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.

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