Roller Girl

This evening, I bring you one more of the 2017-18 South Carolina Book Award nominees. For the second year in a row, the SCCBA committee has chosen to place a graphic novel on the nominee list, a trend I desperately hope continues. This year, the lone graphic novel on the list is Roller Girl by Victoria Jamieson. (By the way, this book is also a 17-18 SC Junior Book Award nominee. Bonus.)

Roller Girl has been on my radar for a while, and I finally made time to read it last night. I found it to be thoroughly relatable, and I think fans of Cece Bell’s El Deafo, Shannon Hale’s Real Friends, and anything by Raina Telgemeier will devour this book, a book that is essentially about being a good friend and embracing one’s own unique gifts. It could also encourage many young readers to search out a sport that may be unfamiliar to them–roller derby.

Astrid and her best friend, Nicole, do everything together, and Astrid assumes that will always be the case. She’s about to learn, however, that things have a way of changing.

After attending an exciting roller derby bout, Astrid signs up to attend a summer roller derby camp. She assumes that Nicole will join her, but Nicole has other plans in mind. She wants to attend ballet camp. Not only that, but she’ll be at ballet camp with Astrid’s sworn enemy, the vile Rachel. (Rachel is responsible for giving Astrid a particularly terrible nickname.) Astrid is not happy about the situation, but she really wants to go to roller derby camp. Maybe she’ll make some new friends there, friends who will make the growing distance with Nicole a little less painful.

Pain, as it turns out, is something Astrid is about to become very familiar with. Roller derby isn’t exactly all sunshine and roses. It hurts. It hurts even more when one doesn’t really know how to skate. Astrid goes home each day battered and bruised, and she barely has enough energy to fall into bed. Becoming a star roller girl is a lot harder than Astrid thought it would be.

Even though roller derby is more difficult than Astrid ever imagined, she is getting better slowly. She’s also making new friends. She’s growing closer to one girl in particular, Zoey. She and Zoey practice together, hang out, and Zoey even dyes Astrid’s hair blue–something her mother is not exactly happy about.

Things seem to be going okay for Astrid. She’s determined to be the best roller girl possible, and she’s putting in the work to make that happen. But what happens when she comes face-to-face with Nicole (and Rachel) again? What happens when Zoey, her new friend, gets the position Astrid desperately wants for their upcoming bout? What happens when Astrid is forced to face the consequences of everything she’s done this summer?

Will Astrid become the person–the roller girl–she knows she can be? And will she form–and keep–the friendships she so desperately desires?


Roller Girl is a wonderfully engaging book about the importance of perseverance, being a good friend, and being part of a team. It also introduces readers to roller derby, a sport that may be unfamiliar to them. I confess that I knew very little about roller derby before reading this book, but I now want to see if there are any teams in my area. (I have no desire or ability to play, but I bet it would be a ton of fun to watch.)

There is only one thing about Roller Girl that gives me pause. That’s the unfortunate nickname that Rachel saddled Astrid with. As I’m sure you know, kids can be cruel, and Astrid’s name lends itself to an especially rotten nickname–“ass-turd.” (I tell you this now so you’ll know what to expect.) Yes, this is a horrible term and some readers–mainly adults–could have a problem with it, but it emphasizes the dynamic between Astrid and Rachel and helps to explain why Astrid is so hurt that Nicole is friends with a girl who could come up with something so mean. Is this one term going to keep me from promoting this book to my upper elementary students? Nope, but I do believe in being prepared (with collection policies, reviews, Library Bill of Rights, intellectual freedom information, etc.) should anything be called into question. I urge anyone else to do the same.

With all of that being said, I do highly recommend Roller Girl to upper elementary and middle grade audiences. It’s a quick, entertaining read that emphasizes both individuality and teamwork. You’ll have a hard time keeping enough copies in your libraries. (I know I can’t keep it on my shelves.)

For more information on Roller Girl, visit author Victoria Jamieson’s website. Enjoy!

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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!

Real Friends

Thanks to NetGalley, I have come across a book that is a must-purchase for my school library. As a matter of fact, I think this book will probably be a welcome addition to most elementary, middle school, and public libraries. I wish it had been around when I was growing up. The book is Real Friends, a graphic memoir written by Shannon Hale and wonderfully illustrated by LeUyen Pham.

To say that I related to young Shannon in Real Friends would be a drastic understatement. Make her a chubby girl in a small town in South Carolina, and parts of this book could have been my own story. I’m sure that anyone who ever had trouble making friends as a child (or even as an adult) will be able to see themselves in this book.

Shannon met Adrienne on the first day of school, and they became best friends. For Shannon, Adrienne was her only friend. Adrienne, on the other hand, had lots of friends. It was sometimes hard for Shannon to share her best friend with others, but she tried. She even made a new friend when Adrienne moved away, but she was always waiting for Adrienne to return and things to go back to normal.

Well, Adrienne did return, but things didn’t exactly go back to the way they were. Shannon and Adrienne were still friends, but Adrienne was also part of The Group, some of the most popular girls in school. Shannon didn’t always fit in with The Group, but she hung around with them anyway to stay friends with Adrienne.

One of the girls, Jenny, seemed to really dislike Shannon, and she made it pretty clear that she wanted Shannon out of The Group. Shannon took this really hard and spent a lot of time crying in the bushes. (This was something she did at home, too. Her older sister wasn’t exactly nice to her a lot of the time.) Shannon didn’t know what she’d done to make Jenny so mean to her, but she was growing a little tired of it all. Maybe she didn’t want to be part of The Group after all if this is what she had to deal with.

Eventually, after she and The Group ended up in different fifth grade classes and Adrienne transferred to a different school, Shannon made a couple of new friends. These friends were popular as well, but they were popular because they were nice…unlike Jenny. They seemed to like Shannon just as she was, but could it last? These girls were in the sixth grade and would be going to junior high next year. What would Shannon do then?

Join Shannon as she navigates the ups and downs of friendship (and even sisterhood). It’s not always an easy path, but putting in the effort to find real friends–and to find peace within–is always worth it.


Let me reiterate this one more time: Real Friends should be added to every library that serves elementary or middle grade children. Young readers will love the graphic novel format, and they’ll stick around for the thoroughly relatable story. Market it with Cece Bell’s El Deafo and Jennifer Holm’s Sunny Side Up, and it will surely fly off the shelves.

Look for Real Friends when it’s released on May 2nd. Your library patrons will thank you.

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!

El Deafo

This weekend, I dove into another of next year’s South Carolina Children’s Book Award nominees, El Deafo by Cece Bell. (It’s also the April book for my faculty book club…which meets this week.) It was wonderful, and I look forward to talking to both students and colleagues about it.

To my knowledge, El Deafo is the first graphic novel to ever make it to the SCCBA list, and I’m hoping that it will encourage many educators–some of whom don’t consider comic books and graphic novels to be “real” books–to really embrace these types of books and use them in their classrooms.

Not only is El Deafo a graphic novel, it is also a memoir. It truly is Cece Bell’s story. This story–which depicts young Cece as a rabbit–tells of how she lost her hearing and adapted to the world around her. It shows her difficulties fitting in as well as her triumphs. It’s hilarious at times and heart-breaking at others, and anyone who sees himself/herself as different will relate to Cece in some way.

But you don’t really need me to tell you about this book. Let’s hear from the author herself…

I think El Deafo is a great book for introducing a variety of concepts. Some of those may include:

  • telling stories in a variety of formats
  • exploring the relationships between art and writing
  • memoirs
  • accepting/celebrating differences; tolerance
  • empathy
  • self-confidence
  • handling conflict

In short, El Deafo is an awesome book, and I’m thrilled it made it onto the 16-17 SCCBA nominee list!

To learn more about this amazing book and author Cece Bell, visit her website. You can also connect with her on 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.

Return of the Dapper Men

It’s not often that I review graphic novels, but I had to make an exception for this one.  Return of the Dapper Men is a stunning book that will appeal to readers of all ages. (I fully intend to purchase a copy for my elementary school library.)  Children, teens, and adults will find something to love in this enchanting tale.

Jim McCann’s evocative words paired with Janet Lee’s amazing visuals combine to create not only an astounding graphic novel but also a breathtaking work of art. The imagination is stimulated by this story, and, in my opinion, that is the mark of all great art and literature.

Return of the Dapper Men, while showcasing the essence of steampunk fantasy, also brings to mind such favorite tales as The Wizard of Oz, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Alice in Wonderland, Peter Pan, and other beloved tales. When a book is in such company, it is no wonder that it won this year’s Eisner Award for best graphic album.

I know I haven’t really told anything about the actual story here, and that is intentional. This is one you need to experience for yourself. I hope you will find the journey as magical as I did.