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

March Graphic Novels Roundup

I haven’t done a roundup in a while, but I’m actually a little ahead of the game, so let’s do it! Here’s what’s good for March.

 

Dragon Hoops, by Gene Luen Yang, (March 2020, First Second), $24.99, ISBN: 9781626720794

Ages 12+

Gene Luen Yang is back, and Dragon Hoops is a memoir of a year following the basketball team during the 2014-15 season at the high school where he taught, Bishop O’Dowd High School in Oakland, California. Gene wants to write a new graphic novel – at the same time he’s being courted by DC Comics to write a new Superman story – and he’s wracking his brain, coming up with options. He isn’t really a sports guy, but he decides to explore the Bishop O’Dowd varsity basketball team, after hearing all the buzz in the school hallways. He approaches the men’s varsity coach, Lou Richie, and starts writing the story of the team, the story of the young men on the team, and the pursuit of the California State Championships.

I’m not a big sports fan, and you don’t need to be to read Dragon Hoops. It’s the story of the people behind the team, and it’s exciting to read about these diverse young men, their stories, and their drive. It’s great to see Gene Yang’s journey from someone who has zero interest in sports to becoming a rabid fan of the team, because of the connections formed with the players and Coach Lou. It’s also very much Gene Yang’s story as he struggles with a work-life balance, whether or not to take on the extra work – and excitement! – that Superman would bring, and his struggle to address a difficult chapter in Bishop O’Dowd’s history.

The artwork is realistic with a cartoony feel, and the dialogue and pacing is great. Gene Yang gets readers excited for each game, and builds relationships between reader and players/coaches by interspersing biographical chapters and pivotal games in the race for the championship. He has a powerful thread through each personal story, too: each character, including Yang, has a moment when they step outside their comfort zone to pursue something greater; something Yang uses a literal “step” to illustrate. Yang steps across the street from the classrooms to the gym to meet with Coach Lou; Coach Lou steps across the street to go from public school to Bishop O’Dowd as a teen; Sendra Berenson, the inventor of women’s basketball in in 1892 took a step into a gymnasium to teach the young women in her care a new sport she’d read about; player Jeevin Sandhu, a student and practicing Sikh, takes a step into a Catholic high school so he can play basketball. Gene Yang includes the evolution of basketball from its creation to the present, and the big role of Catholic schools in high school basketball; both things I knew nothing about and found really interesting. Back matter includes comprehensive notes and a bibliography. Catch a preview of Dragon Hoops, courtesy of EW magazine.

 

The Phantom Twin, by Lisa Brown, (March 2020, First Second), $17.99, ISBN: 9781626729247

Ages 12+

This eerie tale of twins, sideshows, and hauntings is perfect for tweens and teens who love their books on the creepier side. If you have readers who loved Neil Gaiman’s The Graveyard Book and Coraline, or loved Mary Downing Hahn’s books, this is the book to hand them.

At the turn of the 20th century, Isabel and Jane are conjoined twins, sold to a sideshow by their family, where they find a family among the “freaks” in the freak show. The two sisters are opposites, with Jane being the dominant personality. Where Iss would rather stay home, Jane wants to go out, and since she has more motor control over their shared body, Iss finds herself dragged along. Jane starts dating a surgeon who wants to separate them; despite Iss’s misgivings, Jane agrees: but doesn’t survive the surgery. Iss is left to face life on her own, but feels the phantom of her sister ever-present, like a phantom limb. Iss returns to the carnival, desperate for familiarity and to rebuild her life. Jane, still the dominant personality, tries to assert herself, and Iss finds herself rebelling against her sideshow family and her sister’s memory, as she tries to negotiate a life on her own and free of others’ expectations.

The Phantom Twin is fabulously creepy with an upbeat twist. It’s a feminist tale and a story of life on the fringes as much as it’s a story of grief, loss, and starting over. Back matter includes an author’s note on sideshows, carnival lingo, and more resources for further reading.

Posted in picture books, Preschool Reads

More Halloween books for your spooky read-alouds!

Hide and Seek, by Katie May Green, (July 2019, Candlewick), $16.99, ISBN: 9780763696061

Ages 4-7

Welcome back to Shiverhawk Hall, where the paintings won’t stay put! The companion to 2015’s Seen and Not Heard, Hide and Seek is a standalone rhyming picture book that tells the story of a group of playful paintings who clamber out of their frames for a day of hide and seek fun in the surrounding gardens and woods. Twin sisters turn out to be too good at the game, leading their friends on a chase until the rain sends them running back home to the comfort of their frames. The rhyming scheme is a joy to read and sets a perfectly lovely, eerie setting to the story. The charcoal artwork is colorful but never bold and loud, creating an atmosphere just eerie enough to be Addams Family-creepy, not nightmare-inducing scary. The ghostly sisters have  matching white dresses, long, black hair, and wide-eyed expressions; all the children wear period clothing, with loads of ruffs, ballgowns, buckled shoes, and sailor oufits. Pale pink endpapers give readers a glimpse into the forest, with imprints of leaves, animal tracks, and local fauna. Perfect for a creepy storytime read where you don’t want to terrify your little ones, but give them a delicious case of the willies.

 

The Right One for Roderic, by Violeta Nay, (July 2019, Candlewick), $16.99, ISBN: 9781536205725

Ages 5-7

Roderic is the latest ghost in a long line of Roderics, but he’s also the smallest ghost in his family. He’s really not a fan of the boring white sheets that everyone in his family wears; it makes him feel even smaller than he already is, because hardly anyone notices him to begin with! Roderic starts experimenting with his look, adding hats and scarves to his ensemble, and comes up with a new look that he loves: but his family doesn’t. Roderic heads to the city, hoping to find a more fashionable group of people, but discovers that in a big city, he’s just as invisible as he was at home. He returns home, tweaks his style, and tells his family that he’s happy to be different and will wear what he wants: and his family, encouraged by his fashion sense, decides to take some chances on their own, too! The digital illustrations are adorable, making Roderic a sweet little ghost in the world. The ghosts are cute, not scary; they’re white, sheet-wearing blobs with big, round eyes and smiley faces. Roderic’s fashion experimentation is played for laughs and to broach discussion about individuality, finding what feels comfortable and good for you, and owning it. For Roderic to tell his family how he feels is a major step; it encourages kids to talk about what makes them feel comfortable or uncomfortable, happy or sad. A sweet story with a positive message.

 

Frankie’s Scared of Everything, by Mathew Franklin, (Oct. 2019, Building Block Press), $$19.95, ISBN: 9781944201227

Ages 3-6

Frankie tries to get to sleep at night, but it’s really hard when his mind won’t stop whirling. During the day, he’s got schoolwork, sports, and the neighbor’s dog with an attitude; at night, all the thoughts in his brain come together to send crashing, creaking robots; scraping, scratching dinosaurs; wailing, flailing sea creatures, and fuming, booming molemen after him! He runs to his mom, who calms him down by telling him that imaginations are tricky – they can make the simplest things into pretty scary stuff; by encouraging him to embrace his wild imagination, though, Frankie’s able to go back to those freaky creeps with a new outlook. Artist and author Mathew Franklin creates a wild, day-glo dreamscape, with bold, neon colors popping off a black and sepia background to create Frankie’s scariest nightmares. The sound effects and fonts are big, with easily readable white fonts that stand out against the dark spreads. The monsters aren’t scary so much as BIG: they take up the better part of each two-page spread, and the artwork has an incredible graffiti/tattoo flourish. Text is presented in word balloons and pieces of paper taped to the pages. Endpapers are black, with neon dots splashed across them, looking like a drop-cloth or a universe waiting to reveal itself. It’s a fun book that will work for a Halloween story, a story about facing fears, and a story about embracing your imagination. Publisher Building Block Press has some free printables on their website; not currently Frankie-related, but something to keep an eye on.