Posted in Graphic Novels, Teen, Young Adult/New Adult

Archival Quality is SO GOOD, and not just because I’m a librarian.

Archival Quality, by Ivy Noelle Weir/Illustrated by Steenz, (March 2018, Oni Press), $19.99, ISBN: 9781620104705

Recommended for readers 14+

First, the scoop: Cel Walden is a young woman who loves working with books. But she loses her library job, because she’s also dealing with crippling anxiety and depression. She finds another job, this time as an archivist, at the Logan Museum, where she’s responsible for putting records in order and digitizing them. Sounds pretty cool, right? (You know it does.) She meets Abayomi, also called Aba, the secretive curator, and the fabulous Holly, librarian extraordinaire. Cel starts scanning and archiving, but notices strange things afoot at the library and the archivist’s apartment on library property; she also starts having some strange dreams about a young woman who needs Cel’s help. Cel becomes consumed with finding out this woman’s identity and what happened to her, which puts her job, relationship, and possibly, her mental health, at risk.

Now, the raving: Archival Quality is a great story on so many levels. It’s a ghost story; it’s got secrets; it takes place in a library – where better to have a ghost story?!; and it takes a strong and sensitive look at mental health and takes an hard look at mental health treatment in the past. Cel is on a mission to find out what happened to the ghostly girl who shares her initials and her mental health challenges. The ghost’s story gets under Cel’s skin because she empathizes; she understands, and she wants to help put an uneasy, persecuted spirit to rest: and that certainly has a double meaning, as we see the toll this takes on Cel through the story.

The characters are wonderful. Cel stands on her own as a fully realized character, and her friends: the mysterious Aba has his own fears and frustrations to work with, and Holly is strong and witty. Holly and Aba are characters of color and Holly’s got a girlfriend whose family has its own ties to the Logan Museum, giving us a tertiary character that has a realistic connection to the story and isn’t just there to be window dressing for Holly. Archival Quality is a solid story that works to bash away at the stigma of depression and anxiety. I love it, and I can’t wait to get it into the hands of the readers at my library. I’d hand this off to my upper-level middle schoolers and high schoolers, and keep copies handy for the college kids.

Ivy Noelle Weir and Steenz also happen to be former librarians. See? LIBRARIES ROCK. Check out Ivy Weir’s webpage for more webcomics (with Steenz) and general awesomeness. Check out Steenz’s Tumblr for more art.

 

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Posted in Fantasy, Teen, Young Adult/New Adult

What would you do if you could write your own story?

The Altered History of Willow Sparks, by Tara O’Connor, (March 2018, Oni Press), $19.99, ISBN: 9781620104507

Recommended for readers 12-16

High schooler Willow Sparks is tired of being bullied by her school’s “in crowd”. Staying out of their way doesn’t seem to do anything – they find a way to go after her and tease her about her clothes, her skin, her everything. When she stumbles on a hidden library while at her public library job one night, she finds books with people’s names on them – including hers – that record every moment of their lives. She discovers that she can write her own story, and instantly, her skin clears up, her fashion gets an upgrade, and she’s getting attention – good attention – from one of the guys in the in crowd. As life improves for Willow, she grows farther away from Georgia and Gary, her best friends who’ve stuck by her. What Willow doesn’t realize is that for every give, there’s a take, and the future, whether or not Willow’s writing it, has a way of defending itself.

There’s a lot going on in this graphic novel: Willow and her transformation is the main plot, but there are subplots that get a short shrift: I’d love to have learned more about why these books exist and where they came from – it’s alluded to that other libraries have these hidden libraries; I’d love to see a book about them. (I do love the idea of a librarian being the keeper of this secret, valuable information.) Willow’s friend Georgia is moving, and George is starting the process of coming out; both of these stories are glanced over, and have the potential to be really interesting, especially when combined with the hidden histories. That said, the story is relatable, especially to teens: who wouldn’t want to be the author of their own life? Write out those potentially embarrassing moments, the bad skin, the crush(es) that didn’t work out. Start a booktalk with that idea, and watch the teens perk up.

The Altered History of Willow Sparks is a quick, enjoyable read. It starts a good discussion about the downsides of wish fulfillment, and illustrates that everything comes with a price. The realistic artwork is largely rendered in gray and white and is reminiscent of Faith Erin Hicks’ work. Booktalk with other creepy fantasy graphic novels like Hicks’ Friends With Boys, Vera Brosgol’s Anya’s Ghost, and Doug TenNapel’s Ghostopolis (the latter two skew younger in age). The book is a Spring 2018 Junior Library Guild Selection.

Posted in Non-Fiction, Teen, Tween Reads, Women's History

Votes for Women! Suffrage was a fight every inch of the way.

Votes for Women! American Suffragists and the Battle for the Ballot, by Winifred Conkling, (Feb. 2018, Algonquin Young Readers), $19.95, ISBN: 9781616207342

Recommended for readers 12+

Winifred Conkling is emerging as a definitive chronicler of women’s history. Passenger on the Pearl told the story of Emily Edmondson, who escaped slavery and dedicated her life to education young African-American women; Radioactive! gave long-overdue props to Irène Curie & Lise Meitner, whose work on radioactivity was often overlooked in a male-dominated field; now, Votes for Women gives us a comprehensive history of the fight for American suffrage, long before women finally won the right to vote in 1920. For readers who may only be familiar with Susan B. Anthony, this volume is indispensable, introducing readers to Elizabeth Cady Stanton; Susan B. Anthony’s counterpart and founder of the suffrage movement, and Alice Paul, who took her cue from the more action-oriented British suffrage movement, and went to jail for the cause, where she and fellow protestors suffered deplorable conditions and were force-fed. We meet Victoria Woodhull, the first female Presidential candidate, and revisit Sojourner Truth’s famous speech, “Ain’t I A Woman?” Most importantly, we learn about the beginnings of intersectional feminism; when abolitionists and suffragists found common ground – and then diverged under political fire.

This is a comprehensive book, complete with photos, primary sources, and writing that never turns away from the more difficult moments in the battle for the vote: from racism to violence, it’s all here. It’s a good book for your nonfiction collections and women’s history collections for middle school and high school, with extensive primary source references, a timeline of American women’s suffrage, a bibliography, notes, and an index. Booktalk this with the graphic novel, Sally Heathcote: Suffragette by Mary M. and Bryan Talbot, which features a fictional character from the British movement, and is a great hook to get teens interested. A Mighty Girl has a strong list of additional reading, filtered by age, on suffrage.

 

 

Posted in Fantasy, Fiction, Graphic Novels, Middle Grade, Non-Fiction, Non-fiction, Science Fiction, Teen, Tween Reads, Women's History

Stories of Fearless Females – First Second’s got you covered!

First Second consistently puts out great graphic novels for readers, no matter what age. Fiction or non-fiction, kids, teen, or adult, if it’s coming from First Second, I read it, love it, and get it on my shelves. This spring, there’s something for everyone, with some amazing ladies taking the reins and heading up their own books – plus, a nonfiction collection profiling women who broke the rules and beat the daylights out of the mold-maker, while they were at it.

Brazen: Rebel Ladies Who Rocked the World, by Pénélope Bagieu,
(March 2018, First Second), $17.99, ISBN: 9781626728691
Recommended for readers 12+

First up is Brazen: Rebel Ladies Who Rocked the World; profiles of 29 outstanding women from across time, across the world. We know many of their names, but did you know their accomplishments? Did you know that Margaret Hamilton, who defined Wicked Witch with her portrayal of the Wicked Witch of the West in The Wizard of Oz, embraced her terrifying alter ego  – and used her as a bargaining chip for higher pay in Hollywood? How about Temple Grandin, whose research on farm animals led to major changes in the factory farming industry and a push toward animal well-being? Not bad, for someone whose father wanted her institutionalized when she was diagnosed with autism as a child.

I could gush on and on about Brazen. It’s a must-add to your collections; display and booktalk right next to Sam Maggs’ Wonder Women, Jason Porath’s Rejected Princesses, and National Geographic’s Book of Heroines. Bagieu creates perfect, bite-sized biographies of these phenomenal women, making readers want to know more. A list of 30 more rebel ladies who rocked the world whets appetites at the end of the book, and we even get a little bio on our author/artist, Pénélope Bagieu. I’ve enjoyed her previous graphic novels, Exquisite Corpse (for grown-ups) and California Dreamin’, the story of musician Mama Cass. Don’t pass up putting Brazen in your teen space.

 

Star Scouts: The League of Lasers, by Mike Lawrence,
(March 2018, First Second), $14.99, ISBN: 9781626722811
Recommended for readers 8-12

The much-anticipated sequel to 2017’s Star Scouts is here! Avani Patel is rocking the Star Scouts, so much that she’s been invited to join a secret society of elite scouts: The League of Lasers. Sounds awesome, right? But there’s a catch: she has to survive her initiation challenge. While on her way to the planet where she’s supposed to undergo her challenge, her ship throws her off course and crash lands onto a strange planet. With a methane atmosphere. And she’s stranded with Pam, her nemesis. Together, the two Scouts have to figure out how to survive – and to do that, they need to put their differences past them.

I love this series for so many reasons: there’s a child of color leading the pack; there are messages about resilience and teamwork; and most importantly, it’s just so much fun! Mike Lawrence’s dialogue between characters is never slow and never dull, and always believable. He tackles middle grade situations like disagreements and jealousy between friends, but always makes sure to bring things to a resolution through talking and mutual understanding. The humor is smart and the artwork is engaging. Give this to all your Zita the Spacegirl fans and tell them to make space in their hearts for the Star Scouts.

 

Scarlett Hart, Monster Hunter, by Marcus Sedgwick/Illustrated by Thomas Taylor,
(April 2018, First Second), $14.99, ISBN: 9781626720268
Recommended for readers 10-13

YA author Marcus Sedgwick (Saint Death, Ghosts of Heaven) writes for middle grade with the start of a new series about a teenage monster hunter following in her parents’ footsteps. Scarlett Hart is the orphaned daughter of legendary monster hunters, determined to carry on the family business. The only thing is, she according to the Royal Academy for the Pursuit and Eradication of Zoological Eccentricities (just call it The Academy), Scarlett’s underage, and hunting monsters is against the law. Luckily, Scarlett’s manservant, Napoleon, is there to help, driving Scarlett around London and acting as the face for her kills so they can get paid on hang onto their family estate. The sticky wicket is Count Stankovic, her parents’ – and now Scarlett’s – archrival, who always manages to show up and take credit for her work while threatening to rat her out to the Academy. Naturally, the monster situation gets out of control, and Scarlett roars into action, danger and the law be darned!

Scarlett Hart is a fun monster-catching adventure romp, with a dieselpunk feel and a spunky young heroine. Thomas Taylor is the original illustrator of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, and knows fantasy art. There’s humor, adventure, and fun to be had; a nice start to a new graphic novel series. Give these to your Delilah Dirk readers, and consider re-introducing readers to Shannon, Dean, and Nathan Hale’s Rapunzel’s Revenge and Calamity Jack.

 

The City on the Other Side, by Mairghread Scott/Illustrated by Robin Robinson,
(April 2018, First Second), $16.99, ISBN: 9781626724570
Recommended for readers 9-13

It’s early 20th-century San Francisco, and Isabel is bored. Her high-society mother expects her to be quiet, well-behaved, and flawless – clean, pressed, clothes in perfect repair. She’s shuttled off to her artist father for the summer, but he’s too wrapped up in his work to pay much attention to her, either. Taking matters into her own hands, Isabel explores the woods by her father’s home and stumbles into a fairy world: a world where two kingdoms are at war! She receives a magical necklace to keep safe, and, with the help of some new companions, sets off to end the war before it destroys the fairy world and our own world.

 

The City on the Other Side is high fantasy mixed with historical fiction, making for an exciting adventure for middle grade fantasy fans. The heroine is a girl of color, of Spanish origin; she’s smart, determined, and sick and tired of being treated like she’s an object for someone’s mantelpiece. She’s a good role model for readers who enjoy Zita, Avani from Star Scouts, and Maddy from Jewell Parker Rhodes’ Bayou Magic.

 

Crafty Cat and the Great Butterfly Battle, by Charise Mericle Harper,
(April 2018, First Second), $13.99, ISBN: 9781626724877
Recommended for readers 8-10

The third Crafty Cat comic book has Birdie – whose alter ego is crafty superheroine Crafty Cat – ready to take the lead role in her school play about bugs. The problem is, everyone wants the role: it’s a butterfly! Anya is back, and she wants to be the butterfly, too – and Anya always seems to get her way. Looks like a job for Crafty Cat!

I really enjoy the Crafty Cat series, and so do my library kids. Birdie is a likable character who always manages to find a way to make the best of a lousy situation; she uses crafts – and by extension, her superhero identity as Crafty Cat – to help her focus and see different possibilities. Crafty Cat is an optimistic book with an upbeat character, and it’s great fun for kids to have as a go-to on the shelves. This volume comes with five butterfly-related crafts, including a butterfly with moving wings, a hair clip, and a bookmark.

Posted in Middle Grade, Non-Fiction, Non-fiction, Teen, Tween Reads

Happy Mail rejuvenates the lost art of letter-writing

Happy Mail, by Eunice Moyle, Sabrina Moyle/Photographs by Alex Bronstad, (Sept. 2017, Walter Foster Jr.), $14.95, ISBN: 9781633223677

Recommended for readers 9-13

Remember pen pals? Remember passing notes to your friends in class, or writing letters to your friends over summer vacation? I see kids with smartphones, texting one another now, and miss the creativity that came from letter writing. Letters between my pen pals and I were works of art, customized for the recipient. Luckily, handmade seems to be making a comeback, and Happy Mail is a book that wants to bring the art of “snail mail” back.

Part workbook, part guide to writing letters, Happy Mail includes over 40 tear-out cards, projects, and writing prompts to get kids’ creative juices flowing. A section on tools introduces readers to different types of pens and markers, for decorating letters; there are worksheets that let kids practice different lettering styles, and there are templates that kids can cut out to create emoji-based notes. (Heads-up: yes, this is a middle grade book, but there’s a poop emoji demonstrated on a card that reads, “You are the…” – get the meaning of my meaning? – but it’s cute, and overall, very kid-friendly.) I love the “list letter” idea, where you cut a piece of paper into strips to list all the great things about your friend, that will unfold as they open the card and read. There are fun techniques, like watercolor washing paper or masking fluid and watercolor paint to create your own personalized stationery style.

This isn’t a great choice for libraries, for obvious reasons, but it IS a great choice to give to kids, to get them in the habit of writing again. Have them write to a cousin, a friend, a relative who could use a pick-me-up. I want to create a program where the kids in my library write letters to the kids in one of my coworkers’ libraries – as soon as we work the logistics of that out, I’ll blog about it. In the meantime, maybe I’ll just go back to writing letters to my friends again. Remember how awesome it was to get mail that wasn’t bills?

Posted in Fantasy, Teen, Young Adult/New Adult

Holly Black’s newest fantasy series begins with The Cruel Prince

The Cruel Prince, by Holly Black, (Jan. 2018, Little, Brown), $18.99, ISBN: 9780316310277

Recommended for readers 12+

I have been insanely excited about this book since I saw Holly Black talk about it during her panel with Ryan Graudin at BookExpo last year, so when the ARC showed up on NetGalley, I jumped on it. It was worth the wait, because The Cruel Prince is Holly Black at her high fantasy, intrigue and betrayal finest.

Jude is a mortal girl, raised with her twin sister, Taryn, and half-sister sister, Vivi, in the Court of Fairie. By the main that killed her parents, who also happens to be Vivi’s father. The two human sisters want desperately to belong, but are looked down upon for their mortality; the Folk use every opportunity to sneer at and humiliate them, and fiery Jude takes most of the abuse. Cruelest of them all is Prince Cardan, the youngest son of the High King. When Jude is given the chance to become part of a shadowy group of spies, she grabs at the chance, and discovers her own capacities for bloodshed and double-dealing. And that will serve her well as the Court of Faerie moves toward a big change: one that will see Jude making and breaking alliances to save those closest to her.

There is SO much to unpack here, and it’s all brilliant. The characters are as loathsome as they are amazing – and that’s said with the highest compliment. The faerie folk are beautiful, cruel, entitled, and immortal; we love them as much as we hate them. Jude emerges as a strong heroine; conflicted by loving the man who raised her as his own, yet murdered her parents in cold blood; conflicted by her desire to live among the Folk as one of them, yet disgusted by their capacity for cruelty. There are plot twists that you won’t see coming, and betrayals that will make you yelp. If you’re a high fantasy fan – or have readers who are – this is a must have for your shelves. Now, to tensely wait for the next installment. (In the meantime, pick up Leigh Bardugo’s Six of Crows.)

Posted in Graphic Novels, Non-Fiction, Teen, Young Adult/New Adult

Is This Guy for Real? Brian Brown introduces a new generation to Andy Kaufman

Is This Guy for Real? The Unbelievable Andy Kaufman, by Box Brown, (Feb. 2018, First Second), $19.99, ISBN: 9781626723160

Recommended for readers 14+

Box Brown, the award-winning creator of Andre the Giant: His Life and Legend and Tetris: The Games People Play returns to introduce readers to one of the most controversial comedians of the ’70s and early ’80s, Andy Kaufman. The biography covers Andy’s younger years; how his persona was largely formed by television, particularly Elvis, professional wrestling and cartoons, all of which would figure into his act years later. Much of Is This Guy for Real? details his “feud” with wrestler Jerry the King Lawler; one of the greatest “are they or aren’t they?” rivalries of all time. The book also covers his death at age 35 from lung cancer, and the fact that many people – including his co-stars on the television show Taxi – swore it was a hoax.

I grew up watching Andy Kaufman as Latka Gravis on Taxi, and his stand-up performances on Saturday Night Live. I can’t hear the Mighty Mouse theme song without seeing him lip sync and gesture along. I remember watching he and Jerry Lawler go at each other, and never being quite sure whether or not it was real (you’ll find the answer in the book). Is This Guy for Real is an eye-opening look at an artist who was ahead of his time – warts and all – and gone too quickly. I’m hoping this profile introduces new audiences to Andy Kaufman and his stand-up; I know I’ll talk it up to our teens once I get our library’s copy.