March 18, 2018

The Advocate's Toolbox

Graphic Novels Xpress Reviews | August 2016

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Browngardt, Peter. Uncle Grandpa and the Time Casserole. illus. by Kelsey Abbot. 144p. KaBOOM!. Apr. 2016. pap. $14.99. ISBN 9781608867912.

Gr 6 Up –Based on the Cartoon Network series Uncle Grandpa and written by an Adventure Time writer, this work has the fast, zany pace of those cartoons. Uncle Grandpa and his crew, who include a talking fanny pack called Belly Bag and a sentient pizza slice named Pizza Steve, must travel back in time to gather the ingredients for a very important casserole. They travel to ancient Egypt, ancient Rome, and 1992. The scenes of the different time periods are illustrated by different artists, but all of the images are drawn in a lively cartoon style and with bright colors. The tone is absurd and satirical, and there are numerous subversive and sophisticated references. Pizza Steve scoffs at the use of melting clocks that resemble those in Salvador Dali’s The Persistence of Memory (“Reeeeeel original!” he sneers). The scenes that take place in 1992 are full of pop culture references and mentions of obsolete technology, interrupted by Uncle Grandpa “before we remind our older readers how old they are.” This title is written with this more mature audience in mind, but the pure nonsense and appealing artwork will carry along younger readers for the ride. VERDICT Tweens and teens may not get every reference, but the vibrant visuals and fast-paced humor and action will keep them interested.–Lisa Goldstein, Brooklyn Public Library

Brrémaud, Frédéric. The Lion. illus. by Federico Bertolucci. 80p. (Love). Magnetic Pr. Jun. 2016. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9781942367093.

Gr 6 Up –Brrémaud continues his series (previous books include The Tiger and The Fox) with this visually stunning wordless tale of a lion searching for his pride. The author takes readers deep into the Serengeti, as the lion passes many animal families who look at him with hostility. Brrémaud makes sharp comparisons between the lion’s situation and homelessness, underscoring how primal survival is. The art pulls readers in and keeps the plot moving through close-ups of the animals’ expressions. Nothing is sugarcoated: hunger pains, gory kills, desperation, fear, and loneliness are showcased. There are also playful moments: cubs playing with an armadillo or tugging on an adult lion’s whiskers. The muted colors dramatically evoke a harsh sense of realism and match the mood of the work perfectly. There are many classroom connections, and literature classes could use this visual narrative as a starting point for writing prompts. There is one potentially confusing moment, where one lion falls off a cliff while the protagonist lion is fighting off other lions; it might take some students a few close reads to distinguish between the two lions. VERDICT Recommended for graphic novel collections, especially those where the previous two titles are popular.–Laura Dooley-Taylor, Lake Zurich Middle School North, IL

Chelsea, David. Snow Angel. illus. by David Chelsea. 122p. Dark Horse. May 2016. pap. $9.99. ISBN 9781616559403.

Gr 3 Up –Though the protagonist of this title needs cold weather in order to conjure up her super alter ego, this is a warm take on the importance of doing the right thing. Snow Angel goes by Angel when she is without her powers, and time and time again she is spurred to action. Humor and timely cultural references abound, making the positive message fun. Kids will enjoy an episode in which Snow Angel nabs a man for ignoring a “keep off the grass” sign—not realizing that he’s just robbed a bank. Young readers will relate to the heroine, whose parents disapprove of her superpowers, while parents will appreciate the emphasis on good behavior, so as not to get some “snow in the face.” A master illustrator of comics for adults as well, Chelsea conveys various situations, moods, points of view, and character expressions with minimal line work and fresh color. VERDICT A strong offering for graphic novel collections, especially those where superheroes are popular.–Jennifer Gibson, SUNY Cortland

Enna, Bruno. X-Mickey #1: In the Mirror. illus. by Alessandro Perina. 64p. (Disney Graphic Novels #2). Papercutz. Mar. 2016. pap. $7.99. ISBN 9781629914466.

Gr 3-5 –At first glance, this offering resembles a typical Disney cartoon. The style of illustration and the colors are traditional. Beautifully detailed backgrounds make readers feel like they’re part of the action. The plot, however, is another matter. This mildly spooky ghost story revolves around a haunted mirror. Somehow Minnie and Mickey end up with the trinket, and Mickey tries to get it back where it belongs, encountering alternate dimensions and odd characters that help and hinder him. The writing is disjointed, making the plot hard to follow. Dialogue is stiff and awkward at times. Bonus material, such as a comic short featuring Pipwolf, a character from the book, and a preview of a Disney Fairies graphic novel, is enjoyable. VERDICT Die-hard Disney fans will likely look beyond the poorly executed writing, but this volume will likely not draw in many new readers.–Carol Hirsche, Barnett Elementary, Payson, UT

Frampton, Otis. Oddly Normal Book 3. illus. by Otis Frampton. 136p. . Image Comics. May 2016. pap. $9.95. ISBN 9781632156921.

Gr 4-6 –Oddly Normal is anything but normal, no matter where she is. She used to live in the real world with her father, who is supposedly normal, and her mother, who is in fact a witch from the world of Fignation. Because Oddly looked just a little different, people would often tease her and she felt like she didn’t fit in. Things don’t get better when she goes to Fignation; she looks too “normal” to fit in with the supernatural beings who live there. Yet Oddly never lets it get her down. She finds a ragtag group of misfits to call her friends, including a ghost, a hunchback, and a monster boy who is constantly losing his appendages. Together they try to navigate the routine trials of childhood, such as peer acceptance and homework. They also look for information that might help them find Oddly’s missing parents. Strangely enough, their questions often lead right back to their strange new teacher. Readers might feel a little bit lost at first if they haven’t read the previous two volumes, but this tale does stand on its own, and newcomers might be inspired to seek out previous installments. The artist’s colorful and quirky art is perfect for his story. The palette enhances the atmospheric emotion of the narrative, while the panel layout adds to the sense of action. VERDICT Fans of Frank Cammuso’s “Salem Hyde” and Mike Maihack’s “Cleopatra in Space” series will find another entertaining adventure here.–Carol Hirsche, Barnett Elementary, Payson, UT

Fridolfs, Derek. Clarence: Chicken Phantom. illus. by J.J. Harrison. 144p. KaBOOM!. May 2016. pap. $14.99. ISBN 9781608867929.

Gr 3-5 –Clarence, the titular star of a Cartoon Network show, goes away to camp with friends and fellow Chicken Scouts Jeff and Sumo. By the end of camp, they hope to earn enough merit badges to go from Eggs to Chicken Hawks. During a camping trip in the woods, the kids find out about a hidden treasure and learn of the dangers of the Chicken Phantom, a vengeful, immortal chicken. A parody of sleepaway camps and scout programs, this title is full of absurd and slapstick humor, much of which derives from the interaction among Clarence, Jeff, and Sumo. Written and illustrated by the Adventure Time creators, this title lacks some of that series’s sophisticated subversion. All three of the main characters are characterized by simplistic stereotypes: Sumo is skinny and conniving; Jeff is tall and athletic and a sanctimonious stickler; and Clarence is overweight, greedy, and naive. The cartoon illustrations have a flat style similar to that of The Simpsons and Family Guy but lose some appeal and expression when they aren’t animated. VERDICT Hand only to avid fans of the TV show.–Lisa Goldstein, Brooklyn Public Library

This article was published in School Library Journal's August 2016 issue. Subscribe today and save up to 35% off the regular subscription rate.