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A panoply of books.

I'm writing this column a little late, so ALA Midwinter 2017 has come and gone, and all the book awards and lists have been announced.

I'm absolutely thrilled to see March, Book 3 by Congressman John Lewis, Andrew Aydin, and Nate Powell won so many awards, including the National Book Award and the Printz. I reviewed it for this column, gave it a 5Q; it remains my favorite graphic novel of 2016. The Great Graphic Novels for Teens list also came out in January, and I reviewed thirteen of the titles (fourteen, if you count my review of Haikyu!! Volume 3--the list only included the first volume).


In Lowriders to the Center of the Earth, Lupe Impala, El Chavo Flapjack (the octopus), and Elirio Malaria (the mosquito) now own their own garage as well as their super lowrider, but a series of earthquakes rocks their town, and then their cat, Genie, goes missing. Their search takes them through a mysterious and giant corn maze and into the underworld realm of the Aztec god Mictlantecuhtli, where they must undergo dangerous quests to save their beloved cat.

Readers not only get a great adventure, they also learn about Aztec legends, lowrider culture, Spanish language, and science along the way. Raul the Third still uses ball point pens to draw his detailed art, with lots of full-page scenes interspersed with comics panels. Camper liberally sprinkles Spanish words and phrases throughout the book, with definitions on the same page as well as an alphabetical list at the back of the book. She also includes notes about the various legends and gods that appear in the story. This will appeal to upper elementary and middle school readers who liked the first book, Lowriders in Outer Space, as well as anyone who likes cars, Aztec mythology, and offbeat heroes (I mean, a mosquito good guy?).


I'd known about the Code Talkers during World War II for many years; I used to read military history books for fun (since fourth grade). There was the motion picture Windtalkers starring Nicolas Cage in 2002. It wasn't until late in 2016 that a post by Debbie Reese helped set me straight, and I went to the Native Realities website and picked up a trade paperback collection of Tales of the Mighty Code Talkers. I didn't know that using Native Nation languages as code actually started during the last weeks of World War I, nor that the Navajos weren't the only ones using their native languages. Every story in this first volume has been written and drawn by creators from the Cherokee, Lakota, Dine (Navajo), Pueblo, Caddo, Muscogee (Creek), Kickapoo, Paiute, and other nations, bands, and tribes. The stories range in time from World War I through the Korean War, and this volume also includes a brief history of the Code Talkers, activities for grades five through seven, a bibliography, and biographical notes about the story creators. Readers will also see some of the original languages in the dialog, all subtitled in English.

The art ranges from sepia-toned sketches to full-color, class comic book-style art to color-drenched paintings. The fact-based fictional stories ring true and give the reader a good feel for what the Code Talkers and the people around them experienced and accomplished. Libraries serving middle school grades on up should get Tales of the Mighty Code Talkers; these stories are also available as digital comics. This isn't available through the usual library purchasing channels, so librarians will need to order directly from the publisher. When it comes to authentic diverse comics content, librarians must think outside of the box for purchasing materials.


In Another Castle: Grimoire, Princess Misty of Beldora chafes at her role as heir to the throne; she'd much prefer to take action against her kingdom's enemies than to simply marry the prince her father chose for her. She gets much more than she wished for when minions of the evil Badlug capture Misty and take her to Badlug's kingdom, Grimoire. There, Badlug announces he will marry her and, thereby, conquer Beldora through marriage. Now, Misty must play a careful game, pretending to be the helpless princess everyone thinks she is, even as she tries to find a way to escape and save Beldora. She finds allies in her jailer, Fogmoth, who much prefers to bake, and her attendant Gorgo. It turns out the people of Grimoire also need saving, but some of them, including the last surviving prince of Grimoire, don't want another monarchy. Meanwhile, bungling Prince Pete sets out to rescue Misty, bearing the magical sword, Leveler.

Wheeler provides some food for thought along with the action, and he cleverly keeps the romance for the supporting characters rather than for Misty; Fogmoth longs for Prince Robin, the erstwhile rightful king of Grimoire (who prefers a democracy), while Gorgo falls in love with handsome, hapless Pete. Artist Ganucheau uses a light palette with lots of pinks, so the book looks like a fairy tale romance, even as the story goes much deeper into politics and the philosophy of heroics--a clever juxtaposition. Readers who love Jeremy Whitley's Princeless: Raven the Pirate Princess (Action Lab, 2016), and other fantasies starring kick-ass heroines who save themselves, will want to read this book.


As I said at the beginning of this column, I think March, Book 3 is the best graphic novel published in 2016, but my favorite comic book series has been Space Battle Lunchtime by Natalie Reiss. Oni Press has been publishing excellent, kid- and teen-friendly comics featuring LGBTQA+ characters, including Another Castle: Grimoire and this title, A Recipe for Disaster. The first volume of Space Battle Lunchtime ended in a cliffhanger, as human baker Peony was kidnapped and taken to be a contestant on another cooking competition show, Cannibal Coliseum (in which the chefs compete by killing their fellow contestants and cooking them). Neptunia decides to go rescue Peony, who faces the extremely cute and deadly Li'l Magicorn.

The book does show Magicorn slicing one of the other chefs. The romance between Neptunia and Peony plays out mostly in small gestures, such as touching hands, and comes across as wonderfully sweet and lovely, even as they work hard to escape Cannibal Coliseum and return to Space Battle Lunchtime in time for the final round. Riess brings this second and final volume to a satisfying end; while aimed at readers in middle grades on up, the story provides plenty of subtly humorous details to make older readers chuckle in appreciation. This book is for anyone who loves to watch cooking competition shows, loves strong female characters, sweet and innocent romance, and dangerously cute villains.


Back in 2015, African-American comics creator Ronald Wimberley started collecting quotes about black history and illustrating them for The Nib, a site for political cartoons and satire edited by web comics creator Matt Bors. According to his introduction, Wimberley did more in 2016, and then decided to create more and collect them into the book, Black History in Its Own Words. In this book, readers will find quotes from people such as Congresswoman Shirley Chisholm, Muhammad Ali, Spike Lee, Serena Williams, Octavia Butler, Zadie Smith, Jean-Michel Basquiat, Jimi Hendrix, and more. For each quote, Wimberley has created a portrait incorporating the words, while the facing page provides a note about the person and the source of the quote.

While this isn't a graphic novel, this book provides a glimpse into what struck Wimberley as significant in black history in the United States. His portraits and the quotes capture the essence of each person's personality and importance. The portrait of Muhammad Ali shows the boxer in his prime, with the butterfly and the bees to represent what many people might remember most about him ("float like a butterfly, sting like a bee"), but the quote memorializes his civil rights activism: "Service to others is the rent you pay for your room here on Earth" (from an interview with Time Magazine on February 27, 1978).


When comics creator Dean Trippe was a young boy, he suffered repeated sex abuse at the hands of a teenager who threatened his life and those of his family; even though the rapist was caught, what he did deeply affected Trippe's life. He was a survivor, but he read and saw on so many police procedural television shows that abuse survivors tend to become abusers themselves. He swore he would never do that, to the point of being ready to commit suicide if he ever felt such tendencies in himself. Eventually, Trippe was able to channel what happened to him and its lasting effects on his life into a comic he calls Something Terrible. He depicts the abuse with just enough details for readers to know what happened without having to show it, and he also depicts one of the turning points of his life: when his teacher showed the 1989 Batman movie at the end of fifth grade. Seeing Batman's origins in young Bruce Wayne witnessing his parents' murder helped young Trippe identify with Batman as a fellow survivor of childhood trauma. Decades later, Something Terrible shows how superhero comics, movies, and television shows helped him cope and, eventually, heal mentally and emotionally.

He says his story could possibly trigger strong emotional reactions among other survivors, but I think this little book can help survivors struggling to deal with what happened to them. It will also help others learn about the long-lasting, deleterious effects such abuse can have on the victim; one sequence of panels shows Trippe with a ghostly third arm constantly holding a gun to his head to indicate his pain and fear that he might someday become an abuser. Something Terrible serves as a testament to the positive power of popular culture; superheroes, especially Batman, helped Trippe heal. I suffered some bullying and racism while growing up, and I've written many times about how television shows such as Batman and Star Trek (the original series) helped me cope with life through my preteen and teen years. Trippe's book could help teens, college-age young adults, and older adults.


First Second Books's Science Comics series continues with Bats: Learning to Fly. Following the format of the previous volumes, creator Koch focuses on a little brown bat whose wing has broken and who recovers at an animal rehabilitation center where he meets bats from around the world. Readers will learn a lot about bats and why they're good to have around in this fun, colorful graphic novel. Additional information includes how to build bat boxes, a list of further reading, careers working with bats, and a glossary. This is great for older middle grades on up.


Camper, Cathy. Lowriders to the Center of the Earth. Illus. by Raul the Third. Chronicle, 2016. 128p. $22.99 Trade pb. 978-1-4521-2343-1. $9.99 pb. 9781-4521-3836-7. 4Q 3P M J

Koch, Falynn. Bats: Learning to Fly: Science Comics. First Second, 2017. 122p. $19.99 Trade pb. 978-1-62672-409-9. $12.99 pb. 978-1-62672-408-2. 4Q 3P M J S

Riess, Natalie. A Recipe for Disaster: Space Battle Lunchtime, Volume Two. Oni, 2017. 120p. $12.99 Trade pb. 978-1-62010-404-0. 4Q 4P M J S

Tales of the Mighty Code Talkers, Volume One. Edited by Arigon Starr. Native Realities (PO Box 36594, Albuquerque, NM 87176;, 2016. 108p. $19.99 Trade pb. 978-0-9906947-5-5. 4Q 3P M J S NA A/YA

Trippe, Dean. Something Terrible. Iron Circus Comics, 2017. 32p. $15. 978-0-9890207-5-6. 5Q 3P S NA A/YA

Wheeler, Andrew. Another Castle: Grimoire. Art by Pauline Ganucheau. Oni, 2017. 152p. $14.99 Trade pb. 978-1-62010-311-1. 4Q 3P S

Wimberley, Ron. Black History in Its Own Words. Image Comics, 2017. 88p. $16.99. 978-1-5343-0153-5. 4Q 3P J S

Kat Kan has been reading comics for more than fifty-five years and writing about them for more than two decades. She works as a collection development selector specializing in graphic novels for Brodart, reviews children's graphic novels for Booklist, and conducts occasional workshops on graphic novels. She works part time as a school librarian in a PreK-grade 8 school where many of the students love to read graphic novels. Kan is also a pastor's wife, church organist, and grandmother to two boys whom she has already started to indoctrinate about comics.
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Title Annotation:graphically speaking; graphic novels
Author:Kan, Kat
Publication:Voice of Youth Advocates
Article Type:Book review
Date:Apr 1, 2017
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