April 23, 2018

The Advocate's Toolbox

Graphic Novels: The Latest from Matt Kindt, Margaret Atwood, and More | May 2017 Xpress Reviews

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Hansen, Justin LaRocca. In the Trenches. illus. by Justin LaRocca Hansen. 160p. (Secondhand Heroes: Bk. 2). Dial. Feb. 2017. pap. $10.99. ISBN 9780803740952.

Gr 4-7 –Brothers Tuck and Hudson each have a magical weapon: a scarf that can stretch to impossible lengths and an umbrella that allows the user to fly. With the help of their talking squirrel friend Steen, Tuck and Hudson become the superheroes Stretch and Brella, protecting their neighborhood against the forces of evil. As this volume opens, the heroes return from a quick trip to the future. That time line is a disaster: without Stretch and Brella around, the world has fallen under the rule of a menacing man named Trench, who wields multiple magical items in this alternate reality. Tuck and Hudson return to the present knowing they have to track the items down, fast. The brothers find a new ally in Elvira, a girl who wears magical boots, and while they race against the clock, Hudson becomes involved in his first romance. The book hits the ground running, and while newcomers may not be lost, they will have to quickly acclimate to Tuck and Hudson’s world. The artwork is magnificently detailed, right down to subtle facial cues. This is a wordy graphic novel, with the longer conversations oozing with characterization. Younger readers looking for a whimsical book will be immediately thrown. Despite the childlike presentation, the actual writing is more in line with a serious DC title, making this suitable for more sophisticated middle graders. VERDICT A recommended purchase for libraries with Stretch and Brella’s debut adventure. Hand it to those ready for some serious storytelling.–Matisse Mozer, Los Angeles Public Library

redstarKindt, Matt. Dept. H: Vol. 1: Pressure. illus. by Matt Kindt & Sharlene Kindt. 168p. Dark Horse. Jan. 2017. Tr $19.99. ISBN 9781616559892.

Gr 7 Up –Matt Kindt delivers another amazing graphic novel with an imaginative premise. This is a highly unusual locked-room mystery, centering on an unexplained death that occurred in an undersea research station. Mia is sent down to the station to find out exactly what happened to her father. She doesn’t know if his death was accidental or intentional or whether it was part of a larger plan. What she does know is that several people she once trusted, including her brother and a former friend, are among the suspects. The book jumps between the present and the past as Mia’s memories keep pushing to the surface, making connections between then and now. This is a gripping murder mystery, made even more fascinating by the conflicting emotions that rage inside Mia as she tries to uncover the truth. Soon it becomes clear that her own safety is at risk, whether she is inside the station or out in the deepest part of the ocean, surrounded by sea creatures. The Kindts’ illustrations are murky and rough, capturing the dreamlike quality of the undersea world and drawing readers further into this surreal story. VERDICT An enthralling mystery in a unique setting that will leave graphic novel fans clamoring for the next volume in the series.–Andrea Lipinski, New York Public Library

Montclare, Brandon & Amy Reeder. Moon Girl and Devil Dinosaur: Vol. 1: BFF. illus. by Natacha Bustos. Jul. 2016. ISBN 9781302900052.

––––. Moon Girl and Devil Dinosaur: Vol. 2: Cosmic Cooties. illus. by Natacha Bustos & Marco Failla. Jan. 2017. ISBN 9781302902087.

ea vol: 136p. (Moon Girl and Devil Dinosaur). Marvel. pap. $17.99.

Gr 3-8 –A fun, all-ages comic series with an unlikely heroine and her larger-than-life sidekick. Luna Lafayette is an eight-year-old supergenius who is frustrated with the adults in her life, her dull and unchallenging school and classmates, and by the knowledge that she carries the “inhuman” gene, which will cause a mutation if she becomes exposed to the alien-origin Terrigen Cloud. In BFF (which collects issues one through six), she and Devil Dinosaur haphazardly team up to fight Neanderthals after the T. rex and the prehistoric men are teleported to the present day. In Cosmic Cooties (which collects issues seven through 12), Luna discovers that the Terrigen Cloud gave her the ability to switch bodies with Devil Dinosaur, a power that proves extremely problematic to her science project with a new boy at school and her archnemesis, Kid Kree. The prickly African American fourth grader makes for a unique and inspiring STEM-focused superheroine, and kids will cheer for and laugh at her partnership with the loving but disaster-prone Devil Dinosaur. The action-packed scenes, cameos by the Hulk and Ms. Marvel, and hilarious dialogue make up for the wooden adult characters and uneven pacing of the first few issues. The colorful, slick, and expressive art will have young readers flipping through the pages quickly. VERDICT A wonderful start to a much-needed, well-done, inclusive comic series that deserves a place in all libraries.–Shelley M. Diaz, School Library Journal

Rodriguez, Jason, ed. Colonial Comics: Vol. II: New England, 1750–1775. 216p. bibliog. illus. Fulcrum. Jan. 2017. pap. $29.95. ISBN 9781682750025.

Gr 5 Up –Whereas the first volume of Colonial Comics focused on the years 1620–1750, this installment tackles a better-known time period in American history. However, Rodriguez has chosen to examine lesser-known people and events or lesser-known aspects of famous people and events. They also refreshingly highlight stories that focus on the minority and female experience within the New England colonies. Each piece is prefaced by an editorial introduction to the topic. The stories range from five to 13 pages in length and are all by different authors and artists. This leads, as is often inevitable in anthologies, to an uneven quality among the tales. Fortunately, the editorial introductions and spotlights keep the narrative cohesive. Many of the entries would do well to be fleshed out more, and in some narratives, the personages aren’t introduced well enough for the action to be clear. However, these instances are minor aberrations and do not detract from the overall book. The graphic novel format will entice reluctant readers who might not otherwise gravitate toward nonfiction, while the short story format will appeal to educators who want to emphasize a particular event or person in a classroom setting while whetting their students’ appetites for more. The editorial introductions explain that the stories make use of racial terms that may be jarring to modern readers but are historically accurate. A section on slavery depicts some (appropriately portrayed) nudity. While this title could stand alone, it would be best paired with the first volume, Colonial Comics: New England, 1620–1750. VERDICT This quality work of nonfiction is a strong option for those studying American history.–Elizabeth Nicolai, Anchorage Public Library, AK

This article was published in School Library Journal's May 2017 issue. Subscribe today and save up to 35% off the regular subscription rate.

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