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Giants Beware!

8 Oct

GiantsBeware!When your life goal is to battle giants, the existence of a baby-feet-eating giant in the nearby mountains is cause for celebration. Upon hearing a story from a village elder about said giant, Claudette answers the call to adventure and heads out to slay the giant. Her trusty pup, Valiant, joins her on her quest, and she also tricks her timid younger brother Gaston and her best friend Marie to join her. Tricking her friends into joining her, stealing a map and weapons from her father’s secret chest, and sneaking out of the guarded town walls is the easy part. Once on the outside, Claudette and crew then must make their way through the Forest of Death, across the Mad River, and up the Giant’s Peak to find and slay the baby-feet-eating giant. Phew!

Giants Beware! has plenty of action, solid pacing, an imaginative setting, and funny, clever dialogue. The characters and themes of friendship and bravery are especially well developed. As the village elder tells Claudette at the beginning of the story “you never know what you’re truly made of until you’re staring eyeball-to-eyeball into the face of fear.” (p. 9) This story of adventure gives the reader plenty of opportunity to learn just what our characters are made of. The characters’ faces are quite expressive and Claudette’s red hair stands out on each page, just as her personality and rambunctiousness makes her stand out in life. Yeah, you heard me right – red hair. We have a full color comic on our hands. There’s a bit of gross-out humor throughout the book – dog poop, stinky feet, nerve-induced-barfing – that will attract some readers, but may feel immature to others (I made it through just fine). Overall, Giants Beware! is a fun, exciting, and sweet adventure story with a cast of characters that you can’t help rooting for. Much love for this one.

Em’s Rating: 5 out of 5 stars
Author: Jorge Aguirre
Illustrator: Rafael Rosado
Publisher: First Second (April 2012)

I love Giants Beware! I suggest it to all the cool kids at the library and some of the adults too. I can’t wait for the next adventure with Claudette, Gaston, and Marie, Dragons Beware!, coming in May 2015. See description below!

dragonsbeware

Scrappy Claudette sets out once again with her pal Marie and her little brother Gaston to right wrongs and fight evil. And this time, it’s personal. Claudette is out to get the dragon who ate her father’s legs…and his legendary sword. But as usual, nothing is as simple as it seems, and Claudette is going to need Marie and Gaston’s help more than ever.

Funny, fast, high-energy storytelling in an inventive and perilous fantasy landscape makes Dragons Beware! a fantastic follow-up to 2012’s middle-grade hit Giants Beware!

Sisters

8 Sep

SistersI love Raina Telgemeier’s graphic novel memoir, Smile, a coming of age story that explores the impact of years of dental work caused by a fall in sixth grade as well as typical middle school stuff: crushes, changing friendships, school, pimples, self-confidence, and family. In the follow up to Smile, Raina revisits her childhood years and explores her relationship with her younger sister, Amara. With Sisters, rather than dental drama, a family road-trip provides the framework of the story. Raina, Amara, their baby brother, and their mom head off to a family reunion in the family van, traveling from their home in San Francisco to Colorado. Along the way the family survives life on the road with crazy storms, van issues, unwelcome creatures, and changing relationships. The story jumps in time between the road trip adventures and various memories from Raina and Amara’s childhood, showing the sisters at their best and at their worst.

In one of the flashbacks, we learn that as a child Raina wanted a baby sister (and playmate) more than anything, but then Amara arrived and she wasn’t quite what Raina had in mind. Amara was a grouchy baby and cried all the time, which is perhaps normal for a baby, but her mood didn’t seem to improve much as she grew older. The girls are very different from one another and though they share a love of art, they fight over art supplies and Raina feels some stress about her art skills being compared to her younger sister. But even with all the nagging, fighting, and angry glares, Telgemeier also presents some sweet moments where the sisters come together as a team.

SistersSarahEm

Here’s me and my big sister, Sarah, being especially cute together.

While my sister and I generally got along growing up – I would even go so far as to say we were friends – Sisters brought back plenty of memories from family road trips, both the good and the bad. Telgemeier’s “Anatomy of a Road Trip” illustration offers a great reminder of times past for anyone who grew up taking road trips with family in a mini-van. Many readers will relate to the dynamic between the siblings, and between Raina and her other family members, but even those who don’t will find much to enjoy here. And while technically Sisters is a follow-up to Smile, both books work well as stand-alones, so those who have yet to read Smile will not feel lost. (Though why haven’t they read Smile yet?).

Sisters is written for a young audience and I’m curious if young readers will pick up on some of the plot developments before they are announced – some family issues and a surprise road trip visitor – or if they’ll be surprised at the turn of events. The foreshadowing wasn’t especially subtle, but it didn’t negatively affect my enjoyment of the story or make the “big reveals” any less impactful. Telgemeier strikes a fine balance in her visual story telling offering both subtle details and exaggerated expressions, mixing quirky humor with emotional depth. Sisters covers some emotional territory, but never forgets the light moments along the way. Telgemeier’s artwork is expressive and she brings warmth and a sense of humor to the story of battling siblings who figure out how to get along…well, when it matters at least.

Em’s Rating: 4 out of 5
Title: Sisters
Author/illustrator: Raina Telgemeier
Publisher: Graphix (August 2014)
Note: Review copy received from publisher.

Middle Grade Read: Diary of a Wimpy Kid

1 Aug

DiaryOfAWimpyKid
I decided to finally read Diary of a Wimpy Kid because all the young men who spend time at my library can’t seem to get enough of the series and I wanted to know what all the hubbub was about. There was one young man last summer who would come by my office each day and read a few sentences from this book to me. He would do the whole finger traveling under the words as he read thing and it was just so sweet being read to by this young and eager reader from this super goofy story.

In Diary of a Wimpy Kid, sixth grader Greg Heffley chronicles his experiences during his first year in middle school with stories and sketches. In this first volume of the popular series, Greg and his friend Rowley navigate the sometimes-scary middle school hallways and their changing relationship. The reader is also introduced to the wonderful world of being a middle child. Between Rodrick, Greg’s older brother and frequent tormentor, and Manny, Greg’s younger brother who gets away with everything because he’s three, Greg just can’t seem to win.

Greg isn’t a perfect person, and things don’t always go his way. I doubt many kids would strive to be more like Greg Heffley, but they may recognize some of their own flaws or tough luck in this character and feel a bit of relief that they are not alone. Kinney does a great job of depicting life at this age—when you’re not quite a kid anymore, but you still want to go trick or treating and your parents infuriatingly monitor your media use.

After reading the first volume, I can understand why these books are rarely on the shelves. The stories are quite funny and are fairly accessible for struggling or reluctant readers. The diary format with short entries and the inclusion of cartoons makes for an especially quick and fun read. While these books are definitely geared towards children, they’re cute and clever and readers of any age could easily enjoy them. I can’t say with any certainty that I’ll continue on with the series, but I’m glad that I gave the first book a chance, and not only because I now know what the deal is with “the cheese touch”.

Em’s rating: 4 out of 5 stars
Author: Jeff Kinney
Publisher: Amulet Books (2007)

The Shadow Hero

22 Jul

ShadowHero-Cov-final2Back in the 1940s, a new superhero was introduced who defended American Allies in China during World War II. He was called the Green Turtle and some speculate that the comic’s creator, Chu Hing, intended the Green Turtle to be Chinese-American and therefore the first Asian American Superhero. It’s further speculated that the publisher feared a Chinese superhero would not sell and so insisted that the character appear white. The Green Turtle’s run in comics was short-lived and so the audience, and his sidekick Burma Boy, never learned his true identity nor saw the Green Turtle unmasked.

Enter Gene Luen Yang, 70 years later, who offers both an identity and an origin story for the Green Turtle. In Yang’s story, a first generation Chinese-American named Hank Chu transforms from a neighborhood teen working in his father’s grocery store in 1930s Chinatown to a crime-fighting superhero who is invulnerable to bullets. It all starts when his mother is saved by The Anchor of Justice and becomes obsessed with the idea of her son becoming a great superhero. She signs him up for fighting lessons with Uncle Wun Too, makes him a costume, and gives him a superhero name (Golden Man of Bravery). While he does gain some fighting skills, throwing a few good punches in a costume does not make someone a superhero. Sadly, it takes a tragedy to give Hank both the super powers and motivation he needs to be a true masked crime-fighter.

One thing I appreciate about The Shadow Hero as an origin story is that it doesn’t take itself too seriously. While there is some heartbreak to help spur our hero into action and the racism of the era is not ignored, there is also quite a bit of humor as Hank survives his mother’s many efforts to have him stumble upon some super powers and as he figures out how to work with the ancient turtle spirit who is always just over his shoulder sharing his input like it or not.

ToxicSludgeIsGoodForYou

Hank’s mother and Uncle Wun Too are wonderfully entertaining supporting characters who offer the story a good dose each of humor and heart while also having a strong impact on the storyline. We’re introduced to a love interest for Hank – a beautiful, young woman named Red Center with special skills and family issues of her own. We also meet Detective Lawful, a lawman who isn’t quite up to the challenge of fighting a fight he cannot win, and the real “law” of Chinatown – Ten Grand, Mock Beak, and Big Cookie – who collect taxes from the people of Chinatown and deliver punches and bullets to those who disobey. And then there’s the ancient Chinese turtle spirit who inhabits Hank’s shadow, who is part sidekick, part guardian angel, but really neither of these two roles quite describes the relationship between him and Hank.

In addition to the strong ensemble, Yang and Liew offer action, romance, humor, suspense, and a desire for more adventures to follow. Whether there will be more Green Turtle adventures from Yang and Liew or not, I do not know. The end of The Shadow Hero suggests that the Green Turtle will be heading off to war soon (i.e. the adventures featured in the 1940s comics), so perhaps the idea is that what comes next has already been written and so need not be written again. All I know is that I would gladly read more from Yang and Liew and would be thrilled to see more Green Turtle stories in their (and my) future.

Em’s rating: 5 out of 5 stars
Author: Gene Luen Yang
Illustrator: Sonny Liew
Publisher: First Second (July 2014)
Note: eGalley received from publisher for review

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)

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).

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