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

Pixels of You considers friendships between AI and human

Pixels of You, by Ananth Hirsh & Yuko Ota/Illustrated by J.R. Doyle, (Feb. 2022, Amulet Paperbacks), $16.99, ISBN: 9781419749575

Ages 14+

The team behind 2016’s graphic novel, Lucky Penny, are back with a story about AI, humans, and the relationship that forms between one pair. Indira is a human artist, a photographer, who’s been cybernetically augmented after a car accident took one of her eyes at the age of 10. Fawn is the first human-presenting AI, also a photographic artist, who interns at the same gallery as Indira. The gallery owner puts them together on a project after the two have a very public disagreement over their work, the gallery owner – their mentor – puts them to the ultimate test: work on a project together, or leave the gallery. Period. At first, the collaboration is forced, grudging, but slowly, as the two artists get to know one another, a friendship forms, allowing each to see the world through the other’s eyes. Largely illustrated in shades of rose and violet, black pages with white text that record key moments in AI/Human history capture the reader’s attention and act as chapter heads, giving readers an idea of what may lie ahead. The characters are hard to get to know in the first pass – the story is interesting, but hard to connect to at first; I felt like I “got” them better as I went on in the story. I re-read the book, and the knowledge I’d gained from the first pass definitely helped me feel more for the characters from the outset, so you may want to give a solid booktalk on what’s going on in human history – touch on the paranoia that exists between humans and AI, for starters – at the time the story is set, to give tweens and teens more context to build on. There’s a slow-burn sapphic romance subplot that’s so subtle, some readers may not pick up on it for a while, but it is a satisfying close. Fawn’s robot parents are a surprise hit in the story. Give this one a shot. Talk about perspective, and how photography factors into the story of “seeing” others. I think it’ll find a dedicated audience.

Posted in Fantasy, Teen, Young Adult/New Adult

Kicking off 2022 YA with a bang: The Bone Spindle

The Bone Spindle, by Leslie Vedder, (Jan. 2022, Razorbill), $18.99, ISBN: 9780593325827

Ages 12+

This fantasy YA is heavily inspired by Sleeping Beauty, with a touch of Red Riding Hood, and a lot of adventure. Fi – short for Filore – is a treasure hunter with a curse on her head. Actually, it’s on her hand, but it’s a terrible one. Shane is an exiled female warrior who loves fighting and pretty girls. The two unlikely partners end up working together to free a kingdom when Fi pricks her finger on a bone spindle and discovers Briar Rose, the prince whose kingdom is under a sleeping curse until Love’s first kiss awakens him. Briar’s body is asleep, but his magic allows him to appear to Fi, leading her to his kingdom: if she can make it through the perilous thorns and other dangers that await.

The first in a new YA fantasy duology (or trilogy!), The Bone Spindle is a fantasy adventure that flips traditional fairy tales and gender roles, giving readers strong and smart female protagonists and a gentle hero with a mysterious dark side. Fi is afraid to fall in love after a terrible ex left her in a bad spot, but Briar is so awkward and sweet that she wonders what will happen when she finally gets to his kingdom to deliver his kiss. Shane comes from a warrior kingdom, but she’s chosen exile. She loves the heft of her axe and the smile on a pretty girl, but her partnership with Fi means she’ll put herself at risk for a friend. Fantasy readers, LGBTQ+ readers, romance readers, all will find something to love in The Bone Spindle – enjoy spotting the influences as you read.

Posted in picture books, Preschool Reads

Two fun books about cats

Inside Cat, by Brendan Wenzel, (Oct. 2021, Chronicle Books), $17.99, ISBN: 9781452173191

Ages 3-5

Caldecott Honor author/illustrator Brendan Wenzel brings readers a new story about cats from a different point of view. Where 2017’s They All Saw a Cat showed us how other creatures perceive cats, Inside Cat shows us how a house cat perceives his world. Using rhyme and repetition, we follow Inside Cat as he wanders through a room, stops at windows, and looks outside. Cat’s imagination fills in what he perceives the rest of the outside world entails, from birds wearing clothes stolen off a clothesline to a giant salt shaker shaking snow just outside the window frame. Inside Cat is pretty confident that he knows everything about what goes on in the outside world… until he ventures outside for the first time. Mixed media illustrations and playing with color let readers create their own stories about what goes on outside Cat’s window – or their own! Endpapers get in on the fun. A story that encourages imagination and plays with perception, kids will love hearing Inside Cat again and again.

Inside Cat has starred reviews from Kirkus, Publishers Weekly, Booklist, and the Bulletin of the Center for Children’s Books. While I didn’t see an Inside Cat activity kit, you can use many of the cat-tivities (I had to) from the kit for They All Saw a Cat.

 

Bathe the Cat, by Alice B. McGinty/Illustrated by David Roberts, (Feb. 2022, Chronicle Books). $17.99, ISBN: 9781452142708

Ages 3-5

Grandma’s coming to visit, and it’s time to clean the house! Daddy is calling out chores, all written out with fridge magnets, but Cat will do anything to get his name off that list. As the chores get wackier and wackier, Daddy and Papa are desperate to know who’s messing with the list! I mean, really: sweep the dishes? Scrub the fishes? The clock is ticking! Can these dads and their kids get it together and get the house clean in time? A laugh-out-loud story about a cat who’s a step ahead of its family, with bright, eye-catching pencil and watercolor artwork. There are two brown-skinned dads and a diverse group of kids, and the chaos is fun and relatable as they turn into a whirlwind of misguided chores as Cat, firmly set against having a bath, gives knowing smiles and side-eye expressions in between spreads showing them playing with the magnet letters and creating all sorts of wacky chores. There are thoughtful details, like various Pride flags decorating the refrigerator and Grandma’s tote bag (I see you, Philly!). A fun, quietly meaningful book that embraces the chaos of family life and shows a fun, positive depiction of an LGBTQ+ family. Pair with Friday Night Wrestlefest by JF Fox and Micah Player for more stories about family hijinks.

Download a fun activity kit, complete with a chore list and wacky word scramble, to hand out at storytime.

Posted in picture books, Preschool Reads, Toddler Reads

Mr. Watson’s Chickens is shooby-doo, wonky-pow, bawka-bawka in da chow-chow!

Mr. Watson’s Chickens, by Jarrett Dapier/Illustrated by Andrea Tsurumi, (Oct. 2021, Chronicle Books), $17.99, ISBN: 9781452177144

Ages 3-6

Mr. Watson and Mr. Nelson are a happy couple who share their lives and their home with a couple of dogs, a few cats, and a handful of chickens. But Mr. Watson just loves his chickens so much, and acquires more and more, until he’s got 456 chickens! The chickens are everywhere and into everything, and one chicken, Aunt Agnes, has a habit of making up her own song that she sings all the time. Mr. Nelson loves Mr. Watson, but something has to give. Mr. Watson loves his chickens, but he loves Mr. Nelson more, so together, they decide to give the chickens away to loving homes at the county fair… but the chickens escape, and chaotic hilarity ensues! An hilarious Where’s Waldo-type spread invites kids to help find a missing chicken, and Aunt Agnes’s favorite song makes for an extra-fun interactive readaloud. Mr. Watson’s Chickens features an LGBTQ+ couple in a sweet story of love and chickens, and a richy diverse cast of characters throughout the story. Perfect for storytime reading, with a fun chick and egg peekaboo craft for after the story’s done.

 

Posted in Horror, Teen, Young Adult/New Adult

Spooky Reads for Halloween: The Lost Girls by Sonia Hartl

The Lost Girls: A Vampire Revenge Story, by Sonia Hartl, (Sept. 2021, Page Street Kids), $17.99, ISBN: 9781645673149

Ages 13+

Holly has been a teen since 1987, when her then-boyfriend, Elton, turned her into a vampire, and it’s not nearly as awesome as the movies would have you think. She’s stuck getting crappy part-time jobs at places like Taco Bell, she’s compelled to follow Elton wherever he goes – that whole sire business – and let’s not even talk about her crimped 1987 hair. She’s pretty much resigned to smelling like taco grease and draining lecherous guys in dark alleys when she meets Rose and Ida: two of Elton’s other ex-girlfriends. He turned Ida in 1921, and Rose in 1954, and they’ve got a plan to kill Elton and free themselves, but they need Holly’s help. The three bond over their shared plan and shared trauma and form a plan to get to Elton before he turns another girl, Parker. The only thing is, Holly discovers that she’s falling for Parker and doesn’t want to involve her in Elton’s mess. Then again, what better revenge is there than to steal your ex’s girl before you put an end to him?

The Lost Girls has been described as John Tucker Must Die but with queer, feminist vampires, and that works pretty darn well for me. The overall storyline is good and the characters are nicely fleshed out. It’s filled with dark humor and a strong supporting cast, including Stacey, Holly’s best friend who has her own afterlife issues to reckon with. There are moments of brilliance – Ida’s story in particular stands out, as does Holly’s backstory – but it doesn’t always come together to keep pages turning; there are moments of lag that I hard a hard time working through. I’m still handselling this one to my library teens, because of the positive female character development and the storyline that shows young women working together to build up and support one another.

I’m editing this because I feel like I need to talk more about the theme of toxic femininity in this book, too. The book provides an excellent look into the concept of toxic femininity – something not as often discussed as toxic masculinity – using Holly’s mother as a case study, but also looking at the relationships between Holly, Rose, and Ida to Elton. Toxic femininity makes women believe they need to accept abuse and dominance; that their value is in being prized as a sexual object. Holly’s mother is not only a victim of this toxicity, but passes it onto her daughter. Holly’s mother dates Holly’s schoolmates’ fathers, using her sexuality as a weapon to brandish in the faces of the women and families left behind by these men, who will ultimately leave her, too. Rose and Ida come from time periods – the 1950s and 1920s – when women were largely “seen and not heard”, but the afterlife has given them an agency they didn’t always posses in their time among the living. When you read The Lost Girls, focus on this and talk about it, because it’s just brilliantly done.

Posted in Fiction, Fiction, Intermediate, Middle Grade, Middle School, Teen, Tween Reads, Uncategorized

A graphic novel on every shelf!

More graphic novels are hitting shelves in time for school, and that makes me happy! For me, it’s like seeing an endorsement that graphic novels are finally being seen as “real” reading! (I mean, you knew it, I knew it, lots of folx knew it, but still…) Let’s see what we’ve got for each age group, coming right up.

We Have a Playdate, by Frank Dormer, (Aug. 2021, Harry N. Abrams), $12.99, ISBN: 9781419752735

Ages 6-10

This intermediate graphic novel is perfect for all your Narwhal and Jelly and Blue, Barry, and Pancakes fans. Tuna the Narwhal, Margo the Bird, and Noodle the Snake have a playdate at the park, where they meet a hostile robot and a bear named Ralph, who quickly joins their playgroup. The story unfolds in four chapters that takes readers – and the group of friends – to each area of the playground: The Slide, The Swings, The Monkey Bars, and The SeeSaw, and the action is both hilarious and written with an eye to being a good playground friend. There’s playful language, like “fizzled their neenee bopper” or “zizzled my zipzoo” for playground injuries, and laugh-out-loud moments when the group tries to figure out ways to “help” one another, like scaring Ralph off the slide to get him to go down, or tying Noodle onto the swing to help them stay on. Cartoon artwork and colorful panels will make this a big favorite with you intermediate and emerging readers.

Visit Frank Dormer’s webpage and see more of his work, including the 10-foot monsters he drew to guard New Haven’s library in 2015!

 

 

 
Hooky, by Míriam Bonastre Tur, (Sept. 2021, Etch/Clarion Books), $12.99, ISBN: 9780358468295
 
Ages 8-12
 
I’m always happy when an online comic makes it to print. Many of my library kids only have computer access here at the library, so print comics and graphic novels are the way to reach them best (also, they’re here to do homework and play Minecraft and Roblox; reading comics online isn’t always on their radar). Hooky is a compiled comic from WEBTOON, and follows twin siblings Dani and Dorian, who’ve missed the bus to magic school (no Whomping Willow here) and don’t know the way there. Looks like they’re going to miss that first year of school – and wow, will their parents be upset! They decide to search for a mentor, which leads to a score of amusing situations; cleaning up the Huntsman to “steal Snow White’s heart” by making her fall in love with him is just the tip of the iceberg. But there’s trouble ahead, and the twins need to find a way to clear their names and heal their kingdom when more complicated challenges arise.
 
Illustrated in manga style, this is going to be big with my middle graders and middle schoolers. They’re manga fans, and finding graphic novels incorporating manga artwork is a great way to get them to stretch their reading interests and introduce them to new titles. Plus, it’s fantasy, with some similar tropes, like magic twins, magic school, and bringing unity to a divided society; all familiar fantasy scenarios that readers will feel comfortable setting down with. The artwork has some truly outstanding moments, like Dorian standing atop books as he works in his aunt’s library; the relationship between the siblings is relatable as it moves from affectionate to teasing to bickering and back again. This release of Hooky includes additional content you won’t find on the WebToon page, making it even more attractive to readers. Give this one a look.
 
 

 

Other Boys, by Damian Alexander, (Sept. 2021, First Second), $21.99, ISBN: 9781250222824
 
Ages 10-14
 
An autobiographical middle school graphic novel about being the new kid, crushes, and coming out, Other Boys absolutely needs space in your graphic novel memoir sections. Damian decides that he’s not going to speak when he enters seventh grade. He’s the new kid, and was bullied at his last school, so it’s just easier to not speak at all, he figures. But it doesn’t work, because Damian isn’t like other boys in his school: he lives with his grandparents; his mom is dead and his father isn’t in the picture, and his family is low-income. Plus, Damian doesn’t like a lot of things that other boys in his school like: he likes flowers in his hair; he’d rather play with Barbie than with G.I. Joe, acting out stories rather than playing fighting games. Damian doesn’t feel like he fits in as a boy or a girl, and now… he’s got a crush on another boy.
 
Other Boys is a middle school story along the lines of Mike Curato’s Flamer and Jarrett Krosoczka’s Hey, Kiddo. It draws you in with first person storytelling and a narrator that you want to befriend; it places you next to Damian in the narrative, walking with him and seeing his story unfold in front of you. Put this on your shelves – there are kids who need this book.
 

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.