Mangaka: Umi Sakurai
Status: Ongoing (Currently 1 Volume)
My rating: 4.5 of 5
In a petshop cubicle, an ugly-cute cat watches as cuter, younger kittens go to happy homes all around him, day after day. That is, until one day, when a sharp, middle-aged man comes in and asks for him specifically! He’s finally found the home he’s longed for . . . and perhaps he’s exactly what his human needs, too.
A Man & His Cat is a super-cute and funny manga that will appeal to cat owners in its insightfulness. Fukumaru the cat is utterly catlike, complete with all the weird, hilarious things cats do that only a cat owner can truly appreciate. It’s definitely amusing, and Sakurai captures this in a way that’s adorable and relatable as well as funny. But while this manga fits well in the ranks of “cute cat manga” like Chi’s Sweet Home and the like, there are aspects of this particular manga that elevate it to something more. There’s a poignance and wistfulness developed here as Kanda deals with his loneliness after his wife’s death that makes this story relatable on a more universal level. I think Kanda’s an interesting character–older gentleman, music teacher, lonely widower, newly-discovered cat lover–and I’m intrigued to see how his character develops over future volumes. This is a really cute, sweet seinen slice-of-life story that I would definitely recommend.
Author: Min Jin Lee
My rating: 3.5 of 5
In 1980’s South Korea, a young girl has spent her entire life being told in a million ways that girls are simply not as important as boys. That her family’s hopes are all in her new baby brother. That she and the three younger sisters she’s responsible for will never be good enough, even if they excel. So when her already poor family’s fortunes take an unexpected turn for the worse, she makes a horrific decision in order to be the dutiful daughter her family needs.
Although extremely short, “The Best Girls” packs quite a punch. Since this is part of the “Disorder” collection of stories, I immediately expected some sort of horror story and was surprised to find instead a Korean family drama. It tells of a family making do in the face of poverty, one that preaches (perhaps, one can hope, unwittingly) an extremely patriarchal worldview in its every action. And it tells of a smart, dutiful young girl who has been immersed in this mindset from her earliest childhood. So perhaps we should take it as a warning that kids pay attention to what’s happening around them and draw their own conclusions. In any case, this girl makes a choice that is shocking . . . and yet kind of makes a terrible sense considering her background. It’s pretty horrifying and super sad. I enjoyed the writing, even if it was quite different from a lot of what I have read, and I would be interested in trying more of the author’s work.
Author: Kate DiCamillo
Illustrator: Chris Van Dusen
My rating: 3 of 5
Mr. and Mrs. Watson live a very ordinary, quiet life. Some might even say boring. But all that begins to change when a tiny piglet shows up on their doorstep and wiggles her way into their hearts.
A Piglet Named Mercy is, to my understanding, a picture-book prequel to DiCamillo’s Mercy Watson series (which I believe are written for a slightly older demographic, although I haven’t read them yet). As such, a certain amount of the story’s appeal is directly linked to its relation to the other books–which, again, I haven’t read. So do please take that bias into consideration while reading this review. The story itself is cute, although extremely simple. I honestly expect more from DiCamillo’s writing, though, even just for a picture book. She typically makes so much magic, regardless of the story or the reading level. Still, though, a cute story about a lonely couple, a couple nosy neighbors, and an adorably spunky piglet. I would expect this to be popular with preschoolers, perhaps even into kindergarten or first grade. And yes, it’s a nice set-up that leaves the reader expecting great things of the actual series; we’ll see how well those expectations are fulfilled. The other aspect of this book that I haven’t really addressed yet–but which plays a significant role, since this is a picture book–is the art. I don’t love it. Yes, it has a fitting country-kitchen sort of feel that works with the story . . . but the edges are too sharp, the colors too brash, the facial expressions too odd. It just doesn’t work for me. Yet for all the negatives mentioned above, I do still rate this a 3/5 (which is a positive rating for me); the story is sweet and funny enough that I would recommend it for younger readers.
Authors: Mac Barnett & Jory John
Illustrator: Kevin Cornell
The Terrible Two, vol. 2
My rating: 4 of 5
Best friends Miles Murphy and Niles Sparks, better known as the Terrible Two (but only to each other), have taken their school by storm with a series of madcap pranks. As a pair of dedicated pranksters, it’s what they do. But they realize they may have gone too far when their pranks get Principal Barkin fired . . . only to be replaced by his father, also Principal Barkin. And while their former principal made a fun target for their pranking, the new principal is quickly sucking the life and fun out of everything. He doesn’t even react, even to the most innovate pranks. And to handle this new principal and get their old one back, Miles and Niles will have to team up with an unlikely ally to pull off a prank of epic proportions.
For those who enjoyed The Terrible Two, this book is a solid, fun follow-up. The Terrible Two Get Worse is a charming, funny middle-grade story full of tricks, friendship, and good clean fun. I appreciate particularly that this volume addresses the idea of pranking while doing no real harm–and fixing the messes you make. Because yeah, while middle-grade pranking is humorous and ought to be relatively innocent, it would be pretty easy for kids to go overboard. As far as Niles and Miles’ friendship, we get something more developed and settled here. In the first volume, they’re in this rivals-to-friends stage, but by this point, they know each other and have done lots together. They accept each others’ quirks, have secret handshakes, and are generally comfortable together. I wish we had gotten more of this friendship aspect, honestly–like, it’s there throughout, but there’s enough focus on plot that it gets a smidge lost in the shuffle at times. Still, though, I enjoyed the friendship represented here. The plot can get a bit angsty at times, if only because there’s such a dour antagonist at play, but rest assured that there’s plenty of good fun as well. As an aside, I also really enjoyed the way the illustrations are worked in as actual parts of the text; you couldn’t read the story completely without the specific pictures in the specific places that they are. For those who enjoy humorous middle-grade stories, I would recommend.
Authors: Jory John & Mac Barnett
Illustrator: Kevin Cornell
The Terrible Two, vol. 1
My rating: 4.5 of 5
Miles really hates that his mom is moving them from his home near the ocean where everyone knew him as an epic prankster to some podunk Midwestern town that smells of cows . . . where no one even knows his name. Starting at his new school, he knows he’s going to have to act fast to solidify his role as an outstanding prankster before he gets stuck hanging out with the school tattle-tale suck-up, Niles. Only trouble is, this school seems to already have a resident prankster, one who seems to be two steps ahead of Miles at every turn–and one so good at hiding that the principal is convinced Miles is guilty of the pranks!
The Terrible Two is a fun, funny middle-grade story that I literally read in one sitting. It’s got great characterizations, relatable problems, and hilarious pranks. All told is a droll, matter-of-fact tone that just makes it even funnier, along with fabulous black-and-white illustrations that emphasize and elaborate on the story brilliantly. Oh, and it’s got cows. Lots and lots of cows. . . . But seriously, I really enjoyed the way the relationship between these two pranksters played out, going from annoyance and bafflement to outright antagonism and finally to this great bromantic pranking team. The Terrible Two is a lot of fun; recommended.
Status: Ongoing (currently 4 volumes)
My rating: 4.5 of 5
Rin loves solo camping, and even though she’s only in high school, she’s already made numerous camping trips on her own. The quiet, the beauty of the scenery, the delicious camp food . . . it’s all quite enchanting. On one camping trip, Rin encounters another student, Nadeshiko, who is about as bubbly and enthusiastic as Rin is calm and collected. Yet the two quickly form a fast–if unusual–friendship, texting back and forth, trading camping advice, and sending pictures of places they’ve gone. Sometimes they even go camping together with Nadeshiko’s outdoor club from school, which is fun too, if a different sort of fun from the camping to which Rin is accustomed.
Laid-Back Camp is a very unusual but charming manga. It’s very chill–the “laid-back” in the title is quite appropriate. There’s a seinen flavor to the story, even though the main characters are all high-school girls. And it’s a very cute, fun story revolving around Rin and Nadeshiko in their separate camping-related endeavors (Rin’s solo camping trips to fabulous locales, Nadeshiko’s goofing around with her school club, shopping trips to camping supply stores, and group camping trips) while also developing the unusual friendship between these two. The other side of this manga is that it is, in fact, a camping manga. Which doesn’t mean you have to like camping or be interested in it to enjoy the story; it’s cute and fun either way. But if you are interested, the manga actually provides a lot of information–comparing camping supplies based on cost and utility, describing various sorts of campsites, even going over camp-friendly recipes. It’s pretty cool, giving lots of info without obnoxiously overriding the story. I’ve really enjoyed reading Laid-Back Camp and look forward to reading future volumes of it.
Author: Frank Cottrell Boyce
My rating: 4.5 of 5
In a small Welsh town where it rains nearly daily and nothing every really happens, Dylan finds himself the last boy anywhere near his age. So even a soccer game is out. Left keeping the petrol log for his family’s gas station/mechanic shop and avoiding the unwelcome attentions of “Terrible” Evans, it seems like nothing will ever change . . . until one day when a whole cavalcade of vans rumbles past their station, up the mountain, to the abandoned slate quarry. Suddenly, the town is abuzz with gossip. Perhaps even moreso when it becomes known that the contents of the National Gallery have been temporarily relocated to the quarry due to flooding. And somehow, the presence and exposure to the art there begins to change Dylan and his town . . . but will the changes all be for the good, or will Dylan and his siblings be inspired to more sinister designs?
As always, Frank Cottrell Boyce delivers a home run of a story in Framed. The writing, the characters, the themes–it’s all brilliantly executed and very readable. I love the way he chooses a few motifs and uses them repeatedly to tie the story together and draw out deeper ideas in a way that’s relatable. Surprisingly, this is perhaps the most credible and realistic of his stories that I’ve read to date; most of them tend to be rather tall-tale like (or even just be absurd science fiction), but this story is something that–while improbably–could possibly actually happen. Which is actually pretty great, because this is a story of inspiration and positive change in the midst of darkness and stagnation. I love the art aspect of this story as well; in a lot of ways that aspect reminds me of E. L. Konigsburg’s books (she’s another favorite of mine!). All in all, Framed is a great middle-grade story which reaches way beyond its intended grade range–recommended for basically anyone!