Sunday, March 21, 2010


Media Meltdown: A Graphic Guide Adventure

by Tim O'Donnell
ill. Mike Deas

Orca has started a new set of graphic novels that include a little teaching in an adventure format - and not just teaching on topics that we adults wish they knew more about. There is one about survival skills, and another about soccer which star the same kids, while this tale of media use and awareness is the second adventure for a group who first taught kids about skateboarding. Which I really have to get my hands on, because it sounds really cool, and I wouldn't mind learning myself!

What I'm loving, though, is even with a topic like this one, which is more fact-based and obviously less kinetic, the story has a base in action and fighting bad guys that would help it appeal to even the most learning-averse. The graphic format helps keep it light and lets labels with tiny blurbs do some of the talking where a traditional text would have to do more describing. It really works.

I think media literacy is more important for kids every day - it's something we really need to be teaching them so that they can start to navigate the millions of messages bombarding them every day, not to mention do their school work and research with a critical eye.

To be able to give them a good start on understanding, a place from which to start getting curious and asking questions, without boring them into avoidance is fantastic. I think every kid should read this or something like it, and explore the accompanying website for more information, and some fun games and free stuff.

If you know a kid in grades 3-6, make sure they get this, whether as a gift or a library pick.

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Saturday, March 20, 2010


American-Born Chinese

by Gene Luen Yang

This teen graphic novel was recommended to me by a bookstore clerk, who saw that I had picked it up and told me it was good stuff. He wasn't wrong.

The book features three stories that seem separate, yet address the same theme of fitting in and knowing who you are. The first story is from the Chinese legends of the Monkey King, the second is about a young boy who is growing up as a Chinese-American, and the third is about a white American boy whose annoying, over-the-top stereotype of a Chinese cousin is visiting and ruining his life at school.

The blend of fantasy and reality here works well, though it did have me for a while wondering why we had these three separate stories and where we were going. It resolves nicely, though, and at the end, the three stories suddenly entwine in an interesting and unforeseen way to drive the point home, without becoming all message-y.

Being a graphic, this is a quick read, and it's fun, but it's a solid book, too, with things to say about racism, accepting yourself, and growing up. While it's about a boy from Chinese heritage, it's applicable to a huge number of kids growing up in North America right now from different places, and I bet a lot of them would identify with parts of it. To me, that makes it a great thing to have on the shelf, so people get a better sense of what they or someone else might be facing.

and of course you can't talk graphic novel without talking about the drawing style. it's cartoon-y, of course, but a more conventionally western style of comics, not manga-style. it's got bold lines, yet manages a good amount of detail. To be honest, while I'm not a big graphic novel reader, I really liked the look and the way this novel worked.
-loved the style

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Clementine's Letter

by Sara Pennypacker
ill. Marla Frazee

There are a certain group of young girls who star in early chapter books. Some of them, I find overly precocious, even obnoxious. Some I find not all that well-written. But when they are hit just right - think Ramona Quimby - they are fantastic. Clementine is like that.

Clementine is not precocious or convinced of her own specialness. The world does not need to revolve around her. She does not sound bratty. Rather, she is a girl who struggles a little to contain herself. In this third book in the series, she has started to find some strategies, and find out a little more about what she needs to succeed. She and her teacher have worked out a system, and she is doing better than ever in school.

And then... her teacher gets nominated for a year abroad, and she has to contend with a supply teacher while she also deals with her feelings about her teacher's possible departure. Part of this, too, is that the children are asked to write letters about why their teacher should be selected for the trip - the trip she really doesn't want him to go on.

So with a blend of humour and heart that is characteristic of her, Clementine muddles her way through, making mistakes, getting frustrated, but coming out on top in the end. I can't help but love this kid, and while I have to laugh at her escapades, I am always cheering for her and love seeing how her good intentions pull her through after all.

If you know a young girl, I highly recommend putting these books in her hands.

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Friday, March 05, 2010


A Week of Alice: Rodney Matthews

Alice in Wonderland
by Lewis Carroll

Illustrated by Rodney Matthews

This edition is nothing short of gorgeous. It starts with a thick, sturdy, slipcover beautifully decorated with the White Rabbit framed in a stone heart, two inset gleaming blue hemispheres, gilded letters in writing that speaks of fantasy, and a front edge that cuts back to reveal a bit of the fully illustrated cover. This all adds up to a pretty strong announcement that you should expect something special inside.

The cover itself, too, opens out into a painting of part of Matthews' conception of Wonderland, replete with all the arches, towering mountains, and ringed moons you would expect from a noted painter in the field of fantasy. he adds thoughtful details, though, in card suit-shaped trees, heart motifs sprinkled everywhere, and an Alice standing, looking at the terrain she is about to enter. Gorgeous.

A foreword by the illustrator explains his fascination with Alice and his history of painting scenes from her for calendars and prints, making this book released in 2008 by Macmillan and in 2009 by Templar Press in the US a culmination of sorts. It is clear, too, that Wonderland is somewhere he has spent some time in his imagination, and he fills it with loving touches, such as small insects playing music among the foliage and about a million tiny instances of hearts, diamonds, spades, and clubs hidden among the images.

He is one of the few illustrators who has really managed to pick some different scenes and moments, as well as the classics we are used to seeing, making this a great treat because it pulls you back to the text a little more. In the Pool of Tears, for example, we see not only the small mouse swimming, but also a wonderful crocodile grinning wide underwater as he beckons the wee fishies closer and breather out heart-shaped bubbles.

The feeling of the whole certainly shows Matthews own usual style in the forms of landscapes and buildings alike, as well as putting on display a strong sense of humour. The tea party, for example, features a strikingly rabbity-looking house, while in the same picture, a tree bears a kindly smile, and a stag beetle holds a skein of yarn for a spider as she spins. On the whole, the illustrations are fun, wonderfully imagined and planned out, and rendered in either a softish black/white for the smaller decorations or the most stunning colour for the full-page or double-page spreads. The ivory pages and large format only serve to further the feeling that what you have in your hands is something well more than your ordinary edition.

I must admit that of the many new versions of Alice out this past year, this is definitely my favourite. Now to see whether Tim Burton's Wonderland can compete with this visual treat, as he's known for a few gorgeous details, himself. I'll report back!

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Thursday, March 04, 2010


A Week of Alice: Oleg Lipchenko

Alice's Adventures in Wonderland
by Lewis Carroll

Illustrated by Oleg Lipchenko

I have to admit, I didn't find this edition appealing at first glance. it's illustrated all in sepias and black/white drawings and sketches, and I wasn't drawn (heh) to the Alice in it right away. But this is a classic case of not judging on first impressions.

Once I started looking at the drawings more closely, I found them fascinating, in fact, filled with details and references to both the story and the back-story of Carroll and the "real" Alice. It's clear that Lipchenko has done some reading and put some serious thought and inspiration into what seem initially like so many doodles.

This is definitely not bright enough for a child or someone looking for some bright "wow" pictures, nor for someone who is intrigued by the darker aspects of Alice's adventures, but for someone who is interested in Carroll or is likely to spend time perusing the illustrations the way children do with I Spy books, it's full of hidden treats. It would amuse someone who knows a lot about Carroll, or perhaps inspire someone to read a bit more to find out, for the little things he has dropped in are truly clever.

In the end, I like this a lot for being not only thorough, but interesting in a quiet, unflashy way.

I liked it enough to include it among six editions I spotlighted over at this week, in fact. Go check out that and a few others that I won't be reviewing in greater depth here. There are some really nice things in the bunch!

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Wednesday, March 03, 2010


A Week of Alice: Camille Rose Garcia

Alie's Adventures in Wonderland
by Lewis Carroll

Illustrated by Camille Rose Garcia

This purpleish edition illustrated by Camille Rose Garcia is full of little details like decorated endpapers, small illustrations tucked in margins, and fanciful initial letters in each chapter. The illustrations are printed in colour so bold as to at times flirt with the garish, while the pages are an offwhite, with small, neat type. On the whole, the design is very nicely done, though my own preference is for matte pages over glossy (it's a personal thing, really). I especially like the 1920s-style font on the title page, which lends it the suggestion of an absinthe-fueled fantasia. Clever touch!

As to the illustrations? Garcia's style is interesting, and different than a typical portrayal of Alice, for certain. She is older, and sports a look featuring thin eyebrows and long, spidery lashes reminiscent of Theda Bara at her vampiest. Indeed, the overall of the illustrations is like that - a sort of older, gothic, yet playful mood that even seems to feel the influence of the surrealists, which fully works for Wonderland, where it makes the creepy creepier, the sad sadder, and the mean meaner with their black-rimmed eyes, downturned mouths, and much purple dripping going on throughout.

Between the feel of the illustrations and the tiny type, I would venture that this is not a book for a child, but would be fun for an adult with a taste for the offbeat and absolutely perfect for a teen, especially one who is inclined to the gothic anyhow. I mean, even Alice's hair-bow is oddly bat-like. How could you not give that to your dearest black-wearing darling?

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A Week of Alice: Sweetmama Edition

You may (or may not) know that I write the Shelf Candy blog at - a weekly review of children's books, mostly aimed at the 0-6 set.

This week, though, I'm doing a little special on Alice there, too, featuring editions that suit different styles of readers. If you want to see more of what else is out there in the wide world of Alice, it's a nice little capsule collection!

Go! See! It's pretty, too.

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Tuesday, March 02, 2010


A Week of Alice: A Compilation

Alice's Adventures in Wonderland
By Lewis Carroll
Compiled by Cooper Edens

This edition from Chronicle Books is an interesting way to go if you want to see some of the many portrayals of Alice, in that it features not one illustrator, but an extremely plentiful selection of images from of host of different artists.

From the time Alice came out of copyright in 1908, every major illustrator has had a crack at it, and many lesser-known ones, besides. It' s well-loved, a real classic, and has a massive following of collectors, so why not? This is a good sampler of some you may never have seen before, as well as old favourites like Arthur Rackham.

It's not as cohesive in look because of this, and is large and a bit floppy in format, so if you want something for just a nice straight read-through, there may be better editions, but for the curious who want to talk about illustrations and how they relate to text, to peruse lots of pictures and styles, or get a pretty solid overview of different ways Alice has been drawn, this is a really good way to get that. I even found some illustrated versions that I have never seen, and I've seen a pretty good range of them, being an Alice fan myself.

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Monday, March 01, 2010


A Week of Alice: Robert Ingpen

Alice's Adventures in Wonderland
by Lewis Carroll
Illustrated by Robert Ingpen

The first impression from this thick, large-ish hardcover is that it gives ample weight to the classic. The pages are nice, thick, matte stock, and the background is often completely tinted with the spreading of the painting's background underlaying the text. From this design standpoint, it's a lovely edition. I also like the notes at the back about the origin of the story, including a couple of reproduced pages from Carroll's original Alice's Adventures Under Ground, and about Tenniel himself and his iconic illustrations.

The choices of scenes to illustrate deviate little from Tenniel's original, as is typical, though there are extra bits here, with this being so thoroughly illustrated, some of which are quite interesting.

The overall impression from the paintings and drawings is that they are composed to tiny little strokes of pen and brush that gives them the fuzzy, hazy quality of a dream or distant memory, maybe one from a golden summer afternoon, which fits beautifully with the story's origin. The animals are all lovely, and rendered with much more loving detail than the humans, adn even the Cheshire Cat is adorably creepy, while the White Rabbit seems more worried here than scatterbrained.

And the people? The people tend to be running to fat and look rather sad, even when they also look pompous, as the Queen does, or somewhat jolly, like the Mad Hatter, who could be modeled on Gene Wilder, or perhaps bears a touch of Dudley Moore about him, too.

Alice, even, if a more sombre little girl than usual, and more little than she often is, too, more childlike. She is darker-haired, sleeveless, thin and a little scraggly-looking in many pictures. Indeed, she is something of a little ragamuffin, more than a well-scrubbed little Victorian miss. By the time the cards have turned to golden leaves in the air (a nice new touch, I thought) and she is returned to the riverbank with her sister, she looks almost as though she has been, perhaps, chasing rabbits through the fields and down their holes...

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A Week of Alice

2009 and 2010 have been especially busy years for new editions of Alice, with the Tim Burton movie coming out to great anticipation this Friday.

In celebration, as my own sort of countdown here, I will look at a few of these here, and a few over at Sweetmama on Friday, and if my best-laid plans don't go awry, I'll be going to see the movie Friday and tell you what I though of that, too.

I have been for a long time now, I should tell you, a big fan of Carroll's, and I am always on the lookout for new editions of Alice. Which means that this week also inaugurates a new tag for Alice material, so I can add it as it appears.

And now, to the reviews...

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