Great Graphic Novels Noms 2015: Memoir and Contemporary Stories

by Tessa

Read about this series of posts here.

FUN FACT: All of the selections today are by writer-artists (one person writes and draws the book). They are the singer-songwriters of the comics world.

eldeafocover

El Deafo

Cece Bell, writer and artist

Amulet Books

Anticipation/Expectation Level: I’d heard lotsa good things about this one.

My Reality: All the praise is deserved. It’s a mildly fictionalized memoir about Cece Bell growing up with deafness, outside of the Deaf community – it’s about feeling awkward because she’s afraid she looks so different and because of the challenges of navigating a world that doesn’t always make the allowances it should for a lip-reading child, and it’s also about basic growing up stuff: friendships, family, school. Bell has a good ear for social detail and her chronicles of trying to find a true friend and feeling lonely will win her many readers (I hope). And she’s also funny.

Will teens like it?: Yes. Fans of Raina Telgemeier and The Wimpy Kid/Big Nate will be into this for sure.

Is it “great” for teens?: Yes.

Art Taste:

ElDeafo_TXT_page1

allstarcover

All Star

Jesse Lonergan, writer and artist

NBM ComicsLit

Anticipation/Expectation Level: None. I knew nothing about this going in.

My Reality: Great realistic fiction which I think sometimes is thin on the ground in the comics world, especially for the high school level. All Star is squarely high school oriented. It’s not the baseball story that the cover may lead you to believe it is. It’s about the golden boy becoming aware of his golden boy privileges and trying to do the right thing. I’m always fascinated to read about fictional or nonficitonal characters trying to do the right thing. (All Star may seem autobiographical but it’s not). Lonergan writes clean, beautiful action pages that made baseball not so boring even for me. His characters are exaggerated – a little boxy like Jeff Lemire’s but more like walking skeletons.

Will Teens Like it?: Teens might not get all the cultural references going on, but hopefully that won’t turn them away from the story.

Is it “great” for teens?: Yeah.

Art Taste:

154-All-Star

tomboycover

Tomboy: a graphic memoir

Liz Prince, writer and artist

Zest Books

Anticipation/expectation level: I got a personal recommendation for this from several people whose taste I trust.

My Reality: Loved it! Prince doesn’t try to tamp down on the ambiguity of her feelings about how she wants to be in the world. Because these go against culturally built up norms for gender expression she struggles with how she feels about girly things, how she has been taught to think about being a girl, and how she feels comfortable and if that has to fit into a gendered behavior. But it’s told as a story that is open, using a black and white, thin-lined style that I think of as “refined sketchbook cartoon” – really accessible and enjoyable for a huge age range.

Will Teens Like It?: I put this on display on Tuesday and a teen immediately picked it up.

Is it “great” for teens?: YES.

Art Taste:

tomboyjedi

T0724

I Think I Am In Friend-Love With You

Yumi Sakugawa, writer and artist

Adams Media

Anticipation/Expectation Level: I had read this on Tumblr or something before it was published. I thought it was cute to a point.

My Reality: I like how the format: small and square, with one text panel and one picture to each spread, makes the reading go more slowly. More like a picture book for adults. Sakugawa has a very appealing drawing style. The narrator of this book is a of a monstery design, sort of a cyclops Cousin It. She draws with a thin, textured pencil line, with a good eye for design. While I have experienced friend crushes and support the idea of more talk about the importance of friend-love and friendship as sustaining relationships, I feel like this book is more about friend-crush desperation. A reviewer at Rookie reads it as an exchange between the crusher and crushee, but I see it as a long declaration from the protagonist to an oblivious friend crush. A declaration that would make most people uncomfortable because it lacks confidence. And it is steeped in the social media world of today, and those references will become dated and take away from the chance of this being a classic book with a universal message. So I can’t fully get behind this as a great book but I do think it is cute and harmless – even maybe confidence building?

Will Teens Like it?: Yeah, this is built for sharing on Tumblr.

Is it “great” for Teens: I don’t know. I see it more as a novelty picture book?

Art Taste:

friendlove2

Great Graphic Novels 2015 Noms: Fun Fantasy series – Adventure Time, My Little Pony, Three Thieves, Skyward, Zita and Philemon

by Tessa

Read about why I’m reading these books here.

Today I’m taking a look at the light fantasy series that have been nominated this year.

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Adventure Time with Fionna & Cake

Natasha Allegri, artist and author

KaBOOM! Studios

Anticipation/expectation level: High. I can’t remember how, but I was following Natasha Allegri’s livejournal before she graduated from undergrad and was pleased to see that she got a job on some show called Adventure Time. 

My reality: Yep, this book is the whole package. It’s gorgeous, it has humor and heart (see, respectively: when Lumpy Space Prince uses a wishing wand to make himself beautiful, the whole conclusion which I won’t spoil for you). Allegri’s genderswapped Adventure Time universe is as strong as the original, keeping the basic dynamics of the characters’ relationships the same, but still creating original situations. Cake is not Jake, but is how Jake would be in cat form. There are also little shorts at the end from writers and artists like Lucy Knisley and Noelle Stevenson. How do these comics all turn out so well? The only part that didn’t work for me is a short digression about a cat and its nine lives, which was sort of related but came out of nowhere.

Will teens like it? I know some teens who are already all about Bee and Puppycat, so yeah.

Is it “great” for teens?: Yes – I realize it’s hard for me to be objective, but I did read these comics before I watched Adventure Time and greatly enjoyed them, so I think that knowledge of the show isn’t a huge stumbling block.

Art Taste:

FionnaCake_01_preview_Page_07-600x923

check out Natasha Allegri’s tumblr, you won’t be sad. There’s a small pitch for a show called Cat Mommy

allegrifionnamarshalllee

adventuretimev5

Adventure Time, Volume 5

Ryan North, Writer

Braden Lamb, Mike Homes, Shelli Paroline, artists

KaBOOM! Studios

Anticipation/expectation level: I could safely predict that I’d like this. The first 3 made it onto GGNT 2014. I’m wondering why Volume 4 wasn’t nominated? (I did go ahead and read it, and it isn’t the strongest volume but it’s not so off game as to not be nominated, but anyway).

My reality: This one is all Bubblegum – and Lemongrab. It’s a bit about how Princess B struggles with feeling like she’s a ruler when she has to rely on Finn and Jake so much, and a little about her mistakes in the past… and how they ALL COME TOGETHER. Again, it can be read as a standalone adventure.

Will teens like it?: They do.

Is it “great” for teens?: Yes

Art Taste:

AdventureTime_21_preview-10

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My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic, Volume 5 

Katie Cook, writer

Andy Price, artist

IDW Publishing

Anticipation/expectation level: Low-ish. I’m old enough to have lived through the first Ponies craze, but wasn’t inspired to watch the show or the documentary about the people who love the show, even though I don’t have anything against it.

My reality: Volume 5 of the comic series is about Celestia’s history with an alternate version of Equestria/Canterlot, and the trouble it is causing everyone. She enlists the special pony brigade or whatever they are called to help fix it before reality as they know it is destroyed. The main points of the universe were easy to pick up on. I still don’t know each pony’s name, but it didn’t affect my reading of the comic as far as confusion goes. It was a nice story about friendship and magic where the stakes were suitably high. One thing that annoyed me: I was a bit irked that, in a universe built on the concept of friendship, the small dragon always gets forgotten and ignored. What is up with that? Double standards.

Will teens like it?: I think this would be popular with younger teens.

Is it “great” for teens?: It’s a solid comic. It wasn’t transcendent or something I’ll independently enthuse about. But I can’t say it’s not perfectly positioned for its audience and age group.

Art Taste: mlpmultiverse

kingsdragon

The King’s Dragon

Scott Chantler, artist and writer

Kids Can Press

Anticipation/expectation level: I’ve read two other volumes of this series (called the Three Thieves) and always found them to be exciting, well-plotted, and drawn with a lively, accomplished hand. Actually I’ve read all the volumes but the first one.

My reality: It might be strange to read The King’s Dragon and go back to catch up on the story, because this volume focuses on a man who has so far been the villain of the tale, the man chasing the titular Three Thieves, Captain Drake. It gives us his backstory and, as usually happens with these things, makes him a more sympathetic and complex character. There’s very little movement in the story’s plot – most of the action occurs in flashback. But I still think that it would be easy to read this apart from the other books and not feel lost. It is Captain Drake’s story. Chantler does pacing well, and his is very cinematic. I could almost hear the strings of the suspenseful soundtrack as I moved back and forth in his memory. It’s a series that should get more attention from readers.

Will teens like it? Yes, even though it’s primarily marketed for middle grade readers, it’s a good adventure for anyone.

Is it “great” for teens? Yeah!

Art Taste:

KingsDragonThe_2206_spr2

returnofzita

The Return of Zita the Spacegirl

Ben Hatke, writer and artist

First Second

Anticipation/expectation level: I’m an unabashed Zita pusher to parents, teachers, aunts, and all other readers.

My reality: As a fan of the series, the last book paid off. But it’s been awhile since I read the 2nd installment, and I couldn’t recall each member of the ragtag team’s situation/quirks from where they were left off. For the most part, this is Zita’s story of defeating someone hellbent on destroying Earth out of spite and escaping a prison camp, so the intermittent flashes to her other friends all over the galaxy aren’t that much of a distraction. But they do eventually come into play. For someone coming in cold to the universe, the story won’t have much extra emotional resonance, and the emotional hook depends on being familiar with Zita’s journey. But the main things that I love about Zita are there: absurd humor, lots of cute and weird creatures, struggle overcome by pure will and help from friends, triumph over evil, and there’s the extra punch of wistfulness at the end.

Will teens like it?: It might read younger, but I think teens will like it.

Is it “great” for teens?: It’s great if you’ve read the other volumes. Alone, I don’t know if it’s great.

Art Taste:

zitaworkcamp

SKYWARD_CVR_NOTFINAL_TRADE_1SKYWARD_CVR_TEMPLATE_TRADE_2-674x1024

Skyward Volume 1: Into the Woods 

Skyward Volume 2: Strange Creatures 

Jeremy Dale, writer and artist

Action Lab Entertainment

Anticipation/expectation level: All that I knew before I read this was that its creator had suddenly and tragically died. And that people had really liked the comic.

My reality: From reading the letters from fans printed in the collected editions, I can see what people like about this title. It’s a new fantasy world. It’s imaginative, filled with warrior rabbits and other magical stuff. It’s got a bit of joking camaraderie. It’s built to be a fun ride – a search for a missing boy by the forces of good and evil caught in a war that’s much bigger than him, etc. It feels familiar. For me, it felt too familiar and it wasn’t my type of humor or art – but at least the clothes are equal opportunity painted on. When characters are alone they tend to narrate whatever they’re thinking, which always strikes me as unnecessary. I can see the merits for readers, but this one didn’t do much for me.

Will teens like it?: I don’t know if I can see heavy investment potential, but there’s nothing here that would be an immediate turnoff.

Is it “great” for teens?: I think this is decent.

Art Taste: Comparing the pencils to the colored version, I’d have to say that I prefer the pencils. The coloring makes everyone look really shiny and covered in vinyl and obscures a lot of the artistic talent.

skyward

castawayonthelettera

Cast Away on the Letter A

Fred

TOON books

Anticipation/expectation level: Neutral. TOON Books does interesting stuff. When I got this in at the library, it was very slim like a picture book and looked like it was a reprint/revival of a classic european adventure comic. (The introduction confirmed this).

My reality: Philemon is hugely popular in France, a beloved character. In his introduction to general American eyes he explores a well on his rural French property that keeps burping up messages in bottles. He finds himself stuck on the letter A in “Atlantic Ocean” – a fantastical adventure befitting such an illusory place ensues. I appreciated the imagination and history that come with the comic, and I’m glad that more European comics might get printed over here and find a wider audience, but I’m not going to rave about it to teenagers.

Will teens like it?: Due to the length and lightness of the story, plus its cultural cache, I think this will appeal to mostly young readers or adult readers. The pacing and plot don’t fit modern teen comic book standards.

Is it “great” for teens?: Nah

Art Taste:

fred-slide4

Reading the Great Graphic Novels 2015 Noms: New Superheroes, new series

by Tessa

Read about the reasons for this reading series here.

Every year brave teams of writers, artists, inkers, publishers etc. launch or re-launch a superhero series, going up against the big names of the pantheon. Last year one of the standouts was The Hypernaturals, from BOOM! Studios, which looks like it only existed for two collected editions. But every time I feel a little spark of hope that one of them will gain some readership momentum and last for a little while.

Or just get read and appreciated.

Last week I reorganized my list of what comics I have left to review, to put them into genre and format categories. And it turns out there are only 2 entirely new superhero comics left on my list. I really liked one and really didn’t like the other.

Let’s start with the good news.

mara01_COVER

Mara

Brian Wood, writer

Ming Doyle and Jordie Bellaire, illustrators

Image Comics

Anticipation/Expectation level: I liked the cover and I like Brian Wood’s writing. I liked Ming Doyle’s art in the Tantalize adaptation even though the story was …eh.

My Reality: When I read this in March I wrote this on Goodreads: “I love the character designs, color palette, even the font choices. I was into the whole global volleyball phenomenon, so I wanted to read more about that and get to know Mara and Ingrid and everyone more through their interactions on the job. Mara’s transformation [into a superhuman] was so quick that there wasn’t much change from when we first meet her to when she feels inhuman – I think slowing down the action could have made it easier to understand her feelings–not make her more likeable or unlikeable, I don’t care if she’s likeable or not, but I wanted to get in her head more. And it was great that although everyone was generally beautiful they all looked like they had real faces, not ideas of faces.”

When I re-read it last week, I agreed with myself, but I liked it even more. It’s too bad that this only lasted six issues. I’m not even sure it was supposed to last longer, but Wood has created an interesting world that definitely could have been slowed down and expanded on without feeling like a rehash of other worlds and similar themes. Mara lives in a world where sports and the military are the ways out of poverty. Children are sent on those paths from a very young age. No one ever seems to achieve real independence, but it’s the best option in a broken global system. In that way, Mara, who is a top volleyball star from what might be a future US/North American empire, has a sort of Katniss-y feel to her – you wonder what her personality would be like if it had been allowed to develop normally, but she still has a strong presence as a character and makes a fascinating protagonist.

Will teens like it?: Yes. I don’t see any major impediments to teen liking.

Is it “great”for teens?: Definitely. It would even make a fun discussion book because it does end and isn’t just a jumping off point for a series.

Art taste:

Mara3

 

And then there’s

 

BRILLIANT_01_CVR

Brilliant

Brian Michael Bendis, writer

Mark Bagley, artist

Icon / 2012, Marvel, 2014

 Note: I’m not even sure this is eligible for the list because it looks like it was first published in 2012. But I’m going to review it anyway because I read it and took all these pictures of the ways it irritated me and I need to feel like I went through all that for a reason.

Anticipation/expectation level: Neutral. The cover did not look promising and I didn’t like Bendis’ latest All New X-Men that much, though.

My reality: What I think Bendis was going for here was “super-smart teen patter mixed with mumblecore sensibilities”. It read as self-satisfied smart teens not saying much at all. So many exchanges like this one:

patter

Um, well, yeah.

Or this:

I don't know what is happening either

I don’t know what is happening either

The basic premise is that hot-shot MIT type new adults figure out a way to develop superpowers. At least one of them starts using this power to rob banks and get money for more experiments, because the powers are taking over. This causes problems. They expect their friend who just returned from studying abroad or something to figure it out for them but he’s conflicted. If you want to see an inventive treatment of this plot, please watch Chronicle.

I was more interested in witnessing the alternate universe that these people live in.

A universe where a nice normal red haired girl with flipper hands, a nice girl whose choice of party outfit is a baggy hawaiian shirt, suddenly starts dressing in spandex capri pants to chill out in her dorm room once she becomes a real crush of the protagonist:

Untitled drawing

A world where stockings with seams are worn with the seams on the front. A world where a college professor also loves crop tops and capris, and chases down the stoner she slept with to destroy his cell phone. A world where house loungewear is hacked up bits of athleticwear.

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A world where having an argument with friends, jogging, and asking your hallmates for pot are EXTRA DRAMATIC activities with all the attendant eye-widening and posing involved.

normalstandingaround normaljog wtfpotsmokers

So, I was a little distracted from the story.

Will teens like it?: Yes, teens who are looking for a quick superhero read and have a thing for crop tops.

Is it “great” for teens?: It doesn’t feel like anyone was trying on this title. I’m sure that’s not true, but that’s how it feels.

Art Taste: see above.

 

Reading the Great Graphic Novels 2015 Noms: spooky scary comics

by Tessa

Read about why I’m reviewing these comics here.

I love horror and I love comics. I love it when a book can visually creep me out. There are a good number of horror-y titles on the list this year. This isn’t all of them, but all of these are supernatural in some way.

afterlifewitharchie

Afterlife with Archie: Escape from Riverdale

Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa, writer

Francesco Francavilla, illustrator

Archie Comics

Expectation/Anticipation Level: Low. Archie comics aren’t really my bag, but I don’t actively dislike them.

My Reality: I loved this! Francavilla does a more realistic take on Archie and the gang and that somehow makes me take them more seriously as characters. Maybe because I don’t find bulbous hair attractive. Everyone is in deep shadow and the palette is strictly goth. It’s one of those zombie comics where it’s Halloween so the truth takes a bit to sink in, and then it becomes a bit of a claustrophobic survival story (with teen drama), so I’m all over it.

Will Teens Like it?: I bet they totally would. I’d bet at least a dollar.

Is it “great” for teens?: This has the qualities of GGNT greatness: great art, fun story, a bit of depth, something that makes it stand out from its genre or typical audience, and teen appeal.

Art Taste:

Afterlife-With-Archie-4

bad-machinery-v2

bad-machinery-v3

Bad Machinery V.2: The Case of the Good Boy

Bad Machinery V.3: The Case of the Simple Soul.

John Allison, writer & illustrator

Oni Press

Expectation/Anticipation Level: Well, I knew what I was getting into because I’m a regular reader of the webcomics, so… neutral? But wait, high, because I am a fan.

My Reality: Reading these comics collected really brings out how funny and charming they are. One of the best things about Allison’s writing and drawing style is is control over whimsy – it’s always a bit weird and tender instead of being too sweet or, god forbid, wacky. Although the strips are written to be enjoyed thrice a week and thus have punchlines at the end, the story reads as a whole and it is clear that Allison has created these new stories with the collection in mind. The stories always involve creatures or some kind of supernatural occurrence, but with a light touch. The focus is much more on the team of young mystery solvers finding more out about themselves and their town via the mystery than about being terrified or haunted.

Will teens like it?: The books are published in biiiig floppy editions so hopefully teens will pick one up and be sucked in.

Is it “great” for teens?: I think so. I think it’s great for you, too.

Art Taste: If you like this, I highly recommend reading the archives and ongoing comics at Scary Go Round.

shaunashousejohnallison

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The Graveyard Book, Volume 1

The Graveyard Book, Volume 2

written by Neil Gaiman

adapted by P. Craig Russell

Kevin Nowlan, Scott Hampton, P. Craig Russell, Galen Showman, David LaFuente, Tony Harris, Jill Thompson & Stephen B. Scott, illustrators

HarperCollins

Expectation/Anticipation Level: Medium. I liked the Coraline adaptation. (In fact, I don’t think I’ve read Coraline proper yet).

My Reality: I thought this was really solid. Most of the artists worked in complementary styles, except for changes during parts of the story where the narrative takes a side journey, and the art style changes to reflect that. (And one artist that makes everyone look weirdly Hobbity). The text adaptation retains Gaiman’s narrator and warm tone, and it still feels like a story that’s been told and retold and fished out of the collective unconscious by Gaiman. A storyteller’s story. So that even though it’s about murder and ghosts and goblins, it’s about life and it feels cosy. The only thing I really don’t like is the cover of the second book. Bod looks posed, and that scene doesn’t happen, and also it’s a bit of a spoiler.

Will Teens Like it?: Teens will be into this, especially if they know it’s by the Coraline guy.

Is it “great” for teens?: I think it’s a very successful adaptation and that makes it great for me.

Art Taste: I particularly liked the chapter openers, as seen here:

graveyard-book-chapter-open

cemeterygirl

Cemetery Girl Book One: The Pretenders.

Charlaine Harris and Christopher Golden, writers

Don Kramer and ??? Rudoni, illustrators

InkLit

Expectation/Anticipation Level: Low, though I did read all of the Sookie Stackhouse novels. I haven’t had much luck finding good comic books that seem to be made just to trade on the name of an author who got famous writing prose books.

My Reality: It was funny to go from one good comic about a boy who lives in a graveyard to a bad comic about a girl who lives in a graveyard. It really brought out the reasons why Cemetery Girl failed so much. Art? Uninspired and unsure about the proportions of its main character. Some of the backgrounds looked like photos with the comic book filter on them. The story moved sloooowly, and was packed with characters who were one note: evil teenagers, folksy cemetery groundskeeper and neighbor, martyred ghost, etc. Calexa is really on top of waking up with no idea who she is and immediately parkouring around the neighborhood performing B & Es in order to get food and clothes, which makes it seem like she’s street smart and practical, but then she witnesses a murder and is handed proof of the murder that she could easily drop off at the police station or give to the groundskeeper or something and she dithers fully half of the book away not doing that because she’s scared that somehow the people who left her in the cemetery will find out. Not fun, not even easy trashy fun.

Will teens like it?: I’m sure there are teens who would like this; I won’t hold it against them.

Is it “great” for teens?: Nope.

Art Taste: I’m going to post 2 images so you can compare how Calexa’s proportions change from page to page.

lying down, looks normal

lying down, looks normal

cemeterygirl2

Standing up, has lost a couple inches on her legs, also her pants are baggy now.

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Baltimore vol 3: A Passing Stranger and Other Stories.

Mike Mignola and Christopher Golden, writers

Ben Stenbeck, illustrator Dave Stewart,colorist

Dark Horse

Expectation/Anticipation Levels: I think the first volume of this comic was on a previous GGNT list on one of my volunteer years, and I remember liking it.

My Reality: How weird that Christopher Golden was involved in Cemetery Girl and Baltimore: A Passing Stranger and I liked the latter and not the former. Charlaine Harris, the onus falls on you. Anyway. This is a nice little collection of short stories set in the alternate historical timeline of the Lord Baltimore universe, where vampires have laid waste to Europe in WWII. Baltimore is chasing the big baddie vampire and he meets some weird things along the way. These aren’t life changing stories, but they are nice little moody treats of the fantastical. Some alternate histories feel like they’re always poking you in the ribs, saying “See what I DID there??!!?!?!?” and this one does not. The way things are going feels appropriate and believable.

Will Teens Like it? Yes, especially if they like The Walking Dead/Game of Thrones

Is it “great” for teens?: It wouldn’t be on my top ten, but I think it’s a decent book. It’s not written FOR teens, but that doesn’t mean that it’s not appropriate and enjoyable for them.

Art Taste:

bdlr1p3

We Need Diverse Books / Overwhelmed in the face of all sorts of racism

by Tessa

Yesterday I gave myself a holiday from blogging, but I also didn’t want to keep posting regularly when really I’ve been fixated on the terrible news from Ferguson about the non-indictment of Darren Wilson, and the blithely racist comment that Daniel Handler made on Jacqueline Woodson’s big night, and thinking about how when things get depressing for me I like to retreat into a book, but for lots of Black people and other People of Color they don’t have the privilege of escaping into books where the characters look like them or reflect their lives. Or if they do, the POC in the book are often treated like message or lessons and not people. Just one more privilege that is not afforded them.

So, if you’re looking for places to donate this holiday season or just because you want to act in some small way, check these out:

1. The Ferguson Library (here’s a post on Book Riot about their great work)

2. We Need Diverse Books campaign

I’ve turned off comments on this post because I don’t feel like debating anyone. This is obviously my personal opinion. Regular posting will continue tomorrow.

Reading the Great Graphic Novels 2015 Noms: Already reviewed from Telgemeier, Tamaki(s), Pope, and Smith

by Tessa

Read about the whys of this series here.

Sometimes you eat too much pizza. Sometimes you review a book on a nominations list that you were planning to write mini reviews on. Sometimes you do both when the mini-reviews are to be written. I already did the work, so you can clicky click to the reviews!

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Sisters

Raina Telgemeier, writer and illustrator

Graphix (Scholastic)

I reviewed it on here!

Excerpt: “Telgemeier’s writing and drawing makes me feel comfortable, like I’m reading a surprisingly interesting (and long) cartoon in a newspaper. Her family stories have the rhythm of a good sitcom, replete with punchlines and realistically wacky situations. I was so happy to slip back into those rhythms. . .”

Is it “great” for teens?: Yes. Telgemeier is my go-to author for realistic teen comics, and this one is no exception.

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The Rise of Aurora West

Paul Pope, Writer

J.T. Petty, Writer

David Rubin, Illustrator

First Second

I reviewed it on No Flying No Tights

Excerpt: “The daughter of Arcopolis’s late science hero, Haggard West, the gritty Aurora has a room full of secrets and a calling to kill the monsters that have overrun her city. The Rise of Aurora West is a bracing piece of the fantastic. It will retain fans of theBattling Boy world with a compelling mix of new backstory and connections to that which is to come.”

Is it “Great” for teens?:  Yes. I love the adventure, danger and mystery in the world that Pope has created, and Aurora has a complex and emotionally layered story to tell. (Just wish it were in color).

thisonesummertamaki

This One Summer

Jillian Tamaki, illustrator

Mariko Tamaki, writer

First Second

I reviewed it here!

Excerpt: “It’s a summer made of moments, and some of them will affect Rose in obvious, rememberable ways, and some of them are the kind that pass by and come back in embarrassment or with a laugh years later, or might never be remembered at all. Here we get to see them play out and wonder which are which.”

Is it “great” for teens?: Yes. I think everyone should read this. It’s gorgeous. Read it. Read it. Read it.

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Barbarian Lord

Matt Smith, writer and illustrator

Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

My review is over at No Flying No TightsHere’s a small excerpt:

“Those who come to Barbarian Lord looking for a simple adventure will find their fair share of fights, trolls, political machinations, and swords. However, some readers may be put off by its formal language and sentence construction (e.g. “Your gods are as grim as your land. You should look to Skraal, who flies over your mountain god and must then be his better”). For those who love traditional storytelling and the epic deeds of gods, monsters, and men, there is much to enjoy herein. Barbarian Lord subverts expectations by delivering more than it seems at first to offer—just as Barbarian Lord is more than a brutish warrior beneath the grimace.”

Is it “great” for teens?: I don’t know! I definitely like it. I can see some teens getting into it. Once more of them read it I’ll get back to you….

Reading the Great Graphic Novels 2015 nominations: a hidden Holocaust story, an American dust bowl, tragic trenches, and a controversial birth control crusader

by Tessa

Read about the reasons for this series of posts here.

Sometimes I think reluctance to read about history or historical fiction is that it takes a bit more effort to get into the world (same with sci-fi). Comics that deal with historical events do a lot of the work for you, adding in the dress and buildings of the time. Which leaves you to drink it in and emotionally connect. Since I had a backlog of titles to talk about, I’ve been able to separate them into genres for these posts, and this is a post about comics wtih historical themes.

hidden

Hidden: A Child’s Story of the Holocaust

Loïc Dauvillier, writer

Marc Lizano, artist

Greg Salsedo, artist

First Second

 

Anticipation/expectation level: None. I’d skimmed some positive reviews. I liked the cover design.

My Reality: Hidden is a deftly done look at the Holocaust for younger readers. A small girl learns about what happened via her grandmother, Dounia, who was so young herself during the War that at first her parents don’t even tell her what the Star of David is meant to signify when the Jews are forced to wear it – she thinks she’s a tiny Sherriff. If that sounds too cutesy, don’t worry. Hidden walks the line between gentle and real. Dounia goes through a heartwrenching separation from her parents, and the stakes are high for her throughout the war, but she doesn’t have to survive the concentration camps, and she does get a happy ending. The fact that she’s telling her story for the first time to her granddaughter adds an extra emotional layer. The art has that Bande Dessinee feel to it (I will get better at describing this but not today) in its detailed backgrounds and muted color pallette, but the characters are simply designed, which may lead to confusion in younger readers who can’t tell all the adults apart .

Will teens like it?: I think this is geared much younger. Readers are meant to identify with the granddaughter and Dounia, and they can’t be more than almost tweenage.  Teens can definitely enjoy it, but I wouldn’t say it’s for them.

Is it “great” for teens?: It’s great, but teens are ready for a harder look at this time period.

Art Taste:

a page from Hidden, via Haaretz

a page from Hidden, via Haaretz

 

greatamericandustbowl

The Great American Dust Bowl

Don Brown, writer and illustrator

Houghton Mifflin

Anticipation/expectation level: Again, great cover design.

My Reality: This book is great! It’s small (but tall) and retains the air of a picture book, in the deceptive way that Raymond Briggs’ books can. Brown uses the page to emphasize the immensity of the environment in western America, the small person constantly in comparison with the huge sky, the stretching dirt vistas, and the towering clouds of grit that would more and more frequently come to destroy homes and lives, or at least make them a daily struggle. Brown takes us through the facts of the situation, including quotes from people who lived through it, inserted into text bubbles from his drawn characters. I find it hard to imagine reading this book and not wanting to know more.

Will Teens like it?: If someone pushes them to read it.

Is it “great” for teens?: Oh yes.

Art Taste:

DustForBlogSlide

treatiestrencheshale

Nathan Hale’s Hazardous Tales: Treaties, Trenches, Mud, and Blood

Nathan Hale

Amulet Books

Anticipation/expectation level: HIGH. I have read and cherished the reading experience of each book in this series: One Dead Spy  (American Revolution), Big Bad Ironclad (Monitor and Merrimack (why isn’t that a rap duo yet)), and Donner Dinner Party (cannibalism frontier tragedy).

My Reality: I dunno, this might be the best one yet. I have read about World War I in the context of history, art history, English Literature, and War Movies, I knew that it basically shocked Western Civilization to the core, but I have never encountered a book that got through to me exactly how and why it was so shocking and stupid and a waste of life.

If you haven’t read a Nathan Hale’s Hazardous Tales book before, the premise is that Nathan Hale, Revolutionary patriot/spy is on the gallows. He utters his famous last words: “I only regret that I have one life to lose for my country,” and they are so historic that the gallows become a history book, snap him up, give him knowledge of the future, and spit him out. He then drags out the time before his execution explaining historical events to the dumb, always hungry executioner and the arrogant British soldier.

The books are packed with small panels, done in 2 or 3 colors, very factual but also very funny.

 

World War I is a huge subject, and much bigger of a focus than any of the other books in the series, but Hale makes it work by casting countries as representative animals (like Maus, but with less psychological weight to the animals) and making good use of maps. Each section of the book opens with a representation of the war as a hungry mechanical Ares, that gets increasingly scary and full of bloodlust as the book goes along:

1018140833a

 

It’s very effective.

Will teens like it?:  I think so. I should foist some on some teens.

Is it “great” for teens?: Yes. It’s great for adults, too. And I think it’s marketed to younger ones.

Art Taste: see above for my stunning cell phone pics.

womanrebelbagge

Woman Rebel: The Margaret Sanger Story

Peter Bagge, writer and illustrator

Drawn & Quarterly

Anticipation/expectation level: Low. In my time during grad school I somehow managed to pick up the ONE BOOK in Pitt’s library about birth control/obscenity laws that was not pro-Sanger or directly about Sanger (for some light reading? I can’t remember). It’s called The Sex Side of Life: Mary Ware Dennett’s Pioneering Battle for Birth Control and Sex Education by Constance M. Chen, and I’m pretty sure it’s the only book of its kind because I spent a lot of time tracking it down by finding the correct subject headings and doing many searches in Pitt’s library catalog. This was before I had Goodreads aka the Dark Ages. ANYWAY. Mary Ware Dennett did some pretty rad things for women and birth control information dissemination, and Margaret Sanger was threatened and made jealous by it, according to Chen, who sees Sanger as more focused on the press than reform.  Sanger doesn’t come off too well in the book — here’s one choice description: “Like other unthinking people, whether liberal or conservative, Sanger was myopic and intolerant.” (162). Chen’s low opinion was convincing, so much so that that is almost the only thing I remember about the book lo these years later, even though the book is about a whole other person. (Seems like Margaret Sanger had that effect on people for most of her life.)

On the other hand, that is one side of the story. A side with research to back it up: Sanger was intolerant. For instance,  a reader of the NY Times wrote the paper in response to a review of Sanger’s life to note that in”her 1926 Vassar College graduation address, entitled “The Function of Sterilization.” Sanger praised the infamous anti-Semitic and anti-Italian Immigration Act of 1924, which she said had “taken . . . steps to control the quality of our population. . . . While we close the gates to the so-called ‘undesirables’ from other countries, we make no attempt to cut down the rapid multiplication of the unfit and undesirable at home.”

But she also had a really interesting life, one that was recently touched upon in an excerpt of Jill Lepore’s new book on Wonder Woman, published in the New Yorker. In it, Sanger’s unusual marriage situation is discussed – it was an open arrangement. So I was interested to read a book about her and get a better view of her.

My Reality: I wish that this book had provided a better view of Margaret Sanger. I realize that Peter Bagge deals in hyperbole and grotesque figures, and this could work with Sanger, who was a sensationalized figure and used it to her advantage in pushing her agenda forward. I don’t think his drawing style worked to the advantage of the book. When it comes to real people in a comic book, they can be drawn without a slavish devotion to realism, but the way Sanger and her contemporaries are drawn leaves little to their characters but big gestural emotions – either bug eyed and gape mouthed or glaring and growling, with a pace that sets Sanger continually clomping from one place to another, one bed to another, and one year to another with no time for the reader to catch their breath or find their place in the story.

Bagge works in roughly chronological order, stringing together important scenes from Sanger’s life. We see some of her personal experiences that he uses to show her opinions being crystallized, and we see more public moments in her life, where Sanger is speaking and fighting entrenched ideas about women, and we see personal anecdotes that show her as a woman with radical sexual ideas. I didn’t get a great sense of context, of who else worked in the movement and helped Sanger, or even of personal growth. Sanger as a character here comes pretty much intact, only gaining the confidence she needs to speak out and make her voice be heard. The way she is drawn and written makes her one-sided. And that’s fine. History needs people willing to be assholes sometimes, especially when the culture is an asshole to you. But I wouldn’t call this a nuanced portrait of an asshole. It’s very frenetic, bombastic, and jumpy, leaving me with a mish-mash of impressions of Sanger giving eye-daggers to one and all. I’d probably gain more respect for Sanger from other sources and learn more about the movements she helped start or continue.

Will Teens like it?: It’s attention catching enough that teens into social justice or social movements could be attracted to it.

Is it “great” for teens?: I don’t think that this covers the bases that I want to be covered with a historical biography, so no.

Art Taste:

WOMANREBEL-bagge38

And, the real Margaret Sanger:

sanger

Reading the Great Graphic Novels for Teens 2015 noms: Gandhi, giants, and other real lives

by Tessa

Read about the whys of this series here.

It’s always fun to see what kind of comic biographies and memoirs are published in a year. You never know who you’re going to learn about.  Here’s my take on the nominated bios and memoirs.

gandhiquinn

Gandhi: my life is my message

Jason Quinn, writer

Sachin Nagar, illustrator

Campfire Bookas

Anticipation/expectation level: I wasn’t a fan of the other Gandhi graphic novel I’ve read (that got on a GGNT list), so I just hoped that this one was better. I had enjoyed Jason Quinn’s take on Steve Jobs from Campfire press, as well.

My Reality: I am convinced that no one should try this again unless they are Osamu Tezuka and want to do a bio of Gandhi in the same vein as the multi-volume Buddha – that is, comprehensively, with humor, and not so concerned with the facts. Because the fact is that there are a lot of facts about Gandhi, and when they try to be shoehorned into one book it tends to turn into a mess of jumping around in time, explicating things, and hero worship. Which is how I feel about this.

The setup doesn’t make sense to begin with. Gandhi is near the end of his life about to go out to a rally, and starts to reminisce. It doesn’t ring true that anyone would reminisce about their life as if they were explaining it to an audience, in chronological order. Why the weird framing device?

The art and panels are well-designed, with an eye to keeping the eye fresh. Characters are portrayed in a realistic style that has an energetic aesthetic – a nice change to comic biographies that feature leaden art that seems to be worried it won’t be realistic enough, and sinks under those worries.

1018140831

Here’s a terrible cell phone photo for an example.

The thing is that they tried to fit too much into too small of a book. As you can see there are Too many words, but the art has a light, life-filled energy, and the panels fit the story, instead of constraining it into a fixed number per page. Yet even creative paneling can’t help pacing that is jumping years with each page turn. There’s not enough time or room to explain who everyone is or give a proper context to the social and political situations. The authors use Gandhi to gloss over any uncomfortable issues in his life (probably leaving worse ones out, I don’t know, I haven’t read a proper biography that tries to be objective). I was left with the general feeling that Gandhi was a great guy, and the rest of it was a blur. And that’s why I don’t think it’s a very good introduction or short overview either – I just get the feeling that we’re not getting the whole story.

Will Teens like it?: Teens will definitely like to use this for any reports or papers they need to do on Gandhi

Is it “great” for teens?: To be great it would need to be a lot longer and more comprehensive.

Art Taste: see above.

boxerhaft

The Boxer: The True Story of Holocaust Survivor Harry Haft

Reinhard Kleist, writer and artist

Self Made Hero

Anticipation/expectation level: I knew nothing about this and barely looked at the cover or jacket copy before starting to read it.

My Reality: This was fantastic! And heartbreaking. My visual literacy failed me because I didn’t notice the people on the cover who are clearly entering a work camp during World War II. The book opens with a boy on a mysterious drive with his angry, menacing father – Harry Haft. Soon it goes to flashback and the man that was just so alarming and unlikeable becomes sympathetic in short order. (Not a)Spoiler: at the end of the book the trip at the beginning is revealed and, if you are like me, will leave you sobbing. I feel like most people could just pick up the book and read the story fresh – no synopsis needed, but if you want one:

Harry gets sent to the concentration camps early in the war, and even younger than the age limit at which the Nazis were then taking people – because of a simple mixup that might easily never have happened. He endures years going from camp to camp, making what allies he can, protecting who he can, and being made to box other inmates. Even when he makes it through he has anger, grief, and life to contend with.

Kleist’s art reminds me of Nate Powell’s. He’s very adept at using black brushstrokes and maneuvering around light and shadow to make powerful splash pages and to bring out the oppressive atmosphere of the camps. The world opens up on the page, with panel borders often eschewed in place of white space.

Will Teens like it?: They might not pick it up off of the shelf without a hand-sell but it’s an engaging story that is tightly paced and has a great chance of hooking a teen brain.

Is it “great” for teens?: Yes

Art Taste:

Boxer Title Slide 3

dumbestideaever

The Dumbest Idea Ever!

Jimmy Gownley, writer and artist

Graphix/Scholastic

Anticipation/expectation level:   I’d read the last of Gownley’s Amelia books, and liked it, but didn’t have the attachment of reading the full series.

My Reality: Gownley tells the story of his own adolescence, framed through his rediscovery of comics and discovery of seeing himself as a comics artist, due to being grounded by illness. He struggles with first love, being bored in a small town, and the perils of success at a young age. As a writer, Gownley knows how to keep on the level of tweens and teens – his pacing is steady and hits the right notes of pratfalls and embarrassments and dumb jokes but doesn’t forget the depth and immediacy of feeling that comes with growing up and feeling grown up. He also treats the creative journey seriously and shows it as work, and work that teens can do – not something that’s magic, and not viewed through a hackneyed lens of nostalgia. It’s a hard balance to strike! His art is simple, with the heightened physicality and gestural faces suited to the story (think Raina Telgemeier and Lynn Johnston)

Will Teens like it?: Teens are the best audience for this (not that adults won’t enjoy it) – and they already do like it.

Is it “great” for teens?: Yes, it has fun, understands them, and treats them like humans.

Art Taste:

Dumbest-Idea-Ever-page-19-46d99

andreboxbrown

Andre the Giant: Life and Legend

Box Brown, writer and artist

First Second

Anticipation/expectation level: High. At some of my most impressionable times in childhood I watched The Princess Bride (over and over) and saw the first Andre the Giant Has a Posse stickers before Shepard Fairey became famous. But I didn’t know much about him or his wrestling career, and so was looking forward to the comic.

My Reality: I did learn so much more about Andre. Box Brown goes to great lengths to research his life and provide a picture of the whole man, warts and all, drawing heavily on interviews, videos of wrestling matches, and articles (detailed in a lenghty endnote/bibliography section). It’s a book about Andre, but it also necessarily presents a backstage view of the business of wrestling, and that proves fascinating as well.

His pared down figures and carefully composed panels have a surety to them that adds to the feeling that this a story that comes from dedicated time – an analogue to a long-form profile in a magazine like the New Yorker. The world that Andre lives in is clear and unchangeable, and often cruel, just as Andre’s disease is unchangeable and inevitable. Andre has to navigate both as best he can, and the struggle, kept inside, is shown through his actions more than his words. At the end of it, I didn’t feel like I knew Andre as a person, but I felt like I knew his world. I couldn’t tell if it was because Brown wanted to stick closely to his sources and not speculate about Andre’s feelings, or if it was because Andre was naturally a private person, and no one really knew him in that way. But it’s definitely a book that sparks an interest for more – and that is something that I think makes a nonfiction comic great.

Will Teens like it?: Teens who are into wrestling will definitely like it. I wonder how many teens know who Andre the Giant is… but he has a story that is interesting regardless of his level of fame, and the anecdotal nature of the story is good for teen readers.

Is it “great” for teens?: I’m on the fence.

Art Taste:

Andre-Giant-Acromegaly

fifthbeatle

The Fifth Beatle: The Brian Epstein Story

Vivek Tiwary, writer

Andrew Robinson, artist

Kyle Baker, artist

Dark Horse

Anticipation/expectation level: Skeptical. There are a number of Beatles comics from different angles (okay, I don’t know if there are a number. There’s at least one other). What angle is this working, and what does it add to what’s already out there? How does it stand up?

My Reality: It’s very hard to argue that anyone involved with the Beatles was more important than the Beatles. One might be able to make a case for Brian Epstein, their manager, who worked tirelessly to get them signed after rejections all over the place, and had a lot of great PR ideas and ambitions for the band. However, I don’t know if this is the book that really seals the deal on that argument. The endeavor feels uneven as a reading experience. For example, Baker and Robinson’s art is in some ways a perfect fit for the time period it’s representing – the faces are fresh but a bit mischievous and elfin, the bodies fit well in their jaunty, modern clothing, all angles and curved, swooping hair. The light of Liverpool is foggy and hushed, except when Epstein falls into his daydreams of matadors – but the faces also look too posed – they’re not speaking, they’re cutouts behind speech bubbles. The establishing scenes are reused in several places as if to cut corners, and the art can at times take a turn for the too-digital, clashing with the penciled feel of the rest of the pieces. The story, too, propels itself on Brian’s ambition. He feels a connection with the Beatles – which is explained through a confusing mashup of a live show and an anecdote about a matador. Then the reader is left to take the drive at face value and go along for the ride – as are the Beatles themselves, mostly shown as jokey and game for Epstein’s help – the lucky recipients of his magic touch. Then there’s Moxie, the figment of Epstein’s imagination who is also sort of real? I’m not sure what the book is trying to impart other than an awareness of Brian Epstein, but it looks good doing it.

Will Teens like it?: Unless the teen is a huge Beatles or 60s nerd, probably not.

Is it “great” for teens?: I would not say it’s great. Or for teens. But I don’t regret reading it.

Art Taste:

fifthb1p3

 

Next week: more books!

Reading the GGNT 2015 noms: X-Men and L’il Gotham

by Tessa

Read about the whys of this series here.

I’m starting off with these 2 superhero books because it’s easier for me to write about stuff that I don’t enjoy. I like categorizing things so I made categories loosely related to how I would read things for the committee, with the knowledge that I have only the other nominations to compare them to because I haven’t been reading feverishly all year, and no teen feedback, so it really isn’t like a real committee reading experience.

One of the great things about the Great Graphic Novels for Teens committee is that there are 11 people on it, all with different tastes in comics, so hopefully no type of comic is given short shrift. Being on the committee exposed me to so many comics I never would have read. I still haven’t developed a depth of knowledge about Marvel and DC, but I do have a bit of breadth now, and a few new favorites. Full disclosure of personal biases: I’ve read enough to know that I have reservations about the usefulness of the superhero story and I might be a tad reactive to overused tropes. But I’d never say that I hate all superheroes. I just want better for them.

Batman_Li'l_Gotham_Vol_1_1

Batman: Li’l Gotham V. 1 & V.2

Dustin Nguyen, artist & writer

Derek Fridolfs, writer

DC Comics

Anticipation/expectation level: Guessing I’m going to enjoy it.  I like Batman comics, like a large number of people.  I like Dustin Nguyen’s art, and this book is no exception – just flipping through it ups the appeal.

Reality: The first volume has small stories that are all centered around holidays, some more popular and some that feel like a stretch. This seems like the one concession (other than the art) to Gotham being “Li’l” – the crimes and hijinks happen around something relatively frivolous like a holiday, so it’s cuter? Instead, it feels trivial and disjointed. And as much as the art is beautiful, it doesn’t quite fit the subject. The watercolors make the action more hectic & unfollowable, the chibi-izing of the characters, especially all the Robin iterations, make their features more indistinguishable, and creating some confusion. And Damian is annoying as usual, which doesn’t help.

Good to Know: I read these in a dour mood.

Will Teens like it?: I think younger teens will, for sure. I’d put this on the upper-elementary middle grade side of the library.

Is it Great (for teens)?: I don’t think it coalesces as a comic enough to be great, but I’d totally recommend it to a teen.

Art Taste:

Batman_Li'l_Gotham_Vol_1_1_Textless

X-Men: Battle of the Atom

Brian Michael Bendis, Brian Wood, Jason Aaron,  Frank Cho,  Stuart Immonen, David Lopez, et al 

Marvel

battleoftheatom

Anticipation/expectation level: I enjoyed the lead up to this event, All New X-Men: Yesterday’s X-Men, which if I remember correctly, was on the 2014 GGNT list. In that one, the X-Men of the past are brought into the future/present to scare them into making better choices. Also, I generally like the idea of the X-Men, and reading what Bendis writes, so I was expecting an interesting and pleasant ride.

Reality: It was so hard to force myself to finish this. The basic plot is that the X-Men from the past have stayed in the future-present because they feel they’re doing good there. But then X-Men from the future-future come in to tell them they are wrong and must go back to the past-past, but they can’t say why. No one trusts anyone, everyone fights with each other, even more future X-people become involved.Unless you are really into X-Men genealogy via time travel and enjoy the type of plot that consists of people sniping at each other endlessly, I find it hard to believe that this book holds an appeal to comics lovers who appreciate exciting art combined with an exciting story. Although if you read it as a cautionary tale about the drawbacks of being born a mutant in a world that will drive you and your kind to an extinction by infighting, then it is very interesting indeed. I found myself wishing for an alternate universe where X-Men stories were told in seasons like Star Trek, and could be enjoyed on their own. Each season’s strengths would make readers want to explore the universe as a whole, without creating events, crossovers, and time travel dilemmas.

Will Teens Like it?: Probably? Most of the teens I know read manga -this is one where I’d like to hear teen feedback.

Is it Great?: It’s a great big something.

Art taste: Standard superhero

6-battle-of-the-atom

Reading the GGNT Noms Preface: What is it and why is it.

by Tessa

For the previous 3 years, I was lucky to be chosen to volunteer as a part of the Great Graphic Novels for Teens selection list committee. This list might be unfamiliar to anyone who is not a librarian, so I’ll explain: Librarians have a professional association called ALA (American Library Association). There are divisions within it, and the one that serves librarians working with teens is YALSA (Young Adult Library Services Association). YALSA’s work includes selection lists and book awards that help librarians across the country know about the best books of the year for their readers and libraries, including audiobooks, books for reluctant readers, and more. Full info is here.

The awards process is much more secretive (and prestigious) than the selection list. The selection committees read within their charge – ours was to find the best graphic novels published from September of the preceding year through December of the selection year (eg. Sept. 2013-December 2014 for the 2015 list – the list is named for the year in which it is published and NOT the year most of the books were published, SO CONFUSING). The committee members (there are 11) nominate titles by reading as much as they can get their hands on (this can be difficult for comics), solicit feedback from actual teens about the titles, and meet to discuss nominations twice a year during the ALA conferences.

The nominations list is finalized at the end of October, and the list is voted on and published at the end of January/beginning of February in the following year.

Which is all to say: being on the committee was a lot of work and 3 years was enough, but I totally miss it because it was like the best book club ever. I don’t miss having to read books whether I liked them or not (and you can see the toll it has taken on my reading pace here:)Screen Shot 2014-10-27 at 10.20.57 AM

But I do miss feeling like I’m on top of what’s new in comics, despite having a fun gig reviewing at No Flying No Tights.

So I’m reading all the nominations this year and I’m going to do mini reviews here.  This is extra exciting because, even though our meetings were open to anyone at the conference, we were discouraged to talk about the books on social media/blogs, even if we didn’t explicitly say we were on the committee.

But now I’m not on the committee! Let the reviews begin – they will start tomorrow and go up every Friday.

I also want to note that anyone can nominate a book  (as long as you’re not a creator or publisher of the book)- there’s a form on the YALSA site. That doesn’t mean it’s an official nomination, but it brings it to the attention of the committee and they are then supposed to read it.

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