Tag Archives: graphic novels

How to capture my 13 year old inner dialogue, although maybe you’d rather not

BraveMaybe kids think completely different thoughts these days.  I mean, I wonder sometimes if my youth was so wildly different – no electronics, three tv stations available, bad perms – that I can’t even begin to understand what my kid lives with.  Technology is not a kind beast.

Then I read something like Brave.  Or we find ourselves talking about mean girls.  And I realize that at least for my kid, some things are still kind of the same. Definitely still awful.  Do we all find ourselves feeling isolated, dumb, or out of the loop?  Are we all bad at handling bullies, whether it’s jerks who grab our books and play catch or people who attack us with words?

Maybe.  Maybe not.  Maybe some kids pass blissfully through adolescence without any bumps along the way.  Svetlana Chmakova captures those who don’t perfectly, and really, everyone can benefit from that.  If you’re struggling yourself, Brave makes you feel like you’re not alone.  And in the rare case that you feel like you’re on top of the world, maybe you can see what it’s like for everyone else and feel some compassion.  Maybe?

Brave by Svetlana Chmakova

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Friendships, good and bad

real friendsThere are so many kinds of friends, aren’t there?  Sometimes you have a friend who begins to feel like all you need.  Then she moves.  Maybe you manage to end up in a bigger group of friends later on.  There will be a kind of unhappy, mean “friend” somewhere in there who’s more concerned with being first at being someone’s best friend than in being friends with everyone.  Or maybe they make fun of you because you’re different, even though they claim they’re only telling you to help you.

Friendship, like love, is so very complicated, which is why I liked this graphic novel/memoir so much.  It reminded me of many happy, silly afternoons as a child, playing in imaginary worlds with a friend.  It also reminded me of some uncomfortable and painful moments.  Both are important things to talk about with kids, since their lives are as complicated, if not more complicated than ours.

I, thank goodness, never had to navigate friendship by way of social media.  I screwed up a lot of things, but no one was saving screenshots of my mistakes.  Maybe there are damning pictures out there somewhere in a shoe box, but my biggest humiliations only take up space in my memory.

I prefer to remember the happier times: building forts under the picnic table, having dance contests at slumber parties, and lying in the shade of the big tree looking at the clouds shaped like turtles and whales.

Real Friends by Shannon Hale and LeUyen Pham

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The sparkling eyes of Mary Alice

ghost shipA ghost ship.  An evil tech gazillionaire.  A missing girl.  One boy in a red shirt.

There are so many details that add to and flesh out the characters in this excellent graphic novel – small things that quickly begin to link together everyone and everything in this book.  It’s a joy to read, quick but full of wonderful small moments – John Blake talking to the ship, shipmates who’ve escaped from other places and times. Fog fades in and out, and there’s time travel, long lost families and friends, debts to pay.

One storyline has ended, but there will be more, right?  Please?

The Adventures of John Blake:  Mystery of the Ghost Ship by Philip Pullman and Fred Fordham

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Clayton, Cool Papa, and Wah-Wah Nita

I cclayton-birdan relate to Clayton Bird.  I may be a middle-aged white woman living in Iowa, but I understand his pain.  I might not have grown up with a blues-playing grandpa–mine was known to ride a banana seat bike now and then, but wouldn’t have known what to do with a guitar—but I know how important people other than parents can be when you’re growing up.  I remember being angry about injustice when I was a kid, or at least what I saw as injustice in my own life.  And I know grief, really crushing grief that hides out in unexpected places and hits you at all the wrong times.

Clayton is the kind of character everyone can relate to on some level, although he might not look like many of the kids I knew growing up.  That’s what’s so wonderful about Rita Williams-Garcia’s work.  Her characters are simultaneously universal and completely unique.  The small details make you think of your Uncle Rich or that kid you went to school with who had a goofy nickname or your best friend’s mom or whoever.   His story, like many of Williams-Garcia’s, celebrates an ordinary life with extraordinary moments—moments which reveal quite a bit about our society as a whole and how kids navigate it. Her characters’ experiences reach out to you, whoever you are, wherever you live.  It’s a gift we are so, so lucky to be able to witness and enjoy.

And if all that weren’t enough, Ms. Williams-Garcia mentions Kathi Appelt in her note at the end of the book.  We all know (or maybe we don’t) just how crazy I am about Kathi Appelt.  I’ve practically thrown her books at the 5th graders I visit if I find out they have somehow managed to miss them.  And  I don’t stop at once a year – she comes up repeatedly.  Actually, I’ve kind of done the same with Rita Williams-Garcia’s books (One Crazy Summer, P.S. Be Eleven, Gone Crazy in Alabama) because they are a different and wonderful brand of fabulous.   Clearly, I’m just going to get worse.  Prepare.  Beware.

Clayton Bird Goes Underground by Rita Williams-Garcia

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Sometimes one trick is all you need

nathan hale one trick ponyStrata is not a rule follower.  She and her buddies have gotten away from their Mad Max-ish caravan and are looking for treasures.  Probably they shouldn’t be doing this, because the Pipers (evil, energy-seeking aliens) are close enough that—oops!–Strata and her friends might uncover something that would attract them.

But there’s a pony!  And Kleidi (the pony) is a neat twist on the cliché of girls and ponies, because Kleidi is a robot, a fast and clever robot. Kleidi can also stop really fast and hard.

Along the way, we learn about the dystopian homeland that the Earth has become, and how humans have adapted and yet are still losing against aliens who see them and their planet simply as food and minerals.  It’s nothing like Nathan Hale’s Hazardous Tales about moments in U.S. history, and yet the storytelling and art are equally perfect for the topic.

Pick up Zita the Spacegirl  (Ben Hatke) and you’ve got an excellent double feature for a rainy afternoon of reading.

one Trick Pony by Nathan Hale

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Swim with me a little while

fishgirlDavid Wiesner’s work has always been a magical and whimsical wonder.  In the author notes on this one, he mentions moving into unfamiliar territory – graphic novels – to grow as an artist.  I’m not sure why I didn’t expect this earlier, because this guy doesn’t even need words to tell a story beautifully.  Tuesday is one of my favorite picture books ever, and is one of the few author-signed books on my shelf, thanks to a family member who went to an ALA meeting several years ago.

Here, though, with Donna Jo Napoli (another wonder of storytelling), his genius rises to a whole new level.  The detail and movement in his art is perfect for the story, and it’s still magical and whimsical.  A girl without a name becomes a miracle.  Friendships grow on many levels.  We see smart girls and difficult choices and danger.   The innocent are protected and an evil is overcome.

More, more, more.

Fish Girl by David Wiesner & Donna Jo Napoli

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Scrappy outsider saves the day

arthurgolden-ropeArthur is an unusual boy.  He collects odd little bits, explores the forest, and helps end tiny wars between goblins and fairies.  He’s not anyone’s first choice to go talk to Thor.  But when a giant dog attacks your town, you have to send someone, right?  At times, he feels “impossibly small and helpless” but he’s got imagination, so, of course, he’ll save the day.

Sometimes I wonder about a book’s target audience.  It can be a perfectly wonderful story, illustrated by really amazing artists, but I find myself worrying it won’t find its home with the group it’s meant for.  Generally, publishers don’t put out picture book/graphic novels about small boys who interact with Norse gods for the middle-aged me, for example.  I might read it and love it, but how’s it going to get to the right young ones who will appreciate it for what it is?  (Well, I will talk about it A LOT, but who listens to me?)

Arthur and the Golden Rope is kind of a hybrid–part comic, part picture book.  I can see it appealing to a lot of elementary-aged kids, so I hope the school market is its target, and that it’s part of a longer series.  (This is the first I’ve seen, but there’s another if you search for it.  Still, we need more!)  It could appeal to reluctant readers, who might be willing to try it as part of a graphic/comic series, and it’s filled with more challenging words (realms, solemnly, descended, meddlers, minions—things like that) which might even make it more enjoyable to some.  The connections with Norse mythology are fun and a perfect lead-in to longer books about mythology – Odd and the Frost Giants, Pandora Gets Jealous, Rick Riordan’s books, and all the many non-fiction options.  Kind of a gateway drug to mythology, if you think about it.

Arthur and the Golden Rope (Brownstone’s Mythical Collection) by Joe Todd-Stanton

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eggs-actly enough

egg.pngIf you are a lover of pastels, this book is for you.

If you are a lover of Kevin Henkes books, this book is for you.  (Lilly’s Purple Plastic Purse is a must on days when you are feeling angry about your personal Mr. Slinger taking away your new toy.  And once you get past being furious, you can appreciate his awesome sandals and socks.)

If you love Pigeon  books (Mo Willems), this book is also for you.  (There are important emotions happening here…stuff in small squares… that kind of thing.)

Ok, it’s actually for everyone.  It will make you slow down for a minute.  It will make you smile.  Is it enough?  It is.  It is perfectly enough.

egg by Kevin Henkes

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2016 – Finally over?

1,165 books later, we’re almost to 2017.  Or was it 1,265?  I lost count and either added or dropped 100 in my count, and that’s sort of how the year seemed to go sometimes.  I don’t feel like going back and re-counting, though.  It was a long year any way you look at it.

I didn’t read all of those – some were for my family, some were books I was taking to show kids at school, some of those items were DVDs, and some just never got read, even if I renewed them a time or two.

Although I mostly write about picture books and middle grade these days, some others for teens and adults also stood out to me.  So here, finally, is the last of my favorites of 2016:

March, Book 3 by John Lewis, Andrew Aydin and Nate Powell

Outrun the Moon by Stacey Lee

A Study in Charlotte by Brittany Cavallaro

Learning to Swear in America by Katie Kennedy

Snow White: a graphic novel by Matt Phelan

Secrets in the Snow by Michaela McColl

Cloud and Wallfish by Anne Nesbet

How to Hang a Witch by Adriana Mather

A Great Reckoning by Louise Penny

The Readers of Broken Wheel Recommend by Katarina Bivald

Britt-Marie Was Here  by Frederik Backman

 

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A twist in a tale

snow-whiteWith updated fairy tales out in space (Interstellar Cinderella), full of cyborgs (Cinder) and rad girls (The Sleeper and the Spindle), you might think we don’t really need more of the genre.  However, the beauty of the classic folk tale is that there are so many directions you can go – times, places, settings.

Matt Phelan’s take on Snow White is set before and  during the Great Depression, which might not initially seem like a good fit.  But really, he doesn’t even have to work hard to get you to buy into it.  Snow is the daughter of a wealthy man who remarries just before the Crash, the seven little men are street kids, and the prince is a police detective.  It all falls together perfectly, and there’s a happy ending.  Along the way, I loved the way the characters’ facial expressions and simple language actually made the story feel bigger.  It works on many levels, and I think it can be enjoyed that way, too.

Snow White: a graphic novel by Matt Phelan

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