Monday, February 28, 2011

Great Graphic Novels for Girls Month

And thusly we end Great Graphic Novels for Girls Month.  Not that we'll stop doing reviews of graphic novels, but we're going to go back to reading stuff besides graphic novels.  I hope you found it helpful, and we'll keep you updated as we prep for our GGNfG presentation at ALA.

Smile by Raina Telgemeier

One ordinary day, Raina has an accident that knocks out both her front teeth.  As if being in middle school wasn't bad enough, now she's in middle school with no front teeth.  Raina's accident is followed by years of painful surgery and all kinds of unpleasant mouth related drama.  While all this is going on, Raina is also learning more about herself, her interests, and whom her friends are.

This was great.  It was sweet and uplifting and made me laugh and cringe.  It was very honest

While it might seem like this biography is mostly about a young girl's teeth drama, which is partly true, there's also all the stuff that's going on with Raina's group of friends.  You're probably familiar with this dynamic.  You have a big group of kids who are all friends and there's one kid who ends up being teased a lot.  Oh it's all in fun, you're all friends, but there's one who's always getting ganged up on.  That's Raina, and as time goes on, she's getting awfully tired of it.  She wonders if these people are really her friends at all.  I was so glad when in high school Raina finally got up the courage to tell all those not very nice "friends" where they could shove it and went off and did her own thing.  And when she did, she found people with similar interests who she really liked and who really liked her.

The art was done in traditional comic strip style in black and white with straight panels

While for much of the book Raina is in middle school, I think both middle grade and high school students would enjoy this.  It's not just about middle school or teeth.  It was about discovering yourself and that's something that any age person can relate to.  Especially when it's done so nicely.

Indiana District Removes 'Tyrell' From Elementary Schools

So my first question is, why was Tyrell in an elementary school in the first place?  It's a YA book, yes?  The article says that the librarian was ordering books for Black History Month and it was on the list.  Some elementary schools go up to 5th grade, but this is a book geared for high school students.  It doesn't seem like a good choice for an elementary school library.  That being said, I don't like how the parent handled it.  Instead of making a request to the library and the school board to have the book removed, she went to her lawyer who took it right to the media.  It seems like the intention was less about having the book removed than it was about making a scene.  Then the book was removed without a formal request, which I think was a poor choice on the part of the school board.  They should have made the parent file a request like everyone else, and then had their usual process for deciding if it should be removed or not.  Now the parent has more ammunition if she wants to go on to public libraries, which is mentioned.

Sunday, February 27, 2011


Congratulations to Shaun Tan on winning the Academy Award for Best Animated Short!

Aya by Marguerite Abouet & Clement Oubrerie

Growing up on the Ivory Coast, Aya is focused on her studies.  Her two best friends, Abjoua and Bintou, are focused on getting a husband to take care of them.  It’s hard for Aya to pay attention to school when her friends keep needing her help.

This is a trilogy as well, Aya is followed by Aya of Yop City, and Aya: The Secrets Come Out.  On the Ivory Coast, there is a dramatic difference between what is expected for boys and what is expected for girls.  The girls are suppose to make a good match and get married and have children and then take care of their husbands and children not matter what happens.  Aya is more interested in having a career, which her parents don't understand at all.

As the series continues, Aya, Abjoua and Bintou all have some serious problems to deal with.  Aya's family is crumbling thanks to her father, and she's angry that her mother won't stand up for herself.  Abjoua gets pregnant, and Bintou gets involved with a man who is not what he seems.

It was interesting to read about life was like for these young women growing up on the Ivory Coast, and the expectations that are put on them.  There's also some information at the end of each volume about life, food, clothes and slang from the Ivory Coast.

Friday, February 25, 2011

Castle Waiting by Linda Medley

Sleeping Beauty's abandon castle has become a place for fairy tale refugees.  It's a safe place for all who need it, no matter what reason.  Some only pass through, and others live their indefinitely.  Lady Jain has come to Castle Waiting, fleeing from an abusive husband and seeking a safe place to have her child.  There she meets a variety of characters and begins to learn their stories.

This is lots of fun, especially if you are a reader of fairy tales and can pick out whom some of the people are at Castle Waiting and in the surrounding towns, even before you hear their stories.  It's mixture of light fairy tale and more serious issues, like Lady Jain leaving her husband, or some of Sister Patience's story.

Castle Waiting was originally self-published serially in 1997-98.  Medley planned to publish other volumes, so that over time each character's story of how they ended up at Castle Waiting would be told.  In the first volume, only part of Lady Jain's story and the story of Sister Patience is told.  Due to not great sales, this never happened, which was very sad.  But hurrah, for Fantagraphics picked it up, published the existing Castle Waiting stories in one volume and this year the second volume finally came out!  So now you can get Castle Waiting vol. 2.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

The Color of Earth by Kim Dong Hwa

Ehwa is a young girl growing up in a Korean village.  She lives with her mother, who was widowed not long after Ehwa was born.  Through these two women, we see different stages of love, as Ehwa has her first crushes and her mother meets a traveling stranger.

This was beautiful.  Everything about it was beautiful.  The delicate black and white drawings, the language, Ehwa's mother's hesitant relationship and Ehwa's slow and confused understanding of love.  Ehwa often becomes confused by her mother's flowery explanations of love, sex, and the difference between boys and girls.  Ehwa's friend, the bold and rough Bongsoon, tells Ehwa all sorts of things she hears from her sister, but even these stories are wrapped in metaphors.

In The Color of Water, Ehwa has several crushes.  First on a young monk, and then on a wealthy boy who is home from school.  She only speaks to these boys a few times, but that is enough for her to continually think of them and wonder about what she is feeling. 

Ehwa's mother, as a widow, puts up with the crude jokes from the village men.  It isn't until a traveling artist passes through town does she begin to love for the first time since Ehwa's father.

This is a trilogy, and the follow installments, The Color of Water and The Color of Heaven, are equally lovely.  In them, we see Ehwa grow into a young woman and truly fall in love and learn more about herself and her body.  Her mother, meanwhile, continues her deepening relationship with the picture man.

I really loved these, and would definitely recommend them for high school.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Escape from "Special" by Miss Lasko-Gross

Melissa is misunderstood from an early age. Full of sturm and drang, she has a hard time in most 'normal' situations. Melissa is special, and labeled as such much to her detriment. It isn't until she learns to push past the psychobabble that she somehow learns to be at ease with herself.

I enjoyed this book, but I'm having a hard time vocalizing why.

This is a semi-autobiographical book, and you can kind of tell. Parts are so awkward, that they must be real. I like the fact that the character of Melissa is not immediately lovable, her strangeness grows on you like a fungus and you can't help root for her in the end. She's weird, too cerebral for her own good, been psychoanalyzed to bits, and has enough angst to fuel an entire state's worth of middle schoolers; yet you want her to find people to connect to, you want her to succeed (whatever that might be), and at least in my case you aren't really sure why you want those things for her.

Awesome characters, the vignettes are well done, my only problem was the illustrations. Not my favorite. It worked for this, but not super pleasant. The sequel is A Mess of Everything.

Janes in Love by Cecil Castellucci

As referenced by Arianna, Janes in Love is the sequel to the PLAIN Janes. The Janes have found a group of friends, but they're still looking to break into their stereotypical cliques. But this time they're also looking for love and legitimacy. As the police start cracking down on P.L.A.I.N. and Jane's mom becomes more reclusive, the Janes find it harder to remain a cohesive group.

I liked this, though not as much as PLAIN Janes. While PLAIN Janes felt like a new spin on the theme of finding your true friends, this storyline seemed to fall into some cliched pitfalls. There was also some confusing subplots that were just unnecessary (though perhaps they were supposed to be teased out in later issues). Regardless, I thought that this was a nice conclusion to the series. I like the idea of subverting the system by playing by the rules. Clever.

The Plain Janes by Cecil Castellucci and Jim Rugg

After a bombing in Metro City, Jane's parents decided to move to the quiet suburbs where it's "safe."  Jane has no desire to join the "popular" crowd at her new school, although she would have been welcomed in.  Instead, she befriends three girls, all named Jane.  Together they start an organization called P.L.A.I.N - People Loving Art in Neighborhoods - and create stealth art pieces all around town.  While most people find joy in the art, the police call it vandalism and are determine to catch the artists.  Jane's mother doesn't like the art pieces either.  It makes her afraid that people can sneak around town doing things unseen.  It makes her even more overprotective than before.  Jane is determined to keep creating art.  Art and the Janes is the only thing that makes her happy.

After the bombing, which sent Jane to the hospital, different things become important to her.  When she gets to her new school, she isn't interested in being popular.  She wants to be happy and find people who will support her in doing things she loves.  She finds this in the Janes, but the Janes all have the desire to be part of other groups.  One wants to be friends with the popular girl, one wants to be part of the theater crowed, one wants her chance on the athletic field.  Jane wants to show them that they don't need that.  They're the coolest group around!

I liked that although Jane had a traumatic experience, she refused to let it scare her.  She didn't want to hide.  It gave her the bravery to do her own thing and not care what people thought.  Jane helped the other girls see that they could be happy with who they are.  They should embrace their passion and not worry about people who might try to put them down.

There is also a sequel, Janes in Love.

Waiting on Wednesday: We All Fall Down: Living with Addiction by Nic Sheff

"Waiting On" Wednesday is a weekly event hosted by Breaking the Spine to spotlight an upcoming release that we're excited about.  This week I'm waiting on We All Fall Down: Living with Addiction by Nic Sheff.

In his bestselling memoir Tweak: Growing Up on Methamphetamines, Nic Sheff shared a heartbreakingly honest account of his days a crystal meth and heroin addict.  In this powerful and immensely readable follow-up, Sheff pick up where he left off and reveals his first person account of stints at in-patient rehabilitation facilities, devastating relapses with alcohol and marijuana, and hard-won realizations about what it means to be a young adult living with addiction.

There are so many made up accounts of fights with addiction for YA readers, and it's not that some of them aren't valuable, but some of them are kind of ridiculous and try the "scared straight" tactic which so often doesn't work at all and just feels fake.   This is different.  It's a look at a real person who fought addiction, failed, and fought again.

We All Fall Down: Living with Addiction will be coming from Little, Brown Books for Young Readers on April 5, 2011.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

A Dangerous Woman: The Graphic Biography of Emma Goldman by Sharon Rudahl

In this graphic biography, the fascinating life of Emma Goldman is told.  Emma Goldman was an anarchist and activist who fought for the rights of the workers.  She was jailed multiple times, founded the Free Speech League and the magazine Mother Earth and was eventually deported to Russia. No matter what the situation was, Goldman had no fears about standing up, loudly, for what she believed in.

What was nice about this particular biography was that we get to see Goldman's activist life, but also her personal life.  While she had multiple lovers, she believed her soul mate was Alexander Berkman, who was jailed for almost half his life.  Goldman even was in on an attempted plot to free him from prison.  When Berkman finally was released, they discovered that too much time had passed.  They never stopped loving each other, but knew they were not meant to be in a relationship.

I honestly didn't know anything about Emma Goldman.  I enjoyed reading about her a lot.  I don't agree with all the actions she took, or the way she went about things sometimes, but man, she sure was passionate about what she believed in!

This graphic was illustrated in the grotesque (this probably isn't the right word, but it's as close as I can get) style that I don't love, but it kind of felt appropriate for this one.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Table Talk at ALA Annual Conference

Back in October, Anna and I applied for a place in YALSA's table talk session for the ALA Annual Conference this summer.  A table talk is a full length conference session comprised of several mini-session designed "to introduce teen librarians to new, engaging and timely topics of interest."  We just found out today that we got accepted!  Our table talk will be on great graphic novels for girls, so now you know why we've been reading so many lately!  We're very excited about this opportunity, as it's our first official library talk thingy.  We don't have a whole lot of details yet.  Right now we're just excited, which I'm sure will soon fade into a "we better start getting organized" feeling.  But for right now, huzzah!

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Embroideries by Marjane Satrapi

The author of Persepolis creates another wonderful autobiographical book, with the focus on the important women in her life and their stories and opinions on love, sex, and marriage.

I enjoyed this book and it's honest perspective of sex and Iranian female culture. It has such a funny honest outlook on what many women go through: the troubles of marriage, the power struggles between the sexes, and keeping up appearances for family and friends. It was so well done that it felt like you knew these women, or at least knew their incarnations in your own life. Their discussion is earthy, lively, and has the intimacy that only happens when a group of women who have known each other for a very long time get together. Fabulous.

Diary of the Black Widow by Bret M Herholz

She's a clever woman, who has understood from an early age that she has the wiles to seduce what she wants from men. She then realizes that she could expedite the process by killing her lovers. Perhaps she was a bit overzealous in her pastime (killing five men at once), as the police are questioning her past. It's only in the last few pages that the Black Widow realizes that perhaps she is not as clever as she thought.

I really enjoyed this. Fantastically funny, the entire thing reminded me of Edward Gorey. Dark humor, 1920s setting, and the artwork; all awesome. Or perhaps it would be more apt to say that this story reminded me a lot of something Masterpiece would do. Regardless this was wonderful, it made me chuckle. It looks like Bret M. Herholz has done a couple more stories along the same line as this one, and I would love the get my hands on The Adventures of Polly and Handgraves: A Sinister Aura. Well done Mr. Herholz, well done.

Nerds Heart YA Books!

I don't think Arianna has mentioned the fact that she and I have been chosen to judge the first round of 2011 Nerds Heart YA Book Nominations.* Super fun right? The best part is that anyone may nominate a book!

The criteria is as follows:

  • Have been published between Jan 1st 2010 and Dec 31st 2010
  • Contain significant characters that fit into at least one of the seven categories of under represented groups that the Nerds Heart YA organisers have identified, or have been written by an author who comes from within one of these groups of people
  • Be young adult fiction
  • Be a book that you feel has been under represented by book blog coverage
  • Please go forth and nominate.

*We're supposed to add a disclaimer that says that just because we've been notified that we're first round judges and you have not heard, that doesn't mean that you aren't going to be a judge. They just haven't gotten to responding to you yet. Be patient.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Re-Gifters by Mike Carey, Sonny Liew, and Marc Hempel

Dixie's life has always focused on the martial art of hapkido. It's where she's met all her friends, her life philosophies have come from, and she met her first major crush. Unfortunately her perspective has opened up, and she's begun to worry about her dad's unemployment, her social standing outside of hapkido, and therefore lost her self-awareness and the balance she had. Her fighting has taken a turn for the worse, she's caught out past her curfew, and she just spent the $200 meant for a place at a national tournament on a gift for cutie Adam. What will it take for Dixie to re-focus and understand that some things are better the second time around?

I read this one before I read Clubbing, and when I first read it I thought, "Adorable! What a delightful little story." After reading Clubbing, and my mind was a bit blown by how good that was, my thoughts became more, "Huh. Well, it as still a sweet story." More of a conciliatory pat on the head. I don't want to say that I didn't like this book. I just felt that it went for a ton of cliches that it didn't need to. This would be excellent for someone in seventh or eighth grade. Or if you're looking for something that is super light and fluffy that you don't need to think about later.

Clubbing by Andi Watson and Josh Howard.

Goth Lottie has just been sent to her grandparents country club after being caught with a fake I.D. As she tries to figure out life where a walk is a considerable distance, there's no internet, the greatest social event is a cake making contest, and there's no one around her age except a gruff young man that loves mythology; Lottie will also stumble upon a mystery that only she has the pigheadedness to figure out.

So I kind of love this book. It was obviously meant to be a series, but since Minx got shut down we'll never know what happens to dear Lottie. I think what I love most about this book is the fact it's not about some girl trying to fit in, discover herself, or find love. It's about someone who likes to stand out, staying exactly who she is, and doesn't end up with anyone. Excellent. The fact that she also stumbles onto a crazy cult who are involved with paranormal murders is just icing on a delicious cake. I love the fact that this seemed like a ridiculously original idea, didn't fall into any cliches, and was generally pretty funny. Sad that it ended after one issue.

I am J by Cris Beam

I got I am J, which is narrated by a trans boy, over the summer, and hadn't gotten around to reading it yet because it didn't come out until March I had plenty of time.  Then, as it got closer to March, I happen to come across a post from Megan Honig's blog.  Megan expresses her disappointment in Almost Perfect by Brain Katcher winning the Stonewall Children and Young Adult Literature Award.  She was disappointed because she felt that while Almost Perfect did some things well is giving a voice to transgender individuals, ultimately it played right into the stereotypes that surround trans men and women.  Her point was that acceptance is not enough.  I have not read Almost Perfect so I can't judge, but it made me realize that I knew pretty much nothing about transgender individuals, and if I was going to be able to truly review a book about a trans boy then I better start doing some background reading ASAP.  So I did.

Luckily for me, Megan Honig had a number of helpful links from the above post I could explore, and I picked up the book Whipping Girl: A Transsexual Women on Sexism and the Scapegoating of Femininity by Julia Serano, which was kind of amazing.  Through it I was able to gain a better understanding of trans men and women.  None of the "man trapped in a woman's body" stuff.  People are assigned a gender at birth, and luckily for most of us that assigned gender matches our subconscious gender (these people are referred to as "cisssexuals").  It doesn't work like this for everyone, and when it doesn't there is a feeling of dissonance and wrongness.  Serano talked about her own transition, but also looked a femininity itself and feminism.  I'm not going to explain it all here, first because I want to focus on I am J, and second because I don't think I'd do her argument justice.  And so with mildly better understanding than before, I read I am J.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Leave it to Chance by James Robinson and Paul Smith

Lucas Falconer is a world renowned paranormal investigator. Descended from a long line of 'ghost fighters' Mr. Falconer is famous for bringing down horrible unimaginable evils and living to tell the tale. Unfortunately this story is not about him, it's about his fourteen year old daughter Chance, who has decided that it is about time for her to step into her father's shoes and learn the family business. Unfortunately Daddy Falconer believes that because she is female she's not capable of being an investigator. It doesn't help that Chance is impulsive and tends to leap into trouble eyes shut feet first. This is never more apparent when Lucas Falconer leaves the city, and Chance takes up an investigation that leads to greater harm than she could ever conceive of.

I'd first like to give a shout out to Mike for loaning me the first to volumes of this series. Awesome. It's like a cross between Nancy Drew, Hellboy, TinTin, and Little Orphan Annie. So weird and yet so right. Chance could've been super obnoxious, but her precociousness was actually quite endearing instead of off-putting. I love the fact that her pet dragon kind of looks like a Nerf dart with wings, and that sometimes her beady eyes remind me of 1950s comics. It's all so weirdly right. I wouldn't say that there's a ton of character depth, but it's just such an enchanting plot-driven story that you don't really care. And unlike current literature, I didn't feel like my brain was leaking out my ears afterward. (I hope you feel shame Twilight). So far it's got thirteen issues and is ongoing. I've only read through eight and am hoping to find the others. Good times.

Foiled by Jane Yolen

Aliera is not your typical high-schooler, as a color-blind fencer she doesn't fit into any high school clique. She is a loner who would rather spend time fencing or playing a RPG with her handicapped cousin. It's only when her mother unexpectedly finds a $3 foil with a cheap looking jewel at the bottom does life become interesting. Aliera suddenly starts spending time with a popular boy and seeing in color! Everything is not as it seems, but is Aliera really a superhero or just crazy?

I liked this book, it's cute. Runs into a couple cliches but otherwise pretty great. Mike Cavallaro's illustrations give a sense of dynamic energy to the characters. Also the chapters are all named after different attacks in fencing, clever. It's a great theme throughout the story. A nice cliffhanger. Should be a nice series if that keep out of the usual tropes that this could go into. But it's Jane Yolen, so I'm not too worried.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Cybils 2010 Winners

Check out the winners of the Cybils, the Children and Young Adult Bloggers' Literary Awards.  I am delighted that Rot and Ruin by Jonathan Maberry won for science fiction and fantasy.

Cat Burglar Black by Richard Sala

K, who has grown up in an orphanage, has been invited to attend a boarding school run by her aunt, who she never knew she had.  Upon arriving at the school, K finds that there are only three other girls...and that her aunt is mysteriously laid up in bed, with the strict Mrs. Turtledove in charge.  K soon realizes she hasn't been brought here to go to school.  She has been brought to join The Obtainers, a gang of thieves, who tell K that her parents were once one of them.  K and the other girls are forced to help The Obtainers steal a series of pictures, that once put together, will reveal the location of a secrete treasure.  The four young girls set out on their mission, but begin to disappear one by one.

This was a fun graphic.  There wasn't a whole lot to it, really.  The orphanage K grew up was run by a thief and taught them all how to steal stuff (kind of like Oliver Twist), and then she is brought to this school and finds out her father was one of The Obtainers, which K finds very upsetting, of course as she's always pictured her deceased parents as wonderful upstanding citizens.  It also turns out that her father might not be dead at all, but rather "disappeared" years ago.  The book ends abruptly, so I'm sure there will be sequels coming.

It was light and fun and a great choice for younger middle grade who like mystery.

Monday, February 14, 2011

I Kill Giants by Joe Kelly art by JM Ken Niimura

Barbara Thorson is in fifth grade and kills giants, so she says.  No one believes her.  The kids at school pick on her and make fun of her, and Barbara often gets into pretty horrible fights.  One new girl at school, Sophia tries to be Barbara's friend, but she doesn't need or want friends.  Then the school starts making Barbara talk to Ms. Mole, the counselor.  Barbara does not like that at all.  Is Barbara really a giant killer?  Or is she trying to kill a giant she just can't handle.

Loved, loved LOVED.  This was awesome.  Seriously, so good.

For about half the book, it's difficult to tell what's going on with Barbara.  While the world seems like the real world, it might not be.  Maybe she really is a giant killer.  Maybe she knows something that no one else does.  Or maybe she's mentally unstable.  Maybe "killing giants" isn't what it actually sounds like and it means something else to her.  Maybe she THINKS it means killing actually giants but unconsciously it means something else.  As the reader, you have no idea.

Another fascinating aspect was Barbara's family situation.  Early on, we realize that her older sister, Sissy, is taking care of her.  Barbara has an older brother too, who is also still in school.  We don't know why Sissy is taking care of them.  She seems very overwhelmed and stressed.    Barbara refuses to go upstairs in the house.  There is something very very bad upstairs.  Something terrible and evil that not even she, as a giant killer, can handle.

The art is black and white, and I liked what was done with Barbara.  She has bunny ears.  Like, not a hat or anything, she just has bunny ears.  And no one finds this odd.  It sets her apart as different.  It was a really cool way of doing it.  You hardly even notice it, it's just part of her.

There's going to start being a lot of spoilers, and I highly recommend this one, so I'm going to do a jump.  Only jump if you want to know what happens.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Batwoman Elegy by Greg Rucka art by J.H Williams III

Discharged from the army for violating article 125 (homosexual conduct), Kate Kane has found a new way to serve.  With the help of her father, a retired army colonel, Kate becomes Batwoman.  Batwoman is currently after the new leader of a cult who previously tried to have her killed.  As she goes after the leader, who goes by Alice, Batwoman is forced to face her past.

This Batwoman is pretty kick ass.  And practical.  While she's still wearing a catsuit kind of thing, it covers her completely and she isn't wearing spike heels, or heels at all.  She also isn't a skinny little waif with a gigantic chest.  She looks like a real person.  She looks like a solider, which she was until she got kicked out for being a lesbian.  So Batwoman is a Jewish lesbian, and she is awesome.

In Elegy, we have the action of Batwoman fighting against the villain, Alice, who is the new leader of a group that previously tried to kill her.  We also learn about Batwoman's history.  We get to see her experience in the army and what happened, and how she decided to become Batwoman.  We also get to see some of her childhood, and why she and her father are so close.  Kate grew up in the army, with both of her parents as members.  She also had a sister.

Another thing I liked is that it showed all the work Kate had to do to become Batwoman.  It's not like she just threw on a cape and went out to save the world.  It took years of study and training and preparation.

The illustrative style is traditional comic book action hero style, which I liked.  I don't do a ton of comic book reading, so sometimes it was a little hard for me to follow, it's very stylized, but I got the hang of it as it went along.

I liked this a lot, a good action/adventure for high school students.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

The Good Neighbors: Kin by Holly Black and Ted Naifeh

Rue Silver's mother has disappeared.  After this, Rue begins seeing things no one else can see.  Things like faeries and demons.  Rue learns that her mother was a faerie, and because her father broke a sacred promise, Rue's mother must return to the faerie realm.  Rue is determined to get her back, but she must deal with her mother's side of the family, who seem to fear her for some reason and want her under their control.

This is a darker fantasy, perhaps not as dark as Fables was, but definitely not light and fluffy.  Magic and magical creatures have a dangerous side in this world, and crossing them can have tragic consequences. I like coming across fantasy like this.  As much as I love fantasy, it can get a bit repetitive at times, with the same stories being told in slightly different ways.  With good things being light and beautiful and bad things being dark and twisted.  Everything seems dark in this world, and it's an interesting concept.  I'd like to see where it goes.

The illustrations are done in black and white, with a lot of shadowing.  Everything feels dark and sad, which is the overall feeling Rue has as well, along with confusion.

There are two other books in this series, Kith and Kind.

Friday, February 11, 2011


The New York Times has suddenly realized that kids and young adults are reading e-books.

Who's Your Ideal Boyfriend? from  Unfortunately I got a Etienne St. Clair from Anna and the French Kiss which I've heard good things about but haven't read.  Now I'll have to, since he's my ideal boyfriend and all.

 Remembering Brian Jacques.  From The Guardian.

Wow, I totally missed the kerfuffle over at Bitch Magazine earlier this month about their 100 Young Adult Books for the Feminist Reader.  After some negative comments, they removed three books from their list, which caused even more negative comments and several authors requesting to be removed from the list completely.  Scott Westerfeld, the first author to ask to be removed from the list, talks about it with PopMatters.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Sorcerers & Secretaries by Amy Kim Ganter

Nicole Hayes works a tedious, boring job as a receptionist. Her favorite thing to do is to read fantasy stories. She's even writing one of her own. Josh works at a bookstore. HIS favorite thing to do is make girls think he's interested in them. Josh really is interested in Nicole though, and has been for a while. Nicole wants nothing to do with him. She knows he flirts with every girl that comes along. Josh seeks advice from his playboy roommate, and tries to make Nicole jealous by hitting on her best friend, which of course only drives Nicole farther away. In truth, Nicole does like Josh, but isn't about to start dating someone like that.

I liked this because the girl isn't falling all over the guy when he's acting like a jerk. I feel like that happens a lot in stories. I find myself wondering what on earth the girl sees in him when he's being totally unpleasant. We get to see that Josh and Nicole used to hang out and have fun together, but because Josh is such a flirt Nicole refuses to date him. Good for you Nicole, good for you. You are an example for girls everywhere!

Josh thinks he's acting like a big man, and keeps getting terrible advice from his roommates that only drives Nicole away from him. Nicole also isn't sure if she even wants to be with Josh if he changes. She's writing her fantasy story and wants to focus on it. Josh is determined to show Nicole he really cares, and we'll see if he succeeds in later volumes.

This graphic was done manga-esq style. Not full on manga, but very similar.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Agnes Quill an Anthology of Mystery by Dave Roman

Agnes Quill is a teenager who is just trying to make a buck. Having taken over the family business, she uses her special abilities to help the strange inhabitants in her steampunk city Legerdemain find what they're looking for. Whether you need to get rid of some ex-girlfriend zombies, keep your underground community connected to electricity, or find an expensive heirloom in a corpse's head, Agnes is the girl to solve your mystery. (It helps that she can see ghosts since most of her clients are dead.)

I liked this book quite a bit. It seemed very fresh even though it was published five years ago, I loved the steampunk traits mixed in with the mystery and Agnes was just so wonderful and funny. There were four stories with a different artist for each: Jason Ho, Dave Roman, Raina Telgemeier, and Jeff Zornow. I actually didn't really catch on until about 3/4 of the way through that the main character in each story was supposed to be the same girl, but it was still wonderfully done. I especially liked Ho's and Zornow's artwork, it seemed to really fit the setting of the stories. The others were good, but perhaps a little too simplistic. Regardless, awesome. Pick it up and give it a go. You won't regret it.

Brian Jacques 1939-2011

I have liked Brian Jacques' Redwall series for about fifteen years now. As a librarian, I respected the fact that he was an author that believed that kids are intelligent and could handle dark plot lines. I was able to hear him speak a few years ago and he was so engaging and delightful and British, exactly how I wanted him to be.

I'm sad to say that he died Saturday, suddenly after having emergency surgery. He was only 71. All I can do is think on a passage from the first book I read of his:

"I have seen it all before, many times, and yet I never cease to wonder. Life is good, my friends. I leave it to you. Do not be sad, for mine is a peaceful rest."
- Abbott Mortimer from Redwall by Brian Jacques

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Gunnerkrigg Court by Thomas Siddell

After the death of her mother, Antimony Carver arrives at Gunnerkrigg Court, a British Boarding school.  Gunnerkrigg Court is odd.  There are robots.  And saving the world lessons.  And dragons. And people changing into birds.  And mysterious dark forces.  Antimony is a bit odd herself though, but she does have a close friend name Kate, who's a science genius.  Together the girls explore the strangeness that is Gunnerkrigg Court, and begin to learn more about both their families.

Gunnerkrigg Court was originally done as a web comic, and you can still read them all online.  The book, therefore, is split into short chapters and each chapter is really a self-contained story.  Everything builds on itself, and toward the end of the first volume (which ends with chapter 14) the tension begins to grow as we learn more about Kate and Antimony's parents.  It turns out they all went to school together at Gunnerkrigg Court, and there are some secrets that I'm sure will soon be revealed!

I liked this a lot, so I'm glad that I can read the rest of it online because I'd like to continue with it right away.  It's a mix of fantasy and mystery, and the episodic style makes you want to keep reading just one more chapter.  And, even though (as you can see from the cover) the illustrations were not done in a realistic style, I loved it.  It fit perfectly with the story.  It's set up in more traditional panels, with some half-page pictures.

Another one that I think both middle grade and older students would enjoy, but probably would recommend mostly for middle grade.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Runaways: Pride & Joy by Brian K. Vaughan and Adrian Alphona

Every year six families get together for a 'business meeting,' and every year computer-whiz Alex is forced to hang out with the other families' kids. There's hippy Karolina who wants to save the world, overly confident Victor (smarmy if you will), eleven year old Molly who is going through the change, gothy artsy Nico, and nerdy Gertrude. Every year is the same, except for this year. This year Alex gets the others to spy on their parents' meeting. What they had always assumed was a business meeting discussing future charity work looks to be a gathering of supervillains involved in a group called The Pride committing murder.

Of course there is freaking out to be done, and eventually they decide to report the murder, only to be hung up on because of disbelief and the police's involvement with The Pride. Alex and the gang decide to runaway and take down their parents on their own. A seemingly impossible task until they realize they aren't completely helpless. Alex is amazing at strategy, Karolina is an alien, Victor get's his hands on his genius parents' destructive weapons, Nico is a witch, Gertrude is from the future, and Molly is a mutant. They've escaped for now, but their parents are determined to get them back, and there seems to be a moly amongst the runaways.

I really enjoyed this! Original premise: a teen's vision that their parents are out to get them is true, kick-ass characters, excellent artwork. I have no complaints. It's all done in a weirdly believable way. Evil power hungry villains with heart? OK. Mutants? Bring it on. Aliens, witches, time-travel, and evil scientists? Welcome to the party. Of course they have a telepathic velociraptor, why wouldn't they?

The usual teenage themes of figuring out who you are, where you fit in life, and who your real friends are, are obviously turned up a notch in this series; it's still all relatable and engaging. And while they could've gone for over the top angst, what little they do have is done with such humor that you kind of forget the cliche. I've started the second Teenage Wasteland, and so far have really enjoyed it. Find it, read it, get the next one.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Isadora Duncan: a graphic biography by Sabrina Jones

In this graphic biography, the thrilling life of Isadora Duncan is told.  Isadora Duncan was the pioneer of modern dance.  She disliked classical ballet, finding it "unnatural."  Isadora wanted to dance her own way, which was inspired by the Greek goddesses.  In bare feet, dressed in a tunic, Isadora danced.  Throughout her life she amazed and scandalized many.  Isadora dreamed of having a school of modern dance, and although it did become a reality, money was always an issue.  Although Isadora's dance was full of joy, she had many tragedies in her life, including the deaths of her children.  Isadora died tragically in a car accident, but her dancing will be forever remembered.

I did not know very much about Isadora Duncan's personal life.  It was fascinating.  Honestly, Isadora came off as a little overbearing, which might have been intentional.  She did have very strong points of views and wasn't especially interested in hearing otherwise.  She did what she wanted.  She didn't let anyone talk her out of something she wanted to do, even if it might be ill advised.  Isadora Duncan was a very strong woman.  She would have to be, to dance they way she did during that time, ignoring what people said about her because she felt the truth in what she did.  A fascinating life.

Jones illustrations are simple black and white drawings that flow across the page.  There were few straight panels or orderly boxes.  The drawings fit well with the tone of the book.

This is an excellent overview of Isadora Duncan's life, appropriate for middle grade students, but also for older students who want to learn more about her.

Saturday, February 5, 2011

The Professor's Daughter by Joann Sfar and Emmanuel Guibert

It is the 19th Century, and Lillian the daughter of the brilliant Egyptologist Prof. Bowell has fallen in love with a dead man. After being mummified for three thousand years and Imhotep IV, Pharoah of Egypt, is enjoying the modern experiences that London has to offer with Lillian, both exhilarated to be out of Prof. Bowell's stifling supervision. It isn't until an unfortunate experience with tea and assaulting another gentleman that things go terribly wrong. While protecting Imhotep from incarceration, Lillian accidentally poisons two men and she and Imhotep must flee.

For all that it sounds rather adventurous and action-packed, I found this book to be rather sweet and gentle. Very light reading. Not the first thing that I would think to recommend to a friend, but if you needed something to take up fifteen to twenty minutes of time that you didn't really have to think about afterward then it's perfect. The illustrations are very engaging, and I liked the little twist at the end. Don't go out of your way to get it, but if you stumble upon it skim through.

Friday, February 4, 2011

Girl Stories by Lauren R. Weinstein

Lauren had some tough times growing up.  First of all, she was the only girl who was still playing with Barbies at 13.  All of her friends got too cool to play dolls with her anymore.  Than, she wasn't popular and got picked on all the time in school.  There was one boy in particular who was always mean.  Lauren tried to get in with the popular crowd, but it didn't turn out so well.  Her parents drive her crazy and when Lauren finally does get a boyfriend, it turns out it's not all it's cracked up to be.  In a series of short stories, Lauren tells stories from her life from middle school through high school that any girl will be able to relate too.

 I appreciated that Weinstein was very honest.  She is telling personal stories from her life, and not everything would easy for someone to admit.  She's been in a fair number of embarrassing situations.  I think probably most kids go through situations like this, but don't want to talk about because they feel alone and it IS embarrassing.  This is a great graphic novel for a middle school or new high school student to read and see that other people's lives aren't perfect either, and that you can make it through.

I wasn't a huge fan of Weinstein's illustrating style.  She actually uses several different styles, since she's writing these stories at different points in her life and trying out different ways of drawing.  Everything is kind of grotesque looking, and the coloring felt strange to me.  Weinstein's style is cartoonish, certainly not going for detailed realism.  This is just a personal preference.  I think when it comes to graphic novels, I like the detailed realism better.  Not liking the artistic style did not take away from the stories, however.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Wonderland by Tommy Kova, illustrated by Sonny Liew

Here we are again in Wonderland, but Alice is nowhere in sight.  Now we get the story of Mary Ann, the White Rabbit's housemaid Alice was mistaken for.  Mary Ann enjoys her job, as she likes everything to be clean and tidy at all times.  Things quickly go down hill as the White Rabbit is accused of being in league with the Alice monster and the Queen of Hearts orders his head to be removed.  Mary Ann and the White Rabbit are on the run, and in the process fall down a treacle well and discover that the Queen of Hearts isn't the only queen left in Wonderland after all.

This was fun.  I think it would be less fun if you haven't read Alice in Wonderland.  There are lots of jokes that play off assumed knowledge of Wonderland, like the treacle well and the jabberwocky, the Cheshire cat and the disturbance that Alice caused when she was there.  None of that is explained.

While Mary Ann likes keeping things clean and tidy, she begins to get frustrated with everyone claiming that she's "theirs."  The White Rabbit calls her his maid, but the Queen of Spades decides Mary Ann will be her handmaid, never asking Mary Ann herself, of course.  When the group goes to Sir Edward to get some new clothes made, Mary Ann begins to think that she might like to work in a place like that, but when she tries to ask about it, the Queen of Spades cuts her off by asking if Sir Edward is finished attending to HER handmaid.

Mary Ann is always being told what to do by other people, even though she's far more sensible than most of them.  It has a nice ending with the White Rabbit acknowledging her as a friend, not as a maid.

It is illustrated by Sonny Liew, in a colorful cartoonish style.

A nice story, appropriate for middle grade or lovers of Alice in WonderlandWonderland is the first in a series, and there are three volumes currently available.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Inside Out by Maria V. Snyder

Trella is a scrub on the first level of the Inside. She is one among tens of thousands that work in the lower levels that keep their society running smoothly. While Trella psychologically survives by keeping to herself in the pipes, other scrubs like her only friend Cogon look to prophets that speak of Outside and a Gateway that will free them. Eventually Trelly is persuaded to meet with the newest prophet Broken Man, who has requested her by name. It seems that he used to be an Upper, someone who lives on the second or higher levels. Scrubs both hate Uppers for the their seemingly posh lifestyle and fear as the population cops or Pop Cops who deal out them punishments are all Uppers. Broken Man manages to pique Trella's curiosity via Cogon to go and steal some discs that he has left in his room on the fourth level. It isn't long before Trella is immersed in an intrigue that could take down the entire system that she has grown up in. She'll need all the help she can get from of Logan and Anne-Jade twin Tech Nos who allow her to ghost around the technology of the upper levels, Jacy an information shark who doesn't like her much, and Riley a smart Upper who is starting to mean more to her; as Cogon has been captured by the Pop Cops and slated for execution. With all the scrubs hope resting on her shoulders, will finding the Gateway give Trella the answers she seeks?

VIRALS by Kathy Reichs

Fifteen year old Tory Brennan is the great-grandniece of famous forensic anthropologist Temperance Brennan, whom she idolizes. Unfortunately for Tory she lives on a small island off the coast of South Carolina on a science compound affiliated with some university. She has just moved in with her rather clueless genius dad Kit and her only outlet for her grief of losing her mother are forensics, dogs, and the three other teens living on the island: Hi a sarcastic authority defying flashy dresser; Shelton, token person of color who happens to also be a techno-whiz; and Ben, sullen sixteen and supposedly a hottie. They go to a ritzy private school on the mainland, where none of them fit in (shocker). The only thing that makes school tolerable is her education, friendly cutie Jason, and her secret crush Chance the most popular and richest kid at the school (of course).

As the four kids don't like to spend additional time at school, they tend to cruise around the different islands that the university owns. Eventually they come across some dog tags and take it upon themselves to discover who they belong to. While investigating they end up in an abandoned lab, where they save a wolf dog that Tory had a 'moment' with and has a soft spot for. They discover that the dog was given a virus that infects them and after bouts of sickness their senses are enhanced and they have all developed a pack sense that allows them to communicate with one another. They end up calling themselves the Virals, because that's super original. In the mean time they are also discovering that the owner of the dog tag's daughter was murdered so they are now investigating that and people are out to get them. And if that isn't enough for you - Tory is trying to fend off the good intentions of her dad's girlfriend to get her into a debutante ball, figure out her feelings for Chance, stay away from the mean girls of the school, and not get killed.

Queen and Country by Greg Rucka

Tara Chace is the number two minder in the SIS, she is deadly with a weapon, extremely intelligent, and a bit of a hard ass. That's not to say that she doesn't have her issues, it seems that she's become so focused on work that her personal life is taking a nose dive. She has issues with sleeping and alcohol, and her therapist believes that the job is slowly killing her off inside.

I read the "Definitive Edition," which means that I got the first three volumes in one go.

"Operation: Broken Ground" - Illustrated by Steve Rolston
As a favor to the CIA, Tara is sent to assassinate a weapons dealer. While she completes the mission, she is almost captured and the terrorists deduce who she worked for. They retaliate, but end up killing the wrong people. The assassins soon focus in on Tara and her bureau is not prepared to back her up.

"Operation: Morningstar" - Illustrated by Hurtt, Brian; Bryan Lee O'Malley; and Christine Norrie
After the disaster of Broken Ground, Tara feels a bit lost. She questions what she is fighting for and is losing sleep and drinking more, she is ordered to see a therapist for evaluation. During this time of self-doubt an informant is executed in Afghanistan. Minders one and three are sent to find any information he left behind before hundreds are killed, while Tara is left adrift and feeling inadequate and in need of purpose.

"Operation: Crystal Ball" - Illustrated by Leandro Fernandez
SIS is informed that someone has volunteered information on a terrorist attack right after Sept. 11, 2001; Tara is sent to question him and discovers that there's a plan to use biological chemicals on an unknown event. SIS is left scrambling with not a lot to go on and this is especially true when the relationship between Tara and minder three is complicated when they start sleeping together and no one approves.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Fables: 1001 Nights of Snowfall by Bill Willingham

Snow White, acting as envoy for Fabletown, appeals to the Sultan of a far away land for help.  At first she is ignored, but then she is tricked to seeing him in his rooms.  It turns out that the Sultan holds a grudge against women.  He marries a woman every night, and then has her killed in the morning.  To make the Sultan want to keep her alive, Snow White tells him stories of how the different refugees came to Fabletown.

I LOVED this!  I like fairy tales, and I love reading twists on fairy tales.  We get to hear stories after the fairy tales we are familiar with have ended, but before they came to Fabletown.  We learn what happened to Snow White after she married her prince, what happened to Frog Prince after remarried his princess, what happened to the witch that got burnt by Hansel and Gretel, and so on.

For the most part, these stories were very dark.  These are not Disney fairy tales; they are much more in the flavor of Grimm fairy tales.  There's a lot of violence, cruelty and revenge.  I recommend this for older high school students, 10-12 grades.
I loved the illustrations.  There were eleven different illustrators for this volume, so each story that Snow White told had a different style of illustration.  In particular I liked the pictures in the first story, "The Fencing Lesson," which were done by John Bolton.  Beautiful, detailed, full color pictures. 

Anna reviewed the first couple volumes of Fables before, if you'd like to check that out.

Graphic Novels for Girls Month

Happy February everyone!  Who's getting snowed in?  Or perhaps a better question would be "is there anyone who ISN'T getting snowed in?"  Anyway.  Anna and I have been doing a lot of graphic novel reading lately, focusing on graphic novels with female protagonists.  Girls like graphic novels.  Really, they do. I think there's still a conception that girls don't read graphic novels, long carried over from "girls don't read comic books" which also isn't (and wasn't) true.  Shojo manga gained popularity with girls, and while those are fun, not all girls are looking for light romances.   If we as librarians don't show girls all the different kinds of graphic novels that are out there, they'll never know the fabulous that they are missing!

Thusly, we declare February Great Graphic Novels for Girls Month.  We will review all different sorts of graphic novels, from all different genres, with female protagonist or that we think will appeal to girls.  Please let us know if there are any graphic novels you think would be great for girls.
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