Sunday, October 14, 2018

Anne of Green Gables: A Graphic Novel

Hooray for a resurgence of popularity for Lucy Maud Montgomery's beloved character, Anne Shirley. Netflix has a series, "Anne with an E" chronicling the life of our favorite Prince Edward Isle redhead, and now there is a graphic novel about her misadventures.

Mariah Marsden's adaptation of the novel has all the beloved quotes from the novel, but operates at a surface level. This is one of the risks of adapting a massive tome into a graphic novel: the details must be left out. The raspberry cordial incident lasts only a few pages and walking the roof's ridgepole is even shorter. I hope that the graphic novel serves as a gateway to the original works for readers, as there is so much more to Anne's mishaps.

The color palette selected by illustrator Brenna Thummler is beautiful and the nature scenes capture the Green Gables of my imagination. I wish that the people were a bit better looking; Diana Barry was always supposed to be attractive and that doesn't translate in this version.

For my money, the Netflix series is a preferable adaptation. It makes sense, as they have so much more time to tell stories, but they also do a better job of demonstrating how bonkers Anne Shirley truly was.

Sunday, October 7, 2018

Be Prepared

I looked back at my review of Vera Brosgol's first graphic novel, Anya's Ghost, and it is gushing! This is why I keep this blog: so I can refer back to books and remember how I felt about them. In 2011, I wrote that I couldn't wait for Brosgol's next book. It's been seven years and worth the wait to get Be Prepared, a fully realized memoir that is entertaining and relatable.

Nine-year-old Vera is too Russian and too poor to fit in with the other girls in her class, which is why she jumps at the opportunity to attend a Russian summer camp. Maybe she has finally found her people! That might have happened, if she wasn't put in a tent with teenagers, who immediately cast her aside. I almost can't blame them--a five year age difference is incredible and that is negligent on the camp's part! Everything that Vera had been looking forward to goes wrong, and there is no way she could be prepared for what summer camp entails.

Similar to Anya's Ghost, this book has a limited color palette. The choice to use olive green as the only color makes the reader feel as if the whole book is set inside a tent. I like Brosgol's illustration style and Vera's huge eyes make her seem so vulnerable and young. I'm happy that the ending of the book sets up what must be a sequel. I hope we don't have to wait seven years to read it.

Sunday, September 30, 2018

The Prince and The Dressmaker

I'm pleased to announce that I am a Round One judge for the Cybils Awards in the graphic novels category. I was a judge in the same genre for the 2011 awards and it cracked my knowledge of graphic novels wide open. Having lived overseas since then, I was unable to judge until now. Get ready for a lot of graphic novel reviews!

I'd heard lots of chatter about how good The Prince and the Dressmaker is, but had no idea what the plot was. The cover made me think it would be a Cinderella tale, so imagine my surprise when I learned that the titular prince enjoys wearing dresses and the dressmaker is hired to hide this part of his identity.

Jen Wang's illustrations drew me in with their warmth; I especially loved the attention to the expressions of all characters, even just in the background. I also enjoyed the different outlandish costumes that the dressmaker designed.

There is a real push for more books that help readers feel seen and The Prince and the Dressmaker will be that book for many. I especially loved the ending and the refreshing acceptance it shows. What a fun start to my renewed graphic novel reading!

Sunday, September 23, 2018

The Third Mushroom

After reading a particularly disturbing article in the newspaper, it was really nice to settle in to The Third Mushroom by Jennifer L. Holm. It was a bit of a palate cleanser to finish up this book, which just makes the reader feel good. Aside from its many charms, that is the main reason I will be recommending it widely: we all need something to make us happy right now.

A little time has passed since The Fourteenth Goldfish, but the characters are mostly the same. Ellie is still earnest and funny, her Grandpa Melvin is still a crotchety teenager, and her best friend Raj is still cool and goth. But just when she thinks things have settled into a comfortable groove, it all falls apart. Her relationships change and a loved one is hurt. Growing up is difficult, but Holm creates a novel full of sweet moments that will be reassuring to adolescent readers.

I read The Fourteenth Goldfish aloud to a class a few years ago and have already recommended this book to some members of that group. They're in eighth grade now, so this would be an easy novel for them, but heart warming and worth reading.

Sunday, September 16, 2018

Grace Lin Fever!

I'm living a lot of reading lives right now: my present involves a lot of board books for my son, as well as parenting books. I am also thinking ahead and reading picture books to be prepared for when my son graduates to them. I continue to read middle grade and YA novels for when I return to the classroom, and I occasionally sneak in an adult book for myself.

I've added another facet to my reading life: early reader books. This is a huge gap in my repertoire and one I want to fill as my friends' children get older and my son ages. No matter where we are living when he reads on that level, I want to have a list of books I can find for him to read.

This brings me to Ling & Ting: Not Exactly the Same by Grace Lin. I've been on a bit of a Grace Lin kick lately and this is a great start to my early reader list. The six stories are short and cute, and all tie together in the end. I marvel at how Lin was able to tell such fun stories in so few, simple words. It's a skill that earns her an immediate place on my new "Read All Early Reader Books By This Author" list. I'm really excited to delve into this new (to me) genre.

Sunday, September 9, 2018

Dumpling Days

Dumpling Days is the perfect example of Rudine Sims Bishop's brilliant theory that books can be windows or mirrors into readers' lives. There is so much in Grace Lin's middle grade novel that I haven't seen elsewhere, which means that the young girls who resemble the protagonist, in this case, Taiwanese-American Pacy, probably haven't either.

Although there have been two other books written about this character, Dumpling Days was my introduction to Pacy. I don't feel that I missed anything by starting the series at the end, although there may be backstory that I didn't catch. In this novel, Pacy's family is traveling to Taiwan for a vacation and we get to see the country through her eyes. While the stories are tied together by some constants, such as the art classes that Pacy and her sisters take, many of the chapters could be read as separate vignettes (or mentor texts, thinks the teacher in me).

What was especially notable for me was that Dumpling Days discusses things I've never seen in a book before. For example, Pacy's older sister gets a makeover and photo shoot in Taiwan, and has stickers placed on her eyes to create folds. This was a very common plastic surgery at the middle school (!) where I taught in South Korea and was a fact of life for many young adults, but I have never read about it before. I love that young readers who are curious about it can see someone else's opinion in a novel; Pacy's sister likes the look but Pacy doesn't. There is no judgment, it is one small part of their trip, but could be so important for a young reader who is looking for that mirror in a book.

This book is fun and makes me want to check out the rest of the series, as well as making sure it's on the shelf in every classroom I teach in from now on.

Friday, August 31, 2018


The heft of Bolivar is going to intimidate some readers, which is a shame because it is an ideal book for developing readers who might be spooked by a 224 page graphic novel. Still, once they get started, readers will realize there is nothing to fear and that they will fly through Sean Rubin's love letter to New York.

Sybil seems to be the only one who notices the dinosaur living next door. Everyone else is busy with their New York lives, heads down in their phones or their food, so Bolivar the dinosaur is able to blend in. Sybil is intent on photographing him and proving to everyone that he is real. It takes awhile, but when Bolivar is finally revealed to the public, it does not go as expected.

After my class spoke with Rust author Royden Lepp, I try to slow down when reading graphic novels and truly appreciate the work that went into them. With Bolivar, it is essential, as there are so many gorgeous details. I reveled in the little things, like the pineapple logo on Sybil's mom's computer, and big details, like how spot on the illustrations are in the Museum of Natural History. In his acknowledgments, Rubin notes that it took five years to write Bolivar. It is obvious, and it was worth it. This is worth adding to your classroom library, nudging into the hands of a developing reader, and watching them blossom as they read such a big book.

Thursday, August 23, 2018


It's been a long time since I read Ann Aguirre's Razorland Trilogy, so I probably should have better prepared myself by at least reading my reviews. Oh well. I remembered loving the series and was pleasantly surprised by the companion novel, Vanguard. While I know I missed some references by not having the past books fresh in my mind, I still really enjoyed the latest addition to the saga.

Actually, it may be for the best that I don't remember the other books, as I am pretty sure they were very dystopian, while Vanguard is a straight up romance. Although it was obvious from the start how the novel would end, it was an enjoyable journey. I like the character of Tegan and appreciate that Aguirre didn't drag out the tension between her and Szarok for too long. They were obviously meant for each other, so it was more interesting to see what would happen once they were united.

I don't need another book about these characters; I think it all wraps up nicely, but I am happy that I read Vanguard.

Thursday, August 16, 2018

Water Land by Christy Hale

Christy Hale's Water Land: Land and Water Forms from Around the World is a book that has me excited for social studies teachers.

Teaching physical geography can be dry and confusing for students. The clever cut-out design of this book can give students a visual representation of the different vocabulary they are learning. Even better, the characters in the illustrations are diverse and often in comical situations. At the end is a list of locations that fit each description and a fold-out world map that shows examples of each term.

This is a worthy addition to any classroom and a must for teachers of geography.

Thursday, August 9, 2018

Caribbean Middle Grade and YA Books

Although I've shared a few Caribbean picture books before, as well as highlighting many novels on the blog, I've never done a post with all of the middle grade and YA Caribbean books I've read. I hope to keep adding to this post as I read more. Titles are linked to their reviews.

Hurricane Dancers by Margarita Engle

Serafina's Promise by Ann E. Burg

A Song for Bijou by Josh Farrar

Dancing in the Rain by Lynn Joseph

The Sun is Also a Star by Nicola Yoon

Flowers in the Sky by Lynn Joseph

The Surrender Tree by Margarita Engle

The Wild Book by Margarita Engle

The Firefly Letters by Margarita Engle

The Poet Slave of Cuba by Margarita Engle

Hold Tight, Don't Let Go by Laura Rose Wagner

In Darkness by Nick Lake

Taste of Salt by Frances Temple