DC Comics’ Big Three Are Big Kids in ‘Study Hall of Justice’

When the team behind Li’l Gotham is back for a unique take on DC’s Big Three in a book for kids, it’s almost a no-brainer for any Batman, Superman, or Wonder Woman fan to pick it up. You know, for the kids. (If you want to share it, I mean.)

Study Hall of Justice (DC Comics: Secret Hero Society #1) is a new middle-grade book series from Scholastic that is part journal, part graphic novel, and all DC Comics fun.

Continue reading DC Comics’ Big Three Are Big Kids in ‘Study Hall of Justice’

First Second Press: 10 Years Of Great Graphic Novels

Image By Rebecca Angel

I honestly don’t remember how I came across American Born Chinese by Gene Luen Yang. Librarian friend? Bookstore display? I read it somewhere and bought a copy to show my family this…comic book that wasn’t a comic because it was a real book, just with all pictures, kinda like a comic book but thicker. A graphic novel. My family really liked it too. The artwork was cartoon, but the message was deep. My husband and son picked it for their book club. My daughter found out about other graphic novels in the library. I became a writer for GeekMom and contacted the publisher of American Born Chinese wondering what else they had.

First Second Press is celebrating its ten year anniversary as a publisher of excellent graphic novels, many of which I have reviewed for this blog. Here are some of my favorites over the years:

The Shadow Hero by Gene Luen Yang and Sonny Liew: Another winner from Yang that brings the past of comics and the future of graphic novels into one fantastic adventure story.

Zita the Spacegirl  by Ben Hatke: So fun, so funny, so full of girl power. And the follow-ups: The Return of Zita and The Legends of Zita.

Bake Sale by Sara Varon: This is one of those books that’s hard to describe when I recommend it. Saying it’s a kids book is like saying the Giving Tree is a kids book. It is, but… After reading it to my nieces, we had a huge discussion on the ending. (And this is when they were five and three!) I contacted Sara Varon telling her about the chat, and she wrote us back!

Giants Beware! by Rafael Rosado and Jorge Aguirre is currently on loan by my nine-year niece. We started it together and she is loving it. The heroine is great, but the side characters are what makes this one stand out.

Friends with Boys by Faith Erin Hicks: Pick this up. Pick this up. Pick this up. My daughter and I chose it for our mother-daughter book club a few years back. There was quite a bit of skepticism since we had only read “real” books. For the graphic novel novices, I gave the advice to read it through once, and you’ll probably just be reading the words because that’s what you’re used to. Then go back and reread it, this time looking at the characters’ faces, the background art, all the little visual details that fill in the subtext and mood. It was a good book discussion because this is a GOOD BOOK!

Mastering Comics: Drawing Words & Writing Pictures Continued by Jessica Abel and Matt Madden: Can’t go without mentioning this authoritative work for anyone interested in making your own comics and graphic novels. I was asked to write a comic with someone and this book was my text.

Sailor Twain: Or: The Mermaid in the Hudson by Mark Siegel: An adult book with art to savor. This one sticks with you. I heard Mark speak about the development of this novel, and afterwards he signed and drew on my copy.

Photo on 2-23-16 at 6.46 PM

Happy Birthday First Second!

Passion and History in ‘She Makes Comics’

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Image by Respect! Films

Being a geek is becoming more and more mainstream. Yet there are still stereotypes of what makes a geek a “geek.” Being a comic book fan is a quintessential sign, and often linked to the old-school idea of socially-inept, single guys. For women who proclaim their love of comics (like me), it’s just…strange.

But that is changing. I was just invited to a Fan Girls Night Out at my local comic store by another mom who is also into comics. There are more of us than you realize. And although it may seem new to the mainstream world, it is far from abnormal. The history of women in comics as both fans and within the industry stretches back to the beginning.

The new documentary She Makes Comics is an eye-opening and heartfelt look at women within the history of comics, and I highly recommend watching it. The film is directed by Marisa Stotter and produced by Patrick Meaney and Jordan Rennert of Respect!Films. It is executive produced by Sequart’s Julian Darius and Mike Phillips and by Columbia University comics librarian Karen Green. It is a series of interwoven interviews of passionate people with different roles and points of view. My teenage son and I watched it together, finding it informative and entertaining.

Did you know that women and men made up equal numbers of comic book readership before the 1950s? American comics were about many topics, had various settings, and reflected every possible interest. By the ’70s, women readers started to drop off dramatically, partly due to the focus on male superheroes as the best-seller comic book theme, as well as the feminist movement awakening a generation of women who were tired of the same “wedding bliss” ending. An underground women’s comic movement began, and it was fascinating listening to the creators talk about it on camera: both the excitement and the fears.

Several women really changed the comic book world, from Wendy Pini, the original chain-mail bikini awesome cosplayer who then created ElfQuest, to Janette Kahn, former publisher of DC who broke the glass ceiling, to Gail Simone, notable comic writer, and author of Women in Refrigerators, an unapologetic look at how female characters are unfairly treated in comic stories, to Kelly Sue DeConnick, the creator of the hugely popular female Captain Marvel, and many more.

How do women get into comics in the first place? Better comics. The consensus of the interviewees was: Give us a variety of women featured, complex characters, and in-depth storytelling. As an X-Men fan, it was cool to know how many other women in this film cited that series as their turn-on to the whole genre. The fact that the male creator of the series had two female editors makes sense. Neil Gaiman’s Sandman was another “gateway” comic, again, with a female editor. In fact, that editor, Karen Berger, is credited with developing the talents of some of the biggest names in comics for the past several decades.

I personally got into comics in the 1990s, and was quite alone. I took my two young children to the comic book store and was the only female there, let alone a mother. I found it interesting to hear about that time period. The film talked about how more women were getting into the creative side of comics then, but still not equally represented by a long-shot. The industry was not welcome to women or women-centered stories, but also, women are not as confidant in promoting themselves.

Comics used to be sold in supermarkets and bookstores, but then only in specific comic stores that were (and mostly still are) very much a bachelor den of boob posters and all-male staff who assume a girl is only there because she is dating a comic book fan. In 1994, a support organization for women in comics was created called Friends of Lulu which put out a book helping comic book stores understand how to attract more females to their stores—why shut out the biggest consumers in the country? The internet ushered in a huge change. This has given women a place to connect, collaborate, and share their love of comics. The film also mentions the influence of the manga craze during that time as well, with comics targeted to girls.

There is so much to this film, but what stood out to me most was the passion of the people interviewed, and the range of ages. I loved hearing from the elder pioneers in the industry, as well as the younger talents of today. Inspiring the next generation of comic creators came up a lot, and is something I support wholeheartedly. Everyone should be able to express themselves in whatever medium suits them best, boys and girls. Check out the film!

She Makes Comics is now available to order on DVD and as a digital download at SheMakesComics.com.

GeekMom received a copy for review purposes.

Graphic Novels Take Newbery, Caldecott, and Printz Honors for 2015

2015 Newbery Caldecott
This One Summer © First Second, 2014. El Deafo © ABRAMS, 2014.

On Monday, the American Library Association announced all the award winning books for children and teens at its annual midwinter conference. The awards include everything from the Coretta Scott King award for African American authors and illustrators making outstanding books for children to the Sibert award for outstanding nonfiction.

But the biggest are always the John Newbery Medal for “outstanding contribution to children’s literature,” the Randolph Caldecott Medal for “the most distinguished American picture book for children,” and the Michael L. Printz Award for “excellence in literature written for young adults.”

This year, there were two Newbery Honor Books, four Printz Honors, and six Caldecott Honor books in addition to the medalists. In each category, a graphic novel took an honor. One book took two.

It was a great year for diversity in the Newbery category. The Newbery Medal went to The Crossover by Kwame Alexander, a novel in verse about twin basketball-playing brothers. That book also took a Coretta Scott King Honor, given to African American authors and illustrators for outstanding children’s books. The two Newbery Honor books were the astounding Jacqueline Woodson’s memoir Brown Girl Dreaming (the Coretta Scott King winner) and El Deafo by Cece Bell.

El Deafo is Bell’s memoir, a graphic novel about her childhood experiences with hearing loss and an awkward, oversized hearing aid.

This One Summer by Mariko and Jillian Tamaki, a YA graphic novel, took a Printz Honor and a Caldecott Honor. This is the first year ever that a book for teens has gotten a Caldecott award, typically reserved for picture books (with rare glorious exceptions like The Invention of Hugo Cabret)And to get an Honor in both categories is a pretty raving testimonial to this book.

The Caldecott Medalist is the delightful The Adventures of Beekle: An Unimaginary Friend by Dan Santat. I adore Santat’s work as an illustrator, but he’s no slouch as a writer, either. This is his third book as author and illustrator, and if you haven’t read his first two—Oh No! Or How My Science Project Destroyed the World and Oh No! Not Again! (Or How I Built a Time Machine to Save History) (Or at Least My History Grade)you really should. Plucky, adventurous girl saves the day, so much win all around.

The other five Caldecott Honor books are:

Yup, books about Frida Kahlo, Vasily Kandinsky, and Peter Mark Roget all won picture book awards this year. It was that kind of glorious, unusual, genius year.

Jandy Nelson’s I’ll Give You the Sun took the Printz Medal this year. This is another story of twins, told in two halves. Noah tells the story of his early years with twin sister Jude, and Jude tells the second half of the story, the teen years, when the siblings have drifted apart.

The other Printz Honor books are And We Stay by Jenny Hubbard, The Carnival at Bray by Jessie Ann Foley, and Grasshopper Jungle by Andrew Smith.

The complete list of Youth Media Awards winners can be found here.

Shaping A Life In The Sculptor

sculptor300rgb
Image By First Second Books

When I introduce graphic novels to those new to the format, I advise them to read through once to get the story, and then look at it again, lingering on the images to catch nuances. Often, those used to novels-sans-graphics miss the extra dimensions to story and characters that the art provides.

This is especially true with The Sculptor by Scott McCloud. I read many comics and graphic novels, both for GeekMom and for fun, and I appreciate when an artist puts in the time and effort to detail, especially the background. He literally draws you into the New York City of the main character, David Smith: a close-up swipe of a metro card or a birds-eye view of towering skyscrapers in the rain. What word-based novels provide with beautiful phrases to set the tone, McCloud gives in his expressive panels; each series cinematically moving from shot to shot, creating a consistent pace. The fact that The Sculptor is 490 pages makes that attention to detail extraordinary.

So the art is good, but what about the story?

The novel has an intro that only makes sense when you finish the whole thing, so let’s start with the first chapter. Meet David Smith, a young artist in a diner, talking to his Uncle Harry about his lousy life at the moment: his absolute positions on artistic integrity have cost him his career and social life. He’s happy to see his uncle whom he hasn’t seen in a long time. Nothing too exciting until David realizes he hasn’t seen his uncle in awhile because… he’s dead.

Uncle Harry reveals that although, yes, he lived the life of Uncle Harry, he is in fact Death. Yup, Death personified comes to this down-and-out sculptor to offer him a deal: David will be able to sculpt anything with his hands, but will only live another 200 days in return. It sounds like a dream for someone who has put art before everything, but having a superpower doesn’t solve his problems. That’s something he has to figure out by experiencing life, even if he only has 200 days left of it.

David is an unlucky person who has lost his mother, father, and sister to unrelated deaths in the last several years. His art is the only thing he has left, but even with the ability Death gives him, David has to find focus and meaning to make a name for himself in the world. Along the way he falls in love, but all people are complicated, and love doesn’t come easy.

Even if you are a regular reader of graphic novels I recommend lingering over the pages of The Sculptor. There is much to take in, and it’s worth it.

The Sculptor comes out February 3rd, for around $23. I recommend this book for upper YA and adults (sex and profanity).

GeekMom received a copy for review purposes.

Exclusive Look at John Patrick Green’s Upcoming Hippopotamister

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Hippopotamister and Red Panda by John Patrick Green. Image source: First Second Books.
Author/illustrator John Patrick Green. Photo by Ellen B. Wright, used with permission.
Author/illustrator John Patrick Green. Photo by Ellen B. Wright, used with permission.

John Patrick Green is the illustrator and co-creator of the graphic novel Teen Boat! with writer Dave Roman. He grew up on Long Island and has been making his own comics since middle school. Now John has a solo book in the works, a kids’ graphic novel to be published by First Second Books in Spring 2016.

Hippopotamister is the tale of (you guessed it) a hippo and his friend, Red Panda. Tired of living in the rundown city zoo, they run away and seek jobs in the human world, where Hippo must become “Hippopotamister” to get by. Hippo excels at each job, but Red Panda keeps getting them fired. Longing for his home, Hippo goes back to the zoo and discovers he can return the place to its former glory using his newfound skills. But can he do it without his friend Red Panda?

We’re delighted to share this exclusive first look at Hippopotamister—an eight-page excerpt from the graphic novel. I also caught up with John Patrick Green to ask him a few questions about his work. You’ll find the interview below the art.

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Image source: First Second Books.
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Image source: First Second Books.
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Image source: First Second Books.
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Image source: First Second Books.
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Image source: First Second Books.
HippoMr_pp22
Image source: First Second Books.
HippoMr_pp23
Image source: First Second Books.

Melissa Wiley: John, thanks for chatting with me! Can you tell me about the genesis of Hippopotamister?

John Patrick Green: It’s hard to pinpoint exactly where the story for Hippopotamister came for. I knew that First Second Books wanted to do more graphic novels aimed at a younger audience, and I wanted to do a book with them, so I did make a conscious effort to come up with something that might be a good fit. An animal protagonist is always a natural fit for a kids’ book, and I’m a fan of puns and wordplay. I think I actually did just start listing off animals that are typically found in zoos, and the name “Hippopotamister” came out of this idea of a child mispronouncing “hippopotamus.” This led to the hippo thinking he’s human, which seemed funny enough to me—like how it’s funny when a pet dog does something that makes you say “aw, he thinks he’s people.” The concept of a wild animal integrating itself into human society and getting jobs and none of the people noticing it’s not a person isn’t entirely new, but the story starting rolling that way and I couldn’t stop it.

MW: What has the solo experience been like for you, compared to your experience collaborating on Teen Boat! with Dave Roman?

JPG: The biggest difference is the involvement with the publisher, but in many ways the resulting experience is very similar. While our books Jax Epoch and the Quicken Forbidden and Teen Boat! have been collected and released by publishers, they started as self-published comics. It was just Dave and I coming up with the stories and art and releasing them to the wild via comic distributors and conventions. We didn’t start off with an editor or a production designer or a marketing plan—that all came after we’d basically completed the projects. With Hippopotamister, I outlined the story and did thumbnails and sample art, but the actual look of the character Hippopotamister didn’t take shape until after the book was already signed up. So while I’m not working with Dave on this book, it still feels like I’m collaborating with people, because my editor will provide feedback on the story or art, and the marketing department will offer ideas of how to get the book out there. With Dave, I was never working in a vacuum, and with First Second I don’t feel like I’m working in a vacuum either.

MW: How did you wind up writing for kids?

JPG: I took a pretty bizarre path to get there. I starting creating and selling my own comics when I was younger, and since I was a kid and all my friends were kids, I was basically making comics I and they would like. My approach to creating comics hasn’t really changed from making something I myself would like to read. My first actual comics-industry job out of college was for an “adult” comics publisher. But that only lasted a year, and my next job found me at Disney Adventures Magazine, where I started as the comics assistant. Over the course of my nine years there, I’d eventually end up writing comics based off Toy Story or Kim Possible, and even wrote and illustrated a gag strip called The Last Laugh. When Disney Adventures shut down I continued writing some more licensed kids’ comics, mostly based off Shrek and Madagascar, for some Dreamworks magazines. And some time after that, Disney came back into the picture and I started working on Phineas and Ferb comics.

Making comics for kids has pretty much been something I’ve always wanted to do, and have always been doing. Now just happened to be the right time to do my own graphic novel for a young audience!

MW: What writers and artists are among your influences?

JPG: It’s funny, I’ve been so focused on just making the comics I am right now that when I try to think of influences they all seem out of date. As a little kid, Garfield had a big impact on me. I was always drawing when I was little, but it was the newspaper strip that made me want to use my art talent to make comics. Calvin and Hobbes was also a huge influence, but it debuted later and I was older still before it actually showed up in my local paper. I’d sent comics strips I drew to Garfield creator Jim Davis, and he wrote back personally encouraging me to keep doing it.

That was a big deal, and if it wasn’t for that, and for being raised in an environment that let me pursue art, my career (in art or even another field altogether) may have gone a different direction. My maternal grandfather had wanted to be an artist, I think even having been an art assistant as a summer job, but his upbringing didn’t allow him to continue pursuing it. He became a military man, a lawyer, and mayor of my home town, but he’d kept all these old illustration books. He passed them on to me, which included a lot of sketches he’d done in the margins, and pretty much set me on the path he wasn’t able to take.

MW: That’s so cool about getting a letter from Jim Davis! Do you remember the first comic you ever read?

JPG: My older brother introduced me to comic books, but I don’t remember what ones he’d bring into the house. I recall not really getting into comics until I was allowed to tag along to the local smoke shop which had a spinner rack. The first comic I bought with my own money was The Gargoyle #2 (of a four-issue limited series) from Marvel with art by Bill Sienkiewicz. It had a painted cover and the art was nothing like what my expectations of a “comic book” were. I was of course familiar with Batman, Superman, Spider-Man, and so on—kids don’t need to read the comics to know of or be fans of these characters or know what they look like. But here was this comic about a character I had no clue about, drawn in a style wholly unfamiliar to me. It wasn’t long before I stopped going to the smoke shop and was spending my entire allowance at a full-fledged comic shop.

MW: What comics were your favorites growing up?

JPG: I was mostly a Marvel fan. I wasn’t big into Avengers or Fantastic Four or even Spider-Man, but Daredevil and any mutant book I read heavily. X-Men, New Mutants, Alpha Flight, and eventually X-Factor, and anytime there were crossovers with other books like Power Pack and stuff. And while I didn’t read much Spider-Man, I was a superfan of Peter Porker, the Spectacular Spider-Ham. The comic shop also offered plenty of fare that couldn’t be found on the spinner rack: Love and Rockets, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Usagi Yojimbo. Just about any indy comic I’d come across, I’d give a shot.

MW: Since part of Hippopotamister takes place in a zoo, I have to ask: what’s your favorite zoo?

JPG: So far, I’ve been to the San Diego Zoo, the Bronx Zoo, and the New York City Central Park Zoo. While it’s super tiny, I really like the Central Park Zoo. This tiny space in the middle of a city that has wild animals in it is definitely an inspiration for Hippopotamister. And they have red pandas.

I also enjoy things that are zoo-like: I’d visit the Coney Island Aquarium a lot as a kid, and one of my favorite places in the whole world is the New York Museum of Natural History, which of course features animals from all over the world that Teddy Roosevelt captured with his own bare hands. And if it counts, I’d add Disney’s Animal Kingdom to the list, specifically the park’s devoted hotel, which has guest windows overlooking the animal run. You can wake up and have a giraffe at your window!

MW: Are you more of a Hippo or a Red Panda?

JPG: Good question. I’m very much both, but probably more like Hippo. Red Panda is an overconfident extrovert, and Hippo is more of a shy, exceptionally skilled recluse. But together they make the perfect team!

MW: At GeekMom we always like to hear about creators’ geeky passions. Can you tell us about some of yours?

JPG: As a child of the ’80s it’s unsurprising that I’m a big Star Wars fan. While I love Star Wars as a whole, I’m really just an Original Trilogy guy. I collected the toys and stuff, but wasn’t into the Expanded Universe much, other than a couple of novels and comics and video games. Nowadays my geekiest passion is LEGO. I played with LEGOs all my life, and now as an adult I have the disposable income to get the insanely large and expensive sets. And of course it also satisfies my passion for Star Wars, what with the licensed sets.

Now if only I had the time to put some of the sets together. I’m just too busy making comics!

MW: Thanks so much, John! We’ll be looking forward to the rest of Hippopotamister.

Between the Bookends at GeekMom

Bookends © Sophie Brown

This month the GeekMoms have run the gamut from new interpretations of Beowulf to a murder mystery in post-Revolutionary War New England. There are graphic novels filled with aliens and wizards, shadowy government organizations, teenage boys painting models in their bedrooms, and girls being discovered floating in cello cases.  If something there doesn’t pique your interest then I don’t know what will!

Tolkein Beowolf © Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Tolkein Beowolf © Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

Lisa has taken on the summer reading challenge of poring over two new books featuring until-recently-unpublished writings by two classic writers: Thomas Bulfinch and J. R.R. Tolkien.  

She was particularly excited to pick up Beowulf: A Translation and Commentary by J.R.R. Tolkien, edited by Christopher Tolkien (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt). Tolkien actually wrote this translation of Beowulf in 1926, before The Hobbit was even published, and apparently never intended to publish this translation. His son Christopher has recently granted permission for the release of both this meticulous translation and accompanying lecture-style commentary, as well as Tolkien’s own accompanying work in a similar style, Sellic Spell. In addition, Christopher Tolkien’s comments and contributions to this volume are both helpful and welcome.

A perfect companion to it is the Tarcher Cornerstone Edition of Bulfinch’s Mythology: The Classic Introduction to Myth and Legend — Complete & Unbridged by Thomas Bulfinch (Tarcher/Penguin), Thomas Bulfinch’s comprehensive compilation of myths, from Greco-Roman to medieval and Arthurian times, has been an essential element to booklovers’ collections since 1881, more than ten years after the writer’s death. This new collection, set for release June 12, not only includes his three volumes of myth and history in its original text, it features never-before published text from Bulfinch’s journals, and interpretations of more modern works published after his time.

Neither of these books is a simple read, and both demand the reader’s attention. With these new doses of familiar authors, however, readers will want to give it.

We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves © Plume
We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves © Plume


Karen
has been taking advantage of the late-night feedings that come with having a newborn, and catching up on eBooks. Two that stand out from the last month are Karen Joy Fowler’s Nebula-nominated and PEN/Faulkner award-winning We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves. A fascinating character study of a young woman in college in California in the 90’s whose story looks back to the past (an unusual childhood driven by her father’s psychology experiments—to be any more specific would be spoilery) and ahead to her future. Fowler captures the person, the times, the environment, and the skewed weirdness of the premise just perfectly.

In addition, she picked up a much-talked about sf/fantasy novel from last year, Alif the Unseen by G. Willow Wilson. A wonderful blend of fantasy (jinn and a more-or-less magic book) and sf (hackers and coders subverting the national security state) set in an imagined Middle Eastern emirate, this fast-paced book puts one in mind of a really great comic book. Alif, our young hacker protagonist, can be kind of obnoxious, but he does eventually learn the error of his ways, and the characters surrounding him more than make up for his obtuseness. A nuanced portrait of an environment that is too often stereotyped, Wilson does an amazing job of bringing her setting (both realistic and fantastic) to life along with her characters. If the plotting sometimes falls into slightly cliched ruts, that’s a small price to pay for this fabulous and well-rounded story.

Cherub #1: The Recruit © Simon Pulse
Cherub #1: The Recruit © Simon Pulse

This month Helen has tried a couple of middle grade books, suitable for children around 8-12 year olds. First up was CHERUB: The Recruit by prolific award-winning author Robert Muchamore and suitable for readers around 10+ years. Published a decade ago, the first book in the CHERUB series sees young scamp James, who seems destined for a life of crime, recruited to a shadowy government organization after he is orphaned. He is whisked off to a plush campus where he begins his training to become a spy, making friends with his fellow trainees. James ends up carrying out a dangerous mission, all while dealing with the normal early teenage issues. It’s a fast-paced and exciting ride, with James navigating relationships both inside and outside of his training and missions, as well as attempting to overcome his fear of water and swimming. The CHERUB series would appeal to fans of the Young Bond or Alex Rider books, and hopefully the reissues will gather a new set of fans.

Tethers by Jack Croxall is the first in a trilogy of books with an interesting mixture of genres. Set in Victorian times in the north of England, it also has a science fiction and fantasy edge, as well as adventure and mystery. The main characters are Karl and Esther, friends whose curiosity leads to them becoming embroiled in a strange and fantastic plot to control a magical artifact. It soon turns out that more people are also on the trail, and that they will stop at nothing to control the artifact and harness its powers. Karl and Esther are placed in mortal peril, and with the help of their companions they set out to find out the truth. Helen particularly liked that Karl and Esther weren’t content to wait around for the life that people expected them to have, and that they chose to break away and follow their instincts rather than stay on the expected path. Esther wasn’t limited by the politics of the day, and was able to use a new-found skill which she wouldn’t have been able to develop had she stayed at home. Helen hopes that the next book in the series will cover the expectations of women in the society at the time and how Esther deals with the limitations placed on her gender. Tethers is a great start to the story and she’ll certainly be checking up on Karl and Esther in the next volume.

Depression is the theme in Brilliant, a new children’s story by Roddy Doyle. Set in Dublin, it follows the nighttime adventure of two siblings, Gloria and Raymond, as they attempt to rid the city of a metaphor which has taken form: the Black Dog. It’s a modern fable or fairy tale, filled with talking animals, a friendly vampire, and a pair of children desperate to find a way to rid their uncle of the Black Dog who has settled on his back. It could be a good way to talk to children about mental illness, although I’m not sure how much of the subtleties children will be able to pick up, or whether they’ll see it in a more literal sense. Helen liked the story a great deal, especially that it hinged on the power of a spoken word. Also, she likes that Gloria is the hero and lynchpin, the child who won’t give up in her quest to rescue her uncle.

Malorie Blackman’s Noble Conflict explores morality in a future setting. In a world which has been destroyed by war and genocide, can young soldier and idealist Kaspar find his way to the truth about the past, and decide which side he should be fighting on? As with all Malorie Blackman’s novels, this one has great characterization and a meaty storyline, full of events that really make you think. There are twists and turns as Kaspar uncovers the truth, which will keep you guessing throughout. There is some description of torture in the book, so Helen recommends it for older readers.

The final book that Helen has read this month is Rooftoppers by Katherine Rundell. This book has been well publicized recently, being shortlisted for a plethora of awards, and winning the prestigious 2014 Waterstones Children’s Book Prize. When Helen visited her local bookshop to buy a copy, the sales assistant at the till enthused about it, saying that it was a brilliant book and that all of the staff loved it. So, this is the tale of Sophie, who is found floating in a cello case in the flotsam after a shipwreck. She is taken in by English eccentric Charles, as it is presumed that her parents had perished in the shipwreck. Sophie however, thinks differently, and knows that her mother is alive. Charles teaches Sophie the important things in life: music, books, and Shakespeare. However, he fails to teach her the skills to be ladylike, and when Sophie is threatened with being taken away from Charles, they go on the run to find Sophie’s mother across the rooftops of Paris. Sophie is a fantastic heroine: brave, focused, and tenacious. She explores the roofs of Paris on bare feet and tightrope, learning to trust her new friend Matteo and teaching him to trust her in return. Helen really loved this book. There’s a poetic feel to the prose, and the characters are really multifaceted. Charles is a great father, being supportive but also letting Sophie go when he knows that she must follow her belief that her mother is alive. There’s a great angle of following your instincts and also finding the solution to a problem by looking at it from a different angle, literally in Sophie’s case, as she surveys Paris from high above.

The Best of Connie Willis © Del Ray
The Best of Connie Willis © Del Ray

Fran devoured The Best of Connie Willis (Del Rey, 2013), enjoying the short stories that were old friends equally with ones she hadn’t read before. The biggest treats were Willis’ notes on each story, telling the how and why of their writing, and also the journey of this amazing author. Fran is also working her way through two anthologies, 21st Century Science Fiction, edited by David Hartwell and Patrick Nielsen Hayden (Tor, 2014), and Women Destroy Science Fiction (okay, this is a magazine issue with the size and heft of an anthology, brought to you by Lightspeed Magazine and all of us Kickstarter supporters!). Fran and her daughter are reading Ellen Klages’ The Green Glass Sea together, which is a WW2 story told from the perspective of 11-year-old Dewey Kagan, who likes science and math more than some feel a young lady should, and finds herself in a town that doesn’t exist, called Los Alamos, with her mathematician father. And, because Mount To Be Read is growing exponentially, she’s also started Jaime Lee Moyer’s wonderful sequel to her ghost-detective debut Delia’s Shadow, A Barricade in Hell (Tor, 2014). So gorgeously written.

Geekhood: Close Encounters of the Girl Kind © Stripes Publishing
Geekhood: Close Encounters of the Girl Kind © Stripes Publishing

With an official list now drawn up for this summer’s Young Adult Literature Festival in London, Sophie has begun attempting to read at least one book by as many of the attending authors as possible. Her journey has begun with Andy Robb’s Geekhood: Close Encounters of the Girl Kind, the story of 14-year-old D&D geek Archie and his attempts to change himself to try and win the affection of new girl Sarah. It’s an interesting story that shows the pitfalls of changing who you are to suit another, whilst also suggesting that sometimes changes should indeed be made in order to move on in life. Next up on the young adult challenge is Holly Smale’s Geek Girl.

Sophie has been filling the Supernatural summer hiatus by working through some books on the show. She found Fangasm: Supernatural Fangirls by Katherine Larsen and Lynn Zubernis a fascinating and resonating read (look for a fuller review soon here) and also enjoyed the first official graphic novel from the series, Supernatural Origins, which tells the story of the first weeks of John Winchester’s change from average guy mechanic to hunter. The story gave her a fuller appreciation for the tough decisions John had to make in those early days, however the latter half of the book turned into something more akin to a Sandman story and didn’t feel as in-keeping with the Supernatural verse.

Sophie has also been slowly making her way through Kazuo Ishiguro’s Never Let Me Go which is a slow going if beautifully rendered story with the ability to really make you feel a part of the world created within its pages. She has just begun Charles Soule’s graphic novel Letter 44 where a newly inaugurated U.S. president learns the truth about aliens and what we’re doing to defend ourselves from them, a common enough trope given a new twist here. She found it refreshing to see a female captain aboard the spaceship, especially one that is pregnant—an outcome of long term space missions she had yet to see covered in comics.

Finally Sophie has been somewhat taken aback by her four-year-old son’s interest in the David Chauvel and Enrique Fernandez graphic novel adaptation of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. The book has taken well over a week to read yet his interest has been maintained despite the strange and often distorted illustrations.

A Simple Murder © Minotaur Books
A Simple Murder © Minotaur Books

Rebecca Angel just finished A Simple Murder by Eleanor Kuhns. Set right after the Revolutionary War in New England, nothing is simple about this one, with bodies being found, people and horses going missing, unexpected romance, and a father trying to understand his son. Our hero/detective is William Rees, and he’s not an official detective, but very good at figuring these sorts of things out. This time, the murders take place on a Shaker community, bringing discord to the brethren of what is supposed to be a peaceful society. Good book!

Copies of some books provided for review purposes.

Fairy Tale Comics and Baba Yaga: An Interview With Jillian Tamaki

Fairy Tale Comics cover

Two years ago, First Second’s Nursery Rhyme Comics blew me away with its fresh and fun approach to familiar old rhymes, featuring a roster of some of the best illustrators in the business. Now they’re back with Fairy Tale Comics, another lively collection of short comics depicting classic children’s tales. Once again editor Chris Duffy has assembled a team of gifted cartoonists to bring some very old stories to a brand-new audience, comics-style. I had a chance to chat with illustrator Jillian Tamaki about her contribution: the wonderfully creepy Baba Yaga tale.

Melissa Wiley: How did you get involved with Fairy Tale Comics?

Jillian Tamaki: First Second, the publisher behind Fairy Tale Comics, will be publishing my upcoming graphic novel, co-created with my cousin Mariko Tamaki. So we had a relationship prior.

Baba Yaga by Jillian Tamaki. Image source: First Second Books.

MW: The Baba Yaga stories always fascinated me as a kid. I couldn’t get over the house with chicken legs. What made you decide on that tale as your contribution to the book? And since she appears in so many narratives, how did you choose which of her stories to tell?

JT: I snapped up the Baba Yaga because I wanted to draw the witch and her chicken-house. Because it’s Russian, the story and imagery felt a little fresher and more intriguing to me. The way magic was used felt unfamiliar and exciting.

MW:  Were you into fairy tales as a kid? (Or beyond…some of us never stop reading them!)

JT: My parents read the Brothers Grimm to me sometimes. I still have the book. Those stories are so weird. I illustrated a book of Irish legends a few years ago and was struck by how they differ from the typical “story” we have come to expect. The idea of hero, narrative, moral, etc., are very different.

MW: We’d love to hear a bit about your process. Do you still work on paper, or have you gone entirely digital?

JT: I work in a way that combines digital and traditional media.

MW:  I love the palette of golds and reds you chose for this tale. Really enhances the eerie, otherworldly feeling of Baba Yaga’s world. Can you tell us a little about your approach to coloring?

Scene from Baba Yaga by Jillian Tamaki.

JT: It’s pretty simple: I try to pick a colour scheme that fits the emotion of the story that also looks nice.

MW:  What were your favorite books as a kid?

JT: Any book with horses. Illustrations with lots and lots of detail.

MW: Who are some of your influences as a writer and an artist?

JT: Too many things to name and they’re constantly shifting. I just came back from a vacation to Newfoundland so that’ll probably creep into my work somehow.

MW: At GeekMom, we’re always talking about our geeky passions. What are some of yours?

JT: I am a cartoonist! Doesn’t that qualify as geeky enough?

MW: What are you working on now?

JT: Finishing up my graphic novel, working some illustrated books, and collecting my webcomic strip SuperMutant Magic Academy into a book for 2015.

For more interviews with Fairy Tale Comics creators, click here!

Graphic Novels for Big Kids: Primates and Astronaut Academy

astronautacademy
Image: First Second Books

Some of the GeekMoms are big fans of First Second books, and their recent books include a couple that are great for tweens and teens.

Tweens will enjoy Dave Roman‘s Astronaut Academy: Re-Entry, his follow up to Astronaut Academy: Zero Gravity. When last we left the Hakata Soy, he was headed to holiday on Earth with his new friend Miyumi. The re-entry into Astronaut Academy begins a new semester right after the holiday break. Hakata has a broken heart, because he loves Princess Boots, but she’s now with his arch-nemesis, Rick Raven, leader of the Gotcha Birds. He had even given one of his hearts to Princess Boots. You see, at Astronaut Academy, the kids have multiple hearts to give away, but when they lose all of their hearts, just like a video game it’s game over. Unfortunately, Astronaut Academy has been infiltrated by a dangerous entity that feeds itself off human emotions. It’s disguising itself as the girls at the academy as a way of taking hearts from the boys who love them.

One of the things I really enjoy about this series is that it’s told in a bunch of vignettes from different points of view. You get to see the perspective of both the boys and the girls. It reminds me quite a bit of the Origami Yoda series in that way. These books are great for tweens who are starting to navigate the crazy emotional ups and downs of tweendom.

Primates
Image: First Second Books

For teens I recommend Primates: The Fearless Science of Jane Goodall, Dian Fossey, and Biruté Galdikas by Jim Ottaviani, author of Feynman. It’s illustrated by Maris Wicks. In three parts, Primates tells the true story of these remarkable women and the huge advancements they made both in primatology and for women in science. Each woman’s story begins with her recruitment by anthropologist Louis Leakey.

Jane Goodall is first. She began as Leakey’s secretary, but then was sent to Nigeria to study chimpanzees because Leakey believed women were better at these long-term primate studies. Goodall, of course, studied the chimps and discovered their use of tools, which required people to rethink their terms of what it meant to be human.

Next comes Dian Fossey, who heads to the Congo to study gorillas. It’s fascinating to see how she crossed paths with Jane Goodall, and later with the youngest member of their star circle, Birutė Galdikas.

Of the three, I was least familiar with Galdikas, so I enjoyed following her to Indonesia where she studied orangutans. Ottaviani does a wonderful job letting us get to know these three very different women, celebrating their different personalities. I also found that the book inspired me to learn more about these three women and the primates they studied. Of course, it’s also a great look into human behavior and relationships as we see how these women’s passion for primate research affected their relationships, and how Louis Leakey’s wife was none too happy with his fascination with women researchers.

Ottaviani helpfully adds an afterword about what it means to create a fictionalized account of true events, something the kids reading this book should think critically about.

And while we’re on the subject of graphic novels for older kids, Scholastic and Comixology announced at Comic Con that they have partnered to bring graphic novels from Scholastic’s Graphix imprint to Comixology. Great news for avid readers!

I received copies of these books for review purposes.

Interview with Cecil Castellucci, Author of Odd Duck

Odd Duck by Cecil Castellucci & Sara Varon
Meet Theodora and Chad, ducks with character. Art by Sara Varon. Image source: First Second Books.

Odd Duck, a new graphic novel from First Second, contains two of my favorite pairings of the year: Theodora and Chad, two unusual ducks who discover they appreciate each other’s quirks as much as all the things they have in common; and Cecil Castellucci and Sara Varon, the author and illustrator of this mirthful tale.

I first encountered Cecil through her books (Rose sees Red was a standout among the hundreds of YA novels I read as a CYBILs Award judge in 2010) and was delighted when our paths crossed at a couple of publishing-industry conventions the following year. Sara Varon’s Bake Sale wooed my entire family with its whimsical, sometimes wistful, art.

A Castellucci/Varon collaboration promised to be huge amounts of fun, and Odd Duck is exactly that. Thoughtful, comical, and full of heart, it has become one of my family’s favorite books of the year. I asked Cecil to share a glimpse behind the scenes at the creation of Odd Duck.

Continue reading Interview with Cecil Castellucci, Author of Odd Duck

The Intergalactic Nemesis: Radio Play Meets Graphic Novel

IntergalacticNemesis-playbill

My daughter and I were invited to the New Victory Theater over the weekend, and invitation I’m always quick to jump at because they have a great history of kid-friendly shows.

The current show is The Intergalactic Nemesis, billed as a live-action graphic novel. On stage were three microphones, a grand piano, a laptop, and a giant foley setup. I explained to my daughter how radio plays used to work (though they were a little before my time), and how a foley artist uses all kinds of materials to make sounds. It was all a little strange to her until the performers came on stage. The versatile actors, Christopher Lee Gibson, Danu Uribe, and David Higgins, shifted seamlessly through a wide cast of characters while graphic novel panels by Tim Doyle flashed overhead.

The story follows reporter Molly Sloan and her sidekick, Timmy Mendez, who have a bit of a Lois Lane/Jimmy Olson thing happening. They stumble across the story of a lifetime when they meet time-traveling librarian Ben Wilcott, send back in time to save the earth from an evil, sludgy, alien master race, the Zygonians. Human hypnotist Mysterion the Magnificent is another bad guy that keeps popping up, aiding the Zygonians to be rewarded with control of all of humankind. Gibson is particularly hilarious performing Mysterion, and a French ally to our heroes, Jean-Pierre Desperois.

My only real beef with the show is that I could have used some more female characters, especially since the few we had, even the smart, savvy Molly Sloan, were party to propositioning and seduction (all PG, of course).

The multimedia show gives you so much to watch, it’s sometimes hard to know where to look. The actors have a physical performance as well as a vocal one, so its fun to watch their gestures and facial expressions, even though you’re missing some of the great retro comic book art up on the screen. I particularly liked watching foley artist Cami Alys work, making sound effects with cinder blocks, boxes of mac and cheese, and a remote-control cement truck, among a table full of other stuff.

The Intergalactic Nemesis began as a multi-part radio show in Austin, TX, before it was written into a long-form show. Since its premiere in 2010, the show has been on the road and has even spawned a sequel, Book Two: Robot Planet Rising. This coming weekend is the last weekend The Intergalactic Nemesis will be at The New Victory Theater, so New Yorkers, check it out! Outside of New York, check out the tour schedule on the website and catch upcoming shows in Canada, Florida, California, and Washington, D.C.

Great Heroines For Boys


Boys? Yes, I’d like to recommend some books with female leads that your son would enjoy reading. If your next question is “Why?,” then ask your daughter why she liked Harry Potter. She might say it was a good story, great characters, and a fantastic world. Who cares if the main character was a boy? In fact, girls will pick up a book with a hero or heroine equally. According to my excellent librarian resources, boys will actively avoid books with a girl as the main character. What’s the problem? I have no idea.

Why should you encourage your son to read books with heroines? That’s easy. You want your son to grow up knowing that a strong female for a friend, wife or boss is normal and good.

Instead of getting into the psychology of it all, let’s change it. And the best way is to get ‘em while they’re young. Here are a few adventure graphic novels that feature girl go-getters. I picked comics because when my son was young those were the only kind of books he selected on his own.

Giants Beware! By Rafael Rosado and Jorge Aguirre
Claudette wants to battle giants. She’s a great heroine, and breaks the mold. But what makes this book stand out is her two companions. Her little brother Gaston would rather be a pastry chef than a killer, but saves the day when he needs to, and Claudette’s best friend Marie is a girly-girl who loves etiquette, but is brave and clever. In many books with a strong female lead there is rarely another main girl, and the boys are usually competitive. The threesome are silly adventurers, complete with a sweet ending. One of our GeekMoms is reading it to her kids now.

The Courageous Princess By Rod Espinosa
This is almost ten years old and a classic of graphic novels: Talking animals, a fearsome dragon, a long journey, an anthropomorphic rope, and a princess who has integrity while saving herself.

Zita the Spacegirl By Ben Hatke
My son said over breakfast this morning, “Here you egg.” A quote by Strong-Strong, beloved character from Zita. This book is fast-paced with weird aliens, comedy, betrayal, rescues, and cuteness. Zita is brave but alone in this strange world, trying to find her friend. She and her new alien companions save the day.

Akiko on the Planet Smoo By Mark Crilley
Another space adventure that was part of a book club with both boys and girls. This comes as a graphic novel and book series. There are some slight differences between them (not sure why). ALL the kids in the club loved the story. Akiko is a human girl who is taken up to space to help some aliens in trouble. She’s a cool character. And Spuckler- we loved this guy. If you read Akiko out loud, do him in a John Wayne voice. It works.

Angelic Layer By Clamp.
A manga (Japanese comic) about a world where the premier entertainment is fighting dolls (called Angels) using mental control in huge arenas. The main character is a little girl who gets into the game wanting her battle Angel to be “a short girl, but brave and happy.” I can’t say I ever got into this series, but both my kids were addicted at a young age. My son would tell me about the fighting moves ad nauseam.

The Stonekeeper (Amulet, Book 1) By Kazu Kibuishi
The art is entrancing, and the main characters are a brother and sister. When a tentacled monster grabs their mom, Em and Navin are the only ones to save her, entering a dark universe with a magic necklace to help. Scary at times (which makes it cool.)

Nightschool By Svetlana Chmakova.
Definitely for the older son in your life; this is my family’s favorite graphic series. A secret world within our world where different factions sometimes battle, sometimes work together to keep the really bad things away from humans. Epic fights along with cute comedy, and a reluctant heroine Alex, who is powerful beyond what anyone expects. You can read my full review here.

This list gets progressively for older kids, so please flip through them before handing it to your impressionable boy (especially the manga which has provocative poses.) And of course, your girls will love them too!

Any more recommendations?

Introducing Your Kids to Graphic Novels

My little graphic novel-reading machine

The GeekMoms and GeekDads would like to thank everyone who came out to our Geeky Parenting NY ComicCon panel. We had a lively discussion with our audience about raising our geeklets in our own geeky image. During the panel I talked about the booming world of graphic novels for kids.

The impetus for my deep dig into graphic novels for young readers came one day when Raina Telgemeier’s Smile was sitting out on my desk. My daughter gravitated toward the big smiley face on the cover and asked, “What’s this?” I explained it was a graphic novel that I was going to start reading, and she asked if we could read it together. All I knew about the book was that it was about a girl getting braces. Seemed fine, so why not? We got about halfway through and an earthquake in the book made me stop for the night (my daughter is terrified of natural disasters). While my daughter slept, I read ahead in the book and decided it wasn’t for her. The earthquake wasn’t so dramatic, but it was so full of the issues surrounding puberty that I thought it would be much better for her in a couple years. I mean, she’s only 6.

I searched bookstores and comic book stores finding more that were age appropriate for her. We already knew Captain Underpants and the entire Dav Pilkey oeuvre as well as some of the Babymouse series. These are like the gateway drugs into graphic novels, with their broad appeal to the elementary school set. But what else is out there?

There are some books that my little avid reader has already outgrown, like the adorable Toon Books. With leveled titles like Benny and Penny and Otto’s Orange Day, these are amazing books for young readers. Then there’s the brilliant new Nursery Rhyme Comics. You can share these with toddlers, but the art from over 50 comic book illustrators will keep anyone older interested in reading them. (Read my full review here and GeekMom Melissa’s review here.)

There are a bunch of graphic novels that are overloaded with appeal for younger kids, with fantasy characters like Sidekicks, Magic Pickle, The Secret Science Alliance, and Zita the Spacegirl. One of my favorite recent books is Sara Varon’s Bake Sale about a Cupcake who owns a bakery and is in a band with his friend, Eggplant (Read Rebecca’s review.) My daughter devoured this book.  And the Amelia Rules! series is a great substitute for Smile for the early elementary set.

After a good dose of lighthearted fun, kids can eventually graduate into darker territory with dead or missing parents, alternate universes, monsters, and battles, with titles like The New Brighton Archeological Society, Mouse Guard, and Amulet. I wish I could tell you that we waited another year or two to read Amulet, but when Scholastic sent me a package with the first two books my daughter saw the pink bunny and the robots and read the first book cover to cover before I had a chance to take a look. In the first few pages it’s got both a parent killed and parent in need of rescue, but it also has a very capable girl and her younger brother.

There are tons of graphic novels that feature great role models for boys and for girls. The list above just scratches the surface and doesn’t include the giant stack that I found while at ComicCon, so stay tuned for more. In other exciting news, Stan Lee is launching a kids’ imprint called Stan Lee’s Kids Universe. I’ll be keeping an eye out for those!

Got any graphic novel favorites to recommend?

The Return of the CDC Zombies: The Zombie Pandemic Graphic Novel

Are You Ready? Image: Centers for Disease Control. http://www.cdc.gov

Last week, just in time for NY Comic Con, the Centers for Disease Control went live with a graphic novel following up on their May blog post “Preparedness 101: Zombie Apocalypse.”  The head of the CDC’s Office of Public Health Preparedness and Response was on hand at NYCC this past weekend, where he handed out hardcopies of the comic and even spoke on the “Zombie Summit” panel.

In the story, readers follow Todd, Julie and their dog Max as they learn of a virus, take appropriate preparedness actions and fend off the attacking zombies.  Readers will also learn about how the CDC worked feverishly on a vaccine to combat the virus.  By the end of the story, the vaccines are distributed to Todd and Julie, who are hunkered down in a shelter.  Stay tuned for a surprise at the end!

This outreach program has been recognized as an effective, popular way to educate Americans on emergency preparedness. Using a scenario that could apply to anyone, all readers can realize that preparedness isn’t just for people living on coastlines, in Tornado Alley, or in urban areas.  It’s important to be prepared!

Visit the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to view a PDF of Preparedness 101: Zombie Pandemic.  You can also visit the center’s social media page for badges and widgets, and this site for free posters to share with others who you might feel aren’t yet prepared for the pandemic.

View GeekMom Jessamyn’s post from this past May about the CDC’s original blog post about being prepared for a zombie apocalypse.

 

Battle of the Sidekicks

I first fell in love with Dan Santat when I got the book Oh No! (Or How My Science Project Destroyed the World). His illustrations are absolutely incredible. Then, earlier this summer, I heard that he created his own graphic novel about superhero sidekicks, aptly named Sidekicks. I hastened to the bookstore only to discover it wasn’t out yet. But what’s this? Another new book bearing the title Sidekicks, this one by Jack D. Ferraiolo.

Abrams Books

Now, I didn’t know this Jack D. Ferraiolo fellow, yet I opened the flap and discovered that he developed and writes for WordGirl, one of my favorite kids’ shows. I bought his Sidekicks to pass the time until Dan Santat’s book came out, and I’m delighted I did.

This YA book was a pleasant surprise, though I was taken aback by the book’s opening seen. Bright Boy, the well known sidekick to Phantom Justice, isn’t a little kid any more and his too-tight bright yellow supersuit proves it. When he becomes a little too… er… excited saving a woman during a battle with a villain, it’s all over the news and he becomes a laughingstock. I have absolutely no memory of reading about puberty from the male point of view while I was busy reading Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret, so this seemed kind of shocking.

But this is hardly just a tale of puberty. Bright Boy, also known as the all-but-invisible Scott at school, discovers the secret identity of his nemesis, Monkeywrench, evil sidekick to Dr. Chaotic. (Spoiler Alert: puberty has affected Monkeywrench, too, and Bright Boy discovers that Monkeywrench has a few more curves than he was expecting, if you know what I’m saying.) Both Bright Boy and Monkeywrench discover that good guys aren’t as good as they seem and that being evil sometimes gets a bad rap. There’s a timely story arc about corporate greed, and it’s up to the sidekicks to discover what’s really going on. The action is exciting enough that I missed my subway stop reading this book.

Scholastic

In July, the wait was over for Dan Santat’s Sidekicks, and it didn’t disappoint. My 6-year-old has been busy reading comic book primers like Captain Underpants, and when I brought it home she gasped a little bit and said, “Is that a COMIC BOOK?” We devoured it in an afternoon. Dan Santat really has a way with character expressions, and the hamster, Fluffy, in particular kept us giggling.

Now, you might think that two girls giggling over a graphic novel means that it doesn’t have mass appeal. Wrong! Here’s the story. [Human] superhero Captain Amazing isn’t the young crime fighter he once was, and he decides to look for a sidekick. His neglected pets, including his dog, hamster, and new chameleon, want the job so that they can spend more time with their beloved owner. While out in the world, costumed and fighting crime, the pets meet up with The Claw, a cat with a special connection to the story.

This is a lovely book about family, which again makes it sound like it’s not the awesome action-packed superhero saga that it is. You can get some quick glances of the awesomeness in the book trailer.

This may not be a very action packed ending but, in the Battle of the Sidekicks, both are winners.

Super Diaper Baby 2: Review and Book Gift Set Giveaway

Cover art used with permission by Scholastic, Inc.

A couple weeks ago we received a free review copy of Dav Pilkey’s (as George Beard and Harold Hutchins) newest book, Super Diaper Baby 2: The Invasion of the Potty Snatchers, which was released to the public on June 28th.  GeekMom Amy had provided us a sneak preview of the book after the Book Expo America this past spring and her assessment was spot on: my son’s first graphic novels were from the Captain Underpants series, and he wasted no time on this latest installment.

My oldest son, age 8, read the book VERY quickly (he’s a relatively slow, but thorough, reader), and really enjoyed it.

Like Pilkey’s other books in the series, the author is portraying two fourth-graders named George Beard and Harold Hutchins.  The kids appear to be the ones authoring the stories and drawing the comics.  Even though the earlier books claim the author is Dav Pilkey right on the front cover, his most recent books don’t show his name on the covers anywhere.  You have to look at the copyright page to see Pilkey’s name now.

Caution: Toilet talk-laden spoiler alert!

In the first story in the series, The Adventures of Super Diaper Baby (2002), the hero’s origins were covered.  Diaper Baby, named “Billy,” got his powers from birth; he was accidentally dropped into a cup of “Super Juice” right when he was born.  Billy and his sidekick Diaper Dog saved the community from an evil…um…piece of poop.  The story is complete with a Captain Underpants crossover, which made it very appealing to my sons.  Meanwhile, I was reminded of South Park’s Mr. Hanky the Christmas Poo while reading the story.

In the next installment, George and Harold were in trouble with their school principal for writing the first adventure, so they attempted a new set of stories.  Since the first book was about evil, um, poop…you can guess what this book is about.

That’s right –pee!  A new evil villain emerges — evil Dr. Dinkle.  He invented a machine that turns solids into water (so that he can liquefy banks to rob them), and the machine was accidentally turned on the villain, turning him into water.  His cat then drank the Dr. Dinkle-turned-water and went potty.  So this evil villain tries to conquer the world as a puddle of pee…along with his cat who operates a super cat-robot.  He destroys all the toilets in the community and convinces everyone to buy his (stolen) diapers.  Super Diaper Baby and Diaper Dog use their super physical and mental powers to conquer the cat, the cat robot and eventually the puddle of pee.

Image used with permission from Scholastic, Inc.

I asked my son some questions about his impressions of  Super Diaper Baby 2. Here are his answers.  He’s a pretty no-nonsense kid and usually won’t say anything more than what’s asked of him:

GeekMom: What was the story about?

Geekling: A bad guy named Dr. Dinkle who made a machine that was supposed to turn anything into water.  But his cat accidentally aimed the machine at Dr. Dinkle, and the bad guy himself turned into water and then he tried to take over the world.  Then he was able to rob banks.  He slid under vaults as water and took the money.  One day his thirsty cat slurped up Dr. Dinkle when he was water, then the cat went potty and Dr. Dinkle turned into pee.  Even though he was pee, he invented a robot to destroy toilets so people would have to wear diapers…Dr. Dinkle would sell diapers to everyone and make more money.

Super Diaper Baby is a baby boy who accidentally drank super power juice and then he got super powers and he was able to fly.  He saved the day.

GeekMom: What did Super Diaper Baby have to do to get rid of the bad guy?

Geekling: He had to destroy the bad guy’s cat who was controlling the robot.  The robot was crushing toilets.  Because all the diapers were being crushed, people had to go potty in their pools and had to wear diapers.

Dr. Dinkle's mechanical cat will destroy all the toilets in town! Artwork used with permission by Scholastic, Inc.

GeekMom: How did this book compare to the other Dav Pilkey books you’ve read, such as the earlier Captain Underpants stories and Ook and Gluk?

Geekling: I liked them the same.  They’re cool.

GeekMom: What was your favorite part of the story?

Geekling: When the bad guy’s cat went crazy for catnip, which is how the robot got destroyed.  The cat said “I’m kookoo for kitty nip” and made the robot bounce around and eventually break.  That’s how it got broken.

Sounds really gross, doesn’t it?  That’s because it is.  Combine that with fourth-grader-quality comic art and the elementary-aged grammar and spelling and you have one of the hottest books of the year for elementary-school aged boys.

My youngest son (age 6) was hovering around my 8-year-old waiting for the book to come available.  They were fighting over whose bedroom the books would reside in after they were read!  They laughed and discussed the stories as if they were attending a book club.  They are awe-struck with how strong Super Diaper Baby is, and they love his trusty sidekick too.

I have to admit being torn on the issue.  I shared GeekMom Kris’s curiosity about whether succumbing to toilet humor would be the only way to get my sons interested in literature.  My 8-year-old son had not always been the most enthusiastic reader, which was heart-breaking to me since I’m an incredible bookworm myself!  Until recently, he would read only when I made him.  My parents, my in-laws and I were searching high and low for books that might interest him while he was in Kindergarten and 1st grade.  Between the Diary of a Wimpy Kid series and the Captain Underpants adventures, we had found winners in graphic novels.  Hooray, we cracked the code!

In summary, even though I was pretty grossed out by the potty humor, I can’t argue with anything that captures my sons’ attention and imagination as well as Dav Pilkey’s books have.  Even if I attempted to ban the language and discussion, it’d be a futile effort.  I have sons, it’s what they talk about.  And like Kris’ sons, they ventured out into other genres: my oldest son is now enjoying the Great Illustrated Classics series and is currently working on Around the World in 80 Days!

Scholastic has graciously offered Super Diaper Baby gift packs to TWO of our readers!  The prize packs include:

  • Super Diaper Baby 2: The Invasion of the Potty Snatchers
  • PLUS the first book! The Adventures of Super Diaper Baby
  • Super Diaper Baby Ruler

All you have to do is leave a comment at the bottom of this post by MIDNIGHT Sunday, July 10th about your kids’ favorite book(s).  We’ll choose TWO winners at random from all the entries received.

Religious Ninja Seeks Girl in Distress THE MOVIE

When I go to a movie, I expect to be entertained and not be subjected to a social commentary of today’s society. If I want deeper meaning, I’ll watch a documentary. That being said, I was excited to see Priest after reading a couple of reviews that promised me such an experience.

The story is basic and predictable. Priest breaks away from church to save a girl who has been kidnapped by vampires (that were supposedly wiped out or imprisoned during a ‘great war’). Church sends more priests to take down the one who has “dishonored the church, and therefore, dishonored God.” Totally awesome ninja western booty-kicking ensues. Paul Bettany, in my opinion, has been type cast again as a brooding holy man. He has done this role often enough that he has almost perfected it. Every time I see Karl Urban in a new role, I respect him more as an actor (my favorite roll of his is still “Bones” McCoy in the new Star Trek though). The ninja western booty-kicking experience outweighs the predictable and simple story. The only thing that sort of rubbed me the wrong way (as a Catholic) is that the church is a bad guy, yet again.

The vampires are obviously CG. As someone who studied production in college, I can say the effects in the movie are better than average. They probably won’t win any awards, but they’re not as bad as other movies that have come out recently.

As a mom I would not let my children watch this movie until they are at least 10, possibly older. This movie is PG-13 for good reason. The language is not out of control, but the F-bomb is dropped once. There is not a lot of blood, but there is death and killing. It is not a scary movie, but there are suspenseful moments that make you jump.

I saw this movie in something called 2D. Why? Mainly because I don’t feel like buying the equivalent of two tickets to wear two pair of glasses at the same time (no contacts here, folks) and give myself a headache (while trying to focus on something the movie makers don’t want me to focus on), and motion sickness. I like the classic experience.

Priest is based on a graphic novel written by Min-Woo Hyung. The Priest graphic novels are available on Amazon. I know I have added them to my wishlist knowing that the movie leaves open the possibility of a sequel, which I would gladly watch after this satisfying, yet simple, adventure.

Ink Plots: The Tradition of the Graphic Novel

"Ink Plots" exhibition photo by John Wyszniewski. Foreground: Art Spiegelman, Background Left: David Sandlin

If you’re a fan of graphic novels, or even if you’re just curious about the format, there’s a great show running right now at my alma mater, School of Visual Art. Ink Plots: The Tradition of the Graphic Novel shares the work of artists influential in the creation of the genre who just so happen to be current and former SVA faculty, including: Will Eisner, Edward Gorey, Peter Kuper, Art Spiegelman, Sue Coe, and Mark Newgarden.

I’m a newbie to the genre outside of the odd exception like Captain Underpants and Coraline, but I found the show very accessible and interesting. The work is largely political, so it wouldn’t hold much interest for little ones, but there’s plenty for fans to sink their teeth into. I was particularly taken with “Sally’s Surprise” by Jerry Moriarty. It tells the story of the artist painting about a young girl’s burgeoning sexuality, but manages to do it without being creepy.

"Ink Plots" exhibition photo by Eric Lendl.

A wonderful part of the exhibition allows gallery-goers to plop down at a table and thumb through a wide array of graphic novels, much more serene than your average comic book shop. One of the great surprises I discovered this way was the diminutive series “Red Riding Hood Redux” by Nora Krug, which can be yours (or mine) for 25 Euros.

"Red Riding Hood Redux" by Nora Krug

Ink Plots is at SVA’s Visual Arts Gallery (601 West 26 Street, 15th floor, New York City) though November 6.