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Book Review: I Am Alfonso Jones by Tony Medina, Stacey Robinson, and John Jennings

Publisher’s description

alfonsoAlfonso Jones can’t wait to play the role of Hamlet in his school’s hip-hop rendition of the classic Shakespearean play. He also wants to let his best friend, Danetta, know how he really feels about her. But as he is buying his first suit, an off-duty police officer mistakes a clothes hanger for a gun, and he shoots Alfonso.

When Alfonso wakes up in the afterlife, he’s on a ghost train guided by well-known victims of police shootings, who teach him what he needs to know about this subterranean spiritual world. Meanwhile, Alfonso’s family and friends struggle with their grief and seek justice for Alfonso in the streets. As they confront their new realities, both Alfonso and those he loves realize the work that lies ahead in the fight for justice.

In the first graphic novel for young readers to focus on police brutality and the Black Lives Matter movement, as in Hamlet, the dead shall speak—and the living yield even more surprises.

 

Amanda’s thoughts

What a phenomenal graphic novel. I was completely wrapped up in the world of Alfonso and the ancestors for this story, alternately cheering for activism and hope and crying for injustice and discouragement.

Alfonso is feeling pretty good about life. He loves playing his trumpet, acting, attending his arts high school, being a bike messenger, and flirting with Danetta. The best thing in his life, though, is that his father, who has been incarcerated Alfonso’s entire life, is being released, finally exonerated of a crime he did not commit. But while out shopping for a suit to wear to meet his father, Alfonso is shot and killed by a white off-duty cop. Once dead, Alfonso joins a group of ghosts on a train. These ghosts are the ancestors who are seeking justice and rest. Alfonso learns about their lives and the ways they were killed by police while also going to see scenes from his past as well as what he’s missing in the present. Alfonso is able to see how his parents are coping, to follow the white police officer who killed him, and to see how his name lives on in the media, the justice system, and the many large protests that spring up after his death. An Ancestors Wall at the end lists the names of victims of police violence. This look at the prison industrial complex, the Black Lives Matter movement, police brutality, and the various systems of violence and oppression that have always existed in this country is devastating and important. 

 

ISBN-13: 9781620142639
Publisher: Lee & Low Books, Inc.
Publication date: 10/15/2017

Book Review: Pashmina by Nidhi Chanani

Publisher’s description

pashminaPriyanka Das has so many unanswered questions: Why did her mother abandon her home in India years ago? What was it like there? And most importantly, who is her father, and why did her mom leave him behind? But Pri’s mom avoids these questions—the topic of India is permanently closed.

For Pri, her mother’s homeland can only exist in her imagination. That is, until she find a mysterious pashmina tucked away in a forgotten suitcase. When she wraps herself in it, she is transported to a place more vivid and colorful than any guidebook or Bollywood film. But is this the real India? And what is that shadow lurking in the background? To learn the truth, Pri must travel farther than she’s ever dared and find the family she never knew.

In this heartwarming graphic novel debut, Nidhi Chanani weaves a tale about the hardship and self-discovery that is born from juggling two cultures and two worlds.

 

Amanda’s thoughts

This had been on my TBR since I first saw it and then I bumped it up when I started looking for books to read with the fifth grade girls’ book club, as many of the girls are Indian-American. I absolutely loved this book. Priyanka, who prefers to go by Pri, is a teenager living with her single mother. She doesn’t know much about her mother’s past. She doesn’t know anything about her father, about why her mother left India and refuses to ever go back, or about why she no longer speaks to her sister. But when Pri discovers a magical pashmina, everything begins to change. Suddenly, Pri is transported to India, where two animals take her on very picture perfect tourist guide stops around India. A shadow seems to be following her, beckoning to her. When Pri takes the pashmina off, that world evaporates and she’s back at home in America. The distinction between these two worlds and experiences is very effectively portrayed through vibrant colors in India and dull purples for her life at home. An unexpected phone call from her aunt sends her on a real-life trip to India, where Priyanka begins to learn about her mother’s past and put together the pieces that have always felt missing.

 

This is a wonderful story of searching and longing—a story of discovery, secrets, living in two cultures, and women’s choices and pressures. Readers 10 and up will enjoy this adventurous and thoughtful look at truth and family. Beautifully done. 

 

ISBN-13: 9781626720879
Publisher: First Second
Publication date: 10/03/2017

Book Review: Piper by Jay Asher, Jessica Freeburg, and Jeff Stokely

Publisher’s description

piperLong ago, in a small village in the middle of a deep, dark forest, there lived a lonely, deaf girl named Maggie. Shunned by her village because of her disability, her only comfort comes from her vivid imagination. Maggie has a gift for inventing stories and dreams of one day finding her fairy-tale love.

When Maggie meets the mysterious Piper, it seems that all her wishes are coming true. Spellbound, Maggie falls hard for him and plunges headfirst into his magical world. But as she grows closer to the Piper, Maggie discovers that he has a dark side.

The boy of Maggie’s dreams might just turn out to be her worst nightmare…

With striking illustrations from Eisner-nominated artist Jeff Stokely, mixed with Jessica Freeburg’s work on historic and legendary horrors, Piper is an exciting new departure for Jay Asher that deftly touches on the same themes of truth, guilt, and redemption that made Thirteen Reasons Why a beloved bestseller.

 

Amanda’s thoughts

My first thought when I finished this was that I want someone to write about disability in this book. There are interesting things going on with Maggie, who is deaf and can read lips (even, apparently, without always looking at the person, if the art is to be believed), and the deaf rat, and “the boy with the crippled leg,” the only child to escape the piper. That person is not me, because I don’t think I have the insight to fully explore that topic, but someone should look at this.

In Hameln, rats are destroying the grain harvest and storage as well as biting residents and spreading disease. The local rat catcher can’t get a handle on it, so when a stranger appears who claims to be able to play music and control the animals, the town reluctantly agrees to his terms in hopes of finally being rid of the rats. The piper and Maggie, a deaf girl used to being tormented, form a bond. He shares a bit with her about how to find a common song to control creatures. He’s interested in accountability, justice, and consequences. Maggie believes in forgiveness, acceptance, and finding the value in everyone. While the piper eventually does what he says he will do, the town’s leaders are always wondering if he’s a fraud, or has some kind of dark magic, or brought the scourge on himself. Fed up with their reluctance to pay to him, the piper eventually leads the children out of town, positioning Maggie to become the new story’s hero.

This dark story of trust, control, and revenge is a quick read with great illustrations that add so much to the story. Readers unfamiliar with the Pied Piper story will be particularly engaged in this tale, curious to see where it goes. A good addition for reluctant readers and graphic novel fans. 

 

Review copy courtesy of the publisher

ISBN-13: 9780448493664
Publisher: Penguin Young Readers Group
Publication date: 10/31/2017

Book Review: Cucumber Quest: The Doughnut Kingdom by Gigi D.G.

Publisher’s description

ra6What happens when an evil queen gets her hands on an ancient force of destruction?

World domination, obviously.

The seven kingdoms of Dreamside need a legendary hero. Instead, they’ll have to settle for Cucumber, a nerdy magician who just wants to go to school. As destiny would have it, he and his way more heroic sister, Almond, must now seek the Dream Sword, the only weapon powerful enough to defeat Queen Cordelia’s Nightmare Knight.

Can these bunny siblings really save the world in its darkest hour?

Sure, why not?

Adapted from the popular webcomic series, Cucumber Quest, The Doughnut Kingdom is the first graphic novel of a clever, adorable, and hilarious four-volume heroic adventure that is sure to make you hungry for sweets and action.

 

Amanda’s thoughts

cucumber questThe colors in this book are just bonkers. So bright and dramatic and thematic. I can picture this flying off the shelves simply because of how vibrant and dynamic the illustrations are.

Cucumber just wants to go to school, but suddenly his father NEEDS him to go on a big, important mission. Cucumber doesn’t want to and is not equipped to. Good thing he has a precocious and skilled little sister who doesn’t listen to everyone saying that girls and little sisters are not heroes of stories. Almond sure is. Cucumber, Almond, and some new friends they make along the way go off in search of certain items and people, and while practical Cucumber finds a way very early on to just be done with the whole scenario, Almond knows the fun is in the quest. The joyful illustrations of confectionery lands and characters add so much to this whimsical story of adventure. Good fun.

 

Review copy courtesy of the publisher

ISBN-13: 9781626728325
Publisher: First Second
Publication date: 10/10/2017
Series: Cucumber Quest Series , #1

Book Review: Cast No Shadow by Nick Tapalansky and Anissa Espinosa

Publisher’s description

ra6Greg has lived in Lancaster his whole life. The town’s always had its quirks, and being born without a shadow means he’s counted among them. When Greg discovers an old mansion in the woods just outside of town, he didn’t expect to meet a smart, beautiful, funny, and…very dead teenaged girl named Eleanor.

Yeah. He’s in love with a ghost.

And before he knows what’s happening, Greg finds himself at the wrong end of a history lesson when the town’s past, and his own, threaten to pull the two of them apart permanently!

From acclaimed comics writer Nick Tapalansky and phenomenal newcomer artist Anissa Espinosa, Cast No Shadow is a teen romance with humor and heart.

 

Amanda’s thoughts

cast noI always love books from First Second, but this one was not nearly as engaging as I had hoped it would be. The premise is cool—boy with no shadow falls in love with girl ghost only he can see—but the execution is lacking. A lot of things are kind of glossed over entirely or not fleshed out enough to really make an impact. Greg, who has no shadow, is best friends with Layla, who enjoys punching people. When she starts to date a boy Greg loathes, the two grow apart a bit. He can’t understand how she can like that guy and Layla thinks that Greg has just made up a ghost girlfriend (Eleanor) out of jealousy. Greg is also coping with his feelings about his dad’s girlfriend moving in. A ghost girlfriend whom Greg falls into insta-love with seems to be just the ticket to help him feel less crappy, but when they kiss, his shadow pops out and escapes, bringing chaos to Greg’s life and the town at large. Greg has to figure out how to stop his shadow and how to help Eleanor move on—to wherever it is she needs to go.

 

I definitely did not need the “this house was built on an Indian burial ground!” part of the story, even if the characters call out racist and inaccurate depictions when dealing with this fact. The inclusion of the “magical” burial ground is lazy, offensive, and nearly enough to make me want to skip this book altogether. 

 

While I dug the art and the concept of the story, I just wanted more from it. It kind of felt like we were just supposed to go with the story, without thinking harder about the plot holes or completely absent explanations. I had to go back and make sure I didn’t miss things, because I was often left wondering, wait, what? Readers who don’t mind a not fully fleshed out story but are into the concept may still find this interesting, but those looking to understand more about the relationships and the nuance of the plans carried out will be left dissatisfied. A surprising miss from a publisher that usually churns out really great graphic novels. 

 

Review copy courtesy of the publisher

ISBN-13: 9781596438774

Publisher: First Second

Publication date: 10/10/2017

Book Review: Spinning by Tillie Walden

Publisher’s description

ra6Ignatz Award winner Tillie Walden’s powerful graphic memoir captures what it’s like to come of age, come out, and come to terms with leaving behind everything you used to know.

It was the same every morning. Wake up, grab the ice skates, and head to the rink while the world was still dark.

Weekends were spent in glitter and tights at competitions. Perform. Smile. And do it again.

She was good. She won. And she hated it.

For ten years, figure skating was Tillie Walden’s life. She woke before dawn for morning lessons, went straight to group practice after school, and spent weekends competing at ice rinks across the state. Skating was a central piece of her identity, her safe haven from the stress of school, bullies, and family. But as she switched schools, got into art, and fell in love with her first girlfriend, she began to question how the close-minded world of figure skating fit in with the rest of her life, and whether all the work was worth it given the reality: that she, and her friends on the team, were nowhere close to Olympic hopefuls. The more Tillie thought about it, the more Tillie realized she’d outgrown her passion—and she finally needed to find her own voice.

 

Amanda’s thoughts

spinningThere are never enough stories about girls in sports, are there? Also, I don’t know that I’ve read any story where competitive ice skating is not just part of the story but almost all of the story. There are plenty of teens who are involved in very intense, competitive, high level sports, so this book is a nice addition to YA because it represents a life many teens lead (not necessarily ice skating, of course) but we don’t often see much of.

 

This graphic memoir follows Tillie from New Jersey to Texas, where she moves after fifth grade. She hopes to be able to escape the bullying and bad grades that plagued her in New Jersey, but Texas just provides more of the same. She feels like an outsider at the skating rink, too. She doesn’t bond with the other girls and she stands out because her parents never come to any of the competitions. Tillie is driven and wants to be the best, but she also doesn’t seem to actually really enjoy skating and mostly does it because it’s routine. She gets her first girlfriend, which briefly makes her feel like at least something in her life is satisfying, but that doesn’t last, and coming out to some of the people around her doesn’t go well, either. She looks to her coaches and teachers for the affection and attention she isn’t receiving, but eventually realizes that even that is not worth sticking with skating, and she quits the summer before her senior year in high school.

 

While the subject matter is appealing and unique and the illustrations really capture Tillie’s feelings, especially her loneliness and exhaustion, the overlong story suffers from uneven pacing. Some things that could use more exploring are just sort of skipped over, missing a real opportunity for adding depth to the story. This quiet look at the pressures of competitive sports and at feeling like an outsider will appeal to teens who connect with either of those storylines. The graphic format will catch the attention of readers who may not otherwise gravitate toward this story. 

 

Review copy courtesy of the publisher

ISBN-13: 9781626729407

Publisher: First Second

Publication date: 09/12/2017

Book Review: All’s Faire in Middle School by Victoria Jamieson

Publisher’s description

ra6Calling all Raina Telgemeier fans! The Newbery Honor-winning author of Roller Girl is back with a heartwarming graphic novel about starting middle school, surviving your embarrassing family, and the Renaissance Faire.

Eleven-year-old Imogene (Impy) has grown up with two parents working at the Renaissance Faire, and she’s eager to begin her own training as a squire. First, though, she’ll need to prove her bravery. Luckily Impy has just the quest in mind—she’ll go to public school after a life of being homeschooled! But it’s not easy to act like a noble knight-in-training in middle school. Impy falls in with a group of girls who seem really nice (until they don’t) and starts to be embarrassed of her thrift shop apparel, her family’s unusual lifestyle, and their small, messy apartment. Impy has always thought of herself as a heroic knight, but when she does something really mean in order to fit in, she begins to wonder whether she might be more of a dragon after all.

As she did in Roller Girl, Victoria Jamieson perfectly—and authentically—captures the bittersweetness of middle school life with humor, warmth, and understanding.

 

Amanda’s thoughts

alls faireWell, this graphic novel is just delightful. Imogene Vega, who has always been homeschooled, is going to attend traditional school for the first time. She’s pretty nervous—a feeling plenty of kids will be able to relate to, whether they’re new to their school or not. Imogene’s family works at the Renaissance Faire and she’s excited to finally be able to train to be a squire. But while she feels comfortable and like herself at the faire, middle school is a different story. Suddenly there are cliques, queen bees, the “right” clothes, bullies, and so much more to navigate. She falls in with a group of three girls, one of whom is extremely nasty, and while she doesn’t really have anything in common with them, they do offer some feeling of belonging. It doesn’t take Imogene long to see that fitting in may not be as satisfying as standing out.  With plenty of bumps in the road and impulsive (and bad) choices, Imogene takes a while to find her voice and figure out what version of herself to present in middle school, but when she does, watch out! Excellent artwork, quirky (in the best sense of the word) setting, and super relatable themes. An easy hit for fans of Roller Girl and fans of graphic novels in general.

 

Review copy courtesy of the publisher

ISBN-13: 9780525429982
Publisher: Penguin Young Readers Group
Publication date: 09/05/2017

Book Review: Secrets and Sequences: Secret Coders by Gene Luen Yang and Mike Holmes, a guest post by Callum (age 10)

If you follow me on Twitter (@CiteSomething), then you’re familiar with my extremely entertaining 10-year-old son, Callum. He’s a big fan of graphic novels and recently has started pulling books out of my TBR pile. It’s fun to get book mail and have so much of it either appeal now to him or know it will soon. He’s excited to write his second review post for TLT (you can read his first one here). I suspect we’ll see more from him in the future. He’s already been on the cover of a magazine and on an episode of The Longest Shortest Time (episode 50, “Mom, It’s Time We Had The Talk”). He loves when people react to stuff I tweet about him. He says it all adds to his “fame.” Have I mentioned he’s super entertaining and loves attention? Anyway, here’s his review.

 

Publisher’s description

secrets-andStately Academy is no ordinary school: it was once home to an elite institute where teachers, students, and robots worked together to unravel the mysteries of coding. Hopper, Eni, and Josh won’t rest until they’ve learned the whole story, but they aren’t the only ones interested in the school’s past. Principal Dean is hot on their trail, demanding that the coders turn over their most powerful robot. Dean may be a creep, but he’s nothing compared to the guy who’s really in charge: a green-skinned coding genius named Professor One-Zero.

 

 

 

 

Callum’s thoughts

This story is about three kids and an evil principal. They’re coders. One kid in class says, keep an eye on your mom to one of the coders. Their mom is a teacher at their school. Later, the principal kidnaps her. They say, you can have your mom if you give me this turtle-ship-thing. Change of plan! The turtle has a screen and the kids need to drive it for the principal. The daughter of the teacher says it will be okay and they’ll go get help.

 

So they drive to this huge castle and there’s a crazy green-faced man named Doctor One-Zero. They go see him and he pretty much puts the kids in a cell and makes the principal drink this stuff that makes him see green. He explains all this code to the kids and the girl’s visualizing it. Then there’s a flashback to when he was younger and he never asked for help or needed help and became evil and went to jail. He escaped and went all over the world trying to see where he fit in. He was on top of a mountain in a green moss cave, meditating and eating nothing but moss. He came out changed with a new name—Doctor One-Zero. They think of a way to get out of the cage. They’re going to go get the ship but One-Zero is flying it away. They’re figuring out how to get out of there. They take a bus back to the city and parents were worried. Back at school, there’s people practicing fighting. They are going to make an army of turtle-things to attack Doctor One-Zero.

 

The art was good and so was the story. Both boys and girls were main characters. One of the main characters is black. It ends on a cliffhanger, so there will be more in the series.

 

Review copy courtesy of the publisher

ISBN-13: 9781626720770

Publisher: First Second

Publication date: 03/07/2017

Series: Secret Coders Series #3

Book Review: The Time Museum by Matthew Loux, a guest post by Callum (age 10)

If you follow me on Twitter (@CiteSomething), then you’re familiar with my extremely entertaining 10-year-old son, Callum. He’s a big fan of graphic novels and recently has started pulling books out of my TBR pile. It’s fun to get book mail and have so much of it either appeal now to him or know it will soon. He’s excited to write his first review post for TLT. I suspect we’ll see more from him in the future. He’s already been on the cover of a magazine and on an episode of The Longest Shortest Time (episode 50, “Mom, It’s Time We Had The Talk”). He loves when people react to stuff I tweet about him. He says it all adds to his “fame.” Have I mentioned he’s super entertaining and loves attention? Anyway, here’s his review.

Publisher’s description

time-museumThe internship program at the Time Museum is a little unusual. For one thing, kids as young as twelve get to apply for these prestigious summer jobs. And as for the applicant pool . . . well, these kids come from all over history.

When Delia finds herself working at the Time Museum, the last thing she expects is to be sent on time-traveling adventures with an unlikely gang of kids from across the eons. From a cave-boy to a girl from the distant future, Delia’s team represents nearly all of human history! They’re going to need all their skills for the challenge they’ve got in store . . . defending the Time Museum itself!

 

 

Callum’s thoughts

Plot:

There’s this girl named Delia and she starts out at school pretty much. It’s the last day of school. They go to her uncle’s house and her parents say they’re going to go to the store or something like that. They go to take her brother to a pool. She’s busy being a nerd and looking at moss and mold and sees an extinct bird. She chases it and catches it. Then she sees a gate in front of her. It says it’s a time museum. She says gates are made for being opened, right? Delia holds the bird and goes in there. There’s like aliens and weird slug-humans and stuff. When she walks into the building, she sees her parents there. She says, “What are you guys doing here?” They’re like, oh, she finally found it! Found what? They say, we’ve been hiding this from you for a while. It was hard to hide! Delia wonders where her brother is. He’s at the gift shop. She goes in to search for him and finds that her uncle owns the museum.

 

Her uncle and her talk for a while about how he hid it and he tells her about all sorts of stuff about the museum. He makes her come with him. There’s another girl they meet. She’s from the way way future from Tokyo. Her name is Michiko. They become close friends even though they’ll have to be rivals in something fancy for the museum. The next day Delia goes to get a thing done on her so she can speak pretty much any language. They have to travel through time to finish these trials to complete this task thing.

 

First they go to the Cretaceous period and meet a creepy man, called The Grey Earl, who gives them a stone and says it’s a good luck charm. She walks away to save friends from dinosaurs and after the trial they get in trouble for being off task and nearly getting eaten by three T-Rexes. They do some more trials. They go to London for the final trial. That stone that guy gave her starts to glow and there’s a huge split in the sky—stuff is being sucked up in the sky. They all take cover. She goes through the portal in the sky then she sees that guy in there, The Grey Earl. They have a conversation and he asks how she got there. She shows him the stone that he gave her. She leaves the portal and runs to friends and the portal stops.

 

The ending is she’s off with her friends and telling them about the museum. Her fancy watch starts to glow. Delia runs around the corner and a friend follows her, but she’s just gone. Delia teleports into the museum. She crashes into a portrait that is half covered. She sees that The Grey Earl is one of the founders of museum. The back says there will be a book two.

 

Other things:

I liked the cool electronics that they used.
I liked that they travel through time to other periods and places.
The art was really good.
The story was kind of fast-paced and kept my attention.
It’s cool that it’s a girl main character.

 

Review copy courtesy of the publisher

ISBN-13: 9781596438491

Publisher: First Second

Publication date: 02/21/2017

Series: Time Museum Series, #1

Book Review: Nimona by Noelle Stevenson

NIMONAThe dedication in Noelle Stevenson’s NIMONA is “to all the monster girls.” It’s an intriguing dedication and one that makes more sense as you read the story of Nimona, a shapeshifter girl who can transform into a monster, or maybe a monster who can transform into a girl.

 

Nimona decides she will be the sidekick to supervillain Ballister Blackheart, enemy of The Institute of Law Enforcement. He claims to not need a sidekick, but there’s no dissuading Nimona. She giddily suggests ramping up the drama to his villainous plan—more chaos! more fire! more death!—and wants to kill his rival, Ambrosius Goldenloin. Blackheart and Goldenloin have a long and extremely complicated past with each other. Nimona is impulsive and believes in making big statements. She’s excited to attack people from the Institute and isn’t bothered by killing anyone. “Killing solves nothing, Nimona. It’s vulgar and messy,” the not-so-entirely-villainous Blackheart tells her. After they discover the Institution has been stockpiling a poisonous plant, their focus on fighting and exposing the Institution tightens.

 

Nimona and Blackheart are a dangerous duo. They can crack codes, escape from almost anywhere, masquerade as anyone or anything else, and together can cause far more havoc than they could alone. But taking down the Institution isn’t the most difficult task—the eventual choices they have to make regarding the relationships between Nimona, Blackheart, and Goldenloin are the real battles. At its heart, this is a story of identity, rescue, and the many roles we all can play. The story is deep, funny, witty, sad, and complicated. All of the characters are fantastically original and have their own unique quirks, but it’s the endearing and gutsy Nimona who stands out as an amazingly powerful, complicated, and strong but needy heroine. Whether she’s a dragon, a cat, or a punk girl with a vibrantly-colored Chelsea haircut and rows of earrings, she leaps off the page and demands to be reckoned with. An utterly fantastic read. Pair with Kristin Cashore’s FIRE for another interesting look at girls and monsters. 

 

ISBN-13: 9780062278234

Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers

Publication date: 5/12/2015

Relatedly: ‘NIMONA’ to be adapted into a film by Fox Animation. 

Already read NIMONA and need to find something to read next? Check out my post on diverse graphic novels.