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 Intermediate, Middle Grade

Fun with Forms: Sign Here!

Sign Here: Twenty-Two Unofficially Official Pull-Out Forms for Dreams, Pets, Pocket Money, Feelings, Secrets and So Much More, by Gabrielle Djanogly/Illustrated by Adèle Mildred, (Sept. 2018, Prestel), $14.95, ISBN: 9783791372976

Ages 6+

This is absolute fun. The title says it all: it’s a book of forms for kids (and up) to fill out and have fun with. When I was a kid, I loved filling stuff out. I just did. Did it make me feel grown up, or just give me something to do? Who knows? But these forms are silly, funny, and full of the stuff of childhood: a form for potential babysitters, complete with “I fully understand you are in charge” yes/no check boxes and parents say/kids say bedtime information (“My mummy/daddy may have said my bedtime is… Actually, it’s any time after…). There’s a two-part Best Friend Form that lays sweet groundwork for the future, allowing kids to think about what they will do when they grow up. There are acknowledgements of anger, celebrations of happy, and declarations of sad, to help kids celebrate or communicate those hard-to-talk about feelings, and pocket money raise requests for kids who feel it’s time for a raise in cashflow.

All the forms are decorated with two-color designs to look official with a little spark to them. It’s a fun way to introduce journaling to kids (program in a book!) and encourage creative writing. I’m going to give a few of these a shot in our library’s creative writing program, and I want to run a couple by my first grader to see what kind of story he wants me to tell, or run a Tooth Oath Collection form by the Tooth Fairy and see how that goes. Sign Here is a fun gift idea, a fun classroom or library exercise and incentive.


Posted in Middle Grade, Non-fiction, Tween Reads

Need a shot of creativity? Go on a Jabber Walk!

Jabberwalking, by Juan Felipe Herrera, (March 2018, Candlewick), $22.99, ISBN: 9781536201406

Recommended for readers 7-12

Juan Felipe Herrera, the first Mexican-American Poet Laureate in the U.S.A., encourages readers to spark their creativity by going on a Jabber Walk. Part biography, part writing guide, Jabber Walking is an effusive, silly, excitable look inside a creative mind. Herrera wants to show kids that it’s easy to get the creative juices flowing by getting moving: go Jabber Walking, and let your imagination go wild! Herrera’s Jabber Walk takes readers with him on a walk to the Library of Congress, accompanied by his Chinese Pit Bull Shar-Pei, Lotus, who loves getting into her own blue-cheesy, crazy adventures. Black and white scrawled pictures are proof that creativity and Jabber Walking aren’t limited solely to words. He asks questions to prompt thought: Do you remember a family story? How far back in time do your familiar stories take you? and introduces us to his story, starting with his father’s great escape from Mexico in the early 20th Century. We learn that Jabber poems aren’t supposed to be “too clean”: they’re “fast poems… wild poem… an unkempt, dirty, poem. A scribble, gooey, cuckoo, sweaty, puffy, blue-cheesy, incandescent poem!”

Throw the idea that you need to be linear out the window – this is the kind of book that embraces the creative process, with all of the crazy, fun, random thoughts that go into it. I’d love to see this used to teach creative writing; I’d love to start a Jabber Writing program at my library. Hmmm… Give this to kids that love to write, and give this to kids that need a gentle nudge to unleash their inner Jabber writer. Jabber Walking is too much fun, and it’s one of those books that begs for more than one reading; there’s just too much to take in on one read. Jabber Walking received a starred review from Publisher’s Weekly.

Posted in Fantasy, geek, geek culture, Graphic Novels, Intermediate, Middle Grade, Non-Fiction, Non-fiction, Non-Fiction

Star Wars Jedi Academy: Attack of the Journal!

jediacdemyAttack of the Journal (Star Wars Jedi Academy), by Jeffrey Brown (Aug. 2015, Scholastic), $9.99, ISBN: 9780545852784

Recommended for ages 7-12

For all the kids who love Jeffrey Brown’s Jedi Academy series, there’s now a journal where you can DIY your own comics, write your own stories, and read commentary from Roan and his fellow Jedi Academy classmates and instructors!

Want to make your own Jedi Academy class schedule? Make your own lightsaber? Write for the school newsletter, the Padawan Observer? This is the place for you! Loaded with creative and introspective ideas for kids, the Jedi Academy Journal offers kids fill-in-the-blank story outlines, lots of creative spaces for their own drawings and original writing, and prompts throughout the book. Some prompts encourage kids to look inward and write about what they feel they could do better, who inspires them and who they think they inspire. Comic strips with the characters from the Jedi Academy series pop up throughout the book, making this a great purchase for Star Wars fans. When they finish the book, they can even fill out their own Jedi Academy Diploma!

This is a journal, so it’s mean to be written in – so libraries may not want to invest money in this one. It’s a great gift idea, though, in the vein of the Wimpy Kid Do-It-Yourself book and a fun way to extend and put a personal spin on a favorite series.

Attack of the Journal is already in stores, so put this one on your shopping lists. The holidays are coming! If you’re bringing the joy of Star Wars to a lucky kid for the first time, consider the 3-book set, which includes the first and second Jedi Academy graphic novels and the journal.