Space Dumplins

This week, in honor of World Space Week, we’ve got reviews featuring space, in all it’s many forms. Today, I’m presenting an action packed space adventure by an award-winning graphic novelist.

GRX050 Silver Six COV TEMPLATETitle: Space Dumplins
Author/Illustrator: Craig Thompson
ISBN: 9780545565431
Pages: 316 pages
Publisher/Date: Graphix, an imprint of Scholastic, Inc., c2015.

Violet Marlocke’s father is a lumberjack in a futuristic space-age time and her mother works as a fashion designer for a pretentious boss who only cares about next season’s trends. Lumberjacks in this alternate reality don’t cut down trees, but harvest and transports whale poop produced by giant flying space whales, which is then processed into energy. One whale has recently eaten Violet’s school, and areas in the path of destruction are being evacuated. When Violet’s father goes missing after a whale diarrhea environmental disaster, she heads off in a slightly restored space junker, along with a young chicken and a lumpkin, who’s contrariness is seen not just in his attitude but his uncharacteristically short and round body, resembling a walking talking kidney bean. Enlisting the helps of her father’s lumberjack buddies, Violet quickly realizes that there is more happening than she realized, her father’s life is on the line, and her actions might affect more than one family.

Rather than stick to a monochromatic scheme like some graphic novelists, Craig Thompson’s latest creation is literally BURSTING with color, starting with the raised lettering on the cover for the title. The roids, or asteroid belt, where Violet and her family work is the darker shades, lending to its recognizable position as lower class. By comparison, the space station reminds me of the Capital from The Hunger Games series, with overly prejudiced and super stylized citizens in neon and bright shades. Whale poop is portrayed as clingy green goo, reminiscent of the slime made in science class or seen on Nickelodeon, and the whales are bold purple. Even the aliens and fashions and ships are unique, with some of the aliens having claws, suction-shaped fingers, or appendages protruding from their heads. The details are also incredible, down to the tattoos on Violet’s father, which are distinct, identifiable, and most certainly contain significance, even if we don’t figure it out.

The plot is smart and sophisticated as well. Elliot the chicken has a dream journal and cites Biblical references. There’s commentary about socioeconomic classes, prejudices, environmental disasters, unions, and government conspiracies. At one point when talking with Elliot, Violet comments “You must go crazy cooped up here all the time.” and Elliot responds “COOP? Please no speciesist slurs.” Two panels later (on the same page), Violet deadpans “So, you’re no FREE-RANGE CHICKEN, huh?” (41) and we’re not quite sure if she meant it as a “slur” or seriously. The ending reminds me of Men in Black, and I even liked the epilogue, even if it does get slightly hokey/preachy towards the end. With plenty of action and subplots, this is meant for invested and engaged readers. For fans of Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy or any slapstick, unimaginable science fiction space odyssey that somehow meshes into a coherent, believable, and satisfying read, this one will surely entertain both kids and adults. This is poop humor done right.

Space Boy and His Dog

This week, in honor of World Space Week, we’ve got reviews featuring space, in all it’s many forms. Today, I’m reviewing a picture where a boy visits the moon in search of a lost pet.

Space Boy and His DogTitle: Space Boy and His Dog
Author: Dian Curtis Regan
Illustrator: Robert Neubecker
ISBN: 9781590789551
Pages: unpaged
Publication/Date: Boyds Mill Press, an Imprint of Highlights, c2015.

Niko and his copilot search for their next mission.

“I’ll bet that cat is lost on the moon,” Niko says.
“Start the engines, Radar. We will find it!”(unpaged)

Niko, his dog Tag, and his copilot Radar pilot their spaceship, which is usually and understandably parked in his parent’s backyard, to the moon to look for a lost cat. When they arrive, Niko realizes his sister Posh, who is “not in this story”, has stowed away. When Posh finds the cat and claims it as her own, Niko retaliates by leaving her behind. Will Posh have to find her own ride home, or will Niko realize the error in his ways and rescue his sister?

Neubecker’s illustrations ground the story as pure fantasy, starting and finishing things off on Planet Home (Earth). We see the reality of the space craft before they even enter orbit, but we are just as easily transported into space along with Nico and his crew, with visually contrasting effects such as the moon’s white surface against the starry black sky, and Posh’s red hair and spacesuit distinctly set apart from Nico’s blue hair and spacesuit. Regan also has playful asides alluding to the imaginary nature of this journey, especially when “Tag refuses to stay in the copilot seat with Radar” and we see the dog jumping out of the window mid-flight. They both invoke the fickle friendship that can be found when siblings play together, even when they don’t necessarily want to, and siblings will relate best to this story.

UPDATE: I just read this for a story time for older kids (4-8 years old) and while the parents got it, I’m not so sure about the younger kids. I prefaced the space journey with pointing out the pretend elements, because I thought it might go over some kids heads. I think I was right in that assumption and that this might be better suited for a one on one where the kids can really focus on the pictures and explore the imaginary aspects of the pictures and properly ponder how Posh “gets back” to Earth. That being said, it’s still a cute story.

Hilo: The Boy Who Crashed to Earth

This week, in honor of World Space Week, we’ve got reviews featuring space, in all it’s many forms. Today, I’m reviewing a graphic novel featuring visitors from another world.

Hilo Boy Crashed EarthTitle: Hilo: The Boy Who Crashed to Earth
Series: Hilo #1
Author/Illustrator: Judd Winick
Color by: Guy Major
ISBN: 9780385386173
Pages: 192 pages
Publisher/Date: Random House Children’s Books, a division of Random House LLC, a Penguin Random House Company, c2015.

“AAAAH! Is that a greeting? I like it! AAAAH! Where am I?”
“Berke County”
“Never heard of it. Who are you?”
“Um … I’m D.J.”
“What’s this green stuff, D.J.?”
“It’s grass.”
“It smells outstanding!”
“Who are you?”
“I don’t remember. That could be a problem. My memory is a busted book.”
“Busted book.”
“Yep. Missing a lotta pages. Gaps! Holes! For example, how did I get here?”
“Are you kidding? It was insane! You fell from the sky!” (21-22)

A giant meteor falls from the sky and in its wake D.J. meets Hilo, whose suffering from amnesia. Hilo has some peculiar qualities that lead D.J. to believe he’s not from around here. Another surprise visitor is D.J.’s old neighbor Gina, who has just moved back with her family after being gone for three years. D.J. isn’t really good at anything, not like his siblings with their many hobbies and talents, so teaching Hilo things about Earth, like you can’t go around eating grass and wearing only underwear is not something he’s looking forward to doing. D.J.’s job is going to get even harder though when he, Hilo, and Gina realize that Hilo might not be the only thing falling from the sky.

This fast paced and brightly colored graphic novel will catch reader’s interest as soon as they open its pages. It starts with Hilo and D.J. running away from a giant robot, and it doesn’t stop there. Hilo has a sporadic naivety, with flashbacks of his past and absorbed information from D.J. filling in some of the blanks. While he doesn’t initially know what grass and clothes are, he somehow knows how to use a spoon properly and how to create a distraction. There’s so much unexplained about Hilo though that you’re willing to look the other way to see what crazy thing he’s going to do next. Some of the nonstop movement and action is nicely depict, primarily the fight sequences, but others look like they are stills with the hair streaming behind Gina the only clue they are moving. Winick’s posing and running gags really show the Looney Tunes influence the author mentions in his back cover biography. It’s certainly an enjoyable option for younger sci-fi fans who aren’t ready for the scarier world domination movies.

The Nest

NestTitle: The Nest
Author: Kenneth Oppel
Illustrator: Jon Klassen
ISBN: 9781481445474 (ARC), 9781481432320 (hardcover)
Pages: 244 pages
Publisher/Date: Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, Simon & Schuster Children’s Publishing, c2015.
Publication Date: October 6, 2015 (TODAY!)

This review and quotes for this review is based on an Advanced Reader Copy (ARC) provided by the publisher.

With every rung I got angrier. My parents couldn’t even deal with the nest. I was allergic, but they were too busy. They were busy with the baby and would be for the rest of their lives, so I had to do it. I didn’t know if these wasps were really from my dreams, but I wanted them off my house. I wanted them out of my dreams. That nest was coming down. […]
First swing, and the bristles gently raked the bottom of the nest. The broom kept going. Grunting, I brought it back and tried again. It hit a little harder this time, and I saw some papery bits waft down.
The wasps came. In a rush they dropped from the bottom of the nest and swarmed around the bristles of the broom. I gripped the very tip of the handle and was preparing to give it a big upward shove, when I was suddenly aware of a single wasp on my left hand, then a second on the knuckles of my right. I froze. (90-92)

Steve’s parents are preoccupied by the health issues of their newborn baby, which doctors seem unable to diagnosis. Even Steve’s reaction to a wasp sting, which seem to be everywhere that summer, garners only minor attention. Steve dreams that the wasps can help the baby, so long as he agrees to help them. But are the wasps from his dream real, and if so, are their plans for his little brother really something he wants to happen?

This is a disturbing book, perfect for horror fans and those intrigued by Kafka’s metamorphosis. But really, how many middle school aged children are familiar with Kafka? It’s an unsettling story because readers, like Steve, are never quite sure what is real and what isn’t. Klassen’s black and white, blurry illustrations cast a further shadow over this dark story. Upon further review, instead of written numbers the chapters are designated by the number of wasps at the start of each chapter, with one of the final ones showcasing a swarm of undistinguishable quantity, a very subtle but ingenious design feature. I could possibly give this to kids who have outgrown Goosebumps, as it gave me goosebumps reading it. Not a story that you’ll easily forget, but also one that is not easy to recommend unless you are familiar with the reader. A definite departure from his previous title The Boundless, this one is sure to keep you up at night until you come to the somewhat predictable and thankfully happy conclusion.

Cleopatra in Space

Today, in honor of World Space Week, we’ve got two reviews on the first two books in the Cleopatra in Space series. Each month for a previous job, I wrote a maximum 150 word review of a new book that came into the library during the month. I’ve expanded that idea to the blog in a feature I’m calling To the Point Tuesdays. The review of the second book (The Thief and the Sword) meets this criteria. If you want to play along, just post a link in the comments and I’ll add them to the post.

Cleopatra in Space 1Title: Target Practice
Series: Cleopatra in Space #1
Author/Illustrator: Mike Maihack
ISBN: 9780545528429
Pages: 172 pages
Publisher/Date: Graphix, an imprint of Scholastic Inc., c2014.

“It was during this recovery that an ancient scroll detailing the arrival of a hero was uncovered. A hero who would appear at this exact time and place to defeat the Xerx and restore peace and order to the galaxy.”
“You are that hero in the scroll, Cleopatra” (51)

Cleopatra (yes, the queen from the history books) is teleported from her time into a very different future. Expected to save the world from the Xerx and their leader, Xaius Octavian, Cleopatra is flummoxed by the need to attend classes, where she excels at combat but is exasperated by everything else. Guided by Khensu, the ancestor of her long-dead pet cat and monitored by a council of cats and alien teachers, Cleopatra isn’t sure what to think of this new world. When her first assignment lands her in hot water, Khensu realizes the council might not have his protégé’s best interests in mind.

Although she may be old as a mummy, Cleopatra is anything but a relic from the past. Preferring to be called Cleo, using modern day slang such as “Yup” and “Jeez” even before she time travels, and adapting seemingly instantaneously to things like paper books. It’s all done very tongue and cheek, with her Egyptian friend Goz calling out her smack talking “You couldn’t hit the broad side of a pyramid” with an equally sarcastic “That doesn’t even make sense.” before getting cut off (29-30). The fast and furious action-packed opening scene begins with her assignment mission before going back in time and then forward again all within the first 50 pages. Maihack smartly skips over several months of classwork so we can then get some additional action sequences with her assignment, finishing up at the end of the first semester. Hopefully all the subsequent volumes don’t progress as quickly.

Cleopatra in Space 2Title: The Thief and the Sword
Series: Cleopatra in Space #2
Author/Illustrator: Mike Maihack
ISBN: 9780545528443
Pages: 190 pages
Publisher/Date: Graphix, an imprint of Scholastic Inc., c2015.

”Xaius Octavian, I presume? I hear you’re looking for a thief.” (19-20)

A nearly wordless fifteen page opening introduces a cocky but highly capable African-American thief hired to steal an artifact being temporarily stored in military headquarters. Next door, Yasiro Academy is having their winter dance for military cadets, including the time-teleported Cleopatra, who hinders but doesn’t catch the thief in a madcap chase scene through the school and city. Meanwhile Cleo’s friend Brian has discovered there may be a way to send savior Cleo back to her own time, whether she wants to or not. Their search begins, but advisor Khensu isn’t telling them everything. The cityscapes are gorgeous, reminiscent of Gotham and Giza, and the action sequences demand your attention. Readers should appreciate the little details, like Cleo taking off her shoes before beginning the chase. The characters are beginning to evolve, with back stories that unavoidably slow the plot. I look forward to upcoming revelations, especially about the thief.

Welcome to Gotham Academy

Welcome to Gotham AcademyTitle: Gotham Academy: Welcome to Gotham Academy (Vol. 1)
Series: Gotham Academy #1-6
Authors: Becky Cloonan and Brenden Fletcher
Illustrator: Karl Kerschl
ISBN: 9781401254728
Pages: unpaged (approximately 150 pages)
Publisher/Date: DC Comics, compilation copyright c2015. (originally published in single magazine form as GOTHAM ACADEMY 1-6, c2014, 2015.)

This place has an impenetrable history.
These old walls are built with even older stones.
Every stone has a story…
…but not every story has a happy ending.

Olive Silverlock is beginning her second year at Gotham Academy after an unmemorable summer. That’s not because nothing happened, she is literally having trouble remembering what happened. Her mom was in the hospital, there was some sort of accident, she really doesn’t like bats… it’s all a little hazy. She’s taking a break from her boyfriend Kyle, although new student Maps Mizoguchi that Olive is supposed to show around just happens to be his little sister. There’s a ghost haunting campus that is terrifying her roommate and making some of her classmates act really strange, with Tristan following her, Pomeline and Heathcliff may be trying to speak to the spirits, and she’s spending detention shooting the breeze with class delinquent Colton. What happened to her last summer, and what’s going to happen to her now?

I feel like I should know who Olive Silverlock is connected to the Batman mythos, but I guess I’m just not up on my comic book characters enough to know if she is a new person or someone we’ve seen previously. The ghost plotline was tied up nicely by the end, but it still left enough dangling threads to want me to read on. We also know a little more about Olive and her mother, but still not enough to answer all the questions. There is more to her than meets the eye, and I think what little we see of Batman confirms that he might realize that as well, as he seems previously acquainted with her, both as Batman and Bruce Wayne. The flashbacks are tantalizingly vague about what happened last summer. I’m a huge fan of the artwork, which utilizes a diverse color palette and a variety of panel layouts and mood lighting. Readers get access to a script excerpt and cast designs with commentary, which I think of as a behind the scenes glimpse of the creation process that you rarely get with textual books. In a back cover blurb, Nerdist describes it as “a little bit CW television series and a little bit Harry Potter, with a  wee touch of manga-inspired storytelling” but I think I’d probably compare it more to early Buffy meets Harry Potter, although I guess maybe Buffy was a CW television series before it was the CW. I do see the manga influence, but I’m glad it’s not manga, and it maintains its DC Comics roots.

Gentleman Bat

We’re kicking off October with a Friday Feature! Friday Features are an irregular occurrence on my blog that include things other than book reviews, something a little extra. This might include author interviews (hint to any authors out there who want to get interviewed), bibliographies, book trailers and program ideas. While I’m not limiting myself to talk about these things just on Fridays, it will be something extra special to finish off the work week.

I’m so excited to bring you an interview I conducted a very long time ago with Piotr Parda, illustrator of The Gentleman Bat. I read it a while back and was so entranced by his artwork that I had to contact him, but I had always planned on kicking off the month of bats, costumes, and the unexplained with this Friday Feature. So thank you to Piotr Parda for answering my questions and for being so patient with the publication of his answers.

Gentleman BatTitle: The Gentleman Bat
Author: Abraham Schroeder
Illustrator: Piotr Parda
ISBN: 9780991386604
Pages: unpaged
Publisher/Date: Ripple Grove Press, c2014.

Victorian inspired costumes are donned by a bat and his beau in a nighttime stroll. Schroeder’s rhyming couplets are descriptive and set the scene and direction for Parda’s detailed illustrations. It tells the tale of a “gentleman bat” who meets his date, they dance the night away in the public square, and then return to their respective homes in the rain, under the cover of the gentleman’s umbrella. While the story is sweet, more mood then mayhem, the phenomenal pictures inevitably steal the show. After you pour over them on your own, you can glimpse at the process and find a list of Easter eggs to discover, prompting additional returns to the book. A coworker pointed out that the clothes even have slits to accommodate the bat’s long wings and their attachment to the shorter bat legs. In the final scene, where the bat is tucking himself in for the night, his nightcap has slits for his ears so it stay on his head even when he’s hanging upside down. A great book to share with a group, but also take the time to share one on one so everyone can get a close look at this detailed debut for both author and illustrator.

I had the opportunity to speak with illustrator Piotr Parda about his work and creative process:

  • First, did you do any research regarding bat anatomy before starting? How did building the model pictured on the book’s website aid in your illustration efforts?

It’s safe to say that the research was the larger (or longer) part of the work than completing the illustrations. It was mostly about finding some good solutions to the problems that come with drawing the  anthropomorphic (human shaped) bats: how to make them able to walk, dance and gesture despite of the wings being the most dominant part of their bodies but most of all what would be the best way to design some fancy clothes for them. As you know the wing membrane stretches right from the bat’s ankle all the way to the tip of its pinky. No way a bat could put on a pair of human pants! There is a huge amount of bat related material on the internet and we saw all of it. The wire toy I built for reference was supposed to help me with arranging the poses. It was like one of those little wooden dolls artists use for anatomy drawing, except bat shaped. Strangely enough, once my ‘action figure’ was ready, drawing poses came naturally and I rarely had to resort to looking at my doll-bat. It is also very helpful to me personally when I try to imagine that I myself am the creature I draw.  Since the skeleton of the bat is based on the same “template” as the human one, it wasn’t hard to imagine my fingers stretched far enough to support my weight in flight. Believe or not the wings of the bat bend the same way human fingers do. If you saw me working, you would notice that I’m looking at my fingers a lot.

  • Readers see a significant amount of everyday items created specifically for bat use, such as the scissors and the beetle pets. We also see the bats wearing glasses and monocles, a vendor selling ear plugs, and adapted clothing. What sort of collaboration was there between you and the author when designing these details?

Yes, all bats are sporting some eye-ware in our book. They are bats! Wearing earplugs might be a stretch because for a bat it would be an equivalent of a blindfold. But because the glasses help them see, maybe the earplugs would’t affect their orientation in space too much.

(EDIT from blogger: I guess it’s my mistake, as I thought the vendor was selling ear plugs. I’ll have to go back and take a third – or is it fourth – look at the book.)

Once we knew we are going to create a story about humanoid bats, the ideas and quirky jokes came down like an avalanche. Abraham would pitch some ideas to me and I would tell him if they are possible to draw – for me at least. I was sketching some of my own ideas and Abraham would tell me if it resonates with his vision or not. There is still a lot of details that could’t be drawn but we feel as if they are included in the story: there are coins with profiles of some prominent historical bats featured on them, there is a lot of different bat snacks with candied bugs and there is bat jewelry. I had to try very hard to avoid drawing bat gloves for obvious reasons. We were exchanging ideas via e-mail mostly. One time we’ve spent nearly an hour on Skype to figure out the umbrella scene. Waving umbrellas in front of the computer and taking screen shots was the best way.

  • Quite frequently books featuring smaller characters (like the Borrowers or the Littles) show every day items made from adapted materials (like a table from an empty spool). There is no such adaptation seen in your photos. The chaise lounge is a chaise lounge, and not a matchbox filled with tissue or cotton balls. Were you ever tempted to go that route, and what prompted you to make this world more “realistic”?

We eliminated this kind of depiction right from the start. Our bats, the inhabitants of the town called Batford, are the masters of their own world. Even though they might still be the size of an average vampire bat, their world matches their size, not the other way around. It’s an alternate universe in which the vampire bats evolved into talking, singing, dancing and clothes wearing individuals. There are no humans to speak of in Batford. We also decided to avoid carriages being pulled by bunnies or squirrels. Mini bat-horses would be simply too weird even in our scale of weirdness.

  • The methods and materials you use for this book are a sharp departure from the works found on your website. Was it a challenge to get the right “look”, and what impacted your final decision to use the methods you did?

When I show the books I illustrate to some of my old friends, they often exclaim: “So, this is the stuff you’re doing right now!”. Well, not exactly…

I’m used to this binary system in my work. When I feel like I’m getting tired of the disciplined and labor intensive illustration work,  I complete my deadlines and start working on my artwork ranging from building objects to creating moving images and abstract paintings. When in need of more focus, I come back to book illustration. For me there are no two projects that would require using the same medium. Why would there be? I like the idea of being “medium conscious”. For example if you were to print a book about saving trees, would you use paper or recycled plastic?

The technique for the bat book was inspired by the 1880 woodblock print by Tsukioka Yoshitoshi. The mood of this particular image was our basis for the technique from the beginning. Of course I haven’t had enough time or skills to work with traditional wood blocks but I used the next best thing: bamboo pen, ink and watercolor – tools often used for designing woodblock prints. There is no need to create woodblocks when faster and more accurate printing technologies are available, unless you are exploring the beauty of the old technique. I also found a lot of inspiration for my ink lines in some classic comic book titles such as “The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen” by Alan Moore, but also XIX century painting, victorian prints, some old illustrated stories such as “The Wind in The Willows” and Charles Dickens’ stories. Among the inspirations you can also find Peter Bruegel the Elder, architecture and street signs of Buenos Aires, architecture of Harvard Square and Beacon Hill,  architecture of London,  American cinema (“Singing in the Rain” and “Midnight”), British movies and TV shows. Even “Doctor Who”!

  • What does your workshop look like? Can you provide a picture?

I’m afraid a picture would be of no use right now. My desk at which I usually draw and do my computer work is quite messy at the moment, so is my work table. There is no way anyone could discern a pattern from this chaos. I guess I’m overdue for some discipline and focus. One thing is for sure: I did all my bat illustrations using a special pulley mechanism enabling me to hang up side down and of course it was all done in the light of a candle.

I may have made some of it up…

  • I read on your website that it took years to complete the book. Did you, the author, or the publisher ever get impatient with the process? How did you maintain your focus throughout? I understand you are friends with the author. Did your work on the book ever strain the friendship, or vice versa?

Talking for myself here, I never got impatient with the process as much as people around me did. (I’m laughing here a little) It took a lot of patience for them to put up with this little obsession.

Even though the author’s idea originated in 2006 (?) the work itself wasn’t continuous.  We were mostly fantasizing about the bat world, exchanging ideas and sketches. There were at least two versions of more or less finished Gentleman Bat before this one. What was different about this last version was that a brand new publishing house (Ripple Grove Press) bravely decided to make our story their first book to ever be published. What helps in regaining focus the most is a deadline. Since “The Gentleman Bat” was the very first product to launch a new company I knew that my work had to be as good as it can be. But no pressure… (there would be a wink and laughing here if I was talking)

In reality working on The Gentleman Bat was very pleasant and for the first time in my career I felt like I could take as much time as I needed to do my best. I welcomed all feedback from the author, the publishers and anybody else (even my parents) because it helped in creating even better work. I guess it’s what one would expect when a group of like-minded people works on something.

  • Are you planning on doing any other books in the future?

I would like to work on more books, yes, but I guess wanting to do something can’t really be called “planning”.  The Gentleman Bat was the first book created independently after abandoning the more stressful commission based work. Until then I wasn’t even sure if I would even get back to books.

If  I ever work on more books I will try to recapture the sense of creating something that doesn’t necessarily have to become the hit of the season but rather becomes one of those worn around the edges books that can be found on many bookshelves a hundred years from now. Something you could call “an old favorite”.


All pictures included in the interview are from the book’s website and I strongly encourage everyone to take a peak at large quantity of photos found there for a more in-depth behind the scenes experience. You can find out more about Piotr Parda and the other forms of artwork that he creates through his website.

Personally, I would suggest pairing Gentleman Bat with another old favorite, Stellaluna, for two very different looks at the bat world. For similar stories, readers might want to check out Lindbergh the Tale of the Flying Mouse by Torben Kuhlmann which has equally detailed drawings of a small rodent trying to make a big impact, although his story is more traditionally set in the world of humans.


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