Library Larks: A Graphic Novel and a Picture Book after my own heart…

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library larks button proper

It’s the first rule of book reviewing that when you are suffocating under a pile of books for review and finding less and less time to get to the review pile, the first thing you should do is go to the library and get more books.

It just makes sense really.

So, given that I am woefully behind in my review schedule and have no less than seven books to read and review by the end of next week, I decided it was only fitting to pop to the library and grab two more to bring to your attention.  I’m glad I did actually, despite the stirrings of guilt, because I thoroughly enjoyed both of my choices.

First I picked Leave Me Alone by Vera Brosgol, which I had had my eye on since it was first released and I found it featured an old lady protagonist, knitting and telling people to bugger off – incidentally, three of my favourite things.

leave me alone

Given that Brosgol is the author/illustrator of multi-award winning graphic novel Anya’s GhostI suspected that the illustrations here were going to be great.  They were. Brosgol’s style features clean lines, blocks of colour and some fantastic facial expressions.  Most of all, I just loved this book because it was so funny.  The old woman is the matriarch of a home with an excessive amount of small children and so it’s unsurprising that she doesn’t get much alone time in which to knit.  After tramping out of the village with naught but a shouted “Leave me alone!”, the old lady traipses off through a variety of unlikely environments until she can get some peace and quiet in which to work on her knitting.

My favourite part of the story is when the woman passes through a wormhole to avoid her latest pursuers.  Honestly, the line “She swept the void until it was a nice matte black” has got to be one of the best in children’s literature.

This one is going to become a keeper for us.  I am left with no option but to buy my own copy I liked this story so much.

I also requested Nightlights by Lorena Alvarez because it’s far cheaper to borrow all the graphic novels I want to read from the library than buying them.  nightlights

Despite being in large picture book format, this is undoubtedly a graphic novel aimed at middle grade readers and older.  The story revolves around Sandy, a young girl who loves to draw and has trouble focusing in class …or anywhere for that matter…due to the intense concentration she exerts while drawing.  When Sandy meets Morfi, a new girl, their friendship at first seems to be buoying for Sandy, but as time progresses and Morfi appears in Sandy’s dreams, things aren’t quite as peachy for the pair as they appear.  The author has slipped in a neat little solution to the problem that will require a bit of reasoning out on the part of younger readers, but is satisfyingly clever and opens the door for Sandy to throw off the shackles that are holding her back.

The colours in Sandy’s drawings are so eye-catching and lush that they’d look just as good stuck in a frame on your wall.  The scenes set in Sandy’s dreamscapes are just creepy enough to indicate danger, yet are also filled with tiny details that call out to be pored over.  I enjoyed this story a lot and I think its larger format will make it a great choice for primary (and secondary!) school libraries.

Now, back to the review pile.

Until next time,

Bruce

Title Fight Reading Challenge: The Search for the Slimy Space Slugs

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Title Fight Button 2016

Today I have another submission toward the Title Fight Reading Challenge 2016 in category three: a book with onomatopoeia in the title.  We received a copy of Doodle Adventures: The Search for the Slimy Space Slugs from the publisher via Netgalley, and couldn’t wait to get stuck into this interactive children’s offering.  Here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

Draw your way through the story!

Doodle Adventures: The Search for the Slimy Space Slugs! is a lighthearted fantasy where the reader first draws him- or herself into the story, and then continues by following prompts and adding more illustrations and doodles. Set in space, the book invites the reader to join Carl, a duck and member of a super-secret international group of explorers, on a journey in search of a very important grail-like object. The book is sturdy paper over board with beautiful cream paper—perfect for defacing! And by the end, the reader will have co-written a tale to return to again and again, and show off to family and friends.

search for the slimy space slugs

This book is pure, unadulterated FUN from the first page to the last.  If you were a child who was always being roused at for doodling in books, then this tome will be a balm for your very soul.  The idea behind this series of books – yes, a whole series! – is for the reader to co-create the story by adding to the illustrations at strategic points.  From adding quirky characters to creating strategic escape hatches, the book guides the reader to draw their way out of danger and save the day!

I was itching, just itching, to grab a pencil in my stony claw and start scribbling away to create my own unique narrative, but – alas! – I only received a digital review copy.  What a tease!  I am definitely planning on purchasing at least one copy of this for my own doodling pleasure and maybe one more for the eldest mini-fleshling in the dwelling.  Maybe.

Your guide on this tour of doodle-y duty is a rather bossy duck, whose heart is nevertheless in the right place.  Apart from all the fun of a book that requires you to be an integral part of the tale, the book is packed with hilarious, sometimes slapstick, sometimes dry humour (mostly instigated by the duck) just perfect for reluctant readers and subversive adults.  Here’s a strip of illustration that had me giggling aloud:

slimy space slugs

Silly, silly fun!

Simply for the fact that this book launched me back to the fun and cheekiness of childhood, I dub it a Top Book of 2016 pick!

Bruce's Pick

I urge you to check out this series and leave copies of it lying in obvious places around your home or classroom.  Then come back later and see if any of the copies are still where you left them!

Until next time,

Bruce

Some Festive Frivolity: How to Draw Sharks…

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It may sound odd to you Northern Hemispherites, equating festive frivolity with sharks, but where I come from, having a shark intrude on your Christmas relaxation time is a very real possibility.  Provided you spend part of the Christmas break in the water. At the beach.

And of course, we all know that Sharknadoes could happen at any time.

Anyway.

Today I have a brief but shark-filled offering from the intriguingly named Arkady Roytman, from the publisher via Netgalley, that features everyone’s favourite ocean predator: How to Draw Sharks.  Here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

With this step-by-step guide on how to create images of the marine world’s fierce predators, kids can learn to draw creatures from the top of the ocean’s food chain in just a few simple steps. This easy-to-follow book illustrates the use of basic geometric shapes to form 31 varieties of sharks, from the great white and the hammerhead to the tiger, bull, and saw sharks. Blank practice pages offer plenty of room to perfect your style.

how to draw sharks

I wouldn’t normally request such a book for review on this blog, as you loyal readers would well know, but for some reason I became enamoured of the slightly, not-very-inspiring-but-certainly-achievable image on the cover.  So I thought “What the heck! Sharks have a place on the Shelf after all!” and requested it.  And I even had a crack at drawing the cute little guy on the cover:

great white

And it would have been remiss of me not to include witty speech bubbles.

The Great White of the cover turned out to be pretty simple to achieve and so I had a crack at some of the other, more obscure shark breeds.  Here’s the Crested Bullhead shark:

crested bullhead

See what I did there?

And here’s the mildly-anxious-looking bamboo shark…

bamboo shark

…complete with a quote borrowed from Marvin the Paranoid Android.

To be honest, this isn’t the greatest step-by-step guide I’ve ever seen.  Sure, there are four steps to each drawing, but  the order of the steps is not immediately clear as they are not numbered.  Similarly, there are quite a few alterations at each step and inexperienced or younger readers may find it tricky to follow the steps without getting frustrated.  The first step for each drawing consists of a collection of basic shapes, which is easy enough, but subsequent steps include dashed lines and heavier lines that indicate line breaks or overlaps.  The meanings of these line breaks and heavier lines is never clearly articulated however, so it is left to the individual to figure out their meanings (and how they will render them on paper).  I will admit to having a bit of difficulty with the latter two drawings, but I got there in the end.

And I’m quite happy with the results.

One of the good things about the book is that apart from including a whole slew of obscure (to me) shark breeds, there are a range of different positions featured as well.  This means that you aren’t just drawing all sharks face-on or side-on, but have a variety of options to pick from.  Also, as there were some shark breeds here that I had never seen before, it encouraged me to actually do a bit of research and find out some more about these mysterious, toothy creatures.

Overall, I do feel that this is a pretty specific topic to base a drawing book around – I would have plumped for a “How to Draw Sea Creatures” title before I honed in on one specific species, ordinarily- but if you are a shark obsessive lover you’ll go head over fin for this tome.

And it’s a good starting point for generating your own hilarious shark-based cartoons. (See above).

Until next time,

Bruce

 

 

 

A Graphic Memoir GSQ Review: Tomboy…

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image

Welcome once again to a Good, Sad and Quirky review.  Today I have a memoir in graphic novel format that relates the tale of one Liz Prince, a girl who struggles to fit into the pre-packaged image of how a girl should look and how a girl should behave.  It’s a fantastically engaging book and one that may well become essential reading for anyone who feels that their biological attributes don’t match with society’s expectations as to how those attributes should be deployed.

tomboy

 

Tomboy is the story of Liz Prince – it chronicles the difficulties and triumphs she experiences from childhood into young adulthood and beyond, in identifying as a “tomboy”.  Liz likes baseball, superheroes and action figures, and feels most comfortable in jeans, a t shirt and her favourite cap.  She’s happy like this.  For her it is not a problem, it just is.  Imagine her surprise then, on discovering that the people around her, from her own siblings, to her classmates, to her teachers and coaches, seem to find this disconcerting in the extreme.  Tomboy covers the bullying that Liz experiences due to her boyish appearance, the difficulties in making and keeping friends that goes hand in hand with being visually different to one’s peers and the emerging problems that Liz encounters when trying to get to know boys in a romantic way while looking like a boy herself.  Tomboy is an important and emininently readable piece of work that speaks clearly to one girl’s struggle to figure out what exactly it is that makes a girl and where she fits on the spectrum of womanhood.

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Wow. Don’t be fooled by the cartoony style of the artwork, this is a book that packs an ideological and personal punch.  Before even a third of the way through the book, Mad Martha was nodding and tearing up, so close to home were the situations and emotions presented here by Liz.  The book follows a a chronological order, opening on a scene in which four-year-old Liz is screaming in an attempt to stop her mother from putting her in a dress.  From there we move on with Liz into her years in primary school and on towards middle and high school, by which point being the only comfortable tomboy in a crowd of pubescent teens becomes quite a challenge indeed.  The book finishes with Liz finding some stable ground as an adult in accepting how she is and how she wants to be and discovering that there is a community in which she can be socially accepted.

The art, as I mentioned, is in the traditional cartoon style and is both easy on the eye and perfect for conveying the humour underlying many of the situations Liz finds herself in.  See for yourself:

There’s plenty in the storyline that is though-provoking and touching and challenging, but there’s also a lot here that will be very familiar to anyone who’s beyond the age of 15, whether they had trouble fitting in with peers or otherwise.  In one sense, Liz is telling the story of any-teen in the struggles she has in making friends and finding her place and her passions, but over the top of that is her specific story of gender-image, which will also strike a chord with many teens, wherever they fall on the spectrum of appearing to be socially-acceptable.

image

The only problem I had with this graphic novel is that I felt the pace started to drag a bit during the high school section of the memoir.  By that stage the issues that Liz was struggling with – particularly in terms of finding a romantic partner – had already been raised and the narrative seemed to get bogged down a little at this point.  That’s just my personal interpretation though, and I’m sure others will think differently.

There are also a few instances of swearing and “adult situations”, so if you’re not into that, steer clear.

Otherwise…I got nothing.  I really enjoyed Prince’s style in both artwork and written word.

image

Two parts of this memoir really stood out to me as being original, in the sense that I hadn’t encountered them in fiction before.  (I realise that this is technically factual, in that it actually happened, but it’s a subjective retelling and presentation of a particular person, and in that sense, it reads like fiction).  The first was the very clearly outlined difficulties that Liz encounters as a heterosexual female whose personal fashion preference is decidedly masculine.  I haven’t encountered this in any YA before and I think it provided a real sense of depth to the story.  It got me thinking about how personal presentation and sexual preference are linked in our minds…if we see a woman dressed in man’s clothing, do we automatically assume she is a lesbian? If so, why?  How does this affect young people as their identity is emerging in the teen years – do they feel pressure to conform to gender image expectations and how does this affect them psychologically if they do conform or if they don’t?  These are things that I am still pondering and it was wonderful to see these presented realistically for a YA and new adult audience.

The second thing that jumped out in this particular memoir was Liz’s personal dislike (bordering on gut-wrenching hatred) of anything considered to be “girly”.  This was articulated fantastically throughout the memoir, and resolved somewhat in the latter part of the story as Liz begins to separate the idea or image of “girliness” being bad from the idea that being a girl (or a woman) is bad.  This part of the story raises some great questions about attitudes in wider society about females and femininity and the worth that is placed on boys’ activities (and therefore, boys) as opposed to girls’ activities (and therefore, girls).  While I’ve definitely come across these arguments in reading on feminism that I have eagerly devoured in the past, it was refreshing to see it presented in situ, as it were, as it unfolded in Prince’s life and development.

My overall take on the book?

A must-read, must-discuss, must-unpack book for anyone working with young people or anyone who has any interest in gender stereotyping.  And anyone who likes a good graphic memoir, really 😉

I realise I’ve blabbed on a bit here, but this really is one of those rare books that comes along and touches a nerve, inspires important discussions, and makes one cling all the more defiantly to one’s favourite, comfy, non-fashion-forward hat.

Tomboy is due for release on September 28th from Zest Books and I received a digital copy from the publisher via Netgalley.

Until next time,

Bruce

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The Rithmatist: Read it if….

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Rejoice fleshlings, for today I bring you tidings of great joy – the good-book drought has broken!  Today’s offering from Brandon Sanderson, The Rithmatist, has brought me back to the lush, green delta of compulsive reading.

rithmatist

The Rithmatist follows the fates of Joel, son of a chalk-maker and all round ordinary sort of guy, who is completing his schooling at an institution dedicated partly to the teaching of Rithmatics. Rithmatists have a special ability to bring chalk drawings to life, an ability which comes in useful in Sanderson’s particular alternate universe given that wild chalklings (two-dimensional creatures made of chalk) can eat people…skin first in most cases.  Joel desperately wants to be a Rithmatist, but must content himself with studying the theory – until Rithmatic students on Joel’s campus start disappearing and he becomes much more involved in the fates and fortunes of the Rithmatic community than he could ever have hoped.  Thus begins a wholly original tale that has it all – murder, mayhem, mystery, monsters, mystical doodling and…much else besides, not necessarily starting with M.

 

Read it if:

* you are unable to walk past an author with a rhyming first and last name

* you can stand the sound of chalk scraping on a blackboard

* you believe that the fantasy/gearpunk/murder-kidnapping mystery/coming-of-age sub-genre is woefully under-represented in modern YA literature

* you like your alternate universes original, solid and drawn (pardon the pun) from an interesting new premise – I mean chalk monsters! Way more interesting than your run-of-the-mill shuffling horde

* you fervently believe YA fiction is far better off without (a) a broody looking long-haired girl on the cover and (b) crappy, forced love triangles between aforementioned broody-looking girl, attractive clean-cut young man number one and attractive rebel without a cause young man number two

 

I  am, quite frankly, astounded that I have not come across Mr. Sanderson’s work before, but I will definitely seeking out more of his stuff in the future.  One of the stand-out bits of The Rithmatist is the confident world-building that Sanderson has accomplished. He has managed to pull off a story set in a completely original and believable alternate-Earth, without getting bogged down in describing the ways and workings of the whole deal.  This in turn allows his characters to drive the narrative – another strength of the work.

If you’re looking for something completely different, with engaging characters and some really novel concepts, you could do a lot worse than this book.  And if the cover above doesn’t take your fancy, it’s also been released in the cover below!

Rithmatist 2

Ahhh, it’s good to be back in the world of enthusiastic reading again. Mr Sanderson, I thank you!

Until next time,

Bruce