Author: Frank Cottrell Boyce
My rating: 5 of 5
Liam has always been tall for his age, getting mistaken for being older than he is and being teased by other children for it. Now at the age of twelve, he’s already growing facial hair and being mistaken for an adult. Which is mostly awful. . . . But it does have its advantages at times. Like when he was mistaken for a new teacher at his new school or when he and his classmate Florida would go to the stores with him pretending to be her father. And ever one to push the limits, Liam begins to see just how far he can go with this “adult” thing–never dreaming that doing so would end up with him being stuck in a spaceship with a bunch of kids looking to him to get them safely home.
So, Cosmic was one of those books that blew my expectations completely out of the water. I had never even heard of the author previously (clearly an oversight on my part), and it appeared both from the cover and the description to be a rather average middle-grade story of hijinks and randomness. Well, the middle-grade hijinks and randomness is definitely there, but average this book is not. It uses humor and a tall tale sort of setting to look at what being an adult is really all about–as well as to examine how much the advantages of being an adult are wasted on actual grown-ups who don’t have the sense of fun and irresponsibility to really enjoy them. It also looks at major themes like fatherhood and the relationships between fathers and their children in a way that is quite touching. But the story never gets bogged down in these themes; rather they are revealed gradually through the improbable and ridiculous circumstances in which Liam and his companions find themselves. It’s very funny–perhaps even more so reading this as an adult, although this is definitely written for a younger audience and is completely appropriate for such, even for a younger elementary grade readership. There’s something of a universality in the midst of absurdity to be found in Cosmic, and I would highly recommend this book.
Author/Illustrator: Sara Varon
My rating: 3.5 of 5
Dog brings home a build-your-own-robot kit and finds his new best friend–Robot. The two do everything together: library trips, movies, the beach. Well, the beach was a bit of a mistake. Or rather, the water was a mistake for Robot. He rusts up so he can’t move! Dog doesn’t know what to do, so after trying everything, he quietly slinks away, feeling guilty for leaving his friend. Gradually, Dog tries to move past the guilt and loneliness by making new friends . . . with mixed results. Meanwhile, Robot lies abandoned on the shore, daydreaming about all sorts of might-have-been’s and could-be’s. But maybe there’s hope for both of them yet.
I really enjoyed this cute graphic novel, Robot Dreams. The art is simple but bold, not especially beautiful, but oddly attractive and expressive nonetheless. It works well for the story. And the story is unexpected, to be sure. At first, it’s all happy and sweet–the kind of story you give an upbeat soundtrack with birds singing in the background. Then everything gets all sad and poignant–somehow heartwarming and heartbreaking at the same time. I love that the story resolution is at the same time unexpected (not at all the stereotypical happy ending I had figured would come) and cathartic; there’s a great message of healing and forgiveness there that I think is great for readers of all ages. And that’s something else that is great about this graphic novel–it really is appropriate and enjoyable for everyone from pretty young kids to adults.
Authors: Jeremy Whitley & Ted Anderson
Illustrators: Tony Fleecs & Brenda Hickey/Colors: Heather Breckel/Lettering: Neil Uyetake
My rating: 4.5 of 5
Just to clarify, this post is not about the recent Humble Bundle deal on My Little Pony comics (addressed here). Rather, this is a review of the physical comic that was offered as a part of that deal exclusively for Humble Bundle, titled My Little Pony: Humble Bundle. This book consists of two stories. In the first, the Cutie Mark Crusaders–Sweetie Belle, Apple Bloom, & Scootaloo–find themselves completely out of ideas for trying to find their special talent . . . until Discord comes along to “give them a hand”. The second tells of Twilight’s early days of getting to know Spike, back at magic school when he was just a baby dragon.
I was truly thrilled with this comic. The stories are original and interesting while still being consistent with the television series completely. Rather, you might say that they are stories that have needed to be told; they’re very satisfying. The characters are consistent, and the stories are great fun. Discord even makes a Q (Star Trek ) reference–which you have to admit has been due ever since Discord first appeared. The art is slightly different in style than the TV show, but it works well and is attractive. Ooh, and the covers and pin-up art by Sara Richard are just gorgeous, seriously. My Little Pony: Humble Bundle was a lot of fun to read. I know it was an exclusive, so it will be hard to find, but if you happen to get your hands on it, definitely read it.
Author/Illustrator: Svetlana Chmakova
My rating: 4.5 of 5
Peppi Torres manages to thoroughly mess up her first day in her new middle school by 1) tripping in the hall and dumping all her books, 2) getting helped by Jaime, a quiet kid with a reputation as a huge nerd, and then 3) pushing him and running away. Following this fiasco, Peppi does manage to find a place for herself in the school’s art club where she makes some good friends . . . even if she’s pretty much on her own during the rest of the school day. She still feels awfully guilty over pushing Jaime, especially when he begins tutoring her in math. And life becomes even more complicated when Peppi’s art club and the science club–of which Jaime is a member–become locked in a fierce competition for a table at the school’s cultural festival. Totally awkward, especially since Peppi finds that Jaime might actually be a great friend.
I absolutely loved Awkward! I can’t believe I haven’t seen it getting more love. This is a fantastic realistic slice-of-life school story for everyone–in graphic novel style. The setting is middle-school, so obviously that’s the primary intended audience, but the story is great and the messages it holds are valid for everyone (I’d say upper elementary and older). The writing tone is great–it captures that, well, awkwardness of being in middle school and figuring life out and all extremely well. The things Peppi goes through are credible, the sorts of issues that real people actually deal with. But the story is also funny and immensely positive in its message. It’s a great encouragement to work hard, work together, make all sorts of friends, and believe in possibilities. The characters are rich and fun to read, full of personality and individuality. And the art does a great job of reflecting this, with expressive character designs, attractive coloring, and a layout that’s easy to follow and focuses strongly on the people. I would definitely recommend Awkward to all sorts of people, and especially to those who enjoy graphic novels or are at that, well, awkward stage of life themselves.
Author/Illustrator: Ben Hatke
My rating: 5 of 5
Zita the Spacegirl, vol. 3
After being wrongfully accused of crimes she didn’t commit, young Zita has been tried and imprisoned on a dungeon world along with her friend, Mouse. She finds herself in a cell with a living ragpile and a talking skeleton–a skeleton whose fingerbones can open any lock. Befriending these two, Zita takes her first opportunity to break out and try to rescue her friend Mouse. Along the way, Zita finds unexpected help as the friends she’s made and people she’s helped along her journey join forces to help her escape.
I’ve said it before, but Ben Hatke’s graphic novels are fantastic. I absolutely loved the first two Zita stories, and The Return of Zita the Spacegirl is the perfect conclusion to this delightful trilogy. While being perhaps a bit darker than the first two (being set almost entirely in a prison setting), the story remains consistent in its emphasis on friendship, courage, and doing the right thing. Zita’s an amazing girl, no question, and the friends she makes are delightful, unexpected, and heartwarming. The art is fabulous, full of quirky originalities. I also love that the story is rich enough to be fun for an adult reader while being clean and simple enough for an elementary-grade reader to also enjoy. Additionally, I liked that the ending of this one was conclusive enough that I’m not searching for a continuation while still being open enough that there could potentially be more volumes in the future (unlike the earlier volumes which absolutely demanded a continuation). I think I would highly recommend The Return of Zita the Spacegirl to pretty much anyone–just read the first two volumes first.
Author: Diane Duane
My rating: 5 of 5
Young Wizards, vol. 1
When Nita finds the book in the children’s section of the library (where she’s hiding from the bullies who find beating her up prime entertainment), she thinks it’s probably a joke. . . . But maybe not. Either way, she takes the book home, captivated by its promise of a life of magic and imagining the power that would give her over the bullies that make her life a misery. Reading the Oath aloud, Nita soon finds that becoming a wizard is no joke, but it’s not the blast of fulfilling power over the petty worries of her life either–rather, it’s so very much more. Nita befriends another young wizard, Kit, and the two embark on an adventure, a quest even, that will alter their perceptions of life, magic, and themselves in ways they can’t begin to imagine.
I knew So You Want to Be a Wizard had the reputation of being a great fantasy novel, but I had no idea it was so enjoyable, or I would have read it much sooner. It’s a children’s story–and is totally appropriate for kids–but has deep-rooted messages and a mature enough writing that older readers can enjoy it as well. I’m tempted to compare this story to Lewis’ Chronicles of Narnia. It has that way of looking at things, that sense of describing a reality more true than real life–and in doing so, of giving a greater weight and meaning to life. And maybe that’s just my perspective and no one else would get that impression upon reading this book. In any case, this story is a wonderful fantasy featuring the age-old struggle between light and darkness–with the fate of the world resting squarely on the shoulders of two kids, a displaced white hole, and a bedraggled animated Lotus (car). I do have to say, this is the first story in which I’ve ever had real friendly feelings for a white hole or a car, which just shows the quality of the writing. I am looking forward to reading the rest of Duane’s books, and highly recommend So You Want to Be a Wizard to any of you who enjoy a solid fantasy.
Author/Illustrator: Ben Hatke
My rating: 5 of 5
Zita the Spacegirl, vol. 2
Being famous isn’t all it’s cracked up to be, you know? Zita quickly finds this out after she and her friends save Scriptorius. Soon her picture is plastered on walls everywhere she goes, and everywhere she is greeted by huge crowds wanting to meet her and get her autograph. Sometimes she’d really just love some time to herself, right? So when Zita encounters a robot that almost-perfectly mimics her, she decides to take advantage of the situation for a while and let this robot take her place–just long enough for her to get a break. The only trouble is that robot-Zita sees itself as the real hero, as Zita herself, and volunteers the crew to go save a planet . . . leaving the real Zita and her friend Mouse behind!
I absolutely loved the first Zita graphic novel, and I think Legends of Zita the Spacegirl is a strong follow-up, consistently portraying the things that I loved in the first volume. Zita is a strong character, and she encounters a lot of strong individuals along her journey–several of whom have a huge impact on her. I really loved the introduction of Madrigal in this volume; it’s clear she and Piper have a history, and I’m really curious to see that developed more. And I appreciated that robot-Zita, although wrong for a good part of the story, has redeeming aspects to her as well. The plot is exciting and full of adventure, but definitely ok for elementary-age kids. It even highlights important character traits like loyalty and self-sacrifice, while avoiding being “preachy” in the slightest. And I just love the art; it’s gutsy and adorable, whimsical and eclectic. Actually, it reminds me a lot of the work of Hayao Miyazaki and Kazu Kibuishi, while still having its own unique quirks that are just fantastic. I would highly recommend Legends of Zita the Spacegirl to just about anyone of any age; it’s a wonderful story!