Graphic Novel Interlude

27 09 2011

A short pause in the summer reading recaps to bring you the best graphic novel I’ve read all year, Ghostopolis by Doug TenNapel.

My favorite part of this story was how much backstory all the characters had.  You could tell from the start that this was a huge world with characters who had lived there before the reader entered the story and would continue to be there afterwards.   I have found that some graphic novels aimed at the younger set feel like they just popped up out of nowhere–like the characters only existed the moment they were drawn on the first page.

Other things to love: the dry sense of humor.  The Afterworld TenNapel imagines.  (I had one small qualm with the timeline in the Afterworld but I will get over it.)  The artwork which has its own attitude and its own sense of humor.

Bottom line: Do you like well-told stories about what might happen when you die?  Do you like graphic novels?  If the answer to either of those is yes, I recommend this book.


Time for a Memoir!

29 08 2011

Self-Imposed Summer Reading Book #4: Stitches by David Small

Welcome to a very candid look at David Small’s not-so-uplifting childhood.  It is illustrated and written in a manner that makes it incredibly easy to read, but not so easy to digest.  The washed out grays and the soft lines contrast harshly with Small’s childhood, which was not full of love or happiness.  The text here is not quite sparsely written–there’s more of it than would qualify as “sparse”–but there isn’t tons of text.  There is just enough to tell the story.  This is where the power of what happened to Small comes in.  Even though I was not totally taken by the book, weeks after I read it I can remember the emotion that Small brings to the table.  The dream sequences he draws pull you in rather than pushing you away.  I have very little patience for dream sequences mostly, although since these are “true,” I might have upped my tolerance.  They also move the story along in a way that isn’t gimmicky.

Probably the best thing I can say about this book is that it will stay with you.  I read it quickly and am actually astonished at how much of the feeling that Small puts into his text and his pictures has stayed with me.  It only took me an hour to read but it took much more than an hour to work through the book.   No matter what indignities Small suffered as a child, growing up the way he did, his story will be noticed and remembered by others.  (Many besides me, not least the National Book Award committee.  Even the love on Goodreads is amazing!)

Bottom line: Well-written, beautifully drawn and a National Book Award finalist means this book is definitely worth a read.  Maybe it will resonate with you more than it did with me.

Astronaut Academy (or Book #0)

14 07 2011

As you can tell, I’m not very good at sticking to my list.  There are so many great books to read out there!  Including Astronaut Academy: Zero Gravity by Dave Roman.  I had been dying to get my hands on a copy of this book since I saw Dave Roman talk about it at the SLJ Day of Dialog in May.  And then I read some of Teen Boat online–the tag line alone is hilarious: “The angst of being a teen–the thrill of being a boat!”  Funnier lines have rarely been written.  So 2 months later, I finally got myself to a bookstore and bought myself a very shiny copy of Astronaut Academy.  Should I have bought it for my library already?  Yes.  But it’s summer and we’re way behind on ordering so let’s not go there.

See, shiny!  Who could resist a book like that?

Few people, especially if they cracked it open to page one where you are welcomed by the principal to Astronaut Academy.  I’m revealing the true depths of my nerdiness here, but I have to admit that he reminds me of Cloud from Final Fantasy VII–especially the sword.  If you are not taken in by goofy, nerdy principal, you will put the book down.  This is okay because if that is not funny, the rest of the book will not tickle you either.

What truly surprised me about this book was that despite the goofiness, Roman really did build a world.   I loved the part about everyone literally having multiple hearts to give away or mend.  It wasn’t a one shot joke–it came back as we learned more about Hakata Soy and his angsty self.  The characters interact and are true to themselves throughout the book, no matter who we’re following.  The introductions and re-introductions of each character at the beginning of each chapter really gave the book an old school comic book feeling.  Roman really delivered so much here, giving this graphic novel the best of traditional old school American comics, manga, nerd humor and really good, inventive storytelling.  The more I write about it, the more impressed I get.

Bottom line: Funny + great storytelling + perfect structure for reluctant readers.  Plus, the art is just so clear and bold–reminds me of one of my favorite graphic novelists, Raina Telgemeier AKA Dave Roman’s wife!

New Girls in Town

14 05 2010

There are plenty of teen, tween and children’s books about being the new kid in town because #1: it sucks and #2: it happens anyway.  Recently, I read two graphic novels in a row dealing with this theme.  It’s funny how that happens, and it certainly wasn’t intentional.  Personally, I was lucky enough to live in the same town from the age of 4 to 17 so I never had this experience–which may be why I like getting into these girls’ heads.

Book #1: The Truth About Stacey (The Babysitters Club #2) by Ann M. Martin, adapted by Raina Telgemeier

That’s right, we’re bringing back the classic kids’ books–or at least my new favorite graphic novelist Raina Telgemeier is (find more of her work, web and print, at her website  This is technically the third book in the series, but it was the first one of the graphic novel adaptations I read.  Supposedly, the text is extremely close or exactly the text of the original books and I believe it.  Remember the Babysitters Club phone that they answered at set hours?  It was a corded telephone that had a cord long enough to be dragged up to Claudia’s bed.  If kids don’t know or remember what that kind of phone looks like, it’s drawn out for them.  But aside from the “historical illustrations” of lovely corded phones, do these books hold up?  I mean, judging from the amount of kids checking them out from my library, the answer is yes.  From my perspective, it’s harder to tell since I remember reading these books and corded phones and writing in notebooks, as all members of The Babysitters Club do about their babysitting jobs (now they’d probably blog, right?).

The themes are classic.  A group of girls who are friends who struggle to get along with each other and other girls.  Don’t get me wrong, these are very sweet books for the most part.  But this one, for instance, tackles Stacey’s Type I Diabetes, something she has struggled with–especially in regards to telling her friends.  She’s young and it makes her different so her reluctance to tell is believable.  Personally, I loved the way the graphics illustrated some of Stacey’s meals, paying attention to the facts about her food she had to pay attention to.  I think there’s no better way to revive The Babysitters Club than through these fabulous graphic novels.

Book #2: The Plain Janes by Cecil Castellucci and Jim Rugg

The new girl is older now–she’s in high school and her name, as you might have guessed, is Jane.  She’s moved away from the big city to a small town because her overprotective parents got scared after Jane was injured by a terrorist bombing.  She wasn’t badly injured, though she was next to an unnamed man who wound up in a coma.  She visited him in the hospital and wound up taking and completing his sketchbook, which inspires her project in her new town.  Somehow, she manages to befriend a group of girls all named Jane, or something close.  Inspired by our MainJane, using the talents of the rest of the group, they embark on some art “terrorism” which they call P.L.A.I.N.–People Loving Art in Neighborhoods.  Of course, the graphic format is perfect.  We get to see the crazy fun stuff they do.  My personal favorite is when they outfit the fire hydrants with knit winter hats.  Everything is gravy, until the town goes crazy with fear because of the “terrorism” being perpetrated by these artists.

There is a lot of story going on in this graphic novel and I loved that.  Castellucci packs it in, adding all the emotional bits that I love about stories and that, to be frank, most (teen) girls love about stories.  Sometimes I think that can get lost in graphic novels (not that it always does, mind you).  The Plain Janes have that group make up where each girl is different–one’s brainy, one’s artsy, etc.–but here, it works because they need that to get their art out there into the world.  There is a sequel to this book, Janes in Love, and I intend to read it and find out just what happens to the P.L.A.I.N girls who have finally carved out a place for themselves in their small town.

Bottom line: I’m learning to be a better graphic novel reader and to appreciate them more.  These are two graphic novels that are worth appreciating (though you might want to skip the first if you’re older than 13 and don’t absolutely love kids books).

The Storm in the Barn: A Graphic Novel Review

30 03 2010

Isn’t that a beautiful cover?  It’s definitely indicative of the artwork inside.  I am finding, after reading more and more graphic novels, that I now have no problem following the panels as they are laid out.  Of course, now that I’ve said that, the next graphic novel I read is going to confuse me to no end.  But today’s beautiful graphic novel, The Storm in the Barn by Matt Phelan, was not confusing to read–at least not in terms of following the panels.  It’s the story of Jack Clark, an eleven-year-old boy with little to do during the Dust Bowl years.  Normally, he would be helping his family with work on the farm but because of the drought, there is no farm.  And his sister is sick with “dust pneumonia.”

Jack is the kind of kid I always identified with; he is ignored and bullied and told not to do or touch things by his father.  He has a friend at the soda pop shop in town.  The soda jerk tells Jack stories about more famous Jacks, who have defeated kings and other mythical creatures.  These stories are illustrated in a different way than Jack’s life.  They look more like comic books, utilizing the graphic format brilliantly.  In time, Jack finds himself in a bit of a fairytale in his neighbors’ abandoned barn.

I won’t spoil it for you but I will say this–I had trouble with some of the panels inside the barn.  I think that Phelan deliberately makes them somewhat blurry, so the reader can feel the uncertainty that Jack feels.  This might work better for a more visual learner than myself.  At times, I found my self missing the words.  However, Phelan’s deliberate use of repeat panels to show long pauses was brilliant and helped me pace myself.  Even the choice of page color–a yellow, dusty color–was deliberate.

And so, I can’t really dislike this book.  I think it would make for better reading alongside a non-fiction book about the Dust Bowl, so that you really understand the magnitude of the problem early in the story (though Phelan does drop in some facts later in the story).  It deserves to be read far and wide, and it manages to make historical fiction into a fantasy/fairytale/folklore.  That being said, it lost it’s SLJ BoB match today to Tales from Outer Suburbia and I can’t say I’m up in arms about it.

Bottom line: If you like swishy watercolors and American folklore, you want to read this book.  Even if you’re a bit older than the middle grade kids it’s marketed to.

Tales from Outer Suburbia vs.When You Reach Me

24 03 2010

Spoiler alert!  If you haven’t read Judge Julius Lester’s decision at the SLJ BoB website, you might not want to read on, because I read it and I know the winner…it’s Tales from Outer Suburbia by Shaun Tan!

If you haven’t had a chance to read it, you can click the picture to take you to Amazon and take a look inside or you can go find it at your local library or bookstore and read it.  It does not take long to read at all–I read it in an afternoon, and I spent probably as much time reading it as looking at the artwork.  In the library world, this book is causing much pain and suffering because librarians don’t quite know where to put it.  In my library, it was shelved in juvenile fiction.  Some places put it with their graphic novels, or shorts stories.  Really, it could fit any of those places.

But what is it about, you ask?  Lester says that the first sentence drew him in: “When I was a kid, there was a big water buffalo living in the vacant lot at the end of our street, the one with the grass no one ever mowed.”  The illustration that accompanies this is another one I just want to hang on my wall and stare at forever.  And it actually gives depth to the story.  The illustrations truly are important–they give the stories the feel of urban legends, only these are suburban legends, a concept I find hilarious, especially as I just moved back to the ‘burbs and am waiting for a water buffalo to move in down the block.  That being said, this book was not the book for me.  It just didn’t have quite enough substance to be my favorite book, though I could see introducing it to teens and tweens in the library.  Also, using it in class or for writing workshops.  It’s fantastic, digestible, inspiring short stories.

Which brings me to When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead, a book I was lucky enough to be “forced” to read last semester.  I had actually heard so many good things I bought this book, something I rarely do.  Let me tell you: it was worth it.  Somehow, this book manages to combine historical fiction, time travel and smart girly-ness all into one book.  The time travel puts off some people, Julius Lester included.  But not me.  I’m a time travel kind of girl, so long as it’s well-used.  And if you haven’t read it, I feel kind of bad for telling you about the time travel but because it took me by surprise.  This is not a book you expect to turn any kind of sci-fi, which is why I thought it would win over non-sci-fi fans.  It may!  Just not in this competition.

Though I am saddened by When You Reach Me‘s loss today, it does already have a Newbery medal so I can’t really complain.  Plus, Julius Lester reminds us all that reading is subjective, an obvious point, maybe, but one that bears repeating and remembering during this exciting but addictive Battle of the Books.

Graphic Novel…Wednesday?

17 03 2010

It would seem that anyone who is anyone, or at least, anyone who blogs has cutesy titles for various days of the week.  Everyone has Waiting on Wednesday, which is not my favorite feature because I want to know what books are out now!  Or there’s New Crayons or Male Monday.  Unfortunately, no day of the week starts with G.  Go figure.  Even without the cute name, look out for at least one graphic novel post a week.

Graphic novels have, up to this point, not been on the top of my to-read list.  But a few weeks ago, I went to the library and checked out a stack–in part because they look cool.  But also because I’m in school and I don’t have enough time to read.  Sometimes, I just want a quick story while I’m on the train back to school.  And I know other people who are busy with school all the time: teens.  Don’t get me wrong–I love big fat books.  I just don’t always have the time or patience.  Nor do I have access to the best collection of graphic novels.  My public library is wonderful and there is a graphic novel section–two, actually–one for teens and one in the children’s department.  The problem?  Whoever is buying it for the library pays little attention to completing series, or even starting them.  And the library consortium that does interlibrary loan does not often allow their graphic novels to be requested.  So my choices may seem odd, but they’re based on availability.

Whiteout, Volume One by Greg Rucka and Steve Lieber jumped off the shelf at me.  And no, it has nothing to do with the fact that it was recently made into a movie with Kate Beckinsale that got a whopping 7% on Rotten Tomatoes.  Actually, if I had known about that, I might not have picked up this book.  As it stands, I saw the cover and read the blurb which mentioned Antarctica and I was sold.  You can sign me up for all books set in extremely barren and cold places.  You might think that black and white art (which this book has except for the colored cover) would be boring in a white place like Antarctica.  Except you would be wrong, because there’s all the snow blowing around that is depicted in the art and it makes you feel…cold.  Which does great things for setting the scene in this  murder mystery at the South Pole, featuring Carrie Stetko, a tough-as-nails US Marshal.  There is a lot of suspense; kind of like a small-town mystery where there are few suspects, but Antarctica is a whole lot grittier than your average small town.

My problem with this graphic novel?  That the library doesn’t own the second one!  It’s only a two volume series people!  I’m actually considering buying it, reading it and donating it to my library.  It’s that good.