Review of A Shot in the Arm, by Don Brown

Big Ideas That Changed the World

A Shot in the Arm

by Don Brown

Amulet Books, 2021. 138 pages.
Starred Review
Review written July 28, 2021, from a library book

This is a graphic format work of nonfiction – like a graphic novel, but full of facts, presented all the more clearly because it’s so visual.

This book presents the history of vaccines, narrated by Lady Mary Wortley Montagu of the 17th century, who brought smallpox vaccinations to England.

We first learn about the history of smallpox – it was around even in ancient Egypt. And many cultures found ways of fighting it. In China, as early as 1000 CE, they tried infecting people with a mild form of the disease. (How they did that makes some interesting panels.) In India, they did that as well, and Lady Mary discovered it in the Ottoman Empire when she lived there with her husband.

The book goes on to explain the history of inoculation and vaccination and different diseases that have been tackled.

The book does mention COVID-19, but was written before the vaccine was out. Here’s the last paragraph of the main text:

By November 2020 scientists were reporting positive results for several possible vaccines. If one or more are approved, then within months disease-preventing doses can begin to be administered to people around the world. Billions of dollars are being spent to make this happen. Still, no vaccine has ever been created as quickly or in that quantity.

The world holds its breath . . . and hopes.

There’s nothing in here about the reaction to the COVID-19 vaccine, because that hadn’t happened yet. But there’s nothing new under the sun, and this is in the section about smallpox inoculation:

Here’s an odd twist . . . Some people in the Ottoman Empire known as “fatalists” rejected inoculation because they believed that stopping disease interfered with God’s plans . . .

I think God would prefer a healthy flock.

Even though I knew most of the basics about this, the book was still eye-opening and informative for me. The graphic format makes it quick reading and easy to digest. But what a timely topic!

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Review of Allergic, by Megan Wagner Lloyd and Michelle Mee Nutter

Allergic

by Megan Wagner Lloyd and Michelle Mee Nutter

Graphix (Scholastic), 2021. 238 pages.
Review written June 25, 2021, from a library book
Starred Review

Allergic is a sweet graphic novel about a girl who’s planning to get a dog for her tenth birthday – and breaks out in a rash after she’s given her heart to one. It turns out that she’s allergic to anything with fur or feathers.

This has repercussions. Maggie’s class can’t have a class pet. When her new friend who moved in next door gets a puppy, that means Maggie can’t come over any more.

She tries to cope in ways that turn out to be both bad and good. The idea of trying to secretly keep a mouse in her closet turns out to be not so great. Meanwhile, Maggie’s mom is expecting a baby soon, and Maggie’s feeling a little left out.

The pictures in this graphic novel are adorable, and the reader will love Maggie and her family. Her plight will capture the sympathy of readers, helping them see a perspective maybe different from their own. All while reading and viewing a great story with plenty of conflict in a popular format. This book will fly off the shelves, and deservedly so.

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Review of Before They Were Artists, by Elizabeth Haidle

Before They Were Artists

Famous Illustrators as Kids

by Elizabeth Haidle

Etch (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt), 2021. 64 pages.
Review written July 6, 2021, from a library book
Starred Review

Here’s a picture-book-sized nonfiction book for children in graphic novel format telling about the childhoods of six distinguished illustrators.

I would have never thought to put these particular illustrators together in a book, and I love the variety of backgrounds they represent. We’ve got:

Wanda Gág, who wrote Millions of Cats, born in 1893 in New Ulm, Minnesota.
Maurice Sendak, who wrote Where the Wild Things Are, born in 1928 in Brooklyn, New York.
Tove Jansson, who wrote Finn Family Moomintroll, born in 1914 in Helsinki, Finland.
Jerry Pinkney, who wrote The Lion and the Mouse, born in 1939 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
Yuyi Morales, who wrote Just a Minute, born in 1968 in Xalapa, Mexico.
Hayao Miyazaki, who wrote Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind, born in 1941 in Tokyo, Japan.

Each illustrator gets a title spread with one book featured (the one I listed above), a picture of the illustrator as a child in the landscape of their own books, with a quotation coming from a speech bubble. There’s a time line across the bottom with notable events in their lives, including other books they’ve written. Then they each get six to eight more pages with panels in graphic novel format telling about their childhoods, how they got started in art, and their many accomplishments.

This book is delightful to look at and presents lots of information in an entertaining way. It’s sure to inspire other young artists or at least get them thinking about what their love for art could lead to.

There’s a spread at the front with the title “What makes an illustrator?” It talks about how they had many different backgrounds, but they loved to draw.

In all cases, inspiration from someone else helped pave the way: another artist, animator, cartoonist, or painter whose books, films, or paintings moved hearts and imprinted themselves on minds. These heroes and mentors made a path of possibility to walk down.

May the stories in this book inspire other artists in turn.

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Review of Meg, Jo, Beth, and Amy, by Rey Terciero and Bre Indigo

Meg, Jo, Beth, and Amy

by Rey Terciero and Bre Indigo

Little, Brown and Company, 2019. 256 pages.
Starred Review
Review written June 11, 2019, from a library book

This graphic novel is a modern retelling of the children’s classic Little Women, and it’s wonderfully done. It takes only the first book of the two parts of the original book – up to the point where the girls make some life-changing choices. Let’s just say that the modern versions of the girls choose differently, and I like the update.

This time the March family is a blended family. Meg’s father married Jo’s mother and then they had Beth and Amy together. Instead of the Civil War, their father is off fighting in the Middle East. And the book opens with the girls facing that they won’t be able to expect presents for Christmas and they want to give their mother a surprise. Instead of going out to help the poor, they go work at a soup kitchen on Christmas and a kindly rich neighbor across the street invites them over for Christmas dinner, where they meet Laurie, his grandson who has just moved in.

I’ve read the original novel Little Women many, many times since I was in about sixth grade. I loved the way the scenes in this graphic novel parallel the scenes in the original book.

Jo still loves to read and wants to be an author. Beth loves music – but it’s a guitar that she gains from their neighbor rather than a piano. Amy still loves art – she wants to draw comics. Meg still wants to marry a rich man – but that’s one of the choices that end up getting changed. We do get to enjoy familiar-but-new scenes of Meg feeling out of place at a party with girls who have much more money than their family does.

I don’t want to give away the changes at the end. If they write a second book, matching the second half of Little Women, it won’t be able to parallel the scenes as closely. But I do appreciate the changes for these modern times.

Like the original, this is a story of four sisters navigating life, each dealing with their own burdens, but ultimately facing it together.

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Review of I Will Judge You By Your Bookshelf, by Grant Snider

I Will Judge You By Your Bookshelf

by Grant Snider

Abrams ComicArts, 2020. 128 pages.
Review written December 9, 2020, from a library book

This book includes comics for booklovers and writers and poets.

You will enjoy this book if you can relate to the author’s confession at the front:

I’m in love with books.
I read in social situations.
I will use anything as a bookmark.
I confuse fiction with reality.
I am wanted for unpaid library fines.
I steal books from my children.
I like my realism with a little bit of magic.
I like to sniff old books.
I am searching for a miracle cure for writer’s block.
I care about punctuation – a lot.
I will read the classics (someday).
I am writing The Great American Novel.
I carry a notebook with me at all times.
I write because I must.
I hope you don’t mind me asking . . .
can I borrow a few books?

The author uses the items from his confession as section titles, giving the cartoons some themes.

Most of the comics take the form of lists with pictures. For example “Advocacy for Animals Ignored by Children’s Books” includes a box with “Can we get a couple cassowaries?” with a picture of a couple cassowaries. “Perfect Reading Spots” has little pictures that go with each spot such as “Unusual Tree” and “Frustrating Hammock.” I like the “Can You Spot the Difference?” comic with an “Aspiring Writer” on one side and a “Writer” on the other.

Book lovers will find plenty to enjoy in this book.

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Review of Twins, by Varian Johnson and Shannon Wright

Twins

written by Varian Johnson
illustrated by Shannon Wright

Graphix (Scholastic), 2020. 252 pages.
Review written January 26, 2021, from a library book
Starred Review

Maureen and her twin Francine have reached middle school, and Maureen’s dismayed that they only have two classes together. But Francine starts going by Fran and seems to be relishing doing things apart from Maureen. She’s getting new friends in chorus and even decides to run for class president.

Maureen is nervous about doing so much on her own and finding her own way. Then in Cadets, Maureen learns she can get extra credit by running for office. Francine doesn’t even seem to care, so she impulsively decides to run for president, too. Will that finally get her twin’s attention again?

There are plenty of excellent graphic novels about navigating the way friendships change in middle school. This one has the additional spark of dealing with a friendship between twins. Varian Johnson is a twin himself, so even though the story isn’t autobiographical, he knows how to capture the connection between twins. This book is sure to be wildly popular, and deservedly so.

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Review of Catherine’s War, by Julia Billet and Claire Fauvel

Catherine’s War

by Julia Billet and Claire Fauvel
translation by Ivanka Hahnenberger

HarperAlley, 2020. Originally published in 2017 in France. 168 pages.
Starred Review
Review written February 5, 2020, from a library book
2020 Sonderbooks Stand-out:
#7 Children’s Fiction

Catherine’s War is a graphic novel about a Jewish girl living in France during World War II. Rachel lives at a progressive school where she gets a wonderful education and discovers a passion for photography.

But rules change in France, and Jews are ordered to wear a yellow star. The teachers in the school tell the Jewish children that they’re getting new names. Rachel becomes Catherine Colin. And then the school is no longer a safe place for them, so Catherine and her Jewish classmates are sent out to families in France who will hide them.

But that is one of many escapes Catherine must make, going from place to place, trying to keep from being detected by the Nazis. But through her entire journey, she brings the camera given to her by the man who taught her photography.

Notes at the back talk about Occupied and Free France and about the Resistance. The entire book is based on the experience of the author’s mother during the war, and some actual teachers at her mother’s school are named in the book, with photos at the back.

This graphic novel is lovely to look at, too, and gives a memorable and moving reading experience.

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Review of Superman Smashes the Klan, by Gene Luen Yang, art by Gurihiru

Superman Smashes the Klan

by Gene Luen Yang
art by Gurihiru
lettering by Janice Chiang

DC Comics, 2020, 240 pages.
Review written September 5, 2020, from a library book
Starred Review

This fabulous graphic novel is based on a story told on the radio in the 1940s, and it’s wonderfully timely today. A Chinese family has moved to Metropolis. The older brother plays baseball and is welcomed on the neighborhood team at the “Unity Center,” sponsored by a priest, a pastor, and a rabbi. The younger sister, Roberta, misses their home in Chinatown.

But there’s a group that doesn’t want a Chinese family to move into their neighborhood – the Klan of the Fiery Kross – and they burn on cross on the Lees front lawn that night.

And you know what happens, because it’s in the title – Superman smashes the Klan! But along the way there’s plenty of danger and mixed loyalties and evil plots, and the kids get to ride with Superman as he – leaps. That’s right – Superman didn’t yet realize he could fly. In this book, Superman comes to terms with who he is, and that he, too, is an alien, even though his skin is white. And he learns to use more of his powers.

One of my favorite parts was a flashback to a time when teenager Clark Kent went to the circus with Lana Lang. Clark notices that the Strongman is the same guy who took their tickets. Their conversation goes like this:

What? No! That guy was bald! This guy’s got longer hair than mine!

Lana, he’s clearly wearing a wig!

Well. . . It’s not just that. Look at the way he carries himself! And that costume!

You like his costume?! He’s wearing his underwear on the outside!

Yeah, but he makes it work somehow.

Later the Strongman advises Clark, “The more colorful the costume, the better.”

It’s nice seeing Superman defeat bad guys who are still with us today.

The Grand Hornet of the Klan tells Superman that nothing binds us to people who don’t share our blood or our history. Superman responds by saying that we are bound together by the future. “We all share the same tomorrow.”

That’s right, Superman! Speak up for what’s right!

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Review of Open Borders, by Bryan Caplan and Zach Weinersmith

Open Borders

The Science and Ethics of Immigration

written by Bryan Caplan
artwork by Zach Weinersmith

First Second, 2019. 249 pages.
Starred Review
Review written December 6, 2019, from a library book

This is a graphic novel about the case for, yes, open borders. And yes, it’s got science and ethics and statistics to back it up.

I’ve long said about children’s nonfiction, that the graphic novel format is a fantastic way to get facts across. It turns out to also be true about facts and current issues for adults.

I’ll admit up front that I was leaning toward advocating for open borders – because from my perspective it certainly seems the more Christian thing to do. But I wasn’t sure about answers to the various objections.

This book is written by a professor at George Mason University (down the road from me), and he has answers to a whole lot of objections. He also has ideas for opening up immigration that fall short of open borders, but that are still better than our current situation.

It would be easier to make a case against open borders if the United States hadn’t had almost open borders (“with infamous exceptions”) until the 1920s. In fact, my own ancestors came to America long before the 1920s, so they didn’t have to worry about legal or illegal immigration. In fact, most of my ancestors came before the United States existed. They came to English colonies, a lot of them looking for freedom of religion. Many of them did not, in fact, speak English. I have a copy of a will from an ancestor who fought in the Revolutionary War. His will was written in German. (No, he didn’t come to fight. He was one of the “Pennsylvania Dutch.”)

No, that’s not covered in this book, but that explains my leaning toward allowing immigrants today to do the same thing my ancestors did – come to America looking for a better life.

The author begins by talking about “global Apartheid.” The reason people from poor countries don’t emigrate to richer countries is that the richer countries don’t allow it. He takes a hard look at the ethics of that.

Then he uses statistics and studies to show that immigration helps the world. Immigrants are more productive in first world nations, and everyone benefits. Global productivity dramatically goes up when everyone can live where they want.

But he does proceed to take on arguments against immigration. He uses statistics to show they’re misguided. I especially like the section on Numeracy where he shows that the fear of criminal immigrants is flat-out innumerate.

Another chapter I like is where he looks at utilitarianism, egalitarianism, libertarianism, cost-benefit analysis, meritocracy, Christianity, and Kantianism – and shows that all of these world views can be used to support open borders. In the Christianity section, the author asks, “And who is my neighbor? People on my street? My town? My state? The whole country?” Jesus says, “Funny, you’re not the first person to ask. Let me tell you a little story about a Samaritan.”

But don’t take my word for it. Like I said, the graphic format is a very effective way to make an argument – but you do need to see it for yourself.

Open borders are not only the ethical thing to do. They have a dramatically net positive effect for everyone.

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Review of Laura Dean Keeps Breaking Up With Me, by Mariko Tamaki and Rosemary Valero-O’Connell

Laura Dean Keeps Breaking Up With Me

by Mariko Tamaki and Rosemary Valero-O’Connell

First Second, 2019. 300 pages.
Review written February 11, 2020, from a library book
2020 Michael L. Printz Honor

This graphic novel won a Printz Honor, which doesn’t happen often for graphic novels, so I had to take a look. Unlike the Newbery, the Printz considers the art as well as the text, and a quick glance through the pages already told me this graphic novel is creative and innovative, using panel layouts and angles of view in interesting ways.

The story is about Freddy, writing to an online advice columnist after Laura Dean has broken up with her for the third time. The third time is extra bad when she finds Laura Dean making out with someone else at a Valentine’s Day party. But before long Laura Dean is back, and Freddy takes her back.

Meanwhile, things are going on in the lives of her other friends, but Freddy keeps thinking about Laura Dean.

This book is a quick read, but there are a lot of insights to be gained from watching other people mess up – and realize they’re messing up.

I like the point the advice columnist makes that breaking up and being in love have a lot in common, so questions about breaking up are also questions about the nature of the love between you.

And I like this line from her advice: “It’s true that giving can be a part of love. But, contrary to popular belief, love should never take from you, Freddy.”

Thinking about these questions in someone else’s love story can certainly help you think about them in your own.

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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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