Posted in Fiction, Fiction, Graphic Novels, Historical Fiction, Humor, Intermediate, Middle Grade, Tween Reads

Sibling antics in the Wild West: Varmints

varmints_1Varmints, by Andy Hirsch (Sept. 2016, First Second), $16.99, ISBN: 9781626722798

Recommended for ages 7-12

Set in the Old U.S. West, Opie and her younger brother, Ned, are orphaned siblings searching for the man who shot their Ma. Problem is, their Pa is THE bad guy – the kingpin, the big bad, cue the dramatic music at the mere mention of his name kind of bad. And he’s expert at not being found. Opie and Ned are undeterred, though; they mean to find their Pa and have some words: if they can just stop arguing with one another long enough to stay out of trouble, that is.

There’s a lot of action and dialogue in this first volume of Varmints. The sibling squabbling provides some quick-witted entertainment, and the explosions and fights, not to mention the cartoony art and bright colors, will hold kids’ interests. It’s a very old-school type of storytelling, with humor, wit, and pathos.

Good addition to graphic novel collections, especially where Westerns are popular; otherwise, a good secondary purchase. There’s a 2013 Varmints story, “The Coonskin Caper”, on Andy Hirsch’s website, along with links to his other work, including The Baker Street Peculiars, for fellow Sherlock Holmes fans who love a touch of the supernatural in just about anything. Check out some of his work on Adventure Time, Garfield, and The Regular Show, too.

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Posted in Fantasy, Fiction, Graphic Novels, Tween Reads

Book Review: Rapunzel’s Revenge, by Shannon & Dean Hale (illustrated by Nathan Hale) (Bloomsbury, 2008)

Recommended for ages 9-12

 In YA and kids’ lit powerhouse couple Shannon and Dean Hale’s retelling of the Rapunzel tale, “Punzie”, as her friend Calamity Jack calls her, isn’t sitting around waiting for some prince to rescue her – she’s taking the matter into her own… hair.

 Rapunzel grows up in the care of Mother Gothel, an evil woman with growth magic that she wields to keep the people of the surrounding lands under her control and to bleed them for all of their money. If they cannot pay her taxes, she dries up their land. She enslaves citizens to work in her mines. Rapunzel believes Mother Gothel is her own mother until one day, she ventures outside to the palace wall and meets her real mother. Furious with Gothel’s lies and cruelty, she demands answers from Gothel; Gothel responds by having Rapunzel taken to a forest and enclosed in a tree for four years. Her growth magic assures that Rapunzel has food to eat and small creature comforts; the growth magic also extends to Rapunzel’s famous hair, which grows and grows. Gothel visits Rapunzel every year to see if she will agree to live by Gothel’s ways as her daughter, but when Rapunzel refuses for the last time, she uses her growth magic to seal Rapunzel up in the tree for good. Luckily for Rapunzel, one of the palace guards taught her how to tie a good lasso. She manages to escape and meets Jack, a young man on the run whose only possessions are the clothes on his back, a goose named Goldy, and a magic bean… who could Jack be running from in this fractured fairy tale? Will Jack be able to help Rapunzel brave the arid lands and get her back to Gothel’s palace so she can free her mother and end Gothel’s reign of terror?

 This book is great fun for boys and girls alike. It is a graphic novel that draws on two favorite fairy tales – Rapunzel and Jack and the Beanstalk – with a modern twist that will appeal to kids who are on that cusp of being teenagers, but still appreciate the comfort of a good fairy tale. Rapunzel is a strong female character who ends up saving her friend Jack as often as he saves her, and Jack is a funny charmer who finds himself feeling very awkward around the beautiful Rapunzel. It’s a classic good versus evil tale with action and snappy banter, magic and a strong sense of right, wrong, and justice.

 Shannon Hale is the Newbery Award-winning author (for Princess Academy) who writes for ‘tweens, teens, and adults. Dean Hale, her husband, writes children’s books and has written both Rapunzel’s Revenge and its sequel, Calamity Jack, with Ms. Hale. Her blog offers links to information about her books, events and games. She also offers a list of favorite books for both children and adults, including some recommendations by her husband.