Book Review: Sleep Tight, Anna Banana!

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Posted by Andrew | Posted in Uncategorized | Posted on 10-10-2014

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Screen Shot 2014-10-05 at 5.06.29 PMSleep tight, Anna Banana!
Dominique Roques, illustrated Alexis Dormal
First Second
June 2014

Anna Banana’s stuffed animal friends are tired after a long day and are just ready to sleep. But Anna isn’t ready yet, she just wants to finish up her book. And when they try to leave to go elsewhere to sleep, Anna doesn’t let them. But when she’s finally ready to go to sleep the stuffed animals have their revenge and give Anna taste of her own medicine. When all is said and done, will anyone learn a lesson?

This is a short, but fun children’s book with some good lessons in it for young readers and beautiful illustrations.  The writing is superb, as Anna Banana is a vivacious, vibrant young kid that almost anyone can relate to.  But more importantly, to me at least, is that Anna isn’t staying up to watch TV or play video games.  She’s staying up to read a book!  And while I encourage people to do that (it is quite awesome), Anna isn’t being mindful of her friends wishes to go to sleep!  Anna and her friends both learn something in this tale.

The illustrations are bright, cheerful, and will make readers you and old laugh out loud.  The soft, fuzzy, watercolors  are just the thing to look at before going to sleep.  The stuffed animals all appear fuzzy and the use of gorgeous soft blues capture the essence of a night time scene, and the soft yellows capture the gentle glow of a lamp being turned on.  Young readers (and old) will love looking at the illustrations of Anna and her friends.

Who among us didn’t imagine that our stuffed animals could talk to us? This is the perfect book to help young readers understand that their our consequences for the things we do that can affect others around us.   I’d recommend this book highly to folks with kids under 5 and as a great book for storytime. I give the book 4 out of 5 stars.  And as an additional note, a second book in the Anna Banana series is coming out next year from First Second!

*One last note, is that the paper this book is printed on is extremely thin and may not stand up to a lot of wear and tear.  This is First Second’s first foray into the picture book realm and the next book, Julia’s House for Lost Creatures, is printed on better stock.  Just something to take into consideration.*

ARC provided by Gina at First Second

Book Review: Shackleton: Antarctic Odyssey

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Posted by Andrew | Posted in Uncategorized | Posted on 08-10-2014

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Screen Shot 2014-10-05 at 5.06.46 PMShackleton:  Antarctic Odyssey
Nick Bertozzi
First Second
June 2014

Ernest Shackleton was a hero. He was one of the last great Antarctic explorers in a time when it seemed that all had been discovered and there would be no new adventures. But Shackleton was not deterred. He assembled a team of the best and brightest and undertook one of the most ambitious expeditions ever undertaken…they would cross Antarctica. The first time such a feat had ever been attempted.  Shackleton planned and raised the funds to complete the journey and promised his men that he would lead them all back home. But in order to keep that promise Shackleton and his crew would have to face an unimaginable journey across the deadly ice, cold, and the loss of their ship would stand in their way.

This is not your typical graphic novel. In part because its a biography of an explorer that few people maybe familiar with. And in part because instead of being told about the adventure they went on second hand, like we’re hearing about it afterwards through letters or remembrances, we’re right there with the characters. Struggling with them as they try to survive the cold, the ice, and the dangers they never saw coming. Nick’s black and white illustrations make it almost feel like we’re watching an old black and white news reel and that we’re accompanying the team along their journey. Although the illustrations are relatively simple, Nick adds details to keep visual interest that will keep the reader looking for visual imagery that enhances the story. The story here, is also somewhat unfamiliar to most readers. Instead of giving extra details that some books do it’s more of a…almost clipped style of conversation. The type that we can really imagine explorers during this age sharing, which gives the book that much more realism.

When I initially read an electronic ARC of the book, one of the things that I missed with a good bibliography/further resources to learn more about Shackleton.  The book had caught my attention and I had to resort to reading Wikipedia to learn more about the group.  And while Wikipedia is a decent place to get some information, I really wanted more!  Thankfully the final print version contains an addendum about the group and Shackleton himself and a list of recommended resources to learn even more about the group, so others have a chance to learn not only about the brave souls that explored the icy unknown, but why they risked their lives to do so.

Overall this is an interesting story of a group of explorers that time has forgotten for more famous names, such as Captain Robert Scott. Nick has let their legacy be known to the world once more and that’s a wonderful thing.  Although my review is late, the book was published in time for the 100th anniversary of this expedition, in order to help celebrate and honor the men on this journey.  I give the book 3.5 out of 5 stars.

ARC provided by Gina at First Second

Book Review: Julia’s House for Lost Creatures

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Posted by Andrew | Posted in Uncategorized | Posted on 06-10-2014

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Screen Shot 2014-10-05 at 5.06.05 PMJulia’s House for Lost Creatures
Ben Hatke
First Second
September 2014

Julia is a friendly young woman and enjoys having company, and so does her home, conveniently located on the back of a giant turtle! She and the house decide to settle in a nice new town by the ocean and they love it, except for one thing. It’s too quiet! So Julia puts a sign up that says “Julia’s House for Lost Creatures” and soon manner of creatures are arriving from everywhere! She has goblins, mermaids, fairies, and maybe even a dragon. Soon she has plenty of company and it’s no longer quiet, but…how does she get them all to behave and help out?  After some pondering thoughts or two Julia may just have a couple of ideas.

Bet Hatke is one of my favorite writers and illustrators period. He’s best known for his recently concluded trilogy of Zita the Spacegirl, about a young woman who comes into her own and saves the universe a time or two. And although he’s moving into new worlds to play in, he’s lost none of the sense of whimsy and charm that we’ve come to know from his characters. Even more important to me is the fact that once again the main character of the book is a strong, confident young woman, who doesn’t come across as stereotypical or abnormal or anything else. She is who she is and she’s comfortable with that. In this case she’s playing host to a variety of creatures great and small and has to keep everyone from creating too much trouble, but still being friendly towards one another. Julia really reminds me a lot of Chihiro from Hayao Miyazaki’s Spirited Away and I love it.

One thing that is slightly different about this book, is that it is published under FirstSecond’s picture book imprint….which is honestly a bit strange to type, because in my mind the two concepts are very much the same (at some point soon I’ll write a longer blog post on this.)  But this book does follow the traditional concept of a picture book, fewer words and more full page image spreads to capture the attention of a young reader or two.  What hasn’t changed though, is Ben’s illustrations.  In this book it is clear that Ben is working with a diverse watercolor pallet and the illustrations are absolutely gorgeous.  Lush and beautiful with strong vivid bright colors and details hidden within that will keep you looking for hours on end.  From the very first image we see on the front cover to the of Julia and her home (with a creature or two or few hanging out of the home) to the simplicity of the troll gracing the back cover, smiling at the record player. Again, it reminds me of Spirited Away, with the variety of creatures that come to inhabit the home.

If you were a fan of Zita then you’ll love Julia. And if you weren’t a fan of Zita, pick this book up, fall in love with Julia, and then go pick up Zita. I give it 5 out of 5 stars and I look forward to more adventures of Julia, her home, and the monsters that have come to visit.

ARC Provided by Gina at FirstSecond

Book Review: The Shadow Hero

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Posted by Andrew | Posted in Uncategorized | Posted on 05-10-2014

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Screen Shot 2014-10-05 at 5.06.17 PM The Shadow Hero
Gene Luen Yang and Sonny Liew
First Second
July 2014

In the Golden Age of the comics, the 1940’s, a hero was created by Chu Hing named….The Green Turtle! The Green Turtle had no mystic or magical powers, but he was a superb and skilled fighter. During World War II, The Green Turtle helped the Chinese army defend itself against the invading Japaneses forces. But there’s even more to this legend than meets the eye…the Green Turtle was the first Asian American super hero. Even though Chu’s publishers refused to allow the Turtle to ever be depicted in the comics as Asian, Chu hid the Turtle’s face and gave him slanted eyes. The Turtle did not run long and soon lapsed into the night, but his legend remained and those that knew of him wondered…where did he come from? Thanks to the efforts of writer Gene Luen Yang and artist Sonny Liew that question may now be answered. And the legend of the Green Turtle is at long last revealed.

Hank is just your average 1930’s teenage kid. He’s a second generation Chinese-American living in Chinatown with his parents. He looks up to his dad and works hard their grocery store, thinking about the future when he’ll take over, and eventually pass it onto his children. But his mother…his mother isn’t happy with average. One day she is saved by a superhero. And she decides…Hank needs to be the first Asian American superhero. And Hank begins a journey that will include encounters with gangsters, the police, beautiful women, and perhaps…even an ancient spirit or two. Now the only question is…can he survive what the “training” his mom throws at him?

The first thing I thought of when I heard of this story is…what the heck is the Green Turtle?? It just sounds…strange. But after reading the description, that Gene and Sonny were bringing back the first Asian American superhero and giving him an origin story, I was intrigued. I mean how can you not be, after learning that in the 1940’s Chu did all he could to give the world this hero and he drew and wrote the story in such a way, that the publishers, or anyone else for that matter, cloud claim that the Turtle was a white hero. And Gene and Sonny do an excellent job of bringing this character and his story to life.

Gene is one of those writers that I’ve admired for a very long time. You know the type, that everything they do seems to come out awesome and you want to be jealous of them, but how can you be? Not only is he a great writer, but he’s also one of the nicest guys around. Gene and Sonny capture the feeling of being in 1930’s California.  The growing and bustling population of Chinatown, the immigrants looking to make a new life for themselves, and the racism that the people must endure.  Gene doesn’t shy away from using racial slurs, showing inept and horrid caricatures of the Chinese and other creations.  The thing that I love most about Gene’s stories though, are that he starts blurring the lines between fantasy and reality, to create a world that you recognize and instantly want to be a part of. And that’s what he does here. This world that he creates where heroes exist and where ancient spirits roam, and there are people that are willing to stand up and fight for the wrong in the world…how can you not want to be a part of that? That says nothing of the fact that the characters are memorable and the journey they undertake is powerful. It leaves you to wonder…what would you do in the spot? Would you make the same choices? Would you get lost? And that’s one of the best things any story can do.

Sonny’s artwork is just simply gorgeous. He seems to effortlessly capture the movement of the characters on the pages as they fight and battle, that it almost seems like they’re dancing. But even better is just how well Sonny’s art works with Gene’s words. Sometimes you read a comic book and think “why the heck did they pick this person to draw? It just doesn’t look the words!” But here…that’s not the case. If you were to read Gene’s words by themselves, Sonny’s images surpass what you could even imagine.

This is a great story and I’m glad that Sonny and Gene were able to come together to create and weave a great story. You can see the “secret origins” of the Shadow hero on Gene’s blog, as he shares the process behind the creation of the comic, including some of the early scripts and sketches that he and Sonny put together.  I’m linking to part 5 of the secret origins and you can find the links to the previous parts. I really hope that they come out with a second volume, because I want to know what happens next…and I can’t wait to read it. I give the book 5 out of 5 stars.

ARC provided by Gina at First Second