Tag Archives: illustrated

Pigs Might Fly by Nick Abadzis ; illustrated by Jerel Dye


Pigs Might Fly by Nick Abadzis ; illustrated by Jerel Dye
First Second, July, 2017.

In this exuberant middle grade graphic adventure novel Lily Leanchops, a teenaged pig, makes an airplane that can fly without the use of magic and uses it when the Warthogs threaten to invade Pigdom Plains.

With a mix of science, magic, and myth, Abadzis’s (Laika, 2007) plot is a little long-winded as Lily finds out what is really motivating the Warthogs and attempts to prevent the attack on her homeland, but witty porcine wordplay, from place names including the Bay of Pigs and Piggadilly Circus to expressions like “Hogforsaken,” keeps the story entertaining.

With an Edwardian setting and character types, Dye’s illustrations, placed in a mostly conventional comic book layout, are colorful, energetic, and expressive and the lively near-human anthropomorphic pigs have a variety of skintones from pink to tan to dark brown.

Lily’s story arc, from being disbelieved by her father, the famous inventor Hercules Fatchops, to being the “Aerial Honker” that fights off the invaders, is somewhat conventional but gives the reader a determined and plucky protagonist to root for.

An unexpected last page twist sets up a sequel and leaves room for further exploration of this world.



Black History in Its Own Words written and illustrated by Ronald Wimberley


Black History in Its Own Words written and illustrated by Ronald Wimberley
Image Comics, 2017

This visually stunning collection of bold portraits of Black icons paired with quotations started as a Black History Month project by Ronald Wimberley in 2015 for an online political comics newsletter, The Nib.

Each double page spread has a high impact black and white comic book style portrait set on a colored background with a quotation incorporated into the illustration. On the facing page, there is some biographical information, sometimes straightforward, sometimes quite sophisticated. There is also usually the source of the quote.  The order of the portraits is a little random – done by date of production and no other discernible organization.

The author has selected his subjects as “people whose words and lives spoke to me personally” and these include Civil Rights notables, such as Angela Davis and Sojourner Truth, and cultural figures including Spike Lee, Prince, and Jean-Michel Basquiat. Martin Luther King, Jr., Malcolm X, and Barack Obama are notably omitted while more obscure figures, like punk rocker Poly Styrene, are included.

The quotations do not follow a particular theme, and a few lack meaning without context, but overall they add up to an individual and poetic portrayal of Black thought.

However, though the majority of quotations have sources and dates, there are a handful that don’t, and the Works Cited at the back of the book is in unreadably miniscule font.

Thought-provoking browsing for teens and adults.


Prom: The Big Night Out by Jill S. Zimmerman Rutledge


promProm: The Big Night Out by Jill S. Zimmerman Rutledge
Twenty-First Century, 2017.

Psychotherapist Zimmerman Rutledge looks at one of the American teen’s rites of passage: the prom. Starting with traditional proms from their beginning as middle-class versions of the debutante ball, the book then briefly examines changing cultural attitudes since then, and how this has affected prom.

However, the author’s intent is also to show that prom is not stuck in the unenlightened 1950’s, and there are chapters about how proms are now integrated and (mostly) welcoming to LGBTQ couples, and photographs to reflect this.

Prom fashion is a central theme, though there is a scarcity of photographs of many of the dresses described, including in a section on how fabulous dresses need not cost a fortune.

The author tries hard to moderate the perception of prom’s weighty significance with a rather-longwinded chapter of tips and not always rosy reflections from twenty-somethings; and there is advice on dealing with the pressures that can lead to a challenging experience, along with helpful resources.

Though there are few nonfiction books on this topic, a mismatch between the style of the book (chatty tone, large font) and the age of the intended audience make this a discretionary purchase for libraries but it may be of interest to some teens.

How to Turn $100 into $1,000,000 by James McKenna and Jeannine Glista with Matt Fontaine


How to turnHow to Turn $100 into $1,000,000: Earn! Invest! Save! by James McKenna and Jeannine Glista with Matt Fontaine
Workman, 2016

From the creators of the Biz Kid$ TV show and education initiative, this is an easy reading guide for teens on managing their money and creating wealth.

The text sets out its objective very clearly: “Making money is a game, and we’re going to teach you the basic rules,” before guiding the reader through setting goals and a budget, finding ways to make money, and then using that money to make more money.

The eye-catching title may mislead some readers into thinking the book is about get rich quick schemes, but a breezy tone and plenty of jokes make the useful and sober, if not earth-shattering, advice on being smart about finance (“ Millionaires are people who save money, not people who spend it”) more palatable. 6how to turn inside

Large print, plenty of white space, many sub-headings, and a brief summary at the end of each chapter make the text easy to skim, and the rather busy layout includes plenty of sidebars, quizzes, and illustrations (showing kids with different colored skins) to augment the main text.;

Backmatter consists of a checklist and planner, one-page business plan, budget tracker and glossary but no further reading suggestions.

While some of the more sophisticated advice, such as how to set up an investment portfolio, will not be relevant to the majority of readers, this is, nonetheless, a useful handbook for all teens.

Reviewed from a black and white ARC – published version will be in two-color.

Hark! A Vagrant by Kate Beaton


hark a vagrantHark! A Vagrant by Kate Beaton
Drawn and Quarterly, 2011

Hark! A Vagrant is not strictly YA, but nonetheless has enormous appeal to older teens. We’ve had several of the comic strips up in my library and, though it was a bit of a slow burn, they now have many committed fans among the cool young cognescenti.

The comics are witty, erudite, supersmart (though definitely not above a fart joke), have a feminist bent, and make me laugh harder than anything I’ve read or seen in ages. The black and white drawings are deceptively simple, but the characters’ expressions embellish many of the jokes. The helpful and funny footnotes aid comprehension, though not in an entirely straightforward way.lord byron

Collected from a long-running website, the short strips are mainly grouped around satirical literary themes. Hark! A Vagrant opens with ‘Dude Watching with the Brontes’ (“So brooding!”), has a poke at the Scottish Play when one of the three weird sisters can’t meet up when the hurly burly’s done because she has a dental appointment on her calendar, has Nancy Drew’s Ghost of Blackwood Hall playing Bennie and the Jets, and compresses Crime and Punishment into 24 panels, the key clue being Raskolnikov’s article “Murdering Old Ladies: Not Even a Big Deal”. Dracula, Edgar Allan Poe, Robinson Crusoe, King Lear, and many others, all get their serious ideas shredded for some pointed laughs.

Beaton also get some yuks from history with insights on some well-known topics like the French Revolution and the Founding Fathers, but also enjoying sport with the obscurity (at least to us) of Canadian history, and the downtroddenness of “every lady scientist who ever did anything till now.”

But writing any more just continues to prove that Kate Beaton’s writing is way funnier than mine, so the  best thing you can do is grab a copy of one of her books, or click onto her website and enjoy plenty of those satisfying I’ve-just-understood-an-obscure-reference chuckles.

Maggot Moon by Sally Gardner; illustrated by Julian Crouch


maggot moonMaggot Moon by Sally Gardner; illustrated by Julian Crouch
Candlewick, 2013

I got an email recently from Goodreads telling me that I was in the top 1% of reviewers (by quantity not necessarily quality!) and my most liked and commented on post was for Maggot Moon. So I thought I’d share my review, with some tweaks here:

What an amazing read! I re-read this as soon as I’d finished it – first time I’ve ever done that. This is like reading 1984 narrated by Christopher from The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time.

It is set in a 1956 in which the Britain lost the war. It is not explicitly stated which dictatorship now rules England, but there are clues. One of the elite kids is called Hans, a teacher has a Hitler-style toothbrush mustache, and the flags are red, black and white, all suggesting a Nazi victory. However, the home of the ruling class is referred to as the Motherland, which suggests the USSR, rather than the Fatherland of Nazi Germany. Maybe Ms Gardner did not want to be specific, or maybe she wanted it to be an amalgam.

Standish Treadwell and his grandfather live in Zone Seven – where the ‘impure’ are sent. Standish is dyslexic (maybe, again never stated explicitly) and it is his use of language that makes this such an incredible read – he is not a ‘train track thinker’ and twists everyday adages which creates startling new images, “a hare’s breath” for example.The story is rooted in Standish’s beautifully evoked friendship with Hector, a new arrival to the area, and a mysterious spaceman they meet.

The illustrations of rats, flies and maggots, which run along the bottom of the pages like a flip cartoon, baffled me at first, but on the second reading I could see how they run as a harmony to the prose, as well as personifying (if that’s what it is with an animal) the corruption, decay and rot at the heart of the Motherland. In the text itself, there is some brutal violence which is made worse by the apparent everyday casualness of its occurrence – it is not Hollywood movie violence, but is imaginably and viscerally real.

This is a really short book – 100 chapters, some of which are only a paragraph long – and deceptively simple, but as the author does not spell everything out for the reader it is a densely rich,intense, and rewarding read.

The Parent Agency by David Baddiel; illustrated by Jim Field


parent agencyThe Parent Agency by David Baddiel; illustrated by Jim Field
Harper, May 2015.

Today it’s part two of debut-children’s-novels-from-British-comedians-who were-famous-before-I-left-Britain-in-1997 week! Today’s author, David Baddiel, is best remembered by me for the History Today sketches that he did with Rob Newman. As with Julian Clary (Monday’s author), Mr. Baddiel has since gone on to many more things.

Barry Bennett keeps a list of why his parents are inadequate: they’re poor, boring, tired all the time, won’t let him do what he wants to do, and seem to like his younger twin sisters more than him. After an argument with his Dad about his imminent tenth birthday party, Barry is transported to an alternative world, where the kids are in charge and they get to choose their parents.

The story is structured so that over the course of five days, Barry gets to try a set of parents that are the opposite of each one of his parents’ failings: the fabulously wealthy Rader-Wellorffs, the famous Vlassorina pair, the fitness fanatical Fwahms!, the lackadiasical Cools, and the Bustles who act like they prefer him to their twin daughters. Each segment is amusingly broad, and the quest structure keeps things moving along nicely. Of course this is a tale of the grass being greener on the other side, and readers won’t be surprised by Barry’s final decision.

The slapsticky, often potty, occasionally questionable, humor will appeal to elementary grade readers, and Jim Field’s cartoony illustrations fit perfectly with this tone. However, many of the jokes are really pitched to adults, and British ones to boot – few kids (or Americans) are going to get that Jamie Gherkiner is a play on Jamie Oliver. Additionally, some of the word play is a bit strained: Countries in the alternative reality include United Kid Dom and Boysnia Herzogeweeny.

Barry is a typically self-centered nearly ten-year-old, and many kids will be able to relate to his frustrations with his parents. However at times he can be a bit selfish and, occasionally, rather mean. Of course, this is part of his ‘journey’ as he grows to realize that loving parents don’t necessarily have all the superficial trappings he might want, nor will they give in to his every whim. The ending is entirely expected but satisfying nonetheless, even if it is a little corny and very unlikely.

Thanks to Harper and Edelweiss for the eARC.