Sea Sirens

by Amy Chu and Janet K. Lee
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Review copy provided by the publisher.
Content: There are some intense moments, but the language is actually pretty simple. It’s in the Middle Grade graphic novel section, but I’d give it to the younger end of that set.

Trot is a California girl through and through. She spends the days (when she’s not in school!) at the beach with her grandfather while her mother works — he fishes, she surfs. Except there’s a problem: her grandfather has the beginning stages of dementia and doesn’t always remember where he is or that he’s supposed to be watching Trot. After one experience where her grandfather goes missing, Trot’s mom grounds them both to the house. So, Trot sneaks out with their cat, Cap’n Bill, and they go surfing. Except, they end up in the underwater world of the Sea Sirens. The are mortal enemies with the Sea Serpents, and Trot and Cap’n Bill help defeat them. So, they’re taken in as heroes for an underwater adventure with the Sea Sirens. (And Grandpa comes too!)

As I mentioned in the content, this is almost a beginning chapter Graphic Novel (does it belong with the other beginning chapter books? Perhaps.) — the language is basic, there are a lot of illustrations and not a lot of text, and the adventure is pretty simple. I think it serves the same function as the Babymouse books: it’s there to help beginning readers find a footing in the world of graphic novels. It’s fantastic that the main character is Vietnamese-American, and that her grandfather sometimes slips into Vietnamese when he doesn’t quite understand what’s going on. It’s a cute book — I bet the full-color finished is quite gorgeous — and it’s a start of a series of adventures that Trot and Cap’n Bill will have. It’ll be a good one to put into the hands of those 1-3rd graders who are looking for something fun to read.

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Lowriders to the Center of the Earth

by Cathy Camper, illustrated by Raul the Third
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Content: There are some scary images — all based in folklore. It’s in the middle grade graphic novel section.

First off: this is a second book in a series, so I felt like I was missing a bit of origin story, but it really does work okay as a stand alone.

Three friends: Elirio Malaria (a mosquito), Lupe Impala (an impala, the animal not the car), and El Chavo Flapjack Octopus (again, self-explanatory) have noticed that their friend, Genie (the cat!) has gone missing. They decide to go looking for Genie, and soon discover that he’s been taken captive by Mictlantecuhtli, the god of the underworld. Not to be outdone by some god, the three friends take their car into the underworld to get Genie back.

On the one hand, this is a super cool graphic novel. Ancient gods, huge fights, and who doesn’t love a trip into the underworld? They met all sorts of mythical creatures, from the jackal to La Llorona, and even celebrated Dia de los Muertos. If you know Texas, too, you’ll recognize some landmarks.

I’m not a huge fan of the art style, it’s tri-color pen-and-ink, but it just reinforces the busy-ness of the book to me. I get why the author was using that style; it kind of looks like tattoos, and it is reminiscent of doodling on pages, but it didn’t work for me. And while I appreciated the use of Spanish mixed in with the English, the fact that they provided footnoted translations (which, again, I understand why) really ground my reading to a halt. It worked better once I figured out I could just gather the meaning of the Spanish from the context.

I’m not sorry I read this one, though. It’s clever and fun, and even if the art wasn’t my favorite, I think it was worth the time. Maybe start with book one, though.

The Remarkable Inventions of Walter Mortinson

by Quinn Sosna-Spear
First sentence: “‘Walter’ is no kind of name for a boy.”
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Review copy provided by the publisher.
Content: There’s death, including one Really Tragic One, as well as some kissing. It was in the middle grades (3-5) section, but I decided that that age group doesn’t want to read about kissing so I moved it to the YA (grades 6-8) section.

I picked this one up after the first line was chosen as the best of the week a couple weeks back. I was intrigued (I love the cover!). It’s the story of an imaginative boy with an overbearing mother and a dead father in a dreary town and his search for Something More. Walter’s dead father was an inventor (his mother is a mortician) and he desperately wants to follow in his footsteps, so when he gets an invitation to join a famous inventor on his island, he takes his mother’s hearse (a 13 year old knows how to drive?!) and runs away with the girl next door.

It’s less about Walter and Cordelia’s adventure though, and more about forgiveness and acceptance between Walter and his mother. See, Walter and Cordelia retrace the path that his parents took when leaving the island and coming to their boring, dreary town, and in doing so Walter Learns Things about his parents, particularly his father, which he never knew before.

It wasn’t a bad book; I did finish it, though by the end I was skimming (it may have been me). In the end, though, it seems to me the kind of kids books that adults would like rather than kids. I’m not sure many kids are wanting to explore their relationships with their overbearing mothers (on the other hand, there are overbearing mothers who need to read this) and not many kids are interested in heteronormative relationships either. There just wasn’t enough adventure and too much moody musing. Maybe they wanted to be all Dahl-esque, but it just kind of fell flat for me. Which is just too bad, since the premise is pretty great.

Freya & Zoose

by Emily Butler
First sentence: “There was no question in Freya’s mind that this was her last chance.”
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Review copy provided by the author.
Content: It’s short and highly illustrated, but it contains some big(ish) words. It’s in the middle grade (grades 3-5) section of the bookstore.

Freya is a rockhopper penguin who has always wanted (and feared) adventure. So, when she hears about an expedition to the North Pole (by hot air balloon!) she takes a deep breath and hops on board. There, she meets the intrepid (and somewhat annoying) mouse Zoose, who becomes her unwelcome (at first) traveling companion. Together they weather the ups and downs and the hardships and joys of traveling to the Arctic, and discover that perhaps friendship is the most important part.

Because I sell books, I tend (sometimes, not always) to read them looking for the person who will like the book. And this one, I think, will appeal to one of two sorts of people: those who like talking animals, and those who like quiet books that feel like classics. It’s a charming little book, with a quiet little adventure (Things do Happen, but it’s not a mile-a-minute page-turner) that I think would make a fantastic read-aloud to a younger child. I’m not sure how much an older kid would like it — it’s firmly geared toward the younger end of the middle grade range — but I really do think that reading it aloud to a 4-6 year old is the perfect thing to do with this book.

And that’s not a bad thing at all.

Unearthed

by Amie Kaufman and Megan Spooner
First sentence: “This is really, really not going the way I’d planned.”
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Review copy provided by the publisher for the Cybils.
Content: There’s some intense action, and some mild swearing. It’s in the YA section (grades 6-8) of the bookstore, but I’d give it to either older or younger readers depending on interest.

My 30-second handsell: It’s Indiana Jones in Space! I mean, kind of. It’s set in the future, after Earth — especially America — has ignored climate change and basically driven itself into ruin. Then, we get a message from aliens — the Undying — that went extinct 50,000 years ago, welcoming us to their planet, if we “dare”, It’s got a pair of teenagers working together — a girl who’s a scavanger (read: thief) and a boy who’s an archeologist who has spent his entire life studying the Undying. Put the two of them on this planet, and they have to figure out how to make it through a temple and read messages to figure out what the Undying was trying to say. Oh, and the government is trying to stop them.

Full of action, suspense, death-defying stunts, and just a whole lot of fun.

Okay, maybe that was longer than 30 seconds. But seriously: this was a ton of fun. I liked Kaufman and Spooner’s vision of the future; it was bleak but not overly so, and the idea of mixing post-apocalyptic with aliens is an interesting one. I liked that they kept the action moving, and that it was (mostly) plausible. It really did feel like a fun action movie; nothing deep (there’s a wee bit of romance, which I suppose was to be expected), but it did keep me turning pages.

And yes, I am going to read the sequel.

Sanity & Tallulah

by Molly Brooks
First sentence: “Wow you’re so wrong right now that I don’t understand how we’re even friends.”
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Review copy provided by the publisher.
Release date: October 23, 2018
Content:  There’s a couple of scary moments. It will be in the  Middle Grade Graphic Novel section of the bookstore.

Sanity and Tallulah are best friends living in a space station at the edge of space. They go to school — where Tallulah excels at science and Sanity is basically comic relief — they hang out — a lot, since Tallulah’s dad is the station director and her mom is off doing border patrol — and sometimes get into trouble. But nothing major. That is until Tallulah’s illegal science experiment — a three-headed cat named Princess Sparkle Destroyer of Worlds — gets out and starts wreaking havoc on the station.

Or so they think. As Sanity & Talullah investigate further, in search of their pet, they discover that there may be something more wrong than just an escaped cat.

A super-fun adventure/mystery in which girls take the lead, this one is great for fans of Zita the Spacegirl and Amulet. It’s got an action-packed and science-filled (well, futuristic science-filled) storyline, and it’s funny as well! Brooks is definitely a graphic novelist I’d like to see more work from.

Peter & Ernesto: A Tale of Two Sloths

by Graham Annable
First sentence: “Rabbit.”
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Content: There’s a lot of pictures, and simple words on each page. It’s in the Beginning Chapter Book section (grades 1-2) of the bookstore.

I have to admit that I picked this one up primarily because the title makes me smile. Making two sloths the subject of a graphic novel? How delightful! How absurd! And that perfectly describes the book.

Peter & Ernesto are two sloths, friends living in a tree together. They have their games and traditions, and it’s all good. That is, until the day that Ernesto decides he wants to see more of the sky than the small patch above their tree. So, he leaves. He has some interesting adventures, and makes a lot of new friends, as he explores all the sky. Peter, on the other hand, is worried when Ernesto doesn’t come back. So he follows him, at least until he can’t. Then he waits until Ernesto comes back. And when he does, he shares all the things he learned by being away.

it’s super simple, and the illustrations and text reflect that. I adore Annable’s sloths; while they’re more cartoonish than actual renditions, it captures the, well, slothiness of the animal. And I like the dichotomy between Ernesto — who is more adventuresome — and Peter, who is just a bundle of anxiety. It’s delightful. My favorite interaction is when Ernesto meets a fox and a raccoon when he’s exploring a mountain sky. They say,  “I thought sloths were lazy.” And Ernesto replies, “We’re content. There’s no need to move much when you’re content. But I’m not content. So I’ve been traveling.” I love that sentiment.

It really was a charming little beginning graphic novel.