Primates: The Fearless Science of Jane Goodall, Dian Fossey, and Birute Galdikas by Jim Ottaviani and Maris Wicks
Released June 11, 2013.
Explore three of the greatest primatologists of the 20th century in this graphic novel. The book begins with the story of Jane Goodall and how she was recruited by the famous anthropologist Lous Leakey to research chimpanzees. It shows how she first learned to quietly watch the chimpanzees and be accepted by them as well as her own personal life as she lived in the jungle. When Dian Fossey is then recruited by Leakey, the story turns to her life and her very different personality as she researched gorillas using similar techniques to Goodall. The last woman recruited was Galdikas and she studied orangutans and had her own adventures as her research progressed. Told with humor but also immense respect, the stories of these three pioneering women show the importance of female scientists and the unique paths you can take to reaching your dreams.
Ottaviani writes in the voices of the three women, beautifully capturing their individuality through their words. The three are profoundly unique yet also amazingly similar in their bravery, dedication and resilience. I particularly enjoyed the scenes where the three of them were together and the ending which demonstrated how different they were from one another. It takes a lot of skill to write three women’s voices with such clarity that they are distinct and special.
The art by Wicks has a wonderful simplicity and also a playfulness that makes the book welcoming and light hearted. This is nonfiction that reluctant readers and young biologists alike will enjoy. The graphic format is compelling and given the nature of the research makes the entire experience more tangible for young readers.
A great graphic novel, this is a stellar pick for school libraries and public libraries that will have children learning about scientific history without even realizing it! Appropriate for ages 9-12.
Reviewed from copy received from First Second.
War Brothers: The Graphic Novel by Sharon E. McKay, illustrated by Daniel LaFrance
This is the graphic novel version of McKay’s teen novel of the same title. Based on interviews with child soldiers, this novel pulls no punches when telling the story of Jacob, a Ugandan boy taken by the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) as a soldier. Jacob is a teenager who is headed to a boy’s school. Knowing the danger from Joseph Kony and his LRA, Jacob’s father provides additional armed guards at the school. But it is not enough, Jacob and his friends are taken as child soldiers. That begins a story of brutality, murder, starvation, and survival. But this story is not without hope and resilience and heroism that flies in the face of the desperate and violent situation the boys find themselves in.
McKay warns readers right from the beginning about the violence of the storyline. Through a letter from Jacob, the book warns of the brutality of what happens, ending with “There is no shame in closing this book now.” McKay does not try to lessen that brutality, showing how child soldiers are indoctrinated into the LRA and broken. Jacob struggles with having to commit atrocities himself, despite the food that is promised for him and his friends. One of his friends does become a soldier, well fed and cared for, but with his spirit entirely decimated by what he has done. It is an impossible choice, kill others or die yourself.
LaFrance does an admirable job of showing violence but without adding drama to an already volatile and horrific situation. He does not shy away from showing the brutality, often using close ups and unique lighting to show what happened without becoming too bloody. It is a fine line to walk, demonstrating that this is real and actual, while leaving it powerful enough to speak on its own.
Highly recommended, this is a story that is riveting to read as long as you are brave enough to continue turning the pages. The fact that this is based on true stories of child soldiers adds to the compelling nature of the tale. Appropriate for ages 14-18.
Reviewed from copy received from Annick Press.
Nothing Can Possibly Go Wrong by Prudence Shen and Faith Erin Hicks
Released May 7, 2013.
Nate and Charlie are friends, but mostly it’s about sharing a ride to school. Then when the cheerleaders threaten Nate’s robotics competition, Charlie is caught up in the middle of the conflict. Nate decides to run for Student Body President and Charlie’s cheerleader ex-girlfriend forces him to run against Nate. Things quickly get out of control in this jocks against the geeks sort of storyline that ends with both groups stripped of their school funding. Now the only way forward is to work together to fund and build a robot that can win the robot death match. And of course, just like with all plans, nothing can possibly go wrong.
The storyline could have been cliché, but it steps away from that fairly quickly and into much more intriguing collaborative efforts. Shen and Hicks have created a great gang of characters here. Nate is laid back and really the normal one of the group. Charlie is alpha-geek, neurotic, ballsy and intellectual. Mix in the cheerleaders who are clearly at the top of the popular food chain, and this is regular high school on steroids. While some of the characters are left as stereotypes, Charlie and Nate are well developed and interesting.
The art is hip and fun. Done in black and white, the images play up the funny moments beautifully and often the dance of words and image is sheer perfection. It’s hard to believe that it was done by two people rather than just one.
Geeks and jocks alike will enjoy this one, after all who doesn’t love to see a robot death match! Appropriate for ages 13-15.
Reviewed from copy received from First Second.
Odd Duck by Cecil Castellucci and Sara Varon
Theodora was a very busy duck. She exercised every day, she swam laps in the pond (with a teacup on her head), she ran her errands every afternoon, she rode her bike rather than flying, and in the evening she quietly watched the stars. She had the perfect life of routine and quiet until a strange duck moved in next door. Chad was not like Theodora. He was an artist who made sculptures out of found objects, he colored his feathers, and he liked dancing and swimming in a wild fashion. When fall came and the other ducks flew south, Theodora and Chad were the only two left. Over the winter, they became fast friends. But when someone implied that one of them as an “odd duck” the question became which of them they were talking about.
Castellucci beautifully tells the story of a duck who is obviously unique and then another duck who is unique as well. Readers will at first think that it is about accepting others who are different from you, but the author has something deeper in mind here. It’s about also accepting that you yourself are the odd duck. As we all know we are!
Varon’s illustrations have wonderful small touches. Make sure you check out the titles on her books, since they are good for an additional chuckle. Her characters are winning and cheery, both so very comfortable in their own skin.
Fun, buoyant and with plenty of depth, this children’s graphic novel should fly off the shelves just like a normal duck. Appropriate for ages 6-9.
Reviewed from copy received from First Second.
Relish: My Life in the Kitchen by Lucy Knisley
Released April 2, 2013.
This memoir in graphic novel form details Lucy Knisley’s relationship and ongoing love affair with food throughout her childhood and young adulthood. With each chapter in the book showing an episode in her life that impacted how she related to food, Knisley has penned a book that is not at all about weight watching, but instead the story of how a gourmet is born. The daughter of a chef, Knisley grew up helping out at farm stalls and working at her mother’s catering jobs. She also details how her mother both introduced her to the wonders of food in both taste and the way it can connect people. Each chapter ends with a recipe, showing readers how to create their own sushi or navigate selecting a great cheese.
Knisley’s style is reminiscent of that of Raina Telgemeier with characters who are drawn with an innate humor but also a profound affection. Knisley writes of her relationship with food in particular, but the book is also a love letter to her mother and the impact she had on Knisley throughout her life. I am profoundly grateful for a book about a girl’s relationship with food that does not contain even a moment of weight concern or dieting. Instead it is about finding or creating great food in one’s life.
Funny and delicious, this book is sure to whet the appetite for more books by Knisley. Get it into the hands of teens who enjoyed the books by Telgemeier. Appropriate for ages 14-17.
Reviewed from digital galley received from Macmillan Children’s Publishing.
Here are my top 10 picks for graphic novels for children and teens this year. Did I miss any great ones? Let me know! As always, these are solely the books I got around to reading this year.
The links below are to my full reviews of each title.
Cardboard by Doug TenNapel – Take a box made of magical cardboard and one creative kid and you have utopia, right? Wrong! Kids will gobble up this dark graphic novel.
Chopsticks by Jessica Anthony – Told only in photographs, this book is filled with tension and twists. A great pick for older teens.
Drama by Raina Telgemeier – Telgemeier follows up Smile with this equally engaging look at high school theater.
Explorer: the Mystery Boxes by Kazu Kibuishi – Seven short stories all deal with opening a mystery box in this rich graphic novel anthology.
Friends with Boys by Faith Erin Hicks – This engaging graphic novel is a combination of realistic homeschooled teen heading to high school and paranormal ghost story.
Giants Beware! By Jorge Aguirre – Claudette is looking to head out to slay the giant that has terrorized her town, but the quest will be a difficult one! A spunky, strong heroine and some very funny companions make this a quest you will want to take.
Legends of Zita the Spacegirl by Ben Hatke – A wonderful follow-up to the first Zita book, this time Zita has to deal with fame and an imposter.
Little White Duck: a Childhood in China by Na Liu – A beautiful graphic novel autobiography about the author’s childhood in China during the 1970s.
The Secret of the Stone Frog by David Nytra – Fine black-and-white drawings create a unique graphic novel in this surreal tale of two children who wake up in an enchanted forest and try to return home again.
The Year of the Beasts by Cecil Castellucci – Text alternates with graphic novel in this book that is lush and sizzling.
Little White Duck: A Childhood in China by Na Liu, illustrated by Andres Vera Martinez
This graphic novel takes a look at the changes in China during the 1970s through the eyes of a young girl. Da Qin lives in Wahun with her family, including a younger sister. The book opens with the death of Chairman Mao in 1976 and shows a way of life that was disappearing. In eight chapters, Liu reveals this transitional and fleeting time in China through experiences in her own childhood. Along with the main character, readers get to celebrate New Year, capture pests, learn the value of rice, and visit a rural Chinese village. Throughout, it is a remarkable view into a closed society that is just starting to open itself to the outside.
Liu writes her stories with a wonderful frankness about the playfulness of childhood filled with dreams of riding on cranes, but also tied down to the earth by the everyday nature of the tales. There is a focus on the small moments of life in China. Some are amazing to those of us who didn’t live them, like everyone participating in catching the four pests by bringing in a certain number of rat tails.
Martinez’s art is a study in sepia toned memories made brilliant by the colors of childhood. Against a gray background, the bright dragon dances at New Year’s. Orange and yellow flames cook green and brown food. And even after the drab poverty of the rural village, there are dreams of flying on a crane high in the sky.
Informative and remarkable, this graphic novel takes a fresh and frank look at a childhood in China. Appropriate for ages 8-10.
Reviewed from library copy.
Binky Takes Charge by Ashley Spires
Binky has now been promoted to lieutenant in first against the aliens. It means that he is now in charge of training new recruits. But his first recruit is definitely not what he had been expecting. To start with, he isn’t a cat! He’s a dog! Binky sets out to train the new cadet anyway, trying to ignore the fact that he pees on the floor, won’t use the litter box, doesn’t respect the idea of a cat nap, and is unable to pounce a fake alien on a string. Soon Binky is questioning more than his cadet’s skills, perhaps he’s really a spy for the aliens! Now Binky sets out to prove what he suspects, but he’s in for a few surprises along the way.
The Binky series is one of my favorite graphic novel series for children. It is a treat to see our alien-fighting (actually insect fighting) hero reach new ranks here. The addition of a dog into the series is brilliant, especially one who may be a spy for the flies. Add in the farting and the physical humor, and you have a series that is bound to appeal to reluctant readers as well as eager readers.
Spires’ art is done in a limited color palette. Her black and white cat lives in a sepia-toned world that has bursts of color. This palette could read as vintage, but here the modern lines and modern story keep it up-to-date and great fun.
This is another strong book in a great series. It’s a must-have for all children’s graphic novel collections. Appropriate for ages 5-8.
Reviewed from copy received from Kids Can Press.
Broxo by Zack Giallongo
Princess Zora has traveled from her clan of the Granitewings to find the Peryton Clan and convince them to join the trading alliance that is being formed between the different clans. When she reaches Peryton Peak though, she does not find the bustling clan that she expected. Instead, it is a bleak and empty place. Broxo is one of the few who still live there, a young warrior who survives alongside his huge furry pet. There are others on the Peak too: a witch with a sordid history, the monster Gloth who hunts for flesh, and the hordes of undead who haunt the lake and the area around it. This graphic novel takes classic fantasy tropes and adds zombies, making for a thrilling read.
Giallongo is a newcomer to graphic novels, but has created one that will have you looking for all of his previous work. His pacing is a nice mix of quieter character-rich moments and wild dashes of action that leave readers breathless. The slow realization of what has happened on the Peak also makes for intense reading, leading the reader to want to figure the puzzle out.
The combination of a strong female lead and a strong male lead without any romantic entanglement is also refreshing. The theme here is about pride, family and redemption rather than heartbreak or just hearts.
A great graphic novel pick for middle school readers who will relish the zombies, the battles and the depth of the storyline. Appropriate for ages 11-14.
Reviewed from copy received from First Second.