Fiction, Graphic Novel, March 2020

Shadow of the Batgirl by Sarah Kuhn

Shadow of the Batgirl by Sarah Kuhn. February 7, 2020. DC Ink, 208 p. ISBN: 9781401289782.  Int Lvl: YA; Rdg Lvl: YA.

Cassandra Cain, teenage assassin, isn’t exactly Batgirl material…yet. Will she step out of the shadows and overcome her greatest obstacle–that voice inside her head telling her she can never be a hero?

Lucky for Cass, she won’t have to defy her destiny alone. With the help of her new mentors, noodle shop owner Jackie Fujikawa Yoneyama and a librarian named Barbara Gordon, she’ll attempt to answer this question the only way she knows how: learning everything she possibly can about her favorite hero. The only problem is that Batgirl hasn’t been seen in Gotham for years…Can Cass find Batgirl before her father destroys the world she has grown to love? Or will shehave to take on a heroic mantle of her very own?

Accompanied by the edgy art style of Nicole Goux, Sarah Kuhn, author of Heroine Complex and I Love You So Mochi, tells the harrowing story of a girl who overcomes the odds to find her unique identity.

Potentially Sensitive Areas: Mild language; Mild sexual themes; Violence

 

Reviews

Booklist starred (January 1, 2020 (Vol. 116, No. 9))
Grades 8-11. Trained from birth to be a perfect weapon, Cassandra Cain dispatches her father’s enemies with ghastly snaps, cracks, and crunches. Though her highly specialized training has left her with only the barest grasp of spoken language, she reads the love and regret in the eyes of her last victim as he croaks a farewell to his own beloved child, and so Cassandra goes on the run. She winds up hiding out in a Gotham City library, where she starts developing her language skills and hears the legend of Batgirl, as told by none other than former Batgirl Barbara Gordon. Struggling to open up, Cass eventually accepts Barbara, as well as Jackie, the tough but motherly owner of the neighborhood noodle shop, as her surrogate family. With their help, she dons a DIY costume and brings Batgirl back to the streets, starting with a crusade against dodgy library patrons, but eventually she confronts her own past in the form of her father and his assassins. There’s an inexhaustible supply of stories about choosing a path or identity in YA literature, but Kuhn deepens the theme and her character by centering her plot on Cass’ confused search for both human connection and heroic ideals. Add Goux’s lean, manga-inflected art with its rollicking, parkour-inspired action sequences, and you’ve got a top-tier entry in DC’s YA graphic novel line.

Kirkus Reviews (December 1, 2019)
The story behind Batgirl. Cassandra Cain is trained to kill. Raised by a criminal mastermind, she knows only how to fight and execute. One day she freezes in the face of one victim’s desperation for her to pass on a message to his daughter. Not wanting to return home, she is found on the streets by noodle shop owner Jackie Fujikawa Yoneyama, who gives her a free meal. Cassandra also finds solace in the Gotham Public Library, where, having been raised with little conversation, she learns to comprehend language by listening to librarian Barbara’s storytimes about Batgirl. Fascinated, Cassandra begins to understand her life before, with her villain of a father, and to envision the life she wants to lead in the future, as a hero. This is an excellent introduction to Cassandra’s backstory and her journey to becoming Batgirl. The detailed illustrations and meticulous coloring add emotion and effectively convey movement. Dark memories and moments are shrouded in blue and purple while Cassandra’s safe, comforting spells are brightened by shades of yellow and orange. Cassandra’s sweet, touching story includes themes of self-discovery, relationships, family, and personal choices, and there’s enough action to keep readers interested. The cast of characters is diverse in race and ability; Cassandra has mutism, she and Jackie are Asian, and red-haired Barbara uses a wheelchair. Without a shadow of a doubt, readers will enjoy this hero’s backstory. (Graphic novel. 12-17)

About the Author

Sarah Kuhn is the author of Heroine Complex—the first in a series starring Asian American superheroines—for DAW Books. She also wrote The Ruby Equation for the comics anthology Fresh Romance and the romantic comedy novella One Con Glory, which earned praise from io9 and USA Today and is in development as a feature film. Her articles and essays on such topics as geek girl culture, comic book continuity, and Sailor Moon cosplay have appeared in Uncanny Magazine, Apex Magazine, AngryAsianMan.com, IGN.com, Back Stage, The Hollywood Reporter, StarTrek.com, Creative Screenwriting, and the Hugo-nominated anthology Chicks Dig Comics. In 2011, she was selected as a finalist for the CAPE (Coalition of Asian Pacifics in Entertainment) New Writers Award.

Her website is www.heroinecomplex.com

Teacher Resources

Shadow of the Batgirl on Common Sense Media

Around the Web

Shadow of the Batgirl on Amazon

Shadow of the Batgirl on Barnes and Noble

Shadow of the Batgirl on Goodreads

Shadow of the Batgirl on LibraryThing

Shadow of the Batgirl Publisher Page

February 2020, Fiction, Graphic Novel

The Avant-Guards, Vol. 1 by Carly Usdin

The Avant-Guards, Vol. 1 by Carly Usdin. September 3, 2019. BOOM! Box, 112 p. ISBN: 9781684153671.  Int Lvl: YA; Rdg Lvl: YA.

When Charlie transfers to the Georgia O’Keeffe College of Arts and Subtle Dramatics, she struggles to find her feet, but winds up exactly where she belongs…in the school’s (terrible) basketball team.

As a transfer student to the Georgia O’Keeffe College for Arts and Subtle Dramatics, former sports star Charlie is struggling to find her classes, her dorm, and her place amongst a student body full of artists who seem to know exactly where they’re going. When the school’s barely-a-basketball-team unexpectedly attempts to recruit her, Charlie’s adamant that she’s left that life behind…until she’s won over by the charming team captain, Liv, and the ragtag crew she’s managed to assemble. And while Charlie may have left cut-throat competition in the dust, sinking these hoops may be exactly what she needs to see the person she truly wants to be.

From Carly Usdin (Heavy Vinyl) and artist Noah Hayes (Wet Hot American Summer, Goldie Vance) comes an ensemble comedy series that understands that it’s the person you are off the court that matters most.

Potentially Sensitive Areas: None

 

Reviews

Booklist (July 2019 (Vol. 115, No. 21))
Grades 9-12. Transfer student Charlie is content to not get too involved at her new college, but determined, aspiring actor Liv will stop at nothing to get her to join her start-up basketball team, the Avant-Guards, even if it means she has to recruit the rest of the team members to subtly—or not so subtly—persuade her. Despite her reservations, Charlie finally agrees, and the team is surprised to learn at their first game that, hey, they’re not that bad! Amid all the basketball action, Usdin drops in plenty of backstory for the other team members and cultivates warm personalities through their comical interactions. Hayes and Nalty’s dynamic artwork in bright colors matches the cheerful tone and does a fantastic job of depicting the teammates, who are refreshingly diverse in skin tone and body shape. The figure designs nicely play up the personalities of the characters as well, and the basketball scenes are drawn with clear-cut action. This lighthearted ensemble story with a glimmer of romance is ideal for fans of John Allison’s Giant Days comics or Ngozi Ukazu’s Check, Please! (2018).

Kirkus Reviews (October 15, 2019)
What happens when a basketball team is determined to recruit a bona fide loner? Charlie Bravo (she’s heard all the jokes) is a recent transfer to the Georgia O’Keeffe College of Arts and Subtle Dramatics. She’s determined to keep to herself and focus on her film studies—until Liv sets her sights on getting Charlie to join her newly minted basketball team. Liv is a determined walking motivational poster who loves leading teams. She recruits the rest of her ragtag basketball crew to convince Charlie—each in their own unique fashion—just before the first game. Ashley, Nicole, Jay, and Tiffany eventually wear her down with their numerous attempts, not only welcoming her to their team, but also into their circle of friendship. Plagued by memories of her last university, Charlie finds that her new team might just be what she needs to love basketball again—and to find love. The author has crafted a cast of endearing individuals who together form an unlikely friendship group that is an unstoppable combination on and off the court. Humor coupled with the fast pace makes for an energetic story. The bright colors, pop-out panels, expressive facial expressions, and dynamic lines express joyful excitement. The highly diverse cast is multiracial with varying gender expression and sexual orientation. Readers who love humorous friendship stories and adorably awkward lesbian flirting will enjoy every moment. (Graphic novel. 15-adult)

About the Author

Carly Usdin is an award-winning filmmaker based in Los Angeles. Her first feature, Suicide Kale, won the Audience Award for Best First Feature at Outfest 2016. After playing over 30 festivals worldwide the film is now available on iTunes and Amazon Prime. In 2017 Carly served as showrunner and director for the scripted series Threads, produced by New Form for Verizon’s go90 platform. The 20-episode horror and comedy anthology series brought to life outrageous stories from internet forums like Reddit. Carly is also the creator and writer of two comic book series for BOOM! Studios: Heavy Vinyl and The Avant-Guards. Heavy Vinyl was nominated for a 2018 Prism award, honoring the best in LGBTQAI+ comics.

Her website is carlyusdin.com.

Around the Web

The Avant-Guards on Amazon

The Avant-Guards on Barnes and Noble

The Avant-Guards on Goodreads

The Avant-Guards on LibraryThing

The Avant-Guards Publisher Page

February 2020, Fiction, Graphic Novel

The House by Paco Roca

The House by Paco Roca. November 5, 2019. Fantagraphics Books, 127 p. ISBN: 9781683962632.  Int Lvl: AD; Rdg Lvl: AD.

In this graphic novel by the internationally acclaimed, award-winning Wrinkles cartoonist, three adult siblings relive old conflicts as they clear out the family vacation home after their father’s death.

The graphic novel The House is at once deeply personal (dedicated to Roca’s own deceased father) and entirely universal. Three adult siblings return to their family’s vacation home a year after their father’s death. They each bring their respective wives, husbands, and children with the intention to clean up the residence and put it on the market. But, as garbage is hauled off and dust is wiped away, decades-old resentments quickly fill the vacant home. Roca asks what happens to brothers and sisters when the only person holding the family together is now gone. Full-color illustrations throughout

Potentially Sensitive Areas: Mild language

 

Reviews

Booklist (January 1, 2020 (Online))
Award-winning Spanish comic book creator Roca draws the story of three adult siblings reuniting following their father’s death. Coming together at their childhood country home, they find much of the house unkempt and in need of repair as they reminisce about their father’s DIY-style. The upkeep of the premises has always been demanding, and now the distractions of work and new families regularly keep them away. However, the idea of selling the home threatens to erase part of their father’s legacy and they struggle with the decision. The full-color drawings are professional and conscientious, but the storyline fails to achieve any major climactic action. Between flashbacks and visits from a elderly neighbor, the reader gets a sense of authenticity from the narrative, yet few lessons are learned aside from the fact that death is difficult in the best of circumstances. Though the audience for this title will likely be small, the work’s sincerity and artful drawings should have special appeal for adult readers mourning their parents. A simultaneously released Spanish-language version is also available.

Library Journal (December 1, 2019)
Following the death of their father, a trio of siblings converges upon their family’s decaying vacation house in order to prepare it for sale. As they clear the yard, restore crumbling walls, and repair leaky pipes, José ponders whether their father was proud of his professional accomplishments, Carla laments that he died before getting to spend much time with her daughter, and oldest son Vicente struggles with whether he made the right choice when he decided not to have him resuscitated on his deathbed. A mildewed swimming pool, a hastily assembled pergola, and orange and almond trees all serve as triggers for memories of the energetic, inventive man their father was in his youth and the depressive loner he became in his declining years, leading the siblings to wonder if selling the property will sever their connection to their father, and one another, forever. VERDICT Celebrated Spanish creator Roca’s (Twist of Fate) cartoonishly drawn characters are juxtaposed against highly detailed backgrounds, showcasing the strange dislocation they feel inhabiting a space that ought to feel much more like home in this melancholy and deeply sympathetic meditation on sibling dynamics and the role memory plays in the grieving process

About the Author

Paco Roca (Francisco Martínez Roca) is a graphic artist and a cartoonist from Valencia, Spain, who has won several art/writing awards. His graphic novel Wrinkles has been adapted into an animated movie.

His website is www.pacoroca.com.

Around the Web

The House on Amazon

The House on Barnes and Noble

The House on Goodreads

The House on LibraryThing

The House Publisher Page

February 2020, Graphic Novel, Nonfiction

Fever Year by Don Brown

Fever Year: The Killer Flu of 1918 by Don Brown. September 3, 2019. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 96 p. ISBN: 9780544837409.  Int Lvl: YA; Rdg Lvl: YA; Lexile: 1020.

New Year’s Day, 1918. America has declared war on Germany and is gathering troops to fight. But there’s something coming that is deadlier than any war.

When people begin to fall ill, most Americans don’t suspect influenza. The flu is known to be dangerous to the very old, young, or frail. But the Spanish flu is exceptionally violent. Soon, thousands of people succumb. Then tens of thousands . . . hundreds of thousands and more. Graves can’t be dug quickly enough.

What made the influenza of 1918 so exceptionally deadly—and what can modern science help us understand about this tragic episode in history? With a journalist’s discerning eye for facts and an artist’s instinct for true emotion, Sibert Honor recipient Don Brown sets out to answer these questions and more in Fever Year.

Potentially Sensitive Areas: Harsh realities of war

 

Reviews

Booklist (July 2019 (Vol. 115, No. 21))
Grades 7-10. As WWI neared its end, the world began another war. From army camps to the world’s great cities, Brown presents the terrifying influenza pandemic of 1918 as a three-act tragedy. Brown follows the disease’s lightning-fast spread carefully, capturing both its large scale and daily effects on a full one third of humanity. Pertinent historic details and quotes heighten the drama, from the denial by authorities—“don’t even discuss it . . . talk of cheerful things,” advised the Philadelphia Inquirer—to the blind search for a cure based on a faulty nineteenth-century theory. Brown is comics’ premiere chronicler of historical catastrophes, and he knows that the story requires emotional investment. This he finds by, for instance, highlighting the common bravery of nurses and volunteers, and making keen visual choices: a double-page splash showing “the life of the city stopped,” and intimate panels depicting family corpses laid to rest “in a corner of the household.” A somewhat abrupt ending relating a scientist’s efforts in 1995 doesn’t detract from the urgency of the tale.

Horn Book Magazine (November/December, 2019)
Brown (most recently The Unwanted, rev. 9/18) here turns his attention to the deadly Spanish Flu pandemic of 1918, which brought “sickness to a third of the planet and death to millions of people.” The book, in comics format, is billed as “a tragedy in three acts.” Act I covers the first half of 1918 and describes the disease’s probable origin in the United States; Act II, the longest section, covers the second half of 1918 and details the inexorable spread of the infection throughout the world; Act III covers 1919 as the epidemic finally begins to fade away-leaving in its wake “incalculable” misery and sorrow. In his illustrations, Brown has a knack for dramatizing details with striking visual angles that produce maximum emotional impact while still conveying solid, accurate information. His text succinctly traces the evolution of the medical disaster with statistics and anecdotes woven in, while his somber, muted palette expertly captures the mood of the period (“America was at war…People had decided to ration happiness along with beef and chicken”). Source notes and a bibliography are appended.

About the Author

Don Brown is the award-winning author and illustrator of many picture book biographies. He has been widely praised for his resonant storytelling and his delicate watercolor paintings that evoke the excitement, humor, pain, and joy of lives lived with passion. School Library Journal has called him “a current pacesetter who has put the finishing touches on the standards for storyographies.” He lives in New York with his family.

His website is www.booksbybrown.com.

Teacher Resources

Great Flu Epidemic Lesson Plans

Around the Web

Fever Year on Amazon

Fever Year on Barnes and Noble

Fever Year on Goodreads

Fever Year on LibraryThing

Fever Year Publisher Page

Fiction, Graphic Novel, January 2020

Harley Quinn: Breaking Glass by Mariko Tamaki

Harley Quinn: Breaking Glass by Mariko Tamaki. September 3, 2019. DC Ink/DC Comics, 201 p. ISBN: 9781401283292.  Int Lvl: YA; Rdg Lvl: YA.

Outspoken, rebellious, and eccentric fifteen-year-old Harleen Quinzel has five dollars to her name when she’s sent to live in Gotham City. Harleen has battled a lot of hard situations as a kid, but her fortune turns when Gotham’s finest drag queen, Mama, takes her in.

And at first it seems like Harleen has finally found a place to grow into her most “true true,” with new best friend Ivy at Gotham High. But then Harley’s fortune takes another turn when Mama’s drag cabaret becomes the next victim in the wave of gentrification that’s taking over the neighborhood.

Now Harleen is mad. In turning her anger into action, she is faced with two choices: join Ivy, who’s campaigning to make the neighborhood a better place to live, or join The Joker, who plans to take down Gotham one corporation at a time.

From Eisner Award and Caldecott Honor-winning author Mariko Tamaki (This One Summer) and Eisner Award-nominated artist Steve Pugh (The Flintstones) comes a coming-of-age story about choices, consequences, and how a weird kid from Gotham goes about defining her world for herself.

Potentially Sensitive Areas: Strong language; Violence

 

Book Trailer

Reviews

Booklist (July 2019 (Vol. 115, No. 21))
Grades 9-12. Harley Quinn is notorious for her allegiance to the Joker, but how did she start on her path to chaotic villainy? That’s what this origin story tackles, starting when Harleen Quinzel arrives in Gotham City, where she lives with Mama, a larger-than-life drag queen living in her late-grandmother’s building. As Harley settles into her new school, she makes friends with smart, justice-oriented Ivy, and together they lock horns with John Kane, the scion of Gotham’s hottest real estate developers, who are swiftly gentrifying neighborhoods like Harley’s. Tamaki’s take on Harley Quinn is remarkably nuanced. Harley’s motivations are largely noble, though her actions are far more volatile than those Ivy chooses, like protest or civil disobedience. That, coupled with Tamaki’s exceptional talent for writing snappy dialogue, makes for deeply multifaceted characters. Pugh’s beautiful artwork carries that dynamism out, as well: his realistic figures are shaded with plenty of depth and represent a refreshingly realistic array of distinct body shapes and sizes. This appealing entry point to the DC universe presents a captivating, vivid portrait of a so-called villain.

Kirkus Reviews (July 1, 2019)
Tamaki’s (Laura Dean Keeps Breaking up With Me, 2019, etc.) version of Harley operates with a moral compass while still being bubbly and outgoing. Harley has been sent to live with her grandmother in Gotham City. She discovers her grandmother has died, but apartment manager Mama, a white, gay man who also manages the local drag queen bar, lets her stay. Harley finds her place among a colorful “mutiny of queens” and makes a new best friend, Ivy Du-Barry. Ivy, who is biracial (Chinese and black), carries the bulk of the load when it comes to educating Harley, who is white, about intersectionality, representation in media, and the gentrification of their neighborhood. Harley’s happiness doesn’t last—Mama receives news of an impending eviction and crosses paths with the Joker. Through flashbacks, shaded in orange, readers get a deeper understanding of what motivates her to fight for what she loves. Pugh (Supergirl, Vol. 3: Girl of No Tomorrow, 2018, etc.) uses a mostly gray and black color palette with background bursts of scarlet. When characters are truly in their element, their signature colors are used: a red and black scheme for Harley, shades of green for Ivy, and the Joker’s signature purple. The fast-paced plot enhanced by Harley’s trademark style of speech examines the impact of gentrification, and Harley’s character development follows a redemptive arc that will have readers rooting for her and her colorful family. A riotous read. (Graphic novel. 13-18)

About the Author

Mariko Tamaki is a Canadian writer living in Oakland. Works include New York Times bestseller This One Summer and Skim with Jillian Tamaki, Emiko Superstar with Steve Rolston and the YA novel (You) Set Me on Fire. This One Summer was the winner of Printz and Caldecott Honors in 2015 and received the Eisner award for Best Graphic Album (New).

Her website is www.marikotamaki.com

Teacher Resources

Harley Quinn: Breaking Glass on Common Sense Media

Around the Web

Harley Quinn: Breaking Glass on Amazon

Harley Quinn: Breaking Glass on Barnes and Noble

Harley Quinn: Breaking Glass on Goodreads

Harley Quinn: Breaking Glass on LibraryThing

Harley Quinn: Breaking Glass Publisher Page

December 2019, Graphic Novel, Nonfiction

Brilliant Maps for Curious Minds by Ian Wright

Brilliant Maps for Curious Minds: 100 New Ways to See the World by Ian Wright. November 5, 2019. The Experiment, 192 p. ISBN: 9781615196258.  Int Lvl: AD; Rdg Lvl: AD.

A singular atlas of 100 infographic maps from thought-provoking to flat-out fun

Which countries don’t have rivers? Which ones have North Korean embassies? Who drives on the “wrong” side of the road? How many national economies are bigger than California’s? And where can you still find lions in the wild? You’ll learn answers to these questions and many more in Brilliant Maps for Curious Minds. This one-of-a-kind atlas is packed with eye-opening analysis (Which nations have had female leaders?), whimsical insight (Where can’t you find a McDonald’s?), and surprising connections that illuminate the contours of culture, history, and politics.

Each of these 100 maps will change the way you see the world—and your place in it.

Potentially Sensitive Areas: None

 

Reviews

Booklist (October 15, 2019 (Vol. 116, No. 4))
A map can convey a lot of information at a glance, something Wright has been documenting on his website, brilliantmaps.com, for nearly five years using maps collected from creators all over the internet. This book is a collection of some of the most popular and commented-on maps from the website as well as some new ones, all of which have been drawn using one consistent style and, if needed, updated data. Grouped into broad categories (culture and customs, history, nature, etc.), these maps cover topics serious and less so, from “the countries in red have as many murders combined as the U.S.” to “heavy metal bands per 100,000 people.” Wright notes in the introduction that context is always necessary to truly understand the information provided by maps. While the full-page spreads make the color maps easy to read, readers may wish to also visit the website, where a short summary/analysis and links to sources are provided with each map. Credits/sources not yet available at time of review.

About the Author

Ian Wright runs Brilliant Maps, one of the most popular cartographic sites on the internet. In addition to being a cartophile, he’s also a keen walker. In 2015, he combined these two passions to become the first person to walk all of the newly expanded London Tube map. Originally from Canada, he now lives in the UK.

Teacher Resources

Brilliant Maps Website

Around the Web

Brilliant Maps for Curious Minds on Amazon

Brilliant Maps for Curious Minds on Barnes and Noble

Brilliant Maps for Curious Minds on Goodreads

Brilliant Maps for Curious Minds on LibraryThing

Brilliant Maps for Curious Minds Publisher Page

December 2019, Graphic Novel, Nonfiction

The American Dream? by Shing Yin Khor

The American Dream?: A Journey on Route 66 Discovering Dinosaur Statues, Muffler Men, and the Perfect Breakfast Burrito by Shing Yin Khor. August 6, 2019. Zest Books, 160 p. ISBN: 9781541578524.  Int Lvl: YA; Rdg Lvl: YA.

As a child growing up in Malaysia, Shing Yin Khor had two very different ideas of what “America” meant. The first looked a lot like Hollywood, full of beautiful people, sunlight, and freeways. The second looked more like The Grapes of Wrath—a nightmare landscape filled with impoverished people, broken-down cars, barren landscapes, and broken dreams. This book chronicles Shing’s solo journey (small adventure-dog included) along the iconic Route 66, beginning in Santa Monica and ending up Chicago. What begins as a road trip ends up as something more like a pilgrimage in search of an American landscape that seems forever shifting and forever out of place.

Potentially Sensitive Areas: Racial insensitivity

 

Video Review

Reviews

Booklist starred (July 2019 (Vol. 115, No. 21))
Grades 9-12. Malaysia-born, LA-dwelling Khor introduces the “two Americas” that were their obsessions growing up: a Los Angeles “full of beautiful people and sunlight and open roads” where 10 years of living has also added “lots and lots and lots of traffic,” and a landscape defined by Steinbeck’s Grapes of Wrath, in which the Joad family desperately pursues the American Dream. Khor takes that “feeling of desperately searching for something better, for a new start,” and adapts it to their own “pilgrimage” as immigrant and artist traveling historic Route 66—“the part of America that my brain finds more American than anything else.” Traversing from LA to Chicago in their 2010 Honda Fit will require their “tiny adventure dog,” Bug, and the kindness of multiple friends and strangers en route, captured in whimsical full-color detail. The end-of-the-road realizations are (surprise!) not what they expected, but the rewards—of course!—are many. What lingers longest is Khor’s four-panel epilogue, revealing their trip was taken six months before the 2016 elections; in magnifier-necessary micro-font, the penultimate panel confesses, “This comic feels like a record of a time when a brown girl could drive America fearlessly.” Khor, with Bug’s support, refuses to “let those jerks keep us down”—an encouragement to all to also keep going.

Kirkus Reviews (June 1, 2019)
Artist Khor recounts their spring 2016 road trip from Los Angeles to Chicago in this graphic memoir. Growing up in Malaysia, Khor knew two versions of America: “The first was Los Angeles, full of beautiful people and sunlight and open roads,” and the other was the America in Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath, “filled with dusty roads and big hopes.” After living in the States for 10 years, they and Bug, their “tiny adventure dog,” embark on a journey along historic Route 66, hoping to better understand the American dream. Through bright, expressive watercolor illustrations, Khor portrays the memorable locations they pass through, including a former gold-mining town in Arizona where several Hollywood films were shot; Amarillo, Texas, which has become a haven for refugees; and kitschy attractions including dinosaur statues and the Blue Whale of Catoosa. They detail both the amusing (going to the bathroom outdoors) and emotional (loneliness and exhaustion) challenges of being a traveler. Khor’s pilgrimage is as much an exploration of themself as it is of nostalgic Americana. Their travels inspire them to share insights into their path to atheism, their anger with xenophobia and racism—which are provoked when they find a motel labeled “American owned”—and the meaning of “home.” Many of Khor’s observations will resonate with those who have questioned national identity and the sense of belonging. An informative graphic travel journal that offers important perspectives on being an immigrant and American identity. (Graphic memoir. 12-18)

About the Author

Shing Yin Khor is a cartoonist and installation artist. Her work has been published in The ToastThe NibUpworthyHuffington Post, and Bitch Magazine. She makes the road trip adventure comic Tiny Adventure Journal, and the tender queer science fiction comic Center for Otherworld Science. She is also the author of The American Dream? A Journey on Route 66 Discovering Dinosaur StatuesMuffler Men, and the Perfect Breakfast Burrito published by Zest Books.

She lives in Los Angeles. Her websites are www.sawdustbear.com and shingkhor.com

Teacher Resources

Route 66 preservation Lesson Plan

Route 66 Lesson Plan collection

Around the Web

The American Dream? on Amazon

The American Dream? on Barnes and Noble

The American Dream? on Goodreads

The American Dream? on LibraryThing

The American Dream? Publisher Page

Fiction, Graphic Novel, November 2019

Joe Quinn’s Poltergeist by David Almond

Joe Quinn’s Poltergeist by David Almond. September 10, 2019. Candlewick, 80 p. ISBN: 9781536201604.  Int Lvl: YA; Rdg Lvl: YA.

There’s a poltergeist in Joe Quinn’s house, and Davie is determined to discover its source in this lively, hopeful graphic storybook from David Almond and Dave McKean.

Joe Quinn has been telling everyone about the poltergeist in his house, but no one believes him. No one, that is, except Davie. Davie’s felt the inexplicable presence in the Quinns’ house and seen random objects fly through the air. And there’s something else . . . a memory of Davie’s beloved sister and a feeling deep down that it might just be possible for ghosts to exist. Full of thoughts of hauntings and grief and God, Davie hovers on a precipice of uncertainty and possibility, a space that storyteller David Almond occupies comfortably and returns to again and again — here paired once more with the dynamic, dreamlike mixed-media art of Dave McKean.

Potentially Sensitive Areas: Mild language, Underage drinking, Underage smoking

 

Reviews

Booklist (July 2019 (Vol. 115, No. 21))
Grades 7-10. During a school holiday, Joe Quinn won’t stop talking about the poltergeist that’s haunting his house: breaking windows, smashing dishes—typical ghost mischief. His latest update to Geordie and unbelieving Davie (the story’s narrator) ends with an invitation to dinner, so they can see the poltergeist in action. To Davie’s dismay, Geordie accepts, and the friends convene at the Quinns’ table for an oppressively bizarre meal, where chips and slices of buttered bread periodically fly through the air and noises crash from upstairs. By the end of the visit, the pair’s positions have reversed, with Geordie convinced Joe is behind everything, and Davie feeling shaken and entertaining the possibility that the specter is real. This throws Joe into an existential funk, expertly rendered in McKean’s dark, mixed-media illustrations, where overlapping, scribbled sketches embody confusion and conflict, jarring collages evoke an unsettled atmosphere, and negative space echoes absence and haunting memories. Joe navigates his inner turmoil, including grief and religious confusion, forming earnest revelations about life’s poltergeists (i.e., disruptions) and finding peace.

Kirkus Reviews starred (June 15, 2019)
A newly illustrated edition of Almond’s psychologically acute tale of ghosts and grief in a small British town. Originally published in the autobiographical Half a Creature From the Sea (2015), the atmospheric narrative is placed within equally shadowed, evocative scenes, sepia sketches alternating with painterly, often nightmarishly jumbled portraits or visions. Wounded souls battling tides of anger and loss abound: from inwardly focused narrator Davie, still hurting in the wake of his baby sister’s death, to the people around him, notably Joe Quinn, a mercurial youth with a dad in jail, a giddy mum, and, he claims, a household poltergeist. In the end the author leaves it to readers to decide whether the “ghost” is real or just Joe, but after a vicious fight with Joe followed by a bit of shared moon-gazing, Davie’s initial skepticism is transformed to a deeper feeling that has something of empathy to it: “I know the poltergeist is all of us, raging and wanting to scream and to fight and to start flinging stuff; to smash and to break.” The art amplifies the characteristically dark, rich tones of Almond’s prose all the way to a final Dylan Thomas–style promise that “the world and all that’s in it will continue to…hold us in its darkness and its light.” The cast is a presumed white one. A keen collaboration moving seamlessly between worlds inner and outer, natural and supernatural. (Graphic novella. 12-16)

About the Author

David Almond is a British children’s writer who has penned several novels, each one to critical acclaim. He was born and raised in Felling and Newcastle in post-industrial North East England and educated at the University of East Anglia. When he was young, he found his love of writing when some short stories of his were published in a local magazine. He started out as an author of adult fiction before finding his niche writing literature for young adults.

His works are highly philosophical and thus appeal to children and adults alike. Recurring themes throughout include the complex relationships between apparent opposites (such as life and death, reality and fiction, past and future); forms of education; growing up and adapting to change; the nature of ‘the self’. He has been greatly influenced by the works of the English Romantic poet William Blake.

Almond currently lives with his family in Northumberland, England. His website is www.davidalmond.com.

Around the Web

Joe Quinn’s Poltergeist on Amazon

Joe Quinn’s Poltergeist on Barnes and Noble

Joe Quinn’s Poltergeist on Goodreads

Joe Quinn’s Poltergeist on LibraryThing

Joe Quinn’s Poltergeist Publisher Page