Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Magnus Chase and the Gods of Asgard: The Sword of Summer

Magnus Chase and the Gods of Asgard: The Sword of Summer
by Rick Riordan

The typically snarky, devil-may-care attitude of boys jumping into the fray wasn't impressing my ten-going-on-fifteen year old daughter much. Why is there so much fighting, bloodshed? Why is everyone trying to destroy everyone else? And why are there these impossible quests that make no sense? Those were her questions.

So, I wasn't holding out much hope for her to devour Magnus Chase now at 10.

I, of course, *had* to read it. Not just because I adore the fatalistic Norse mythology too much and was curious about Riordan's take on it, but also because I wanted to be entangled in a well-spun yarn.

Exposition aside, the book flowed smoothly towards a common end: Reclaim Sumerbrander, Re-bind Fenris, Cast Surt back to Muspelheim, and thus postpone Ragnarok! All in a day's (week's?) work for a dead demigod -- son of Frey, nephew of Freya - elevated to the status of einherji, by mistake (i.e., Odin's design.)

The characters are diverse and colorful - from a deaf elf, Hearthstone, who has suffered much to gain rune magic, a fashion-conscious dwarf, Blitzen, a Muslim Valkyrie demigod daughter of Loki, Samantha al-Abbas; to the re-imagined slightly-gross and gassy, loud-mouthed Thor who rides a cart drawn by two goats, the book continues the theme of Percy Jackson by twisting our accepted notions of Norse mythology and noble characters. I liked that Sam and Magnus are not instantly attracted to each other to become love interests.

As always, my objection has been that the odds are stacked up disproportionately against our heroes in an effort to make their victory seem all the more meritorious. There is always the looming deus ex machina, which is unavoidable as the book is all about deus (dei) and their machinations.

On the one hand, we want more kids to enjoy reading for pleasure, therefore, be it graphic novel or grisly adolescent entertainment, we should embrace any and all such reading materials. However, I can't help but wonder if Magnus Chase books can do with a bit more of the sublime -- a smattering of veneration, and a little less of the flippant impertinence -- not just to mythology and life, but to the style of presentation as well.

Magnus Chase comes across as just another good kid who has suffered much pain, possessing certain super powers by birthright, learning to master them and use them for worthy purposes. He is witty, has a self-deprecating charmness about him, and has that stubborn streak of zero-self-preservation which lets him plunge to death if he believes that's the right thing to do.

There is plenty of gore and carnage which is mitigated by the fact that in (Hotel) Valhalla, they rise up again and do it all over again. Cousin Annabeth Chase makes an appearance at the beginning and the end, but, Book Two: The Hammer of Thor, promises to include her in a larger capacity. Epilogue leaves us speculating wildly about Loki's plans and Uncle Randolph's secrets.

[cover image: Rick Riordan website]

Friday, November 20, 2015

The Not Very Merry Pout-Pout Fish

The Not Very Merry Pout-Pout Fish
by Deborah Diesen
illustrated by Dan Hanna

published by Farrar, Straus and Giroux (BYR), Sept 2015

Ages 3-6

Ever since we first encountered Mr.Fish with his fish face stuck in a permanent pout, spreading  dreary-wearies all over the place, we've been a big fan.

The very first book, The Pout-Pout Fish, with its perfect beat and rhythm, is an all-time favorite for read-aloud sessions.

After The Pout-Pout Fish and the Big, Big Dark, and The Pout-Pout Fish Goes To School, plus a few other mini adventures, the duo is back with some holiday spirit in The Not Very Merry Pout-Pout Fish.

While it might be near-impossible to recreate the magic of the first book for authors in any genre, it is even tougher in picture books. But, Ms. Diesen and Mr. Hanna have worked very hard to capture the beauty of Mr. Fish's endearing nature yet again.

Mr. Fish makes his Gift list and is all set to go shopping for his friends. He wants to get the best and latest gifts with "bling-zing" as nothing less would do. When circumstances arrange themselves to frustrate and disappoint him regarding finding the very gifts "guaranteed to bring delight", Ms. Shimmer comes along and shows him that making gifts for friends "with his very own fins" is just the thing to do to spread the joys of the season.

The seven year old's favorite is Manta Claus, and his sleigh pulled by sea horses, of course. Little details tucked into each page provides hours of fun for the little ones to discover and giggle over. Although Mr. Fish's shopping dilemma may resonate more with adults than kids, the gentle reminder that hand-made holidays are what it is all about brings a sense of peace and calmness to the young readers.

View Inside the Book at US MacMillan

Learn More at

I am very happy to be part of the Blog Tour for The Very Merry Pout-Pout Fish and bring the interviews with the author and illustrator.

Interview with author, Ms. Diesen:

How did you come up with the original Pout-Pout fish book in 2008?

The story grew out of an actual pout!  One day many, many years ago, when my elder son was a preschooler, he was having a very grouchy afternoon.  Hoping to amuse him, I made an exaggerated pouty face at him.  He smiled and then pouted right back, which got us both laughing.  “We look like fish,” I said.  “Like pout-pout fish!”  As soon as I said that out loud, it became a story idea.  I jotted the idea down and I started writing The Pout-Pout Fish that same day.  Years later, I started sending the story to publishers, and in 2005 it was accepted at Farrar, Straus & Giroux Books for Young Readers.  The book was published in 2008 and began a series of stories, all featuring Mr. Fish, his friends, and their adventures. Since the first book, we’ve seen Mr. Fish go to school, learn to smile, face the dark, discover how to dream and play hide-and-seek.

What do kids (and their parents) love most about the series? 

I think one of the things that makes Mr. Fish an appealing character for many kids and parents is that kids and parents alike can identify with his experiences.  Toddlers sometimes pout; so do adults!  Preschoolers have things they’re scared of; so do adults!  Kindergartners get nervous about starting something new; so do adults!  Mr. Fish’s experiences provide a way for kids and grown-ups to explore those issues together.  In addition, the stories have rhyme, repetition, and wordplay, which are fun in a read-aloud book.  And Dan Hanna’s illustrations!  They’re fantastic.  They truly bring the stories to life.

What is Mr. Fish up to now? Does he have a case of the “dreary wearies” in the latest book, too?

Mr. Fish’s newest adventure is called The Not Very Merry Pout-Pout Fish.  In it, Mr. Fish is in a bit of a holiday panic, searching for perfect gifts for all of his friends.  His shopping trip is unsuccessful, and Mr. Fish is sure that he’s let all of his friends down.  But his friend Miss Shimmer reminds him that the best gifts of all come straight from the heart, and she helps him craft simple and meaningful presents to bring to the holiday party.  His friends are delighted with their presents, and together everyone celebrates peace, joy, and love – what a very merry gift!

What do you hope young readers (ages 3-6) will learn from The Not Very Merry Pout-Pout Fish? Is there a message here for grown-ups as well? 

I hope that Mr. Fish’s latest tale will help children to realize that presents don’t need to be expensive or complicated or splashy.  Simple, heartfelt presents that connect us to one another are the best gifts of all.  A drawing; a craft project; time spent together; even just a smile!  These sorts of gifts are the most cherished and the most enduring.  It’s a lesson we grown-ups have to re-learn periodically as well.

Do you have any tips for parents of toddlers about the joy of giving presents, rather than just receiving them, this holiday season? 

Kids love to give presents, and they especially love having an active role in the process of creating the presents.  Try a craft idea or project that’s extremely simple and stress-free, and then let your child have at it with a minimum of help.  The more messy, lopsided, and imperfect the results the better!  Have fun with the process, and as you do you’ll create not just gifts but memories as well.

How do you and the illustrator, Dan Hanna, work together on the books? (Are there any special stories about the illustrations on Not-Very-Merry that you can share?) 

I absolutely adore Dan’s art, and I credit it as the reason for the success of the series.  We work independently of one another during the creation of the books.  I work with our editor on the stories; then, when a story is finished and ready, she passes it along to Dan.  Dan moves through the art creation process, from sketches to finished product, working with our editor and with the art director.  I do see some of the steps along the way, but during the illustration process the author’s most important task is to stay out of the way!  And that’s for the best, because it allows the artist to bring the story to life in the way only an artist can.  Dan brings a thousand times more to the illustrations than I could ever begin to imagine – the characters and their expressions; the settings and their details; and all the funny and quirky extras.  For instance, in The Not Very Merry Pout-Pout Fish, one of the spreads shows a store full of what I describe in the text as shiny trinkets and handy gadgets.  Dan took that description and brought it alive by imagining, drawing, and labeling shelf after shelf in the gift shop with hilarious and unique sea gifts.  His creativity is amazing.  I feel very grateful and happy to get to make books with Dan!

Any future plans for Mr. Fish? What adventures can we expect to see him in next? 

Mr. Fish has a new mini-adventure coming out later this year called Kiss-Kiss, Pout-Pout Fish.  This mini-adventure, like the previous mini-adventures Smile, Pout-Pout Fish and Sweet Dreams, Pout-Pout Fish, is a very short board book with just a few words per page, meant for babies and young toddlers. In spring 2016, there will be a touch-and-feel alphabet book and a sticker book.  Another mini-adventure, called Trick or Treat, Pout-Pout Fish, will arrive later in 2016.  And in 2017, Mr. Fish will be in a new full-length hardcover called The Pout-Pout Fish, Far, Far From Home.  He stays pretty busy these days!  But he’s enjoying all of his adventures. As am I!

Interview with illustrator, Mr. Hanna:

How long have you been illustrating the Pout-Pout Fish books? What inspired your depiction of the main character, Mr. Fish?

I started illustrating the first book in early 2007 and so it's been about 8 or 9 years now.  About 15 years ago I was scuba diving in Fiji.  There was a huge rusting hulk of a shipwreck about 80 feet down.  At the end of a pole extending above the deck was a small metal basket.  Resting in that basket was a pudgy fish about the size of my fist.  I swam up and looked right into his eyes and he looked right back with a deep, gloomy frown.  Years later, when I received the manuscript for The Pout-Pout Fish, that memory bubbled up.  I realized, at that moment, that Mr. Fish was an actual fish, living on the other side of the world, 80 feet down on a shipwreck.

When there’s a new Pout-Pout story to illustrate, how do you collaborate with author Deborah Diesen?

It may seem odd but I don't communicate with Debbie regarding the illustrations.  I work with are the Editor (Janine O'Malley) and Art Director (Roberta Pressel).  When I initially receive a manuscript I'm given complete freedom to break it down into pages and to illustrate it however I think best.  After I complete the first dummy (a mock-up of the book) I send it to Janine and Roberta.  That begins a long series of feedback and changes until we get to a version that we're all happy with.  At that point I begin the final art that will eventually be delivered to make the book.

What has been your favorite Pout-Pout book to illustrate? Why?

The first book!  Nothing can compare to getting your first book published.  Its success paved the way for all the others.  The original book was the first for both Debbie and me and that made it extra special.Usually a publisher will team up a first timer with someone who has experience.  Fortunately, FSG took achance on two rookies.

What medium do you use to make the illustrations? What’s your favorite to work with? Tell us about your creative process.

I use the PPPPP approach: Paper, Pencils, Pens, Paint and Photoshop. My favorite is just pencil and paper.  When I start a new book I like to visit a variety of coffee shops in my area.  I let my caffeinated mind roam, scribbling out ideas and laughing to myself.  If a sketch doesn't make me laugh then it usually doesn't make the cut.

What illustration in The Not Very Merry Pout-Pout Fish did you have the most fun creating?

I especially like the one where Mr. Fish imagines giving Ms. Clam the robot body.  She just looks so happy and empowered. The items in the shop and the gifts Mr. Fish imagines in this story are so detailed and quirky.

How did you come up with them? Did you have a specific inspiration?

For the imagined gifts, I drew on my own experience as a kid where I would dream up magnificent presents for my family and friends.  Eventually, as with Mr. Fish, I would have to confront reality and drastically scale back my plans. The shop items are based on all the goofy stuff you can find on the shelves of some of the more interesting gift shops.

Of all the items that the Pout-Pout fish dreams up (robot, spaceship, submarine etc.), which one would you love to get this Christmas?

The Submarine!  When I was a kid there was an ad in the back of a comic book for a submarine.  The ad went something like this:
"Delux Submarine!  Life Size!  Torpedo Tubes!  Absolutely NO Cardboard Parts!  Only $10!! I saved up the money and sent away for it.   As I waited for it to be delivered my dreams were filled with visions of underwater adventure.  Eventually it arrived and sank my dreams into the abyss.  It was just a cardboard box with torpedo tubes made from toilet roll tubes.  It was even more depressing than the SeaMonkeys and X-Ray Glasses.

What do you think was your most valuable childhood experience?

Being bored.  I firmly believe that having enough free time to sit around and be bored is very important for the development of a healthy imagination. What kinds of things inspire you to work?I'm primarily motivated by death.  When I contemplate my eventual demise it scares me into action.  Although what really gets me going — is death and a cup of coffee.

What do you want the students to get out of your school visits?

That being a writer or illustrator is like being a wizard.  Your magic wand is a pencil.  Your potions are words and scribbles.  And the spells you cast will be the stories you write and the pictures you draw.  So pick up a pencil and make some magic happen!

Do you enjoy researching or do you prefer working totally from your imagination?

Initially I let my imagination run wild.  Then I knock it out with a tranquilizer dart while I do some research.  Finally, my groggy imagination re-awakes, snarls angrily and then runs wild again.  I've found that this approach works best for me.

Do you have any advice for aspiring picture book illustrators?

Buy one thousand parrots and place them in a room with a looped recording saying something like: "Dan Hanna can sure draw fish!" Then release the parrots, using a helicopter, over each of the major publishing houses. When the editors leave for lunch they'll hear the parrots in the trees screeching "Aaaaccck, Dan Hanna can sure draw fish!" Now I know this scheme seems rather elaborate, but it worked for me.

How did it feel to have your first book (and author Deborah Diesen's first book) become so successful?

It feels like a hot air balloon ride.  But not like one of those rides where the basket catches on fire or the balloon hits a power line or something.

What do you think will be the ultimate fate of your work?

Five billion years from now, when our sun has blown up and the Earth is a smoldering chunk of charcoal, humanity will hopefully have escaped to another planet.  Perhaps, packed away in one of the zillions of moving boxes will be an old, dusty copy of "The Pout-Pout Fish".  Maybe then, some remnant of my wandering soul will smile as a genetically enhanced child stumbles across it and cracks open its ancient spine.

[Disclosure: I received a review copy of the book, but the opinions expressed here are entirely my own.]

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Farewell CROCUS 2015

And already it is time to wrap up this year's CROCUS which was devoted to  Comics and Graphic Novels!

With over 30 reviews and many of them of book series or clusters, we are sure you will be spoilt for choice.

The subject of the graphic novels were varied- you saw books ranging from Girl power (Roller Girl, & Rapunzel) to the giggle-worthy Monster on the Hill, Bird & Squirrel, plus Owly series, from Shakespeare ( Macbeth) to the gorgeously illustrated works of Raymond Briggs, from Primates & Darwin to the Holocaust and much much more. You will find something for every reader's taste.

CROCUS has the ST team working to bring you these treasures in a cohesive, timely manner. Sheela was truly the guiding force behind this year's initiative and she prodded us gently to meet timelines, smoothed out doubts, ensured all was in order, in conjunction with Praba.  Besides doing that, they also contributed a lot of reviews.

Lavanya's flyer is always exciting and this one was no exception. Kapow! it made a strong impact. 
Satish with his quirky comic rendering of the reason behind the theme choice, also is an ardent fan of the genre. Both brought us a lot of reviews, not just now but also in the past at ST.

Sandhya's Down memory lane post had us reaching for our favourite Phantom or Asterix comics again.

Madmomma, Ranjani and Choxbox, brought us a well curated and inviting set of books.

The guest post by Vinitha Ramchandani was truly educative and  Arundathi's interview with Nicki Greenberg from Australia and Praba's chat with Sayan Mukherjee were delightfully insightful.

If you have not had your fill of graphic novels, here is a list of some of the lovely collection of graphic novels reviewed at Saffron Tree over the years, the first as early as 2008.

Mara and the Clay Cows

Nirmala and Normala

Prehistoric Life: Cave Kids!

Comics loved at Sathish's home

Hereville How Mirka Got Her Sword

Muhammad Ali: King of teh Ring

Charles Dickens for Children

The Secret Science Alliance

Into the Volcano


The Arrival

You will see Indian publishers such as Tulika and Penguin,Walker and Scholastic, all have great offerings on themes as classic as Dickens to as contemporary as Science Club Adventures. Sathish and Wordjunkie remain the top contributors to this genre reflecting their passion and love for it. And can Sheela & Sandhya, our most regular reviewers, not have contributed?

Soak in and read these books. We will ensure we keep bringing you interesting books, do leave us a comment to let us know what you think once you have read them or just that you are reading our reviews!

Sayan Mukherjee on Graphic novels

Graphic illustrator and artist, Sayan Mukherjee has illustrated the graphic novel adaptation of the Bengali classic, Chandar Pahar, Moon mountain by Bibhutibhushan Bandhopadhyay, which has won several awards.
A graduate of the Indian Art College, Kolkata, Sayan Mukherjee is a young advertising professional, passionate about illustration. Hey! That's an A! is his first picture book. He has also illustrated Little i and The Talking Bird.

We are pleased to have him in our midst as we wrap up our annual book blog festival CROCUS, as he shares his views on the medium of graphic novels and his delightful drawings. Thank you, Sayan!


I think graphic novel as a medium is nothing new. Since the days of paleolithic age, people used to create pictures to tell stories. The hieroglyphics of the ancient Egyptians is one of the great examples of the existence of graphic storytelling. Over the years, this medium being very strong and powerful visual medium became very much interactive and much more fun to read.

Today there are a lot of artists who are doing amazing work with interesting stories and different mediums. I would love to talk about two graphic novelists' work, Thomas Ott and Art Speigelman amongst many other favourites. Both of their most known works are in black and white but they are way different from each other. Thomas Ott is more into surreal and horror space and uses the traditional form of storytelling, which is storytelling without words. He uses the space in such an interesting way where it says a lot more than words. Whereas, Art's work is more of a documentary with small busy frames and lots of texts.The diversity makes graphic novel more interesting and is a lot of fun to read.

There is no way one can ignore graphic novel as a genre.I think graphic artists create that extra dimension and layer to a particular story which is a lot more than just a story and take it to another level where you start interacting with the frames and become a part of it.

I think workshops should be conducted for kids to make their own comics. Kids love pictures and they have a lot of stories to tell. Comics is a medium where they can express their thoughts through pictures. So, I think comics is not only a medium which is fun to read but also a medium where kids can express their creativity and their stories.

When I was a kid I used to read a bengali novel called Chaander Pahaar ( Moon mountain) very often. It used to blow my mind every time I read it. Everything was so graphic and picturesque about the story that it was demanding to be adapted as a graphic novel. After growing up, I thought it would be a nice idea to start work on it. After a lot of hard work, finally the graphic novel came out from Puffin in 2014. It was a 'dream come true' moment for me. The book was very close to my heart since my childhood days and it was a dream which came true, eventually.

Owly by Andy Rutton

Written and Illustrated by Andy Rutton
Published by Simon & Schuster

In Owly, wordless panels of pictures silently tell a delightful story of friendship between an owl and a worm.
Owly, an apparently flightless and rotund little owl, longs for friends. Sadly for Owly, the other birds are not quite friendly to him. But thanks to his nurturing and kind side, Owly holds up strong as he rescues Wormy. As the two new friends set off find Wormy's parents, they also learn to say goodbyes when they meet some humming birds.

The artwork in this black-and-white graphic novel is expressively rendered, particularly the loneliness and longingness for friendship as shown through Owly's large eyes. A smattering of anthropomorphic elements, (the fully furnished tree house for example) add to the charm, while retaining a sense of natural world.

Owly paved the way for us to discover graphic novel as a genre. I accidentally bumped into the book at our local library when my older one was about eight.Owly comes in a six part series and are appropriate for an early or pre-reader. Older children might find it a fast and fun read as well.

Owly is as truly authentic as it can be with no frilly and unnecessary distracting elements. A neat little appetizer bundled with a lot of heart, perfect for the graphic-novel-hungry kid who is just starting out exploring the genre.

Bugsy Malone: The graphic novel of the iconic mobster movie - Alan Parker

Bugsy Malone Graphic Novel
by Alan Parker

Bugsy Malone is not every parent's cup of tea. A comic book based on a musical about gangsters, the roles performed by children, it has all the makings of inappropriate, but it got a G rating. In our politically correct times, this book might not be acceptable to every parent, but I dislike censoring what kids read, so here goes.

Personally I think of gangster noir as an education and just a different kind of culture - just as I wouldn't think twice about letting them read a slice of history that included jouhar or sati. What's a childhood without some introduction to crime, I say! Just kidding.

Getting back to the tale - it's a speakeasy in downtown New York - good luck with explaining what a speakeasy is to the kids. Mine quite enjoyed the entire secrecy surrounding it and the password needed to enter. On one side you have Fat Sam and gang, on the other, Dandy Dan and his mobsters. Blousey Brown is a starlet hoping for a break while our man Bugsy Malone, is the star.

The content stays fairly child-friendly, with insults ranging from knucklehead to dope. Even the guns they shoot, go splat, instead of killing. A gang war involves a pie fight.

While there is plenty a child will not understand about gang wars and their motivations, it is on the whole, a fun read. The panels are constantly changing and action packed, giving it almost a film-like pace. The art work is fantastic and very reminiscent of the 70s. Unfortunately they've chosen to give them a washed out retro feel.

The Bean at eight had trouble following the panels at time for their slightly haphazard arrangement. The Brat on the other hand, at ten was a lot more interested simply for it's unusual content. This one is a classic that I hope they will come back to over the years.

[image source:]

Anya's Ghost

Anya's Ghost
by Vera Brosgol

Anya  Borzakovskaya is a teen who rejects her immigrant origins and tries very hard to "fit in" among her typical high school flock. An unrequited crush, an eager-and-friendly fellow immigrant, a mostly-selfish friend, plus a curious little brother and an overly-loving mother all add up to a full range of emotions surging through her teenage biochemistry.

Add to this a 100-something year old ghost, Emily, who died 90 years ago. A seemingly understanding, friendly ghost who inches her way into Anya's life and turns it upside down with her dark thoughts and overbearing attitude. Anya has it tough indeed.

However, most of her troubles are self-wrought. I could easily understand Anya's struggles in terms of shedding her original cultural identity -- from her determination to overcome her accent, to her resorting to shortening a difficult-to-pronounce last name, to her need to distance herself from a fellow-countryman who is still exhibiting the eager-foreigner impulse -- all because she wants to feel totally accultured in her new country.

Walking along one day while agonizing over her expanding thighs and irritation at her mom's home-country-cooking, Anya tumbles into a tunnel with very little hope of being rescued. Which is where she meets Emily, the ghost, eager for companionship.

While there are no cliched jocks, nerds, popular girls, and misfits in this high school, the characters seem equal parts realistic and exaggerated. I kept wondering why Anya feels the need to dress a certain way even if it makes her uncomfortable, why she is friendly with the Irish-immigrant Siobahn but otherwise doesn't try to form deep friendships-- until I stepped back in time to my own high school days when it was very hard to know who understands you the most and therefore is worthy of your trust and friendship, who will not backbite and sell you out but would be there for you when you need it most...

Anya is not necessarily ugly, but she is not exceptionally beautiful in the classical sense either. She is just another awkward teenager who is trying to find her place. While it was troubling to read about casual smoking among the high school kids, Anya seems to have it under control. She seems like a kid who will turn out all right when she grows up.

The panels flow effortless to tell the story. The grays and deep violets, and the diaphanous ghost, add to the drama of the storytelling. Dialogues are perfectly rendered, the crisp words are smart and believable. Of course, I couldn't help but feel a kinship as Ms. Brosgol lives and works in my current city of domicile.

Anya's Ghost Step By Step from Vera Brosgol

View Inside Pages at MacMillan

Author's website Verabee

[image source: macmillan]

The Supernaturalist: Graphic Novel

The Supernaturalist: Graphic Novel
by Eoin Colfer with Andrew Donkin
illustrations by Giovanni Rigano

Sci-fi stories lend themselves well to graphic novel format mainly because it is much more fascinating (and challenging) to illustrate complicated machinery and futuristic world and beings, as opposed to describing them in great detail. A picture is truly worth a thousand words in this context.

Being a big fan of the written word, I thoroughly enjoy reading the thousand words and letting my brain come up with the visuals, but sometimes it helps to see it all in pictures conjured up by a talented artist. The novel was quite the regular sci-fi fantasy, and this graphic novel adaptation stays true to the original.

Cosmo Hill is 'parentally disadvantaged'. Since there are no state funded orphanages, his particular shelter has resorted to fund-raising by allowing experiments on its inmates- the little orphan kids. Cosmo escapes with the help of some friends who happen to be similarly gifted as himself: they can see the Parasites that drain the human life force in Satellite City.

Together, the group of kids take it upon themselves to protect Satellite City from the Parasites.

One thing that can get annoying in graphic novels is the urge to have narration tell big chunks of the story rather than through characters and illustrations. A lot of exposition and filling in happens along the way, through wordy text boxes, which takes away from the graphic novel experience. 

The deep green palette and the style of illustrations align well with the grim dystopian story but it was not quite appealing to behold as most of the panels were dark and intense. More for the older kids, the graphic novel is an interesting presentation of the story.

[image source:]

Roller Girl

Roller Girl
by Victoria Jamieson

Middle grade novels with girl protagonists, who are authentic and not stereotypical, are on the rise. And what's more? Middle grade graphic novels with girl protagonists are on the rise as well with quite a few of them being memoirs of sorts -- like Smile, Sisters, El Deafo, and Roller Girl.

What happens when two BFFs don't like the same thing? And, what happens when one likes this thing too much and the other doesn't? Can they still feel the close kinship? Can they be there for each other even if they don't see themselves doing things together? How do you unfriend your BFF, and should you have to? If you do, is that so terrible?

Twelve year old friends Astrid and Nicole find themselves in this strange land of limbo one summer when they realize they are growing apart. A trip to the roller derby reveals more than their respective interest in this sport. While Astrid is gung-ho about roller derby and signs up for camp, Nicole prefers her ballet and would rather not venture into roller derby, with or without Astrid.

Things start getting complicated when Astrid makes new friends with her roller derby cohorts and Nicole hangs out with her ballet clique. The ins and outs of friendships during adolescence is explored. Astrid is not particularly good at roller derby and she has to work very hard to master basic skills and she has to do it without Nicole at her side.

With the intense backdrop of adrenaline-pumping high-energy sport of roller derby (which I have only read about and never witnessed in person), the author deftly explores the dynamics of friendship among pre-teens with acute depth and honesty.

According to the resident ten year old: Astrid was overreacting quite a bit and was blowing things out of proportion and complicating her life. Nicole wasn't being mean and till then Nicole and Astrid did whatever Astrid wanted to do, but when Nicole wanted Nicole and Astrid to do what Nicole wanted, Astrid didn't want to . Why did Astrid dye her hair without permission, she could've just asked her mom? But Astrid doesn't make friends easily so she probably feels bad about losing Nicole's friendship. In the end,  things work out for Astrid anyway.

As a skater with Rose City Rollers in Portland, OR, Ms. Jamieson has chronicled her adventures at Roller Derby Comics. The book draws from her personal experiences which explains how rich and powerful the moments are when we see it through Astrid: her excitement, self-doubt, frustration, determination, and commitment all ring so very true in this coming-of-age style story.

The illustrations are bright and colorful with lots of action. We loved El Deafo, Smile, and Sisters, and now the ten year old and I are just bowled over by this starkly candid story which has a satisfying ending, even if not the happily-ever-after kind.

Free eBook on the Making of Roller Girl

Look Inside the book at Penguin Random House

[image source: author Jamieson's website]

Monster on the Hill

Monster on the Hill
by Rob Harrell

Riotously funny, at the same time both quirky and silly, Monster on the Hill is a huge hit with the 10 year old and me! We each read it on our own at our leisure and couldn't help sharing our favorite pages, pointing out the fun parts that kept us chuckling.

1867 England is dotted with a resident monster in every self-respecting town -- monsters who take their monstering duties very seriously and do a great job of assisting their town's tourism: they periodically terrorize tourists and rampage through the streets for everyone's benefit.

However, Stoker-on-Avon is stuck with their monster, Rayburn, who proves to be completely inept. He simply broods and stays in the pits not much unlike Eeyore, becoming a source of deep embarrassment for his townsfolk. He just doesn't have the fire in him to go on a rampage and chase the unsuspecting victim.

An eccentric professor, Dr.Charles Wilke, whose experiments always go awry and whose lab always smells suspicious, is called in to cure Rayburn. Along with paperboy Timothy and Rayburn's old schoolmate, Tentaculor (what an awesome name for a monster!), Dr.Wilke bumbles along in a bizarre adventure (with sideplots involving Timothy turning into a mushroom), providing some of the funniest pages to read.

Of course, where's the villain? Where's the conflict and resolution? Well, it's in the form of Murk, an evil monster who doesn't play by the rules and wants to take over Rayburn's place. The showdown on the streets of Stoker-on-Avon is redemptive for Rayburn who triumphs in the end by proving his mettle.

All in all a fantastic story with plenty for the kids to laugh about and some inside jokes for adults to nod in approval. The lush landscape, the charmingly peculiar townsfolk, the at-once simple-and-complex life of the monsters all add to a very satisfying reading experience.

[image source: Author website]
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