Archive for the ‘Graphic Memoir’ Category

Review of Best Friends, by Shannon Hale and LeUyen Pham

Wednesday, September 4th, 2019

Best Friends

by Shannon Hale
Artwork by LeUyen Pham
Color by Hilary Sycamore

First Second, 2019. 250 pages.
Starred Review
Review written September 3, 2019, from a library book

Best Friends is a follow-up to Shannon Hale and LeUyen Pham’s wonderful graphic memoir, Real Friends, but you definitely can appreciate Best Friends even if you haven’t read the first book.

Best Friends covers one year of Shannon’s life – the year in sixth grade. I give Shannon credit for telling her story – because who would really want to relive sixth grade?

Shannon and LeUyen beautifully portray the questions that come into a kid’s mind as they try to figure out the “rules” of friendship and how they change as you get older. Shannon starts out the year best friends with the leader of “The Group,” which puts her in a good position. But can she stay there? And do her friends really like her for who she is? And what about boys?

Here’s a bit portrayed like a board game:

Sixth-grade friendships were like a game…
only as soon as I’d figure out the rules…
…they’d change again.

Games have losers. I was worried that losing this game meant I’d lose my best friend.

I especially like the way Shannon’s obsessive thoughts and problems with anxiety are portrayed as black clouds hanging over her and around her full of awful accusations (such as “Everyone thinks you’re stupid.”) and scary questions (such as “Is your mom dead?”). At the back of the book, Shannon has a note about anxiety and OCD. Here’s part of that note:

Anxiety is a totally normal feeling, and like all feelings, it’s important. It becomes an anxiety disorder when our worries get out of control day after day after day, when the worries don’t always make sense, when they keep us from doing things we want or need to do, and they make us feel awful. For most people who have an anxiety disorder, “just ignore it” doesn’t work.

Sometimes anxiety gave me feelings of dread – warnings that something bad was going to happen. At times I believed worrying was a power that kept me and the people I loved safe. But that wasn’t true. Talking with people who understand anxiety has helped me to untangle all my feelings. It’s taken me time to develop skills that help me manage anxiety. You can find more information at adaa.org (Anxiety and Depression Association of America).

But my favorite part of Best Friends were the scenes from a book Shannon Hale was writing in sixth grade. (She shows two pages of the manuscript at the back.) I like the way you can see Shannon was dealing with her real-life challenges by having a fantasy princess deal with similar challenges – and overcome them.

I love the way real-life Shannon was reminded by the fantasy book she was writing that the important thing is to be true to her essence.

It’s probably just as well this book didn’t come out last year when I was on the Newbery committee – I love all Shannon’s books so much, I’d feel like I was biased fighting for it to win. This is an example where it’s too bad the Newbery committee isn’t allowed to take the illustrations into account unless they detract – because these illustrations are the perfect accompaniment to the story. But the story itself has a whole lot of depth as Shannon portrays that universal experience of growing up to where you’re not quite a child any longer, and everything begins to change.

(Disclaimer: I have no idea what this year’s committee will decide and I have no idea how I would feel about this book next to the other contenders this year or how the book will look to the committee. But one thing I’m sure about – my Newbery radar is still active enough that I would definitely note this as a book to Suggest for all the committee members to read.)

I thoroughly enjoyed this book, and I’m confident it’s going to be deservedly popular. It reminded me I’m glad I never have to go through sixth grade again, but for kids who are still facing it, this book will encourage them that they’re not alone.

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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.

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Review of Rocket to the Moon! by Don Brown

Tuesday, July 23rd, 2019

Big Ideas That Changed the World

Rocket to the Moon!

by Don Brown

Amulet Books, 2019. 132 pages.
Review written July 22, 2019, from a library book

I’ve long said that comic format is the best possible way to make a book of nonfiction for children. Accompany all the facts with pictures, and it’s going to be much more memorable and easier to understand. Don Brown is particularly good at communicating information to children in this format.

This book about the history of space flight and particularly rockets to the moon was perfect reading for the 50th anniversary of the moon landing.

He covers the history of mankind’s use of rockets, the first visionaries who thought of going into space, and the space race between the United States and the Soviet Union. Then he covers what it actually took to get men on the moon – including the big ideas behind the mission (Direct Ascent, Earth-Orbit Rendezvous, or Lunar-Orbit Rendezvous?).

This covers both the science and the history of flights to the moon in a compact graphic nonfiction form. A great way to communicate the big ideas!

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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.

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Review of They Called Us Enemy, by George Takei, Justin Eisinger, and Steven Scott, art by Harmony Becker

Thursday, July 18th, 2019

They Called Us Enemy

by George Takei, Justin Eisinger, and Steven Scott
art by Harmony Becker

Top Shelf Productions, 2019. 208 pages.
Starred Review
Review written July 17, 2019, from my own copy purchased via amazon.com

I got to hear George Takei speak at ALA Annual Conference and received an excerpt from this book which I got signed by all of the creators. All of that got me so excited about it, I went ahead and preordered my own copy and read it the day it came in.

I didn’t know much at all about the incarceration of Americans of Japanese descent during World War II, even though one of my best friends has parents who were imprisoned as children at that time. And I guess I thought I knew more than it turns out I did. George Takei presents his memories as a five-year-old sent to the camps, but he inserts the facts of what was going on to make it possible for American citizens to be imprisoned simply because of their ethnicity.

The whole timeline and explanation is laid out. After Pearl Harbor, Americans of Japanese descent were regarded with suspicion, and young men were turned away from army recruitment centers. Next came curfews, and then the families were rounded up and sent to camps. George talks about the irony of going to school and reciting the Pledge of Allegiance surrounded by barbed wire and guards. The story is told from the perspective of a five-year-old who doesn’t know that anything he’s experiencing isn’t normal.

George’s father emerges as the hero of this story. He did what he could to help his family at the time. As George grew up, his father talked with him about democracy.

Our democracy is a participatory democracy. Existentially, it’s dependent on people who cherish the shining, highest ideals of our democracy and actively engage in the political process.

His father said about FDR:

Roosevelt pulled us out of the depression, and he did great things, but he was also a fallible human being, and he made a disastrous mistake that affected us calamitously. But despite all that we’ve experienced, our democracy is still the best in the world.

The art in this book is wonderful. Young George is adorable and mischievous. His parents’ love for each other and firm resolution to take care of their children is communicated in the pictures. At times, a manga style is used to show George’s excitement, with stars coming out of his eyes. It’s used with a light touch, but effectively.

The book is framed with a modern-day George reflecting on his experiences and the book touches on where his life went from there. Taken all together, this book is powerful and moving. And it’s also shocking – what the government was able to do to United States citizens. Unfortunately, it’s also horribly timely.

This is a book everyone should read. Since it’s in comic format, it doesn’t take long. Invest an hour of your time reading this. You won’t forget 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.

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 March, Book Three, by John Lewis and Andrew Aydin

Wednesday, December 27th, 2017

March, Book Three

by John Lewis and Andrew Aydin
art by Nate Powell

Top Shelf Productions, 2016. 246 pages.
Starred Review
2016 National Book Award for Young People’s Literature
2017 Printz Award
2017 Coretta Scott King Author Award
2017 Siebert Medal
2017 YALSA Award for Excellence in Nonfiction
2017 Battle of the Books Winner

I was at the Youth Media Awards in Atlanta, Georgia, on the Monday after Trump’s inauguration, when this book by John Lewis won an unprecedented four awards, and not a single Honor among them. Atlanta is John Lewis’ home district, so he was there, and had participated in the weekend’s Women’s March. Later that day, I went to the YALSA Excellence in Nonfiction Award program and heard John Lewis speak. Every speaker mentioned how thrilled they were to be in the room with him. After that, I received a free copy of this book, got it signed, and shook his hand.

And this book continues the telling of his story, in graphic novel form. This volume 3 contains more violence than the earlier volumes. It begins with a bombing of a church in Birmingham on September 15, 1963, and continues through Bloody Sunday on March 7, 1965, when marchers were met with violence at the Edmund Pettis Bridge and John Lewis was hospitalized, and ends with the signing of the 1965 Voting Rights Act into law.

The whole story is framed by looking back from the day of President Obama’s Inauguration – a direct result of the work that was done in the 1960s.

The book is about idealism and about conflict – from both within the movement and outside it. It’s also about nonviolence being met with violence and standing for what you know is right.

An accessible look at history through the eyes of someone who was there, this book is a monumental achievement and deserves all of the many awards it has won.

I’m putting this on my page for Children’s Nonfiction, because it is written for teens (and I don’t have a teen page for nonfiction). But be aware that the level of violence is high – because that’s what these activists faced. They put their lives on the line for what’s right.

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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 Real Friends, by Shannon Hale, illustrated by LeUyen Pham

Saturday, May 6th, 2017

Real Friends

A True Story About Cool Kids and Crybabies

by Shannon Hale
illustrated by LeUyen Pham

First Second (Roaring Brook Press), May 2017. 218 pages.
Starred Review

Shannon Hale, one of my favorite authors, has written a graphic novel memoir! And the illustrator is LeUyen Pham, who illustrates The Princess in Black books! I’m afraid there’s no way I wouldn’t like this book.

As if that weren’t enough, I heard LeUyen Pham speak about the book at ALA Midwinter Meeting — and when she signed my Advance Reader Copy, she sketched a cartoon of me!

But even if all those things weren’t true, this book is brilliant, and I feel sure it will be popular. It’s a true story of navigating friendships, being part of “The Group,” being bullied by an older sibling and others, and just wanting to have friends who actually like you.

Shannon grew up in a Mormon family; I grew up in an evangelical family. I’m afraid the panel I liked the most is from Shannon’s imagination, with her sitting, sad and alone, in the foreground, with “The Group” rejoicing in the background that she’s gone. Sitting next to Shannon is Jesus, and he says, “Well, I like you.” “Thanks, Jesus,” says Shannon. A kid tries to take comfort in the love of Jesus. But friends are important.

Shannon was already destined to be a writer, as evidenced by all the scenes where she’s imagining. She’d write stories with her friends — but really it was Shannon doing the writing.

The way things resolve is done well. In 5th grade, Shannon’s in a mixed 5th and 6th grade class, which doesn’t include most of “The Group” she’s been with for years. She makes some new friends who appreciate her for who she is — and it gives her a good perspective for dealing with The Group.

I don’t think I need to say any more. A graphic memoir about friendship and sisters. This will be every bit as popular as Raina Telgemeier’s Smile and Sisters. And it’s marvelously done! Anyone who’s ever had friends — or ever felt left out — will relate.

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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 an advance reader copy I got at ALA Midwinter Meeting – and had signed by the illustrator with a caricature of me.

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 El Deafo, by Cece Bell

Saturday, February 7th, 2015

el_deafo_largeEl Deafo

by Cece Bell
color by David Lasky

Amulet Books, New York, 2014. 240 pages.
Starred Review
2015 Capitol Choices Selection
2015 Newbery Honor

El Deafo is an endearing and engaging graphic novel-style memoir. I’m not quite sure why everyone is presented as human-rabbit creatures, but that’s part of an informal graphic style that will pull kids in.

Cece Bell got meningitis when she was very young – and lost her hearing almost completely. El Deafo is her story of growing up deaf – wearing hearing aids, learning to lip read, and navigating the ways different people treated her because she was deaf.

Cece got to attend Kindergarten in a class with other kids with hearing problems, but her family moved and she had to go to first grade with hearing students. She’s given a high-powered hearing aid connected to a microphone the teacher wears around her neck. Cece discovers she has a superpower – she can hear what her teacher is saying or doing anywhere in the building.

But making friends is difficult. First, there’s the friend who dominates everything the two do together. Then there’s the friend who always e-nun-ci-ates (which is harder to lip-read) and makes a huge deal of Cece’s deafness.

Cece also illustrates ordinary friendship perils that become larger. For example, she can’t lip read at a slumber party once the lights are shut off. And that boy she has a crush on – what will he think when he sees her with her extra-large hearing aid at school?

This book’s friendly format will catch kids’ interest, and give them a glimpse of what the world might be like if you couldn’t take hearing for granted. No preaching is needed – Cece tells her compelling story, and kids’ eyes will be opened.

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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 The Great American Dust Bowl, by Don Brown

Monday, June 23rd, 2014

great_american_dust_bowl_largeThe Great American Dust Bowl

written and illustrated by Don Brown

Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2013. 80 pages.
Starred Review

When I see a history book for kids presented in comic book form, full of facts and graphic details, I think, “Goodness! Why don’t they all do it this way?” I can’t call it a graphic novel, but it’s a graphic history book. It’s in comic book form and doesn’t only tell you what the Dust Bowl was like, it also shows you.

I’ve heard a lot about the dust bowl. But now, with the aid of these pictures, I feel like I know what it was like to experience it.

Don Brown gives us an overarching view, even giving the factors that built up to it, but he also focuses in on the experiences of people. He shows how small people and cars and telephone poles were compared to the clouds of dust. The page about bugs has quite a gross-out factor:

Bugs that should have died in colder, wetter weather or been eaten by birds and bats killed by the drought now turned up everywhere. Centipedes crawled across ceilings and walls, tarantulas marched across kitchens, and black widow spiders lurked in corncribs and woodsheds.

“The ants were so thick and so bad that you could swipe handfuls of them off the table and still have more ants on the table.”

The picture with that shows the woman who is speaking looking askance at a table covered with ants.

There’s a dramatic page, mostly filled with a dust cloud, dwarfing a car and telephone poles. The words written in wavy lines across the cloud say:

Storms could blow for days and be immediately followed by another and another, making for unrelenting blows for weeks on end.

Raging, grit-filled winds shattered windows and scoured the paint off houses and cars.

Trains derailed. Telephone poles were knocked to the ground.

Altogether, Don Brown gives readers vivid detail about the Dust Bowl, and they understand some of the causes and the scope of the problem. (I had never realized before that during that time, even New York City got hit with a dust storm that made lights necessary during daylight hours.) They even have some warnings that it could happen again.

The book is artistic as well. If you leaf through the pages, you notice right away that Don Brown has used different panel arrangements on each set of pages, and keeps the story varied and interesting.

This is history that will stick with you.

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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 March, Book One, by John Lewis, Andrew Aydin, and Nate Powell

Saturday, March 8th, 2014

March
Book One

by John Lewis, Andrew Aydin, and Nate Powell

Top Shelf Productions, 2013. 123 pages.
Starred Review
2014 Coretta Scott King Honor Book

This is not a graphic novel, it’s a graphic memoir, and all the contents are true. Congressman John Lewis tells about what it was like for him as a young man involved in the Civil Rights Movement. The comic book format combined with the personal remembrances give this book an immediacy that will stick with the reader.

There’s a frame that’s in place on the day of Barack Obama’s inauguration. The congressman is telling two kids visiting his office what it was like when he was their age. And then he tells how he first heard about people speaking up for civil rights, and how he went to nonviolence training, participated in and organized sit-ins, and began the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee.

This is only Book One. There’s a sort of prologue scene crossing the Edmund Pettus Bridge during the March on Washington. We don’t get that far in the story, though we do learn, right at the start, that of all the speakers that day, John Lewis is the only one who’s still around.

This graphic memoir makes history come alive in a dramatic way.

I’m reading it because it’s the last contender I hadn’t read for School Library Journal’s Battle of the Books, which starts next week. I’m not surprised to find some powerful reading here. It fits in well with the other contenders.

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Find this review on Sonderbooks at: www.sonderbooks.com/Childrens_Nonfiction/march_book_1.html

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 Feynman, by Jim Ottaviani

Friday, December 21st, 2012

Feynman

written by Jim Ottaviani
art by Leland Myrick
coloring by Hilary Sycamore

First Second, New York, 2011. 266 pages.
Starred Review

How to make the life and work of a brilliant, if quirky, physicist accessible to the general reader? Jim Ottaviani and Leland Myrick have done an amazing job by putting the biography in graphic novel form.

Not only do they present the scope of Richard Feynman’s accomplishments, including such a wide variety from work on the atomic bomb to work on the committee investigating the space shuttle’s explosion, they also present the basic idea of some of his pioneering concepts in physics. And they talk about his personal life, including his first wife who died not too long after their marriage, and his defense of a man who was running a strip club, and his decision to give up drinking.

The one thing I didn’t like? It was hard to tell apart all the physicists in their shirts and ties. I finally got to where I could spot Feynman by his crazy hair, but that was about as far as I got.

However, this book inspired me to want to read more about Feynman, and it was a fascinating and interesting story in its own right. It didn’t inspire me the way Feynman’s Rainbow did, but it was another side to a man who made a big difference on our planet.

This is Teen Nonfiction, and I decided to post it on the regular nonfiction page rather than the Children’s Nonfiction page, because even in the graphic memoir format, it’s going to go way over the heads of most children, but most adults won’t mind reading a comic book about a great scientist.

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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 the Fairfax County Public Library.

Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but I write the posts for my website and blogs entirely 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 To Timbuktu, by Casey Scieszka and Steven Weinberg

Tuesday, April 24th, 2012

To Timbuktu

Nine Countries
Two People
One True Story

by Casey Scieszka and Steven Weinberg

Roaring Brook Press, New York, 2011. 492 pages.

This book reminds me of Mo Willems’ You Can Never Find a Rickshaw When It Monsoons. Both are about overseas adventures taken by people fresh out of college, complete with plenty of illustrations. To Timbuktu, however, has more text, since the cartoonist, Steven Weinberg, teamed up with a writer, Casey Scieszka. It’s less light-hearted because of having more text, but it also gives a lot more information about their cross-cultural experiences.

Casey and Steven met as students abroad in Morocco. They decided, after graduation, that they would go overseas together. This is the story of their adventures.

I think they had the most fun in China, where they spent the first six months and both taught English. That section is especially fun, with the descriptions of the kids and their antics trying to teach. After that, their time was a little less structured. Casey had a grant to study Islam in the schools in Mali, and Steven was working on his art.

The story is fascinating, and you’ll learn a lot about the countries they visited. Okay, I confess: I didn’t even know that Timbuktu was in Mali, let alone what living there is like. I didn’t know there’s a language spoken in Mali called Bamankan, or much about Mali at all.

I actually met Casey Scieszka at ALA Annual Conference a couple years ago when I was fangirl-ing her Dad, and I liked her very much. They said at the time that she was writing a graphic novel. This isn’t really a graphic novel; it’s an illustrated memoir. But it’s heavily illustrated, and that makes it all the more fun. After all, since they visited these cultures I know nothing about, it’s nice to have pictures to help understand.

This is an excellent book for anyone who’s ever dreamed of picking up and traveling around the world. You can enjoy their experiences without having to get hot and dirty.

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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 the Fairfax County Public Library.