A Blog of Children's Literature

Trickster: Native American Tales: A Graphic Collection April 18, 2011

Trickster: Native American Tales: A Graphic CollectionTrickster: Native American Tales: A Graphic Collection by Matt Dembicki
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Trickster: Native American Tales: A Graphic Collection edited by Matt Dembiki (2010)

Graphic Book, 231 pages

In a compilation of work from over 40 storytellers and artists, Trickster shares a diverse collection of trickster tales from various Native American cultures and regions. In some the crafty coyote plays the trickster who ends up being taught a lesson, in others it is the sly raven who gets away, while in some it is the rabbit or the raccoon, depending on the cultural origin. Many of the tales share a reason behind a natural landform (“Moshup’s Bridge”) or an animal’s appearance/ways (“How the Alligator Got His Brown, Scaly Skin”), while others teach a lesson about behavior to learn from (“The Wolf and the Mink”). The novel’s true success draws from its diverse collection of tales and the art that captures them. Each tale highlights a different artist’s style that sets the tone of the story. Specifically, the composition in “Coyote and the Pebbles” is to be lauded with its strong storyline by Dayton Edmonds and amazing illustrations by Micah Farritor. Trickster not only creates an anthology of trickster tales but creates an anthology of artist’s interpretations of the cultural stories, a unique gem in both Native American and graphic novel publications. This book could add so much to various units of study within folklore, illustrations, and cultural anthologies, as well as provide plenty of stories for anyone looking to read about wily characters. I would recommend Trickster to anyone ages 11 and up, especially those drawn to graphic novels.


The Secret Science Alliance and the Copycat Crook

The Secret Science Alliance and the Copycat CrookThe Secret Science Alliance and the Copycat Crook by Eleanor Davis
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The Secret Science Alliance and the Copycat Crook by Eleanor Davis (2009)

Graphic Book, 154 pages

Julian Calendar is an 11-year-old junior high student who has trouble fitting in. He looks 8 years old, wears a hand-me-down pink flowered backpack from his mother, and most importantly, is a genius inventor. When his parents tell him that they are going to move to a new town, Julian jumps at a second chance to spark his social life and fit in. At his new school, Julian attempts to be “ordinary” by hating homework and loving sports. However, when he receives a coded note, Julian cannot resist figuring it out. It leads him to two clever classmates who have been watching him and have figured out he is also a secret scientist like them. Together they combine forces to become the Secret Science Alliance and work in their hideout building amazing contraptions. However, everything starts to go wrong when their invention notebook with all their secret ideas is stolen. Together they must overcome adult obstacles, get back their notebook, and solve an even bigger dilemma. Davis’ graphic novel builds on the typical comic book format yet uses her eye for detail and excitement for science to create her own unique style. With characters, color, and quick-paced dialogue that readers 9 and up can enjoy, readers will finish The Secret Science Alliance and the Copycat Crook wanting to study and become the next secret scientist.


The True Meaning of Smekday April 13, 2011

The True Meaning of SmekdayThe True Meaning of Smekday by Adam Rex
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The True Meaning of Smekday by Adam Rex (2007)

Fantasy, 432 pages

In a world that was once the United States, 11-year-old Gratuity “Tip” Tucci struggles to find her mother who Boov aliens have abducted, befriends a Boov named J.Lo, and tries to save the planet from alien dominance. Most of Tip’s cross-country adventures occur while driving her mother’s car which has now been transformed by J.Lo into “Slushious,” a hovercar that is steered by the radio tuner and operates using a combination of alien mechanical parts and convenience store finds. Earth, now called Smekland, is a hot commodity as Gorg aliens come to overthrow Boov and secretly enslave humans. Gratuity and J.Lo are running against the clock to find a plan to restore earth to human control and convince others that Gorg do not intend to allow humankind to survive. In a very unique style, Adam Rex creates a dizzying narrative full of twists and comical turns that show humanity may not just be limited to humans. Using comic-like illustrations and Polaroid drawings, Rex also walks the reader into his narrative with the history of the alien worlds (drawn by J.Lo), a new America full of alien contraptions, and a car that flies complete with pink beach ball safety devices and a Snark’s Adjustable Manifold. Rex’s quirky imaginative story would be a great find for any young adult open to extraterrestrial hilarity that turns our world upside down.


Knucklehead: Tall Tales and Almost True Stories of Growing up Scieszka March 21, 2011

Knucklehead: Tall Tales and Almost True Stories of Growing up ScieszkaKnucklehead: Tall Tales and Almost True Stories of Growing up Scieszka by Jon Scieszka
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Knucklehead by Jon Sciesczka (2008)

Biography, 106 pages

In this hilarious memoir Jon Scieszka shares his childhood growing up with 5 brothers and getting into lots of mischief. As second oldest, he tells the advantages of being older: not being too close to the toilet when playing swords, charging your friends to watch your little brother eat cigarette butts, tying another brother into bed with all your dad’s ties, and so on. He also discusses all the adventures the brothers shared during summers in the wilderness, dealing with nuns at Catholic school, and joining the Cub Scouts. In the uproarious and witty style that is uniquely Scieszka, the author leads readers through the memories of brotherly prankhood, toy soldiers, and a raucous good time that will “darn near kill ‘em.” Reminiscent of the tomfoolery in films and TV like The Sandlot, Stand By Me, and The Wonder Years, Scieszka’s family pictures and personal accounts bring back the 1960’s in an All-American boy version, full of tricks and laughter in compact chapters of individual stories or themes. Knucklehead is a great read for any boy or anyone 8 and up, looking for a little trouble and a lot of laughs.


Sir Charlie: Chaplin, the Funniest Man in the World

Sir Charlie ChaplinSir Charlie: Chaplin, the Funniest Man in the World by Sid Fleischman
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Sir Charlie: Chaplin, the Funniest Man in the World by Sid Fleischman (2010)

Biography, 288 pages

In this page-turning biography of Chaplin, Sid Fleischman tells the story of how the speechless Little Tramp was born and stole the hearts of all moviegoers during the great silent film era. The writer captures Charlie’s perilous beginnings in the Kennington slums as a poor Cockney and how his life took him to the trademark slapstick skits that thrilled audiences and left them in uproarious laughter. Fleischman takes the reader on a joy ride, showing how the king of comedy created the hackneyed techniques with banana peels, beautiful ladies, and silent antics, as well as how his perfectionist nature as a director led Marlon Brando to call him “a fearsomely cruel man.” While not holding back the unflattering reality of Chaplin’s demeanor, Fleischman shows the genius in Chaplin’s work and his ability to play on pathos (The Kid), combine farce with tragedy (The Great Dictator), and make social commentary (Modern Times), mostly within the beautifully silent pantomime style that was iconically Chaplinesque. Fleischman’s unique writing style also develops the building narrative with witty one-liners that end paragraphs or chapters and keep the reader enthralled. The design of the book, with its vintage script, unobtrusive elegant flair, and brilliant picture placement, allows the text to flow seamlessly back into the days of silent Hollywood. I would most certainly recommend this book to readers 10 and up who are attracted to the lives of stars, the limelight, and comedy.


Nation March 3, 2011

NationNation by Terry Pratchett
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Nation by Terry Pratchett (2008)

Historical Fiction-Survival Story, 367 pages

When a tsunami-like wave wipes out an entire civilization, the sole survivor, Mau, questions the gods’ existence and struggles to find a reason to live. Without his people’s acceptance of his transition into manhood, Mau wavers between a boy’s fears and a man’s determination. Fortunately for him, his reason to continue on is found in the marooned existence of a ghost girl, a trouserman girl who is the sole survivor of her British ship. The two overcome the loss of their cultures, societies, and faiths as they struggle to communicate and do what is right to restore the Nation. As more and more people show up looking for shelter and assistance, Mau becomes a leader and challenges death in order to save others. Throughout the narrative, gods speak to him and question his defiance, but ultimately his innervoices teach him much about being a man, using reasoning, and believing in the unseen. While the book is set in what appears to be 19th century on a small island in the Pacific during British reign, its setting is in “a parallel universe” on one of the Mothering Sunday Islands in the Pelagic Ocean. Although the setting and historical time periods are blurred, the true attraction in Pratchett’s work is the complex lens in which the narrative examines culture, spirituality, humanity, and truth through the eyes of two teenagers, forced to quickly abandon worthless traditions and cling to important moral beliefs. With its twists and turns, Nation takes its readers on a journey full of adventure and discovery. I would highly recommend this book to any young adult reader who enjoys the challenge of weighty subjects and adventure.


Alvin Ho: Allergic to Girls, School, and Other Scary Things

Alvin Ho Allergic to Girls, School, and Other Scary ThingsAlvin Ho Allergic to Girls, School, and Other Scary Things by Lenore Look
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Alvin Ho: Allergic to Girls, School, and Other Scary Things by Lenore Look (2008)

Contemporary Fiction, 172 pages

Second grader, Alvin Ho, is afraid of just about everything. He can’t seem to find his voice in school and is having trouble making friends. His desk buddy Flea is an eye patch-wearing, Aggression for Girls-fighting unique individual who accepts Alvin for who he is. She has even written the book on Alvin, decoding his moods using his silent eye expressions. Unfortunately, Alvin gets teased for his friendship with Flea, making it even harder for him to be one of the boys. Lucky for Alvin, he has a PDK—Personal Disaster Kit, a GungGung (maternal grandfather) who is the best person to play catch with, a dog named Lucy who has perfected the downward dog yoga position, and a dad who is teaching him how to be a gentleman. Look’s writing style encourages laughter and sympathy for Alvin, who thinks the stones in the cemetery have people’s names and phone numbers on them. Pham’s ink illustrations mirror Look’s humor as they are strategically placed around the text, emphasizing Alvin’s 7-year-old ideas and social constructions. In the end, the book teaches us that friends are always there for each other. Friends are the people we have the most fun with, even if they wear eye patches, use colanders as superhero helmets, swear like Shakespeare, or have pet fish that watch TV. Most importantly, friends help us get over our fears and love us for who we are. I would definitely booktalk this read to a group of 7 to 10-year-olds because many can relate to having fears and finding true friends.