Truth Be Told: Adam Becomes Audrey

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Posted by Andrew | Posted in Uncategorized | Posted on 16-07-2016

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Screen Shot 2016-07-16 at 4.31.44 PMTruth Be Told: Adam Becomes Audrey
Alexandra Bogdanovic
Strategic Book Publishing & Rights Agency
978-1609115388

This is one of those reviews that is tough to write, not because of the subject matter or the content, or even the writing style. But because this is just a bad book. I mean seriously. Maybe if the description of it wasn’t different I wouldn’t dislike it as much, but…I mean honestly? I see it won/nominated for awards and I all I can think is…how? Did they just read the description and not read the book? Did someone just write the title in and they went “Oh yes this sounds great!”? What?? And the cover, with a man gazing longingly into her reflection as the woman she was meant to be? That is such a great image…except it isn’t Adam or Audrey and really has nothing to do with the book other than to capture people off guard and sell the book as “this will tear your soul out and make you have hope for the impossible!” Seriously. That’s the purpose of it. Wait…I’m getting ahead of myself here.

Let’s start from the beginning. From the description of the book it sounds like a wife/loved one talked about her ex coming out as trans and transitioning into the woman that she was born to be. And this is the type of book that is needed in the trans community. How do the people around you deal with the transition? What are some of the problem they’re likely to run into? How does it affect marriage? And so on. And as someone that’s genderqueer I’ve been looking for books like this to give to people I know to help better explain things. But this book does none of that. At all. Like none of these questions are answered or addressed. Instead this is Alex’s (Alexandra’s) story of how her world fell apart when Adam came out as trans. And how she experienced a “Woe is me” epic for the ages and how “Adam” ruined her life by coming out as trans. Seriously. That’s what this is.

The first half of the book is literally building up to their wedding. I’d say it presents a view of Adam/Audrey so we can understand her later, but it doesn’t. It presents a view of how Alex remembers Adam, which is none too kindly. Even when she’s in love with him, she describes all the things about him that get on her nerves and how he seems to be less of a normal man, blah, blah, blah. It never reads as a love story at all or give any real indications of Adam other than as a set piece for her wedding. Which by the way was held on a horse racing field. During the weekend of a horse race. And on TV. She even talks about everyone tried to tell her not to do this, but she was dead set on it and specifically mentions convincing Adam, her parents, and his parents to go along with it. I mention this because it comes up again later. And then it delves into their two years of being married together as “being roommates.” Oh she was still in love, they just didn’t see each other often because they worked opposite schedules. And then when they were going on their last trip together (unbeknownst to her at the time) she bitches and moans because he’s an insensitive clot and left his passport somewhere else and wasn’t going to be able to join her than evening, but the next day. And of course he’s evil because of this. And maybe he’s cheating on her! Or maybe he’s now injured! Who knows?! But he shows up and they have a decent time until she decides to be passive aggressive towards him and on their last day he wants to visit a shoe museum! DUH DUH. Cue the dramatic foreshadowing.

And then when they come back Adam tells her to come to his psychiatrist’s office with him. Demands it really. And that’s when she finds out. Adam is really Audrey. And of course she’s crushed. She doesn’t know what to do! This is the love of her life. And he’s really a woman. Named Audrey. She says she still loves him, but she wants a divorce. And Audrey agrees. She wakes up and discovers him gone, no note, no nothing, and her first thought is “he must have committed suicide!” But she comes home and says “Don’t you remember I said I had to go to work?” No! Of course I don’t! Why didn’t you stay with me!

…only she doesn’t say that last part. I think she meant too, but didn’t and regrets it. And that’s what the rest of the book is. Audrey doesn’t appear after she moves out except in a few sentences here and there. This book tells nothing of her transition. Or the problems that Alex encountered other than those of her own making. The rest of the book is literally about Alex whining and wasting her life away. When Audrey came out I can understand how hurt and confused Alex was. And I can understand wanting the divorce as well. But what comes after? Yeah I don’t get that. At all. Everytime she writes about Audrey from then on, she purposefully misgenders her, referring her to as “he” and “him” and on at least one occasion “it.” She writes about how her family and friends all hate Audrey and the, well frankly, transphobic and bigoted things they say about her. She moves back in with her mom and tries to start again. Only horror of horrors! Her newspaper is sold and she’s pissed they didn’t even give her a heads up that it was coming (she says this. Seriously.) And fate is so cruel to do this to her, even though the new owners want to keep her on! REALLY???!!? Fate is cruel because of this?? Only she doesn’t get the job, because she blew the interview. ON PURPOSE! I get not wanting to work for a company she might not like, but…ARGHHHHHHHH!!!

Hrm. Ok. I’m calm now. So she gets a new job, moves out of her mom’s house and life goes on. Fifteen years worth. And she still blames Audrey for her problems! “Oh woe is me! I can’t have kids because of Audrey!” “Oh woe is me! I can never love again!” Fifteen years passes and she’s barely had anything to do with Audrey, but it’s Audrey’s fault. Audrey undergoes her transition and Alex implies that she got the money illegally, because, well she never had the money when they were together. Audrey still owes her money from their wedding! The one that was huge and magnificent that she didn’t really want that big….And holy cow! Her identity was stolen and someone filed a return in her name one year and surely, surely it must be Audrey! Because they used her married name, from when she was married to Audrey! Alex even goes so far as to contact her ex brother-in-law, a tax person to look into it! Audrey didn’t react strongly to the passing of Alex’s cat and that was a sign she didn’t really care about her. Oh and she didn’t call Alex on her birthday! How dare she! How dare she pick up on the clues that Alex wanted nothing to do with her, so she didn’t call or try to keep in contact with her at all. HOW DARE SHE LIVE HER LIFE! Hrm. A police officer friend starts calling Alex on her shit (rightly so) saying things along the lines of “Seriously? How is Audrey stopping you from living? LIVE. Go do things! Go date again. She’s living her life, why aren’t you living yours?”

And that’s what brings us to this book. Alex decides that she needs to write this story as a way of helping her move on. She reaches out to Audrey while she’s at work and says “I’m going to write this book. It’s going to be about my life with you in it. Are you ok with it?”, and horror of horrors! Audrey says she can’t talk while at work! OMFG! How dare she? Audrey calls Alex back after she gets off though and Audrey says, write the book. Do you. Alex explains that she’s already got a publisher, she’s got a lawyer so that she can make sure she isn’t sued for libel and so that Audrey can’t get any of the money from the book. SHE FUCKING WRITES THIS! SHE ADMITS IT! Alex then says “Well can I interview you?” to which Audrey replies “No. No this is about you. Not about me. And seriously it could hurt me here if it were to come out.” To which Alex thinks “Ungrateful bitch. Hurt her? Pfew! As if.” And then she researches trans rights and HOLY CRAP Audrey wasn’t lying! She could really die from assholes out there. And the book ends with Alex saying how the world is gray and dark and no one knows what the future holds but today…today she’s ok.

A reporter, decides to write about her life with Audrey and doesn’t do the research on it until she’s already come to her conclusions on what trans people go through. A reporter her spent the last fifteen years blaming her ex for her own passive aggressive behaviors writes a book about them and openly admits to making sure that her ex can’t sue her for libel and will never get money from the book. That’s what this book is. It’s not about trans rights or trans relationships. It’s about one woman taking advantage of the sudden rise in trans presence in the news to make money off of her “woe is me” story. That’s all it is. And all it will be. Ever. Alex doesn’t write about when Adam became Audrey. She writes about when she lost the person she loved and couldn’t move on. She couldn’t let her own hate and bigotry go to discover what really happens in the transgender world. And she decided to make money off of it.
I hate telling people not to read a book. Because effort went into it. Hopes and dreams and aspirations were poured into it. Even the bad ones. But this book does nothing to help the trans community or the LGBTQ community or anyone other than Alex. It helps promote transphobia, hate, and bigotry and it does nothing to talk about what happens to the loved ones of people that come out as trans, other than Alex’s personal story. If you want to read how not to treat people that comes out as trans, then this book is for you. Otherwise, leave this one behind to turn to dust.

Review copy provided by NetGalley

Phoebe and Her Unicorn

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Posted by Andrew | Posted in Uncategorized | Posted on 13-07-2016

Screen Shot 2016-07-04 at 7.56.32 PM Screen Shot 2016-07-04 at 7.57.43 PM

Another Phoebe and her Unicorn Adventure
Unicorn on a Roll (v2) (May 2015)
Unicorn vs Goblins (v3) (Feb. 2016)
Dana Simpson
Andrews McMeel Publishing

OK so what do you call a comic that is often compared to Bill Watterson’s “Calvin and Hobbes” and Charles Schulz’s “Peanuts”? I mean seriously, how often does that get tossed around? Ok…probably too often, but still. You add that plus the fact that the introduction to the first book was written by Peter S. Beagle. Yeah…the guy that wrote “The Last Unicorn.” The second book’s introduction was written by Lauren Faust, the woman that brought My Little Ponies back to life and the most recent book’s introduction was written by Corey Doctrow and his young daughter, you add all of that up and…dang. That’s…that’s kinda of impressive isn’t it? How can you not give this comic a try?

It was a somewhat foggy morning out by the lake and Phoebe was out skipping rocks, wishing she a best friend. Also standing by the lake that morning was Marigold Heavenly Nostrils, who was entranced by her reflection, which was a common occurrence for her. One of Phoebe’s rocks hit Marigold in the forehead by her horn. Oh, right, Marigold is a unicorn and she offers Phoebe one wish. Phoebe’s wish? Marigold to be her best friend. Bound by the laws of unicorn magic, and being a generally nice unicorn, Marigold grants the wish and thus begins a journey of friendship and awesomeness.

Each book collects a year’s worth (sorta of) of the comics as we see Phoebe’s relationship with Marigold grow and mature. These latest two volumes cover the awesome adventures rollerskating, goblins kidnapping Phoebe’s frenemy Dakota (because she has awesomely magic hair, duh!), and going to camp and meeting Sue! Someone that shares a similar spirit to Phoebe. Through it all Marigold is by her side to give her someone to laugh with, share her thoughts with, and learn about alternate perspectives of the world.

I’m not sure how many people remember it now, but Dana Simpson had a long running webcomic titled Ozy and Millie (http://ozyandmillie.org/), which ran from 1998 to 2008. Ozy and Millie was set in anthropomorphic universe and featured a young fox and wolf growing up and discussing contemporary life and having adventures. It was here that I first fell in love with Simpson’s storytelling and artwork and sense of adventure much of which carry over into Phoebe and her Unicorn.

The comparison with Watterson’s “Calvin and Hobbes” is inevitable, as while there are other characters in the comic, the bulk of the strips focus solely on Phoebe and Marigold. And Marigold being a unicorn, isn’t always seen by other people. But this is not Simpson’s attempt at trying to be like Watterson, which all too many comics have tried and failed at. It is Simpson letting us intimately explore the friendship between these two characters. Over the strips we as readers get to watch Phoebe and Marigold discover things about each other, life, the modern world, and just having fun and adventures with each other. I mean in what other strip are you going to meet Todd the Candy Dragon? No where, that’s where. While unicorns are typically viewed as the realm of young girls, Phoebe and Marigold have a sense of humor and adventure that will appeal to everyone. Particularly the dragons and goblins and pranks and other things that show up from time to time. And as Corey Doctrow correctly points out in his introduction, Calvin is kinda of a brat. He doesn’t really get along with anyone other than Hobbes. Phoebe though? She gets along with pretty much everyone. Even Dakota! I mean how often do you see that? A character that doesn’t go out of her way to be mean back to her bully. Instead, she just continues to be her normal Phoebe-self towards her. Which admittedly at times can create trouble…like magic hair and getting kidnapped by goblins. But still! Dakota is better for it. I mean how many kids can say they’re besties with a goblin princess huh?

The comparison with Peanuts is not as evident, but after reading the strip for some months I have realized that there is a certain sense of…gravitas to the strip. By this I mean despite the main characters being kids (or at least young at heart), they act like real kids do. I mean, sure Phoebe and Marigold have fun, but they branch out into areas that we don’t often see in the comics world. Like characters not having many friends, or being told that they’re weird, or different, and discovering that despite all of this…it is ok to forge your own path into the world beyond. This was something that Schulz was a master of, at reminding us that kids really do discuss deep events in life and they are different. While Simpson is not at Schulz’s level (let’s be honest, who can be?), it is something that she explored heavily in Ozy and Millie and continues to explore here with Phoebe that we can have a kids strip that shows aspects of the real world, while still being fun. While some parents might be leery of this, kids are sure to enjoy having a comic that doesn’t try to talk down to them and has aspects of themselves they can recognize in it.

Simpson’s art style is somewhat simple, capturing the outlines of the characters quickly and backgrounds as needed. But this is all that we really need. The characters have their own unique designs, are easily recognizable. For example, Phoebe has thumbs, which she teases Marigold about for a while. Until Marigold points out that she has a tail, which can do a lot more. Simpson captures what we need to tell a good story easily and her color choices complement the characters and backgrounds well, often being soft and natural to make us feel at ease. Something else that Simpson does well, is never letting the background overwhelm the characters. Simpson only gives us the background when we need one and often has no background or simple cross hatching to make sure our focus is on the characters.

One last thing to mention is that this is part of AMP’s comics for kids collection. The other comics in this series, Peanuts and Big Nate, already have a fair amount of traction in the book world so it is a pleasant and happy surprise to see AMP release this collection so that others can discover the joy of Phoebe and her Unicorn. While this series is marketed to kids, Phoebe has broad appeal to all ages.

Review copies provided by Andrews McMeel Publishing

 

Benny and Penny in how to Say Goodbye

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Posted by Andrew | Posted in Uncategorized | Posted on 12-07-2016

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Screen Shot 2016-07-04 at 4.07.39 PMBenny and Penny in How To Say Goodbye
Geoffrey Hayes
Toon Books
September 2016

While playing in the fall leaves, Penny finds that Little Red (a somewhat beloved salamander) has passed away! Penny, shaken and sad, wants to honor Little Red by burying him. But Benny wants nothing to do with this at all! Red was always mean to him, or so he says. Penny and young friend Melina look for the perfect spot to lay Red to rest. Benny though begins to ponder how Red treated him…and perhaps discovers that Red wasn’t as mean as he though.

Death is never an easy subject to talk about, particularly when you’re talking to younger readers. Its hard to know what to say and how to describe what happens or how to deal with the emotions that crop up. And yet, that’s what Geoffrey Hayes does in this touching and heartbreaking story. Following in the tradition of Sesame Street and Mr. Rogers, Hayes does not shy away from dealing with direct facts or feelings, things that often become overlooked when talking with children about death. While Hayes does not directly talk about what caused Little Red to pass away, he allows Benny to think of a couple of reasons why. But more importantly he discusses the feelings that occur and that it is ok to be sad, but also that there are ways that you can honor the departed and let their memory live on in you. And just like young ones that are likely to be reading the book, their attention on the sadness is somewhat short, focusing instead on the future. While the book is short, it is good way to discuss the feelings that come up about death.

Hayes award winning illustration work, really shines in this story. The soft colored pencil illustrations allow the crisp fall weather to shine through and the emotions to stand out on the faces of the characters. Readers are sure to recognize themselves in the portrayal of the characters, from movements to bury Little Red to interacting with each other.

 

I’m focusing less on Hayes illustrations in this review, mainly because his illustrations are already widely recognized and to be honest, that’s not what caught my interest in the book. It was the story. The story about death and the emotions that rise up from it. And I’m sure that there are going to be people that react negatively to this book, saying its too short or that the kids move away too quickly from it. But I’ll disagree. I made the comparison to Sesame Street and Mister Rogers for a reason. Both of those shows chose to talk about death and what happens with it. They chose to not dumb it down or pretend it didn’t happen for their viewers. They talked about it plainly and calmly to explain what happened, why, and that it was ok to feel this way. And that’s what Hayes does.

I highly recommend this book for young readers and it should be on the shelf of every school library and in public library collections.

Review copy provided by Toon Books

Birdsong

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Posted by Andrew | Posted in Uncategorized | Posted on 10-07-2016

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Screen Shot 2016-07-04 at 2.55.45 PMBirdsong
James Sturm
Toon Books
April 2016

*Disclaimer: I attended Center for Cartoon Studies and know James Sturm*

One red bird, two cruel children, and a powerful wizard come together to tell a story unlike any other. Because in this book, you tell the story. You write the words. You…decide what the pictures mean and what’s happening in them. Told in the tradition of Kamishiabi, Japanese paper theater, James Sturm has crafted a series of illustrations that may tell the most heartbreaking story ever.

How do you write a review for a story that changes, depending upon who tells the story? The answer is…its difficult. Because you can’t write about the story, since what you read might not be what the next person reads. And it’s difficult to write about the pictures, because, again you’re reading the story and the next person might read something different!

So here’s what I’ve come up with: In this book you get to decide the story. YOU. The reader. Or maybe the child next to you. Or the child next to them. Or you can all take turns. Whatever the case may be, the basis for the story is that two cruel kids are mean to animals and then apparently get turned into animals themselves. But what happens in between? What happens at the end? That’s up to you. And the book allows you to write the story in, if you choose to, as the left handed pages are blank with white space. Maybe you can erase it after you tell it one way and write down a different way. Or maybe you can just insert pages so that you can see the different ways that you’ve told the story and keep your favorites. Or maybe you just let the blank pages speak for themselves. That’s up to you though.

This is the type of book that would be great to engage reluctant readers, by allowing them to submit what they think happens. Let them be the author for the day, with a master illustrator by their side, already having provided the images. They can inspire and engage each other and the group can talk about the different things they see in this book or don’t see. That’s what this story is about. You getting to make the choices. What do the characters learn from their (mis)adventures? Do they find forgiveness? Do they continue on their path to cruelty? Or maybe something else all together.

The one quibble I have with this book, is that in Kamishibai, you can move the pages into different orders. Which really adds a different element to the story being different each time. While that may be somewhat more difficult to produce in book form, it would have been an interesting challenge that I’m sure could have led to a special edition of the book being published.
While the book is geared towards younger readers, I would recommend it for all ages, for the critical thinking skills that are needed to interpret the images and to create a cohesive and compelling story.

Review copy provided by Toon Books

Flop to the Top

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Posted by Andrew | Posted in Uncategorized | Posted on 09-07-2016

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Screen Shot 2016-07-04 at 2.30.55 PMFlop To The Top!
Eleanor Davis & Drew Weing
Toon Books
September 2015

“I’m a superstar!” so says Wanda. Her brother and sister are her loyal “fans”, but her most loyal of all, is her dog Wilbur. She and Wilbur do everything together, including watching their favorite show “The Star Show” and Sassy Cat! Wanda is ready to show the world how Wanda-ful she is and has just posted her latest selfie. When she wakes up in the morning she finds it has 20 million likes! And Wanda is ready for her fame! Except…they’ve come for…WILBUR???!? Now Wilbur is the famous one! And Wanda is all alone. What’s a girl to do?

In this fun and engaging book cartoonists Eleanor Davis & Drew Weing create a story that is sure to resonate with many young readers (and older ones as well.) In this day and age of “superstars” where you compete for your fame on every show possible, Davis & Weing have given us the most superstar of superstars in Wanda, who is ready to be famous, just because…she’s Wanda. But what happens when Wanda discovers, she isn’t the superstar she thought she was? That’s where the story really starts to pick up and Davis & Weing have Wanda start to take a close look at herself and wonder…maybe she isn’t all that, just because she wants to be? Maybe, just maybe, she’s just Wanda and that’s all that the world might need.

The bold, warm colors in the story capture Wanda’s energy and lively spirit and her wide eyed smile will help readers relate to her, even if she is bossy. In fact, the only muted color in the entire book is Wilbur. The down to earth, humble, yet big star, dog. It sets him apart from the bright colors of his endearing fans and Wanda’s own energy, allowing the reader to easily follow him along his journey. The varying panel sizes and perspectives on each page help the reader follow the energetic pacing of the story and the excitement that the reader feels as they wait to see what happens between Wanda and Wilbur. They keep up the varying panel sizes and perspectives until the very end when…well I can’t tell you that part. That would spoil the story! But you’ll see how it fits.

This engaging story will keep readers giggling as Wanda prances around the early part of the story declaring herself a superstar and pause to think as Wanda begins to realize maybe…she’s not the superstar she thinks she is. And maybe, just maybe, she’ll learn something along the way. This book is recommended for all ages, as well all can use a dose of humility and learn that we aren’t all superstars and that perhaps we don’t need to be.

Review copy provided by Toon Books

The Real Poop on Pigeons

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Posted by Andrew | Posted in Uncategorized | Posted on 08-07-2016

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Screen Shot 2016-07-04 at 1.50.34 PMThe Real Poop on Pigeons!
Kevin McCloskey
Toon Books
April 2016

OK, OK, OKKKKK!!! Pigeons!?! Seriously? A book about pigeons? I mean…pigeons!!! Aren’t they just rats with wings? Heck no! Pigeons can fly faster than car and father than a small airplane!  They’ve played a vital role in history. Heck, even Picasso named his daughter after them!

Kevin McCloskey, author of We Dig Worms, comes back to Toon Books with well-researched facts, sense of humor, and fun visual style to tell us about…pigeons. Kevin tells us the story of pigeons through a group of young children in pigeon costumes who learned all they needed to know in P.S. 101 (pigeon school 101) as they correct our misconceptions about the wonder of pigeons. Yes pigeons. And yes one of the characters even calls them rats with wings. But after reading this book, you’re likely to reconsider your stance. At least on all pigeons. Because pigeons have had a vital role in our history, from bringing us our mail to being used during the war to deliver important messages to just helping us better understand the world around us. Having kids dressed as pigeons is a fun way to deliver facts and help correct misconceptions that readers, both young and old, are likely to have about the birds.

Kevin painted each image in the book, yes painted, on pigeon-blue Fabriano paper, that gives the illustrations a much different feel. While blue would normally be used for a somber mood, the blue here is more…lively. More like the pale blue of the sky on an early spring day, just as you start to notice the animal young around you. It also allows Kevin to show different details than he normally would. By using blue paper, he’s able to paint white pigeons, allowing some of the blue to show through to give it a sense of depth and life that he would have been unable to do with other colors of paper. The illustrations are lively and the characters are fun to follow around as they talk about pigeons, in their pigeon costumes. My favorite page is actually the last page though, where one of the characters learning about pigeons decides squirrels are the bad ones instead. And we see him saying this in the background where some young children are seated on the swing set dressed in…what else? Squirrel costumes. I really hope Kevin does a book about squirrels next because that would be awesome.

This fun little book gives readers a chance to learn more about pigeons and how they aren’t quite as ugly as one might think. In fact, some of them can be downright fancy. While this book doesn’t contain enough information to do a full report on pigeons, it does contain enough to give readers a sense of where to start looking for information and to start changing their perception on what they think. Recommended for collection for K-2 grade.

Review copy provided by Toon Books

A Goofy Guide to Penguins

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Posted by Andrew | Posted in Uncategorized | Posted on 07-07-2016

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Screen Shot 2016-07-04 at 1.21.32 PMA Goofy Guide to Penguins
Jean-Luc Coudray (Author), Philippe Coudray (Illustrator)
Toon Books
May 2016

Have you ever wondered how to tell penguins apart? I mean, they all look the same after all don’t they? Heck no! You tell them apart by the color of their snow gear of course! Hats, mittens, boots, what color do they wear? And what type? This book will teach you all of that, plus so many more questions that you probably never thought to ask!

So first question to answer, are these facts true? Of course not! Which is why the book is titled “A Goofy Guide” and “Everything you never, ever asked about penguins.” Twin brothers Jean-Luc and Philippe Coudray, best known for their Benjamin Bear series, continue to use their delightful sense of humor to answer questions that many of us probably never thought of, much less ever really wanted to know.In this fun and charming book the brothers tell us everything from “How do penguins stay out of the wind” to “why do they carve bottles out of ice” (to serve drinks of course!) The writing is simple enough to engage young readers to look for the answers to the questions (told through illustrations) while making older readers laugh at the types of questions being answered.

The best part of this book for me is that the brothers never directly answer the question, instead allowing the reader to look for the answer within the illustrations. The illustrations are filled with bright colors and funny antics of penguins trying to stay warm or playing hide and go seek. The colors and actions of the penguins will draw the reader in to the illustrations, noticing the tiny details of the small fish swimming next to the big fish or the rain falling sideways. Oh and how can I forget the baby penguin! The baby penguin (which is as cute and adorable as it sounds) stands outside the frame of the story narrating and asking the reader questions that they want answered. The baby penguin rolls about, catches its feet as it giggles and laughs at us, giggling and laughing at the penguins.

If you’re looking for a book to learn true facts about penguins never fear!…this book has a grand total of two pages at the end with real facts. Ermm…basically if you’re looking for a book about real penguin facts, look elsewhere. If, however, you are looking for a book that will engage the reader and use critical thinking skills to answer questions (even if they are weird and off the wall) then this is the book for you. And oh yes, if you’re just looking for a fun read this is a good book to pick up.

Review Copy provided by Toon Books

 

Oedipus Trapped by Destiny

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Posted by Andrew | Posted in Uncategorized | Posted on 06-07-2016

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Screen Shot 2016-07-04 at 12.35.07 PMOedipus: Trapped by Destiny
Yvan Pommaux (Illustrator), Richard Kutner (Translator)
June 7, 2016
Toon Books

Gather around and hear this ancient story of a young man born to a terrible fate. One which he cannot escape. King Laius and his lovely Queen Jacosta are delighted with the news that they will have a child. Sure that it is to be a boy Laius traveled to the oracles to confirm, whereupon he is told a horrible prediction: the young prince will kill his father and marry his mother. Laius decides to kill his son before that prophecy can ever be filled and a trusted servant leaves the child in the fields to be eaten by the wild animals nearby. But fate cannot be avoided so easily. And the child survives. And the gods will not be denied.

One of the things that I’ve grown to love about Toon Books, well basically since the first time I read one of their books, is that they seek the best of the best to create books that will be loved and cherished, and that most importantly don’t talk down to their readers, which to me is the most important thing to look for in a books geared towards a younger audience. They don’t try to hide the story of what happened to the characters that we’re reading about or the trials and tribulations they went through. Because far too often in a book like this, you wouldn’t see this type of tale told in comic style, because of the types of questions that younger readers are likely to ask. Like “How the heck can Oedipus marry his mom??” But Toon Books encourages questions and that is important for all ages.

In this retelling of Oedipus’s tragic story French Cartoonist Yvan Poummaux brings all of his talents to bear to weave a story that will capture the reader’s attention and enthrall them with the tale that they’re reading. While the story itself is a fairly traditional retelling of poor Oedipus, the artwork is what makes the difference in this story. Poummaux allows the reader to see the faces of the characters close up and pays particular attention to their expressions, to show their shock and horror as they hear their fate or realize what they’ve done. Given that this is a tale of tragedy (as most Greek tales are) are muted and dim, allowing the subtle grimness of the tale to seep into the art. Even the pages themselves are tinted to a somber paleness too never give off the impression that there is hope. Even for a second.

In terms of pacing some readers might be a bit confused as Poummaux varies his grid panel depending upon what part of the story he’s at. And while the story always moves downward, the reader should pay particular attention to how the panels are moving, as it emphasizes parts of the story more than others. Full panel pages allow the reader to see the horror in the characters faces, while panels spaced three or more on a page give the reader a broader sense of the beats of the story, allowing them to build tension and start to visualize what might come next. This type of storytelling while common in Europe, has been less common in the States. Although this is slowly changing as more publishers, like Toon Books and First Second, seek to bring the best stories to their readers.

My one minor quibble with the book is that they include pronunciations of the names of the characters at the very bottom of the page, which sometimes get lost amidst the illustrations. I would say that a bounding box would help with that, but honestly it would take away from the story even more. I think the best solution is one that they already have in the closing endpapers are an index of characters and locations, providing more information on each, including pronunciations. I think this would be less confusing and help keep the flow of the story. The opening endpapers are also part of the story, giving readers a map that show the location of the various events in the book.

This is a solid book and continuation of the Toon mythology series. I would recommend this for any library system, young or old, as it will help readers better understand the story they’re reading about.

Review copy provided by Toon Books

Unslut: A Diary and A Memoir

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Posted by Andrew | Posted in Uncategorized | Posted on 05-07-2016

Screen Shot 2016-07-04 at 6.55.39 PMUnSlut: A Diary and a Memoir
Emily Lindin
December 2015
Quirk Books

We all know that growing up can be hard, but middle school? Middle school can be the worst. That age between being a kid and being an adult, beginning to figure out who you are and what you like, and god help us all, puberty. That horrifying time of life where if you’re lucky you go through it quickly and when no one else is around. If you aren’t…then you go through it slowly and during school when everyone can make fun of you. But what do you do when you’re branded a “slut” by your classmates? How do you tell your parents or any adult what’s going on?

This book was Emily’s answer. While she didn’t feel comfortable talking to adults, she did keep a diary of what happened to her during this time period. And as an adult, she began posting the diary online. Page by page. Post by post. Detailing the trauma that she went through as an eleven year old girl, being called a slut. The blog is called “The UnSlut Project” and the goal was to let others know they weren’t alone. She provided commentary after each post, thoughts of what had happened and what she could/would do differently if she could have. This book is adapted from that blog, offering excerpts from that diary with commentary to provide perspective and context.

This…this is one of those books that is hard and heartbreaking to read. It isn’t easy to read the words of an eleven year old girl talking about her life or how she’s being shamed as a slut. It’s a heartbreaking read to know that people can be so cruel in life. And it’s even more heartbreaking when you read the afterwards and realize that some of the people didn’t realize they were doing it. Or that it had as much of an impact as it did on Emily’s world. Stop and think about that for a moment. These bullies have grown up. They remember they did these things. But they didn’t think it mattered or hurt that much. Let that sink in.

More heartbreaking in this book tough is you start to place yourself into the story. Whether it be the one being shamed, the bully, or the passive bystander that did nothing to stop it. Or maybe it’s all three. Maybe we’ve all had the different roles in our lifetime as things have changed and we’ve grown. It’s a sobering thought to realize the hurt that you’ve caused someone else. Or the hurt they’ve caused you. Or the realization that maybe, just maybe, you could have done something differently to stop what was happening, if only you had known. Or if only you had been brave enough.

And I know, we’re all probably sitting here thinking “Oh bull hockey. They knew what they were doing.” or “Hindsight doesn’t change what happened.” And no, it doesn’t. And no they might not have. What I take from this is, what if the bullies really don’t know what they’ve done? What if they know they’ve hurt, but not that they’ve hurt this much? Perhaps, just perhaps this is something we can learn from and take forward in our efforts to combat slut shaming and bulling. Perhaps this is where we build a table for people to sit down at and talk about the things that were said or left unsaid. Things that hurt and caused pain. Or to just weep silently and be near each other as we learn what we did that hurt.

This is a book that everyone should read, regardless of age. Particularly those that are just about to enter middle school. And yeah, I said about to enter middle school. We don’t need to cower or point fingers or hide behind sheets saying “Well my child would never do this!” or “I don’t want my child to learn about this from a book!” Because the truth of the mater is, they’ll learn about this anyway. And not from a book, but from the kid next door. Or that kid on the bus. Or that one in the classroom that you always thought was so nice, but it turns out he’s an asshole and a bully. And please, don’t tell me this would never happen. Or that your kid will never do this that you’ve raised them better. Peer pressure goes a long way to changing things.

The point is, you can’t avoid it. It would be nice if we could, but life doesn’t work that way. So stand up in the beginning. Let them know that this type of behavior isn’t acceptable. That if someone does this to them, to come and talk to them or someone they trust. Don’t let them be a bully to anyone. And to know that no matter what, it does get better.

Review copy provided by Quirk Books

Playing Catch Up

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Posted by Andrew | Posted in Uncategorized | Posted on 05-07-2016

So I’m behind on reviews. Like really, really, really behind. So over the next month I’m going to be playing catch up and they’ll be a new review appearing every day or every other day from a variety of publishers. So bear with me as I catch up and enjoy the reviews!