The Barnabus Project by The Fan Brothers

The Barnabus Project by The Fan Brothers (9780735263260)

Barnabus is a tiny creature who is half elephant and half mouse. He lives in the secret lab under Perfect Pets. The lab was where they made perfect pets, but they also had a section where they housed the creatures they made who were not quite perfect. That’s where Barnabus lived, in the Failed Projects section along with all the other imperfect pets. When the Green Suits came in and marked their glass housings with “FAIL,” Barnabus and the others found out they were being recycled. Barnabus was determined to escape, though the others thought it was impossible. He longed to see the world outside the lab. When Barnabus got himself free, he freed all of the other failed creatures. Together they made their way through the ducts. When they discovered one creature at the center of the lab who was still trapped, it was time to decide whether to save themselves or risk it all.

This is the first time that all three Fan brothers have worked on a book together. If they make things this great as a team, they should keep on working with one another. This book reads like a Pixar cartoon, full of heart and adventure and one tiny hero. Readers will fall hard for Barnabus, the unlikely mix of a mouse and elephant who is marvelously defiant and brave despite his small size. The story is particularly well done. It deals with deep issues such as what perfection is and what makes someone a “fail.” The story arc is strong and interesting with plenty of action and humor.

The art is phenomenal. It is colorful and full of small details that are fascinating to pore over. The differences between Barnabus and the “Perfect Pets” who are fuzzier and more colorful versions of himself are minute and everyone would want Barnabus on their side. The various creatures in the lab are interesting, some lovable, others squirmy, and some both.

A great picture book with a small hero sure to shatter your expectations. Appropriate for ages 4-6.

Reviewed from library copy.

The Fire Never Goes Out by Noelle Stevenson

Cover image for The Fire Never Goes Out

The Fire Never Goes Out by Noelle Stevenson (9780062278272)

This deeply personal graphic memoir tells the author’s story of being a creative person in our modern world. Spanning from 2011 to 2019, the book explores her life as a young adult. Starting with her time in art school with its loneliness and her growing meltdowns and self harm, the book explore the darker side of her personality. Her inner flame of creativity and passion battles the hole that she sees as gaping right at her middle. Still, that darkness is offset by wonderfully mundane happy moments such as apple picking in the fall and watching TV with people she enjoys. As the years progress, that strain of darkness and depression vs. creativity and wild energy continues. Stevenson shares her huge accomplishments too such as publishing her first graphic novel to great acclaim and winning national awards for it and running a highly successful series for Netflix. Still, those never quiet the negative thoughts. After finally crashing to her lowest point, Stevenson emerges like a phoenix, a woman in love, getting married and carrying her fire with her still.

There is so much sheer honesty and vulnerability on these pages that it is breathtaking. The mix of Stevenson’s writing with her illustrations, many created at the time she is talking about, makes for a dynamic read where her skill as both writer and artist is evident on every page. Perhaps most telling is how her huge successes did not diminish her negative internal experience, instead perhaps accelerating the crash. Her honesty about self harm and struggles with mental illness is amazing.

Stevenson carefully stays away from generalizing her experience, instead keeping her memoir very personal and about her own journey through creativity and the way it can burn and destroy as well as build. Because of this, readers can see themselves in her, relate to her feelings and see a way forward that does not involve a complete loss of self or creativity. It’s a book of hope, for creative queer people in particular.

Strong, personal and empowering, this is a memoir is a courageous look at mental illness. Appropriate for ages 16-19.

Reviewed from library copy.