Title: Nothing Can Possibly Go Wrong
Author: Prudence Shen and Faith Ellen Hicks
Release Date: 5/7/2013
Genre: YA contemporary
Format: Graphic novel
Source: ARC from NetGalley
Cheerleaders, a robotics team, and a school election? Oh. Do tell me more.
Nate and Charlie have been best friends since grade school, even though they are social opposites. Nate is the geeky president of the robotics team, while Charlie is the captain of the basketball team. When Nate hatches a plan to run for school president to ensure funding for the robotics team, he expects Charlie to be on his side — not to run against him! The cheerleaders have forced Charlie to run so the extra money will go toward new cheerleading uniforms. A prank-tastic battle ensues. Eventually, all forces (including the super organized, but bitchy, cheerleaders) must put their faith in a robot battle competition with a hefty cash prize. Sprinkle in some family and relationship drama, and you’ve got Nothing Can Possibly Go Wrong, FirstSecond’s latest YA contemporary graphic novel.
There are not a lot of good YA contemporary novels that feature a strong male friendship, so this graphic novel was refreshing. The story is sensitive to jocks and nerds, so it has wide appeal. The story is short, and some of the plots underdeveloped, but the characters are strong. My one criticism would be that the cheerleaders bordered on stereotypical. I kind of expected the novel to surprise me with the cheerleader characters, but they were fairly flat and definitely played the antagonistic role for the first half of the story. Overall, though, the story made me laugh and taught some lessons along the way. Teens will appreciate it, and that’s what matters.
FINAL GRADE: B FirstSecond, you have impressed me again. Your graphic novels always deliver. I’d recommend this for middle and high school libraries, and it will be a hit with both nerds and reluctant readers. Fans of other FirstSecond titles will enjoy this novel, as would fans of YA contemporary. This novel, or any of the other books from this publisher, would make great “gateway” graphic novels for any teachers or librarians looking for an introduction to the genre or titles for the classroom. I know I sound like I work for the publisher (I definitely don’t!), but there just isn’t anyone else out there offering what they offer.
Other 01FirstSecond titles of interest that I have read and reviewed:
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?
Title: American Born Chinese
Author: Gene Luen Yang
Publisher/Year: Square Fish, 2006
Length: 240 pages
Format: Graphic novel
Date Read: Spring 2010
A graphic novel with three seemingly different plotlines that all come together at the end. A quick read, I would like to read it again to make it all come together better.
American Born Chinese weaves together three tales of identity. In the first, Jin Wang just wants to shed his Chinese identity and fit in as an American. The second is the tale of the Monkey King, who wants to become a god. The third is the comedy of Danny and his ultra-stereotypical Chinese cousin, Chin-Kee. Each story is told in pieces, showcasing the parallel themes until the twist ending(s). Though the novel focuses on Chinese identity, the themes of fitting in and accepting/rejecting/refining identity are universal, which is why it has both wide appeal AND a fancy Printz Award sticker on the front.
Like The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, this is a book that both appeals to teens through the artwork and clever storytelling AND through the depth of the themes expressed. As a graphic novel, the bright colors, clear text, and humorous pictures instantly draw readers in. In fact, the whole thing is a quick read and quite funny. Gene Luen Yang isn’t afraid to play with stereotypes and then crush them completely. If anyone out there thinks graphic novels lack depth, hand them this book — it will challenge those stereotypes, too.
FINAL GRADE: A There’s a reason this one beat out all of the traditional novels for the 2007 Printz award, y’all. The way these stories comes together will blow your mind a little bit, and that alone is worth it. Toss in the other stuff I mentioned above, and I’m sold. Recommended for reluctant readers and anyone who is struggling to fit in. Also recommended to every middle school teacher I know — this would be a great book for a classroom read. High school kids would get a lot out of it, too. As stated above, I also recommend it to anyone who doesn’t typically like graphic novels.
Have you ever wanted to shed your identity and become something you’re not?
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?
Explorer: The Mystery Boxes (Graphic Novel)
Edited by Kazu Kibuishi
Harry N. Abrams
Library copy from Junior Library Guild
[#41 in my 75 book challenge]
I picked up this book from our most recent Junior Library Guild order, intending to just flip through it and see what it was about. I ended up reading the entire thing.
Essentially, this is a graphic novel short story collection all on the same theme: mystery boxes. Each story has a different author/artist and style, but all have an element of fantasy to them. Including lots of unicorns. There are seven stories:
- Under the Floorboards by Emily Carroll – A wax doll comes to life, helping and hindering a girl in her chores.
- Spring Cleaning by Dave Roman and Raina Telgemeier – A puzzle box is found in a messy closet, and some wizards are willing to pay a lot of money for it. But why?
- The Keeper’s Treasure by Jason Caffoe – A treasure hunter seeks a treasure inside a labyrinth, and is curious about what is inside the treasure box.
- The Butter Thief by Rad Sechrist – A spirit is stealing butter, so grandma traps the spirit and buries it in the backyard. Her grandmother is curious and investigates the box.
- The Soldier’s Daughter by Stuart Livingston – A girl goes on a quest to avenge her father’s death, but a magical box shows her some truths about life and war.
- Whatzit by Johane Matte – A little alien is put in charge of a a checklist for shipping boxes, but he opens one that makes his job a little harder.
- The Escape Option by Kazu Kibuishi – A boy is sucked into a spaceship box and told of a choice he must make to save the world.
The stories are short and cute, but they also have some interesting depth to them. The artwork is beautiful in some stories and brilliant in others, as there is a nice variety in styles and tones. Some stories feel dark, some epic, and some just fun. My favorite was Spring Cleaning because I enjoy Raina Telgemeier’s art and I liked the fun tone of the story. I also liked the ending to The Escape Option because I didn’t see the twist coming. It’s good when a 15-page story can give me a twist ending, that’s not an easy feat — especially with a graphic novel.
FINAL GRADE: C I give it a C based on my personal taste (it was average), but a B for my library and my students. This is not a book I read for me, but one I read for my kids. Boys and girls alike with appreciate this little collection. They will love it, like they love all graphic novels! But this one will surely stayed checked out more than it’s on my shelf. I also like the potential for using this as a jumping off point for a writing exercise, since each story takes on a common theme, kids could write their own story about a mysterious box. I might even be inspired to do so!
What would your story about a mysterious box be?
by Vera Brosgol
:01 First Second
Library book from Junior Library Guild
[#8 in my 75 book challenge]
I used to say that I wasn’t a reader of graphic novels, but I think that has changed. I’ve tried really hard to read as many as I can over the past year because my students are so in love with them. One thing I’ve learned is that I think I love First Second publishers. The graphic novels that come from this publisher have depth and appeal to teens that want a stand-alone YA graphic novel. If you are interested in their catalog of books, you can view it here (they published American Born Chinese, Level Up, Friends With Boys, and Americus).
So what is Anya’s Ghost about? Anya is a Russian girl trying to fit in to American culture. She’s been fairly successful at losing her accent and being “American,” but she’s also bitter, angsty, and totally in love with a dreamboat jock. When Anya falls into an old well, she meets the ghost of a girl who had died there a hundred years before — and takes the ghost home with her. Anya and the ghost, Emily, become friends and partners in crime…until Anya tries to solve the mystery of Emily’s murder and realizes that something isn’t right.
I loved Anya. She’s a curvy girl and she had a great character transformation throughout the novel. The story itself was actually downright creepy at moments (thanks for that, Vera). Like American Born Chinese, it really speaks to the teenage need to fit in, and this theme can extend beyond differences of culture to all differences that teens struggle with in high school. Anya’s voice in the novel is snarky, which will also appeal to teens. Consider these quotes from Anya’s snarky daydream about her jock-tastic crush boy:
“Oh, Anya! Let’s have an intense spiritual relationship for no believable reason!”
“I could lose myself forever in that dark hair and those sweet love handles”
The book fell short for me in terms of consistency and the ending. Near the end, the story took a sudden jump from the direction it was going and become a horror novel, but only for a few pages. This jump left some of the characters and sub-plots in the dust, not giving them a satisfying ending. Perhaps that’s just life, there’s always a loose end, but in this novel it forced me to bump it down a grade.
Final Grade: C I enjoyed it, I really did. It’s average because I enjoy most of the books I read (I wouldn’t finish them if I didn’t like them, right?). Of course this book definitely belongs in my library because my students will like it. They won’t care about the loose ends. It’s worth a read, and it’s a quick one at that. I have seen Anya’s Ghost on some Printz-hopeful lists this year, but I don’t think it will hold up in the intense discussions that the committee has behind those closed doors. Maybe an honor medal? In my mind it just doesn’t compare to American Born Chinese, which won the Printz 2007 and was delightfully complex.
Friends With Boys
by Faith Erin Hicks
First Second Publishers
Release Date: Feb 2012
ARC received from NetGalley
I’m not typically in to graphic novels, but I have an interest in them on a professional level because they are so popular with my students. I’ve paid particular interest to graphic novels for girls, and I’m proud to say that graphic novels circulated pretty evenly between girls and boys at my school. I wanted to review this book because it looks like it would be a great addition to our collection.
The premise of the story also caught my eye: it is the story of a girl making the transition from homeschooling to high school. Maggie McKay has only known the friendship of her three older brothers, and she must navigate the (sometimes hidden) social rules of public school. She’s also haunted by a ghost, trying to make her first female friend, and missing her recently-absent mother. It’s a lot to fit into 211 pages.
Overall, I liked the story. Maggie is a tomboy and a little lost, but she’s likeable. All of the characters are likeable except for the villain, Volleyball-Star Matt. The primary story is done well and the drawings were fantastic! The main issues I had were with the ending. Is this a series? Because some of the plot lines just weren’t satisfying! There was a ghost in the graveyard that is supposed to be haunting Maggie, but that’s not really resolved. Where is Maggie’s mother? It’s kind of implied that she might come back and Maggie misses her terribly, but it’s left at that. No news either way.
One thing I found really cool is that the artist/author is posting the pages on her website with commentary. If you are interested in comic, graphic novels, or cool books for girls, I’d suggest you check it out.
Final Grade: C+
Good. Average. I liked it, but it was lacking in the ending. If it’s a series, that makes sense. I would buy this for my media center and continue the series, and I would recommend it to both male and female readers — especially anyone who feels like an outsider.
(I gave it a plus for having an amazing Zombie Musical in one scene, a la “Tiny Dancer” in Will Grayson, Will Grayson, as well as varied body shapes and sizes in the characters. Bonus points.)
Hades: Lord of the Dead
by George O’Connor
First Second Publishers
Release Date: Jan 2012
ARC received from publisher
We have the other graphic novels from this series (Zeus: King of the Gods, Athena: Grey-Eyed Goddess, and Hera: The Goddess and Her Glory) in our library’s collection, and they circulate like crazy. I’ve never read one, so I was pleased to receive this copy for review to see what the fuss is all about.
If you are familiar with mythology, the story is just a retelling of the myth of Persephone. The reader is given an introduction to Hades and the underworld, and then the story of how Persephone is kidnapped and taken to live as Hades’ queen in the underworld is told. O’Connor explains in the end material that this is how the story sort of “happened” when he started to tell it, as much of the ancient Greek texts never go into much detail about why Persephone would agree to stay in the underworld for six months out of the year.
I was actually very impressed by this little book. The story was interesting and added something new to a classic myth. There were bits of humor that made me laugh, and there were many moments that middle school students will easily relate to. What impressed me most was the material at the end: the author’s note, bibliography, recommended reading, Greek notes, discussion questions, and character graphics/bios for Hades, Persephone, Demeter, and Tantalos. This is a graphic novel that takes the subject matter seriously and would be a great addition to any school library. It could be enjoyed by an individual student or as a class read.
FINAL GRADE: B. I see now why my students love this series. It’s accessible and it fits in with the sixth grade curriculum. I won’t buy this for myself (I’m not that in to mythology, or graphic novels), but we have already purchased a copy for our media center.
The ONLY beef I had with this read was in the e-galley. Reading a graphic novel as an e-book was an interesting experience, and I couldn’t zoom in or make the text bigger. There was a lot of squinting involved. I’m glad our forthcoming copy (due to arrive in March) from Junior Library Guild is a print copy!
Tales from Outer Suburbia
by Shaun Tan
Another Junior Library Guild book! This one came with my November books and I snatched it out of the pile while my assistant laughed at me for being a complete nerd.
I read Shaun Tan’s Lost and Found last spring and I was completely mesmerized. I’ve read it several times since then and I believe it is truly an amazing little book. It only gets better every time I read it. Tales From Outer Suburbia has a similar effect. Lost and Found was more like a picture book, but Tales from Outer Suburbia is a little less easily defined. On first glance it looks like a picture book, but it contains a lovely combination of fifteen short stories and fabulous illustrations.
Each story can be summed up in one word: quirky. The entire book is quirky. Reading it, I get the feeling that there are layers upon layers of meaning that I’m just not yet grasping. I’ll have to read it about thirty more times to even attach personal meaning to some of them. But they are weirdly beautiful. Profound. Intelligent and simple at the same time. It’s hard to explain unless you read it for yourself.
I’ll do my best to try to explain a few of the stories so you get the idea:
- An odd foreign visitor asks odd questions and collects odd objects.
- A family discovers a hidden inner courtyard in through a hole in their house.
- A young couple must go on an adventure before their wedding.
- An ocean creature appears on the lawn of a couple known for their loud arguments.
- A (possibly) Japanese man is roaming the town in an old-fashioned diving suit.
The stories are odd. But stunning. I’ve never read anything like Shaun Tan’s stories. He says so much in so few words, you get a lot of bang for your buck and your time with this one. If you get the chance, give his work a try and see if you can explain it all better than I do. It will be worth it.
If you want to see some of what Tan’s work is about, watch this video of my favorite story from Lost and Found. It is a story called “The Red Tree.”
by Allen Say
Junior Library Guild sent us this book, and I’d seen some buzz about it on other blogs so I thought I’d read it and see what it’s about. It came in our Upper Elementary level and I was expecting a graphic novel-type book. I guess I was both right and wrong about that — the format is very unique, a cross between traditional kids non-fiction, memoir, graphic novel, and picture book.
The story is about Allen Say’s life growing up in Japan in the 1940′s and how he become a cartoonist and artist. At age 12, Say’s grandmother let him live in his own apartment in Tokyo because he got into a prestigious middle school there. Say studied hard and enjoyed the freedom, and in his free time he sought his favorite cartoonist to be his mentor. Say worked under Noro Shinpei for several years, learning a lot along the way, before accepting his father’s offer to move to America.
This is a beautiful book and I appreciate the information as an adult, but I don’t know how many children will appreciate it. The language is definitely kid-friendly (kudos to Say for doing that EXTREMELY well), but it would take a really sophisticated kid to want to pick the book off the shelf. To me, if felt like one of those children’s books that’s really for adults. I didn’t know who Allen Say was when I put this book in the TBR pile, and I still didn’t know when I was done with the book. What did he write? Some research revealed how very, very little I know about picture books (thus my Picture Book Challenge). Allen Say won the 1994 Caldecott Medal for the book Grandfather’s Journey. I recognize the cover of the book, but I’ve never read it. Maybe I need to add it to my picture book TBR pile (which is rawther small).