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.

WATCHMEN

In preparation for the release of the Watchmen movie on March 6th, I decided to reread the greatest graphic novel of all time.  (If you disagree, you are wrong.)  Watchmen, written by Alan Moore and illustrated by Dave Gibbons, is by no means an ordinary graphic novel.  If you’re looking for something light and fluffy where the hero is someone you can look up to and is seemingly above reproach, you might want to read something else.

Watchmen takes place in an alternate 1985.  America won the war in Vietnam, Nixon is still President, and masked heroes are outlawed.  The novel begins with the death of one of these masked heroes, the Comedian.  Rorschach, a masked hero who is still active, thinks something is fishy about this murder.  He is convinced, and rightly so, that someone has started killing off or, in some other way, getting rid of current and former masked heros.  Rorschach makes the rounds and visits his former colleagues in crime-fighting:  Nite Owl, Ozymandius, Dr. Manhattan, and the Silk Spectre.  They all discount his ravings until their own lives are disrupted.  Who is getting rid of masked heroes?  Why?  What ultimate purpose could he or she have?  And what will become of the Watchmen?  Well, I’ll leave that for you to discover…

(Note:  The description written above doesn’t begin to come close to being an adequate account of everything that happens in this graphic novel.  I could write all day about the events in the book and their larger cultural, political, and social meanings.  This is more than just a graphic novel.  It is one of the greatest books of all time, in my opinion.  Just trust me.  Read it!)

A word of caution:  Read Watchmen before you see the movie.  The movie may not make a lot of sense if you don’t know what is going on.  And, if you’re a true nerd like myself, half of the fun is figuring out what has been changed in the transition from graphic novel to big screen.  (And from what I hear, a lot, particularly the ending, has been changed.  One reason the novel’s writer, genius Alan Moore, has taken his name off the film.)  I hope the film lives up to my expectations, but it will no doubt fail to come even close to the greatness of the graphic novel.