16 January 2012

16 January 2012– A Slight Change in Programming (for this week)

Normally, I don’t review books that have been out for a while, and I rarely (if ever) review technical books, but the two books I’m reviewing tonight are exceptions to the rule. I’ve been so impressed with these two books, that I felt it would be absolutely criminal to not discuss these books.

Binky Under Pressure


Image Courtesy Kids Can Press

Written and Illustrated by: Ashley Spires
Kids Can Press, 2011
ISBN: 978-1-55453-504-0 (hardback)
$16.95 Ages:  7 and up

Binky the cat is back, and life is good. He’s still an official certified space cat, but the problems he once faced seem so… mundane now. He can defeat alien invaders without leaving his bed, and nothing seems challenging anymore, until one day, a new kitty appears in his space ship. Not one to take occurrences like this lying down, Binky investigates and discovers a frightening secret – one that could get him kicked out of F.U.R.S.T. (Felines of the Universe Ready for Space Travel)! Now, Binky not only has to prove he’s worthy of maintaining his status, but must also deal with a surprise alien invasion!
Binky is a character that the majority of kids can immediately identify with. He is charismatic, fun, endearing, and as human as a cat can be. Having to deal with the pressures of being upstaged (and fearing replacement) are topics that a lot of kids experience, regardless of the reality of the situation. Spires has created a series that while on the surface seems to be a silly cat story, really carries some emotional heft to it. Her artwork is clean and inviting, and Binky’s expressions have to be seen to be truly appreciated.
Final Thoughts
Binky is a great addition to any kid’s personal library. Public libraries and schools would do well to have at least one copy of this book (it wouldn’t hurt to have a copy of the previous book either). Binky is a fun and funny romp with an adorable protagonist who is just too much fun to be read once. This is a definite keeper.


Drawing Words & Writing Pictures


Image Courtesy :01 Second Books

Written and Illustrated by Jessica Abel & Matt Madden
:01 Second Books, 2008
ISBN: 978-1-59643-131-7
$34.99 Ages: 14 and up
Jessica Abel and Matt Madden, veterans of the Graphic Novel scene as well as accomplished teachers have written “A definitive course from concept to comics in 15 lessons”. Presented in much the same way they teach their classes, Drawing Words & Writing Pictures is not some simple Christopher Hart, draw-it-in-a-weekend sort  of book (not that Hart’s books are bad – I grew up on them), but an actual tutorial that aims to teach the dedicated how to write and draw comics.
When I first got this book, I was figuring it was going to be along the lines of most other drawing books with the pencil outlines, etc. While this book does have those, it also approaches the subject from a multitude of angles, offering up not only insights on how to make your art, but why. Abel and Madden don’t strive to push a certain style (in fact, they spend time focused on minimalist artwork, showing how it can be just as impactful as a photorealistic piece), but seek to encourage the reader to find their own style and pace. As you read the book, you forget that you’re not actually in a classroom with these two talking to you.
Final Thoughts
This book is not for everyone. However, if you have the drive and perseverance to get through it, the rewards are innumerable. I have read almost every single book on how to write or draw comics out there, and this book really causes all the others to pale in comparison. You can actually find copies of this book online for cheap, and they have a new book covering graphic novels slated for later this year that I hope to get a copy of. I ‘m not going to lie to you – this is not a book for casual use. What you get out of it is what you put in, and if you’re not dedicated, don’t bother. But, if you really want to hone your skills, this is a definite must have in your library.

10 January 2012

9 January 2011–Tall Great American Folktales


Image Courtesy Stone Arch Books

Written and Illustrated by: Various Edited by Donnie Lemke
Stone Arch Books, 2012
ISBN: 978-1-4342-4068-2 (Trade Paperback)
$12.95 Ages: 6 - 9

 Tall Great American Folktales collects four of the most popular tales of Americana into a new, fun collection from Stone Arch. Originally published individually, Tall Great American Folktales collects the stories of Paul Bunyan, Pecos Bill, John Henry, and Johnny Appleseed. Each tale has an afterward regarding the subject, from a basic revisit of Bunyan’s haunts to a discussion of the historical factuality of John Henry.
As with the vast majority of Stone Arch Books, it’s obvious that the artists and writers really, really enjoy what they’re doing. Each tale really reflects the disposition of the title characters – Paul Bunyan and Pecos Bill both have active, rip-snorting adventures, while John Henry’s tale is quiet (and powerful), and Johnny Appleseed’s story is like a long, slow, enjoyable walk with an old friend. Each artist really nails their subject, infusing a real sense of humanity into their characters, and the writing dovetails quite nicely, capturing not only the flavor, but the cadence of the oral tradition.
Final Thoughts
I’ve always been a big fan of American Folklore, and this is a welcome addition to that canon. In fact, there really needs to be more books on American Folklore in general. Lemke has done a fantastic job of putting this collection together, my only complaint is that they didn’t include a glossary or list of websites to consult for more information. As is, Tall Great American Tales is a great introduction to American Folklore.

Great Article From the Onion's A.V. Club What Makes a Good All-Ages Comic?


Wonderful article about what to look for in comics and graphic novels that speak to all ages.

04 January 2012

Nathan’s Top 10 (plus 1) of 2011 pt. 2


Yesterday, I started my top 10 list of 2011, and tonight I aim to finish the list. So, with no further ado, let’s get right to it:

6. Romeo & Juliet


Image Courtesy Stone Arch Books

Written by William Shakespeare; Retold by Martin Powell; Illustrated by Eva Cabrera

Stone Arch Books, 2011 $6.95

ISBN: 978-1-434234-48-3

Originally reviewed 21 December 2011, Shakespeare’s immortal tale of star crossed lovers comes to life with updated language for today’s readers, but maintains the passion of the original. Full review can be located here.

7. Tricky Coyote Tales


Image Courtesy of Graphic Universe

Written by Chris Schweizer; Illustrated by Chad Thomas

Graphics Universe, 2011 $6.95

ISBN: 978-0-761378-59-4

Reminiscent of the old Choose Your Own Adventure books of my youth, Tricky Coyote Tales puts you in the role of the title character (the different books in the series all focus on trickster animals) and your attempts at getting food and shelter. In addition to being a graphic novel, it also allows the reader some sense of control over the story. Full review can be seen here.

8. Nina in That Makes Me Mad!


Image Courtesy Toon Books

Written by Steven Kroll; Adapted and Illustrated by Hilary Knight

Toon Books, 2011 $12.95

ISBN: 978-1-935179-10-8

Showing young readers that they’re not alone when it comes to different things that make them mad, Nina presents different things that make her mad. Knight’s beautiful artwork really bring this book to life, and the end offers up some sage advice for dealing with things that make anyone mad. Original review can be seen here.

9. How Do We Stay on Earth?


Image Courtesy Capstone Publishing

Written by Amy S. Hansen; Illustrated by Korey Scott

Capstone Press; 2011 $5.95

ISBN: 978-1-429671-74-3

Science has always been a fascinating thing for kids. Long before they get into school and science, they naturally want to know how things are the way they are. This series tackles those hard to explain concepts in such a way that even the youngest readers will easily grasp, while avoiding the tendency of some books to ‘dumb down’ the concept. Full review of this specific book can be found here.

10. Nursery Rhyme Comics


Image courtesy :01 Second

Written and Illustrated by Various; Edited by Chris Duffy.

:01 Second; 2011 $18.99

ISBN: 978-1-59643-600-8

On my list of absolute, all-time favorite books, this ranks up in the top three. Marrying two things that kids quickly identify with – nursery rhymes and comics, the contributors to this collection all take a different nursery rhyme, some standards others obscure, and lovingly render their own spin on the tale. This one needs to be on every parent’s wish list for their kids. Yes, it’s that good. Here’s the full review.

Well, that’s the list of my top 10 for 2011. But wait! You cry out, you said there was to be a plus one! Nodding my head, I smile.

11. Amulet Book 4: The Last Council.


Image Courtesy Scholastic

Written and Illustrated by Kazu Kibuishi

Scholastic, 2011 $10.99

ISBN: 978-0545208-87-1

In the fourth book of Kibiushi’s Amulet Series, Emily, her family and friends are on the move to the city of the Council, Cielis. Once they arrive, they quickly discover that not all is well in the town. The streets are deserted, townsfolk cower in fear, and seemingly normal people have been acting very strange. In addition to this, Emily is spirited away in an effort to compete for a spot on the Guardian Council – the most powerful group of stonekeepers in the world. However, as competitors are eliminated one by one, Emily makes a terrifying and horrific discovery – one that could completely destroy everything that Emily is fighting for.

Kibiushi is an amazing artist, and his pacing is mind blowing. I have read thousands of graphic novels and books over the years, and I can honestly say that Amulet is so engrossing that I tend to forget where I am when I read it. The characters are engaging, honest, and likeable, and they evoke real emotion when you read their stories. If you only buy one book for your school, library, kid, etc. make sure it’s one of the books in this phenomenal series. Seriously.

Finally, I want to also give a nod to one book that falls at the far end of the spectrum of books I review.

12. Manga Man


Image Courtesy Houghton Mifflin

Written by Barry Lyga; Illustrated by Colleen Doran

Houghton Mifflin, 2011 $18.99

ISBN: 978-547423-15-9

Meet Ryoko – smart, athletic, attractive, able to survive alien invasions, giant robot attacks and monsters. He’s your typical manga protagonist.

Meet Marissa Montaigne – popular, beautiful, romantic. The typical female character in any western love story.

After the Rip tears a hole in his world, Ryoko is sucked through to Marissa’s world, where he becomes the ultimate outsider in a seemingly normal high-school themed story. Unfortunately for the bullies and jocks of this high school, Ryoko still retains all of his abilities (not to mention the standard conventions of traditional action manga – speed lines! Super deformed body modification to emphasize certain actions! Article 175!) It’s obvious that Lygia and Doran had a blast making this story – the sheer excitement they pour into this book is evident from the outset, and they do not disappoint at all. This is a delight to read (especially if you’re familiar with Eastern and Western comic book conventions), but this one is reserved for those kids who are ages 12 and up (mostly for the Article 175 bit).

So, that’s the full list of my top 10 for 2011 (plus a bonus or two). If you have any disputes, questions why a title didn’t make it on the list, or want to yell at me for my choices, please contact me via the links to the right.

03 January 2012

Nathan’s Top 10 (Plus 1) of 2011 pt. 1

Well, three days into the new year and I finally have put together my list of the Top 10 books that I felt were exceptional books this past year. Even though I’ve only listed 10 books, there were many, many great books that came out, and this is by no means a definitive list as to the be all end all, just my personal decisions. If you would like to find these books, please click on their images or better yet, check out your local library. These are in no particular order, so the numbering doesn’t mean much.

1. Pilot & Huxley: The First Adventure


Image Courtesy Graphix

Written and Illustrated by: Dan McGuiness

Graphix, 2011 $7.99

ISBN: 978-0-545-26504-1

This was originally my very first review, but due to operator error, it was obliterated from my hard drive (as well as the blog itself). Regardless, Pilot & Huxley is a blast.

When Pilot & Huxley are transported to an alternate dimension (completely ruining their day), they have to face off against aliens, trek through a swamp of bees, meet a monster who can turn into a girl, fight a sea monster and death himself! Now, if they can only survive all of this, and defeat the alien menace, they might be able to make it home in one piece. A total hoot to read, and aimed squarely at boys ages 8 – 12.

2. Knights of the Lunch Table: The Battling Bands


Image Courtesy of Graphix

Written and Illustrated by Frank Cammuso

Graphix, 2011 $10.99

ISBN: 978-0-439-90318-9

Somehow, this slipped through my review fingers, which I’m still kicking myself over. Cammuso has always had a talent for creating engaging, entertaining characters and tying them into classic stories. His latest offering, a send up of Arthurian legend is no different. The third book in his series finds Artie King and his friends having to participate in a battle of the bands to ensure that Mrs. Dagger doesn’t appropriate the annual band money. People familiar with the legends will appreciate the references to the Fisher King as well as the Lady of the Lake, and the subtle jab he takes at the ever-advancing march of technology. This is one of my all time picks (the series all together) and is one that you will really kick yourself for if you miss it. Fantastic stuff.

3. Sidekicks


Image courtesy Arthur A. Levine Books

Written and Illustrated by Dan Santat

Arthur A. Levine Books, 2011 $12.99

ISBN: 978-0-439-29819-3

Originally reviewed July 11, Sidekicks is the tale of a superhero and his (extremely loyal) pets. A fun, heart warming tale of believing in yourself and second chances, this is a fun read. Full review can be seen here.

4. Obama: The Election of America’s 44th President


Image courtesy Capstone Publishing

Written by Agnieska Biskup; Illustrated by Seitu Hayden

Capstone Publishing, 2011. $7.95

ISBN: 978-1-4296-7339-6

I originally reviewed this book during a time when I was not happy with the president. However, I put my personal feelings aside to review this book, and I was pleasantly surprised by it. Biskup stays as neutral as possible with this account of the President’s race to the White House. There are several other books in this series, including one on Sarah Palin, which was also handled very neutrally. While not a traditional choice for a story, these are excellent ways to introduce national figures to younger audiences. The full review can be seen here.


5. Princess Candy: Tales of a Sugar Hero


Image Courtesy Stone Arch Books

Written by Michael Dahl & Scott Nickel; Illustrated by Jeff Crowther

Stone Arch Books, 2011 $7.95

ISBN: 978-1-434-22801-7

A fun collection of previously published adventures details the adventures of Halo Nightly. On her birthday, she’s given a gift by her long lost Aunt Pandora – a chest full of candies. It turns out that when Halo eats a candy, she turns into Princess Candy, defender of kids rights! While the stories don’t really mesh together well, they’re still fun and enjoyable. Full review can be seen here.

Tomorrow night, I’ll cover the other books in the list. Until then, keep reading!