Monthly Archives: November 2013

Great Graphic Novels to Get You Hooked

Are you new to the world of graphic novels and need a good introductory book?  Or are you an avid comic reader, and want suggestions for some you have not gotten around to? How about some suggestions of our new favorites? These four will give you a glimpse into the wide world of middle-grade graphic novels — great for the newbie and the comic-lover alike.

explorerExplorer: The Mystery Boxes, Seven Graphic Stories, edited by Kazu Kibuishi
Seven stories with completely different plots and characters with one thing in common: a box. While one character deals with the nuisance of a mischievous clay figure she found in a box, another character gets sucked into a box only to learn about the apocalyptic future that awaits human civilization. An excellent choice for first-time graphic novel readers, Explorer: The Mystery Boxes will give readers a chance to read various comic book styles from quality graphic novel artists. Readers have a chance to enjoy a Raina Telgemeier comic, with her friendly depictions of middle school life, or one from Kazu Kibuishi, with his more serious depictions of a science fiction storyline. These short stories will leave viewers giggling, clenching their teeth, and pondering life.

Akissi_coverAkissi by Marguerite Abouet
Written by Ivory Coast-born author, Marguerite Abouet, Akissi is a raw graphic novel about young Akissi and the hysterical situations she gets into in her urban West African neighborhood. Akissi’s mischief will make reader’s stomachs curl from laughter, discomfort and utterly gross moments! Seven short stories form the character of the bold and brash Akissi, who gets into a number of pickles, from helping her brother charge local kids for TV time and losing her adopted monkey to hungry neighbors, to chasing her brother with a tapeworm that came out of her nose. Needless to say, this graphic novel does not beat around the bush. Readers will be hooked by Akissi’s hilarious mishaps and will relate to the universal themes of family imperfection, sibling rivalry and making mistakes to learn. A reflection of resilience and reality, Akissi refreshingly gives insight into everyday hiccups that ordinary families live through in under privileged countries.

hereville1Hereville: How Mirka Got her Sword, by Barry Deutsch
In Hereville, an orthodox Jewish community, feisty eleven-year-old Mirka marches to the beat of her own drum, as she makes it clear that she hates knitting and likes to provoke her argumentative but golden-hearted stepmother. But then, Mirka gets an idea into her head: she wants to slay dragons! Of course everyone thinks this is ridiculous, and after confronting and then rescuing an angry talking pig, Mirka meets a machashaifeh, or witch, who gives her directions to a sword. A troll guards the sword, and Mirka must fight with a skill she is not particularly fond of! This comical graphic novel does an excellent job of weaving Orthodox Jewish traditions into this funny modern story of a spunky girl with big and quirky dreams. The characters sometimes use Yiddish words, which are translated simply at the bottom of the page. Readers will laugh with and cheer on Mirka, and may be more willing to try the arduous task of knitting than they thought. Want to know what happens next? Look for the sequel: How Mirka Met a Meteorite.

Mouse-Bird-Snake-Wolf-1Mouse, Bird, Snake, Wolf, by David Almond
Harry, Sue and Little Ben live in a world similar to ours. The gods above made flowers, mountains, babies, animals, and many more marvelous creations, but there are many gaps and holes. Because the gods have become gluttonous and lazy, Little Ben gets the idea to make something himself. He gathers sticks and leaves from the earth and believes… believes… and believes… until the mouse squeaks to life! Now it’s Sue’s turn and then Harry’s, and their imaginations bring forth more quirky creatures. But when Sue and Harry get carried away, they create a howling and ravenous creature and must Little Ben finds the courage to un-make it. But can you un-make an object of imagination forever? This graphic novel is not your typical comic book, and will suit readers who love art and more serious material. This is a terrific read for lovers of Shaun Tan‘s quirky and beautiful books, The Arrival and The Bird King: An Artist’s Notebook.


Zombies, Bombs, and Supers: New Books for Older Readers

falloutFallout by Todd Strasser 
During the summer of 1962, Scott’s dad starts building a bomb shelter in case of a nuclear attack. Everyone in the neighborhood thinks he is crazy, even Scott’s best friend Ronnie, but when a bomb is actually dropped their neighbors are frantic to get into the shelter. It was made to hold four people with enough supplies to last just a couple of weeks but 10 people have managed to squeeze inside. Tension in the shelter is building as they wait for the radiation levels to drop off but quickly dwindling supplies and uncomfortably close living quarters might force them out before it is safe. If they ever do get out, what will life be like? Will it even be worth living? This book takes a somewhat uncomfortable look at basic human nature in response to disaster. While it is not for the faint of heart, it is a suspenseful page-turner that a fearless kid would love.

RUMPCoverHighResRump: The True Story of Rumpelstiltskin by Liesl Shurtliff
Forget what you have heard about Rumpelstiltskin, the wicked little man who can turn straw into gold, for this book tells the true story. Rump is a little boy whose mother dies before she can tell everyone his full name, so he is stuck with the name Rump. In a land where names are powerful, Rump believes that his half-name is the reason for his problems, including why he stopped growing at the age of eight. When he discovers that he can spin straw into gold he realizes that this gift is really a curse. Rump is forced to accept whatever someone offers him for his gold… even a baby. He goes on a quest for his full name so that he can be free of his spell once and for all. Shurtliff has created a fantastical world filled with humor, greed, and piles of gold. Readers will not want to leave this magical land where friendship and bravery can overcome any odds.

LokisWolvesLoki’s Wolves by K.L. Armstrong and M.A. Marr
The town of Blackwell, South Dakota is home to the descendants of Norse gods, including Matt Thorsen, expert on Norse mythology and descendant of the god Thor. When he is chosen by the town seer to be the Champion of Thor in the coming battle of Ragnarök he must gather the other descendants of the gods and prepare to fight. With guidance from the norns and help from Fen’s cousin Laurie, Matt must convince classmate and nemesis Fen Brekke, descendant of Loki, to join forces. Time is not on their side as they track down the other champions and start their search for the three objects they need in order to be victorious in the final battle. Norse mythology comes to life in this first book in a new series called The Blackwell Pages. The second book, Odin’s Ravens, is due for release in May 2014.

sidekickedSidekicked by John David Anderson
Andrew Bean is an ordinary middle school kid with ordinary middle school problems: zits, bad school lunches, and girl troubles. However, Andrew has a gift: super senses. His school routine is augmented by training sessions in the school’s basement, where he is learning to be a sidekick. If things weren’t already bad enough in his normal life, his super power seems to be less than envious when compared to the other sidekicks’ powers. Further, he doesn’t even have a superhero mentor. What good is a sidekick without a Super? He was assigned to the formerly famous Super called The Titan, who is now missing in action, while his best friend Jenna’s Super is the most famous Super in town, The Fox. When a super villain thought to be dead returns to town with his henchmen, the Supers begin to disappear. Soon all but The Fox and the nowhere-to-be-seen Titan are left to take him down, but Drew is unsure of who he can trust. Full of action and unexpected plot twists, readers will be rooting for a sequel.

Zombie-Baseball-Beatdown-by-Paolo-BacigalupiZombie Baseball Beatdown by Paolo Bacigalupi
Rabi and his friends just can’t seem to put their finger on it, but they know something weird is going on at Milrow Meat Solutions, a meatpacking plant on the edge of town. When forced to find a new location for their baseball game, they encounter a nauseating smell emanating from the nearby meat plant. Their suspicions are confirmed after a run-in with their little league coach, who is now a zombie. The three boys decide to sneak into the plant, when they discover a corral of zombie cows being taken to the beef intake area. It is up to the boys to stop the meat from being delivered to supermarkets and let the world know what is really going on at Milrow Meat Solutions. As award-winning young adult author Bacigalupi shows in this, his first middle grade book, maybe it’s not the monsters that are the enemy, but the people trying to cover them up. There are more than just zombies in this surprisingly deep story that considers complex and sensitive issues, such as illegal immigration, racism, and food safety.

-Sarah Beth

Ropes, Trains, and Homes: New Books for Younger Readers

the-rope-300This Is the Rope: A Story from the Great Migration, by Jacqueline Woodson, illustrated by James Ransome
Celebrated poet and writer Jacqueline Woodson’s latest picture book displays her trademark lyricism and eloquence as she spins a compelling, generation-spanning yarn. The story follows a young African American couple who move from the Deep South to Brooklyn in the 1970s, seeking a better life. The motif of a rope weaves the anecdotes together as we follow the young family through the years. The rope that they used to tie their belongings to the top of the car for the long drive becomes a laundry rope for their baby’s diapers, and then a string to pull a toy duck, and then a jump rope, and so on up through the present.  When the book ends, that young couple, now elderly, sits on their Brooklyn stoop watching their granddaughter jump rope and sing, a new generation tied to the past and looking to the future. It’s a wonderful celebration of family, history, and love, and parents can use it to begin more serious discussions about race, tolerance, and immigration. (ages 4-8)

thisisourhouseThis Is Our House, by Hyewon Yum
Coincidentally, this lovely book shares a great deal with This is the Rope. Both books begin each spread with the phrase “This is the…” Both tell the story of three generations living in the same home: in both cases, a charming Brooklyn (or Brooklyn lookalike) brownstone. Both start with a couple moving into their new home and end with an image of the extended family in front of the house, in the present day. Both are poignant and may cause you, the parent reading aloud, to surreptitiously wipe away a tear. This Is Our House, though, exudes a cozier vibe, without a serious subtext. Gentle watercolors depict a baby learning to walk, a favorite tree blooming, kids running down a stairway lined with family photos, and other sweet moments in the family’s history. (ages 4-8)

insideoutsideInside Outside, by Lizi Boyd
This is a small gem, a wordless book with so much charming detail on each page that you and your child will want to read it several times through right off the bat. On alternating spreads, we see the inside of a home with a young boy busily engaged in some task, and then the yard outside his windows. Small holes in the paper give us a peek of what’s outside, then shine a light on the other side after turn the page. There are things to watch for and follow, such as the two mice who scamper through each picture, and the turtle the boy brings home and who becomes a fixture in the house from then on. The overall look and feel of the book—strong black lines and stylized images on brown paper—is striking, simple, and modern, while the homey depictions of a happy life are comforting. Even without words, there is much to enjoy here. (ages 3-7)

LocomotiveLocomotive, by Brian Floca
Overall, this is a stunning book. The oversized pages feature detailed watercolors and lyrical text that bring to life the experience of riding the rails from Omaha to Sacramento in the 1860s, just after the completion of the Transcontinental Railroad. The text does not rhyme, but the author skillfully speeds up or slows down the pace to mimic the train’s progress. The placement of the words on the page, as well as their size, also give the readers cues on conducting an exciting, dynamic reading. Pint-sized train enthusiasts will want to pore over the amazing illustrations; older ones will be interested in the mechanics of the engines, the geography and topography, and the logistics of the journey. If the book has one flaw, it is that the text is on the long side and at times leans to the poetic and lofty; adults may find themselves shortening it for younger listeners. (ages 4-8)

violetViolet Mackerel’s Remarkable Recovery, by Anna Branford, illustrated by Elanna Allen
Violet is the spunky star of a new chapter book series from an Australian writer. This second book in the series revolves around Violet’s stay in the hospital to have her tonsils removed, and her later efforts to stay in touch with an elderly woman she met there. Like many other chapter book heroines, Violet is a bit brass and sassy, with a million projects and an imagination on hyperdrive, but always sweet and sympathetic in the end. Coming from Australia, the narrative and dialogue are peppered with Anglicisms (“Violet quite likes Dr. Singh,” use of the word “cross,” lots of tea drinking) that give it a welcome freshness. The many expressive pencil drawings help bring the story to life. (ages 5-9)


SHARE A Book Dogs

Saturday, December 14, 1:00 – 2:00 p.m.

SHARE-A-Book Dogs

Kids in kindergarten and older can make 15-minute appointments to read aloud to friendly four-legged friends. It’s a great way to increase confidence and improve read-aloud skills in a fun, relaxed atmosphere. Program takes place in the Children’s Room.

Call 389-4272 x4741 to register for a 15-minute appointment.

Terrific Narrative Nonfiction

Narrative nonfiction. It’s the trendy name for a type of nonfiction writing that’s been slowly simmering for years. Today, it’s at a full boil. What is it? Narrative nonfiction writers use fiction techniques such as plot, narrative, drama, voice, creativity, and fully-drawn characters to tell a true story or explore a topic.

What’s so great about these books? They’re fun, they’re engaging, and you can’t put them down, which is hardly true for the vast majority of nonfiction out there. Kids love these books, because they teach history, science, and other subjects in a compelling way, without the dryness we’ve come to expect from nonfiction. And bonus, they work beautifully with the new Common Core educational standards.

Narrative nonfiction is a big deal in the world of books for young adults, but there are lots of great books being published for younger readers, too. Here are five choices from the Mill Valley Children’s Room.

stantonElizabeth Leads the Way: Elizabeth Cady Stanton and the Right to Vote, by Tanya Lee Stone, illustrated by Rebecca Gibbon

This is a picture book meant for adults to read aloud to pre- and new readers. It’s also a fantastic way to share a new idea—women gaining the right to vote—with very young children. Award-winning writer Tanya Lee Stone (author of this year’s terrific Courage Has No Color) tells the story of the brave, unconventional woman who challenged the notion that only men could have a role in running our nation. The beautiful illustrations perfectly complement Stone’s spirited, fast-paced prose, which contains almost no dialogue (because only documented dialogue can be used in true nonfiction) but is good fun to read all the same. The story touches on serious subjects (including slavery), and this is bound to spark meaningful conversations between parents and children.  (Ages 5-8)

fleming greatThe Great and Only Barnum: The Tremendous, Stupendous Life of Showman P.T. Barnum, by Candace Fleming

Candace Fleming, another award-winning writer with a long list of popular nonfiction books to her name, takes on America’s most famous circus man. Although Fleming doesn’t shy away from P.T. Barnum’s faults, ultimately he comes through as an integral, iconic part of American history. A self-made man, Barnum dabbled in politics, gave millions to charity, and donated valuable items to the American Museum of Natural History. The sidebars explore other topics of interest, a great way of expanding the subject without getting off-topic in the main narrative. The many amazing photos bring the era to life, and at the end of the book, readers will be hungry to learn more about circuses and this period in history—which is just what a good nonfiction book should do. (Ages 9 and up)

tracking_trash_coverTracking Trash: Flotsam, Jetsam, and the Science of Ocean Motion, by Loree Griffin Burns

Using new technology to track sneakers and other cargo lost at sea, scientists have made huge leaps in our understanding of ocean currents, and drawn important conclusions about the impact of our trash on the environment. One of the most appealing aspects of this book is the author’s sense of humor. By providing funny anecdotes and refusing to take the subject too seriously, Burns warms up a potentially frosty topic. The discussion of sneakers is particularly effective. What student could not see the concrete correlation between sneakers lost off a Korean cargo ship and later found washed up on shore, and the study of “ocean motion?” Personal photos (such as the one of a scientist and his mom in front of their home, holding sneakers), add even more interest. The book ends by making a link with environmental issues. Readers will be motivated to change their ways after reading about the Garbage Patch in the middle of the Pacific Ocean and the coral reefs harmed by lost fishing nets. (Ages 11 and up)

brooklyn_bridge_lgBrooklyn Bridge, by Lynn Curlee

Did you know that when the Brooklyn Bridge was completed in 1883, its towers were the tallest structure on earth? And that its massive cables were the first thing to be constructed of the new substance called steel? Those are some of the interesting tidbits in Lynn Curlee’s beautiful picture book-style volume. But besides the engineering details, Curlee reveals the human drama behind the bridge. We learn, for example, that the brutal underground digging in compressed air — in conditions described as “a scene from hell” — led to the death of the three workmen and made the Chief Engineer an invalid and recluse for life, leaving his wife to take over; that one week after the bridge’s opening, a panic broke out and 12 people were trampled to death; and that P.T. Barnum led a herd of elephants across the bridge a year later as a publicity stunt. Although this is really aimed at tweens and teens, younger children may enjoy looking at the lush illustrations as an adult reads aloud. (Ages 10 and up)

witchesWitches! The Absolutely True Tale of Disaster in Salem, by Rosalyn Schanzer

Using legal documents and letters, Rosalyn Schanzer attempts to suss out the truth about the terrifying witch hunt that resulted in hundreds of people jailed and over 20 people hung. This subject is a blockbuster that has fascinated Americans for centuries. Schanzer gives it a different treatment, writing in a clear and direct but slightly chatty tone, and enhancing the tale with her own eerie black-white-and-red woodcuts. Although she does not make assumptions, reminding us that some things will never be known because of the lack of written evidences, she does suggest theories and raise questions. Overall, the book does an excellent job of humanizing something that happened over 300 years ago, as well as encouraging young readers to think and wonder rather than just absorb. At just 144 pages and with plenty of visual interest, this is a terrific choice for reluctant readers as well. (Ages 11 and up)


December Children’s Events

Coming in December, it’s our Winter Craft Series!

Make a Holiday Greeting Card on Wednesday, December 4, 2:30 – 4:00 p.m.
Sip warm apple cider and listen to seasonal tunes while you create one-of-a-kind greeting cards. We’ll supply the cards, envelopes, and art supplies – you supply the creativity! All ages welcome — no advanced sign-up necessary.

Make a Gift Bookmark on Wednesday, December 11, 2:30 – 4:00 p.m.
Make personalized laminated bookmarks for everyone on your gift list. Sip warm apple cider and listen to seasonal tunes, too. All ages welcome — no advanced sign-up necessary.

Gingerbread Person Party on Wednesday, December 18, 3:30 – 4:15 p.m.
Listen to the familiar tale of a Gingerbread Boy or Girl on the loose, then decorate your own delicious cookie companion to take home. Ages 4 and up. Click here to register.

Winter Break Film Festival, Game Day, and Lego Play Day: December 23, 26, 27, 30, 31, January 2, 3. Click here for the schedule of movies and events