Posted in Fantasy, Fiction, Graphic Novels, Middle Grade, Tween Reads

Middle Grade Mermaid Stories!

Mermaid stories are insanely popular. Debbie Dadey’s Mermaid Tales series is always out over here; I have early readers and middle graders constantly asking me where they can find more mermaid books, and YA has a whole category of mermaid books. If you’re of a certain age (or your parents are), like me, you remember the movie, Splash, which is getting a reboot with Channing Tatum as a mer-guy now. There’s something fascinating about the world under the sea.

The Little Mermaid, by Metaphrog, (Apr. 2017, Papercutz), $13.99, ISBN: 9781629917399

Award-winning graphic novelists and Eisner Award nominees Metaphrog – aka Sandra Marrs and John Chalmers –  are award-winning graphic novelists who have crafted a graphic novel retelling of Hans Christian Andersen’s The Little Mermaid.  For those of you who only know the Disney version, heads up: this is not that version. There’s no happy singing crab, Bette Midler is not a fabulous underwater witch with killer vocal cords, and the ending is very different than you may expect. The Mermaid – unnamed here – falls in love with a young prince whom she saves from drowning, and makes a bargain with a witch in order to grow legs and be with him, but the price is high.

Metaphrog create beautiful art to tell the mermaid’s tale. With shades of blues and greens, they weave magic, loneliness, and mystery into their story. The waves seem to lap off the cover, beckoning the reader to come in and read their tale. This adaptation beautifully translates this powerful tale. Pair this one with Metaphrog’s graphic adaptation of Anderson’s The Red Shoes and Other Tales.

Fish Girl, by Donna Jo Napoli/Illustrated by David Wiesner, (March 2017, Clarion), $17.99, ISBN: 978-0547483931

Another Little Mermaid retelling, Fish Girl tells a different, slightly darker tale. The Fish Girl is an attraction in a seaside exhibit; the proprietor refers to himself as Neptune, god of the oceans. As the story progresses, it becomes apparent that Neptune isn’t all that he claims to be, and the circumstances under which he keeps Fish Girl in captivity are unsettling, bordering on menacing. A girl visits the exhibit one day and catches a glimpse of the fish girl; the two strike up a secret friendship as Mia – the name Fish Girl’s friend bestows on her – wants more than life in a tank, and begins pushing her boundaries.

This is a more modern update of the classic fairy tale, with unsettling implications. Neptune is not a benevolent sea god; he’s not a loving father figure, and I found myself fighting a panicky feeling – most likely reacting as a parent – because I wanted Mia to get away from him. The story is intriguing, and will draw readers in, keeping them riveted until the last page is turned.

While I normally love David Wiesner’s artwork – Art & Max, Flotsam, Tuesday, you name it – this isn’t his usual artwork, where the colors blend and shade to provide depth and dimension. It’s still beautiful artwork, but it’s more flat here, really letting the story take center stage. His use of sea colors is lovely, and he creates a loving relationship between Mia and her guardian, the octopus.

I’d suggest these for higher middle graders – 5th and 6th graders – because the overall content may be upsetting to younger readers. Would I let my kids read them at that age? Yes, but that’s me. Read these first, and let that be your guide; make sure your younger readers know that these are different ways of telling the Disney story they may be familiar with.

Posted in Early Reader, Graphic Novels, Intermediate, Non-Fiction, Non-Fiction

Something’s Fishy introduces kids to fishy fun

fishy_1Something’s Fishy, by Kevin McCloskey, (April 2017, TOON Books), $12.95, ISBN: 978-1-943145-15-7

The man behind Toon’s Easy to Read Giggle and Learn series is back again with his fun blend of science and art. Something’s Fishy teaches young readers about fish – from the ABCs (there’s a fish for every letter of the alphabet), to biology, to the history of keeping goldfish as pets, Mr. McCloskey uses his acrylic and gouache artwork to illustrate all kinds of fish. He also discusses responsible pet ownership by mentioning that some fish, while popular film characters, aren’t really supposed to be pets: they’re much happier in their natural environments. A just-about-actual-size rendering of a foot-long goldfish will make readers giggle… and learn!

I love the trend of graphic novels as nonfiction texts, and Kevin McCloskey’s work for young readers and listeners are among some of my favorites. We Dig Worms and The Poop On Pigeons are in constant rotation at my library, and I can’t wait to introduce kids to fish with Something’s Fishy. His books make for excellent nonfiction storytime reading and pair nicely with picture books. You can very easily pair Something’s Fishy with Rainbow Fish, Lois Ehlert’s Rain Fish, or any number of fish or sea life-related stories. This is a fun add to nonfiction collections and a great gift for your younger Nemo and Octonauts fans.

 

Posted in Graphic Novels, Middle Grade, Non-Fiction, Non-fiction, Tween Reads

Science Comics Explores Bats

batsScience Comics: Bats – Learning to Fly, by Falynn Christine Koch, (Feb. 2017, First Second), $12.99, ISBN: 9781626724082

Recommended for ages 8-13

The latest volume of Science Comics introduces kids to bats. The information is pulled together with a story about a little brown bat whose wing is injured by humans on a nature hike. He’s taken to a rehabilitation center, where he meets bats of different species. Little Brown, as he’s called by the other bats, learns what the other bats eat, how they fly, live, and sadly, how their homes are invaded by humans. The information is comprehensive and there’s a call to conservation and preservation for kids, which I always appreciate.

I enjoy Science Comics because it’s easily an digestible, thorough introduction to a subject that doesn’t talk down to kids, nor does it speak over their heads. The illustrations are interesting and technically on point, and the fictional narrative that ties each volume together is interesting and fun, keeping the reader’s attention. I’ve got every issue of Science Comics (Coral Reefs, Dinosaurs, Volcanoes) so far, and Bats will join them on my shelves. I display mine with related series nonfiction, lest kids worry about a “comic book” not satisfying their research requirements, and I booktalk them every chance I get. If you’re a teacher, have these in your classroom and use them when you cover these topics – your kids will thank you.

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Posted in Adventure, Animal Fiction, Fiction, Fiction, Graphic Novels, Humor, Intermediate, Middle Grade

Animal Crackers – a circus like you’ve never seen!

animal-crackers_1Animal Crackers: Circus Mayhem, by Scott Christian Sava/Illustrated by Mike Holmes, (March 2017, First Second), $15.99, ISBN: 9781626725041

Recommended for ages 7-11

Seven year-old Owen’s parents drop him off for a visit at Buffalo Bob’s Rootin’ Tootin’ Animal Circus. Uncle Bob’s his great-uncle, but he’s really not looking forward to this visit, no matter how cool these animals are supposed to be. A knife-throwing elephant? A jump-roping giraffe? They HAVE to be people dressed up as animals, right? Pfft. When Owen and his family arrive at the circus, they find chaos: Uncle Bob’s missing, and so are the animals. The number one suspect is Bob’s nemesis, Contorto, and his henchcreeps. Stuck in Uncle Bob’s office while the staff try to find Bob and calm the angry masses of circus-goers waiting to see animals, Owen discovers a box of magical animal crackers. Maybe this circus thing isn’t going to be so bad, after all, especially if he can help save the day with a little help from the magical cookies.

Animal Crackers is a fun story to give to younger readers. It’s a great way to turn kids onto graphic novels and sequential storytelling. Mike Holmes, the artist on Gene Luen Yang’s Secret Coders series, illustrates the wacky, fun hijinks going on in the circus. His characters, particularly Owen and his animals, have wonderfully exaggerated facial expressions and movements to match the story’s pacing. Scott Sava creates a fun intermediate tale that kids will enjoy, and with an Animal Crackers movie coming in March, this is going to be a hot book on shelves and on wish lists.

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Posted in Fiction, Graphic Novels, Middle Grade, mythology, Tween Reads

The story of Artemis, Greek goddess of the hunt

artemis_1Artemis, by George O’Connor, (Olympians #9), (Jan. 2017, First Second), $9.99, ISBN: 9781626725225

Recommended for ages 8-12

The latest in George O’Connor’s graphic novel series on the Olympians gives readers the origin of Artemis, goddess of the hunt, nature, archery, wild animals, young women, and sudden death (yes, you read that right). Like a lot of gods and goddesses, Artemis and her twin brother, Apollo, were born when Zeus introduced himself to Leto, daughter of the Titans Coeus and Phoebe. Artemis assisted with her brother’s birth, despite being only 9 days old, and when the family was invited to live on Mount Olympus, was protective of her mother, who, for obvious reasons, wasn’t really in Hera’s favor.

 

I love this series because it really utilizes the graphic novel format to bring these myths back to life. When I was a kid, I had history and mythological comics that breathed life into their stories, splashing the pages with the color and action that infused them. O’Connor’s Olympians series is good, solid story-telling that brings mythology back to kids and adults alike. Put these books out with your Rick Riordan books; your Greek mythology nonfiction books (D’Aulaires’ Book of Greek Myths is brilliant and often used in schools), and, for readers who are ready for them, Gillian Cross and Neil Packer’s Iliad and Odyssey.

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Posted in Graphic Novels, Humor, Intermediate, Tween Reads

Prehistory just got a lot more fun: Meet Lucy & Andy Neanderthal

lucy and andyLucy & Andy Neanderthal, by Jeffrey Brown (Aug. 2016, Crown Books), $12.99, ISBN: 9780385388351

Recommended for ages 8-12

Jedi Academy’s writer and artist Jeffrey Brown goes prehistoric in his latest graphic novel, starring two cave siblings, their family, and members of their group, living about 40,000 years ago. Joined by two paleontologists who show up to inform and dispel myths and misconceptions about Neanderthals, Lucy & Andy Neanderthal is a fun story that manages to inform and educate while giving readers a good laugh.

Lucy and Andy have to put up with Margaret and Phil, two teens from their group that either boss them around or ignore them completely; they chase around their baby brother, who tends to run off, make some cave paintings, and watch a mammoth hunt that leaves Andy considering vegetarianism. The group also discovers that they’re not alone: what happens when Neanderthals meet humans?

Join this new modern stone age family on their first (hopefully, of many) adventures. Booktalk this one with Jeffrey Brown’s Jedi Academy books – just tell them that Lucy and Andy lived long, long, ago, in a galaxy not so far away. And then, if you really want to blow their minds, show them an episode of The Flintstones.

Kids love good graphic novels, and kids love prehistory. Lucy & Andy Neanderthal is both.

Posted in Graphic Novels, Young Adult/New Adult

Friendship ain’t easy: Friends is Friends

friends is friends_covFriends is Friends, by Greg Cook, (Aug. 2016, First Second), $19.99, ISBN: 9781596431058

Recommended for ages 16+

A series of short stories portray the complicated relationships between an elephant that’s down and out on his luck, a teddy and a ghost bear that follows him around, taunting him, and a family of pigs. Not a graphic novel for younger audiences (content and language), Friends is Friends is indie author/artist Greg Cook’s first major work in over a decade. The stories border surreal and loaded with dark humor. The artwork is in black and white, with white on black pages denoting the beginning of new vignettes.

I’ll be honest, this just wasn’t my book. I enjoy dark humor, but I just didn’t get into the stories or the characters. There were moments where I chuckled along – the opening short between the elephant and the young pig in particular – but other moments that just didn’t catch me. Friendship isn’t easy – that’s a key message contained in the book – but the characters just weren’t likable enough for me to want to be friends with them, to stick with them through the ups and downs of their relationships.

My teens aren’t the audience for this one. If you have a good YA and adult-level graphic novel collection, give this a read before you choose to add or not to add.