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

More Graphic Novels!

I’ve got more graphic novels! Let’s get to it.

Nori, by Rumi Hara, (May 2020, Drawn & Quarterly), $24.95, ISBN: 978-1-77046-397-4

Ages 10+

Three-year old Noriko – Nori, for short – lives in Japan’s Osaka suburbs and spends most of her time with her grandmother while her parents are working. Set in the 1980s, Nori is all about a little girl’s adventures as she explores the world around her, accompanied by her best friend: her grandmother. The book contains five short stories and is infused with Japanese culture; the events of World War II still reverberate with the adults around Nori, and cultural festivals bring the excitement of the city alive in the pages. Nori brings childhood memories alive for readers: a part in a school play; chasing rabbits and watching neighborhood kids play with crawfish and beetles; she even wins a trip to Hawaii for herself and her grandmother, which leads to a healing moment for a family who’s lost their own matriarch. Black and white artwork has one-color moments for contrast and interest. Nori is a celebration of childhood and the special relationship between a child and grandparent and middle school-aged readers and young teens will especially love this.

Nori has a starred review from Publisher’s Weekly. Read an interview with Rumi Hara on We Need Diverse Books, and visit her website for more information about her work. Nori is a nominee in the 2020 Cybils Graphic Novel category.

 

Marge’s Little Lulu: The Fuzzythingus Poopi, by John Stanley, (Sept. 2020, Drawn and Quarterly), $29.95, ISBN: 9781770463660

Ages 6+

This collection takes me back to my childhood in the best of ways. I used to read Little Lulu reprints when I was growing up, alongside issues of Richie Rich, Casper, and Archie, to name a few. Little Lulu comics were all about the adventures of Little Lulu Moppet and her best friend/frenemy, Tubby; originally published by Dell Comics in the 1940s and 1950s, they’re all about childhood adventures like having snowball fights, trying to gain admission to the “No Girls Allowed” clubhouse, telling stories to a sick friend, and various – hilarious – money-making schemes. This is Drawn and Quarterly’s second Lulu collection, and is filled with reprinted Lulu and Tubby comics, “Lulu’s Diry” diary pages that ran in individual issues, and a cover gallery. The stories are loaded with imagination, like the clip where Lulu houses a ghost who’s been ousted when the house they haunt is torn down; imagines herself in a desert and has to retrieve a nickel from a sewer grate (still in the desert!) by using strands of her hair, leaving her bald. She foils a burglar claiming to be Santa Claus because “he didn’t have a twinkle in his eye!”, and rallies the neighborhood girls together to fight back when they find themselves targeted for snowball attacks by the boys.

Great for new readers who want fun, day-to-day stories of childhood and adults who grew up with Lulu, Tubby, and Alvin. This is a keeper. Read more about The Fuzzythingus Poopi and read an excerpt at publisher Drawn and Quarterly’s page; discover the impact Little Lulu has had on comics, culture, and feminism through this Comics Alliance article and this New Yorker piece.

 

Mary: The Adventures of Mary Shelley’s Great-Great-Great-Great-Great-Granddaughter, by Brea Grant, (Oct. 2020, Six Foot Press), $18.99, ISBN: 978-1644420294

Ages 12-16

Mary is perfect for every goth tween and teen you know. She’s the 5 times great-granddaughter of Frankenstein author Mary Shelley, and she’s from a family of overachieving women dedicated to that legacy. They’re all writers of renown, especially her superstar author mom, who can’t understand… Mary’s ennui? Lack of interest? The fact that she’s not an overachiever in school or life just yet? The thing is, Mary does have a very special family gift, and it makes its debut in these very pages. Mary can heal monsters. Actual, real-life monsters do exist, and Mary discovers that one night when she reattaches one walking dead guy’s foot. He tells his friends, and they tell their friends… and so on, and so on, and so on, as the old commercial goes. Monsters of all sorts show up at Mary’s with some amusing results, and Mary doesn’t know what to do with herself and this gift! Does she walk away from this gift, or does she embrace it?

Work with me: this is relatable! Teens feel the pressure to know what they want to do with their lives by the time they’re seniors in high school. Imagine the stress of being Mary Shelley’s descendant? When there’s a shrine to your many times-great grandmother, who wrote an enduring classic at the age of 19, in your very own home? Imagine discovering you are good at something… it just happens to be something unusual, or different, and the extra stress that can carry with it! Mary is a teen trying to find her way in a family of high-achieving, highly valued women, and isn’t quite sure that being known for healing monsters is what she wants to be known for. To accept her gift and embrace herself is a journey that most tweens and teens can get on board with. Brea Grant’s moody artwork gives great atmosphere to the story, and the dialogue is wonderfully snarky and introspective all at once. Please buy this for your collections and the readers in your life.

Don’t believe me? EW has an excerpt and article on it. Check it out.

 

The League of Super Feminists, by Mirion Malle/Translated by Aleshia Jensen, (Oct. 2020, Drawn and Quarterly), $16.95, ISBN: 9781770464025

Ages 12+

A fantastic guide to feminism for tweens, teens, and beyond, The League of Super Feminists explains the basics of feminism: YES! you can still enjoy princess movies! NO! You don’t have to hate men! What we need everyone – EVERYONE – to understand is how to critically evaluate the media that makes men knights and dragon slayers, and women damsels in distress. That women don’t come in one size: skinny, white, blonde. That women need to build one another up, not tear each other down. That boys and girls can be friends! Diving into such topics as gender, representation, inclusivity, consent, and beauty, The League of Super Feminists uses a range of characters to illustrate and explain these concepts and deconstruct myths and falsehoods for readers. Written like a conversation between the friends, the book is fun, upbeat, and playful, but always self-aware and smart. Mirion Malle never talks down to readers; it’s straight talk that lets everyone know that feminism is good for all, leads to healthy thinking and self-image. A great beginning to an ongoing conversation. See an excerpt on publisher Drawn and Quarterly‘s webpage. Aleishia Jensen’s translation from the original French to English is flawless and picks up all the nuances set forth by Mirion Malle.

Read more about The League of Super Feminists at publisher Drawn and Quarterly’s webpage, including an excerpt on representation. Read an interview with Mirion Malle on We Need Diverse Books.

Psst… makes an excellent holiday gift for the tween in your life. Just saying. The League of Super Feminists is a nominee in the 2020 Cybils Graphic Novel category.

And one to look forward to!

 

Forever Home, by Jenna Ayoub, (Feb. 2021, Boom! Studios), $12.99, ISBN: 9781684156030

Ages 9-13

This sweet, funny haunted house story is perfect reading for kids who are big on comedy. Willow’s a girl who’s been raised all over the world: her parents are in the Army, and that means moving around every couple of years. She’s had to say goodbye to friends too many times, and she doesn’t want to move again! Her parents have just bought Hadleigh House, an old, pink house in need of some TLC, and Willow is happy to finally set down roots: but Gladys and Viola, the ghostly Hadleigh sisters, want their home all to themselves – and the two ghosts that live with them, the Lady and Thomas, a World War I veteran. The sisters raise a ruckus, but they don’t count on the fact that Willow can see and hear them, and she lets them know she isn’t going anywhere. A touching story of belonging and family, Willow is a smart kid who has no problem digging in her heels to stay in the home she loves; Viola and Gladys are delightfully mischievous ghosts, and The Lady’s habit of killing husbands and fiancees is played for laughs as it’s alluded to, never quite addressed. Thomas’s backstory is poignant, and he emerges as a sweet, almost tragic figure. Forever Home has a little bit of comedy, a touch of bittersweet, and enough affection to make this a sure bet for readers who get a kick out of spooky comedies like The Addams Family and The Boxtrolls. Good for middle grade, great for middle school.

 

Posted in picture books, Preschool Reads

Blog Tour: Sometimes A Wall…

A group of children play with walls, both figurative and literal, at the neighborhood playground in this rhyming picture book that explores the feelings that come up when walls enter the conversation. Walls have been a big topic of discussion in our adult lives over the last few years, and a book like Sometimes a Wall… helps put things into perspective for children AND adults.

Sometimes A Wall, by Dianne White/Illustrated by Barroux,
(Oct. 2020, OwlKids), $19.95, ISBN: 9781771473736
Ages 3-7

 

There are so many walls at the playground! A sprinkler can make a spill wall; kids can climb a rock wall. These are walls that invite people to work together, to play together. But some walls come between people, as one child finds out when friends make a wall to hide behind, taunting and being cruel to those left out. Being behind a wall gives children a different point of view, as we see one child adopt a crown and refuse to play with others entirely, and then we discover that walls can separate and bring feelings of isolation and regret. But these kids can look at a wall as a new opportunity, and decide to make it a structure that welcomes everyone in the end. Some paint and a feeling of community is all it takes to mend walls and hearts.

The story is touching, using few words, but they are words that wield power, especially when paired with Barroux’s colorful artwork. When the children work together, there’s color and happy faces; when the wall initially goes up, the landscape is dominated by the giant gray wall, giving the children’s cruel facial expressions even more menace; putting a gray cloud around the child left brings a sadness to their posture and to the reader. The artwork and text work beautifully together, never overwhelming the page or the reader, to tell a moving story as eloquently and simply as possible.

A wonderful book to have ready to read to younger children, and a good choice to have available for school-age children, to start important discussions.

A conversation with a friend got author Dianne White thinking about different kinds of walls, both physical and metaphorical. Sometimes a Wall… is an exploration of these, and, with it, an invitation to take down barriers and find common ground. Dianne’s other books include Green on Green and Who Eats Orange? A long-time elementary school teacher, she lives with her family in Gilbert, Arizona. To learn more, and to download discussion guides and more, visit Dianne’s website at DianneWrites.com. You can follow her on Twitter @diannewrites or on Facebook.

Barroux lives in Paris, France, and has studied photography, art, sculpture, and architecture. His work has been published in The New York Times and The Washington Post. He believes that the world needs fewer walls and more trees. You can follow him on Instagram @barrouxillustrations.

“Rhyme, rhythm, and simple art – all including references to walls – show children expressing different emotions and behaviors… Mending walls for the nursery crowd.” – Kirkus Reviews

Author Dianne White has put together a fantastic packet of information for readers, parents, and educators:

The “Why” Behind the Book

A Letter to Parents and Educators

A Letter to Young Readers

Discussion Guide

Sometimes a Wall… Discussion Guide

 
A lesson in 3 Movements…
Intro to the Unit (PLEASE READ FIRST!)
1st Movement: TOGETHER (I Walk With Vanessa by Kerascoët)
2nd Movement: APART (Draw the Line by Kathryn Otoshi)
3rd Movement: REGRET. NEW START? (Sometimes a Wall… by Dianne White, illustrated by Barroux)
 
Coloring Pages for Younger Students
Posted in Fantasy, Science Fiction, Teen, Young Adult/New Adult

Crossover YA/Adult SFF: The Nobody People

The Nobody People, by Bob Proehl, (Sept. 2019, Del Rey), $27, ISBN: 978-1-5247-9895-6

Ages 16+

What starts with a horrifying killing spree turns into a story about specially powered teens and adults and their alienation from society in this hefty story by Bob Proehl. Avi is a reporter who’s always chasing the the big story, at the expense of his marriage and his faltering relationship with his young daughter, Emmeline. An assignment in Iraq cost him his leg, and while he recuperates at home, a phone call from a police contact starts Avi off on the hunt again: a teenage boy has seemingly disappeared a chunk of a shopping mall food court and a church. How? As Avi begins an investigation into the case, he discovers that superpowered people walk among us, and that his precocious Emmeline is one, too. From there, we get what reads like a dark X-Men alternate universe, complete with a school for Resonants (the name given to the special-powered) run by a benevolent gentleman named Bishop, and a rebellious group of by-any-means-necessary Resonants, with a shadowy player pulling strings behind the scenes. Avi becomes more of a backdrop character to history as the clash between Resonants and “Damps”, as non-powered folks are called, becomes more tense and leads to a violent conclusion.

There’s an incredible amount of character development and world-building in The Nobody People, and the cast is diverse, making characters of color and gender identity primary characters, rather than relegating them to background or “friends” parts. The first half of the book is by far the stronger half, as the second half of the book gets caught up in itself, changing up a strong subplot to rapidly switch gears and justify the inevitable conflict at the conclusion. Overall, I enjoyed The Nobody People and think dedicated SFF (Sci-Fi Fantasy) readers will like it.

Posted in Fantasy, Fiction, Middle Grade, Teen, Tween Reads

The Assassination of Brangwain Spurge is hilarious and thought-provoking. Like the news.

The Assassination of Brangwain Spurge, by MT Anderson/Illustrated by Eugene Yelchin, (Sept. 2018, Candlewick), $24.99, ISBN: 9780763698225

Ages 10-14

Elitist elf (is that an oxymoron?) historian Brangwain Spurge has a mission: go into goblin territory and deliver a gift – a peace offering – from the elf king to the goblin king. Oh, and he’s also supposed to spy on the kingdom, transmitting his thoughts back to the elves so they can get an elf’s-eye view of everything. He’s shot off in a large barrel, and invited to the home of goblin archivist Werfel, who extends every hospitality to Spurge, who is a culturally insensitive, rude, bumbling boob. Naturally, Spurge bungles his spying mission, setting off a cross-kingdom incident that leaves Werfel and Spurge running for their lives, and at one another’s mercies.

This brilliant socio-political comedy of errors is hilariously told by National Book Award winner M.T. Anderson and illustrated by Newbery Honoree Eugene Yelchin, and mixes action and adventure with a tale of friendship, culture clash, and intrigue. Eugene Yelchin’s mixed media, black and white illustrations let readers see what Spurge transmits back to his kingdom, but Anderson’s text lets us know that things aren’t exactly what they seem. So who’s telling the truth? Well… truth is in the eye of the beholder; something we learn as Spurge’s world seems to grow under the long-suffering Werfel’s guidance. There are false assumptions on each side that need to be cleared up, but Brangwain Spurge refuses to see the black marks on elf history, no matter how clear Werfel states it. After all, history is written by the victors.

It isn’t until Spurge creates an incident that puts his, and his host’s, lives in danger that he understands how words and memories can be manipulated. The two share a mutual love of books, and it’s there that they find common ground on which to build a relationship. That, and the fact that they need each other to survive. Want kids to understand Fake News? Put this book in their hands.

The Assassination of Brangwain Spurge is a National Book Award longlist nominee, and has starred reviews from Publisher’s Weekly, Booklist, Kirkus, and The Horn Book.


Posted in picture books

Catalina and the King’s Wall helps explain current events

Catalina and the King’s Wall, by Patty Costello/Illustrated by Diane Cojocaru, (May 2018, Eifrig Publishing LLC), $19.99, ISBN: 9781632331052

Recommended for readers 5-8

Who says cookies don’t solve problems? In a fairy tale that speaks to present-day events, a king decides he doesn’t like the people in a neighboring kingdom and plans to build a wall that will keep them out. Catalina, the king’s baker, has family in the neighboring kingdom and is upset by the news, but she’s got a plan. The king loves her delicious snacks, so she encourages him to build a wall using ingredients like icing, sprinkles, and cookie dough. The first two wash away, but that cookie dough holds fast – until the king finds it irresistible, and eats his way through the whole wall! Catalina cheerfully reunites with her family, and the king never bothers anyone ever again.

Catalina was fully funded through a Kickstarter earlier this year and published earlier this month, and it’s a smart, tongue-in-cheek fairy tale that makes explaining what kids are seeing on the news a little easier to understand. At once parody and social commentary, adults will get subtle winks at lines like, “The king’s face turned from orange to red” and at the king’s framed Time magazine photo in his royal chambers (hey… did he really make the cover of Time?). We’ve got a king obsessed with having his will carried out, and a bright heroine who figures out how to work around his myopia. The watercolor artwork is colorful and bright; the king is not orange-skinned, but does wear orange hose and has a suspiciously familiar curl to the back of his blonde hair; Catalina’s mother wears a hijab.

Pair this one with The Emperor’s New Clothes, get some pre-made cookie dough, and build your own edible wall for Summer Reading. Catalina and the King’s Wall is available online and via the author’s website, which also has an events calendar.

Posted in Fiction, Graphic Novels, Middle Grade, Realistic Fiction, Teen, Tween Reads

Eoin Colfer’s Illegal is a powerful statement on behalf of refugees

Illegal, by Eoin Colfer & Andrew Donkin/Illustrated by Giovanni Rigano, (Aug. 2018, Sourcebooks), $19.99, ISBN: 9781492662143

Recommended for readers 10+

The Artemis Fowl graphic novel team assembles to bring readers a powerful, emotional story about the struggles of undocumented immigrants: in this story, three African siblings. Ebo’s alone. Orphaned and living in squalor, his sister set out months ago to find her way to Europe and a better life, promising to send for Ebo and their brother, Kwame, when she gets settled. But the boys can’t wait any longer, and Kwame sets out next. Ebo follows Kwame, and the brothers endure a journey across the Sahara Desert to find their way to the sea. The journey is inhumane, often unbearable, but Ebo will not be denied. He deals with loss, hunger, and thirst; filthy living conditions; and brutal treatment by nature and man, but he holds out hope to be reunited with his sister, and the promise of a better life somewhere else.

There’s been quite a bit of attention focused on undocumented immigrants, and it’s a conversation we need to continue. War, disease, poverty, and hunger are global problems that force men, women, and children to undergo unthinkable scenarios for the sole purpose of cultivating a better life. Illegal, while fictional, is inspired by true events: just pick up a newspaper or turn on the news. Ebo’s story is one story of millions: the United Nations records 65.6 million people are forcibly displaced worldwide. Told in Ebo’s voice, readers will feel like they are reading a private journal. His voice is strong and clear, and evokes anger, grief, and the desire to do more. The artwork supports the text, laying out the slums of an African neighborhood; the devastating stretch of desert, and the terrifying expanse of the ocean. Ebo’s face will stay with readers long after they finish the book.

(Images courtesy of Entertainment Weekly‘s article)

Illegal should be on every middle school and/or high school’s Summer Reading list, and needs to be discussed in our classrooms and in our homes. The book is currently out in the UK, and there are teaching materials online, including this downloadable one from the U.S. publisher, Sourcebooks. Author Andrew Donkin has articles about Illegal on his website, and Eoin Colfer has the US and UK covers on his website. Entertainment Weekly has a featured excerpt and The Guardian made it the Children’s Book of the Week when it was published in the UK in October 2017.

Illegal was shortlisted for the 2017 Irish Book Awards and was chosen for EmpathyLabUK’s Read for Empathy List (a downloadable copy of which can be found here). I’ve embedded the trailer below:

 

Booktalk and display Illegal with Michel Chikwanine and Jessica Dee Humphreys’ Child Soldier and Barron’s Children in Our World books (Refugees & Migrants, Poverty & Hunger, Racism & Intolerance, and Global Conflict).

 

Posted in Non-Fiction

Children in Our World addresses racism, intolerance, and global conflict

Barron’s Educational’s Children in Our World series continues with the release of two more books: Racism and Intolerance and Global Conflict.

Racism & Intolerance (Children of the World), by Louise Spilsbury/Hanane Kai,
(Feb. 2018, Barron’s Educational), $9.99, ISBN: 9781438050225
Recommended for readers 6-10

As with the previous titles, Refugees and Migrants (2017) and Poverty and Hunger (2017), these titles provide smart, open social commentary on issues that face our kids every day, in a manner that’s factual, sensitive, and empowering. Illustrations provide examples of everyday intolerance, from someone refusing to provide a bouncy ball to a Jewish child to a group of people who refuse to give up their seats on a bus – or their bags’ seats – for an elderly woman with a cane. Global Conflict explores the reasons for conflict, and the violent ways that conflict can manifest: terrorism and war.

Global Conflict (Children of the World), by Louise Spilsbury/Hanane Kai,
(Feb. 2018, Barron’s Educational), $9.99, ISBN: 9781438050218
Recommended for readers 6-10

Each book also describes the aid efforts of individuals and charities who step into help others, and soothes children who may be afraid of what they see going on around them by encouraging them to talk to a grownup about their fears. Author Louise Spilsbury offers ways that children can help elevate the dialogue: by understanding one another, and by offering ways to help, whether it’s taking part in a bake sale fundraiser for charity or by writing letters to elected officials. There are additional books and resources for readers, caregivers, parents, and educators who want to learn more, glossaries of terms used, and indexes.

Hanane Kai’s artwork creates soft, muted pictures showing individuals working together to create understanding and, in turn, a better world for all.

Originally published in the UK in 2016 and 2017, these books – paired with the first two in the series – contribute to a strong current events shelf for elementary-age students, and a nice addition to collections for burgeoning activists. Add books like Innosanto Nagara’s A is for Activist and Counting on Community, and Maribeth Boelt’s Those Shoes and A Bike Like Sergio’s for a strong social commentary collection.

Posted in Fantasy, Science Fiction, Teen, Young Adult/New Adult

An Unkindness of Ghosts is sci-fi worthy of Octavia Butler

An Unkindness of Ghosts, by Rivers Solomon, (Oct. 2017, Akashic Books), $15.95, ISBN: 978-1-61775-588-0

Recommended for readers 16+

The HSS Matilda is a massive spaceship, carrying what may well be the last of humanity through the stars, in search of a new, promised land in the wake of Earth’s ruination. Over time, the decks have become segregated by race and wealth, with the lower decks living with and suffering under abysmal conditions and treated like workhorses. Aster is a curious, angry young woman determined to find out what happened to her mother – why would she commit suicide when Aster was born? She also assists the ship’s Surgeon General, Theo, with a near-encyclopedic knowledge of medicine and herbology. All the while, she’s waiting and planning for a day when rebellion will come – and with a tyrannical Lieutenant about to rule, that day will come soon.

If you’ve read Octavia Butler, you will love An Unkindness of Ghosts. Rivers Solomon examines gender, sexuality, and social class using a starship and a narrative that moves smoothly between the third person and first person, giving us deeper insight into the characters and Matilda’s society. Aster is abrasive and inconsistent, yet surgically logical; almost detached, but passionate, all at once. Her friend, Giselle, is given to bouts of anger and aggression. Theo, the Surgeon, turns to religion to cope, yet struggles with his own sexuality and his family line. An Unkindness of Ghosts is a fascinating study of our own society and an exciting new work of science fiction. Solomon has created an intense, brutal world within the walls of the Matilda. I’m excited to read more from them.

An Unkindness of Ghosts received starred reviews from Publishers Weekly, Library Journal, and Foreword Reviews.