February 25, 2018

The Advocate's Toolbox

Super Heroines with Attitude and More | SLJ Graphic Novel Roundup

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Move over Superman and Spider-Man—take-charge heroines save the day in SLJ‘s recent crop of titles. The female protagonists highlighted in these recent graphic novels defy the odds and shatter gender stereotypes, in genres such as superheroes (The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl) and graphic nonfiction (Messenger: The Legend of Joan of Arc). Other can’t-miss titles include Margreet de Heer’s look at religion, a collection of Native American folklore, and the year in the life of a young girl growing up in Moscow.


SgirlredstarNorth, Ryan. The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl Vol. 1: Squirrel Power. illus. by Erica Henderson. 128p. ebook available. Marvel. 2015. pap. $15.99. ISBN 9780785197027.

Gr 5-8 –Supervillains and criminals meet their match with Tony Stark’s friend Squirrel Girl, aka Doreen Green, a college freshman with the appearance, speed, and agility of a squirrel. Fitting in proves to be challenging, as normal girls do not talk to or have a squirrel sidekick, nor do they have super strength. Then there is Squirrel Girl’s roommate, who has a tough exterior and is obsessed with knitting and her cat. Luckily, Squirrel Girl has a knack for winning people over. When Galactus threatens Earth, the heroine must rely on more than strength to defeat the Devourer of Worlds. She may have extraordinary strength, an army of squirrels at her disposal, a collection of Deadpool villain trading cards, and nut-inspired catchphrases, but it is her ability to form connections with people that proves to be her most powerful asset. North and Henderson have created a fun, fast-paced graphic novel that will appeal to Marvel fans as well as readers who are unfamiliar with—or do not enjoy—traditional superhero comics. Bright, bold color choices fit well with the humorous tone. Squirrel Girl is likable, confident, and endearing—the first scene shows her beating up muggers while enthusiastically singing her self-written theme song. The updated character design, snappy dialogue, and quirky characteristics make her a relatable heroine whom readers of all ages will root for. Also included is the 1991 classic Marvel Super-Heroes #8 comic, in which Squirrel Girl first appears. VERDICT A first-purchase for all graphic novel collections.–Marissa Lieberman, East Orange Public Library, NJ

FallofthehouseofweestredstarPope, Paul & JT Petty. The Fall of the House of West. illus. by David Rubín. 160p. (Battling Boy: Bk. 2). ebook available. First Second. 2015. pap. $9.99. ISBN 9781626720107.

Gr 7 Up –Determined to find her mother’s killer, Aurora West, daughter of hero Haggard West, has finally started to patrol the monster-infested streets on her own, despite the protests of her father and her mentor. While the first volume, The Rise of Aurora West (2014), in the prequel series to Pope’s Battling Boy (2013, both First Second), was disappointingly more setup and character backstory than action, this volume instantly makes up for lost time. This installment is filled with numerous traps, shoot-outs, and interrogations. However, the book’s greatest strength is in the moments between the chaos, as characters are wonderfully fleshed out. As characters slowly reveal their secrets, readers discover, along with Aurora, that the heroes she has always looked up to are cracked and bruised. Rubín’s Robert Crumb–inspired artwork is a wonderful throwback to the Silver Age of Comics (1956 to circa 1970). Villains are grotesque and cartoonish, while the heroes have chiseled jaws and perfect posture. The illustrator’s choices perfectly echo the themes throughout the narrative. Diagonal gutters and Batman-style sound effects not only add to the nostalgic feel but expertly move the action forward; readers will be flipping through the pages as fast as the bullets flying over Aurora’s head. VERDICT The strongest series entry so far—one helluva read.–Peter Blenski, Greenfield Public Library, WI

withoutmomredstarTolstikova, Dasha. A Year Without Mom. illus. by Dasha Tolstikova. 168p. Groundwood. 2015. Tr $19.95. ISBN 9781554986927.

Gr 5 Up– In this fully illustrated novel, 12-year-old Dasha lives in Moscow and is unhappily surprised when her mother decides to spend a year in America, leaving her with her grandparents. Especially since her father moved to Los Angeles, she has really depended on her mom, and the absence of her actual parents is both freeing and painful as Dasha experiences the year—the same year that Gorbachev leaves and Yeltsin takes over what becomes the Russian Federation. Friends, relatives, and a crush on an oblivious boy all help Dasha cope, but what matters are the details of life in Russia. Dasha is delightfully portrayed in pencil-and-ink drawings with a gray wash. Spots of color attract the eye and provide emphasis. The accomplished drawings are loose without being fuzzy, and the slightly amateur look makes sense considering Dasha’s age. Dasha is not an angel, nor is she particularly badly behaved. Her parents seem loving but engrossed in their own lives. The interplay of drawings and text sometimes highlights an emotion and at other times conveys a conversation or mood, keeping the pages turning quickly with each scene. VERDICT A lovely portrayal in words and art of a year in the life of an engaging tween girl from the other side of the world.–Carol A. Edwards, Formerly at Denver Public Library, CO


religoinredstarde Heer, Margreet. Religion: A Discovery in Comics. illus. by Margaret de Heer. 120p. index. NBM. 2015. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9781561639946.

Gr 7 Up –With this volume that winningly combines her personal reflections with general information on five world religions, de Heer continues her series (previous titles have taken on philosophy and science). She depicts herself as the narrator of this discourse and includes her personal experience with religion. Both of her parents were Christian ministers, and she herself studied theology and has practiced a few different religions in her life. The author provides simple but straightforward synopses of Judaism, Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, and Buddhism and considers points of difficulty for each, such as how each faith measures up on a feminist ruler. Her parents, her husband, and a chorus of observers appear, too, to interject other information, thoughts, and points of view. De Heer is respectful and makes it clear that she feels a connection to the spiritual, though she currently does not follow any organized religion. The cartoon art incorporates religious iconography where appropriate. VERDICT A thought-provoking work for teens and adults who are curious about religion and perhaps ready to give some thought to their own beliefs.–Eric Norton, McMillan Memorial Library, Wisconsin Rapids, WI

MoonshotredstarNicholson, Hope, ed. Moonshot: The Indigenous Comics Collection. illus. by various. 176p. Alternate History. 2015. pap. $17.99. ISBN 9780987715258.

Gr 5 Up –This collection of folklore from a powerhouse team of Native authors, including Buffy Sainte-Marie and Richard Van Camp, will wow readers with traditional and futuristic tales based on tribal-specific cultural teachings. Stories are central to Indigenous people, and reflecting their varied tribal differences, the entries in this collection vary as well. Storytellers sought permission from their elders to share these in their comic form. The comics include those involving futuristic worlds—in “Strike and Bolt,” two brothers representing lightning and thunder outdo modern technology—and entries explaining the stars in the sky and the coyote who still howls at the Creator for another chance, such as in “Coyote and the Pebbles.” The full-page illustrations in some selections and the bright colors in others add depth and understanding to the narratives. The artwork is as diverse as the stories collected, and readers will eagerly anticipate the next vignette. VERDICT A great addition to any library where comics fly off the shelf.–Amy Zembroski, Indian Community School, Franklin, WI

JoanofArcredstarLee, Tony. Messenger: The Legend of Joan of Arc. illus. by Sam Hart. 112p. ebook available. Candlewick. 2015. Tr $21.99. ISBN 9780763676131; pap. $12.99. ISBN 9780763676148. LC 2013957283.

Gr 7 Up –This stunning biography uses Joan of Arc’s trial as a frame story for an account of her life. Joan recounts events from her life, which was rooted in deep faith, and the spiritual encounters that have made her such a legendary figure. Lee and Hart have aptly titled their work, highlighting how the voices that Joan heard shaped her life and helped her lead France to victory. The illustrations are dynamic, evoking the look of superhero comics and conveying, along with the text, Joan’s courage and heroism. This graphic novel is a fitting companion to Lee and Hart’s other historical works Excalibur: The Legend of King Arthur (2007) and Outlaw: The Legend of Robin Hood (2009, both Candlewick). VERDICT An enlightening and accessible account of the life and death of Joan of Arc.–Kevin McGuire, Woodland Hills School District, PA

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