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.
Sparky & Spike: Charles Schulz and the Wildest, Smartest Dog Ever by Barbara Lowell, illustrated by Dan Andreasen (9781944903589)
Sparky has a dog that is black and white. His dog knows fifty words, loves to each strange things, and only drinks from the bathroom faucet. Sparky and his father always head to the drugstore every Saturday night to pick up the Sunday comics. Sparky loves comics and also loves to draw himself. His teacher says that he may be an artist one day, but Sparky definitely wants to be a cartoonist. But drawing is hard, especially getting characters right in multiple panels. The kids at school love Sparky’s drawings, but ignore him otherwise. When Sparky realizes that his dog could make the comic for Ripley’s Believe It or Not, he sends it in along with his drawing of Spike. Eventually, his drawing and caption are published! It’s just the start for the kid whose real name is Charles Schulz.
Lowell deftly depicts the growth of a young artist as he develops his own dream, his own art and a path forward. It is a pleasure to see a young Charles Schulz and his connection to the dog who will inspire Snoopy. His connection to comics from a young age is also fascinating to see as well as his struggles with friendship. The art by Andreasen is cleverly done with a realistic touch that both pays homage to the work of Schulz but also stands on its own stylistically.
An inspiring look at the creator of Peanuts. Appropriate for ages 6-9.
Reviewed from copy provided by Cameron Kids.
Eliza and Her Monsters by Francesca Zappia (9780062290137, Amazon)
No one knows that Eliza, a senior in high school, is the creator of the immensely popular webcomic, Monstrous Sea. She spends her days at school working on art for the comic and trying to be invisible. Then a new boy, Wallace, comes to her school. He has the looks of a football player, but doesn’t seem to say much at all, instead spending his time writing. Eliza soon learns that he is a major fan of her webcomic. As their friendship grows and starts to turn into a romance, the two of them do most of their communicating through texts, online chat and written notes. Eliza has to decide whether to share her secret of being the creator of Monstrous Sea with Wallace or whether she can stay anonymous much longer.
Zappia’s writing is completely captivating. She writes with a lovely confidence, telling the story of an introverted young creator with grace and understanding. Her characters are deeply human, struggling with real trauma and finding their safe place in communities online where they can be authentic and original. She speaks to the power of art and creativity in your life, making something that you can’t stop creating and having others find value in it too. Still, there is a tipping point where fans’ expectations can become too much and overwhelm the creative process. Zappia shows how mental distress can be dealt with and progress forward can be made, slowly.
Perhaps one of the greatest things about this book, though there are many great elements is Zappia’s portrayal of introverts. There is a coziness here, a feeling of safety in the pages, as if they are forming a critical spot for introverts to bloom, just like an online community. The book shows how introverts may be awkward but are also incredibly creative, thoughtful and deep people who just need their home and dog to recharge sometimes, alright often. The book allows Eliza and Wallace to steadily use online tools to communicate and learn about one another, building their relationship with honesty and humor.
Get this in the hands of Rainbow Rowell’s Fangirl. Appropriate for ages 14-18.
Reviewed from library copy.
I Am Princess X by Cherie Priest
Released May 26, 2015.
This is the first YA novel by Priest, a well-known fantasy author for adults, and it’s a treat. May and Libby have been friends for years, the best of friends after meeting in fifth grade on a playground. The two of them wrote comics together about Princess X, a katana-wielding heroine. But then one day, Libby was gone, dead after a car crash from a bridge. Three years later, May has returned to their hometown and notices an image of a princess holding a katana on a sticker, a sticker that is brand new. May tracks down the image to a web comic where she realizes there are real similarities to the story that she and Libby had created. How can that be? And how strange is it that some of the stories seem to have messages only May could understand hidden inside of them?
There is a real joy in finding a book that does digital life so very well. The online elements of the story and the web comic are clear and make perfect sense. The hacking and dark net also work well in the way they are portrayed where there is information to be found but often it’s not legal to access it. That aspect alone, so often mismanaged in novels, is worth this read. But add to that a determined friend who quickly believes that her dead friend is still alive, an online and real life quest for information, horrible bad guys, and the exploration of Seattle both above and underground. It’s a book that is a searing fast read thanks to its pacing and the need to find out the truth.
The online comics are shared as comic inserts in the book, and were not completed in the galley that I have. The first couple of comics were available and add to the drama of the book. The mix of words and images works very well here with Priest using it both to move the story forward and to show the drama and appeal of the comic itself.
Smartly written with great characters and an amazing quest for the truth, this book is satisfying, surprising and impressive. Appropriate for ages 12-15.
Reviewed from ARC received from Arthur A. Levine Books.
The Dumbest Idea Ever! by Jimmy Gownley
This graphic novel memoir focuses on one idiotic idea that changes comic-creator Gownley’s life forever. At 13, Gownley was on top of the world. He was popular, getting great grades, and was top-scorer on the school basketball team. Then he got chicken pox and he had to miss the championship game. But that wasn’t the end of his bad luck, he followed the chicken pox with a bout of pneumonia and missed more school. Soon Jimmy wasn’t a basketball star and his grades were getting bad. Jimmy did have one thing going for him though, the dumbest idea ever! It was an idea that would make him money, get him popular again, find him a girlfriend, and even impress a very stern nun. And let me tell you, it takes one amazingly stupid idea to accomplish all that!
Gownley reveals how he became a cartoonist in this graphic novel. It is cleverly done with a strong story arc that keeps the entire book sturdily structured. Gownley has a wonderful self-deprecating humor that works particularly well in comic format. His humor is smart and very funny, often conveyed with ironic twists of eyebrows or sarcastic facial expressions. The book is a quick read thanks to the format but also to the fast pacing that will have readers happily turning page after page.
Get this into the hands of Smile! fans who will appreciate the humor, the honesty and the art. Appropriate for ages 10-13.
Reviewed from library copy.
Nursery Rhyme Comics
Take 50 classic nursery rhymes and put them in the hands of 50 of the top cartoonists of the day, and you get a nursery rhyme book that will delight all ages! As you turn the pages, the styles change too. While the text stays true to the nursery rhyme, comic asides and comments merrily twist the meaning at times. There are also plenty of modern twists on the old tales, like There Was an Old Woman Who Lived in a Shoe is a the owner of a daycare who also happens have a rock and roll band. This is a book that embraces the humor, quirkiness and outright strangeness of nursery rhymes and takes them to another level.
When I first opened the book, I thought I might list my favorite rhymes and illustrations, but then I realized turning the pages that the real impact of this book is because there are so many diverse rhymes and illustration styles. I tip my hat to the skill of Chris Duffy in matching illustrators to the ideal nursery rhymes. This is really what makes the book sing. I also appreciate the creative freedom given to the artists, making the result all the more intense and beautiful.
Highly recommended, this would be a great way to get nursery rhymes in the hands of older children who may have missed out on them when they were younger. It’s also a delight if you know the rhymes already. Appropriate for ages 6-10.
Reviewed from library copy.