Posts from the ‘Children’s Literature’ Category

Princeless 1

PrincelessTitle: Princeless (first four issues)
Author: Jeremy Whitley
Illustrators: M. Goodwin (art and colors) and Jung Ha Kim (letters)
ISBN: 9781939352545
Pages: Unpaged (128 pages)
Publisher/Date: Action Lab Entertainment, c2015

That very day, the prince and princess were married. They lived happily ever after and had lots of beautiful children. The End.
“That story is complete hogwash. [..] First of all, it’s full of plot holes. I mean, really, what kind of dragon dies with one blow? Not to mention, how did he get her down from that tower?”
“I suppose he climbed.”
“Climbed? Climbed Mom? He climbed ‘the tallest of tall towers’. Then managed to get the helpless princess of his down without any kind of magic? Did you see that girl’s arms? They’re PIPE CLEANERS! She’s not climbing down anything! […] And how did she get up there in the first place? Who has the kind of grudge against this beautiful princess that they would lock her in a tower? […] Plus where do you even buy a dragon? Dragons are wild animals! You’re going to put that thing in charge of your daughter? What if it wanders off? What if it eats her? […] All I know is, when I turn sixteen, you and dad had better not lock me in some tower.”

Oh, but that’s exactly what happens to Adrienne, is she gets locked in a tower guarded by a dragon waiting to be rescued. After several princes get eaten and one runs away screaming, she takes matters into her own hands. Breaking both herself and her dragon Sparky free, they begin a quest to rescue the rest of her sisters from their respective towers. Returning to her home leads to a case of mistaken identity, and now she’s running from her own guards. Will a plucky blacksmith’s daughter with her own ideas of women warriors be an asset to her quest?

Remember all those good things I said about Nimona, and how it subtly alluded to cultural tropes regarding superheroes, feminism, and tradition? Place all those things in glaring, blinding, glowing neon skyscraper height letters, and you get Princeless. Plastered on the front cover is a quote from Comics Alliance hailing it as “the story Disney should have been telling for the past twenty years,” but I feel that’s true only if Disney was being run by overly politically correct government officials. In less than two hundred pages we cover:

  • anti-feminist messages of old-fashioned fairy tales (quoted above)
  • blatant recognition of sexism in the costumes of female heroes (“What I’m saying is why should a woman’s armor have to show cleavage or stomach? […] Why not make real armor, which would actually be effective in a fight for a woman warrior?”)
  • the mistaken emphasis of women’s worth as a commodity instead of a companion that persists in some cultures even today (“And the worst part is, all he wanted was money for her”)
  • patriarchal views of the role of women in society (“It is not a woman’s place to rule, but to be ruled.”) and
  • the stereotyping against “feminine” qualities in men and “masculine” qualities in women.

Why don’t we just use Bedelia’s giant hammer to pound feminist philosophies into everyone’s head, as that would be about as subtle as this book. I guess for some people it’s necessary to be this obvious, but it seriously impacted my enjoyment of the story, not because I disagree with the messages. I agree whole heartedly that young girls need realistic role models of all types in literature, and have long wished that more superheroes took the functional female route instead of the spandex bikini-clad boobs and butts. However, let the story prove the point, and don’t make medieval characters spout modern-day political talking points ever dozen or so pages.

Now don’t misunderstand, I did enjoy the premise of the story. The details were really key, with Princess Adrienne actually falling off her dragon the first time she hops on due to the lack of a proper saddle. I like her ingenuity when it comes to getting herself out of trouble. Her ethnicity, minus one early mention about how she will never be a “fair maiden”, amazingly goes largely unremarked upon but is unquestionable in the illustrations. Princess Adrienne has an admirable attitude, not similar to Junie B. Jones but more to that point that she knows what makes sense and she’s not afraid say what she’s thinking. I’m hopeful the series will become less about what other comics and fairy tales are lacking and more about the good qualities that this storyline offers. There are certain scenes that really steal the show, especially the last one with Adrienne’s sister, and those are the types of scenes that I want to see more. A good, promising start if you’re willing to dodge the propaganda when necessary.


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. If you want to play along, just post a link in the comments and I’ll add them to the post.

EchoTitle: Echo
Author: Pam Munoz Ryan
Illustrator: Dinara Mirtalipova
IBSN: 9780439874021
Pages: 590 pages
Publisher/Date: Scholastic Press, an imprint of Scholastic Inc., c2015.

<blockquote>Otto looked at the sisters, now despondent. “If I could get home, <em>I</em> could help you,” he offered.
“Do you have a woodwind?” asked Eins.
Zwei leaned closer, “A bassoon?”
“Or an oboe, perhaps?” asked Drei.
Otto shook his head. “I only brought on other thing.” He began to unroll his sleeve, which had been folded to the elbow. “This morning, when I bought the book, the Gypsy insisted I take this, too, and did not ask for an extra pfenning.”
He held up a harmonica. (21)</blockquote>

There once were three princesses, spirited away for their own safety to the home of a witch, who became resentful and locked them in a spell. In order to escape, they placed their spirits into a boy’s harmonica, entrusting him with the task of passing it along to the person they were meant to save. First to a young German boy, requiring courage to face down the rising Nazi party and rescue his family. Then to an orphaned American boy, desperate to care for his brother, even if it means separation. Finally to a young Mexican-American girl, whose migrant family might have finally found a home, if they can only fight the prejudices surrounding them. These families are pulled together by the strings of destiny, but will the three princesses finally be released from their captivity?

This hefty tome contains three equally compelling narratives that take readers to the climax of each of these stories, and then drops them like a stone, maintaining the suspense until things resolve at the very end. Readers are invested in the welfare of the characters; the German boy disagreeing with Nazi propaganda, the orphaned American boy trying to maintain his family, and the Mexican-American girl fighting prejudice. These slice of life stories are rich in details, evoking the fears each faces and sharing information about the rise of blues and obscure references to segregation efforts. But those details can also withheld to supply tension, as you never know quite what direction the characters will take at their individual crossroads until it’s actually happening. I can’t say too much without spoiling the stories, but suffice it to say I haven’t been this emotionally engaged while reading in a while. Bravo!


NimonaTitle: Nimona
Author/Illustrator: Noelle Stevenson
ISBN: 9780062278234
Pages: 266 pages
Publisher/Date: HarperTeen, an imprint of HerperCollins Publishers, c2015.

“The agency sent me. I’m your new sidekick!”
“That makes no sense. Why would they send some KID to be my sidekick?”
“I don’t know, something about helping your image? They want you to appeal to today’s youth.”
“Did the Agency really send you?”
“Where’s the letter?
“I left it in the… uh… FIIIINE so the Agency didn’t send me.”
“I KNEW IT.”(1)

Ballister Blackheart, “the biggest name in supervillainy” has just become the unlikely recipient of a surprisingly bloodthirsty sidekick named Nimona. Not because he really was looking or wants one, but he has to grudgingly admit that she has some traits that could be useful. While they both have their own ideas about villainy, they find common ground in fighting against the Institution of Law Enforcement and Heroics, specifically Ballister’s nemesis Sir Ambrosius Goldenloin. Everyone has secrets though, and when those secrets are discovered, they lead to questions regarding who is good, who’s bad, and who can be really trusted.

An award-winning web comic gets the graphic novel treatment and I’m so glad it did. While I’ve gotten more involved in graphic novels and web comics in the past couple years, I am by no means an expert and it’s fortunate I can expand my exposure to them when they get printed through traditional means. Noelle Stevenson does an admirable job of embracing the stereotypes and tried and true troupes of the genre while still breaking tradition and flipping them on their head. Yes there is a bad guy and a good guy, a plucky sidekick and a secret agency, but there is also an overly secured secret lair that everyone knows about and double and triple cross traps that fail, succeed, and then fail again and are openly discussed. Oh how I love plucky sidekick Nimona! Her dialogue is spot-on, she’s all over the place with energy, and then she has this other side of her that you get to meet that makes you sit up and take notice of her in a whole new light.

The thought-provoking plot provides lots of surprises, with questions of good versus evil, personal identity, friendship, and science, most of which I can’t talk about without ruining the joy of discovering them for yourself. The artwork is just as stunning, with action-packed panels at every turn, filled with explosions but just as frequently zooming in on quieter character development, subtle hints and details, and back stories. This being originally a web comic, you do notice a change in the rendering of the characters, but I think they change for the better, and the sheer number of panels rendered for each page is impressive to say the least. Stevenson put a lot of effort into this, and it shows!

This is one of my favorite graphic novels of the year in a crowded field of girl-powered themed exploits that were published this year. I’m fan-girl fawning over her, and if I was to ever cosplay someone, I think Nimona would be my first choice, although I have no idea how I would do her hair style justice. Pick this up, get acquainted with her, and — since the ending ties up everything but still leaves an opening for more adventures — we all need to hope like heck Nimona will receive the sequel treatment.


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. If you want to play along, just post a link in the comments and I’ll add them to the post.

WallTitle: Wall
Author/Illustrator: Tom Clohosy Cole
ISBN: 9780763675608
Pages: unpaged
Publisher/Date: Templar Books, an imprint of Candlewick Press, c2014.

A little boy’s family is separated by the Berlin Wall, but he is determined to reunite with his father. The text is sparse, with the evocative artwork supplying most of the details. There is one striking black and white illustration in the middle of the story that I keep returning to again and again, thinking it would better serve a book about the war rather than the aftermath of one. Minus that exception, the illustrations are limited to dark blues and blacks for East Berlin, or reds, pinks, and oranges when portraying either West Berlin or the hope that West Berlin inspired. There is a short explanatory text on the back jacket, which I wish had been better placed as I think most readers will miss it. An interesting topic choice for an idealized picture book, but it could be used by families with personal connections to those events.



Title: Gronk: A Monster Story Vol. 1
Author/Illustrator: Katie Cook
ISBN: 9781632290885
Pages: unpaged
Publisher/Date: Action Lab, c2010…

Gronk is a monster who runs away from the rest of the monsters in the woods and meets up with Dale. Dale brings Gronk home to live with her cat Kitty and her large dog Harli. That’s the entire plot of this very slim, episodic comic derived from a weekly online comic. Even the author jokes on the back cover it “will look great hanging from a magazine rack in your bathroom or as a nice, glossy coaster for your favorite frosty beverage.” That’s basically all it’s good for. Yes the drawings are adorable, and there are some sly geek references, but the jokes fall flat and there is no plot or character development. Almost 25% of the book is guest strips from other artists, making me wonder if Cook should have waited until she had more material to put out a published version of her work. As we used to tell my un-trainable terrier, “You’re lucky you’re cute, because that’s all you’ve got going for you.” It’s the same with this book.

West of the Moon

West of the MoonTitle: West of the Moon
Author: Margi Preus
ISBN: 9781419708961
Pages: 216 pages
Publisher/Date: Amulet Books, an imprint of Abrams, c2014.

<blockquote>”Astri!” Aunt yells up the stairs. “Don’t dawdle!”
I kiss the top of Greta’s head and place my hand on her face for just a moment—all I dare, or risk a broken heart.
Down the ladder I go to stand by the door, my bundle under my arm. I can’t help but notice there are now two shiny coins glinting on the table, along with a large, lumpy package. My cousins are eyeing the coins with the same intensity that the dog is sniffing the package. Now I know how much I’m worth: not as much as Jesus, who I’m told was sold for thirty pieces of silver. I am worth two silver coins and a haunch of goat.
Uncle comes and tucks a wisp of hair behind my ear, almost tenderly. “I’m sorry Astri,” he says. “It can’t be helped.”
That’s all there is for a good-bye, and then out the door I go. (6-7) </blockquote>

Thirteen-year-old Astri is sold by her aunt to the humped-back, filthy, ill-mannered and equally ill-tempered goat herder. Astri is intent on getting back to her aunt’s house, not out of kindness or love of her aunt, but concern for her little sister Greta who is still there. Her escape plan involves getting on a ship bound for America and meeting up with her father, who left some time ago and she hasn’t heard from since. In their escape attempt over the Norwegian mountains, they pick up among other things a book of dark magic and a silent Spinning Girl, blurring the lines of reality and fairy tale in the process.

Inspired by an entry in an ancestor’s diary, Margi Preus builds an entire story around farmer girl Astri. Karen Cushman said it best in her back cover blurb when she describes it as “an astounding blend of fiction and folklore that celebrates the important things in life—loyalty, devotion, courage, and the magic of stories.” Elizabeth Bird’s review is also extremely coherent and cohesive, probably much more so than mine ever could be.

It’s the blending that of fiction and folklore that Cushman mentions that is done so seamlessly and that captures the imagination, making you wonder if the collection of coins is really a troll’s stolen treasure, or if the hairbrush really is magic or just a clever con. I’m reminded of the movie Big Fish or Oh Brother Where Art Thou, to give a comparison of how effortless the stories within the story, featuring giant bears and magic and hope, meld and shift within the book’s central plot of Astri’s more realistic and painfully brutal world of childhood brides (and all that implies/entails), running away to an unknown country, and discovering that money doesn’t ever buy as much as you need or want. Do the spells and prayers work to keep the rain and Death away, or was it just time that was finally allowed to work a magic of its own? The world Astri lives in is interchangeable with the fairy tales, just as the beliefs are interchangeable between the “old ways” of keeping a rowan twig in your pocket for protection and quoting the Bible. Maybe that fluidity between customs and beliefs makes the fantastical elements of the story all the more believable, even if they can be easily explained as unremarkable. Readers will recognize at least some of the mixed-up fairy tales Astri mentions and makes her own, like Beauty and the Beast, Snow White, Rumpelstiltskin, the Three Billy Goats Gruff, and the seven-league boots, and may be intrigued by mentions of the lesser known ones to seek out the rest, which Preus helpfully provides in her Author’s Note.

Overall, Astri and Greta’s journey is somewhat fantastical, when you think of all they are able to accomplish, especially by themselves. Readers find themselves just as conflicted as the two girls when they are forced to steal their way to their destination. There is no ambiguity that what they are doing is wrong, as Astri identifies herself as a thief and a liar and a host of other things. However, there is some ambiguity in if these acts are ever justified, and what punishment will befall upon you if you are the only one who knows how much of your “sinning nature” you are responsible for. When she makes a slightly fantastical promise, she wholeheartedly believes that if she finishes her part of the deal, the other half will follow. (I don’t want to give too much away by saying what or who the deal involved, because it happens towards the end of the novel.)

It all ends happily for the girls, but just like in fairy tales you are left wondering about the minor characters briefly mentioned but never seen again after the “happily ever after”. Hopefully neither girl will lose that ability to see the magic in the world while keeping the street smarts they seemed to have gained through their Cinderella-like upbringing.

Listen, Slowly

Listen SlowlyTitle: Listen, Slowly
Author: Thanhha Lai
ISBN: 9780062229182
Pages: 260 pages
Publisher/Date: HarperCollins Children’s Books, a division of HarperCollins Publishers, c2015.

Dad is waiting for me to turn toward him. Yeah right. One little glance would encourage another diatribe about connecting with my roots. They’re his roots, not mine. I’m a Laguna Beach girl who can paddleboard one-legged and live on fish tacos and mango smoothies. My parents should be thanking the Buddha for a daughter like me: a no-lip gloss, no-short shorts twelve-year-old rocking a 4.0 GPA and an SAT-ish vocab who is team leader in track, science, and chess. I should at least be able to spend the summer resting my brain at the beach. Instead, I get shoved on this predawn flight.
My parents slapped me with the news just last night when I was floaty and happy because sixth grade was finally over. I was thinking summer vacation, sunsets, bonfires. But noooo, with buggy eyes and stretchy smiles, they cooed out the news that I “get to” escort Ba, Dad’s mom, back to Vietnam for six whole weeks. (1-2)

Twelve-year-old Mai (known as Mia at school) is being forced to fly halfway around the world to help her grandmother Ba come to terms with their grandfather’s disappearance during the Vietnam War. Never mind that it happened years ago, and that Mai had plans for this summer, that she doesn’t understand the language, and that her own father isn’t staying with them due to previously scheduled charity work. The detective is struggling for specifics, so in the meantime Mai meets her many, many cousins, including Anh Minh who learned English with a Texas accent at an American boarding school, and Ut, a reluctant tour guide who is more interested in caring for her frog than her newfound family member. The culture shock is incredible, resulting in a misunderstanding about thongs and powerful smelling herbal remedies for lice and stomach aches. But as time passes, Mai begins to see the beauty in this alternate way of life, discovering that it might be up to her to re-acquaint her grandmother with seeing the good things of today instead of focusing on the past.

The details in the book are incredible. You can feel the heat, you can smell the medicines, and you can experience a world that probably few readers would ever consider visiting before reading this book. Mai’s changing moods, spoiled nature and trepidations, but also her awe of this whole new environment, are convincingly displayed.

Away from the airport, it’s green and more green rice paddies. This doesn’t seem right. The documentary showed the airport was right in the middle of the city. Ba stirs, reaches inside her bag, and [… her] other hand twists a knob in the air. Dad agrees, of course. The air conditioner, which makes her even more carsick, goes off. Windows down. Invisible flames whip into the taxi. I feel like on of those desserts Mom blows a torch on. […]
I stick my head out. No it doesn’t feel any cooler. Then I can’t believe it–right on the roadside, not behind a fence or anything, stands a real live water buffalo. Chewing on grass, mud on its back, nostrils the size of golf balls, mega croissants for horns. […]
“Stop, Dad, tell him to stop. STOP!”[…]
“This is so cool!”(15-16)

I am slightly unsure about the portrayal of some of the older Vietnamese ignorance about modern-day conveniences, but it seems like it’s plausible based on details presented in the book, such as the lack of reliable and widespread Internet. It does however show that there are some benefits behind traditional ways, which I think balances out those portrayals. I learned quite a bit about Vietnamese language and history, as Mai and her cousins exchange vocabulary lessons. I’m not attempting to duplicate those symbols and lessons here because I wouldn’t know how. Conversations in Vietnamese are designated by italics, and translated into English with more frequency as the book progresses. While the contextual clues make it clear what is being said, I do wish a glossary and/or author’s note had been included for quick reference and further information.

The final reveal of the truth of Mai’s grandfather’s whereabouts and life during the war is something that will pull at people’s heart-strings. Mai’s turn around is convenient but appropriate after spending so much time among her Vietnamese family. This is a coming of age story for sure, but also a story of coming home and coming to terms with your past. Highly recommended.


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