Posted in Fantasy, Teen, Young Adult/New Adult

Black Canary’s YA novel starts the new year off with a Canary Cry

Okay, 2021. Let’s see what you’ve got. Please be gentle with us, we’re still reeling from 2020. Thankfully, there were books. So many great books. And 2021 is shaping up to have just as many great books – seriously, look at the upcoming Latinx titles, and lists from Here We Read, Brightly, and Beyond the Bookends, for starters. And let’s dive into the first book I finished this shiny new year.

Black Canary: Breaking Silence (DC Icons #5), by Alexandra Monir, (Dec. 2020, Random House Books for Young Readers), $18.99, ISBN: 9780593178317

Ages 12+

I’ve been a Black Canary fan for a while now (thanks, Arrow!), and getting an email inviting me to read the new Black Canary YA novel sent me over the moon. The fact that it takes place in a dystopia where Gotham City has been taken over by the Court of Owls – some of the best storylines in the Batman universe –  made me salivate. The Court of Owls, in the comics, is a secret society that quietly oversees the machinations of Gotham City, always looking out for the wealthy founding families’ interests. In Breaking Silence, the Owls have taken on a fundamentalist-type role, sending women back into the home and relegating them to second-class citizens in the name of “decency” and “morality”. Penguin, the iconic Bat-villain who sided with the Owls during their takeover 20 years prior to the events in Breaking Silence, engineered a toxic gas that stole the singing voices away from women in Gotham; finding a way to silence them while still allowing them to function. The overthrow of Gotham and Silencing, the culminating event that stole women’s singing voices, was sparked by the death of Bruce Wayne – Batman – who died of old age; the revolt also saw the deaths of Commissioner James Gordon and superheroes at the hands of the Owls and their enforcers, the Talons. Dinah Laurel Lance has grown up under the boot of the Owls. Her father, Detective Larry Lance, works for the Gotham City Police Department and treads lightly between the Owls and his duties for the GCPD, while raising his daughter as a widowed father. Now a high school senior, Dinah listens to forbidden music in private and is already on the Owls’ watch list. Between a cautious romance with new student Oliver Queen and discovering the hidden truth about her mother, Dinah’s heading into strange new territory. The Owls had better be ready, a revolution is coming.

I LOVED, LOVED, LOVED Breaking Silence. Smashing the patriarchy and literally finding one’s own voice? Sign me up! Dinah Laurel Lance comes right off the pages; her frustration and fear are palpable and serve as a motivator and a hindrance; it isn’t all black and white here. Alexandra Monir gives us a smart teen heroine who navigates family secrets, a secret society, and the frustration of being a woman in a male-dominated society with skill. Her father, her male friend Ty, and the super-handsome, mysterious rich boy Oliver Queen all lament the current circumstances with her, but they don’t – can’t – get it: they’re men. They have freedom and privilege that they just can’t comprehend not having. There’s a DC cameo or two that made my heart sing, too… Read this book, add it to your booktalks, and get it into the hands of other readers. Then, go read Black Canary: Ignite and get some Birds of Prey trade paperbacks! (Psst… Gail Simone’s run is unparalleled).

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 Uncategorized

Steve Pugh’s Harley Quinn poster promotes graphic novel love!

I love, love, LOVE, comic books, and I love, love, love, Harley Quinn, so I was super-excited to see that artist Steve Pugh has created a Harley Quinn poster for DC Comics’s “Be a Hero, Read a Book” campaign. Steve Pugh tweeted an unlettered poster last month, and somehow, I just found it, thanks to today’s Diamond Bookshelf e-mail. The Harley featured here is inspired by teen Harley from last year’s Mariko Tamaki original graphic novel, Harley Quinn: Breaking Glass, which, if you haven’t read yet, you MUST.

I NEED THIS POSTER IMMEDIATELY.

I picked up a set of posters from last year’s campaign at ALA Midwinter earlier this year (wow… it feels like ancient history now), and they are GORGEOUS. You can find the posters and other resources for educators and librarians at DC’s page here.

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

Fantasy Graphic Novels for Teens

Ever After, by Olivia Vieweg, (Sept. 2020, Graphic Universe), $16.99, ISBN: 9781728412924

Ages 12+

Translated from the German 2012 graphic novel Endzeit, Ever After is an unsettling zombie apocalypse story. Two German cities – Weimar and Jena – are survivor outposts in the days after the zombie apocalypse. Two young women, Vivi and Eva, travel from the harsh conditions in Weimar to Jena, hoping for a better life, but both women have secrets. Vivi is tormented by visions of her younger sister, while Eva is in the middle of a transformation. The two form an unlikely friendship on the road, protecting one another from the living and the dead. The story is focused on the two women for the most part, making it an interesting character study in personality. The colorful manga-inspired artwork is a stark contrast to the bleak story, and there are some very graphic moments that may not appeal to some readers. The story drops readers into the beginning of the story with very little context, so it is a little fiddly at first, but I hit my stride pretty quickly. It’s an interesting new take on zombie stories; if you have readers who enjoy zombie horror, consider adding this to your shelves.

Endzeit was made into a movie in 2019.

 

Daughters of Ys, by M.T. Anderson/Illustrated by Jo Rioux, (Aug. 2020, :01First Second), $24.99, ISBN: 9781626728783

Ages 12+

Award-winning author M.T. Anderson and illustrator Jo Rioux create a feminist fantasy with a Celtic influence with Daughters of Ys. Ys, a seaside kingdom, is shaken when its Queen, Malgven, passes away. Her two daughters, Rozenn and Dahut, are horrified to discover their father in the arms of other women so soon after their mother’s passing, and grow apart. Rozenn, the heir to the throne, would rather be in the wild, surrounded by animals and nature; Dahut enjoys palace life and all the attention that comes with being the “beautiful daughter” – but she’s got a secret directly connected to the monsters that threaten the Kingdom of Ys: the monsters that Queen Malgven used to be able to keep away.

Based on a classic folktale, The Daughters of Ys has M.T. Anderson’s hallmark storytelling, with epic fantasy fleshed out with strong characters and complex relationships. Jo Rioux’s artwork beautifully creates a Celtic-inspired world, and her lush artwork gives the fluid feeling of the seaside kingdom surreal life. She uses shadows and moody coloring to wonderfully dramatic effect. Hand this to any of your fantasy readers, and for anyone interested in more reading about Ys, this Wikipedia page has some very good information and links.

MT Anderson has won multiple literary awards, including the 2006 National Young People’s Book Award for his book The Pox Party. His 2018 book with M.T. Anderson, The Assassination of Brangwain Spurge, was nominated for the National Young People’s Book Award.

The Daughters of Ys has a starred review from School Library Journal.

Teen Titans: Beast Boy, by Kami Garcia/Illustrated by Gabriel Picolo, (Sept. 2020, DC Comics), $16.99, ISBN: 9781401287191

Ages 10+

The creative powerhouse that brought us the Raven original graphic novel is back with Teen Titans’s Beast Boy! Garfield Logan is 17 years old, and he wants things to happen! Senior year is almost over, and he can’t figure out how to get in with the in crowd, instead of being the pizza-eating, video-game loving nerd that everyone overlooks. Tired of being short and scrawny, he stops taking the supplements his parents always give him, and things start happening. He grows six inches overnight. His voice gets deeper, and he’s strong. Like, STRONG. And fast. It’s almost like he can… channel different animals? He starts taking dares from the social crowd, and Gar sees his chance for social currency! But although a big dare pays off, it also kicks something into motion, and Gar decides he needs answers from his parents. They’ve been keeping things from him, and it’s time they ‘fessed up. But his parents, and his best friends, Stella and Tank, aren’t the only people with a vested interest in Gar. A guy named Slade Wilson is skulking around town (DC fans will know that when Deathstroke shows up, that’s never good news), claiming to have some of the answers Gar’s looking for, but Slade is playing a longer game, and someone higher up is very, VERY interested in Gar.

I loved this Beast Boy origin story! I will be honest, though – while it doesn’t end abruptly, it does end with a lot of questions unanswered, so I hope there’s a second book in the works. There are nods to the Teen Titan fans know, including his green hair, his fanboy, upbeat attitude, and his self-deprecating humor. Kami Garcia nails it, as always, and Gabriel Picolo does his favorite Teen Titan (read the author and illustrator notes at the beginning of the book) justice by capturing Beast Boy’s look and attitude perfectly. Another DC YA graphic novel hit.

 

 

 

Posted in Fiction, Graphic Novels, Middle Grade, Teen, Tween Reads, Young Adult/New Adult

Big Graphic Novels Roundup!

I’ve been reading a LOT of graphic novels during this quarantine. They relax me, and I know my graphic novels sections (both kids and teens) see a l lot of action, so I always want to make sure I’ve got the best stuff on my shelves for them – and that I know what I’m talking about when I hand books to readers. Let’s see what’s up:

Go To Sleep (I Miss You): Cartoons from the Fog of New Parenthood, by Lucy Knisley, (Feb. 2020, First Second), $14.99, ISBN: 9781250211491

Ages 12+

These are adorable meditations on new parenthood by Lucy Knisley, whose graphic novel Kid Gloves: Nine Months of Careful Chaos let us peek into the world of her pregnancy with her baby, known as Pal. Go to Sleep is a book of sketches Lucy Knisley created during Pal’s first year, and they are moments that every parent and caregiver will recognize, from diaper “blowouts” (oh, so many diaper blowouts) and breastfeeding through teething to tummy time and those moments where we can’t wait to get some alone time… only to spend that time gazing at our sleepy little one, and waiting for them to wake up and do it all again. Black and white, filled with love and humor, Go to Sleep (I Miss You) is perfect for your parenting bookshelves (and for older siblings, as my eldest reminds me).

In this sci-fi alternate history, we visit 1943 Los Angeles, home of the Zoot Suit Riots. Siblings Flaca and Cuata meet a five-foot tall lizard when he saves them from some unsavory sailors one night, when they got out dancing. They hide him in their home and discover he’s part of a race of underground lizard people. He wants to get back to his family, but there are soldiers and mysterious government men wandering the sisters’ neighborhood, on the lookout. To sneak him back to his home, the Flaca and Cuata dress the lizard up in one of Flaca’s zoot suits and head off on an adventure. Yellow, black and white artwork give a stark, noir feel to the story, which is both sensitive and funny. Marco Finnegan provides smart commentary on racism, gender roles and the counterculture of the period. Teens will enjoy this sci-fi take on a moment in U.S. history that isn’t discussed enough.

School for Extraterrestrial Girls Girl on Fire (Volume 1), by Jeremy Whitley/Illustrated by Jamie Noguchi, (Aug. 2020, Papercutz), $12.99, ISBN: 9781545804933

Ages 10-14

Tara Smith is a girl who live with a lot of rules: her parents demand it. Two of their biggest rules? No friends her own age, and always keep her bracelet on. One day, though, Tara’s routine gets thrown into a tizzy, and she loses her bracelet; that’s when the trouble begins. Things get even crazier when she seemingly bursts into flame in the middle of school! Tara learns that she’s not human at all: she’s an alien, and captured by the government, sent off to a school where she can’t put her human classmates in danger, and that’s where she learns the truth about herself. She’s an alien, and her parents – also aliens – likely kidnapped her at a young age. Now, she’s surrounded by other alien students, not all of whom are exactly friendly toward her race. An exciting start to a new middle grade-middle school graphic novel series, School for Extraterrestrial Girls is written by Eisner award nominee Jeremy Whitley, who you may know from his Princeless series and Marvel’s The Unstoppable Wasp. Don’t miss this first volume, which has some nice social commentary set within a very cool sci-fi story.

 

A Map to the Sun, by Sloane Leong, (Aug. 2020, First Second), $17.99, ISBN: 9781250146687

Ages 12-18

A strong story about sports and teen relationships, A Map to the Sun starts with Ren and Luna, two girls who meet on the beach during their middle school summer break. Luna disappears without saying goodbye when she suddenly moves, but returns two years later, expecting to pick up where she and Ren left off. But Ren is hurt, angry, and full off mistrust, especially since her older sister’s issues have made life nearly unbearable for her. A new teacher decides to form a women’s basketball team at the high school, bringing Luna, Ren, and a group of other girls who are tagged as the misfits in school. As they practice and improve, we get glimpses into each of their lives and see how succeeding in one arena changes how they react and are perceived in other spaces in their lives. The color palette is bright and beachy; lots of oranges, yellows, and purples, but some of the coloring made it difficult for me to tell characters apart (I read an ARC; this will likely be tightened up in the finished book). The story is strong, and highly recommended for teens and a solid choice for realistic fiction readers. A Map to the Sun has a starred review from Shelf Awareness.

Lois Lane and the Friendship Challenge, by Grace Ellis/Illustrated by Brittney Williams, (Aug. 2020, DC Comics), $9.99, ISBN: 978-1401296377
Ages 7-11
DC’s latest middle grade original graphic novel stars our favorite journalist-in-training, Lois Lane. Here, Lumberjanes co-creator Grace Ellis and Goldie Vance artist Brittney Williams create a tween Lois Lane who’s all about creating a viral video for a #friendshipchallenge. The only thing is, she’s kind of driving her best friend, Kristen, crazy with the challenge. Kristen is going to be going to sleepaway camp after the big neighborhood barbecue and bike race, and Lois is desperate to get her video make before Kristen leaves. But words gets out that the new bike store in town may be planning something shady for the bike race, and the fireworks planned for the barbecue go missing. Sounds like a mystery that the two best friends will have to solve – if they don’t drive each other crazy first. Lois’s intensity comes off as almost abrasive at first, but she’s relatable as a kid who’s single-mindedly focused on her task and upset at having to share her best friend – a best friend who is going away for the summer – with a new girl in town. Lois Lane and the Friendship Challenge is a fun summer story.
Displacement, by Kiku Hughes, (Aug. 2020, First Second), $17.99, ISBN: 9781250193537Ages 12+

Teenager Kiku travels to San Francisco with her mother to look for the place her grandmother, Ernestina, lived before she and her parents were sent to an internment camp during World War II. Kiku’s mother wants to learn more about her mother’s life pre-camp; Ernestine wasn’t given to talking about it often. As Kiku traipses alongside her, she finds herself being transported back in time, living alongside her grandmother as she, too, becomes a displaced person living in two Japanese internment camps. Powerfully written and beautifully illustrated, Displacement tells the story of the Japanese-Americans who were forced out of their homes and their established lives and stripped of their civil liberties. Kiku – and we – learn things from observing the day-to-day life in camp like human rights abuses that are quickly hushed up and the acts of resistance some engaged in, like the “No-Nos”, who answered “No” to two controversial questions on a loyalty questionnaire the Army had all incarcerated citizens answer. A tribute to the power of memory and, sadly, the power of intergenerational trauma, Displacement belongs with George Takei’s They Called Us Enemy and Art Spiegelman’s Maus in the canon of great graphic novels that belong on every reading list and every shelf.

Ages 14+
This is a weird, wild noir story that I’d hold for my readers who are always looking for something different. It’s Barcelona, 1942, and Laia is a pregnant woman working as a scriptwriter for a radio advice program. Her husband goes missing, a serial killer is on the loose, and Laia retains the services of a private detective to track down her husband… but she’s got secrets of her own. Read this one a couple of times; the story reveals itself with more than one reading. The drastic black and white artwork places you in the middle of this macabre detective story with a wry sense of humor. Got hard-boiled detective novel readers? Give this one to them, too.
Posted in Fiction, Graphic Novels, Middle Grade, Teen, Tween Reads

More #BooksfromQuarantine, Graphic Novels edition

I’ve been tearing through my graphic novel stash now that I’m back at work two days a week. Here’s some from the new crop.

Supergirl: Being Super, by Mariko Tamaki/Illustrated by Joëlle Jones, (July 2020, DC Comics), $16.99, ISBN: 9781779503190

Ages 12+

The latest DC YA graphic novel is a collection of the 4-issue Supergirl storyline, Being Super (2018). Caldecott winner and YA graphic novelist powerhouse Mariko Tamaki and Eisner winner Joëlle Jones, whose work I’ve really loved on Lady Killer and Helheim, join forces here to tell the story of Kara Danvers, a teen who’s got BFFs, irritating parents that she totally loves, and a ginormous zit. She can also lift a car with one hand, and runs slower than she really can on her track team, but who cares? She loves her life in Midvale… until catastrophe strikes, and leaves Kara with more questions than answers about her past.

What I’ve been enjoying about DC’s YA graphic novels is the relatability. The super powers take a back seat to the relationships and the frustrations of adolescence; here, it’s Kara’s struggle to discover who she is, and the decisions she makes as she seeks that answer. Coping with grief is a secondary theme running through the story. Joëlle Jones’s  artwork is expressive, bold, and eye-catching. Being Super is a Newsweek Best Graphic Novel of the Year.

 

Child Star, by Brian “Box” Brown, (June 2020, First Second), $19.99, ISBN: 9781250154071

Ages 13+

This documentary-style graphic novel gives a look into the life and times of fictional child star, Owen Eugene. From his overbearing stage parents and his sitcom catchphrase to his post-fame struggle to steady his life, this is a story we can see – have seen – unfolding on reality TV. It’s all in here: interviews with co-stars, hangers-on, and former loves; the parents who felt they had a right to Owen’s money; the D-list reality TV shows that feel like the last stop on the road to obscurity. Readers familiar with some of the bigger child star stories will recognize them in Owen Eugene’s story. A sad look at the collateral damage of 1980s pop culture, Child Star is great reading, written by graphic novelist and biographer Brian “Box” Brown, award-winning writer and illustrator of Andre the Giant: Life and Legend, and Is This Guy for Real? The Unbelievable Andy Kaufman.

Child Star has a starred review from Publishers Weekly.

One Year at Ellsmere, by Faith Erin Hicks, (July 2020, First Second), $14.99, ISBN: 9781250219107

Ages 10+

Originally published in 2008 as The War at Ellsmere (thanks, ComicBeat!), Faith Erin Hicks’s boarding school story gets some updated art and some color. Juniper is a new student at the prestigious (read: snobbish) Ellsmere Academy, an exclusive boarding school where she – daughter of a single mother with thrift store clothes – is quickly labeled “the project” by the school’s Queen Bee, Emily. Juniper and her roommate, Cassie, quickly bond over being outcasts in a school full of Mean Girls; something that helps Juniper as she endures Emily’s brutal bullying. Running through this boarding school story is a touch of magical realism surrounding the forest next to the school. I loved the character development, the fantasy touch with the forest story, and how both elements come together to make yet another great story from Faith Erin Hicks.

Read Faith Erin Hicks’s webcomics at her author website.

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

Books from Quarantine: Wonder Woman and Aqualad

DC Ink has two more original YA graphic novels out, and they are getting the cream of the YA crop to write them, pairing them with outstanding artists to illustrate. What a time to be a comic book fan (or new to comic books)!

Wonder Woman: Tempest Tossed, by Laurie Halse Anderson/Illustrated by Leila Del Duca, (June 2020, DC Comics), $16.99, ISBN: 9781401286453

Ages 12+

Easily one of the best Wonder Woman stories I’ve ever read. Diana is the first and only woman on Themyscira to have a birthday (you can read about her origins, both original and updated, here), so her 16th Born Day is a cause for great celebration! The festivities are interrupted when refugees in rafts drift across the barrier separating Themyscira from our world, and Diana, horrified at the sight of people struggling to stay afloat in tumultuous waters, is furious with the Themyscirans who refuse to get involved. She dives into the water and begins helping the strugglers back into the raft, only to discover that the veil has drawn back, obscuring Themyscira once again… and she’s outside of it. Wonder Woman is a teenaged refugee with no way back home and separated from everything she knows and loves. Once the rafts come ashore in Greece, she joins the other refugees as they wait for food, warm clothes, and shelter; she endures the baleful stares and harsh talk from those around her who have no trust in the refugees. Diana is a stranger in a strange and sometimes, unfriendly land. With the help of two kind aid workers named Steve and Trevor, she heads to the United States to formalize her education and become an aid worker herself. And she also discovers a dark underbelly in her new home that demands justice.

This is an incredible Wonder Woman story that strips (most) of her superpowers away and leaves us with the story of a young woman, alone, enduring life as a refugee in our world. With the right care and help, she can make a difference in the world: but how many of our refugees get that chance? A powerful message delivered by Laurie Halse Anderson, with beautiful artwork from comic book artist Leila Del Duca, Tempest Tossed is a strong statement on our attitudes toward refugees, justice, and the state of our world today.

 

You Brought Me the Ocean, by Alex Sanchez/Illustrated by Julie Maroh, (June 2020, DC Comics), $16.99, ISBN: 9781401290818

Ages 12+

Who better to write a story about Aqualad than Rainbow Boys author Alex Sanchez? Jake Hyde is a high school kid living with his widowed mother in Truth or Consequences, New Mexico. He is desperate to leave his hometown and study oceanography in Miami. Since his father died, his mother won’t let him near water; it’s at odds with his strong attraction to the ocean, his desire to be near the water. His best friend, Maria, wants him to stay home and go to a local college with her… where they can make a home together in the future… but Jake doesn’t really feel that way about Maria. And then, there’s Kenny Liu, the openly gay and proud swimmer at school. He doesn’t care about the jerks that tease him, and he’ll never let himself be bullied. Jake is drawn to Kenny; as the two spend more time together, Jake realizes that his feelings for Kenny are very, very different than he feels for Maria, and that Kenny feels the same, too. At the same time, Jake discovers that what he thought were birthmarks on his skin are actually something very different, too… something that connects him to his father, who isn’t quite dead after all. Jake is about to learn his origin, but it may not be what he wants to hear.

If you saw the Aquaman movie, you know who Jake is. (Hint: he isn’t related to Aquaman.) Aqualad, in the DC Universe, is a founding member of Teen Titans and has come out as gay in the Young Justice animated show. This story is a coming-out story and origin story, both given the sensitivity necessary when writing this character. Graphic novel author and illustrator Julie Maroh creates soft, almost dreamlike artwork with earthy shades and watery shades to show the difference between Jake’s life in New Mexico and his origins in the water. A gorgeous book and story, perfect for Pride month and beyond. A very fun cameo makes this an all-around win.

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

DC debuts new superheroes for middle grade readers!

DC Ink and DC Zoom are putting out top-quality graphic novel content for young and tween/teen readers. I’ve been reading every copy I can get my hands on (when I can get the DC Zoom books out of my kid’s room), and I’m being blown away every time. This time around, we’ve got two new superheroes for the middle grade and tween setHere we go.

Primer, by Jennifer Muro & Thomas Krajewski/Illustrated by Gretel Lusky (June 2020, DC Comics), $9.99, ISBN: 9781401296575

Ages 8-11

A brand new superhero! Ashley Rayburn is a 13-year-old with a criminal father in jail. She’s bounced from foster home to foster home, but her upbeat spirits have been rewarded when she’s placed with Kitch and Yuka Nolan, who provide a warm, kind atmosphere for her to live. Yuka is a little weird, little secretive, but Kitch tells Ashley not to sweat it. Turns out, Yuka works for a lab, and brings home a super-secret experiment: body paints that grant different superpowers. Ashley can’t resist the chance to play with some paint – hey, Kitch is an artist and encourages her to use his studio, after all! – and makes some very big discoveries! With her new BFF Luke, Ashley starts dabbling in her newfound paints and powers and takes to the skies as Primer, a new superhero. Unfortunately for Ashley and her new folks, the shadowy government agency that commissioned those body paints want them back at any cost. Primer’s going to have to do a lot of color wheel work to keep herself and her new family and friends safe.

Loved this story. It’s so upbeat, loaded with laughs and adventure, and has an intriguing subplot involving Ashley’s bad guy dad. There are great DC touches throughout the book, so keep an eye on the artwork, which explodes with color and movement. The ending leaves an opening to a possible sequel, and I hope we get one; my library kids are going to devour this one and ask for more. Primer is great summer reading fun.

 

Anti/Hero, by Kate Karyus Quinn & Demitria Lunetta/Illustrated by Maca Gil (April 2020, DC Comics)$9.99, ISBN: 9781401293253

Next up, a book that came out in April and really needs to get a signal flare, because the world’s events stole some of this book’s thunder. Antihero also introduces two new superheroes for middle grade readers. Piper Pájaro and Sloane MacBrute are two 13-year-olds in the same school, share some of the same classes, but are two very different people. Piper is easygoing, athletic, not a big fan of classwork, and she’s scary strong. Sloane is super smart, not a big fan of athletics, and comes from a family with a bad history. At night, Piper puts on a tutu, a leotard, and a mask and patrols the city, on the lookout for evildoers, while Sloan dons all black (she’s always wearing black, tbh) and commits crimes at the behest of her gangster grandfather, The Bear. The two come together when Piper tries to protect a device that Sloan needs to steal, and a mishap results in the two switching bodies. They learn about each other’s lives as they fake it to make it.

The story is fun, with loads of humor and presents the Sloane and Piper as total opposites: Piper wants to be a superhero more than anything else; Sloane wants to work with scientists. While Piper lives with her loving, cuddly grandmother while her scientist parents are away on assignment, Sloane Sloane is at the mercy of her grandfather so that she can care of her ailing mother. Piper dresses in bold, bright colors that work with her cheery outlook; Sloane favors an all-black wardrobe that matches her serious, all-business attitude.

Both kids are relatable, the body-switching storyline is played for laughs, and we get the value of teamwork. And there’s a cameo that made me squeal like the fangirl I am. Grab Anti/Hero for your middle graders and tweens, and make sure we get a sequel.

Posted in Fantasy, Graphic Novels, Teen, Tween Reads, Young Adult/New Adult

Superman Smashes the Klan! We could use him now.

I’ve been diving into my graphic novel stash with renewed vigor for the last couple of weeks, and DC is dominating the kids and YA original graphic novel front. Every single one I’ve read has been unputdownable, and there are some brand new characters introduced to the universe that I hope, hope, HOPE we see again, because I know my son devoured these books and that my library kids will gobble them up and ask for more. So let’s check in with DC.

Superman Smashes the Klan, by Gene Luen Yang/Illustrated by Gurihiru, (May 2020, DC Entertainment), $16.99, ISBN: 9781779504210

Ages 10+

Inspired by a 1940 radio serial, award-winning author, artist, and former National Ambassador for Children’s Literature Gene Luen Yang takes on white supremacy and hate, with a little help from Superman. It’s 1946, and the Lee family – scientist Dr. Lee, his wife, and children, Tommy and Roberta – are moving from Chinatown into the Metropolis suburbs. While Dr. Lee and Tommy are excited about the move, Roberta and her mom are a little more reluctant. Dr. Lee pushes his wife to speak English and Tommy wants to fit in with the local kids, while Roberta and her mother are nervous about their English and miss the familiarity of Chinatown. Shortly after the family moves in, a group calling themselves the Clan of the Fiery Cross starts a reign of terror in the neighborhood, burning a cross on the Lee’s property. Police Inspector Henderson of the Metropolis police – an African-American man – gets involved, as does ace reporter Lois Lane. As the Clan increases their attacks on the Lee family, Superman shows up, too. But the Superman here is not the Superman we know and love just yet: he’s a man still learning about his powers and his heritage. When Superman reconciles who he is – Martha and Jonathan Kent’s son – with the discovery that he is also Kal-El from Krypton, all of Metropolis is in for a valuable lesson.

There’s so much going on here: strong subplots contribute to the main storyline of a white supremacist gang attacking a family and a town; we have Superman’s growing awareness of his power and the fact that he, too, is “not from here”, but “passes” because he’s a white male; Roberta, Lois Lane, and Superman working together to uncover the Clan before tragedy strikes; Tommy’s struggle to fit in; an illustration of generational racism at work; and a sinister plot afoot. Gene Luen Yang infuses the story with moments from history and his own life, and his author’s note, “Superman and Me”, at the end of the book, is an 11-page look at Superman, his place in US history, racism in US history, and the author’s own family story. A bibliography is available for further reading.

Superman Smashes the Klan is imperative reading. Gene Luen Yang’s storytelling always makes for incredible reading. Gurihiru’s artwork gives us iconic Superman moments; he calls to mind Action Comics #1 in a page where he hoists a car over his head, Roberta standing next to him, as they face shadowy, pointed hoods brandishing torches, chains, and baseball bats. Young Clark Kent lets his powers take hold of him as he defends a friend, rising in the air and letting laser vision unleash itself.  He discovers his Fortress of Solitude, this time, underwater. The Clan of the Fiery Cross is horrific as they throw their hands high, welcoming a torch of flame in front of the Lee family home. So many powerful moments; he will make Superman fans out of every reader.

The Comic Book Legal Defense Fund has a free, downloadable discussion guide. Superman Smashes the Klan is a great choice for Social Studies, US History, and ELA reading groups. Keep an eye on The Brown Bookshelf if you were unable to watch the Kidlit Rally for Black Lives on June 4th; Gene was one of the authors who spoke, along with luminaries like Jason Reynolds, Jacqueline Woodson, and Kwame Alexander; the full recording will be posted soon. There’s a Q&A with Yang on We Need Diverse Books that you shouldn’t miss, either.

 

Posted in Fiction, Graphic Novels, Middle Grade, Teen, Tween Reads, Uncategorized, Young Adult/New Adult

Two more original DC graphic novels! Gotham High and My Video Game Ate My Homework

I missed the boat on this one when they pubbed on April 7th, but now, you have no excuse: two more DC original graphic novels have been out for a month now, and I am about to rave them. I picked up these advance copies at ALA Midwinter earlier this year, and had the best conversation with the folks at the DC Booth. I hope you’re all safe and sound, if you’re reading this, and trust me, I’m working my way through the stack o’graphic novels you were kind enough to send me home with.

Gotham High, by Melissa de la Cruz/Illustrated by Thomas Pitilli, (April 2020, DC Comics), $16.99, ISBN: 9781401286248

Ages 12-17

Melissa de la Cruz is a YA powerhouse: my middle graders can’t get enough of her Descendents novels, and my teens and YA readers devour her Alex and Eliza books. She can navigate complicated relationships between her characters, and who gets more complicated than the Joker, Catwoman, and Batman? Right? Gotham High is a YA take on Bruce, Selina, and Jack as teens – no capes, no superpowers, just the baggage they already come with (SO much baggage). Bruce is 17, just kicked out of boarding school, and has too many ghosts, in the form of memories, inhabiting stately Wayne Manor. Selina Kyle used to be the girl next door, now a Gotham High student that hangs out with Jack Napier, class clown with a heck of a mean streak. Bruce falls in with the two, and finds himself involved in a love triangle of sorts. But a kidnapping rocks Gotham High, and Bruce is thrust into the role of detective to get to the bottom of things.

Taking away the capes, gadgets, and makeup, Melissa de la Cruz gives us three incredibly complex, flawed characters, and brings us into their contentious friendship. She gives us chilling moments and dread realizations about the people each character will eventually become – with or without a costume. She makes them easily relatable and recognizable, and artist Thomas Pitilli gives us realistic characters with his artwork, with all the rah-rah high school spirit we expect to find in a high school hallway to the anger always simmering below the surface for each character. He captures the spirit of high school, in all its internal chaos, with style.

 

My Video Game Ate My Homework, by Dustin Hansen, (Apr. 2020, DC Comics), $9.99, ISBN: 9781401293260

Ages 8-12

This is a fandom-filled graphic novel that kids and grownups alike will love Dewey is a 13-year-old kid on the verge of flunking science when he and his friends gets sucked into a video game adventure that presents them with challenges, fights with digital monsters, and puzzles to solve. Loaded with sight gags and wink-nudges to video games, con life, and overall fandom, kids (and big kids, like me) will see themselves in Dewey and Co.

The book encourages readers to problem solve and emphasizes the importance of cooperation and teamwork. The cartoony-realistic style and fantasy monsters are so much fun – perfect story to introduce if you have Dungeons & Dragons fledgling fans. If you have Secret Coders readers, give them this book, which will continue challenging their problem-solving skills and captivating them with a fun storyline.

Dustin Hansen’s also written the Microsaurs series, which never stays on my library shelves. (Which means I probably need to order them for my kid, because he would LOVE them.) I got to talk to him at Midwinter, and he’s one of the nicest people ever.