Wild About Shapes

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

Screen Shot 2016-08-07 at 1.06.09 PMWild About Shapes
Jérémie Fischer
Flying Eye Books
9781909263383
March 2015

OK I know what everyone is thinking. “Another book about shapes? Really? WHY??” And sure I thought that myself, but this is from Flying Eye Books and when they do a book, even about a common topic like shapes, they take it to a direction that most of us would have never thought of. They create an art of it. And this book…this book on shapes is no exception.

First of all this isn’t really “shapes” as in triangles and squares and what not. No. These are wild creatures that galavant about the page, hiding from one another until the right moment when they leap out for the reader to see and enjoy. And not in a normal fashion where you might move a tag or look into a hole to see the animal. No. here you really see shapes that turn into a majestic animal.

When you first open the book you see a page with what appears to be a blue splotch and a piece of acetate on the opposite side with a splotch of yellow. Doesn’t look like anything to me. I mean…there’s no pattern to it. Nothing that shows a shape or an outline of a creature. But you turn the page, and the yellow merges with the green, and HOLY COW! It’s a giraffe! How…where…what??

Seriously you think I’m exaggerating here, but I’m not. That’s the type of reaction a reader, young or old will have. The young going “HOLY COW this is so cool and so amazing, this is my favorite book ever now!” And the old marveling at the mastery and time it took to create this. Because seriously can you imagine the time and energy that went into this? It’s not just overlaying a color, it’s sitting down and figuring out how to make it look like he wants. What will the animal be doing? What color will the base be? What shape will the overlay on the acetate make? I mean, this is a gorgeous book and I can imagine that classes that teach how to make kids books will pull this one out to go “OK this is how you take a simple concept and make it amazing.”

This is a book to pick up, even if you don’t have kids. Even if they’re past the age of learning about shapes. Pick it up and just marvel at the magic. And remember once more what it was like to be amazed about a simple book and the shapes within.

The Little Gardener

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

Screen Shot 2016-08-07 at 12.57.27 PMThe Little Gardener
Emily Hughes
Flying Eye Books
9781909263437
August 2015

There was once a little gardener and his garden meant everything to him. It may not look like much, but its his. His home. His life. His everything. But the garden is dying. And as hard as he works, he’s just too little to take care of it all. Just before going to sleep one day he wishes for some help. Not for himself. But for his garden that he so loves. There was once a little gardener and his garden mean everything to him. And while he slept his wish was heard.

In this short simple tale Emily Hughes creates a tale of empowerment and persistence, that no matter how big the odds and the world seem, just keep trying as hard as you can. And…really what else is there to say about this short beautiful tale? The images are evocative and gorgeous, reminding me of Maurice Sendak in terms of shapes and color choices. Wild and moving that will enthrall readers young and old as they explore the garden of the littlest gardener and see what he created in this world around him.

There was once a little gardener and his garden mean everything to him.

Black and White

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

Screen Shot 2016-08-07 at 10.29.05 AMBlack and White (Dahlov Ipcar Collection)
Dahlov Ipcar
Flying Eye Books
9781909263444
April 2015

This review is going to be different, because this is a different type of story, and this is different era than what it was and what it will be. This is a story of black and white written and drawn during the early 1960’s. When the Civil Rights movement was in full swing and there seemed to be so much darkness and hate in the world. Much like today. When a new Civil Rights movement is standing and asking the world to remember that “black lives matter” too. And to remember that there was once a dream by a man where all would join together at the table of brotherhood in shared hands.

Two little dogs, one black and one white, frolic and play out in the snow in the woods near their home. Though each can go far and hide, one in the white winter snow and the other in the black night, they each came back to each other. And that was all right. They each went home and they dreamed dreams of a world that was like them, but mixed with the other. For neither could exist without the other and no creature looked right without the other. And they woke up and shared their dreams of a world mixed together in harmony.

I’ll say nothing of the story, because I’ve already said it. Of the illustrations though they are evocative and move like music across the page. Hand painted in a particular color palette consisting of black, white, pinks and yellows, blue and greens, and subtle blending to create a world like no other and like our own world. Each works together in harmony to create a more visually breathtaking and heartbreaking image of the world at large, of two dogs at play.

Two little dogs, one back and one white, frolic and play together. They each came back to each other for they were better that way. And that was all right.

Lost Property

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

Screen Shot 2016-08-07 at 10.23.59 AMLost Property
Andy Poyiadgi
Nobrow
9781907704864
April 2015

Gerald Cribbin is just your everyday postman. Helping connect and deliver people’s possessions and personal items with care. His own items…a little bit less so. One day he gets a call from the local “Lost Property” office that someone has found his letter opener, but upon arriving to claim it he finds that the office has more than just that. A lot more. Everything that he has ever lost has been kept and stored here, going back to his childhood. Why? What does it mean? And what will Gerald do with it?

In this short, yet moving story Andy Poyiadgi presents a tale of time travel, while staying in the present. How is this possible you ask? While the idea of finding lost possessions is simple in idea, the ability for a character to use these possessions to reexplore his past, decisions made, decisions left unmade, and to redefine his future is brilliant in concept. Poyiadgi allows Gerald to travel into his past without ever leaving the present, to give away pieces that have held him back, to rediscover bits of himself, and to make new what his future will be. I keep using that word, future, to describe this book, because that’s what it does. Poyiadgi sets a new course, perhaps not just for his character but for himself as well, with this short and powerful work.

Poyiadigi’s illustrations harken back to an era lost in the past, where gentle colors and soft pastels create the world around us. Feeling familiar and unfamiliar at the same time. The two main characters we see in this world and get to know, capture the intensity of standing upon the brink of something important, yet not quite knowing what it is. The feeling of regret, hope, fear, confusion, all blended together on their faces. My favorite parts of the illustrations though? Those subtle little details that Poyiadgi places in his images, the missing O on the Lost Property sign, the keyhole shaped panels as Gerald begins to unlock what his past means and the future holds. Little things that just stand out in part of a greater work.

This short books hides a brilliant story and a great introduction to Poyidagi’s work. I look forward to seeing what the future holds for him. And what I can learn from the past artifacts of my life perhaps.

Adulthood is a Myth

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

Screen Shot 2016-08-07 at 10.20.55 AMAdulthood is a Myth: A Sarah’s Scribbles Collection
Sarah Andersen
Andrews McMeel Publishing
9781449474195
March 2016

Adulthood. It’s awesome right? All marinis and flirts on a sunset beach or on a high rise in NYC talking about how you’re going to take over the world and the next big business deal and how you’re going to meet up with the 3rd VP’s assistant of network of computers at HP in CT for NW (networking) tomorrow night for drinks and you should totes come! Right? Yeah…if that made sense to you, please put down this book and go find the business section. If on the other the hand you groaned out loud, keep reading.

Sarah Andersen is a young twentyish something cartoonist in New York (why do all of the best cartoonists seem to live there, I wonder) who captures the everyday life of just…being. Being alive. Being in your early twenties. That time period in life when everything is supposed to be roses and picnics and deer and everything according to some old farts that forgot that their early twenties sucked or just like torturing the rest of us…I’m not sure which. Either way Sarah captures the reality of what life is like. Of being afraid of going out shopping all alone because of pushy salespeople that want you to buy “OMG its just the best thing evar! It will soooo help you win that interview with that cute guy. Wink. wink.” Of dealing with people that say things like “Real girls don’t do x” (and of course the only way to deal with them is to remind them that they really do exist.)

Sarah is adept at capturing the life struggles that so many of us endure and understand with just a few simple words and a wee bit of humor to it, just to take the edge off of life. Her words will have you nodding along in agreement and exclaiming “So that’s how I deal with that type of person! Got it. Yep, yep, yep!” Or exclaiming “OMG that is so me! Is Sarah watching me?” and then looking out the window to see Sarah ducking out of site with a pad of paper and pencil. (No not really. If you see someone doing this it isn’t Sarah. Most likely. Probably.)

Here simple drawing style, much like that of Allie Brosh and Gemma Correll, makes it easy for anyone to slip into the shoes of the character, even if they’re male. I mean who can you not relate to a character navigating the street with their nose buried in a book and not having to look up once. Any bookworm gets this. Or the need to get home and put on PJ’s after a long day of work or class…or of just running an errand down the street. We all get it. PJ’s are the best thing ever. Seriously. It’s easy to put ourselves in the character’s shoes and know what it feels like to be in this position.

In short, Sarah captures the everyday life with aplomb and makes the everyday life a little bit less dreary and little bit more funny. And helps us all remember (and admit) that adulthood is indeed, a myth.

Fowl Language

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

Screen Shot 2016-08-07 at 10.15.16 AMFowl Language: Welcome to Parenting
Brian Gordon
Andrews McMeel Publishing
9781449479671
March 2016

Parenting. It’s all magic and roses and wondrous new adventures every day right? Kids learn something new and you go “awwwwww.” They never ever get in trouble and do weird stuff. Right? Right??? Well….no. No. There will be moments like this, but more likely than not once they start talking they talk back to you, invent new lines of logic and make less sense than some politicians.

So to answer the obvious question first, am I parent? No. No I’m not. But I’m the oldest of five and have plenty of friends that are parents, and well good humor transcends these types of boundaries. And that’s what you have with Fowl Language, a humor that will have you howling in laughter (or maybe…quacking in laughter) no matter the situation.

Brian Gordon’s sense of humor is relatable because he draws directly from real life. There aren’t over the top, slightly unrealistic situations that show up in some “family” oriented strips (looking at some of those old school strips. You know the ones.) But instead they draw directly from real life, like playing pretend, where the pretend veers off into the realm of “you’re doing it wrong!”…even though you have no idea what’s right about Darth Vader being in a tutu (although you’ll silently agree it’s quite right.) More than that though he talks about the way to handle things with a deft touch and a sense of humor. Like explaining gay marriage to your kids in this strip: http://www.fowllanguagecomics.com/comic/explaining-gay-marriage/ See the simplicity? It works.

Brian’s art style is….well…hrm. I’m not sure if I have someone to compare it too, to be honest. Its think broad stroke lines create the rather simplistic bodies of the characters and solid colors make them have distinct looks for their personalities. But the selling point? The real selling point? Is the expressions on the faces. Brian is a master at capturing the bulging of the eyes, the raise of the eyebrows, the fat lines jiggling as the child bounces on the stomach. This is flat out amazeballs laugh out loud and you won’t stop once you start reading.

I have one complaint about the book however. And that is that as a webcomic Fowl Language contains a bonus panel for each strip that takes the last panel and juuuuuussst pushes it over the edge slightly and makes it that much more funny or poignant. And the book doesn’t include that, which is a real shame. Maybe in the next one they’ll be able to do that.

scary-place1I think that everything about this strip can be summed up in the last page illustration. http://www.fowllanguagecomics.com/comic/scaryworld/ It’s a scary and dark world. But Fowl Language makes it just a bit brighter and bit more bearable.

Truth Be Told: Adam Becomes Audrey

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

Tags: , ,

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

Tags: , , , ,

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