across a field of starlight

I am always happy to read science fiction. That’s especially true in today’s modern sci-fi landscape, where more queer, diverse stories are available from major publishers all the time. One of the titles that I’ve had on my radar for a while is Blue Delliquanti’s young adult graphic novel Across a Field of Starlight. Reading for the graphic novel panel for the Cybils Awards gave me the nudge I needed to pick it up, and I fell in love with its innovative plot, excellent characters, and themes. It was one of my favorite books of the year!

across a field of starlight by blue delliquanti book cover
When they were kids, Fassen's fighter spaceship crash-landed on a planet that Lu's survey force was exploring. It was a forbidden meeting between a kid from a war-focused resistance movement and a kid whose community and planet are dedicated to peace and secrecy.

Lu and Fassen are from different worlds and separate solar systems. But their friendship keeps them in each other's orbit as they grow up. They stay in contact in secret as their communities are increasingly threatened by the omnipresent, ever-expanding empire.

As the empire begins a new attack against Fassen's people--and discovers Lu's in the process--the two of them have the chance to reunite at last. They finally are able to be together...but at what cost?

This beautifully illustrated graphic novel is an epic science fiction romance between two non-binary characters as they find one another through time, distance, and war.


Across a Field of Starlight is a sci-fi epic. The Ever-Blossoming Empire and the Fireback resistance are at war, and almost everyone is caught in the cross-hairs – including young Fassen, a resistance orphan, and Lu, part of a neutral party survey team who find them stranded planet-side in the aftermath. These two, in a moment born of stress, find a way to stay in touch despite diverging paths, and the rest is a story of resistance, of broadening perspectives, of unimaginable technology, and of finding ways to do the right thing, even when it is hard.


Fassen has grown up in the resistance, and knows no other world but one of duties, working for your food allotment, and dreaming of destroying the Empire at all costs. Lu, on the other hand, has a best friend who is an AI, pilots their own small research vessel, and lives in a secretive community that doesn’t welcome combatants on either side of the galactic war. They maintain a friendship based on storytelling and delayed communication but cannot share most of their lives with each other. When Fassen is faced with choices that stretch their understanding of right and wrong, Lu and the Field community show them another way of being – but there are deeper and more dangerous elements at play than culture clash. The future of the resistance, and the future of humanity, may be at stake.


I really appreciated the way that this story was one that echoed themes in other popular sci-fi franchises (the Star Wars films, for one), while making its own, hopeful way. Fassen’s place in the Fireback resistance is one that depends on healthy soldiers, and each soldier only has as much value as they bring to the war effort. Lu’s world is completely different – a commune based on mutual aid, sharing, and personal choice beyond subsistence. Author-illustrator Delliquanti asks the reader, through their characters, to consider a kinder, less capitalistic, and more peaceful future for humanity, and resists falling into the storytelling pitfalls of white saviorism and all resistance = good. Across a Field of Starlight is amazingly complex for a young adult graphic novel, and while it won’t appeal to all readers, I loved it.


I also appreciated the fact that Lu is Black and fat, and there’s no discussion of that at all – it’s just the way they are, and Fassen (and other characters’) genderqueer/trans identities are only brought up in the context of being able to afford meds, or what accommodations they must make to appear in a way that matches their identity, or why they might idolize certain other characters. The narrative doesn’t ask them to suffer, or give up their ideals, or even to fall in love, to be who they want to be. I found that added a refreshing, optimistic, and satisfying note to go along with some heavier, more serious notes in the story.


Delliquanti’s art is a major highlight of the book – it’s colorful, imaginative, makes great use of lighting, and totally sells the sci-fi elements of the plot with small details and costuming. A note in the book shares that Delliquanti plots & thumbnails on paper, and then completes the rest of their process digitally. The result is a polished, warm, and interesting take on science and space. There is no cold distance in Delliquanti’s art – it is amazingly cozy, with a rainbow palette. It doesn’t dwell much on the emptiness of space, but instead on the human lives that people it, and how they intend to survive (and thrive) together.


In all, Across a Field of Starlight is not to be missed – it’s beautiful, hopeful, and set in a galaxy that will feel welcome and unique all at once.


Recommended for: all young adult graphic novel enthusiasts, fans of LGBTQ+ fiction, and anyone who likes their sci-fi with a heavy dose of hope and cozy vibes, à la Becky Chambers’ The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet.

the wolf suit

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: I’m glad, as an adult with limited free time for reading, to have the motivation (and a list of nominees!) of being a panelist for the Cybils Awards. It focuses my reading, forces me to set aside the time in my schedule, and picks some of the best titles of the year that I might not have heard of already. A book I wouldn’t have selected on my own, but enjoyed immensely, was Sid Sharp’s elementary/middle grade graphic novel The Wolf Suit.


the wolf suit by sid sharp book cover
Bellwether Riggwelter is, once again, out of blackberries. This time, rather than tiptoe through a forest full of predators, he comes up with a new plan. He will keep himself safe by blending in—he will sew a Wolf Suit! The disguise works perfectly... sort of. Bellwether realizes he can’t enjoy the forest in a bulky suit, and he may not be the only creature in the forest who feels that way. Perhaps not everyone is as wolfish as they appear.

Bellwether the sheep is afraid… of wolves. And since wolves live in the forest, he’s afraid of the forest as well. Since his house is *in the forest* this is really cramping his flower-smelling and blackberry-eating lifestyle! In a fun and funny graphic novel for the ages 7+ set, author-illustrator Sharp plays with the traditional tale of a wolf in sheep’s clothing. Their lovely, stylized, and slightly unsettling artwork is juxtaposed with humor, and twists and turns for a thoroughly entertaining volume.


The Wolf Suit features themes of changing yourself to fit expectations or face your fears and finding unique ways to cope with the tough moments in life. But really, the themes take a back seat to the entertainment factor, which I think is just right for the target age of the audience. Bellwether the sheep also has some mad quilting skills – I appreciated that were no gendered activities/expectations in this book! The moments of hilarity resulted most often from the creatures’ expressions, the situation, and the narrative’s surprises.


Graphic novels live and die by their art, and this title is no exception: it features lush full-color art done in pencil, watercolor, ink, acrylic, and dirt (yes, that last one was a surprise to me too!). In my notes I originally wrote that the art was gorgeous – and I do think it is. But it won’t be everyone’s cup of tea because it’s not cute and sanitized. It’s meant to have a bit of an edge, and I loved that. Mushrooms and spiders appear on several pages, so young readers accustomed to reappearing motifs in picture books will have fun looking for those. The endpapers featured beautiful details of the natural world, with slightly creepy offset eyes – all adding up to a whole that is a little zany and a lot of fun.


In all, The Wolf Suit is beautifully designed, engaging, and just sinister enough. It’s the next step up from Bethann Woollvin’s picture book fairy tale retellings, and features funny anthropomorphic fantasy with no magic, but with a twist.


Recommended for: graphic novels for the younger end of the middle grade reading category (ages 7-9, most likely), and anyone who appreciates twists or new takes on fairy tales.

numb to this: memoir of a mass shooting

There’s a lovely tradition in the high school I work at where teachers to post the title of the book they’re currently reading on their classroom door. I was puttering around last Friday, packing up before Winter Break, and I changed my sign over to show my latest read, Kindra Neely’s graphic novel Numb to This: Memoir of a Mass Shooting. A student who has struggled in my class asked me about it, and then wanted to see the book, and then asked when is it gonna be on the bookshelf? I was reading a library copy, but you can bet I placed an order for this one as soon as I had a spare moment. In my opinion, there’s nothing better than finding a book (the right one, the one they choose!) for that student who needs it. And on top of that, this book is a must-read – an important, shattering story from a gun violence survivor – a chance to listen to someone share what that aftermath looks and feels like. 


numb to this: memoir of a mass shooting by kindra neely book cover
Kindra Neely never expected it to happen to her. No one does. Sure, she’d sometimes been close to gun violence, like when the house down the street from her childhood home in Texas was targeted in a drive-by shooting. But now she lived in Oregon, where she spent her time swimming in rivers with friends or attending classes at the bucolic Umpqua Community College.

And then, one day, it happened: a mass shooting shattered her college campus. Over the span of a few minutes, on October 1, 2015, eight students and a professor lost their lives. And suddenly, Kindra became a survivor. This empathetic and ultimately hopeful graphic memoir recounts Kindra’s journey forward from those few minutes that changed everything.

It wasn’t easy. Every time Kindra took a step toward peace and wholeness, a new mass shooting devastated her again. Las Vegas. Parkland. She was hopeless at times, feeling as if no one was listening. Not even at the worldwide demonstration March for Our Lives. But finally, Kindra learned that—for her—the path toward hope wound through art, helping others, and sharing her story.


Kindra Neely survived the Umpqua Community College mass shooting in Oregon in 2015, and her beautiful, poignant, and searing memoir of the years after is absolutely required reading. There’s some background and context-setting, but the majority of Neely’s book focuses on the day of the shooting and what happened next: how she reacted in the short- and long-term, the impact of PTSD on her life, and the reality of a suicide attempt: all while presenting a front to the world. In the 300 pages of this debut graphic novel, Neely lays herself bare for a purpose, saying “I…went looking for a book about how to deal with the aftermath of a shooting, but I couldn’t find one. Maybe I could make a book to show people like me that they aren’t alone, or that their feelings are normal.”


Neely’s story is not just one of trauma, though it does deal with that. It keeps the tension between hope (she survived, she keeps surviving, she finds meaning in making art & helping others) and realism (there are bad days full of fear, depression is very real, and some people are uncomfortable around those who are open about their trauma). The pacing and scene changes are also telegraphed well and keep the “journey” of Neely’s life (narrative) moving. It is also heartwarming to see the real-life friends come alongside Neely in tough moments, and vice versa, even though no one is without flaws (except maybe Neely’s mom). The supportive, healthy relationships and networks from her life are excellent guides for young readers to follow, internalize, and model in their own lives.


Pacing and storytelling in the graphic novel format rely so much on the art… and I just want to say that Neely’s art is fabulous. I would have no idea that this was a debut – her style and linework are polished, modern, and evocative. The emotion bleeds through the pages, and while this volume is in full color, I think Neely’s neat linework and focus on facial expressions would work in any color palette. There’s doesn’t seem to be a predominant or overarching color theme, but teals and purples show up quite a bit in scenes set in Oregon, and harsh yellows and reds during moments of stress and trauma. Overt symbolism of dragonflies appears throughout (and is explained directly in the text).


Overall, Neely’s story and art are indistinguishable/inseparable – and the result, a compulsively-readable volume, allows her to be vulnerable in the service of helping others. Numb to This is heart-wrenching and incisive and belongs in every high school library in the country.


Recommended for: high school nonfiction collections, and anyone ages 14+ who has been touched by a mass shooting in some way (at this point, everyone in the US).

alte zachen / old things

One of the things I value about volunteering as a Cybils Awards judge is the element of book discovery. I have publishers, authors, librarians, bloggers, etc. that I trust to suggest excellent titles, and I don’t step outside that circle very often. But the Cybils push me to read more widely within a genre (in this year’s case, in graphic novels). One book that I’m not sure I would have picked up on my own? Nominee Alte Zachen / Old Things by Ziggy Hanaor, illustrated by Benjamin Phillips. And that would have been a tragedy because it’s a heart-full title, and one I’ve been thinking of over and over since I put it down. 


alte zachen / old things by ziggy hanaor, illustrated by benjamin phillips book cover
A beautifully illustrated and presented intergenerational graphic novel that follows 11-year-old Benji and his elderly grandmother, Bubbe Rosa, as they traverse Brooklyn and Manhattan, gathering the ingredients for a Friday night dinner.

Bubbe’s relationship with the city is complex – nothing is quite as she remembered it and she feels alienated and angry at the world around her. Benji, on the other hand, looks at the world, and his grandmother, with clear-eyed acceptance. As they wander the city, we catch glimpses of Bubbe’s childhood in Germany, her young adulthood in 1950s Brooklyn, and her relationships; first with a baker called Gershon, and later with successful Joe, Benji’s grandfather. Gradually we piece together snippets of Bubbe’s life, gaining an insight to some of the things that have formed her cantankerous personality. The journey culminates on the Lower East Side in a moving reunion between Rosa and Gershon, her first love. As the sun sets, Benji and his Bubbe walk home over the Williamsburg Bridge to make dinner.

This is a powerful, affecting and deceptively simple story of Jewish identity, of generational divides, of the surmountability of difference and of a restless city and its inhabitants.


In Alte Zachen (Yiddish for “old things,” as the title suggests), grandmother Rosa and her young grandson Benji zigzag New York City on a mission: to gather the necessary ingredients for Friday night dinner. Along the way Rosa comments on the changes in the city, and in life and culture over time. Some of these remembrances and flashbacks are sweet, but many are bittersweet, or sad, or resonate with unfulfilled longing. The parallel journeys of a modern-day shopping trip and a long life, combined with watercolor illustrations in a wash of grays and other muted colors, create a deeply impactful narrative.


Some of the most poignant moments in the book occur when Bubbe Rosa is rude, and Benji must deal with this embarrassment in the moment, and buffer between her and others. These moments aren’t indicative of a cruel temperament, but rather open the way for the reader to learn about some of the traumas of Rosa’s life: escaping to Switzerland from Germany ahead of the Holocaust, the loss of old love, changes to cultural norms, and more. At the same time, you feel almost viscerally for Benji, who loves his grandmother but is trying to gracefully manage in the real world. His Bubbe is trying to impart words and traditions (there’s a Yiddish glossary at the back for context if the reader is struggling), and Benji is just trying to get them to the shops and back without incident. It’s sweet, authentic, and entirely human.


Phillips’ art – a muted watercolor palette in the book – contrasts with the bright orange of the book’s spine, title, and end papers (illustrations of lots of everyday food items in black-and-white on an orange background in a repeating pattern). The art feels unfinished and unpolished in a way, even as it washes over memorable architecture in precise detail. There are wordless stretches, where the art is the only context, and Phillips’ art then shines with the attention to expressions, small details, and the elements of culture: dancing, music, and family. Somehow, they all come to life, in real ways.


In all, Alte Zachen / Old Things is a tribute to memory, to culture, and to intergenerational relationships. It’s a lovely meditation on how we pass on ourselves to our loved ones – imperfectly, but with care (and feeding). I loved it, and I think you will too.


Recommended for: fans of contemporary graphic novels featuring intergenerational relationships, Jewish traditions and culture, and city life. Excellent reading and art for the 12+ set, though appropriate for younger ones as well.

counting board books for art lovers: kahlo's koalas and one white crane

I like gifting board books and picture books whenever I visit the children in my life – it is not-so-secretly my ambition to be remembered as that aunt, the one who always gave interesting books! (and maybe also in some small way sparked a love of reading) I’ve noticed that at most baby showers and birthdays, folks give the same board books they cherished as children. And that’s lovely – who wouldn’t want to share the books they hold dear! I am a little paranoid, however, that I will copy the same book that someone else just gave, so I am ALWAYS, always on the lookout for standout board books to add to my gifting repertoire. Grace Helmer’s Kahlo's Koalas and Vickie Lee and Joey Chou’s upcoming One White Crane are two that I wholeheartedly recommend for art-appreciating parents and their little ones.

kahlo's koalas by grace helmer book coverFrom Henri Matisse’s monkeys and Jackson Pollock's poodles to Roy Lichtenstein's llamas and Wassily Kandinsky’s kangaroos, this beautiful 1-10 counting book provides an imaginative learning experience that will appeal to adults and children alike.

Introduce your little one to some of the world’s best artists while teaching them their numbers 1 to 10. With illustrator Grace Helmer's quirky renderings of animals in the style of world-famous artists, Kahlo’s Koalas extends the basic counting concept in a simple, one number, one image per spread format that introduces the smallest children to their first concept of numbers, animals and art appreciation.


On each page of Kahlo’s Koalas, a different animal and number are featured in the style of a different artist. For example, the book starts with 1 Picasso panda, 2 Kahlo Koalas, and goes from there. The alliterative animal choices make for a fun tongue twister with the artists’ last names, and there are playful artistic choices as well (the Monet mouse in an inner tube among the water lilies was a fun touch!). The artists featured within hail from a wide range of styles and eras, but there are none who are pre-Modern – it’s all Impressionists and onward. One final page at the back of the book talks about each artist’s style and “how” they made their art. Helmer focuses on creating illustrations that mimic the artists’ styles, and leaves the text simple – an effective choice among complex images.


In all, Kahlo’s Koalas is a beautiful, interesting board book introduction to art and counting that is sure to appeal to both toddlers and their parents.

one white crane by vickie lee, illustrated by joey chou book cover
One white crane, two black bears . . .

Simply told and beautifully rendered, this counting board book takes young readers through the months of the year. Each month focuses on a new animal, from seals in May to cicadas in September. Sweet, accessible text in English and Chinese pairs with eye-catching art for a wonderful repeat reading experience.

One White Crane is a bilingual (English and Mandarin) counting book that also teaches the months of the year, and colors as well! Given the twelve months, the count goes up to 12, and there are 12 different animals. The gorgeous Charlie Harper-esque geometric art is featured on each left facing page, and text in English and Mandarin on the right. It is a simple, effective, and quite frankly, beautifully designed book – even if you don’t speak Mandarin and don’t intend to learn! I enjoy gifting bilingual books to children even when their parents don’t speak both languages because any language exposure is good exposure, but this could be a fun way for parents and children to learn side-by-side, or for bilingual parents and families to share their language culture together with their children.


In all, One White Crane is a delightfully simple board book with beautiful art and a lot of learning potential.


One White Crane will be available from Henry Holt & Co./Godwin Books on December 13, 2022.

Fine print: I received a finished copy of Kahlo's Koalas and an ARC of One White Crane from the publishers for review consideration. I did not receive any compensation for this post.

2022 book gift guide


It’s time for my annual book gift guide! This is only the second time I’ve done one, and last year’s effort was a last-minute, slapdash list of the books that I was gifting to friends and family. That’s what this year’s list is too, but at least it’s not the 11th hour. [Insert laughing crying emoji] As always, these aren’t all newly released books, but they’re books I found this year & am gifting for the holidays!


Friends and family: If you are seeing this, it might be a spoiler alert for you and/or your child. Read on at your own risk!


Board books for babies (ages 0-2):


What is a Sloth? by Ginger Swift, illustrated by Manu Montoya – A shiny, short, lift-a-flap board book for babies. I’m getting this one for the newest nibling.


Crack-Crack! Who Is That? by Tristan Mory – There’s a handle to pull, sound effects, and baby animals appear – this board book is inventive fun and sure to delight the youngest readers, either read independently or with an adult for storytime.


Little Red Barn by Ginger Swift – This board book has a unique shape and fun lift-a-flap adventures on a farm with a little red barn. Nothing new or spectacular, but a solid choice!


Bumblebee Grumblebee by David Elliot – The only board book on this list without an interactive element on the page. Instead, this one has fun wordplay that will make little ones smile and allow adults to play along with silly rhymes and made up words.


Picture books for littles (ages 3-5):


Pip & Pup by Eugene Yelchin – A wordless picture book featuring a tiny chick and a farmhouse dog who fears storms. Expressive features and layouts help parents (or children themselves) tell this empathetic story.


Farmhouse by Sophie Blackall – New from the Caldecott Award-winning artist, this title’s meticulously detailed pages feature dollhouse-like cutaways of a house and the many generations and families who lived in it. For little ones who might someday grow up to read & love the Little House or Anne of Green Gables books.


City Under the City by Dan Yaccarino – A charmingly illustrated picture book/early reader with an intriguing sci-fi premise. Great pick for a wide range of ages – I can see this being a hit read aloud choice with a four-year-old, and also a very proud accomplishment independent read for a six- or seven-year-old.


Full Moon by Camila Pintonato – Answers the ever-pressing question: What do animals get up to after small children are tucked in bed? Lovely art and simple, whimsical story.


Only the Trees Know by Jane Whittingham, illustrated by Cinyee Chiu – Nondenominational wintertime story with anthropomorphic animals and beautiful snowy forest scenes.


Hey! A Colorful Mystery by Kate Read – Read’s picture books are clever, colorful, and both surprise and delight from start to finish. This one’s set underwater and features a MYSTERY.


George and His Nighttime Friends by Seng Soun Ratanavanh – Seriously gorgeous art is Ratanavanh’s trademark, but this one takes it up a notch with the story of a lonely boy whose mind won’t stop racing when the lights go out. An excellent bedtime read for ages 3+, with details and easter eggs on every page.


Graphic novels for early readers (ages 6-7):


Cranky Chicken by Katherine Battersby – A funny early reader graphic novel featuring a dynamic duo (think Norma & Belly from Donut Feed the Squirrels or the Narwhal and Jelly series), one of whom is… well, a cranky chicken!


Two-Headed Chicken by Tom Angleberger – A funny, frenetic graphic novel from the author of the Origami Yoda series. Could be a good choice for kiddos up to age 9, depending on their reading confidence and sense of humor (the premise is goofy, with several long-running gags!).


Slightly older elementary school kids (ages 8-12):


My Aunt is a Monster by Reimena Yee – From my review earlier this year: this graphic novel “is FUN, silly, pretty, and a breath of fresh air. For… anyone with a large imagination and a hankering to explore the unknown.”


The Nutcracker and the Mouse King: The Graphic Novel by E.T.A. Hoffman, adapted by Natalie Andrewson – The nostalgia of The Nutcracker paired with the updated whimsy of Nat Andrewson’s fantastic graphic novel art, for a middle grade crowd.


Books for the teen crowd (ages 13-18):


Supper Club by Jackie Morrow – A brightly colored graphic novel about the final year of high school and a club centered around cooking & food for those who loved Raina Telgemeier’s books when they were a bit younger.


Victory. Stand! Raising My Fist for Justice by Tommie Smith, Derrick Barnes, and Dawud Anyabwile – One of the best books I’ve read this year, and a shoo-in favorite for anyone (ages 13+) interested in history, social justice, sports, and underdog stories. You don’t have to be all of those – just one will do. I’m sending it to my high school student cousin and pushing it on my own students in the classroom.

For adults:


Gâteau: The Surprising Simplicity of French Cakes by Aleksandra Crapanzano – I saw a very positive review of this cookbook in Shelf Awareness and thought it might be the perfect gift for my college roommate and best friend who is a baker and studied abroad in France.


The Wild Hunt by Emma Seckel – For anyone who likes a bit of romance, historical fiction, and a touch of fantasy. This one takes place somewhere in Scotland in the aftermath of WWII, and isn’t tidily characterized as literary fiction or horror or romance or anything else! Sending to my friend who adored All the Light We Cannot See.


Remote Control by Nnedi Okorafor – Okorafor (author of Binti) writes inventive, layered science fiction. In Remote Control, Okorafor imagines a “weird, haunting, and visceral future” in a tidy novella package. I’m getting this one for my brother who likes sci-fi and fantasy!


Gideon the Ninth by Tamsyn Muir – Giving this one to myself for the holidays! I’ve heard others rave about it online for years (it won a Goodreads Choice Award in 2019!), and one of my coworkers finally convinced me to give it a try. After all, lesbian necromancers?! Sounds fun, and like the perfect read for grown-ups who obsessed over Garth Nix’s Sabriel as young adults.


Not books, but gifts you can find in a bookstore (links to Barnes & Noble):


Gnome for the Holidays Advent Calendar – A punny, funny advent calendar with jokes for every day of the advent season. Each day’s “surprise” (not hidden by doors, so it’s more about taking them out of their places) is an ornament, so could be a fun way to decorate a small tree or add new festive cheer to a holiday collection by stringing them into a garland! For the friend or family member who likes wordplay or is always making dad jokes.


Nathalie Lété Woodland Dreams 2023 Wall Calendar – Fanciful watercolor art of mushrooms, birds, butterflies, and other woodland delights populate the pages of this full-color, maximalist calendar. Perfect for that friend or relative who is into loud florals and/or vibrant colors.


Music Genius Playing Cards – For the music-lovers in your life! Test musical knowledge or create playlists of some of the greats while you play cards. Each suit (spades, hearts, diamonds, and clubs) features a different musical genre.

the woman in the woods and other north american stories

After my own years in school ended and before my teaching days, I didn’t take much notice of themed months of the year. For instance, did you know that November is National Native American Heritage Month in the United States? I didn’t! Luckily it’s been mentioned in several teaching and book publishing newsletters I subscribe to. What I find helpful is that those newsletters often come with book recommendations or lists included – titles that I can add to the shelf to make my classroom library (or even just personal library!) a little more inclusive and representative of my students and the US as a whole. One book I haven’t seen on any lists but want to make sure you know about is the young adult graphic novel anthology Woman in the Woods and Other North American Stories, edited by Kel McDonald, Kate Ashwin, & Alina Pete. It is the fifth installment in the Cautionary Fables & Fairytales series, and if the others are anything like this slim volume, they are treasures! 


the woman in the woods and other north american stories book cover
Tricksters? Rabbits? Rougarou?

Shapeshifters so frightening you shouldn't speak their name? That's just the start of this collection of folklore from the Indigenous people of North America, retold in comic form.

The fifth volume of the Cautionary Fables and Fairytales graphic anthology series is a thrilling, funny and totally unexpected take on stories spanning North America, with loads of traditional stories from Indigenous Nations such as the Taíno, Navajo, Odawa, and more!

The Woman in the Woods is an excellent collection of Native American legends and stories from across North America. While the title of the series is Cautionary Fables & Fairytales, these are no gory, fright-filled stories. Instead, they read like the sort of tales you’d share around a campfire – a little bit of cultural history, a dash of tall tale, and an uncanny thing that happened to someone you know/one of your ancestors, etc. They range from a creation tale that deals with two spirit and trans identity to a diving encounter with a monstrous octopus on the sea floor of the Puget Sound.


While each chapter was written and illustrated by a different duo (and is handed down from/told according to different indigenous peoples and traditions), a universal theme running throughout all of them is acceptance of difference, the other, and the strangeness that is present in the world. A couple of the stories deal with some element of gender nonconformity, and others speak to a diverse understanding of how humans function in society. Some are teaching tales; some merely point to the unexplained and ask the reader to make of it what they will. Some aim to make the reader uncomfortable, or to challenge their disbelief.


The standout comic of the collection is the Métis story The Rougarou by Maija Ambrose Plamondon, illustrated by Milo Applejohn. This story’s length (a bit longer than the others included in the volume), gorgeously detailed line art, and theme of transformation all combine to create an exceptional entry. I will be keeping an eye on Plamondon & Applejohn’s work in the future!


The art throughout the volume is in black and white and styles vary from artist to artist. Several employ strong or thick line work and varying shades of gray and black for a feeling of heaviness and (at times) menace. While the standout is mentioned above, there was no weak link – the writing and art in the volume is strong all the way through.


In all, The Woman in the Woods is a varied anthology in terms of setting, societies, norms, and time periods. It’s an interesting collection, and an important one for libraries large and small!

Recommended for: fans of fables and fairy tales, especially those adapted into graphic novel format, anyone looking to diversify their shelves with more indigenous American literature, and readers ages 10+ who are interested in campfire tales they may not have heard before!

the thank you book

Tuesday, November 15, 2022 | | 0 comments

I’m always on the lookout for standout picture books – gifting “good ones” is a point of pride for me (hey, if you can’t be proud of your book taste, what is the point?). A couple of years ago a sweet and gorgeously illustrated picture book about why we say “thank you” debuted: Mary Lyn Ray’s The Thank You Book, illustrated by Stephanie Graegin. At the time, I wrote a couple of words about it in my journal. I’m sharing that short review today, during this season of thanksgiving.

the thank you book by mary lyn ray, illustrated by stephanie graegin cover
Perfect for fans of Margaret Wise Brown and Deborah Underwood's The Quiet BookThe Thank You Book explores the many ways of being thankful that can fill a child's day. Timely, wise, and accessible, the poetic text and tender illustrations celebrate the powerful impact gratitude can have on our lives.

Thank you isn't just for learning manners.
It's also for when something wakes a
little huma little happy huminside you
and you want to answer back.

The Thank You Book explores the many ways we can be thankful for the pleasures great and small that await us every day. Tender and poetic, it reflects on the role gratitude can play in our lives and celebrates the powerful impact it can have on us.

The Thank You Book explores themes of gratefulness, not just during November, but year-round as well. It also extolls seeing the wonder and good in every small moment and thing, and would be ideal for curious young ones, perhaps paired with Tiny, Perfect Things. Ray’s prose is lyrical, rhymes once or twice, and is meant most of all to evoke feeling (and it does!).


Beyond the words on the page, Graegin’s pencil and watercolor art is the focus throughout: it is very whimsical, colorful, and is meant to be pored over multiple times. On some pages the illustrations are framed in a circle, sometimes full spreads, and then there are free-floating illustrations: the variety is endearing. The book’s “characters” are a mix of animal and human, with diverse skin colors. I can’t label it anything other than adorable.


The small format of the picture book version is comfortable for small as well as large hands, and the pretty cover is sure to make it a favorite. The text is a good size for one-on-one reading, but not as ideal for storytimes. I personally loved the title page, which looked like it was straight out of one of my bookstagram photos. This title is available in multiple formats: picture book, padded board book, and just this fall as a bilingual board book.


In all, The Thank You Book is exactly what the title describes: a book about saying “thank you” – but also learning why we do that, and appreciating the world and people around us. It’s perfect for year-round reading, but perhaps especially in November, as we celebrate Thanksgiving.


Recommended for: little ones ages 2-5 and their adults, and fans of adorable, personified animal art.

only the trees know

I’ve attended School Library Journal’s Picture Book Palooza (held over the summer) twice now, and I am a big fan. I can attend during the day because it’s summer, and I find lots of beautiful picture books to share with friends and family for the holidays, and of course the blog! in the intervening months. I always have my eye out for beautiful illustrations, and that is what drew me to Jane Whittingham and Cinyee Chiu’s picture book Only the Trees Know.

only the trees know by jane whittingham, illustrated by cinyee chiu book cover
A little rabbit, who doesn’t like waiting, longs for spring.

Little Rabbit is hungry, bored and very tired of winter. “When will it be spring?” he asks his parents. When they aren’t sure, he turns to his wise grandmother. “Only the trees know,” she says. “Ask them, and they will tell you.” So Little Rabbit does. But the trees don’t answer him. He tries shouting, jumping, listening hard. Still nothing. Then, just when he’s about to give up, he notices something different in the forest, something that’s right underneath his nose …

For every bunny who has a hard time waiting, this is the perfect story to show them how.

The pages of Only the Trees Know are full of a Little Rabbit impatient for spring. He longs for soft grasses and friends (a bird flown south for winter and a squirrel in its den) to come back and play. When the Little Rabbit asks his parents when spring will come, they say “be patient.” Well! That is something neither small children nor Little Rabbits like being told! So Little Rabbit goes to his wise grandmother, and she advises him to ask the trees, because only they know. Thus, Little Rabbit begins an asking campaign. The trees don’t answer the first time, so Little Rabbit tries changing his physical presence, altering his listening skills, and being louder and trying different sounds. In the end, the trees provide their own signs and voice, and Little Rabbit learns to hear them.


Little Rabbit is of course an anthropomorphized figure – the stand-in for the child being read to, who might think the same way and ask the same sorts of questions about winter. It’s charming here, rather than false, and I think that is down to the author’s way with words. The text is poetic, especially on the opening page, and when describing snow and wind: with alliteration, personification, and repetition. Whittingham does not rhyme, but there are several poetic devices throughout. There’s child appeal not just in the art and cadence of the text, but in Little Rabbit’s jumping about, raising and lowering his voice, and trying different listening techniques.


Cinyee Chiu’s art is full of gorgeous brush strokes, and many shades of white and winter. I particularly liked the landscape spreads, with their imprecise snowflakes – they gave the impression of looking through the forest into the scene of the story. Chiu’s medium is gouache and pastel, finished in Photoshop. Chiu makes terrific use of perspective, from treetop height down, and from ground level up to the sky. The only thing about the book design I didn’t love? The title font. And that’s out of sight as soon as you turn a page.


In all, Only the Trees Know is a more active than meditative take on seasonal change, and the perfect book to share with a child impatient for sunny days and playgrounds once more.


Recommended for: fans of Over and Under the Snow, anyone looking for beautifully-illustrated picture books about the seasons, and for nondenominational winter storytimes.


Fine print: I received an advanced digital copy of the text from the publisher at Picture Book Palooza. I did not receive any compensation for this post.

my aunt is a monster

As a reader I prefer standalone books, but it can be a little harder to keep track of an author if you don’t have the easy classification of a series to follow. One new-to-me author from a couple of years ago, whom I loved (and was determined to follow!) was Reimena Yee. Her newest middle grade graphic novel, My Aunt is a Monster, is not directly related to her debut, Séance Tea Party – which I enjoyed very much – but it has some of the same fantastical charm (and of course Reimena’s whimsical storytelling and artistic style!).

my aunt is a monster by reimena yee book cover
Safia thought that being blind meant she would only get to go on adventures through her audiobooks. This all changes when she goes to live with a distant and mysterious aunt, Lady Whimsy, who takes Safia on the journey of a lifetime!

While the reclusive Lady Whimsy stops an old rival from uncovering the truth behind her disappearance, Safia experiences parts of the world she had only dreamed about. But when an unlikely group of chaotic agents comes after Whimsy, Safia is forced to confront the adventure head-on. For the first time in her life, Safia is the hero of her own story, and she must do what she can to save the day.

And maybe find some friends along the way.

Reimena Yee returns with an all-new graphic novel filled with action, magic, and family.
My Aunt Is a Monster explores how anybody can do anything as long as they are given the chance and have the right people behind them.

Safia Haziz, a blind girl who dreams of visiting the far-off places in the audiobooks she reads, once had a happy family. When tragedy struck, she was placed with her mysterious Aunt Whimsy, a famous (retired) adventurer – who happens to have a monstrous secret. Safia finally gets her chance to travel when Aunt Whimsy discovers that her rival rediscovered her discovery (yes, that’s a mouthful), and they set off to protect the world from secrets that should remain hidden. Along the way, Safia will make a friend, Aunt Whimsy must confront her nature and stop running away from the world, and everyone must unite and use their strengths to save the day!


Things I loved: the disability representation in the book, Yee’s humor (look no farther than the family pet Lord Fauntleroy, an invisible animal no one can identify), and the variety of texts within the text: newspaper clippings, magazine covers and articles, maps, etc. I also appreciated Yee’s inclusion of a complicated friendship – one where the characters do not know everything about each other, but connect and want good things for each other anyway. Also, the charming and ridiculous institutions in the story made me smile every time – who wouldn’t, with names like the Bureau of Suspicious Intent (mission: sow chaos) and the Institute of Extremely Found Things in Lost History.


I also loved that there’s a Cecilia in the story, even if she was Pineapple Tart (so-named for her favorite dessert), Aunt Whimsy’s nemesis! Aunt Whimsy’s inventive wardrobe choices made me want to stock up on flowy blouses, tailored slacks, and neckties of all shapes and sizes. One thing I found especially sweet was that both an adult AND a child had a lesson to learn in this story – a good reminder that we are all on a lifelong learning journey.


Reimena Yee’s art is a delightful mix of thickly drawn lines and bright colors without shadows, which give the comic a 2D, classic storybook feel. This feels just right for the intended audience’s age range and tastes, but it’s fun to take in as an adult, too. There’s nothing muted about this book! Yee draws and colors her art online (except for thumbnailing), and shares a fun and informational look at her process and timeline for creating a graphic novel in the backmatter, which will interest aspiring artists.


In all, My Aunt is a Monster is FUN, silly, pretty, and a breath of fresh air. I’ve never read a graphic novel quite like it!


Recommended for: middle grade graphic novel readers, fans of fantastical stories, and anyone with a large imagination and a hankering to explore the unknown.


Fine print: I received a digital ARC of this title for review consideration from the publisher. I did not receive any compensation for this post.


The bright coral pink monster hovering over the main character on the cover of Marika McCoola and Aatmaja Pandya’s young adult graphic novel Slip caught my attention several months ago. Still, I didn’t sit down to read it until yesterday. I’m on the 2022 CYBILS Awards graphic novel panel this fall, and Slip’s nomination was a great nudge to finally check it out of the library and commit. I fell in love with the story, and I think you will too – it has emotional depth and the art is just as lovely and inventive as the cover promises.


slip by marika mccoola and aatmaja pandya book cover
Right before Jade is about to leave for a summer art intensive, her best friend, Phoebe, attempts suicide. How is Jade supposed to focus on herself right now?

But at the Art Farm, Jade has artistic opportunities she’s been waiting for her whole life. And as she gets to know her classmates, she begins to fall for whimsical, upbeat, comfortable-in-her-own-skin Mary. Jade pours herself into making ceramic monsters that vent her stress and insecurities, but when she puts her creatures in the kiln, something unreal happens: they come to life. And they’re taking a stand: if Jade won’t confront her problems, her problems are going to confront her, including the scariest of them all—if Jade grows, prospers, and even falls in love this summer, is she leaving Phoebe behind?


Slip is Jade’s story (Jade is a ceramicist and artist who is struggling to find meaning in her work and herself), but it’s also Phoebe’s story. Phoebe is Jade’s best friend, and she attempted suicide right before Jade went off to art camp. At art camp, Jade can’t escape thoughts of Phoebe, wondering WHY and wishing she could be with Phoebe, even as camp challenges her to be at her best artistically, and to stretch her wings in new and interesting ways. When Jade’s pottery starts taking on a life of its own (and I mean that literally & magically), she must finally confront some thoughts and feelings that have been running amok inside her.


Jade’s story in Slip covers one month – an important moment in time, and one of intense learning – but still only a month. The reader doesn’t get too much back story, nor too much of a sense of what will happen after art camp ends, but that’s okay. In that short time, we see Jade not only create and think about art, but process grief and relationship loss/change, redefine her identity, discover new love, and play with ideas and sources of inspiration. It’s a lot to pack into one story, but McCoola and Pandya work some magical alchemy to make it happen – the result is an ode to art as therapy and art as a reflection of reality. My favorite scenes were the ones of Jade working alongside fellow creatives, those talented and motivated campers and mentors: folks with big goals. Their questions and actions spurred her on to greater heights and insights.


Throughout most of the book, Jade’s friends and mentors are asking her: what is the concept behind your work? What is the thing that holds you (or your art!) together? While Jade wrestles with these questions, the book does an excellent job of showing what a mess our internal selves can be when we experience trauma or are trying to come to grips with hard changes. I can’t get over how accurate some of the illustrations felt: a jumble of words competing inside Jade’s head but never making it outside her mouth, memories revisited over and over, a friend’s words haunting you in very specific ways. Slip is full of gentle ways of thinking about, talking about, and feeling hard things – I don’t know when I have ever felt so cared for by a story at the end – and I love that.


It’s not perfect (for instance, I’d like more of an explanation of the pottery that comes to life, and what that means about Jade’s own mental state), but overall Slip is a lovely mediation on art-making, processing trauma, coming of age and creating an identity all on your own for the first time.


Let’s talk about the art! The most noticeable thing is that Slip is illustrated in a limited color palette – most pages are in a dark blue gray with gradients, and there are occasional splashes of that vibrant coral pink from the front cover. Pink seems to herald strong emotions, change, and magic, and the pops of pink startle the reader into a new frame of mind. The linework is well-defined, without being too delicate or precious – it works for the medium and the story. In a book with a limited color palette, the details matter a lot, and Pandya has those locked down. I got an excellent feel for the process of pottery throwing and firing – even in a limited time frame – through Pandya’s artistic renditions.


In all, Slip is a lovely thing: a graphic novel that tackles art and identity in complex and gentle ways.


Recommended for: fans of Kat Leyh’s Snapdragon and Laura Dean Keeps Breaking Up With Me, and anyone interested in sensitive, quiet young adult fiction and expanding their graphic novel collections.

a land of books

I didn’t need to read further than the title to know that A Land of Books: Dreams of Young Mexicuh Word Painters was for me! But then of course there was also author-illustrator Duncan Tonatiuh’s art style (distinctive and an homage to his homeland’s cultural history) to add to the allure as well. I loved Tonatiuh’s picture book The Princess and the Warrior, and I keep his graphic novel Undocumented, on undocumented immigrants and labor organizing, in my classroom library. What more perfect title to feature on Indigenous Peoples’ Day than one that celebrates their contributions to culture, bookmaking, and storytelling!

a land of books by duncan tonatiuh book cover
Our world, little brother, is an amoxtlalpan, a land of books.
In the jungles where the jaguar dwells, the Mayas make books.
In the mountains the cloud people, the Mixtecs, make them as well. So do others in the coast and in the forests.
And we the Mexica of the mighty Aztec empire, who dwell in the valley of the volcanoes, make them too.

A young Aztec girl tells her little brother how their parents create beautiful painted manuscripts, or codices. She explains to him how paper is made from local plants and how the long paper is folded into a book. Her parents and others paint the codices to tell the story of their people’s way of life, documenting their history, science, tributes, and sacred rituals.

Duncan Tonatiuh’s lyrical prose and beloved illustration style, inspired by the pre-Columbian codices, tell the story of how—contrary to the historical narrative that European colonizers bestowed “civilization” and knowledge to the Americas—the Aztec and their neighbors in the Valley of Mexico painted books and records long before Columbus arrived, and continued doing so among their Nahua-speaking descendants for generations after the Spanish Conquest. From an award-winning author-illustrator, A Land of Books pays tribute to Mesoamerican ingenuity and celebrates the universal power of books.


A Land of Books begins with an unnamed storyteller sharing who makes amoxtin (books), how they are made, how tlahcuilohqueh (bookmakers) are trained, the types of materials and dyes they use, and who has access to and can read books. Then the book transitions into a dream sequence, telling a creation/origin story, and ends with an example of the type of celebration where books and bookmaking were featured in pre-Spanish Conquest Mesoamerican cultures.


The pictographs used in amoxtin (or codices, as they are referred to today) are a major focus of the story, and the illustrations throughout mimic them or use them directly. Small children familiar with the rhythm and ritual of reading aloud will likely find the circumstances of when and where certain books were read (or sung!) draw their attention, along with the 2D art. Readers of all ages will likely start trying to decode the pictographs!


As you can likely tell from the language in this review, Nahuatl (a living language today!) is included within the book, and most of it can be decoded while reading from context clues and the illustrations. Tonatiuh has included a glossary at the back with a pronunciation guide and definitions if you want to brush up before reading aloud. There’s also an excellent, extensive author’s note, bibliography, and website where you can view the few historical codices that survived Spanish colonization.


In a picture book about making books, the illustrations are of particular interest. Tonatiuh’s images are hand-drawn, and then collaged digitally. He specializes in flat, two-dimensional illustrations, with figures who are always in profile, and not always in proportion. Color also holds specific meaning. All of these elements are based on the artwork of the amoxtin/codices, which Tonatiuh touches on in the story as well.


In all, A Land of Books is a book to be treasured – it not only tells the story of how books were made in pre-conquest Central America, but it will also likely inspire a new generation of bookmakers, researchers, and questioners.


Recommended for: anyone interested in bookmaking, indigenous histories and culture, book lovers young and old, and storytimes with curious young ones.

A Land of Books: Dreams of Young Mexicuh Word Painters will be available from Abrams Books for Young Readers on November 15, 2022.

Fine print: I received a digital review copy from the publisher via Edelweiss for review consideration. I did not receive any compensation for this post.

full moon

Thursday, September 29, 2022 | | 0 comments

New, impeccably designed picture books that appeal to a discerning artistic eye AND to kiddos are sometimes hard to find. It’s my favorite sort of picture book to gift – not only to give my friends-who-are-parents a break, but also because as a child, I was fascinated most by the picture books that weren’t endlessly cheery cartoonish escapes, and instead had what felt like grown-up art, excellent use of negative space, and details to pore over read after reread. In case you too are looking for this sort of picture book, Princeton Architectural Press publishes several each year! And while I missed it when it came out in 2021, I’m happy to report that Camilla Pintonato’s Full Moon fits the mold beautifully.


full moon by camilla pintonato book cover
As the sun sets, the little gray rabbits are busy in their secret workshop, but what could they be making? Follow along as the rabbits prepare for the big event, inviting all of their forest friends to the celebration. The mice, foxes, porcupines, and other forest creatures gather as the full moon rises, and finally the big surprise is revealed. The little rabbits release beautiful paper lanterns into the sky, where they sparkle like stars in the light of the full moon.

Camilla Pintonato's endearing illustrations invite us into a secret world, where wonders take place while the humans are away and the animals play. Striking, full-spread images of the rising moon and sun illuminate the magical way the natural cycle of the sky unites us in wonder, giving children a connection to nature they can experience from anywhere in the world.


I was immediately charmed by cover art featuring small gray rabbits wearing bright orange backpacks. If you were too, let me assure you: Pintonato’s story lives up to that first charming image. Created originally as a wordless picture book, and then published first in French and now in English, Full Moon is a nighttime adventure full of animals, mystery, and important questions – such as, “What are they carrying in their backpacks?” The answer to that includes forest shenanigans and lots of industrious bunnies, and is a fun, fresh flight of imagination.


In Full Moon, author-illustrator Pintonato taps into some enduring themes and visuals in children’s books: what happens when the world goes to sleep, the movement of the planets, the wonder of the natural world, and whimsical, personified animal societies. These will be familiar to little ones and adults alike from classic picture books such as Goodnight Moon. However, Pintonato puts her own spin on these themes with humor and illustrations full of vibrant color and detail. The rabbits are preparing for a big event, and they have many things to coordinate to make it happen! I think my favorite page was the one of the bunny with the orange flags, directing the start of the “show.”


The story would not have the same impact without Pintonato’s excellent art. When you first open the book, you’ll notice that the endpapers are illustrations of sunrise, and throughout several page spreads break from the busy world of the bunnies on the ground to look at the night sky above. This alternating focus slows the pacing down and makes it a perfect bedtime read. Pintonato’s fuzzy linework and varied colors feel reminiscent of the bleed of water-based markers and watercolors, but her illustrations are created completely in Photoshop. My brain wanted to say that it was all hand drawn, so I looked up that fact to confirm. After taking in the art, you might be similarly amazed!


In all, Full Moon is a delightful picture book about what animals might get up to after small children are tucked in bed. Its whimsical art is sure to appeal to both children and the adults reading aloud to them.


Recommended for: read alouds and storytimes, children ages 3 and up, and anyone who likes rabbits, parties, tales about the moon, and beautiful books that demand several rereads.

talli: daughter of the moon

The art is the first thing I notice when I pick up a graphic novel. I know this isn’t groundbreaking, but stay with me. If the art appeals, I am sold on reading the story. I have a particular weakness for detailed linework and innovative use of perspectives, and Sourya’s young adult graphic novel Talli: Daughter of the Moon, translated by François Vigneault, has these in spades. Ergo, I was interested immediately in its classic adventure story, set in a fantastical medieval past.


Talli is a Summoner: a nearly extinct people, hunted by those who fear their mysterious powers. As a baby, she was adopted by Lord Koska, and all was well for many years... But one day, their castle is sacked by Koska's rival, Lord Ulric. Talli escapes in the chaos and darkness with the help of the noble (some might say
too noble) knight Sir Alan.

With Ulric's forces hot on her heels, Talli and Alan keep one step ahead, gathering a motley crew of companions and protectors that includes the lethargic-but-incredible swordsman Lélo. Ulric's Captain Nina pursues them doggedly, but she is unaware of the secret of Talli's blood: the secret of the Summoners!

Title character Talli (or Lady Talli to you, commoner!) is a girl with mysterious antecedents, distinctive hair and jewelry (think Sailor Moon, but medieval), and a history of being locked up in her adoptive father’s castle for her own good. When other nobles sniff out her powers (?!), she must flee before they capture her. On the way, she amasses a crew made up of a loyal-but-dim knight, an oddball merchant with an uncanny nose for treasures, and a young boy with excellent sword skills. Will they be able to evade the special brigade? Will Lady Talli’s past and powers be revealed? Read to find out!


As with the first in any series, there is a lot of exposition in this volume, though it is broken up by fight scenes as various people discover that Talli is on the run and try to capture her for profit. Talli herself doesn’t know her past or the extent of her powers, and doesn’t say or do a lot (aka doesn’t have agency) for the first three quarters of the volume. I realize that this is the first in a series, but it doesn’t quite coalesce until the final few pages. Talli’s band are in a rush to make it to asylum in a foreign land, and they respond more to the fight others bring to them than anything else.


Unfortunately, the dialogue does not flow easily in parts, and it seems as though some humor is lost (in translation? unclear) as well. There’s also a creepy bit about Summoner powers manifesting during menstruation that feels gender essentialist and like a throwback to fantasy stories from 30-40 years ago. To be clear, I don’t think menstruation is creepy, but I am wary of how it will be treated in the narrative, since it is tied to Summoner magic. Menstruation = calling monsters into being? Seems like a bad formula! But what do I know.


Let’s get back to positives, aka the art! Sourya’s illustrations are exquisite: black linework on white pages in pen and ink, with lots of heavy lines, fine cross-hatching, and finer details around the characters' faces. The art was penciled digitally, and hand-inked on paper, which the artist demonstrates in a mini "The Making of Talli" comic in the backmatter. There are a wide variety of perspectives (many aerial views), and several panels focus not only on the characters, but a sense of the land and landscape that feels video game-inspired. It is truly beautiful, and I am just as much a fan of the art as I was at the start!


In all, Talli: Daughter of the Moon is an adventure story with some promise. Volume 1 lags in parts, but fans of sword fights, daring escapes, and a video game-crossed-with-manga aesthetic will love it.


Recommended for: fans of historical fantasy graphic novels and manga, and anyone who likes to play video or computer games set in medieval Europe or a quasi-medieval setting.


Talli: Daughter of the Moon will be available from Oni Press on October 25, 2022.


Fine print: I received an ARC of this title for review consideration from the publisher. I did not receive any compensation for this post.

victory. stand!: raising my fist for justice

I’m always on the lookout for graphic novels and books that will appeal to my students (9th and 11th graders). Often that means finding and reading nonfiction, sports books, science books – things that aren’t necessarily in my own reading wheelhouse but would spark the interest of a kid who has given up on reading for pleasure. The upcoming young adult graphic novel Victory. Stand!: Raising My Fist for Justice by Tommie Smith, Derrick Barnes, and Dawud Anyabwile is just such a book. I’m so glad I took a moment to read it after Norton sent me a copy – I can tell that it will not only resonate with my students, but it is a fantastic text, and it meant a lot to me.

victory. stand! by tommie smith, derrick barnes, dawud anyabwile book cover
On October 16, 1968, during the medal ceremony at the Mexico City Olympics, Tommie Smith, the gold medal winner in the 200-meter sprint, and John Carlos, the bronze medal winner, stood on the podium in black socks and raised their black-gloved fists to protest racial injustice inflicted upon African Americans. Both men were forced to leave the Olympics, received death threats, and faced ostracism and continuing economic hardships. 

In his first-ever memoir for young readers, Tommie Smith looks back on his childhood growing up in rural Texas through to his stellar athletic career, culminating in his historic victory and Olympic podium protest. Cowritten with Newbery Honor and Coretta Scott King Author Honor recipient Derrick Barnes and illustrated with bold and muscular artwork from Emmy Award–winning illustrator Dawud Anyabwile, Victory. Stand! paints a stirring portrait of an iconic moment in Olympic history that still resonates today.

Tommie Smith is famous for a stand he took after accepting the gold medal for running and winning the 200 meters (and breaking the World Record) at the 1968 Mexico City Olympics. That photo, of Smith’s and bronze medalist John Carlos’ fists raised in the sky on the Olympic podium, is an iconic protest image. But who is (and was) the man behind that gold medal? In Victory. Stand! Tommie Smith tells his life story for young adults: how he grew up as a sharecropper’s son in rural Texas, moved out to California with his family, focused on his education, gained cultural consciousness, how his sporting life proceeded, and eventually, how he ended up in that fateful race and made a stand for justice.


I’ve read Smith’s story before, and I remember being horrified at how his moment in the spotlight prompted almost 50 years of racist backlash – death threats, economic hardship (he was fired immediately and then had a hard time finding a job for years), and awful vitriol directed not just towards him, but towards every member of his family. Only in the last couple of decades has there been some softening into acceptance, appreciation, and acknowledgement of Smith’s legacy. The end of this book does not shy away from those hard truths – in concise terms, Smith details what a life of uncompromising morals and purpose may result in. He also makes a connection to others in the current spotlight or not-so-distant past who have stood up for what they believe is right, and faced the consequences.


As a graphic novel memoir, Victory. Stand! is tight, focused narrative told in linear format interspersed with flashbacks. The “present” is the race for Olympic gold, and the flashbacks are to Smith’s early childhood in Texas. There is a constant feeling of moving forward with purpose, and Smith’s connection to places and family share the focus for much of the story. It’s a gripping tale, and one with excellent: pacing, mix of dialogue and narration, and artwork. The full package, if you will.


Speaking of artwork, Dawud Anyabwile’s black and white linework and art is exceptional. Each panel is considered, framed for effect, and contains gradations of black and white that make the scene pop. In the action moments, there’s a palpable sense of movement and focus, and the use of shadow and lighting that merge with the text to tell a story. A variety of the panel sizes keep the reader’s eye moving. While there is quite a bit of text on the page, it the book never feels text-heavy – it is just right: balanced, moving, and electric.


In all, Victory. Stand! is a standout graphic memoir. I can’t wait to put it in kids’ hands. I think Tommie’s message will resonate with not only those who remember the Olympic moment, but also folks learning about it now, and those with eyes and hearts open to the world today.


Recommended for: readers ages 10 and up, fans of American history, graphic novels, and sports, and anyone interested in learning how to use their unique talents to be a better person in the world. 


Victory. Stand! will be released by Norton Young Readers (W. W. Norton & Company) on September 27, 2022.

Fine print: I received an advanced copy from the publisher for review and course adoption consideration. I did not receive any compensation for this post.

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