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Reviews and Recommendations 2009

Page history last edited by Jason 9 years, 9 months ago

Reviews and Recommendations 2010

December 30, 2009 

 

The Strongest Man in the WorldThe Strongest Man in the World by Nicolas Debon

 

Loved the artwork, but found this one to be very insubstantial as a biography. Also, the way Debon tells the story - with Cyr's daughter, Emiliana, asking questions about his life - seemed forced to me. It just didn't seem natural that she would be asking all those questions about his life when, at her age, she should have heard those stories time and time again already. Hoping that Debon's biography on Emily Carr is a bit better.

 

Reviewed by Amy

 

Four Pictures by Emily CarrFour Pictures by Emily Carr by Nicolas Debon

 

Liked this one better than Debon's book about Louis Cyr; the narrative structure seemed more natural.  He takes four paintings from the course of Carr's life, and explains the circumstances that led to the creation of each one.  It was a nice introduction to Carr's life and work, and made me want to learn more about her.  As with the Louis Cyr book, I loved the artwork - reminded me of Raymond Briggs (The Snowman, Father Christmas Goes on Holiday).  Each panel is a beautiful little painting with lots of little details to get lost in.  Definitely recommended!

Reviewed by Amy

 

December 28, 2009

 

Oddly Normal, Volume 1 by Otis Frampton

 

Oddly Normal's mother is a witch who left her home dimension of Fignation to marry a human man. Oddly is half witch, but she can't do magic- or so she supposes- until, in a fit of adolescent pique, she wishes her parents away on her birthday. Her witch aunt, late to the party, arrives to find the house gone and Oddly completely out of sorts. So, auntie takes Oddly to Fignation- the first time a human has ever gone- to see if they can figure out what has happened to her parents. And, of course, there is a grand sinsiter plot afoot...

This came out a few years ago (2006), but it was decent enough that I felt it was worth reviewing. There is a second volume also in print (2007). It's a good title for upper elementary kids who want something a little meatier without the more complex themes and mores of middle school and high school fare. The dialogue can be a little cerebral at times, particularly from the teachers, but it doesn't really interfere with the flow of the story too much. The full-color art is at least computer enhanced, and the panel layouts are particularly effective and creative. I wanted to read the second volume right away, but we didn't own it at my library- so I promptly put it on order!

 

Reviewed by Jason


December 19, 2009

 

Blindspot by Kevin C. Pyle

 

This story reminded me of the movie Stand By Me-- a tale about a group of boys coming of age, complete with trains and a life-altering traumatic incident. Dean and his friends play army in the woods near their houses, but as they grow older their antics evolve from stealing laundry off an old woman's line to destroying a homeless man's shack and sneaking into the garage to look at dad's pornography. The protagonist's encounter with the homeless man one Halloween night proves to be a transformative experience, and he learns the beginning of what it means to grow up. The art is quite nice; particularly poignant is a section where the protagonist is running from the homeless man-- it's colored in blue, white, and black and heavily inked, giving it an omionous feel. There's nothing explicit about the story, but I think the subject material is beyond the capacity of elementary-aged kids to fully grasp. I got it because it was on a list of kids' comics- it's actually been on the comics shelf for a couple of years and I only just now got around to reading it. But the fact that nobody's complained also probably means that it's not being properly exposed to its audience. I'll actually be moving it to the teen section. So if you also purchase teen graphic novels, I'd definitely recommend this.

 

Reviewed by Jason


December 18, 2009 

 

Fashion Kitty and the Unlikely Hero by Charise Mericle Harper

 

Kiki Kitty is Fashion Kitty, a superhero who solves fashion emergencies. But her fashion-fearful principal has instituted a new uniform policy at her school, which means far fewer fashion emergencies for Fashion Kitty to attend to. What will she do? Fortunately, someone else is at work with a plan that will not only help the principal to overcome her aversion to fashion but will also give her a chance to see the good that Fashion Kitty does for her classmates. But who is this Unlikely Hero?

This was my first Fashion Kitty book- I enjoyed it much more than I though I would. It was quirky and funny. It was a little hard to follow some of the particular plot points, as there are a lot of asides and little tangents throughout. This is part of what makes it appealing, and it isn't enough to thoroughly frustrate the reader. The narrator of the story is a character as well, and adds to the fun with her comments and insights into the events of the book. There are two other Fashion Kitty books also available: Fashion Kitty and Fashion Kitty Versus the Fashion Queen.

 

Reviewed by Jason


December 9, 2009

 

Series Review: Graphic Library (Capstone Press)

 

Graphic Library is a stunningly large 76-book set of biographical and historical educationally-oriented comics. "Educationally-oriented" is important to underscore, because that's the primary value of this series. I resisted reading them, much less purchasing them, for a long time because of a poor first impression from the promotional materials. I will admit that my first impression- that the art is terrible and bland and the layout is unattractive- was borne out after I read a number of books in the series. But the information itself was actually interesting, and I even learned a few things. Events are relayed matter-of-factly with no real style and the dialogue is fairly simple and straighforward, but there are glossaries and websites and trivia at the end, which is kind of neat, and the subjects are well-chosen.

All that said, I will likely not be purchasing any of them for my collection. I think they would serve better purpose in a school library or classroom as supplemental unit materials or the like. We have books that cover all the topics these comics cover more thoroughly and with a better presentation, so why do we need them? Telling a story using the comics format should offer a perspective that can't be offered in any other format- and good art is a huge part of that- but the Graphic Library collection doesn't do that. Save your money for titles like Four Pictures By Emily Carr and The Strongest Man in the World: Louis Cyr (the latter is reciewed in this column).

 

Titles Reviewed: Harriet Tubman and the Underground Railroad, John Brown's Raid on Harper's Ferry, The Apollo 13 Mission, The Donner Party, The Voyage of the Mayflower, George Eastman and the Kodak Camera

 

Reviewed by Jason


November 19, 2009

 

Polo by Regis Faller 

 
This book is about a little brown dog named Polo who leaves his little island treehouse to have adventures. Polo must know how to use The Secret, because everything works in his favor to further his adventures to the next desination. Sometimes his methods for getting from point A to point B are pretty implausible, but then the whole book has this surreal, dreamlike quality - so I guess it works out.  

I thought this book was cute and fun, but in terms of wordless books, it lacks the emotional depth that a book like Robot Dreams has. I just didn't feel like I was getting as much out of it. I liked the illustrations, though - they reminded me a lot of the Little Prince illustrations, which may or may not be a coincidence. Overall, I give this one a "no" vote: it's good, but maybe not good enough to take up precious booklist space. :)

 

Reviewed by Amy


November 18, 2009

 

Salt Water Taffy Volume 1 by Matthew Loux

 

Jack and Benny are spending the summer in a tiny seaside town called Chowder Bay. Jack thinks that the summer is going to be a drag until he and Benny meet Angus, a fisherman who introduces the boys to the legend of Old Salty. According to Angus, Old Salty is a gargantuan lobster with enough strength and ferocity to challenge any human. Furthermore, Angus claims to have actually tangled with Old Salty, and warns the boys to steer clear of her rage.

 

A couple days after their introduction to Old Salty, the boys and Angus learn that Dr. True's taffy shop has been robbed clean of all its candy. On a quest to find the thief, the trio discover that "The lobsters stole the taffy!" What's more, the regular-sized lobster are stealing the taffy on orders from Old Salty. Angus encourages the little guys to stand up against their master, which results in Old Salty emerging from the sea to battle Angus for his impertinence. Angus survives the encounter, but only with the help of a flock of very crafty seagulls. At the end of the story, Jack has completely forgotten his initial reluctance to spend the summer at Chowder Bay, and is excited to go on further adventures with Angus.

 

Not a big fan of this book. First of all, the drawings were too bold and angular for my taste. There wasn't a lot of nuance in the drawings, which made it hard to follow some of the more dramatic action scenes. The drawing style just made these scenes look jumbled to me. Furthermore, Angus was a totally affected character. He dressed and talked like he was some salty Scottish fisherman, which I didn't buy at all. Finally, I couldn't wrap my head around the idea that lobsters were stealing taffy. I could have dealt with it if there was some clever reason for it at the end, but we never find out what Old Salty is going to do with all that taffy. All in all, I vote "no" on this one. :/

 

Reviewed by Amy

 

Response to Salt Water Taffy review

I have to beg to differ with Amy. I will confess that volume 1 is the weakest of the series, which gets progressively better with each entry. Scroll down for my review  of volume 2 (end of August). Loux's angular style does take some getting used to, but it's consistent with itself and contrasts nicely with the realistic settings, full of detail, that provide a backdrop to the characters and their antics. Over the course of the three volumes, Loux has added characters and locations in Chowder Bay that broaden the reader's view of the small town and its context within the stories. And Jack and Benny become more likeable and rounded out as their adventures continue. I love the use of humor in the series, and I myself enjoy the anatomically cartoonish humans. Appreciating a particular art style is always a matter of taste primarily, so I don't want to diminish Amy's opinion in this regard. I do think, however, that Loux's storytelling has merit and is improving as he gets deeper into the series.

 

by Jason


November 16, 2009

 

Owly Volume 1: The Way Home & The Bittersweet Summer by Andy Runton 

 

In "The Way Home," we meet Owly: a lonely owl who wants nothing more than to make friends, but who seems only to succeed in scaring the other animals away. Dejected after scaring away a group of little birds, Owly stumbles upon a little earthworm who is drowning in the creek. Owly rescues him, nurses him back to health, and helps him to find his way home. Though overjoyed to see his parents again, little Wormy decides that he wants to stay with Owly. This is the beginning of their future as a dynamic duo.

In "The Bittersweet Summer," Owly and Wormy meet two little hummingbirds. They try to feed the birds birdseed, but come to find out that hummingbirds only eat nectar from flowers. Owly and Wormy get a Salvia plant, which the hummingbirds (who are named Tiny and Angel) love. The friendship among the four animals grows, until one day when Tiny is captured by a human. The others band together and stage a successful rescue mission, only to come home to the problem of the impending winter. Tiny and Angel can't survive in the cold weather, so they have to migrate south. Owly and Wormy are heartbroken, until they read a book about birds and learn that birds return to the north in the spring. So Owly and Wormy spend the winter and spring preparing for the return of their friends, and everyone is reunited once the warm weather arrives again.

What a sweet book! It's almost completely wordless, so it's a great tool for teaching kids visual literacy. And the story is just as rich and meaningful without words - the characters are so emotive that their expressions and actions are enough to communicate the story. I especially love Owly - he is a particularly kind and empathetic soul. Top Shelf should totally make What Would Owly Do bracelets - I would absolutely wear one! Overall - great book for all ages.

 

Reviewed by Amy


 

Flight Explorer Volume 1, edited by Kazu Kibuishi

 

This book is a nice sampling of a bunch of comics authors. Each author created a self-contained story which lasts for a few pages. I thought each one was pretty good: Either there was a funny punchline or some kind of neat twist at the end. My favorites were the Jellaby comic (of course!), especially the frame where he goes into the snow for the first time. I also really liked "Big Mouth" - this one was hilarious, but was one of those stories that also made me want to cry because I felt so bad for the main character (who happens to be a big yellowish blob of I-don't-know-what...either the author is really good at making us feel empathetic or else I am a big ol' sap). I'm not sure that I would seek out any of the authors other than Soo or Craven, so maybe this book wasn't a smashing success. Still, it was a nice little diversion and something that most kids would probably enjoy.

 

Reviewed by Amy


November 12, 2009

 

Robot DreamsRobot Dreams by Sara Varon

 

What a lovely, bittersweet little book! I must admit, I didn't understand why Dog left Robot in the first place...they were such good friends, and the minute there was a little bump in their relationship, Dog just leaves! Which makes me think that Dog is kind of a crappy friend...but then he keeps thinking about Robot, which redeems him a little bit. I was glad that they both found new friends (and thank goodness someone rescued Robot from the junkyard!), but the fact that they never met again gave the story an overall melancholy feeling. But, hey - who says they won't meet again in the future? So I guess there is a bit of a hopeful note at the end, too. It's a story that definitely makes you think about friendship, which is a great thing. Recommended, both for the cute artwork, and for raising questions about the nature of friendship.

 

Reviewed by Amy


November 11, 2009 

 

Jellaby: Monster in the CityJellaby: Monster in the City by Kean Soo

 

Another top-notch Jellaby book from Kean Soo. In this installment, Portia and Jason take Jellaby to Toronto to try and find his home. The only clue they have is a picture of a mysterious door. They find the door, only to become trapped in a weird, magical parallel reality with a murderous monster. One of the final scenes - where our heroic trio is trying to escape the monster - is brilliant, with very little text. All the action is conveyed through the artwork, and it's very effective. Jellaby doesn't end up finding where he came from - instead, he ends up back at Portia's house. I take that we are supposed to infer that "home" is with Portia, i.e. a person who loves him. The book ends with Portia introducing her mother to Jellaby. I suppose that Soo could leave Jellaby at that, but I really hope more volumes follow. Jellaby is such a heartwarming character, I would love to follow him on future adventures!

 

Reviewed by Amy


 

Binky the Space CatBinky the Space Cat by Ashley Spires

 

This book takes a stab at answering the question: "What is my companion animal thinking about?" In this story, we get a glimpse of what Binky the cat thinks about all those bugs flying around his house. Binky doesn't think of them as bugs - to him, they are menacing space aliens, and the world outside is outer space. He builds a space ship so that he can fly to the far reaches of the universe in order to battle these creatures in their home territory...but ends up staying behind when he realizes that he can't take his humans with him.

 

I loved this book - it's a cute story with a cuter character. Binky is adorable throughout the book, whether he's wearing his little half-moon spectacles or tooting because the crunchy aliens gave him space-gas. The only problem I had with the book was the inconsistency in Binky's intelligence: He's smart enough to build a rocket ship, but not smart enough to realize that bugs aren't really aliens, and that he's really on Earth - not outer space. I also wish Spires had used more vibrant colors - she uses primarily muted tones, but I think a brighter, more varied palette would have given the book more punch. Still, a solid comic book that will have wide appeal. Recommended!

 

Reviewed by Amy


 

The Strongest Man in the World: Louis Cyr  by Nicolas Debon 

 

I really enjoyed this book.  In it Louis Cyr tells his young daughter, in flashbacks, how he came to be considered the "strongest man in the world" and traveled with various side show acts and circuses during the turn-of-the-century.  I think children will enjoy the flashbacks showing Louis Cyr's various feats of strength which include lifting a full size horse on his shoulders to balancing a table holding 18 men on his back.  The images are done in the typical graphic novel format but the book makes me think of Conan O'Brien's "if they mated" sketch (sorry if this is inappropriate!).  The Strongest Man in the World seems more like a cross between a picture book and a graphic novel.  The illustrations are rich paintings done in faded pastel colors that give the reader a real sense of the time period.  The bookflap says the author spent about four years creating the book and that's apparent in both the story line and illustrations. 

I would consider this book to be aimed toward more of the mid-level readers but one review I read said 6 year olds and another said 4th-6th graders.  Either way I recommend it.

 

Reviewed by Anne


October 6, 2009

 

The Boxcar Children Graphic Novels, created by Gerturde Chandler Warner

Mystery Ranch adapted by Christopher Long

Surprise Island adapted by Rob Worley

 

I don't have a whole lot to say about these. They're very short (32 pages) adaptations of the chapter book series. I have not personally read any of the Boxcar Children books, so I can't say how faithful the adaptation is to the original. However, the adaptation itself seems to be written for beginning reader; is this the audience of the original series? I thought that it was more aimed towards second through fourth graders. If so, is this meant to introduce the series to a younger audience? It doesn't seem clear, and if it is, the writing is inconsistent with typical beginning reader standards. Use of contractions is erratic, and it's really too long for the average beginning reader. There are actually quite a lot of words on each page. Yet, the writing is simplistic and flat: not something I'd recommend to a growing reader. The more I think about it, the more I'm inclinded to think that they're just not very good. I bought the first six that were published in paperback, but I don't think I'll be inclined to buy any more unless they are specifically requested.

 

Reviewed by Jason


September 26, 2009

 

Coraline by Neil Gaiman, adapted by P. Craig Russell

 

This was a pretty cool adaptation of the novel. "Coraline" - in it's original form - has a lot of neat imagery, so making the leap to graphic novel certainly makes sense. I liked how Gaiman's voice stays in tact in the GN version, because the absence of his quirky, imaginative style would make the book seem like it wasn't his.

 

My one criticism of the GN version is that the artwork didn't have enough quirks and imagination. In this regard, the movie was spot on. "Coraline" very definitely has a fairytale-esque quality, so it follows that any visuals that accompany it should be whimsical. The movie achieves this whimsical quality, but the GN version does not. Coraline, her family, and her world looked too much like everyday people, which, I thought, dampened the sense that you were reading a wacky fairy tale.

 

Still, it's definitely worth reading, and I give it my stamp of approval to add to the KCC Graphic Novel Booklist. 

 

Reviewed by Amy


Spetember 18, 2009

 

http://img.amazon.ca/images/I/51zfsGlceaL._SS500_.jpgJellaby by Kean Soo

 

This came out a year ago, but I only just got around to reading it. I decided to write a review of it because the sequel, Jellaby, Monster in the City came out this past spring. It slipped under the radar, and I"m only now putting it on order. But the first one was sooooo good, I have no doubt the second is worth buying. so if you're reading this review, get them both at the same time!

Portia has a hard time making friends in school. She is bright, but not always socially adept. She is being raised by a single mother who often works late. One night, Portia has a strange dream and wakes up in the middle of the night to discover a large purple monster in her backyard. She befriends the creature, who is presumably from another dimension and has lost his way. Together, Portia and her new friend Jason- and the newly christened Jellaby- have various adventures at home and school until Jellaby recognizes a strange door that may be the secret to getting him home.

The art is mostly two-color purple and white, with splashes of maroon and orange. Soo really says a lot with pictures- this is an excellent example of the edge comics has over text in this area. You learn a lot about the characters and the situations they're in by subtle visual contexts, whether it's a particularly telling facial expression, or use of dark and light lines to emphasize elements of a panel. There's lots of funny stuff as well, most of it in the illustrations, as Jellaby communicates wordlessly and there are plenty of comical misunderstadnings between Jallaby and Portia as a result.

I always appreciate it when a story effectively incorporate humor into a dramatic or epic storyline. Bone does that fantastically well, and it remains to be seen whether Soo can pull it off as well. He's definitely off to a great start.

 

Reviewed by Jason

 

Here are my two cents about Jellaby:

 

This is probably one of the most adorable comics I have ever read.  Portia, who is a bit of an outcast at school, befriends a mute dinosaur/dragon thing that she eventually names Jellaby.  Jellaby is adorable, and can't quite get the hang of how things are done in the human world.  Portia takes it upon herself to help Jellaby get back to his world, wherever that may be.  The only clue she has is a picture of a mysterious doorway.  So the adventure begins, with Portia, her friend Jason, and Jellaby traveling to Toronto to find Jellaby's home.  The book ends with a wicked cliffhanger - can't wait for volume two!  On a side note, my favorite part of this book is when Jellaby buys train tickets for himself, Portia, and Jason - he has to talk to the ticket agent, and the results are hilarious.  Highly recommended!

 

Reviewed by Amy


August 28, 2009

 

Sticky Burr: Advenures in Burrwood Forest by John Lechner

  "He's small! He's prickly! He's a hero!" Sticky Burr is an artist and musician, who plays ukuelele and sings.  He begins his adventure stuck to a squirrel's tail then ends up stuck on a bird. Thankfully, Draffle, the dragonfly comes to his aid but there are more sticky situations ahead.  It's a quick read, and cute. 

 

Reviewed by Johanna 


Binky the Space Cat by Ashley Spires

 

Binky the Space Cat (Binky Adventure) Binky is a cat with a purpose.  He lives in his space station (house) with his two humans: Big Human and Little Human. Although he’s never been outside (outer space) he knows that he must protect his humans from the aliens, which his humans strangely call “bugs”.  This is a clever and witty book.  The book states that the artwork was done in ink, watercolour, and cat fur. There are lots of little details that provide additional humor. It states that it's a Binky Adventure so perhaps this is a start of a series.  For fans of Chester the Cat, Scardey Squirrel, the Pigeon, Tacky the Penguin, Babymouse and unique characters. I adore this book and highly recommend it.

 

Reviewed by Johanna


Magic Trixie and the Dragon by Jill Thompson

 

This is the third installment in Thompson's lovely new series about a little witch with big ideas. In this episode, Trixie's obsession with dragons leads her to inadvertently turn her baby brother into one, with typically disastrous but comical results. the story and dialogue is cute and entertaining and the supporting characters are creative and original, but it's the art that really sends me. Thompson uses ink and watercolors to illustrate her stories, making each page rich with color and texture. And at 8 bucks retail for paperback, you're really getting your money's worth. Magic Trixie will most likely appeal more to girls than boys simply because the main character's a girl, but the content is really universal, and boys who are encouraged to try out this series won't be disappointed. Other books in the series include Magic Trixie and Magic Trixie Sleeps Over.

 

Reviewed by Jason


Lunch Lady and the Cyborg Substitute

Lunch Lady and the League of Librarians by Jarrett J. Krosoczka

 

Krosoczka is responsible for the successful children's book Punk Farm and now he is bringing his unique brand of humor to kids' comics with the new Lunch Lady series.The premise and plots are relatively simple: an elementary school lunch lady has a secret identity with which she fights crime and misdeeds around school. In The Cyborg Substitute, a teacher creates a robot teacher who is meaner than his biggest rival for teacher of the year, so he himself can get the award; in The League of Librarians, the school librarian and public librarian join forces to destroy a shipment of video game consoles, their first step towards world domination. What's most appealing about the series is the humor, which is perfectly aimed at its middle-to-upper-elementary audience. Lunch Lady's crime-fighting gadgets are particularly hilarious: specific examples include the Spatu-copter and Taco-vision night goggles. She also has a secret room akin to the Bat Cave, which is accessible behind a sliding refrigerator door, and references to shepherd's pie abound. the art is cartoonish, black-and-white with splashes of yellow brightening up every panel. I plan on purchasing the entire series.

 

Reviewed by Jason


August 22, 2009

 

Salt Water Taffy, vol. 2: A Climb Up Mount Barnabas by Matthew Loux

 

Jack and Benny are two brothers on summer vacation in coastal Maine. But there's a lot more to Chowder Bay than either of them ever expected (which wasn't much). There's grizzled old sea captain Angus, talking lobsters, a wolf named Dan, and in this episode, a giant eagle that likes to steal tourists' hat right off their heads. When the boys take their father's hat without asking and it gets stolen by the eagle, they have to climb treacherous Mount Barnabas to get it back. Loux combines adventure and humor even more effectively in this volume than in the first, The Legend of Old Salty. The illustrations are in black and white, with beautiful realiastic landscape backgrounds framing lanky, cartoonish characters. Definitely recommended for boys looking for something funny and entertaining, but also for anyone who enjoys comics or adventure. There's a third volume, The Truth About Dr. True, due out soon.  

 

Reviewed by Jason


June 9, 2009

 

Chaucer's Canterbury Tales Retold by Marcia Williams

 

Williams retells Chaucer's Canterbury Tales in an abbreviated, kid-friendly version. The book is comprised of 9 tales, each one told by a member of a band of merry travelers on their way to Canterbury. The idea is that the telling of tales will help to pass the time, and as an added bonus, the storyteller who presents the best tale will win a dinner compliments of the other travelers. In the end, the group can't decide who had the best tale so nobody really wins - but their trip passed in the blink of an eye.

 

I haven't read the "real" version of Canterbury Tales, so I'm not sure if this an accurate interpretation. I'll tell you what, though - this is the closest I'll ever get to reading the real thing. Ye Olde English is like a completely different language, and you can bet your boots that I'm not going to try to muddle through it. Furthermore, from reading Williams' version, I didn't think the stories were even that great. Why would you sit there trying to understand Ye Olde English if the payoff isn't even that great? I'm so glad I didn't have to read this in high school, and I'd like to have words with teachers who have it in their curriculum.

 

But I digress. Williams' version is totally accessible, and even if the stories aren't great, the artwork is delightful. It reminded me of a weird hybrid of Martin Hanford (of Where's Waldo fame) and Quentin Blake. There was a lot of detail on each page, and that made the stories a lot more engaging.

 

Even though it's made to be kid-friendly, I'm not sure how many kids will actually pick this one up. Sure, there are nice illustrations and fart jokes aplenty (I wasn't expecting the flatulence humor, I must say), which might make a different once kids get into the book. But kids might be discouraged when they see the title of this boring Ye Olde English novel. Williams might have done better to give her version a snappier title, with a subtitle that said "Based on Chaucer's Canterbury Tales."

 

Overall - I think that reading Williams' version is more enjoyable and less headache-inducing that reading the real thing, but I don't see this one grabbing a ton of kids.

 

Reviewed by Amy


June 1, 2009

 

Gunnerkrigg Court by Thomas Siddell

 

Antimony Carver's mother is dead; her father is MIA. With no home to call her own, she must settle in at Gunnerkrigg Court, a mysterious school that holds a lot more than teachers and students. With no blood relations to support her, she is fortunate to befriend Kat, a gregarious science geek, whose parents (both teachers at the school) welcome Antimony into their family. Together, these best friends/almost-sisters 

experience and try to unravel the bizarre occurrences at Gunnerkrigg Court. 

 

My favorite aspect of this book was the full-color illustrations. Graphic novels aren't always in color, so this was a treat. I also like the feeling of a mystery unraveling: What the hell is Gunnerkrigg Court, anyway? I think that as Siddell writes more volumes in this series, the answer to that question will become increasingly more apparent. On the down side, the story felt kind of choppy to me: it's comprised of short episodes, and they don't always flow neatly from one to the other. Fortunately, the overarching question of "What is Gunnerkrigg Court?" propels the story through the choppy parts. Another downside: Antimony is preternaturally self-possessed and mature for a seventh-grader. This makes her character a bit less believable, I think. Kat, on the other hand, is more sheltered and naive - yet not short on ebullience! - which is more what you would expect from a seventh grader. Still, Gunnerkrigg Court is an extraordinary place, so I guess - in the world of the story - it's not unusual for there to be extraordinary people. 

 

Overall: Not my favorite graphic novel, but an interesting read. Good for readers who like Harry Potter-esque settings.

 

Reviewed by Amy


May 19, 2009

 

Into the Volcano by Don Wood

 

http://www.childrenslit.com/childrenslit/images/9780439726719_into_the_volcano.jpgYes, this is by Don Wood of Audrey and Don Wood - picture book dream team.  Who knew that he would turn out such an awesome graphic novel?  I believe that this is his first foray into the realm of graphic novels, and let's hope that it's not his last!  Into the Volcano is the story of two brothers, Duffy and Sumo, who are whisked away to Hawaii by their father under dubious circumstances.  What is pitched to them as a "vacation" quickly turns into a deadly foray into an active volcano.  Duffy and Sumo have no idea what's actually going on, although it's clear that the relatives who are hosting them have sinister ulterior motives.

 

From my Goodreads review of this book: 

Visually, this was the coolest graphic novel I've read. The volcano imagery was stunning, especially the lava flows. It's funny: When I first heard the title of this book, I assumed it was metaphorical - alluding to some kind of trying experience. But no - it's actually about going into a volcano! Which, by the way, is erupting when the characters go into it, so it ends up being a trying experience anyway. It's totally action-packed, and I liked how the most whiny character (Sumo) ends up being the hero. It wasn't clear to me, though, why Sumo ends up surfing with Come-and-Go at the end of the book - Come-and-Go essentially kidnaps Duffy and Sumo to use them as bait! How do they get to be all buddy-buddy? But really, such complaints are trifles compared to the overall awesomeness of this book. Definitely recommended for graphic novel readers.

 

Reviewed by Amy


 

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Stinky 

by Eleanor Davis

ISBN: 9780979923845

 

Stinky lives in a swamp next to a town.  He has a toad for a best friend, whose name is Wartbelly, and he dines on pickled onions regularly.  With all this going for him, Stinky is desperately afraid that a child from the neighboring town will contaminate his world with such activities as eating apples and taking baths. When a boy named Nick builds a treehouse near the swamp, Stinky becomes agitated and then particularly unglued when Nick makes friends with Wartbelly and renames her Daisy.

This book is great for an early reader.

 

Reviewed by Gina

 

note: Stinky was nominated for an Eisner award in 2009 under the category "Best Publication for Kids"-JP


May 18, 2009

 

Pet Robots

by Scott Christian Sava, art by Diego Jourdan

ISBN: 9781600103117

 

A group of kids gets lost in a toy factory and accidentally discover a group of top-secret robots being developed for the military. The kids turn the robots on, and unbeknownst to the children, cause the robots to become linked via their programming to each child. The robots follow the children home, which upsets greatly the robots' creator, who tries by hook and by crook to get them back. Hijinks ensue, and the kids end up getting to keep the robots.

The most appealing aspect of the story is the art, which is colorful and styled to appeal to its audience. What more could appeal to a child than a story with cool robots, an evil but bumbling villain, and plenty of humor? Pet Robots isn't going to win any awards, but it accomplishes what it aspires to be: fast-paced, funny, and fun.

 

Reviewed by Jason


 

Ed's Terrestrials

by Scott Christian Sava, art by Diego Jourdan

ISBN: 9781600103100

 

Aliens escaping from slavery at the Intergalactic Food Court crash land on Ed's treehouse. There they set up a portal to receive other escaped slaves. A mall security guard tracks the escapees to Earth where he teams up with Ed's stuck-up, materialistic classmate. Hijinks ensue, and Ed and his new extraterrestrial friends come out on top.

I think I like the story in Ed's Terresstrials a little better than in Pet Robots, but that may just be a matter of taste. It's similar in style- the aliens are way cuter than the robots, though. And while it's subtle, Ed's willingness to risk getting in toruble to help escaped slaves makes the plot a little more substantial. Again, the action and the art will appeal to kids-it's colorful and well laid out. And while it's suitably entertaining for all audiences, reluctant readers may especially find something to relate to in both Ed's Terrestrials and Pet Robots.

 

Reviewed by Jason


 

Dear Dracula

by Joshua Williamson and Vicente Navarette (illus.)

ISBN: 9781582409702

 

Dear Dracula is story about a boy named Sam who wants to become a vampire and writes Dracula a letter asking for help. Dracula and Sam hang out all night on Halloween discussing the pros and cons to being a vampire, and Sam ends up having second thoughts when he discovers all that it requires giving up all of his favorite foods in exchange for drinking blood all the time. He decides that being a kid is all right, and Dracula makes a new friend. Bright colors and smart layouts will make this simply told but enjoyable tale perfect for Halloween time and for any kid who likes Halloween-related stories any time of year.  

 

Reviewed by Jason


May 13, 2009

 

Yotsuba&! by Kiyohiko Azuma

 

    I just finished this series, of which there are five volumes (hopefully a sixth volume will be coming out this summer).  I haven’t read a ton of comics series, but I would have to say that this is my favorite.  Yotsuba, the titular character, is the most ebullient and life-loving little girl – but not in a corny way.  She is fascinated and overjoyed by everyday things – from air conditioners to cicadas to ice cream.  In addition to being totally endearing, her naivete is oftentimes laugh-out-loud hilarious.

      Another reason why I love Yotsuba is that she has this amazing hodge-podge family.  We don’t know exactly where she came from, but we do know that Koiwai adopted her during the course of his travels.  As a result, Yotsuba doesn’t have a traditional nuclear family.  Her family includes the next-door neighbors and an aptly-named man called Jumbo (who is connected to Koiwai in some way – again, the specifics are ambiguous).  I love the idea that you can make your own family - regardless of your blood relations – and Yotsuba, with her love of life and people, has done just that.

      And, being a summer girl myself, I love the fact that these books are set in summertime Japan.  While the country and the culture may be different, there is definitely universality in the feelings and activities that accompany summer.  Reading about Yotsuba’s daily summertime antics will probably remind you of your happy summertime days – it certainly had a kind of nostaligic quality for me. 

      A note about the title: the ampersand and exclamation point are included because each book is comprised of a series of vignettes – Yotusuba & Rain! for example.  The exclamation point really emphasizes the enthusiasm that Yotsuba has for everyone and everything.

      Overall, Yotsuba&! encourages you to enjoy life, and for this reason I would highly recommend it to anyone – young, old, comics-lover or not.  No matter who you are, you can’t have a bad day when you share it with the girl with the green hair.

 

Reviewed by Amy


May 11, 2009

 

Edgar & Ellen: Graphic Novelty- A Comics Collection

edited by Charles Ogden

ISBN: 9781416950042

 

This is a collection of short stories based on the chapter book series about two mischievous twins, Edgar & Ellen. I have not read any books from the series, so this review is based upon a complete lack of foreknowledge of any characters or events.

I found it to be entertaining for the most part, but because of my lack of identification with the protagonists, I felt that I was being dumped in the middle of an unfamiliar world without much introduction. Because of that, any self-referential elements in any of the short stories were lost on me. Probably the entry that worked best was "Pirates of the Water Park," in which Edgar and Ellen lead a mutinous takeover of an amusement park because they can't afford the all-day fee and have instead been exiled to "Cheapskate Island" with the other have-nots. The story runs in two parts, one at the beginning of the book and one towards the end. It's a fun story, even if you aren't familiar with Edgar and Ellen. Also amusing are Ogden's own one-page gags involving Heimertz (the twins' groundskeeper- and I had to look this up, because I couldn't tell who he was by the stories) vs. a number of "monsters": flowers, dinner, or the mail.

Overall, I'd recommend this to fans of the series, but wouldn't consider it a good entry point to the series for first-timers or general comics fans. It's a quick read, but there are likely better options.

 

Reviewed by Jason

 

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