Last weekend, the Durham Public Library held ComicFest 2013. One of my favorite graphic novelist, Raina Telgemeier, just so happened to be one of the main events. So, of course, I dropped all of my studying for the afternoon to watch Raina speak and draw. I also got my copies of Smile and Drama signed.
Raina’s presentation was awesome, and it really shed some light on the process of creating a graphic novel. I was aware that they are far more labor intensive than text novels (something we as librarians struggle with — these books are lost more often, but cost more to buy). She said she spent five years on Smile and two and half years on Drama!
I love Raina’s work. More importantly, my students loved her work. I did not discover her on my own! It was the intense demand for Smile at a 2010 book fair the put her on my radar. I think I had to buy eight copies to meet the demand in my school. There are not many graphic novels geared toward readers of realistic, contemporary fiction.
It was so nice to meet Raina, and to see the enthusiasm from girls and boys alike in the audience. I was especially impressed by the number of dads and daughters! Of course, I also geeked out about Raina’s other books (the graphic adaptations of The Babysitter’s Club, which were my FAVORITE books as a child) and her love for particular comic strips that I also read as a kid (For Better or For Worse and Calvin and Hobbes). All in all, I’d say it was a good day.
Interested in Raina’s books? You can start with my review of Drama from this past summer. It was the ONLY BOOK on the 2013 ALA youth media award winner list that I had read before the award announcements at ALA midwinter. You should also check out Smile, since Raina’s childhood dental dramas are incredibly relatable.
I’ve read some scholarly stuff on gender in children’s cartoon novels, but nothing on Raina’s graphic novels. Future paper topic?
Have you read any of Telgemeier’s books? Any other favorite graphic novels you want to share?
The answer? Of course. Don’t we all have fond memories of Charlotte’s Web? It’s an American children’s classic. I remember reading the book and watching the movie in elementary school. But how do we evaluate the story as adults? Does it stand the test of time? Is it more than a children’s classic, but an actual literary masterpiece? This video says it all, and it’s definitely worth watching. Check it out if you want your heart to flutter with nostalgia from childhood:
What are your memories from this classic novel?
A Tale of Two Mommies
by Vanita Oelschlager and Mike Blanc
Review copy from NetGalley
I don’t review a lot of picture books, but this one popped up on NetGalley and I had to check it out. There is a also a related book, A Tale of Two Daddies available.
What I liked: I just love a good picture book with lesbian mommies. Though I like books that have LGBT characters without making their LBGT-ness the focus, children need books that deal specifically with these issues. The child in this book is confronted by kids at the beach asking questions about what roles each mommy plays if there is no daddy. The story shows that moms do everything, including love the child and provide emotional support. The author clearly avoids pigeonholing each mommy into traditional gender roles and answers questions that kids may have about how this family is just like any other.
What I didn’t like: I felt like the rhyming quality of the text was annoying and forced. The kids ask some strange questions, and I’m pretty sure it was for the sake of making things rhyme. Kids won’t notice or care, but as adult I wasn’t impressed with the text.
Should you buy this book? If you are a lesbian couple with kids, yes. If you seek to add diversity to your children’s literature, yes. You could also just check it out from the library. There might be better books for schools and teachers to use for teaching about family diversity. But this would be an excellent resource for introducing children to families with same-sex parents.
Dork Diaries 5: Tales from a Not-So-Smart Miss Know-It-All
By Renee Russell
Narrated by Jenni Barber
3 hours, 36 minutes
Simon and Schuster
Audio book for review from publisher
[#69 in my 75 book challenge]
After the great toilet paper caper, where she was caught red-handed toilet papering McKenzie’s house, Nikki Maxwell is concerned with the consequences of her actions. In the midst of all her self-created drama, Nikki is also trying to win over her crush, Brandon, and secure a spot on the middle school newspaper. She gets her spot, but it’s not what she expects! Nikki Maxwell is about to become Miss Know-It-All, the school advice columnist. How can she solve everyone else’s problems when she can barely solve her own?
Tales from a Not-So-Smart Miss Know-It-All is the fifth installment in the Dork Diaries series. Nikki Maxwell is a likable character dealing with middle school dramas like crushes, popularity, her parents, wacky teachers, and discovering her talents. The novel is typical middle grades fare. Fun, fluffy, and teaching a few little lessons along the way.
Notes on the audio book: Though the audio obviously lacks the fun cartoons and drawings of this novel, it is definitely geared toward the kids audience. Jenni Barber does the thirteen-year-old girl “OMG!” narration quite well. I think the best use for the audio copy would be for use with the print text to help kids build fluency and comprehension. (For more information on using audiobooks with struggling readers, click here.)
FINAL GRADE: B My rating of a B here is more of a professional/objective rating than a personal one. I can’t really say I picked this book up because I love middle grades cartoon novel. However, it surprised me. While Greg Heffley in Diary of Wimpy Kid drove me crazy with his bad attitude, Nikki Maxwell actually has a conscious and a brain. I appreciated that. The audience is definitely elementary/middle school, and you could feel comfortable adding this PG novel (and the rest of the series) to your library collection.
Have you read any of the cartoon novel genre? What do you think of this format?
Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly meme hosted by the bloggers over at the Broke and the Bookish. Book bloggers from all around create lists based on the chosen topics, and post links to the host blog to share our love of books. This week we are getting ready for Halloween! Since Halloween was something I got more in the spirit for when I was a kid, I associate a lot of books I read as a kid with the holiday. These are scary, spooky, creepy books to get you (and your kids/students) in the spirit for the night of tricks and treats:
Top Ten Books to get in the Halloween Spirit
1.) Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark by Alvin Schwartz – Nothing like a good short story collection to creep you out for the holiday, and this one is the classic. You know you read this in grade school and repeated them at camp/slumber parties. Add in those super weird illustrations, and this is definitely my top pick. The story about the girl who had the spiders hatch from a boil on her face messed me up a bit as a kid.
2.) Welcome to Dead House by RL Stine – The Goosebumps books got pretty awful/cheesy/ridiculous later in the series, but I remember this first one being pretty good. Good as in the ending was actually creepy and not just a big joke, and the scary parts were pretty scary.
3.) Bunnicula by Deborah and James Howe – Everyone’s favorite vampire rabbit!
4.) The Witches by Roald Dahl – I know I read the book, but I watched the movie a lot around Halloween. The witches hate children, and want to turn them all into mice. I always wondered why exactly they cared, but it’s a pretty frightening book for an elementary school kid, especially if you believe in witches. And the ending just made me worry.
5.) Bruce Coville’s Book of Monsters: Tales to Give You The Creeps by Bruce Coville – I don’t remember a single one of these short stories, but I remember owning the book and thinking it was cool.
6.) A Haunting in Williamsburg by Lou Kassem – I grew up in Virginia, so this book was a gift in fourth grade when we were studying Virginia history. It’s one of those stories with a happy ending, great for kids who like historical fiction and a little bit of haunting.
7.) Something Upstairs by Avi – One of Avi’s 1,000,000 books, this one involves ghosts and time travel. Kenny moves into an old house, and is visited by a ghost in his attic bedroom. Like #6, it’s good for historical fiction fans who like their ghost stories to come with a happy ending.
8.) Carrie by Stephen King – Okay, maybe not exactly for kids, but I read it as a kid and it’s a great Halloween read. With the movie remake coming out soon, it would be a good time for a re-read.
9.) The Babysitter by RL Stine – Stine’s YA horror was cool by the time I hit middle school, and these were the ISH.
10.) Claudia and the Phantom Phone Calls by Ann M. Martin — Even though this is a Baby-Sitter’s Club book, it wasn’t tame. Imagine being twelve, alone in a house, and receiving creepy phone calls at different houses each night? It’s the reason When a Stranger Calls freaked me out so much.
Which scary books got you in the spirit for Halloween when you were a kid? Which books get you in the spirit now?
by Raina Telgemeier
Review copy from NetGalley
[#47 in my 75 book challenge]
Note: This expected publication date for this novel is September 1, 2012.
My students LOVE Raina Telgemeier’s Smile, and ask for similar books constantly. There are very few non-anime graphic novels geared toward girls out there, and even fewer contemporary middle grades graphic novels for girls. Telgemeier knows what she’s doing when she writes in this niche — this book will circulate like hotcakes in any middle school library.
This is the story of Callie, a middle school girl who joins her school drama club as a member of the stage crew for Moon Over Mississippi. While trying to problem solve behind the scenes, Callie is also trying to problem solve her romantic life. She embarrasses herself in front of her crush, falls for her friends, and can’t seem to fine-tune her gaydar. Callie is realistic and likable, so middle school kids will identify with her as she figures things out and finds what she loves.
Quite realistically, many of the characters are somewhere on the GLBT spectrum, even in middle school. I think this was pretty realistic. As a middle school teacher, I’ve known students who were openly gay in middle school and it’s actually quite common. Some other reviews I’ve read criticize the book for being too optimistic about the acceptance of the gay characters. I don’t agree with that criticism. If our main character were a lesbian, I might expect to see her experiencing bullying and teasing. But since the gay characters are secondary character, I fully believe that Callie might not see these negative aspects of their experience. Drama club is probably a relatively open-minded group, and this isn’t really a story about bullying — it’s Callie’s story.
FINAL GRADE: A I don’t usually give graphic novels an A, but this one deserved it. It had more depth and realism than some of the others I’ve read. My students will love it, and it’s a quick read for adults interested in graphic novels for girls or books with GLBT characters. I highly recommend buying it for a middle school library or classroom library. This is a really delightful little book!
What do you think of authors including GLBT characters in middle grades novels?
Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix
by JK Rowling
Own/checked out from library
[#43 in my 75 book challenge]
Here we go, here we go again…after finishing Goblet of Fire and not liking it as much as the previous two times I read it, I found that I liked Order of the Phoenix FAR more on the third read. It may have taken me six whole weeks to get through all 23 discs of the audio book in my car (well, actually, I gave up around disc 20 and just read the ending in the print version), but I finished it and LOVED it.
I think I appreciate it more in the context of the story as a whole, rather than as an independent book. When I first read it, it had been two years since I had read the first four novels, and I read those basically in one weekend. It was my first experience with being desperate for the next installment of the story, while also knowing I was painfully in the middle of an epic tale. I like endings, I like resolutions, I like satisfaction! Now that I have read the series multiple times, though, and I am satisfied, I found the developments in this book to be far more interesting. There is a lot going on here, and all of it becomes quite important in the final two novels.
Things that struck me on this read:
- I really hate Dolores Umbridge. Now that I am also a teacher, I recognize that she is completely unqualified to be running a school. I also paid more attention to how the other teachers at Hogwarts obviously felt the same way.
- I like that Harry had a lot of angst. It was tedious the first time I read it (“get over yourself, Harry!”), but now I understand. Plus I think it’s realistic. Let’s be honest, I’d probably behave the same way.
- I wish the DA played a bigger role in the book and the series. I loved them in this book, and my memories had them playing a bigger role than they actually do. I remember thinking the DA was going to be huge in the final battle against Voldemort, but they ended up being mostly background players (important in the battle, but not Harry’s specific story).
- I don’t like Cho Chang. I don’t hate her, but now that I know who Harry ends up with I just wanted him to move along. However, I’m glad that Harry doesn’t marry the first girl he likes/dates/kisses.
- I paid more attention to the prophecy. Voldemort really is a whole special brand of crazy with the way he handled that prophecy business. Did he learn nothing from Greek mythology?
- Fred and George…tsk tsk. I wish they had just finished that last school year. C’mon! They were so close.
- And, once again, Voldemort waits until AFTER exams to hunt down Harry. I like to think it’s because Voldy values education.
So, there you have it. I’ve finished the book I thought would be the most tedious, and I’m ready to start my favorite book in the series, Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince. I’m quite looking forward to it, but I’ll probably take a break from Harry Potter for several months before considering it. There are just too many books out there to read for the first time!
FINAL GRADE: A This is where Harry Potter really starts to get good. No more games — people are really dying, and Voldemort is back. Must I say more?
Chloe and The Lion
by Mac Barnett
Illustrated by Adam Rex
Library Copy from Junior Library Guild
[#22 in my Picture Book Challenge ( yeah, I'm still doing that...9 months later...)]
Flipping through the most recent Junior Library Guild order to pass through the media center, I saw this book. We don’t normally get picture books, so I wanted to see what was up with this title — if it would be something our kids would check out.
You may recall that I fell in love with Mo Willems‘ picture books, and that I already love everything Jon Scieszka ever wrote. Well, Mac and Adam are in that same realm. Their humor is sophisticated. Some elementary school kids will get it and LOVE it. Some won’t.
This is a story about trying to write a story. The author and illustrator are present on various pages as little claymation men telling the reader about the process…and often arguing with each other. Mac is trying to tell a fantasy story about a girl named Chloe who meets a lion in the woods, but the story goes terribly wrong. Like, fire-the-illustrator wrong. Hilarity ensues as Mac tries to make his vision come true, and even tries to draw the story himself (FAIL!).
FINAL GRADE: A For a picture book, it was awesome. I like awesome things. As a kid, I also liked awesome things. I think I would have appreciated this story in second grade AND in sixth grade AND I appreciate it as an adult. I laughed while reading it, and immediately made my assistant read it, too. I don’t know that my students will check it out, but it’s on the shelf…we’ll see what happens.
What do you think? Can you picture a middle school kid picking up a book like this? How should I market it?