Tag Archives: art


awkwardAuthor/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.


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When Marnie Was There

Studio GhibliWhen Marnie was There

Written by Keiko Niwa, Masashi Andō, & Hiromasa Yonebayashi/Produced by Yoshiaki Nishimura & Toshio Suzuki/Directed by Hiromasa Yonebayashi/Music by Takatsugu Muramatsu/Based on When Marnie Was There by Joan G. Robinson

My rating: 4.5 of 5

Anna very well understands the way the world works, the fact that some people are accepted and others are necessarily outsiders for whatever reason. She doesn’t question that she herself is an outsider, alone at school, ill-tempered at times, a worry to her foster parents. When her asthma causes the doctor to recommend she be sent away to get some fresh air away from the city though, things begin to change a bit. She stays with relatives (of her foster parents) on an out-of-the-way island where everything seems to be more laid back and she can spend time exploring and drawing alone without being fussed over so much. And in her explorations, Anna finds herself drawn to an old, abandoned manor house across the bay . . . . and it’s at that old manor that she meets Marnie, a girl who will change her life in all sorts of unexpected ways but also a girl who will baffle Anna in many ways.

Okay, before anything else, I’m just going to say that there are going to be spoilers here. Because I have no idea how to honestly review this movie without spoilers. Sorry. So . . . I truly enjoyed When Marnie Was There, although I was kind of baffled through most of the story. It was worth sitting through the confusion, because when everything was explained it was extremely moving to the point that I cried. The way the story develops is almost dreamlike at parts, or rather, it’s as though dreams are being woven throughout Anna’s reality. Or perhaps it’s more as though two disparate points in time are briefly connected. In any case, although at times confusing, the friendship that develops between Anna and Marnie is really sweet and cute. And this is where the spoilers come in: the story totally seems like it’s shoujo ai through most of the plot, but the end reveals something very unexpected and different and absolutely touching. All in all, it’s a sweet story that’s developed quite nicely with plenty of drama and mystery. I appreciate that it also delves into deep issues like child neglect and the insecurity that orphans can feel sometimes even in loving homes. And of course, being a Studio Ghibli film, the art is absolutely stunning; I always enjoy their attention to all the fine details that make the illustration not just nice but amazing. Essentially, I would recommend When Marnie Was There to pretty much anyone, although I will note that if you’re not comfortable with shoujo ai, you might find watching this a bit weird (even though it’s technically not).


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Without Within

Created by InvertMousewithout within

My rating: 3.5 of 5

Vinty has always dreamed of making it big as a calligrapher. She’s putting a lot of work into her calligraphy, all the while barely surviving on her foodservice job. There’s a lot of pressure, and it’s hard to stay positive in the midst of it all. Really, why did she even go into calligraphy to begin with?

Without Within is a cute anime-style visual novel following a young calligrapher who’s at that super-difficult point where she’s just getting started. It’s an honest look at the challenges folks face at this point in life–I’ve been there and can relate. Vinty has a lot of attitude and tongue-in-cheek humor, which definitely adds a lot to the story. The entire visual novel is really short; I finished it in about 20 minutes, even getting sidetracked on several bad endings. But it’s cute and fun. Plus, it’s free to play on Steam. I’d recommend Without Within to those who enjoy a fun slice-of-life visual novel without a lot of frills–just a good story.

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Seven Wild Sisters

Author: Charles De Lintseven wild sisters

Illustrator: Charles Vess

My rating: 5 of 5

Sarah Jane loves going up to Aunt Lillian’s place up the mountain, helping her with chores and hearing all her stories about the fairy folk–the Apple Tree man, the Father of Cats, and many others. It’s not as though she entirely believes in these stories, but they’re certainly interesting. Then one day, as she’s going out to gather ginseng for Aunt Lillian, she encounters a tiny man, seemingly made of sticks and bits of debris–a little man shot through with hundreds of tiny arrows. Feeling she has to help him, she carries the wounded fairy back to Aunt Lillian’s . . . little knowing that by doing so she is involving herself and her six sisters in a world–and a war–she knows almost nothing about.

I’ve been a fan of Charles De Lint’s books for quite a while, mostly his amazing urban fantasies like The Painted Boy and Spirits in the Wires. I’ve never really read any of his children’s books, so Seven Wild Sisters was a fun new experience for me. While it is definitely a good read for kids (mostly leaving out stuff like sex and language), it carries through with all the best things that make me love De Lint’s writing: a vivid world, interesting and unusual characters, folk music, animals. And of course, the whole venture into the other world–written in a way that is quite consistent with how he writes it in his other volumes, but with a lot of local Appalachian flavor. I really love how the spirits and fairies are unique to the locality, as well as how the characters themselves are so full of the color of their home and the mountains. Plus, the book is rich with Charles Vess’s gorgeous illustrations; you could seriously read this book just for the pictures! I would highly recommend Seven Wild Sisters, especially to those who love a good fairy tale or urban fantasy.

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Emily the Strange: Stranger & Stranger

Authors: Rob Reger & Jessica GrunerStranger and Stranger

Illustrators: Rob Reger & Buzz Parker

Emily the Strange, vol. 2

My rating: 4.5 of 5

Emily and her feline companions are not thrilled to be moving yet again. Never mind that they’re a large part (okay, the whole part) of why the family has to move so frequently, what with Emily’s pranks, midnight prowls, unusual golem, and general, well, strangeness. Life in their new town of Silifordville doesn’t seem like it will be all bad though, and Emily quickly settles in to work on her most recent scientific experiment, a Duplicator. Things get very interesting when she gets a bit too reckless with said experiment and . . . duplicates herself. The possibilities are endless! But is this other Emily a new BFF and co-prankster/scientist/crazy cat-lover, or will she turn out to be a dangerous evil twin possessing a genius equal to the original?

I really, really enjoy the Emily the Strange series. They are not your average “always do the right thing, empathize with others, etc.” sort of story, for sure. What they are is quirky, funny, smart, dark, and full of self-confident girl power. Not right for everyone, I’m sure, but loads of fun in my opinion. The entire story is told in journal entries, and Emily’s unusual (extremely brainy and non-at-all socially inclined) personality shines through brilliantly throughout. This was sort of weird, but effective, in Stranger & Stranger because of some of the weirdness that occurred with the Duplicator. If you pay attention, you can definitely see differences in Emily’s personality throughout . . . very interesting indeed. I also love all the mad/brilliant science, art, rock, and feline love that permeates the story throughout. And don’t get me started on how cool all the actual art in the book is: sketches (many in red) of the most bizarre nature, diagrams, mock-photographs, etc. Plus, this particular volume has a fun band-names motif going throughout. I guess what I’m trying to say is that for those who enjoy a fun, darkly humorous, and definitely strange story with excellent art and a strong female lead (at only 13, no less!), Stranger & Stranger is definitely for you–so check it out!

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I’ll Give You the Sun

Author: I'll Give You the SunJandy Nelson

My Rating: 5 of 5

Ever since they were little, twins Jude and Noah have been dividing the world between them in a game to compete for “world domination”, just one of many aspects of their extraordinary closeness. That all changes they year they turn 14, the year Jude trades Noah the sun, moon, trees, oceans, practically the whole world for one sketch he’s drawn of a beautiful, broken young man. Three years later, the two are hardly recognizable. Noah’s given up drawing, hangs with the popular crowd, and even seems to have a girlfriend. Jude, on the other hand, hardly speaks at all, avoids boys like the plague, and refuses to wear any of the stunning dresses she’s made for herself. Worse yet, they barely speak to each other, ever. It’s only when Jude begins studying with an eccentric sculptor that things begin to come together: what went wrong, how to fix it. How to stop hiding from themselves and the world.

I absolutely LOVED I’ll Give You the Sun. It’s rare to find a book that so captures not only who the characters are, but even the flavor of how they think. I especially love Nelson’s portrayal of Noah–he thinks quite metaphorically and artistically, and this comes through absolutely brilliantly. I was honestly disappointed when the second chapter switched from 13-year-old Noah’s perspective to 16-year-old (3 years future) Jude’s perspective. Not for long, though. The alternating perspectives work toward the middle, revealing layers as they go, in a way that–in some stories–would be annoying. Not so here; the technique and the connections work beautifully and naturally, not seeming forced at all. I loved the characters–all of them, not just the main ones–and the way their artsy, angsty, slice-of-life story was incredibly credible. The emotional impact of this story is huge; I found myself feeling for the characters as if I knew them personally. There’s so much I could say, only the book says it all so much better, so yeah. For 16+ readers, I would highly recommend I’ll Give You the Sun–go check it out for yourself.


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The Mysterious Edge of the Heroic World

The Mysterious Edge of the Heroic WorldAuthor: E.L. Konigsburg

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

When Amedeo moves to the suburbs for his mom’s work, he’s not really sure what to expect; everything’s so different from the city life he’s used to. What he is sure about is that he wants an adventure–to discover something that’s been hidden, some sort of treasure. As he helps his new best friend William Wilcox and his mom Mrs. Wilcox out, he gets the opportunity he’s been waiting for. These three are helping Amedeo’s eccentric, flamboyant neighbor, Mrs. Zender, get ready to move, pricing and sorting all the items she can’t take with her. There’s sure to be something interesting buried among all the paraphernalia of the once-wealthy, right? And regardless of the outcome, Amedeo is making sound friendships in his new home and experiencing a kind of life he’s never before imagined.

I admire E. L. Konigsburg’s writing deeply. From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler has been a favorite of mine ever since I was in elementary school, and I feel that The Mysterious Edge of the Heroic World well lives up to the standard. It’s full of life and a keen observation of character. The people involved are unique and interesting–full of unexpected quirks, yet completely unassuming and natural in the way they’re written. I believe I could meet any of them on the street, they’re that sort of character, in the best sense. Furthermore, as with so many of Konigsburg’s books, this story places a significant emphasis on art–in this case the Modern, or Degenerate, Art that was spurned by the Nazis during the second World War. The connections drawn between art, history, humanity, and the present day are tasteful, touching, and completely credible. I was truly impressed. I think my only warning regarding this book is that, while it is definitely a children’s book (the main character’s something like 10), it doesn’t artificially protect readers from things like swearing, violence, and homosexuality; it’s beautifully, painfully honest, but in a way that protective parents might find problematic. Whatever. I absolutely give high recommendations to The Mysterious Edge of the Heroic World for readers young and old.

Note: This book is connected to Konigsburg’s other book The Outcasts of 19 Schuyler Place. You certainly don’t have to have read that one to enjoy The Mysterious Edge of the Heroic World, but it’s a neat extra for those who have.


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