November 23, 2017

The Advocate's Toolbox

Fast Friendships, Aesop’s New Groove, and a Romp Through the Human Body | Graphic Novel Roundup

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This summer has brought the editors at SLJ a strong crop of graphic novels. Stunning, engaging, and illuminating, these titles run the gamut. From a haunting examination of Hurricane Katrina to a can’t-miss title from “Babymouse” creators Jennifer and Matthew Holm to an anatomy lesson readers won’t soon forget, these titles illustrate the awe-inspiring potential of sequential art.

DrownedBROWN, Don. Drowned City: Hurricane Katrina and New Orleans. illus. by Don Brown. 96p. bibliog. ebook available. notes. HMH. Aug. 2015. Tr $18.99. ISBN 9780544157774.
Gr 7 Up–A murky watercolor storm spreads across pages, darkening and becoming more ominous as it builds in Brown’s deeply affecting look at Hurricane Katrina. Dynamic sketches capture shocking scenes, such as residents fleeing down claustrophobic highways as the 400-mile-wide storm looms in a nearly completely dark spread. Brown depicts broken levees, flooded homes, and inhabitants scrabbling to not drown in their attics. A stunningly powerful spread shows water everywhere and two lone people trapped on a roof. The images demonstrate the utter devastation and despair while the at times spare text powerfully reveals the voices of the victims. The many failures of President Bush, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), Mayor Ray Nagin, and others are repeatedly noted, as is the heroism of various organizations and ordinary people. Brown walks readers through the ghastly conditions at the Superdome, the horrors of hospitals with no electricity, and the nightmarish reality of dead bodies everywhere. The story becomes grimmer at every turn: ineffectual police and rescue efforts, looting, the lack of housing for rescued victims, and 5,000 missing children. The muted watercolors effectively capture the squalid and treacherous conditions of every inch of New Orleans. The final pages show the rebuilding efforts but note the lasting effects of vastly decreased populations. VERDICT This astonishingly powerful look at one of America’s worst disasters is a masterful blend of story and art and a required purchase for all libraries.–Amanda MacGregor, Great River Regional Library, St. Cloud, MN

This review was published in School Library Journal‘s August 2015 issue.

humanbodytheaterWicks, Maris. Human Body Theater. illus. by Maris Wicks. 240p. bibliog. further reading. glossary. websites. First Second. Oct. 2015. pap. $14.99. ISBN 9781596439290.

Gr 4-8–A playfully engaging skeleton emcee introduces the parts of the body and their systems as part of an informational stage revue in this clever overview of human biology. Panels, word balloons, and cartoon illustrations provide strong visuals, while each chapter covers a different biological system in a logical, well-organized fashion, with an initial overview that leads into more specific details—though the lack of an index makes this less effective as a source for reports. The skeleton interjects context, makes connections to previously mentioned facts, and establishes a lighthearted tone. The cast of characters includes walking, talking, and sometimes wisecracking body parts, as well as food, viruses, blood cells, and other body-related items, which inject humor as they interact with the skeleton host. The food particle who wishes for a parachute as it exits the rectum, for instance, is funny but also accurately demonstrates this bodily function. The jokes never become too frantic and are always relevant. The skeleton also presents pertinent tips about safety, nutrition, and puberty. While the human body has been covered in sequential art format before, this title does an excellent job of balancing the comedy and the facts while offering a comprehensive look at how body parts work on their own and as part of the whole biological system. VERDICT A delightful and enlightening addition to nonfiction graphic novel collections.–Steven Engelfried, Wilsonville Public Library, OR

This review was published in School Library Journal‘s September 2015 issue.

FableDuffy, Chris, ed. Fable Comics. 124p. First Second. Sept. 2015. Tr $19.99. ISBN 9781626721074.

Gr 3 Up–This title rounds off the successful Nursery Rhyme Comics (2011) and Fairy Tale Comics (2013, both First Second) collections, which contain short tales adapted by popular cartoonists. The majority of the fables in this installment are from Aesop, but there is also a sampling of selections from countries including Angola and India and famous writers such as Ambrose Bierce. Fables lend themselves well to graphic novel format, and the cartoonists do an excellent job of keeping the morals of the stories intact while providing a modern update by changing the setting or putting their own spin on these classic tales. Most notable are those adapted by “Olympians” (First Second) author George O’Connor, which make clever use of the Greek god Hermes. Avid graphic novel readers will recognize the bold colors, thick-outlined characters, and stylized font of James Kochalka, creator of the “Johnny Boo” series (Top Shelf) in “The Fox and the Grapes.” VERDICT This collection of humorous, child-friendly pieces should be a first purchase for school and public library collections.–Marissa Lieberman, East Orange Public Library, NJ

This review was published in School Library Journal‘s July 2015 issue. 

SunnyHolm, Jennifer L. Sunny Side Up. illus. by Matthew Holm & Lark Pien. 224p. Scholastic. Aug. 2015. Tr $23.99. ISBN 9780545741651; pap. $12.99. ISBN 9780545741668; ebk. $12.99. ISBN 9780545741675.

Gr 4-6–The Holm siblings, of “Babymouse” and “Squish” (both Random) fame, and colorist Pien, of American Born Chinese fame (First Second, 2008), have created a must-have graphic novel based on true events from the Holms’ childhood. The year is 1976, and Sunny Lewin will be spending the summer with her grandfather in Florida. Artistic details in the panels, such as the style of the clothes and the cars, give readers a good sense of the time period. Sunny arrives in Florida feeling hopeful that it will be an exciting summer, but her enthusiasm quickly fades when she realizes that she has to sleep on a squeaky sofa bed and her grandfather is too busy dragging her on boring errands to take her to Disney World. Sunny’s days start to look up when she befriends a boy from the neighborhood; together, they read superhero comic books and find lost golf balls and missing cats for reward money. Overshadowing Sunny’s summertime adventures are events from the past year that have led to her last-minute Florida trip. She loves her older brother, but when he takes drugs, he makes poor choices and unintentionally hurts her. Sunny feels confused and responsible for her brother’s erratic behavior. This title sensitively portrays how drug abuse affects loved ones through visual imagery and realistic dialogue. VERDICT A humorous yet emotional story with a memorable protagonist and detailed full-color art that make this a perfect choice for fans of Raina Telgemeier.–Marissa Lieberman, East Orange Public Library, NJ

This review was published in School Library Journal‘s August 2015 issue.

littlerobot_rgbHATKE, Ben. Little Robot. illus. by Ben Hatke. 144p. First Second. Sept. 2015. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9781626720800.
Gr 2-4–Once again Hatke delivers a delightful graphic novel with a positive female role-model, fun non-humans, and a message of friendship. When a brown-skinned cherubic girl chances upon a robot that looks like a trash can, she finds a friend worth protecting. Each day they explore the junkyard and the surrounding forest, with the little girl acting as a guide to new sights and concepts. Both love playing together, but when the robot wants to leave, things go downhill. It is up to this resourceful girl to save him from the bad bots of the factory. With her trusty wrench in hand, she repairs parts, builds traps, and fixes hearts. Like the characters in the movie Wall-E, these robots have a limited range of facial expressions, so they “speak” and emote in sound effects. Changes in font size, punctuation, and position play just as large a role in comprehension as body language and composition. It’s Hatke’s skill in communicating the narrative and emotional complexities through visual cues that makes this such a strong offering. Though the girl and her bot start their journeys separately and in silence, by the end, music and friends surround them. Young readers, and those new to graphica, will find the easy-to-follow illustrations, large borderless panels, and steady pace welcoming. VERDICT A pleasantly colorful adventure of discovery and friendship. Highly recommended.–Rachel Forbes, Oakville Public Library, Ontario, Canada

This review was published in School Library Journal‘s August 2015 issue.

HiLoWINICK, Judd. Hilo Book 1: The Boy Who Crashed to Earth. 208p. (Hilo: Bk. 1). ebook available. Random. Sept. 2015. Tr $13.99. ISBN 9780385386173.
Gr 2-5–Daniel Jackson Lim, aka DJ, is an ordinary boy in a family of overachievers. He meets Hilo, a robot boy who fell to Earth from space and doesn’t know where he came from or what he is doing on this planet. DJ, along with his best friend, Gina, help Hilo unlock the secrets of his past and stop the destruction of the planet. The first installment in this graphic novel series is a fast-paced adventure that is beautifully illustrated in full color and aimed at readers who would love to have a superhero friend. Captivating, silly, tender, and, most importantly, funny, this title will be popular with all readers—from reluctant to avid. The strength of friendship and cooperation is a theme throughout. With a cliff-hanger ending, the book will have kids eager for the sequel. VERDICT Diverse characters, good friends, and humorous dialogue coupled with colorful illustrations and plenty of action make this a must-have for all children’s graphic novel collections.–Paula Huddy, The Blake School-Highcroft Campus, Wayzata, MN

This review was published in School Library Journal‘s August 2015 issue.

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