Review: Cardboard Kingdom by Chad Sell

Cardboard Kingdom by Chad Sell

Cardboard Kingdom by Chad Sell (9781524719371)

An entire neighborhood of children steadily join together into one epic summer of fantasy fun built entirely out of cardboard. The book begins with The Sorceress, a boy who finds great power and identity in an evil sorceress character who uses magic and a sibling minions to try to take over the world. She is battled by the girl next door who dresses as a knight with a large sword to save the world. As more children join in, they take on characters who speak to what they need in their lives and to who they are deep inside. There are roaring creatures, a rogue, a prince, a huntress, and many more. Even the neighborhood bully ends up joining in as part of the epic final battle of summer.

Filled to the brim with diverse characters, this graphic novel is something very special. There are characters of different races and cultures, and LGBTQ characters. Written by several different authors who all drew on parts of their own childhood, the book speaks in a variety of voices that really feel like a neighborhood of children. There is a real spark here that demands creative thinking by the reader, looks beyond the cardboard and tape and sees the magic of imagination happening.

The art is bright and colorful, filled with family dynamics that are clearly felt deeply by the children in the book. Some stories like The Sorceress are told mostly in images while others have speech bubbles. This book embraces the fantasy motif and has a dynamic mix of superhero and classic fantasy elements that come together into one great adventure.

This one belongs in a every public library. Make sure to have some boxes on hand to build your own castles and creations. Appropriate for ages 7-10. (Reviewed from e-galley provided by Edelweiss and Knopf Books for Young Readers.)

Review: Photographic by Isabel Quintero

Photographic by Isabel Quintero

Photographic: The Life of Graciela Iturbide by Isabel Quintero and Zeke Pena (9781947440005)

This breathtaking graphic novel tells the story of the renowned photographer, Graciela Iturbide. Graciela is a Mexican photographer who was worked at her craft for over fifty years. Raised in a large family, she discovered theater and film when she went away to school. Her photography didn’t begin until the tragedy of her daughter dying. She took a photography class and found her mentor, Manuel Alvarez Bravo. Traveling with him, she soon started to take her own photographs. She photographed the desert, cacti, people and her recurring theme of birds. This graphic novel follows her steps of finding her voice through photography and becoming an icon.

This graphic novel caught my attention when I turned past the first few pages and realized that they had incorporated Iturbide’s photographs into the book. Throughout, there are images drawn directly from her photographs and then the photograph itself is revealed. It’s a stunning way to show the skill and art that went into the photo and then display it with its incredible lighting, softer edges and composition.

The story here is beautifully told as well. Graciela is an example of someone who has an incredible gift and eye for images. She dislikes her photographs being called “magical” and throughout the graphic novel things that could be seen as “signs” of the future are rejected as anything other than simple events. It’s this forthright confidence that infuses the entire work with her personality.

One of the best biographical graphic novels I have read, this one is a stunning look at an impressive woman. Appropriate for ages 13-18.

Reviewed from copy provided by Getty Publications.

Review: Be Prepared by Vera Brosgol

Be Prepared by Vera Brosgol

Be Prepared by Vera Brosgol (9781626724457)

Based on the author’s own childhood experiences, this graphic novel looks at the perils of summer camp. Vera has always wanted to go to summer camp like the other girls in her class. But she knows that her life is very different from theirs. Just look at her disaster of a sleepover birthday party and the way that her Russian family approach scared off the other girls. But then Vera finds the perfect summer camp, a Russian camp where the girls should be just like her! She drags her younger brother along too and just knows that this will be the best experience ever. But when she discovers that the girls she has to share a tent with are five years older that she is, that there is no electricity and no running water, Vera finds herself feeling just the way she always does, not fitting in and unsure she’s going to survive.

Brosgol is such a gifted book creator, moving skillfully from picture book to graphic novel. She has a wonderful twisted sense of humor in all of her work that marks it as uniquely hers. Here she beautifully creates a story that rings with truth, about not fitting in even in the place you should fit in the best, of not finding your place, and then eventually of finding it in an unlikely place but only after you accept that you are different. It’s a lovely package of a book, showing that being yourself is all you can do.

Brosgol’s art captures the humor as well. The book is done in a palette of green and black, mimicking the natural setting but also quickly moving from darkness to light. Vera herself is a great character, with her huge glasses and limitless hope that things will improve.

A wonderful middle grade graphic novel just right for summer. Appropriate for ages 8-12.

Reviewed from copy provided by First Second.

 

Peter & Ernesto by Graham Annable

Peter & Ernesto by Graham Annable

Peter & Ernesto: A Tale of Two Sloths by Graham Annable (9781626725614

Peter and Ernesto are two sloths who are best friends and live together in the same tree. They spend their days looking at clouds, eating snacks and singing songs. Then one day, Ernesto realizes that he wants to see more of the sky than that above their tree. So he sets off on an adventure. He has to cross a shaky bridge and a river, then find a way across the ocean. Ernesto makes friends along the way, discovering oceans, mountains, deserts and arctic places each with different skies. But Peter is worried, and he sets off too, making his own friends along the way. He doesn’t journey as far as Ernesto, but is there waiting when Ernesto returns to the beach. Two very different friends who support one another in their own ways.

Annable’s graphic novel is simple and friendly. The cells of the story are edged in black, sometimes distinct from each other and other times playfully running together to form a single picture broken by the frame. The sloths are nicely distinct from one another visually and also in attitude, each brave in their own way. The adventures they have are distinct from one another but also alike enough to contrast effectively.

A great early graphic novel for elementary-aged readers. Appropriate for ages 6-9. (Reviewed from copy provided by First Second.)

 

3 New Picture Books with Everyday Heroes

Grace for Gus by Harry Bliss

Grace for Gus by Harry Bliss (9780062644107)

This is one delightful graphic novel picture book that is almost wordless, making it a great pick as an early graphic novel experience for little children. When Grace is told that the class will contribute to a fund to get their class pet, Gus, a new friend, she decides that she has to help. She heads home through an urban landscape, filled with nods to iconic New York people. Once her fathers are asleep, she heads out into the nighttime city and in one scene after another raises money uses her special talents, each of which is a nod to the vibrancy of arts in urban settings.

Lovers of New York and classic cartoons will have lots to spot in the illustrations. Even children who don’t know the references though will get the feeling of New York and its vibrancy from this graphic novel. The use of images to primarily tell the story invites children to fill in the tale themselves and makes the book all the more engaging and uplifting. An empowering read that makes the quiet child the hero and the star. Appropriate for ages 4-7. (Reviewed from library copy.)

Islandborn by Junot Diaz

Islandborn by Junot Diaz, illustrated by Leo Espinosa (9780735229860)

When Ms. Obi told Lola’s class that their assignment is to draw a picture of the country they are originally from, Lola is very worried. She doesn’t remember the Island at all, since her family left when she was only a baby. Ms. Obi suggests that Lola talk to others who might remember more. Soon Lola is speaking to lots of people in her neighborhood from the Island and they each have a favorite memory. For some it is the music, for others it’s the colorful homes, others miss the fruit. When Lola asks Mr. Mir about what he most remembers, he is gruff and won’t answer. Lola’s grandmother though wants Lola to try to ask him again, since Mr. Mir knows so much about the Island. What Mr. Mir tells Lola though is about a monster that came to the Island and was turned back only when heroes stood up to the darkness. It’s a history that Lola has never heard before, but is proud to include in her drawings of the place she was born.

Diaz’s text is rich and invites readers into visualizing the Island for themselves with its lush foliage, colorful homes, beautiful beaches and much more. The book depicts an urban neighborhood filled with echoes of the Island, a community built from the heroes who fought back. The illustrations are bright and cheery, filled with Lola’s imaginative take on what she is being told. Children may need more explanation about “the monster” if they are interested, but this book firmly celebrates resistance and standing up to those who would take your rights. Timely and important, this picture book celebrates where children came from and what it took to survive. Appropriate for ages 4-6. (Reviewed from ARC provided by Dial Books for Young Readers.)

Teddy_s Favorite Toy by Christian Trimmer

Teddy’s Favorite Toy by Christian Trimmer, illustrated by Madeline Valentine (9781481480796)

Teddy has lots of toys he likes, but only one favorite one: Bren-Da, the Warrior Queen of Pacifica. They have tea parties together and she has great manners. They fight battles together and she does a wonderful kick. She can dress up in different styles. But then one day, when Teddy is playing with her, Bren-Da’s leg snaps off. Teddy tries to fix her, but has to leave for school and he keeps her wrapped up in bandages until he can return. Unfortunately, Teddy’s mom cleans up his room and accidentally throws Bren-Da out with the trash. What can they do? It’s up to Teddy’s mom to become a Warrior Queen herself.

There are several book out there about children playing with toys that may be seen as unusual for their gender. This one though has a great twist and really is about far more than just playing with a doll as a little boy. Instead it’s also about heroism, favorite toys and the ability of a mom to become a hero. The book is told simply but without any bit of didacticism. The illustrations are bright and friendly, offering great moments of play that are then mirrored by the rescue mission. A great picture book that breaks gender stereotypes in more than one way. Appropriate for ages 3-5. (Reviewed from copy provided by Atheneum.)

Brazen by Penelope Bagieu

Brazen by Penelope Bagieu

Brazen: Rebel Ladies Who Rocked the World by Penelope Bagieu (9781626728691)

As young girls and teens, our society surrounds us with the history of men. This incredible graphic novel tears away at that myth, revealing the amazing women of history and today. Each woman is shown from their childhood and upbringing and then as the grand woman that they became and the impact their life had on the world around them. In this graphic novel, there are women of many races and cultures. There are trans women and queer women, women that you know already and others that are a thrill to discover. This book is a wonder.

Bagieu is a well-known French comic writer who started a project online that then turned into this compilation. The book is a delight to read, each chapter focused on one woman and told briefly and yet in a way that honors them and makes readers want to learn even more about them. There are world leaders here, actresses, artists of a variety of types, scientists, journalists and many many more. The art is fresh and just as feisty as the women the book explores.

A book for every public and high school library, this one is a must-read. Appropriate for ages 9-18. (Reviewed from copy provided by First Second.)

2018 Great Graphic Novels for Teens

YALSA has announced their list of Great Graphic Novels for Teens for 2018. They also have a top ten:

The Backstagers, Vol. 1 (The Backstagers, Volume One)

The Backstagers by James Tynion IV, illustrated by Rian Sygh

Black Hammer, Vol. 1: Secret Origins

Black Hammer, Volume 1: Secret Origins by Jeff Lemire, illustrated by Dean Ormston

Brave (Awkward, #2)

Brave by Svetlana Chmakova

I Am Alfonso Jones

I Am Alfonso Jones by Tony Medina, illustrated by Stacey Robison and John Jennings

Jonesy #1

Jonesy by Sam Humphries, illustrated by Caitlin Rose Boyle

Kindred: A Graphic Novel Adaptation

Kindred: A Graphic Novel Adaptation by Damian Duffy and Octavia E. Butler, illustrated by John Jennings

Lighter Than My Shadow

Lighter Than My Shadow by Katie Green

My Brother's Husband, Volume 1 (My Brother's Husband Omnibus, #1)

My Brother’s Husband by Gengoroh Tagame

Pashmina

Pashmina by Nidhi Chanani

Spill Zone (Spill Zone, #1)

Spill Zone by Scott Westerfeld, illustrated by Alex Puvilland

The Prince and the Dressmaker by Jen Wang

The Prince and the Dressmaker by Jen Wang

The Prince and the Dressmaker by Jen Wang (9781626723634)

Released February 13, 2018.

While Prince Sebastian’s parents are busily searching for a bride from him, he is hiding a secret from everyone. He hires a dressmaker, Frances, to make his wardrobe for him, including dresses that are stunning creations. They allow him to become Lady Crystallia, who soon becomes a Paris fashion icon herself. As Frances gains fame as the Crystallia’s dressmaker, Sebastian’s secret becomes much harder to hide and soon the two have to choose between keeping the secret and allowing Frances to follow her dreams.

This graphic novel by Wang, who did In Real Life with Cory Doctorow, has created a graphic novel that embraces people exploring their gender identity while also incorporating a beautiful romantic nature to the entire book. Throughout there is a feeling of connection between Frances and Sebastian, one that goes beyond fashion. The fashion adds a layer of self expression for both of them, of triumph and discovery as well.

Wang’s art captures Paris at the dawn of the modern age. Filled with gowns, horse-drawn carriages and grandeur. It also has a humor in it, one that allows readers to chuckle at absurd situations and one that creates truly human characters for readers to connect with deeply.

Beautiful, layered and modern, this graphic novel embraces gender identity and gorgeous dresses. Appropriate for ages 12-15.

Reviewed from copy provided by First Second.

2017 Top Graphic Novels for Children and Teens

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All’s Faire in Middle School by Victoria Jamieson

The author of the popular Roller Girl returns with a book about Impy, a girl who has been homeschooled until this year.

The Big Bad Fox by Benjamin Renner

The Big Bad Fox by Benjamin Renner

This graphic novel is exceptional. Renner uses perfect comedic timing throughout the book. He melds slapstick comedy with real heart throughout the book and gives readers a villainous but incompetent Fox that they can root for.

Bolivar by Sean Rubin

Bolivar by Sean Rubin

Pure joy in a graphic novel that will have you believing in Bolivar too.

Castle in the Stars The Space Race of 1869 by Alex Alice

Castle in the Stars: The Space Race of 1869 by Alex Alice

With a dynamic mix of historical detail, science and steampunk, this graphic novel is exceptional.

The Dam Keeper by Robert Kondo and Dice Tsutsumi

The Dam Keeper by Robert Kondo and Dice Tsutsumi

With unique and fabulous artwork, this graphic novel is based on the Oscar-nominated film.

Lighter Than My Shadow by Katie Green

Lighter Than My Shadow by Katie Green

A harrowing look at anorexia from its very beginnings as a child through to new adulthood and its lingering effects even after recovery, this graphic novel is frank and honest about the illness.

nightlights-by-lorena-alvarez

Nightlights by Lorena Alvarez

A dynamic and creative graphic novel for children, this one will light up readers’ imaginations.

Real Friends by Shannon Hale

Real Friends by Shannon Hale

Newbery Honor winning author Hale tells the story of her own elementary-school years and the tensions of changing friendships.

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Spinning by Tillie Walden

…showing an incredible skill for storytelling and art as a young author.

 

Thornhill by Pam Smy

Thornhill by Pam Smy

Get this into the hands of children who enjoy ghost stories, because this one will haunt readers.