EMG Graphic Novel Round Up 7

The Golden Hour
by Nikki Smith
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Content: There is some depiction of a school shooting, talk of PTSD, and depictions of anxiety attacks. It’s in the Middle Grade Graphic Novel section of the bookstore.

Manuel is just getting back to school after witnessing his teacher get shot in a shooting (it was during the break; he happened to be at school helping his teacher when it happened). He’s not going great, mostly because he keeps having panic attacks that get triggered by his environment or the words being said. But he makes friends with Sebastian and Cayasha, who are part of the ag club. He goes out to Sebastian’s family farm and learns about cows and chickens and farm work. He also discovers that taking photographs helps ground him in the present and reduces his panic attacks. But, when he goes off to camp with Sebastian, they come back strong. Will Manuel ever recover?

I really liked this one. Not only because it was set among the wheat fields of Kansas (and written by someone who grew up here!), but because Smith focused on the healing aspect of a shooting and not the terror part. I liked that she addressed PTSD in kids, and how to handle it (with a therapist, of course). A really solid graphic novel, and one I thoroughly enjoyed.

Enemies
by Svetlana Chmakova
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Others in the series: Awkward, Brave, Crush, Diary
Content: There is verbal fighting and sibling rivalry. It’s in the Middle Grade Graphic Novel section of the bookstore.

Felicity is an artist and a gamer and has tons of friends at middle school. What she is not: good at making deadlines. Her younger sister, Letty, who is accomplished in all the “right” ways, likes driving that point home. So, when Felicity sees a poster about a “pitch the future” contest, she figures it’s her chance to actually win for once. The problem is that when she shows up to the meeting, her ex-friend (now enemy?), Joseph Koh is there. How will she be able to come up with an idea and deal with the drama surrounding Joseph as well?

I’ve liked this series by Chmakova in the past (I’ve read three of the five now), and this one is no exception. They work well as standalones, but you can also read the entire series and get to know all the kids from the middle school. It’s a good depiction of middle school and the different challenges kids have. I liked that this one featured a black girl who liked art and gaming. I liked her parents, and I liked that the friendships weren’t always smooth. It’s a solid book in a solid series.

The Woman in the Woods
Edited by Kei McDonald, Kate Ashwin, & Alina Pete
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Content: A couple of the stories could be scary for sensitive readers. It’s in the Middle Grade Graphic Novel section of the bookstore.

In this collection of short folktales based on Indigenous mythologies and stories, there are trickster rabbits, shapeshifters, Rougarou, and other stories from differing tribes throughout the Americas.

All the stories were well-drawn and interesting, though my favorite was the Rougarou myth. Rougarou was a monster that existed because someone looked at a Rougarou. If you look at it, you turn into one, and you’re that way for 100 days. if you can survive the 100 days, you turn back, but with no memory. In this story, a boy finds the Rougarou in the woods, and knowing what he’s seeing, blindfolds himself. And then he proceeds to befriend the monster. It’s really sweet. It’s a good collection of stories and one I’m glad to have read.

Miss Quinces
by Kat Fajardo
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Content: There is a death in the family, which might be difficult for some readers. It’s in the Middle Grade graphic novel section of the bookstore.

Sue just wants to go to sleepaway camp with her friends this summer, but her mami won’t let her go anywhere without her sisters, and besides, it’s their family trip to Honduras. Once in Honduras – away from cell phones and the internet! – Sue discovers that her mami has decided that Sue needs a quinceañera. Sue puts up a fight, initially, until her abuela (who isn’t doing too well), helps her find ways to make it more, well, Sue-like.

This is a super charming story about finding one’s place. Fajardo got across how hard it is to be a child of immigrants; not American enough to quite fit in (her mami has super strict rules, and doesn’t understand some of the things that Sue is into), but she doesn’t quite fit in with her family in Honduras, either (she doesn’t speak Spanish terribly well, and doesn’t want a quinceañera). I liked the story, overall, and there were some tender and touching moments. It’s an excellent graphic novel.

EMG Graphic Novel Round-up 4

Invisible
by Christina Diaz Gonzalez, illustrated by Gabriela Epstein
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Content: There is some disrespect for elders. A lot of it is in Spanish (it’s translated) and I can see that throwing some non-Spanish speakers off it.

George (Puerto Rican, but doesn’t speak much Spanish) is short his community service hours at his middle school, and won’t finish up if he doesn’t get them. So the principal assigns him to the cafeteria first thing in the mornings with four other Latine students: Sara (who is in America from Mexico because her dad has a job here; speaks English but likes to pretend she doesn’t), Miguel (from the Dominican Republic, speaks a little English), Dayara (she’s Cuban, speaks a little English) and Nico (who is here on his own from Venezuela, speaks no English). Together, they discover a woman and her daughter living in their car just off the school grounds. They decide to help her, and because the lunch lady (who is a white, older woman) gets all upset at them for “stealing” the school’s food, they get in trouble. It doesn’t end badly, even though it could have.

There was so much to like about this one. I loved that the book was mostly in Spanish (it was translated, but I kept trying to see how much I could understand) which makes it quite representative I liked how the Latine students were not all one monolith; at one point they make fun of the principal and others for thinking they were all the same. They’re from different countries; of course, they’re not. I liked the conflict between the newer immigrants and George, who is really Anglicized. And i really liked the story of them helping the unhoused woman find a job and a home. It really was a delight to read.

Anne of West Philly
by Ivy Noelle Weir illustrated by Myisha Haynes
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Content: There’s really nothing It’int eh middle-grade graphic novel section of the bookstore.

If you have read Anne of Gren Gables or seen the show (whichever version you like), then you know the plot of this one. Its only changes are that Anne is a Black foster kid in the system and lives in Philidelphia instead of Prince Edward Island. Otherwise, the book gets the story pretty much beat for beat.

This means it is a pretty cute adaptation of the classic story, updating it with cell phones and robot clubs and making Gilbert and Anne work together to get into an elite high school. Marilla and Matthew are in the story, as is Diana – and the part where Anne gets Diana accidentally drunk). It’s a sweet book because Anne of Green Gables is a sweet story, but it’s a good way to introduce new kids to the story.

Two-Headed Chicken
by Tm Angleberger
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Content: It’s full of silly humor. It’s a bit harder than the Dog Man books but is in the same vein. It’s in the Middle Grade Graphic Novel section of the bookstore.

There’s not much of a plot to this one: the Two-headed chicken is being chased by an evil green moose, not just in this reality, but in all realities and dimensions. They have a hat that will switch them through the different multiverses and if they can stop the moose in one, they stop him in all of them.

What this book is: a lot of laughs. I thought it was going to be kind of annoying when I started, but I found myself giggling at the dumb jokes (let’s hear it for the fish with a mustache who is asking about everyone’s feelings, and more importantly: Duckter Whooo) It’s supremely silly in all the best ways. I can see myself handselling this one through the holidays to kids who have either outgrown or finished Dog Man and are looking for something else. It’s got everything: cultural references, multiverses (they’re in right now), and lots and lots of poking fun at everything.

And stick around for the world’s longest knock-knock joke. You won’t regret it.

Batman Robin and Howard
by Jeffrey Brown
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Content: Batman goes missing for a few days and leaves his kid alone, but there’s Alfred, so all’s good. It’s in the Middle Grade Graphic Novel section of the bookstore.

Damian Wayne is starting yet another new school. He’s had to leave his most recent school for Reasons. Additionally, his dad (yes, that Bruce Wayne) has sidelined Damian from being Robin. So Damian is forced to make friends at his new school. One of those people is Howard, the school’s smartest, nicest kid, who doesn’t like Damian because he thinks Damian is a show-off (well, Damian is). But then Batman goes missing, and Damian can’t go out and find him on his own. So, he tells Howard who he and his dad are, and enlists Howard’s help in finding Batman.

This is Batman LIte. It’s Batman for the kids who like Batman but can’t read the superhero comics yet. It’s for the people who like their Batman safe and nice, and kind of like the 1960s TV show. Don’t ask too many questions about this Batman or his origin or his kids (Batman had kids?). It’s enjoyable, though, and I liked how Damian and Howard became friends. But it’s not my kind of Batman.

Didn’t finish: Ghoster Heights, Speak Up

Isla to Island

by Alexis Castellanos
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Content: There is some depiction of violence. It’s in the Middle Grade Graphic Novel section of the bookstore.

IN this wordless graphic novel, we follow the story of Mari, who was born in Cuba in the early 1950s and had a happy life with her parents. That is until Castro took over and Mari’s parents began to fear they weren’t safe. So, they sent Mari to New York to live with a nice older couple – stangers, as part of the Peter Pan program, though you don’t find that our until the afterword until they could find a way to leave as well. Mari was thrown into situations that she couldn’t understand; school in New York was nothing like school in ba. It wasn’t until she find the library, and books about plants, that she begins to feel at home.

This is a gorgeously drawn graphic novel; it has to be since there are no words (to very few). Castellanos knows how to portray emotion through facial expressions and body language so I felt I got the story without needing to have words. Perhaps the best thing was that when Mari traveled to Cuba, the world changed from full color to black and white. It was a very effective tool for portraying how isolated and out of place she felt.

Very highly recommended.

Audiobook: Go Back to Where You Came From

by Wajahat Ali
Read by the author
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Or listen at Libro.fm
Content: There’s a lot of swearing, including multiple f-bombs. It’s in the humor section of the bookstore.

I had no idea who Ali was when I picked this up. I think it called to me because I’m always looking for immigrant stories, ones by people who don’t have my experiences. And although Ali is not an immigrant, he’s a first-generation American, which is just as interesting. It’s basically a memoir; Ali tells the story of how his parents came to America from Pakistan, his childhood, and then growing up and the trials he and his parents faced. (Spoiler: it’s a lot.) Ali tells his story with grace, keeping a reader/listener engaged with wry humor and just plain good storytelling.

It’s a good reminder of white privilege, and that there must be something bout this country if immigrants still want to keep trying to make a life here in the face of all the obstacles put in their way by white supremacy. Ali was a good person to spend a few hours with, and I feel like I learned something after having listened to his story. It was a good reminder that we’re all in it togeher in this huge melting pot we call America. Maybe we can even figure out how to make it work. Ali seems to have some hope for the future. I hope he’s right.

Measuring Up

by Lily LaMotte and Ann Xu
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Content: There is some pressure on a character by a parent, which may be triggering for some. It’s in the Middle Grade Graphic Novel section of the bookstore.

Cici and her family live in Taiwan. She’s happy; she has her A-ma there to keep her company while her parents work and to teach her how to cook. So when Cici’s parents take jobs in America, Cici is heartbroken. Especially since A-Ma isn’t coming. Life in America is strange, and Cici wants to find a way to help A-Ma visit, so she enters a cooking competition for kids. The only problem is that Cici only knows how to cook Taiwanese dishes, and not “American”. She learns about Julia Child (yay!) and practices and practices to become better. And yet, she doesn’t want to lose her own identity and heritage.

What a delightful book! I loved the meshing of the immigrant story and food. There is a huge metaphor about how immigrants have to balance assimilation and their own heritage. There’s also a theme about finding your own path and not the one that your parents set out for you. I loved the characters, and how Xu drew them. She also met the challenge of drawing food and cooking, which isn’t easy.

I adored this one.

The Best We Could Do

by Thi Bui
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Content: There is talk of violence. It’s in the Graphic Novels-Nonfiction section of the bookstore.

I fit this in among my reading for school, partially because we were reading books by Asian authors, and one that Bui illustrated (and won a Caldecott honor for), A Different Pond, was on the list. I figured it was a good opportunity to read her graphic memoir, which I’d been meaning to read for years. (This is a theme with this class: I’m catching up on ones I have meant to read!)

It’s mostly the story of her parents, their lives in Vietnam before and during the war. Bui is exploring their trauma and how it relates to her, especially after she gave birth to her son. Her family fled Vietnam and came to the United States when she was young, and her parents weren’t terribly demonstrative in their affection. Bui, as she got older, wanted to understand their stories, and where they came from, in order to understand them, and by extension, herself.

Her parents’ stories were fascinating, and I learned a lot about Vietnam, a country I sadly know very little about. Her art style was simple – mostly line drawing on a muted color background – but effectively portrayed emotion and the story she was trying to tell.

A very good graphic novel.

Unsettled

by Reem Faruqi
First sentence: “I grab Asna’s hand, palm to palm.”
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Review copy provided by the publisher.
Content: It’s a novel in verse, so even though it looks long, it goes quickly. There is some talk of bullying and dementia. It’s in the middle grade (grades 3-5) section of the bookstore.

Nurah is happy with her life in Pakistan: she has friends at school, she lives near her grandparents, and loves her home. But then, her father gets a job offer in Peachtree City, Georgia, and relocates the family there. Nurah finds it hard to adapt: she is out of place at school and her brother, whom she used to have a good relationship with, is increasingly distant. The one place Nurah feels at home is the rec center swim team; she’s not the best, but she feels at home in the water.

This was a very sweet and heartfelt story. I thought it worked really well as a novel in verse; it was simple without being simplistic. And Nurah’s challenges with fitting in at school, getting along with her increasingly distant brother, a grandmother with dementia, and just experiencing a new country are presented in a way to make them incredibly relatable.

It was a charming book, but one with a deeply felt heart.

The Magic Fish

by Trun Le Nguyen
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Content: There some fairy tale-type violence. It’s in the middle grade graphic novel section of the bookstore.

 Tiến is a first-generation American, trying to live his best life. However, he has recently come out as gay to his friends, and wants to share that with his parents. However, he doesn’t know if they understand English well enough and he doesn’t know the words in Vietnamese. His mother feels like Tiến is growing apart as he grows up, but they do still share one thing: a love of reading fairy tales. And maybe through this connection,  Tiến will find a way to share about his life.

Honestly? It was a gorgeous book. The art was spectacular, and the fairy tale retellings (three re-tellings of Cinderella-type stories) were marvelous. I liked  Tiến  and his friends and the way he tries to navigate coming out and his feelings while his mother deals with being separated from her elderly, sick mother.

However, I’m not entirely sure who this graphic novel is for. I know adults will read it and love it, as will those who enjoy fairy tale re-tellings. But, is it for the middle grade age group? Maybe? Maybe there are some 4-8th graders who will read this and see themselves, or need to read this because they lack the confidence to come out to their family. But it lacks a real plot, which most middle grade books kind of need to have.

At any rate, it’s a gorgeous book, and Nguyen is a talented artist. I will be curious to see what he does next.

Audio book: Clap When You Land

by Elizabeth Acevedo
Read by  Elizabeth Acevedo and Melania-Luisa Marte
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Or listen at Libro.fm
Content: There is a scene of sexual assault and one of almost-rape. There is also swearing, including multiple f-bombs. It’s in the Teen section (grades 9+) of the bookstore.

Camino Rios lives in the Dominican Republic, where her father — who lives in the US — vists every summer. Yahaira Rios lives in the US with her parents, except every summer her father goes to the Dominican Republic for “work”. And then, one fatal day, the plane that their father is on crashes into the ocean, killing everyone on board.

What follows is a story of loss, of grief, of forgiveness, of finding. Told in verse — and beautifully narrated by Acevedo and Marte — it follows the two months after the plane crash, as Camino and Yahaira find out about each other, and come to terms with their beloved papi’s other family, and find their way through their grief in the aftermath of a tragic accident.

Acevedo brilliantly captures not only the grief, but the differences between growing up in the US and growing up in the DR, and the challenges that each one brings. I loved the way both Camino and Yahaira had things they loved about their father, but they also had to come to terms with his deception and imperfections.

Truly an amazing book.

Americanah

by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
First sentence: “Princeton, in the summer, smelled of nothing, and although Ifemelu liked the tranquil greenness of the many trees, the clean streets and stately homes, the delicately overpriced shops, and the quiet, abiding air of earned grace, it was this, the lack of smell, that most appealed to her, perhaps because the other American cities she knew well had all smelled distinctly.”
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Content: There is some on-screen sex, including a rape scene, as well as swearing, including f-bombs. It’s in the adult fiction section of the bookstore.

It’s hard to know where to start on the plot of this one. It’s basically the story of two Nigerians — Ifemelu and Obinze — who met in high school and fell in love, and their distinct paths. They attended college together, but in a political uprising in Nigeria, their education got interrupted. Ifemelu — whose aunt had moved to America years before — got into a college in the US and went there. Obinze was denied a visa to the US and so ended up as an illegal immigrant in the UK. Most of the book is about their experiences — told in flashback, mostly — as immigrants in Western countries.

That part of the book was fascinating, though I found Ifemelu’s story more interesting. Obinze only spent a few years in the UK, working underground, trying to become legal, before he was caught and deported back to Nigeria, where he actually ended up becoming very wealthy. Ifemelu spent a long time in the US — 15 years — and had a myriad of experiences from the terrible to the banal to the good. She ended up writing a blog about being a non-American Black in the US and about race relations. All of which I found a fascinating perspective. Ifemelu had some interesting observations about race in the US and the role immigrants — especially Black immigrants — play in the discussion about race.

In the end, though, this is a story about relationships, how they work and change over time. Not just romantic ones, though it is that, but all interpersonal relationships. There is an ebb and flow to relationships, people who come in and go out of our lives, and I think Adichie captured that quite eloquently. In fact, Adichie is a gorgeous writer, balancing beautiful words with characterization and enough plot to keep me turning pages.

Recommended.