Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Excellent Volume of Graphic Novel Short Stories (occasionally about robots)

Kibuishi, Kazu (2005)  Flight, Volume 2 Berkeley: Image

This is an amazing collection of short graphic-novel-style stories by well known graphic novelists like Hope Larsen, Kean Soo, Jeff Smith, and Ben Hatke, but also by some creators I was unfamiliar with (I particularly like Michel Gagne, Jake Parker, Khang Lee and others). 
The variety here is astonishing.  There are some stories that I would love to share with second and third graders, and other stories that would be suitable only for high school seniors who had a working knowledge of both how to read graphic novels, and also of artistic styles. 
The subjects range over a broad swath of territory as well.  Here are stories about a interdimensional train, the later life of Laika the space dog, how a girl's forgotten toys try to protect her form a bad romance, and a boys first real attempt to talk to a girl (outside a comic book store). I am not saying you are going to like all the stories in this volume (I had my favorites and those I didn't care for).  But I am guessing that every reader will find several stories they find exciting, touching, or funny.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Juliet, Hamlet, and Othello vs. Richard the Third, Lady Macbeth, and Iago!

McCreery, Conor; Del Col, Anthony ; Belanger, Andy  (2010)  Kill Shakespeare: A Sea of Troubles  San Diego, IDW.

Somehow in the literary universe of Shakespeare's plays, his characters have figured out that he is the one directing their movements.  The evil ones (Richard the Third, Lady Macbeth, and Iago --the villain in the play Othello) have hatched a plot to trick Hamlet into somehow carrying out the murder.  Falstaff helps Hamlet to see Richard for what he is, a despotic tyrant, and eventually they meet Juliet (who has become a valiant warrior) and her strong-arm right hand guy, Othello.  They raise up an army to fight against Richard's Oppression.  Meanwhile, Lady Macbeth has cruelly killed her husband and seduced Richard and they combine their armies to seize control of as much of the world as they can.  They have also sent their spy, Iago, to infiltrate the rebel camp. 
This is a remarkable graphic novel.  Because of the violence and sexual references (no nudity, but some skimpy clothing and clearly implied situations), this would only work for high school students, and teacher will have to weigh the advantage of the book (amazing intertextual Shakespeare connections) against the possibility of a parental challenge.  Because o the potential for challenges, this is probably more of a classroom library book than a supplemental text to Shakespeare studies.   It is not a book for all of your students, but I am willing to bet that some of them will absolutely love it.
There is a sequel.  I haven't read it yet.  

Monday, October 20, 2014

Graphic novel about famous physicists, sentient origami, and Robert Oppenheimer's brain-eating twin brother.

Hickman, Jonathan; Pitarra, Nick (2012)  The Manhattan Projects:  One.  Berkeley: Image

I have been struggling with whether I should even review this graphic novel.  On the one hand, it is a very clever and funny bit of speculative fiction where the good guys are Albert Einstein and Richard Feynman and the bad buys are an American General who seems cribbed from the insane military leader in Dr. Strangelove, and alternate dimensional clones of Einstein and Robert Oppenheimer's evil twin.  It has lines like, "We're even having to check every ream of paper that's delivered to critical government offices after last month's sentient origami incident."
On the other hand, it is graphically violent, blurs the line between violence and mysticism, and seems to substitute sarcasm and jaw-clenched determination for any kind of hope.  This book is certainly not for anyone but high school students who have read enough other books (and graphic novels) that they can take this one in stride.  Although there is some skewed history of science here, the science itself is obscure and questionable, so I doubt it would be useful for using as a text in a science, history, or literature.  And I cannot guarantee that if you put it in a classroom or school library it will not be challenged by a parent.
But it is clever, and it is funny, and it would take a really close reading by a parent to find that which it truly troubling about the book.  And because I enjoyed it on some level, I feel bound to mention that some high school students will likely love this series, and talking them to about it could give a teacher the opportunity to engage students in some questions of worldview and morality and the value of hope.
Bottom line, you need to read this one first -- and I might recommend paging through it in a bookstore before buying it to see if it is your cup of tea. 

Friday, October 17, 2014

Almost a Superhero Graphic Novel (but really about a boy trying to learn a job)

Pope, Paul (2013)  Battling Boy  New York:  First Second.

Okay, I know the cover makes it look like this is a typical superhero smash-'em-up story, but it isn't.  This is the story of a twelve year old boy who grew up in another dimension.  When he is twelve years old, according to tradition, his parents outfit him with all that he needs and send him to Earth when his job is to fight the monsters that are loose (he is taking over for the city's previous hero, Haggard West).  The boy, known only as Battling Boy (his parents call him Son -- we never get his real name) is expected to figure things out as he goes.  This includes not only figuring out how to defeat monsters and gangs of ghouls, but also how to deal with the mayor of Arcopolis who wants to manage his career and ride on his coattails, and finally, with the Aurora, the daughter of Haggard West, who has been training to take over for her dad, and views Battling Boy's  arrival as an insult to her father's memory. 
There is enough action in this book to make it an instant favorite with fifth grade and older boys through middle school-- but because Aurora plays a big part as well, it may catch the interest of girls as well.  There are also enough themes to give young readers something to think about -- including Battling Boy's struggle between being self-reliant and depending on his father and this new adopted community; the question of whether Battling Boy has a choice besides following in his father's footsteps; and a persistent theme of adults not taking kids or their contributions seriously.  I also really appreciated that Battling Boy's parents and Aurora West's father (we are not told what happened to her mother)  are kind, intelligent, loving people (though sometimes a bit busy).
The bottom line?  Both parents and kids will think this is a good book (though perhaps for different reasons. 

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

The Second Percy Jackson Book (What took me so long?)

Riordan, Rick (2006) The Sea of Monsters  New York:  Hyperion

The thing I love most about this book is that the monsters initially attack Percy Jackson under the cover of a dodgeball game.  (I love this because when I was in middle school, I was often attacked by monsters while playing dodgeball, though the monsters who attacked me were just other kids.)
Percy Jackson, as I am sure almost everyone on the planet knows, is the son of Poseidon, the hero of Rick Riordan's Olympian's series, and a very compelling protagonist.  The plot of this book involves Percy and his friends going on a quest to save Camp Halfblood and their friend Grover.  Along the way we meet a nasty Cyclops (and a good one), an embittered rival, evil villains on a cruise ship, and lots of hippocamps (look it up).  The story is gripping as usual; the references to Greek mythology cause plenty of collateral learning; and well read kids will find plenty of inside jokes to remind them that they are clever. 
This book also has some powerful themes about friendship, kindness, and the good that can come from being nice to those who will most certainly lower your coolness status.  Typically this book is a staple of classroom libraries, but I would love to hear what happens if a teacher uses this as a text to discuss in class.  If your curriculum doesn't have room for that, get it for your classroom library at the very least.  My fifth grade daughter is enjoying the books a great deal.  Good fourth grade readers would like it too.  I don't think there is an upper limit on this one.  My college students enjoy reading it and so do I (and I am 48, and in at least 29th grade.)
I haven't read the graphic novel version of this yet (though I imagine there must be one out there), but the  pictures that Riordan paints with words in my head left me plenty satisfied.