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

Two more original DC graphic novels! Gotham High and My Video Game Ate My Homework

I missed the boat on this one when they pubbed on April 7th, but now, you have no excuse: two more DC original graphic novels have been out for a month now, and I am about to rave them. I picked up these advance copies at ALA Midwinter earlier this year, and had the best conversation with the folks at the DC Booth. I hope you’re all safe and sound, if you’re reading this, and trust me, I’m working my way through the stack o’graphic novels you were kind enough to send me home with.

Gotham High, by Melissa de la Cruz/Illustrated by Thomas Pitilli, (April 2020, DC Comics), $16.99, ISBN: 9781401286248

Ages 12-17

Melissa de la Cruz is a YA powerhouse: my middle graders can’t get enough of her Descendents novels, and my teens and YA readers devour her Alex and Eliza books. She can navigate complicated relationships between her characters, and who gets more complicated than the Joker, Catwoman, and Batman? Right? Gotham High is a YA take on Bruce, Selina, and Jack as teens – no capes, no superpowers, just the baggage they already come with (SO much baggage). Bruce is 17, just kicked out of boarding school, and has too many ghosts, in the form of memories, inhabiting stately Wayne Manor. Selina Kyle used to be the girl next door, now a Gotham High student that hangs out with Jack Napier, class clown with a heck of a mean streak. Bruce falls in with the two, and finds himself involved in a love triangle of sorts. But a kidnapping rocks Gotham High, and Bruce is thrust into the role of detective to get to the bottom of things.

Taking away the capes, gadgets, and makeup, Melissa de la Cruz gives us three incredibly complex, flawed characters, and brings us into their contentious friendship. She gives us chilling moments and dread realizations about the people each character will eventually become – with or without a costume. She makes them easily relatable and recognizable, and artist Thomas Pitilli gives us realistic characters with his artwork, with all the rah-rah high school spirit we expect to find in a high school hallway to the anger always simmering below the surface for each character. He captures the spirit of high school, in all its internal chaos, with style.

 

My Video Game Ate My Homework, by Dustin Hansen, (Apr. 2020, DC Comics), $9.99, ISBN: 9781401293260

Ages 8-12

This is a fandom-filled graphic novel that kids and grownups alike will love Dewey is a 13-year-old kid on the verge of flunking science when he and his friends gets sucked into a video game adventure that presents them with challenges, fights with digital monsters, and puzzles to solve. Loaded with sight gags and wink-nudges to video games, con life, and overall fandom, kids (and big kids, like me) will see themselves in Dewey and Co.

The book encourages readers to problem solve and emphasizes the importance of cooperation and teamwork. The cartoony-realistic style and fantasy monsters are so much fun – perfect story to introduce if you have Dungeons & Dragons fledgling fans. If you have Secret Coders readers, give them this book, which will continue challenging their problem-solving skills and captivating them with a fun storyline.

Dustin Hansen’s also written the Microsaurs series, which never stays on my library shelves. (Which means I probably need to order them for my kid, because he would LOVE them.) I got to talk to him at Midwinter, and he’s one of the nicest people ever.

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

DC Zoom is bringing it to young graphic novel readers!

I have been loving the two DC original graphic novel lines. DC Ink, for YA, has been one hit after the next with Mera, Harley Quinn, and Raven, for starters; DC Ink’s lineup so far – Superman of Smallville, Dear Justice League, and The Secret Spiral of Swamp Kid – have rivaled the until-now unchallenged Dog Man on his bookshelf. I received a handful of new and upcoming DC Ink titles recently, wrestled them back from my kid (he’s got them back now, it’s fine), and dove in.

Black Canary: Ignite, by Meg Cabot/Illustrated by Cara McGee, (Oct. 2019, DC Zoom), $9.99, ISBN: 978-1-4012-8620-0

Ages 8-12

In DC Comics, Black Canary is a formidable metahuman whose Canary Cry is a sonic screech that brings bad guys to her knees. She’s also a pretty awesome fighter, and a musician. In Ignite, she’s 13-year-old Dinah Lance, daughter of a detective with an interest in police work, and lead singer and guitarist in a band. All she wants to do is win the battle of the bands at school and get her dad’s permission to join the Gotham City Junior Police Academy, but a mysterious person shows up in her neighborhood and starts causing trouble for Dinah. Dinah’s voice is also getting in the way, causing havoc when she laughs, yells, or sings too loud, and it’s landing her in the principal’s office. A lot. When the mystery figure attacks her as she works in her mother’s florist store, yelling about a “Black Canary”, Dinah discovers there’s more to her – and her family – than meets the eye, and it’s time for her to take charge of her voice and channel her inner superhero.

One of the great things about the DC young readers and YA books is that they’re bringing on authors kids know, or I know and can talk up to my kids. The Princess Diaries is HUGE here, and her Notebooks of a Middle School Princess books make her a Very Big Deal in the kids’ room here at the library. Having her take on one of my favorite DC women was a treat.Meg Cabot gives Dinah a realistic teen voice, giving her real-world problems to balance out the fact that she’s a metahuman with power: she’s always in hot water with her principal; her dad wants to keep her safe and tries to squash her interest in police work; she has trouble with her friends; she wants to be a rock star! There’s a nice nod to the Black Canary legacy, and I love the illustrations: Cara McGee even manages to include the famous Black Canary fishnets, making them part of Dinah’s punk teen look. Together, Meg Cabot and Cara McGee capture the spirit of an enduring DC character and make her accessible to younger readers. (Now, go watch Arrow, kiddies!)

 

Diana, Princess of the Amazons, by Shannon & Dean Hale/Illustrated by Victoria Ying, (Jan. 2020, DC Zoom), $9.99, ISBN: 978-1401291112

Ages 8-12

Diana of Themyscira is growing up in an island paradise where she’s surrounded by loving “aunties” and her mother. But, at age 11, she’s also the only child on the island, and she’s lonely. She decides to take matters into her own hands and forms a child from clay – just like the story of Diana’s own birth – and prays that the gods will give her a friend. Imagine her surprise when she discovers that her wish has come true, and Mona, the friend she dreamed of, is in front of her and ready to take on the world! But Mona doesn’t have the same idea of fun that Diana does, and starts leading Diana toward more destructive, mean-spirited fun. Mona starts putting some ideas in Diana’s head that could have disastrous consequences for Themyscira – can she reign herself and Mona in before catastrophe?

Shannon Hale and Dean Hale are literary powerhouses. They’ve created graphic novels (Rapunzel’s Revenge and Calamity Jack; most recently, the Best Friends and Real Friends autobiographical graphic novels); they’ve had huge success with their Princess in Black series of intermediate books, and Shannon Hale is a Newbery Medalist for her 2006 book, Princess Academy. They’ve written books in the Ever After High and Marvel’s Squirrel Girl series; they’ve written picture books: in short, they are rock stars. Asking them to write a Wonder Woman story for kid, you know you’re going to get something good. They deliver. Diana, Princess of the Amazons isn’t about Wonder Woman; it’s about a lonely 11-year-old girl who is so excited to have a friend, that she’ll follow anything that friend says or does, even when it puts her at odds with her mother and the adults around her. She’s frustrated because she can’t get the adults to listen to her; she feels clumsy and like she can’t measure up; she’s a self-conscious young teen. It’s an entirely relatable story that kids will read, see themselves in, and read again. I loved this book, and I loved the cute little nods to Wonder Woman throughout, like her being concerned about the cheetah population (one of Wonder Woman’s main foes is Cheetah) and having familiar characters like Antiope appear. Victoria Ying’s illustration will instantly appeal to Raina Telgemeier, Victoria Jamieson, and Shannon and Dean Hale fans. It’s colorful, with beautiful landscapes and cartoony artwork. Add this one to your graphic novel stacks, without question. Introduce your realistic readers to Wonder Woman!

One last note: While this is – as most of the DC Zoom books are – suggested for readers ages 8-12, you can go a little lower on this one. My 7-year-old gobbled this one up quite happily.

Green Lantern: Legacy, by Minh Lê/Illustrated by Andie Tong, (Jan. 2010, DC Zoom), $9.99, 978-1-4012-8355-1

Ages 8-12

What a fantastic new Lantern story! Tai Pham is a 13-year-old child of Vietnamese immigrants, living in an apartment with his family, above his grandmother’s grocery store, The Jade Market. (Ahem.) The store is the target for vandals; the front plate window continues to be smashed as the neighborhood deteriorates, but his grandmother will not consider closing the store or selling, saying, “We will not let fear drive us from our home. Not again”. When Grandmother dies, Tai inherits her jade ring… and discovers that there was a lot more to her than she let on, when he learns about the power behind the ring, and meets John Stewart, from the Green Lantern Corps. As Tai tries to understand the weight his grandmother carried, keeping her neighborhood safe, and come to terms with his new status as a Green Lantern, he also discovers that there are those out there who would do him harm, and that not everyone who approaches him in the wake of his grandmother’s death is a friend.

This is a great new Green Lantern origin story, with a fantastic multicultural cast and mission. Author Minh Lê authored one of my favorite picture books from  last year, the award-winning Drawn Together; also a multi-generational tale of a grandparent and grandchild coming together through their different experiences of American and Vietnamese culture. He creates a solid, relatable story about growing up in an immigrant community under siege by crime and the threat of gentrification, and creates a superhero story where a hero, imbued with the power of the universe in his hand, makes the welfare of his cultural community a priority. Tying Tai Pham’s grandmother’s story as a Lantern into the family’s flight from Vietnam is incredible: Minh Lê’s story, powered by Andie Tong’s powerful images, are unforgettable. Even the Lantern costume both Tai and his grandmother wear are culturally influenced and I can’t wait to read more.

Zatanna and the House of Secrets: A Graphic Novel, by Matthew Cody/Illustrated by Yoshi Yoshitani, (Feb. 2020. DC Zoom), $9.99, ISBN: 978-1-4012-9070-2

Ages 8-12

I love that characters like Swamp Thing (well… Swamp Kid) and Zatanna are getting in front of younger audiences with DC Zoom. Zatanna and the House of Secrets is the origin story for Zatanna, a magician who can actually wield real magic. A young teen, she lives in a rambling house – “a certain house on a certain street that everyone talks about” – with her stage magician father and their rabbit, Pocus. Sick of the bullies at school, Zatanna – much like Black Canary in Ignite – loses her temper, with interesting consequences that change everything. When Zatanna comes home and finds her father mysteriously gone, she learns that her house is much, much more than a home, and she’s much, much more than a kid with a pet rabbit.

Matthew Cody can write superheroes; he’s written middle grade novels Powerless, Super, and Villainous, and he’s written graphic novels. He gives Zatanna so much more depth than “that magician chick who says things backwards”; something I’ve heard her referred to by people who don’t really know much about the character or the comic. As with the most successful superhero books, Matthew Cody makes Zatanna relatable: a kid who fends of bullies; who experiences upheaval with the Mean Girls over who to be seen with versus who’s social poison; a kid who’s grieving the loss of her mother and who loves her father, who’s doing the best he can. There’s an unlikely friendship that two characters have to learn to navigate, and a sidekick that kids will immediately love. Yoshi Yoshitani’s artwork is bold, cartoony fun. This one can skew a little younger than 8-12, too. Enjoy.

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

Pack your bags for creepy Camp Midnight!

camp midnightCamp Midnight, by Steven S. Seagle/Illustrated by Jason Adam Katzenstein (April 2016, Image Comics), $16.99, ISBN: 978-1-63215-555-9 (Diamond ID: AUG150485)

Recommended for ages 8-12

Poor Skye is shuttled between her divorced parents – and she is NOT a fan of her step-monster, Gayle. When her mother drops her off at her father’s for summer vacation, she finds out that they’ve made plans to send her off to camp – and then they end up sending her to the wrong camp! Camp Midnight is no ordinary camp: the head counselor is a witch, and the really cute boy she likes is a werewolf. Skye is under pressure to show her “real self” from the mean girls in her cabin, but she and her new friend Mia are keeping their secrets to themselves. Skye will learn a lot this summer, especially when Mia reveals her secret and it’s up to Skye to decide whether or not it’s what’s on the inside that counts.

Camp Midnight is an original graphic novel from Big Hero 6 creator Steven T. Seagle and New Yorker artist Jason Adam Katzenstein. This brilliant pairing brings a lot to the table: we have a sarcastic middle grade main character who readers will love. Skye’s in a position too many kids understand, being shuttled between two households; she has the indignity of a step-mother who makes no secret about not wanting her around, and a seemingly clueless father. Sent off to summer camp without even being asked, she finds herself the odd kid out in a big way, and reacts by rejecting everyone outright before they can reject her. Middle graders are going to love Skye’s sarcastic exterior and her vulnerable interior.

The art is a brilliant accompaniment to the story. I love Katzenstein’s rendering of the “step-monster”, with her glaring dark color and overbearing stature. Mia is drawn to be as soft and sweet as her character, with huge eyes, evoking sympathy from the get-go. The art is often exaggerated, larger than life, giving a bigness to the story that a tale with monsters deserves. Color is for overall mood, with panels in shades of orange, brown, or red, often with one color – like a blue or fuschia – to set apart a mood or action.

Camp Midnight is a fun addition to graphic novel libraries, and I already noticed the kids in my comic book group at the library circling while I was reading it (during what was supposed to be their comic book creating time). Call your distributors and pre-order it!

 

Posted in Fiction, Graphic Novels, Middle Grade

The Lunch Witch will have you looking at your lunch ladies in a whole new light.

lunch-witchThe Lunch Witch, by Deb Lucke (PaperCutz, 2014) $14.99 ISBN: 978-1-62991-162-5

Recommended for ages 8-13

Remember those lunch ladies when you were in elementary school? Remember how so many of them would slop that unidentifiable morass of…something onto your plate, almost gleeful at your confused or terrified expression. Meet Grunhilda, everyone. With fewer and fewer people believing in magic, she’s out of a job and down on her luck. So what’s a poor witch, with generations of experience stirring up cauldrons of trouble (and possibly, children) to do? You guessed it: she puts on a hairnet and an apron, and goes to work as a lunch lady in a school cafeteria. You’re seeing things from your childhood a lot more clearly now, aren’t you?

Being a cafeteria lady is awesome. Grunhilda cooks up awful pots full of foulness that turn kids’ stomachs upside down, and almost no one seems the wiser. Except for Madison, a quirky kid that kind of sees Grunhilda for who she really is, and attempts to blackmail Grunhilda into helping her. When things go awry for Madison, will Grunhilda actually help a kid? And if she does, how will the witch community feel about that?

The Lunch Witch is one of those graphic novels that works great for readers of all ages. It would go so well with a unit on fairy tales, as a kind of epilogue – what happens to the wicked witch when everyone else lives happily ever after? Fairy tales, and re-tellings of fairy tales, are experiencing a renaissance in media and in the classroom these days, so teachers and parents, jump on this!

I loved the look of this book. The book itself looks like an old tale, with stained-looking pages and black, white, and grey/olive artwork. The occasional use of color is impactful, whether it’s to draw attention to a frog or show the jarring blue of a cafeteria door.

There is some delightfully morbid humor, too. After all, witches aren’t known for being sunshine and flowers, unless you’re talking about Glinda the Good Witch. Any original Grimm’s fairy tale will tell you that these ladies were formidable in their own right. Ms. Lucke uses these awful characteristics to make Gruhhilda’s plight even more desperate in this day and age. You really can’t get away with grave robbery, and how many kids are getting left in the forest to happen upon a candy house these days?

I’d love to see some more Lunch Witch adventures! In the meantime, give this book to your younger readers, and get ready for some laughs when they start looking at the lunch lady differently.

The Lunch Witch is on sale in stores now.

 

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