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 Middle Grade, Middle School, Non-Fiction, Non-fiction, Tween Reads

NatGeo’s Our Country’s Presidents: Essential Desk Reference

Our Country’s Presidents: A Complete Encyclopedia of the U.S Presidency (2020 Edition), by Ann Bausum, (Jan. 2021, National Geographic Kids), $24.99, ISBN: 978-1-42637199-8

Ages 8-13

This latest update to the NatGeo desk reference includes coverage of the 2020 Presidential election and results. Every U.S. President, from George Washington to Joe Biden, has a profile; there are full-page official portraits, and over 400 illustrations, from period artwork to contemporary black-and-white and color photographs. Six sections examine the Presidency in different eras: The Presidency and How it Grew 1789-1837; From Sea to Shining Sea 1837-1861; A New Birth of Freedom 1861-1897; America Takes Center Stage 1897-1945; Seeking Stability in the Atomic Age 1945-1989; and Pathways for a New Millennium 1989-Present. Each presidential profile includes a facts-at-a-glance box with the President’s signature and fast facts, including landmarks, political party, number of terms, Vice President, and terms of office. Thematic spreads explain important themes to emerge and define different presidencies, and reference aids help direct learners to more resources. A comprehensive resource and great desk reference; get a copy for your Reference section and for your circulating collection if you have the budget.

Posted in picture books, Preschool Reads

A warm welcome to Champ and Major, and an Inaugural ReadAloud

Let’s celebrate this big day by coming together to welcome Champ and Major to the White House! You can watch the highlights from Major’s official “Indoguration” here. Fans of the First Pups can also enjoy Champ and Major: First Dogs, by Joy McCullough and Sheyda Abvabi Best.

Champ and Major: First Dogs, by Joy McCullough/Illustrated by Sheyda Abvabi Best,
(Jan. 2021, Dial Books), $17.99, ISBN: 9780593407141
Ages 3-6

 

A Friends group in my library system held an Inauguration storytime yesterday; two of the selections were Dr. Jill Biden’s Joey and Kamala Harris’s Superheroes are Everywhere. If you’re planning a similar event, consider adding these to your lineup.

 

Joey: The Story of Joe Biden, by Dr. Jill Biden with Kathleen Krull/Illustrated by Amy June Bates,

(June 2020, Paula Wiseman Books), $19.99, ISBN: 9781534480537

Ages 5-8

 

Superheroes are Everywhere, by Kamala Harris/Illustrated by Mechel Renee Roe,

(Jan. 2019, Philomel Books), $17.99, ISBN: 9781984837493

Ages 3-7

 

 

Posted in Intermediate, Non-Fiction, picture books

Black Lives, Black History

The Big Day, by Terry Lee Caruthers/Illustrated by Robert Casilla, (Oct. 2020, Star Bright Books), $16.99, ISBN: 978-1-59572-913-2

Ages 5-8

This celebration of suffrage and Black women voters is a fictionalized story of Agnes Sadler, the first Black woman to legally vote in Knoxville, Tennessee, in 1919. Agnes, called Big Mama here, wakes her daughter Tansy up and urges her to get moving; today is a “big day”, after all. Tansy and Big Mama dress in their finest, get on the bus, and head to the polls; it’s voting day and women have the vote! A lovely tribute to Black women’s suffrage, Agnes and the other women voters proudly wear sashes; the Black women belong to the “Colored Women’s Political League”, and the white women wear “Votes for Women” sashes. The artwork is colorful, soft, and carries a beautiful, historic feel to it. Endpapers are made up of newspaper articles about women’s suffrage, and back matter provides more information about Agnes Sadler, women’s suffrage and Black women’s role in suffrage, and sources for further reading. A great introduction to Black women’s history, and a good picture book biography on a little-known figure in Black suffrage.

For more information about African American Women and the suffrage movement, visit the Suffragist Memorial, the Black Women’s Suffrage Digital Collection, and National Geographic.

A Voice Named Aretha, by Katheryn Russell-Brown/Illustrated by Laura Freeman, (Jan. 2020, Bloomsbury Kids USA), $17.99, ISBN: 9781681198507

Ages 5-8

All hail the Queen of Soul! This picture book biography on Aretha Franklin starts from her beginnings, singing in her father’s church choir through her singing for President Barack Obama (and bringing him to tears). Covering Aretha’s social justice work, Katheryn Russell-Brown notes that Aretha refused to perform for “whites only” audiences and her work with civil rights groups and philanthropy. Laura Freeman’s artwork brings Aretha Franklin to life with rich colors and passionate renderings; Aretha’s head thrown back as she sings and plays the piano at 12; clasping her hands to her chest as she belts out a song in the choir, and Barack Obama wiping a tear away as he listens to a lushly garbed Franklin sing onstage. Endpapers are a feast of vinyl and gold records on a deep purple background. Back matter provides more information about Aretha Franklin’s life and music and some of her hit songs. A must-have in your picture book biography section, this is an excellent introduction to a music and civil rights icon.

A Voice Named Aretha has starred reviews from Kirkus and School Library Journal.

 

William Still and His Freedom Stories: The Father of the Underground Railroad, by Don Tate, $18.99, ISBN: 978-1-56145-935-3

Ages 5-8

Written in free verse, Don Tate’s biography of William Still, abolitionist, member of the Underground Railroad, and archivist of stories that reunited families, is simply incredible. Born to former slaves living in New Jersey, William Still grew up with a desire to learn and a desire for justice. He moved to Philadelphia and worked with the Anti-Slavery Society, where he took on greater roles, ultimately becoming part of the Underground Railroad. When he reunited his long-lost brother with his family, Still began keeping extensive notes on the people he spoke with, leading to more reunions. The verse is concise but packs emotional punches, like this moment where he meets his brother, Peter: “The man was middle-aged. / Stooped back. Furrowed brow. / Threadbare clothes. / His name was Peter. / He was looking for his mother, his family.” Endpapers include excerpts from Still’s observations. Digital illustrations are emotional and expressive. Another must-have picture book biography. Publisher Peachtree has an excerpt, teacher’s guide, and poster on their website.

William Still and His Freedom Stories: The Father of the Underground Railroad has starred reviews from School Library Journal, Booklist, and Publisher’s Weekly.

 

 

Mary Seacole: Bound for the Battlefield, by Susan Goldman Rubin/Illustrated by Richie Pope, (Oct. 2020, Candlewick Press), $17.99, ISBN: 9780763679941

Ages 8-11

This intermediate picture book biography on Crimean War figure Mary Seacole, born in Kingston, Jamaica, begins with her childhood in Kingston, watching her healer mother care for soldiers with herbal remedies and hoping to be like her one day, through her own healing work with soldiers during the Crimean War and cholera patients in Panama. The book deep dives into the racism she encountered as a biracial woman, including a run-in with Florence Nightingale, who scoffed at her remedies and cures and refused her services. Drawn from Mary Seacole’s own writing, this biography is comprehensive for younger readers, with richly colorful and evocative illustrations. Back matter includes sources notes and a bibliography. An important biography for younger readers.

 

Northbound: A Train Ride Out of Segregation, by Michael S. Bandy & Eric Stein/Illustrated by James E. Ransome, (Oct. 2020, Candlewick Press), $17.99, ISBN: 9780763696504

Ages 6-8

Inspired by author Michael S. Bandy’s memories of taking the train as a child of color during segregation, Northbound tells the story of a boy of color and a white boy becoming friends on a train ride from Alabama to Cincinnati, amid the shifting segregation seating on the train. Young Michael boards the train and goes to the “colored only” section, but when the train leaves Atlanta, the signs come down and he’s free to roam the train. He meets Bobby Ray, a boy his own age and from his own town, and the two become instant friends. Once the train approaches Chattanooga, though, the signs go back up and the new friends are separated. A heart-rending story of separation and segregation, Northbound ends with a spark of hope. The story explains segregation in its most basic terms to children, and encourages discussion about how the story – and our past – parallels with our present. James A. Ransome’s watercolor and collage artwork creates splendid scenery as the train speeds along and the two boys become friends over the course of a train ride; moments of racism, as when the conductor leads Michael out of the “whites only” car when the train approaches Chattanooga, are emotional; the “whites only” harsh white sign stands out like an ugly scar across a lovely painting. An author’s note explains the Interstate Commerce Act and how segregation played into it.

Northbound: A Train Ride Out of Segregation has starred reviews from Kirkus and Publishers Weekly.

Posted in Animal Fiction, Fiction, Fiction, Graphic Novels, Intermediate, Middle Grade, Non-Fiction, Teen, Young Adult/New Adult

Springtime reading: April Graphic Novels

Cannabis: The Illegalization of Weed in America, by Box Brown, (Apr. 2019, First Second), $24.99, ISBN: 9781250154088

Ages 14+

Award-winning graphic novelist Box Brown is back with the real story of how cannabis – weed, marijuana, reefer – went from being a plant used for spiritual purposes to being labeled a gateway drug that caused “reefer madness”. How did it happen, you say? Racism. Politics. Propaganda.  Scare tactics. The usual song and dance. Box Brown has done his research and, combined with his minimalist artwork, presents a tale that will have you seeing the politics of marijuana (the origin of that name is in here, too, and it’s a doozy) in an entirely new light.

The War on Drugs started long before Nancy Reagan went on Diff’rent Strokes and told kids to “just say no”, and the fallout has targeted minorities – primarily young black men – and left thousands imprisoned for minor infractions. Studies have purposely included falsified data and allowed Harry J. Anslinger, the first commissioner of the Federal Bureau of Narcotics, to perpetuate his war against narcotics by weaponizing moral outrage and using propaganda to get the plant a schedule 1 classification, putting it on par with heroin.

Ignatz Award winner Box Brown has a gift for nonfiction. While he’s primarily done biographical graphic novels thus far, including Andre the Giant, Andy Kaufman, and the rise of the video game Tetris, Cannabis is a thoroughly researched, fully realized, history of marijuana, from its earliest recorded uses through the present day. It’s a good add for your young adult/new adult collections and could be a good selection for a book group, especially with its increasing legality and medicinal usage.

Peter and Ernesto: The Lost Sloths, by Graham Annable, (Apr. 2018, First Second), $17.99, ISBN: 9781626725720

Ages 6-10

It’s the return of my favorite sloth buddies! Peter and Ernesto are back, and they’ve got a new adventure when a hurricane blows their beloved tree away! Peter, Ernesto, and the rest of their sloth friends must set out to find a new tree. A great tree. A tree just like the one they had, preferably. As they journey through the jungle, there are new dangers to brave: angry ants, slithering snakes, running pigs, and a very hungry jaguar! Ernesto is up to the challenge, but poor Peter… well, Peter’s going to need his best friend next to him as they lead their friends to a new tree. And maybe, a new friend or two along the way.

I love this new series! The two friends are like the Bert and Ernie of sloth civilization, with idealistic, upbeat Ernesto and cautious, nervous Peter acting as counterbalances to each other. The new animals the group meets as they venture through the jungle are hilarious, and the twist near the end will have your readers cheering. It’s emotional to see the sloths survey the damage to their tree, and it adds a depth to Peter’s and Ernesto’s characters as they take on the responsibility of shepherding their group to a new home. It’s just as emotional to see them find a new tree and the final resolution will just make you feel good. Peter and Ernesto is feel-good reading, and who doesn’t need more of that?

I can’t wait to see where life takes them next. Add this to your graphic novels collections and talk them up! Make a Best Friends display and make sure to include Frog & Toad, Elephant and Piggie, Narwhal & Jelly, and Duck and Porcupine.

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

YA Crossover Fiction: New Dark Ages

New Dark Ages, by Warren Kinsella, (Dec. 2018, Dundurn), $14.99, ISBN: 9781459742154

Ages 16+

The second book in Warren Kinsella’s X-Gang series, while set in the ’80s, sees the rise of a candidate that’s eerily familiar: Earl Turner is an all-American guy running for President on a “White is Right” platform, and the country seems to be eating it up. His numbers are going up, his rallies are teeming with supporters, and, most distressing to Kurt Blank and the rest of the X Gang, their former drummer, Danny Hate, is right smack in the middle of it. He went “conservative” after incidents from the first novel (Recipe for Hate, 2017), but to be showing up at political rallies as Earl Turner’s right-hand man? Meanwhile, dead punks are being discovered in cities right after the Nasties’ – the X Gang’s band – shows, and Kurt’s drug habit is starting to become a problem.

Set in the ’80s, New Dark Ages is a reminder that we haven’t come as far – or is it fallen as far? – as we thought we may have. Earl Turner has that jock appeal that went over so well at the time, with the current administration’s open malice for anyone not like him. The narrative tends to jump around a bit, though, and while there’s some good punk culture fiction happening here, along with potentially interesting political intrigue, there are too many balls in the air to keep a cohesive storyline in play.

Is New Dark Ages YA? Not necessarily, but it’s got crossover potential. The characters are in the age range, and confronting issues that will most definitely affect their futures. It’s an additional purchase if you’ve got readers interested in punk culture (including us Gen X readers who were around at the time) and politically charged fiction.

 

Posted in Non-Fiction, Teen, Tween Reads, Women's History

Votes for Women! Suffrage was a fight every inch of the way.

Votes for Women! American Suffragists and the Battle for the Ballot, by Winifred Conkling, (Feb. 2018, Algonquin Young Readers), $19.95, ISBN: 9781616207342

Recommended for readers 12+

Winifred Conkling is emerging as a definitive chronicler of women’s history. Passenger on the Pearl told the story of Emily Edmondson, who escaped slavery and dedicated her life to education young African-American women; Radioactive! gave long-overdue props to Irène Curie & Lise Meitner, whose work on radioactivity was often overlooked in a male-dominated field; now, Votes for Women gives us a comprehensive history of the fight for American suffrage, long before women finally won the right to vote in 1920. For readers who may only be familiar with Susan B. Anthony, this volume is indispensable, introducing readers to Elizabeth Cady Stanton; Susan B. Anthony’s counterpart and founder of the suffrage movement, and Alice Paul, who took her cue from the more action-oriented British suffrage movement, and went to jail for the cause, where she and fellow protestors suffered deplorable conditions and were force-fed. We meet Victoria Woodhull, the first female Presidential candidate, and revisit Sojourner Truth’s famous speech, “Ain’t I A Woman?” Most importantly, we learn about the beginnings of intersectional feminism; when abolitionists and suffragists found common ground – and then diverged under political fire.

This is a comprehensive book, complete with photos, primary sources, and writing that never turns away from the more difficult moments in the battle for the vote: from racism to violence, it’s all here. It’s a good book for your nonfiction collections and women’s history collections for middle school and high school, with extensive primary source references, a timeline of American women’s suffrage, a bibliography, notes, and an index. Booktalk this with the graphic novel, Sally Heathcote: Suffragette by Mary M. and Bryan Talbot, which features a fictional character from the British movement, and is a great hook to get teens interested. A Mighty Girl has a strong list of additional reading, filtered by age, on suffrage.

 

 

Posted in History, Middle Grade, Non-Fiction, Non-fiction, Teen, Tween Reads

Important Reading: Fault Lines in the Constitution

Fault Lines in the Constitution: The Framers, Their Fights, and the Flaws that Affect Us Today, by Cynthia Levinson and Sanford Sanford, (Sept. 2017, Peachtree Publishers), $19.95, ISBN: 9781561459452

Recommended for readers 10-14

You don’t need a political science degree to see that it’s been a pretty tumultuous year for our country. You don’t even need to watch the news: stick a toe into the social media waters or just go out in public, and you’ll hear all about our current political climate. What tweens and teens may not realize is that a lot of the political issues we’re struggling with today have their roots in the U.S. Constitution. Husband and wife scholars Cynthia and Sanford Levinson examine this document in detail, from its creation to the present, to point out fault lines – cracks in our foundation – how other countries may deal with similar issues, and suggestions for how to address the flaws.

Big-ticket takeaways include the Electoral College and state-by-state representation: how it’s great to be a tiny state, not so much a big state. An honest, no-holds barred look at our governing document, Fault Lines in the Constitution is an important book to have in libraries and classrooms today, tomorrow, and for years to come. Includes a timeline, extensive notes, bibliography, and index. Fault Lines in the Constitution received starred reviews from School Library Journal, Kirkus, and Booklist.

 

Cynthia Levinson holds degrees from Wellesley College and Harvard University and also attended the Lyndon B. Johnson School of Public Affairs. A former teacher and educational policy consultant and researcher, she is the author of the award-winning and critically-acclaimed We’ve Got a Job: The 1963 Birmingham Children’s March. Sanford Levinson is an American legal scholar and a professor at the University of Texas Law School. He holds degrees from Duke, Stanford, and Harvard universities and is the author of several adult works of nonfiction.

Posted in Early Reader, Fiction, Fiction, Intermediate

Isabella is a Girl in Charge as she channels historic women

isabella_covIsabella: Girl in Charge, by Jennifer Fosberry/Illustrated by Mike Litwin, (Oct. 2016, Sourcebooks Jabberwocky), $16.99, ISBN: 9781492641735

Recommended for ages 4-8

Isabella, the little purple-haired girl with the big imagination, is back in her fourth adventure: this time, she’s going all the way to the nation’s capital! Isabella wakes her parents up bright and early; they’ve got a big day ahead of them and Isabella doesn’t want to miss a second. As she and her family get ready to head out, Isabella imagines she’s different females politicians, first in their fields, from the first mayor to the first Supreme Court Justice. Isabella and her family have an important day to be part of: history is being made!

A good idea in theory, younger readers may need some prompting when first hearing the story; these names will largely be unfamiliar to them. Anyone reading the story out loud should mention beforehand that the women Isabella names are the first women in politics and what office they held. Kids will be better able to pick up subtle in-jokes in the text, too; for instance: When Isabella claims to be “Susanna, mayor of this here town,” her mother responds, “I don’t think we’re in Kansas anymore.” If the children understand that Susanna Salter was the first female mayor, and she was mayor in Kansas, it’ll be more fun for them. Isabella’s adorable stuffed friend is with her, dressed in period clothing, in each spread – see if your readers can spot him (or her, if they like)!

isabella_1

Mike Litwin’s art, done with blueline pencil and Adobe Photoshop, is fun and emphasis on key words like names and identifying characteristics adds some punch. Brief biographies, quotes, and a timeline of women in politics, along with a list of books and websites for further reference, round out Isabella’s latest adventure.

isabella_2

The book is a good start for introducing younger readers to women in politics, and how long we’ve been around! It’s more of a companion volume to a lesson rather than a standalone. I haven’t seen an educator’s guide or activity kit yet, but there are some great resources about women and politics online, including printouts at Time for Kids. Most of the available information is branded for Women’s History Month, but we’re at a historic crossroads in history – celebrate women in politics NOW!

Jennifer Fosberry and Sourcebooks both offer links to Educator Guides for other books in the Isabella series and the companion book, My Name is Not Alexander. Illustrator Mike Litwin has samples of his artwork and animation on his site.

Posted in Fantasy, Science Fiction, Teen

Love and conflict: Inherit the Stars by Tessa Elwood

9780762458400Inherit the Stars, by Tessa Elwood (Dec. 2015, Running Press), $9.95, ISBN: 9780762458400

Recommended for ages 13+

Three interplanetary systems ruled by three royal families: Fane, Westlet, and Galton. Each family wants something the other families have, be it fuel, food, or other resources. Wren, the eldest daughter of the House of Fane, is on life support after a tragic accident off-world; Asa, the youngest daughter, scrambling to keep Wren on life support, takes her middle sister’s place in marriage to the House of Westlet.

There is political and familial intrigue aplenty in this story, with a budding romance set against this sci-fi tale. I kept thinking of Frank Herbert’s Dune, which seems to have influenced the familial/political plotting and counter-plotting. While this is the first part in a new science fiction duology, readers are dropped into the story without much origin or background, and it took me a little bit to get my sea legs as I read and tried to work my way into the story. I hope to see some richer background information in the next book.

Inherit the Stars takes place in a feudal society, with the view that marriage is primarily an arrangement. The main characters’ parents vacillate between apathy and concern for their children, but more likely, concern for their own standing. Asa meets her husband, Eagle, at their arranged wedding, but sees something in him that appeals to her, and their love develops fairly quickly. For this first book, eldest sister Wren exists primarily to set Asa’s plot in motion, but I hope that we learn more about her in future stories.

Inherit the Stars is a good example of the conflicts that arise when politics invades families’ personal lives. It’s light science fiction for readers who want to dip a toe into the sci-fi pool, but want something heavier on relationships and lighter on spaceships. Collections that could use some lighter sci-fi should add this one to their shelves.