Tag Archives: school story

Giant Days, vol. 1 (Graphic Novel)

Author: John Allison/Illustrator: Lissa Treiman/Colorist: Whitney Cogar

My rating: 5 of 5

Susan, Daisy, and Esther became fast friends when they began their university studies together. Yes, they all have their individual quirks–you could even say that they’re very different from each other. But perhaps it’s those very differences that make them good for each other, that help them through the complications of studies, relationships, illness, and drama that plague them along the way. Certainly, those quirks keep things interesting, as long as they can survive living in Esther’s drama zone, dealing with Susan’s mysterious past, and helping Daisy handle the big, scary world despite her (shocking) innocence.

I think I’m in love! Giant Days is everything I ask for in a graphic novel. The art is charming–a contemporary style similar to, say, Nimona or Seconds or even Kibuishi’s work, but with its own unique flair–and the coloring is just perfect–vibrant but not overdone. And the tone of the story is spot on, giving us a current, relatable slice of life story that touches on deep issues but never goes so far that we lose sight of the lighter side of things. And there’s plenty of the lighter side to be found here; this graphic novel is brimming with humor in abundance. There’s just enough quirkiness to the characters and the situations they find themselves in to appeal to the nerdier audiences, but the story is such a solid, timely slice-of-life story that I think a lot of YA/NA readers will find themselves charmed by this work as well. The characters are strong and interesting, and their depiction is vivid and captivating. I’m excited to see what Giant Days will bring in future volumes.

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Miraculous: Tales of Ladybug & Cat Noir (2015- Cartoon)

Zagtoon with Method Animation, Toei Animation, SAMG Animation, AB Droits Audiovisuels, SK Broadband, & De Agostini Editore

Status: Ongoing (2 Seasons, 34 episodes)

My rating: 4 of 5

In present-day Paris, Marinette deals with the same things most students do–friends, schoolwork, crushing on the cutest boy in the school. Not that Adrien seems to even notice her particularly, although it would help if she could actually talk to him without tripping all over herself and looking like an idiot. But that’s not all she deals with, because you see, Marinette has a secret alter-ego–the superhero Ladybug, sworn protector of Paris along with her partner Cat Noir.

Miraculous Ladybug was a fun, unexpected find for me, something I’ve heard other people mention but didn’t have high expectations for myself. It’s a French kids’ CGI adventure show, and it’s pretty random for something like that to even cross the radar in the States anyhow. Not surprising, though, considering that this show is actually quite good. It pulls from a lot of different sources, giving it a unique flavor–kind of a mix of mahou shojou and your more traditional superhero stories, but also a cute slice-of-life story. The CG can feel a bit stilted at times, but overall the animation is excellent if not my ideal style; it still has some cute anime influences, which is fun. This story is solidly a kids’ show. It’s clean–astonishingly so, in fact. It has the repetition, the set episode pattern, to make it ideal for a younger audience (although that very thing may get kind of annoying for older viewers). By the end of each episode, everything is cleaned up and put back right, and the city views Ladybug and Cat Noir as proper heroes. Moreover, the show teaches important life lessons like responsibility, honesty, and courage. All of which make this an excellent show for children, but there is actually something there for older viewers, too. Because behind the masks and the cheesy villains and all, you’ve got some awesome characters who show growth over time. You’ve got diversity. You’ve got an adorable slow-burn romance. You’ve got real, developed friendships and Marinette has an awesome, supportive family. So there’s more than meets the eye in this cute kids’ show. I’m looking forward to seeing where Miraculous Ladybug goes in the future (I’ve only seen season 1 so far), although I’m dying for some development and a reveal between Adrien and Marinette. We’ll see if/when that ever comes.

Created by Thomas Astruc/Written by Thomas Astruc & Sébastien Thibaudeau/Directed by Thomas Astruc, Christelle Abgrall, Wilifried Pain, & Jun Violet/Music by Jeremy Zag, Noam Kaniel, & Alain Garcia/Voiced (in English) by Cristina Vee, Bryce Papenbrook, Keith Silverstein, Mela Lee, Max Mittelman, & Carrie Keranen

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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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First Test

Author: Tamora Pierce

Protector of the Small Quartet, vol. 1

My rating: 5 of 5

A decade after the kingdom of Tortall decided to accept girls to train as knights instead of just boys, ten-year-old Kel becomes the first girl to actually apply. Inspired by tales of the Lioness’s valor and already skilled through her training in the Yamani court, Kel is determined to succeed and become a knight of Tortall. But she is shocked when Lord Wyldon, the training master, puts an extra requirement on her that the boys don’t have to fulfill: her first year is a probationary period, and only if she satisfies him at the end of it will she be allowed to stay on as a knight-in-training. Hurt and frustration are barely the beginning of what Kel feels, but her time with the Yamanis has also trained her to hide her emotions and press on through unrealistic expectations, deep-seated prejudice, bullying, and social rejection until she proves herself.

First Test is such a great reminder of just why I love Tamora Pierce’s books so much. It’s this fabulous mix of fantasy and slice-of-life, encompassing bits of school story (the majority of the tale), culture and history, exciting battles, amusing relationships with various animals, and growing friendships among many other things. Plus it’s an excellent look into changing perspectives on what women are capable of and that whole dynamic. Kel is a powerhouse, incredible character–the perfect individual for this particular story. Her story is so similar to and yet so different from Alanna’s in the Song of the Lioness Quartet that it’s quite interesting to compare the two. And knowing that Kel has Alanna’s secret backing is fabulous. But seriously, I love Kel’s stubbornness and determination, the way she works so hard to get where she wants to be. And the way that she’s quiet and feminine–which is partly stubbornness in the face of opposition itself–but is also ready to get into fistfights when necessary also contributes to a richness of character. Plus her friendships with all the various animals and her  intentionality in standing up for those who are weaker and afraid. She’s just a very well-realized and fascinating character, and I love that about her. I also really love her opinionated and chatty mentor Neal as well–also a richly developed and complex character who is quite likeable. It’s been entirely too long since I’ve read these books, and I’m greatly anticipating re-reading the rest of this quartet. I would highly recommend both First Test and the rest of the quartet to . . . well, basically anybody who likes a solid fantasy. As far as appropriate age recommendations, this quartet (like the Song of the Lioness books) is difficult to place, but I would say that First Test at least is appropriate for middle-grade and up (possibly even older elementary). Just be warned that the later books in the quartet grow up as Kel grows up, so there may be some more mature content there.

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The Janitor’s Boy

Author: Andrew Clements

My rating: 4.5 of 5

Normally, Jack Rankin is something of a model kid–polite, hard-working, good grades. Life isn’t exactly normal right now, though. The entire middle school has been dumped in the ancient high-school building for the year until their new building is ready to use . . . the high-school building where Jack’s dad works as the janitor. Not a big deal, except let’s be honest, when the other kids find out, it’s totally a big deal. Let the teasing begin. And wondering why his dad so desperately wants to ruin his life, Jack begins to get angry. That’s when he comes up with the perfect revenge.

Although I’ve been vaguely aware of Andrew Clements’ writings for some time, this is the first time I’ve actually read one of his books, and I must say, I’m impressed. This middle-grade/coming-of-age story is warm, humorous, accessible, and engaging. Moreover, it delves deep into the complexities of the parent-child relationship at a challenging age and stage of life, opening some interesting discussions on the topic from both the child’s and the parent’s point of view. I love, love, love that the story actually carries Jack through the transformation of perspective from seeing his dad as someone who provides for him and tells him what to do to seeing his dad as an actual whole person with his own problems and stories and personality. It’s something I’ve experienced personally, but I’ve never seen a book actually develop this phenomenon before. I think this is what truly raises the bar in this book, transforming it from an amusing middle-grade story to a beautiful, moving coming-of-age story. I also really enjoyed how much individual personality each of the characters had and the way in which that personality affected the flow of the plot. In short, The Janitor’s Boy was an impressive surprise for me, and I would highly recommend this book.

 

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The War at Ellsmere

Author/Illustrator: Faith Erin Hicksthe-war-at-ellsmere

My rating: 4 of 5

In a tale as old as boarding school accepting scholarship students, Jun enters the prestigious (read “stuffy”) Ellsmere Academy on the merits of her academic achievement alone. Not surprisingly, she runs into just the sort of problems you’d expect–snotty rich kids, uncomfortable uniforms, bullying. At least she excels at the school part and she’s not so concerned about making lots of friends. Unexpectedly though, Jun and her roommate Cassie swiftly become fast friends in spite of their distinctly different personalities. And together, the two friends determine to make it through the year at Ellsmere regardless of the problems that get thrown their way.

I’ve never really read much Faith Erin Hicks, but I was pleasantly surprised with what I found in The War at Ellsmere. As mentioned above, the plot isn’t anything particularly outstanding: poor kid, rich school, bullies, rivalry, the one friend who sticks around no matter what. Pretty standard stuff. But what Hicks does with these typical plot elements is pretty spectacular, actually. The art is bold and expressive, which definitely helps. But where she excels the most, I think, is in crafting believable, interesting characters that the reader enjoys and empathizes with. Jun and Cassie are definitely two such characters, and their interactions totally carry the story. On a side note, the touch of magical realism thrown in at the end was . . . interesting. It worked with the story, but as with Larson’s Mercury, it was surprising and difficult to mesh with the rest of the graphic novel. Still, for those who enjoy a high-school graphic novel with great characters, The War at Ellsmere is definitely on my list of recommendations.

 

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Awkward

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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