Little Fish: A Memoir from a Different Kind of Year by Ramsey Beyer
This graphic novel takes real journals, collages, lists and drawings to show the author’s transitional first year of college. Ramsey grew up in very small Paw Paw, Michigan. She was an artist from a young age and worked very hard at it, earning a spot in one of the top art schools in the country. This meant moving to Baltimore and making new friends for the first time since she was a young child. It also meant that she would no longer be the best artist around, she would be challenged as an artist in her classes, and she would have to find her own way in this new setting. Beyer’s novel shows the difficulties and triumphs of a freshman year of college, and is sure to encourage other little fish to try their luck in the big city.
Beyer’s use of her own personal real-life work that comes directly from that time in her life makes this entire novel work. It carries a weight that it would not have without that honest voice of youth at its core. The mixed media format also makes the entire book compulsively readable. Since you never know what is on the next page or what format it might be in, there is a constant desire to find out more and read longer.
Beyer’s art is done entirely in black and white in the book. She plays with light and dark throughout, capturing both the loneliness of the first days at college and also the dynamic friendships and love interests that come later. Her work is humorous and yet poignant.
This is a very strong, dynamic look at the first year of college. Teens will enjoy looking into their own future plans with a little laughter and lots of optimism. Appropriate for ages 13-16.
Reviewed from library copy.
Battling Boy by Paul Pope
This is the first book in a new graphic novel series. Monsters are attacking Acropolis but they are protected by the hero Haggard West, until he is killed. Now their fate is in the hands of a young twelve-year-old sent from outer space. He has powers of different animals that he accesses by wearing different t-shirts. He can fight, but the monsters are cunning and strong. Teens from his planet go rambling, but few return. Battling Boy must not just save Acropolis, he has to prove his worth, make a cunning plan, fight epic battles, and survive.
The reader is quickly thrown into the story in this graphic novel which lays very little background at all. That approach is perfect for this fast-paced storyline where everything is explained on the fly and the reader has to pick up on clues to put it all together. Even as the reader is wondering about some things, the action has picked them up and moved them onward. The result is a brawling book that is a surprisingly engaging read.
Pope’s art has a wonderful vintage comic feel. The storyline also has its vintage moments but also bursts of surprises. The melding of steampunk, deities, outer space and monsters makes for a fresh read.
Young fans of graphic novels will find a lot to love here: big battles, a young hero and a mashup of genres. Appropriate for ages 9-12.
Reviewed from library copy.
Explorer: The Lost Islands edited by Kazu Kibuishi
This second book in the Explorer series again takes a single theme and has short illustrated stories that center on that. The book is a collection of different illustrators and authors, so one story to the next is very different both in the story itself and in the style of the art. It makes for a very compelling book to read. I had several favorite stories in the book, including The Mask Dance by Chrystin Garland where the setting is dark and looming and people are disguised by masks. The reveal of the truth is great fun while still being dark and eerie. Another favorite was Desert Island Playlist by Dave Roman and Raina Telgemeier. Readers of Smile and Drama will enjoy seeing another piece of work by Telgemeier. This story too has a mystery at its heart all set on a desert island. This is another strong graphic novel that young readers are sure to enjoy.
This second book loses some of the darkness and wonder of the first which was a masterpiece. At the same time, it is a book worth getting because it displays such a wide range of art styles and story types. Both books in the series are like unwrapping presents when you turn to a new story, you are sure to be surprised.
Amulet fans, graphic novel readers and students interested in art should all find something to love in this new collection. Appropriate for ages 10-13.
Reviewed from copy received from Abrams.
March: Book One by John Lewis and Andrew Aydin, illustrated by Nate Powell
This is the first book in a planned series of graphic novels that follow the life of Congressman John Lewis and his work in the civil rights struggle. This first book opens with President Obama’s inauguration day and then flashes back to critical points throughout Lewis’ life. It tells the story of his connection to animals on the farm, particularly chickens. It also shows him as a young minister and his determination to stay in school and then to attend college. Readers get to witness the violence of the opposition to the Civil Rights Movement including many pivotal moments in history like the sit-ins at Nashville lunch counters.
This is one powerful graphic novel. The writing is sterling and strong. It shines with an honest portrayal of historical events from someone who did not just witness them, but fought the battles personally. The book clearly explains the world of the 1950s and 1960s, making sure that modern readers understand the dangers of the times and the differences. It is both a historical book but also one that is important for modern teens to understand how far we have come and how far we have to go.
Powell’s art is stellar. It is stirring art that evokes history with a fresh eye. He creatively uses light and dark, playing with words across it at times, other times allowing the darkness to take control. There is a sense of witnessing history throughout the book in both the words and the art.
An impressive graphic novel for teens, this book shines light on the Civil Rights Movement. Appropriate for ages 12-15.
Reviewed from library copy.
The Misadventures of Salem Hyde: Spelling Trouble by Frank Cammuso
This is the first book in an upcoming graphic novel series for children in elementary school. Salem Hyde is a witch, so sometimes she misunderstands what the other kids at school are talking about. She insists she is a good speller and goes on to prove it by casting a spell. Unfortunately, the spell turned a teacher into an enormous dinosaur. After that, Salem’s family decide that she needs an animal companion. Salem thinks a unicorn would be perfect, but she gets a cat instead: a cat named Percival J. Whamsford III. As his name indicates, he has a very different personality than Salem. Let the fun begin!
Done in black and white illustrations, this graphic novel has the feel of a traditional comic strip rather than a graphic novel. That is not a complaint, in fact I enjoyed the more Calvin and Hobbes feel to the book with moments that stood on their own and the whole telling a full story. Cammuso’s art has a traditional vibe to it, one that will have mass appeal. The humor is slick, funny and age appropriate offering silly moments galore.
A strong beginning to a new series, Salem Hyde should be welcome at all libraries as long as she doesn’t try to “spell.” Appropriate for ages 7-9.
Reviewed from ARC received from Amulet Books.
Boxers by Gene Luen Yang
Saints by Gene Luen Yang
These two incredible graphic novels tell the story of the Boxer Rebellion in China in 1898. Boxers is told from the point of view of Little Bao, a young villager who has seen the foreign missionaries and soldiers take the ancient Chinese gods and beliefs and smash them apart. Trained in kung fu by a wandering man and also introduced to a ritual to bring the ancient gods to life, Little Bao becomes the leader of a band of commoners who become instrumental in the rebellion. Saints looks at the other side of the rebellion and is the story of Four-Girl, a daughter not even given a real name by her family. She finds a place for herself in Christianity, at first only attending the teachings because of the cookies but eventually finding a new name and new identity as Vibiana. Her faith makes her a target and both Vibiana and Little Bao have to find the extent of their beliefs and what they are willing to sacrifice for them. There are no easy answers here, no right and wrong, there are only choices in the middle of violence.
Yang has created two books that must be read together to get a full picture of the history. Both books are one-sided, showing only the point of view of the rebels or the Christians. At the same time, they are both balanced against one another, showing the violence on both sides, the hubris, and the faith. They also both capture a young individual caught up in history and questioning their own choices.
As always, Yang has written a compelling book. His art is strong and his story arcs are well developed. I found Boxers to be the more interesting of the two with the Chinese gods and the question of being in control of that amount of violence. Saints to me is a necessary foil to Boxers but lacks its depth. That said, Boxers is one of the more compelling graphic novels I have read for tweens, so Saints had a lot to live up to.
Highly recommended, this graphic novel duo has a place in every library collection. Its violence and questions about faith, duty and responsibility make it a good choice for teens and tweens. Appropriate for ages 12-15.
Reviewed from digital galleys received from NetGalley and First Second.
Monster on the Hill by Rob Harrell
In 1860s England, each little town has its own monster that terrorizes its population. And they love it! In fact, there is money to be made if your town has a popular monster. It brings in tourism and you can sell merchandise too. However, the monster at Stoker-on-Avon was not a popular monster. He barely left his cave anymore, sulking on the hill above the town. Rayburn was one depressed monster. It is up to Dr. Charles Wilkie, an inventor whose workshop was shut down by the town and who is willing to do almost anything to get it back, and Timothy, a street urchin who snuck along, to get Rayburn back in fighting spirit again. This graphic novel is packed with new friends, old pals, big battles, and amazing monsters.
Harrell took this graphic novel quickly out of any stereotypical themes very quickly by having the populations appreciate their monsters so thoroughly. The mix of delight and monsters is great fun, adding a real unexpected twist to the story. Rayburn is a wonderful character with a gloomy perspective that plays nicely off of the enthusiasm of the human characters.
Harrell’s art is filled with color and dynamic movement. He brilliantly captures monster battles and is equally successful at creating friendship bonds between characters. The art welcomes children to enter the world of the book, where they will find a great mashup of modern art and humor with a historical fantasy setting.
Fun, vivid and filled with action, this graphic novel will prove popular in every library. Appropriate for ages 8-12.
Reviewed from library copy.
Delilah Dirk and the Turkish Lieutenant by Tony Cliff
Released August 27, 2013.
Enter a new heroine who is funny, adept and can kick your butt. Delilah Dirk comes crashing into the life of Selim, the Turkish Lieutenant and merrily takes over his world. Delilah has adventured all around the world and is now looking to steal some valuable ancient scrolls from a Sultan in Constantinople. With her flying boat, she saves Selim from certain death. Then it is on to more adventures, including evading pirates, jumping off a disintegrating aqueduct, and fighting everyone who is after her, and everyone is. Delilah loves the freedom and action of her life on the road, but Selim craves quiet times with friends. Readers on the other hand will love Delilah and Selim both as well as the humor and adventure that make this one rollicking read.
Cliff has created a wonderful heroine. She manages to be feminine and dashing at the same time. Her outfit is skirted and flowing but not confining. It reveals her beauty, but not her endowments. She is great fun and the role reversal of the man who is the reluctant adventurer and the woman who adores it turns stereotypes on their heads. The story both honors tradition with its setting in Turkey, but also adds a lot of new flavors like the flying boat. It makes for a book that is filled with surprises.
A great pick for graphic novel fans and those just discovering the genre. Delilah is a heroine who will take you on an amazing adventure. Let’s hope there are many more to come! Appropriate for ages 10-14.
Reviewed from copy received from First Second.
Bluffton by Matt Phelan
Nothing ever happens in Muskegon, Michigan in 1908. So when a troupe of visiting vaudeville performers sets up their summer camp in neighboring Bluffton, young Henry just has to take a peek. There he meets Buster Keaton, a boy his age who performs on the vaudeville circuit with his parents. His father tosses him around as part of their act, gaining him the nickname of The Human Mop. Henry longs for Buster to teach him how to do tricks and falls, but Buster is much more interested in playing baseball and swimming in the lake. The boys forge a summery friendship that is renewed as each year passes and summer returns. It is the story of a young Buster Keaton who will soon take the world by storm when he starts making movies and also captures a time of perfect summers filled with baseball and elephants.
Phelan has returned with another amazing graphic novel. He takes his own unique approach to them, using the classic framed structure but pairing it with paintings that are done in ink and watercolor. The result is a gorgeous mix of modern and historical, matching the theme of the book nicely.
In this graphic novel, readers get to meet Buster Keaton through the eyes of another boy. Those of us who grew up watching Keaton perform amazing stunts will recognize the amazing man in this young boy with no hesitation. Fascinatingly, the book does not rely on his feats to tie the boy to the man, instead it is about attitude and a defiant fearlessness.
Strong characterization, a glimpse of summers gone by, and one amazing true story create a graphic novel that is pure radiance. Appropriate for ages 8-12.
Reviewed from library copy.
Will & Whit by Laura Lee Gulledge
The author of Page by Paige returns with another superb graphic novel. Will has suffered a tragedy and now fear the dark, since she sees the shadows of those she has lost within them. Her hobby is to create lamps out of found objects, keeping the dark at bay. Then Hurricane Whitney roars in and takes away the electricity entirely so that Will is left in a complete blackout. Happily, she is surrounded by great friends who are just as creative as she is. There is even an arts carnival being created. Now Will just has to face her fears, in the darkness.
Done in black-and-white, this graphic novel plays nicely with light and dark. The entire background of the pages change from the bright white to pure black once the power goes out in the story. Gulledge’s story embraces creativity and also features female characters who are real and honest. Gulledge also nicely uses metaphor in the story, showing shadows coming towards Will who are human shaped. As that part of the story is resolved, readers will notice the changes in the shadows around Will, a visual harbinger of real change.
Get this into the hands of those who enjoyed Page by Paige as well as other teens who are creative and touch romantic. Appropriate for ages 13-16.
Reviewed from library copy.