Posted in Fiction, Graphic Novels, Middle Grade, Teen, Tween Reads, Young Adult/New Adult

Big Graphic Novels Roundup!

I’ve been reading a LOT of graphic novels during this quarantine. They relax me, and I know my graphic novels sections (both kids and teens) see a l lot of action, so I always want to make sure I’ve got the best stuff on my shelves for them – and that I know what I’m talking about when I hand books to readers. Let’s see what’s up:

Go To Sleep (I Miss You): Cartoons from the Fog of New Parenthood, by Lucy Knisley, (Feb. 2020, First Second), $14.99, ISBN: 9781250211491

Ages 12+

These are adorable meditations on new parenthood by Lucy Knisley, whose graphic novel Kid Gloves: Nine Months of Careful Chaos let us peek into the world of her pregnancy with her baby, known as Pal. Go to Sleep is a book of sketches Lucy Knisley created during Pal’s first year, and they are moments that every parent and caregiver will recognize, from diaper “blowouts” (oh, so many diaper blowouts) and breastfeeding through teething to tummy time and those moments where we can’t wait to get some alone time… only to spend that time gazing at our sleepy little one, and waiting for them to wake up and do it all again. Black and white, filled with love and humor, Go to Sleep (I Miss You) is perfect for your parenting bookshelves (and for older siblings, as my eldest reminds me).

In this sci-fi alternate history, we visit 1943 Los Angeles, home of the Zoot Suit Riots. Siblings Flaca and Cuata meet a five-foot tall lizard when he saves them from some unsavory sailors one night, when they got out dancing. They hide him in their home and discover he’s part of a race of underground lizard people. He wants to get back to his family, but there are soldiers and mysterious government men wandering the sisters’ neighborhood, on the lookout. To sneak him back to his home, the Flaca and Cuata dress the lizard up in one of Flaca’s zoot suits and head off on an adventure. Yellow, black and white artwork give a stark, noir feel to the story, which is both sensitive and funny. Marco Finnegan provides smart commentary on racism, gender roles and the counterculture of the period. Teens will enjoy this sci-fi take on a moment in U.S. history that isn’t discussed enough.

School for Extraterrestrial Girls Girl on Fire (Volume 1), by Jeremy Whitley/Illustrated by Jamie Noguchi, (Aug. 2020, Papercutz), $12.99, ISBN: 9781545804933

Ages 10-14

Tara Smith is a girl who live with a lot of rules: her parents demand it. Two of their biggest rules? No friends her own age, and always keep her bracelet on. One day, though, Tara’s routine gets thrown into a tizzy, and she loses her bracelet; that’s when the trouble begins. Things get even crazier when she seemingly bursts into flame in the middle of school! Tara learns that she’s not human at all: she’s an alien, and captured by the government, sent off to a school where she can’t put her human classmates in danger, and that’s where she learns the truth about herself. She’s an alien, and her parents – also aliens – likely kidnapped her at a young age. Now, she’s surrounded by other alien students, not all of whom are exactly friendly toward her race. An exciting start to a new middle grade-middle school graphic novel series, School for Extraterrestrial Girls is written by Eisner award nominee Jeremy Whitley, who you may know from his Princeless series and Marvel’s The Unstoppable Wasp. Don’t miss this first volume, which has some nice social commentary set within a very cool sci-fi story.

 

A Map to the Sun, by Sloane Leong, (Aug. 2020, First Second), $17.99, ISBN: 9781250146687

Ages 12-18

A strong story about sports and teen relationships, A Map to the Sun starts with Ren and Luna, two girls who meet on the beach during their middle school summer break. Luna disappears without saying goodbye when she suddenly moves, but returns two years later, expecting to pick up where she and Ren left off. But Ren is hurt, angry, and full off mistrust, especially since her older sister’s issues have made life nearly unbearable for her. A new teacher decides to form a women’s basketball team at the high school, bringing Luna, Ren, and a group of other girls who are tagged as the misfits in school. As they practice and improve, we get glimpses into each of their lives and see how succeeding in one arena changes how they react and are perceived in other spaces in their lives. The color palette is bright and beachy; lots of oranges, yellows, and purples, but some of the coloring made it difficult for me to tell characters apart (I read an ARC; this will likely be tightened up in the finished book). The story is strong, and highly recommended for teens and a solid choice for realistic fiction readers. A Map to the Sun has a starred review from Shelf Awareness.

Lois Lane and the Friendship Challenge, by Grace Ellis/Illustrated by Brittney Williams, (Aug. 2020, DC Comics), $9.99, ISBN: 978-1401296377
Ages 7-11
DC’s latest middle grade original graphic novel stars our favorite journalist-in-training, Lois Lane. Here, Lumberjanes co-creator Grace Ellis and Goldie Vance artist Brittney Williams create a tween Lois Lane who’s all about creating a viral video for a #friendshipchallenge. The only thing is, she’s kind of driving her best friend, Kristen, crazy with the challenge. Kristen is going to be going to sleepaway camp after the big neighborhood barbecue and bike race, and Lois is desperate to get her video make before Kristen leaves. But words gets out that the new bike store in town may be planning something shady for the bike race, and the fireworks planned for the barbecue go missing. Sounds like a mystery that the two best friends will have to solve – if they don’t drive each other crazy first. Lois’s intensity comes off as almost abrasive at first, but she’s relatable as a kid who’s single-mindedly focused on her task and upset at having to share her best friend – a best friend who is going away for the summer – with a new girl in town. Lois Lane and the Friendship Challenge is a fun summer story.
Displacement, by Kiku Hughes, (Aug. 2020, First Second), $17.99, ISBN: 9781250193537Ages 12+

Teenager Kiku travels to San Francisco with her mother to look for the place her grandmother, Ernestina, lived before she and her parents were sent to an internment camp during World War II. Kiku’s mother wants to learn more about her mother’s life pre-camp; Ernestine wasn’t given to talking about it often. As Kiku traipses alongside her, she finds herself being transported back in time, living alongside her grandmother as she, too, becomes a displaced person living in two Japanese internment camps. Powerfully written and beautifully illustrated, Displacement tells the story of the Japanese-Americans who were forced out of their homes and their established lives and stripped of their civil liberties. Kiku – and we – learn things from observing the day-to-day life in camp like human rights abuses that are quickly hushed up and the acts of resistance some engaged in, like the “No-Nos”, who answered “No” to two controversial questions on a loyalty questionnaire the Army had all incarcerated citizens answer. A tribute to the power of memory and, sadly, the power of intergenerational trauma, Displacement belongs with George Takei’s They Called Us Enemy and Art Spiegelman’s Maus in the canon of great graphic novels that belong on every reading list and every shelf.

Ages 14+
This is a weird, wild noir story that I’d hold for my readers who are always looking for something different. It’s Barcelona, 1942, and Laia is a pregnant woman working as a scriptwriter for a radio advice program. Her husband goes missing, a serial killer is on the loose, and Laia retains the services of a private detective to track down her husband… but she’s got secrets of her own. Read this one a couple of times; the story reveals itself with more than one reading. The drastic black and white artwork places you in the middle of this macabre detective story with a wry sense of humor. Got hard-boiled detective novel readers? Give this one to them, too.
Posted in Science Fiction, Young Adult/New Adult

YA Crossover: Followers, by Megan Angelo

Followers, by Megan Angelo, (Jan. 2020, Graydon House Books), $26.99, ISBN: 9781525836268

Ages 16+

This satire, thriller, quasi-dystopian story tells the tale of two women, Orla and Floss, who become friends through a mutual desire for fame. Starting in the 20-teens, Orla is a writer, slaving away at a pop culture news site and waiting for her big break. Floss is a Kardashian wannabe: she wants to be an influencer, she wants followers, she wants insta-fame. She and Orla, her roommate, hatch a plan where Orla creates the Floss persona, and it works, to dizzying success. The story shifts between 2015-2016 and 2041, where society lives in the aftermath of an event that leaves those of us glued to our screens shadows of our former selves. Reality stars are moved to a government-run, enclosed village where they live their whole lives on camera, with implants that buzz to let them know when they’ve gained or lost followers, or if they’ve been off screen too long. Here, we meet Marlow, a 30-something who lives in the village, and dreams of a life off-screen. Discovering a long-held family secret gives her the courage to go on the run, where she heads to New York to get answers.

Followers is a realistic sci-fi thriller that posits an entirely plausible future. Social media-obsessed characters and a screen-consumed society are instantly recognizable – it does take place in 2016, after all – and the tempting mystery that unfolds through two timelines is fascinating and kept me turning pages, wanting to know what happens next. It’s a good book to handsell/booktalk to teens, and let them work through the story by asking them what they think future social media and reality stars will look like. Put this on your “this could be our future” shelf with Vox by Christina Dalcher (another YA/Adult crossover), and Caragh O’Brien’s Vault of Dreamers trilogy.

Followers has four starred reviews, and author Megan Angelo has a free, downloadable book club kit available on her website (minus the cotton candy champagne recipe – mix some cotton candy with sparkling water for a similar treat).

Posted in picture books, Preschool Reads

Workin’ the Mama- and Papa-razzi: I Am Famous!

I Am Famous, by Tara Luebbe and Becky Cattie/Illustrated by Joanne Lew-Vriethoff, (March 2018, Albert Whitman), $16.99, ISBN: 9780807534403

Recommended for readers 3-7

Kiely, a fabulous little girl, knows how to work her fame in this adorable picture book. She’s a true diva with her own sense of style and drama; her movies all go viral, and she gets tons of mail from adoring fans. Sure, the paparazzi are relentless, chasing her when she’s driving, photographing her while she’s eating, and barging in to catch a picture of her in the bathtub, but what do you expect? She’s famous! She’s got a performance at Grandpa’s birthday party, so she has to look and sound her best, but what happens when the grand finale has drama of its own? Pfft, no worries: the fans are loyal.

I Am Famous is just about every kid’s story; they’re little celebrities, as we see here; our world-weary, fierce, brown-skinned beauty tells us, her devoted readers, about the price of fame. I’ve long referred to myself as the Mamarazzi, and have more than a few pictures of each of my kids at the exact moment they’re sick of me and my camera. This light-hearted look at modern childhood comes with easy comparisons to modern celebrity: the viral movies via family Instagrams; the special treatment being a kid gets from just about anyone they meet (so many lollipops); the nonstop love from the fan club via letters and birthday cards from grandparents. Even when Kiely’s performance hits a snag, she gets the star treatment: unconditional love and adoration.

I Am Famous is fun storytime reading, with short, easily readable sentences and wonderfully expressive artwork that sweeps across the pages. This one’s a very cute add to storytime collections and a fun gift for the diva in your family.

Posted in Fiction, Middle Grade, Middle School, Realistic Fiction, Tween Reads

“Cyrano de Bergerac in yoga pants”: Cici Reno, Middle School Matchmaker

cici reno_1Cici Reno: #MiddleSchoolMatchmaker, by Christina Springer (Apr. 2016, Sterling Publishing), $14.95, ISBN: 9781454917519

Recommended for ages 9-13

Middle schooler Cici Reno is the go-to person for… well, darn near everything. She knows just the right thing to say, just the right advice to give. Maybe she’s so Zen because she takes classes in her mom’s local yoga studio and tweets advice about the right pose for the right mood? The thing is, her best friend, Aggie, is crushing on Drew – who happens to be Cici’s  brother’s buddy – but has no idea how to talk to him. Cici volunteers to create a fake Twitter account and talk to him online, posing as Aggie. And that’s where the trouble starts: Cici finds herself falling for Drew. Drew falls for the girl he’s chatting with online, who he thinks is Aggie, but he’s totally confused as to why Aggie’s so different when she sees him in person. And Cici? Well, for possibly the first time in her life, she doesn’t have the answers.

Cici Reno is a fun intro to crush and romantic fiction for tweens, and a sneaky/smart way to introduce the classic tale, Cyrano de Bergerac, to middle schoolers. It’s a classic tale of miscommunication that fits perfectly with today’s kids, who largely interact online. I also love the introduction and description to various yoga poses, and the mental/emotional benefits of each, that Cici Tweets out at the beginning of each chapter. Not only does it gives readers a clue as to what’s going to happen in the upcoming chapter, it offers a little bit of yoga instruction that I appreciate and hope tweens will take the bait and discover on their own.

Cici is a likable character. She’s not a mean girl; she’s not vapid; she’s a realistic tween who does a favor for her shy friend, with the best of intentions, and finds herself stuck in a situation she didn’t expect. Aggie is a surprisingly supportive best friend; I normally find myself irritated with the classic “best friend breakdown” formula that many books fall into, but Cici and Aggie avoided all that by simply talking things out. Thank you for that, Ms. Springer! It’s going to be a talking point when I booktalk this one, because I will be adding this to my shelves for summer reading. I think the use of social media and miscommunication will fit nicely with my tweens, and it gives me a great jumping off point for a discussion on how you can pretend to be someone else online – and, in classic devil’s advocate mode, how someone shy and/or introverted can use social media to interact more comfortably than he or she would feel in person.

Christina Springer’s author website offers more information about her books, a link to her blog and appearances, and contact information.

Here’s a glimpse at #MiddleSchoolMatchmaker:

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cici reno_3

cici reno_4

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

Kill the Boy Band takes aim at fandom

boyybandKill the Boy Band, by Goldy Moldavsky, (Feb. 2016, Point), $17.99, ISBN: 9780545867474

Recommended for ages 14+

Four super fangirls stalk their boyband favorites with disastrous results in this insanely funny dark comedy.

The Ruperts are the boy band of the moment, and our narrator – who takes on the names of ’80s teen movie heroines – and her three (mainly online) friends have a plan to be near them, securing a room in the same hotel as the boys. When one of the girls encounters her favorite Rupert (they all have the same first name) at the ice machine, she overreacts and the girls find themselves with an unconscious boy bander in their hotel suite. And things get crazier from there. Each girl has a different agenda, and before the day is over, there are going to be some ugly revelations and even uglier circumstances.

Kill the Boy Band is at once a laugh-out loud black comedy in the vein of Pulp Fiction and Fargo and a scathing look at fandom and fangirl culture. Ms. Moldavsky takes aim at the culture that expects us to destroy our idols, even as we worship them. She looks at the long-established culture of loathing popstar girlfriends, celebrity stalking, and what happens when you find out that the man behind the curtain really isn’t Oz at all.

As a Duranie who was a teenager during the social media-bereft ’80s, Kill the Boy Band made me laugh and cringe, often at the same time. With boy band and fandom culture at an all-time frenzy now, teens will recognize themselves (hopefully, not too much) or laugh in recognition of someone they know. There’s a great whodunit that will keep readers guessing until the very last page – and maybe even after. You’ll laugh, and you’ll think – it’s a great book to have a discussion group with.

Great addition to collections with a thriving teen population that’s plugged in. This should be a good summer read. For older teens, consider introducing them to Pamela Des Barres’ I’m With the Band for a look at pre-online fandom culture.

Kill the Boy Band has been selected as an Independent Booksellers’ Debut Pick of the Season.

Posted in Uncategorized

#Presidents: Follow the Leaders – A funny social media guide to the Presidents

follow_pres#presidents: Follow the Leaders, by John Bailey Owen (Aug. 2015, Scholastic), $9.99, ISBN: 9780545849388

Recommended for ages 8-13

Imagine for a minute, if all the Presidents – all 44 of them! – were on Twitter? And they could talk to one another? Can you imagine what you’d find out if you were able to follow them? That would be the best history lesson ever!

#presidents: Follow the Leaders does exactly that. We hear from the Presidents – and some Vice Presidents and First Ladies! – as they tell us a little bit about themselves and react to other Presidents. There are hilarious screen names, too: James Madison, our shortest President and the author of the Constitution, goes by @LILJCONSTITUTION; William Henry Harrison, who caught a cold during his inauguration speech and died after 32 days in office, can be found @ILLWILL_H. Bill Clinton can be found @CLINSTAGRAM, and our current Prez, Barack Obama, is @BAMIMOBAMA. We’ve got some guest stars, like the White House Pets, Camp David, the Secret Service, and the White House Chef, and the Rules of Running for President makes sure everyone knows how the process works.

There are profile pictures, hometowns, hilarious hashtags, even #tbt pictures. A timeline of the U.S. Presidency rounds out the book. It’s a fun companion to a kid’s history books, but make sure no one’s doing their history homework with this as their sole source of information (I can see some of my patrons trying it)!

Author John Bailey Owen is a humorist. His author website offers blog posts and links to his other books.

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

What do you NEED and what are you willing to do to have it?

needNeed, by Joelle Charbonneau (Nov. 2015, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Children’s), $17.99, ISBN: 9780544416697

Recommended for ages 13+

A social network promises you whatever you need – but nothing comes for free, and the teens at Wisconsin’s Nottawa High School discover just how far they are willing to go for concert tickets, gym equipment, or just the thrill of a mission. Kaylee Dunham, social outcast at Nottawa, needs a kidney for her sick brother, but she discovers pretty quickly that the site is causing havoc around her. When things turn deadly, Kaylee starts digging to find out who’s behind NEED, but what happens when you’re up against a social network that can send someone to kill you in exchange for someone’s greatest wish?

NEED is a fast-paced thriller that teens – boys and girls – will enjoy. Everyone’s life seems to revolve around a multitude of social networks, so joining one more – that promises to give you free stuff for just one little task – will click. The tasks start off almost innocuously – more like pranks, really – but as the situations escalate and everything starts falling into place, the book becomes tense and unputdownable. The pervasiveness of social media and a seemingly invisible antagonist who can contact you anywhere, anytime – and can assemble your own classmates against you – is truly unsettling.

NEED is a good addition to collections for fans of tech fiction and a good thriller. It also lends itself to a good discussion on wants versus needs.

Joelle Charbonneau is a New York Times bestselling author of the Testing trilogy. Her author website offers links to social media, information about her books and appearances, and a section dedicated to authors united in support of Ferguson, Missouri’s youth by supporting their library, which stayed open and provided a safe space for the community during the riots. NEED will be available in November 2015, but you can pre-order a signed copy from Ms. Charbonneau’s site.

Possible booktalk: Kaylee signs up for NEED because she wants a kidney for her sick brother. Other classmates sign up for NEED because they want material possessions like concert tickets and gym equipment. What is a want versus a need? If someone offered you the chance to have something you really wanted, but you had to complete an anonymous task, would you blindly do it? Would you question it at all? Is there always a price to pay for something that appears to be free?

Posted in Early Reader, Fiction, Graphic Novels

Flop to the Top – A WhatchaReading Review!

TOON Books is knocking it out of the park with the graphic novels they’re putting out for younger readers. I love Toon Books. Their Fall lineup looks amazing – check this space often enough, and you’ll hear all about it. Flop to the Top is a great book about learning to be a good friend and a great commentary on the role of social media in pop culture today, all written and illustrated for young kids.

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Check out my review, plus a preview, over at WhatchaReading!