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, Tween Reads

We Could Be Heroes: dogs, rocks, and adventures in friendship

We Could Be Heroes, by Margaret Finnegan, (Feb. 2020, Atheneum Books for Young Readers), $17.99, ISBN: 978-1-5344-4525-3

Ages 8-12

Hank Hudson is a boy who loves rocks and The Jungle Book. He does NOT like the very sad book his teacher is reading to the class: it gives him the a’a feeling, which is a geological term for lava flow which moves and cools at different rates. Hank has autism, and feels things, sees things, in a way that doesn’t always match his classmates. His classmate, Maisie Huang, notices him after a big incident lands Hank in some hot water. Her parents are geologists, so she invites him over to see their rock collection. It’s there that Hank discovers Maisie’s ulterior motive: she wants Hank to help her “rescue” her next door neighbor’s dog, Booler. Booler has seizures, and Mr. Jorgenson, his elderly owner keeps Booler tied to a tree outside, because it’s too dangerous for him to be indoors. Maisie has built up a vision of her neighbor that isn’t too flattering, and Hank, while happy to have a friend, is conflicted about a lot of Maisie’s “rescue” ideas. But the two kids become friendlier with Mr. Jorgenson, until he has an accident and his daughter comes to town. Hank and Maisie decide that Booler isn’t safe, after all, and revisit their initial rescue plan. Filled with cringeworthy, funny, and touching moments, We Could Be Heroes is a story about friendship, understanding, and feeling “less than”.

Hank and Maisie are complex characters that feel real. Readers may know kids like Hank and Maisie at school – they may be Hank or Maisie. Margaret Finnegan captures the feelings that go into a meltdown for a person with autism by linking Hank’s love of rocks and geology to the feeling that heralds a meltdown; the “a’a”, a Hawaiian word that, once defined, paints a picture for readers and opens the door to understanding. Maisie may frustrate some readers – this is a great character to talk about; find her motivation, and give pros and cons of her focus on saving Booler. The adults in the novel each have wonderful depth, too; they are all invested in our characters and important parts of the story throughout.

A strong choice for book discussions, We Could Be Heroes is a good realistic novel that delves into the complexity of emotions and friendships. Author Margaret Finnegan has epilepsy and autism resources available on her author webpage.

We Could Be Heroes is a Junior Library Guild selection.

Posted in Uncategorized

Two picture books about summer… and life

Waiting for Chicken Smith, by David Mackintosh, (May 2019, Candlewick Press), $16.99, ISBN: 9781536207712

Ages 4-8

A young boy waits for his friend to show up at the family’s summer rental in this story about summer, relationships, and change. The boy, a child of color, narrates the story as he waits for Chicken Smith to show up. The boy talks about Chicken Smith, his dog, Jelly, and the fun summers the two friends have had in the past as he waits, holding a “crazy shell from the gas-station shop” as a gift. Where the heck is his friend? Readers know; in the beautifully detailed pages, we see an empty cabin with a “Summer Rental” sign. The boy’s sister finally manages to get his attention, and the two glimpse a whale: something he and Chicken Smith have never been able to catch together, not even with binoculars. The boy and his sister head back to the cabin and enjoy their evening together, and he wonders if he’ll see Chicken Smith next year.

Originally published in the U.K., Chicken Smith is a story about change and summer friendships. Readers feel the boy’s longing as he waits for his friend; it’s in his voice as he recalls summers past, the cool shell he found for him, and the fact that he’s so focused on waiting for Chicken Smith that he ignores just about everything going on around him. His sister is finally able to get through to him through sheer persistence, and that’s when the Chicken Smith spell is broken: there’s a whale to watch. The story is almost achingly sad at points; when the boy askis, “What is taking Chicken Smith so long, anyway? We’re missing out on everything”, we just know he won’t be there this year – and sure enough, the next page shows an empty cabin, and the boy describes the windows being shut and seeing a cobweb with a fly in it. David Mackintosh pulls readers and the narrator back from the brink by giving us a new relationship to discover: the relationship between the boy and his sister, brought together by the whale. The two go back to their cabin and look at his whale book, then make plans to go on a shell hunt. The boy ends on an optimistic tone, hoping he’ll see Chicken Smith next year, but deciding to enjoy his sister’s company for this year. The pen, pencil, ink, watercolor, and kraft paper artwork come together to create a child’s scrapbook-like feel for summer memories.

Waiting for Chicken Smith has a starred review from Kirkus.

 

Sea Glass Summer, by Michelle Houts/Illustrated by Bagram Ibatoulline, (May 2019, Candlewick Press), $16.99, ISBN: 9780763684433

Ages 5-8

A boy named Thomas explores the beach by his grandmother’s seaside cottage. Using his grandfather’s magnifying glass, he discovers the complex beauty in nature: grains of sand look as big as rocks, and clamshells have swirls of color. But the discovery of sea glass is what really fascinates Thomas. Learning how sea glass is made – a piece of glass, dropped into the sea, becomes worn smooth and cloudy over time – and that his grandfather said that “every piece of sea glass has a story all its own” fuels his imagination; he finds himself dreaming of ship christenings and ships caught in storms; stories that could give rise to the found glass on the beach. When he and his grandmother head back to the mainland, the magnifying glass shatters, and he tosses the glass into the sea. Years later, a girl named Annie discovers sea glass on the beach, and brings her discovery to her grandfather, an older man she calls Papaw Tom.

Sea Glass Summer is a moving inter-generational story that beautifully recreates the feel of summer: warm, lazy days on the beach; the smell of the sea air, the grains of sand, rough against your fingertips, the smooth sea glass in the palm of your hand. In between these cozy summer memories, there’s a story that reaches across decades, linking a grandfather and his granddaughter, in a story that stirs the imagination and tugs at the heartstrings. An author’s note notes that sea glass was more common in the days before recycling awareness.

I loved Sea Glass Summer. This one is a summer classic.

Sea Glass Summer has a starred review from Kirkus.

Posted in Uncategorized

Cultures collide, and blend, in When I Found Grandma

When I Found Grandma, by Saumiya Balasubramaniam/Illustrated by Qin Leng, (March 2019, Groundwood Books), $17.95, ISBN: 9781773060187

Ages 5-8

Maya is an Indian girl living in America with her family. She’s thrilled when her Grandma arrives from India for a visit, but she quickly finds things that rub her the wrong way. She doesn’t want Grandma to call her by her full name, Mayalakshmi, and she wishes Grandma didn’t wear her sari and noisy bangle bracelets when she pops in for a visit to Maya’s classroom. She isn’t crazy about the food Grandma makes, and she really, really doesn’t like her family’s decision to celebrate the Holi festival by visiting a temple so Grandma can pray, rather than go for their planned trip to a fair. But it turns out that when Maya needs help, Grandma’s the first one on the scene.

Two generations work things out together in this sweet, authentic story about a grandmother and granddaughter; it’s a cultural and inter-generational story of understanding, compromise, and, above all, love. The story text will resonate with kids and adults alike, and opens so many avenues for discussion between generations and cultures. The soft ink and watercolor artwork reflects emotions touched on the book; namely, familial love. The cover is a beautiful expression of intimacy and affection between grandmother and grandchild; something ever-present in both the text and artwork.

In a library system as diverse as mine, this is a must-add to collections. In less diverse areas, it’s an important book for generating understanding and respect for other cultures and how we look at our elders.

 

 

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

Arthur Yorinks’ Making Scents: A New Family Structure

Making Scents, by Arthur Yorinks/Illustrated by Braden Lamb and Shelli Paroline, (June 2017, :01 First Second), $15.99, ISBN: 9781596434523

Recommended for readers 8-12

Mickey is a boy who’s been raised a little differently. His parents raised bloodhounds before he was born, and raised Mickey just like his “brothers and sisters”. Mickey doesn’t see anything different with his upbringing, even if other kids treat him like he’s weird. He wants to make his parents proud of him, so he’s working on developing his sense of smell, constantly sniffing and honing his senses. A tragedy strikes, and Mickey’s sent to live with his elderly aunt and uncle, who don’t like kids or dogs – but maybe Mickey can show them that he and his sniffer are more helpful than they realize.

This one was a wacky read. Making Scents reads like realistic fiction – it deals with grief and loss, extended families, and nontraditional families – but it does work on your suspension of disbelief. The opening scene, with baby Mickey being left in the woods for the dogs to find as a test/publicity gimmick sets the tone for the story: two dog-crazy grownups find themselves with a baby that they have no idea how to raise, but they do the best with what they’ve got. They love their human son as much as they do their canine sons and daughters, but I have to wonder what kind of parent-child relationship you can have if you see your child as equal to a pet that you “master”.

Regardless, Making Scents progresses to become a touching story of intergenerational relationships and family. Mickey, his mother’s older sister, and her husband have to create their own new family structure when an accident leaves Mickey orphaned. Once again, Mickey is thrust into a family that doesn’t know what to do with him, but this time around, he doesn’t have anyone or anything to take a social cue from; his aunt and uncle, like his parents, do their best with what they have and stumble along until Mickey’s abilities help reveal a potential health crisis.

Unexpected and sensitive, Making Scents is good for graphic novel collections that provide different perspectives.