Posted in Fiction, Graphic Novels, Middle Grade, picture books, Preschool Reads

Picture books by graphic novelists and a graphic novel to welcome your week

How’s everyone doing? Are you all getting the hang of school this year just yet? Me, neither. But I do have some fun books to share, so let’s greet Monday with cheery stories.

 

My Pencil and Me, by Sara Varon, (Sept. 2020, First Second), $18.99, ISBN: 9781596435896

Ages 3-7

I love a good meta picture book, and Sara Varon’s latest, My Pencil and Me, fits that bill wonderfully. Sara herself stars in this story, along with her dog, Sweet Pea, and her special pencil. Not sure what to draw, Sara turns to Pencil for advice, and Pencil is ready and willing to guide her! What unfolds is an entertaining romp through the creative process, where Pencil encourages Sara to “go around and collect ideas”, and “draw recent adventures”. Deciding on the setting of a baseball game she attended last week, Sara creates characters and adds a plot: in this case, a baseball game between imaginary and real friends. When an inevitable conflict arises, Sara must put her story in the hands of the imaginary friends to save the day! It’s adorable, it’s filled with humor, and is a smart guide to creative writing that kids will love. A photo of Varon with the real Pencil and Sweet Pea, and some imaginary friends hanging around, places the reader and makes things a little more tangible. Endpapers highlight different pencils, pens, and paintbrushes strewn about the white background, with our very own Pencil smiling up at us, illustrated, and standing out on its own.

Sara Varon’s artwork is always so much fun to enjoy, with imaginative creatures and animals alongside people and real(ish) situations. There’s overall narration and word bubbles, and panels throughout, making this another addition to picture book/graphic novel shelves. She’s great at capturing small moments, and she’s great at telling larger scale stories, all with her relatable author’s voice and charming artwork. Invite your littles to tell you their own story using Pencil’s guidelines – and, of course, have plenty of Pencils on hand for your littles to personify for themselves. (Or crayons, naturally!)

 

Julia’s House Moves On, by Ben Hatke, (Sept. 2020, First Second), $18.99, ISBN: 9781250191373

Ages 4-8

In a sequel to Ben Hatke’s 2014 story Julia’s House for Lost Creatures, Julia, her house full of friends, and the House itself all realize that it’s time to move on. The only thing is, things don’t always go to plan, and when things get underway before Julia’s plans are ready, she’s got to do some quick thinking. Because Julia always has a plan. The story of what to do when life gets in the way of your plans, Julia’s House Moves On is about endurance, resilience, and maybe – just maybe – the fact that sometimes, it’s okay to throw your plans to the wind.

I have been a Ben Hatke fan for a long time now, and his work never ceases to bring the wonder. Julia’s House Moves On has stunning watercolor work and a story that brings heartache and joy in equal parts. Moments like Julia’s House soaring through the sky; a Sea Queen holding the House in her hands; moments like these and so many more are just breathtaking to behold. There’s magic in these pages. A must-add for your dreamers and your planners alike.

The Nutcracker and the Mouse King: The Graphic Novel, by E.T.A. Hoffman/Illustrated and Adapted by Natalie Andrewson, (Sept. 2020, First Second), $18.99, ISBN: 9781596436817

Ages 7-10

Let the holiday book love commence! The graphic novel retelling of the beloved Nutcracker classic is both fantastic and surreal. Organized into 14 chapters, the story of Marie and Fritz Stahlbaum has all the characters readers have come to know – or discover: Fritz’s Hussar soldiers and Marie’s doll, Miss Clarette, the wicked Mouse King and his army, and the Nutcracker. The story unfolds like a fever dream, shifting between Marie’s dreams and the wide-awake storytimes told by their godfather, the children’s uncle Drosselmeyer. It’s manic, often creepy, and a new spin on the classic tale. Give this to your adventure and fantasy fans. An author’s note talks about the original story versus the adaptation that Natalie Andrewson ‘wanted to tell’.

A frenetic adventure that’s going to be read at Christmastime and beyond.

Posted in Graphic Novels, Preschool Reads, Toddler Reads

Sara Varon’s Hold Hands eases fears

Hold Hands, by Sara Varon, (June 2019, First Second), $17.99, ISBN: 9781596435889

Ages 3-6

It’s a day in the life of a preschooler in this adorable graphic novel by award-winning graphic novelist Sara Varon. Her adorable animal characters all hold hands: camels hold hands with giraffes, the sun and the moon share a hand-to-hand clasp as they pass in the sky, cats and dogs walk hand-in-hand, even the title page of the book sports colorful letters with sweet, smiling faces, holding onto one another. The whole day is seen as a series of hand-holding moments: a little bear holds hands with his mother, father, and brother during morning routines and on the way to daycare; holds hands with teachers and friends during the school day; during playdates; on the way home, and during bedtime stories and nighttime routines. The rhyming text is short and sweet, assuring readers that every time is a good time to hold hands: “Hold hands when the day is new, when you need a pal, or when one needs you”; “Hold hands with your buddy when you’re on the go, especially if your teacher tells you so”. The illustrations are colorful, boldly outlined, and loaded with sweet details, like a father wearing bunny slippers, or a heart charm hanging off a mom’s rear view mirror. Sara Varon emphasizes the power of connection by creating little starbursts around each hand-holding relationship.

Hold Hands is perfect for kids in daycare and preschool, and it’s an adorable testament to the power of physical contact. A must-have.

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

Socially smart storytelling: Sara Varon’s New Shoes

New Shoes, by Sara Varon, (March 2018, First Second), $17.99, ISBN: 9781596439207

Recommended for readers 8-12

Francis the Donkey is the best shoemaker in his village, using the finest materials to handcraft beautiful shoes. One day, he gets the most exciting news: his favorite calypso singer, Miss Manatee, is coming to sing in his village, and she wants him to create a special pair of new shoes just for her! He’s so excited, but he’s out of the special tiger grass that’s integral to his shoe designs. He asks his friend and supplier, Nigel the Squirrel Monkey, to go into the jungle and get some more tiger grass, but when Monkey doesn’t come back as expected, Francis has to go find him… will he get back to his village AND be able to make Miss Manatee’s shoes on time?

I am a Sara Varon fan. I loved Sweater Weather, and my library kids adore Robot Dreams. I love her cartoony illustration, her bright colors, and in the case of New Shoes, the deeper messages found in her story. Francis is a genuinely kind character who is mortified when he discovers that his shoe materials have been acquired via shady means, and immediately sets to putting things right. When Francis realizes he has to make special accommodations for his newest client, he does the work, researching how to make the best footwear for Miss Manatee. Nigel is big enough to admit his mistakes, apologizes, and helps Francis grow his own materials responsibly.  There are strong messages about fair trade and honesty, good business practices, sustainability, and consideration of others’ differences to be found here, all told in a story that kids can understand without dumbing down the message. It’s smart storytelling with a social conscience that respects the reader. What more can you ask from your books?

I can’t wait to put New Shoes on my graphic novel shelves. It’s got a little nonfiction snuck in, as Francis travels, with his guide book, through the South American jungle and encounters such inhabitants as the capybara, jaguar, and three-toed sloth; it’s got a moral compass, a main character who loves calypso music, and it’s just fun reading.

 

Posted in Early Reader, Fiction

Forget Democrat or Republican, Vote SQUID!

presidentsquid_1President Squid, by Aaron Reynolds/Illustrated by Sara Varon (March 2016, Chronicle Books), $16.99, ISBN: 9781452136479

Recommended for ages 5-8

This is a big election year, so get read for tons of election books – we had the adorable Monster Needs Your Vote last year, which also taught young readers a little bit about the election process, and this year, we’ve got President Squid, by Aaron Reynolds and Sara Varon, two of my favorite authors/illustrators: Aaron Reynolds, who’s given us great books like Superhero School, Chicks and Salsa, and Creepy Carrots, and Sara Varon, who’s most recently re-published her all-ages graphic novel, Sweater Weather, along with favorites like Bake Sale and Odd Duck.

Squid has had a huge realization: There’s never been a giant squid president before! He’s more than ready and willing to take on the job, and he’s got five reasons why: He wears a tie (very presidential); he’s got a TITANIC house (get it? Titanic?); Presidents are famous (Squid has a book named after him, after all); they get to do all the talking, and most importantly, Presidents are the BIG BOSSES. Since Squid is pretty bossy, he’s a shoo-in, right? Well… maybe. When Squid realizes that being President is hard work, he sets his sights on an even bigger office.

Much like younger readers, Squid knows that being President is a big, important job, but he only sees the tip of the iceberg, so to speak. President Squid is good fun; a book that can start conversations as to what a President’s real duties are, as opposed to what Squid sees. You can even talk about why the President is considered a big boss; why does he wear a tie? What makes him famous, and what’s the name of the President’s big house? Homeschool Journeys has a great printable pack of election-related worksheets and activities that can accompany a reading of the story. Chronicle also has a free, downloadable activity kit to accompany President Squid, with printables that let you make your own election!

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The ink and brush artwork on Bristol paper, colored in Photoshop, is fun and eye-catching. Black font is expressive and bold, making for a fun, easy-to-read storytime or independent reading selection.

Remember to Vote Squid (hey, you can even make up Monster vs. Squid election buttons for a book battle!) and add this to your collections if you’re looking for some fun, election-related books for younger readers.

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Aaron Reynolds is a Caldecott honoree and New York Times bestselling author. Sara Varon is a recipient of a Sendak Award Fellowship and an Eisner nominee – together, they’re unstoppable!

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

It’s Sweater Weather! (the graphic novel, not the forecast)

sweater weatherSweaterweather, by Sara Varon (Feb. 2016, First Second), $19.99, ISBN: 9781626721180

Recommended for ages 10+

You may have seen Sara Varon’s work before – she’s given us fun, all-ages graphic novels like Bake Sale, Chicken & Cat, and Odd Duck, and we’ll also be getting President Squid this year (review coming). She draws friendly, fun animals (and squids) in a cartoon style that makes you just want to curl up with these characters, have a cup of tea, and chat.

Sweaterweather is a re-issue of the original 2003 version, with extra stories and content. It’s done in two-color, and is part graphic novel story collection, part peek into Sara Varon’s creative brain. We have stories, essays, and journal entries existing together, an invite for kids and teens to take a load off and enjoy socially awkward animals wandering around Brooklyn and hey, while you’re here, see what goes on in the mind of a creative person!

Kids who love graphic novels and animal fiction will enjoy Sweaterweather for the stories. Creative kids will appreciate the big picture Sara Varon displays for them, and maybe, get them journaling and doodling on their own.

Sara Varon’s author website is great for burgeoning artists and fans. There are sections devoted to her books and illustrations, updates, and links to pages for her favorite illustrators and designers. She’s also an award-winning author/illustrator: Odd Duck was selected by Kirkus Reviews as one of the Best Children’s Books of 2013, Bake Sale was named a YALSA Great Graphic Novel for 2012, and Robot Dreams was on Oprah’s Kids’ Reading List in 2008. In 2013, Sara Varon was a Maurice Sendak Fellowship recipient.

Here’s a sneak peek at some of the artwork from Sweaterweather.

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