Giant Days, Volume 1: A Comic (Chick Lit Wednesday) Review

Giant Days, Volume 1 by John Allison, Lissa Tremain, and Whitney CogarDaisy Wooton has been homeschooled for her entire life. Her worldview as she starts college verges on painfully naive and dangerously sweet.

Ester De Groot is a statuesque consumptive who continues to conjure unprecedented levels of drama at university thanks to her personal drama bubble.

Susan Ptolemy is a no-nonsense young woman at college to learn and move on to better things. If she happens to save Daisy and Esther from themselves (several times) along the way, so be it.

Susan, Esther, and Daisy are unlikely friends but somehow work remarkably well together as roommates during their first term as college freshman. All three are hoping for a fresh start at university where Daisy is eager to finally find herself (whoever that may be), Esther is looking for love (in all of the wrong places–as usual), and Susan is hoping to leave her past behind (especially McGraw who, unfortunately, shows up on campus soon after the start of term.

With drama, friendship, romance, and pesky classes vying for their attention, Susan, Esther and Daisy are sure to have an exciting first semester in Giant Days, Volume 1 (2015) by John Allison, Lissa Treiman (illustrator), Whitney Cogar (colors).

Volume 1 is a bind-up of the first four issues of the popular comic Giant Days.

Susan’s pragmatic attitude and tough-talking feminism temper the near-absurdity in various points of the plot particularly in relation to Esther. Readers who have survived college will find a lot of familiar moments here from overwhelming classes to freshman plague. And even some familiar faces (two of my closest college friends could be Susan and Esther).

Readers looking forward to that experience will find a thoughtful, humorous, and highly entertaining preview of things to come.

Giant Days is funny, smart, and delightfully entertaining. Highly recommended.

March: Book Three: A Graphic Novel Review

March: Book Three by John Lewis, Andrew Aydin, illustrated by Nate PowellThe March trilogy is a graphic novel series telling the story of John Lewis’s involvement with the Civil Rights Movement during the 1960s. When March: Book Three (2016) by John Lewis, Andrew Aydin, illustrated by Nate Powell begins in September 1963 with the bombing of the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church in Birmingham.

Although this novel focuses on Lewis’s experiences with him as the narrator and, of course, biographical information from his own life, this story also takes a wider lens to look at the movement as a whole. Lewis is the head of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) whose younger members are feeling disillusioned with the more mainstream activists who often take credit for SNCCs moves while sidelining their role. SNCC is on the verge of fracturing from within, and violence is increasing in the south as Lewis and others make plans for Freedom Vote and the Mississippi Freedom Summer.

March: Book Three is a thoughtful and engrossing conclusion to a trilogy that is already being hailed as a modern classic. This final installment was the 2016 National Book Award Winner for Young People’s Literature and the 2017 Printz Award winner.

Although it is the third part of a trilogy, most of this story makes sense on its own. Readers with a basic knowledge of the Civil Rights Movement and history of the time may have an easier go diving into this story than those without that background. Because this book is so visual, I will admit that I had a hard time identifying key characters early on which, I think, is partly from coming to this book without reading the earlier installments.

Lewis and Aydin have worked together to create a narrative that focuses on Lewis’s life experiences and his own changing feelings about SNCC and the movement as a whole. At the same time, the scope and breadth of the movement–the far-reaching hopes and the devastating violence–are also emphasizes both with the narrative text and with Powell’s moving illustrations and dynamic panel layouts.

The black and white illustrations work extremely well to highlight the injustice the Civil Rights Movement was fighting. The lack of color in the illustrations also has the interesting effect of flattening a lot of the skin tones and underscoring how similar we all are. Powell does a good job filling each panel and page with movement and action. Some of the panels are a bit frenzied but it’s a deliberate choice at key moments.

Having March: Book Three framed as a story told in retrospect was also a very effective choice. Readers go into this story knowing that Lewis makes it through–he survives–and also seeing immediately how far things have progressed (and how much work remains). Reading this story through a different lens with more immediacy to the narrative would have been unbearable and often devastating in the wake of the loss and danger faced by Lewis and everyone else in the Movement. I read this graphic novel near the 2016 election and it was very poignant and bittersweet to see the power of the vote in action while also realizing how much was undone in 2016 and how much still must be done.

While this book functions as a larger history of the 1960s Civil Rights Movement, it’s also important to remember that this series is also an autobiographical text in many ways. Because of that, this story does set aside and gloss over certain moments. This selective focus is a flaw of any biographical text and it makes sense in the context of this series as the focus is clearly and deliberately on the main events and players of the Movement. That said, it is interesting to note the way Stokely Carmichael’s comments about women’s only position in SNCC being prone was glossed over. I am sure it was seen as a joke by a lot of people then (and still) but the way it was sidestepped here just highlights how anyone, even with the best intentions does have an agenda and bias in terms of scope and how events are presented. It’s also worth noting that this story stops short of SNCC’s dissolution and Martin Luther King Jr’s assassination.

March: Book Three is a powerful conclusion to a trilogy everyone should read. This series deserves every bit of praise it has received. It is a rare series that occupies the space between academic reading for school and pleasure reading quite comfortably. Recommended.

Possible Pairings: Before We Were Free by Julia Alvarez, Claudette Colvin: Twice Toward Justice by Phillip Hoose, We Are the Ship by Kadir Nelson, X: A Novel by Ilyasah Shabazz and Kekla Magoon, The Port Chicago 50: Disaster, Mutiny, and the Fight for Civil Rights by Steve Sheinkin, Lies We Tell Ourselves by Robin Talley, Black Dove, White Raven by Elizabeth Wein

The Stone Heart: A Graphic Novel Review

*The Stone Heart is the second book in Hicks’ Nameless City trilogy which begins with The Nameless City. This review contains spoilers for book one.*

The Stone Heart by Faith Erin HicksKaidu and Rat are still recovering after stopping the assassination of the General of All Blades. In the wake of the assassination, the Nameless City seems peaceful and there is reason to hope things will stay that way.

The General of All Blades and Kaidu’s father are working to create a council of all the nations that claim the City as their home to stop the constant fighting to claim the City as territory. But not everyone supports the idea of a council and its promise to change the Dao way of life in the city forever.

As conflict begins to fracture the Dao nation from within, Kaidu discovers a formula for a powerful weapon–a secret that has been protected for generations and something Rat might be able to decipher. Sharing the formula with the Dao could mean giving the City’s current conquerors a dangerous edge. Hiding it could make peace even harder to achieve. Kai and Rat already did the unthinkable by becoming friends and saving the General of All Blades. Will they be able to do it again to bring peace to the City before its too late? in The Stone Heart (2016) by Faith Erin Hicks.

The Stone Heart is the second book in Hicks’ Nameless City trilogy which begins with The Nameless City. This review contains spoilers for book one.

The Stone Heart picks up a few weeks after the conclusion of The Nameless City bringing readers back to the City that Rat calls home and the place Kai is coming to care about.

Hicks uses the relative calm at the beginning of this installment to expand the world of the City as Rat shows Kai more of her world and introduces her to several new characters. This expanded view helps to bring the City into clearer focus and situates the story within the larger context of the world Hicks has created based on thirteenth century China (as mentioned in an author’s note which talks a bit about her research process). Hicks’ full-color artwork is as stunning as ever and once again brings Kai and Rat’s story vividly to life.

When the uneasy truce that Kai and Rat helped bring to fruition falls apart spectacularly,  the story moves in an unexpected direction and new villains emerge. Will Kai and Rat be able to save the City? Will the mysterious formula Kai and Rat found fall into the wrong hands? Readers will have to wait for trilogy’s exciting conclusion to see how everything comes together. Recommended for readers looking for a new comic adventure and those who enjoy their adventure served with a side of strong-but-unlikely friendships.

*An advance copy of this review was provided by the publisher for review consideration*

Library Wars: Manga Series Review

Library Wars by Kiiro YumiLibrary Wars: Love & War by Kiiro Yumi (based on the novels by Hiro Arikawa, translated by Kinami Watabe)

The series follows Iku Kasahara as she joins the Library Defense Force in near-future Japan. The LDF is a militant group comprised of librarians and soldiers who work together to fight the forced censorship of the Media Betterment Committee through any means necessary.

Iku has dreamed of joining the LDF since one of its soldiers stepped in to save her favorite book from being confiscated–something Iku could not do herself as a mere schoolgirl.

Inspired by the shining example of her so-called prince, Iku is determined to become the best LDF operative that she can. Iku’s dedication is challenged when she butts heads repeatedly with Instructor Dojo. While he is competent and can teach Iku a lot, he also seems to have it in for her. Will Iku survive training? Will Dojo ever warm up to her? Will Iku ever learn the true identity of her prince?

All of these questions and more are answered over the course of this fifteen volume manga series.

Library Wars: Love & War is far and away my favorite manga of all time.

I discovered this series in 2011 when I was in library school. Since then I faithfully read every volume as they came out and became available at my library. It was bittersweet when I read the final installment this summer and realized the series was truly over.

Because of the serialized nature of mangas, this series is a great choice to binge. I devoured these volumes and even though I just finished the series, I’m already thinking about a re-read. Yumi’s artwork is expressive and humorous as Iku negotiates her fraught relationship with Dojo with the everyday rigors of life as an LDF agent.

Library Wars: Love & War is fast-paced and filled with action (and if I’m being honest with lots of flirting and romance too). The love-hate dynamic between Iku and Dojo is, of course, at the heart of this series and remains a driving force for most of the installments.

As a librarian, Library Wars: Love & War holds a special place in my heart (though I’m glad I don’t have any militant aspects to my current job!). Highly recommended for anyone who is bookish and looking to get into manga. A great choice for someone looking for a series with a set number of volumes too.

Ghosts: A Graphic Novel Review

Ghosts by Raina TelgemeierCat’s little sister Maya has Cystic Fibrosis and everyone hopes that the climate in Bahía de la Luna will help her breathing. Cat is sad to leave her friends behind and she isn’t sure what to expect when everyone in town starts talking about ghosts. With the Day of the Dead approaching, all of Bahía de la Luna is preparing to welcome the town’s otherworldly guests.

Cat is afraid of the ghosts while Maya is determined to meet one. Their search for new friends, ghostly and otherwise, will bring Cat and Maya closer together. It will also introduce them to the wonders to be found in their new town–especially when it comes to el dia de los muertos in Ghosts (2016) by Raina Telgemeier.

At this point in her career, Raina Telgemeier hardly needs an introduction. The detailed artwork is a vibrant and beautiful as ever. Stunning artwork brings Bahía de la Luna to life. A heartwarming atmosphere (with a diverse case of characters) combines well with Telgemeier’s signature artwork to create a satisfying read.

The problem is that Ghosts isn’t just a book about ghosts. Instead Telgemeier borrows and embellishes elements of the Day of the Dead for her plot. Notably, she also features calaveras (skeletons doing everyday things) that are often synonymous with the Day of the Dead. Calaveras as we know them were created by Jose Guadalupe Posada–an artist who is never mentioned in Ghosts. (If you want to know more about Calaveras, check out Duncan Tonantiuh’s excellent Funny Bones: Posada and His Day of the Dead Calaveras.)

Then there’s the issue of actual ghosts playing any role at all: While the ghosts in the story are fun and key to the plot, they are not true to the spirit or significance of Day of the Dead in Mexican culture.

I can (and on first reading did) give a pass to a lot of things. Some readers have questioned the fact that Cat and Maya know nothing about their Mexican heritage on their mother’s side. While that raises another red flag, it didn’t bother me in the context of  the story where Cat’s mother was estranged from her family and lost touch with her own mother.

Before digging into other reviews and posts, I also didn’t know enough about the Day of the Dead to pinpoint the specific problems in Ghosts although I knew there might be some (it’s unfortunately always a risk when authors write outside of their own culture/expertise).

Because Telgemeier is such a popular author, it’s not possible to simply say this book should be avoided. As I said, it is a thoughtful story in many ways and were it simply a fantasy comic, it would work quite nicely. Unfortunately the cultural elements are handled poorly and need a lot of context.

If you are going to pick up Ghosts or if you know a young reader who is, try to start a conversation about it so that everyone can learn something from it.

Here are some posts to get you started:

Reading While White has a thoughtful discussion on this problem including a very insightful comment from author/illustrator Yuyi Morales.

Teen Services Underground also has a review from librarian Faythe Arredondo who is half-Mexican and discusses some of the culturally problematic aspects she found while reading the graphic novel.

Karen Jensen at Teen Librarian Toolbox also explores some of the issues surrounding Ghosts in a post on her blog.

Debbie Reese has a thorough look at Ghosts complete with images from the book at American Indians in Children’s Literature.

.*An advance copy of this title was acquire from the publisher for review consideration at BEA 2016*

Compass South: A Graphic Novel Review

Compass South by Hope Larson, illustrated by Rebecca MockNew York City, 1860: When Alexander and Cleopatra’s father disappears, the twins are soon forced into service for the Black Hook Gang to try and survive. Facing jail time after a heist goes awry, Alex and Cleo inform on the gang in exchange for tickets out of the city.

The twins hatch a plan to head to San Francisco impersonating the long-lost sons of a millionaire. But like most cons, nothing goes quite right.

When they meet Silas and Edwin, another set of twins with the same con in mind, tempers flare and trouble forms leaving Alex and Edwin shanghaied on a ship heading to San Francisco.

While Alex and Edwin try to find their way on the ship, Cleo and Silas reluctantly join forces to reunite with their brothers in Compass South (2016) by Hope Larson, illustrated by Rebecca Mock.

Compass South is the start of a projected graphic novel series.

Cleo and Alex are orphans being raised by their uncle (known to them as their father) with only two mysterious treasures–a watch and a knife–as their family legacy. The larger mystery of the knife and the watch begins to unfold as Alex and Cleo’s madcap trip to San Francisco begins.

Silas and Edwin serve as a nice contrast to Alex and Cleo with different priorities and outlooks during the course of their journeys. Larson’s nappy dialogue (in easy to read speech bubbles) works well with Mock’s carefully detailed full-color illustrations.

This story, filled with a variety of moving parts, subplots, and characters, comes together nicely in a fun introduction to the indomitable Alex and Cleo. As might be expected in a story with two different sets of twins, sometimes it’s difficult to gauge who is being shown in frame however visual clues and dialogue help to quickly clear up any confusion.

Compass South is a fast-paced graphic novel filled with action and adventure. Sure to appeal to readers of all ages looking for an exciting piece of historical fiction, and of course to comics fans. Readers will be clamoring to see what comes next for all of the characters and eager for future installments.

Mighty Jack: A Review and Our Favorite Fairy Tales Blog Tour Post

mighty-jack-blog-ad-1Mighty Jack is my first time reading a Ben Hatke comic (although I’m already a big fan of his picture books) and it won’t be the last as I’m eager to see what Jack, Maddy, and Lily get up to next. As a long-time fan of fairy tales and fairy tale retellings, I am thrilled to be part of the blog tour for Mighty Jack.

Now that I’ve told you how much I enjoyed this fairy tale retelling, I’m also sharing my favorite fairy tale adaption. For me the answer is immediate and obvious: Ella Enchanted by Gail Carson Levine.

My mom got me my copy of Ella Enchanted (a loose retelling of Cinderella) when she was doing freelance data entry at HarperCollins a year or so after the book had received its Newbery honor. I devoured the story and, unlike a lot of childhood favorites, wound up keeping my copy safely on my shelves. Years later I wrote an entire scholarly paper about why Ella Enchanted is such an effective feminist text (and why the movie is not). Being the type of person I am, I told all of this to Gail Carson Levine when I met her a few years ago and had her sign my beloved copy.

Onto the review!
Mighty Jack by Ben HatkeJack is not excited about the summer vacation. While other kid’s are goofing off and hanging out with their friends, Jack has to watch his autistic sister while his mother struggles to make ends meet with extra hours at her two jobs.

Watching Maddy is a lot of responsibility and not always easy since Maddy never talks. When Jack and Maddy accompany their mom to a flea market, Maddy unexpectedly tells Jack to trade the family van for a box of strange seeds.

Jack’s mom is understandably disappointed and upset. But Jack and Maddy go forward with planting the seeds. The plants look normal. At first. But then Jack, Maddy, and Lily (the girl next door) start to notice strange things in the garden like onion babies and seeds that can turn a person blue.

The more Jack learns about the garden, the more he wonders about the seeds and their purpose. With dangers looming behind every leaf, Jack will have to decide how far he is willing to go for adventure–and how much he’s willing to risk to keep his family safe in Mighty Jack (2016) by Ben Hatke.

This retelling of “Jack and the Beanstalk” blends familiar elements with Hatke’s unique interpretation. The graphic novel remains faithful to the original text with Jack’s dubious trade and the magical seeds growing. This story focuses more on the early parts of the tale as Hatke sets the stage for future installments.

Jack’s responsibilities at home and his complicated relationship with his mother and sister all come through in the text and expressive illustrations. (It’s worth noting that Maddy is never identified as autistic in the story itself only in the jacket copy.) While Jack sometimes resents the pressures of having to watch out for his sister and act responsibly for his mother, the family’s affection and unconditional love is obvious which is refreshing in a story that plays with fairy tale tropes.

Like many comics, Mighty Jack is a fast read. With so much excitement and adventure, readers will be eager to get to the last page (and even more eager for another book to see what happens next). The illustrations feature Hatke’s signature artwork as well as full color illustrations. The text and dialogue throughout is a decent size and can be read comfortably. Recommended for fans of the author, comic readers looking for a new adventure, and readers who devour fairytale retellings.

Possible Pairings: Rapunzel’s Revenge by Shannon and Dean Hale, Ella Enchanted by Gail Carson Levine, Princess of the Midnight Ball by Jessica Day George, Kate and the Beanstalk by Mary Pope Osborne, illustrated by Giselle Potter; Snow White: A Graphic Novel by Matt Phelan, Heir Apparent by Vivian Vande Velde, The Rumpelstiltskin Problem by Vivian Vande Velde

Be sure to check out the other stops on the tour: