, Bake Sale was named a YALSA Great Graphic Novel for 2012, and Robot Dreams was on Oprah’s Kids’ Reading List in 2008. In 2013, Sara Varon was a Maurice Sendak Fellowship recipient.

Here’s a sneak peek at some of the artwork from Sweaterweather.

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