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:

Snow White: A Graphic Novel Review

Snow White: A Graphic Novel by Matt PhelanYou already know the story of Snow White. You know about her wicked stepmother’s jealousy of Snow White’s beauty and her attempt to order the huntsman to kill her. You know about the seven dwarfs who help Snow White and the poisoned apple that she eventually bites. You know about the stepmother’s downfall and the way the prince comes and saves Snow White.

But you haven’t seen the story retold like this before.

In Snow White: A Graphic Novel (2016), Matt Phelan reinvents this familiar tale. Phelan moves the story into New York City in 1928. The Twenties are roaring, the city is bustling, and for a girl called Snow, it seems like a wonderful time.

All of that changes, of course, as the story goes. On the run in the streets of New York City, Snow is taken in by a group of young street urchins who help hide her. Meanwhile the wicked stepmother’s mirror has been re-imagined as a ticker tape machine and Snow’s charming prince is a no-nonsense police detective.

Phelan uses minimal text and large illustrations to tell this story. With detailed panels focused on the characters, Snow White brings to mind film stills as much as illustrations. Flipping through the pages with large text marking each chapter heading makes this graphic novel feel like a silent film brought onto the page.

Bold drawings and attention to historic detail set this retelling apart and mark it as a real charmer. This story operates well within the historical period and capitalizes on it to create a very unique interpretation of a classic fairy tale.

Snow White: A Graphic Novel is a beautiful book with a story that is cleverly told and illustrated. Not to be missed.

Possible Pairings: Rapunzel’s Revenge by Shannon and Dean Hale, Mighty Jack by Ben Hatke, 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, The Rumpelstiltskin Problem by Vivian Vande Velde

Preludes and Nocturnes (Sandman #1): A Graphic Novel Review

Preludes & Nocturnes (Sandman #1) by Neil Gaiman, illustrated by Sam Kieth, Mike Dringenberg, Malcolm Jones III

Sandman 1: Preludes & NocturnesThe Sandman series doesn’t need much introduction at this point. Dream and his journey have become an iconic and canonical piece of comics history.

I came to this book after hearing about it from friends and having it recommended very by one of my favorite security officers at my place of employ. Preludes & Nocturnes is a bind up of the first eight issues of The Sandman. It’s also worth noting that it was published before Vertigo existed as an imprint and as a result things get a little weird.

Everyone I knew who had read Preludes & Nocturnes told me to be kind and give the series at least until the end of this volume. Truth be told, it’s a rough start to the series. Part of this is because the comic text is very small and the pages are very glossy. It’s also just a really strange story.

After being imprisoned for decades, Dream breaks out of his cell and goes on a quest to find his missing tools and reclaim his kingdom. This brings him to Hell where he negotiates with Lucifer Morningstar, to England where he works with John Constantine, and even to Gotham and the Justice League.

Preludes & Nocturnes makes a lot more sense after reading the author’s note from Gaiman at the end explaining his vision for each comic. It’s also clearer in the final volume when Dream and his sister, Death, spend some time together that there is a set direction for the rest of the series.

There’s no way around the fact that Preludes & Nocturnes is a rough start to the series. It’s strange and uneven and all over the place with tone and characters. But Dream is a fascinating character and the final story in this issue is enough to suggest that something really interesting is in store for dedicated readers. Comics readers and fantasy fans who have not read this series already should definitely check it out. (But I’ll give you the advice everyone gave me: Make sure you commit to at least the end of this book before you make any decisions about how much of the series you’ll be reading!)

Princeless Book One: Save Yourself: A Graphic Novel Review

Princeless by Jeremy Whitley and M. GoodwinAdrienne Ashe doesn’t want to be a princess. It’s boring and, to be brutally honest, she doesn’t understand why princesses always need to wait for a prince to do the rescuing anyway.

That doesn’t stop Adrienne’s parents from locking her in a tower on her sixteenth birthday. It also doesn’t stop Adrienne from bitterly complaining out the injustice and pointing out how she doesn’t even look like a stupid traditional princess with her brown skin and dark, curly hair (not to mention her prowess with a sword!).

Instead of pining for some handsome prince, Adrienne spends her time in the tower befriending the dragon guarding the tower. When Adrienne finds a sword hidden in the tower, she decides she has waited to be rescued long enough.

With a sword in her hand and a dragon by her side, Adrienne sets out to escape the tower and rescue her other sisters in Princeless Book 1: Save Yourself (2012) by Jeremy Whitley and illustrated by M. Goodwin.

Princeless Book 1: Save Yourself collects the first 4 issues of Princeless. It is the first of four bindups. There is also a spinoff series.

Whitley delivers a frank and self-aware story that is refreshingly and unapologetically feminist. Adrienne is a no-nonsense heroine who isn’t afraid to do what she thinks is right and point out hypocrisy and double standards when she sees them. This plays out to especially good effect when she meets up with a girl who makes armor for warriors and discovers the vast inequity between standard armor for men and women.

Goodwin’s illustrations bring this story to life with wry humor and charming artwork that beautifully compliments the story. The facial expressions for characters throughout are especially priceless.

Princeless Book 1: Save Yourself is a great set up for this series. Whitley and Goodwin introduce many of the key players and the basic premise of the series while also delivering a lot of fun arcs along the way. This series is a delightful addition to the typical princess and anti-princess fare. Highly recommended for readers of comics, fans of fairy tales and retellings, as well as anyone looking for a new kickass heroine to cheer on.

Possible Pairings: Ella Enchanted by Gail Carson Levine, Rapunzel’s Revenge by Shannon and Dean Hale, Princess of Thorns by Stacey Jay, I Am Princess X by Cherie Priest, Nimona by Noelle Stevenson, A Well-Timed Enchantment by Vivian Vande Velde, Dealing with Dragons by Patricia C. Wrede