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

Graphic novels: real-life stories

More graphic novels to talk about, this time, real-life stories. Some are realistic fiction, some are inspired by moments in the author’s life. All are great reading!

My Own World, by Mike Holmes, (June 2021, First Second), $12.99, ISBN: 9781250208286
Ages 8-13
Inspired by events in his childhood, Wings of Fire and Secret Coders illustrator Mike Holmes delivers a graphic memoir with a splash of fantasy. Nathan is alone, but for his older brother, Ben. His other siblings and the neighborhood bullies torment him, but he always looks to Ben to spend time with; Ben is the one person who gets him. Unfortunately, there are things coming up that take Ben farther and farther away from Nathan, leaving him to create a fantasy world to escape to when the real world intrudes too much. A study in grief, loss, and healing, My Own World is a better reading choice for middle schoolers than younger readers; there’s trauma contained within these pages. It’s an excellent starting point for discussions on the lingering damage done by bullying, loneliness, and coping with loss. The real world is depicted in flat colors, but Nathan’s fantasy world is alive with color, vibrancy, and engaging characters that Nathan creates to spend time with.
My Own World has a starred review from Booklist.
Jukebox, by Nidhi Chanani, (June 2021, First Second), $14.99, ISBN: 9781250156372
Ages 10 to 14
Nidhi Chanani is amazing in her ability to create magical travels using everyday objects. She infused a shawl with the power to fantastical India in her 2017 award-winner, Pashmina; now, she weaves a story about a jukebox that can transport listeners to a moment in time, inspired by the albums they play, in Jukebox. Shaheen is a girl who feels like she and her mom come in second to her father’s love of – obsession with? – music, particularly with albums. He never seems to be present to hear her when she’s talking; he just wants to talk about the newest album he’s on the hunt for, and he spends hours searching record bins for new additions to his collection. When he doesn’t return home one night, Shaheen and her cousin, Tannaz, start a search, only to discover a glowing jukebox at the local record store where Dad spent so much of his time. A Bessie Smith record spins on the turntable, and the girls find themselves transported to Harlem’s Savoy Ballroom in 1929! The song ends, returning them to their present time and place, and the chase through musical history is on. The girls spin different records, visiting key moments in time. from political marches to landmark concerts, while searching for Shaheen’s father. Will they be able to find him before morning? Jukebox is an incredible journey through our history using music as the vehicle. Sections are organized by album cover, with Shaheen’s father’s notes on the albums and social climate, giving readers more context as they prepare to jump into a new decade: Bessie Smith’s section includes notes on the album’s 1929 release, the oncoming Depression, and a 1929 Oscar awards program; Nina Simone’s Black Gold includes a Golden State Comic Con program and a newspaper with an Earth Day headline, all of which happened in 1970. Notes from Shaheen’s father mention her career and marriage eroding in the 1960s, and the music industry’s punishment for her political music.
Brilliant storytelling and an essential look at the ties between music and social change. Visit Nidhi Chanani’s website for printables and more about her books, and get multiple copies of this book ready – your readers deserve them! If you’re doing a travel themed Summer Reading program this year, you couldn’t ask for a better concept: pick songs, get some facts, and create slideshows; invite readers to offer their own insight. What song was popular the year they graduated from kindergarten? What song makes them think of family? A favorite friend? Invite readers to talk about music from their culture that others may not know. There’s so much you can do here!
Turtle in Paradise, by Jennifer L. Holm/Illustrated by Savanna Ganucheau, (June 2021, Random House Graphic), $12.99, ISBN: 9780593126301
Ages 8-12
This graphic novel adaptation of Jennifer Holm’s 2010 Newbery Honor-winning novel is simply gorgeous. Set in 1935, eleven-year-old Turtle is a girl who’s had some tough times. She’s more level-headed than her mother, loves the movies, and really doesn’t like Shirley Temple. While figuring out where life will take her next, her mother sends Turtle to Key West, Florida, to live with her aunt when she takes a job housekeeping for a woman who doesn’t like children, and Turtle has never met her aunt or the many cousins she’s now living with. She starts getting into the swing of things, following the “Diaper Gang”: neighborhood boys with a babysitting club and a secret diaper rash formula that puts them in high demand. As she gets into a day-to-day groove, she learns some family secrets that leave her wanting more: more of her mother’s past, more of her family history, just… more. A family study, a piece of historical fiction that examines life in Depression-Era Florida, and a strong, smart female protagonist make this a great enough story, and then you Savanna Ganucheau’s artwork: filled with lush and humid outdoor spreads, we get a picture of 1930s life in Key West. Turtle’s cousins run barefoot through their day, while Turtle insists on her shoes. Babysitting moments are laugh-out loud funny, and Turtle interactions with a cantankerous senior citizen will make readers chuckle and admire the girl’s tenacity. Inspired by Jennifer Holm’s great-grandmother’s life in Key West, this is an adaptation that your readers will love and will absolutely gain the story some new fans.
Chunky, by Yehudi Mercado, (June 2021, Katherine Tegen Books), $12.99, ISBN: 9780062972781
Ages 8-12
A memoir of Yehudi Mercado’s Mexican-Jewish upbringing, Chunky is more incredible storytelling. Set in the 1980s, Hudi has one lung after a childhood battle with lung disease, he’s overweight, and he loves video games, science fiction and fantasy, and being the funny kid. His parents want him to lose weight and be healthier, and try to push him toward different sports to get him more active. Hudi, not particularly in love with the idea, goes along with his parents to make them happy, but creates an imaginary friend: a pink-furred   cheerleader/mascot called Chunky, to cheer him on as he tries – and flops – at baseball, swimming, and tennis. Chunky is there to tell Yehudi he’s better at comedy and drawing; he’s Hudi’s inner compass, telling him to stay true to himself. When Hudi’s father loses his job and has to move to another state to find work, he finds himself faced with a crossroads and joins the football team in a last bid to fit the image his parents want to have of him. Chunky is more than a memoir; it’s a story of trying to please others before yourself; it’s a story of using humor as deflection; it’s a story of listening to your true self. Hudi is funny – he can’t help but crack up people he comes into contact with, especially medical professionals – and he’s pretty game to try anything his parents want, even if his heart may not be 100% committed. He’s good-natured and kind, which makes his break with Chunky painful when he attempts one more sport to satisfy his parents. We want funny Hudi back! We want to go get ice cream with him and feel like everything will work out! The artwork is bright, colorful, upbeat, and loaded with great details, like Hudi’s t-shirts (console video games! Chewbacca!) and his room, which his father constantly redecorates to affirm his dedication to the latest sport Hudi’s involved with – and that Chunky and Hudi take great pleasure in defacing time and time again. I can gush about Chunky all day, so let me just say that this is another must-add to your shelves.
Learn more about Yehudi Mercado and get a look at Chunky at his website. Chunky has a starred review from School Library Journal.
Posted in Post-apocalyptic/Dystopian, Teen, Tween Reads, Young Adult/New Adult

Dust Bowl Post-Cataclysm! Elysium Girls ride to battle

When you have a cover this amazing, you need to go full size.

Elysium Girls, by Kate Pentecost, (Apr. 2020, Little Brown),
$17.99, ISBN: 9781368041867
Ages 12+

When I was at a Book Buzz where this book came up, the publisher rep said, “I love this book! It’s hard to describe, but it’s so good! It’s so weird!” And really, that was all I needed to hear: I wanted to read a book with a big steampunk horse on the cover. I was not disappointed.

Elysium Girls is Dust Bowl-era dystopian fiction. In 1935, while America is in the grips of the Great Depression, a giant dust cloud rolls over Oklahoma. The goddesses of Life and Death have taken this little chunk of America and placed it in its own space and time, a chessboard for their own game. The survivors of the storm have 10 years to maintain order and set aside a third of their crops as a sacrifice for a chance to survive. Mother Morevna, an ailing witch in charge of a settlement called Elysium, takes on Sal, a teenaged apprentice, when a stranger calling himself Asa Skander arrives with supplies and a knack for magic himself. Sal and Asa are exiled from Elysium following a duel, where they meet a group of young women who have their own histories with Elysium and beyond. Facing the final days of the contest, a rising death toll, and plummeting spirits, Elysium and the group of women – and Asa – join forces once more to face the coming Dust Soldiers and attempt to break the game in order to win it.

This book is AMAZING. A dystopian historical fiction piece placing readers in Depression-Era Dust Bowl America? It’s a great concept, and Kate Pentecost touches on the endemic racism that endures even among the survivors; her description of the Dust Sickness that eats away at the populace is so gritty and raw that you’ll want a sip of water and to clear your throat as you read. Sal emerges as a smart heroine that comes into her confidence as a magic user, and Asa, who could easily have been sidelined as a cardboard supporting character, has a good backstory and has a character arc that really develops him nicely. Supporting characters all get fleshed out nicely, and should easily get reader investment.

The shifting perspective, from Sal’s first-person narration to third-person narration, takes a little getting used to, but I feel into the rhythm pretty quickly. The action is fast-paced, and dialogue will keep readers turning pages as different plots and subplots become revealed. I loved this one, and really, REALLY, want my own metal horse now.

Give this one to your new generation of post-cataclysm readers. (I can’t believe there’s a new generation of them, but wow: Hunger Games, Maze Runner, and Divergent are all a decade old, and then some. Wow.)

 

Posted in Fiction, Historical Fiction, Middle Grade, Realistic Fiction, Tween Reads

Sweet Home Alaska: Little House, up North

Sweet Home Alaska, by Carole Estby Dagg, (July 2019, Puffin), $8.99, ISBN: 9780147514202

Ages 9-13

Terpsichore Johnson’s family is just one of many families suffering through the American Great Depression in 1934. When the local mill in their Wisconsin town closed, the family relied on whatever they could grow in order to eat, and Terpsichore can make darn near anything out of a pumpkin. Her father is determined to take care of his family, and suggests taking President Franklin D. Roosevelt up on his New Deal offer: become an Alaskan pioneer in his Palmer Colony project! Terpsichore is at once unsure and excited: it’s a chance to be a pioneer, just like her hero, Laura Ingalls Wilder, but it’s so far from everyone and everything she knows. The family decides to give it a year, and they’re off. Life isn’t easy for that first group of colonists: there’s illness, and schedule and materials mismanagement leave a lot of folks living in tents when they should have had homes built, but slowly and surely, life in Alaska starts to grow on the Johnson family, except for Terpsichore’s mother. Can Terpsichore’s prize pumpkin win enough money at the Palmer Colony Fair so she can buy her mother a gift that will make her agree to stay?

I loved this book! Sweet Home Alaska is about the 1935 Matanuska Colony; one of FDR’s New Deal projects that would create jobs, investment in the country and infrastructure, and colonize part of U.S.-owned Alaska, which wasn’t a state just yet. The parallels between Sweet Home Alaska and Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Little House series are wonderful, and a good readalike for readers who enjoy the Wilder books, and Louise Erdrich’s Birchbark House books. (There are no interactions between the mostly white Palmer colonists and indigenous people in Sweet Home Alaska; a point discussed in the author notes at the end of the book.) Terpsichore – pronounced Terp-sick-oh-ree, named for the muse of dancing – even refers to Wilder’s book, Farmer Boy, when growing her pumpkin to show at the Palmer Colony Fair.

The book takes a deeper look into a moment in history I haven’t yet seen captured in historical fiction. While it takes place during the Great Depression, this is new territory, and worth the read. Terpsichore is the eldest child, with twin younger sisters and an infant brother, and handles much of the housework to help her mother out. She’s smart, enterprising, and determined. She and the two friends she makes in Palmer – Gloria, named for actress Gloria Swanson, and Mendel, named for the scientist who studied genetics – work together to start up a colony library and find ways to raise money for books and supplies. She experiences frustration, but always bounces back, stronger than before. The writing just flows from page to page, with adventure, emotion, and excitement throughout. There are wonderful mini-plots throughout, including the telegram to Eleanor Roosevelt that got our President’s attention; a visit from Will Rogers; and a Palmer resident with interesting ties to Terpsichore’s family. I loved spending time with this group.

An author’s note and further reading are included, and really make this a solid choice for kids seeking out historical fiction. There are also some recipes, including one for jellied moose nose. You know you’re curious.

Sweet Home Alaska was originally published in 2016, but I somehow missed it. Glad my friend Barbara over at Blue Slip Media told me I needed to read it now! Check out the free, downloadable discussion and activity guide, and find out about author visits, Skype visits, and contact info (including how to get an autographed bookmark!) at the author’s website.