Sunday, December 9, 2018

Hey, Kiddo

Amazing.

There's a huge buzz around Jarrett J. Krosoczka's graphic memoir, Hey, Kiddo. All of the praise is well-deserved. Krosozka delves into his family history and shares about his mother's heroin addiction, his loving but troubled grandparents, and his absent father.

While his mother popped in and out of his life (and jail), Jarrett grew in his artistic talent. By including many of his childhood drawings and museum clippings, Krosoczka shows young readers that cartoonists aren't born full formed; they develop their skills and take classes to improve. The emphasis on hard work is clear and I hope it is a takeaway for all readers.

This is a story that will speak to so many young readers, so it surprised me that there were only 5 copies in the Worcester area library system. This is where it is set and where the author's lie was shaped! I am going to encourage my local branch to get their own copy because it is another way for readers to see themselves in print, and because it is a book that deserves to be read.

Sunday, December 2, 2018

Mez's Magic

As I've mentioned before, I don't like animal books, but Eliot Schrefer is the exception! As I make my way through his oeuvre, I find myself continually looking forward to what comes next.

Mez is an abnormal panther: while most of her kind sleep all night to avoid the Daywalkers, she is able to stay awake and explore at all hours. She is recruited to join a group of animals like herself, all with the goal of defeating the evil Ant Queen. But there are many challenges along the way and it is difficult to know who to trust.

I liked that Mez's Magic was educational. I don't know much about jungle animals and found myself learning about them in my favorite way, through fiction. While the secondary characters all had a prominent trait to identify them (Rumi is knowledgeable! Gogi is self-conscious! Lima talks too much!), Mez is relatable in a way that occasionally makes the reader forget she's a panther.

I loved the ending of the book and how it sets up the sequel, which will be published in a month. I'm looking forward to finding out what happens next.

Sunday, November 25, 2018

Rescued

I've been working my way through Eliot Schrefer's Ape Quartet and was surprised to learn that Rescued was set primarily in the United States. I think it was clever to bring the story closer to home for many of his readers, with the intent of creating a relatable character and sympathy for the plight of orangutans. Unfortunately, this novel didn't work for me as well as the first two. 

When he was a child, John's father brought him home Raja, an orangutan from Indonesia. Rash decisions are typical for John's father, who continues to spiral downward throughout the novel, leaving John and his mother to deal with the consequences. The biggest of which is a rapidly growing ape who needs more care than anyone can provide. When John takes it upon himself to do right by Raja, he realizes what a challenge that actually is. 

There were some things I enjoyed about Rescued. I like that this novel talks about animal testing and how many of those animals end up in labs. I also appreciate that Schrefer quickly dispels the idea that it would be fun to have a pet ape (in ways both violent and disgusting). 

I wanted to like it more, but I found this novel to be very dark and the main character to be inherently unlikable. Perhaps it was a deliberate choice; John's father didn't set him up for success, but I couldn't connect to him the way I did with the author's previous protagonists. Still, I will continue reading the series and am curious to see what Schrefer does with his next main character, an actual ape instead of just a person relating to one. 

Sunday, November 18, 2018

Threatened

I love the idea of this series by Eliot Schrefer: each novel centers around a human's interactions with a great ape. Threatened focuses on chimpanzees, who are far more brutal than the bonobos of Endangered, but I still found myself worrying about them, thanks to their relationship with Luc, our hero.

I'm going to do a GIF review because those are more fun for me right now, and because I am packing up to move to a new country where Elio Schrefer will be the visiting author in my class. So thrilled to learn from him.

This is how I approached the book when I got it through interlibrary loan:

via GIPHY

Was there an adjustment to get used to the narrator Luc, a street child who sets out to rob a professor:

via GIPHY

How I felt when the professor offers to take Luc into the jungle:
via GIPHY

And when something goes wrong:
via GIPHY

What I wished Luc would do when the chimps got aggressive:
via GIPHY

How I felt about Mango and Drummer, two chimps who align themselves with Luc:
via GIPHY

My feelings about the disappearance of one character and the return of another:
via GIPHY

Did I like it as much as Endangered?
via GIPHY

My overall feeling about the book:
via GIPHY

Will I recommend it to students?
via GIPHY

Sunday, November 11, 2018

Endangered

True confession: I don't love animal books. Those that I have read have been through coercion: as part of the curriculum or a student wanted me to read them. I even dove into Endangered by Eliot Shrefer because he will be the visiting author in my class later this year. Thank goodness I did because this was excellent and made me eat my words. After finishing, I immediately added the next three books in the series to my To Be Read list. No wonder it was a finalist for the National Book Award.

For all her life, Sophie's mother has consistently prioritized the bonobo sanctuary she runs in the Congo over her family life, which is why Sophie spends most of the year in Miami with her father. Still, summer is a time for them to connect at the sanctuary, and Sophie's connection grows when she adopts a baby bonobo named Otto. Revolution breaks out in the country and Sophie and Otto are thrust into the jungle, trying to survive and reunite with Sophie's mother.

Endangered was intense; I kept wanting to find out what would happen next and rearranged my schedule to have more reading time.  There was so much to draw me in: the feeling of foreboding that anything could go wrong in the political conflict, the attachment I felt for the human and primate characters, and the pleasure of learning more about bonobos and the Congo. While I learned a lot, the novel never felt overly didactic or preachy. The story wrapped up nicely (with me bracing myself for tragedy until the last page) and I wondered how there could possibly be three more books in the series. Each book is a separate story about a different primate, so I am eager to read and learn more, as well as pepper Eliot Shrefer with questions when he visits our class.

Sunday, November 4, 2018

Last Pick

Every teacher has a different way of dealing with inequality and stereotypes. Jason Walz wrote a graphic novel, Last Pick, which posits a world where the characters need to throw off their labels in order to save humanity.

Three years before, an alien invasion removed everyone "of value"-- that is, everyone who wasn't too young, too old or too disabled to be of use for their nefarious plans. Among those left behind are twins Wyatt and Sam, who have to look out for each other. As they begin to look out for others, as well, it draws the ire of the aliens and makes them a target.

Wyatt has some pretty classic characteristics of autism, although it's never stated outright. Still, I love that his traits are what help keep the siblings alive and may save the world in future books. It's unclear to me what made aliens avoid Sam on their first round of abductions. The plot made opportunities for heroism that middle grade readers don't usually encounter; there are quite a few elderly characters with surprising skills that save the day.

This is a quick read--I finished it on a short subway ride--and sets the reader up to want the sequel right away. I'm happy to add a graphic novel that celebrates diversity to my classroom library.

Sunday, October 28, 2018

Fake Blood


A book review in GIF format because I have a lot going on right now!

At first I worried that Whitney Gardner's Fake Blood would be a bit hefty for my students, as it clocks in at 300 pages. But then I saw the format and how expansive the illustrations were and I thought: 

A sweet tale about a 6th grader who wishes he was a little more extraordinary? Sounds like something my students and I would enjoy.


But, hmmm, there are a lot of Twilight references here.

Have any of my students read or seen Twilight?

No, they haven't. But will they like the story anyway?

How I felt when AJ bonds with his crush via audiobook:

When the real vampire was revealed after super heavy-handed hints:

But will I be recommending this book to my students?

So much fun to review books this way! Can I just do this from now on?

Sunday, October 21, 2018

Brazen: Rebel Ladies Who Rocked the World

I cannot love this book enough! Penelope Bagieu writes and illustrates brief and fascinating graphic biographies of thirty incredible women. They come from all walks of life, all time periods, and all areas of expertise, but are uniformly inspiring.

There are some women with whom I was familiar (I seem to read a lot about Temple Grandin), but the majority were new to me and such a pleasure to read about. I loved Georgina Reid, the lighthouse keeper, and Katia Krafft, the vulcanologist, the best. Although, really, it's hard to pick favorites because all of the women described are so fantastic.

This is the book I will give all the girls in my life for their 13th birthday. It will teach them about the fierce women who came before them and inspire them to follow their own path. What more could you ask from a book? Not much, except maybe a sequel (perhaps about the list from the end of the book of 30 more rebel ladies who rocked the world).

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.