Elementary and Middle School
ALICE, Alex. Siegfried. Vol. 1. illus. by author. 144p. photos. Archaia. 2012. Tr $24.95. ISBN 978-1-9363-9345-9.
Gr 6 Up–After the death of his parents, Siegfried is raised by Mimé, a dwarf who has been ordered to raise him but not teach him about the gods. Siegfried therefore grows up wild and in a tumultuous relationship with a nearby wolf pack, the alpha male of which considers him alien or enemy. As he grows to adulthood, he is destined to take the steps necessary to help Odin steal gold from the dragon Fafnir, but first he must reforge the broken sword of his parents that is his secret legacy. The first of three volumes freely adapting the source material of Wagner’s Ring Cycle, Alice’s version actually follows Wagner’s lead of altering the myth to suit his needs. For those unfamiliar with the story cycle, the book could feel derivative of disparate works, as its presentation here echoes both Tolkien and Kipling, even though its source predates most literature. The illustration is lush and dramatic, with powerful shifts in perspective and storytelling technique. However, the amount of story told is actually quite slim, and half of the book is back matter, featuring interviews with the artist about his relationship with the source material and his work on a possible film adaptation. Bold and attractive, it remains odd that such a small sliver of the epic work is presented here, when all three volumes are available in Europe. For greater fidelity, compare this to P. Craig Russell’s adaptation (Dark Horse, 2002).–Benjamin Russell, Belmont High School, NH
ALLISON, Rachel Hope. I’m Not a Plastic Bag. illus. by author. 88p. charts. photos. Archaia. 2012. Tr $19.95. ISBN 978-1-936393-54-1.
Gr 3-6–Who would have thought that the Great Pacific Garbage Patch could evoke readers’ sympathy? Allison personifies the floating accumulation of trash into a being filled with loneliness and longing. Among the plastic bags, bottles, and other debris, a used tire and windblown umbrella appear as eyes. Shifts in the floating morass open “mouths” that reveal words such as “come in” or “hello,” the story’s only text. Extensions from the edges of the garbage monster appear as overgrown hands, sometimes reaching down to a giant squid and other times pointing to the various messages. Meanwhile, more trash arrives from sea and sky, including the carcass of an albatross, dead after ingesting plastic. The puzzling ending has the entire mass rising skyward, followed by the monster’s face shining in the night sky. The images themselves are arresting, providing multiple perspectives from above, below, and on the surface of the floating mass of trash. Allison’s work might serve as a discussion starter to lead in to the information pages about the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, endangered species, and ways individuals can help reduce ocean pollution. Environmentalist Jeff Corwin’s introduction explains the problem’s magnitude. Loree Burns’s Tracking Trash(Houghton, 2007) explains how scientists study ocean currents and the movement of debris and includes photos of garbage patches. Ted Kooser’s Bag in the Wind (Candlewick, 2010) combines text and illustrations to follow the multiple owners and uses of a single plastic bag.–Kathy Piehl, Minnesota State University, Mankato
CHEN, Wei Dong. Heroes and Chaos. Vol. 1. illus. by Xiao Long Liang. 176p. (Three Kingdoms Series). maps. JR*Comics. 2013. pap. $9.99. ISBN 978-89-94208-89-3; PLB $29.27. ISBN 978-89-94208-90-9.
Gr 5-9–Lots of information and lots of fight scenes are packed into this compact book, which will definitely be educational for readers, if a little overwhelming in terms of the scope of this adventure. Based on the 14th-century novel The Romance of the Three Kingdoms, the story focuses on three brothers, Bei Liu, Yu Guan, and Fei Zhang, who turn the tide of some of China’s most epic battles. The line between literature and history is not always a clear one–the story is based on a novel, but the novel was based on history, so Western readers may be confused about which parts of the story are fact or fiction. Heroes and Chaos reads in part like a textbook, with an overview of the story and maps at the beginning of each chapter, followed by the next portion of the story told in graphic-novel form. The illustrations are colorful and filled with action, using an eye-catching mix of panel shapes and sizes that will help readers follow the story. This is definitely an ambitious series, comprising 20 volumes, and it will probably be most useful for educators looking for ways to make Asian history and culture come alive.–Andrea Lipinski, New York Public Library
COUDRAY, Philippe. Benjamin Bear in Bright Ideas! illus. by author. 32p. Toon Bks. 2013. RTE $12.95. ISBN 978-1-9351-7922-1. LC 2012022895.
K-Gr 2–Each page is a new comic-book adventure with hilarious Benjamin Bear, his companion Rabbit, and many other forest friends. Kids will laugh out loud at Benjamin as he solves problems in zany, often misguided, ways. Sure to get a giggle: Rabbit bets him that he can’t bring him a squirrel so Benjamin uproots the whole tree and carries it to his friend. The artwork was created using India ink and colored digitally to excellent effect; the animals’ expressions are perfectly rendered and the pictures are sometimes the whole story, in a couple of wordless comics. A funny, smart little book that is definitely interesting enough to hold the attention of reluctant readers.–Alison Donnelly, Collinsville Memorial Public Library, IL
DE BONNEVAL, Gwen. William and the Lost Spirit. tr. from French by Anne & Owen Smith. illus. by Matthieu Bonhomme. 160p. Graphic Universe/Lerner. 2013. PLB $30.60. ISBN 978-0-7613-8567-7; pap. $9.95. ISBN 978-1-4677-0807-4; ebook $22.95. ISBN 978-1-4677-0979-8. LC 2012008115.
Gr 7 Up–At first glance, the action-packed cover illustration of a boy and a goat riding a gryphon, escaping from a fierce green monster, seems at odds with the peaceful-sounding title. But in fact, the spirit of the art captures the spirit of the book. As William sets out to find his father (who might be dead, or lost, or both), he is joined by a knight, a troubadour, and a very unusual goat. Soon he enters a mysterious world that is populated with an amazing cast of characters, including Prester John, dog-faced men, and headless people whose faces are on their chests. The story is enhanced by Bonhomme’s realistic illustrations that mix sepia tones with flashes of brilliant color, and his skillful interpretations of the magical creatures that populate this world will help to fix those creatures in readers’ memories. The book is most remarkable in its layers–it is a magical adventure story, it is the story of a boy trying to find his father, and it is the story of a boy who learns difficult lessons and matures while on his journey. Many teens will be intrigued by this title because of the eye-catching cover and illustrations, and thoughtful readers will be captivated by William and grow with him as he explores his world.–Andrea Lipinski, New York Public Library
FRENCH, Renée. Barry’s Best Buddy. illus. by author. 32p. Toon Bks. 2013. RTE $12.95. ISBN 978-1-9351-7921-4. LC 2012022896.
K-Gr 2–When an excited Polarhog wakes Barry up from his peaceful slumber in his boring gray house, promising a surprise, Barry is not impressed. The two friends meander through the woods and past the hat shop, where Polarhog is determined to find the perfect hat for his bird buddy. Throughout the story, ants are seen carrying all kinds of objects that leave a trail for young readers to find Barry’s surprise. This funny story has plenty of jokes to keep reluctant readers’ interest. A few higher vocabulary words like “tragedy,” “bliss,” and “decorate” are sprinkled throughout and add to the richness of this excellent little comic book. The whimsical artwork adds subtle humor to the story. Barry’s expression when he is wearing his hat is perfectly captured, and the tear in his eye when his surprise is finally revealed is poignant and sweet.–Alison Donnelly, Collinsville Memorial Public Library, IL
GULLEDGE, Laura Lee. Will & Whit. illus. by author. 192p. Abrams/Amulet. 2013. pap. $12.95. ISBN 978-1-4197-0546-5.
Gr 7 Up–Sixteen-year-old Will is afraid of the dark, so she creates light. More specifically, she creates things that emit light: lamps. Since her parents died in a car accident about a year earlier, she’s busied herself with her craft in addition to helping her aunt with the family business, Foxxden Antiques. When a storm comes to town (the titular Whit) and causes a blackout, Will is forced to deal with her greatest fear without the benefit of her most important coping mechanism. How she chooses to do so enables her to redefine herself with courage and hope in the light of her tragic loss. The most striking feature about Gulledge’s second graphic novel is the organic nature of the layouts. Action and dialogue flow smoothly from panel to panel, barely acknowledging their confines. Thick, sumptuous lines separate characters from richly detailed backgrounds, and this is all done in black and white. Gulledge populates her story with unique and likable characters who relate easily and naturally to one another. Will and Whit is a big step up from Page by Paige (Abrams, 2011), showing a little more narrative range and, perhaps, a taste of things to come.–J. M. Poole, Webster Public Library, NY
NAGPAL, Saraswati. Draupadi: Fire-Born Princess. illus. by Manu. 112p. (Campfire Mythology Series).Campfire. 2013. pap. $12.99. ISBN 978-93-80741-09-3.
Gr 6-8–Draupadi was a legendary Indian princess marked for a tragic and powerful destiny at a time when gods and mortals existed on Earth together. With the help of her friend Krishna, she navigates a marriage to five husbands, a fight to keep control of her kingdom, a 13-year exile, and, finally, a terrible battle between her husbands and their cousins. The colorful illustrations are drawn with bold lines in a stiff, though realistic style. The story is full of jealousy, passion, and violence, but the formal, portentous language and the details of Draupadi’s intricate family tree may discourage some readers. A family tree at the beginning, explanatory notes throughout the text, and additional information at the end help with comprehension. This informative and unique graphic novel should help to balance collections that have an emphasis on Western mythology.–Lisa Goldstein, Brooklyn Public Library, NY
OTTAVIANI, Jim. Primates: The Fearless Science of Jane Goodall, Dian Fossey, and Biruté Galdikas. illus. by Maris Wicks. 144p. bibliog. First Second. June 2013. Tr $19.99. ISBN 978-1-59643-865-1.
Gr 7 Up–This engaging graphic novel (part story, part group biography) introduces readers to three unique women whose different personalities and lives intersected because of their love of primates. They would never have met without the guidance of Louis Leakey, an anthropologist who believed that women were better at studying animals in their native environment because they were more patient and perceptive than men. Over a period of several years, he recruited and inspired these women to study chimpanzees, mountain gorillas, and orangutans. The book jumps back and forth among the different narrators, so that each of the women and even Leakey are sharing their views about their work and about one another. In the afterword, Ottaviani explains how he and Wicks wanted to create a story rather than a textbook, and so they combined the facts with some imaginative fictionalizing. While this might not be the best resource for homework assignments, it is an enjoyable and informative read. The illustrations are lively and cartoonish, using a natural palette of browns and greens to tell the story. Overall, the graphic-novel format makes what could be a dry subject more appealing for young people. The story of how each of these women loved primates and lived among them to study their behavior is compelling, and might inspire a whole new generation of scientists to follow in their footsteps.–Andrea Lipinski, New York Public Library
TEITELBAUM, Michael & Lewis Helfand. Martin Luther King Jr.: Let Freedom Ring. illus. by Naresh Kumar. 88p. (Campfire Heroes Series). chron. Campfire. 2013. pap. $11.99. ISBN 978-93-80028-69-9.
Gr 5-9–This book covers most of the high points of Martin Luther King, Jr.’s life and explains his role in shaping American history. However, some information has been omitted, such as the fact that he was not “Martin Luther” at birth but was given that name as a child when his father renamed both of them at the same time. Kumar’s photorealistic illustrations are colorful, but his use of shadowing is sometimes excessive to the point of being distracting. The book would be most useful for reluctant readers who would like to learn more about King’s life and understand why he is considered a hero. A foldout time line called “From Chains to Freedom: Black Emancipation in America” runs from slavery in the 1600s to the beginning of Barack Obama’s presidency in 2009.–Andrea Lipinski, New York Public Library
CASTRÉE, Geneviève. Susceptible. illus. by author. 80p. Drawn & Quarterly. 2013. Tr $19.95. ISBN 978-1-77046-088-1.
Gr 9 Up–Susceptible is, in many ways, a challenging book. Readers who look at the front cover may take a longer pause than usual before opening it, as they face down the eyes of a child glaring out at them from underneath her unkempt bangs. The story itself is told using tiny cramped script, forcing readers to tightly focus on the small but powerful words. The character of Goglu has the potential to both attract and repel readers; they can sympathize with her problems dealing with the adults in her life while feeling disappointed with the way she turns to drugs as a coping mechanism. Both the story and the artwork will appeal to fans of Lynda Barry’s Marlys comics–Susceptible also tells the story of a dysfunctional family and introduces many different characters with unappealing appearances and who engage in ugly actions. The black-and-white watercolor illustrations seem simple at first, but the more readers explore this story the more they will start to appreciate the use of shadowing, the unframed empty spaces, and the word balloons that surround and bend around the characters like living things. Long after they have finished reading this book, teens will find themselves thinking about Goglu and the choices she made.–Andrea Lipinski, New York Public Library
DE LA CRUZ, Melissa. Blue Bloods: The Graphic Novel. illus. by Alina Urusov. 112p. Hyperion/Disney. 2013.RTE $19.99. ISBN 978-1-4231-3446-6; pap. $11.99. ISBN 978-1-4231-3447-3. LC 2011053237.
Gr 8 Up–The first volume in this popular vampire series is now available in graphic format. The story begins with a flashback to a handwritten 1620 diary, chronicling the arrival of vampires with Myles Standish and the early Mayflower colonists. It quickly segues to a contemporary club scene in New York City. Readers meet 15-year-old Schuyler and her classmates from an elite prep school, as well as Bliss, newly arrived from Texas. The girls begin to experience unusual symptoms, including blue veins that form intricate patterns just below the surface of the skin. Schuyler discovers that she and her glamorous young friends are Blue Bloods, a form of fallen angels or vampires. She learns that something is hunting them, even killing some of them, and she is determined to stop their annihilation, even if she must contend with the vampire hierarchy. Graphic devices help readers keep track of the frequently changing scenes and multiple characters. Small black boxes with white lettering provide introductions to the numerous characters, and boxes shaded in pale blue give time and location information. Occasionally the artist uses changes in color palette to signal scene changes. The numerous abrupt changes create a reading experience that is often disjointed, constantly fluctuating among the various characters’ story lines. Realistic art highlights the glamorous lifestyle of these upper-class young “immortals,” and the graphic images of blue-blood veins are particularly effective.–Barbara M. Moon, Suffolk Cooperative Library System, Bellport, NY
KOUGA, Yun. Loveless. Vol. 1 & 2. tr. from Japanese by Ray Yoshimoto. illus. by author. 438p. Viz Media.2012. pap. $14.99. ISBN 978-1-4215-4990-3.
Gr 10 Up–After the death of his brother, 12-year-old Ritsuka meets a mysterious college student, Soubi, who claims he will protect him from Septimal Moon. Soubi is devoted to Ritsuka and expresses his love of the younger boy through gifts, acts of ritual devotion, and combat matches where the two are psychically linked as “fighter” and “sacrifice.” This bond overwhelms all other relationships, including the nascent friendship between Ritsuka and bubbly blond Yukio, and Soubi and fellow artist Kio. Children and virgins are drawn with cat ears, while adults are not. This helps fetishize Ritsuka as a pet–the psychic combat literally manifests a collar and chains on him–while also muddling the dominance-tinged way in which Soubi feels obligated to help Ritsuka. Kio goes so far as to call him Ritsuka’s slave. Soubi is further positioned as both a brother figure and a parent substitute, making the lingering sexual tension between the two convoluted in a manner more messy than complex. However, the author illustrates emotional interplay between the two in such a way that readers are meant to think that this is a meeting of soul mates. Other characters play the critical surrogate and express discomfort with the relationship, but their concerns are brushed aside as irrelevant compared to the repeated drawings of Ritsuka and Soubi yearning for each other. This is nothing so much as a jagged piece of emotional wish-fulfillment and sadomasochism disguised as a combat series.–Benjamin Russell, Belmont High School, NH
SHINJO, Mayu. Demon Love Spell. Vol. 1. tr. from Japanese by Fetsuchiro Miyaki. illus. by author. 200p. (Shojobeat Series). Viz Media. 2012. pap. $9.99. ISBN 978-1-4215-4945-3.
Gr 10 Up–Miko’s family has the ability to see ghosts and demons. Her powers first manifest themselves when she discovers Kagura, a demon at her school who has been breaking the hearts of her friends while feeding off their sexual energy. Kagura’s presence unearths other, more powerful demons, and Miko must decide if she can trust him to help her fight them. Full of spells, romance, goofy humor, and haunting supernatural sequences, this book has high appeal. Uncluttered panels and clean, bold illustrations heighten the story’s drama. Fans of manga romance should appreciate Kagura’s angular, androgynous good looks, and the love-hate relationship between him and Miko. Though the subject matter is spicy, this is quite clean, consisting mostly of cheeky innuendos and a few abstract dream sequences in which sex is insinuated but not graphically depicted.–Lisa Goldstein, Brooklyn Public Library, NY
SMITH, Cynthia Leitich. Eternal: Zachary’s Story. illus. by Ming Doyle. 160p. Candlewick. 2013. pap. $19.99. ISBN 978-0-7636-5119-0. LC 2012942385.
Gr 9 Up–Whereas Smith’s novel Eternal (Candlewick, 2009) focuses on the character of Miranda and her introduction into the culture of the vampires, called “Eternals,” this graphic-novel companion depicts the same set of events from the perspective of Zachary, Miranda’s depowered guardian angel. Given this forced perspective, the plot and pacing are often confusing because they require knowledge of events that occur in the novel. That this story is formatted as a graphic novel only serves to emphasize these issues, as passages of time are often inexplicable, secondary character motivations are impossible to decipher, and backstory is nonexistent. Doyle’s illustrations are the standout feature here. Her black-and-white ink work is detailed and uses shading to provide clear depth. Furthermore, the framing of each illustration helps to provide a cinematic feel, especially through the use of extreme close-up to highlight facial expressions and character reactions. Overall, this graphic novel cannot break free of its shortcomings and often seems to cram as many supernatural tropes into as few pages as possible. Purchase if students are looking for this specific title after reading the novel.–Ryan F. Paulsen, New Rochelle High School, NY