Friday, September 26, 2014

Graphic Novel in which Human Slacker Ends up in Alien Zoo (part 2)

Kim, Derek Kirk (2013) Tune, Book 2: Still Life.  First Second:  New York.

     Andy Go is back.  In Derek Kim's first book, Andy Go, a slacker who never finished art college and was facing eviction from hi parents' house and the prospect of never being able to work up the courage to ask the girls he is in love with to go out on a date.  Then a couple of strangely dressed people offer him a great deal.  They rem=present an interdimensional zoo.  They will pay him huge amounts of money if he is willing to be an exhibit for a few months.  Andy, with the encouragement of his parents, accepts the deal and off he goes to live in a zoo (in an exact replica of his parents' house.)  That was all in book 1.
     In book 2, Andy Go finds out that the contract he signed was not the one he originally looked at.  Under the "premium" contract, Andy is in the zoo for life, gets no communication with home, and never gets to leave his exhibit.  He manages to barter some art (there is no art in the dimension he is in) to one of his zookeepers in exchange for being allowed to pick the mate they are going to get for him.  When the mate arrives, he is delighted that it is Yumi, his beloved.  Unfortunately, it turns out is is not the Yumi form his dimension, but a Yumi from a dimension where Andy Go is a womanizing jerk.  And she hates him.  And his next door cell mate is turning on the charm toward Yumi. 
     This is a great graphic novel for high school students,  The art is excellent, the story is engaging, and Kirk's use of panel transitions is outstanding.  The story deals with some themes of great interest to high school students, including finding direction in life, the importance of art in life, and trying to figure out how to live with others who don't like you.  Unfortunately, there is a bit of vulgar language and some nude scenes (mostly of Andy, and his nether regions are covered with an eggplant that says "censored" on it.)  Although it is a cute gag, some parents might object.
     As I suggested with Kirk's previous book, I recommend teachers read it and decide for themselves whether to put it in their classroom library. 

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Stranded on a deserted island, rescued by mortal enemies, adopted into a new culture -- all this and whales too!

Preus, Margi  (2010) Heart of a Samurai  New York:  Amulet.

Manjiro is 14.  He hand his friends go fishing, get caught in a current and find themselves marooned on a deserted island.  Even if they could return to Japan, they would not be allowed to enter the country, since foreigners and returning citizens alike are not allowed to penetrate the closed borders of the county.
     When they are rescued by a American whaling vessel, Manjiro's friends consider themselves prisoners, but Manjiro begins learning the strange language of the Americans.  He soon is training to do a job on board and when they put in to port almost ten years later, the captain presents Manjiro with a difficult choice of which culture he wishes to live in.  Manjiro's choice and what comes afterward, make for a  fascinating narrative. 
     This book reads like a novel, but at the very end you learn it is closely based on a true story.  I think it would make a very good read aloud for fifth or sixth grade.  It deals with issues of prejudice very well.  It has a little bit of a pull-yourself -up-by-your-own-bootstraps vibe to it, but for a child reader, that might be a nice message. Nothing really offensive here -- except maybe accurate descriptions of 19th century whaling practices.  Strong fourth grade readers would like this one, and I think it would be interesting for readers through high school.  This book won a Newbery Honor .  You should probably get yourself a copy.

Monday, September 15, 2014

Not a Dystopian Novel. Seriously. I'm not kidding.

Reeve, Philip (2009) Fever Crumb  New York:  Scholastic.
Yes, Philip Reeve's Fever Crumb seems to be set in the distant future.  Yes, the future is not a particularly optimistic place to be in this novel.  But this isn't a dystopian novel.  I'll explain why shortly, but first let me tell you what this actually is.
This is the story of an orphan girl raised by engineer-monks to become the first female member of the Order of Engineers.  When she is assigned to help an archeologist, she begins to discover secrets about the last of the Scriven overlords who once ruled the land.  She begins to get close to discovering who she really is -- though at the same time, she seems to be making herself a target,  This is a story that moves quickly and the world it moves in is a fascinating world. 
But in the interest of preventing imprecise language, I don't think this thing is dystopian.  A dystopian novel tries to extrapolate where our society will end up if it continues to emphasize certain elements (economic inequity and narcissistic reality shows in Hunger Games,  polarized perspectives and overspecialization in Divergent.)  Reeve's work is a great story set in an interesting future world, but it doesn't seem to be out to engage in any major social critique -- at least not in this first book. Is that good?  Is it bad?  Beats me, I'm just saying it is a good book (and not dystopian). 
This one might work for really bright fifth or sixth graders, but it really seems more ideal for late middle school and high school readers.  These is a lot of excitement and some minor violence and one pretty scary guy, but nothing really objectionable.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Excellent graphic novel version of "The Kite Runner" that you probably can't use int he classroom. Sigh.

Hosseini, Khaled; Celoni, Fabio; Andolfo, Mirka (2011) The Kite Runner Graphic Novel. London, Bloomsbury.
     You've probably read the novel and you remember how powerful the story is.  The Kite Runner takes place in Afghanistan in the 1970s.  Amir and his friend Hassan (both around 12 years old) are hoping to win the local kite-fighting tournament.  Then Kassan is violently and sexually abused by a gang of bullies.  What follows is the story of Amir's quest to heal the brokenness and find redemption.  This is a painful story about how broken the world is, but it is not a story without hope.
     The adaptation is brilliant.  The illustrations capture the beautiful scenery, but also the pain and sorrow.  Celoni especially excels at conveying a great deal through facial expressions.  The book also does a good job of using the panel divisions to advance the story (unlike some graphic novels which are really just a text story with a panel to illustrate each bit of text -- but such panels are not connected and don't take advantage of the magic that the graphic novel can provide.
     Unfortunately, although I recommend you read it, I don't think you could use it, even in high school, without the book being strongly challenged by parents (and maybe even students).  This book has scenes of male rape (although it does not show the act itself, it shows the bully taking down his pants, the other bullies holding Hassan, and the blood afterwards.  Even a na├»ve high school student would have a hard time not visualizing what happens.  There is also extreme violence (slingshot takes out an eye, attempted suicide, etc.)
     I struggle with this.  The fact is, we live in a world that is sometimes horribly broken.  I do not think we do students a service by pretending it is not so.  At the same time, we live in a world full of heartbreaking beauty and moments of grace and hope.  I hope my daughters read this book someday -- but I hope they do so when they are in college. And I recognize that not everyone will want to read about that kind of pain. 
      And so, the upshot is, it is a powerful and painful story that really isn't suitable for teaching.  Sigh. 

Monday, September 8, 2014

Graphic Novels for Elementary School

My friend Lori asked about graphic novels that she could read aloud to her kindergartener.  Unfortunately, the graphic novels world is only just beginning to realize the potential it has for emergent readers.  So the stuff that is out there is not always the top-of-the-line.  I expanded her question to include all of elementary (otherwise I would have only had one of two graphic novels that I could have listed.)  Anyway, for what it is worth, here is my current list (sorry that some of the descriptions are longer than others)

Burks, James (2012) Bird and Squirrel on the Run  New York: Scholastic
     When I see modern cartoons on TV I feel really old.  I realize that my beloved  Bugs Bunny and the Jetsons must have seen frenetic and chaotic to my parents, but somehow when I see Phineas and Ferb or SpongeBob SquarePants or whatever, it seems like a lot of running around and screaming and not a whole lot of plot or humor or anything.  That has affected the way I look at graphic novels of lower elementary students too.  If even the style of the thing resembles the zigzag blocky style of modern cartoons, I tend to write the thing off without even giving it a chance.  Frankly, that is kind of what I did with James Burks's Bird and Squirrel on the Run. 
     Then my amazing fourth grade daughter and her friends, who love the book, turned it into a hilarious dramatic reading and I finally got it.  So here, then is a review of Bird and Squirrel from an enlightened curmudgeon:
     The plot is fairly simple.  The gregarious, daring and outgoing bird decides to be friends with the nervous, anxious, terminally shy squirrel.  When a carnivorous cat enters the picture, the two friends must run, dodge and outwit the feline terror.  But that really isn't what the book it about.  It is about two very different friends, who come to appreciate the aspects of their personalities that make them different.  That part of it is quite heartwarming. 
      The style of the art is still not my favorite, and it does tend to have a fair amount of violence-without-consequence (think Road Runner and Coyote's epic battles); but I have to admit, the book is funny, engaging, and has some substance to it.  It think it would be enjoyed by both boys and girls from second grade on up.  I cannot imagine a parent challenging this book.

Duffy, Chris (ed.).  (2011) Nursery Rhyme Comics  New York:  First Second.  Various nursery rhymes redone in GN mode with a variety of adapters including Roz Chast, Gene Yang, Nick Abadzis, Craig Thompson, Raina Telgemeier, Mike Mignola, Sara Varon, Jaime Hernandez, George O’Connor, Ben Hatke, and Marc Siegel.  Range of styles.  Good introduction about why nursery rhymes matter by Leonard Marcus.

Guibert, E. and J. Sfar (2006). Sardine in Space. New York, First Second.
Kinda funny.  No much going on thematically though.


Hatke, Ben (2010)  Zita the SpaceGirl  New York:  First Second.  Absolutely excellent.  Great story.  Themes of friendship and loyalty and courage and responsibility, etc.   

Hatke, Ben (2012)  The Legends of Zita the Spacegirl.  New York:  First Second.  Strong follow-up to the first Zita book.  Plays around with themes of identity and fame a bit.  Doesn’t quite have the freshness of the first book, and ZIta doesn’t quite have the vulnerability, but it is still a very good book.   

Hatke, Ben (2014) The Return of Zita the Spacegirl  New York:  First Second.
      Zita the Spacegirl is back, and this third book in the series may be the best yet.  This one has all the excitement, surprise, humor, and thoughtfulness of the original Zita the Spacegirl and once again, author/illustrator Ben Hatke shows his mastery of panel plotting.
     But you don't care about all that.  You want to know if it is a good story and if your third graders or sixth graders or middle school students will like it.  The answer to all of the above is yes. 
     In this book, Zita has been apprehended and is being tried and help on trumped up charges on a prison world.  Her old friends, Mouse, Piper, One, Strong-Strong and the rest are far away (though they have heard her distress call) and so she must rely on help from her cellmates Ragpile and Femur and from the mysterious Ghost.  Escaping her cell is relatively easy, but escaping the planet, and freeing all those trapped with her is a bit more daunting.  But here is the thing -- the story is funny and exuberant and filled with tension and has surprising turns and a completely satisfying and triumphant ending.    
     You'll be swept up in the story and so you won't notice, but Hatke's sense of timing and choices in moving from panel to panel are masterful -- and in fact, this is why you can get lost in the story. 
     Look at this page:
We actually shift here, from the perspective of the character in the rafters (I won't tell you who that is yet) to Zita's perspective as she awaits trial.  We are able to get a sense for the vastness of the space there are in, but we still see the frustration on Zita's face.  And look at the way the action moves us across the page and straight on to the next one.
     The other thing I love about this book is that there is actually quite a lot to talk about with students here.  There are some really interesting themes here including what it means to be morally responsible for your own actions, when civil disobedience is appropriate, what freedom means, and the values of friendship and cooperation.  There is also a nice little romantic subplot to boot.
     Look, if you like graphic novels, or good stories for middle grades and middle school kids, if you like to laugh or get caught up in a book, or if you like Zita's previous adventures, go get this.  It is excellent. 



Hayes, G. (2008). Benny and Penny: Just Pretend. New York, Raw Junior.
      Not much of a story  Art reminds me of strawberry shortcake.  ages 3 to 6 maybe.  This is part of the series Francios Mouly started.  I am not really impressed.   


Herge’.  (1956)  The Adventures of Tintin: The Black Island. Boston:  Little, Brown
     The entire Tintin series is suitable for middle elementary 2nd or third and up.  Because it was written in the fifties, though, parents will need to talk with their children  (or teachers with their students) about some cultural depictions of Native Americans and African Americans which, in todays context seem at best stereotyped. Fun books, not much thematically, though.

Holm, J. L. and M. Holm (2005). Babymouse:  (series). New York, Random House. 
      Excellent series for second  grade to fourth grade or so.  The main themes here are perseverance and imagination (my two daughters loved these books.  My friend Jung is not as fond of them.  You'll have to decide for yourself.


Marunas, Nathaniel; Craddock, Erik (2006)  Manga Claus:  The Blade of Kringle.  New York:  Penguin. 
     A parody of samurai Ninja GNs.  Santa as warrier.  Elf as antagonist. Yes, it is ridiculous, but some kids might enjoy it.


Morse, S. (2008). Magic Pickle. New York, Graphix (Scholastic).
Actually a pretty nicely entertaining story for younger kids (2nd through 4th maybe)  Kinda funny too.  Jo Jo's bedroom is built over a secret lab from which emerges a super-pickle -- powerful but with one-dimensional thinking.  She helps it figure stuff out.


Rosado, Rafael; Aguirre, Jorge (2012) Giants Beware New York:  First Second.  The art and story both seem a little derivative of recent children’s computer-animated movies, but it is still a lot of fun.  Tomboyish Claudette really wants to slay the giant on the mountain that keeps the people of her village in fear.  With the help of her friend Marie (who is studying to be a princess) and Claudette’s little brother Gaston (who loves to cook) they make a perilous journey to slay the giant, but find something quite different from what they expected.  Cute story. The art is a little overly cartoony, but still bright and enjoyable.


Rosenstiehl, A. (2008). Silly Lilly and the Four Seasons. New York, Raw Junior.
     Meant to be a first GN for little people.  I found the storyline so basic as to be insipid.  Not much point to it.           

Runton, Andy (2004). Owly: (series)
     These are very simplistic – good for K-1 or so.  No words, just symbols in speech bubbles.  As innocuous as Barney..


Sfar, J. (2003). Little Vampire Does Kung Fu. New York, Simon and Schuster.
Kinda spooky/macabre for little kids – but most of them would  love it.  Not my favorite.  K-2?

Sfar, J. (2003). Little Vampire Goes to School. New York, Simon and Schuster.