My Favorite Thing About Zita the Spacegirl

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Posted by Danielle | Posted in Uncategorized | Posted on 21-05-2014

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Zita-BlogTourBanner[6].gif

(cross posted from my Musing of a Librarian blog)

Today I’m here to honor Zita the Spacegirl as she embarks upon her greatest adventure and journey yet…the adventure of a reader’s imagination.  While Zita’s book journey is at an end, for now, she will accompany her loyal fans readers on new journeys.  Journeys that they have only just begun to imagine and dream of.  Zita will follow them as they explore the world around them, lending her courage and strength as they face challenges around them, and even lend her experience and skills as they journey into the great unknown.  Zita and her fellow companions will keep us all in good spirits no matter where we go.

We loyal fans and readers have been lucky to be able to follow Zita’s journey, as faithfully chronicled by Ben Hatke, in webcomics, in minicomics, and in three books.  We have watched as Zita has journeyed to parts unknown, to save friends, make new ones, to stop evil in it’s tract, and to find her way home…only to set off on further journeys to help us, to lend us her strength and courage as we continue our journey.  Zita and her friends are beloved, not because they are superheroes with fancy gadgets and powers that we can only dream of.  No…they are beloved because they give us strength and courage on our darkest days.  Because we know that no matter what trouble we may be facing that we can count on Zita to stand with us and give us strength.  We know that no matter what the world may look like outside, Zita will stand with us.

So let us stand and cheer for Zita and her friends!  May their journeys be full of friends wherever they may go, and may their courage and strength never fail.  To Zita!

 In honor of the occasion I broke out my pastels to make a little fan art (once I have access to a working scanner I’ll post a better image)

Book Review: Andre the Giant

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Posted by Danielle | Posted in Uncategorized | Posted on 17-05-2014

Screen Shot 2014-05-09 at 10.11.13 AMAndre the Giant: Life and Legend
Box Brown
First Second
May 2014

Andre Roussimoff, better know as Andre the Giant, was a figure bigger than life. He was a heroic pro-wrestling figure and the lovable giant Fezzik in The Princess Bride.  At the height of his fame he was seven and a half feet tall and weighed over 500lbs (possibly topping 700lbs later in life.) He was this way thanks to a genetic disorder, acromegaly, that caused him to never stop growing…and ultimately led to his death at a young age. But who was he really? A hero? A wrestler? A monster to be scared of? In this graphic novel Box Brown draws on a variety of sources, including videos of colleagues like Hulk Hogan, and film stars such as Robin Wright, Billy Crystal, Mandy Patinkin, to craft the biography of one the most recognizable figures of the 20th Century.  Even if you never watched wrestling, this is still a tale to read.

This is not a traditional graphic novel as Box is drawing on a variety of sources, some reliable and some not, to tell the story of Andre the Giant. And unlike a traditional biography, we never get quite a complete picture of Andre. Instead we get slice of life moments, such as him working for a moving company or his fights with fellow wrestlers. They capture small stories in a larger tale about this giant. And yet…Box does an admirable job of giving us a sense of who Andre really is, with his quirks, his faults and flaws, and the good within his life. We see that while he was know as a hero across the world, that at his core he was as human as the rest of us. He could be quick to anger, he could be violent when drunk, he could say things that would hurt other people. And then other times he could be compassionate, giving money to the homeless and offering comfort at times of need. And that even with his money and fame and talent, he was content with the simple things of his life of being on his farm in North Carolina.

Box does an excellent job of capturing the variety of people in Andre’s life, ranging from Andre himself to Hulk Hogan to his managers and to move stars such as Mandy Patinkin. Although the drawings are simple black and white, Box gives them life by their facial expressions and the movements of their eyes. He does an great job in particular of capturing how Andre looked throughout the years, which can be a difficult task given that his genetic disorder caused him to age prematurely.

Box does a fantastic job of capturing this gentle giant, for all of his faults and flaws, as a human being. He shows us that all Andre wanted was to live his life and enjoy it, regardless of how others perceived him. It’s a fitting biography for one of the most famous figures of the 1980’s/90’s and one that is sure to be enjoyed by anyone that grew up watching Andre. I give it 4 out of 5 stars.

ARC provided by Gina at First Second

Book Review: This One Summer

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Posted by Danielle | Posted in Uncategorized | Posted on 15-05-2014

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Screen Shot 2014-05-09 at 10.11.02 AMThis One Summer
Jillian Tamaki and Mariko Tamaki
First Second
May 2014

Every summer for as long as she can remember, Rose, her mom, and her dad head to a lake house at Awago Beach.  It’s a refuge, a getaway, a chance to relax and recover from the stresses of the past year.  And every summer Rose’s friend Windy and her family are there as well.  Windy and Rose are like sisters and best friends.  This year though…things have changed.  Rose’s mom and dad just won’t stop fighting.  Rose is growing up and beginning to notice the local boys and is interested in horror movies.  And a couple of the local teens have an encounter that will change things for everyone.  This is going to be a summer like no other.

This is one of those stories that is hard for me to write a review.  Because I want to write so much about it, I want to tell you what happens, but I don’t want to spoil the story.  And it’s also difficult, because the story is so realistic, so vivid, that I felt like I was reading Rose’s diary.  It feels almost like an invasion of privacy, because the story is so well told that in just a few short sentences we can understand the swirl of emotions and drama and chaos that Rose is experiencing.  Because we remember what it was like to go through that transition.  We are no longer children, but we are not yet quite adults either.  And it doesn’t matter if you’re male or female, we can all remember that time of struggle.  Wondering what it’s like to be an adult, trying to be an adult, trying to figure out what love is and not make a fool out of ourselves.  Mariko and Jillian have accurately captured the feelings of this age and make the reader feel like they’re actually participants in what’s going on, not just mere observers to the world.

Mariko lets the reader feel like we’re taking a peek into Rose’s diary as she remembers that summer and we feel and see what she does. The dialogue make it feel like we’ve stepped into a local school and we’re hearing teens from today talk about what’s going on in their lives.  But we can also feel like we’re stepping back into time to the 90’s and the dialogue would still feel the same.  So many authors struggle with trying to be real teens, it’s like they’ve forgotten what they were like and imagine that everyone talks in complete sentences.  But not in this story.  Here we have the broken sentences, half words, not real words, and everything in between.  It allows the reader to recognize themselves, to remember what it was like to be that age whether male or female.

The artwork for this story is absolutely gorgeous and breathtaking.  Jillian uses a simple color palette of blue and white that not only captures the emotion and intensity of the story, but ties into the setting of the story at the lake.  The lake captures idea of swirling chaos and beauty that we see and feel when standing on the shore.  The intensity of emotions and memories and growing up.  It is the very essence of memory and helps the reader get into the mood that we’re reading Rose’s diary or we’re watching an old home movie, where the film has faded slightly, but we can still feel and be a part of the story.  The design of the characters though is my favorite aspect.  There are no “perfect” bodies or super models.  We see real people, real teens.  Skinny, chubby, fat, slim, muscular, old, and everything in between.  In other words real people.  It isn’t something shows up often in young adult books, and I am so glad to see it here.

This is one of those books that I could give and recommend to so many different groups: to teen girls just at that age of childhood and adulthood with so much to look forward to and to fear; to women that want to remember what it felt like at that age–the first crush, the separation of childhood friends, of growing up; and to guys that just want to understand the depth and emotion that this age holds. I give this book 5 out of 5 stars and look forward to seeing what Mariko and Jillian do next.

ARC provided by Gina at First Second

Book Review: The Undertaking of Lily Chen

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Posted by Danielle | Posted in Uncategorized | Posted on 13-05-2014

Screen Shot 2014-05-09 at 10.10.51 AMThe Undertaking of Lily Chen
Danica Novgorodoff
First Second
March 2014

Deshi, a young man in rural China, is trying to make a life for himself. But it all comes apart when he accidentally kills his older brother in a fight. Sticking to old customs his parents send him off on a journey to find his brother a ghost bride, so he doesn’t enter into the next world alone. But female corpses seem to be in short supply. And then…Deshi meets Lily, who would be absolutely perfect. Except that she’s still alive.  And maybe, just maybe…she’s more perfect for someone else living than someone dead.

I have to admit upon initial reading I was somewhat disappointed in the book.  I loved the premise of a young man trying to find a bride for his dead brother and ending up with a live woman.  But the journey to get there often felt uneasy.  There were bumpy roads and falls and turns that just left me feeling lost at times.  The main character, Deshi, often felt like a cardboard cutout who merely followed his parents wishes.  Lily though, is headstrong, able to stand up for herself and is strangely…strange at many points.  But upon reflection I think what Danica has done, is captured life as it really is.  We get so used to reading books where the twists and turns make sense that when we come upon one that reflects reality, we feel strangely out of sorts and unsure of what to do.  We want that clear path to the finish line!  But life…rarely does that for us.  And the character of Deshi, while somewhat simple, reflects the upbringing and culture that he lives in.  It seems strange to my eyes because I’ve been taught to stand up for myself, but a character that just follows his parents desires?  It’s…strangely unsettling and yet entirely real.

The illustrations though, I am somewhat disappointed in.  The very first image that we see on the cover is absolutely gorgeous.  Watercolor sunset, mountains, and strong figures waiting to take us on a journey.  And the background images throughout the book reflect this same style.  Watercolor washes that reflect the style and look of Chinese art brushes that are breathtaking and gorgeous.  The characters though are somewhat unsettling to me.  There’s a heavy black line that outlines them, to make them stand out, but at the same time separate them from the background.  They are also colored in more of a thick acrylic paint rather than the lighter watercolors that the rest of the illustrations have.  For me, it makes the characters seem like they aren’t really a part of the story.  They’re just floating in it or green screened in.  There are times though, when there is a softer line, and the characters have gentle watercolor washes over them where they become a part of the story that the background is telling, especially towards the end of the story.  The characters and the background become part of the same story.  If the entire book was like this, it would be perfect.  As it is…it’s just a bit uneasy at times.

This is one of those books that just puts me at unease.  I want to like it and I want to recommend it and yet…there’s something holding me back almost.  I will give the book 3.5 out of 5 stars and would say that fans of Richard Sala would greatly enjoy it.  As for me, I believe I will give it a few more reads and let it grow on me.

ARC provided by Gina at First Second

Book Review: The Glorkian Warrior Delivers a Pizza

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Posted by Danielle | Posted in Uncategorized | Posted on 11-05-2014

Screen Shot 2014-05-09 at 10.10.40 AMThe Glorkian Warrior Delivers a Pizza
James Kochalka
First Second
March 2014

When trouble is near and there is much to fear who will we turn to, but the Glorkian Warrior and his mighty backpack!  The heroes of the galaxy.  Ok, ok…he isn’t quite the brightest dude out there, but he’s just gotten a new mission over the phone.  Deliver a pepperoni pizza!  The G Warrior has no idea what a pepperoni is, but figures that everyone will like like a peanut butter and clam pizza, mmmmmm good.  Along the way of trying to deliver it the Warrior and his backpack make some new friends, travel in time a bit, improve the pizza along the way (ash and tears are great toppings!) and….but wait…who does the pizza belong to?

If you haven’t heard of James Kochalka before, you really are missing out.  His previous books have all been published by TopShelf and during that time period he’s won an Eisner award, multiple Ignatz awards, and is Vermont’s first ever Cartoonist Laureate.  And while he hasn’t always been my favorite writer/artist (he does get a bit goofy) he really, really does understand the sense of humor that a young kid has.  His Dragon Puncher books from Top Shelf, are whimsical and funny and incorporate pictures of himself, his children, and his cats into them. And the Glorkian Warrior is of the same mold.  Bright, cheerful, colorful, and a laugh a page at the quest that the Warrior takes and the weird adventures he has.  And while James’s writing style never takes itself too seriously, there is an excellent and well paced story in the books. In this one it feels like we’re watching a master improv player at work as he takes suggestions from the audience on what the Glorkian Warrior should do next. It just makes for an interesting and enjoyable read.

This is James’s first book for First Second (his previous have been published by TopShelf) and I really hope he continues to do more for both companies. And that we get to see more of the Glorkian Warrior and his trusty backpack! It appears that there will also soon be a video game based upon the Glorkian Warrior (which sounds like a great deal of fun.) While this is not going to be a book for everyone, especially if you don’t like a goofy, weird sense of humor, it is one that I think a number of other folks will enjoy. I give the book 4 out of 5 stars and recommend it for young readers and young at heart readers alike.

ETA:  Jame’s chimed in below to let us know that the video game is already out!  So go check out! Before I start rhyming even worse than I already am.

ARC provided by Gina at FirstSecond

 

Book Review: Hidden

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Posted by Danielle | Posted in Uncategorized | Posted on 09-05-2014

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Screen Shot 2014-05-09 at 10.10.28 AMHidden: A Child’s Story of the Holocaust
Loïc Dauvillier, Marc Lizano (Illustrations), Greg Salsedo (Ink), Alexis Siegel (Translator)
First Second
April 2014

One dark night young Elsa wakes and wanders down the hallway to find her grandmother, Dounia, awake and crying.  Douina begins to tell Elsa the story of why she is crying, a story that she has not shared with anyone else in a very long time.  It is 1942 and Elsa is a young Jewish girl in Paris, enjoying life and friends and being with her family.  When everything changes.  She has to wear a star on all of her clothes and she and her family are constantly afraid of the German soldiers in town.  The Nazis have come.  And one dark night Douina’s parents hide her as the soldiers have come for her and her parents are taken to the camps.  It is the night that Douina learns of a powerful hatred that exists and of the hope and compassion of strangers to help fight it off.  It is the night that Douina’s life change for ever.

This story…this story is unlike anything else that you’ve ever read before. And I know many people are going, “But we’ve read so many survival stories. And yes they’re moving but another one?” And to that I say, this one is different. This one is told from a child’s perspective. Not only that it’s told from the perspective of a child that was able to be hidden away from the concentration camps, but still suffered from so much of the hate that is in our world.  But touched by hope and compassion of strangers as well.  This is one of those stories that is appropriate for all ages, as a way to help explain hatred that still persists today, so that we may learn one day how to overcome it.  It is a story that will help explain why parts of a family suddenly vanished forever and why many made moves to new countries.  It is a story that has the ability to change lives.

The Holocaust is one of those events that none of us ever like talking about, but one that we all need to understand. And we’re often faced with the question of how do we tell young people about it? How do we explain the hatred of someone because they weren’t the right religion? And the answer is, read this book with them. Dounia is our guide in this book and she helps her young granddaughter understand that while there was hatred, and mistrust in the world, that there were good people willing to risk everything to help a stranger. People that were willing to die to keep others safe. And while it is heartbreaking, it is encouraging as well to see the good mixed in with the bad.

I find it difficult to describe the artwork in this story, because it is so like and unlike anything that I have seen before.  The illustrations have a sketchy type quality to them that hints at a bustling energy and life, similar to what we see in the Peanuts comic strip.  All of the characters also have oversize heads on smaller bodies, again similar to early Peanuts.  And yet…and yet we get a real sense of the age of each character, the lines on their faces, the way the shift their bodies and move, and more importantly we can see their essence bared for the world to see.  In just a few short lines we know who the good and bad people are, that can either give us pain or hope.  The artist chose a more subdued color palette (and rightly so) to go with this story, with darker blues, greens, and browns where the world almost feels washed out to capture the sadness of the tale that we’re hearing.  

This is a story that you’ll want to read with a box of tissues next to you. And it’s one that you’ll want to pass on to others to read as well. It’s meant to be shared, so that we remember a horrific time in our world, and the bravery of the young and old that survived it.  Before I wrap up, I’m going to share a quote.  One that is not from the story, but fits the bravery of what we see.  It is a quote from a an Austrian sergeant, who was conscripted into the German army during World War II.  This sergeant, this man, went out of his way to save Jewish people, the people he was charged with killing.  His name was Anton Schmid.  For his efforts the Nazis killed him.  But he left parting words that resonate with me and capture some of the characters that we see in this story:

“I only acted as a human being and desired doing harm to no one.  Everybody must die some day. One can die as an executioner or as a helper. I want to die as a helper.”

I give the book 5 out of 5 stars and it will be one of my top books to recommend for the upcoming year.

ARC provided by Gina at FirstSecond