Wednesday, July 24, 2019

Finding great comic books for kids: Eisner Awards 2019 (ages 6-16)

If you're looking for great comic books and graphic novels to share with kids, definitely check out the Eisner Awards, the most prestigious comic book award in the industry. Named in honor of the pioneering writer and artist Will Eisner, voted on by comic book professionals and presented at the annual San Diego Comic-Con. I pay particular attention to three categories: best comics for Early Readers (up to age 8), for Kids (ages 9–12), and for Teens (ages 13–17).  Here are this year's winners (check out the full list here):

Early Readers (up to age 8): Johnny Boo and the Ice Cream Computer, by James Kochalka. Energetic little ghost Johnny Boo creates an incredible Ice Cream Computer that turns anything into ice cream -- but what happens when Johnny's best friend Squiggle decides to turn into ice cream?!? He pops out with hundreds of Squiggle clones, only to have the Mean Little Boy try to capture him for his butterfly collection. With simple dialog and goofy plot twists, young readers will eat this up.

Kids (ages 9-12): The Nameless City #3: The Divided Earth, by Faith Erin Hicks. This is an exciting conclusion to a terrific series -- the series opener (The Nameless City) is a favorite at my school. In an ancient city, Kaidu, son of the ruling army Dao, and a native city girl named Rat form an unlikely friendship and alliance. In the series conclusion, Rat and Kai must infiltrate the rogue ruler's palace and steal back the deadly weapon of mass destruction. With action-filled battle scenes, a complex fantasy world and strong friendships, this series appeals to a wide range of readers.

Teens (ages 13-17): The Prince and the Dressmaker, by Jen Wang. Prince Sebastian feels comfortable identifying both male and female, often wearing dresses and going out as his alter ego, Lady Crystallia. When he hires Frances, a young seamstress, to make him a wardrobe of boldly beautiful, dazzling dresses, Frances hesitates at first, but they soon discover a shared passion for fashion. Incorporating the feel of classic fairytales, Wang creates a story that revolves around friendship, following your dreams and speaking your truth.

I especially happy that Jen Wang also won the Eisner Award for Best Writer/Artist. The Prince and the Dressmaker is an outstanding book that draws readers in with its beauty, heart-felt characters and coming-of-age story.

One of the interesting things I find is how graphic novels can appeal to a wider age range than publishers and reviewers often note. For example, The Nameless City series is very popular in my high school. I'd also highly recommend The Prince and the Dressmaker for ages 11 and up.

For more outstanding graphic novels, explore previous winners of the Eisner Award (by category, via Wikipedia). The review copies came from my school library. If you make a purchase using the Amazon links on this site, a small portion goes to Great Kid Books. Thank you for your support.

©2019 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books

Sunday, July 21, 2019

Comics make the best camp packages! (ages 8-11)

Getting packages at camp is great. My niece & nephews (ages 8-11) are away at camp for a month, so I just sent them a care package with comics. With rest hour every day, it's great to have some new comics. I thought I'd share what's headed their way.

Hilo #3: The Great Big Boom
, by Judd Winick:
 This series is one of my nephew's favorites, and I hope I've sent the right one for him! In the series opener “The Boy Who Crashed to Earth,” D.J. Lim’s life turns from ordinary to exciting when he discovers Hilo, an extraterrestrial boy wearing nothing but silver underpants. This story is full of action and humor, as Hilo and D.J. battle robots and giant insects intent on destroying Hilo’s home planet. In Hilo #3, DJ has to find his friend Gina after she was swallowed by a mysterious portal. My note to my nephew says,
"Hilo is the best! And DJ reminds me of you -- such a good friend and always ready for adventure!"
Stone Rabbit: BC Mambo, by Erik Craddock:  Stone Rabbit's boring life suddenly changes when he finds a time portal in his bathroom and he falls into the land of dinosaurs. Non-stop action ensues, as Stone Rabbit is captured by a crazy monster and has to figure his way out if he can escape and save the day. If you're looking for high-action and silly humor, without a lot of words, this is a great series.

Squish #1: Super Amoeba & Squish #2: Brave New Pond, by Jennifer Holm and Matthew Holm: I especially think my youngest nephew will connect with Squish -- he loves reading comics, he sometimes feels little but tries to stand up for himself when he's pushed around. Squish is full of laughs, but he has a really soft heart.

Princeless #1: Save Yourself & Princeless #2: Get Over Yourself  by Jeremy Whitley, illustrated by M. Goodwin: When Princess Adrienne’s parents lock her away in a castle guarded by a dragon to await rescue by a prince, she decides to take matters into her own hands. My niece loves princess stories, and I love this feisty heroine and this story that upends so many stereotypes and tropes.

Guts, by Raina Telgemeier: “Smile” and “Sisters”--Raina Telgemeier's graphic memoirs--are absolute favorites, and I'm sure that my niece is going to be thrilled to see the advanced copy for her newest book (out September 17th). Raina draws readers in with her relatable situations and humor, creating a real bond as she reflects on the pressures tweens face at school and at home. Raina's worries about school, friends (and not-friends), and getting sick just keep making everything worse. As I wrote my niece, Raina's story "feels so real."

Hope you're having a fun summer and finding some time to read! The review copy of Guts was kindly sent by the publishers, Graphix / Scholastic. If you make a purchase using the Amazon links on this site, a small portion goes to Great Kid Books. Thank you for your support.

©2019 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books

Sunday, April 14, 2019

Forward Me Back To You, by Mitali Perkins: touching story of teens finding their way through trauma, identity and friendship (ages 13-17)

Mitali Perkins' newest YA novel, Forward Me Back To You, pulled me in with characters navigating their way through trauma and secrets. It is a book that wrestles with many heavy topics, yet the story shines with sweet moments and fully developed characters. 
Forward Me Back to You
by Mitali Perkins
Farrar, Straus and Giroux / Macmillan, 2019
Google Books preview
Amazon / your local library
ages 13 - 17
*best new book*
The core of the story takes place in Kolkata, India as three teens travel to spend the summer helping an organization supporting survivors of human trafficking. And yet each of them realize that their personal stories, their backstories, impact the way they walk through the world.

As the story opens, Katina King struggles to recover from a sexual assault at school by a popular boy. Although Kat fought him off using her training in martial arts, the school authorities don't believe her. In order to help her heal and move forward, her mother sends her to Boston to finish the semester with a family friend, Grandma Vee.

I so appreciate the way Perkins brings readers into Kat's point of view. Right from the beginning, she introduces the way Kat sees people classified into types -- canines, felines and birds -- based on the way they act, react and treat others.
"Katina King classifies herself as a mountain lion.

She might have become a tame cat in a safer world. But when she was eleven, her body changed so fast it turned her into prey. Nothing she could do to stop luring canine eyes, so she’d put on a feral mask since then to prowl the hills of Oakland.

Fangs, claws, snarl.

They should have kept wolves away, but they didn’t."
In Boston, Kat meets Robin (Ravi) Thornton, who's struggling with his own past. Adopted from an orphanage in India, Robin numbs himself to his own pain by keeping the world at a distance. When his church group leader suggests a summer service trip to Kolkata, Robin decides to take the opportunity, in part to see if he can locate his "first mother." Once they are in India, Robin asks to be called Ravi, his original name.

The second half of the novel takes place in Kolkata, as Ravi, Kat and Gracie, Ravi's long-time best friend, work to support survivors of human trafficking. Kat and Gracie work in a shelter, while Ravi helps with data entry and trains with a local policeman. Perkins shows the complicated aspects of volunteer-tourism, and yet she also shows clear love for the city of Kolkata and the value of connecting across cultures.

Perkins excels at weaving together characters. Main characters and secondary characters have full backstories that create multidimensional, relatable people. The characters of Bontu, Miss Shireen, Kavita and Grandma Vee will stay with me. Perkins explores heavy, important issues of identity, trauma, international adoption and human trafficking, yet the characters' journeys and growth remain central.

I especially think teens will be drawn to the way Kat and Ravi move through their pain. They both find it hard to share their stories, and both more naturally retreat within themselves; yet it is through sharing, feeling and connecting that they are able to move forward. I absolutely agree with the way Barbara Moon describes this novel:
"This search for identity and recovery is a sweeping saga that explores the serious problem of international human trafficking. Gripping storytelling, eye-opening adventure in a faraway city, Forward Me Back to You packs an emotional gut punch that lingers long after the final page. A story not to be missed."
The review copy was kindly sent by the publishers, Farrar, Straus and Giroux / Macmillan. If you make a purchase using the Amazon links on this site, a small portion goes to Great Kid Books. Thank you for your support.

©2019 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books

Sunday, March 17, 2019

In the Middle of the Night: An interview with Laura Purdie Salas about her writing process (ages 3-8)

I'm delighted to celebrate a new poetry book In the Middle of the Night: Poems from a Wide-Awake House, by Laura Purdie Salas. This delightful collection of poems captured my imagination as they describe the adventures of everyday inanimate objects found at night.
In the Middle of the Night: Poems from a Wide-Awake House
by Laura Purdie Salas
Wordsong / Highlights, 2019
Amazon / your local library
ages 3-8
As part of the blog tour celebrating her new book, Laura was kind enough to share about her writing process with me.

Mary Ann: I'd love to share with readers a little bit about your writing process.

Laura: Thanks so much for being part of the blog tour! Unless I’m writing while traveling, I write on my laptop. I might write individual poems on napkins or my phone, but with a big project like a poetry collection, I do less of that. I write most freely when my fingers can move fast, and I can type much faster than I can write longhand. On July 24, 2012, I wrote in my journal:
I spent 30 minutes, finally, on Nobody's Looking (my original name for this idea) last night right before bed. I don't know why I keep procrastinating. Maybe because I don't have a super-clear image of the finished project in my head.
Mary Ann: I can relate to that so much! Procrastination is really difficult to deal with. What did you do when you felt stuck?

Laura: One thing that helped me was reading lots of poetry books I love, that were in a style I was trying to capture. That day, I wrote this blog post about using mentor texts: Finding My Writing GPS. Reading these books gave me a new sense of enthusiasm.
"Animals on the Go"
Mary Ann: I love your use of words. "Lion flips. / Monkey snips. Dolphin drums. / Dragon strums." Your poems are so much fun to read aloud as each word takes shape first on my tongue and then in our minds. How do you gather words for a poem?

Laura: I collect words on a project by project basis. For example, for a draft of a project I'm currently working on, I wrote in my journal:
Also want to brainstorm some words, synonyms and phrases for belonging, accepted, trust, valued...things like that. Not to mention, just...good. Enough.

belong, fit, like a puzzle piece, believed, traditional, standard, agreed, shouldered, believed, faith, belief, hope, rely, trust, expect, care, protect, guard, depend on, count on, be sure about, worth, price, cost, importance.
Those are all just synonyms, but I often make lists of specifically juicy words I come across in my research that I think, Oooh, I want to use that word somehow in my draft.

Mary Ann: Our students and teachers use a word wall. Do you have a word wall at home? What is your writing space like?

Laura: I love so many words. If I had a word wall, I think our townhome would sag under the weight of it! I love walking while I write, so this is my writing space:
Laura Purdie Salas walking and writing
Mary Ann: I love the way stuffed animals come to life in this! Do you have a story about a stuffie from her own childhood?

Laura: What a great question. I have hardly anything from my childhood. Six or seven books, about a dozen photos, and no toys. But I do have Tommy the Turtle. I may originally have “borrowed” him from my big sister, Patty (don’t tell). He has come with me everywhere I’ve ever lived, and I think Tommy would love to have Octopus teach him how to skate!
Laura Purdie Salas and Tommy the Turtle
Thank you so much, Laura! Many congratulations on a wonderful book. Here are all of the stops on the blog tour:
The review copy was kindly sent by the publishers, Highlights Press. If you make a purchase using the Amazon links on this site, a small portion goes to Great Kid Books. Thank you for your support.

©2019 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books

Sunday, March 10, 2019

Shout, by Laurie Halse Anderson: true story of a survivor who refused to be silenced (ages 13 - 18)

As we celebrate Women's History Month, I want to make sure we pay attention to all women's stories. Listening to young women is essential; I especially find women's memoirs powerful when they share about their teenage years. In her powerful new memoir Shout, award-winning author Laurie Halse Anderson shares her experience as a survivor of rape and advocate for women's rights, but she goes far beyond this, plumbing the impact of her father's PTSD, her mother's silence, and the rape culture that surrounds us. I highly recommend this powerful, personal reflection.
Shout
by Laurie Halse Anderson
Viking / Penguin Random House, 2019
Amazon / your public library
ages 13 - 18
*best new book*
Twenty years ago, Laurie Halse Anderson's Speak helped give survivors of sexual violence a voice, showing how Melinda coped with the trauma of her rape the summer before her freshman year. Anderson begins Shout saying:
"Finding my courage to speak up twenty-five years after I was raped, writing Speak, and talking with countless survivors of sexual violence made me who I am today. This book shows how that happened." 
Writing in free verse, Anderson explores the impact of her father's PTSD from WWII and her mother's silence in a household filled with alcohol-fueled tension. She explains the rape she survived at age 13, and how that led to a downward spiral as high school began. And she shows her recovery as she discovered her voice and her love of language as an exchange student in Denmark.
"In Denmark, in Scandinavia, across Europe
memories of World War II ache like a scar
does when the weather changes or a storm draws near
old countries are riddled with battle wounds
that split open, bleed, and cause new pain if not cared for,
just like us

scars may look stronger than unwounded skin,
but they're not
once broken, we're easily hurt again, or worse
the temptation is to hide behind shields,
play defense, drown ourselves in sorrow
or drug our way to haunted oblivion
until death erases hope"
For me, much of the story's power comes in those ah-ha moments, recognizing hard truths I've learned, moments that speak to my core. This is a story that will mean something different to each reader. Above all else, it will create a conversation--perhaps just two sides of your brain talking to each other, or perhaps among friends.

I want to hold onto her advice for us, especially for young people. She does not sugar-coat her life, or her advice to young people. Take one step at a time.
"Trying to figure out what you want to do,
who you want to be, is messy as hell; the best
anyone can hope for is to figure out
the next step."
Anderson speaks raw truth about the impact of sexual violence and the importance of supporting survivors. Shout is also a powerful call to action, encouraging survivors to find their voice and reminding all of us that we have a responsibility to continue the conversation. Her poetry uses metaphors and similes with graceful, evocative power. The poem "shame turned inside out" is one of my favorites:
shame turned inside out
"Sisters of the torn shirts.

Sisters of the chase
around the desk,
casting couch, hotel
room, file cabinet....

Sisters fishing
one by one
in the lake of shame ...

Sisters, drop
everything. Walk
away from the lake, leaning
on each other's shoulders
when you need
the support. Feel the contractions
of another truth ready
to be born: shame
turned
inside out
is rage."
Laurie Halse Anderson is in the middle of her tour for Shout. See if she's coming to a town near you. She is a powerful speaker.
The review copy was kindly sent by the publishers, Viking Books, an imprint of Penguin Random House. If you make a purchase using the Amazon links on this site, a small portion goes to Great Kid Books. Thank you for your support.

©2019 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books

Monday, February 25, 2019

Biddy Mason Speaks Up, by Arisa White and Laura Atkins: a powerful biography of an early California woman fighting for justice (ages 10-14)

As we celebrate Black History, it is crucial we include many people's stories, not just the ones we know well. When our students study California history, we must bring to light the stories of African Americans who helped shape our state. Biddy Mason Speaks Up is a terrific addition to help children learn about an influential African American woman in Los Angeles's early history.
Biddy Mason Speaks Up
by Arisa White and Laura Atkins
illustrated by Laura Freeman
Fighting for Justice series
Heyday, 2019
Amazon / Your local library
ages 10-14
*best new book
Biddy Mason was an African-American healer, midwife, real estate entrepreneur and philanthropist who lived in Los Angeles from 1851 until 1891. Born enslaved in 1818, Biddy was brought to California by the Smith family as one of their slaves, when they moved west as part of the Mormon settlement.
"Even though Granny
isn't allowed to read
or write, she knows
how to read plants."
Arisa White and Laura Atkins weave together Biddy's story with well-researched historical information, giving young readers the historical context for her life. Free verse poems, which enable  readers to feel that they are getting to know Biddy in a personal way, are interspersed with historical information on slavery and midwifery, plantation life and economy, migration, the struggle for freedom, and life as a free black person.
"Biddy probably grew up on a cotton plantation. Cotton, a major cash crop, was grown throughout the Cotton Belt states."
"The record we call 'history' does not tell everyone's story." The voices of ordinary people, especially those who were enslaved or subjugated, were rarely recorded or preserved. When the authors Arisa White and Laura Atkins started writing the biography of Biddy Mason, they faced a challenge: how to accurately portray her story when historical records were scant. They write in the introduction:
"Writing this book was a creative act of repairing the historical record, of imagining Biddy Mason's life based on all the information and stories we could gather. We believe that we are all better when we hear everyone's stories, especially those that have been silenced."
Very little is recorded about Biddy's early years, and so the authors "had to imagine this time in Biddy's life using historical research, 'slave narratives' (written accounts by enslaved people after escaping slavery), and audio interviews with people who lived during the same period and in similar regions." I appreciate how they explain their process and how they used this information to paint a fuller picture.

After 4 years in California, Biddy's owner Robert Smith, planned to move to Texas in 1855. While California was a free state, slavery was legal in Texas. Local sheriffs intervened and took Biddy and her family away from Smith. I appreciate how clearly the text breaks this confusing situation down:
"Even though Biddy was legally free, she had to rely on her community to support her in resisting Robert Smith and the institution of slavery..."
The free verse poems remind me of Ashley Bryan's masterful Freedom Over Me. As Bryan did, White and Atkins used historical records to paint a full picture of ordinary people. This brings to life the stories of Black Americans who helped shape our country.

I wonder if young students will realize that the scenes in the free verse poems did not necessarily occur, or that the authors created the character of Granny Ellen. While the authors are transparent about their process, I wonder if it will be clear to young readers. I see this book as a blend of historical fiction and historical reporting. Detailed source notes show the extensive investigations that went into writing this book.

Illustrations copyright ©2019 Laura Freeman, shared by permission of the publishers. The review copy was purchased for our school library. If you make a purchase using the Amazon links on this site, a small portion goes to Great Kid Books. Thank you for your support.

©2019 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books