Rocket and Groot: Stranded on Planet Strip Mall!

Marvel and Tom Angleberger, the author who brought us gems like Fake Mustache and the Origami Yoda series, have joined forces to create a new series that follows the adventures of my favorite Guardians of the Galaxy, Rocket and Groot. (For those unfamiliar with these characters, Rocket is basically a moody space raccoon, and Groot is a walking, talking tree who says just one phrase, “I am Groot.”) These new adventures are written for a young audience and are a great addition to the world of the Guardians. (Many younger readers may not be quite ready for some of the adult humor in the movies.)

The first book in a 3-book series, Rocket and Groot: Stranded on Planet Strip Mall!, comes out on March 8th, and will likely be a necessary purchase in many elementary and middle school libraries. In addition to focusing on two wildly popular comic book characters, the book is easy-to-read, entertaining, and a perfect fit for reluctant readers.

Let’s take a closer look…

After a bunch of space piranhas destroy their ship, Rocket and Groot, famed Guardians of the Galaxy, find themselves stranded on a strange planet. In an effort to find water, food, and some rich soil for Groot, the pair–accompanied by their totally awesome tape dispenser, Veronica–explore this planet that seems to be one huge strip mall.

It doesn’t take long for Rocket, Groot, and Veronica to realize that something is not quite right about this place. Is it the overly friendly robots working in each store? Is it the robots’ insistence that they use the toilet as soon as possible? Or is it the toilets that want to swallow them whole? Yeah…it’s mostly that last one.

The situation is growing desperate for our Guardians and their truly fabulous tape dispenser. Can they figure out what’s going on before they’re torn apart by robots or flushed for good? How can they possibly escape the horrible Planet Strip Mall? Find out when you read this exciting new book by Tom Angleberger!


Rocket and Groot: Stranded on Planet Strip Mall! is a super-fast read with illustrations throughout–most of them drawn by Rocket. (In the final version of the book, there are supposed to be some illustrations by Groot, but those were not included in the NetGalley copy I was fortunate enough to read.) The text in this book reads almost like a script, which will provide a very different, interesting experience for many readers.

I do think that some familiarity with Guardians of the Galaxy would be helpful before starting this book. Those who know at least a little about Rocket and Groot would at least know to expect a lot of snark from Rocket, and they would realize that the words “I am Groot” can have many, many meanings.

As for me, Rocket and Groot: Stranded on Planet Strip Mall! is going on my next book order, and I look forward to talking to many of my students about this entertaining read.

If you’d like to learn more about this book and others by Tom Angleberger, I urge you to check out his website.

Until next time, this is your friendly neighborhood Knight Reader signing out!

The Year of the Beasts

I really didn’t know what to expect when I first started reading The Year of the Beasts. I received a free copy of this book through Goodreads First Reads, and the only things I knew going in were that I’d previously enjoyed books by the author, Cecil Castellucci, and the story was told in both prose and comics (drawn by the very talented Nate Powell). I was unprepared, then, for just how hard this book hit me.

At first, I thought I’d be reading a fairly typical tale of two sisters who grow apart because of a guy and then eventually find their way back to each other. Yeah…not so much. To say that this book defied and exceeded all of my expectations would be a gross understatement. The Year of the Beasts threw me for a loop, and I’m still thinking about how the story relates to my own life and my understanding of things like jealousy, love, and grief.

It all started when the carnival trucks rolled into town. That was the unofficial start of summer, a summer that would forever change everything for Tessa and her younger sister, Lulu.

For the first time, Tessa and Lulu are enjoying the carnival without the watchful eyes of their parents. They’re finally free to truly enjoy the food, the rides, the games…the boys. So when Tessa sees the opportunity to hang out with her crush, Charlie, and his friends, she seizes it.

Tessa, Lulu, and Tessa’s best friend Celina join up with Charlie and his buddies for a bit of fun at the carnival, but Tessa couldn’t know that this one outing would change her relationship with Lulu. Why? Well, as it happens, Charlie isn’t interested in Tessa. He wants Lulu…and Lulu wants him back.

Tessa is green with envy, but she tries her best to hide it. She doesn’t want to rain on her sister’s parade, but she can’t be wholly happy for her either. Charlie was supposed to be hers, not Lulu’s…and it feels like Lulu is taking every possible opportunity to throw her new boyfriend in her older sister’s face. It feels like Lulu, the younger of the two siblings, is growing up, moving on, and leaving Tessa in her wake.

Tessa’s only respite from the drama with Lulu, Charlie, and their assorted friends occurs in the arms of Jasper, the school outcast. Tessa finds a measure of peace when she’s alone with Jasper, but she doesn’t see how he can be part of her “real life” outside of the woods where they meet. Neither does he. No one even knows about them, and Tessa fears her friends’ reactions if they did. On top of that, even though Tessa is growing closer to Jasper, she still can’t let go of her jealousy over Lulu’s claim on Charlie. Why does Lulu, now Miss Popular, get to parade around with her boyfriend while Tessa has to keep her tenuous new relationship a secret? Nothing about this is fair in Tessa’s eyes, and she doesn’t know how to cope with all of the jealousy and rage bubbling within her.

Everything is about to come to a head for Tessa, Lulu, and company, and the summer that began with such promise will end in a tangle of envy, sadness, self-loathing, regret, grief, and–when all is said and done–a small measure of hope.

Will Tessa find some way to tame the monster raging within her and find the girl she used to be once again? Or will the events of this one tragic summer change her–and everyone around her–forever?

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I don’t know that the brief recap above in any way captures what happened in this book. It doesn’t even touch on the story presented in the comics. At first glance, the two stories don’t appear to be related, but, as the book progresses, the prose and the comics come together to create a story so intricately woven that I can scarcely believe that I ever thought they could be separate. While the prose tells of that one eventful summer that changed everything, the comics–presented in alternating chapters–show readers how grief and self-loathing can turn a person into something completely unrecognizable. How do the comics relate to Tessa’s story? Well, I’ll leave you with that one surprise, but I will tell you that I felt totally ripped to shreds by the book’s conclusion, and I’ll probably take a second look at the book’s art to see if I can pick up any clues that would have hinted at the emotional wreck that I was soon to become.

Now it’s time to get a little personal…

Truthfully, I think my strong feelings about this book come, at least in part, from my own experiences. Like Tessa, I have a younger sister. When we were teenagers, I sometimes felt like she had everything going for her. (To be perfectly honest, I still feel that way on occasion.) While I was the short, fat, near-sighted, bullied, tuba-playing nerd with braces, my sister was the tall, thin, athletic, blond girl who didn’t take crap from anyone. It was difficult to stand next to her and not wonder if everyone was thinking, “Well, I guess little sister is definitely the pretty one.” (Sometimes I didn’t have to wonder. People said those words out loud.) And things didn’t get any better for me when the guy I was madly in love with (or so I thought) had a thing for my sister. While she did not reciprocate his affections, the mere thought that he preferred her to me turned my overly dramatic teenage world upside-down. (If you’re reading this, you probably think I still haven’t recovered. You’d be right.) It was painfully easy to see my sister and me in the characters of Lulu and Tessa. I think that’s a big part of the reason why this book’s conclusion affected me the way it did. It made me examine what my teenage self would have done if she were faced with the same circumstances, and I have to admit I likely would have felt much like Tessa did.

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If your interest has been piqued by this post, I strongly urge you to give The Year of the Beasts a try. You won’t regret it. I think this is an excellent book for any reader in eighth grade and beyond.

To learn more about this amazing book, you can check out author Cecil Castellucci on her website, Goodreads, or Twitter, and graphic novelist Nate Powell on his website and Twitter.

V for Vendetta

Well, this one has been a long time coming. During Snowpocalypse 2014, I finally made time to dive into V for Vendetta, the classic graphic novel by Alan Moore and David Lloyd. Like so many other classics, I don’t know why I waited so long to read this book (especially since I loved Watchmen so much–the book, not the travesty of a movie), but I’m glad I finally made time for it. It definitely appeals to the dystopian fiction fan in me.

V for Vendetta presents a disturbing view of an alternate England in the 1990’s. The world has been ravaged by nuclear war, and, somehow, England has come through nuclear winter. (Not realistic, but we overlook things for the sake of the story.) Fascism has taken hold, and differences–at least those that don’t benefit those in power–are eradicated. People are controlled through fear, and only a select few have any say in what happens. One man–a man who takes on the persona of the infamous Guy Fawkes–aims to change that.

The vigilante known only as “V” is on a mission. At the beginning, that mission revolves around a select few individuals, people who made him into the man–or maniac–he is. Slowly, readers learn the story of how the totalitarian regime’s policies and “experiments” made some people–those thought to be expendable–into nothing more than lab rats. Few survived, but one of them, V himself, did just that, and he’s unleashing hell on those who tortured so many. V is eliminating these tormentors one by one, and his vendetta against them is blossoming into a rebellion against everything they stand for.

Only one person has any real contact with V. Evey, a young woman all alone in this frightening world, is saved by V one night, and she begins to learn more and more about her savior. She is terrified by some of what she learns–and the part she plays in certain things–but part of her understands what motivates V. Soon, it will motivate her as well.

V for Vendetta is, at its most basic, a story about oppression and how one person can strike a flame that sets off a conflagration of rebellion. It only takes one voice speaking out to change things. Yes, V sought to subvert the system through violence and death, but his legacy was that one person could do much. Only fear stands in the way. Once fear is removed from the equation, there is no limit to what can be accomplished.

(I would add that apathy needs to be removed from the equation as well, at least as far as our own society goes. Too many people are okay with the status quo, don’t think they can do anything, or just don’t care to change things. In my opinion, this attitude is more damaging than fear.)

Maybe I’m missing the boat on my interpretation of this story, but I don’t think so. After having watched the movie–which is pretty different from the book but has the same basic message–I’m doubly sure that V for Vendetta centers on a message that resistance to any form of oppression begins with one person who decides that he/she just won’t take it anymore. Does resistance have to be violent? Absolutely not. In fact, I’d wager that most successful resistance movements are not. The point is that someone has to be brave enough to speak up and do something. Even seemingly small acts can have a lasting impact…and one never knows when those small acts could turn into something bigger and unstoppable.

The Adventures of Beanboy

Ladies and gentlemen, I think I’ve finally found my reading stride this summer. After taking some time to totally veg out and mindlessly sit in front of the TV, I’m ready to dive back into reading. (I still plan to spend some quality time with the Winchester brothers, but I’m trying not to let Supernatural take over my entire life. This may be difficult, though, since I just started season four. Hello, Castiel!)

Anyway, after finishing The 5th Wave yesterday, I immediately dove into one of this year’s South Carolina Children’s Book Award nominees, The Adventures of Beanboy by Lisa Harkrader. I had already read a couple of reviews, so I was sort of prepared for a story similar to Diary of a Wimpy Kid or Captain Underpants. In a sense, that’s what I got. But The Adventures of Beanboy, in my opinion, is so much more than I thought it would be. This novel, told through drawings and first person narrative from the perspective of seventh-grader Tucker MacBean, has real heart. This is a book that I will be all-too-happy to share with my students, especially those who love comic books and are looking for a hero they can really relate to.

Tucker MacBean feels like his life is spinning out of control. He’s virtually invisible at school, he rarely sees his mom (who works during the day and attends college at night), he has to take care of his younger brother, Beech, and his dad has packed up and moved to Boston. Tucker is desperate to find a way to make things a little better for everyone…and he may have just come across something that will work. 

Tucker’s favorite comic book, H2O, is holding a contest to see who can come up with H2O’s sidekick. The prize? The new sidekick will be featured in upcoming episodes, and the prize winner will receive a full college scholarship. Pretty great, right? Well, Tucker gets the bright idea to enter the contest…and try to win the scholarship for his mom. Tucker thinks he’s come up with a great idea for a sidekick–Beanboy, a boy who harvests the majestic power of beans–but how can he prove to the contest judges that his creation has the heart of a true hero…and how can Tucker find the hero within himself?

In Tucker’s quest to come up with the perfect comic book sidekick, he’s also facing the scariest girl at Amelia Earhart Middle School, the terrifying Sam Zawicki. Sam seems to delight in being mean to everyone…except Beech, Tucker’s little brother. With him, she’s almost nice, and that small bit of niceness starts to make Tucker think that there may be more to Sam than anyone knows.

Time is running out for Tucker to enter the contest with the power to change his life. Things will get in the way–his run-ins with Sam Zawicki, finding time to work on his entry, coping with a mom who’s never around (but really wants to be) and a special needs brother (who he dearly loves and will do anything for), a school dance, mean girls, and doing the right thing–but Tucker will do everything in his power to not only enter this contest but win. Is H2O’s new sidekick (hopefully) everything he should be? More importantly, what has Tucker learned about himself as he’s struggled to create a hero? Find out when you read Lisa Harkrader’s The Adventures of Beanboy!

As a total comic book nerd, I really enjoyed Tucker MacBean’s story and his journey in creating Beanboy. I think many of my students will feel the same way. Yes, I plan to market it alongside Diary of a Wimpy Kid, Captain Underpants, and even Doctor Proctor’s Fart Powder, but I enjoyed Beanboy way more than those other books. I think the story was much better developed, Tucker had to really do some research in creating his character (which will help me in showing students how research can help them in everyday life), and this novel gives just a small glimpse into what goes into the creation of a comic book. It also shows readers just how important it is to look past someone’s appearance and attitude to see the person behind the facade. What they find could surprise them.

For more information about The Adventures of Beanboy and other books by Lisa Harkrader, visit http://www.ldharkrader.com/Home.html. Hopefully, we’ll see more of Tucker MacBean and Beanboy soon!