Category: Graphic Novels

Review: A Year Without Mom by Dasha Tolstikova

A Year Without Mom by Dasha Tolstikova

A Year Without Mom by Dasha Tolstikova (InfoSoup)

Dasha is twelve when her mother leaves Moscow to go to school in America. Dasha is left in the care of her grandparents. It is the early 1990s and things are changing in Russia. Dasha though is more interested in her first crush on a boy, her friendships, and her trip to Germany for Christmas. She misses her mother terribly and has to figure out how to have a life without her there. Dasha’s life reaches a crisis when she fails an important test because she is having problems with the boy she likes and her friends. When spring comes, Dasha’s life changes again with her mother returning and deciding to take Dasha back to America with her.

This autobiographical graphic novel is something unique and very special. Tolstikova tells a story that is both universal and also very personal. She speaks of liking boys, struggling with friends who are changing, lives changing due to parents leaving, and the strength of family. She also tells her specific story of living with her grandparents, growing up in Moscow, and the self-imposed pressure of getting into a better school.

The graphic novel is illustrated with outstanding and quirky illustrations that are effortlessly modern. Done in primarily black and white line, subtle colors are also on the pages to lift it from any dreariness. Pages are dynamically different from one to the next both in size of the illustrations to using only words in large fonts when someone is yelling.

Beautiful and haunting, this graphic novel captures a time in the author’s life that is fleeting and special. Appropriate for ages 9-12.

Reviewed from library copy.

Review: Drowned City by Don Brown

Drowned City by Don Brown

Drowned City: Hurricane Katrina & New Orleans by Don Brown (InfoSoup)

This powerful graphic novel tells the story of Hurricane Katrina from the very beginning as the hurricane forms and grows in power to the slow recovery of New Orleans in the aftermath. As the winds and rains of the storm breach the levees around the city, readers will see the devastation that occurs as 80% of the city floods. The book tells the true story, one where everyday people are heroes, where supplies and help are not sent in a timely way, where presidents make appearances but don’t remedy the problems, and where people looking for help just find more death and despair. It is also the story of selfless people who come in and make a real difference, of rescues and saved lives. It is in short, a true story that unflinchingly tells the story of a storm and a city.

With an enormous list of references and sources at the back of the book, this graphic novel is based entirely on facts and first-person accounts. Brown tells the tale without any need to make it more dramatic, just offering facts about what happened and what went wrong to make it even worse. Brown’s account though is also filled with humanity, offering glimpses of the horrors that people survived, of the losses as they mounted, and of a world turned upside down for people trying to escape the city.

Brown’s art in this graphic novel is done mostly in browns and greens. There are striking pages that stop a reader for awhile, such as the art on pages 30 and 31 which has dead bodies floating past in purple water, even as survivors are being hauled up to a roof. Brown conveys the heat and the desperation of survivors, the desolation of the flooded city, and then the slow rebuilding process.

A riveting and powerful look at one of the worst disasters in American history, this graphic novel is a way to talk with children about Hurricane Katrina. Appropriate for ages 8-12.

Reviewed from library copy.

Review: Nimona by Noelle Stevenson

Nimona by Noelle Stevenson

Nimona by Noelle Stevenson (InfoSoup)

When Nimona joins forces with Lord Ballister Blackheart, she brings organization and a need for real vengeance to the ongoing battle between good and evil. Her shape-shifting abilities add to her usefulness as a sidekick so even though Blackheart usually works alone, he agrees to let her join him. Good and evil aren’t so clear cut in this graphic novel where the bad guys help the downtrodden people and the good guys are in power and unwilling to let it go. The dynamics between Blackheart and his arch nemesis Sir Ambrosius Goldenloin also complicate the situation, since the two are clearly attracted to one another. As their small heists gain the attention of the Institution of Law Enforcement and Heroics, Nimona and Blackheart get into deadly battles where Nimona’s mysterious background may be what destroys them all.

Stevenson has created a graphic novel where nothing is as it seems. Readers will fall hard for this villainous duo, even when they think they are bad guys. As that morphs throughout the book and readers question what makes a villain or a hero, the book becomes more complicated and more interesting. Serious questions are asked about morals and right and wrong here, a depth that is great to find. Yet there is also humor to lighten up the situations, mostly provided by Nimona herself and her deadly yet playful approach to life and villainy.

I also applaud this graphic novel for having a romantic attachment between the two lead male characters. It is implied at first and then overtly shown. I love the dynamics of two men who both intended to be heroes but only one was willing to give up his principles to do so; the villain was not. Nimona herself is wonderfully curvy and filled with punk energy that shows in her hairstyles and their wild colors. I love a heroine (or is she a villain) who is far from a stereotype and who has incredible power.

Great art, a complex world, lots of feminism, and plenty of moral questions to grapple with create the teen graphic novel of the year. Appropriate for ages 13-17.

Reviewed from library copy.

Review: Space Dumplins by Craig Thompson


Space Dumplins by Craig Thompson (InfoSoup)

Violet and her family live happily together in an asteroid belt where her mother is a clothing designer and her father salvages items from outer space. Then Violet’s school is eaten in a space whale feeding frenzy and she has to go to work with her mother. While they are there, more whale attacks happen and her father disappears. Violet decides that she has to find out what happened to him. She gathers two friends together, one of them a snazzily dressed chicken and the other the last of the Lumpkins. But there are many dangers in space and Violet and her friends get set upon by space gangs, have to traverse a ring of trash, and then must figure out why the whales are on a rampage. It’s up to Violet to save her dad and she just might save the entire galaxy along the way.

Thompson is the acclaimed author of graphic novels like Blankets and Habibi. This is his first graphic novel for young readers and with it he demonstrates his immense skill in writing for any age. Violet is a strong and fierce female protagonist who is the one running into danger to save others, and I love a girl who works to save her father in space. It’s a great feminist twist on a more traditional structure. Louis, the chicken, is also a great male character who also is non-stereotypical and loves his clothes and not adventuring in space. Additionally, the book uses humor constantly, creating a book filled with puns and laughter, just what I’d want in any space adventure.

Thompson’s art is wonderfully strong. He takes the time to show young readers not only the outside of the spacecrafts but the insides as well using cutaways of the hulls. The various worlds and space structures that they visit are unique and diverse, creating a full sense of adventure as the book moves along. Thompson never forgets that this is a science fiction book, keeping the art and the story fully grounded in that world and setting. He also manages to include themes of environmentalism and individuality very successfully.

Another strong girl to join Zita the Spacegirl in taking readers to space and the stars. Appropriate for ages 8-11.

Reviewed from ARC received from GRAPHIX.

Review: Written and Drawn by Henrietta by Liniers

Written and Drawn by Henrietta by Liniers

Written and Drawn by Henrietta by Liniers

Released September 29, 2015.

A new book from the author of The Big Wet Balloon, this graphic novel for young readers encourages creating your own books. Henrietta has a new box of colored pencils and sets out to create her own book with help from her cat, Fellini. It becomes a tale of a brave girl named Henrietta who discovers a three-headed monster in her wardrobe. The wardrobe turns out to be a magic one, leading to a labyrinth filled with clothes. They search for a hat for the one head of the monster that doesn’t have one to wear. But when they find a hat they also discover another monster, this one has one head and three hats. How will they escape?

Liniers is a well-known Argentinian cartoonist. This book embraces the creative work of children, nicely capturing the simple story arc of a child as well as the colorful and loose art style. The creative process is also captured with asides from Henrietta to Fellini that show her having problems at times coming up with new ideas and at other times having problems with the continuation of the story line after something dramatic happens. It’s a clever way to demonstrate the hurdles of creativity and story writing without lecturing.

The art is wonderful. Linier uses two clearly different styles in the book, one for Henrietta’s real world and the other for her written story. The real world ones are quieter and more realistic while the story is zany. It is filled with scribbles, colors, and really looks as if a creative child could have done it. The result is a book where the real world pieces are clearly different than the story, avoiding any confusion at all.

A solid graphic novel for young readers, children with dreams of writing their own books will love this journey through creativity. Appropriate for ages 5-7.

Reviewed from copy received from TOON Books.

Review: Sunny Side Up by Jennifer L. Holm

Sunny Side Up by Jennifer L. Holm

Sunny Side Up by Jennifer L. Holm and Matthew Holm (InfoSoup)

Sunny has been sent to spend the summer with her grandfather in Florida. He lives in a retirement community where there are no children or pets allowed. Sunny tries to make the best of it despite the squeaky fold-out bed and her grandfather’s slow pace of life where an outing is a trip to the post office. Then Sunny meets Buzz, the son of the groundskeeper who teaches her about superheroes and comic books. Throughout the story, there are flashbacks to before Sunny came to Florida that involve her wild older brother. His behavior went from disobeying small rules to abusing drugs and alcohol. The tension builds until Sunny’s perfect beach vacation with her best friend has to be changed to sending her away to stay with her grandfather. This book explores the impact of having a family member who is an addict, the guilt children feel about it, and the shame they experience.

In the final pages of the book, Holm reveals that they grew up in a home where a close family member had addiction issues. You can see their first-hand experience in the book where Sunny’s deep emotions about what is happening to her family are held inside until they become too much. All of the emotions throughout this graphic novel are done superbly and communicated in a way that makes them easy to understand and relate to.

Sunny is a great lens to view addiction through, first naively and then as she starts to understand what is happening with a feeling of being part of the problem and contributing to her brother’s deteriorating situation. Even as she goes to Florida and fills her days with finding cats and collecting small rewards that she spends on comic books, she can’t escape what having a sibling with an addiction has done to her and her family.

A book that demonstrates that graphic novels with lighthearted illustrations can deal with big issues, this graphic novel is superb and belongs in every public library. Appropriate for ages 8-11.

Reviewed from digital galley received from Graphix and Edelweiss.

Review: Little Robot by Ben Hatke

Little Robot by Ben Hatke

Little Robot by Ben Hatke (InfoSoup)

The author and illustrator of the Zita the Spacegirl series returns with a lovely graphic novel that is nearly wordless. A little girl climbs out of her bedroom window and heads out into the nearby junkyard where she discovers a strange round object. Upon pressing the button on top, the object transforms into a small robot that has trouble even staying on its feet. But the little robot has been missed in the factory and a huge robot is coming to reclaim it. Meanwhile, the girl and the robot make friends with cats, discover flowers, skip rocks, and play tag. That’s when they realize that another robot is on its way. Now the girl has to figure out how to keep the robot safe while she is also learning the skills of being a good friend.

Hatke has a wonderful sense of story in this graphic novel. The fact that he can tell such a varied story with so few words is testament to the power of his artwork. The story moves from quiet moments of connection between the girl and the robot to times of fast action and chases. Those little quiet moments are presented with a gorgeous solemnity that is occasionally made even richer by moments of humor. The action is riveting and sharp, contrasting beautifully with the quieter moments. The pacing is dynamic and energetic, creating a book that can easily be devoured in mere minutes.

Yet the book is also worth lingering over. The connection between the two main characters is told in such a shining way that this is not a book to rush through. The balance of the book is so well done, from the design of the pages to the skill used to keep readers fascinated and also touched by the budding friendship. Hatke should be congratulated for creating a book with an African-American girl as the one who is drawn to tools and robots. She often uses her tools to fix things, showing that she has knowledge as well as interest. The incorporation of STEM is done with subtlety and yet is also pervasive through the entire book.

Strong and lovely, this graphic novel for younger readers will entrance lovers of robots and science fiction. It’s also a great pick for those ages that are a bit young for most graphic novels but still long to be reading them as well as for young reluctant readers who will enjoy the illustrations and the little bit of text. Appropriate for ages 4-7.

Reviewed from digital galley received from First Second and Edelweiss.