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

Nico Bravo and the Hounds of Hades – graphic mythology gone wild!

Nico Bravo and the Hounds of Hades, by Mike Cavallaro, (April 2019, First Second), $12.99, ISBN: 9781626727519

Ages 8-12

This fun new graphic novel adventure is perfect for mythology fans. Vulcan is a kid working at Vulcan’s Celestial Supply Shop, serving all the gods’ and goddesses’ needs. He works with a sphinx named Lula and Buck, a unicorn with PTSD, and things are fine and dandy until Eowulf – descendant of Beowulf himself – targets a monster for slaying, to keep the family name going. The problem? The monster happens to be Cerberus, the three-headed dog that guards the gates of the Underworld! If Cerberus isn’t there to guard the gates, there’s about to be a whole lot of dead folks invading our world. Nico has to get it together and stop Eowulf from bringing on a zombie apocalypse!

I like Mike Cavallaro’s storytelling. He’s great at worldbuilding – something I discovered when I read his fencing graphic novels, Foiled and Curses! Foiled Again, where he created a side-world filled with fantasy and myth. There are mythological references throughout the book that kids will recognize, and some possibly new ones to draw more readers in. Have your Rick Riordan books ready, and your mythological reference books on hand – you’ve got great display possibilities! The cartoon art reminds me of popular animation on TV, with book expressive eyes, colorful artwork, and fantastically cool monsters and beasts for everyone to enjoy. There’s a lot of mythology available, and kids love reading about it – I hope we get some more adventures with Nico Bravo soon!

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

What if Mulan traveled to the Underworld? Reflection tells the story!

Reflection (A Twisted Tale), by Elizabeth Lim, (March 2018, Disney Book Group), $17.99, ISBN: 9781484781296

Recommended for readers 10+

What if Mulan had gone very differently? What if Captain Shang was mortally wounded in his battle with Shan Yu, and was dying? In this latest Disney Twisted Tale, Mulan travels to the Diyu, the underworld, to bargain with ruler King Yama for Shang’s life. ShiShi, the Li family guardian lion, accompanies Mulan, but finding Shang is only part of the quest: they have to make their way through Diyu before dawn, and demons, ghosts, and ancestors are at every turn. Mulan is still disguised as Ping, which causes more stress as Mulan wrestles with her own identity and Shang’s trust.

This is my first Twisted Tale, but it is not going to be my last! I loved this different takes on one of my favorite beloved Disney movies. Author Elizabeth Lim keeps the essence of what makes Mulan such a strong, favorite character: her inner strength is tempered by her introspection and moments of self-doubt, making her at once relatable and inspirational; her daring and confidence and her incredible heart, make her one of the most memorable Disney women in print and on the screen. Shang is along for the ride here, but goes through his own moments of self-awareness. ShiShi is Shang’s guardian and counselor and brings some well-timed humor to the story (Mushu doesn’t play as big a part in Reflection, but he is there!). Reflection has the spectacle of a big-screen release, with the space to bring internal conflict to the fore. I loved it, and so will your Disney readers. Grab the set, if you don’t have them yet, and put them in the hands of your fantasy readers. Let them know that Ursula’s up next, with September’s Part of Your World.

Posted in Humor, mythology, Tween Reads

Take a tour of the Underworld with Hades in Hades Speaks

hades speaksHades Speaks! by Vicky Alvear Schecter/illus. by J.E. Larson, (Boyds Mill Press, Sept. 2014). $16.95, ISBN: 9781620915981

Recommended for ages 10-14

Greek mythology fans, Myth-O-Mania and Percy Jackson fans, this one is for your collection. Take a walk through the Underworld, with the man himself, Hades, as your guide. Learn all about the Fields of Elysim, the Hall of Judgement, and a lot of ancient Greek history, with some very tongue-in-cheek commentary (Romans – you may be a little put out).

Hades is the rock star of the Greek myths. He’s Poseidon and Zeus’ big brother, but he’s managed to find himself the black sheep – is it because of the dead thing? The final judgment thing? Whatever it is, Zeus isn’t thrilled, and he lets readers know all about it.

The book is written in a style that tweens will appreciate – written from Hades’ point of view, the god of the Underworld is full of snark as he takes the reader on a guided tour of his realm, and loaded with information that he imparts while always making sure the reader knows that he or she isn’t safe there. Not just about the Underworld, Hades gives details about “his people” – the Ancient Greeks – including the Greeks’ funeral rites, differences between Roman and Greek myths, various curses throughout ancient Greece, and famous ancient Greeks (who dwell in various areas of the realm), including Plato, and Aristotle, the guy responsible for homework.

The art, running throughout the book, is gorgeous, rendered in stark black and white with sharp angles (lest you find yourself relaxing!). There’s a map to guide you on your journey, complete with locations of the Titan’s Pit in Tartaros, Charon’s boat on the River Styx, and Persephone’s Grove. There are chapter heads and full-page illustrations of Hades, his black cape menacing and yet, drawing your eye to him. It adds a great vibe to the book: think Edward Gorey meets Neil Gaiman’s Sandman.

The book rounds out with a glossary, a bibliography, and an index. This is a solid addition to any library – personal, school, or public – with a population that’s interested in Greek myths. And fans of Rick Riordan’s Red Pyramid series, rejoice – Anubis, Egyptian God of the Dead, is writing a book next.

Posted in Fiction, Humor, Tween Reads

Book Review: Fred & Anthony Escape from the Netherworld and Fred & Anthony Meet the Heine Goblins from the Black Lagoon, by Elise Primavera (Hyperion, 2007 & 2008)

Recommended for ages 9-12

I am writing one review for both of these books as they are by the same author and from the same series.

Fred and Anthony are two kids with one big wish: find someone to do their homework for them so they can relax, eat Chex Mix and Pez, and watch horror movies. In their first adventure, Escape from the Netherworld, they decide to make money so that they can afford to pay someone; because they already have a reputation for botched and unfinished jobs im their own neighborhood, they strike out for a new neighborhood and end up discovering The Netherworld when Anthony falls through a bathroom portal. Luckily, Fred has the foresight to grab a Guide to the Netherworld to help them navigate their way past evil dentists, deceptively dressed werewolves, and Count Dracula himself. They make their way back home only to discover that a ghost has followed them – so they hire him as a ghost writer (get it?) to write about their adventures. Their get rich quick plan is under way!
Their third adventure, Fred & Anthony Meet the Heinie Goblins from the Black Lagoon, catches readers up on the first two books, so readers can come in on any book in the series and not feel lost. Fred and Anthony are sent off to Camp Plenty Wampum summer camp in Heinie Goblins; naturally, the camp brochure is a ruse and the camp, run by two Wise Guys named Carmine and Vinnie, is a dump serving cold Hot Pockets with warm water, forcing recreation time in leaky canoes on the questionable Lake Gitchie Lagoonie, and haunting them by dressing up as The Burnt Marshmallow Mummy and The Lone Short-Sheeting Stranger. While out on Lake Gitchie Lagoonie, the boys’ canoe capsizes and they end up back in The Netherworld for a brief time, until their escape from the Creature from the Black Lagoon leads them back up to the Camp.
Deciding that they can make money by charging kids for trips to The Netherworld, the boys launch their next career venture. In The Netherworld, they meet the Heinie Goblins – cute, purple-feathered little batlike creatures with bare backsides. Despite the Guide to the Netherworld’s warning about the goblins being “a pain in the butt”, the boys allow a goblin to accompany them back to the camp, but the goblin brings friends along, who menace the other campers. When Carmine and Vinnie show up dressed as the Lone Short-Sheeting Stranger and the Burnt Marshmallow Mummy, the goblins become jealous of losing the audience’s attention – the book is, after all, named for them – and attack, leaving the boys to figure out a way to make things right.
The books are written with the lower end of the age range or the reluctant reader in mind, with black and white illustrations on every page and a mixture of graphic novel and chapter book format. Gross humor will appeal to boys (or girls!) who giggle at a good bathroom joke. The books are slightly more than 100 pages in length, making them easy and quick reads for younger children.
The author and illustrator, Elise Primavera, “ghost wrote” these books under the name Esile Arevamirp. There are four Fred & Anthony titles, but was surprised that the author’s website had no mention of them; I even attempted to find a website for her alter ego but found nothing. Turning to YouTube, discovered Rat Chat Reviews, an animated video review site for children’s books; the rats posted an interview with Fred and Anthony on the cancellation of their series. Regardless of whether or not there are any more Fred & Anthony books in the future, the series is still a fun set of books for a younger or reluctant reader.