Posted in Realistic Fiction, Teen, Young Adult/New Adult

Live, Love, Theatre: Kate in Waiting

Kate in Waiting, by Becky Albertalli, (April 2021, Balzer + Bray), $18.99, ISBN: 9780062643834

Ages 14+

The best-selling, award-winning author of Simon and the Homo Sapiens Agenda and Leah and the Offbeat is back with her latest YA novel! Kate Garfield and her best friend, Anderson Walker, are high school juniors who have communal crushes. It’s their thing. But when their latest shared crush from drama camp ends up as a student at their high school, things get a little uncomfortable. Matt is sweet, funny, and is a theatre fan, just like they are. He’s cast in the school production of Once Upon a Mattress as Kate’s love interest; he’s in the same drama class as Anderson, while Kate is left out. Kate and Anderson realize that this is not a usual passing crush, and have to figure out how to navigate these new waters while still maintaining their bestie status. There’s great character development here, and discussions between Kate and Anderson touch on some sensitive points like being gay, out, and Black in the U.S. South; splitting a life between homes when one’s parents are divorced, and images versus reality when it comes to “bro culture” (or, as they’re often referred to in Kate in Waiting, “f-boys”). The dialogue is wonderful, realistic, and smart; friendships withstand ebbs and flows of daily teen life. It’s just an all-around great YA novel that should be a big book this summer. Theatre kids will love the process of seeing a production come together, and teens will love the smart, funny writing that breaks your heart and puts it back together again.

Kate in Waiting has starred reviews from Kirkus, Publishers Weekly, and made the Indie Next Great Reads list.

Posted in Graphic Novels, Realistic Fiction, Teen, Young Adult/New Adult

YA graphic novel roundup

These three graphic novels, all sent to me by Drawn & Quarterly for review, are smart additions to your young adult bookshelves. One of the biggest challenges in my graphic novels section in the YA area is making sure to strike a balance between the Marvel/DC/Image/superhero trades that circulate like wildfire, and building a strong graphic novel collection in the same fashion as I would build a middle grade or college fiction collection. There’s great literary fiction out there, and while middle grade is certainly experiencing a renaissance of graphic novel material these days, there is great stuff for your teens and young adults, too. Also not to be missed is the growing trend toward graphic autobiographies and memoirs – Mira Jacob’s Good Talk made a splash when it pubbed in 2018 – which makes for layered storytelling and allows readers to see subtlety in facial expressions, lighting, and details that may miss emphasis with merely written words.

Drawn and Quarterly and Fantagraphics are two houses I turn to, time and again, for graphic novels for my T/YA/Adult shelves. of I hope you will, too.

Perfect Example, by John Porcellino, (Feb. 2021, Drawn and Quarterly), $19.95, ISBN: 9781770464681

Ages 16+

Perfect Example is the author John Porcellino’s look back at the time between the end of high school and beginning of college. John P, as he’s known through the book – seriously, there are at least 3 guys named John in this – moves through house parties, hanging out with friends, a kinda-sorta girlfriend, and depression. It’s not something he can easily shake, and it rides on his shoulder through the book. Mr. Porcellino expertly captures the malaise and going-through-the-motions feel of depression fog of depression in his story, and the back matter, where he recounts his “resume and relevant information”; a biographical sketch. Black and white illustrations throughout are unfussy. Add Perfect Example to your shelves for its realistic look at lingering depression. John Porcellino’s a zinester whose website includes links to his Patreon, his books – most notably, King Cat, and his social media.

 

Okay, Universe: Chronicles of a Woman in Politics, by Valérie Plante/Illustrated by Delphie Côté-Lacroix, Translated by Helge Dascher, (Dec. 2020, Drawn and Quarterly), $21.95, ISBN: 9781770464117

Ages 13+

Valérie Plante’s fictional memoir of taking on the male-dominated political scene to become the first woman elected Mayor of Montreal, Okay, Universe introduces us to Simone Simoneau, a wife and mother who decides that she’s “hit a plateau” at her job; when her community volunteering leads to the chance to run for municipal office. The story follows her through the relentless door-knocking, hand-shaking, and life juggling she undertakes on her path to the election. The story calls out gender inequality, from graffiti on her campaign posters to her mother praising Simone’s partner, Hugo, for “helping” rather than “doing his share”. The book focuses on Simone’s dedication to community service and the betterment of the quality of life for everyone, as well as her dedication to her family, and how hard that balancing act can be. The artwork is colorful, and readers will love reading this birds-eye view of entering the political arena.

 

The Contradictions, by Sophie Yanow, (Sept. 2020, Drawn and Quarterly), $24.95, ISBN: 9781770464070

Ages 16+

A fictionalized account of author Sophie Yanow’s life as a student abroad in Paris, The Contradictions introduces us to Sophie, a queer student studying art in Paris because she liked Paris’s comics. Lonely and looking for connection, she meets two New York students, one of whom is Zena, an anarchist-activist-vegan who shoplifts for her basic needs. The two decide to head out on a hitchhiking trip to Amsterdam and Berlin, where they dabble in couch surfing, drugs, and exploring. The book captures the time in college when an individual is still figuring themself out, trying on new ideas, and exploring the world around them. The black and white artwork is simple and uncluttered, with dialogue being the main point. This won’t be everyone’s book, but those who like road tripping memoirs should give this a look. The Contradictions was a webcomic from 2018-2020, and is an Eisner award winner. It also has a starred review from Publisher’s Weekly.

Posted in picture books, Preschool Reads

Over the Shop and found families: a lovely combination

Over the Shop, by JonArno Lawson/Illustrated by Qin Leng, (Jan. 2021, Candlewick Press), $16.99, ISBN: 9781536201475

Ages 3-7

This story needs no words to communicate a gentle tale of how a building becomes a home. A little girl and her grandparent run a storefront grocery and need a tenant for the run-down apartment in the building. When a couple sees the potential in the apartment, the little girl pitches in to help; she’s excited to have new friends in her home! The good feelings spread, and the entire building starts taking on a new life as everyone starts working together to breathe new life into the building – even the next door neighbor is taken into the fold. A quiet story of queer pride and the families we make, the wordless ink and watercolor story is about acceptance, love, and warmth. Invite your Littles to tell you what they see going on in this story.

Over the Shop has starred reviews from Kirkus, School Library Journal, and Publishers Weekly. The Mombian blog has a wonderful review of Over the Shop, too.

Posted in picture books, Preschool Reads

“A wedding is a party for love”: Julián at the Wedding

Julián at the Wedding, by Jessica Love, (Oct. 2020, Candlewick Press), $16.99, ISBN: 9781536212389

Ages 4-8

This book is joy wrapped in paper and cardboard. Julián, the adorable child we met in 2018’s Julián is a Mermaid, is back with his abuela and in a wedding party. We learn that “a wedding is a party for love” as the two brides beam at each other and their friends and family surrounding them. Julián and his new friend Marisol are in the wedding party, along with Gloria, the brides’ dog. The three new friends wander off to play, where Marisol’s dress gets dirty. No worries! Julian shares his clothes with her and creates fairy wings for them both out of the leaves of a tree. When they’re discovered by their abuelas, all is well, and they’re received back at the wedding with hugs and kisses. A gorgeous celebration joy, friendship, and love, Julián at the Wedding is a book I want to read again and again. Watercolor, gouache, and ink illustrations come alive with rich, vibrant colors; the endpapers are the true beginning and close of the story, with two sleepy children and one sleepy pup resting, post-wedding, under a tree as the grandmothers enjoy cake and the happy couple dance in the background. Every page is a delight; I enjoyed this book even more than I enjoyed Julián is a Mermaid, which I adored. Read a conversation with the author and download an activity kit at publisher Candlewick’s page.

Julián at the Wedding has starred reviews from Publishers Weekly, Kirkus, and The Horn Book.

Posted in Teen, Young Adult/New Adult

Rural Voices tells the real stories, no stereotyping

Rural Voices: 15 Authors Challenge Assumptions About Small-Town America, edited by Nora Shalaway Carpenter, (Oct. 2020, Candlewick Press), $18.99, ISBN: 9781536212105

Ages 13+

When the word “rural” comes to mind, more often than not, so do a certain set of images, not usually complimentary. This anthology, with stories in verse, prose, and art, tells the story of rural life from the points of view of 15 authors across the U.S.: Virginia, Alaska, New Mexico, New York, South Carolina, Indiana, Georgia, Idaho, Texas, West Virginia, Michiga, and Utah all have representation here, and the storytellers are diverse, giving readers richer insight into rural life. Authors write about studying in McDonald’s before school, because that’s where the decent wifi is; life as a Tejano teen living at the border; coming out to family; being a person of color in a mostly white community. Every story is revealing and does its part to chip away at harmful assumptions.

Posted in picture books

Love is Love around the world

Love is Love: The Journey Continues (Book Two), by Fleur Pierets/Illustrated by Fatinha Ramos, (Nov. 2020, Six Foot Press), $18.95, ISBN: 978-1644420263

Ages 5-8

A follow-up to last year’s Love Around the World (Book One), Love is Love: The Journey Continues is the continuing story of Fleur Pierets and her wife, Julian, and their quest to get married in every country around the world that would let them. Julian was diagnosed with cancer after their fourth wedding and died six weeks later; Love is Love is the story of, as Fleur Pierets says, “two women named Fleur and Julian, who are going to get married in every country where they are allowed to do so. In the book, Julian doesn’t die, and we finish our performance of love”.

In straightforward prose, Fleur describes weddings in Denmark, Sweden, Colombia, Austria, and 10 others (The other weddings are covered Love Around the World). Colorful, bright, happy illustrations show the spouses dancing, traveling, and celebrating their love for one another across the globe, with happy attendees showering them with good wishes. Touching and powerful, Love is Love is a beautiful testament to love.

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

A CYBILS graphic novel rundown

I know, being on the CYBILS first round, I can’t give TOO much away about graphic novels I’m reading, but I did have these on my TBR before I was nominated to judge, so… I’ll just talk them up a wee bit. To whet your appetite for what’s coming.

Softies: Stuff That Happens After the World Blows Up, by Kyle Smeallie, (Oct. 2020, Iron Circus Comics), $15, ISBN: 9781945820489

Ages 10-14

This is sort of Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, with a dose of stuffed animals tossed in for good measure. Earth blows up: kablooey, just like that. But there’s a survivor! Kay, a thirteen-year-old girl, is floating around in space when she’s rescued by Arizona, an alien space-junk collector, and his cybernetic pet Euclid. Arizona looks like a cuddly pink space stuffie that you’d find on the shelves in Target, and Euclid would definitely have his own action figure. There are laughs to be had, especially when Kay explains where she’s from, time and again, to blank faces – we’re not that well-known in the universe after all – and the levels of bureacracy that pop up time and again, as the new friends make their way through space. Softies is comprised of short stories, put together into one volume. The artwork is cartoony and very kid-friendly; the material is probably better suited for higher middle grade to middle school. There are some chuckleworthy moments and some sweet moments as Arizona and Kay try to figure things out together in this new relationship they’re forging. The storytelling has some lags, but overall, kids will get a kick out of it. Good to have for those tough-to-pin-down middle school collections.

 

The Magic Fish, by Trung Le Nguyen, (Oct. 2020 Random House Graphic), $23.99, ISBN: 9780593125298

Ages 12+

Told in parallel narratives between fairy tales and real life, The Magic Fish is the story of Tiến, a Vietnamese teen who loves his family but lives with a secret that he fears will change things. He’s gay, and doesn’t quite know how to come out to them. He shares stories with his parents, particularly his mother, and we can see the story within the story here: each is about suffering, and eventually, rising above difficult circumstances, which mirrors not only Tiến’s life, but his mother’s escape from Vietnam to America and her longing to be with her mother. The artwork itself is breathtaking; the fairy tale scenes are incredible, dreamlike; Tiến’s reality is realistically drawn with fleshed-out characters and expressive body language. Sensitive, beautifully drawn, and perfect for teen collections. The Magic Fish has starred reviews from Publishers Weekly, Booklist, Kirkus, and is an Indie Next pick.

Witches of Brooklyn, by Sophie Escabasse, (Sept. 2020, Random House Graphic), $12.99, ISBN: 9780593119273
Ages 8-12
I LOVED this magical story! Effie is a kid whose mom has passed away, and she’s brought to Brooklyn to live with her aunt, Selimene; a woman she’s never met before. Selimene and her partner, Carlota, are two “herbalists” who just seem plain weird to Effie, until she discovers that the two women are… shhhh… witches. Good witches, to be sure, but witches! And shortly after arriving, Effie discovers her hands start glowing and that she’s a witch, too! Could this day get better? You bet – she makes two great friends in school, and when she arrives home, discovers that her favorite pop star, Tily Shoo, is in her house in need of Selimene and Carlota’s help. Everything is fun about Witches of Brooklyn, which also has wonderful storytelling and statements about family. Great artwork, great character development and storytelling, and  – let’s hope – more to come. Give this to your Lumberjanes readers and while you’re at it, hand them a copy of Emma Steinkellner’s graphic novel, The Okay Witch.
Swamp Thing: Twin Branches, by Maggie Stiefvater/Illustrated by Morgan Beem, (Oct. 2020, DC Comics), $16.99, ISBN: 9781401293239
Ages 12+
Twin brothers Alec and Walker Holland are sent off to spend their last summer before college with their rural cousins after catching their father having an affair. Alec, the studious one, buries himself in a lab where he continues working on a project that takes everything in him – a bit literally – to keep going, while Walker hits the social scene. The two brothers find themselves diverging this summer, with tensions and memories forcing their way between the two. And the swamp… well, that’s just waiting for someone, isn’t it? Maggie Stiefvater is an amazing YA writer, and Morgan Beem has a nice list of comics illustration to her credit. She creates an eerie atmosphere with her green and murky artwork, giving Maggie Stiefvater’s creepy storytelling a wonderfully oogie vibe. I’ll be honest, the story dipped for me a few times when Alec gets caught up in his botany discussions, but the overall storytelling is strong and macabre; very American Gothic.
Posted in Graphic Novels, Non-Fiction, Teen, Young Adult/New Adult

Graphic Novels, Life Stories

I’ve been really loving the graphic novels coming out this year. Lots of life stories have found their voices in the pages of graphic novels; it’s a trend I’m enjoying, because the artwork really helps bring a person’s story to full, visual life, with little nuances and nods to things not always easily described with just words. Shades of grey; pops of color; a flash of a poster in a teen’s room: these are all things that a graphic novel can illustrated and communicate much more easily and quickly, reaching visual readers who may otherwise not experience the full breadth of a story. Here are some great lives I’ve read about recently.

Frankie, by Rachel Dukes, (Oct. 2020, Oni Press), $17.99, ISBN: 9781549306884

Ages 12+

This is the sweetest book! Cartoonist Rachel Dukes is the Lucy Knisley of pet parenthood, as she chronicles life with her cat, Frankie. Rachel and their spouse, Mike, find the cutest black and white kitten outside their door, and Rachel is in love. Inspired by Rachel’s webcomic, Frankie is a series of vignettes in pet parenting, with comics taken from their webcomic and with some new material. Cat-lovers and pet-lovers will all recognize moments like Frankie choosing Rachel’s backpack over a snuggly new bed; the conversations we have with our furry friends; the nicknames we give them, and many, many, bedtime moments (what is it about sneezing in our faces as they settle in on our chests?). Frankie is adorable and full of personality that comes shining through the page. Rachel’s artwork is fun and expressive, silly and upbeat: it’s just what so many of us need to read these days! Each vignette has a name that pet parents will relate to, including moments like “Language Barriers”, “The Box”, “Night Song”, and “Cuddles”. Rachel includes a section on Quick Tips for Aspiring Cat Parents. Talk up to your readers who love Chi’s Sweet Home and Pusheen, and visit Rachel’s Frankie website for adorable downloadables! See more of their artwork on Rachel’s Instagram, and read more of their comics and buy some swag by clicking here, at MixTape Comics.

Little Josephine: A Memory in Pieces, by Valérie Villieu/Illustrated by Raphaël Sarfati, (Apr. 2020, Humanoids Inc.), $17.99, ISBN: 9781643375342

Ages 12+

Visiting nurse Valérie Villieu tells the story of Josephine, a patient that touched her heart, in this aching and quietly lovely story that examines the bonds between patient and nurse while it gives readers a look at the unsettling treatment of the elderly by overwhelmed social workers and home health aides. Josephine, an Alzheimer’s patient, lives alone in a Paris apartment when Valérie is assigned to her. While Josephine is at first resistant to Valérie’s help, the two eventually find common ground in humor. As Valérie strives to learn more about her charge, she discovers that Josephine is a playful, charming woman who enjoys conversation. Valérie expresses her frustration at an overloaded health care system, which leaves an elderly woman in the care of a conservator who just isn’t able to keep up with their caseload – a relatable, upsetting issue. Josephine’s lapses are creatively envisioned in fractured panels, where she’s swept away on her bed, or thrust into the middle of a chaotic panel. The colors are muted shades, giving the story a quiet dignity, even as we ache, seeing Josephine increasingly lost in her own world. A beautiful story of connection and a painful memoir of Alzheimer’s from a caregiver’s point of view, Little Josephine is gorgeous storytelling. Back matter includes an author’s note on Alzheimer’s Disease.

Gender Queer, by Maia Kobabe, (May 2019, Oni Press), $17.99, ISBN: 9781549304002

Ages 14+

Gender Queer is illustrator Maia Kobabe (pronouns: e/em/eir)’s autobiography. Assigned female at birth but never quite feeling that designation fit, Kobabe journals em’s journey through fandom, identity, and sexuality; finally coming to the discovery that nonbinary and asexual are the best descriptors. From a rustic childhood, through puberty, high school, college, and grad school, we walk with Maia through years of introspection and self-discovery. Written as a journal, readers will hopefully see themselves, or gain an understanding of others as Kobabe describes the trauma of body dysmorphia and gynecological exams; appreciate em’s supportive family, and come away with sensitivity and compassion. Have this available for readers who identify as nonbinary or asexual. There are some strong resources to keep available for asexual and nonbinary readers, including Queer Books for Teens, and booklists from YALSA, Book Riot, GoodReads, and Tor. Author Jeanne G’Fellers has an excellent author webpage, including The Enby Booklist, containing fiction, nonfiction, and poetry with a non-binary focus. There is a lesson plan available for Gender Queer through Diamond Bookshelf.

Gender Queer has a starred review from School Library Journal, is a 2020 ALA Alex Award Winner and a 2020 Stonewall — Israel Fishman Non-fiction Award Honor Book.

Invisible Differences: A Story of Asperger’s, Adulting, and Living a Life in Full Color, by Julie Dachez, (Oct. 2020, Oni Press), $19.99, ISBN: 9781620107669

Ages 12+

From her opening dedication: “This comic is dedicated to you. You, the deviants. People who are ‘too much like this’ or ‘not enough like that’, Julie Dachez creates a safe, welcoming space for readers delving into her graphic novel, revealing what life is like for a person living with Asperger’s Syndrome. Twenty-seven-year-old Marguerite loves staying home with her books, her little dog, her purring cats, and her soft pajamas. Within her silent apartment, they form her “cocoon”. She’s stressed by commuting to her job, but relies on routines to usher her through her day. Coworkers don’t seem to understand her. Her boyfriend is frustrated because she doesn’t want to go to parties and socialize as he does. As she searches for answers to her anxiety, she discovers that she is not alone: there is a community of people with Asperger’s Syndrome, a form of autism, and their experiences are there, online for Marguerite to read. No longer in the dark and alone, she begins a search for the right therapist, and the resources she needs to advocate for herself.

Julie Dachez’s black and white artwork skillfully uses reds and yellows to communicate Marguerite’s stressors and anxiety: loud conversations and everyday noise; panels are bathed in red to denote stressful moments in Marguerite’s day, when her defenses are running low, gradually fading back to black and white as she separates herself from social situations to recharge. Her red sneakers are the sole point of red that provide a reassuring, routine constant. Back matter includes a history of autism, information on Asperger’s Syndrome, and a list of resources for further reading (incuding children’s books!). A good book to have in your collection; consider also purchasing Camouflage: The Hidden Lives of Autistic Women, a nonfiction graphic novel by Dr. Sarah Bargeila and illustrated by Sophie Standing.

Posted in Fiction, Middle Grade, Middle School, Realistic Fiction

The Derby Daredevils are rolling into action!

The Derby Daredevils: Kenzie Kickstarts a Team, by Kit Rosewater/Illustrated by Sophie Escabasse, (March 2020, Amulet Books), $14.99, ISBN: 978-1-4197-4079-4

Ages 9-13

I love that roller derby is back and appealing to middle graders. In recent years, we’ve had Dorothy’s Derby Chronicles from Meghan Dougherty, Jessica Abel’s Trish Trash bringing roller derby to Mars, and Victoria Jamieson’s monster hit graphic novel, Roller Girl. For the teens, DC Comics’s Harley Quinn is taking to the rink, and the girls from Slam! had a derby-centric title. As a kid who always wanted to try derby but was (still) too chicken, this is vicariously glorious.

Enter a new middle grade series, The Derby Daredevils. Kenzie and Shelly are BFFs who love roller derby: Kenzie’s mom is even a derby girl, and Kenzie can’t wait to be old enough to try out for a league. She and Shelly have it all figured out: their superstar moves, their secret handshake, their big rink entrance. Luckily for the girls, their local rink is starting up a junior league and are holding tryouts! But unless they have a team to try out together, the two besties risk being split up if they try out separately. Kenzie’s answer: recruit friends from school and make a team! The have one week to recruit and train a whole team, and Kenzie has a hard time reconciling what’s in her head with reality, which threatens to cause some friction: Shelly and shy classmate Tomoko start becoming friendly, which upsets Kenzie. Isn’t she supposed to be Shelly’s best friend? When Shelly invites Kenzie’s secret crush, Bree, to join the team, Kenzie flips out, but inviting the risk-averse Camila and the way-enthusiastic Jules isn’t helping much. Can the girls get it together in enough time to make the tryouts?

This is SO much fun. There’s so much to work with here: a fully realized cast of characters from different cultural backgrounds, each with a distinct personality. Massive “OMG!” moments involving Kenzie and her crush, Bree, that every middle grader will recognize and empathize with. The relatable feeling of wanting something so bad, that you’ll take that square peg and pound it into a round hole to make it work. And black and white illustrations throughout, to really make readers feel like they’re part of the action! Derby Daredevils is a positive LGBTQ+ series, not only giving us a main character who experiences a crush on another girl, but a transgender dad in a loving marriage. I love the way the author explains Kenzie’s understanding of her dad: “Since her dad was transgender, that meant in some of his stories he looked more like a girl, and in other stories, he looked more like a boy. Actually, he was a boy all along, her dad had explained. But before he told people, they thought he was a girl. In his ‘before’ stories, Kenzie’s dad was like an undercover agent, with a secret only he knew.” It’s a straight-forward, commonsense way to explain gender to kids that respects them and respects the adult. I love it.

There’s action, a little tween romance, and a strong bond of friendship in this book, and I can’t wait for the next book to pub later this year. In the meantime, I’ve dogeared (the horror!) and scribbled all over my ARC, in the hopes of writing a discussion guide for it at some point, so if I get that done, I’ll post it. In the meantime, this is a great choice for a book club and way too much fun for budding (and frustrated middle aged wannabee) derby girls.

The Derby Daredevils: Kenzie Kickstarts a Team has starred reviews from School Library Journal and Booklist.

Posted in Fantasy, Graphic Novels, Teen, Young Adult/New Adult

#BooksfromQuarantine: Graphic Novels You May Have Missed

The graphic novel devouring continues as I raid my laptop hard drive and rediscover books I downloaded with the intention of getting to, but apparently needed a pandemic lockdown to provide the time. If you’ve missed out on these, revisit them. There’s good stuff here.

 

The Last Dragon, by Jane Yolen/Illustrated by Rebecca Guay (Sept. 2011, Dark Horse Comics), $12.99, ISBN: 9781595827982

Ages 12+

Kids who grew up with Jane Yolen’s picture books, like the How Do Dinosaurs…? series, will be thrilled to read her fantasy graphic novel, The Last Dragon, illustrated by Rebecca Guay (who also does gorgeous Star Wars art). Two hundred years after dragons were driven out of the islands of May, a lone dragon hatches and grows, and dreams of blood. As the dragon starts a reign of terror, a group of boys from the village seeks out a hero. Someone who can save them. Who they find is a man who looks the part, but his heroic acts like mostly in his gift for exaggeration. When he arrives on the scene and realizes what he’s up against, he realizes he’s bitten off far more than he can chew. He’ll join forces with Tansy, a healer’s daughter, and discover that the most unconventional of ways may be the only way to survival and victory.

Beautifully illustrated in a dreamlike, fairy-tale style, and written with a combination of dialogue balloons and narrative storytelling, The Last Dragon is a good choice for fairy tale fans who like their fairy tales a little grittier, a little darker.

 

Kaijumax Season 1: Terror and Respect, by Zander Cannnon, (Sept. 2016, Oni Press), $9.99, ISBN: 9781620102701

Ages 16+

This book has been going strong for a few years now; the collected trades for Season 4 published in late 2019, so I expect we’ll see a Book 5 sometime this year? Maybe? Anyway, the series is written by two-time Eisner Award winner Zander Cannon, and it centers of the lives of Kaiju – giant monsters, a la Godzilla and Friends – in lockdown on a prison island. Think Pacific Rim meets Oz. In Season One, Electrogor is a loving Kaiju single dad who goes out to get some radioactive waste for his kids to eat, gets nabbed, and sent off to Kaijumax, where he experiences all the prison horror: he gets shanked, meets corrupt guards, and has run-ins with gangs that run the prison.

I’ll be honest, I was expecting a lighter-hearted co@lionforgemic. The artwork is bright, the monsters and guards’ Ultraman-inspired uniforms are amazing to look at, and, come on: it’s monsters! On a prison island! I didn’t expect things to be so heavy, so if that’s not your jam, watch Pacific Rim one more time. It was entertaining for me, and I know older teens who will love this, but I just felt so bad for poor Eletrogor and his kids while I read this. So if you’re a mush like me, you’ve been given notice. Kaijumax was a Best New Series nominee in the 2016 Eisners. When I finally get back to my library, I’ll order the first four trades, because I am confident that these will move.

Witchy, by Ariel Slamet Ries, (Sept. 2019, Lion Forge), $14.99, ISBN: 9781549304811

Ages 11+

Witchy is a webcomic that just got its first print run last year. Perfect for middle school and up, it’s glorious fantasy storytelling that smashes gender stereotypes. Nyneve is a young witch living in the kingdom of Hyalin, where the length of your hair determines your magic power. Witches deemed too powerful are taken away and killed – it’s called a “witch burning”, and this is what happened to Nyneve’s father. Keeping her hair pinned up so no one can tell its true length, she withstands the laughs and bullying of her classmates, until conscription time rolls around and she makes the choice to run away rather than serve or risk being on the kingdom’s hit list. Nominated for the 2015 Ignatz Award for Outstanding Online Comic, Witchy is just great storytelling. It moves along at a good pace, letting readers enjoy the worldbuilding and meet the characters; there’s always something happening, so there’s no lag time. The colorwork is beautiful, and the magic arts really stand out in the book with sweeping magical gestures and bursts of color and movement. This one was a hit, and it was one of the last books I ordered, just on what I’ve read about it; I’m so glad this turned out to be everything I hoped it would be.

Witchy by Ariel Ries was nominated for the 2015 Ignatz Award for Outstanding Online Comic, and it still ongoing at Witchycomic.com. It’s also part of the Library of Congress’s Small Press Expo Comic and Comic Art Web Archive, and the Queer Comics Database has a great entry on Witchy. You can find a Witchy Discussion Guide here, courtesy of the publisher.

There’s more to come! Enjoy and keep reading!