Posted in picture books, Preschool Reads

Itty-Bitty-Kitty-Corn will steal your heart

Itty-Bitty Kitty-Corn, by Shannon Hale/Illustrated by LeUyen Pham, (March 2021, Abrams Books for Young Readers), $18.99, ISBN: 9781419750915

Ages 4-8

An adorable pink, fluffy kitten is positive she’s a unicorn. She feels like one on the inside, so she must be… a Kitty-Corn! Her friends, a parakeet and a gecko, insist that there’s no way she’s anything other than a cat -she meows in her sleep, after all! – , When a unicorn shows up to change all of that by saying that he, too, feels like a Kitty-Corn, these two new friends see one another for who they really are. Adorably illustrated, with just too-cute, huggable, expressive animals, Itty-Bitty Kitty-Corn is a story of identity and seeing others for who they really are. A spread where Kitty tells Unicorn, “I see you” is beautiful; a lovely statement on visibility and existence; of knowing yourself and seeing others – and most importantly, letting others know that you see them.  Cheerful, appealing characters and a lovely story flow make this a great storytime read-aloud. Publisher Abrams has a free activity kit with coloring pages. Consider this book, and Lulu is a Rhinoceros, for Visibility Days storytimes and displays.

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

Shannon Hale Talks Cool Kids, Crybabies, and Real Friends

Real Friends, by Shannon Hale/Illustrated by LeUyen Pham, (May 2017, :01 First Second), $12.99, ISBN: 978-1-62672-785-4

Recommended for readers 8-13

How do I even start my gushing over Shannon Hale’s memoir about family, friendship, and growing pains? I’m a Shannon Hale fan and a LeUyen Pham fan; their collaborations – like on one of my favorite chapter book series, Princess in Black – work so well, visually and literally, it’s a treat for the eyes, the imagination, the whole reader is satisfied.

Here, we see young Shannon’s life from Kindergarten through fifth grade in terms of her relationships; with her mother, a series of friends, her troubled and sometimes abusive sister, and with God. Primarily, this is a story of how Shannon struggled with The Group. We all know The Group. Mean Girls was a story about The Group; just about every high school or middle school movie or TV show has a Group. It’s the in-crowd, the girls who make lives miserable for everyone that isn’t part of their group – and sometimes, even for the people in the group. Shannon desperately wants friends, but with friends comes the stress of being part of The Group and putting up with the mind games and backstabbing that is aimed at her by another jealous group member. At home, she tries to navigate relationships with her large family, trying to give her temperamental sister, Wendy, a wide berth.

We see the effects of stress on Shannon, who develops OCD-type behavior and manifests physical ailments often associated with anxiety. We also see how Shannon copes by creating her imaginary worlds – she’s a Wonder Woman, a Charlie’s Angel, a secret agent, and she brings her friends along for the ride. This book is powerful for a girl who, like Shannon, grew up in the ’70s, disappeared into my own imagination, and struggled for years with Groups and backstabbing. I’m an only child, but Shannon could have been writing about me – and that’s how readers will feel reading this book, just like readers do when they read literally anything by Raina Telgemeier.

Readers will know this is their story, whether they’re an 8 year old kid or a 46 year old librarian and book blogger; maybe there’s a boy out there who, like Shannon or Kayla, another character, hides in the bushes so no one will see them crying and make fun of them. Real Friends is painful, real, and beautiful.

Real Friends received a starred review from School Library Journal, and Kirkus offers an interview with Shannon and Dean Hale. Wander over to Shannon Hale’s author page for information on her other books, games and quizzes, and more; LeUyen Pham’s webpage is loaded with neat things to see, including a free, downloadable Love: Pass It On poster, and links to her illustration, Facebook, and book pages.

This one is a no-brainer for collections. Display with Victoria Jamieson’s Roller Girl, Raina Telgemeier’s Smile, and Sisters, and novels like Jennifer L. Holm’s Fourteenth Goldfish,  and Dana Alison Levy’s Family Fletcher books. If it’s a display or book talk on self-esteem and standing up to the crowd, make sure to include Kathryn Otoshi’s Zero, One, and Two.