Archive for the ‘Graphic Novel’ Category

Review of Baba Yaga’s Assistant, by Marika McCoola, illustrated by Emily Carroll

Tuesday, June 28th, 2016

baba_yagas_assistant_largeBaba Yaga’s Assistant

by Marika McCoola
illustrated by Emily Carroll

Candlewick Press, 2015. 132 pages.
Starred Review
2015 Cybils Elementary/Middle Grade Graphic Novels Finalist

This graphic novel is lots of fun. Masha is a modern teenage girl who has heard stories of Baba Yaga from her grandmother. Both Masha’s mother and grandmother cleverly escaped from her.

So when Masha’s father marries again and the new stepmother has a particularly bratty stepsister for Masha to babysit, Masha decides instead to answer an ad to be Baba Yaga’s assistant.

Masha has stories of Baba Yaga to guide her. She must enter Baba Yaga’s chicken-legged house, then pass three tests. But when the third test involves cooking three children for dinner, and one of those children is the naughty new stepsister – things take a turn.

I loved the way this book gives the fairy tale themes a modern twist. Such as when the stepsister throws down a washcloth in Baba Yaga’s bathroom and it begins to become a lake – so they almost drown.

Baba Yaga has a gory reputation, and despite her scary exterior, this book puts a light-hearted spin on things. Ultimately, this is the story of a clever girl finding her own way, while getting some healing for her heart.

candlewick.com

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Disclosure: I am an Amazon Affiliate, and will earn a small percentage if you order a book on Amazon after clicking through from my site.

Source: This review is based on a library book from Fairfax County Public Library.

Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but I maintain my website and blogs on my own time. The views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

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Review of Secret Coders, by Gene Luen Yang and Mike Holmes

Thursday, June 23rd, 2016

secret_coders_largeSecret Coders

by Gene Luen Yang & Mike Holmes

First Second, 2015. 91 pages.
2016 Mathical Book Prize Winner (Grades 3-5)

This is a graphic novel that teaches counting in binary and basic coding – and manages not to stretch credibility too far.

Hopper has been transferred to Stately Academy, which her mother insists is the best school in town. But the school is distinctly creepy.

There are creepy birds flying around. When they see Hopper’s Number 7 earrings, they open three of their four eyes. Hopper’s new friend Eni notices that when they see the number 9s all over the school, the first and fourth eyes open. So of course – the birds are robots, using their four eyes to express in binary the numbers they see! (Hey, in a graphic novel this actually comes across as plausible.)

After the birds help them figure out the combination to a locked room, Hopper and Eni find a robot turtle next to a list of commands. When they read the commands, the robot carries them out.

Then another program makes the robot trace a hexagon and open a secret passage. There they find the creepy janitor who says he’ll reveal secrets of the school if they can code a more complicated path. They are about to become Secret Coders.

It’s a fun story – fitting in at a new school, solving puzzles, uncovering secrets – and it does teach binary and LOGO coding along the way. And it teaches those things in a visual and entertaining way.

More books are on the way! It will be fun to see where they go with this idea.

secret-coders.com
firstsecondbooks.com

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Disclosure: I am an Amazon Affiliate, and will earn a small percentage if you order a book on Amazon after clicking through from my site.

Source: This review is based on a library book from Fairfax County Public Library.

Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but I maintain my website and blogs on my own time. The views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

What did you think of this book?

Review of Sunny Side Up, by Jennifer L. Holm and Matthew Holm

Tuesday, June 7th, 2016

sunny_side_up_largeSunny Side Up

by Jennifer L. Holm and Matthew Holm

with color by Lark Pien

Scholastic, 2015. 218 pages.
Starred Review

Here’s a graphic novel from the authors of the ever-popular Babymouse. This one’s a little more serious.

Set in August 1976, Sunny was looking forward to a family beach trip to finish off the summer – but instead she’s been sent to stay with her grandpa in Florida. Florida shouldn’t be so bad – It’s the home of Disneyworld! But Gramps lives in a retirement community. All his friends are as old as he is.

Fortunately, there’s one other kid at the retirement community, the son of the groundskeeper. He and Sunny start hanging out, doing things like finding lost cats and missing golf balls. But even better, he introduces Sunny to comic books.

But meanwhile, Sunny’s remembering back to things that happened before she left home. Her older brother used to be a whole lot of fun, but he had been changing recently. Sunny tried to help – and it didn’t end well. Is it her own fault she got sent away to Florida?

This is a fun and gentle story that lightly touches the issue of a family member with substance abuse. Mostly it’s about a kid learning to have a lovely summer even in a retirement community. Sunny is a protagonist you can’t help but love.

jenniferholm.com
matthewholm.net
larkpien.blogspot.com
scholastic.com

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Source: This review is based on a library book from Fairfax County Public Library.

Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but I maintain my website and blogs on my own time. The views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

What did you think of this book?

Review of Roller Girl, by Victoria Jamieson

Tuesday, February 16th, 2016

roller_girl_largeRoller Girl

by Victoria Jamieson

Dial Books for Young Readers, 2015. 240 pages.
Starred Review
2016 Newbery Honor
2015 Cybils Award Winner, Elementary/Middle Grade Graphic Novels

I don’t get around to reading a lot of graphic novels, so I only got to this one after it got Newbery and Cybils attention, and I’m so glad I did.

This graphic novel reminds me of the wildly popular Smile by Raina Telgemeier — It’s got a similar artistic style and is also about a girl in middle school navigating friendships.

Roller Girl, unlike Smile, is fiction, but it’s got the feel of memoir, with a picture of the author on the back flap in her roller derby gear. It certainly could happen.

Besides being in so-accessible graphic novel form, Roller Girl tells how Astrid gets involved in roller derby, a sport I certainly didn’t know anything about.

Astrid’s best friend Nicole, though, isn’t interested. She wants to go to dance camp this summer, when Astrid signs up for roller camp. And Nicole has a new friend, who is as excited about ballet as she is, but who has no use for Astrid.

At roller camp, Astrid is a total beginner and feels like the only one who doesn’t know this stuff. She works hard, but keeps falling. And working hard at roller derby is painful!

Then Astrid feels like she blows it even with the new friend she’s made at roller camp. Is she just no good at being a friend?

This graphic novel is delightful. Astrid’s spirit — lots of falling, and yes, some grumbling, but she gets right back up — will win the reader over quickly. Mind you, she doesn’t make me want to be a roller girl, but she has me totally on her side, cheering for her.

Roller derby — and putting on a “warface” — is also an interesting way to work out anger with a friend. I’m not sure if it’s a healthy way, but it’s definitely entertaining! Though, mind you, Astrid does a good job in the book of facing interpersonal problems (with some stumbles along the way).

I have a feeling once a few kids find this book, word is going to spread like wildfire.

victoriajamieson.com
penguin.com/youngreaders

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Disclosure: I am an Amazon Affiliate, and will earn a small percentage if you order a book on Amazon after clicking through from my site.

Source: This review is based on a library book from Fairfax County Public Library.

Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but I maintain my website and blogs on my own time. The views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

What did you think of this book?

Review of Lost in NYC, by Nadja Spiegelman & Sergio Garcia Sanchez

Friday, July 17th, 2015

lost_in_nyc_largeLost in NYC

A Subway Adventure

by Nadja Spiegelman & Sergio Garcia Sanchez

Toon Graphics, 2015. 49 pages.

Here’s a story that makes the most of the graphic novel format and throws in plenty of facts – even historic photographs – about New York City and the subway system.

Pablo’s first day of school in New York City happens to be the same day his class is going on a field trip, riding the subways, to the Empire State Building. Alicia helpfully offers to be his partner, but he is wary of making friends, since his family moves so often.

With Pablo’s inexperience, Alicia and he get separated from the class, and then Pablo gets separated from Alicia. However, Pablo knows where they’re going and asks for directions. Alicia uses her knowledge of the city to walk to the Empire State Building, and the class rides the subway. The graphic novel is perfect for showing how the three different groups take three different routes.

Along the way and in the back of the book, we get the history of the subway and facts about New York City.

And we’re told about another nice touch at the back. When the illustrator, Sergio Garcia Sanchez, was researching in preparation for drawing pictures of the subway stations, he took lots of pictures, and then noticed a policeman keeping a wary eye on him. So on almost every spread of the book, he included himself taking pictures and being followed by a cop. And of course once the reader finds that out, you go back to spot Sergio and the Cop in every crowded subway spread.

Even though this is a story about getting lost, I think the happy ending will help kids approach something potentially daunting – like riding a subway – without fear and with confidence.

toon-books.com

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Disclosure: I am an Amazon Affiliate, and will earn a small percentage if you order a book on Amazon after clicking through from my site.

Source: This review is based on a library book from Fairfax County Public Library.

Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but I maintain my website and blogs on my own time. The views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

What did you think of this book?

Review of The Thrilling Adventures of Lovelace and Babbage, by Sydney Padua

Tuesday, June 16th, 2015

lovelace_and_babbage_largeThe Thrilling Adventures of Lovelace and Babbage*

*The (Mostly) True Story of the First Computer

by Sidney Padua

Pantheon Books, New York, 2015. 319 pages.
Starred Review

I don’t think I’ve ever seen a book quite like this. It’s based on a web comic. The comic is based on two actual historical geniuses, Charles Babbage and Ada Lovelace. But Sidney Padua invents the existence of pocket universes, where Charles Babbage actually builds his Analytical Engine (In real life, he never built it, always coming up with a better idea before bringing an earlier idea to completion.), and Ada Lovelace actually lived long enough to help him program it.

This book describes their adventures in the pocket universes. Now, in our universe, computers actually got built in the age of electricity, using vacuum tubes and electric current. Babbage designed his Difference Engine and Analytical Engine to run on steam, so that’s what’s drawn here – a grand Difference Engine with cogs and gears and powered by steam.

Other historical figures of the period run through these pages, and some of the most fun to be found here are in the extensive footnotes, endnotes, and appendices. While reading about what never happened, you’ll learn all sorts of facts about what did actually happen. You’ll come to know Lovelace and Babbage, seeing them in action, using words they actually wrote in their real-life lifetimes.

Here’s how Sidney Padua describes beginning to write this comic:

It was in a pub somewhere in London in the spring of 2009 that I undertook to draw a very short comic for the web, to illustrate the very brief life of Ada Lovelace. This was suggested to me by my friend Suw, also in the pub, who was (and still is) the impresario of an annual women-in-technology virtual festival she had named after Lovelace, a historical figure of whom I think I was hazily aware.

As anybody else would do, I looked up “Ada Lovelace” on Wikipedia. There I found the strange tale of how, in the 1830s, an eccentric genius called Charles Babbage only just failed to invent the computer, and how the daughter of Lord Byron wrote imaginary programs for his imaginary computer. It was such an extraordinary story, so full of weird personalities and poetic flourishes that it hardly seemed true; but at the end of it the facts thudded back to dull reality. Lovelace died young. Babbage died a miserable old man. There never was a gigantic steam-powered computer. This seemed an awfully grim ending for my little comic. And so I threw in a couple of drawings at the end, imagining for them another, better, more thrilling comic-book universe to live on in.

She goes on to say, “Almost everybody had failed to realize that my alternate-universe ending was a joke.” And so she began writing these comics.

The result is quirky, full of facts, and a whole lot of fun. I also love the Victorian, over-the-top style used, especially for title pages and diagrams.

And, yes, I will be watching the webpage for more adventures.

And, okay, I’ll admit it. I brought this book to a Book Dating event. It’s like Speed Dating — only everyone brings a book, and you have something to talk about. I thought this book was a nice blend of fiction and nonfiction — and that anyone who thinks it’s cool will be someone I will be able to easily talk with. This turned out to be true.

2dgoggles.com
sydneypadua.com

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Disclosure: I am an Amazon Affiliate, and will earn a small percentage if you order a book on Amazon after clicking through from my site.

Source: This review is based on a library book from Fairfax County Public Library.

Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but I maintain my website and blogs on my own time. The views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

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Review of Hansel & Gretel, by Neil Gaiman

Thursday, May 21st, 2015

hansel_and_gretel_largeHansel & Gretel

by Neil Gaiman

art by Lorenzo Mattotti

Toon Graphics, 2014. 53 pages.
Starred Review

This book is put out by a publisher of graphic novels and is in the size of a large graphic novel. But there are no speech bubbles here. What you do have are large double-page spreads of black-and-white (mostly black) very dark paintings alternating with double-page spreads of text.

The pictures are dark and sinister, and the story is dark and sinister. Like all fairy tales, it has power. The word painting of Neil Gaiman combined with the art of Lorenzo Mattotti gives this familiar tale new impact.

Here’s the paragraph after the old woman invites Hansel and Gretel into her house:

There was only one room in the little house, with a huge brick oven at one end, and a table laden with all good things: with candied fruits, with cakes and pies and cookies, with breads and with biscuits. There was no meat, though, and the old woman apologized, explaining that she was old, and her eyes were not what they had been when she was young, and she was no longer up to catching the beasts of the forests, as once she had been. Now, she told the children, she baited her snare and she waited, and often no game would come to her trap from one year to another, and what she did catch was too scrawny to eat and needed to be fattened up first.

This story is far too sinister for the very young. Those who read this story will be confronted with evil — and children who triumph over it.

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Disclosure: I am an Amazon Affiliate, and will earn a small percentage if you order a book on Amazon after clicking through from my site.

Source: This review is based on a library book from Fairfax County Public Library.

Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but I maintain my website and blogs on my own time. The views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

What did you think of this book?

Review of The Gettysburg Address: A Graphic Adaptation, by Jonathan Hennessy

Monday, January 19th, 2015

gettysburg_address_largeThe Gettysburg Address

A Graphic Adaptation

Using Lincoln’s Words to Tell the Whole Story of America’s Civil War, 1776 to the Present

written by Jonathan Hennessey
art by Aaron McConnell

William Morrow, 2013. 222 pages.
Starred Review

History in comic book form – I still say it’s an inspired idea if you want kids to pay attention.

You might wonder how anyone could put the Gettysburg Address into comic book form. Well, the subtitle explains what the author is trying to do: Not simply talk about the Gettysburg Address, but to use the Gettysburg Address to tell the whole story of America’s Civil War, 1776 to the present.

So the story goes back to the Declaration of Independence, which is referred to in the phrase “Fourscore and seven years ago.” Each section of the story is introduced by a phrase from the Gettysburg Address, with a picture of the words carved in stone on the walls of the Lincoln Memorial.

The story ends up being a sweeping one, with plenty of occasions for illustration. Even as an adult reading it, I gained a much deeper understanding of the Civil War by reading these pages. The author uses many quotations from speakers on opposites sides of the issues – and we see pictures of the people who spoke those words – far more memorable than ordinary quotes. And of course the battles have opportunity for even more “graphic” pictures.

This book is amazing in its scope and skillfully executed. It may create some young Civil War buffs. I certainly found it far more interesting than I expected it to be.

harpercollins.com

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Disclosure: I am an Amazon Affiliate, and will earn a small percentage if you order a book on Amazon after clicking through from my site.

Source: This review is based on a library book from Fairfax County Public Library.

Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but I maintain my website and blogs on my own time. The views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

Review of The Shadow Hero, by Gene Luen Yang and Sonny Liew

Wednesday, January 14th, 2015

shadow_hero_largeThe Shadow Hero

story by Gene Luen Yang
art by Sonny Liew

First Second, New York, 2014. 158 pages.
Starred Review
2014 Sonderbooks Stand-out, #6 Teen Fiction

The story of why this graphic novel exists is so interesting, I’m going to copy text from the author’s note at the back of the book (minus examples from the actual Green Turtle comics):

[Chu] Hing was among the first Asian Americans working in the American comic book industry. This was decades before the Asian American movement, though, so he wouldn’t have self-identified as such. Most likely, he would have just called himself Chinese.

For Rural Home, Chu Hing created a World War II superhero called the Green Turtle. The Green Turtle wore a mask over his face and a cape over his shoulders. He defended China, America’s ally, against the invading Japanese army. He had no obvious superpowers, though he did seem to have a knack for avoiding bullets.

So those are the facts. Here are the rumors.

Supposedly, Hing wanted his character to be Chinese.

Supposedly, his publisher didn’t think a Chinese superhero would sell and told Hing to make his character white.

Supposedly, Hing rebelled right there on the page. Throughout the Green Turtle’s adventures, we almost never get to see his face. Most of the time, the hero has his back to us.

When he does turn around, his visage is almost always obscured by something – a combatant or a shadow or even his own arm….

The Green Turtle’s face isn’t all that Hing keeps from us. Over and over, the Green Turtle’s young Chinese sidekick, Burma Boy, asks him how he came to be the Green Turtle. Every time, an emergency interrupts before the Green Turtle can give his answer.

So Gene Luen Yang and Sonny Llew have stepped in and written an origin story that fits everything that appears in the short-running comic book series.

The Shadow Hero is our answer to Burma Boy’s question, our imagining of the Green Turtle’s origin story. We firmly establish him as an Asian American superhero, perhaps even the first Asian American superhero. Our Green Turtle is a shadow hero. Not only is his identity secret, so is his race….

But let me end on a fact: Studying Chu Hing’s comics, imagining what might have been going through his head, and then writing this book in response were a lot of fun – a crazy, Golden Age sort of fun. I hope reading it is, too.

And that brings me to the story found in these pages – the origin story of the Green Turtle. The story is indeed tremendous fun.

Hank is a Chinese boy living in San Incendio, America, with no ambitions other than to be a grocer like his father. However, his mother has ambitions for him.

After she is saved by a superhero from a carjacking by a bank robber, Hank’s mother decides that he needs to be a superhero.

Her methods are hilarious, including pushing him into a toxic spill and trying to get him bitten by a dog used for scientific research. Eventually, she settles for arranging for him to learn to fight.

But his first efforts toward fighting for justice end up getting his father shot. However, what Hank and his mother don’t know is that a spirit from ancient China was residing with Hank’s father. Now that he is dead, the spirit – shaped like a turtle – will stay with Hank – and grant one request.

This book has plenty of humor and plenty of adventure. It nicely captures the flavor of Golden Age comics. (I know a little bit about this because my son is a fan.) At the end of the book, the first Green Turtle comic is reproduced in its entirety. I like the way the source of all the details in the comic has been revealed (including our hero’s unnaturally pink skin).

firstsecondbooks.com

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Disclosure: I am an Amazon Affiliate, and will earn a small percentage if you order a book on Amazon after clicking through from my site.

Source: This review is based on a library book from Fairfax County Public Library.

Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but I maintain my website and blogs on my own time. The views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

Please use the comments if you’ve read the book and want to discuss spoilers!

Review of Hidden, by Loïc Dauvillier

Tuesday, September 16th, 2014

hidden_largeHidden

A Child’s Story of the Holocaust

written by Loïc Dauvillier
illustrated by Marc Lizano
color by Greg Salsedo
translated by Alexis Siegel

First Second Books, New York, 2014. Originally published in French in 2012. 76 pages.
Starred Review

Hidden is a graphic novelization of a grandmother telling her granddaughter about her experiences during the Holocaust. The graphic novel form makes this a gentle way to introduce the Holocaust to children.

I’m going to tell the ending in my review, so you know where the story goes and can judge if your child is ready for it. The pictures in the graphic novel format add to the power. And the frame of the grandmother telling the story lets you know right away that she will survive.

Dounia lived in Paris during the occupation by the Germans. At first, when her family is forced to wear the yellow stars, her father tells her they have all become sheriffs. She wears the star proudly, but quickly learns the truth when she is ostracized in school and told to sit at the back of the classroom.

Eventually, when the Nazis come for her family, Dounia is hidden under the false floor of a wardrobe. Their downstairs neighbors take her in after her parents have been taken away. But eventually, she must leave Paris. However, a woman sees Dounia and starts shouting for the police, so the father runs, and the mother must go with Dounia into hiding on a farm in the countryside.

Dounia, who now is called Simone, does make it through the war, because of the help of the people who hide her. After the war, they find her mother, looking gaunt and skeletal. They never do find her father.

And this is the story the grandmother tells her granddaughter in the night. The next day we learn that her son – the granddaughter’s father – has never heard the story. But he’s proud and happy that his daughter knows. And they end with a group hug.

It’s hard not to be moved by this story. It’s told from the perspective of a little girl who didn’t know what was going on. There’s not a lot of commentary, but the reader can easily see that the situation is not fair.

There’s one interruption in the story, flashing back to the grandmother and granddaughter, after people are first mean to Dounia at school.

Your daddy was a liar!
No, of course not!
Then why did he tell you you were a sheriff?
My daddy didn’t want to hurt me. He made up that story to protect me.
Okay, but then, why were they mean to you at school? They really didn’t like Jews?
I don’t know . . . I don’t think so. I think they didn’t know what to do. We were just children.
And the teacher? She was a grown-up!
Sometimes we do things without thinking, too.
Well, she was wrong.
Yes, I think you’re right.

I like that simple evaluation of the situation. There’s a lot more that can be said, but this sums it up nicely.

A powerful book.

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Disclosure: I am an Amazon Affiliate, and will earn a small percentage if you order a book on Amazon after clicking through from my site.

Source: This review is based on a library book from Fairfax County Public Library.

Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but I maintain my website and blogs on my own time. The views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.