Stepping Stones by Lucy Knisley (9780593125243)
Jen didn’t want to move out of the city and onto a farm with her mother, leaving her father behind. She particularly doesn’t enjoy her mom’s new boyfriend, Walter, who is always telling her how she should act. On the farm, Jen does love the hayloft with its privacy and kittens. She’s not quite sure about the chickens at first until she meets the fuzzy chicks, but even then taking care of them is a pain! When Walter’s two daughters come to visit on weekends, it’s particularly hard. The girls work at the farm’s stall at the market, selling berries, granola and flowers. But Andy, the oldest daughter, is bossy and constantly putting Jen down. Jen would much rather be drawing in her notebook than doing math at the market. Being a new family is hard, but small steps make big connections.
Knisley is one of my favorite graphic novelists. It is great to see her returning to graphic novels for children. She captures the emotions of being young with such empathy, valuing the perspective of her characters. She also allows her young characters to find their own way forward, the adults around and causing problems at times. Here it is figuring out how to be potential step-siblings while wrestling with a new life in the country, and a frog too.
Knisley fills her book with small moments of life on a farm and in the country. Every person who lives, loves or tolerates the country will enjoy her depiction. As always, her illustrations are clear, funny and full of great moments.
Full of fresh air, chickens, garden-rampaging deer, and a complicated family, this graphic novel is a great summer read. Appropriate for ages 9-12.
Reviewed from e-galley provided by Random House Graphic.
When Stars Are Scattered by Victoria Jamieson and Omar Mohamed (9780525553908)
This graphic novel memoir takes readers directly into the heart of a huge Kenyan refugee camp and the life of one boy who lived there. Omar and his brother Hassan lost their parents in Somalia when their village was attacked. Omar still hopes to find his mother, who was separated from them in the chaos. The brothers live together in their own hut in the camp and are watched over by their guardian who lives next door. When Omar has a chance to go to school, he must make the gut-wrenching decision of whether to leave Hassan, who doesn’t speak, behind. Their time in the camp is spent waiting, waiting for a UN interview, waiting to see if they can finally be moved to another country, waiting for water, waiting for food. It is also a time filled with doubts and hope, requiring true resilience for Omar to see a way forward.
It’s always a delight to see a new graphic novel by Jamieson, author of the Newbery Honor book Roller Girl. It’s all the more impressive to see her take on the challenge of a more serious topic and to do it as a biographical piece, telling the true story of Omar Mohamed and his time in the refugee camp. Jameison crafts the story in a way that truly reveals the plight of those in the camp, the horrors of what they experienced in the past, and the dullness of the routine days. She fills the pages with Omar’s deep caring and worry for his brother, his only remaining family member, and the reality of his sole responsibility to not only keep him safe but offer him a future.
As always with Jamieson, the art is wonderful. In particular, she offers glimpses of the beauty of the night sky in the camp and the warmth of the community of people who have been thrown together by tragedy. It is marvelous that Mohamed worked with her to tell a true story of the camps, that truth resonates on the page, lifting this new work to a different level.
Human, tragic and empowering, this book gives a human face to the many refugees in our world. Appropriate for ages 9-12.
Reviewed from purchased copy.
Comic-Con has announced the nominees for the 2020 Eisner Awards, which celebrate comics and graphic novels. The awards are given in 31 categories. Here are the ones specifically for younger audiences:
BEST PUBLICATION FOR EARLY READERS
Comics: Easy as ABC by Ivan Brunetti
Kitten Construction Company: A Bridge Too Fur by John Patrick Green
The Pigeons HAS to Go to School! by Mo Willems
A Trip to the Top of the Volcano with Mouse by Frank Viva
¡Vamos! Let’s Go to the Market by Raúl the Third
Who Wet My Pants? by Bob Shea and Zachariah Ohora
BEST PUBLICATION FOR KIDS
Akissi: More Tales of Mischief by Marguerite Abouet and Mathieu Sapin
Dog Man: For Whom the Ball Rolls by Dav Pilkey
Guts by Raina Telgemeier (Also nominated for Best Writer/Artist)
New Kid by Jerry Craft
This Was Our Pact by Ryan Andrews
The Wolf in Underpants by Wilfrid Lupano, Mayana Itoïz, and Paul Cauuet
BEST PUBLICATION FOR TEENS
Harley Quinn: Breaking Glass by Mariko Tamaki and Steve Pugh (Also nominated for Best Writer and Best Penciller/Inker)
Hot Comb by Ebony Flowers
Kiss Number 8 by Colleen AF Venable and Ellen T. Crenshaw
Laura Dean Keeps Breaking Up with Me by Mariko Tamaki and Rosemary Valero-O’Connell (Also nominated for Best Writer and Best Penciller/Inker)
Penny Nichols by MK Reed, Greg Means, and Matt Wiegle (Also nominated for Best Writer)
Banned Book Club by Kim Hyun Sook and Ryan Estrada, illustrated by Hyung-Ju Ko (9781945820427)
This timely read captures the work of protestors and underground activists in South Korea in the early 1980s. Hyun Sook was the first in her family to go to college. Her family and she had high hopes for her future. But on the first day of school, she has to cross through a demonstration to even enter campus. Soon she finds herself in the midst of a group of activists, even though she just wanted to join a folk dance group and a book club. As Hyun Sook starts to learn more about the Fifth Republic and the political situation she is in, her views start to change and she begins to help the revolutionaries. The work is seriously dangerous, as members of their group are taken by the police regularly and tortured. Hyun Sook must decide if she will stay and fight or quietly head back to simply going to college.
This graphic novel is so powerful. It looks at a totalitarian regime and the efforts to overthrow it, particularly the ideas and books that the regime forbids. It’s a deep dive behind the lines of the activists in the 1980’s a fictionalized graphical version of a true story that the author lived through. The courage and tenacity shown on the pages is remarkable, calling for all of us to lead our own revolutions or at least read revolutionary books.
The art is done in black and white, stark at times, violent at others. It doesn’t flinch from showing what truly happened when police took people into custody. The echoes between this and our own society are strong, making one ask questions about totalitarianism in our own western world.
A call to action, filled with anger, activism and books. Appropriate for ages 13-18.
Reviewed from e-galley provided by Iron Circus Comics.
The Dark Matter of Mona Starr by Laura Lee Gulledge (9781419734236)
Mona’s best and really only friend is moving to Hawaii and leaving her to face school and life on her own. It’s made even harder by Mona’s Matter. Her Matter is her dark thoughts that tell her she isn’t good enough and her depression that can take control. Mona steadily learns to make new friends, connecting with others in orchestra. She also learns ways to deal with her depression, the Matter, that keeps it under better control. She meditates, uses art to express herself, and leans on those who love her. In a culminating episode, when her depression seems to be causing physical pain, no one can figure out what is wrong. Mona insists that more tests are run and a problem that requires surgery is found. The battle against her Matter may not be fully won, but one victory at a time makes a difference.
Gulledge has written a fictional but very autobiographical graphic novel. Her representation of depression as “Matter” is really well done. It will serve as both a reflection of experience to those who have depression and a way of learning about it to those who don’t. The physicality of depression is captured here, the isolation that is self built, the nastiness of self talk, and the bravery it takes to break free of the cycle.
The art is gorgeous, beautifully showing the darkness of the Matter that lurks in corners only to suddenly surge and take over. That same darkness though is also a canvas for stars, a way of seeing the rays of yellow that promise hope and light through all of the bleak times. Gulledge uses the yellow sparingly, allowing it to pierce and glow at specific times.
A great graphic novel that tackles depression, courage and recovery. Appropriate for ages 12-15.
Reviewed from copy provided by Amulet.
Almost American Girl by Robin Ha (9780062685094)
This graphic novel memoir tells a compelling story. Chuna lived with her single mother in Korea, until they went to Alabama on a what Chuna thought was a family vacation. Instead it was a way for her mother to actually meet the man she had been dating long distance and see where he lived. Now at age 14, Chuna must learn a new language and figure out a new society which is very unlike that of Korea. She doesn’t get along with her new stepfamily and continues to be furious with her mother. After all, she lost everything with the move: her country, her language, her friends, and a lot of her favorite things. When her mother enrolls her in a comic book program, Chuna discovers a way forward with new friends and a new way to express herself.
Ha’s memoir is marvelous. She creates real emotion on the page, not shying away from the raw reaction that she had as a teen to being moved to an entirely different country unexpectedly. The book is filled with tension, between Chuna and her mother, her mother and her new husband, and the entire extended family. Readers will see flashes of hope and a future before Chuna does in the book, adding to a feeling of possibility and resilience.
The art in the book reflects the strong plotting that Ha has created here. She lingers in moments very effectively, emphasizing their importance for readers. The art moves from tans and pastel colors to more dramatic moments where emotion is shown in waves of colors or hauntingly dark scenes that capture depression perfectly.
A great graphic novel memoir that tells the story of the isolation of being a new immigrant in America, but also the potential for a new future through art. Appropriate for ages 13-16.
Reviewed from library copy.
Aster and the Accidental Magic by Thom Pico, illustrated by Karensac (9780593124178)
Aster has moved with her family away from the city and to a boring woods on a rural mountain. At first, she thinks they are just there for a brief time as her mother tries to deal with the lethal bird migration, but they have actually moved to the mountain permanently. When her father forces Aster out from in front of her video games, she discovers some oddities about her new home. There’s an old woman who has a herd of woolly dogs. The woman gives Aster one of the dogs, a little one with no wool. After that, Aster and her new pet discover a very strange rock in the middle of the woods, and it turns out to be a trickster that grants wishes. After a series of disastrous wishes, Aster gets things back on track. But things may still be awry, since now the seasons are failing to change, a fox is after a lot of power, and the old woman may have died. It’s up to Aster to figure out how to save the mountain that’s her home.
Pico takes the zany energy of cartoons and channels it into a book filled with twists and turns that are surprising and delightful. The reader never quite knows what is going to happen next. The book has time bubbles that change the way time is perceived, magic power stored in staffs, and talking dogs. It’s chaotic at times but in the best possible way and has a merry tone where one knows things will work out in the end, or perhaps take another twist before that happens.
The art is modern and full of humor. From woolly dogs to mountains with faces to tiny chestnut knights, each one is done with personality to spare. The art captures plenty of action, battles and magical moments.
A thrilling graphic novel with lots of love and laugh with. Appropriate for ages 8-12.
Reviewed from e-galley provided by Random House Graphic.
The Deep Dark Blue by Niki Smith (9780316485982)
When their family is killed in front of them in a political coup, twin brothers Hawke and Grayson are forced into hiding. They become initiates into the Communion of Blue, a society of women who weave the blue thread of reality and can control the strings of power. Disguised as girls, the two must learn new ways of life, including battling unarmed rather than with swords and learning the spinning skills that girls are taught by their mothers. The siblings create their own plan to take back their royal home, using old and new skills. But Grayson, who has hidden as Grayce, is unwilling to leave the first place she’s been allowed to live as a girl.
Smith’s graphic novel has a wonderful edge to it in both story and imagery. The tale is timeless as is the need for vengeance. Yet Smith makes it modern with her art but also the inclusion of a transgender character as one of the main protagonists. Grayce’s identity is handled clearly and with sensitivity, allowing her to become fully herself as the story unfolds.
The art is spectacular, using a palette of blues, purples and pinks, this kingdom comes alive. The Communion of Blue is fascinating to learn more about, visually as well as in the story. The cast of characters is racially diverse as well.
A graphic novel full of magic, familial honor and LGBTQ representation. Appropriate for ages 9-12.
Reviewed from library copy.
Snapdragon by Kat Leyh (9781250171122)
Snap knows that the witch has taken her dog, probably to use him for a ritual or eat him. So she sneaks into the witch’s house to rescue him. But Snap discovers that Jacks isn’t really a witch after all and was actually trying to save her dog after an accident. Jacks is actually pretty cool, creating skeletons of animals from road kill and selling them online. Jacks also helps Snap when she discovers finds some baby opossums. As the two rear the opossums together, Snap discovers her own love of bones and science. But Jacks still has a surprise herself, real magic, that she can help Snap learn too.
This graphic novel is such a treat of a book. It offers a heroine who is not afraid to be different from the stereotypical girl, exploring death, animals and magic. In the story, Snap gains a best friend, Lou, someone who is exploring their gender. Lou finds support with Snap and her mother, who share clothes and offer a safe space. The story also offers background on Jacks and Snap’s grandmother with a sad tale of love that had to make way, or did it?
The writing is superb, the plotting is clever and clear. The art is phenomenal with race and gender playing major roles. The characters are deep, well conceived and very diverse.
A marvelous and magical graphic novel that includes LGBT, race and gender elements. Appropriate for ages 10-13.
Reviewed from copy provided by First Second.