Posted in Fantasy, Fiction, Middle Grade, Science Fiction, Tween Reads

The Dragon Pearl takes Korean mythology to the stars

Dragon Pearl, by Yoon Ha Lee, (Jan. 2019, Disney-Hyperion), $16.99, ISBN: 9781368013352

Ages 8-12

The latest from Disney’s Rick Riordan Presents line gives readers a space opera, Korean mythology, ghosts, nonbinary characters, and moral quandaries! Min is a 13-year-old shapeshifting female fox spirit who lives with her widowed mother and extended family on the planet Jinu. Her older brother, Jun, is part of the Space Force – where Min intends to follow him in a few years, when she hits age 16 – but things change when an investigator shows up at Min’s home, with news that Jun has deserted his post and is rumored to be searching for the Dragon Pearl, a mythical object that could help turn planets into paradises… or destroy them. Determined to find her brother and clear his name, Min runs away from home and finds her way onto a starship; when the ship falls under mercenary attack, she wakes up on the very ship her brother served on: the Pale Lightning. Assuming the form of Jang, a cadet who died during the mercenary attack and subsequent rescue attempt, Min tries to unravel the mystery of Jun’s disappearance, and stumbles onto a plot much bigger than she could have imagined. She joins forces with Jang’s friends: Hanuel, a female dragon spirit, and Sujin, a nonbinary goblin spirit and continues her detective work.

Dragon Pearl is a space opera, complete with space battles, intrigue and shifting loyalties, and a mythos, based on Korean mythology, all of which come together to build an epic adventure that middle grade readers will devour. Min faces racism/species-ism as a fox spirit; she and her family present as humans, because foxes have a bad reputation for trickery being untrustworthy. She has to lie to Jang’s friends to keep her secret; that guilt is with her day in and day out, especially as her own friendship with them grows. She has to break rules for the greater good: to find her brother, who’s also considered a deserter. She’ll deal with the fallout as it comes; Min’s family is her priority. Is she a hero? Is she a traitor? It depends on whose point of view you’re viewing from. The same can be said of the Dragon Pearl, which can create a lush homeworld or destroy a planet. Is it a valuable treasure or a cursed trinket?

Let’s talk about the rich characters Yoon Ha Lee creates. Min and her fellow cadets inhabit a universe where rank and personal pronouns are part of the uniform. Sujin, the goblin cadet, uses “they/their” pronouns and no one has an issue with it. Sujin is a funny, creative character whose gender identity fits seamlessly into the Dragon Pearl universe. They wield a magical spork, for heaven’s sake. That’s the exciting news! Haneul is a dragon spirit who can communicate with the weather; the Pale Lightning’s captain is a tiger spirit who exudes charisma and a more than a wee bit of menace. Min, a fox spirit, exudes Charm to head off potential problems at the pass and is clever, constantly thinking of her next moves to get her to her goal. An exciting adventure, moral conflict, and rich character diversity make this one a nice addition to your fantasy middle grade collections, and yet another hit from Rick Riordan’s Disney imprint.

Dragon Pearl has a starred review from Kirkus.

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Posted in Fantasy, Fiction, Historical Fiction, Middle Grade, Tween Reads

A hero’s journey of a different sort… The Book of Boy

The Book of Boy, by Catherine Gilbert Murdock/Illustrated by Ian Schoenherr, (Feb. 2018, Greenwillow Books), $16.99, ISBN: 9780062686206

Ages 9-14

Set in France in 1350, Boy is a young man, thought to be a simpleton and hunchback, who works as a servant and goatherd. Secundus, a pilgrim on his way to Rome, drafts Boy for his mission and is sent along on Secundus’ quest to collect seven relics of Saint Peter – Rib, Tooth, Thumb, Toe, Dust, Skull, and Tomb – so he can gain passage to Heaven. When Boy questions Secundus’ methods – they sure look a lot like thievery – he is told that they are protecting the relics from others. Boy is so much more than everyone around him realizes – more than he realizes. He puts his faith in Secundus’ mission, hoping that Saint Peter will heal him and make him “a boy” at the end of his mission, but Secundus starts figuring out that there’s more to Boy than meets the eye: he can communicate with animals, for starters.

A dash of Canterbury Tales with a story of how true good can blossom in a seemingly lost society makes this a consuming read. Boy is kind, gentle, and naive, but he’s anything but simple. He’s truly special; paired with Secundus, a deceiving pilgrim with a personal agenda, makes Boy’s goodness stand out even more. The grittiness of Europe in the post-Black Death Middle Ages comes alive with Catherine Gilbert Murdock’s descriptions of the sights, smells, even textures of the age; reading about the religious relics is all at once fascinating and cringe-worthy (descending into a tomb to scoop up some of Saint Peter’s ashes has quite possibly given me goosebumps that will stay with me forever), because it really happened. An author’s note gives some more insight into the Holy Year of 1350, the relics market in Europe, and the burial site of Saint Paul, a plot point in the book.

Ian Schoenherr’s black and white woodcut illustrations add to the the feeling of perusing a medieval text. The Book of Boy has starred reviews from Booklist, Kirkus, and the Horn Book and is a must-add to your collections. Give this to your historical fiction readers and your adventure readers.

Posted in Fantasy, Fiction, Fiction, Intermediate, Middle Grade

More fairy tale fun from Vivian French! (say that 3x fast)

Tom and Tallulah and the Witches’ Feast, by Vivian French/Illustrated by Marta Kissi, (Sept. 2018, Kane Miller), $5.99, ISBN: 9781610677349

Ages 7-11

The latest fairy tale outing from Vivian French and Marta Kissi has a brother and sister duo working against time to save their poor grandmother from becoming a chicken after falling under an evil spell. Tallulah Tickle wants to be a witch, but her apprenticeship has not been going well. She’s always late, her food is terrible, and – unbeknownst to her – Gertrude Higgins is secretly plotting against all the witches in her coven, starting with Talluah’s grandmother! Tallulah has one more chance to complete her apprenticeship, and it’s a toughie: she has to guess each witch’s favorite food, and make it. Flawlessly. In three days. Lucky for Tallulah, her brother Tom has a gift in the kitchen, but she’s going to need some help figuring out what everyone likes to eat, too. They’ll have to think fast, though – they need to save poor Grandmother from an awful spell that’s turning her into a chicken! Add a wily cat (or two) and crow to the mix, and you have a heck of an adventure!

Earlier this year, I read The Cherry Pie Princess and The Adventures of Alfie Onion, also by Vivian French and Marta Kissi, and enjoyed this new generation of fairy tale characters. Tom and Tallulah are a smart sibling team that work together to get the job done. Tallulah stubbornly tries to do it all on her own, but she has to grow up enough to understand reason and admit her weaknesses. We’ve got villains with ulterior motives, talking animals, and a loving grandmother that needs saving; all good story elements that come together to give readers a magical adventure. Black and white illustrations throughout bring the text to life and create a relationship between readers and characters.

The Cherry Pie Princess and Adventures of Alfie Onion are already popular with my library kids. I can’t wait to introduce them to Tom and Tallulah! Give these to your fairy tale readers and your fantasy fans.

Posted in Fantasy, Fiction, Graphic Novels, Middle Grade, Teen, Tween Reads, Young Adult/New Adult

Three graphic novels you should NOT miss!

It’s been a busy few months! I realized that some really good graphic novels passed their book birthdays, but that’s no reason not to shout about them! I’ve got a little something for most here – see what’s good!

Aquicorn Cove, by Katie O’Neill, (Oct. 2018, Oni Press), $12.99, ISBN: 9781620105290

Ages 8-12

The third outing from Princess Princess Ever After and Tea Dragon Society author/illustrator Katie O’Neill is another hit! A girl named Lana and her widowed father return to their seaside hometown to help her Aunt Lana – her mother’s sister – clean up after a storm devastated the community and discovers more about her mother, her aunt, and the magical underwater creatures whose fate is tied directly to the surface. A tender, thoughtful story about humanity and our relationship to our world, Aquicorn Cove explores at grief and loss, sustainability, and community. This timely – and yet, timeless – story has soft, warm artwork with lush scenery and gentle faces; diversity above and below the water, and a sweet, hinted-at relationship between Aunt Lana and the queen of the aquicorns. Put this one on your shelves if you don’t have it already. Also makes a great holiday gift.

Katie O’Neill is a two-time Eisner Award winner and a Harvey Award winner.

 

Beautiful Darkness, by Fabien Vehlmann & Kerascoët, (Oct. 2018, Drawn & Quarterly), $17.95, ISBN: 9781770463363

Ages 13+

Do not let a first glance at this cover deceive you: this is NOT a kids’ title. Take a closer look at that cover. That’s no leaf the little blonde pixie is standing next to: it’s a human hand. The story itself is grisly: what would happen if a little girl died in a forest, and a small, vicious, fairy society sprang up around her? Originally released in French in 2014, this is a dark fantasy; an anti-fairy tale that will grab the eyeballs of your horror readers. The sweet artwork is in direct conflict with the grisly, often bleak storyline; small moments within each panel pop up to remind us that we are not in an adorable, cotton candy fairy world: the fairies ransack an opened purse, and we see a little boot lying nearby; a character sits, hungry, in an outstretched hand, surrounded by worms, as she waits for food. The watercolor artwork is stunning, which makes the story of backstabbing, betrayal, and murder all the more nightmarish. This one is a headtrip, but worth the ride for horror and dark fantasy readers. Clearly mark this one so it stays in your teen or adult graphic novel areas. Beautiful Darkness has a starred review from Publishers Weekly.

 

Lumberjanes: The Infernal Compass, by Lilah Sturges/Illustrated by polterink, (Oct. 2018, Boom! Studios), $14.99, ISBN: 978-1684152520

Ages 9+

One of my favorite comic book titles – seriously, Lumberjanes always brings the goods – has a brand new original graphic novel! Lumberjanes, for those not in the know, is basically the X-Files meets summer camp as a group of girls in the Roanoke House at Miss Qiunzella Thiskwin Penniquiqul Thistle Crumpet’s Camp for Hardcore Lady Types: Friendship to the Max! In this installment, the Janes are off on an orienteering outing (finding your way with a map and compass), but one of the compasses is a little… off. When the friends start disappearing one by one, Molly knows something is up – and when she meets a strange female explorer who claims that she has no need of friends, she knows something is up! The Eisner- and GLAAD Award-winning series explores sensitive topics about relationships, gender, and sexuality in an upbeat, fun environment; this latest adventure is no different. The awkwardness of going from being “one” to “partnered” is a main plot point here as Molly’s and Mal’s relationship develops; April even bestows a “ship name” on the duo, which really makes it weird for poor Molly. Throw in a lost in time explorer, a mysterious compass, and some automaton butlers, and you’ve got a true Lumberjanes adventure. Usually a full-color comic, Infernal Compass is in black and white, with green accents to highlight the supernatural bits. The comic’s first issue is a bonus, included at the end, to orient new readers. Stock up on your Lumberjanes trades if you don’t already have them: this is a middle grade-and-up series (and there are middle grade books, too!) you want to have available to your readers.

 

Posted in Fantasy, Fiction, Fiction, Intermediate, Middle Grade

More Moomins! The Moomins and the Great Flood

The Moomins and the Great Flood, by Tove Jansson, (July 2018, Drawn and Quarterly), $16.95, ISBN: 9781770463288

Ages 7-12

This Moomin tale is an illustated novel, rather than a picture book or graphic novel, and gives us a bit of a Moomin origin story. Moominmama and little Moomintroll are in search of a winter home, and in search of Moominpapa, whose restless nature led him to wander off with the Hattifatteners. As they wander through a precariously dark forest, they meet a small creature who joins their journey, despite being a bit cranky; they also meet a beautiful, blue-haired girl who lives in a tulip. Throughout the arduous journey, Moominmama and Moomintroll face each adventure with courage and kindness, helping every creature they meet, always hoping that maybe… just maybe… their journey will reunite them with Moominpapa.

Originally written during the 1939-1940 Finnish-Soviet Union conflict, The Moomins and the Great Flood was author Tove Jansson’s escape from the horrors of war. She uses a catastrophic flood to unite her characters, who could even be seen as refugees, all experiencing some kind of loss, displacement, or danger from the flood. The sepia and white artwork lends an old-world feel to the artwork, and the prose reads like adventure stories I read growing up. The book is relentlessly optimistic, with moments of near despair; it illustrates perseverance and the strength of family units when facing adversity. I’ll booktalk this with picture books like Nicola Davies’ The Day War Came and the Children in Our World book series.

Posted in Fantasy, Fiction, Humor, Intermediate

The Goblin Princess: Dust that house, and untrain your dragon!

Originally published in the UK, The Goblin Princess is a sweet chapter book series perfect for kids who are ready to branch out from easy readers. Let’s meet The Goblin Princess and her family.

The Goblin Princess: Smoky the Dragon Baby, by Jenny O’Connor/Illustrated by Kate Willis-Crowley, (Oct. 2018, Faber & Faber), $8.95, ISBN: 9780571316588

Ages 7-10

Matty is a goblin princess, but she’s also the odd goblin out in her family. She’s always being told to untidy her room, and eat up her slug porridge; her family – like most goblins – is also terrified of pretty things, like kittens and butterflies, and reading fairy tales are sure to give them nightmares, but Matty just doesn’t fit in. When the family dragon, Sparks, lays an egg and a sweet little blue dragon emerges, Matty falls in love. But little Smoky is polite and sweet, and the untraining her father, the Goblin King, calls for doesn’t quite take. Luckily for Matty, little Smoky finds some talent in burning the toast (a goblin delicacy)! When Matty and her family go on a goblin family picnic at the Dragon Lagoon, Matty and Smoky have a little side adventure of their own, meeting nasty hobgoblins and kind Forest Fairies (who aren’t at all terrifying) – and maybe Matty can convince her family that she and Smoky are just naughty enough after all!

The Goblin Princess: The Grand Goblin Ball, by Jenny O’Connor/Illustrated by Kate Willis-Crowley, (Oct. 2018, Faber & Faber), $8.95, ISBN: 9780571316601

Ages 7-10

The next book in the Goblin Princess series picks up fresh off the heels of Smoky the Dragon Baby. The royal Goblin Family is preparing for the Grand Goblin Ball, but there’s trouble afoot: the hobgoblins are planning to crash the party and CLEAN! And PAINT! And worst of all, they’re planning to capture Smoky! Luckily, some of the Forest Fairies overheard the plot and warned Matty in time. Matty and Smoky join forces with their new friend, Dave – a Frog of Mystery and Magic – to beat the hobgoblins and save the party! Recipes for Scary Potato Faces, Ghoulish Goblin Drinks, and Peppermint Cream Bugs let readers plan a Goblin Ball of their very own!

The Goblin Princess books are sweet, entertaining, and upbeat. Kids are going to get a kick out of the backwards world that the goblins live in: messing up your room? Eating sloppily and having food fights? Untraining your dragon and being an irresponsible pet owner? It sounds awesome, right? Which makes poor Matty and Smoky outsiders in their worlds, and sets the stage for some hilarious happenings. Kate Willis-Crowley’s watercolor artwork adds an incredible cute factor to the storytelling, with adorable characters like Smoky the Dragon and Matty the Goblin, and great visuals for events like the Goblin buffet, complete with Key Slime Pie and Mice Cakes.

Pictures all come from Kate Willis-Crowley’s blog.

I enjoyed the first two Goblin Princess stories, and look forward to the third one, The Snow Fairy (it looks like it was just published in the UK… can we get a copy stateside soon?) Readers who love enjoy fantasy will enjoy the close friendship between Smoky and Matty, and get a kick out of Smoky’s baby talk. The bad guys aren’t terribly bad. The hobgoblins, for instance, really just want Smoky around to warm up their food; nothing truly nefarious (unless you count cleaning and painting the Goblin castle: that’s just horrible). Give this to your Unicorn Princesses/Hamster Princess/Princess in Black fans.

Posted in Fantasy, Fiction, Fiction, Intermediate, Middle Grade

Webcomics on Wednesday: Dylan Campbell’s Scared by the Bell

I’ve been meaning to do something like this for a while, now: create a list of webcomics that I could post by the computers at my library, so the kids could check them out and maybe discover a comic to follow. They’re huge graphic novel fans, and this would give them something new to read while they’re waiting for the next volume of Amulet/Pokemon/anything by Raina Telgemeier to publish.

I started going through my inbox, and lo and behold (and with much embarrassment), I found an email from Dylan Campbell, a creator who let me know about his new webcomic, Scared by the Bell, back in January 2017. It is insane, how one thinks, “Oh, I’ll get to that in a second”, and a year later, it’s still in the inbox. But the good news is, there are three issues online now! But I’ll get to that. First, Scared by the Bell.

Peter is a kid on his first day at Lighthouse Middle School, but this is no ordinary, run of the mill school. Peter’s classmates include Maggie (a Medusa), Vlad (a vampire), Frank (Frankenstein), and Marv (a werewolf), for starters. Principal Merlin takes Peter under his wing to explain a little bit about Lighthouse, but Peter’s still baffled: how did he get here, and how is he going to make it through middle school when his classmates want to snack on him?

Scared by the Bell has three complete issues under its belt, and Dylan Campbell had a successful Kickstarter earlier this year, all great signs. The art is cartoony and fun, and the classmates are familiar and inspired; there’s a Cthulhu-faced kid (and you know how I love my Lovecraftian monsters); a mummy, a skeleton, even a scary looking teddy bear. Now that the infamous Goldilocks has also joined the crew, I’m looking forward to even more adventures. Scared by the Bell updates on Fridays – a great way to end the week! For Spanish speakers, Dylan offers “Asustado por la Compana” (http://asustadoporlacampana.smackjeeves.com/), and translates it himself, which is pretty fantastic. He welcomes comments and suggestions!

Also – I have a Spanish version of “Scared by the Bell” called “Asustado por la Compana” that updates every Friday as well.  You can find the link to the Spanish version over here at: http://asustadoporlacampana.smackjeeves.com/  

 

 

Dylan, I am so sorry that it’s taken almost a year to get on board with your comic, but Scared by the Bell is going on my list of webcomics. I like the writing, I like the character interaction, and I enjoy the artwork.

If you’ve got graphic novel readers, let me know if webcomics are working for your readers!