Tag Archives: middle grade

The Trash Krakken (Graphic Novel)

Created by: Thomas Astruc

Miraculous Adventures, vol. 1

My rating: 3.5 of 5

In this adorable graphic novel, it’s business as usual for Paris’s favorite superheroes. Hawkmoth’s sending weird akumas after their miraculous. Chloe is being a spoiled brat. Master Fu is wise and enigmatic. Chat Noir is hitting on Ladybug. Marinette still can’t speak to Adrien without turning into a beet-red, stammering mess. Oh, and the superheroes of America are calling these two heroes in as backup against a creepy monster that’s terrifying New York City.

In The Trash Krakken, we are given new stories that are very much in keeping (generally speaking) with the original cartoon version of Miraculous Ladybug. The stories, villains, and sometimes settings are new, but the style, the age level, all of that sort of thing are consistent. You even get the set phrases and transformation sequences from the cartoon, just in graphic novel format. I do think that the second half of this book, featuring the story set in New York, is a bit different in style, but it’s neat in that Chat Noir and Ladybug are still very much in their usual character, and the different setting only serves to emphasize the cool aspects of said character. The art style is very cute. I admit, I don’t care for the art in the prologue (although the story is cute), but after that, it settles into the style featured on the cover which, while a bit “looser” and “sloppier” that I typically prefer manages to be pretty adorable, dynamic, bright, and fitting with the characters and the story. Recommended, and especially nice if you’ve got younger readers who like the show and/or want to read more graphic novels; it’s actually age-appropriate for anyone who’s old enough to watch the cartoon.

Written by Nolwenn Pierre, Bryan Seaton, Nicole D’Andria, Thomas Astruc, Mélanie Duval, Fred Lenoir, & Sébastien Thibaudeau/Illustrated by Brian Hess/Lettering by Justin Birch/Coloring by Darné Lang

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When You Reach Me

Author: Rebecca Stead

My rating: 5 of 5

Growing up, Miranda’s life has been pretty normal. Her childish yet bright single mother falling in love, wavering over whether to give Richard (Mr. Perfect) a key to their New York apartment, getting all excited over entering a TV game show, making plans for what to do with the winnings before she ever gets on the show. Her best friend Sal who has always been there for her, growing up together, like two sides of the same coin. But her sixth grade year, Miranda’s life begins to fall apart. Sal stops talking to her for no obvious reason, and suddenly nothing seems certain anymore. And then she starts getting these messages, small notes giving her instructions, telling her things about the future that no one should have known, claiming that the writer has come back in time to prevent something awful–and that her following these instructions is vital to this happening.

When You Reach Me is one of those unexpected, brilliant finds that just go to show that you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover. Although the whole Newbery Award should have probably been a good indicator of that. It’s like this fabulous mashup of the things I love best of the writings of Madeleine L’Engle (no surprise, since she’s clearly an influencer of Stead’s writing), E. L. Konigsburg, and Frank Cottrell Boyce. The writing itself is just really good, for one, with layers of depth in the characters and little observations of the everyday thrown into the mix and with a lot of character development and growth and self-realization over the course of the story. That in itself would make for a great story, but then you throw in all the time-travel stuff and the mystery surrounding that, and the book goes to a whole new level in my mind. I liked that attention was given to the effects of time travel, but essentially zero mention was made of the actual mechanics; it wouldn’t work in every situation, but for this story, it was the best possible way to handle the topic. The inclusion of all the references to A Wrinkle in Time really helped to set the stage and explain the time travel better, so that was nicely done as well. Oh, and this is an actual instance of first-person, present-tense that actually works; it feels like reading a letter for the most part, maybe that letter Miranda was supposed to write. Recommended particularly for middle-grade readers, but this is one of those stories that surpasses its recommended grade range, so if you like the above authors’ works and are interested in time travel-related stories, When You Reach Me may be worth trying.

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Rapunzel’s Revenge (Graphic Novel)

Authors: Shannon Hale & Dean Hale

Illustrator: Nathan Hale

My rating: 3.5 of 5

For most of her childhood, Rapunzel lives a life of luxury with her mother, Mother Gothel–only she mustn’t ever look over the massive “garden wall” surrounding her home, she mustn’t question her mother, and she mustn’t mention her odd memory-like dreams. But on her twelfth birthday, Rapunzel just can’t contain herself anymore. She uses her impressive lasso skills (taught her by one of Mother Gothel’s guards, a kind man by the name of Mason) to climb the wall–only to find a world of desolation and slavery, which she soon finds is controlled by her mother . . . or, well, the person she thought was her mother. It turns out, she was taken from her real mother when she was just a little kid, and her actual mother is a slave in the mines now. In an attempt to control Rapunzel, Mother Gothel has her imprisoned in a tall tree that she’s created with her growth magic. But Rapunzel’s not one to sit demurely waiting for a rescuer, nor is she one to leave her real family in trouble.

I’ve seen some pretty interesting retellings before, but Rapunzel’s Revenge has got to be one of the most interesting and frankly bizarre to come my way in quite some time. It’s a western fantasy/weird west remix of the tale, complete with deserts, lassos, and outlaws–but with magic, too! And it’s not just a straight-up Rapunzel retelling, either; you’ve got Jack and the Beanstalk, for sure, and certain elements from a handful of other classic fairy tales. It’s pretty crazy, really, but in an interesting way. Rapunzel is an excellent example of the modernized empowered “princess,” a girl who’s smart and determined and takes matters into her own hands. Stubborn and kind of awkward, too, with enough personality to make her a sympathetic character, not just a modern stereotype. Her friend Jack makes a nice counterpart, with both of them challenging each other, forcing character growth and revealing character traits to the reader. As for the plot itself, it’s mostly a big rescue journey/adventure from the point where Rapunzel rescues herself and meets Jack–and it’s at this point that the western elements really start to show. It wasn’t the greatest plot ever, but a solid middle-grade story, still, plus a creative outtake on the whole retelling thing. The art is honestly not my style, but it works well enough for the story and I don’t have anything objectively negative to say about it–it’s just not what I prefer for graphic novels personally. I’m not sure I’d recommend Rapunzel’s Revenge for everyone, but if you like graphic novels and are interested in a quirky retelling with a strong female lead, it’s a story you just might enjoy.

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Broxo (Graphic Novel)

Author/Illustrator: Zack Giallongo

My rating: 3 of 5

Warrior princess Zora has left her home without her family’s knowledge, traveling to the distant land of the Perytons, hoping to win an alliance for their peoples. But she arrives to find a land deserted and desolate . . . or, well, deserted except for the monsters and zombies that keep trying to eat her. Then this boy shows up, all full of attitude, saves her life then just walks away with his huge monster/pet. Obviously, Zora’s going to follow him in an attempt to get some answers. But the boy, Broxo, who boldly calls himself king of the land, either has no answers or is unwilling to offer any. Clearly, something strange is going on here, and despite being warned to leave, Zora’s not about to go without getting to the root of what’s happened here.

For first impressions, Broxo wasn’t a bad graphic novel, but it didn’t really grip me or win my affections either. It’s got a fairly contemporary graphic novel style, as opposed to a classic comic book or a manga style. The visuals work, for the most part, although I must confess that it took me a moment to realize that Zora was actually a girl. In general, the style is just kind of more “boyish” if you will, rougher lines, strong movement, that sort of thing. If this were a manga, it would be distinctly shounen. The colorization supports that same feeling, although this is definitely intentional, with dark, neutral colors being dominant in this desolate place. The characters, again, weren’t bad but didn’t particularly win me over either. Partially, this is because the reader is dumped into the story at a point where everything is happening to the characters, but you’ve got no backstory, no reason to relate to the characters, nothing. So I didn’t really feel for their situation like I should have, at least not until much later in the story. Zora and Broxo’s relations with each other were weird, too–at one point awkwardly distant, at another fighting or working alongside each other as if they’d known each other for years. I guess part of that may be intentional, since they do seem to be at that awkward age where emotions and social skills are just all over the place anyhow, but it still made their relationship kind of hard to understand. And the whole mystery thing was weird, although some of the adventure parts of the story were interesting in a shounen sort of way. So yeah, Broxo definitely isn’t my favorite graphic novel ever, but it wasn’t especially bad either. . . .

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Mighty Jack (Graphic Novel)

Author/Illustrator: Ben Hatke

Colorists: Alex Campbell & Hilary Sycamore

Mighty Jack, vol. 1

My rating: 5 of 5

Jack’s summer promises to be anything but enjoyable–his mom’s working extra this year to support her kids, so Jack’s left to take care of his sister Maddy who never talks and needs extra-special care. He can’t even spend the time he’d like making friends . . . and that girl who lives down the street and practices swordplay in the yard sure does look like she’d be an interesting friend. A family trip to the flea market  changes everything, however, as an unusual man sells Jack a pack of weird seeds, promising they’ll change his life. They certainly do that! For one thing, Maddy gets remarkably excited about these seeds, pouring herself into planting and taking care of them. For another, well, the seeds sure do seem to be magic–as in, some of them get up and move, some have faces, others explode or give you special abilities if you eat them. Crazy cool stuff, but pretty dangerous, too. Enter the sword-swinging girl from down the street. Lilly is entranced by the incredible things Jack and Maddy have growing in their back yard, and she knows how to deal with the more dangerous stuff. Maybe this summer won’t be so bad after all.

Wow. I have loved Ben Hatke’s work ever since I first read Zita the Spacegirl, and Mighty Jack was certainly not a disappointment. It sort-of plays off the whole Jack and the Beanstalk story, only it’s re-imagined to such an extent that it doesn’t really feel like a retelling at all; it’s brilliantly original. As with the Zita stories, the characters, art, and story are all fresh and rich, colorful and inviting. It all just draws the reader in in such an enjoyable way. I loved all three of the main characters, the way they fit together, the way they grow throughout the story, the way their flaws influence the progression of the story, all of it. Extra perks to the author for strong female characters, for a cool homeschooler, and for including a character with autism, all of whom are a rich part of the story. I loved Jack and Maddy’s mom and Lilly’s brother as well–yay for developed and interesting supporting characters. Bonus points for the cameo of characters from the Zita stories–the guy who sells Jack the seeds and basically jump starts his whole story is a crossover character, and his placement in this story was fun. Regarding the art in particular (besides the obvious fact that it’s awesome), I loved Hatke’s skill in giving subtle expression to the characters, especially in the way he showed so clearly how Jack is just at the age where girls are becoming interesting and how he totally has a crush on Lilly, but how their relationship grows to be so much more than that. It’s powerful, how much he can express with so little. Also, I totally love the color palette used in this graphic novel. Mighty Jack is a graphic novel that I would highly recommend for anyone, regardless of age, although it’s technically children’s fiction–great story that I’m looking forward to continuing in future volumes.

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Millions

Author: Frank Cottrell Boyce

My rating: 3.5 of 5

We all have our own ideas about what we’d do with a huge cash windfall, but it’s not often that someone actually gets to see how they’d really react. Of course, Damian’s probably not your typical individual in any case. Ever since his mother’s death, he’s been trying especially hard to be good–no, to be excellent–learning about the saints of old and doing his best to imitate their ways. So when a huge bag of pounds falls from the sky near a train track only a few days before the switch over to euros, Damian’s sure it’s a gift directly from God. His big brother Anthony (the more worldly and financially interested sibling) isn’t so sure, but he’s more than willing to help Damian spend the cash. Only, how much can a kid actually do with a bag full of cash, really? Soon inflation floods their school as they pay large amounts for trinkets and small favors. And they can’t make truly large purchases without a grownup, it seems. Even charitable donations online (Damian’s idea) require a credit card. So all in all, an interesting experience, but not nearly as satisfying as they’d hoped. And when other people begin to get suspicious of the brother’s good fortune, it seems their windfall may be far more trouble than it’s worth.

I’ve said many times over, and I’m sticking with it, that I love Frank Cottrell Boyce’s writing. Having said that, Millions–while certainly enjoyable–was not nearly as enjoyable as his other books. I think part of this is just that it’s his first book and things are still kind of coming together. Part of it was just the characters; I didn’t personally connect to them as much as to some of his other characters. And yeah, a big part of it is the weird, metaphysical aspect of Damian’s obsession with saints, to the point of having visions and people thinking he’s nuts at times. The way it’s presented, I would almost consider the genre to be magical realism . . . only, it’s not magic, it’s more supernatural . . . ? So I’m not quite sure what to even consider that, but it’s kind of weird, and the weirdness of it flavors the whole story. I enjoy the author’s books much more when they tend to the extreme tall tale and exude huge amounts of geekiness, on the whole. Still, the basic writing style was definitely Boyce’s, and thus, was quite enjoyable to read–in that regard, if you like his other books, you’ll probably like this one. Also cool was the historical perspective on the changeover from the pound to the euro in England and all the hubbub and excitement that entailed . . . or so I would say if England had actually made that change, but since it still uses that pound to my knowledge, that’s just kind of weird, too. Still, a good perspective on what this sort of change might entail and probably did involve in other countries. I do also appreciated the differing perspectives on finances and the value of wealth, including the realization that money is honestly kind of empty in the end, even if it can buy lots of cool stuff. So yeah, Millions was definitely an interesting and enjoyable read, even if not quite on par with the author’s other works. Still recommended as a solid middle-grade story, for sure.

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Page

Author: Tamora Pierce

Protector of the Small Quartet, vol. 2

My rating: 4.5 of 5

Kel has survived her first probationary year as the first female page in the Tortallan court. Now she only has three more years to make it through as an officially recognized page before she can become a squire–and those three years promise to be grueling, full of hard physical work, intense study, and opposition of her choice to remain coming from all sides it sometimes seems. Not to mention a young maid who’s come under Kel’s protection and a collection of first-years demanding her time and assistance. But Kel is nothing if not stubborn and determined.  And the truth is that she does have friends to support her, from those among the other pages to her growing collection of animal friends to her secret benefactor who keeps on sending her far-too-expensive but always practical gifts. Somehow or another, Kel is determined to stick with it and make it through these three years.

As always, in Page, Tamora Pierce delivers an incredible story full of great characters–including a strong, relatable female lead–moving plot challenges, fantastic animal characters, and a simple, flowing, enjoyable writing style. I basically just love her writing, period. Page is kind of different from some stories in that it doesn’t so much have a huge, overarching plot path–other than the passage of time over the three remaining years of Kel’s page training. Which isn’t to say there isn’t plot; there is, quite a lot in fact. It’s just set up with a more episodic feel, and also in places with the passage of time simply flowing away without much note. I know that doesn’t sound so exciting, but I actually quite enjoyed the way in which it’s written. It explores how much Kel grows up in the course of those years, discovering her own womanhood, exploring how her gender plays a part in who she is and how she lives, her changing feelings over time, her growing as a person and a leader, her developing friendships, and the growth in her character. Page is a different sort of story, but highly recommended still, perhaps even because of that very reason. Plus, you know, Tamora Pierce, always recommended, period.

 

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