NightLights

nightlights

Image Credit: Nobrow, Lorena Alvarez Gómez

Gorgeous.

NightLights is a new graphic novel about a magical girl who draws outside of the lines. Sandy has trouble fitting in; she’s a day-dreamer, a creative-type, and is misunderstood by not only her peers but her teachers.

Sandy has power. She takes the lights that appear in her bedroom and turns them into whimsical creatures. In her dreams she interacts with them and doodles them in the morning (and during class). Her classmates bully and tease her for having her head in the clouds until one day, a new girl named Morphie befriends her and tells her how good her art is. Interestingly enough, Sandy is the only person who can see Morphie but as she grows closer to the magical girl, she starts to feel uneasy.

Morphie is a greedy being; greedy for Sandy’s delicious & beautiful drawings. Even worse, Morphie begins to make Sandy question her creativity and independence; “And once you realize that you need me to tell you how brilliant you are, nothing will keep us apart!” she says.

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Image Credit: Nobrow, Lorena Alvarez Gómez

Morphie…is Sandy’s insecurity.

This story excellently explores the emotional difficulty of “not fitting in.” Sandy doesn’t think linearly; her mind blossoms with color and creatures and magic and so she has trouble in her rigid Catholic school. Insecurity slowly starts to creep in. As she battles herself, she finds strength by embracing her creativity (and even her insecurity and fear). This is such an important message for readers of all ages.

Alvarez creates a setting inspired by her hometown of Bogotá, Colombia (but dipped in colorful fantasy that rivals Miyazaki). NightLights works well as a graphic novel; each panel’s dialogue and illustration are well crafted. Her attention to detail and use of color is amazing! She weaves reality with fantasy to create a world that is both beautiful and terrifying. Readers will feel uneasy when Sandy interacts with Morphie & the twisted monsters she’s forced to create. They’ll also feel proud of her as she explores the beauty of her mind. I had a really great conversation with illustrator Erin Baker who pointed out the motif of “eyes” in this book. Sandy’s eyes are extremely expressive and the eyes of her fantasy creatures are fascinating and creepy.

There’s a lot packed into this graphic novel and I’m really excited for it to release in the United States. I hope you’ll check out NightLights!

Recommended for: 3rd Grade and up
Great for: Inner Strength, Insecurity, Determination, Power, Diversity, Community, Family, Confidence, Creepy, Fantasy, School Life, Daydreamers, Creative Thinking
Book Info: NightLights by Lorena Alvarez, 2017 Nobrow, ISBN: 9781910620137

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The Sea Tiger

TheSeaTiger

Image Credit: Templar Books (Candlewick Press), Victoria Turnbull

The illustrations are gorgeous, right? 🙂

The Sea Tiger explores themes of friendship, protection and encouragement. In the story, The Sea Tiger is the narrator but Turnbull uses speech bubbles for dialogue (and sound!). He is very confident in his presence and power but his best friend, a little Mer-Boy named Oscar, is a bit shy. They go exploring together under the ocean; majestic sea circuses and sea carnivals are just a few of their fun adventures.

The Sea Tiger protects little Oscar but like a good friend, he has his best interests in mind and slowly…encourages the young Mer-Boy to venture out and make a new friend. Their friend circle widens and their relationships are enriched.

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Image Credit: Templar Books (Candlewick Press), Victoria Turnbull

Turnbull’s colored pencil illustrations remind me of old Chinese scrolls; the way she draws the tiger with his whispy tendrils of floating hair, the beautiful plant life and the muted colors she uses. Her illustrations also look very “vintage,”  especially how she draws the mermaids’ faces. How does she make the pencil look so soft?? Lovely! I also love the singing turtles with their squiggly note-bubbles filling the yellow-green ocean. I hope you’ll enjoy The Sea Tiger as much as I did!

P.S. Pay attention to the front and back endpapers! 🙂

 

Recommended for: All Ages
Great for: Friendship, Fantasy, Encouragement, Deep Sea Life, Animals, Confidence, Protection, Mermaids, Relationships
Book Info: The Sea Tiger by Victoria Turnbull, 2014 Templar Books (Candlewick Press), ISBN: 9780763679866

 

The Black Snowman

TheBlackSnowman

Image Credit: Blue Ribbon (Scholastic Inc.), Phil Mendez/Carole Byard

Merry Christmas!

This is quite a unique story and it’s been on my bookshelf since I was a little girl. Inspired by Frosty the Snowman, this retelling is Afrocentric, inspiring and reminds readers of the importance of love, family and having pride in oneself!

The Black Snowman is a story of a young black boy named Jacob who’s very sad and bitter. It’s almost Christmas and his mother is poor. He equates being black with being poor and comes to believe that all black things are bad; black magic, black people, black everything! We learn of a magic kente cloth from Africa that once belonged to a powerful storyteller. Hundreds of years later, sold like the Africans it once belonged to, the kente is but a rag and is lost…or is it?

On the city streets, Jacob and his brother Peewee make a snowman out of the black snow. Peewee finds the kente in a trash bin and drapes The Black Snowman with the beautiful rag and he comes to life! He tries to teach Jacob the majesty of Blackness. When Jacob is ready to listen, he also teaches him of the wonders and greatness of Africa; encouraging him to realize he descends from great people. The Black Snowman helps save Jacob and his brother Peewee in more ways than one. Jacob finally realizes how lucky he really is to have his mother and brother’s love and finds courage and pride within himself.

Carole Byard’s art is dynamic and colorful. She depicts the dark, cold streets of the inner city at wintertime in a wonderful way. The bright colors of the kente shine through the gray skies and blustery snow. My favorite page is the one with Jacob, Peewee and their mom smiling in the kitchen, embraced in a tight hug.

This unique story about family, poverty, Christmas, and pride in oneself and heritage has so many applications for discussion in the classroom and at home. I hope you’ll seek out The Black Snowman to read and enjoy.

**This book seems to be out of print! Boo…so check your local library and used bookseller!

Recommended for: All ages
Great for: Pride, Siblings, Social Issues, Poverty, Struggle With Identity, We Need Diverse Books, Diversity, Inner Strength, Discussion, Love, Family, Fantasy, Community, Christmas, Afrocentrism, Africa, Slavery, African-American
Book Info: The Black Snowman by Phil Mendez/Illustrated by Carole Byard, 1989 Blue Ribbon (Scholastic Inc.), ISBN: 9780590448734

Ace Dragon LTD.

AceDragonLTD

Image Credit: Candlewick Press, Russell Hoban/Quentin Blake

This US re-issue of Ace Dragon LTD. (originally published in the UK in 1980) is right on time. A clever story filled with quirky writing, it fits right in with our 2015 picture book sensibilities.

In Ace Dragon LTD., John, equipped with his sword on his belt, discovers a manhole-like cover in the ground that says Ace Dragon LTD. After stomping three times, a voice answers his many questions. We find out that LTD. means limited, which means that someone can only do some things, not all. Ace Dragon tells John all the things he can do (like breathe fire and fly) and invites him to go flying BUT, John has to fight him. They meet up, and after proper introductions, fight. John wins best of three and they go adventuring! Ace is a pretty special dragon; maybe he’s not as limited as he thinks.

Hoban and Blake are quite a team in their storytelling/illustrating capabilities. The illustrations are perfectly suited to the story. John is an inquisitive little boy with wild orange hair and Ace Dragon is just the right amount of fierce and friendly; he’s wearing red Wellingtons for goodness sake! 🙂  Quentin Blake’s signature scratchy style with ink and muted watercolors makes for great visual storytelling. Looking for a great adventure and friendship story? Read Ace Dragon LTD.!

 

Recommended for: All ages
Great for: Fantasy, Friendship, Dragons, Animals, Inquisitive Minds, Action/Adventure, Humor
Book Info: Ace Dragon LTD. by Russell Hoban/Illustrated by Quentin Black, 2015 Candlewick Press, ISBN: 9780763674823

 

The Bear Report

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Image Credit: Abrams Books for Young Readers (Abrams), Thyra Heder

 

Have you ever felt uninspired to do your homework? Too bad you didn’t have inspiration in the form of a 600 pound polar bear…some people have all the luck.

In The Bear Report, Sophie has to find three facts about polar bears for class but unfortunately she has a few misconceptions; one is that they’re mean. As she sits in front of the television, avoiding her work, a polar bear suddenly shows up on her sofa and tells her that they’re not ALL mean. Olafur is actually quite a nice guy with varied interests. He takes her to his world and tours her around. They dine on fish sticks, he teaches her about whale music, shows her the arctic animals and she even uses her smarts to help them out of a tricky situation. I think it’s safe to say that Sophie’s found what she needs for an excellent school report…and a new friend.

I love the fantasy of this story and it’s very cute. I enjoyed the friendly banter between Sophie and Olafur. Heder crafts an original story with heart. Her watercolor illustrations are beautiful; Olafur and Sophie have the best expressions and watercolor is the perfect medium to depict the translucent blue ice and shiny waters of the ocean. Be sure to check out this excellent story about the beauty of the Arctic and an unlikely friendship!

Recommended for: All ages
Great for: Animals, Humor, Friendship, Fantasy, Inspiration, Environment, Northern Lights
Book Info: The Bear Report by Thyra Heder, 2015 Abrams Books for Young Readers (Abrams), ISBN: 9781419707834

 

The Stories Julian Tells

StoriesJulianTells

Image Credit: Bullseye Books (Alfred A. Knopf), Ann Cameron/Ann Strugnell

The Stories Julian Tells is fantastic. It’s a story full of poetic lines, vibrant imagery and is simply magical. It opens with Julian and Huey’s father making a lemon pudding for their mother; you’ve never seen such enthusiastic cooking! He says “Leave the pudding alone!” and then almost instantly falls asleep on a chair. His boys disobey of course, one taste leads to another and before they know it, the whole pudding is gone! The Stories Julian Tells features several interconnected stories that showcase Julian’s fantastic stories, his brother Huey’s imagination, their parents’ love for them and friendship. I love the Catalog Cats! Who knew invisible cats help your garden grow?

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New Cover…cute but I’m partial to the original

This short novel is an excellent example of a story that features a family of color but doesn’t focus on the fact that they are a family of color and is not “historical.” They’re just a super cool Black family in the 80s! Perhaps many readers grew up with this book and love it. Ann Strugnell’s illustrations are magical and suit the story perfectly. Newer editions have an “updated” cover but I really love the original. The Stories Julian Tells is a great read aloud book and is also good for the classroom; so many discussions to be had about Julian and Huey and their fabulous stories.

 

Recommended for: 1st Grade and up
Great for: Diversity, Fantasy, Friendship, Morals, Discussion, Family, Read-Aloud, African-American
Book Info: The Stories Julian Tells by Ann Cameron/Illustrated by Ann Strugnell, 1989 Random House Books for Young Readers, ISBN: 9780394828923

A Court of Thorns and Roses

Image Credit: Bloomsbury USA, Sarah J. Maas

Image Credit: Bloomsbury USA, Sarah J. Maas

I can’t resist a good Beauty and the Beast inspired story. I also can’t resist a well-written romance, especially one with powerful a heroine. Sarah J. Maas’ lush writing will pull you into her complex, romantic world of dark magic and Faeries. If you already love her bestselling Throne of Glass series, you won’t be disappointed. Maas is marketing this novel as “New Adult” though it is sectioned in Young Adult as well. This book is definitely for the upper age range of teen due to violence and some sexual situations.

A Court of Thorns and Roses opens on a cold wintry evening with huntress Feyre tracking a deer. Her family is depending on her for a kill. She kills an abnormally large wolf that turns out to be more than a wolf; it’s a shape-shifting High Faerie of the realm Prythian. A few hours later another beastly wolf bursts through her door and takes her to his realm as punishment. A life for a life he says. As Feyre is trapped in his realm and in his house, she learns more about Tamlin, her captor and immortal Faerie. Their strong personalities clash but slowly, they start to respect and fall for each other. He needs her and she must fight for him as darkness threatens to change his world forever.

Feyre and Tamlin don’t give up on each other and the most enjoyable aspect of the novel for me was seeing the development of their relationship and the sacrifices they make. Feyre is a strong woman! She doesn’t let him push her around and loves him fiercely. Teens (and adults) who value excellent storytelling with a healthy dose of romance, fantasy and action will enjoy the first novel in this new series.

Recommended for: Older Teens to Adult
Great for: Girl Power, Action/Adventure, Romance, Fantasy, Love, Inner-Strength
Book Info: A Court of Thorns and Roses by Sarah J Maas, 2015 Bloomsbury USA, ISBN: 9781619634442