Allergic: A Graphic Novel Review

Allergic by Megan Wagner Lloyd, illustrated Michelle Mee Nutter
Maggie has been feeling like the odd one out at home for a while. Her parents are busy getting ready for the new baby. Her younger brothers are twins and always speaking their own language. Literally. Maggie hasn’t had anything just for her for a while.

Which is why getting a puppy for her tenth birthday is the best gift ever.

But there’s one problem: Maggie breaks out in hives the minute she tries to choose her new dog.

Turns out Maggie is allergie to anything with fur. With her pet options severely limited Maggie will have to get creative if she wants to find the perfect pet in Allergic (2021) by Megan Wagner Lloyd, illustrated Michelle Mee Nutter.

Find it on Bookshop.

Allergic is a really fun, full color graphic novel. Maggie’s father is depicted as white while her mother is darker skinned.

This story packs a lot into a slim volume. It’s sure to appeal to fans of contemporary graphic novels. Maggie struggles to come to terms with her allergies–and the numerous shot treatments she needs for them–while letting go of her idea of the perfect pet.

At the same time, Maggie makes new friends with a boy at school who has food allergies helping her put her own situation in perspective as something that just happens sometimes. She also befriends new neighbor Claire who is a grad ahead at school and tries to support Maggie on her pet search. While the girls have some growing pains with jealousy and related arguments, their friendship is back on solid ground by the end of the story.

Allergic is a relatable, funny story perfect for readers who enjoy slice-of-life comics and animals–with or without fur.

Possible Pairings: Real Friends by Shannon Hale and LeUyen Pham, The Popularity Papers by Amy Ignatow, All’s Faire in Middle School by Victoria Jamieson, Clementine by Sarah Pennypacker, Smile by Raina Telgemeier

Nathaniel Fludd Beastologist: The Basilisk’s Lair

The Basilisk's Lair by R. L. LaFevers, illustrated by Kelly MurphyNate Fludd, Beastologist in training, has just barely recovered from his adventure protecting the Phoenix egg and rescuing Aunt Phil from the Bedouin when adventure once again comes knocking while Nate is struggling with his (lacking) navigation skills. A basilisk, the King of the Serpents, is loose and must be contained before he destroys a Dhughani village and poisons the entire region’s water supply.

Nate would much rather return to London with his new pet/friend Greasle the Gremlin than trek through Africa with Aunt Phil and her secret weapon to face one of the most fearsome creatures documented in the Fludd’s Book of Beasts. But where trouble goes, beastologists tend to follow. As he grapples with his own fears and the usual problems that come with dealing with beasts of a mythical nature, Nate might just find he’s braver (and more of a beastologist) than he thought in The Basilisk’s Lair (2010) by R. L. LaFevers with illustrations by Kelly Murphy.

Find it on Bookshop.

There are not enough words to say how much I love this series. Nathaniel Fludd is everything readers will want to see in a young hero. Murphy’s illustrations perfectly capture the essence of the characters and the atmosphere of the story while LaFevers’ writing creates a funny, exciting story that will appeal to readers of any age.

The book comes equipped with a handy glossary of real (and imagined) terms to help readers better make sense of the slightly Steampunk world of Beastologists and the era of 1928.

The series started with a powerhouse debut in Flight of the Phoenix and if this book is any indication, the series will only get better with each new installment.

My Heart is Like a Zoo: A Picture Book Review

My Heart is Like a Zoo by Michael HallHundreds of hearts come together to shape some animals both familiar and exotic in this rhyming romp through the various phases of a child’s heart before they retire after a busy day (as busy as a zookeeper’s even!).

My Heart is Like a Zoo (2010) by Michael Hall introduces children to a variety of new concepts beyond emotions and feelings. The varied palette for both animals and backgrounds can introduce colors as easily as the animals themselves can be used for a counting exercise. Hall uses hearts and the occasional circle or rectangle to create all of the artwork inviting children to identify the various shapes and try to make some shape animals of their own. The large text and boldly colored artwork carry wide appeal as do Hall’s clever turns of phrase about steady yaks and happy hippos.

And, of course, as the cover shows very nicely the book is totally adorable! Hall’s artwork and writing is fantastic and elevates what could have been a twee, simple book into a complex and entertaining picture book for readers of all ages.

An attractive, versatile book My Heart is Like a Zoo is guaranteed to become a story time favorite.

Nathaniel Fludd, Beastologist: Flight of the Phoenix (a review)

Nathaniel Fludd, Beastologist: Flight of the Phoenix by R. L. LaFevers, illustrated by Kelly MurphyOn September 5, 1928 ten-year-old Nathaniel Fludd’s parents are declared lost at sea. Alone in the world with no other close relatives and a governess eager to abscond with her Tidy Sum from the Fludd estate, Nathaniel is sent to live with Phil A. Fludd–a mysterious cousin Nate has never met, let alone heard of in Nathaniel Fludd, Beastologist: Flight of the Phoenix by R. L. LaFevers with illustrations by Kelly Murphy.

Find it on Bookshop.

It turns out an eccentric cousin is the first of many things his parents never told him about. The Fludds come from a long line of Beastologists: explorers who travel the world documenting and protecting rare beasts the world has long forgotten, including one rather unique bird that resides with Nate’s eccentric cousin.

When Nate is whisked off with his Beastologist kin, he finds himself in a world of adventure traveling to Arabia to ensure the safe hatching of the world’s only Phoenix.

But no one said being a Beastologist was easy. When trouble strikes Nate is once again all alone faced with the daunting tasks of protecting the Phoenix egg (and his secret pet Gremlin) while hatching a clever plot to rescue his guardian from the Bedouin.

The book comes equipped with a glossary of real (and imagined) terms to help readers better make sense of the Steampunk world of Beastologists and the era of 1928 which create a unique

Flight of the Phoenix is a brilliant story. LaFevers’ writing is charming. She evokes Nathaniel’s world with wit and humor that is complemented well by Murphy’s endearing illustrations. Together the two provide a strong opening to what I hope will be a long series of books.

Fairy Dust and the Quest for the Egg: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

Fairy Dust and the Quest for the Egg by Gail Carson LevineFairy Dust and the Quest for the Egg (2005) is another book that I might not love. But no one can say the girls here aren’t super cool and resourceful, which is why it’s a CLW review. I just wish I could say the same for the book.

Gail Carson Levine, author of the insanely awesome novel Ella Enchanted, always thought that Wendy was crazy for going home when she could have stayed with Peter Pan in Neverland. At least that’s what her mini-bio on the dust jacket of her new novel says. Levine also dedicates the book to her first boyfriend, Peter Pan.

One of Disney’s newest marketing ventures is Disney Fairies, which is promoting Tinker Bell and the other characters found in Levine’s novel among other fairies. (There’s also a series of Fairy books for younger readers and a CGI film, not directly related to the events relayed in Fairy Dust and the Quest for the Egg, which is due out this fall on Disney DVD. If you want to learn more, the Disney Fairies have their own website–but be advised it might take a bit to load on slower computers.) When I first heard about this new project, I was intrigued since I am a fan of fairies. At the same time, I was a bit worried. There’s something very commercial, and even counterintuitive, about a writer creating a story with characters that have already been dealt with by other authors (and a lot of movies!). Still, I decided to give it a try.

Before even getting into the story, though, I have to say that this novel is quite beautiful. The actual book is made of high quality paper to accommodate the illustrations that often feature as tw-page spreads throughout the novel. These pictures, watercolors painted by David Christiana, are stunning. The colors are subtle and really the skill is just so obvious in all of the drawings that viewing them is a joy. Christiana manages to stay true to the original Disney vision for Tinker Bell while making her “look” slightly new and different to better fit in with the other fairies.

Unfortunately, it takes more than great illustrations to sustain a good book. The basic plot stays pretty true to some of the elements found in the original story of Peter Pan. The book starts when a baby laughs (every time a baby laughs for the first time, a fairy is born). This fairy, named Prilla, is special. Not only is she going to be a Never Fairy in Neverland, she is also unlike any fairy the island has seen before. Prilla says “please” and “thank you” like humans (called “Clumsies” by fairies). She even curtsies and apologizes. Stranger still, Prilla is able to move between Neverland and the dreams of Clumsy children.

Every Fairy in Neverland has a special talent (water, baking, pots and pans, etc.)–every fairy except for Prilla. However, when a storm strikes the island injuring Mother Dove (the source of the Fairy Dust that allows Never Fairies to work their magic) Prilla doesn’t have much time to worry about not having a talent as she and two other fairies are sent out to try and find a way to heal Mother Dove.

I had several problems with the story. The idea of each fairy having a talent, while superficially cute, has deeper problems upon further investigation. It just feels too much like each fairy having a clique and, even worse, the story spends a lot of time focusing on Prilla being special in a bad way for not having a talent. This issue is resolved by the end of the story, but it just seems like a bad message to send to children. (And what’s up with the name Prilla? Seriously.)

The narrative of the story also started to grate very near the beginning of the book. I haven’t read J. M. Barrie’s Peter Pan so I don’t know if Levine was trying emulate his style or not–I think she was but need to investigate further–but it just didn’t work. Frankly, it sounded like Levine was writing in a style that was not her own and with which she was not entirely comfortable.

Fairy Dust and the Quest for the Egg also seemed to be having an identity crisis. The book looks like a novel for older children. The print is small and there is a lot of it. But the story sometimes sounds like it was written for much younger children with prose that lacks the dimension and depth of books for an older audience. At the same time, though, the events of the novel (a fairy cutting off her own wings, a dying dove, among other problematic events) suggest that it’s more appropriate for an older audience.

The best parts of this novel were when Levine was looking at the characters originally found in Peter Pan. Her descriptions of the mermaids, and of Tinker Bell’s relationship with Peter were really enjoyable. Captain Hook also features in the plot and was awesome. Unfortunately all of these events take only about ten pages combined (the book is 208).

This book has a lot going for it and I wanted to like it more than I did, but all of the great pieces never come together (with the mediocre ones) to create a solid, enjoyable whole.

Zen Shorts: Inaugural Picture Book Review

Zen Shorts by Jon J. MuthZen Shorts (2005) is a picture book written and illustrated by Jon J. Muth. But it’s also a short story collection. And it’s also a philosophy book. And it has a giant panda. Oh, and it is a Caldecott Honor book too.

The story starts when siblings Addy, Michael, and Karl meet Stillwater, a large Panda who wanders into their backyard to retrieve his umbrella. I love the opening scenes of the story. Karl, the youngest sibling, is looking out a window and telling Michael he sees a huge bear. Eventually all of the kids go out and say hello to Stillwater. Addy introduces Karl, who is “shy around bears he doesn’t know.” I find that phrase so enchanting. This kind of charm continues throughout the book.

The next day Addy meets Stillwater for tea. Then Michael and Stillwater hang out. Then Karl goes swimming with Stillwater.

Each outing is accompanied by an appropriate short story. The first is about a man (panda) who gives a gift to a robber. Another is about a man who knows that luck is a many-faceted thing. The final story is about a monk carrying an unnecessary burden. I’ll never explain the stories as well as Muth tells them, so you should just read the book.

The illustrations of Stillwater and the children are beautifully rendered watercolors. The coloring is subtle with quite intricate line work for the drawings. The stories between the “real” story are printed on pastel backgrounds and illustrated with silhouettes so that they have a clearly different look from the rest of the book.

When you’re finished you should also check out the afterward which explains the underlying philosophy for each story. (Muth has a lot of Buddhist/Taoist influences.)

This is a great book to read with older children because even if they don’t get the philosophy, the stories are approachable and they’ll get something from it. (Even youngsters will enjoy the pictures.) It’s a great introduction to philosophy, a fact that becomes clear after reading the afterward, for “students” of any age. Muth does an admirable job creating a picture book that children and grownups can enjoy together.