Review: This Place: 150 Years Retold

This Place 150 Years Retold

This Place: 150 Years Retold (9781553797586)

In a graphic novel format, this book tells the story of 150 years of indigenous history in Canada. The book begins with the story of Annie Bannatyne, the daughter of a wealthy store owner and a Metis-Saulteaux woman. Angered by racist comments published by Charles Mair, Annie literally horsewhips him in public, inspiring a young Louis Riel. There are stories of First Nation chiefs continuing their tribes’ traditional ways, despite them being forbidden by Canadian law. Other stories tell of the damage of residential schools. There is the story of Francis Pegahmagabow, the best sniper in North American history, and how his heroism in World War I was not enough to get the Canadian government to treat him as a human being. There are stories of children taken away, of families broken, of great heroism and deep connection to traditions and to the land itself. The book ends with a science fiction look at native people in space and a message of hope for change.

Told by various First Nation authors and illustrators, this book is simply incredible. At the beginning of each story, the author speaks about their inspiration and then a timeline is given that shows how little progress was made in Canada. Information is shared in the timeline that allows the stories to be more focused but for readers to learn about more historical points. As the history grows shockingly modern, the events remain just as searingly racist as those before the turn of the century. Still, the message here is one of strength, resilience and resistance. It is about standing up, insisting on being seen, and demanding to be heard. There is hope here in each of these heroes.

One of the top graphic novels of the year, this may be Canadian focused, but it speaks to everyone in all nations. Appropriate for ages 12-15.

Reviewed from library copy.

 

Review: This Was Our Pact by Ryan Andrews

This Was Our Pact by Ryan Andrews

This Was Our Pact by Ryan Andrews (9781626720534)

At the Autumn Equinox Festival, the town sends paper lanterns down the river. Legend says that the lanterns will drift away and end up floating into the sky and become stars. Ben and his group of friends have a pact to follow the river and see if the legend is actually true. But as their bike ride in the darkness gets longer, the kids start to head back home one-by-one. Finally, it is just Ben and Nathaniel, a boy who has been hanging at the back because he doesn’t fit in. Little do both of them know that this is just the beginning of a huge adventure. It’s an adventure that will take them to meet a fisherman bear who is also following the glowing lanterns, to a potion  maker who is having a very busy night, and into a cave that happens to be filled with starlight.

This graphic novel is amazing. It has a sense of wonder throughout from the very moment the lanterns are set afloat to the final pages of the book. One never quite knows what is going to happen next, which makes for an enticing read. The world building is well done, the different pieces of the story seeming to not fit until they click neatly into place. The characters are well developed and consistent throughout the book, their decisions making sense as the story progresses. The art is luminous and modern, inviting readers into a marvelous world.

A great graphic novel for elementary and middle grades, it is magical. Appropriate for ages 8-12.

Reviewed from copy provided by First Second.

 

Review: Operatic by Kyo Maclear

Operatic by Kyo Maclear

Operatic by Kyo Maclear, illustrated by Byron Eggenschwiler (9781554989720)

A middle grade graphic novel that focuses on the power of music and opera? Yes please! This innovative graphic novel tells the story of Charlie, who has an assignment to find her own personal perfect song. Her music class listens to all sorts of musical genres but the one that resonates with Charlie (and no one else in her class) is the music of opera singer Maria Callas. As Charlie searches for her song, she is thinking of two classmates. There is Emile, who is quiet and intriguing. Then there is the empty desk left by Luka, who was targeted and bullied for his gender nonconformity. As Charlie finds her song, she also discovers her inner diva and the ability to empower those around her.

Maclear’s story is all about the impact that music, specifically the right music at the right time, can have on one’s life. She writes with a deep empathy for young people finding their own way through middle school, focusing on the importance of friends but also on reaching out to others and helping them too. The book is filled with emotion and connection that exemplifies youth and hope.

Eggenschwiler’s art is exceptional. He creates images that perfectly capture the emotions of have a crush on someone, or feeling certain ways in your group of friends. The illustrations move through various single-colors as their main palette from yellows to blues to reds and back. Filled with individuality and creativity, the illustrations are interesting and unique.

A great graphic novel for middle grades, this one speaks to each person being both an individual and a member of the community. Appropriate for ages 11-14.

Reviewed from library copy.

Review: I Was Their American Dream by Malaka Gharib

I Was Their American Dream by Malaka Gharib

I Was Their American Dream by Malaka Gharib (9780525575115)

In this vibrant graphic novel, Malaka tells the story of growing up as a child of an Egyptian father and a Filipino mother in the United States. She learned to meet both families’ expectations though sometimes they contradicted one another and how to carefully switch between the two. There are stories of breaking unwritten rules in Egypt by skateboarding in the streets as well as tales of not being fully accepted by the Filipino kids at school. Malaka considered white culture something to long after, wishing for sandwich lunches and the lifestyles she saw on TV. As she grew up, she began to figure out how to value her own unique cultural background and celebrate it.

Gharib has created a graphic memoir that shows so many elements of being from an immigrant family, being a person of color, and being of mixed race and heritage. She is open and honest about her own struggles with asking the problematic question of where someone is from, of her own code switching, and her own disdain for her heritage as a child even while she loved her family deeply. Her book is a love letter to her families while still being an honest view of the impact of whiteness on children of color.

The art in the book is full of reds and blues, the colors echoing the American flag. The colors are used cleverly to show character’s hair colors and create diverse and inclusive illustrations. The graphic novel is well paced, full of blunt commentary about race and America, and just the right zing of food and culture.

A diverse and funny look at families, race and America. Appropriate for ages 12-18.

Reviewed from library copy.

Review: Laura Dean Keep Breaking Up with Me by Mariko Tamaki

Laura Dean Keep Breaking Up with Me by Mariko Tamaki

Laura Dean Keep Breaking Up with Me by Mariko Tamaki, illustrated by Rosemary Valero-O’Connell (9781250312846)

Freddy is dating the most popular girl at school. She is exactly the person you want to date, pretty, sexy, charming, and makes you feel like the center of her world. Until you aren’t, which happens pretty often. Laura keeps on cheating on Freddy, breaking up with her, and then asking Freddy to get back together. Freddy knows that it’s not ideal and so do all of her friends. When the two girls break up again, Freddy’s best friend Doodle encourages her to see a medium (who is also a great dungeon master too) to get advice. The medium agrees with all of Freddy’s friends, break up with Laura Dean. But it’s not that easy and as their relationship heats up again, Freddy risks her friendships to continue to be with the intoxicating Laura Dean.

This graphic novel beautifully captures a captivating but toxic romantic and sexual relationship. Tamaki has created several brilliant characters who avoid any kind of stereotype and are written as individuals. In particular, I appreciated Doodle, one of the only teen characters I have seen in a novel that avoids using a cell phone. As a parent of this type of teen, it is refreshing to see a character do this so organically. Fans of Dungeons & Dragons or other tabletop gaming will love the DM as a medium and the use of gaming as a way to connect on multiple levels.

The art is a great complement to the story line. Filled with touches of pink, the art takes small moments and tiny focal points to tell a robust story. Just the images of Freddy’s shoes walking alone after a break up speak so beautifully of loneliness. The characters themselves are also vividly depicted in the art, from Freddy alone on her rumpled sheets to Doodle’s body language when she is being neglected.

An exceptional LGBTQ graphic novel that talks openly about toxicity in relationships and the importance of friendships. Appropriate for ages 15-18.

Reviewed from copy provided by First Second.

 

Review: Your Turn, Adrian by Helena Oberg

Your Turn, Adrian by Helena Oberg

Your Turn, Adrian by Helena Oberg, illustrated by Kristin Lidstrom, translated by Eva Apelqvist (9781773061498)

Adrian doesn’t fit in at school. Bullied by some of the kids in the schoolyard, he spends his time in class hoping not to be called on. When he is, his heart pounds and his mind goes blank. He can’t answer even the easiest of questions out loud. He spends lunch alone and his recess dangling from tree branches. On his way home, he does head stands and walks on his hands. At home, his father works early and his mother works late, Then Adrian meets Heidi, a large wolfhound, who bonds with him immediately. The two of them spend all of their time together, she even goes with him to school. With Heidi at his side, Adrian doesn’t need to worry about bullies and he can focus in class and answer questions. But Heidi was someone else’s dog, and eventually Heidi found her owner again. Adrian was left alone again, missing Heidi dreadfully. Until Heidi found him again too. Adrian got to meet Heidi’s owner, and discovered a world of tightropes and performances.

This unique and fascinating book explores the life of a lonely boy who is different than the other children. He is quiet, unpopular and prone to anxiety, and yet he is also brave as he swings from tree branches and does hand stands on ledges. The text in the book is minimal with many of the pages showing only the illustrations and not having any words on them. The words often downplay the emotions that Adrian is feeling, though after he loses Heidi, his grief is palpable in both words and illustrations.

The illustrations are truly the heart of the book. They move from multi-paneled pencil drawings to full two-page paintings. The pencil drawings show Adrian’s everyday life while the large illustrations capture his emotions with a lush clarity. The small moments captured in Adrian’s day make up his life, one after another, small and yet also meaningful.

An incredibly moving graphic novel that invites readers to see beyond a person’s surface. Appropriate for ages 9-12.

Reviewed from e-galley provided by Groundwood Books.

2019 Eisner Award Nominees

The Eisner Award Nominees for 2019 have been announced. Here are the nominees for the categories that are specifically for children and teens. Explore many of the other categories for great picks for young readers who love comics!

BEST PUBLICATION FOR EARLY READERS (up to age 8)

Johnny Boo and the Ice Cream Computer by James Kochalka

Petals by Gustavo Borges

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

This Is a Taco! by Andrew Cangelose and Josh Shipley

Tiger vs. Nightmare by Emily Tetri

 

BEST PUBLICATION FOR KIDS (ages 9-12)

Aquicorn Cove by Katie O’Neill

Be Prepared by Vera Brosgol

The Cardboard Kingdom by Chad Sell

Crush by Svetlana Chmakova

The Divided Earth by Faith Erin Hicks (also nominated for Best Coloring)

 

BEST PUBLICATION FOR TEENS

All Summer Long by Hope Larson

Gumballs by Erin Nations

Middlewest by Skottie Young and Jorge Corona

Norroway, Book 1: The Black Bull of Norroway by Cate Seaton and Kit Seaton

The Prince and the Dressmaker by Jen Wang (also nominated for Best Writer/Artist)

Watersnakes by Tony Sandoval (also nominated for Best Writer/Artist and Best Painter/Multimedia Artist for interior art)

Review: Kiss Number 8 by Colleen AF Venable and Ellen T. Crenshaw

Kiss Number 8 by Colleen AF Venable and Ellen T. Crenshaw

Kiss Number 8 by Colleen AF Venable and Ellen T. Crenshaw (9781250196934)

Mads has two best friends, Cat who drags her to hear bands that she’s never heard of, and her father. Every Sunday, Mads joins her father for minor league baseball games and other evenings they watch their favorite TV shows together. Mads’ mother is often left out of their father-daughter time together and as the book progresses, it looks like Mads may be headed for her parents divorcing. But it’s all about a secret that her father is keeping from her, something to do with a large check sent to Mads and a grandfather she never met. As the secrets start to be revealed, Mads begins to learn more about herself as well and just who she really wants to kiss.

This graphic novel is amazing, particularly when one sees it was written by one person and drawn by another. The entire book is one cohesive whole with art that is both playful but also emotionally rich when the story calls for it. The writing is strong and the story is complex. Venable includes religion throughout the book, allowing space for questioning beliefs, particularly around LGBTQ issues. Those themes enrich the entire graphic novel, creating tension in the family, offering honesty to replace secrets, and giving sources of pride rather than disdain. Venable doesn’t offer easy resolution to these issues and the way that they impact generations of a family.

A stellar graphic novel for teens that is filled with LGBTQ pride. Appropriate for ages 13-17.

Reviewed from copy provided by First Second.

 

Review: Cicada by Shaun Tan

Cicada by Shaun Tan

Cicada by Shaun Tan (9781338298390)

Cicada has worked for seventeen years in a high rise office. He isn’t given any benefits, because he’s not human. He can’t use the office restroom because it’s for humans. He works hard, finishing people’s work for them. He lives in the space between the walls, since he can’t afford rent. The company knows about this but ignores it. Sometimes humans beat him up because he’s different. Finally, it comes time for Cicada to retire. There is no party or fond farewell, just clearing his desk and leaving. Cicada heads up to the top of the building and….

I can’t ruin the ending of this book for you. Just know that it is incredibly moving and powerful. This is a book that is impossible to categorize. It comes closest to being a picture book for teens, since it doesn’t really have a graphic novel feel. In libraries, I’d put it with the graphic novels for teens though, because those young adults will enjoy it most. Tan speaks directly to those in soul-killing jobs, who work day after day for a pay check that isn’t enough. Cicada’s voice is particularly haunting. Written in abruptly disconnected sentences that are distinctive, Cicada also ends each page with insect noises that create poetry.

Tan’s illustrations are very effective. With gray layered on gray, the world is washed out and faded. Walls, floors, cubicles, furniture. Everything is despairingly monotone. But then you have bright-green Cicada, wearing his fitted gray suit and trying not only to fit in but to help out. The final images in the book stick with you too.

An incredible book for teens, this one is sad, surprising and uplifting. It’s my new choice for graduation gifts. Appropriate for ages 14-18.

Reviewed from library copy.