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Hilda and the Midnight Giant

3 Feb

hilda
Hilda can make friends with just about any creature, which is a good thing seeing as the valley where she and her mother lives offers frequent sightings of unusual beings. But not all creatures love Hilda back and one night she and her mother receive an eviction notice from an army of elves who don’t want them living in the valley anymore. Her mother thinks they should just move to the city, but Hilda wants to remain in the one place she has ever called home. So she sets off to try to work things out with the leaders of the elf community and at night she also catches glimpses of a mountain-sized giant.

While the first Hilda tale, Hildafolk, is quite small, with Hilda and the Midnight Giant Nobrow Press went large-scale (approx. 8.5 x 12 inches), which allows Pearson to utilize several different panel layouts from single panel pages to 17 panel pages. He even lets elements escape the panels altogether or lets panels overlap one another. Its both playful and purposeful and complements the story well.

image from Nobrow Press site.

image from Nobrow Press site.


 
Hilda is a spunky, brave, and resourceful girl.  The look Pearson has designed for her is eye-catching with her blue hair, pointy nose, large eyes, big red boots, and stick figure legs, and the creatures she encounters are diverse and imaginative. With the story, I especially appreciate the way Hilda’s issue with the elves and the mystery of the giant tie together. The conclusion is sweet, unites with the theme of home and homeland, and mixes emotion and humor quite well. While the Hilda stories would be accessible and enjoyable for younger readers, Pearson’s thoughtful layout, engaging visuals, and imaginative characters will be attractive to just about anyone with an open mind. I can’t wait to read Hilda and the Bird Parade, the next in series, which I’ve heard is even better!

Em’s rating: 4 out of 5 stars
Author/Illustrator: Luke Pearson
Publisher: Nobrow Press, 2012

Battling Boy

24 Jan

Battling-Boy-cover
The monster-infested city of Arcopolis finds itself without a hero when the vigilante monster fighter, Haggard West, is killed in battle. Luckily for them, there’s a 12-year-old demi-god, known as Battling Boy, in need of a little hero initiation (his “rambling”), and his parents have picked Arcopolis as his training ground. Armed with magical, totemic t-shirts, Battling Boy answers the call to adventure and begins battling the city’s monsters. Meanwhile, Aurora West, daughter of the late Haggard West, trains to take over her father’s mission, and the city’s monsters respond to the news of the city’s new hero.

Battling Boy is the first installment in a new series from Paul Pope; the only downside to this is that I don’t have the second book in my hands at this very moment. Paul Pope’s artwork is brilliant, eye-catching, and like nothing I’ve seen before; while this is not the first Paul Pope comic, it was my personal introduction to his work. The artwork alone is reason enough to enjoy this graphic novel, but in addition, the story is engaging, the characters are memorable, and the themes of fear of failure and the pressure of living up to parents’ expectations are ones that many young readers will relate to.

Pope_Humbaba

While Battling Boy is clearly our main hero, he’s still learning the ropes, making mistakes, and calling in for help when needed – he’s in training after all. Aurora West doesn’t get nearly as much attention, but we see enough to feel invested in her character and to hope for a partnership between these two young heroes as they continue to fight, learn, and grow in future volumes. Both Battling Boy and Aurora West are genuinely unique and likable, so there was no wishing the story would focus more attention on one or the other, as I’ve found at times with other dual hero stories. And let’s not forget the monsters! The main villains/henchmen throughout are Sadisto and his gang of schemers, kidnappers, and murderers, and they are plenty entertaining and evil, but the giant car-chomping Humbaba is just about my favorite comic book monster that I’ve ever seen!

I can’t wait to dive into this world again, and thankfully won’t have to wait too long as Fall 2014 brings us a prequel, The Rise of Aurora West! More more more more more. Please.

Em’s rating: 5 out of 5 stars
Author/Illustrator: Paul Pope
Publisher: First Second (Oct. 2013)

Doll Bones

20 Jan

Doll Bones
Zach may be too old to play with dolls, but he doesn’t let that stop him. He and his friends Alice and Poppy have been acting out an adventurous storyline with dolls and action figures for almost as long as they have been friends. When Zach’s dad throws all his toys away, it looks like their storytelling days are over. Only, there’s still one great adventure to tell, and it stars the friends themselves. Poppy claims to be haunted by a dead girl, a ghost who claims that The Queen (a bone china doll that’s off limits from game play) is made from her ashes. The ghost demands that the children bring the doll to the cemetery in the town where she lived and give her the burial she deserves. Otherwise, the dead girl will haunt the friends forever.

Focusing on Zach’s experience of events and performed by Nick Podehl, this story is more about growing up, friendship, and creativity than it is a ghost story. There is plenty of adventure and some creepy moments with the doll, but the story always comes back to the three friends navigating the transition between childhood and adolescence. Nick Podehl skillfully captures the story’s pace and the changes that the characters, both male and female, go through during their adventures. Doll Bones is a great choice for young readers who want to read something scary, but can’t quite handle a real horror story yet. But other readers will also find much to love here, from the solid character development to the friends’ quest to find their way to the doll’s burial ground.

Em’s rating: 4 out of 5 stars
Author: Holly Black
Reader: Nick Podehl
Publishers:Listening Library and Margaret K. McElderry Books (2013)

Sumo

5 Jan

Sumo
Scott’s dream of making it to the NFL didn’t come to fruition, and then his girlfriend of four years dumped him. When we first meet Scott, however, he’s in a much different place: he’s sporting a new look and training in a sumo heya in Japan. The story then jumps back and forth between his time training for and participating in an important bout, his departure from the States, and his arrival at the sumo training quarters and meeting Asami, the daughter of Scott’s trainer. The different time periods are marked by color – blue for his last moments in the States, green for his initial time at the sumo heya, and orange for his training and the important match that will determine whether he stays or returns home. His trainer tells him that the three most important things in sumo are the body, mind, and spirit. He clearly has the body advantage, but will he be able to find the center that he’s been missing for so long? Does he have what it takes?

Thien Pham’s minimalist artwork and the calm pacing of the story make for a rather poetic read. The quiet, slow, gracefulness of sumo wrestling comes across through the visual storytelling. While there is a calmness to the storytelling there is also a bit of action during the training scenes. On first reading, I was drawn to the subtle and efficient style and the overall mood of the book. However, I found Sumo even more enjoyable and interesting upon reread and after learning a bit about sumo wrestling.

Em’s rating: 4 out of 5 stars
Author/Illustrator: Thien Pham
Publisher: First Second (Dec. 2012)

Between readings of Sumo my super fabulous cousin Liz became an amateur sumo champ! She competed in her first tournament over the summer representing the USA in the World Games, where she became the first female American to ever win a match! Later in the year she won both the Middleweight Gold and Openweight Gold at the US Open. You can watch her kicking butt in the video below (starting around the 1:40 mark).

Kid Lit Review: The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane

20 Oct

miraculous journey of edward tulane cover

Edward Tulane is not your average rabbit, nor is he your average child’s toy. Edward Tulane is a china rabbit with real rabbit fur ears and tail. He wears a fancy suit and a pocket watch and he is loved by 10-year-old Abilene. He is very pleased with himself. Abilene’s grandmother is less pleased, as she feels that he should love Abilene as much as she loves him. When Edward is taken on a sea voyage, Abilene becomes involved in a tussle over the rabbit with some boys, which results in Edward Tulane being flung overboard and sinking to the bottom of the sea. Thus begins his journey through life in various settings and with various owners. Throughout his journeys, Edward has no choice but to wait in the hopes that Abilene or some other kind soul will come for him and treat him with care and kindness. In the process, he learns to open his heart and feel genuine love for his caregivers.

Like many stories that have come before, this story centers on the private life of a child’s plaything. Unlike some of these stories, Edward Tulane does not come to life when the children are away. Rather he is always feeling, thinking, seeing, and hearing, though without being able to speak or move on his own. This affects the timeline of his journey, as he waits for days, months, or seasons at a time for someone to discover him and take him with them. The story is punctuated throughout by Edward’s growth as a character as he learns to open his heart to others, and by his deep feeling of loss as he is separated from his various owners without getting to say goodbye. Prepare to be moved, perhaps even to tears.

DiCamillo’s beautiful writing may at times be challenging for young readers, but in a way that is inviting rather than intimidating. The short chapters are accompanied by beautiful, full-color plates and sepia-toned illustrations by artist Bagram Ibatoulline. This along with the many cliffhanger chapter endings and near constant movement from setting to setting will help draw readers in and keep them deeply engaged.

Em’s rating: 5 out of 5 stars
Author: Kate DiCamillo
Illustrator: Bagram Ibatoulline
Publisher: Candlewick (February 2006) (ages 7 and up)

Nothing Can Possibly Go Wrong

19 Sep

Nothing Can Possibly Go Wrong
Nate and Charlie have been friends and neighbors since they were kids, but they hang with different crowds – Nate is President of the Science Club and Charlie is the captain of the basketball team. Their worlds collide when Charlie’s ex-girlfriend Holly, the head cheerleader, tries to call dibs on funding that the Science Club was planning to use to make it to a robotics competition. Turns out the cheerleaders need new uniforms for their “evil dance squad” and since the funds weren’t properly earmarked for the Science Club it’s up to the student council to decide who gets to spend the precious funds. But Nate’s got a plan. It’s simple really: run for student council so that he can control the revenue stream from the inside out. It shouldn’t be that hard, seeing as everyone else running is even less popular than he is (in his mind at least). That is until Holly starts running a campaign of her own: to get Charlie elected as student council president and make him do their bidding. Hard core cheerleaders, a committed science geek, lots of embarrassing childhood photos, and two friends competing for the same student council seat – what could possibly go wrong? Nothing?

It’s been a Faith Erin Hicks filled year. Not only did I have the pleasure of meeting Hicks at BEA, but I finally got around to reading the fantastic Friends with Boys, loved loved loved The Adventures of Superhero Girl, started reading the new comic series The Last of Us: American Dreams, even read the middle grade Bigfoot Boy: Into The Woods, and then Nothing Can Possibly Go Wrong, a collaboration with author Prudence Shen, came along and hit all the right notes. She really can’t seem to do any wrong with me. I loved Nothing Can Possibly Go Wrong. I can’t give all credit to Faith Erin Hicks of course, though her artwork is hard to beat, because it’s as much the story and character development as it is the visual storytelling that sucked me in. I love the exploration of the friendship between Nate and Charlie, as well as the focus on the Science Team’s robot project.

While Charlie is the character who is most genuinely developed, both Nate and Johanna are solid supporting characters. Nate’s character can be pretty aggravating, but he also has his moments where he shows how much he really cares for Charlie, and these moments give him a little touch of sweetness. Johanna is the only girl on the Science Team and she knows her robots – she’s smart, tough, and hardworking. Her love for The Beast (the robot) is charming too. Even the cheerleaders who mostly come across as stereotypical mean girl cheerleaders, have a few small moments where you can catch a glimpse of their humanity. The only thing that bothered me a little about Charlie’s character development is that he’s apparently this popular kid, but he seems to have no friends except for Nate (at least for most of the story). Perhaps Shen is trying to say something about the image of popularity, that it is an image more than anything, but I’m not sure if that choice was purposeful or accidental. I didn’t mind all too much though, as Charlie’s working through his family issues on his own added some emotional impact, and it was heartwarming to see him find a place with the robotics crew.

Em’s rating: 5 out of 5 stars
Author: Prudence Shen
Illustrator: Faith Erin Hicks
Publisher: First Second (May 2013)

Bake Sale

9 Sep

Bake Sale
Cupcake has a great life. When he’s not working at his bakery, he is making music with his band, or hanging out with his best friend, Eggplant. When Eggplant invites Cupcake to go to Turkey with him to visit Aunt Aubergine and to meet Turkish Delight, the internationally acclaimed pastry chef, Cupcake drops everything and gets creative working bake sales all over town and saving up for the trip to Turkey. When the trip falls through, things quickly go down hill, but in the end Cupcake learns a lesson about what is really important.

Sara Varon has created a world for Bake Sale that is occupied by walking, talking food products. They are adorable, albeit somewhat confusing (I’ve heard some readers of this book question whether or not Cupcake running a bakery might be just a bit cannibalistic). While the issues dealt with are serious – the value of helping a friend, working towards a goal, trying new things, dealing with disappointment, cannibalism (ok, I’m kidding on that last one) – the humor, sweetness, and cute characters help balance the story. Varon’s whimsical artwork is delightful as always and the soft colors she uses are inviting. Bake Sale is heartwarming – a nice mix of adorable characters and scenarios, and real emotions and struggles. While this book didn’t have quite the emotional punch that won me over to Varon’s earlier work, Robot Dreams, Bake Sale is still a favorite that I highly recommend.

The book also includes a section of recipes at the end that correspond with recipes made by Cupcake throughout the story. Yum.

Em’s rating: 4 out of 5 stars
Author: Sara Varon
Publisher: First Second (August 2011)

The Adventures of Superhero Girl

29 Apr

Faith Erin Hicks’s Superhero Girl comic strips were originally published in black and white in Halifax’s free alternative weekly newspaper, The Coast. Many fans of the comic artist likely first read these comic strips online at superherogirladventures.blogspot.com, where they are still available in the original black and white. For those who prefer reading in book form and who like a little color in their comics, Dark Horse recently released the strips in digest form with vibrant colors by Cris Peter. Covering the full Superhero Girl run of comic strips, The Adventures of Superhero Girl is one fabulous and fun book.

As you might have guessed by the name, The Adventures of Superhero Girl is about the trials and tribulations of a young female superhero. As she explains to a comics fan (who she calls “skeptical boy”), her super powers are like superman, except she can’t fly. She’s very strong, she can leap very high, and she is a mighty fighter. She saves the day many times, whether it is beating up ninjas, stopping bank robbers in their tracks, throwing a monster into space, or saving a kitty from a tree. The trouble is, there’s not much crime in her city and it’s hard being a superhero without any super villains to fight. Sure there are plenty of ninjas, including King Ninja (a ninja who wears a crown), but they aren’t quite arch-nemesis material. The lack of arch-nemesis isn’t her only problem though. She also has everyday life issues to deal with. Superhero work isn’t exactly paying the bills anymore, not since her federal grant dried up. Job searching is made more difficult when you have no prior work experience, except, you know, fighting ninjas and wearing a cape. Her roommate, who is in on her secret, tries to get Superhero Girl to do normal people stuff, like go to parties and date, though with little luck. And then there is her brother, Kevin. Everyone loves beautiful, strong, superhero Kevin. It’s super annoying.

Anyway, you get the point. She has adventures. Some are of the superhero-y variety and some are more of the it could happen to anyone variety. Above all, it’s a fun and funny read. Because it was a weekly strip, each page has it’s own punch line or special feel, but the strips also tie into the larger story. Superhero Girl runs into many obstacles: skeptical boy, ninjas, Canadian winter (all the villains head South, because they’re smart like that), sun exposure while wearing a mask (yikes! mask-lines!), a hipster who wants to shrink-ray her brother, bad hair days, and so on. While she’s skilled in many special ways, these skills are not really helpful in landing her a job, fitting in at parties, or finding a sense of purpose. Her relationship with her brother is sweet. He’s annoyingly perfect and she moans and groans when he’s around, but he’s also someone she can relate to and, well, he’s family (the flashback to when they were kids is adorable). Oh, she also has a cute cat. Bonus points there.

Em’s rating: 5 out of 5 stars
Author: Faith Erin Hicks
Publisher: Dark Horse (February 2013)
Note: Review copy received from publisher for honest review

Trinkets

16 Apr

Tabitha, Moe, Elodie.

The princess, the rebel, the nobody.

Classmates. Deviants. Shoplifters.

Kirsten Smith is no stranger to stories of adolescence and in her debut novel, Trinkets, she once again captures the hearts and hurts of America’s teenage girls. Tabitha, Moe and Elodie have no more in common than the school they attend but when all three wind up in Shoplifter’s Anonymous together an unusual relationship unfolds.

Smith’s screenwriting credits include 10 Things I Hate About You and Legally Blonde. The dialogue and storyline that make those scripts uniquely identifiable are just as present in her novel. Just like real adolescence Trinkets is punctuated with emotional breakdowns and breakthroughs. None of the main characters come from a stable home – their mothers are passive and 2 of the 3 fathers are absent. The boys they date are abusive and distant. The girls in their peer group are superficial or mean. In 275 pages Smith manages to examine some of the most serious issues facing teenage girls and yet the book is never too preachy or depressing. These girls are no victims of circumstance.

Tabitha, Moe and Elodie are smart and savvy offering insightful reactions to their situations. Each is motivated to steal for different reasons and they each come to discover themselves in very different ways. I was particularly drawn to Tabitha, whose perspective is loaded with cultural implications of being a girl. Watching her friends get ready she notes: “That’s what sucks about Mirror Face; you make it because it’s how you want other people to see you, but you’re the only person who actually gets to.”  And, in response to her own boyfriend, she observes, “Sometimes it seems like guys really hate girls, with all the little things they say and do to try and get us to hate ourselves.” I also loved how she moves away from popularity for her own self-maintenance and, in doing so, inspires her mother to reconsider her own choices.

!!! The book’s cover features a photograph by 18 year old Petra Collins !!!

Alicia’s rating: 5 out of 5 stars
Author: Kirsten Smith
Publisher: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers (March 2013)
Note: received from author for honest review

Relish: My Life in the Kitchen – Review + Giveaway

2 Apr


Relish: My Life in the Kitchen, the latest comic book memoir from Lucy Knisley, recalls her childhood growing up in New York City and New York’s Hudson Valley, her foreign travels, and her college years in Chicago, surrounded by delicious food. Knisley’s mother was a chef (and farmer’s market champ), her father was a culinary connoisseur, her uncle owned a gourmet food store in New York City, and many family friends were also deeply immersed in the culinary world. Not surprisingly, Knisley has strong taste-memories and in Relish: My Life in the Kitchen she explores various moments from her 28 years of life as framed by her diverse culinary experiences. These memories are interspersed with recipes (about one per chapter) for “The Best Chocolate Chip Cookies”, Huevos Rancheros, Shepard (Fairey) Pie, and more tasty sounding meals and treats (and one alcoholic beverage) that connect with the stories/moments shared in the given chapter. It’s not just taste-memories explored here, though they are plentiful, but also memories of changing relationships, getting used to a new home and new way of living, and how our experiences shape us.

Relish: My Life in the Kitchen made me feel nostalgic for all my own taste memories. There were several experiences shared in Relish that resonated particularly strongly with me—being the kid who never got to eat “junk food” at home but managed to get it elsewhere, wanting desperately to recreate a favorite food and failing miserably. I also love that a good portion of the book is set in the Hudson Valley, where I’ve spent 15 years of my life – even my favorite indie book store and theater make appearances! While there isn’t much of a story arc, more of a general age progression, Knisley still managed to pull me in and keep me engaged with her food-centric coming of age stories and her humorous and heartfelt visual storytelling. Her brightly colored illustrations are warm and inviting, and each page offers much to explore both visually and textually.

Graphic novel memoirs and food memoirs seem to have solidified their places in the publishing world. With Relish: My Life in the Kitchen, Knisley ties these two popular areas of storytelling together effectively and rather joyously. This is the second First Second release that I have read that included recipes, but it is the first that made me realize how much I would love a graphic novel cookbook. More please!

Em’s rating: 5 out of 5 stars
Author: Lucy Knisley
Publisher: First Second (April 2, 2013)
Note: Review copy received from publisher

And now for the giveaway! I just so happen to be going to a stop on Lucy Knisley’s Relish Book Tour later this week, where I’m planning to pick up at least three signed copies (one for me, one for my library, and one for YOU!). Enter to win a copy below!

One winner will be chosen at random on April 9, 2013 to win a copy of Relish: My Life in the Kitchen by Lucy Knisley. One entry per person, US mailing addresses only, 15 years of age or older (I’m going with the publisher’s suggested age range for this one). Winner will be contacted by email.

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