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

Not all heroines need capes: Blancaflor!

Blancaflor: The Hero with Secret Powers – A Folktale from Latin America, by Nadja Spiegelman/Illustrated by Sergio García Sánchez/Introduction by F. Isabel Campoy, (Sept. 2021, TOON Books), $16.95, ISBN: 9781943145553

Ages 8-12

I love getting a new TOON Book to review, and I love when simultaneously publish Spanish and English versions, so my Corona families can enjoy them together! Blancaflor is a graphic novel retelling of a Latin American fairy tale. Blancaflor is the daughter of an ogre who’s been playing a long game with a not-so-bright prince who accepts a foolish bet. Blancaflor intervenes on the prince’s behalf, quietly saving the day, while the prince thinks he’s just that lucky. Eisner award nominee Nadja Spiegelman (Lost in NYC: A Subway Adventure) and artist Sergio García Sánchez breathe new life into this folk tale, giving it a sense of humor and decidedly feminist spin. It also quietly addresses the “invisible labor of women”, and how we rarely take credit for our accomplishments without being nudged. The colorful story is compulsively readable, and Blancaflor is a heroine we can all cheer for as she outsmarts her father and saves the day for her beloved. A note from Nadja Spiegelman expands on the “Girl as Helper in the Hero’s Flight” story that shows up in many folktales worldwide, and the history of the Blancaflor story in Latin American tales. An intro in the beginning touches on how we update fairy tales for the 21st century and offers ideas for storytellers to create their own tales. This is the kind of graphic novel my library kids need.

Blancaflor has been chosen as one of the New York Times Best Children’s Books of 2021, and has a starred review from The Horn Book. It’s the next installment in the Folktales from Latin America series, available in both Spanish and English editions.

Posted in Graphic Novels, Middle Grade, Tween Reads

Graphic Novel Folktales from the Pacific! The Night Marchers and Other Oceanian Tales

The Night Marchers and Other Oceanian Tales , Edited by Kate Ashwin, Sloane Leong, Kel McDonald, Jonah Cabudol-Chalker/Contributions by Rob Cham, Yiling Changues, Paolo Chikiamco, Diigii Daguna, Brady Evans, Mark Gould, Gen H. , (Apr. 2021, Iron Circus Comics), $15, ISBN: 9781945820793

Ages 8 to 12
This collection of cautionary tales from the Pacific is just incredible. The Philippines, Hawaii, and Fiji are all represented, with artists who bring these tales to life in a variety of artistic styles, from cartoon to fantasy art. This is the fourth entry in the Cautionary Fables and Fairytales series, which has done wonders in getting folk and fairy tales from all over the world into the hands of readers. What are you going to find in here? One story, “The Turtle and the Lizard”, is written entirely in Baybayin, an old Tagalog script, and invites readers to learn Baybayin at the end of the story. The title story is an achingly beautiful Hawaiian tale of loss; The Tyrant Has Horns is a tale about a horrible ruler who grows horns on his head, coming to you from the Philippines. Every story transports readers to a fantasy world, and every story gives readers a window into a new culture. Get this series on your shelves.
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 picture books

Folk and Fairy Tales with Mulla Nasruddin: Riding a Donkey Backwards

Riding a Donkey Backwards: Wise and Foolish Tales of Mulla Nasruddin, retold by Sean Taylor & the Khayaal Theatre/Illustrated by Shirin Ali, (Aug. 2019, Candlewick Press), $18.99, ISBN: 9781536205077

Ages 4-8

Mulla Nasruddin, the wise fool from Muslim folk tales, is here to entertain and liven up your 398 sections with 21 trickster tales. Every story is amusing; some are laugh-out-loud funny, and all of them will make you think. There are stories like “Whose Move?”, where the Mulla’s home is robbed; the Mulla follows the robber back to his home, gets into his bed, and informs him that his wife and family will join them tomorrow, convinced that he thought the robber was moving the Mulla and his family to the robber’s house. Stories like “Who Owns the Land?”, where the Mulla gives a thoughtful response to a dispute between farmers, will make readers pause and think about the earth and who has rights to it, after all. There’s a little bit of wisdom in each story.

The stories run 1-2 pages, allowing for quick reads during a circle time, story time, or lesson. The mixed media art is wonderful; it’s colorful and has different textures, almost inviting readers to touch the Mulla’s cottony beard or run a finger across a woven rug. An author’s note at the beginning of the book introduces readers to Mulla Nasruddin, and a glossary of Arabic terms helps readers with some new words. A welcome addition to trickster tales on the folktales shelf.

You can find out more about the Khayaal Theatre Company at their website. See more of Shirin Adl’s illustrations at her website. Get a riddle at author Sean Taylor’s website, or visit his blog for older readers.

Posted in Fantasy, Fiction, Middle Grade, Teen, Tween Reads

Folk and Fairy Tales from Across the Pond: Between Worlds

Between Worlds: Folktales of Britain and Ireland, by Kevin Crossley-Holland/Illustrated by Frances Castle, (Oct. 2019, Candlewick Press), $17.99, ISBN: 9781536209419

Ages 10+

Forty-eight folk and fairy tales from Britain and Ireland; some you’ve heard before, most will be new to you. The tales are organized by Magic and Wonder; Adventures and Legends; Power, Passion, and Love; Wits, Tricks, and Laughter; and Ghosts. This is a wonderful tome for your fantasy and fairy/folk tale collections; especially, if, like me, you love having a collection of tales from all over the world. Some are short enough to read aloud, others are longer and invite readers to sit down, have a nice cup of hot chocolate, and imagine a storyteller leading you back through time for  stories about fairy rings, boggarts, and changelings. Frances Castle’s stark black-and-white illustrations set a mood for each story and each section. An afterword on “Why Everyone Needs to Be Able to Tell a Story” is told as a final folktale, infusing the entire volume with a bit of magic. Comprehensive source notes identify each story’s source(s) and original titles, if any.

A definite add to your folk and fairy tale shelves, and a gorgeous gift for readers. Keep a copy at your Reference desk, too, if you have it in the budget.

 

 

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

Cuentos populares de latinoamérica en español e ingles!

            

The Dragon Slayer: Folktales from Latin America/La matadragones: cuentos de latinoamérica, by Jaime Hernandez, (April 2018, TOON Graphics), $16.95, ISBN: 9781943145287 (English)/9781943145300 (Spanish)

Recommended for readers 6+

TOON Graphics has a great collection of folktales from Latin America, simultaneously published in English and Spanish. Three tales starring intelligent female characters make up this volume; as with most folk and fairy tales, each one imparts its own wisdom using the story as a vehicle. The title tale, The Dragon Slayer, sees a young woman betrayed by her two horrible sisters; an act of kindness brings a boon in the form of a magic wand, which leads her to employment at a king’s palace, where she falls in love with a prince, who she must save. Twice. It’s got the best parts of a fairy tale: dragons, magic wands and rings, ogres, and a happily ever after; it’s got a strong, smart young woman who can stand toe to toe with mythical monsters and real-life intolerance, and she saves the day AND gets the boy.

Martina Martinez and Pérez the Mouse stars Ratoncito Pérez, a popular character in Latinx folktales. This version, told by Alma Flor Ada, comes from another book, Tales Our Abuelitas Told”, and is the story of a pretty but shallow young woman, Martina, who marries Pérez after turning down other animal suitors (Martina often shows up as a cockroach in other versions of the tale). When she runs to the store to get salt for a soup, Pérez tries to sneak a taste of onion and falls into the pot! Martina discovers him in the pot and runs sobbing around the village, where birds, a fountain, and a young girl all grieve for her in various ways. It takes a wise old woman to discover that no one has actually tried to save Pérez , and rushes over to put things right again. Always respect your elders, kids! And seriously, use some common sense and try to keep your head in a situation.

Tup and the Ants is a fun little story about the power of being smart and lazy. Tup is the youngest and laziest of three brothers, who marry three sisters. Tup’s in-laws are not thrilled with their lazy son-in-law, so when they send the three brothers out to clear the land for cornfields, they send Tup with less food to show their displeasure. Doesn’t matter: Tup finds a place to snooze, ends up meeeting a group of ants, and trades his food for their labor. This is a sweet little partnership, and pays off as the two not-so-bright brothers are hopelessly out of their league in clearing and planting a cornfield, and Tup builds his own little empire by continuing to trade food for labor. The moral of the story may be a bit ambiguous, since the lazy guy gets the accolades, but there is something to be said for knowing how to get the job done. And, as a later explanation points out, it’s a story that teaches listeners and readers about planning and undertaking a planting season.

A foreword from F. Isabel Campoy explains the power of folktales and the Latin American tradition, and features beautiful Aztec and Mayan pictograms and popular animals, like jaguars, monkeys, and dogs. An afterword goes into more detail about the origins of these three folktales, with photos and illustrations. A section on the oral tradition invites readers to personalize and create their own tales, with prompts to help them along. A strong bibliograpy includes books and online resources that will strengthen diverse folk and fairy tale collections and provide nice online resources for further research.

I absolutely love this introduction to Latin American folktales, and can only hope there’s a volume 2 somewhere down the line. This is such a great addition to folk and fairy tale collections and diverse, culturally rich collections. This would be great for a storytime for school-age kids – it’s such a fun read! – and a storytelling program.

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

Middle Grade Mermaid Stories!

Mermaid stories are insanely popular. Debbie Dadey’s Mermaid Tales series is always out over here; I have early readers and middle graders constantly asking me where they can find more mermaid books, and YA has a whole category of mermaid books. If you’re of a certain age (or your parents are), like me, you remember the movie, Splash, which is getting a reboot with Channing Tatum as a mer-guy now. There’s something fascinating about the world under the sea.

The Little Mermaid, by Metaphrog, (Apr. 2017, Papercutz), $13.99, ISBN: 9781629917399

Award-winning graphic novelists and Eisner Award nominees Metaphrog – aka Sandra Marrs and John Chalmers –  are award-winning graphic novelists who have crafted a graphic novel retelling of Hans Christian Andersen’s The Little Mermaid.  For those of you who only know the Disney version, heads up: this is not that version. There’s no happy singing crab, Bette Midler is not a fabulous underwater witch with killer vocal cords, and the ending is very different than you may expect. The Mermaid – unnamed here – falls in love with a young prince whom she saves from drowning, and makes a bargain with a witch in order to grow legs and be with him, but the price is high.

Metaphrog create beautiful art to tell the mermaid’s tale. With shades of blues and greens, they weave magic, loneliness, and mystery into their story. The waves seem to lap off the cover, beckoning the reader to come in and read their tale. This adaptation beautifully translates this powerful tale. Pair this one with Metaphrog’s graphic adaptation of Anderson’s The Red Shoes and Other Tales.

Fish Girl, by Donna Jo Napoli/Illustrated by David Wiesner, (March 2017, Clarion), $17.99, ISBN: 978-0547483931

Another Little Mermaid retelling, Fish Girl tells a different, slightly darker tale. The Fish Girl is an attraction in a seaside exhibit; the proprietor refers to himself as Neptune, god of the oceans. As the story progresses, it becomes apparent that Neptune isn’t all that he claims to be, and the circumstances under which he keeps Fish Girl in captivity are unsettling, bordering on menacing. A girl visits the exhibit one day and catches a glimpse of the fish girl; the two strike up a secret friendship as Mia – the name Fish Girl’s friend bestows on her – wants more than life in a tank, and begins pushing her boundaries.

This is a more modern update of the classic fairy tale, with unsettling implications. Neptune is not a benevolent sea god; he’s not a loving father figure, and I found myself fighting a panicky feeling – most likely reacting as a parent – because I wanted Mia to get away from him. The story is intriguing, and will draw readers in, keeping them riveted until the last page is turned.

While I normally love David Wiesner’s artwork – Art & Max, Flotsam, Tuesday, you name it – this isn’t his usual artwork, where the colors blend and shade to provide depth and dimension. It’s still beautiful artwork, but it’s more flat here, really letting the story take center stage. His use of sea colors is lovely, and he creates a loving relationship between Mia and her guardian, the octopus.

I’d suggest these for higher middle graders – 5th and 6th graders – because the overall content may be upsetting to younger readers. Would I let my kids read them at that age? Yes, but that’s me. Read these first, and let that be your guide; make sure your younger readers know that these are different ways of telling the Disney story they may be familiar with.

Posted in Fantasy, Teen, Young Adult/New Adult

Surreal Brooklyn: Vassa in the Night

vassaVassa in the Night, by Sarah Porter, (Sept. 2016, Tor/Forge), $17.99, ISBN: 9780765380548

Recommended for ages 12+

A retelling of the Russian folktale “Vassilissa the Beautiful” introduces readers to a surrealistic, modern-day Brooklyn where magic and mayhem rule the day. Vassa is a teen living with her stepmother, half-sister, and stepsister; she really only gets along with Chelsea, who isn’t even technically related to her. She also has a wooden doll, Erg, that is alive and a bit of a kleptomaniac, but Vassa can’t tell anyone about her, so everyone thinks she’s the one with the problem. Mean-spirited Stephanie sends Vassa to the store in the middle of the night to pick up light bulbs, but the only store open is the awful BY’s, where they behead shoplifters and leave the heads on pikes outside the store. Vassa goes to the store, fully aware that Stephanie is trying to get her killed.

When she arrives at the store, she discovers that the outside of BY’s is just the beginning of the weirdness, and that she’s caught up in it more deeply than she could have guessed. She’d better hold on tight to Erg if she wants to get out alive.

If you love your fairy tales fractured, they don’t come any more flipped than Vassa in the Night. Magical realism fans will embrace this story and so will fans of surrealist writing. Vassa is a smart heroine who undertakes a hero’s journey here; Baba Yaga – called Babs here – is appropriately awful, and Erg emerges as the best sidekick since C-3P0 and R2D2 teamed up. There’s great character development, cringe-worthy moments, and some beautiful storytelling. Every time Sarah Porter describes the swans that gather around Vassa, I just want to close my eyes and listen to the beating of their feathers around me. There will be moments where you have to put the book down and wrap your head around what you’ve just read, but it’s all worth it. Read the original folktale here first if you want a better grasp on the story, or just dive in if you like to live dangerously.

Sarah Porter’s author website has more information about her books, a gallery of artwork (some inspired by her books), and updates from the author.

 

Posted in Early Reader, Fantasy, Fiction, Preschool Reads

Suite for Human Nature is a musical folktale made art

suite for human natureSuite for Human Nature, by Diane Charlotte Lampert/Illustrated by Eric Puybaret (May 2016, Atheneum/Caitlyn Dlouhy Books)$17.99, ISBN: 9781416953739

Recommended for ages 4-10

A musical collaboration between legendary songwriter Diane Lampert and Jazz legend Wynton Marsalis becomes a beautifully illustrated parable on humanity in this gentle story about Mother Nature and her challenging children.

Mother Nature is busy. She’s got seasons to change, flowers to wake up and put to bed, and all of Earth’s creatures to care for. But she really longs for children of her own, so using bits and pieces of nature – sticks, stones, seeds, leaves – she ends up making five children: Fear, Envy, Hate, Greed, and Fickle. Each time, she’s taken aback when she realizes how tough it is to raise a child, and asks humans – the creatures that can’t fly, swim, roar, or gallop – to keep an eye on her unruly children once she buzzes off to tend to another season. Each time she returns, she creates another child, hoping to even things out, and each time, things get a little more complicated, especially when the children’s personalities start rubbing off on the humans. When she takes some advice from the Winds, and creates Twins, though, things change.

Suite for Human Nature is told in old folktale tradition, telling the story of human nature; its strengths and its weak spots, and the one thing that conquers all. Breathtaking acrylic and linen illustrations by Eric Puybaret make this a joy to read and gaze at. This is a better read-aloud for slightly older listeners, who can sit for a little longer and use their imaginations to fly away with this story. Ask your listeners to draw their feelings – what materials would they use? What colors would they give them? Older kids doing a unit on fairy tales and mythology could compare this story to the myth of Pandora’s Box.

Absolute must for collections. I would love to get hold of the actual music.

Diane Lampert (1924­–2013) was a renowned songwriter who contributed to lyrics for artists from The Beatles to Brenda Lee and over twenty movie title tracks such as The Snow Queen, I’ll Take Sweden, Billie, and Silent Running, as well as songs for The Wild and the Innocent, and Trees Lounge, and for Bob Hope, Gary Grant, and Buster Keaton, among others. Suite for Human Nature first debuted at a concert at Jazz at Lincoln Center, with the world-famous Boys Choir of Harlem.

Eric Puybaret has illustrated many children’s books, including Suite for Human Nature; the bestselling Puff, the Magic Dragon; The Night Before Christmas; Over the Rainbow, as well as many others in his native country, France. Eric’s critically acclaimed work was praised by The New York Times as “elegantly rendered” and Publishers Weekly calls it “graceful [and] whimsical.”

Have a look at some of Eric Puybaret’s beautiful art:

 

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Posted in Animal Fiction, Early Reader, Fiction, Preschool Reads

Marianne Dubuc retells the story of Noah in The Animal’s Ark

animals arkThe Animal’s Ark, by Marianne Dubuc (Apr. 2016, Kids Can Press), $16.95, ISBN: 9781771386234

Recommended for ages 3-6

It’s raining! The animals huddle together to try and stay dry, but the rain keeps coming and the land is filling up. Thank goodness, a nice man named Mr. Noah shows up with his boat and lets the animals on, two by two, to stay warm, dry and safe. At first, the animals cuddle together and sleep, play games, and get along, but the rain keeps falling and things start to get a little cramped. When are they going to find dry land?  When is this rain going to stop?

This is an adorable retelling of the story of Noah’s Ark by an illustrator with a gift for telling entire stories within her art. Marianne Dubuc is wonderful with putting little winks and nudges to readers in her illustrations: she told us the story of Little Red Riding Hood in The Bus Ride, where we saw a little girl riding a bus to her grandmother’s house; in Mr. Postmouse’s Rounds, she told us the story of a postmouse making his mail delivery rounds, while her illustrations told us the stories of all the animals who lived in the forest. Here, we see little touches that tell us volumes about life aboard the ark; predator and prey all living together and having fun at first, grateful to be out of the rain. We see a chameleon blending into a tiger, attached to his hind quarters while the tiger naps; snails draw mazes with their snail slime; the elephant helps bail out the ark when a leak springs up. We also see what happens when a hedgehog’s prickles get… prickly, and a cat sharpens her claws in a very inconvenient spot. The animals’ postures go from relaxed to combative, and a crocodile is ready to snap! Ms. Dubuc’s pencils and crayons provide a soft, colorful story that kids will love to read and have read to them, over and over again.

While The Animal’s Ark is a retelling of the biblical story, this is a book that can be read to all audiences. Noah is a kind man with a boat, offering to shepherd the animals through the storm. The rain and flood are just a heavy storm. It’s a good introduction to the story for Christian readers; parents and teachers can lead children into a deeper discussion at their leisure. This makes the book work well for public storytimes with diverse audiences; kids love animals stories, and that’s exactly what this is.

Get out your stuffed animals and make your own story arc around the carpet or the bed. Talk about what animals you’d let board the ark – would you let an alien board the ark? What about animals like the dodo bird, or a dinosaur? And what other things did the animals do on the ark? Did the chickens lay eggs and the bees make honey to help feed everyone? Get creative, and let the kids get creative; you can turn this into a lesson on animals or you can turn it into a wacky storytime. It’s up to you.