what we don't talk about

We all know that helpful maxim "Don't judge a book by its cover." And we all know that graphic novels are the exception, right?? RIGHT??! After all, they give you a glimpse of the art that will either make or break the book. That quick look at the art style (via the cover) is often the thing that will prompt me to pick a book up at all. When I first saw the fabulous colors and cover art of Charlot Kristensen's young adult graphic novel What We Don't Talk About on Twitter it immediately snagged my attention and prompted me to pre-order (and I'm not mad about it!).

 

what we don't talk about by charlot kristensen book cover
Farai has been in a relationship for two years and has never met her partner’s parents. Until this weekend. 

Farai has finally persuaded Adam to introduce her to his parents, but the visit to the in-laws turns out to be a horrible experience for her. She starts to feel uneasy and ostracised. When confronted about this experience Adam tries to play down the situation and does not show any understanding for his partner's concerns. Then things get a whole lot worse and Farai has to question if she can be with a man whose family does not accept her and who is not willing to face the difficulties related to an interracial relationship. 

Examining contemporary issues of race, bigotry and the difficulties that interracial couples face, What We Don't Talk About is an exciting debut from a burgeoning talent and important new voice in graphic fiction.

 

Farai has been with Adam for two years, and thinks it's well past time that she met her boyfriend's parents. When they take a weekend trip to meet them, though, something immediately feels off. What is going on with his mom and her insensitive comments? When does insensitivity turn the corner into bigotry and racism? Why is Adam closing himself off and ignoring her ? In this contemporary comic, Farai will need to confront microaggressions (and just plain aggression), stereotyping, and decide whether she can live with what she knows now... or if she needs to make a change.

 

In What We Don't Talk About, Kristensen spins a story about, quite literally, the things we don't talk about: family tensions exacerbated by abuse and/or just plain unrealistic expectations, hidden (and more overt) bigotry, the pressure placed on people of color when they must decide between calling someone out on their racism and/or "keeping the peace," and the inevitable relational fallout when partners disappoint you – times one thousand, because gaslighting. While it might not be the most complex of narratives, Kristensen's storytelling has excellent pacing and keeps tensions ratcheting higher and higher. This book has the feel of a thriller, with several moments where as a reader you can't tell if a scene will devolve into actual violence. That alone would make the story a standout, but add in truly delicious art, and you have a bit of magic.

 

And about that art! Kristensen's style avoids outlines and is layered with color and brush texture (from, I'm assuming, a digital medium). It is also full of light: each scene's light source throws gorgeous shadows on the characters, and the effect is colorful and subtle at the same time – gradations of light can add to the tension and mood, or diffuse it. The art was truly the thing that drew me to this comic, and it will be the thing that keeps me reading (and following) Kristensen's future endeavors: it has a gorgeous, unexpected, and lucid quality. I am a bit in awe of how much it added to the story – the art was truly the star.

 

I think the one weakness of What We Don't Talk About is its brevity. The gorgeous art and heavy subject matter are a fantastic juxtaposition, but I came away wanting to know a little bit more about Adam and Farai as characters before this fateful trip: maybe a scene or two with Farai's family? A couple of flashbacks to happier times for emotional contrast? A parallel storyline? It needed *something* but I'm not an editor and I couldn't tell you exactly what would work best. As it is, this brief story still packs a punch, and is certainly worth a read. I'll be looking forward to see what Kristensen does next!

 

In all, What We Don't Talk About is a beautifully illustrated debut graphic novel about the pressures behind the breakup of an interracial relationship. The truly gorgeous art is not to be missed!

 

Recommended for: fans of young adult and contemporary graphic novels, those trying to diversify their reading lists, and anyone interested in gorgeous art!

beetle & the hollowbones

My favorite thing (well, ONE of my favorite things) is when I see a recommendation online for a book that sounds like it's 110% my cup of tea, but I hadn't heard of it yet. YAY for the internet and friends (I consider you all friends, is that weird??!) knowing exactly what I'd like and pointing to it with flashing lights and saying "READ THIS, no really, trust me!!" I don't know who exactly said that about Aliza Layne's middle grade graphic novel Beetle & the Hollowbones, because my brain is made of Swiss cheese, but just know that I love you! Beetle's story is just THE MOST gosh darn adorable thing I've read in a long, long time. It made my heart so happy!


In the eerie town of ‘Allows,
some people get to be magical sorceresses, while other people have their spirits trapped in the mall for all ghastly eternity.

Then there’s twelve-year-old goblin-witch Beetle, who’s caught in between. She’d rather skip being homeschooled completely and spend time with her best friend, Blob Glost. But the mall is getting boring, and B.G. is cursed to haunt it, tethered there by some unseen force. And now Beetle’s old best friend, Kat, is back in town for a sorcery apprenticeship with her Aunt Hollowbone. Kat is everything Beetle wants to be: beautiful, cool, great at magic, and kind of famous online. Beetle’s quickly being left in the dust.

But Kat’s mentor has set her own vile scheme in motion. If Blob Ghost doesn’t escape the mall soon, their afterlife might be coming to a very sticky end. Now, Beetle has less than a week to rescue her best ghost, encourage Kat to stand up for herself, and confront the magic she’s been avoiding for far too long. And hopefully ride a broom without crashing.


Beetle is a young goblin growing up with (and apprenticed to) her grandmother, the Town Witch, in 'Allows, a town full of uncanny creatures. She's slowly learning lowly goblin magic, and of course she loves her grandmother... but she does wish that she could learn sorcery, like her the heroines in her favorite shows and stories. Instead, she's struggling through potion-making and trying to master broom riding, in between visits to her friend Blob Ghost (B.G. for short), who haunts the local mall. But when her former best friend Kat moves back to town to apprentice with her Aunt Hollowbone, everything starts to speed up: evil plans, learning magic, and rescuing dear friends from certain destruction!


Beetle and her grandmother are just... delightful?? I want them to adopt me and teach me magic in their adorable, snug little house. They accept all comers too – not just goblins! It could happen!! Ha. But seriously, Layne's writing and art introduces you to these characters, and makes you fall in love with them in a matter of pages. That is its own kind of magic! Beetle herself is thoughtful, distractible, mischievous, and self-conscious in that early-adolescent way... basically, a normal twelve-year-old. She wishes she could go off to sorcery school, but knows her gran couldn't afford it, so she tries to make her dreams fit the circumstances she lives in. Meanwhile, she's a good friend to B.G., a shape-shifting ghost who is just... too cute for words. It's an ideal-ish world until it isn't, but Beetle never compromises herself, and that's a fantastic lesson for readers young and old alike.


Ummm... what to gush about next? Oh, I know... THE ART. Yes, I am yelling about it because it is fantastic. And I mean that as in it is of otherworldly quality, and also in that it features many and assorted supernatural and/or undead creatures. Just. UGH. I don't have the words, but I'll try. First, it is layered: Layne had help from colorists Natalie Riess and Kristen Acampora, and I think you can totally tell that there were multiple hands involved, because how else you could the art be so detailed and tightly-woven – the shades and magic of it all!! And that brings me to part 2: the colors. The palette is very vibrant, but most scenes are either in shades of purple or orange. Pair that with Beetle and her grandmother's skin tone (a light green), and the effect is very Halloween-y, which matches the cast of eccentric characters (cat skeletons? giant grub/bug janitor? shape-shifting ghosts? pumpkin-head shop assistants?). The loving care and detail in every single character is just... *kisses fingers.* I did not expect to love this book and the world in it so much when I picked it up, but I really, really did/do.


Let's see, other things to mention: this title has really sweet LGBTQ+ representation, both in the media that Beetle consumes (she likes manga shows about sorcery and writes fanfiction!) and in her life – mostly consisting of declarations (and one other thing, which I won't spoil here). Beetle and her grandmother also have a healthy relationship: one of honesty and mutual respect. There's one character who espouses the idea that girls aren't meant to be friends, that they always compete with one another in the end, and that person is soundly beaten and shown to be untrustworthy and abusive. Good messages throughout, accompanied by great art, make for a sweet and wholesome upper middle grade graphic novel! I do think that YA readers on the younger end (12-15) will love this too – it definitely bridges that early tween-teen divide.


Beetle & the Hollowbones is happy-making and delicious, and also inventive and FUN as all get out. I want to read it again immediately.


Recommended for: young fans of middle grade fantasy, magic, and graphic novels, and anyone who is up for a fantastic adventure, beautifully illustrated!

bedtime picture books for little ones with big imaginations

There's a delicate balance that bedtime books must strike: they should be entertaining and spark the imagination... but only so much. After all, the little ones being read to need to fall asleep! These two titles, one newer and one a couple of years old, have loads of imagination packed into them, but also, in their own uncanny ways, tell the story that it's nighttime, and it's safe to go to sleep.


nasla's dream book cover
At bedtime, a mysterious yellow dot appears above the top of Nasla's wardrobe--the new home for her toys now that she's decided she's too old to sleep with stuffed animals. Could it be Timboubou the elephant, or her hippo with the broken foot? As a wondrous, dreamlike world with dancing moons and swinging elephant trunks emerges from the shadows, she longs to sing and reassure her toys, but she worries that dancing and singing at night is not allowed. When her fear grows too big, she finds comfort in the secret charm under her pillow and falls asleep. The surreal imagery of
Nasla's Dream beautifully depicts the imaginary world of a young child learning how to become independent.


In Cécile Roumiguière's picture book Nasla's Dream, illustrated by Simone Rea, a young girl named Nasla has decided she's too old to sleep with her stuffed animals – but she is still a little bit worried about the mysterious yellow dot that shows up in her room once the lights are turned off. Her imagination takes several turns, supposing what the dot might be: her stuffed turtle? An elephant? A squid? All the while Nasla reminds herself that nighttime is not the time for singing, talking, or playing, but for sleeping. And eventually, she falls asleep.

 

Roumiguière’s text takes the authentic twists and turns that minds do when deprived of stimuli in the dark, right before bed (especially imaginative young minds), but it is Rea’s stunning oil paintings that really distinguish this book. The surrealist style is deeply weird and yet somehow comforting: each page spread pictures exactly the sort of thing the brain conjures up while dreaming – ripples in the floorboards, ghosts with long arms, a box with tentacles, and a playful moon, to name a few! The background of all of the pages is black, with vivid colors painted over top or details picked out in primary colors. This is a beautiful, strange book, and it has an unusual appeal. It’s not wholly heartening, and yet it’s also not eerie – it’s just right for bedtime.

 

Recommended for: little ones ages 3 and up, for bedtime storytelling, and especially for young ones who are always dreaming, either awake or asleep.


the night box by louise greig and ashling lindsay book cover
When a little boy opens the Night Box, darkness swoops out, a fox uncurls, and a thousand stars sparkle and shine. Night flows freely then, cavorting and exploring, caring for all its creatures until morning comes, and it’s time for Night to rest again.

With its soothing cadences and air of quiet wonder, The Night Box is sure to charm any sleepy listener who wonders what happens between sunset and sunrise.

I originally picked up Louise Greig's The Night Box, illustrated by Ashling Lindsay, because it was exceptionally pretty, with a whimsical art style and hand-lettered title (and if we're being honest, because of the fox on the cover!). What I found when I read it was a lovely book all-around, with evocative prose, beautiful word choices, and a message about the day ending, the night beginning, and the rhythms of that shift at dusk. The title refers to the metaphor/personification of nighttime living in a locked box, and being mischievous and kind when it is "unleashed" and chases away the day. Nocturnal animals come out to play while others bed down, and the pastoral scenes are gorgeously detailed by Lindsay.

This book is destined to be great bedtime reading, especially to reassure little ones that the dark isn't something to be feared, but to be welcomed. It may not help children already convinced of monsters under the bed, but the comforting and thoughtful text and detailed and whimsical art are sure to be a hit with parents and kids alike.

Recommended for: bedtime story fodder, readers of all ages who want to chase away nighttime's bad reputation, and anyone who appreciates a gorgeously-illustrated picture book.

Fine print: I received a finished copy of Nasla's Dream for review consideration from the publisher. I did not receive any compensation for this post.

two picture books for the little thinker in your life

If the little reader in your life is less than impressed with tall tales of derring-do and/or anthropomorphic cars and dump trucks, let me recommend two quieter picture books. They're excellent for the little thinkers and serious small ones – and the gorgeous illustrations will please adults and children alike.

look, it's raining by mathieu pierloot, illustrated by maria dek
It's Sunday, and Camille, having finished her school work, is feeling a little bored. Her parents are busy with their own projects, so she puts on her raincoat and goes outside to play. Suddenly she hears the thunder roar, and shivers with excitement. She sticks out her tongue to catch raindrops. They taste like clouds. She notices a group of red ants zigzagging along a trail and asks "Where are you going?" The ants reply, "We're going to a show." Camille embarks on an adventure to discover what the show is about and the astounding beauty to be found by closely observing her surroundings.


The last time I visited with my best friend and her two little ones, it was on a rainy September afternoon, and I brought several picture books with me. A surprise favorite with the three-year-old boy was Look, It’s Raining by Mathieu Pierloot, illustrated by Maria Dek. I don’t know if it was due to the day’s rainy weather, just like in the book, or Dek’s watercolor illustrations (and their myriad details), but he was enthralled, reading by himself without knowing any of the words. If a high-energy, go-go-GO! boy can slow down and appreciate this title, I know more contemplative personalities will enjoy it too.

 

Look, It’s Raining is about exactly what you’d expect – noticing the natural world on a rainy day, and all of the little joys and wonders in it. The bugs are putting on a show, the thunder roars, and Camille, the protagonist, takes it all in while wearing her yellow rain slicker, and then returns to her warm, snug home a little more enlightened and less bored.

 

Recommended for: rainy day reading for little ones ages two and up, and those who value observing the beauties of the natural world.


little cheetah's shadow by marianne dubuc cover
Little Cheetah's shadow is missing. When Little Cheetah finds him and learns that Little Shadow is sad because he never gets to go first, Little Cheetah is happy to switch places. As they travel about their neighborhood, Little Cheetah is surprised to learn how hard it can be to follow. Eventually they decide that walking side-by-side is much better, and when they go through a scary tunnel on the way home, they discover they can face the dark together. Little Cheetah's Shadow is a sweet tale of friendship, empathy, and the importance of seeing things from a different perspective, rendered in Marianne Dubuc's warm and inviting illustrations.


In case you’ve never encountered them before, I’ll warn you: Marianne Dubuc’s picture books are sweet, short, and charming, with cozy-beautiful illustrations. Little Cheetah's Shadow is no exception. In it, Little Cheetah has lost his shadow. When he finally finds him, Little Shadow is dejected, and lets Little Cheetah know it’s because he never gets to go first, and Little Cheetah closes the door on his tail when they visit the bakery! Little Cheetah says that doesn’t sound nice, and the two switch places for the day – leading to some revelations and good friendship behavior (caring for others, checking in on them, and helping them when they are scared).

 

Little Cheetah’s Shadow is a satisfying tale with lovable characters and a wholesome message, and beautiful colored pencil-and-watercolor illustrations.

 

Recommended for: little ones ages 3-5, for bedtime story read alouds, and for teaching and modeling empathetic behavior between friends (and siblings!).


Fine print: I received finished copies of these titles from the publisher for review purposes. I did not receive any compensation for this post.

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