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1. Stuck Rubber Baby at 20


Before 1995, Howard Cruse was best known as an underground comix artist, first coming to prominence with Barefootz in the 1970s, with his editorship of Gay Comix in the early 1980s, and then hitting a real stride with the Wendel comics in The Advocate throughout the '80s. Wendel ended in 1989, though, and Cruse began a major new project, his first graphic novel, Stuck Rubber Baby, released by the DC Comics imprint Paradox Press. It gained notice and won awards, but never had the breakout success of something like Maus, Persepolis, or Fun Home, though I would argue that it is at least close to equal in merit.

Stuck Rubber Baby is a true graphic novel — unlike many other books that get that label, it was not conceived in pieces or published serially; it was always intended to be a long, unified narrative. It tells the story of a man named Toland Polk, mostly through his memories of growing up in Alabama during the early 1960s as a white guy who doesn't really know what he wants from the world or his life, coming to grips both with the civil rights movement and his own homosexuality. Partly in an attempt to try to cure his gay desires, he ends up in a relationship with a fiery college student, activist, and singer named Ginger, and she becomes pregnant. Meanwhile, protests against segregation and racism are growing more and more ferocious, and the white establishment fights back, with tragic, horrifying results. Throughout it all, Toland meets queer characters of various races and ages, and finally decides both that political action is necessary and that he can't pretend to be heterosexual any longer. This primary story is framed as the memories of Toland thirty years later, apparently in a stable relationship with a man, living a solidly bourgeois urban gay life, but still haunted by the past. Other characters' stories and fates are woven through Toland's memories, creating a complex view of this past and his remembering of it.

I've had a weird relationship with Stuck Rubber Baby over the course of its lifetime: I looked through it when it was first published and decided it wasn't for me; I read the whole book sometimes in the early 2000's and liked it but didn't really engage with it; I recently read it very carefully and closely, which led to something like awe. (The last time I had as powerful a reading experience was when I read J.M. Ledgard's Submergence over a year ago.)




Many people I know — otherwise intelligent people of impeccably refined taste — don't like Stuck Rubber Baby. Some claim to appreciate it, but to be put off by its artwork, which they invariably describe as ugly or "just plain bad." The art is one thing that caused me to bounce off the book when I first tried to read it sometime in 1996 or 1997, when I saw it at the old Shakespeare & Co. bookstore on lower Broadway in Manhattan and spent some time reading through it. (I used to go there when I was bored, or wanted to get away from people, or just felt like hanging out in a bookstore. They were open till midnight and didn't seem to mind if I sat there and read without buying anything.) The images seemed to me then unappealing, cramped, dark. I was also put off by the story's historical setting — I didn't want to read about Alabama in the 1960s, I wanted to read about contemporary New York queers.

I returned to the book in the early 2000's when I found a used copy somewhere and was thinking about doing an essay on various literary representations of AIDS activism. Though not at all directly about AIDS activism, I suspected (rightly) that it was relevant to that topic. I never got far with what I was writing, though, as life and other projects intervened.

My most recent experience of reading Stuck Rubber Baby was for a course on graphic narratives that I'm taking for my Ph.D. (this is my final term of coursework). It may have been that context that helped open up the book for me, since it required me to read it carefully and deliberately, but I think the more significant factor is simply age. Much of what concerned Cruse when he wrote Stuck Rubber Baby is now of more concern to me than it was when I encountered the book earlier: questions of memory and experience, of looking back on youthful political awakening, of trying to save something of a younger self for the present age, of making sense of an upbringing in a place very different from New York City, of queer identity.

Queer, indeed. Something that struck me especially forcefully as I read the book this time is how well it captures the feeling of queerness in every sense of the word, even among friends and supportive family members, a feeling that is not only a matter of desire, but is also inflected by the pitfalls and obstacles of making sense of an individual identity within a group — knowing always that there will be something strange about you to anyone, no matter how similar they may seem in experiences or yearnings.

Perhaps that's why the art didn't bother me this time; indeed, for once the art seemed absolutely right for the material. The human figures look like mannequins or weird, plump wax sculptures. The pages are mostly cramped, the panels claustrophobic. (That effect is enhanced by the decision to print the book in a small format so that it would be displayed on bookstores' fiction shelves rather than in the humor section. I think the art suffers for this, and it would be nice to have a larger format edition, but the cramped feeling is certainly heightened.) The shading often makes it difficult to distinguish skin tones, a powerful effect in a book about the civil rights era, where race seems so obvious and incontrovertible to the characters. Cruse draws an off-kilter world, a sometimes disturbing world, a world where cartoonish figures must find some way to reconcile themselves to very uncartoonish violence and horror.

It's an extremely talky book. The few panels without text stand out, and their presence inevitably feels either like a relief or a shock. The characters are constantly trying to talk their way through things, to find the right words, and more often than not they fail. At the same time, other characters wield words as weapons, with deadly consequences. Again and again, the book returns to ideas of representation and performance, of how identity, performance, and memory can merge or split. Sometimes words help, but often they do not — they accumulate, obfuscate, crowd out action and sight. It's significant that the book becomes more quiet at the end, as Toland finds ways to reconcile himself to the past, to move forward while preserving memory, to admit his own failures and horrors and not simply reduce them to stories he tells over and over again. Music weaves through his memories, and it is music that accompanies him in the end — "There's something I wanna show ya," he says, and the panels open up, the music weaves through the images, and we are left with the silent peace of a city snow storm.

I was struck during this reading at how easily Stuck Rubber Baby moves through its characters' timelines, how well, for the most part, it prevents us from getting confused as stories are told within stories, memories within memories. The structure overall is basically linear for the major events, but within sequences (and sometimes even individual pages) the movement is more fluid and associational. We're set up for this structure right from the first page, which introduces many of the visual motifs that will reappear throughout the book: the Kennedys, protests, dead bodies... In the first three pages, we move from Toland as an adult in the mid-1990s to Toland as a child and young teenager to Toland and his sister shortly after their parents died in a car accident. The fourth and fifth pages then circle back to develop some of what was glimpsed earlier, then use this new information to bring in Ginger standing with Toland at the March on Washington, where she asks him, "Who're you lookin' at?" to which Toland replies, "Just someone I used to know." (Despite all their talking, what matters most often is what and how these characters look at the world. Also, what is shown and not shown: Cruse is very careful to depict some events and not depict others.) It's an exquisite moment, encapsulating so much of what the book wrestles with, giving poignance to a scene early in the story, and also beginning to develop the characters who will be central to the primary story.

One of the things that makes the Wendel comics so delightful is Cruse's almost infallible sense of short story form. He produced those comics very quickly, often right up against deadline, and yet more often than not they have a balance of elements that produces far more resonance than many longer works. Reading Stuck Rubber Baby, you would hardly know that Cruse had never before written any comic much longer than 10 pages, and he melds his short story skills to the longer form by allowing the flow of memory to guide the overall narrative, and so the various short sequences can all work separately on their own toward the larger goal, allowing the book as a whole to leave and return to sequences much as the Wendel comic did, though now when he wrote it, Cruse could edit both backwards and forwards in a way he could not do when publishing a new installment every couple weeks. Thus, Stuck Rubber Baby has a far more intentional, unified form than the Wendel collections. (That said, the Wendel collections are more fun — their improvisatory energy is, for me at least, pure delight.)

Cruse began the Wendel comics just as people began to recognize the full horror of the AIDS crisis, and reading Wendel in chronological order is a particularly powerful experience because what begins as a light, slice-of-life comedy can't help but reckon with life in an ever more terrifying world, a world of yuppies and Reagan and plague. There's a remarkable Wendel comic from the fall of 1987 in which Wendel and friends go to a big AIDS demonstration in Washington. The majority of the story is given over to a song by a character named Glenn, who has taken on the responsibility of entertaining everybody on the bus from NYC to DC, and who is, he says, wearing the same gown he wore during the night of the Stonewall riots. The comic ends thus:


Cruse doesn't typically use photographic images in his comics, but here reality invades in the form of the Reagan administration and its cronies. The place and date are specific, and the sense of historical continuity is strong — by having Glenn wear the clothes he wore during the Stonewall riots, Cruse insists on the importance of the current moment for gay history and gay liberation.

AIDS is not explicitly mentioned in Stuck Rubber Baby, but it's an integral context for the story. The book was published before the advent of the drug "cocktail" that helped make HIV, for some people, a chronic, manageable disease rather than a death sentence. Gay people of all backgrounds and beliefs had to come together for political action because their lives were on the line. Silence equals death. Cynicism equals death. Complaisance equals death. In Stuck Rubber Baby, Toland learns a similar lesson. The connection between Toland's world in the 1960s and his world 30 years later did not need to be spelled out to readers in 1995, and the only reference making the connection is a single, tiny, unobtrusive image in a small panel on page 207:


Behind the picture of Ginger holding the baby before it is given up for adoption hangs the iconic "Silence = Death" ACT UP poster.

Stuck Rubber Baby is, then, a story of political awakening, but it was written as a call to consciousness, not a comforting nostalgia trip. In the mid-'90s, it was hard to maintain hope. Bill Clinton did not seem to be a significant improvement over George Bush on AIDS policy or gay rights, the Catholic Church was still vehemently anti-gay and anti-safe-sex (I participated with ACT UP in a small protest against the Pope's visit to New York in, I think, 1996), and progress still seemed far off.

Coming of age queer for my generation meant assuming that you had a high risk of dying young. I think one of the reasons I found Stuck Rubber Baby so powerful when I read it this time was that Toland's struggle against his homosexual desires, his fear that they were not just aberrant but deadly, and his experience of people being killed because of those desires, connected with my own memories of coming to awareness of desires that in all likelihood would lead to a terminal disease. Because of the AIDS crisis and because of how that crisis was represented in the news media and spoken of by the people I knew, queer identity felt to me like a doomed fate. Though I still carry traces of that feeling, and will probably never shed it, given that that was how I first learned to see myself, it doesn't stand in the foreground the way it used to, it doesn't create as much of a sense of being inevitably besieged, of needing to live fatalistically, of forgetting about any future. There is a chasm between that mid-'90s world and now, even though so much of the mid-'90s feels to me like it was just a couple years ago. Toland seems to feel that way about the '60s: he carries its traces and hauntings inside himself, and it isn't until the end that he learns what to do with it all. I'm still learning, myself, what to do with a sense of lived history, when what feels like yesterday also feels like multiple lifetimes ago, and when the terrors of youth still sometimes scream out in the quiet night of adulthood.

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2. WonderCon ’15: Exhibition Hall Highlights

By Nick Eskey

The guys of CME in front of "Deadeye

The guys of CME in front of “Deadeye”

Known for being the fan favorite of major conventions, with its relaxed nature and lines, WonderCon has been gaining in popularity over the last few years.

For this last WonderCon, I was a little underwhelmed with the pick of panel selections, so I decided to spend more time on the sales floor than I usually do. The diversity of vendors, artists, and publishers gathered here are always wonderful to see and explore. During my long exploration, I came across a few booths that I felt deserved a shout out.

C.M.E. (Creative Mind Energy LLC): I’ve seen these guys for a few years now, at both WonderCon and Comic-Con. Every time I do, it’s a great pleasure. CME is a

Design Studio Press

Design Studio Press

family business that come up with original creative content for various avenues, such as print, television, movies, and video games. The artwork of their comic books are so unique, featuring beautifully, hand drawn scenes. The work stands out and makes a name for itself. One of their latest works, Deadeye, will be coming out this June. Find a copy for yourself. [http://creativemindenergy.com/]

Design Studio Press: This publisher has been around for 15 years. The level of workmanship in each book shows why they’ve been around this long. Design
Studio Press’s content is mostly beautiful reference materials for making art and designing. A couple books of theirs that really impressed me were “How to draw” and “How to render.” Each one’s a thick piece of work; highly detailed, lots of pictures, and very simple to follow. But what really was impressive is that if you download the company’s app on your phone, and train the camera on certain pages, an AR tutorial will appear on the paper, including more than what is there. This is truly the next step in books and technology. [http://designstudiopress.com/]

Abraham Lopez himself

Abraham Lopez himself

Abraham Lopez: A picture is worth a thousand words, so goes the saying. This artist’s work is indeed worth that many words, creating a hilarious work of fiction. Using a combination of comic and Disney characters, his drawings place them in farfetched, but yes very amusing scenes and situations. During the entire convention, his booth was consistently surrounded. I myself had to buy a few of his prints. They are just that good. But beyond their subject matter, his art is well done and polished. [http://artistabe.deviantart.com/]

Even though WonderCon is over, still check these guys out. They all deserve some patronage in my book. I’d love to see them again at this year’s SDCC.

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3. Can’t We Talk About Something More Pleasant?

After several months of waiting, my turn for Roz Chast’s graphic memoir Can’t We Talk About Something More Pleasant? finally came round. It was worth the wait.

You may already know what it is about. Chast’s parents were aging and she tried several times to talk to them about what they would want to do if something happened. Of course no one likes to think or talk about these sorts of things and trying to talk to your parents about it, especially when they don’t want to talk about it, is no easy thing. So Chast’s attempts went nowhere. And her parents continued to age and everything was fine until it wasn’t.

In their early 90s and becoming more frail, unable to keep the apartment clean and relying on a friendly neighbor to pick up things from the grocery store for them, it was only a matter of time before something happened. The call came at midnight. Chast’s mom had fallen while trying to stand on a ladder to change a light bulb. The fall had actually happened a few days before and she refused to go to the doctor. Nothing a little bed rest couldn’t fix. Until she couldn’t get out of bed. While Chast’s mom spent a few days at the hospital she had her father stay with her and her family. It was then she noticed her dad’s mental acuity was nowhere near what she thought it was. Her mom had been taking care of him and covering up just how bad he had gotten.

Thankfully, her mom was not seriously injured. But it was the beginning of the long decline. After more incidents Chast managed to convince her parents that they needed to move into assisted living. It was a nice facility where they had their own apartment and Chast, her husband and kids were nearby and could visit them frequently. Still, the parents did not go willingly.

The memoir is well told with humor and compassion. The art is cartoon-y but expressive. Chast’s story is the story of so many others that it is no surprise really why the book is so popular. I have family members who have had to take care of their aging parents. I have friends who are in the midst of taking care of theirs. It is not easy and our society doesn’t help make it any easier. Care facilities cost astronomical sums of money. Chast’s parents had scrimped and saved their entire lives and it only took a couple of years before they had nearly run through all their savings. Is that what we work all our lives to save for? Not retirement, but to pay for decent end-of-life care? And what happens when the money runs out? What happens if you have no one like Chast to look out for your best interests when you are not able to? It’s a scary prospect.

Growing old sucks. But the thing is, I don’t believe it has to. I don’t know how to change society and culture so that the golden years truly are golden right up to the last breath. But it is definitely something that needs to change.


Filed under: Books, Graphic Novels, Memoir/Biography, Reviews Tagged: Roz Chast

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4. Fantagraphics teases a new Danel Clowes graphic novel

It’s been way too long since we’ve heard from Dan Clowes, Shia LaBeouf aside, but the pile of what appears to be artwork in the above tweet suggests he hasn’t been idle.

Clowes’ last work was Wilson, which came out in 2010. (collected versions of Mr. Wonderful, his NY Times comic, and The Death-Ray came out in 2011. In the intervening years he’s been busy with some Hollywood stuff, a major art retrospective and, of course, the Complete Eightball, which is finally coming out in June, squeeee. In 2011, he alluded to a new longer book:

I’m kind of working on a bigger, longer book that I don’t want to talk about or it’ll jinx me. The minute I say, “Oh, I’m doing this,” then the next day I’ll realize I don’t want to do it and I’ll look like an idiot. I’ve done that so many times where somebody will call me up and I’ll mention it one time because I’m excited about it and of course it falls apart and I’m stuck explaining myself for the rest of my life.


In other interviews, Clowes alludes to beginning and abandoning a graphic novel about Hollywood, so this maybe isn’t that but…hey whatever it is, it’s exciting! And only a year to go!

On another note, this marks Clowes’ return to Fantagraphics after some adventures afield with D&Q and Random House. There’s probably a lot more analysis to be made about all that, but we’ll save it for when more than a teaser image is revealed.

clowes-patience.jpeg

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5. Let’s talk about Caldecott: This One Summer

TOSLet’s talk about This One Summer. I know many of you have already talked about it, and I’m sure some of those conversations have been very interesting. As a member of the 2015 Caldecott Committee that chose This One Summer by Mariko & Jillian Tamaki as an honor book, I’ll try to clear up some points that have lead to questions.  According to the Caldecott definitions, “’A picture book for children’ is one for which children are the intended potential audience. “Children are defined as persons of ages up to and including fourteen and picture books for this entire age range are considered.” (Caldecott Manual, page 10) The Expanded Definitions also says, on page 69, “In some instances, award-winning books have been criticized for exceeding the upper age limit of fourteen. If a book is challenging, and suitable for 13-14 year-olds, but not for younger readers, is it eligible? Yes…” Yes, this book is for older readers. Here’s an interesting look at that question in Travis Jonker’s interview with the Tamakis.

This One Summer is a coming-of-age story about a girl entering adolescence and both appeals to and is appropriate for young readers age 12-14. Twelve, thirteen and fourteen year-olds fall well within the scope of audience for the Caldecott Medal and Honor books. Although this book is challenging in many ways, the committee found it to be “so distinguished, in so many ways, that it deserves recognition” as well as “exceptionally fine, for the narrow part of the range to which it appeals, even though it may be eligible for other awards outside this range.” (page 69 – Caldecott Manual). There are many people who do not realize that the Caldecott terms include books for older readers. I see this as an opportunity for us, as ALSC members and librarians, to deepen understanding of the award.

Committee member Tali Balas add sticker to the book. Photo by Angela Reynolds

Committee member Tali Balas add sticker to the book. Photo by Angela Reynolds

According to The Caldecott Manual, a “picture book for children” as distinguished from other books with illustrations, is one that essentially provides the child with a visual experience. A picture book has a “collective unity of storyline, theme, or concept, developed through the series of pictures of which this book is comprised.” (page 10) The committee followed this definition closely, and This One Summer shows, through pictures, a collective unity of all three, with particular strength in storyline and theme. Graphic novels certainly provide us with a visual experience. The Comic Book Legal Defense Fund has a great article on using This One Summer in a classroom, which you can read here, and a “make your case” article for adding it to your collection here. And for those of you who are graphic novel fans, don’t miss this podcast with Mariko Tamaki. I love how she talks about the images being like paragraphs.

The Caldecott Committee, as directed by the manual, considered each eligible book as a picture book and made our decisions based primarily on illustration. The committee gave This One Summer an honor because of its excellence of pictorial presentation for children, as defined in the manual. If you haven’t seen it, take a look at the amazing use of just one color. Jillian Tamaki creates mood so vividly with her washes of indigo, deepening the shade when the plot gets darker. The story has much to do with water; the monochromatic blues remind us just how changeable a lake (and an adolescent girl) can be. The images in the book intertwine and play with the words, creating an authentic summer experience. I just love the image on pages 70-71 where Windy is dancing around the kitchen. It shows her personality, and Rose’s, perfectly:  setting up the tension of youthful energy and quiet contemplation. There are many images throughout the book that give us this deeper insight. Go looking for them. They will astound you.
*Special thanks to fellow committee member Sharon McKeller for help with this article.

The post Let’s talk about Caldecott: This One Summer appeared first on ALSC Blog.

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6. Last of the Sandwalkers blog tour with special appearance from Professor Bombardier & author/artist/scientist Jay Hosler (ages 10-14)

Jay Hosler's new graphic novel The Last of the Sandwalkers is not going to grab everyone, but for the right audience it is absolutely terrific. You're going to love it if you like comics, science, adventure and humor.
The Last of the Sandwalkers
by Jay Hosler
First Second Books, 2015
Your local library
Amazon
ages 10-14
*best new book*
Hosler drops readers into the middle of the age of New Coleopolis, the world of beetles where nothing exists beyond their protected oasis. You see, Old Coleopolis was destroyed over 1,000 years ago when the god Scarabus obliterated it with a barrage of coconuts. And yet Lucy, an intrepid young researcher (the sandwalker beetle from the title), is sure that life exists beyond the oasis.

Lucy sets out on an epic quest to prove that life exists in the great world beyond. She is accompanied by Raef, a pun-loving firefly, Professor Bombardier, the wise level-headed elder of the group, and Mossy, a giant Hercules beetle. One disaster strikes after another, as Lucy and her friends confirm their hypothesis and then try to make their way home.
Ajani, an Emerson 5th grader who's avidly read science nonfiction as well as all types of comic books for years, started off our conversation about this saying, "I wish they'd make another one." Ajani's favorite character is the firefly Raef. 
"Half the reason is he's a frickin' robot, shooting laser beams at 'Dyna-soars.'" -- 5th grader Ajani describing why he loves Raef
Hosler's humor is sophisticated, layered and yet totally accessible. Ajani loved that the Dyna-soars were birds (they'd look like giants if you were a beetle!), and he definitely got the reference to birds being descendants of dinosaurs. But he also picked up on Raef's character traits, protecting himself and his friends out of steadfast loyalty.
Lucy & friends try to escape from the "Dyna-soars"
Hosler, a biology professor at Juniata College, weaves scientific information throughout the story, but this just adds to the wonder and fun of the adventure. As he states on his website, his goal "is to use the compelling visual power of comics to illustrate the alien worlds that often go unnoticed and unappreciated."  My favorite character is Professor Bombardier, so I was thrilled to have Hosler visit for this blog tour and tell us a little more about the Bombardier beetle.
Character Name: Professor Bombardier
Species: Pheropsophus verticalis
Length: 10-13 mm
Color: Mostly dark brown elytra with orange/broan markings.
Habitat: woodlands or grasslands
Superpower: Flaming-hot chemical spray
Professor Bombardier
Many beetles are capable of storing nasty chemicals in their body and secreting them as a means of deterring the unwelcome attention of predators. The pioneering chemical ecologist Thomas Eisner talks about many of them in his book Secret Weapons. The bombardier beetle, however, is probably the most impressive. It has two reservoirs in its abdomen that contain reactive chemicals. When it is disturbed, it releases the chemicals into another chamber that is lined with enzymes. These enzymes initiate a series of chemical reactions. The result is the build up of a blazing hot, extremely irritating concoction that the bombardier beetle can spray at any nuisance that gets on its nerves.
Bombardier beetle (courtesy of ABC News)
Whipping up such a nasty elixir qualifies the bombardier beetle as a world-class beetle chemist, but it’s also quite a marksman. There is a tiny turret at the tip of a bombardier beetle’s abdomen that it can aim in 360 degrees. When sufficiently annoyed, these beetles will spray their calamitous cocktail in a series of short pulses. A steady stream of chemicals could be hazardous to the beetle’s health. The turret actually cools slightly between pulses and this prevents the beetles from cooking their own abdomen. Sounds far-fetched, I know, but don’t take my word for it. Sir David Attenborough will show you the whole amazing display in this video.

The bombardier beetle has also rubbed elbows with some of the great scientists of our time. Charles Darwin even mentions one in his autobiography. Apparently, he was out collecting beetles when he came across a particularly fascinating specimen. Unfortunately, he already had a beetle in each hand. Undaunted, he popped one of those beetles in his mouth for safe keeping so that he could pick up this third specimen. Much to his dismay, he quickly learned that the beetle in his mouth was a bombardier and the repellent experience distracted him so much that he lost all three beetles.

Professor Bombardier
In Last of the Sandwalkers, Professor Bombardier plays an important role as the guiding hand of our team of intrepid explorers. But don’t be fooled by her patient, genteel demeanor. Threaten her friends and you just might be on the receiving end of a scalding chemical scolding.

Find out more information about the Bombardier beetle here:
Many thanks to Jay Hosler for sharing such a terrific story and great background information. I know this is a graphic novel that my science-loving, comics-fans will read again and again and again.

Make sure to stop by each of the post for The Last of the Sandwalkers blog tour. Hosler will share information about different characters at each. The review copy was kindly sent by the publisher, First Second. If you make a purchase using the Amazon links on this site, a small portion goes to Great Kid Books. Thank you for your support.

©2015 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books

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7. Cybils Finalist Review: THROUGH THE WOODS by Emily Carroll

Summary: Horror fans take note: if you're a fan of, say, Holly Black, Neil Gaiman, Edgar Allan Poe--you will not want to miss this graphic novel compilation of spooky tales by webcomic artist Emily Carroll. It's beautiful, and frightening, and... Read the rest of this post

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8. Cybils Finalist Review: HIDDEN: A CHILD'S STORY OF THE HOLOCAUST

Summary: Told through the eyes of a grandmother recalling her childhood during the Nazi occupation of Paris, this story takes the wrenching events of the Holocaust and shows how important it is to remember our history and set it free so that the... Read the rest of this post

0 Comments on Cybils Finalist Review: HIDDEN: A CHILD'S STORY OF THE HOLOCAUST as of 3/9/2015 1:02:00 PM
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9. Les Miserables (2015)

Les Miserables The Epic Masterpiece by Victor Hugo, Retold and Illustrated by Marcia Williams. 2015. Candlewick. 64 pages. [Source: Review copy]
POLICE NOTICE
It has come to my attention that you citizens known as "Les Miserables" believe that your wretched state of poverty and hunger is an excuse to flout the laws of France. You are mistaken. Every citizen must obey the law, and those who fail to do so will be punished.
Not a loaf of bread nor an apple from a tree will go missing without my learning of it. I will hunt down every criminal--rich or poor. The law shows no discrimination and no compassion.
I also warn all members of the revolutionary republican group "Les Amis de l'ABC" that your days are numbered. Should you seek to lead the miserable underdogs of our society to repeat the Revolution of 1789, you will fail!
The true citizens of France will not support you, and France will never again be a republic. King Louis XVIII is our monarch. He and the laws of France must be obeyed.
Inspector Javert
Les Miserables is one of my favorite classics. I love, love, love it. So I was quite excited to receive a review copy of this adaptation of Victor Hugo's classic. What did I think of it? Well, I liked it very much. At the very least, it does as good a job as any movie adaptation I've seen in capturing the story and the characters. So if you're looking to enjoy the story in its most basic form, this picture book adaptation wouldn't be a bad choice. Or, if you're looking to share this one with young readers, perhaps before seeing one of the movies, this one would be a fine choice.

I love the story. I love the characters. And Marcia Williams does a good job at remaining faithful to the story and the characters, of capturing why the story matters. The story is told through narration and dialogue (speech bubbles).

That being said, while it is a much shorter read--I read it in one sitting--it is not as wonderful as the original. One could argue it is more straightforward and focused and that it doesn't ramble. It doesn't have thousands of asides that take readers away from "main" story. But there is something beautiful in the original, even in the rambling. One of the things that I love most about original novel is the richness of it--the beauty of the language, the richness of the writing, the great attention to humanity. That is lost in this adaptation for the most part.

© 2015 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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10. Review of the Day: Lost in NYC by Nadja Spiegelman

Lost in NYC: A Subway Adventure
By Nadja Spiegelman
Illustrated by Sergio García Sánchez
TOON Graphics (and imprint of RAW, Jr.)
$16.95
ISBN: 978-1935179818
Ages 8-12
On shelves April 14, 2015

While I’m aware that public transport was invented to meet the very real needs of urban commuters, when you’re the parent of a city child you can be forgiven for taking an entirely different view of things. Simply put: subways were created for the sole purpose of amusing children. How else to explain the fun maps, bright colors, and awe-inspiring bits of machinery? We already knew that kids loved trains. Now put those trains underground. That’s just awesomeness redoubled. Here in New York City a certain level of excitement about subway trains is almost required of our kids. Yet when it comes to books about the subway system, it’s often disappointing. Either it’s too young, too old, or like Count on the Subway by Paul DuBois Jacobs it gives the subway lines the wrong colors. Sure Subway by Christoph Niemann is the gold standard, but what can you offer older metro fans? Lost in NYC by Nadja Spiegelman hits that sweet spot for the 6-10 year old crowd. Visually stunning (to say nothing of its accuracy) with abundant factual information wriggled into every available crevice, you don’t have to be a New Yorker to enjoy this book (though, boy, does it sure help).

When you have a father that moves your family all over the country, it can be easy to disconnect from the places you briefly live. So when Pablo enters Mr. Bartle’s class on the first day of his new school, he rebuffs cheery Alicia’s attempts at friendship. On this particular day the class is taking a field trip to the Empire State Building. Pablo learns about the subway system that will take the class there alongside everyone else, but when he and Alicia are inspecting a map on the subway he’s briefly confused and takes her with him onto the express 2 train and not the local 1. Now separated from their class, the two kids start to fight and next thing you know they have to find their way back to their classmates entirely on their own. Backmatter and a Bibliography of other subway resources appear at the end.

I’m an adult so after reading this story several times you know whom I feel most sorry for? The teacher, Mr. Bartle. Here the man is, taking his class on a routine subway trip, and along the way he loses two of them at the very first stop. A common New Yorker nightmare is the idea that you might lose your child on the subway. Yet in Spiegelman and Sánchez’s hands it’s a nightmare turned into an adventure. It’s the same reason From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler continues to be read. For children, the thought of being independent in a city as vast as NYC is as enticing as it is horrific. Spiegelman does give Pablo a native guide for the first part of his journey, but pretty soon they two are separated and he has to make his way on his own to his group. This is by no means an interactive book, but I had to withhold a scream when Pablo jumped the 7 train at 42nd Street. He’s lucky he asked for traveling advice as early as he did, else he would have ended up in far distant Queens relatively quickly.

Spiegelman’s writing holds up for the most part. It’s a slim story, clocking in at a mere 52 pages which is only slightly more than your average picture book. Some of that is rounded out with the backmatter too. Filled with history and brimming with photographs, engravings, and other stunning images, Spiegelman outdoes herself with the information found there. For certain subway buffs, the info included (with sections like “Why Are There No H, I, K, O, P, T, U, V, W, X, or Y Trains?”) will be particularly pleasing. However, when we look at the story in this book by itself, it does come to a rather abrupt halt. Pablo spends the greater part of the story declaring that he doesn’t need friends. He parts from Alicia on angry terms, yet when the two are reunited they act like the best buddies in the world. I wasn’t quite sure where the switchover on this relationship occurred. Otherwise, everything seems pretty certain and consistent.

Not all subway books are created equal. I remember years ago encountering a NY subway picture book where a normally elevated stop was pictured in the book as underground. Certainly the cover of this book gave me hope. It seemed to be acknowledging from the get-go that the 1 and 2 trains both stop at 96th, 72nd, and 42nd Street (we will ignore the peculiar inclusion of a “33” since we can assume artist Sergio Garcia Sánchez meant 34th Street). As it happens, Mr. Sánchez is a resident not of one of the five boroughs but of Spain. You wouldn’t know it. The New York found within these pages feels so real and so contemporary that I have difficulty understanding that I’m not going to run into the man on the street when I leave for work tomorrow morning. Artists could learn a thing or two from his attention to detail. From the color of the painted columns to the diversity of the city streets, this is indeed the New York I know and love.

The design of Lost in NYC is also a delight to the eyes. Good graphic novels for children are rare beasties. Half the time you’re left wondering if the editors or artists ever took the time to look outside the standard panel format. If Mr. Sánchez feels inclined to use panels in this book, you can bet it’s a strategic decision. The very first page is almost entirely open, only settling into panels when the kids are approaching the rigid format of a school setting. As the teacher, Mr. Bartle, begins to introduce subway history, we see the characters on a massive topographic map. It’s a visual approximation of the cut-and-cover technique used to create subways in a city chock full of hardened bedrock. Once the kids go underground the panels shift to full two-page spreads, and lots of individual vertical panels like the cars on a subway train. When called upon to render the city blocks in such a way where you can see the characters all converge on the Empire State Building from different directions, the artist either shrinks the buildings and blows up the characters, or he overlaps a subway map onto a street map and you can see the kids meet up that way. Then there are the perspective shifts. The view up into the Empire State Building, a wall or two cut away so that you can get a visual sense of some of the seventy-three elevators in the building, is dizzying. I can say with certainty that even if a child were incapable of reading English (or Spanish, since this book is being simultaneously translated) they would still be able to be moved and stirred by this story.

He’s also filled the book with inside jokes. I was so pleased that I took time to read the “Behind the Scenes: Sergio and the Cop” section at the back of the book. In it, Sergio describes a time he visited NYC and was photographing all the details at the 96th Street subway stop when a cop started paying a little too much attention to him. As a result, if you look in the book you can find Sergio and the cop on “virtually every spread.” Once you see it, it cannot be unseen. It also creates a kind of touching secondary story as the two go from antagonists to, finally, taking a selfie together.

Accuracy in illustration, even (or should I say especially?) in fictional stories, is imperative. You have to make the reader inhabit the setting presented, and the best way to accomplish this is through rigorous research and skill. Mr. Sánchez has both and by pairing with Nadja Spiegelman he may well earn himself an Honorary New Yorker decree. Though filled to its gills with accurate Manhattan details, you don’t have to live anywhere in the five boroughs to recognize the fear that comes with having to navigate an unfamiliar public transit system. Particularly if you’re just a kid. An adventure tale wrapped around a nonfiction core of subways subways subways. What’s not to love?

On shelves April 14th.

Source: Final copy sent from publisher for review.

Like This? Then Try:

Professional Reviews: Kirkus

Interview: Comic Book Resources spoke with Nadja Spiegelman and she reveals a lot of behind-the-scenes information about the book.

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11. Los Angeles Times Book Prize graphic novel nominees announced

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Awards season is barreling along now. And here are the nominees for the LA Times Book Prizes, which added a graphic novel category several years back. It’s a prestigious literary prize, and the winners over the years—Duncan the Wonder Dog, Finder, Today is the Last Day of the Rest of Your Life among them—have definitely lived up to the billing. This year’s five books chosen include what I would almost call the usual suspects for 2014:

 

The Chast and Tamaki books were THE graphic novels of 2014, and The Love Bunglers is a masterpiece. Arsene Schrauwen was much admired and deserves all the attention it gets. The Neyestani book doesn’t quite have the same profile, but it’s gotten a lot of recent ink and it’s also a pretty damn fine book.

In other words, good picks.

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12. Review of BirdCatDog

BirdCatDogBirdCatDog [Three-Story Books]
by Lee Nordling; illus. by Meritxell Bosch
Primary    Graphic Universe/Lerner    32 pp.
11/14    Library ed.  978-1-4677-4522-2    $25.26
Paper ed.  978-1-4677-4523-9    $6.95
e-book ed.  978-1-4677-4524-6    $25.32

In this innovative wordless picture book told entirely through cartoon panels, three pets escape the ennui of domestication for brief, interconnected adventures in the wild. An introduction explains that readers may read across the six-by-three distribution of rectangular panels for the protagonists’ parallel plot lines — the Tweety-like yellow bird in the blue-saturated top row of panels; the orange tabby in the green-toned middle row; and the bluish-gray guard dog in the yellow-hued bottom row—or read from top to bottom to “get the whole story.” Expressive, accessible art wordlessly follows the pets’ adventures, during which each animal not only interacts (badly) with the other two pets but also comes snout-to-snout (or beak-to-beak) with a wild version of itself: a hawk, a lynx, a wolf. While the consistent panel grid sacrifices the more dynamic layout and pacing afforded by a variety of panel sizes and shapes, this structure (with its protagonist-color-complementing rows) unobtrusively guides readers along. And it’s that much more effective when that structure breaks into a dizzying and hilarious double-page spread of all six creatures in a high-speed chase through the pets’ backyard, a bemused squirrel looking on. Once they have chased off the interlopers, the triumphant pets settle down for well-deserved naps on their well-defended home turf.

From the January/February 2015 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.

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13. Cybils Finalist Review: THE HARLEM HELLFIGHTERS by Max Brooks and Caanan White

Summary: The Tuskegee Airmen of World War II are, by now, well-known to American and African American history. But the regiment known as the Harlem Hellfighters--the Army's 369th infantry unit--were the first American unit to reach the Rhine in the... Read the rest of this post

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14. Princess Decomposia and Count Spatula: blog tour

If you’re a reader of this blog or follow me on Instagram or Twitter, you’re probably aware that I am pretty serious about my food. If I’m not chattering on about books, I’m bombarding you with cake photos, right? So I was delighted to be asked to participate in the blog tour for Princess Decomposia and Count Spatula, a new graphic novel about a princess of the underworld who gets more than she bargained for when she hires a new cook–who happens to be a vampire–for her father’s castle. I quite enjoyed the humorous tone of the story, which is aptly described as “gothy-cute sensibility” and a “very sweet and mildly spooky tale.” It’s a fun one to read with kids, who will enjoy the Princess’ dilemmas and the appealing artwork. This blog tour is especially fun because the author is sharing unique illustrations and recipes with each stop! Ours... Read more »

The post Princess Decomposia and Count Spatula: blog tour appeared first on The Midnight Garden.

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15. Preview: Russian Olive to Red King by Kathryn Immonen and Stuart Immonen is gorgeous

RORK_COVER_3C_RGB_MOCKUP1

Kathryn and Stuart Immonen are of course well known for their stellar superhero work, but in their “spare time” they turn out some more personal work which though smalelr and quiter, has an even greater scope. 2010’s Moving Pictures was a thoughtful and tense exploration of the relationship between a museum curator in Nazi occupied France, and a German officer set against the backdrop of World War II’s art pillaging.

Now they’re back with the collection of Russian Olive to Red King a very long in the making story about a woman whose lover dies. It’s described as “a tortured love story” featuring “petroglyphs and plane crashes and bad dogs and angry people.”

After being promised for several years, AdHouse is publishing the book in May. And here’s a preview. As you can see, it looks amazing.

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Ordering info:

Russian Olive to Red King
by Kathryn Immonen and Stuart Immonen.
Published by AdHouse Books

When your lover may be dead, how long can you hold on to what remains? To whatever is left of you? A plane crash, a package, her dog, her voice. A notebook, his writer’s block, and heat-distorted summer memories of a search for Jumbo the Elephant and an absent father.

details:
176 4C pages
7 ” x 10.5″HC
$24.95 US funds
ISBN 978-1-935233-34-3
Shipping May 2015
Diamond Order Code: MAR15 0857





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16. Cybils Finalist Review: THE DUMBEST IDEA EVER! by Jimmy Gownley

Summary: This book has got a great title. Rest assured the premise lives up to the promise. This was one of my personal favorite titles from this year's excellent crop of Cybils graphic novel finalists. The autobiographical story of how the author... Read the rest of this post

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17. Cybils Finalist Review: STRANGE FRUIT, VOLUME I by Joel Christian Gill

Summary: In a recent NPR interview, Joel Christian Gill said, "These stories are quintessentially American stories. I can't say that enough. It's not that I dislike Black History Month. I just don't think Black History Month is enough." I agree... Read the rest of this post

0 Comments on Cybils Finalist Review: STRANGE FRUIT, VOLUME I by Joel Christian Gill as of 2/19/2015 12:17:00 PM
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18. Cybils 2014 Review: EL DEAFO by Cece Bell

Summary: Before writing up this post, I honestly didn't realize that El Deafo by Cece Bell had won the 2015 Newbery Award. Well, now it's also won a Cybils Award for 2014, in the Elementary and Middle Grade Graphic Novels category! And I'm thrilled... Read the rest of this post

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19. Blog Tour: Ares, Bringer of War, by George O'Connor (ages 9-14)

Today I'm celebrating the release of Ares: Bringer of War, the latest graphic novel by George O'Connor in his outstanding Olympians series. This entire series is terrific and very popular with my students. They're going to be thrilled to see this newest installment.
Ares: Bringer of War
Olympians, book 7
by George O'Connor
First Second, 2014
Your local library
Amazon
ages 9-14
The mighty Ares is the Greek god of war, consumed by rage, hate and vengeance. His war is destructive, frenzied and maniacal. And as O'Connor clearly shows, you can only really understand Ares in contrast to his half-sister Athena, goddess of the strategic, logical side of war.

O'Connor brings readers right into the middle of the Trojan War, using the Iliad to frame his portrait of Ares. We enter the scene ten years into the war, as the Greeks and Trojans are mired down in the conflict. As Zeus proclaims,
"The cost has been high for both sides. But much that is fated to occur has not happened yet. We may need to take a more active hand."
But the gods incessantly argue and take sides, playing the mortals against one another like a chess game. As O'Connor shows, Ares is blood-thirsty, but he is also loyal and determined, and he truly mourns the loss of his son in the end. Readers will be amazed by the artwork, but also by the complicated interactions between all the gods.

Ares: Bringer of War feels even more complex than previous Olympians books because there is one whole story arc, involving gods and mortals. Previous books seemed more episodic to me, so easier to digest in smaller chunks.

Complicated? Yes, but I've been drawn back to this graphic novel again and again, reading it perhaps four times this week. With each reading, my understanding grows--and I've watched the same thing happen with my students. They read the same graphic novel over and over, noticing more details each time, understanding the characters more fully with repeated readings.

For other stops on the Blog Tour, check out MacTeenBooks. Definitely suggest The Olympians website as a resource for fans -- it's full of information on the gods and O'Connor's research, as well as links and activities.

The review copy was kindly sent by the publishers, First Second Books. If you make a purchase using the Amazon links on this site, a small portion goes to Great Kid Books. Thank you for your support.

©2015 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books

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20. Congrats to the winners! And a graphic novel recommendation

Congratulations to the winners of the ALA Youth Media Awards, announced this morning in Chicago! Hope your favorite book wins an award. I'm posting this ahead of time, so I don't know who the winners are yet. I'll be following the live webcast at 9:00 am EST (8:00 am Central time).  I'm expecting Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson to win the Newbery. And I really hope Glory O'Brien's History of the Future by A.S. King wins the Printz award. I can't begin to guess the Caldecott award, though.




El Deafo by Cece Bell (Abrams, Sept 2014, for ages 8 to 12)

Source:
Aaron's Books

Regardless of whether or not it wins an award today (Schneider Family Award, maybe?), I wholeheartedly recommend El Deafo by Cece Bell. My writer friend Ilene Wong (who writes as I.W. Gregorio and whose groundbreaking YA debut novel None of the Above pubs on April 7th!) suggested Cece Bell's graphic novel to me when we were browsing at Aaron's Books in Lititz, PA (such a fun bookstore). I'm so glad she did because I really loved this book.

I have to admit, at first I put off reading it because the artwork didn't really appeal to me (yes, the characters are all rabbits), but when I finally sat down and started reading, I couldn't stop. El Deafo is actually a powerful memoir in graphic novel form. Touching and warm and always very funny, the book shows us Cece's life as a kid with hearing loss who's just trying to get along in a hearing world. She learns to lip-read, aided by her Phonic Ear. It's the Phonic Ear that turns Cece into a superhero, when it proves to be so powerful she can hear what the teachers are saying in the teacher's lounge. A terrific book for any kid who ever worried about being different.

What books about disabilities have you read?



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21. Interview: Scott McCloud on expectations, the creative process, and getting kicked out of a Holiday Inn for The Sculptor

Sculptor300RGB 724x1028 Interview: Scott McCloud on expectations, the creative process, and getting kicked out of a Holiday Inn for The Sculptor

By Harper Harris and Kyle Pinion

In The Sculptor, David Smith is an out of work artist, who feels as though he never quite reached the level of fame he always thought was right within his grasp. When the physical representation of Death comes offering a deal: the power to sculpt anything he can imagine with his bare hands with the caveat that his life ends in 200 days, David cannot resist the possible benefits of such an ability. The after-effects that this bargain has on his friends, New York City, and his love-life become the center-piece of this newest graphic novel by acclaimed cartoonist Scott McCloud.

30 years in the making, McCloud’s new opus is available on February 3rd through First Second. McCloud was kind enough to sit down with us for a lengthy discussion about the new book, critical expectations, his creative process and how he balances his busy speaking schedule and the creation of a 500-plus page graphic novel.

Kyle: How is the press circuit treating you?  I know you’ve been on interviews for weeks now.  Are you exhausted? 

Scott McCloud:  No, I store energy like a cactus stores water and five years squirreled away in my hobbit hole drawing, you store up a lot of energy.  So I was definitely ready to come out into the sunlight and talk to people.  And the reception so far has been amazing.  So far it’s been really encouraging I think is what I mean to say.

Kyle: Well, that’s good to hear.  That actually pivots over to one thought that I was curious about.  Over the past 15, 20 years now, though you’ve of course published books like Zot! and you did some work with DC in the past as well on the Superman Adventures, you’ve been known as the guy that breaks down comic book storytelling via Understanding Comics and the like.  With critical response in mind, did you ever feel a certain level of pressure as someone expected to live up to that analysis with The Sculptor?

McCloud:  Oh yeah.  There was definitely a big target on my chest when I did this thing, but it was a good kind of Sculptor Ex1 208x300 Interview: Scott McCloud on expectations, the creative process, and getting kicked out of a Holiday Inn for The Sculptorpressure.  The pressure was pretty strong after Understanding Comics, that anything I did in the way of fiction afterwards would be judged with that in mind. I did one or two pieces of fiction that are best left forgotten, that didn’t do so well.  But after Making Comics, there was definitely a bulls-eye on me because I wasn’t just telling people how to read them, I was telling people how to make them. I had to put my money where my mouth was.  But in the end, I thought that was a really healthy kind of pressure because it meant that failure was not an option.  I had to really give this my all and I was lucky enough to have an editor who had the same attitude about it and gave me a little extra room, a little extra time to do so.  This was originally going to be a three year book and we allowed it to grow to five years with his blessing because he felt that we could pull off something really wonderful.  But yeah, I was trying to apply all of these ideas that I had been talking about in books like Making Comics, I’ve been trying to apply them in this work but I’ve also been trying to make sure that they’re hidden, transparent, not on the surface.  I didn’t want people thinking about panel transitions and compositions and my use of bleed while reading the thing.  I wanted them to be thinking about the story and I hope that’s the effect people will have in the reading experience.

Harper: To delve into The Sculptor itself and how you got started with it, one of the concepts in the book is just how David, an out of work sculptor, feels like he’s got this unrealized potential…he’s got all this creativity stored up and then he feels like he can be this big famous sculptor but he doesn’t have the means to do it yet.  As a writer, when you were getting started with this project, do you feel like your creative soul was restless or you had something big you had to accomplish and you just were ready to get it out?

McCloud:  I felt like that when I was in my 20s.  When I was the same age as David, I felt a lot more like David than I do now.  I’ve been lucky because I’ve actually gotten some attention and I’ve been able to get my work out there, but I have a lot of feeling for those who don’t have that, who haven’t had that luck.  Whether they’re young and just starting out or if they’ve been at it for 30 years, there are a lot of people who have trouble getting their work out into the sunlight and who rightly feared that their work might be forgotten someday, maybe even in their lifetime.  Something that happens to a lot of artists is being forgotten in your lifetime. I can easily put myself in that mindset again of imagining that and imagining that fear, the fear that comes with that.  And then the fact that David has this family that’s already gone, both in terms of their physical lives but also in terms of the memories of them, even though they were all three very creative people, his parents and his sister.  That made it a much more urgent need on his part to not be forgotten.

Kyle: Now this is a concept that you created decades ago.  I think I heard once it was about 30 years ago, is that correct?

Scott McCloud:  Yeah, it was really terrifying when I realized it was 30.  I was saying 20 and then I think it was Ivy, my wife, just reminded me “nah, it’s actually more like 30.”  That’s a long time!

Kyle: It’s a concept that’s older than Harper here actually.

McCloud:  It’s older than a lot of readers.  It may be older than most of the people who will read this book, some may be younger than the idea for the book itself.

Kyle: I wonder, how has your life experience changed the way you’re approaching the material than if you had written it back in 1980, whatever year it was that you initially thought of it?

McCloud:  Well, I think it’s a better book for having been written much later but the important thing for me was I had this young man’s idea and had had a lot of the things we associate with young ideas.  It has lots of bold, preposterously ambitious ideas in it.  It’s trying to address questions of life and art, mortality, the nature of existence and that sort of thing.  I think as we get older, we’re more likely to just address the struggles of getting your coffee in the morning and going to a job you hate or whatever.  People tend to scale down their ambitions a little.  My goal for this one was to see if maybe I could take that young man’s idea and capture the enthusiasm I had when I was a young man and channel that crazy ambition but channel it in a direction that was informed by the perspective I’d gained as an older man, nearly twice the age that I was when I first came up with it, when I started to work on this thing.  And hopefully I’ve been able to do that.  To not castrate it, not rob it of the vitality of that young idea but try to preserve the vitality while giving a perspective, direction and a more meaningful shape through what I’ve learned in the intervening years.

Harper: Being that this was an idea that gestated for such a long time and you added things and changed things as you were thinking about it, when you actually sat down to start putting pen to paper and writing it, what was your process like?  Were you coming up with a script first, or was it just a rough draft, or were you doing thumbnails?

McCloud:  The first part of the process was when I realized I really wanted to work on this book, it was just as I was starting a 50 state tour in support of that previous book, Making Comics,  2006 and 2007.  And I was so desperate to Sculptor Ex2 208x300 Interview: Scott McCloud on expectations, the creative process, and getting kicked out of a Holiday Inn for The Sculptorwork on The Sculptor but all I could really do was sit in the passenger seat while my wife drove.  I’m not allowed to drive.  I’m a terrible driver.  And just think about it for a year.  And in a way, that was actually really good.  That first part of the process was just thinking about the story and taking lots and lots and lots of notes.  Then I got to work in earnest after we had a publisher and we were ready to start active work on the thing.  I started to create the layouts and for the first year, I did nothing but create these layouts which were – my layouts are pretty tight.  They look a lot like a finished comic, just a rough version.  But all of this takes place before there’s any finished art, right?  So I make this thing, I make the whole thing.  I send it to my editor, Mark Siegel.  I also send it to my “five kibitzers” as I call them – friends who I know will be honest and tell me what parts suck, whatever parts of the story don’t work.  And then I revised it based on their input and I revised it again and I revised it again.  I did four revisions of this nearly 500 page book in layout form.  Took me two years.  This is all before I ever drew a single finished panel.  And then I started drawing the real thing and that took three years.  It took me three years to draw those near 500 pages and that was done on my Cintiq tablet in Photoshop.  It’s entirely digital even though it has that slightly rough hand-drawn quality to it, the entire thing was done digitally.  In fact, the layouts were all done digitally too.  40 pages at a time in a giant Photoshop document.

Harper: Why is sculpture was the main thrust of the book as opposed to him being a painter or something that was a little bit maybe closer to your own craft?

McCloud:  Well on the one hand, sculpture makes good visual theatre in the sense that it exists in three dimensions, it’s dynamic.  The idea of going up against that hard surface, in the case of the sort of things that David is doing, has a nice sense of explosive physical conflict to it.  But beyond that, the choice of sculpture as opposed to any other form, I have to be honest, I never even considered anything else simply because that was the starting point.  That that was this idea in its original state as it existed in that little three ring binder that I have been carrying around with me since high school where I would write down ideas.  That’s where it began, the idea of a sculptor in particular.  I don’t really know if it would be quite as effective if it were say flat visual arts like painting or drawing, although interestingly enough, a book that I really enjoyed, Dylan HorrocksSam Zabel and the Magic Pen is I think coming out around the same time and in a way, he does have that notion of the artist being given supernatural abilities of one sort or another, in his case through literally a magic pen.  So he gets to explore a slightly different side of that artistic deal with fate.

Kyle: Did you have to do any sort of background research at all?

McCloud:  I researched the art world in that area as far as just the cultural and business aspects of it and then just looked at a lot of sculpture.  But in the end, I think it’s important to note that what David makes in many ways fails.  It fails the test and he’s unable to get a wider audience for it for much of the book.  The only things that David ever makes that gain the favor of that world, we don’t actually see.  We don’t see the work he makes before the story begins that had gotten him some attention early on, we don’t see the work that he makes that his friend Ollie considers very promising.  That stuff is off panel.  What I felt I was able to draw or what I was able to imagine is the sort of work that a sculptor might not get recognition for.  And so I was able to just pour my crazy imagination into it and then knowing that I wasn’t presenting this as some kind of masterpiece that would be universally acclaimed, I was presenting his sculpture as something that would probably confound or be uninteresting to that world.  But I did research some of the experience of living in that world, talked to a couple of people who are part of it. In large part, I was just researching what it is to live in New York in 2000 something because of course this took place over several years and just try to get the city right, just try to show the physical environment of the city as well as the cultural environment.

Kyle: In order for David to gain his amazing abilities, he had to strike a bit of a Faustian pact with the embodiment of death.  Do those type of stories fascinate you?  It’s basically the fulcrum that this story into motion, at least in the beginning stages before we get to know the characters better.  Do you find yourself a fan of tales like The Devil and Daniel Webster and the like?

McCloud:  Now that you mention The Devil and Daniel Webster, I actually really enjoyed that but it’s been literally 40 years since I’ve read that one, but I remember really being into it.  I don’t know that the story was in any way commenting on those other stories, but in some way, I think the important departure here is that it is a deal with death and that the ultimate result is still oblivion, as shown in the blank pages towards the beginning of the story.  Like most Faustian bargains, the ending is not in question, right?  You know the final fate of the character.  But this time, because of that notion of oblivion rather than eternal damnation, it’s kind of the secular version of that story, isn’t it?  And I think understanding the difference between that secular, updated version and versions that are more tied to questions of morality than to questions of existential terror, that was interesting to me.  I think that was the main thing was that the way in which the echoes of religious beliefs were resonated a bit through this story, but of course it’s a profoundly non-religious story despite the supernatural element that sets it in motion.

Harper: David can be frustrating at times when he is making the wrong choice, which he does quite often. Did you find it difficult to write a protagonist that has those flaws?

McCloud:  Well interestingly enough, David was even less likeable in early drafts of the layouts.  A lot of my friends who were reading it over, and my editor, pointed out ways in which he was a difficult character to get into.  You can have a character with very negative aspects to their personality who audiences still have a passageway into.  That was my goal primarily was that even when David is being frustrating, I wanted my audience to be able to get inside his head, to see what it was like to be him from the inside.  It goes in a slightly different direction from the question of likeability.  Relatability and likeability, I’ve come to understand are two slightly different things when writing characters.  He had to be relatable first and foremost and that was one of the goals that I internalized when I was going through rewrite after rewrite, to make sure that we could understand where he was coming from, and to get a sense of what drove him forward even when he was being frustrating or stubborn. Part of that was understanding the difference between wanting to be remembered and being terrified of being forgotten.  They’re two different things.  Understanding that difference, I think, was one of my crucial procedures as I constructed and reconstructed this story.

Kyle:  I’d like to also talk a little bit about one of the other key themes that hit me while I was reading, you display clinical depression in this book with a lot of nuance and that’s not something you see done particularly very well in really many forms of media – television, film, comics, whatever we might be talking about.  How much thought and work went into giving that characteristic to that particular character – or was there personal experience at all involved there that sort of informed how that character was resolved?

McCloud:  Yeah, there was a lot of personal experience that went into that and that was crucial to being able to capture those thought processes and the kind of relationship that one might have with somebody going through that.  I think in early drafts it felt a little bit more pat, a little bit more like just a mechanical necessity of the plot and I think it gained in resolution and nuance I think with the rewrites.  That was something that we were very concerned with, that it not simply be a plot device but that it be part of the texture of the story without necessarily departing from what the story was about.  One of the things about getting increasing specific in the portrayal of something like that is that you don’t want the story to become about itself, you don’t want to lose sight of why the story exists in the first place.  And so that was the balancing act, making sure that this felt like a real emotional story but an emotional story that existed within the universe of the ideas of the story as a whole.

Kyle: This is strange to say, but it’s probably my favorite part of the book because it felt so real to life.

McCloud:  That’s really cool.  I have to say, much of what I was doing there was channeling because sometimes when you have direct real life experience, sometimes you just close your eyes and let a character speak from experiences.  You can hear the voice in your head.  You know what words come next because it’s part of the texture of your own life.  It’s not a trick you can do often because you – unless you have profound relationships with many, many people which I suppose normal people do.  Maybe that’s just me speaking as an overworked comic artist that I’m only able to slot in a few in the course of a lifetime.

Harper: Looking at taking the writing process into the art process, how much thought goes into the panel to panel storytelling, or the perspectives that you choose, or whether you’re going to have an establishing shot to set the mood first, or whether you just go back and forth between the two characters? 

McCloud:  Every single composition, every single panel choice and pacing choice was done very deliberately, but always with the goal that it wouldn’t seem deliberate.  I wanted this book to feel as if it Sculptor Ex3 208x300 Interview: Scott McCloud on expectations, the creative process, and getting kicked out of a Holiday Inn for The Sculptorhad just written itself, so transparency was the goal.  One what that I tried to do that was by being very rigorous about capturing the rhythm of ordinary conversations, right down to the silence is something that Mark Siegel encouraged me to do.   Sometimes it’s important, those pauses between speech are vitally important to capturing a credible rhythm of speech.  Something that a lot of comics feel they don’t have the time to do, especially if you’ve got a 23 page story, having a panel of somebody just in between sentences, taking a sip of coffee or something, you’re not going to see that.  And yet that’s something that we intuitively recognize as the music of humans in conversation.  And when we recognize it, they become real.  And when they become real, you stop thinking about panel transitions, you stop thinking about composition choices, you stop thinking about bleeds and you are lost in the world of the story.  The first line of offense in conquering the reader’s perception of a real illusionistic world inside that story is the way people act with other people.  You get that right and you’re more likely to be able to cast that spell and keep readers in the story.

Kyle: In looking through the panel compositions, it seems like there’s a push and pull between the opaque and the transparent and one of the things Harper pointed out to me was this really interesting use of how you show distance, utilizing either opaque figures or transparent figures, or to emphasize perspective and focus.  Was this a tool you consciously decided to use on the book as a visual theme or is this just a natural part of your storytelling tools?

McCloud:  Yeah, I think that’s something that I’ve wanted to try out for a long time but I don’t really know that I ever had the opportunity.  Nothing I’d done before would have been appropriate for that particular technique.  Part of it is the fact that we have a POV character and with a POV character, you can play with perception and emotion visualized in a way that you can’t with a third party objective: omniscient viewpoint.  It’s very manga.  Manga was interesting to me for a lot of reasons when I first got into it in the 80s and one of the reasons I liked it was that notion of emotional and perceptional participation.  That sense that you are here, you’re part of the story.  You are the protagonist.  And that was done in a number of ways, sort of sliced up aspect to aspect, pieces of perception of the world around you or moving along with the moving character rather than just watching the character move. There were also all of these emotional expressionistic techniques.  If the character was nauseous, for instance, the whole world might become a little bit wobbly around them because you were perceiving the world through their eyes.  So I tried to do that and I found with the two colors, there were lots of opportunities to do that.  As you mentioned, through transparency, opacity, by using colored contours rather than black contours.  I think 100 years of CMYK printing tends to condition us to always have a black contour, but there are plenty of reasons not to.  So I use them as depth cues and I use them as you said to indicate the perspective of the character, like when he’s focusing on one particular person at a party and everybody else is dimmed out because we’re seeing his mental map of what matters and what doesn’t.

Harper: I know a lot of your work in the past has been black and white.  Was there ever a stage that this book was going to be in color or a different style of color use than the way you used it in the book?

McCloud:  No.  There were practical considerations of cost but there was also the creative considerations that I really like to do it all myself and I’m a shitty colorist.  I’ve never had a good color sense and it looks good to me and then everybody else tells me, no Scott, that’s not good, so.  But I can choose from a Pantone swatch book, that I can do.  And two colors to me is just a little bit nicer than one because with that second color, I can use it not only for the techniques we talked about but just for the simple utilitarian task of clarifying form.  When you have that second color, you can make it more quickly obvious to the eye, even at a casual glance, what the forms are on the page, where are the faces versus the background, where the figures and silhouettes are and sense of depth.  All of these things really come into sharp, immediate focus when you have that second color.  So there were a lot of reasons to go for it.

Harper: In picking the light blue tone that permeates the book; was that a difficult choice or was that something that as you were working through the art, that was just the obvious choice?

McCloud:  Actually in May, when time had pretty much run out and it was time for Scott to pick the damn color, I was in Atlanta at the offices of a company called MailChimp.  I had given a lecture there either that day or the day before, I’ve forgotten which.  And they very kindly gave me their Pantone swatch book and an hour or two in a quiet room in the offices to just sit and select which color it would be.  And I will forever be grateful to MailChimp for saving my ass because my Pantone swatch book was locked up in an office here in California, the office I’m sitting in right now.  I had the key in Atlanta and there was nobody there who could go and retrieve it for me and those things are expensive, so thank god that MailChimp came to my rescue and gave me that Pantone swatch book and I was actually to select the magical hue 653.  I will never forget that number.

Kyle: Between Serial and Scott McCloud giving them praise, MailChimp is having a great couple of months here. I’m trying to couch my next question as carefully as possible here, because it deals with sort of the latter half of the book.

McCloud:  Sure.

Kyle: The actual production of the art towards the end, especially in a selection that is full of a lot of panels, was that a physically stressful piece to produce, especially if you were producing it multiple times in multiple drafts?  I’m referring to the very end of the book.

McCloud:  Oh yeah.  No, I know what you’re referring to and it was tremendously difficult, but it was a kind of difficulty that I had come to relish.  I really loved the hard work.  The hard work of this book was gratifying work.  I loved working hard, I loved being challenged, I loved being forced to do something that I had never been able to do before.  That was great.  What wasn’t great was the fact that I was straining the limits of my system, that it was taking forever to save these files.  It was so complex at 1,200 dots per inch – at least I think it’s 12, not 1,000.  I think the book is 12 – 1,200 dots per inch, in RGB no less, even though it was a two color book.  The thing was just enormous.  Those files were enormous.  They were like half a gigabyte each and boy, was it slow churning out these things and saving them.  That was the hard part was the waiting.  Do I save and have to stop drawing for a couple of minutes or do I wait and risk a lightning storm and a blackout or whatever.  That was hard, that was hard.  But I don’t know, generally speaking though, the hardest things about this book were also the most gratifying because that’s when I felt like I was really finally climbing the mountain.

Harper: One thing I noticed that I really enjoyed in the storytelling was how you used the gutters as far as for pacing.  So the distance between the panels in calmer, normal section of the book, there’s a little bit of distance and there are white gutters and then when there’s these parts that are a little more intense or – for example, when David discovers he has these powers and he’s running home to figure out what’s going on and to try them out, the gutters completely disappear and it’s just this thick black line in between panels. It really changed the pacing a lot and the feeling of timing.

McCloud:  As you mention it, I’m not sure that I did this much in my first comic Zot!, but there was a pretty rigorous practical set of standards for when that might happen, when I might go to a different gutter style or when I might go to a bleed, for example.  And it’s just like for any given moment in the story, the question was: does it pass the test?  Is this the kind of moment where David is overwhelmed by what’s happening, where he’s sent into just an emotional rhapsody of one sort or another, of rage or wonder.  In those cases, the borders do collapse to a single black line in between panels and it goes full bleed.  All of those are full bleed as well.  To me, it feels right.  And I guess what it is is I had seen other artists who had done that.  Sometimes artists just do that for everything.  There are a few artists who always have that single black line and full bleeds throughout an entire book. It just has this – I don’t know, it’s like in Wagner when the extra trombones come in.  It just seems to be that orchestral color that tells you that something of great weight is happening.  And this is a story where I decided to use the full orchestra, so that was one of my tools.

Kyle: I know you speak to a number of different companies professionally, you’re probably on speaker bureaus and the like…

McCloud:  Actually you know what, I’ll tell you a secret.  I do it all myself.  People just email me and I say well, here’s how much it is and I’m either free or I’m not and then we do it.

Kyle:  That’s even easier.

McCloud:  It’s incredibly informal, yeah.  It’s really weird.  I should have representation for it.  I have representation for Hollywood, I have representation for my books but when it comes to speaking, I don’t know, I just haven’t found anyone that could do it better.  It’s weird.  So yeah, I just do it all myself.  It’s kind of insane.  Although I will say for the First Second book tour and my European tour, February, March and April, a lot of that is delegated to the individual publisher.

Kyle:  Of course. How do you balance that schedule with your creative time?  Is there a lot of creative time being done in hotel rooms?  How does that work?

McCloud:  We did a lot on hotel rooms last year when we were doing the technical finishes on the book.  In fact, I particularly remember writing the entire book to  – was it a Holiday Inn in St. Louis maybe or someplace, but we were driving west and we’d stopped for the night and I actually had to unpack my Mac Pro and the Cintiq and everything and it was finally done and we were writing – we got kicked out of our room.  So I actually wheeled the Mac Pro out to where the elevators were and Ivy and I were sitting there and while all of these files are being written to a drive, copied to a drive so that we could run to FedEx and send it out.  And we looked like homeless people.  Our dog was with us and all our coats and we looked like we had camped out next to the elevator and were asking for handouts or something.  But all it was was like I had all of this equipment and all of our suitcases just waiting for a file to copy.

Kyle: I’ve never heard of Holiday Inn ever kicking anyone out of a room.

McCloud:  *laughs* They were very sweet, they were very sweet.  We just explained it and – but it was just nuts.  I mean yeah, we’ve had extreme moments like that where it was just really crazy.  But as far as the travel schedule versus the work schedule, I worked 11 hours a day, seven days a week for five years, except for the last year where it was more like 14 hours a day.  And then I would still travel but in a given month, if I do two or three lectures, that’s really only, what, six days lecturing, traveling and lecturing.  So the six days out of 30 is – is that 20%?  So 80% of the time I’m working.  Of course, Ivy always makes fun of me for this, is that I will say “oh yeah, I was working except when I was traveling.”  And she’s like “that’s working too, you know”.  It’s not like when I’m hopping on a plane to give a lecture at Google, it’s not as if that’s not work.  Of course that’s work.  So yeah, I pretty much only work.  But then when the book is done, then we have fun, then we play and that’s what we’re going to do this year.

Harper: Was the publishing deal worked out before the creative process or afterwards?  I know you had the idea obviously, but was this something that you presented to the publisher and then you went from there?  What made First Second the logical choice for that?

McCloud:  Well, we went to four publishers and they were all interested in the book to varying degrees.  And for various reasons, we went with First Second, but one of the most important reasons of all was just talking to Mark Siegel and seeing that they were willing to put a lot of resources behind it but they also had that sensibility where Mark – Mark is kind of unique.  I talked to some real world class editors but Mark has I think the rigorous demanding aesthetic sense of grand, traditional New York 20th century editor while at the same time, also having tremendous chops as an artist and a writer himself. That’s a very unusual combination to find and it turned out to be essential to this particular book, because I really don’t think anybody else could have pulled this story out of me the way that Mark did.

Kyle:  What can your fans expect when you’re on the book tour?  Will you be speaking at all or will you be displaying any excerpts at all from the book itself?

McCloud:  We’re going to be bringing along visuals but for the US tour, the 14 cities in 16 days coming up in February, which’ll probably be this month by the time this goes out.  For those where it’s going to be mostly conScott.McCloud 276x300 Interview: Scott McCloud on expectations, the creative process, and getting kicked out of a Holiday Inn for The Sculptorversation format, so I’m going to be in conversation with somebody.  But then I’ll have some visuals standing by so I can show process stuff, I can show excerpts,  I can show art from the book, things like that.  But otherwise, I had suggested that it be conversation format just so that each talk is different.  So if you see me in New York or Chicago or LA, each one of those conversations is going to be different and that way if – for the ones that wind up on the web, they’ll all be their own unique conversation which ought to be a lot of fun.  But there will still be some visuals thrown in.  And I should mention, I’m still doing the full prepared visual lecture thing.  That’ll also be happening and already we have about five more talks in the spring that are slipping in between the cracks, even though I’m also going to six countries.  It’s kind of insane.  We’re doing 14 cities in 16 days followed by England, Spain, Italy, Germany, France and the Netherlands, all of it in February, March and April.  But I’ve also managed to slot in talks in Mississippi, Virginia, Ohio and Vermont into that same period and with a couple of others that are about to land as well. Those things that are a bit separate that I’ve arranged for separately, those are going to be the full stand up, hour long visual lecture which has hundreds of images going by very fast and that’s quite a show. These were organized separately, they’re not just a part of the promotional tour, though of course I’ll talk about The Sculptor a little.

Harper: The Sculptor is a dense book and it’s got a lot of really big ideas and themes about art and life and love and all sorts of different things. What do you hope is the key takeaway or the key message that you hope readers pull from it as they’re picking it up?

McCloud:  Well, there will be a lot of talk about the themes and the ambition of the book.  I think a lot of people already are looking at it as a bid for consideration as a big, serious book.  But, my very first goal for the book, and in a lot of ways still my most important goal, is just to create something that is an enjoyable read, that’s a page turner, that has a kind of narrative momentum that just carries you from panel to panel and page to page.  If I can pull that off first and foremost, I’ll be happy.  I want it to be something that people really get into, that’s engrossing, that they can lose themselves in.  And hopefully something that they can find as a rewarding re-read as well.  That’s a lot of stuff in there that I think will become apparent on second reading and third reading.

Kyle: Is this going to mark a trend of more fiction based writing from you or are you going to return to analysis after this?

McCloud:  Actually, my next book will be a nonfiction book and it’s going to be about visual communication and some of the common denominators across different disciplines in terms of visual education.  I feel as if there are common principles to data visualization, information graphics, educational animation, and educational comics.  People in all of these fields I think are knocking on the same door and I think it might be useful to see if I can discern some of the fundamental principles that lie behind all of those disciplines and put them in one work, so that’s the next project.  That’ll also be with First Second Books.

Kyle:  Lastly, where can people find information about the upcoming book tour?  Will that be on First Second’s website or will that be on your website?

McCloud:  It’s on First Second’s website now.  I tweeted about it just the other day and as soon as I’m done with today’s interviews, I am so finally putting up a blog post on my own front page at ScottMcCloud.com and updating my side bar, which is still telling you all about the things I did last year.  By the time people get to hear this, they’ll definitely be up.

You can pick up The Sculptor in book stores or your local comic shop starting February 3rd. 

For those who are so inclined you can also listen to the full audio of the interview below:

4 Comments on Interview: Scott McCloud on expectations, the creative process, and getting kicked out of a Holiday Inn for The Sculptor, last added: 2/3/2015
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22. 2015 Newbery Awards -- HOORAY for Crossover, El Deafo & Brown Girl Dreaming!!!!! (ages 4-14)

This morning, the American Library Association announced the winners for 2015 distinguished books for children across many categories. This week, I'd like to share these with you along with my excitement and my students' reactions to these books. I am jumping with joy because all of these books speak to children so well. (read the full press release here)

The 2015 John Newbery Medal for the most outstanding contribution to children's literature:

The Crossover,” written by Kwame Alexander, won the 2015 Newbery Medal, for the most outstanding contribution to children's literature. From the very first time I read this aloud to students, they have loved it. I'll never forget 5th grade boys nearly wrestling each other in the library to check out our copy first. This story captured their heart and the words conveyed power, rhythm and emotion that connected to students. (read my full review here)



Two Newbery Honor Books also were named:

El Deafo” written and illustrated by Cece Bell. For the first time, a graphic novel has won a Newbery Honor, and my students adore this. They love graphic novels, and El Deafo soars to the top on every measure. Cece shares her memoir, growing up deaf after suffering meningitis. My students completely relate to Cece's character, even though they have not gone through exactly the same experiences. She brings them right into her world, conveying her thoughts and feelings so well through words and comics. Please seek out this outstanding, very special story.

Brown Girl Dreaming,” written by Jacqueline Woodson. This memoir told in verse drew many of my students in, helping them see Jackie's experiences growing up in the 1960s and also showing them how some of her experiences were similar to their own. I'll never forget the way Elani and Aleecia came in after reading it together, just glowing and saying, "It's like WE were in the book."

Woodson crafts her verse so differently than Alexander and tells her memoir in such a different way from Bell -- I love that we're showing our children that there are so many different ways you can live in the world. Your goal is to be the best YOU that you can be.

I am also thrilled that these books are so accessible to children. Not only are they distinguished in their literary merit, they also are respectful of where children are developmentally, what they bring to the reading experience.

Kwame Alexander talked with us about how he knew some kids could enter a novel in verse more easily than dense text -- he wanted to write a book that invited kids into a the story, but once they were there provide them with a nuanced, layered, powerful story. And man, does he do that. Because his language is so accessible, kids can enter the conversation and then talk deeply about all sorts of literary devices the author used, the messages he's conveying, the journey his characters go through.

Check out some of Emerson students' discussions and thoughts on all our Mock Newbery books. I can't wait to share these titles with even more readers.
Part 1 -- The Blossoming Universe of Violet Diamond + Brown Girl Dreaming
Part 2 -- The Crossover + Dash + The Fourteenth Goldfish
Part 3 -- The Great Greene Heist + Half a Chance + The Life of Zarf
Part 4 -- Magic in the Mix + Nest + The Night Gardener
Part 5 -- Nuts to You + The Red Pencil + Snicker of Magic
Part 6 -- The Swap + Witch's Boy + Zoo at the Edge of the World
Part 7 -- OUR WINNER!!! (plus giveaway)
My heartfelt appreciation goes out today to all the authors who are writing books for kids. They put so much heart, soul and thought into their craft. It makes a tremendous difference in kids' lives, finding books that speak to them. My heartfelt thanks also goes out to the whole children's literature community, from librarians who spend countless hours on committees evaluating and discussing books, to publishers who take incredible risks to bring stories into our hands, to booksellers who help get books into the hands of as many readers as possible. This is a very special community.

Early review copies were kindly sent by the publishers Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, ABRAMS, and Nancy Paulsen/Penguin Books for Young Readers. We have purchased additional copies for our school library and classrooms, and we will continue purchasing more for gifts. If you make a purchase using the Amazon links on this site, a small portion goes to Great Kid Books. Thank you for your support.

©2015 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books

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23. 2015 Caldecott Awards: a terrific range & selection of books!!! (ages 4-14, yes really!!)

This year's Caldecott Committee broke boundaries by including a graphic novel for young teens among their seven (7!!) books awarded honors. This selection of picture books, meaning books told with and through pictures, serves a wide range of children -- from preschoolers who will adore Dan Santat's Beekle, to teens who are the perfect audience for Jillian and Mariko Tamaki's graphic novel This One Summer.

Before I get any further, if you're considering This One Summer for your child, please learn about it before you order it. I genuinely recommend this for kids who are 13 and 14, but not for elementary students. Skip down to the end if you're specifically looking for information about this book.

The 2015 Caldecott Award for the most distinguished American picture book goes to:

Dan Santat, the author and illustrator of Beekle: The Unimaginary Friend. This delightful story has charmed our young students at Emerson, with Santat's special message about loneliness, imagination and finding your own special, true friend.

My students are huge fans of Dan Santat's and will be thrilled to see this picture book, which comes so much from Dan's heart, honored and celebrated. Dan truly captures so much of what children value in this world -- playfulness, fun and friendship with an incredible eye and vivid imagination. Perfect for preschoolers, but enjoyed by older kids as well (ages 3-9).

Six (!!) Caldecott Honor Awards were given:

Nana in the City, by Lauren Castillo, captures the relationship between a young boy and his grandmother, as she helps him overcome his fears by listening, understanding and helping him. I especially love how his nana never scolds him, but rather emotionally comes to where this little guy is. Another truly special book, perfect for kids ages 3-6.

The Noisy Paint Box, illustrated by Mary GrandPré and written by Barb Rosenstock, conveys the way abstract artist Vasily Kandinsky experienced colors as sounds and sounds as colors. It's fascinating--this picture book biography didn't appeal to me right away (I brought too many grown-up questions to it), but my 5th grader found it fascinating and the art captivating. Kandinsky listens as “swirling colors trill…like an orchestra tuning up,” and GrandPré shows him lifting his paintbrush much like a conductor. A fascinating intersection of art and music, for ages 6-10.


Sam and Dave Dig a Hole, illustrated by Jon Klassen and written by Mac Barnett, is another huge kid favorite at Emerson precisely because it makes kids laugh and wonder at the same time. Sam and Dave are indeed digging a whole, as you can see on the cover, and they are determined not to stop until they find "something spectacular." What I love best about it is the respect Klassen and Barnett have for kids who love to puzzle over things and think about questions that don't have easy answers, or necessarily ANY answers. They're totally comfortable with that uncertainty, something grownups often forget. Kids from 4 to 10 have loved this.

Viva Frida, by Yuyi Morales, made me gasp in wonder the very first time I saw it -- and it's had the same effect on children and adults alike. Just look at the colors on the cover -- but then open, and you enter the dreamlike world that Morales creates, combining handmade puppets and carefully crafted stage sets. Morales conveys a sense of an artists' world, and how one artist infuses another artists' dreams and spirit. While this isn't a biography at all, it is an incredible testament to the artistic spirit that appeals to the very young as well as older readers who can put it into more context (ages 3-12).

The Right Word: Roget and His Thesaurus, illustrated by Melissa Sweet and written by Jen Bryant. I adore this utterly splendid book that tells the life of Peter Roget and the creation of his thesaurus. Sweet uses playful illustrations to draw children into young Peter's life, showing them how he loved lists of words and discovered that words had power, especially when gathered together and organized in interesting ways. This is a book children will enjoy pouring over again and again, noticing more details each time. I particularly love showing kids (ages 6-10) the ways science, language and art intersect.

This One Summer, illustrated by Jillian Tamaki and written by Mariko Tamaki. This fantastic graphic novel eloquently captures young teens on the cusp of adolescence, as they spend the summer together. For the first time, the Caldecott Committee said, YES, the illustrations in a graphic novel is a true form of art, one that is vitally essential to the story. It is utterly ground-breaking and I am so happy.

This book speaks to young teens about the way friendships change as they enter the murky waters of adolescence. Rose is so happy to spend the summer once again with her friend Windy, but she rejects many of their past activities as too childish and yearns to mimic the older teens in this beach town. I like the way Kirkus sums it up: "The realistic dialogue and sensitive first-person narration convey Rose’s naïveté and confusion, and Windy’s comfort in her own skin contrasts with Rose’s uncertainty." Teen pregnancy, gossip and a parent's depression all wind their way through this story. I've found it speaks well to young teens, ages 13-15.

Please seek out and share these books with kids in your life. They are each truly special. Early review copies were kindly sent by the publishers Little, Brown, Random House, Candlewick, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, Macmillan and Eerdmans. We have purchased additional copies for our school library and classrooms, and we will continue purchasing more for gifts. If you make a purchase using the Amazon links on this site, a small portion goes to Great Kid Books. Thank you for your support.

©2015 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books

0 Comments on 2015 Caldecott Awards: a terrific range & selection of books!!! (ages 4-14, yes really!!) as of 2/4/2015 3:14:00 AM
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24. Blog Tour: ARES: BRINGER OF WAR (Olympians #7) by George O'Connor

click to embiggen.Summary: Ares is the seventh book in O'Connor's very successful Olympians series of graphic novels. In fact, I was amazed to see that we've already gotten to book 7, because that means I've missed quite a few in the middle. For... Read the rest of this post

0 Comments on Blog Tour: ARES: BRINGER OF WAR (Olympians #7) by George O'Connor as of 1/1/1900
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25. Fábio Moon & Gabriel Bá To Collaborate On New Graphic Novel

Two Brothers CoverFábio Moon and Gabriel Bá, siblings and collaborators, have been working on a new project entitled Two Brothers.

The story was inspired by the work of Brazilian novelist Milton Hatoum. Dark Horse Comics will release the graphic novel on October 27th.

According to the press release, the story follows “twin brothers Omar and Yaqub.” They “may share the same features, but they could not be more different from one another. And the possessive love of their mother, Zana, stirs the troubled waters between them even more.”

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