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, Middle Grade, Realistic Fiction

Dewey Fairchild, Sibling Problem Solver, is on the case!

Dewey Fairchild, Sibling Problem Solver (Dewey Fairchild, Book 3), by Lorri Horn, (Aug. 2019, Amberjack Publishing), $13.99, ISBN: 9781948705417

Ages 8-12

Dewey Fairchild is a kid who likes to solve problems and eat cookies. He’s solved kids’ problems with parents and problems with teachers; in his third adventure, he sets his sights on solving sibling problems, even taking on parents as clients! Together with his assistant/cookie supplier, Clara – kind of the Alfred to Dewey’s Batman – and her dog, Wolfie, Dewey’s third adventure will make him look at his own relationship with his own siblings as he takes on new clients.

This is the third book in the Dewey Fairchild series, but you don’t need to have read the first two to enjoy this one. Dewey is middle grader who likes to solve problems and has a secret office that allows him to get some headspace from his family and enjoy the cookies that his 94-year-old assistant, Clara, bakes up as he puzzles out cases. The book emphasizes the problem-solving process, as Dewey interviews new clients, stakes out spaces to see client and sibling interactions for himself, and consult his notes as he works on solutions. As Dewey works through sibling problems, he sees shades of his own interactions with his older and younger sisters – and puts his own theories into action.

Dewey is a likable character, and his emphasis on observation and problem-solving will score big with parents and kids alike. Black and white illustrations of cookies in the process of being nibbled away head up each chapter and will make you hungry. Bake up a plate or two of cookies for a discussion on this one; there’s a lot to discuss here. Give this to your kids who enjoy light mysteries (and have aged up from intermediate titles like the A to Z Mysteries and Cam Jansen) and encourage them to see their own relationships with parents and siblings in a new light.

Dewey Fairchild, Parent Problem Solver received a starred review from Kirkus.

Posted in Animal Fiction, Fiction, Fiction, Intermediate, Middle Grade

Got a mystery? Fabio the World’s Great Flamingo Detective is on the case

Fabio: The Case of the Missing Hippo (Fabio the World’s Greatest Flamingo Detective), by Laura James/Illustrated by Emily Fox, (Aug. 2019, Bloomsbury USA) $16.99, ISBN: 9781547602179

Ages 7-10

Originally published in the UK in 2018, Fabio – a pink flamingo who bills himself as the World’s Greatest Flamingo Detective – and his sidekick a giraffe named Gilbert, are a mystery-solving duo whose first mystery involves a lavish hotel, a talent show, and a missing hippo. Fabio and Gilbert drop by the Hotel Royale to get a relaxing glass of pink lemonade, but end up stumbling into a mystery when Julia, a singing hippo, disappears right as she and her band start their jazz set at the hotel’s talent show tryouts. Fabio has a list of suspects, and using some old-fashioned detective work, he intends to save the day.

Fabio’s first adventure is an easy, fun read with humorous moments aplenty. The book is illustrated and 2- and 3-color artwork, with day-glo pink and green pages, and pink and green accents to the grey and white artwork. There are a host of animal characters with larger-than-life personalities, including a cranky vulture hotelier and his idealistic niece, a shifty snake, and a bossy rhino. Hot pink endpapers feature Fabio in a variety of poses. Fabio’s second adventure is publishing in the U.S. next year; this is a cute animal series and a fun change for your mystery buffs that have gone through your Boxcar Children, A to Z Mysteries, Cam Jansen, and more. Display this with Alex T. Smith’s Mr. Penguin series (Book 2 just came out; Book 3 is due next month) for your animal adventure readers.

There’s a free, downloadable activity pack available from the publisher, and author Laura James has loads of fun stuff to download from both Fabio books and her Pug series. Illustrator Emily Fox’s website also has fun downloadables, including Fabio goodies and her Monkey’s Sandwich and Elephant’s Pajamas books.

Posted in Teen, Young Adult/New Adult

Finding Forever – Secrets, Lies, and the Search for Eternal Youth

finding foreverFinding Forever, by Ken Baker (Sept. 2015, Running Press), $9.95, ISBN: 978-0-7624-5594-2

Recommended for ages 13+

Brooklyn Brant isn’t your ordinary 16 year-old with a blog. She’s determined to break into  celebrity journalism, and has a blog – Deadline Diaries – that’s gaining some momentum. When she gets call from Simone, the assistant to white-hot teen celebrity Taylor Prince, claiming that Taylor’s been kidnapped and needs help, Brooklyn has the opportunity of a lifetime handed to her. Using her police officer dad’s investigative techniques, she launches her own investigation – but as she gets too close to the truth, could she find herself in danger?

Taylor Prince has it all – fame, fortune, screaming fans – but she just wants one night as a normal teenager. Her Sweet 16 party has no security, no press, just friends and a really, really cute guy that her assistant set up for her. She has no idea how vulnerable she is until she’s abducted at her own birthday party and wakes up in a strange place, where she’s told she’s been put in rehab for her own good.

Told in dual narratives following Brooklyn and Taylor, Ken Baker creates a story that shows readers that what we see isn’t always what we should believe in the world of celebrity journalism; we also get a chilling look at medical quackery in chase of eternal youth. It’s a mystery that touches in social issues like drug and alcohol abuse, OCD, dealing with grief and loss, and faith.

Baker, an E! news correspondent, has likely seen and heard about stories like this and more, and his writing is fast-paced and keeps the pages turning. The chapters revolving around Taylor’s abduction were interesting, even disturbing at points, but I had trouble connecting with the book overall because there’s a lot of pontificating. The main antagonist has an unhealthy Peter Pan/youth fixation and talks at length about it. Taylor’s attempts to play along come off as just letting victimization happen to her. Brooklyn tends to preach when she’s not suffering an attack of OCD.

It’s a good, light read for teens who may not gravitate to most realistic fiction, but enjoy a celeb fix.

 

Posted in Adventure, Fiction, Middle School, Tween Reads

Young Sherlock and Irene Adler Face Off in Sherlock, Lupin, and Me: The Dark Lady

sherlock lupin meSherlock, Lupin and Me: The Dark Lady, by Irene Adler. Capstone Young Readers (2014), $12.95, ISBN: 9781623700409

Recommended for ages 9-14

Written by Irene Adler herself, this middle-grade novel details the first time Irene Adler, a young American girl living abroad and vacationing with her mother in a French coastal town, meets Sherlock Holmes and his friend, Lupin. The three become quick friends; when a dead body washes up on the beach one morning, they decide to solve the mysteries surrounding the dead man: who was he? Was this a suicide or a murder, and why?

Woven into the story’s fabric is background information on Holmes and Adler, offering glimpses into life events that led to the adults they become. Adler lives with her mother and her butler, Horatio Nelson, who seems to double as a chaperone/bodyguard. Young Irene is headstrong and willful, seemingly at endless odds with her mother. Sherlock is a quiet, somewhat surly, brilliant boy who’s reticent to discuss his home life; he has an older brother and a younger sister that annoy him. Arsene Lupin, the son of an acrobat, is a reckless young man who has an eye for Irene, but may eventually find himself at odds with the great Sherlock Holmes.

I really enjoyed this story. Middle graders who have already begun studying Sherlock Holmes will enjoy seeing the character development written into this young, teenage Sherlock, and those unfamiliar with Holmes will doubtless enjoy this introduction, easing them into the great sleuth’s world. The writing is fun and accessible to younger readers, and the sets itself up for a potentially exciting continuing series. For starters, will we find out more about Lupin, who ends up being one of the most famous thieves in literature? Will we meet a young Moriarty? A young Lestrade or Watson? And will we find out more about Irene Adler’s parents, who seem very secretive about something to do with Irene?

Jacopo Bruno’s Victorian-type illustrations add a Holmesian feel to each chapter, setting a mood for the reader.

I love the pairing of the world’s greatest detective with the world’s best gentleman thief as teenagers – I can’t wait to see where this series is going to go.

The Capstone Kids site should be getting a minisite up soon, but I didn’t see anything on Sherlock, Lupin and Me at the moment.