Chopsticks by Jessica Anthony and Rodrigo Corral

chopsticks“Two days ago, the famous concert pianist Gloria ‘Glory’ Fleming disappeared from Golden Hands Rest Facility, an institution for musical prodigies here in the Bronx.

Praised by critics as ‘The Brecht of the Piano,’ Ms. Fleming is known for her modern innovations on classical repertoire.  The young pianist received rave reviews until six months ago, when exhaustion caused an infamous performance at Carnegie Hall.  Fellow patients at Golden Hands recall the seventeen-year-old regularly playing the whimsical children’s waltz ‘Chopsticks,’ an obsession which worsened during her tenure at Golden Hands.

The evening she went missing, Gloria Fleming had apparently played the waltz for over seven hours.”

This book probably has less than two thousand words in it, but it tells a complete story through drawings, photos, screenshots, texted conversations, and musical scores.  It’s the story of a young romance-piano prodigy Gloria and her next-door neighbor Francisco.  The book follows the pair through Francisco’s banishment to boarding school, through Gloria’s breakdown and disappearance, and other events in their lives.

I loved the format of this interesting book! Not only is the story captivating, but it’s just so wonderful to look at.  Francisco is an artist, and the book is peppered with his beautiful drawings and paintings, as well as things like the admittance letter to the rest facility Gloria goes to, ticket stubs, and snapshots.  If you like John Green-type stories, about teenage romances, with a little mystery and philosophy mixed in, this one’s for you.

Happy Reading!

Book’s website:  http://chopsticksnovel.tumblr.com/

If you like this one, you might try:

Why We Broke Up “This novel tells the story of Min Green and how she and Ed Slaterton met at a party, saw a movie, followed an old woman, shared a hotel room, and broke each other’s hearts.” (From the website)

The Fault in Our Stars A tragic, tragic, love story-heavy on the philosophy.  Somehow, it has the same feel as Chopsticks to me.

Looking for Alaska  A boarding school romance-mystery-philosophy book.  I promise. You’ll love it!

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Squish: Super Amoeba by Jennifer L. Holm and Matthew Holm

squish“In the battle between good and evil, there’s only one who has the courage to do what’s right…Squish! Saving the world…one cell at a time!”

He’s squishy, he’s blobby, he’s got no arms…introducing Squish: Super Amoeba, here for your world-saving needs!  When scary Lynwood, the bully amoeba from detention, makes plans to eat Peggy Paramecium, Squish has to muster up his courage and stand up for his friend!

Brought to you by the creators of Babymouse, this children’s graphic novel is full ofPeggy imagination, bright illustrations, and is sure to appeal to the elementary school crowd.  I couldn’t help myself-he’s so adorable, and the captions and illustrations are so funny; this kind of book is just irresistible to me.

There is plenty of elementary school goofy humor, real-life problems (bullying) handled with equal parts lightness and compassion, AND a huge bonus-my alter ego in a graphic novel.  That’s right, everyone-I found her.  Peggy Paremecium.  SHE’S SUPER CHEERFUL, FOLKS!

Squish21-540x732Extra bonus: this is an awesome series, so you can read all of Squish’s adventures!  Look for the changing expression on his hat, and the SUPER COOL science experiment and amoeba-drawing pages in the back of each book! You’ll love this one, I’m sure of it. Better still, even those kiddos who struggle a bit with reading will be able to progress with this book.  It’s a great sense of accomplishment to finish an entire book, and the Squish series has all the ingredients for a crowd-pleaser, even a crowd that is not too sure about all this reading business.  I waited foreeeeeeveeeeer for Squish No. 1 to make it back on the library shelves before I could check it out!

Happy Reading!

Holm, Jennifer H. And Matthew. Squish: Super Amoeba. New York: Random House, 2011. 90 pp.

Want more?  Let’s read our way through!

Squish 2: Brave New Pond

Squish 3: The Power of the Parasite

Squish 4: Captain Disaster

Squish 5: Game On!

If you’re all Squished out, you’d probably like the Babymouse and Lunch Lady graphic novel series.

Anya’s Ghost by Vera Brosgol

“Okay…so how exactly do you solve a murder?”

Friends, it’s Halloween! And do you know what I love?  Ghost stories!  Ghost stories and graphic novels and books that Neil Gaiman call masterpieces!  And LOOK!  That is exactly what I have for you today.

Anya is a teenager in a private school in the U.S.  She immigrated from Russia with her mother and little brother when she was five, and she still struggles with feeling like an outsider.  It’s not easy, trying to fit in, make friends, and please her family at the same time….but it’s way less easy to do all of this when you’re being haunted by a murderous ghost.

 When Anya stumbles onto a skeleton (and the ghost attached to it), she is at first excited about the opportunities a ghostly friend affords: cheating on tests!  A lookout for when she wants to smoke without getting caught!  A friend!  She doesn’t even want to help solve her ghost’s murder, because that would free her.  But when her spirit friend turns out to be far more malicious than she appeared, Anya has to figure out how to get rid of her-and fast.

Violet and gray illustrations maintain the slightly creepy tone of the story, and dialogue just this side of sparse gives readers space to consider the heavier issues of assimilation, family, and high school trauma.  There are plenty of humorous moments to offset the vengeful ghost and gym class drills, like a panel illustrating Anya’s Google keyword search: “how to get rid of ghosts”.  Come on, that’s hilarious!

I finished this book in an hour and it has a great Halloween feel and a solid, well-executed story, complemented with beautiful art.  You’ll love it!

Happy Reading!

Author’s website: http://verabee.com (Did you know she worked on the movie Paranorman?!)

Brosgol, Vera.  Anya’s Ghost. First Second: New York, 2011. 244 pp. Ages 15 and up.

If you liked this book because of the ghost and creepiness, you might want to try Ghostopolislook! Ghost wranglers!  If you liked the immigration and cultural aspects, I have to give you the Best Graphic Novel ever: Persepolis.  It’s long, but it’s awesome and you will completely love it.

Wonderstruck by Brian Selznick

Image“He wished that he was with his mom in her library, where everything was safe and numbered and organized by the Dewey decimal system.  Ben wished the world was organized by the Dewey decimal system.  That way you’d be able to find whatever you were looking for, like the meaning of your dream, or your dad.”

Ben’s mother worked as the librarian in their small town, until she died in an accident, leaving Ben alone and lost.  He never knew his dad.  Now he lives with his aunt and uncle, who are kind, but after losing his mom, he can’t help but wonder about his father: where is he?  Who is he? During a thunderstorm, he discovers a mysterious message that he thinks could be from his father, and he is determined to get to the bottom of things, even if it means getting to New York City on his own.

Half a century earlier, Rose is being pushed to learn to lipread.  She rebels, cutting up her lipreading primer and turning it into a diorama of New York.  She keeps a scrapbook of her favorite movie star, and goes to all her movies.  Even though she can’t hear, Rose can still go to silent movies, and read the dialogue, like everyone else.  When she sees a newspaper headline that says Lillian Mayhew, her heroine, will be in New York soon, Rose sets out for the big city.

Rose’s part of the book is told entirely with Selznick’s intricate, enchanting pencil sketches, while Ben’s storyImage is told with words.  The effect, much like The Invention of Hugo Cabret, is rich; this, like its predecessor, is a book to be treasured.  Indeed, Wonderstruck shares several similarities with Selznick’s previous book:  orphan protagonists, museums, secret messages, and adventures that take place in very important cities. I especially loved that the two books were so similar, because I felt bereft after I finished The Invention of Hugo Cabret, as though there was unlikely to ever be another book that made me feel the same way.  I shouldn’t have worried, though: with the release of Scorsese’s magical film rendition of Hugo, followed by Wonderstruck, the stories aren’t over.

ImageMy advice?  This is a book for sharing. Read it to your classroom after recess: the mystery will keep the students engaged, while the ethereal illustrations will inspire even the most timid budding artist.  Read it to your children, to anyone you love who cares about Deaf culture, dioramas, paper art, the American Museum of Natural History, libraries, adventures, thunderstorms, or New York. Read it with hot chocolate and a mind ready to marvel.  Selznick’s world is meaning-rich and stocked with secrets.  He is clearly an author that has not forgotten what it like to dream.  Let’s all hope he has another book dreamed up for us, and soon.

Happy Reading!

Wonderstruck website: http://www.wonderstruckthebook.com

Selznick, Brian. Wonderstruck. Scholastic Press: New York, 2011. 635 pp. (I promise, it doesn’t feel like it at all; you are going to wish it would last forever.)  Ages 10 and up.

If you liked this book, try The Invention of Hugo Cabret or the shorter graphic novel, Shaun Tan’s The Arrival.

Castle Waiting by Linda Medley

Image

“I’m Lady Jain Solander, Countess of Carabas. I’ve journeyed many months, hoping to gain sanctuary at the legendary Castle Waiting.”

This is Sleeping Beauty like you’ve never heard it before. The king and queen are just, generous rulers, but have no child.  When the long-awaited baby is welcomed into the world, a vengeful witch places her under the familiar curse.  Thus begins the story of Brambly Hedge.  However, it is what happens after the curse that makes this graphic novel special.

After the princess is awakened, and runs off with the prince, we get another “Once upon a time”.  This section of the story involves a convent of bearded nuns, mischievous imps, a castle that stands as a refuge for all that might require it, a despot ruling over the local mill, and a lot of gumption on the part of the characters.  Oh, yeah-and a library and a whole barnful of puppies. See, after the Sleeping Beauty part, Sonorus (the town) fades away; businesses move out of the region until all that’s left are the mill and the castle, which has become a self-sufficient refuge, rather like a commune.  The story centers around a pregnant woman, running away from a mysterious past.  (Don’t worry, you’ll learn about that bit later).  She flees to the castle, and when she gets there, all of the inhabitants reveal, slowly, their back stories.

Friends, I’ve found it.  A graphic novel fairy-tale retelling with a feminist perspective. The Magical Trinity of ImageBook-Awesomeness-here it is!  Don’t tell my professors, but I read this right in class, with the book crammed under my laptop.  It’s that good!  This is the kind of book I’d like to save, to pass off to my children, if I ever have any.  It retains all of the magical fairy-tale storytelling, but Medley empowers her characters (all of them, not just the ladies), and emphasizes the importance of self-acceptance and bravery, without being didactic.  I love the creativity in the book, too: all too often, it seems like fairy tale retellings stick too closely with what has already been written.  Better still, this is a series! I can’t wait to get my hands on the next one in line.

Happy Reading!

Medley, Linda. Castle Waiting, Vol. I. Lake City Way, Seattle: Fantagraphics Books, 2006. 452 pp. (Don’t be scared about that-it’s a graphic novel! I finished it in two days!) Ages 13-18.

Publisher’s website.  (If anyone has a link to Linda Medley’s site, I would be so grateful!)

Pride of Baghdad by Brian K. Vaughan and Niko Henrichon

“Safa, no matter how they might treat us, those who would hold us captive are always tyrants.”

In 2003, a pride of lions escaped from the Baghdad zoo, freed by the bombs pummeling the city.  Starving, they roam the city, trying to find prey, fresh water, and a place to hide from the tanks and soldiers.  They argue over whether it is ethical to eat the corpse of a fallen inhabitant of the city.  They cower in terror when the tanks rumble by, chewing up the land.  They stumble into Saddam’s palatial ruins, and find other miserable wild animals chained there.  It’s a harsh and confusing world, especially for lions that have been captives for the majority of their lives.

This is an interesting perspective on the devastation of war.  The drawings are crisp, bright, and gruesome at times.  The lions are rough, with a distinctively wild tone to their conversations.  Don’t let the illustrations and the characters fool you:  this isn’t for young people.  There’s an odd moment of lion sex, a headless giraffe, and bloody corpses scattered throughout.  The first time I read it, I didn’t like it at all: I was put off by the characterization of the lions and confused by the random sex.  However, my partner loved it.  She pointed out that it could be allegorical for the short freedom of the Iraqi people after they were freed from Saddam’s reign.  I can totally see that now, after reflecting on it for a day.

I have to say, this is a very unique take on the story, and it is based on true events: American soldiers did actually shoot and kill starving lions, escaped from the zoo, in Baghdad.  It’s not a light or cuddly read, though.  However, it’s definitely worth a look.

Happy Reading!

Brian K. Vaughan and Niko Henrichon.  Pride of Baghdad. New York: Vertigo, 2006. 138 pp. 16 and up.

The Wall: Growing Up Behind the Iron Curtain by Peter Sis

“Letters are opened and censored.  Informers are rewarded for snooping.  There are shortages of almost everything.  People stand in long lines.”

This is a graphic novel-picture book hybrid that tells the story of a little boy growing up in Prague, behind the Iron Curtain. His schoolmates did forced labor in the fields.  Art was censored.  It only took very little provocation to be questioned by the authorities.  He describes it as a difficult life, full of fear and empty of diversity.   There was no television when he was young, so he drew his own pictures.  He found refuge in painting the free and beautiful world he wanted, as well as in music.

The format is interesting: there are diary entries interspersed with descriptions of historical events and drawings of his life. I loved the black and white drawings, with only red accents: it’s a very striking visual representation of the sameness and culturally bare life he describes under communism.  When pop music begins to trickle in, the colors get more and more varied and vivid-a beautiful touch.

I loved the story; it was interesting and not something you read about very often.  This is a quick, informative text with a lot of creative art.  Happy Reading!

Author’s website: http://www.petersis.com

Sis, Peter. The Wall: Growing Up Behind the Iron Curtain. New York: Frances Foster Books, 2007.   Ages 13 and up.

Yummy by G. Neri

“I tried to figure out who the real Yummy was.  The one who stole my lunch money? Or the one who smiled when I shared my candy with him?  I wondered if I grew up like him, would I have turned out the same?”

Yummy is based on a true story, which makes it even more tragic.  Yummy, an eleven year old boy in a rough Chicago neighborhood,starts running with a gang.  While trying to impress older gang members and develop a reputation, he accidentally shoots and kills a fourteen-year-old girl.  This graphic novel, told from the perspective of an acquaintance of Yummy’s, examines the “why?” of the events.  Stark black and white illustrations give the novel a gritty feel.  I thought it was incredible! It won the Coretta Scott King Honor Award-richly deserved.

Author’s website:

http://www.gregneri.com/

Illustrator’s website:

http://www.randyduburke.com/

Neri, G. Yummy: The Last Days of a Southside Shorty. New York: Lee and Low Books, 2010. 94 pp.

Happy Reading!

Barefoot Gen by Keiji Nakazawa

“Gen, quick, take your mother! Hurry! You’ve got to take care of your mother! Your baby brother is still in your mama’s belly…you can’t die! You’ve got to survive!”

This graphic novel is the first in a ten-volume series, and it is an autobiographical account of the atomic bombing of Hiroshima.  Yes, autobiographical.  This really happened to the author, when he was six years old.  At 8:15, the atomic bomb detonated above Hiroshima, and the only way he survived was because he was protected by a concrete retaining wall at school.  He lost his brother, sister, and father: the house crushed his brother, and his father and sister were trapped and burned to death.  At the time, his mother was eight months pregnant, and the shock sent her into labor.  Adding tragedy upon tragedy, his little sister never reached her first birthday: she died of malnutrition.

But I started with the end of the book first.  Before the bomb drops, we learn about Gen and his family: the brother who is sent away to the country to protect him from bombs, the other brother who enlisted in the army, Gen’s father, who believes the war is a senseless, needless tragedy, perpetuated at the hands of rich leaders who are willing to sacrifice everything, including the lives of their citizens.  Everyone is hungry; everyone is frightened.  Even amidst the fear, there are acts of generosity and kindness, though, and it contrasts with the horrors of war, portrayed through a child’s eyes.

I know that for American readers, it is sometimes easy to equate graphic novels with comic books, and therefore associate them with frivolous topics: superheroes and the like.  However, that’s not the case.  Keiji Nakazawa began cartooning his experiences during World War II as a way to heal, and recover from the years of terror, starvation, and death.  Upon seeing his creations, This series was translated into many languages by Project Gen, and the author has this to say about the project:

“Human beings are foolish.  Thanks to bigotry, religious fanaticism, and the greed of those who traffic in war, the Earth is never at peace, and the specter of nuclear war is never far away.  I hope that Gen’s story conveys to its readers the preciousness of peace and the courage we need to live strongly, yet peacefully.”

This is one book that I won’t be forgetting quickly.

Happy Reading!

Nakazawa, Keiji.  Barefoot Gen: A Cartoon Story of Hiroshima. Vol I.  San Francisco: Last Gap Books, 2004.  284 pp.  Ages 15 and up.

Skim by Mariko and Jillian Tamaki

All the spells for bringing someone back to you need hair from the person who has left.  How are you supposed to get hair if the person won’t talk to you is gone?  Witchcraft=total crap.

You are never really alone in the city at night.  There are always

taxi drivers

coffee shop people

the 7-Eleven guy

people in their homes

watching talk shows.

It just feels lonely.

It is my pleasure to introduce you to Skim.  Her full name is Kimberly Keiko Cameron, and she goes to a private girl’s school.  In this pensive gem of a graphic novel, Skim describes, diary-style, what happens in her school when the ex-boyfriend of her classmate commits suicide.  Grief counselors visit the school, the popular girls form the Girls Celebrate Life club and Skim observes it all.

You know, that’s the plot, but I feel like just describing it doesn’t do this book justice.  Honestly, the suicide actually is more of the backdrop: the real focus is Skim’s personal musings.  She reads her tarot cards, tries to cast Wiccan spells, negotiates relationships, and struggles with falling in love with an older woman.

All of this understated teenage angst is exquisitely complemented by Jillian Tamaki’s incredibly graceful black and white drawings.  The language is simple, almost verging on sparse, but in combination with the graphics, this is a phenomenal work.  It is perfectly evocative of the quiet trials of being a teenager, the feeling Skim describes as feeling “like I have wings but my bones are bricks”.

Please, please read this book.  When you’re done, pass it on to someone else.  I’m putting it on my Best Ever list right away.

Happy Reading!

Author’s website: www.marikotamaki.com

Illustrator’s website: www.jilliantamaki.com

Tamaki, Mariko and Jillian. Skim. Toronto: Groundwood Books, 2008. 142 pp.  Ages 14 and up.

If you like this book, try Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic by Alison Bechdel, or Indoor Voice, by Jillian Tamaki.

Ok, I can’t resist: one more picture!