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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. 

Celebrate Eisner Week With Diverse Graphic Novels

March 1-7 is Will Eisner Week. This week is held to “celebrate graphic novels, sequential art, free speech, and the amazing legacy of Will Eisner, one of the most innovative figures in the history of comics and graphic novels.” Check out the website for more information about how to celebrate the week, as well information about Eisner’s work and the Eisner Awards.

 

Eisner Week seems like a great time to feature some excellent graphic novels and comics. Building diverse collections and focusing on diverse displays in your library? Don’t forget graphic novels! These titles feature characters, authors, and illustrators from many places, with varied backgrounds, identities, and abilities.

 

Here are a few picks, both old and new, to get your display started. Summaries via the publisher or WorldCat. Have more titles to add? Leave us a comment or tweet us at @TLT16 or @CiteSomething

 

The Shadow Hero by Gene Luen Yang, illustrated by Sonny Liew (2014)

In the comics boom of the 1940s, a legend was born: the Green Turtle. He solved crimes and fought injustice just like the other comics characters. But this mysterious masked crusader was hiding something more than your run-of-the-mill secret identity: the Green Turtle was the first Asian American super hero. The comic had a short run before lapsing into obscurity, but Gene Luen Yang has revived this character in Shadow Hero, a new graphic novel that creates an origin story for the Green Turtle.

 

War Brothers: The Graphic Novel by Sharon McKay and Daniel Lafrance (2013)

Jacob is a 14-year-old Ugandan who is sent away to a boys’ school. Once there, he assures his friend Tony that they need not be afraid — they will be safe. But not long after, in the shadow of the night, the boys are abducted. Marched into the jungle, they are brought to an encampment of the feared rebel soldiers. They are told they must kill or be killed, and their world turns into a terrifying struggle to endure and survive

 

Friends With Boys by Faith Erin Hicks (2012)

Maggie McKay hardly knows what to do with herself. After an idyllic childhood of homeschooling with her mother and rough-housing with her older brothers, it’s time for Maggie to face the outside world, all on her own. But that means facing high school first. And it also means solving the mystery of the melancholy ghost who has silently followed Maggie throughout her entire life. Maybe it even means making a new friend—one who isn’t one of her brothers.

 

Part-Time Princesses by Monica Gallagher (March 11, 2015)

Beautiful, popular, and adored by all, Courtney, Amber, Tiffany, and Michelle can’t wait to graduate and take their place among the world’s elite. But when all their future plans are ruined, the girls have only one back-up plan – working as costumed princesses at the local amusement park. Unfortunately, increased gang activity has driven away all but the most loyal of customers. With the park on the verge of closing, the girls resolve to fight back, bring back their adoring customers, save the amusement park they never wanted to work at, and maybe learn something about themselves along the way.

 

A Game for Swallows: To Die, to Leave, to Return by Zeina Abirached (2012)

When Zeina was born, the civil war in Lebanon had been going on for six years, so it’s just a normal part of life for her and her parents and little brother. The city of Beirut is cut in two, separated by bricks and sandbags and threatened by snipers and shelling. East Beirut is for Christians, and West Beirut is for Muslims. When Zeina’s parents don’t return one afternoon from a visit to the other half of the city and the bombing grows ever closer, the neighbors in her apartment house create a world indoors for Zeina and her brother where it’s comfy and safe, where they can share cooking lessons and games and gossip. Together they try to make it through a dramatic day in the one place they hoped they would always be safe—home.

 

I Remember Beirut by Zeina Abirached (2014)

Abirached was born in Lebanon in 1981. She grew up in Beirut as fighting between Christians and Muslims divided the city streets. Follow her past cars riddled with bullet holes, into taxi cabs that travel where buses refuse to go, and on outings to collect shrapnel from the sidewalk. With striking black-and-white artwork, Abirached recalls the details of ordinary life inside a war zone.

 

Tomboy: A Graphic Memoir by Liz Prince (2014)

Growing up, Liz Prince wasn’t a girly girl, dressing in pink tutus or playing Pretty Pretty princess like the other girls in her neighborhood. But she wasn’t exactly one of the guys either, as she quickly learned when her Little League baseball coach exiled her to the outfield instead of letting her take the pitcher’s mound. Liz was somewhere in the middle, and Tomboy is the story of her struggle to find the place where she belonged.

Tomboy is a graphic novel about refusing gender boundaries, yet unwittingly embracing gender stereotypes at the same time, and realizing later in life that you can be just as much of a girl in jeans and a T-shirt as you can in a pink tutu. A memoir told anecdotally, Tomboy follows author and zine artist Liz Prince through her early childhood into adulthood and explores her ever-evolving struggles and wishes regarding what it means to “be a girl.”

 

 

Anya’s Ghost by Vera Brosgol (2011)

Anya, embarrassed by her Russian immigrant family and self-conscious about her body, has given up on fitting in at school but falling down a well and making friends with the ghost there just may be worse.

 

The Eternal Smile by Gene Luen Yang, illustrated by Derek Kirk Kim (2009)

Presents three short stories in graphic novel format involving the blurred line between fantasy and reality, including an office assistant who falls for an e-mail scam, and a young knight whose life is not what it seems.

 

 

March by  John Lewis, Andrew Aydin, Nate Powell (artist) (2013)

This graphic novel is a first-hand account of Congressman John Lewis’ lifelong struggle for civil and human rights, meditating in the modern age on the distance traveled since the days of Jim Crow and segregation. Rooted in Lewis’ personal story, it also reflects on the highs and lows of the broader civil rights movement. Book one spans Lewis’ youth in rural Alabama, his life-changing meeting with Martin Luther King, Jr., the birth of the Nashville Student Movement, and their battle to tear down segregation through nonviolent lunch counter sit-ins, building to a stunning climax on the steps of City Hall. HIs commitment to justice and nonviolence has taken him from an Alabama sharecropper’s farm to the halls of Congress, from a segregated schoolroom to the 1963 March on Washington D.C., and from receiving beatings from state troopers, to receiving the Medal of Freedom awarded to him by Barack Obama, the first African-American president.

 

 

The Zabime Sisters by Aristophane and Matt Madden (Translator) (2010)

On the first day of summer vacation, teenaged sisters M’Rose, Elle, and Célina step out into the tropical heat of their island home and continue their headlong tumble toward adulthood. Boys, schoolyard fights, petty thievery, and even illicit alcohol make for a heady mix, as The Zabime Sisters indulge in a little summertime freedom. The dramatic backdrop of a Caribbean island provides a study of contrasts—a world that is both lush and wild, yet strangely small and intimate—which echoes the contrasts of the sisters themselves, who are at once worldly and wonderfully naïve.

 

The Sons of Liberty by Alexander Lagos, Joseph Lagos, Steve Walker (Illustrator), Oren Kramek (Illustrator)

Visual and visceral, fusing historical fiction and superhero action, this is a tale with broad appeal-for younger readers who enjoy an exciting war story, for teenagers asking hard questions about American history, for adult fans of comic books, for anyone seeking stories of African American interest, and for reluctant readers young and old.

In Colonial America, Graham and Brody are slaves on the run-until they gain extraordinary powers. At first they keep a low profile. But their mentor has another idea-one that involves the African martial art dambe . . . and masks.

With its vile villains, electrifying action, and riveting suspense, The Sons of Liberty casts new light on the faces and events of pre-Revolution America, including Ben Franklin and the French and Indian War. American history has rarely been this compelling-and it’s never looked this good.

 

 

Pretty in Ink: North American Women Cartoonists 1896-2013 by Trina Robbins (2013)

A revised, updated and rewritten history of women cartoonists, with more color illustrations than ever before, and with some startling new discoveries (such as a Native American woman cartoonist from the 1940s who was also a Corporal in the women’s army, and the revelation that a cartoonist included in all of Robbins’s previous histories was a man!)  Although the comics profession was dominated by men, there were far more women working in the profession throughout the 20th century than other histories indicate, and they have flourished in the 21st. Robbins not only documents the increasing relevance of women throughout the 20th century, with mainstream creators such as Ramona Fradon and Dale Messick and alternative cartoonists such as Lynda Barry, Carol Tyler, and Phoebe Gloeckner, but the latest generation of women cartoonists—Megan Kelso, Cathy Malkasian, Linda Medley, and Lilli Carré, among many others.

 

 

 Strong Female Protagonist Book One by Molly Ostertag (Artist) and Brennan Lee Mulligan (2014)

With superstrength and invulnerability, Alison Green used to be one of the most powerful superheroes around. Fighting crime with other teenagers under the alter ego Mega Girl was fun – until an encounter with Menace, her mind-reading arch enemy, showed her evidence of a sinister conspiracy, and suddenly battling giant robots didn’t seem so important. Now Alison is going to college and trying to find ways to help the world while still getting to class on time. It’s impossible to escape the past, however, and everyone has their own idea of what it means to be a hero.

 

 

The Complete Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi (2007)

Persepolis is the story of Satrapi’s unforgettable childhood and coming of age within a large and loving family in Tehran during the Islamic Revolution; of the contradictions between private life and public life in a country plagued by political upheaval; of her high school years in Vienna facing the trials of adolescence far from her family; of her homecoming—both sweet and terrible; and, finally, of her self-imposed exile from her beloved homeland. It is the chronicle of a girlhood and adolescence at once outrageous and familiar, a young life entwined with the history of her country yet filled with the universal trials and joys of growing up.

 

 

Drama by Raina Telgemeier (2012)

Callie loves theater. And while she would totally try out for her middle school’s production of Moon Over Mississippi, she’s a terrible singer. Instead she’s the set designer for the stage crew, and this year she’s determined to create a set worthy of Broadway on a middle-school budget. But how can she, when she doesn’t know much about carpentry, ticket sales are down, and the crew members are having trouble working together? Not to mention the onstage AND offstage drama that occurs once the actors are chosen, and when two cute brothers enter the picture, things get even crazier! Following the success of SMILE, Raina Telgemeier brings us another graphic novel featuring a diverse set of characters that humorously explores friendship, crushes, and all-around drama!

 

 

Ms. Marvel Volume 1: No Normal by G. Willow Wilson, Adrian Alphona (Illustrator) (2014)

Marvel Comics presents the all-new Ms. Marvel, the groundbreaking heroine that has become an international sensation! Kamala Khan is an ordinary girl from Jersey City – until she is suddenly empowered with extraordinary gifts. But who truly is the all-new Ms. Marvel? Teenager? Muslim? Inhuman? Find out as she takes the Marvel Universe by storm! As Kamala discovers the dangers of her newfound powers, she unlocks a secret behind them as well. Is Kamala ready to wield these immense new gifts? Or will the weight of the legacy before her be too much to handle? Kamala has no idea either. But she’s comin’ for you, New York!

 

 

Hereville: How Mirka Got Her Sword by Barry Deutsch (2010)

Spunky, strong-willed eleven-year-old Mirka Herschberg isn’t interested in knitting lessons from her stepmother, or how-to-find-a-husband advice from her sister, or you-better-not warnings from her brother. There’s only one thing shedoes want: to fight dragons!

Granted, no dragons have been breathing fire around Hereville, the Orthodox Jewish community where Mirka lives, but that doesn’t stop the plucky girl from honing her skills. She fearlessly stands up to local bullies. She battles a very large, very menacing pig. And she boldly accepts a challenge from a mysterious witch, a challenge that could bring Mirka her heart’s desire: a dragon-slaying sword! All she has to do is find—and outwit—the giant troll who’s got it!

 

 

Marble Season by Gilbert Hernandez (2013)

Middle child Huey stages Captain America plays and treasures his older brother’s comic book collection almost as much as his approval. Marble Season subtly and deftly details how the innocent, joyfully creative play that children engage in (shooting marbles, backyard performances, and organizing treasure hunts) changes as they grow older and encounter name-calling naysayers, abusive bullies, and the value judgments of other kids. An all-ages story, Marble Season masterfully explores the redemptive and timeless power of storytelling and role play in childhood, making it a coming-of-age story that is as resonant with the children of today as with the children of the sixties.

 

Kampung Boy by Lat (2006)

Kampung Boy is a favorite of millions of readers in Southeast Asia. With masterful economy worthy of Charles Schultz, Lat recounts the life of Mat, a Muslim boy growing up in rural Malaysia in the 1950s: his adventures and mischief-making, fishing trips, religious study, and work on his family’s rubber plantation. Meanwhile, the traditional way of life in his village (or kampung) is steadily disappearing, with tin mines and factory jobs gradually replacing family farms and rubber small-holders. When Mat himself leaves for boarding school, he can only hope that his familiar kampung will still be there when he returns. Kampung Boy is hilarious and affectionate, with brilliant, super-expressive artwork that opens a window into a world that has now nearly vanished.

 

Deogratias: A Tale of Rwanda by Stassen, Jean-Philippe Stassen (Illustrator), Alexis Siegel (Translator) (2006)

The 2000 winner of the Goscinny Prize for outstanding graphic novel script, this is the harrowing tale of the Tutsi genocide in Rwanda, as seen through the eyes of a boy named Deogratias. He is an ordinary teenager, in love with a girl named Bénigne, but Deogratias is a Hutu and Bénigne is a Tutsi who dies in the genocide, and Deogratias himself plays a part in her death. As the story circles around but never depicts the terror and brutality of an entire country descending into violence, we watch Deogratias in his pursuit of Bénigne, and we see his grief and descent into madness following her death, as he comes to believe he is a dog.

Told with great artistry and intelligence, this book offers a window into a dark chapter of recent human history and exposes the West’s role in the tragedy. Stassen’s interweaving of the aftermath of the genocide and the events leading up to it heightens the impact of the horror, giving powerful expression to the unspeakable, indescribable experience of ordinary Hutus caught up in the violence. Difficult, beautiful, honest, and heartbreaking, this is a major work by a masterful artist.

 

Aya: Life in Yop City by Marguerite Abouet, Clement Oubrerie, Helge Dascher (Translator) (2012)

Ivory Coast, 1978. It’s a golden time, and the nation, too—an oasis of affluence and stability in West Africa—seems fueled by something wondrous. Aya is loosely based upon Marguerite Abouet’s youth in Yop City. It is the story of the studious and clear-sighted nineteen-year-old Aya, her easygoing friends Adjoua and Bintou, and their meddling relatives and neighbors. It’s a wryly funny, breezy account of the simple pleasures and private troubles of everyday life in Yop City.

 

Foiled by Jane Yolen, illustrated by Mike Cavallaro (2010)

Aliera Carstairs just doesn’t fit in. She’s always front and center at the fencing studio, but at school she’s invisible. And she’s fine with that . . . until Avery Castle walks into her first period biology class. Avery may seem perfect now, but will he end up becoming her Prince Charming or just a toad?

 

A + E 4ever by Ilike Merey (2011)

Asher Machnik is a teenage boy cursed with a beautiful androgynous face. Guys punch him, girls slag him and by high school he’s developed an intense fear of being touched. Art remains his only escape from an otherwise emotionally empty life. Eulalie Mason is the lonely, tough-talking dyke from school who befriends Ash. The only one to see and accept all of his sides as a loner, a fellow artist and a best friend, she’s starting to wonder if ash is ever going to see all of her…. a + e 4EVER is a graphic novel set in that ambiguous crossroads where love and friendship, boy and girl, straight and gay meet. It goes where few books have ventured, into genderqueer life, where affections aren’t black and white.

 

If you would like to recommend additional titles on this topic, please leave us a comment. We always look forward to hearing what books others value and recommend.

Book review: Tomboy by Liz Prince

It’s not often that I find a book completely fantastic. It’s also not often that I find a character in YA and think, yes–finally! I was like that as a teen. I could have been that character. Or that character is someone I would actually have been friends with. Enter Liz Prince’s Tomboy, an utterly fantastic graphic novel memoir about a girl who struggles with what it means to be a “girl.”

 

Tomboy follows Liz from age four through her teenage years. Liz isn’t thrilled to be a girl. She identifies as a tomboy. She writes, “I felt it really defined me. It was a lifestyle that I took very seriously.” She was into traditionally “boy” toys and activities. (I should note here that she also writes, “Obviously, this subject makes a lot of assumptions about gender, both male and female, and trying to define what makes a girl or what makes a boy is what got me so confused in the first place!”) She preferred to wear clothes meant for boys. When she played pretend, she was always a boy character (Luke Skywalker, Indiana Jones, Dennis the Menace). She was often mistaken for a boy. She also hoped she would become a boy–she felt she was supposed to be a boy. She’s bullied and mocked. Unsurprisingly, kids question her appearance, ask her if she’s a boy or girl, make fun of her, call her a lesbian…. It’s all pretty typical fare aimed at someone who doesn’t conform to expectations or social constructs. It hurts Liz, but she steadfastly remains herself. She makes friends over the years–generally other misfit-types (I use that term in the most loving way possible, as “misfit-types” are my people), but continues to have a hard time finding where she fits, especially once puberty hits and not only is she contending with this new undeniably female body, but with the many dramas that come with dating. It isn’t until she starts hanging out with a group of boys who completely accept her and, later, gets into the world of zines and punk shows that she starts to feel like she’d found a community.

 

Prince captures the uncertainty and unpredictability of adolescence perfectly. Liz’s main preoccupation is gender nonconformity, but equally important in the memoir are the stories of making and losing friends, of dating successes and failures, and of just figuring out where you fit, period. As a former teenage misfit who spent inordinate amounts of time thinking about gender and gender presentation (thank you, punk, feminism, and riot grrrl), writing zines, and going to punk shows, this book delighted me. Great for fans of graphic novels, memoirs, characters on the fringes, and anyone who has ever thought “what the hell does it even mean to be a girl, anyway?”

 

ISBN-13: 9781936976553

Publisher: Zest

Publication date: 9/2/2014

Book review: The Five Stages of Andrew Brawley by Shaun David Hutchinson with illustrations by Christine Larsen

17-year-old Andrew Brawley lives in a forgotten part of the Roanoke General Hospital. By “forgotten,” I don’t mean that it’s an area that doesn’t get many visitors or feels lonely—it’s literally a forgotten wing of the enormous building, abandoned in the middle of renovations. And let’s unpack that sentence even further: “lives” is accurate, because it is his only home and he never leaves there, but “hides out” or “squats” might be better words. He sleeps on a pile of stained sheets using a laundry bag as his pillow. He swipes items from the hospital staff to use as he needs to. He works in the cafeteria (getting paid cash under the table) and spends most of his time hanging out around the ER or in the pediatric department. He doesn’t need to be in a hospital in the sense that he’s not sick or there for treatment. But he needs to be there because it’s the last place he saw his family alive.

 

Andrew (often called Drew) is killing time chattering with his favorite ER nurses when Rusty is rushed in. Rusty, who appears to be Drew’s age, is in agony. His tortured howls should drive Drew away, but they keep him there, curious, feeling as though he should bear witness. Rusty has suffered severe and extensive burns, something about an accident maybe at a Fourth of July party. The details come out quickly, both in the media and from what Drew learns by keeping his ears open around the ER: Rusty, who had long been bullied, was set on fire at the party.

 

Drew takes to sneaking into Rusty’s room and talking to him or reading to him. He feels some connection with him, though he’s not sure why. Both boys are gay, and when one of the nurses asks Drew if he knows Rusty, Drew points out, “We don’t all know each other.” But he gets to know him. He tells Rusty things he hasn’t told anyone else, like what happened the night his family died. As Rusty begins to slowly recover, the conversations become two-way, rather than Drew just talking to a boy he isn’t even sure can hear him. Their affection for one another grows quickly, though Drew still isn’t sure what to make of how he feels about Rusty.

 

Throughout the story, Drew is on the run from Death, who also goes by the name Miss Michelle. Michelle is a social worker at the hospital and Drew lives in fear that she will one day figure out not only that he’s living in the hospital, but that he’s in fact a missing boy. He feels he somehow escaped Death when he lost his family and it’s just a matter of time before she catches him. He also worries that Death will come for Rusty, too.

 

Drew is drowning in grief. We know he’s seen tragedy, but the full extent of that tragedy is revealed slowly, and packs a real emotional punch when it’s finally all out there. Drew talks to Rusty about his debilitating guilt and how his family’s death is his fault. The grief permeates every page of the story. It is dark, dark, dark, and gets darker with every reveal. I ached for Drew as I watched his pain and guilt, cried when Rusty recounted the years of torment he suffered at the hands of his peers, and was shattered when he finally told Drew about what really happened the night he was lit on fire.

 

The other characters here are well-developed and mostly all have dark or sad aspects to them. Drew’s only real friends beyond the ER nurses are Lexi and Trevor, two teens in the cancer ward who are in grim shape. Drew also befriends Father Mike, the hospital’s priest who, to Drew’s surprise, is into comic books, has a biting sense of humor, and doesn’t shy away from conversations that ask the hard questions. Drew’s other friend is his boss Arnold, who runs the cafeteria. Drew can’t figure out what a guy with a master’s in literature is doing running a hospital cafeteria, or why Arnold has a tendency to pull back into himself and have unexplainable dark moments. In Drew’s small world, everyone has seen too much death and suffering.

 

This book includes a graphic novel that Drew is working on interspersed throughout, telling the story of Patient F. Here, Drew works out some of his anger, pain, guilt, and grief. If the overall narrative is dark, then the graphic novel is whatever is one step beyond dark. It’s disturbing, creepy, and haunting, and gives us a real look at exactly what tortured thoughts run around Drew’s brain.

 

The Five Stages of Andrew Brawley gutted me. The author puts all of Drew’s pain on the page and never lets you look away. Even the lighter moments are tinged with pain, death, suffering, guilt, and loss. Drew’s story is hard enough to imagine, but it was Rusty’s story that tore at me. When he tells Drew of his years of being bullied by his classmates, he says, “People always guessed I was gay… Not like I’m flaming or anything—or that it’d be bad if I were. It was just the worst-kept secret at my school. I never dated girls, Nina was always my bestie, and I sucked at sports.” Drew laughs and says, “Sucking as sports doesn’t make you gay.” “No,” replies Rusty, “but it makes you a target.” He explains that he was on a hit list. There were points for assaulting him. By the time he got to telling Drew about what happened when he was lit on fire, I had to set the book down. All I could think was, please don’t ever let that be my kid—the one brutalized for being different or the one cruelly bullying his classmates. I wanted to look away, but Hutchinson makes sure you can’t—look closer, his writing urges, as he describes in painful detail the humiliation and hatred.

 

It’s hard to say the novel has a hopeful ending. That darkness? It outdoes itself near the end. The idea that things have to get worse before they get better is more like things have to get worse before they can get even WORSE. But there is hope, especially if the graphic novel is to be viewed as finishing the story rather than wish fulfillment. Though Drew is suffering on every page of this story, he is also fumbling his way through the darkness to whatever is on the other side of it. All of the characters are. It’s hard to see that or remember that in the middle of so much pain, but hospitals aren’t just a place for ailing—they’re also a place for healing.

 

The unique setting, multifaceted plot, strong characters, and raw emotion make this story impossible to put down, even when you really want to. I’ll be thinking about Rusty and Drew for a long time to come.

 

REVIEW COPY COURTESY OF EDELWEISS
ISBN-13: 9781481403108
Publisher: Simon Pulse
Publication date: 1/20/2015