Nubia: Real One by L. L. McKinney

Cover image for Nubia.

Nubia: Real One by L. L. McKinney, illustrated by Robyn Smith (9781401296407)

When Nubia heads into a store to talk to Oscar, a boy she likes, everything goes wrong. The store is robbed, and Nubia finds herself using her Amazonian strength to stop the robbers and protect everyone in the store. The problem is, that Oscar witnessed what she did. Nubia and her mothers have had to move multiple times when people have seen her feats of strength just to protect her and let her have a normal life. Her mothers get advice from D, who helps relocate them and assess the dangers. As one of her best friends is targeted by a predatory classmate, Nubia learns that she can’t just sit by and let things happen to those she loves. But as a Black woman, the world sees her as a threat already, it’s not as simple as Wonder Woman has it.

McKinney, author of A Blade So Black, has created the voice of this graphic novel, focusing on modern issues like Black Lives Matter and the problem of being a super hero in a world that sees Black people as the problem, not the solution. McKinney centers the problems that Nubia faces into these larger societal problems, giving them a serious weight. Her text is lively and her dialogue is natural and deeply explores what Nubia is experiencing as a Black woman.

The illustrations by Smith are marvelous. I love the height and strength of Nubia. I adore the messy look of Wonder Woman, as if she has run her hands through her hair in frustration several times on her way into the room. The images of Nubia’s mothers are great, from their determination to their deep caring to the celebration of Nubia despite what the world might say.

A graphic novel for our times and for our future. Appropriate for ages 11-15.

Reviewed from library copy.

Katie the Catsitter by Colleen AF Venable

Cover image

Katie the Catsitter by Colleen AF Venable, illustrated by Stephanie Yue (9780593306321)

Katie’s friends are heading away to sleepover camp for the summer but Katie and her mother can’t afford for her to attend. When Katie discovers that she can go for just one week, she creates a plan to earn money in their apartment building. Unfortunately, she kills houseplants, isn’t strong enough to lug groceries up the stairs, and cleaning is a bust too. But when a neighbor discovers that Katie has a way with cats, she asks her to cat sit her 217 cats, who luckily are trained to use the bathroom rather than litterboxes. Very quickly, Katie realizes that these are not normal cats. They use the computer, 3D print things, order pizzas, and destroy the apartment. Just when Katie is about to lose yet another job, the cats come together and repair the apartment before their owner returns. As she continues to cat sit, Katie starts to believe that the owner just might be the infamous burglar who has been roaming the city despite the local superheroes searching for her.

This middle-grade graphic novel is purr-fect feline fun. Set in an urban area filled with less-than-super heroes and crafty villains, Katie’s life is rather mundane. She goes to school, spends time with her single mother, and looks forward to postcards from her best friend. That all changes when she starts cat-sitting and the fascinating cats take over her life. Their naughty evil natures as well as their technology skills make for an unusual job.

The art and words work well together, creating a world primarily set in the single building and the surrounding neighborhood. Full of expressive characters, dynamic cats and strange superheroes, the book is funny and has just the right amount of quirkiness.

A great book for cat lovers and babysitters alike. Appropriate for ages 9-12.

Reviewed from e-galley provided by Random House Kids.

Review: Octopus Stew by Eric Velasquez

Octopus Stew by Eric Velasquez

Octopus Stew by Eric Velasquez (9780823437542)

Inspired by her grandson’s picture of Super Octo, his grandmother decides to make octopus stew. So the two set off for the fish market where she gets the biggest octopus in the store. The boy gets a warning about octopi on his phone, but she won’t listen to him. She starts the water and gets out the biggest pot when they get home. As the two sit together in the living room, a strange noise comes from the kitchen. The octopus is now so big that it has blown the lid off the pot! It grabs grandmother and holds on to her. Now it’s up to her grandson to figure out how to get an octopus to let go!

Velasquez has won both a Pura Belpre and a Coretta Scott King John Steptoe Award. Here, he writes a layered story that has a gatefold in the middle where the entire story is revealed to be just that, a tale being told. Cleverly, the book can be read both ways either as a story being shared aloud or as a full-on monster tale. However you choose to read it, the book has brisk pacing and plenty of action. It features a Latinx family with Spanish words and phrases sprinkled throughout the text.

The illustrations offer a dynamic superhero feel that works well, since the main character is a superhero fan. The action is captured with plenty of drama and the size of the octopus is enough to pose quite the threat.

Grab this picture book and squeeze it tight! Appropriate for ages 4-6.

Reviewed from copy provided by Holiday House.

 

 

 

Review: Super Manny Cleans Up! by Kelly DiPucchio

Super Manny Cleans Up by Kelly DiPucchio

Super Manny Cleans Up! by Kelly DiPucchio, illustrated by Stephanie Graegin (9781481459624)

Manny and Gertie love to pretend to be superheroes in this second Manny picture book. Every weekend they save the planet from danger. It might be stampeding dinosaurs at the museum, lions in the library, or veggie monsters at the farmer’s market. But when they are battling giant turtles from outer space in the park, Manny notices something. The entire park is covered in garbage and litter and it’s hurting the turtles in the pond. The park is swarming with litterbugs! The two decide to do something about it. All afternoon they tidy up the park, joined by their imaginary foes and then by real people who are using the park. Soon everyone realized that they could be heroes too, just like Manny and Gertie.

As with the first in the series, there is a strong example shown here that children can make a difference in their worlds, that they can be heroes too. In this book, the focus is on being a superhero and then that element is brought into the real world through hard work. Manny and Gertie make a daunting task seem doable through their enthusiasm and example. Even better, the book avoids being didactic by continuing to be playful and light in its approach.

The art by Graegin is cleverly done, clearly making the imaginary foes that Manny and Gertie battle different from reality. Done in different bright single colors, the foes are playfully drawn complete with appropriate costumes for their roles. Finely detailed, the illustrations are bright and friendly.

A great second win for Manny and Gertie! Appropriate for ages 3-5.

Reviewed from copy provided by Atheneum.

 

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.)

Super Manny Stands Up by Kelly DiPucchio

Super Manny Stands Up by Kelly DiPucchio

Super Manny Stands Up by Kelly DiPucchio, illustrated by Stephanie Graegin (9781481459600, Amazon)

Manny has a collection of superhero capes that he wears to fight different foes. He wears his blue cape to fight sea creatures, his red cape to battle zombie bears, and his yellow cape to bring down cloud monsters. Manny always wore his top secret cape to school. It was invisible and he wore it on the playground to fight the monsters there. When a big kid starts to pick on a smaller child in the lunchroom though, Manny didn’t do anything at first. Then he remembered that he was wearing his invisible cape and stood up. It let all of the other children in the room also remember that they could be heroes too!

As always, DiPucchio writes with the ease of a master storyteller. Manny is a delightful new character whose imaginary world also bridges into the real world in tangible ways. His capes are an inventive way of showing this, including his invisible one for school. The scene with the bully is powerful as is the way that the other children stand up once Manny does. It is with one simple protest that bullies are stopped, something we all need to remember.

Graegin’s illustrations create a visible imaginary world for readers to share. The villains that Manny battles in his capes match color with each cape. Manny as a raccoon is a very friendly protagonist and one that children will relate to easily. Make sure to check out the end pages too for even more Manny (and friend).

A heroic new book that will fly off library shelves. Appropriate for ages 4-6.

Reviewed from copy received from Atheneum Books.

 

Review: Hilo by Judd Winick

Hilo by Judd Winick

Hilo: The Boy Who Crashed to Earth by Judd Winick

DJ isn’t good at anything in particular. His siblings are good at sports or ballet or school, but DJ doesn’t have anything on the family calendar because he doesn’t do anything much. The one thing that DJ had been good at was being best friends with Gina, but then she moved away. Just as DJ thinks things can’t get any more dull, something crashes down from the sky. It’s a boy in silver underwear. He can’t remember anything at first, but then he puts more and more together. His name is Hilo and DJ gets him clothes and feeds him. The two head to school together and that’s when DJ realizes that Gina has come back. She’s different though, interested in new things, and DJ assumes that she is being friendly just because of Hilo. Soon the three friends though will be facing a huge enemy that is falling to earth one piece at a time.

Winick has created a graphic novel that is a winning mix of child-friendly art and dramatic adventures filled with battles and explosions. Hilo is a great protagonist, a child who has super powers that he discovers over the course of the book. He delights in the small things, like burping over and over again, eating dinner with the family, and attending school. Everything is an adventure for him and a chance to learn more about the planet earth. DJ too is a strong hero, a boy without Hilo’s powers but also a boy who is far from ordinary thanks to his bravery and his decided ability to be a great friend.

The art is approachable and funny. From the way that Hilo falls asleep to the way that he burps gleefully, this book is filled with humorous moments. Happily this is a book with a three-person team where one character is Asian, one African-American and the other a white alien. The female character is the one into science and sports too, which is also very refreshing.

This is the first story in Hilo’s journey to earth and it ends with a cliffhanger that will lead right into the next. Appropriate for ages 8-11.

Reviewed from digital galley received from Random House Books for Young Readers and Edelweiss.

Review: The Shadow Hero by Gene Luen Yang

shadow hero

The Shadow Hero by Gene Luen Yang, art by Sonny Liew

Released July 15, 2014.

The Green Turtle first appeared in comics in the 1940s, the Golden Age of Comics, for a short run.  He was the first Asian-American super hero.  Now he has been given a back story by acclaimed graphic novelist, Gene Luen Yang.  Hank was the son of a Chinese immigrants.  His father was a grocer, who also carried within him a turtle spirit unbeknownst to his wife and son.   His mother was a cleaner of rich people’s homes.  Hank was a normal kid who grew into a normal young adult, until his mother though being a super hero would be the best career path for Hank.  She sewed him a costume, tried to get him special powers through a variety of techniques, and then had him train in fighting with someone.  But it took Hank awhile to find his super hero mojo, perhaps it was finding a man who rules China Town with an iron and greedy fist or perhaps it was vengeance.  Whichever it was, Hank grew to become the Green Turtle.

This is one graphic novel that does not take itself too seriously, making for great reading.  Fans of comic books will love the irreverent humor here that plays up the stereotypical origin stories of most super heroes.  That is matched with a clear respect for immigrants, the difficult choices they have to make, and the desperate need at times for a hero to save them.  It makes for a book that dances the line between drama and humor skillfully and to great effect.

Liew’s art has a freshness that both hearkens back to old comics but also forges ahead with a modern vibe.  The colors are used carefully, often more muted and subtle and then popping into bright colors when important events happen.  It’s very cleverly done.

An amazing and complex superhero arrives in this graphic novel that both pays homage and reinvents the first Asian-American super hero.  Appropriate for ages 9-12.

Reviewed from digital copy received from NetGalley and First Second.

Review: Superworm by Julia Donaldson

superworm

Superworm by Julia Donaldson, illustrated by Axel Scheffler

The creators of The Gruffalo return with a silly new book that features one incredible worm.  Superworm is super-long and super-strong.  So when baby toad hops into the road, Superworm becomes a superworm lasso.  The bees are bored and moping?  It’s Superworm to the rescue with a game of jump rope.   When Beetle falls into the well, Superworm turns into a fishing line to get her out.  Everything seems to be going so well for Superworm, until a villain enters the story.  Wizard Lizard sends his servant crow to capture Superworm and then uses magic to force Superworm to dig for treasure underground.  But the others saw Superworm carried off and now it is up to them to be the heroes and save Superworm!

Donaldson writes in rhymes in such a playful and engaging way.  The result is a book that reads aloud beautifully and begs to be shared with children.  With the examples of the rescues that Superworm performed coming first, I was happily surprised when a villain was introduced and at the turn of events towards the end of the story.  It makes for a very dynamic picture book that is sure to be a hit at story time.

Scheffler’s illustrations hit just the right tone.  They are bright colored and he takes the rescues and the action to the perfect funny extremes.  He also capitalizes on the kid-appeal of bugs, worms and toads.

Add this to your spring time stories, it is sure to be a delight with young readers and listeners.  Appropriate for ages 3-5.

Reviewed from library copy.