The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl, Volume 2: Squirrel You Know It’s True

I’ve had a run of really good days lately, but this past Tuesday and Wednesday, to put it bluntly, blew chunks. If any of you are educators, you likely know why. (The end of every school year is always difficult, especially when the kids are pretty much done and state testing is on the horizon.) So, Wednesday night, I needed a break from all the chaos and seriousness in my life. Enter Squirrel Girl, stage right.

You may recall that I read the first volume of The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl, Squirrel Power, way back on January 17th. For whatever reason, I stopped there for a while. (I did read Shannon and Dean Hale’s Squirrel Girl novel in February, so I didn’t abandon Doreen Green completely.) But Wednesday night, after looking at the hundreds of books (yes, hundreds) in the various TBR piles around my house, there was only one book that really called to me. I knew that Squirrel Girl could get me out of my rotten mood quickly, and I was right. She was just what the librarian ordered.

Volume two of The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl, Squirrel You Know It’s True, combines issues 5-8 of the serial comic book by Ryan North and Erica Henderson. It essentially picks up where #4 left off, and Doreen is still attempting to balance being the most likable superhero ever with being a college student. It doesn’t always work out.

Squirrel You Know It’s True begins with a hostage situation at the Statue of Liberty. Dinosaurs with laser eyes are attacking, and the various Marvel heroes appear to be outmatched. One of the hostages, Nancy (who happens to have insider information), is convinced that Squirrel Girl will eventually save the day. This leads to a series of stories about Squirrel Girl’s supposed exploits, each one more outlandish than the next. None of the stories are accurate, but it does help to pass the time until, of course, Squirrel Girl–also known as Doreen Green, Nancy’s roommate–comes to the rescue.

After this heroic rescue, Squirrel Girl and Nancy spend a little time guarding the outside of a bank. (The bank may have gotten a little damaged during a previous heroic rescue…but that’s totally not Squirrel Girl’s fault.) While on watch, the two come face-to-face with a new threat, Hippo the Hippo. Hippo is trying to rob the bank to pay for his extraordinary food bills. (It’s tough for a half-human, half-hippo to find a decent-paying job in the city.) As they’re facing off with Hippo, Squirrel Girl and Nancy also encounter a couple of new heroes, Chipmunk Hunk and Koi Boi. It’s Squirrel Girl, though, who ultimately saves the day–again–when she convinces Hippo the Hippo to pursue a path he had not considered. No muss, no fuss.

After all that, Squirrel Girl and Nancy realize that they know Chipmunk Hunk and Koi Boi. They actually all go to college together. While the heroes discuss how they communicate with various animals, Nancy laments that she doesn’t communicate with anyone but regular, boring humans. Maybe she just hasn’t found her animal yet, the others surmise. That leads Nancy and Doreen to a rather memorable trip to the zoo and an encounter with yet another super-powered individual, Girl Squirrel.

Squirrel Girl is not terribly thrilled that Girl Squirrel is getting all the squirrel-related attention. She’s also not totally convinced that this squirrel is a hero. Something weird is going on here. After this super-powered squirrel arrives on the scene, everyone in the city is at each other’s throats, including the heroes in Avengers tower. They’re obviously going to be no help, so it’s up to Squirrel Girl and friends to figure out what’s going on. They eventually determine (with an assist from Wikipedia) that there’s a bit of Norse mythology at work here, and this newcomer is none other than Ratatoskr. So, who do you go to when you’ve got a Norse squirrel problem? Thor, of course!

Squirrel Girl and company team up with their friendly Asgardians to put an end to this madness, but, as is so often the case, there may be more to this story than is being revealed.


I realize I’ve given entirely too much away here, but I’m not even sorry. I could go on for much longer if I really wanted to. Squirrel Girl makes me happy, and couldn’t we all do with a little (or a lot) more of what brings us joy?

Though I like Squirrel Power a bit more than this second volume, Squirrel You Know It’s True is still awesome. It snapped me back into a good mood, and that’s no small thing. Is volume two, like it’s predecessor, okay for kid readers? I don’t see why not. I have both volumes in my school library, and I’m trying my best to convince all of my Marvel enthusiasts–as well as many others–to give The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl a try.

As for me, I’ve still got three more volumes of Squirrel Girl comics to read. I already have volumes 3 and 4 sitting on my coffee table, and I plan to pick up #5 at my local comic book store on Free Comic Book Day on May 6th.

For more Squirrel Girl fun, check out the Squirrel Girl Tumblr site. You can also follow both Squirrel Girl, her roommate Nancy, and Tippy-Toe on Twitter!

The Ocean at the End of the Lane

A word to the wise: Don’t stay up late reading a Neil Gaiman book and expect to get any sleep. I’m dragging today after finishing The Ocean at the End of the Lane, but it was worth it.

If you’re at all familiar with Gaiman’s work, you probably already know that this book, like so many of his others, is creepy, magical, strange, and thought-provoking. It’s written for an adult audience, but there’s something childlike about it as well. It explores the fears of a young boy and how he views the terrifying world around him. Did everything happen just as he remembers? We don’t know, and it doesn’t really matter. In my opinion, The Ocean at the End of the Lane, while delving into one man’s memories of his childhood, also explores the themes of hope, facing one’s fears, accepting help, and believing in magic.

The Ocean at the End of the Lane begins with a man returning to his hometown for a funeral. In an effort to escape all of the condolences being offered, he decides to explore the area once so familiar to him. He goes past where his childhood home once stood and makes his way to the lane leading to the Hempstock farm. It is here that he begins to remember the events that took place when he was just seven years old.

When he was seven, he met Lettie Hempstock, a girl who seemed larger than life and who believed that the pond at the end of the lane was an ocean. Lettie, her mother, and her grandmother were all wise, magical, mysterious, and somehow timeless. They knew things that no normal person possibly could. The boy didn’t know quite what to make of these ladies, but he intrinsically trusted them.

Following the death of an opal miner, a strange darkness entered the world. The boy looked to Lettie Hempstock to beat the darkness back, but it somehow found a way into his life–into his very body.

The seemingly impossible events that followed shook the boy to his core and terrified him completely. The darkness that plagued him took human form and threatened every aspect of the boy’s life, even the sense of safety he should have felt in his own home, with his own family. How could he possibly fight something that scared him so deeply? Where could he look to for help?

Only the Hempstock family had the power and knowledge to help the boy. But how? What could these women possibly do to rid his world of this ancient evil? What would have to be sacrificed to save his life? And would that sacrifice ultimately be worth it?


I’m still pondering some of the mysteries in this book. Gaiman, a master storyteller, doesn’t give readers all of the answers. Some things are left to our imaginations (which is awesome).

A few unanswered questions:

  • What is the main character’s name? We never know his name or the names of his family members. Only the Hempstock ladies and a couple of other memorable characters are named outright.
  • Who died and precipitated the main character’s visit home? We know it’s not his sister, as it’s mentioned that she’s waiting on her brother. Is it his mom? His dad? Who led him home?
  • What’s the deal with the Hempstocks? Are they three incarnations of the same person? Perhaps some version of the Triple Goddess–the Crone, the Mother, and the Maiden? I honestly don’t know, but this seems the most plausible explanation given the events of the book and what we learn about this family.
  • Why does it take revisiting the “ocean” to jump-start the main character’s memories? One would think something so traumatic would have been impossible to forget. Also, what exactly is this ocean? Where did it come from, and what’s the source of its power?
  • Did the events he remembered really happen? Were they the imaginings of a child to cope with something he couldn’t understand? Or is it the adult who forgets in order to cope with something that should have been impossible? How does the man as an adult explain what happened?

Maybe you’ve figured out the answers to all of these questions. Maybe not. As for me, I’ll be thinking about these things–and a few more–for a while.

Like I mentioned before, The Ocean at the End of the Lane is written for an adult audience, but some teens may enjoy it (particularly if they’re already Neil Gaiman fans). It’s deep, intense, and it does play with your mind a bit, but give it a whirl if that’s your kind of thing.

For more information on this book and others by Neil Gaiman, check out the author’s website.

The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl, Volume 1: Squirrel Power

If you’ve never heard of Squirrel Girl, I strongly urge you to remedy that situation immediately! Until this weekend, I didn’t know much about this unbelievably wonderful superhero, and I’m so glad that I decided to learn more.

In Squirrel Power, the first volume of The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl, Doreen Green, aka Squirrel Girl, is off to college. She’s attending Empire State University as a computer science major, but her crime-fighting is getting in the way of the whole college experience. What’s a girl to do, though, when robbers and assorted super villains attack her fair city? She simply has to act, and she does so with humor, wit, and, of course, squirrels.

Whether she’s going head-to-head with Kraven the Hunter, Galactus, or Whiplash, Squirrel Girl approaches each super villain with the expectation that she–and her squirrel sidekick, Tippy-Toe–will emerge victorious. Does that always involve some epic battle? Not exactly. Sometimes it simply means convincing the bad guy to use a bit of common sense or directing him to a different, less destructive goal. Sometimes, however, it means using all of the squirrel power at her disposal–and maybe some “borrowed” technology from a certain man of iron–to show her nemesis the error of his ways.

Whatever happens, the planet can count on Squirrel Girl when bad stuff goes down. Now, if only she can find some way to balance being a superhero with being a freshman in college!


I cannot say enough good things about this first volume of The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl. The art is lively, colorful, engaging, and fun. The writing is brilliant, witty, and totally captures the essence of this vibrant character. (Make sure to look for even more hilarity at the bottom of each page!) And I really, really hope Marvel eventually produces the “Deadpool’s Guide to Super Villains” cards that Squirrel Girl uses for reference. I would totally buy those.

Props to writer Ryan North, artist Erica Henderson, and everyone at Marvel for not making Squirrel Girl some unrealistic bombshell. We see enough of those. Squirrel Girl is athletic, muscled, and curvy, and I think someone with her build is much more likely to defeat a beefed up bad guy than a 100-pound woman with all of her business hanging out.

If you’re wondering whether or not to purchase this volume of The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl for your library, I would have to give you an emphatic YES! This book/character has wide appeal and is sure to be a hit with comic book readers of all ages. I’m putting a copy in my elementary library, and I would do the same if I were in a middle school, high school, or public library. Having read and reread this first volume, I don’t think there’s anything remotely objectionable about it, and I feel confident recommending it to my students. I think you’ll feel the same.

The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl is a serial comic book. This volume, Squirrel Power, combines books 1-4 (plus Marvel Super-Heroes 8) into one graphic novel. I recommend purchasing this volume–and any others you decide to buy–for a library or classroom because the individual comic books aren’t exactly durable and aren’t produced for multiple users.

If you decide that The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl is perfect for your personal, classroom, school, or public library, there are more volumes already out and one coming soon:

  • Volume 2: Squirrel You Know It’s True
  • Volume 3: Squirrel, You Really Got Me Now
  • Volume 4: I Kissed a Squirrel and I Liked It
  • Volume 5: Like I’m the Only Squirrel in the World (published April 4th)

Will all of these volumes be suitable for elementary or middle grades? I can’t say that for sure, but I will definitely be reading them to find out.

There’s also a middle-grade novel about Squirrel Girl coming soon. Shannon and Dean Hale have teamed up to write The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl: Squirrel Meets World, and it comes out on February 7th. I have a galley copy of this book that I’ll be posting on here soon. Stay tuned!

For more Squirrel Girl goodness, check out the Squirrel Girl Tumblr site. Enjoy!

The Bronze Key

A word of warning: Proceed with caution if you haven’t read both The Iron Trial and The Copper Gauntlet, the first two books in the Magisterium series by Holly Black and Cassandra Clare. This post might be a little spoilery if you’re not totally caught up.

This may not be my standard post. I’ve been awake since 3am, and I’m having a little trouble keeping my eyes open, much less stringing sentences together. I’ll do the best I can.

Yesterday, I finished reading The Bronze Key, book three in the Magisterium series by Holly Black and Cassandra Clare. This book continues the story of Call, Aaron, and Tamara, three young mages trying to figure out this whole magic thing. They are students at the Magisterium, and Call and Aaron are both Makars, or mages with an affinity for chaos magic.

As The Bronze Key begins, Call, Aaron, Tamara, and their frenemy Jasper are being honored for their action against Constantine Madden, known as the Enemy of Death, and his minions. What most people don’t know is that the soul of the Enemy of Death is very much alive…and residing within Call.

Call worries that he’ll become an evil overlord one day, but that’s only part of his problem at the moment. At the party honoring Call and his friends, one of the Magisterium students is mysteriously killed and another attempt is made on Call’s life. It’s clear that someone is out to get him, but why? Does someone know his secret, or has he outlived his usefulness as a Makar?

Soon enough, Call and company are back at the Magisterium, and the mystery deepens. There is a spy in their midst, and it could be anyone. Call doesn’t know who to trust, and he even looks at his best friends with a certain degree of suspicion. He’ll have to figure out what’s going on fast before he–or someone else–meets a rather sticky end.


I’m going to stop there before I give too much away. It’s enough to tell you that some bad stuff goes down in this book, and it wallops you in the heart before all is said and done. I, for one, wish I could dive into book four, The Silver Mask, right now so that I could see where things go from here. Sadly, that is not going to happen.

Speaking of The Silver Mask, it is set to be released sometime in 2017, but I’m not sure exactly when. My guess is early fall.  The fifth and final book, The Enemy of Death, will follow in 2018.

For more information on The Iron Trial, The Copper Gauntlet, The Bronze Key and the rest of the Magisterium series, visit the official website. It’s got lots of interactive goodies that you may enjoy.

Note: The Iron Trial is a nominee for this year’s South Carolina Children’s and Junior Book Awards. In my opinion, the entire series is a good fit for fantasy lovers in upper elementary grades and up.

Serafina and the Twisted Staff

Warning: Read Serafina and the Black Cloak before proceeding. Spoilers ahead.

Late last night, I finished reading Serafina and the Twisted Staff, the sequel to Robert Beatty’s acclaimed Serafina and the Black Cloak. I kind of knew what to expect going into this second book, but I don’t think I was prepared for exactly how terrifying it would be. If the first book was dark, this one was pitch black. I read the bulk of this book at night, and I was jumping at every little sound I heard. (If you know me at all, this is not surprising. I’m a wuss.) At any rate, Serafina and the Twisted Staff definitely delivers if you’re looking for a good story and a good scare.

Our tale begins almost immediately following the events of the first book. The year is 1899, and the Biltmore Estate is beginning preparations for Christmas.

Serafina, now known to all who inhabit the Biltmore, is searching for her place in the world, but she doesn’t know exactly where she belongs. Is it with Braeden Vanderbilt and her pa at Biltmore? Or is it with her mother and the catamounts in the surrounding forest? And how can she possibly find a measure of peace when her home is once again in danger?

While patrolling the forest surrounding Biltmore one night, Serafina notices that animals are fleeing the area. What could possibly make so many animals behave so oddly? Serafina isn’t sure, but she thinks it has something to do with the strange man and his vicious wolfhounds who attempt to kill her. She’s saved by her mother and a new ally, but it’s clear that the forest is no longer safe…for anyone or anything.

Serafina knows the old man in the forest is not working alone. He comes onto the scene at the same time that a mysterious carriage arrives at Biltmore. But who is in the carriage, and what danger could this person be bringing to Biltmore?

As odd things begin happening at the palatial estate–and Serafina is blamed–she grows more convinced that danger is afoot, but she doesn’t know how she can help. Someone is trying to drive Serafina out and tear her from her one and only friend. But who? And why?

Serafina leaves Biltmore and tries to find some solace in the forest, but danger surrounds her on all fronts. She soon realizes that there’s no way to escape the horror unfolding, and she will have to do everything in her power to save both Biltmore and everything and everyone around it.

Who will join her in the fight to come? Who will betray her? And will Serafina finally be able to unleash her true self before the evil forces targeting Biltmore succeed in their ghastly mission? Read Serafina and the Twisted Staff to find out!


I’ve left a ton out of this post, but it would take forever to cover everything. I don’t have that kind of time (and I’m ready for my Sunday afternoon nap). Read the book for yourself. You can also check out the official book trailer below. It’s a little spoilery, but it covers a lot of what I’ve left out.

Given how this second book ended, I’m confident that we’ll see more of Serafina in the future. At this time, however, there’s no word yet on a third book.

For more Serafina fun, visit author Robert Beatty’s website or connect with him on Facebook and Twitter.

Serafina and the Black Cloak

My latest read, Serafina and the Black Cloak by Robert Beatty, was recommended by several of my students (and one teacher). It takes place at the Biltmore Estate in Asheville, North Carolina. Now, given that I live roughly 80 miles from the historic home, you’d think that I would have visited it more than twice in my life. You would be wrong. (Tickets are kind of expensive, and I hate driving.) If my memory serves me, the last time I toured the Biltmore Estate was on a field trip when I was in the third grade. (Yeah…it’s been a while.) Now that I’ve read Serafina and the Black Cloak, though, I may have to remedy that situation. It would be nice to rely on fresh memories when envisioning the events of this book.

The year is 1899. Serafina lives at the famous Biltmore Estate. The only person who knows of her existence is her pa, one of the home’s maintenance men, and no one realizes that the two of them secretly live in the basement of the Biltmore. Serafina’s pa cautions her to remain out of sight. Should her presence be discovered, it could mean the loss of her father’s job and their home.

When children begin disappearing from the estate, however, Serafina may need to make herself known. She witnesses a strange figure in a black cloak take a child, and she knows she must tell someone what she saw. But who would believe her? And can she confide in someone without losing the only home she’s ever known?

Serafina finds an unlikely ally in the form of Braeden Vanderbilt, the nephew of the Biltmore’s owner. He vows to keep her secret and somehow help her discover who–or what–is taking children from the house and grounds. The two look all over the estate for clues as to the identity of the mysterious figure in the black cloak, but children continue to disappear without a trace.

Serafina’s search for answers leads her to the forest surrounding the Biltmore. Her pa always taught her to fear the darkness of the forest, but Serafina feels oddly at home here. Yes, there are strange things happening in the forest, but it may just hold the key to the mystery of the black cloak…and Serafina’s past.

What will Serafina discover about herself during the course of her investigation? And can she and Braeden uncover the terrifying truth…before they are the next victims of the Man in the Black Cloak?


It’s easy for me to see why Serafina and the Black Cloak is so popular with my students. It’s an enthralling, multi-layered mystery–with some spooky supernatural elements–set in a fairly familiar place. Many of the kids requesting this book do so after they’ve visited the Biltmore Estate. This book might also make a good class read-aloud or novel study before a field trip to the estate.

Local connection aside, this book is a great fit for those who devour the works of Mary Downing Hahn. If you have upper elementary or middle grade readers looking for a good scare, point them to Serafina.

There is at least one more Serafina book to look forward to. Serafina and the Twisted Staff, which also takes place in and around the Biltmore Estate, will be released on August 6th. I’ll definitely need this sequel on hand when we start back to school in the fall.

To learn more about Serafina and the Black Cloak, visit author Robert Beatty’s website or connect with him on Facebook and Twitter. You may also want to take a look at the book trailer below. While the video totally captures the mood of the book, I think it gives a little too much away. Proceed with caution.

If you’re intrigued by Serafina and the Black Cloak and would like to visit the home that inspired the book, click here. I have a feeling I’ll be paying the Biltmore Estate a visit myself in the not-too-distant future.

 

The Iron Trial

If you’re a regular follower of this blog, you probably know that I will read anything that Cassandra Clare cares to write. So it should come as no surprise that I was eager to read the first book in her new middle grade series co-authored with Holly Black. Well, I finally got around to reading The Iron Trial, book one in the pair’s five-part Magisterium series, over this holiday weekend, and I’m pleased to say that I thoroughly enjoyed it…and it’s something I can add to my school library and promote to my students. (I think it’s a great read for upper elementary on up.)

There are elements that many readers will find familiar in The Iron Trial. A boy learns he has magical abilities, goes to a hidden school for those of his kind, becomes close to two other kids (a boy and a girl) at this school, gets into a bit of trouble, and works to solve a mystery that could endanger his life and the lives of those around him. Sound familiar? Yeah, the similarities to Harry Potter can’t be ignored…but they can be used to urge Potterheads to pick up this book. Readers will undoubtedly notice the parallels, but I also believe they’ll be pleasantly surprised by how things are different. Clare and Black take the story we expect to read and turn it around on us, and I think most readers will be both shocked and intrigued with how this plays out. I know I was.

What kid wouldn’t want magical powers? What kid wouldn’t want to attend the Magisterium, a super-secret school to learn how to use those abilities? Callum Hunt, that’s who.

For as long as Call can remember, his dad has told him that the Magisterium is evil and that he must do whatever it takes to fail the Iron Trial, a series of tests used to determine who earns a place at this magical school. And Call does his best to fail…and it looks like he’s succeeded. He fails spectacularly and gets the lowest possible marks at the Iron Trial…but he’s selected for the Magisterium anyway. Not only is he accepted; he’s with one of the best mages, in the group with the most gifted apprentices. What’s going on here? Why would anyone want him as an apprentice? What is so special about Callum Hunt, a kid with a bum leg who wants to be anywhere but here?

As Call begins his Iron year at the Magisterium and learns more about magic, he begins to wonder just what his dad had against the school and magic. Call is learning so much…and he’s actually getting pretty good at his studies, despite his rather horrible start. His fellow apprentices, Aaron and Tamara, soon become his closest friends, and that’s kind of a big deal to a kid who really didn’t have friends before now.

Call is becoming more and more comfortable with himself and his abilities, so he’s eager to learn just why his dad didn’t want him here. Since Call is a curious sort with a certain disregard for rules, Call begins to investigate. He stumbles upon a few things that might answer some questions…or they might create even more.

It seems that Call’s past is tied to the most feared being in the magical world, the Enemy of Death. This figure, cloaked in mystery, is responsible for the deaths of many, many mages–including Call’s mother–and he’s still out there, biding his time until he can use the forces of chaos to rise to power. The Magisterium has recently discovered its own weapon in the coming war with the Enemy…but will that be enough? What if the Enemy has already infiltrated the Magisterium? What will that mean for the Magisterium then? And what does all of this have to do with Call?

Soon, Call will come face-to-face with his past, his place at the Magisterium, and what it could mean for his future. He learns just why his father wanted to keep him from magic. What will Call do with this new and disturbing information? Time will tell…

_______________

I hope I haven’t given too much away in this post. I want readers to be just as floored by the ending–and what it could mean for future books–as I was.

The second book, The Copper Gauntlet, is expected to be released sometime in the fall of 2015. I, for one, can hardly wait to read more about the adventures of Call, Aaron, and Tamara, and what they do with everything they learned in The Iron Trial. Should be interesting to say the least.

If you’d like to learn more about The Iron Trial, I encourage you to visit the official website. It has loads of information on the book, the authors, and the world of the Magisterium. There are also some games and other extras that look like fun. You may also want to take a quick peek at the video below. Enjoy!