Posted in Non-Fiction, picture books

Excelsior! Stan Lee has a picture book biography!

With Great Power: The Marvelous Stan Lee (An Unauthorized Biography), by Annie Hunter Eriksen/Illustrated by Lee Gatlin, (Oct. 2021, Page Street Kids), $18.99, ISBN: 9781645672852

Ages 4-8

Gone but never forgotten (or, if you’re like me, maybe you prefer to think he’s hanging out with The Watcher somewhere), Stan Lee changed the faces of comic books forever: from The Hulk and the Fantastic Four, to the X-Men and the Avengers, he collaborated with industry giants like Jack Kirby and Steve Ditko, to give us heroes that were super AND human. With Great Power is a wonderful tribute to our “generalissimo”, beginning with Stanley Lieber’s spare childhood in New York City, his job at Timely Comics, which, along with his love of books and fantasy led to him becoming an editor while still in his teens, and ultimately, his work creating superheroes that have since become household names: Spider-Man, Iron Man, Doctor Strange, Black Panther, and so many more. The book even mentions “Stan’s Soapbox”, a column in Marvel comics where Stan would take on issues of the day like racism, sexism, and enjoying comics, no matter your age. (You can also buy the collected Soapboxes!) The comic book artwork is loaded with heroes that even casual fans will recognize; toned in sepia as we look back to Stan’s earlier years, things come to life when his career takes off. There’s a diverse crowd thronging as he walks a red carpet, a host of Marvel superheroes following him, and he’s surrounded by a diverse group of superhero fans, dressed as their favorites, at the story’s close. Back matter includes some more Stan facts and a bibliography, and endpapers are a collection of comic book exclamations, which you’ll also discover as you read the story. A fitting tribute for a man who gave his life to comic books. Make sure to check out the free activity guide. Display and booktalk with Boys of Steel by Marc Tyler Nobleman; the book profiles the lives of Superman creators Joe Shuster and Jerry Siegel.

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.