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.

the wondrous wonders

I love graphic novels. They are fun to look at, quick reads, and for my students, they are accessible texts. You don’t have to be the strongest reader in the class to get something out of the story in a graphic novel. I have a poster in my classroom that looks like lines on a chalkboard, with the words “AUDIOBOOKS ARE NOT CHEATING” listed over and over. I wish I had one for graphic novels too! Anyway, all that to say, I pick up graphic novels whenever I can, and my latest read was Camille Jourdy’s The Wondrous Wonders, translated by Montana Kane. It is a whimsical and funny portal fantasy for the middle grade set.

the wondrous wonders by camille jourdy book cover
From Camille Jourdy comes a magical graphic novel filled with gentle, offbeat humor and gorgeous watercolor artwork,
The Wondrous Wonders.

It’s perfect weather for a family picnic, but Jo is in a bad mood. Hurt by her parents’ recent divorce and struggling to accept her new stepmother and sisters, she decides to run away and make a new life for herself in the forest. She soon finds herself tumbling through a weird and wonderful landscape, in a realm ruled by an evil cat prince and the dream-logic of a child's imagination. She'll need courage, hope, and heart to overcome all the obstacles she encounters on this adventure.

Young Jo is unhappy with her parents’ divorce and her new stepfamily, and so she runs away to the woods one day. What she finds there is unexpected – a whole world peopled with elves, talking animals, a dastardly Emperor Tomcat, and Wondrous Wonders: beautiful wild horses (ponies?) in all colors. Jo almost immediately joins a rescue mission with her new friends. On this adventure, she meets characters (and I do mean characters) who speak bits of wisdom to her, mock her, and make ridiculous asides. It’s a fun and funny – but the lingering question remains – where will the adventure end?


When I first heard about this title, my attention was caught by the beautiful watercolor artwork, and the phrase “offbeat humor.” I have complicated feelings about that phrase regarding this title. It’s not strange or weird humor – it’s just adult? And I don’t mean that it’s inappropriate. There are simply all sorts of conversations going on around Jo that don’t involve her. And they’re funny! As a child reading this book, the jokes might or might not make sense, but it’s exactly the sort of language that children figure out by listening to adults talk to each other. I think it’s charming that Jo’s adventure, while fantastical, still has so many elements of “real life” in it. And Jo herself, a bit fractious and feral – but open to friendship – is like a lot of little kids I knew or know now.


I also appreciate that there’s no heavy-handed moral at the end of the story. Jo’s adventure is just that: a widening of perspective and trying something new, and if she learns a little bit from the characters she encounters, then good for her. But if she doesn’t, she wandered through a beautiful land, saw lots of weird things, and adapted well. There are themes of course, but they’re not overt, and some things Jourdy leaves the artwork to express best.


Speaking of the art! Jourdy’s panels are watercolor delights, rarely enclosed in black lines. The vibe is classic storybook-turned-graphic novel, and the text’s playful feeling manifests in many ways, including the costumes the characters wear: Maurice the fox in a creampuff suit and Pompom the dog in rainbow-striped boots, for instance. Lots of small panels, set in an ever-changing landscape, keep the adventure moving not only pacing-wise, but distance-wise as well.


The Wondrous Wonders is a delightful, quirky story that recalls Puss in Boots, The Princess Bride, and Alice in Wonderland all in one go. In other words, it’s got adventure, quips, antics, and a safe landing for its young readers. I enjoyed it!


Recommended for: graphic novel readers ages 8 and up, fantasy fans young and old, and anyone who liked Johan Troïanowski’s The Runaway Princess.


The Wondrous Wonders will be available from First Second on November 1, 2022. 


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

the wild hunt

Wednesday, September 7, 2022 | | 1 comments

I had a heck of a week last week. A list of things that happened: the first four days of the school year, a traffic ticket & car trouble, a stolen wallet, a lunch left in a ride share car, a trip to Iowa, and a general feeling of possibly being cursed? So in the midst of it all I obviously bought a book I had barely heard of before in an airport bookstore and read it in the space of the weekend. Emma Seckel’s The Wild Hunt is a haunting and harrowing historical adult fantasy, and it was an excellent escape from the world.  

the wild hunt by emma seckel book cover
The islanders have only three rules: don’t stick your nose where it’s not wanted, don’t mention the war, and never let your guard down during October.

Leigh Welles has not set foot on the island in years, but when she finds herself called home from a disappointing life on the Scottish mainland by her father’s unexpected death, she is determined to forget the sorrows of the past—her mother’s abandonment, her brother’s icy distance, the unspeakable tragedy of World War II—and start fresh. Fellow islander Iain MacTavish, a RAF veteran with his eyes on the sky and his head in the past is also in desperate need of a new beginning. A young widower, Iain struggles to return to the normal life he knew before the war.

But this October is anything but normal. This October, the
sluagh are restless. The ominous, bird-like creatures of Celtic legend—whispered to carry the souls of the dead—have haunted the islanders for decades, but in the war’s wake, there are more wandering souls and more slaugh. When a local boy disappears, Leigh and Iain are thrown together to investigate the truth at the island’s dark heart and reveal hidden secrets of their own.

Rich with historical detail and a skillful speculative edge, Emma Seckel’s propulsive and pulse-pounding debut
The Wild Hunt unwinds long-held tales of love, loss, and redemption.


Leigh Welles is accustomed to loss—her mother disappeared into the sea when she was ten and never came back, her brother left for university soon afterward and then disappeared into the Second World War and never sailed back home, she lost her own big city dreams in the slog of trying to make it on the post-war mainland, and now she’s finally returned because her father fell and drowned, and there’s a funeral to attend and a discarded life to shake the dust off of and return to. Put all that together with the fact that on their remote Scottish island, something uncanny happens in October, and you have the setting for The Wild Hunt. How the next month plays out—the unrest and cruelty of the sluagh (spirits who take the form of crows and only appear in October) will either make or break the island, and Leigh and those she loves will be closest to it all.

This book does a lot: it is a post-war imagining, both pastoral and historical. It is also speculative and literary, and dips into horror in places as well. It succeeds as a narrative because of the pervasive atmosphere Seckel creates within its covers. There’s an overarching heaviness and darkness in Seckel’s tale, a countdown sounding in ominous bass notes in the background, the unbearable weight of history and at the same time tradition and superstition knocking up against the modern world. There’s a sense of isolation that butts up against belonging, and cloying despair battling it out with small moments of hope. I found it fascinating, but I like a slow build and excessive world building. The gathering unrest of it all—contained, quiet, and devastating, did not feel fully resolved, but it did feel fitting. If you like stories that slowly sink their claws into your psyche and leave small openings for what may come next, you’ll like this book.

As mentioned above, loss colors much of the narrative, and no one’s loss seems more personal or immediate than Leigh’s…until you meet the wreck that is Iain MacTavish, slowly sinking in a sea of guilt over death — those island boys lost in the war, a wife lost in the Blitz, and survivors carried away in senseless post-war slaughter, both memory- and sluagh-caused. Seckel skillfully interweaves Leigh and Iain’s voices, dreams, pieces of the past (long-gone and near), and other villagers’ perspectives to create a poignant whole. The characterization rests against a foggy and indistinct background, on some small Scottish isle — never positively identified by name but described in eerie detail. Aside from loss, the most immediate themes are the futility of war, legend and myth crossing over into reality, and community identity. The fact that this story is not easily categorized, but still succeeds, is a credit to Seckel’s writing ability: neither spare nor overblown, and careful in its urgency and construction.

In all, The Wild Hunt is convincing and emotion-laden. It’s a trip straight into the past, into the liminal spaces between worlds, and to an island held in the malevolent spell of mysterious creatures and too-present grief.

Recommended for: fantasy fans who enjoy a dark fantasy/horror vibe, readers who think mythology-meets-post-war-despair sounds intriguing, those who enjoy bird-based horror and myth, and anyone (quite rightly!) obsessed with Scottish coastline, expertly and lovingly described. 

remote control

Monday, September 5, 2022 | | 0 comments

As an English teacher now, and a book blogger of longer standing, I am asked quite often for book recommendations. If someone wants science fiction, I nearly always steer them towards Nnedi Okorafor. Her stories are inventive and deeply interesting, and novella Remote Control is no exception. It is a concise, layered, and wondrous mystery.


remote control by nnedi okorafor book cover
"She’s the adopted daughter of the Angel of Death. Beware of her. Mind her. Death guards her like one of its own."

The day Fatima forgot her name, Death paid a visit. From hereon in she would be known as Sankofa­­--a name that meant nothing to anyone but her, the only tie to her family and her past.

Her touch is death, and with a glance a town can fall. And she walks--alone, except for her fox companion--searching for the object that came from the sky and gave itself to her when the meteors fell and when she was yet unchanged; searching for answers.

But is there a greater purpose for Sankofa, now that Death is her constant companion?


A young girl mysteriously glows with a green, killing light, can stop a bullet, and is widely feared – this is how Remote Control begins. Author Okorafor spends the rest of the story unraveling just how Sankofa became this creature of legend. How can she emit and evade death all at once? What about the uncanny red fox Movenpick who follows her everywhere? Does the ever-present and ominous corporation LifeGen have something to do with her powers? Or the mysterious glowing green that came from the sky when she was small?


Remote Control is a masterful, open-ended tale, rich in imagery and allusions, history and the future, natural world and the human-constructed one – and it is also a science fiction puzzle. Sankofa knows little about why and how she came to be who she is, and this guides the storytelling structure. Also unavoidable are tragedy, sorrow, and close encounters with fear and violence – some of the byproducts and antecedents of death. As she wanders Ghana on foot, first in a chase and then in avoidance, Sankofa studies human nature, even as she is held apart from it. Sankofa’s musings are perhaps best represented by this quote, from pages 112-113:


“…people were complicated. They wore masks and guises to protect or hide their real selves. They re-invented themselves. They destroyed themselves. They built on themselves.”


Okorafor’s tale is not especially kind to humanity, nor to those who find themselves with money and power – it is interested in how we treat those on the margins, and perhaps those who choose to unplug from the digital detritus of modern life. It also feels – in a very distant way – like a riff on the Superman mythos, if the only thing you knew about it was that the mysterious object that emits green light kills him.


In all, Remote Control imagines a weird, haunting, and visceral future where perhaps alien contact has mingled with the mythos of the harbinger of death, and a young girl has been caught in the crosshairs.


Recommended for: fans of Okorafor’s Binti, those on the lookout for original science fiction, and anyone looking for adult sci-fi and fantasy with YA crossover appeal.

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