SLJ Reviews of the 2018 Eisner Award Nominations

Tea-making dragons, competitive ice skating, and a dinosaur flying under the radar in New York City are among the subjects of the young people's selections nominated for the 2018 Eisner Awards.

Tea-making dragons, competitive ice skating, and a dinosaur flying under the radar in New York City are among the subjects of the young people's selections nominated for the 2018 Eisner Awards. The nominees of this prestigious graphic novel and comics honor were recently announced, and kid lit fans will be pleased with the array—and eagerly awaiting the winners, which will be revealed on July 20 at San Diego Comic-Con. See below for SLJ's reviews of several of the nominees.

Best Publication for Early Readers (up to age 8)

PONTI, Claude. Adele in Sand Land. tr. by Skeeter Grant & Françoise Mouly. 48p. Toon. Jun. 2017. Tr $12.95. ISBN 9781943145164.

TODD-STANTON, Joe. Arthur and the Golden Rope. illus. by Joe Todd-Stanton. 56p. (Brownstone’s Mythical Collection). Flying Eye. Feb. 2017. Tr $18.95. ISBN 9781911171034.

Gr 3 Up–In surveying his family’s vault of treasures collected over generations, Professor Brownstone introduces his earliest ancestor. Arthur, a strange but good-hearted boy, has been going on magical adventures all of his life. But when his village is attacked by monsters, it’s up to Arthur to find the magical items needed to restart the town’s fire and drive out the beasts. Adapted from several Norse mythology tales, like the binding of Fenrir, this offering is a great way to introduce kids to Norse mythology. However, an author’s note discussing who all the different monsters are and explaining the allusions to different stories would have made this a great educational resource. Todd-Stanton’s artistic approach is folksy yet modern: big on charm and excellent at telling such an epic tale. And the graphic novel format makes this work a compelling adventure, suitable for reluctant readers. VERDICT Here’s hoping Professor Brownstone has more stories to tell in the future. A quirky choice for newly independent and myth-loving readers.–Peter Blenski, Greenfield Public Library, WI

redstarHENKES, Kevin. Egg. illus. by Kevin Henkes. 40p. HarperCollins/Greenwillow. Jan. 2017. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9780062408723.

eggPreS-Gr 1–Four eggs: pink, yellow, blue, and green. Three eggs crack: pink; yellow, blue, but not green. Three surprises: a pink chick, a yellow chick, and a blue chick hatch. Three fly away: pink, yellow, blue chicks; green egg stays put, waiting and waiting and waiting. Three friends return to listen to the green egg. They peck (and peck peck peck and peck some more) until the crack reveals a surprise: a green crocodile. Frightened fledglings fly away, leaving the small green reptile “alone,” “sad,” “lonely,” and “miserable.” That is, until the birds return and they all become “friends,” and together the four go off into the sun to start a new egg-venture. Geometric patterns repeat, multiply, retreat, reappear. Each cream-colored page is framed with a brown border. Thinner lines sometimes create smaller frames within the larger ones, suggesting the passage of time, movement, and changing emotions. In the final sequence, the sun toward which the birds and croc are heading morphs into another egg: “The end…maybe.” Fans of Henkes will delight in his use of line, simple forms, and a gentle palette, all of which clearly portray feelings, depict action, and suggest character. The concise text and straightforward illustrations, however, belie a more complicated tale. Is it simply a story of waiting—perhaps one of friendship? Or does it suggest the cyclical nature of young choosing their actions and flying out into the world? VERDICT This is a book that readers will want to pore over and talk about and read again and again.–Maria B. Salvadore, formerly at District of Columbia Public Library

An SLJ Best Book of 2017

redstarLINIERS. Good Night, Planet. illus. by Liniers. 36p. Toon. Sept. 2017. Tr $12.95. ISBN 9781943145201; Spanish Ed. $12.95. ISBN 9781943145218.

PrS-Gr 2–After a day of playing in the leaves with her deerlike stuffed toy Planet, a little girl gets ready for bed. When the child falls asleep, Planet comes to life, gives her a kiss, and wanders downstairs. Fun ensues, including a romp with Elliot the spaniel, a midnight snack of cookies, and, with Bradley the mouse’s help, an attempt to wrangle the biggest cookie of all: the moon. Relying on intricate linework and shading, ink and watercolor images capture the joys of a crisp fall day and the quiet pleasure of a nocturnal adventure. Planet and his pals are undeniably adorable, yet the art is sophisticated, blending the cartoonish with the elegant. Part Maurice Sendak’s In the Night Kitchen, part Kevin Henkes’s Kitten’s First Full Moon, this stunning graphic novel for beginning readers conjures up a cozy, slightly surreal world, devoid of adults. Multiple panels of varying sizes convey the passage of time and create drama. Liniers keeps the text brief, allowing the images to tell the story. At times, the dialogue borders on philosophical (when Bradley remarks that Planet is a big name for a little creature, Planet replies, “Every animal, big or small, is a whole universe”). VERDICT A beautiful, original work for one-on-one or independent reading, and an excellent bedtime tale. Pair with Emily Jenkins and Paul O. Zelinsky’s Toys Meet Snow for another take on the inner life of a beloved plaything.–Mahnaz Dar, School Library Journal

BRÉMAUD, Frédéric. Little Tails in the Savannah. illus. by Federico Bertolucci. 32p. Lion Forge. May 2017. $14.99. Tr ISBN 9781942367383.

BEST PUBLICATION FOR Kids (AGES 9-12)

redstarRUBIN, Sean. Bolivar. illus. by Sean Rubin. 224p. Archaia. Nov. 2017. Tr $29.99. ISBN 9781684150694. K-Gr 3–Eight-year-old Sybil lives in Manhattan, on West 78th Street, next door to Bolivar, the world’s last dinosaur. Bolivar loves corned beef sandwiches, bookstores, museums, and jazz—but he hates attention. That’s why he lives in the most frenetic city in the world, where everyone is much too busy to notice him. That is, everyone except Sybil. Despite Sybil’s efforts, no one believes in Bolivar’s existence. But when the dinosaur must sort out an unjust parking ticket, his privacy slips, and he and Sybil must deal with the consequences. This hybrid picture book/graphic novel relies on a combination of text, speech balloons, comic panels, and panoramic illustrations. The speech balloons are all color-coded, making it easy to tell who is talking, and the narrative is divided into five chapters each about the length of a traditional picture book. Detailed images feature lots of crosshatching and many hidden delights. The characters are appealing and made distinct by wonderful use of color; Sybil stands out with her bright yellow school uniform, and gray-green Bolivar easily blends in with the scenery. VERDICT This brilliantly drawn story will resonate with a wide audience. Read it aloud chapter by chapter with younger kids, who will enjoy pointing out the hidden details, or give it to independent readers. Pair it with Nadja Spiegelman’s Lost in NYC and Zack Lieberman and Louis Neubert’s Max & Charlie for a trio of titles that burst with lovely artwork and a wealth of affection for New York.–Kelley Gile, Cheshire Public Library, CT

WHYTE, Campbell. Home Time: Under the River. illus. by Campbell Whyte. 228p. Top Shelf Comics. Aug. 2017. Tr $24.99. ISBN 9781603094122.

Gr 6 Up–On their way home on the last day of eighth grade, twins David and Lilly discuss their big plans for the summer (December in Australia). Yet when they fall into a river and land in another world along with a rogues’ gallery of friends, adventures (and witty banter) await. The young humans are understood to be spirits, treated as special guests and emissaries, and generally exposed to the strange “peach” culture they’ve accidentally stumbled upon. Whyte employs different illustration styles. While the artwork is beautiful, the story is incredibly lengthy and may not suit reluctant readers used to more accessible graphic narratives. Standout panels include the layout of a magic tree house, handwritten diary entries, and detailed pictures of the flora and fauna in the new realm. VERDICT With an interesting narrative and age-appropriate characters, this title has plenty to offer patient readers. A strong additional purchase for middle and upper school libraries.–Erinn Black Salge, Morristown-Beard School, NJ

redstarALVAREZ, Lorena. Nightlights. illus. by Lorena Alvarez. 56p. Flying Eye/Nobrow. Mar. 2017. Tr 18.95. ISBN 9781910620137.

Gr 4 Up–At Sandy’s parochial school, her talent for daydreaming, doodling, and wandering doesn’t endear her to the strict nuns, whose assignments the girl does her best to avoid. A bit of an outsider, Sandy is delighted when she meets a new friend, a strange, pale girl who gushes over her incredible artwork. As the protagonist’s flights of fancy begin to merge with reality, she must save herself and the drawings she cherishes. The balanced, muted hues of Sandy’s real world contrast dramatically with the lush colors of her hand-drawn fantasies. Alvarez’s artwork is gorgeous, alternating between traditional panels and, in the dream sequences, vibrant spreads that spill from page to page with grace and fluidity. Reminiscent of the charming, cheeky protagonist of Luke Pearson’s “Hilda” books, Sandy is a rosy-cheeked, pigtailed delight, solving her problems with cunning and—coolest of all—math. Readers will want to pore over this book and its many picturesque details again and again. Perhaps those who frequently find themselves with their heads in the clouds will see a little of themselves in Sandy, whose power to build new worlds will inspire others to make their own dreams come true. VERDICT How is this not on your shelf yet? Every library should have this gorgeous first purchase.–Abby Bussen, Muskego Public Library, WI

O'NEILL, Katie. The Tea Dragon Society. illus. by Katie O’Neill. 72p. Oni. Oct. 2017. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9781620104415. Gr 4 Up–Greta is a young blacksmith apprentice who wonders whether her mother’s craft is still relevant in contemporary society. When she rescues a little lost dragon in the marketplace and returns it to its owners, Greta learns about another fading art form—the care of tea dragons, small creatures who grow tea leaves out of their horns and antlers. She becomes fascinated with the enchanting dragons and their caretakers, and begins to appreciate how traditional crafts can create their own kind of magic by enriching lives, including hers. This book is wonderfully inclusive, and depicts a distinct and expressive cast of LGBTQIA characters and people of color. The title is reminiscent of a younger, more innocent version of Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples’s “Saga,” with many of the main characters possessing horns and antlers. The artwork is soft and fluid, with lots of rounded edges and complementary tones. The backgrounds are an integral and memorable part of the story—some details are so lush that they give the appearance of tapestries. VERDICT This warm and funny story would be a wonderful addition to most graphic novel collections. It quietly illustrates and normalizes a variety of family situations and personal identities.–Kelley Gile, Cheshire Public Library, CT HENRY, Will. Wallace the Brave. 176p. Andrews McMeel. Oct. 2017. $34.99. ISBN 9781449494537. See the "Good Comics for Kids" review.

BEST PUBLICATION FOR TEENS (AGES 13-17)

KONDO, Robert & Dice Tsutsumi. The Dam Keeper. illus. by Robert Kondo & Dice Tsutsumi. 160p. First Second. Sept. 2017. Tr $19.99. ISBN 9781626724266. Gr 3-6–Years ago, the fog came over the dam, killing Pig’s mother. Pig’s father maintained the dam that keeps the fog out of Sunrise Valley, and showed Pig how to do the same, until the day he went through the door he said never to open, leaving Pig alone. Now, every day Pig winds up the windmill that blows away the fog, which always creeps back. The fog is almost its own character as Pig (and readers) tries to understand its mysteries. Sometimes it seems like a gas, sometimes it’s more like an ocean. Sometimes it’s impenetrable, sometimes it reveals mysteries. Pig thinks that he understands how the fog will behave, but then he, Fox, and Hippo are suddenly swept away from the safety of their town and must find their way back home. Based on the 2015 Academy Award–nominated short film, this book is cinematic and filled with action, movement, color, and light.  VERDICT For fans of emotional fantasy stories, artistic graphic novels, and stories about overcoming obstacles.–­Andrea Lipinski, New York Public Library

MCKENNA, Aline Brosh. Jane. illus. by Ramón K. Pérez. 224p. Archaia. Sept. 2017. Tr $24.99. ISBN 9781608869817.

Gr 10 Up–This present-day graphic novel adaptation of Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre draws on the original story with some surprising twists. Orphan Jane has grown up in a New England town under the not-so-watchful eye of her relatives and has earned enough money for art school in New York City. Rochester, a mysterious businessman, hires Jane, now a college freshman, to take care of his precocious daughter. Jane becomes a surrogate mother to Adele and catches the eye of her absent father and Mason, Rochester’s business partner and Adele’s uncle. As the heroine unravels the mystery behind Rochester’s wife’s death, she falls in love with her boss and the glamorous life that he can afford her while neglecting her studies. She quickly gets embroiled in the dangerous dealings and power struggles of the two men. Screenwriter Brosh McKenna (Devil Wears PradaCrazy Ex-Girlfriend) injects the narrative with intrigue and romance, updating this story for modern audiences while maintaining elements from the source material (the protagonist’s naiveté, Rochester’s aloofness). The dynamic art changes from sketchy blues and whites (for scenes of the past) to bright yellows and reds (during Jane’s first weeks in New York City) and dark blues and purples (menacing and brooding panels involving Rochester), establishing a gothic mood. The variation in panels becomes more comic book–like as the story progresses, especially in the final action-packed scenes. VERDICT This brilliant homage to the classic will enamor fans of the original and intrigue newcomers. A strong choice for graphic novel collections.–Shelley M. Diaz, School Library Journal

redstarBRITT, Fanny. Louis Undercover. tr. from French by Christelle Morelli & Susan Ouriou. illus. by Isabelle Arsenault. 160p. Groundwood. Oct. 2017. Tr $19.95. ISBN 9781554988594.

Gr 5 Up–From the team behind the touching Jane, the Fox, and Me comes another poignant story of hope amid despair. Following his parents’ split, tweenage Louis is shuttled between his mother’s new apartment in the city and his childhood home in the country, now inhabited by his despondent father. As he travels between these worlds, his memories of happier days are depicted in sketchy gray pencil and hazy turquoise watercolor. Louis’s parents’ heartbreak is nakedly apparent to the boy, who protects his naive little brother, Truffle, from the most tragic elements of their shattered family—mainly their father’s alcoholism. Yet Louis has a secret that sustains him: an infatuation with a bespectacled cyclist named Billie. She glows with lemon yellow optimism as Louis tenderly describes the thrilling panic of simply breathing the same air as Billie. The author relies on sparkling metaphor to portray the protagonist’s love; for instance, Louis compares Billie to a “gorgeous cactus.” Arsenault’s symbolic use of color and animated illustrations breathe life into Britt’s quirky, beautiful story, which emphasizes that love is the bravest act of all. VERDICT This perceptive addition to graphic novel collections will resonate with most readers, especially those coping with similar issues as Louis.–Anna Murphy, Berkeley Carroll School, Brooklyn

LIU, Marjorie. Monstress Vol. 1: Awakening. illus. by Sana Takeda. 192p. Image Comics. Jul. 2016. pap. $9.99. ISBN 9781632157096. Gr 10 Up–In the aftermath of a terrible war, tension still exists between the humans and the animal-hybrids, Arcanics. Surviving Arcanics are sold as slaves by the Federation of Man and even experimented on by the Cumaea, powerful human witch-nuns who mine the precious life-giving Lilium produced from the bodies of captured Arcanics. Maika Halfwolf, a 17-year-old Arcanic, survived the war but at a devastating cost. Looking for revenge, she allows herself to be sold as a slave to infiltrate the Cumaean stronghold in Zamora. Once there, she uses her newly developed, terrible power to escape, free the captured Arcanics, and brutally attack the witch-nuns. She also steals a fragment of an ancient and powerful mask and murders a Cumaean elder who knows secrets from Maika’s past. On the run from the Cumaea, the humans, and her own people, Maika must rely on herself and very few allies if she is to discover the secret of why her mother was murdered and, more important, who she is and what awful power she possesses. Collecting the first five issues of the popular comic, this is a beautifully written and complex book. Intricate and detailed, with a definite manga influence, Takeda’s artwork creates a lush and dangerous world for Liu’s equally dangerous characters. The work is infused with feminist themes; almost all of the characters are strong—and deadly—women. VERDICT Intended for mature audiences owing to the violence and nudity and filled with rage and barely contained fury, this is a book that will be wildly embraced by all fans of graphic literature.–Erik Knapp, Davis Library, Plano, TX

WALDEN, Tillie. Spinning. illus. by Tillie Walden. 400p. First Second. Sept. 2017. Tr $22.99. ISBN 9781626727724. Gr 6 Up–A graphic memoir about competitive ice skating, growing up, and coming out. Walden spent much of her youth on the ice, at practices and competitions, and in locker rooms among friends, frenemies, and competitors. In this deeply personal reflection, the author/illustrator is unflinching in her examination of what drove her passion for the sport, the embarrassments and experiences that marked pivotal moments in her development, and how she eventually came out to family and friends as a young teen. The art is economical, with a simple indigo and white palette with very occasional splashes of yellow, lending the book an appropriately cold tone; readers will shiver with empathy as Walden steps onto the rink in the early morning before the sun rises. While her drive and commitment to being the best athlete is evident (at one point, she describes sleeping in her practice clothes on top of her blankets, not allowing herself to get warm so that the early morning transition would be easier), the details about some of her relationships are held at arm’s length and only hinted at, most notably the strained relationship with her mother. A scene in which a male tutor sexually harasses Walden and attempts a physical assault is affecting and may spark deeper discussion. Her first romantic relationship is both tender and heartbreaking. VERDICT An honest and intimate coming-of-age story that will be appreciated by tweens and young teens, especially those in competitive sports.–Kiera Parrott, School Library Journal

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