Gabbing About Graphic Novels: Mighty Jack…

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gabbing-about-graphic-novels

Today I’m bringing you another Ben Hatke graphic gem because Ben Hatke is awesome.  I picked up Mighty Jack from the library a week or two ago and I’m pleased to say I enjoyed it even more than the Zita the Spacegirl books.  It’s a big call I know, but bear with me.  Here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

Jack might be the only kid in the world who’s dreading summer. But he’s got a good reason: summer is when his single mom takes a second job and leaves him at home to watch his autistic kid sister, Maddy. It’s a lot of responsibility, and it’s boring, too, because Maddy doesn’t talk. Ever. But then, one day at the flea market, Maddy does talk—to tell Jack to trade their mom’s car for a box of mysterious seeds. It’s the best mistake Jack has ever made.

What starts as a normal little garden out back behind the house quickly grows up into a wild, magical jungle with tiny onion babies running amok, huge, pink pumpkins that bite, and, on one moonlit night that changes everything…a dragon.

mighty jack

Target Age Range: 

Middle grade and above

Genre:

Fantasy, fractured fairy tales

Art Style:

Ben Hatke style!

Reading time:

Took me about half an hour total spread over two sittings

Let’s get gabbing:

I’m going to dispense with reiterating how much I love Ben Hatke’s illustrative style and adorable original creatures and just get on with talking about the story.  Although, if you’ll indulge me, this series has a ridiculously cute little onion headed species that Mad Martha is dying to recreate in yarn, but as she doesn’t have the time just now, we’ll have to wait for that particular treat.

This is the good old fashioned kids-stumbling-upon-hidden-magic-right-in-their-own-backyard combined with meeting-a-friend-with-a-bizarrely-cool-skill style of fantasy that anyone who has loved fantasy and magic stories since childhood will definitely appreciate.  Since Jack’s mum has to work two jobs just to make ends meet, Jack is often left to look after his little sister Maddy, who is nonverbal.  When Maddy wanders off at a local market, Jack manages to find her talking to some strange people (who you will certainly recognise if you have read the Zita the Spacegirl series!!) and ends up trading his mum’s car for a box of seed packets when Maddy unexpectedly starts talking.

When the kids plant the seeds in the yard they’re in for a massive shock – because the garden that sprouts is full of sentient plants, adorable onion-headed creatures and some vines that are a bit too grabby for comfort.  When Jack’s swordplay-mastering, home-schooled neighbour Lilly (oh, I’ve only just realised that she has a botanical name…coincidence?) turns up to help out, Jack has to decide whether to trust her and let her into the family’s troubles or take the easy route and keep shutting everyone out.

I love, love, love, love this story.  Apart from the fantasy elements (enormous snails, anyone?) there is a strong subplot about acceptance, trust and the perils of relying on oneself when others are willing to contribute.  Mighty Jack doesn’t have the humorous undertones of the Zita series, relying instead on a sense of adventure and risk to drive a suspenseful, but exhilarating plot.  Once again Hatke has created female characters that are full of depth, with unexpected skills and for this reason, the book will appeal to both boys and girls.  There’s a certain echo of the Spiderwick Chronicles in this story, but Hatke has done it better.  I really can’t wait now to get my paws on the second book in the series – Mighty Jack and the Goblin King – by hook or crook.

 

Overall snapshot:

This is another brilliant addition to Hatke’s growing catalogue of work.  If you haven’t yet introduced his graphic novels or picture books to your younglings, you must really correct that oversight because these are modern classics that deserve to be re-read again and again.

Until next time,

Bruce

Meandering through Middle Grade: Night of the Living Worms…

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meandering-through-middle-grade

Today’s little gem is an illustrated early chapter book that will have all those mini-fleshlings who are ready to move on from such favoured duos as Elephant & Piggie clamouring for more.  We received Night of the Living Worms: A Speed Bump & Slingshot Misadventure by Dave Coverly from PanMacmillan Australia for review, and here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

What’s a bird to do when his sibling is a big-time celebrity? It’s a question Speed Bump has to deal with every single morning, because his brother happens to be the one and only Early Bird. You know, THE Early Bird, who ALWAYS gets the worm! Unfortunately, Speed Bump is a sleepy little bird with a big head and tiny wings who’s worried he’ll never live up to his brother. But he has a great buddy, the ever-hungry Slingshot, who knows how to lift his spirits. Together, they end up on an adventure deep in the nighttime forest, where they’re forced to confront something more terrifying—and slimier—than they’ve ever imagined. It could all go horribly wrong . . . or it could just change Speed Bump’s luck for good.

night-of-the-living-worms

If there’s one thing that draws me back to “children’s” books again and again, it is the unashamed acknowledgement that illustrations and text are made for each other.  Night of the Living Worms sits in that category of books between picture books and chapter books, wherein the author knows that for beginning readers – and indeed, for any reader who enjoys more context around their text – illustrations are essential.  This book is a bit of a combination between chapter book and graphic novel, with no more than a paragraph of text on each page, some of which is encased in speech bubbles, and every page is adorned with eye-popping line art to bring the story to life.

Speed Bump is a good sleeper who lives in the shadow of his older brother, Early Bird.  As we all know, Early Bird gets the worm and for this reason, Speed Bump has to content himself with nuts and berries for snacking on, until such time as he can beat his seemingly unbeatable brother to that elusive worm.  Slingshot is Speed Bump’s best friend and a more stalwart and supportive companion a bird could not wish to find.  When the two decide to take up a foolproof strategy to beat Early Bird to the worm, things don’t go as planned.  There are worms available for the plucking alright, but it turns out that maybe these worms have a plan all their own to defeat Early Bird!

Helped by a collection of forest creatures, Speed Bump and Slingshot must find courage they didn’t know they had and find a way to save the day, before Early Bird meets a nasty, worm-driven end.

This book was heaps of fun to read and the characters are vivid and full of personality.  The nightwalker worms were actually pretty creepy when viewed all together, but there are plenty of laughs throughout the story that will please reluctant readers and those who just want to have fun in their reading.  As an early chapter book, it’s a quick read for an accomplished reader, but for those just starting out on longer books it should provide just enough challenge, as well as plenty of support through the illustrations and use of white space and speech bubbles.  I quite enjoyed a selection of illustrated punny goodness early on in the tale, with various birds making various punny comments to elicit a guffaw or two.

The ending of the book is both exciting and quite fitting for the trouble that Speed Bump and Slingshot went to – as well as for the trouble they got themselves in!  This book also contains a preview of the second book in the series, Night of the Living Shadows, to further hook in young readers and create anticipation.  I’d say this intrepid duo are definitely one to watch if you have a mini-fleshling in your dwelling who is just beginning to tackle longer books, or indeed one that just loves a good comic adventure story with larger than life protagonists.

Until next time,

Bruce

TBR Friday: I Am Princess X

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TBR Friday

It’s TBR Friday once again and I’m also sneaking in another notch off the Alphabet Soup Reading Challenge hosted by Escape with Dollycas, by getting finished with I Am Princess X by Cherie Priest.  Here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

Best friends, big fans, a mysterious webcomic, and a long-lost girl collide in this riveting novel, perfect for fans of both Cory Doctorow and Sarah Dessen; illustrated throughout with comics.

Once upon a time, two best friends created a princess together. Libby drew the pictures, May wrote the tales, and their heroine, Princess X, slayed all the dragons and scaled all the mountains their imaginations could conjure.

Once upon a few years later, Libby was in the car with her mom, driving across the Ballard Bridge on a rainy night. When the car went over the side, Libby passed away, and Princess X died with her.

Once upon a now: May is sixteen and lonely, wandering the streets of Seattle, when she sees a sticker slapped in a corner window.

Princess X?

When May looks around, she sees the Princess everywhere: Stickers. Patches. Graffiti. There’s an entire underground culture, focused around a webcomic at IAmPrincessX.com. The more May explores the webcomic, the more she sees disturbing similarities between Libby’s story and Princess X online. And that means that only one person could have started this phenomenon—her best friend, Libby, who lives.

i-am-princess-x

Ten Second Synopsis:
May and Libby were best friends – until Libby died in a horrible road accident, leaving May behind with nothing but memories and their shared work on a comic book series “Princess X”. When May starts noticing stickers of Princess X around her home town, she is baffled: who could be drawing Libby and May’s character if Libby died three years ago?

Time on the TBR Shelf:

I’m not really sure.  At least a year, but not more than a year and a half.

Acquired:

Purchased from the Scholastic warehouse sale for a cool $5.00, or thereabouts.

Reason I haven’t read it yet:

Other books kept taking precedence.

Best Bits:

  • The format switches between novel and graphic novel, with actual parts of the Princess X comic included in the book.  They are printed in a gorgeous purple and grey colour palette too, which is a feast for the eyes.
  • The mystery was really absorbing, because in the beginning, May doesn’t realise that there are parts to Libby’s story of which she isn’t aware, for various reasons.  There are also clues left about for May to find which is always fun.
  • The pace is spot on, with not much dallying, and when the proverbial hits the fan, it’s a seat-of-your-pants ride to the end.
  • I really liked May as a character.  She’s authentic for her age, with flaws and all.

Less Impressive Bits:

  • In the beginning it seemed like the author was having a bit of trouble finding the right voice for her characters, but this cleared up by the middle.
  • There is a little red herring thrown out early on about what happens to the physical collection of Princess X comics and I wished that this had played a part in the mystery, but it didn’t.

On reflection, was this worth buying?

Absolutely!  I got totally sucked in to this mystery and both the format and the content of the story are a change from the usual YA school-yard dynamics fare.

Where to now for this tome?

I loved it, but I can’t see myself reading it again, so I will put it out for sale at the next Suitcase Rummage I attend.

So that’s one more chink off Mount TBR and one more book to add to my Mount TBR Reading Challenge total!  I think I’m up to 13 or 14 now, but I’ll try and fit one more in before I do a wrap up post next month.

 

Mount TBR 2016

Until next time,

Bruce

Yarning with Mad Martha about…Graphic Novel “Light” (+ a free crochet pattern!)

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yarning with mad martha_Fotor (2)

I am beyond delighted to be with you today, to yarn about an uplifting, adventure-filled, delightful wordless graphic novel with a protagonist that you will just want to render in crochet.  Luckily for you, I have done just that and will share my pattern with you so you can do the same – bliss!

But I’m getting ahead of myself.

We received a copy of Light by Rob Cham from the publisher via Netgalley for review and here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

This wordless comic book follows the exploits of a backpack-toting adventurer in a quest to find a mysterious treasure. Framed in black, the illustrations offer delightful bursts of color and are sure to entertain readers of any age.

light

Wordless picture books, or wordless graphic novels, can be a tricky subgenre to connect with.  Sometimes the reading experience is profound or hugely memorable, while other times you can get to the end of the book and think, “What on earth was that about?!”  I am pleased to report that Light sits neatly in the former camp, slowly revealing a story of altered goals and shifting perspectives told through a cast of silent, yet original and quirky characters.

The protagonist is the small white hominid on the cover, who we meet as he (she?) is preparing for some sort of quest.  It’s not immediately clear what the quest is about or why our friend is embarking upon it, but the early stages of it seem fraught with danger and risk.  Armed with only a backpack, map and ineffective-looking sword, our hero sets off through a craggy, inhospitable landscape.  As the story continues, and our friend meets a startling array of creatures, from huge dragon-like beasts, to formless giants to a particularly spindly guru (of sorts), he (she?) makes a friend, and more than a few enemies.

And of course, it’s one thing to make it safely to your goal, but quite another – as any Hobbit will tell you – to get back home in one piece.  It is during the second half of the book that the story takes some unexpected turns and the result is a heartwarming (but not corny) and uplifting ending.

The dark background on which the monochrome illustrations sit slowly gives way to brighter bursts of colour as the story continues and by the end of the book, the pages are replete with bright, almost neon flares that reflect the atmosphere of the adventure.  If you are curious as to the illustrative style of the book you can visit the author/illustrator’s website and have a look at some of the page spreads. 

I couldn’t read this book and not have a go at creating a little version of Light’s intrepid, and open-minded hero, and here’s what I came up with:

light-1 light-2 light-3

The little guy is pictured here with his backpack, trusty sword and a red gem (which is one of the objects of his quest).  I’m pretty happy with the way he turned out and he has already started exploring the shelf and investigating the other occupants!

If you are uninterested in crochet patterns, you can stop reading now – otherwise, read on for a free pattern to crochet your own little Light dude and his backpack.

Yours in yarn (and unexpected adventure!),

Mad Martha

Free Crochet Pattern inspired by “Light” by Rob Cham

This pattern will allow you to recreate the figure and backpack from the images above and is suitable for beginners with a basic knowledge of amigurumi skills.  The pattern is written using US crochet terms.

You will need:

Yarn (I used acrylic) in white, dark brown and a small amount of black for the eyes.

4 mm hook

Yarn needle

Scissors

Stitch marker

Head:

Using white yarn and 4mm hook, make a magic ring.

  1. Sc 6 in the ring.
  2. 2sc in each sc (12)
  3. *sc in next sc, 2sc in next sc* x 6 (18)
  4. * sc in next 2 sc, 2sc in next sc* x 6 (24)
  5. sc in each sc around (24).
  6. sc in each sc around (24)
  7. sc in each sc around (24)
  8. sc in the next 12 sc; *sc in the next sc, 2sc in the next sc* in the next 12 sc (30)
  9. sc in each sc around (30)
  10. sc in the next 12 sc; *sc in the next sc, 2sc in the next sc* in the next 18 sc (39)
  11. sc in each sc around (39)
  12. sc in the next 12 sc; *sc in the next sc, sc2tog in the next 2 sc* in the next 27 sc (30)
  13. sc in each sc around (30)
  14. sc in the next 12 sc; *sc in the next sc, sc2tog in the next 2 sc* in the next 18 sc (24)
  15. sc in each sc around (24)
  16. * sc in next 2 sc, sc2tog in next sc* x 6 (18)
  17. *sc in next sc, sc2tog in next sc* x 6 (12)
  18. Turn head right side out and stuff.  Continue by making sc2tog x6 (6)
  19. FO leaving a long tail.  Thread a yarn needle onto the tail, weave the tail in between the final six sc, pull tight and FO again.

Eyes:

Using black yarn, thread the yarn through a yarn needle and make a knot at the end of the tail.  Insert the needle at the base of the head (where you fastened off from stitching the hole closed) and bring the needle out on one side of the face at about round 7 (just before the face bows outward).  Make a single, straight stitch to form one eye.  Bring the yarn needle out on the same round, a few single crochets from the first eye.  Make another single, straight stitch to form the second eye.  Bring the needle out at the base of the head, FO and hide the tail of yarn inside the head.

Body and legs/feet:

Using white yarn and 4mm hook, make a magic ring.

1.Sc 6 in the ring.

2. 2sc in each sc (12)

3. *sc in next sc, 2sc in next sc* x 6 (18)

4. * sc in next 2 sc, 2sc in next sc* x 6 (24)

5 – 14: For the next 10 rounds, sc in each sc around (24)

15.  Begin the first leg by making one sc in the next 8 sc.  Skip the remaining 16 sc in the round and sc into the first sc you made in this round.   Place a stitch marker in this sc.

16 – 18. sc in each of the eight sc you have just made, for three rounds.

19.  Begin shaping the feet.  Sc in the next 3 sc, 2sc in the next 4 sc, sc in the last sc (12)

20.  sc in the next 4 sc, sc2tog in the next 4 sc, sc in the next sc (8)

21.  Sc2tog x 4 (4)

22. FO leaving a tail.  Thread the yarn needle onto the tail of yarn and whip stitch the opening on the bottom of the foot closed.  FO and hide the remaining yarn by threading it inside the leg.

23.  Begin the second leg by counting 4 sc from where the first leg attaches to the body.  Attach the yarn in the next sc with a slip stitch, and sc in the next 8 sc. (8)

24.  Repeat the process from round 16 to round 22 to create the second leg.

25.  Stuff the body through the opening at the bottom, using a crochet hook or other small poking device to ensure the stuffing fills out the feet.  Stitch the remaining single crochets at the bottom of the body closed, FO and weave in the tail of yarn.

Arms (Make 2)

Using white yarn and a 4mm hook, make a magic ring.

  1. sc 6 in the ring.
  2. *sc in the next 2 sc, 2sc in the next sc* x 2 (8)
  3. sc in each sc around (8)
  4. *sc in the next 2 sc, sc2tog in the next 2 sc* x 2 (6)
  5.  Sc in each sc (6)
  6. Repeat round 5 five times.
  7. FO, leaving a long tail for attaching to the body.
  8. Stuff

Backpack

Using brown yarn and a 4mm hook, make a magic ring.

  1. Sc 6 in the ring.
  2. 2sc in each sc (12)
  3. *sc in next sc, 2sc in next sc* x 6 (18)
  4. * sc in next 2 sc, 2sc in next sc* x 6 (24)
  5. sc in each sc (24)
  6. Repeat round 5 four times.
  7. Begin working on the flap.  Sc in the next 10 sc. (10)
  8. Ch 1, turn, sc in each sc (10)
  9. Ch 1, turn, sc2tog, sc in the next 6 sc, sc2tog (8)
  10. Ch 1, turn, sc2tog, sc in the next 4 sc, sc2tog, (6)
  11. Ch 1, turn, sc in each sc (6)
  12. Ch 1, turn, sc2tog, sc in the next 2 sc, sc2tog (4)
  13. Ch 1, turn, sc in each sc (4)
  14. Ch 1, turn, sc2tog twice (2)
  15. Ch 5, and sc in the next sc to make a closing loop for the backpack.
  16. Ch 1, turn, sc in each sc around the top of the backpack.  FO, weave in the ends and turn right side out.

Straps (make 2)

Attach yarn in the sc next to where the flap joins the open top of the backpack.  Chain 5, FO and using a yarn needle, attach the free end of the chain to the bottom of the backpack.

Sew a french knot on the front of the backpack big enough for the closing loop to fit around.  Now you’re dude can open and close his pack!

Attaching the bits and pieces:

Sew the head to the body, lining up the back of the head with the back of the body.  This ensures that the dude’s bulbous nose sticks out a bit more in the front.  Attach the arms on either side, close to where the head is joined.  Slip the backpack straps over the arms and you have an adventurer!

This pattern is provided for free.  Please don’t steal it and use it as your own.  You are welcome to make as many adventurer dudes as you like to keep or give as gifts.

 

 

Level UP With Some Graphic Novel Goodness for Your Friday…

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level up

Well, it’s Friday and I’m in love with Gene Luen Yang’s graphic “coming-of-age while being harassed by imaginary supernatural beings” memoir, Level Up.  We received our copy from PanMacmillan Australia for review and here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

Nothing is what it seems when life collides with video games.

Dennis Ouyang has always struggled in the shadow of his parents’ expectations: Stay focused in high school, do well in college, go to medical school, and become a gastroenterologist.

But between his father’s death, his academic burnout, and his deep (and distracting) love of video games, Dennis can’t endure. He’s kicked out of college. And that’s when things get . . . weird.

Four adorable—but bossy—angels, straight out of a sappy greeting card, appear and take charge of Dennis’s life. He’s back on track to become a gastroenterologist. But is he living the life he wants?

Partnered with the deceptively simple, cute art of Thien Pham, Gene Yang has returned to the subject he revolutionized withAmerican Born Chinese. Whimsical and serious by turns, Level Up is a new look at the tale that Yang has made his own: coming of age as an Asian American.

There’s nothing better, during a run of large, hefty novels, to kick back with a graphic memoir and revel in the brevity of the text.  Having said that, Level Up is probably best enjoyed in two or more sittings, just to allow the pain and indecision of “new adult” angst to sink in.  Dennis Ouyang is an all-round good egg it would seem, who is torn between fulfilling his parents’ wishes and chasing his video-game-glory-shaped dream.  For a fair bit of the book it feels like poor Dennis can’t do anything right, because whether he is achieving excellence in the field of pixellated reality or intestinal correction, he is plagued by guilt, or the ghost of his father, or general early-adult insecurities about the permanence of one’s initial course choices at university.

I particularly enjoyed how Dennis changes his mind multiple times throughout the book as different information, and family secrets, come to light.  It’s quite satisfying and reassuring to know that the choice that Dennis eventually makes is the right one for him, despite the fact that it evinced so much agonizing and drama in its attainment.

I feel the need to mention that Level Up is another addition to the “diversity” canon, as apart from the first-generation Chinese immigrant perspective, there are also Indian and Latino characters making up Dennis’s core group of friends.  The differences between Dennis’s life and family responsibilities are highlighted when Dennis’s Caucasian friend can’t understand why Dennis would pursue such a massive undertaking as medical school simply because it’s what his parents expect.

While I haven’t yet mentioned the ghostly, imaginary angels on the cover of the book, this is not because they do not play a major part in the story.  These four certainly sit at the creepier end of the angelic spectrum, and demonstrate an unshakable belief that Dennis’s true destiny lies in the field of gastroenterology.  To aid him in attaining his destiny, the tiny cherubs cook, clean, wash and generally sort out Dennis’s living arrangements to allow him to concentrate on study.  While this may sound like a boon for Dennis, the benefits go hand in hand with the demonic freak-outs to which the angels are prone when Dennis dares to defy their wishes.  The angels are an interesting plot device and we discover, in hilarious and unexpected fashion, the real purpose behind their existence toward the end of the novel.

Level Up was both a great brain-break in between much heftier reading responsibilities, and an endearing and authentic snapshot of early adulthood, with all its opportunities and uncertainties.  I’d definitely recommend it for when you need a quick reminder that you aren’t the only one wandering around wondering what on earth you are going to do with the rest of your life.

Until next time,

Bruce

 

 

Moose on the Loose: A Double-Dip Review…

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image

If the sight of a pair of enormous antlers sets your heart a-flutter, you are in for a treat today because we have TWO moose-themed, illustrated children’s books for your perusal.  We received both of these gems from their respective publishers via Netgalley.  Grab yourself a hearty snack and let’s strike out into the wilderness!

First up, we have Too Many Moose by Lisa Bakos, a cautionary tale about the perils of online shopping.  Here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

When Martha gets an unusual pet, she’s delighted by all of the fun things they do together. If one moose is this marvelous, then more moose must be even better! Pretty soon, Martha has more moose than she can handle in this playful pet story.

Dip into it for…

too many moose

…more moose than you can handle and an endearing, and extremely funny, animal romp.  This book is so delightful I could barely handle all the excited frollicking that goes on throughout.  Martha, heartened by the success of ordering one moose from a catalogue, falls into that trap for young players at online shopping and ends up with an unwieldy amount of moose.  She eventually finds a solution that suits everybody and all is well, but in the meantime, things get a little hairy around Martha’s house.  I am always impressed with illustrators who can make such hilarious facial expressions on animal characters, and Martha is a wonderfully independent little soul and, in the end, a responsible pet owner.

Don’t dip if…

…you don’t like moose.  Or online shopping.  That is all.

Overall Dip Factor:

I absolutely loved this tale.  The rhyme and rhythm is spot on for reading aloud and little ones will appreciate the repeated refrains throughout.  The illustrations are just perfect and the scenes of frivolity (until things go bad, of course) make one wish one had a pet moose of one’s own!  I predict that this will be high on the request list of many a bedtime reading rotation.  Highly recommended.

Next up we have a sneaky TOP BOOK OF 2016 pick!

Bruce's Pick

It’s so good to see a cracking graphic novel, because we’ve had a few misses with the genre so far this year.  Here’s the blurb of Laser Moose and Rabbit Boy by Doug Savage, from Goodreads:

The forest is full of danger . . .  but help is here. Meet Laser Moose and Rabbit Boy, improbable pals who use their powers—laser vision and an unrelenting sense of optimism—to fight the forces of evil. Join the dynamic duo as they battle aliens, a mutant fish-bear, a cyborg porcupine, and a mechanical squirrel, learning along the way that looking on the bright side might be just as powerful as shooting a laser.

laser moose

Dip into it for…

…a forest full of danger, an optimistic rabbit and one very vigilant moose.  Never has such a friendship between opposite personalities existed in a children’s graphic novel than that between Laser Moose and Rabbit Boy.  While Rabbit Boy is just happy exploring the forest and meeting animal people, Laser Moose is constantly on the lookout for danger…and his arch-nemesis Cyborgupine (a cyborg porcupine, in case you couldn’t figure that one out).  In four charming and hilarious stories, our intrepid heroes save the forest and learn a thing or two about themselves along the way.  And then there’s the Aquabear.

Don’t dip if…

…you’re not a fan of alternating slapstick and subtle humour in your graphic novel reading.  The stories roll from Laser Moose causing unintentional carnage when wielding his eye lasers, to perfectly timed dry one-liners and back with nary a by-your-leave.  The end frame of the Aquabear story is a fantastic example of this (and I’m not going to spoil it for you, but I will say that it did result in me engaging in a thigh-slapping guffaw).  In some senses it’s pretty childish humour, but if an adult gargoyle can have a good old out-loud-chuckle at these animal antics, it’s got to be pretty sophisticated on some level too.

Overall Dip Factor:

I love this combination of characters – Laser Moose’s tightly wound vigilance is perfectly balanced by the forgiving and personable nature of Rabbit Boy.  The stories are short, so will appeal to young readers who need to take breaks while reading.  The dialogue is such that it will be appreciated by kids and adults alike. As with  most graphic novels, this was way too short for my liking and I’m itching to get my claws on the next in the series (it is going to be a series, right?!).  In the meantime I will have to settle for buying a copy as a “gift” for the eldest mini-fleshling.

A worthy Top Book of 2016 pick indeed, and I thoroughly recommend that you too pick up a copy under the guise of giving it to a young reader of your acquaintance.

I hope you’ve found a moose-y tale to inspire the imagination here!

Until next time,

Bruce

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Top Book of 2016 YA Pick: You Were Here…

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Bruce's PickI know, I know! It’s only February and already I’ve thrown out three Top Book of 2016 picks.  You should probably count yourself lucky that there is so much excellent reading material being brought to your attention by your friendly neighbourhood shelf-dwellers.

Today’s offering is a YA contemporary novel with an unusual format and some of the best, most authentic characterisation of teenagers on the brink of starting their adult lives that I have seen for a while.  We received a copy of You Were Here by Cori McCarthy from the publisher via Netgalley.  Here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

Grief turned Jaycee into a daredevil, but can she dare to deal with her past?

On the anniversary of her daredevil brother’s death, Jaycee attempts to break into Jake’s favorite hideout—the petrifying ruins of an insane asylum. Joined by four classmates, each with their own brand of dysfunction, Jaycee discovers a map detailing her brother’s exploration and the unfinished dares he left behind.

As a tribute to Jake, Jaycee vows to complete the dares, no matter how terrifying or dangerous. What she doesn’t bargain on is her eccentric band of friends who challenge her to do the unthinkable: reveal the parts of herself that she buried with her brother.

you were here

So here are some of the features of the book that I thoroughly appreciated:

  • Abandoned sanatoriums, shopping centres, train tunnels and fun parks
  • Alternating points of view between the main five characters – Jaycee, Natalie, Zach, Mik and Bishop
  • GRAPHIC NOVEL formatting within the novel itself – woo!
  • The aforementioned excellent characterisation of young people dealing with grief, identity, growth and changing friendships
I was surprised at how engaged I became with this story to be honest with you.  I requested it for the themes of grief and identity that are touched on in the blurb, but I was heartily impressed with the way that the author deftly handles five main characters in alternating perspectives, each with different – though intersecting – flaws and secrets.  While each of the characters could be defined as typical characters one might find in a YA contemporary – the wild child, the man-child, the brooding artistic type, the overachiever and the strong, silent type – the depth with which the author explores each of their stories is beyond the ordinary for books pitched at this age group.  Similarly, while some of the themes in the book have been done to death in contemporary YA, McCarthy’s treatment of the characters’ growth seems extremely authentic, so I never had the feeling that I was reading characters that could easily be swapped into any old YA story.
I loved the inclusion of urban exploring – seeking out and visiting abandoned public buildings or spaces – and the way in which it neatly tied in with the reader’s slowly unfolding picture of who Jake might have been, as a brother and friend.  The graphic novel elements,used to tell Mik’s part of the story, were a wonderful, novel inclusion, but I really wanted to see more of them throughout.  Similarly, the single-page artworks attributed to Bishop seemed far too thin on the ground (or the wall, as the case may be), although I understand that, apart from showcasing Bishop’s state of mind at various points in the story, it would have been difficult to include more.
If you’re looking for a deeply absorbing, authentic examination of a group of friends trying to figure out who they are and who they want to be, before launching themselves into the big, wide world, then I recommend this book to you.  If you’re looking for a riveting and sometimes disturbing examination of grief and the impact of a young person’s death on a community and family, I recommend this book to you.
And if you’re just looking for a bloody good contemporary YA read with action, adventure, romance, break-ups, pain, friendship, humiliation, growth, graffiti, secrets, graphic novel interludes and a whole swathe of abandoned buildings to explore, then you should just go out and acquire You Were Here by Cori McCarthy.  Then let me know what you think.
Until next time,
Bruce

Oddity Odyssey Reading Challenge: Trashed…

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Today’s offering in my quest to scale the dizzying heights of oddity is a graphic novel narrative non-fiction tale about that most indispensable yet oft-maligned occupation – rubbish collection.  Trashed by Derf Backderf follows the exploits of a couple of ordinary guys thrust into the extraordinary world of civic garbage disposal through a lack of other opportunities.  Peppered throughout this unexpectedly engaging read is a plethora of information and statistics about the garbage-generating habits of Americans (for the most part) and the not-so-ingenious ways that humans have come up with in order to keep their detritus out of sight and out of mind.

I received a copy of this one from the publisher via Netgalley, and I will be submitting it in the category of books with odd subject matter.  To find out more about the challenge (and join in!) click here.  But let’s not sit around like a stinky old bag waiting for collection day! Here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

Every week we pile our garbage on the curb and it disappears—like magic!

The reality is anything but, of course. Trashed, Derf Backderf’s follow-up to the critically acclaimed, award-winning international bestseller My Friend Dahmer, is an ode to the crap job of all crap jobs—garbage collector. Anyone who has ever been trapped in a soul-sucking gig will relate to this tale.

Trashed follows the raucous escapades of three 20-something friends as they clean the streets of pile after pile of stinking garbage, while battling annoying small-town bureaucrats, bizarre townfolk, sweltering summer heat, and frigid winter storms.

Trashed is fiction, but is inspired by Derf’s own experiences as a garbage­man. Interspersed are nonfiction pages that detail what our garbage is and where it goes. The answers will stun you. Hop on the garbage truck named Betty and ride along with Derf on a journey into the vast, secret world of garbage. Trashed is a hilarious, stomach-churning tale that will leave you laughing and wincing in disbelief.

trashed

Apart from numerous “ew”-inducing scenes and the unrivalled hilarity that is a piano being crunched in a rubbish compactor (oh, the symphony!), there are some incredibly thought-provoking instances in this unexpectedly fascinating read.  At first it felt a bit weird to be presented with nonfiction sections slap in the middle of your typical graphic novel, but these informative little snippets actually raise the book above the common graphic novel herd.  The facts presented about the ways and means of rubbish generation and disposal are both stupefying and scandalous. Reading about the enormity of humanity’s collective garbagey woes gave me pause for thought about the  unimaginable scale of any effort that would have to be undertaken in order to reverse the environmental harms already inflicted and enact positive change for the future.

These sobering facts are deftly balanced by the down-to-earth problems of the main character and his co-workers as they battle exploding maggots, back-breaking hard rubbish items, despotic managers and the problems that come with extremes of weather (ie: garbage bags freezing to the footpath).  Seriously, being splashed with a bit of bin water is the least of their worries.  The characters seem to be vying for the title of “least personable individual”, as along with the aforementioned despotic manager, we meet a collection of garbage workers each with their own idiosyncratic irritating habits (and nickname), a delightfully bizarre cemetery worker, the scariest dog-catcher ever created and a host of citizens who just don’t appreciate the finer points of putting out the correct type of rubbish on the correct day.  By about the end of the first quarter of the book, I can guarantee you will have developed a whole new level of sympathy for those who collect your refuse.

Or at least, those who used to collect your refuse, if you are an Aussie.  Our trucks are all fitted with automatic robot arms to empty the bins – gone are the days of the loveable “garbo” running your rubbish bin to the truck, with the unwritten promise of a six-pack left out at Christmas time as a reward for their essential services.  Honestly, kids of today wouldn’t believe you if you told them – “You left beer out for the garbage man? WTF? That’s so random!”

I would highly recommend having a look at Trashed if you are in the mood for something that will satisfy both your escapist and cerebral urges.  There’s a lot to laugh at in the storyline – in a schadenfreude,
“Gee, I’m glad that’s not me” sort of a way – as well as a lot to ponder.  Just remember to pop it in the recycling bin when you’re finished.

Progress toward Oddity Odyssey Reading Challenge Goal: 14/16

Until next time,

Bruce

Oddity Odyssey Reading Challenge: A “Down the Rabbit Hole” Reimagining You Never Saw Coming…

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It’s an absolute travesty, I know, but I haven’t posted an entry in the Oddity Odyssey Reading Challenge 2015 since JULY. Yep it’s been Two. Whole. Months.  Considering this challenge was devised by me, that is incredibly slack. To make up for this dire transgression, I have a triple-bunger of oddness for you with a reimagining of falling down the rabbit hole that is completely out of left field. Today I have the first three volumes in a new release graphic novel series for the middle grade set that is a bit odd in pretty much every sense, but I will officially be submitting it under the category of Odd Subject Matter, given that it is a new twist on an old favourite.

As an aside, if you’d like to find out more about the challenge (and join in – there’s still time with levels starting at completion of just three books!), just click on the image at the top of this post.

Now back to business. I received copies of the first three volumes of Malice in Ovenland (yes, you read that correctly) by Micheline Hess, from Rosarium Publishing via Netgalley – and at first, I wondered what on earth I’d gotten myself into. But about halfway through volume two….well, let’s not get ahead of ourselves. Here’s the blurb from Rosarium:

Lily Brown is a bright, curious, energetic young girl from Queens, New York. She lives with her mom and loves reading and writing and spending time with her friends. But she hates cleaning!

So, when her mom forces her to stay home for the summer instead of going off to some fun soccer or riding camp, Lily fumes. She wanted excitement and adventure. She didn’t want to do chores.Little did she know that the greasy oven in the kitchen was going to give her more excitement and adventure than she could possibly handle.

malice in ovenland 2

And so begins the tale of Malice in Ovenland. The first volume introduces Lily’s fall down the Ovenhole, as it were, and is replete with elements of middle-grade appeal – disgusting smells, blobby, gross monsters, vomit and general yuckiness. The art style is cartoony and this, coupled with the stomach-churning subject matter, very nearly put me off but for some reason, when I saw the second volume pop up on Netgalley I threw caution to the wind and gave Lily and her grease monsters a second go.

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I’m glad I did. The action ramps up in the second volume and we are given a bit more plot and a little less grotesquerie (although there’s still plenty to please yuck-loving young readers). In this volume, Lily is thrown into the dungeon of the grease monsters’ castle, wherein she encounters a helpful pile of bones and a possible ally in this hostile environment. The cliffhanger at the end of this volume actually had me really wondering where the story would go, so when volume three popped up on Netgalley….well, you can guess what I did.

The third volume again upped the plot twists and provided more puzzles to solve, as Lily encounters a foodie ghost and attempts to escape from some relentless pursuers. By this volume, the yuckier elements have receded somewhat and I was quite drawn in to Lily’s escape. malice in ovenland 3

I did decide to leave the series here, even though the next volume was available for request, but having read the first three volumes, I can see how the series could well continue to become more engaging with each instalment. Malice in Ovenland will have great appeal to the “reluctant reader” camp of middle graders (and possibly even a slightly older audience) at whom I suspect this is squarely aimed, but I was surprised by how much I was enjoying it by the end of the third volume, compared to what I thought of the first. This suggests that if you can get past the initial grease-based humour of the first volume, there could be a fun bit of mindless escapism waiting for you if you pick this one up.

Although if you do venture into Ovenland, I’d recommend wearing gloves.

Progress toward Oddity Odyssey Reading Challenge goal: 13/16

Until next time,

Bruce

Bruce’s Reading Round-Up: The Comic/YA/Nonfiction/Picture Book Edition…

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I hope you’ve brought your lasso and a particularly fast horse because today’s Round-Up books are ranging all over the Generic Plains. I received all of these books from their respective publishers via Netgalley, and in this collection we have a set of comics, a YA fantasy, fairy-tale retelling featuring the undead, an almost-wordless picture book and a handy guide for making work a lot more interesting. Saddle up and let’s bring these wildbooks in!

Deep Dark Fears (Fran Krause)

Two Sentence Synopsis:deep dark fears

This collection of 100 comic strips explores the irrational and unlikely fears that many of us keep quietly to ourselves, to avoid being thought mad. You may end up recognising yourself in these pages or, on the other hand, if you’re the suggestible type, you might pick up a few extra fears to go in your emotional baggage.

Muster up the motivation because:

This is a beguiling, sometimes hilarious, sometimes touching, easy-to-peruse collection that would no doubt inspire some classic reactions were you to place it in a conspicuous place and watch people sneak a look. The fears run the gamut from those (I assume) are secretly shared by many, such as running to make a train, then worrying that you actually meant to miss it and will no doubt now be involved in a train wreck, to the (I assume) more obscure and idiosyncratic, such as worrying about falling, biting off one’s own tongue and then being unable to clearly annunciate to the emergency services what the problem is. The illustrations are just charming and lend a wonderful air of levity to the fears. If I were a doctor, or indeed, trained in any profession which requires a waiting room, I would definitely leave this book lying around there to see who picked it up. My favourite fears in this collection are the imposter dogs, the not-immediately-apparent dangers of cookie cutters and the sad past history of mall cops.

Brand it with:

Art imitating life, unnamed fears, schadenfreude

Once Upon a Zombie #1: The Colour of Fear (Billy Phillips & Jenny Nissenson)

Two Sentence Synopsis:once upon a zombie

After Caitlin’s mother disappears, she moves to London with her father and younger sister for a fresh start, a new school and time spent writing for a website detailing the unexplained. When strange sightings are reported in cemeteries around the world however, Caitlin is drawn into a bizarre and chaotic world where fairy tales and nightmares might just come true…if the zombies don’t get you first.

Muster up the motivation because:

If you’re a fan of fairy tale retellings and comedy zombie tales (zom-edy tales?) then you’ll find a lot to enjoy here. The story begins in a fairly YA typical fashion, with Caitlin trying to make her way in a new school, clashing with the popular girls and vying for the attentions of the cutest boy.   It also becomes apparent that Caitlin suffers from social anxiety and the author describes this quite well throughout the various situations that Cailtin finds herself in. I enjoyed the riddle of the cemetery disturbances and once Caitlin “goes down the rabbit hole”, so to speak, the action becomes a lot less typical. While the story is light and filled with humour and banter, there are a bunch of different fairy tale and classic storybook characters included, as well as an undead plague plotline, so I did feel that things started to get a bit unwieldy at certain points. If you enjoy YA that is two-parts expected and one-part nutty, then you’ll get a good kick out of Caitlin’s adventures. This is a book that aims for enjoyment and doesn’t take itself too seriously.

Brand it with:

Undead princesses, carnivorous plants, stay off the drugs and stay in school

Moletown (Torben Kuhlmann)

Two Sentence Synopsis:moletown

At first the mole was alone in the meadow but once progress arrives, the mole’s world changes almost beyond recognition. Will the mole be able to hang on to what matters most?

Muster up the motivation because:

This is a beautifully imagined, almost wordless picture book reminiscent of the work of Shaun Tan. The illustrations are atmospheric, with an earthy colour palette that encompasses both the natural environment of the mole’s original habitat, and the dark, dingy pollution brought by progress. The ending is hopeful but poignant and perfectly reflects the challenges of sustainability in a coal-driven world. Moletown would be a canny and engaging choice for the primary classroom exploring environmentalism and the challenges of preserving natural environment in the face of continued urbanisation.

Brand it with:

Scratching the surface, Get out of my personal space, cosy burrows

Tiny Games for Work (Hide Seek)

Two Sentence Synopsis:tiny games for work

Bored at work? This handy pocket guide will provide a wide range of exciting, subversive games to help break the shackles of toil-related monotony.

Muster up the motivation because:

No place of work should be without this compact, enlivening guide. This is a collection of games that can be played alone or in company, within meetings or with (or against!) unsuspecting customers. The games use few or no resources and range from the harmless and hilarious, to the actually quite questionable and likely to get you fired. At the back of the book is a handy index that lists the games under various categories – feeling competitive? Stuck at your desk? – for quick reference. I particularly enjoyed the games designed to be played within meetings – who hasn’t wanted to get back at that annoying brown-noser who won’t stop asking irrelevant, meeting prolonging questions? – and those played using customers as unwitting pawns. The game called “Triangulation”, in which the employee must keep an equal distance at all times between two unsuspecting customers is one that I would quite like to try and, like many of the games here, could be modified to be played outside of a work setting, using the general public. If you happen to work somewhere that could do with some subversive excitement, you could do a lot worse than purchase a copy of this book and share it with likeminded colleagues.

Brand it with:

You lose, watch out Beadle’s about, making one’s own fun, WH&S

So there you have it – a variety of tomes just waiting to be caught, tamed and made to serve humans.  Do tell if there’s any that has taken your fancy!

Until next time,

Bruce