30 December 2013

Thoughts on bullying...

cc licensed via:
This is probably not going to be the prettiest and best worded blog post I've ever written, but...I have words, I have thoughts and I'm putting them out there.

Earlier today I tweeted:
Now this is something that I've been pondering on for quite some time (and I'll talk about why), but I finally said something.

I was prompted to say something today, because many librarian friends on twitter were upset about a recent discussion on ALA's Statement of Appropriate Conduct at Conferences.  And my friends were rightly upset.  I don't want to link to the original blog post because frankly it doesn't need traffic, but it boils down to people saying "well I've never been harassed/bullied/sexually assaulted/etc at conferences and my friends haven't said anything to me about it therefore it doesn't exist! and all of these people that say it does, well I think they're just misunderstanding what was said" which frankly is some of the most disgusting bullshit I've ever encountered in my life.  You've never had this stuff happen to you?  Excellent! You're in a minority to be honest.  You don't want others to have a policy that says what is appropriate conduct at a conference?  Go take a long walk off a short pier.  Just because you haven't been harassed doesn't mean others haven't.  As to why others haven't talked to you about it, when you say crap like a policy doesn't need to exist, why would anyone want to confide in you?  You can see some excellent conversations about why these codes exists for ALA here from Librarian Kate and Matthew Ciszik, both of whom you should follow.  You can also find a wider range discussion on Lisa Rabey's site (including conversations on why ALA needed a code) and Andromeda Yelton's site.

ALA is not the only organization to recently define or redefine appropriate conduct at conferences.  It's had to happen for some of the larger comic conventions, NYC for example, in the publishing community, god knows how many times its happened in the comic industry, and way to many times to mention for people in everyday life.  Is it sad that we live in the 21st century and we're still having to tell people how to be behave?  Hell yes!  But if having a code or a policy is what has to be done to get people to start talking about it, to get it stop, to get things to change then by all means lets do it.  This is not, as some people have said, a chance to be the thought police, or to have moles or spies, or be the fracking NSA.  This is giving people something to stand on and what to do when it happens to them.  Because it does happen, whether you see it or not, it happens.  And for those of you that think a policy is a bad thing, then I hope you'll never experience harassment, bullying, being sexually assaulted, or something else that makes you feel uncomfortable and unwelcome.

Now I said I'd talk about why I've been pondering bullying and here's why:  I'm involved in a situation where I feel bullied.  I walk away from these interactions feeling worthless and helpless and that no one anywhere likes me.  Now is some of this the depression talking?  Yes.  But it is also the people involved?  Yes it is.  Have I confronted these people yet?  No...but I'm working on it.  I'm not sure they would ever conceive of what they're doing as bullying, but the way they phrase things, the way look at me, the tone they talk to me with...for me it's bullying.  Sexual harassment, assault, those are often easy to define, but bullying?  Bullying takes many different shapes and sizes.  It's can be outright and overt, or it can be subtle and silent.  It can be physical, it can be words, it can be purely mental.  It doesn't matter...it's bullying.  Can it be taken to extremes?  Sure, but so can anything.  But if people feel uncomfortable when you do something, isn't that perhaps a sign you should stop?

My one last comment (and this could be it's own separate post):  if someone is doing something that makes you feel uncomfortable (and isn't outright harassment) say something to them.  Let them know that they're saying things that make others uncomfortable.  Give them a chance to apologize.  Honestly, they may not realize that its something that makes people feel uncomfortable.  You'll be able to tell pretty quickly if they honestly weren't trying to make people uncomfortable and they'll be grateful that someone let them know.  And I say this from experience, because I don't always know that I'm saying something that makes someone feel uncomfortable due to how my brain works.

29 December 2013

This past year

Bad librarian here. I have no idea where I got this from (I
think it was from a book) but it was to good not to use.
It's that time of year again where everyone looks back on the past year and talks about what is to come in the upcoming year.  I of course have decided to follow that pattern, not simply to follow the herd, but because of other reasons.

This past year was not a normal year for me.  2013 was one of the most difficult years I've had in oh so many ways. The biggest struggle of course was dealing with depression and anxiety and more recently another diagnosis that was like lightbulb going off in my head.  I'm not ready to discuss that diagnosis yet (everything is fine, so no worries.)  The depression and anxiety seemed to get the better of me a lot this year, causing me to doubt myself, causing me to doubt who I am and what I'm capable of, impacting work, and more importantly impacting friendships that I have both in real life and online.  If I were to have been writing this a few weeks ago I probably would have talked more about what I left undone, but you know what?  Fuck it.  I'm tired of talking about that.  Instead here's what did go right (in no particular order at all, just whenever I thought of it):

  • I was able to attend TCAF and Heroescon with my dad, which was awesome.  We both got to geek out over graphic novels and comics and I just love being able to share that with him.  Plus I got to meet so many great people, both fans, and writers and artists that loved meeting and talking with people.  
  • Other events this year I got to go to: SPX, Decatur Book Festival, and a Bill Bryson book signing.  All of which were fun, fantastic, and so many great people and authors and artists.
  • Beginning in January I'll be writing for No Flying, No Tights, one of the best librarian/graphic novel blogs around and I'm so excited to be writing for them.
  • I wrote a guest post for "Letters to a young librarian" on being an ILL Librarian that was picked up by ALA Direct!  First time (I think) for that's ever happened.
  • I presented at my state library conference, COMO, on graphic novels and formed a partnership with two other great folks, which will lead to some great future endeavors.
  • I've got a presentation accepted for Computers in Libraries 2014.
  • Publishers continue to send me review copies of books, which is completely awesome because how can I not like free books to read?
  • I started a graphic novel group at MPOW and while it wasn't well attended it was fun to plan and professors kept introducing me to students as "this is the guy you need to thank for starting the graphic novel collection.  Tell him what else to order"
  • I completed LibraryJuice's Certificate of User Experience course.  Which was awesome and I just realized I need to write a blog post about it.
  • I was accepted into the Certificate of Advanced Data Studies at Syracuse's iSchool to begin in January.  I'm really looking forward to getting my brain hammered in new directions.
  • I submitted my first ever article to a library publication.  Still waiting to hear if it will be accepted, but keeping my fingers crossed.
  • I served as the outside reviewer for two faculty hirings in one of my liaison areas, which was interesting to see how things worked in other areas.
  • Finally did a sleep study and was diagnosed with mild sleep apnea.  
  • Served on Jury Duty for the first time ever.
  • Went horseback riding a couple of time.
  • Attended a Julia Nunes living room show, which was awesome!
  • Attended the wedding of one of my best friends from college and being able to see her walk down the aisle.
  • Attended the wedding party of two online friends and got to meet them in person for the first time, as well as a few other folks from online.
More importantly though, I found just how many people were willing to stand by me throughout the year, both in real life and online.  Friends that encouraged me when I was down, that kicked my brain when it was needed, and told me the truth when I needed it even more.  I'm not even going to attempt to list them, mostly because I'd fail at it and would invariably forget someone and tick someone off...

But to those of you on FriendFeed, on Twitter, on Facebook, or heaven help us all, in real life thank you for the comfort, the joy, the agony, the tears, the encouragement, and everything else that you've given to me this past year.  I would not be where I am now without you.  For those that have stood by me more than others if I haven't already gotten on my knees and thanked you, please know that I'm doing so now.  You are awesome and I'm glad to have you in my life.

For the upcoming year my plans are:
  • Work on the advanced Data certificate program 
  • Present at CIL
  • Submit some presentations to ACRL
  • Work on a book proposal
  • Keep learning
  • Do awesome
And for my own sanity sake say "fuck it" more often and follow my heart and gut, even if it means going against the advice of friends.  I am going to follow my own path more often, even if it isn't the way most people would go.  And I'm going to do what makes me happy, even if if that's sitting in my apartment, with my cats sitting on me, and reading a good book.

So farewell 2013, I look forward to the challenges you bring 2014.

16 October 2013

The reviews, they be moving!

It probably comes as no surprise but...I like reviewing books.  I like reading books.  I mean I am a librarian after all.  And at least once a month I'm posting a review of a book on this site and I've got many, many more that I just post on LibraryThing or Amazon, without ever posting here.  Which isn't a bad thing, but given that I'm going to be reviewing even more books and that I'd like to get back into the habit of writing about libraries again here, I'm going to shift my book reviews to a Wordpess Install.  So...from now on all new book reviews will be posted over on Musing Librarian Reviews: http://ashuping.net/blog/.  I've imported the posts from this site over there, but don't worry these posts will remain here as well.

If you enjoy my book reviews, feel free to follow my new blog it should be fun!  Otherwise be prepared for my random musings upon the library world once more.

GA COMO presentation

So on October 10 2013, I presented at my state library conference, GA COMO, on the Academics of Graphic Novels.  Which sounds like it would be a long winded boring lecture, but it honestly isn't.  I don't even know how to give boring lectures to be honest.  Instead I talked about why we have graphic novels, why libraries have them, how to start a collection, and how to promote a collection.  And even though I'm an academic type person, everything that I talked about is applicable to other types of libraries.  And so for folks that are interested you can find my slide deck below.  If you have questions, please feel free to let me know and I'll do my best to answer them.

But before you get to the slide deck I want to give a shout out to the awesome Dr. Katie Monnin. I had the honor of meeting Dr. Katie at COMO and we did a bit of a tag team presentation together.  Dr. Katie teaches about how to use graphic novels in the k-12 setting and has written a couple of books on the topic, which are well worth buying for your collection.  She is completely awesome, knowledgeable, and enthusiastic about graphic novels.  Please go check her stuff out, you won't regret it at all.

And now...the slide deck:

15 October 2013

Guest post over at "Letters to a young librarian"

I'm slow at this (really slow actually) but I wrote a guest post for "Letters to a Young Librarian" which is an awesome, awesome blog by Jessica Olin where different library type folks write advice on their jobs or aspects of librarianship, and Jessica of course shares her own viewpoints on things.

Right, so I wrote a guest post on being an ILL Librarian and you can find it here.  Feel free to ask questions if you wish, but do make sure you add Jessica's blog to your list of those to keep up with!

04 October 2013

Book Review--The Cute Girl Network

The Cute Girl Network
MK Reed, Greg Means and Joe Flood (Illustrations)
November 2013

Jane's just moved to town to reboot her life a bit. Jack is a bit of a loser, who well...means well, that mans a Soup cart in the middle of the city. The two meet when Jane wipes out on her skateboard right in front of Jack's Soup cart! And well one thing leads to another and the two agree to a date. That is...until the "Cute Girl Network," an information group of local single woman, seek to put a stop to it. You see most of them have dated Jack before and well...he has a rather spotty romantic history. He's not mean or anything, he's just not Prince Charming. And Jane is about to learn every detail of Jack's past dates whether she wants to or not. Will Jack and Jane ever hook up? Or with the Cute Girl Network prevail?

I admit the first time I read this story it didn't quite catch my fancy.  I mean it was good and I enjoyed it, heck I even got it signed at SPX.  But it took another read through to catch some of what the authors were saying.  That we all have different ideas of what prince or princess charming should be.  The man that maybe a flop for some, is going to be just right for someone else and maybe, just maybe we shouldn't judge them because they didn't work out for us.  This is a graphic novel for teens (and adults) that doesn't play to stereotypes.  Jane rides and skateboard, works at a skateboard shop and is open about her life.  And Jack...well Jack plays the everyman, whose a bit clueless, but means well. And these two characters work great together! And that's what keeps the story moving, is that you see hope for them regardless of what everyone else thinks.  And Jane is a fantastic role model, because she doesn't listen to what the network says about Jack.  She trusts what she knows and feels and follows her heart to where it leads her.  And that's the best thing about this story.

Joe Flood's character designs for the book are pitch perfect.  He captures that goofy awkwardness and gentle self confidence of Jack easily.  You can look at him in the very first panel and know that while he's a bit clumsy, he really is a good guy.  And that Jane is one of those kick ass ladies that takes names, but knows what she wants and is sure of herself.  It's great to have that type of feeling and connection to the characters.  The illustrations remind me a lot of the artwork of Faith Erin Hicks or Stephen McCraine, who does the "Mal and Chad" series.  Nice solid designs, with some nice detail hidden in there, but nothing that overwhelms the reader or makes them lose track of the story.

The one minor issue with the book is that while this would be a great book for teens, it has to be one whose parents are comfortable with the mention of sex and depiction of nudity. It's not a lot, but it's enough to make me a bit wary about recommending it to some of my normal readers.  Other than that I enjoyed the book and I'd give the book 3.5 out of 5 stars.

ARC provided by Gina from FirstSecond

02 October 2013

Book Review --- Lawrence in Arabia

Lawrence in Arabia
Scott Anderson
The Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
August 2013

Lawrence of Arabia.  The name conjures a dashing figure that helped change the world, one that is strong, stoic, and full of courage to face challenges head on!  And yet... what is reality?  Would you be able to recognize the real Lawrence, Thomas Edward Lawrence, knowing that he was 5 foot 5 and weighed in at just 135 pounds?  Not quite the dashing figure that we dream of.  But, he still was a force to be reckoned with in the creation of the modern Middle East.

In this book, Lawrence in Arabia, Scott Anderson helps us place not only Lawrence’s role in the creation of the modern Middle East, but other figures as well.  Working from years of intensive primary document research, Anderson weaves together the complex story of Lawrence, German scholar-spy Curt Prufer, Zionist Aaron Aaronsohn, and William Yale of Standard Oil.  These four men, waged wars, spied for their homelands, and attempted to do their best to steer the area to a different future...only to watch it fall apart at the hands of others (the British and French on one side, the German and Ottoman on the other).  Anderson does not even need to make a commentary on the mistakes made that helped create the troubles in the Middle East today, instead he only needs to present history in a way that we’ve long ignored and stumbled around.

Even though this is an extremely complex story, and one that would be easy to get lost in as it covers history and politics and so many other areas, Anderson creates an extremely readable and gripping story.  He deftly covers the War from multiple viewpoints of our four main “personas” and gives the reader a solid idea of how each action built to create a force that was beyond their control.

This is a great book for any fan of history or the Middle East.  I give the book 4 out of 5 stars.

Review copy provided by the publisher

30 September 2013

Giving your first presentation?

I could (and should) write a whole blog post (and probably will soon) about giving your first presentation at a conference.  Because honestly I wasn't there that long ago...well 5 years, but it's not that long.

But I digress. My friends Maurice Coleman and Jill Hurst-Wahl are doing a free webinar on Tuesday October 8 on some tips and tricks on how to give your first presentation (or even your second, third, fourth, and so on.) I've know both Jill and Maurice for a few years now and both of them are excellent presenters and provide great advice in simple, easy to understand language. In other words its not an academic paper being read on how to do a presentation. It's a presentation on things they've learned over the years to help you make a better presentation.  And even if you're given presentations before you can always learn more.  I plan on attending it just for that reason!

So I highly recommend that you check out their presentation.

The details are below:


Are you a new professional, who needs to give presentations in order to advance in your career?  Will you need to give a presentation as part of a job interview?  Have you given professional presentations and wonder how you can improve?  If you answer "yes" to any of those questions, then this is for you!

Join Jill Hurst-Wahl and Maurice Coleman on Tuesday, October 8, 7:00-8:00 p.m. EST, for a free webinar on how to give an outstanding presentation. During "Giving Your First Conference Presentation: What No One Tells You (or When PowerPoint and Good Intentions Meet Reality)", Jill and Maurice will share what they have learned from the presentations that they have given, and from the presentations that they have seen and sometime suffered through.  After this webinar, you will be more confident during your presentation because you will know what to do and what to avoid.

To register for this free webinar, go http://ischool.syr.edu/contact/20yrswebseriesRSVP.aspx  Please note that this webinar will use Adobe Connect, which requires no special equipment except your computer and an Internet connection.
Who are Jill and Maurice?

Jill Hurst-Wahl is an associate professor of practice in Syracuse University’s School of Information Studies and the director of both its library and information science & LIS with school media specialization programs. She is a member of SLA’s Board of Directors and the USNY Technology Policy and Practices Council. As her schedule allows, she participates in the bimonthly library training podcast T is for Training (@tisfortraining).

Jill has been giving presentations for several decades, and in 2013 spoke at several state library association conferences, the Computers in Libraries Conference, and the Special Libraries Association Annual Conference. She is often asked for her advice on how to improve a formal or informal presentation.

You can find Jill on Twitter at @jill_hw and through her blog, Digitization 101.

Maurice Coleman is the author of Crash Course in Presentations, which will be released by ABC-Clio Publishing in 2014. He is the technical trainer at Harford County (MD) Public Library, host of the long running library training podcast T is for Training (@tisfortraining), and a member of the board of the American Library Association’s Learning RoundTable.

Maurice has over 20 years of experience training all ages how to sensibly use technology and computer hardware and software. He has presented at numerous conferences on topics such as digital personal branding, technology implementation, presentation and training skills, community development and effectively using social media.

For his work, Maurice was named a 2010 Library Journal Mover and Shaker, and received the Citizens for Maryland Libraries Davis McCarn Technology Award. You can find him on Twitter at @baldgeekinmd.

27 September 2013

Book Review--Tune: Still Life (2)

Tune: Still Life (book 2)
Derek Kirk Kim and Les McClaine (artist)
November 2013

This second volume is the series picks up right where the first one left off. Andy, the average guy, who is disillusioned with the lack of jobs, can't seem to get his art going, and can't work up the courage to ask out his art school crush has finally found that perfect job. He's going to work at a zoo!...as an exhibit in an alien dimension. And while all seems great upon signing the contract, he quickly discovers there's no way home and all of that money he's making is useless in this dimension. And worst of all the aliens messed up on bringing Yumi, his art school crush, to him so he could say goodbye! Instead, he faces Yumi for an alternate reality...where things are a bit different. What's a guy to do?

I’ve been following Tune since it came out in webcomic format and it’s quickly become one of my favorite webcomics to keep up with...although it's on hiatus now pending sales of this book.  So people...go buy this book so we can continue the story!!!  Seriously.  Ahem.... What I like about this book is that for the most part, Andy is your average guy.  He makes mistakes (dropping out of school, not reading the contract that he signs with the aliens), but all in all he means well. And I can see elements of myself in his story, which of course makes me cringe at times (especially when he realizes that Yumi might actually like him) because I’ve made some of the same choices, the same decisions, and my life mirrors Andy in some ways. And that’s what makes this such a great story, that it is easy to relate to Andy. We’ve all mapped out our life and had it veer off into different directions (hopefully no one is an exhibit in a zoo though.) I like the sense of humanity and humility that Derek brings to the characters and I can’t wait to see where he takes them next.

Les McClaine took over the artwork in this volume so that Derek was able to put out the story more often. He has a similar style to Derek's but he really makes the characters his own and brings a different style to them. For me the characters come to life more with Les than Derek. For one Les has a lighter touch, less of the dark heavy lines that typify Derek's work and more of a sketch quality that loosely captures the characters movements and the shading that give them a bit of extra vitality. There's also more of a rounded quality the faces, which does create a bit of sameness to the characters, but at the same time does away with some of the harshness of the earlier versions. Don't get me wrong I love Derek's art, but Les brings his own touches to this work and it adds a great deal to it.

This story has a nice blending of sci-fi and real life, which makes it easy for folks to dive into and read. It’s a story that I highly recommend and I can’t wait to see what happens next. 4 out of 5 stars.

ARC provided by Gina at FirstSecond

25 September 2013

Book Review -- Head First HTML5 Progamming

Head First HTML5 Programming 
Eric Freeman and Elisabeth Robson 

O’Reilly Publishing provided me access to an electronic copy of this book for review purposes.

When I'm looking for a book to help me learn more about a specific programming language, the first place I look is O'Reilly.  And no, I don't say that because they give me free copies of the books (which I do like).  Instead I look for them because they have series, like the Head First series, that are written for anyone to learn from.  You don't have to be a master computer programmer to pick up the book and understand how a topic, like HTML5 programming, works.  And that's one of the great things about the Head First series, is that it's easy to understand, easy to follow, and lively illustrations make it fun to learn how a new concept works.

This particular book helps walk the reader through some of the new concepts of HTML5 and how it works with JavaScript to provide a more robust and powerful programming language.  Such examples include using the canvas, which allows a user/programmer to create images on the fly, such as repeating circles in a random pattern on a background (the example from the book actually.)  Or utilizing the geolocation API to help figure out data on your users...probably not the best topic to broach with these days, but still could be useful.  This book is not meant to be a complete reference on HTML5 or JavaScript, but a guide to getting started with using the concepts together.

Where this book excels is providing an easy to understand concept of utilizing the new features of HTML5 in conjunction with JavaScript.  The other highlight of the Head First series (and this book is no exception) is that it's written in a clear easy to understand language, it's written for the novice programmer--one that's still learning how programming works and for someone that's looking for an overview of the language.  In this book the authors give you a specific situation to walk through, such as a client that wants to be able to print customized tshirts, and gives you some exercises to walk through to begin understanding the processes that are needed.  Then, at the end of the chapter, they give you the answers and further explanation if one is needed.  By having a somewhat silly concept, I find that it often helps engage my brain into beginning to think about the specific code that I'll need.  In addition, they also add in other learning concepts, such as using crossword puzzles or mazes.

The caveat of this book is that like every "Head First" title the illustrations won't work for everyone.  I find it helps if you're coming from a nontraditional background or from a more creative bent (left brain.) And even then sometimes the images and graphics can be overwhelming, which is a problem that I find sometimes in this book.  I found that the images, while helpful in the beginning, often start to become overwhelming as you get more and more into the problem being solved and make it a bit difficult at times to concentrate on following the step by step instructions.

Overall though this was an enjoyable book and one that I'll keep around to help me better understand some of the concepts of HTML5, and even begin working with them to redesign my own webpage.  Even though it's 600 pages long, it's an easy read and helps build a good understanding of HTML5 programming.  I give the book 4 out 5 stars.

I review for the O'Reilly Blogger Review Program

22 September 2013

Where I've been

I've been sitting on this one for a while, but I'm finally in a place where I feel like I can/should post it.

So I figure I should make a real post about where i've been. Oh sure I've been posting book reviews about great graphic novels, but nothing about libraries in over a year and I'm sure one or two of you might be wondering where I've been (or well the bots at least are wondering where I've been.)

I've been dealing with anxiety and depression. It's something that I can say I've probably always had, but last year it became a monster. It's not an easy thing to write or to say. It affected all areas of my life, both personal and work. I found myself for a time walking into some place and immediately wanting to hide under a desk. Or just not wanting to leave the comfort/covers of my bed. It ate at me, it sapped my energy, and it drained my passion for being a librarian....and that's something that's hard to admit. I love what I do, but it was hard to show it over the last year, and even now still is. I've slowly been working my way back to figuring out what it is that I'm excited about with being a librarian and in the last couple of months I've started to regain my passion and my love for being a librarian.

I write this post because like others have noticed, the great Josh Neff and Andy Woodsworth for instance, that we often seem afraid of talking about depression and anxiety in public. That it's something to be afraid of. And I realized recently that even though I acknowledge it...I'm still afraid of it. And I'm tired of being afraid of it. I have it, I'm working on living with it, it makes my life miserable at times, but it's a part of me. And I will not let it win.

I'm not going to talk about what triggered it, it doesn't matter. What I will talk about is that I'm grateful for the friends, both face to face and virtual, that stood by me, offered their support and advice, and more importantly the ones that kicked me in the butt when I needed it and gave me several hard truths.

So what will the future hold? Obviously I'm going to continue to struggle with depression and anxiety, likely always will. But day by day, with the encouragement of friends, I'm kicking myself in the butt and moving forward with my life. I've been working on the UX Certificate Program from LibraryJuice (on month 4 of 6 at the moment) and in the Spring I'll be starting the Advanced Certificate Program in Data Studies from the iSchool at Syracuse University. I'm still reading a lot and I'm working art back into my life again. And beyond that...the future is open.

20 September 2013

Book Review--Battling Boy

Battling Boy
Paul Pope
October 2013

On another world, in a universe far away heroes roam the world. They test their mettle and battle skills against monsters and villains across the universe. And when they reach a certain age, they go rambling, to test themselves and discover who they really are. And it Battling Boy's turn to be a hero...or fall. In the city of Arcopolis, monsters stalk children in the shadows, swallowing them whole. Only one man has ever been able to stand up to them, the great Haggard West. But the monsters have killed him. It is here that Battling Boy will make his stand, against the greatest monsters the world has ever known.

Although I've heard his name off and on for the last few years, this is the first time that I've had a chance to read any of Paul Pope's work. And it's different than anything I've encountered before, in a good way. Pope mines the comics of yesteryear, from the Gold and Silver ages of comics to bring to life a more gritty and darker world. One in which children are tossed into battle and the villains play for keeps.  Even though Pope draws from other sources, Battling Boy is a unique creation. Often times with young characters they feel, think, and act like grown ups, never actually letting us see them grow. But that's one of the great things about this book is that Battling Boy acts like a boy. He's confused, scared, wants to call on his father to help him, but at the same time he wants to stand on his own. Even better, is that he doesn't quite know how to act around adults that want to use him for their own purposes. He reacts as a young boy does, throwing things and glaring at them until they back down slightly, I mean he is a super hero after all.  And Pope's writing, the action, the drama, it keeps you on the edge of your seat just waiting to see what will happen next.  And in this case we're left with a bit of cliff hanger, waiting to see if Battling Boy and the friend he makes in Arcopolis can make it another day.

It seems as if most comic artists today prefer working with clean straight lines and crisp edges, but Pope's work deviates from this pattern and goes back to 30+ years ago, with a hint of sketchiness to them, to add a bit of energy and vitality to the work. It reminds me a lot of the early days of Scott McCloud's comic, Zot. The colors chosen for the characters are fantastic and more on a muted 80's scheme, which helps add to the feel. My favorite scenes of course are some of the action scenes towards the end of the book where Battling Boy is getting ensnared by the monsters, including one that looks like a cross between walking slime and bubble gum.

This is the start to a great action series and perfect for teens and up and I can't wait to see what happens next. I give the book 4 out of 5 stars.

ARC provided by Gina at FirstSecond

29 August 2013

Book Review -- Boxers and Saints

Boxers & Saints
Gene Luen Yang
September 2013

Even though Boxers & Saints has been published as two separate books, they really do need to be read together to get the complete story.  Which is why I’m reviewing both books together.  

The year is 1898.  The place is China.  Once closed off to the rest of the world, foreign missionaries and soldiers have taken to roaming the countryside to bully, rob, and convert the Chinese people.  There are those that wish to stand up to them, but how?  The foreigners have guns and power on their side.  And then...Little Bao stands up.  He has learned to harness the power of the ancient Chinese gods, and he recruits an army of Boxers - common people trained in Kung Fu, who use the power of the ancient gods to free China from those “foreign devils.”  And lo and behold it works! They begin winning violent battles against the foreign soldiers.  But there is a cost to their victory.  Death.  Death of those “foreign devils” and death of Chinese citizens who have converted to Christianity.  
On the other side of the coin of the Boxers...are the Saints.  Chinese Christians who want to make a better life for themselves, but are torn between their nation and their faith.  One such Saint is an unwanted fourth daughter, Four-Girl, who is never even given a real name by her family.  Instead she finds both a name, Vibiana, and a family with a local Christian missionary.  She begins having visions of Joan of Arc, who attempts to guide her down the path of righteousness.  But the Boxer Rebellion is coming...and Vibiana will soon have to decide whether she will be Chinese or Christian.

Much like in American Born Chinese, Gene Yang weaves two different powerful stories together to create one amazing story.  In this collection, each story represents a different side of the coin.  On one side you have Little Bao and the past traditions of China and it’s culture.  On the other side you have Vibiana and the Chinese Christians, representing a possible future for the country, one that scares many.  When the story begins this coin is doing a delicate balancing act, with neither side overwhelming the other.  But soon...things begin to tip and sway one way and the other.  First the Christian missionaries begin to rob and bully the Chinese around them.  And then the coin swivels and the Boxers appear, ready to take back their own land.  By the end of the book...well you’ll have to read it to see what happens.

What I like about this collection is that the books work well together to form a history of a time period that many in the Western part of the world are probably not familiar with and it’s written for all ages to understand.  Even more so, Gene writes the story so that we understand the horrors committed by both sides of the conflict.  Gene takes care to show that while both sides had valid arguments, their methods and ways of getting what they wanted were becoming increasingly violent and splintered as strong people in each group began adding their own meanings to what they saw.  While this is likely to make some folks uncomfortable, it is necessary to understand the whole of the conflict.  Gene does an excellent job of ensuring that we, as readers, are able to question both sides of the conflict.

Gene brings his typical, wonderful, art style to this collection.  His bright, rich colors, strong lines, and shading create characters that leap off the page, especially in the Boxers book.  This is in particular noticeable when we see the ancient Chinese gods wearing theatrical costumes as they do battle.  It helps make this time period in history come to life a little bit more. What is even more remarkable though about the artwork for these two books is when you contrast Boxers with Saints. Boxers is all about the bright colors. Saints...is more muted. Brown and dust inhabit the pages, except when we see the specters of Joan of Arc who is brightly colored. It presents a very different view of the characters of these two volumes...one that you'll have to read to see.

My one regret about these two books, is that I would have loved to have an afterward, one that gave a bit more information about the influences of creation of the books.  But that is neither here nor there.  Overall this is an excellent two volume set and I would highly recommend it for all libraries and all ages.  I give both books 5 out of 5 stars.

ARC provided by Gina at FirstSecond

21 August 2013

Book Review---Fairy Tale Comics

Fairy Tale Comics: Classic Tales Told by Extraordinary Cartoonists
Ed. Chris Duffy
September 2013

I'm sure that you're thinking with so many different fairy tale books out there, why the heck do we need yet another one? Surely there can't be space for this one? But you'd be wrong. FirstSecond has hit the mark with this book that's sure to be an instant classic, much like their 2011 book of Nursery Rhyme comics.

FirstSecond has gathered together 17 of the best artists in the world to put their own unique twists on these classic tales. And these aren't all tales that you've heard of. Sure there's Snow White and Rapunzel, but have you read "The Boy Who Drew Cats" from Japan before? Or "The Prince and The Tortoise" from 1001 nights? I'm betting that there's at least one new tale in this book for everyone. One thing to note is that the artists have toned down some of the original horror and frightening elements that some readers might be familiar with from the original Brother Grimm tales. So if you're familiar with the originals you might find this disappointing, but you might want to keep in mind that this is an all ages book. I however, still found the stories to be quite enjoyable.

The talent in this book include Jamie Hernandez, David Mazzucchelli, Craig Thompson, Raina Telgemeir, and more. Each artists takes the text of a classic fairy tale and adds their own unique spin to it. My favorite has to be Raina's take on "Rapunzel." In Raina's version the story begins with Rapunzel's mother being pregnant and getting cravings for...the Rapunzel planet. Even though her husband has brought her cornichons, stinky cheese, and marshmallow fluff. It's just such a great little twist to the tale. And the art styles in this book are fantastic! Such a wide range of mediums ranging from computer drawn to charcoal to pastels, each works well with the story chosen.

Each story has something for everyone with the artists bringing their own unique talents and styles to these tales. All of them are absolutely fantastic. This is the perfect book for any age and is sure to put a smile on everyone's face. I highly recommend this book as a great addition to any shelf. 4 out 5 stars

ARC provided by Gina at FirstSecond 

16 August 2013

Book Review--Delilah Dirk and Turkish Lieutenant

Delilah Dirk and Turkish Lieutenant
Tony Cliff
August 2013 publication

Delilah Dirk has traveled all across the world-Japan, Indonesia, France, even the New World! Delilah is always seeking a new adventure, and her latest has taken her to Constantinople to...relieve the Sultan of certain choice artifacts. While making her escape she picks up a new partner, a Turkish Lieutenant named Selim, who somehow fell onto the wrong side of the Sultan and it isn't Delilah's fault at all!  Nope, nothing of the sort...mostly. Together they'll head off on Delilah's flying boat onto new adventures and see what waits for them.

One of the great things for me about reading a new graphic novel is finding one that has a strong female character, and that's what we have here. Delilah is a well rounded character that acts like a real person! Imagine that! A female character that doesn't have to have a man save her. Shocking I know. Seriously though, Delilah is kinda of a female Indiana Jones. She goes around the world, has adventures, and while she may like company she doesn't need it. Selim on the other hand is the exact opposite, at least when we first meet him. He'd rather enjoy the simple things in life, like a good cup of tea, and just do his job. But together these two characters have great adventures and both are the better for it. And get this...they don't have a romance! Tony Cliff goes against all "normal" stereotypes to create a fantastic story, with memorable characters.  This is just such a fun enjoyable read, I can't believe that I missed it when Tony first started publishing it as a webcomic, but man am I glad to have it now.  It's one that I'll enjoy reading again and again.

Tony's artwork is flat out gorgeous. I'm not sure what Tony uses to create his artwork, but it's lush, detailed, and beautiful. I mean each and every page feels like something that could be hung up on the wall as art and you wouldn't get tired of looking at it. The colors are beautiful and the expressive faces just bring the characters to life.  The action sequences are some of my favorites, especially when they're on the old stone bridge trying not to get blown up.  The way the rubble falls, the smoke, the characters expressions...fantastic. I can't wait to see more of Tony's art.

This is a great book and I'd recommend it for teen readers and up. I can't wait to see if we get more of Delilah and Selim (one can hope.) I give the book 5 out of 5 stars.

ARC provided by Gina at FirstSecond

14 August 2013

Book Review--March Book One

March Book One
John Lewis, Andrew Aydin, and Nate Powell
TopShelf Productions

Every so often a book will come along that will challenge you, that will make you think, and that will hopefully leave you a bit better after you've read it. And this is just one such book.  Yes that seems weird to say about a graphic novel, but trust me…this one deserves such praise.  This is a book that everyone should read, and then reread again.  And then pass on to others to read.  This is a part of history that we should not let die, remember, and honor those that created it.

Congressman John Lewis is an iconic figure within the Civil Rights movement, and the last surviving member of the “big six leadership.” He rose from being the son of sharecropper, to marching with Martin Luther King, and to the halls of Congress.  This first book in a planned trilogy covers John Lewis’s youth in rural Alabama, his first meeting with Martin Luther King, the birth of the Nashville Student movement, and the battle for desegregation on the steps of City Hall.  And it comes to an end all to quickly.  I finished the book saying "but, but...I want more! I need the rest of the story now!"  And that's such a great way to leave readers, clamoring for the next part of the story.  It’s a powerful and moving story to see a firsthand account of the triumphs and sorrows of being involved in this time period in history. 

Now I’m sure the first question many are asking is…why a graphic novel?  Couldn't this be done in written form and come out just as well.  And the answer would be…no.  It’s one thing to read about the horrors or having water tossed on you, or being beaten, all because of the color of your skin.  It’s a completely different matter to see it illustrated.  The illustrations are masterful and you can imagine the smoke being blown in your face, someone standing over you and spitting upon you, and others throwing water or hot coffee in your face.  It’s a powerful image that you won’t be able to shake.  And one that you won’t be able too, or want to forget.

One of the problem that I normally see with autobiographical stories, is that they often try to give the reader to much information or even sometimes not enough information.  They forget that we aren’t all familiar with the history of an individual.  But this book doesn’t suffer any such problem.  We move expertly between past and present, as John Lewis gives a tour to children from his district and explains his past.  It’s a great way to set up the story.  And more importantly you don’t ever feel like you’re missing out on something.

Nate Powell’s artwork is absolutely gorgeous. It’s done in his typical grace/style of capturing the human form oh so perfectly and it seems like this time he’s gone even further in his use of shading to give us the beauty of all different types of skin tones, each character’s is unique. His artwork is perfectly suited for this story capturing the range and intensity of emotions--the sorrow, the joy, and the fear that sends chills down your spine. That intensity, that feeling of life that he captures in their faces really makes them come alive.

You can’t help but feel moved by this story and you can’t walk away unchanged. The combination of story and art works perfectly in capturing this event and this time period. I’m predicting this book will be one of the best graphic novels of the year, perhaps even one of the best books of the year.  I started recommending it to my faculty as soon as I heard about it.  And one that I can’t wait for them to teach from.  I give the book 5 out of 5 stars.

10 July 2013

Book Review--Templar

Jordan Mechner, LeUeyn Pham, Alex Puvilland
July 2013

The time of the Templar Knights is ending, as the King of France and his servants, have conspired to destroy the order. The Pope, left with little choice, bows to pressure and allows the King to condemn the Templars' for heresy...and orders them all to be executed. But a handful of the Templar Knights, including Martin, escape and seek to regain the hidden treasure of the Templar Knights and keep it out of the hands of the King. They must band together and fight through sewers, possible romances, and the warriors of the King if they hope to survive. And only time will tell if they will make it.

Even though this is a long book (probably the longest graphic novel I’ve seen in awhile), this is an exciting action packed story. It takes a little bit to get into the story, as the author delves into some of the history of the knights and what happened to the order, but then...then the action starts and the story takes off like a rocket and you don’t want to let go. This is the type of story has a little bit of something for everyone, from romance to adventure to fighting to knights...mostly knights, but still it’s fun.  Mechner does an excellent job of creating characters that we feel proud to know and follow, that we want to know more about, and that we want to see them live to fight another day.

The illustrations in this book are lavish and gorgeous, with beautiful attention to detail.  The texture of the cloth that the knights and others wear, the scruff of their beard, the depth to the buildings of France with the arches and columns...reading this book and looking at the art is like watching a really good animated movie.  Some of my favorite scenes in the book are the action sequences with the galloping of the horses and the knights fighting.  It's wonderful.

This is an action packed story that high school readers and up will enjoy. I give the book 4 out of 5 stars. 

ARC provided by Gina at FirstSecond

Book Review--Genius

Steven Seagle & Teddy Kristiansen
July 2013

Ted Marx is a genius. Not like when your mom says that your baby brother is a genius cause he figured out how to work the iPad at the age of three, but a real one. He skipped grades in school and he's a quantum physicist at a think tank. But lately...everything is beginning to overwhelm him. He's having trouble making the next big leap at his job, he's being passed over by the younger kids, his kids are growing up way too fast, his wife is seriously ill, and his father-in-law who is senile lives with them. What's a genius to do? But then...he discovers that his father-in-law knew Einstein himself! And even more than that Einstein shared his greatest discovery with him. Can Ted get the secret for himself? And if he can...what will he do with it?

For such a short book Steven deals with a lot of complicated topics ranging from aging in-laws, illness, being smart but not smart enough, and most importantly of all...what do you do when you've been told the greatest secret known to man? It's like the parable of the gold pieces from the Bible, but in this case letting the secret go to seed maybe the best thing to do with it. This is the question that Ted struggles with, all the while trying to deal with normal life and the pressures of his job. And it's the story's greatest strength.  We see Ted as neither a hero, or a villain, or even someone to aspire to be like.  He's just...like the rest of us, struggling to deal with life and everything that is thrown at him.  There is no neat and tidy ending with this book. No question is every truly answered and we don't know what Ted may do with the secret. Instead the book is just like the real world...gray and unclear, with hints of light.

One of the things I struggled the most with this book were the illustrations. It took me a while to realize why everything was gray and somewhat fuzzy, with hints of green and light running through it, is that Teddy is mirroring what we see in the storyline, he's mirroring life. It's not supposed to be clear and rosy, instead it's muted and unclear, with those hints of light shining through every once in a while, like a bolt of genius out of the gray. The one big issue I have with the book, is the type choice. It was at times difficult to read and made for some interesting... confusion, such as where it looks like the father-in-law is calling Albert Bett instead of Bert.

Overall while I enjoyed the book, I found it difficult to grasp until the 3rd or 4th reading. And I think that's because the author paralleled life so closely, creating a character that we can't but help find uncomfortable because he's so like us and he struggles with the same things that we do. And yet...that's also the biggest selling point of the book. This is a good book for adults and I give the it 3.5 out of 5 stars.

ARC provided by Gina at FirstSecond

22 April 2013

Book Review -- Red Handed

Red Handed: The Fine Art of Strange Crimes
Matt Kindt
May 2013

Detective Gould is the greatest detective in the world, there’s no crime he can’t solve thanks to his mind and cutting-edge spy technology.  Every criminal in the city of Red Wheelbarrow is caught red handed.  But lately...there have been a series of crimes that while solved, leave Detective Gould stumped as to the why behind them.  Will he discover the connection between the chair thief, the purloined street sign used to create a literary opus, and the photographer of anguished moments?  Or has the great Detective Gould finally met his match?

When I’m sitting down to describe this book the thoughts that pop into my head are old school film noir detective meets a grownup Encyclopedia Brown.  Why Encyclopedia Brown? Well just the way Detective Gould goes about catching his man using the tools at hand and his ability to piece together random clues using his intellect.  Granted he hasn’t pieced together the biggest mystery, but he’ll get there.  Film noir because there’s this great element of old school literary feel to the novel.  This isn’t one of those novels where you just get told the story and you figure it out by page 12...no.  This is one of those books where you’re handed clues and by the time you’re almost done with the story you’re realizing that everything is connected and it wasn’t what you thought it was at all.

Matt weaves together a great literary story, one that keeps you on the edge of your seat wondering what the signs have to do with a painting and what all that has to do with chairs being stolen.  It all seems so random and yet by the end you’re almost left wondering if you could have solved it without being told, so you read the story again and discover there were still things that you missed and you kinda of have to conclude that Matt’s story is almost too good to be true.

Matt’s artstyle is...a bit different.  The bulk of the art is done in a soft watercolor palette, almost making it feel like we’re reading a weathered book from the 30’s/40’s when Dick Tracey first patrolled the streets.  And it draws you into the story and doesn’t let you go.  Then there are other parts, the little side stories like “Tess’s True Heart” where we can still see the blue pencil lines from sketching and it seems like the story is unfinished and it throws me off a bit.

Overall though this is a story that will keep you reading and wondering to the very last page.  I give the book 4 out of 5 stars.

ARC provided by Gina at FirstSecond

20 April 2013

Book Review -- Astronaut Academy: Re-entry

Astronaut Academy: Re-entry
Dave Roman
May 2013

This is the second volume in the Astronaut Academy series, and Hakata Soy and gang are back for more fun and adventure in the spring semester at the Academy.  Just when Hakata thinks its safe to wander around the school, a new trouble is unleashed!  Someone....or something is stalking the halls of the academy and impersonating other students!  If that wasn't bad enough this....creature...is making off with students extra hearts.  Will the students be able to survive and recover their extra hearts...or are they doomed to only have one?

I will openly admit I had trouble with the first book in the series when I read it, in part because I had a hard time putting myself into the mindset of a young kid, which is who this series is aimed for.  But this time around I had a bit of an easier time, perhaps because there's a nice overarching theme with the mysterious fiend on the loose!  And gosh darn it I wanted to know what the heck happened and how Hakata and the gang were going to stop this creature!  Even though we switched viewpoints every few pages, the overall arching theme made it easy to keep up and I loved that we got to check back in with old friends (and learn more about Hakata in the process!) The storytelling and the artwork both remind me of the cartoon “Kids Next Door,” which is the one of the best compliments I can give to the story since I loved that cartoon. 

It's a romping good adventure if you're the right age (or have the right mindset) and I'd highly recommend the book.  4 out of 5 stars.

ARC provided by Gina at FirstSecond

19 April 2013

Book Review --- Jerusalem

Jerusalem: A Family Portrait
Boaz Yakin and Nick Bertozzi 
April 2013

*note I owe an apology to FirstSecond for being so slow to get this review out, please don't hold it against this wonderful book*

The year is 1940. The place is Jerusalem. And there is war all around. Not only is World War II continuing and taking away the men and boys of Israel to fight Hitler’s armies, but Jews and Arabs are fighting once more within Jerusalem. This story follows three generations of the same family, 15 members in total, from 1940-1948, through war, through jail, through faith, and through death. This is a story that will not let you go.

This has been one of the most difficult books for me to review, not only because of the content (which at times draws close to some buried family secrets) but also because of the way the story is told. Boaz is a filmmaker at heart and it shows in how he writes and plots his stories as he moves from one person to the next and then back again to pick up the characters tale. It’s a powerful and interesting way to create a story, but at the same time there were times I got lost and needed a scorecard to keep up with the characters (of which thankfully there was one in the front.)  It took me two read throughs to see the entire story, which is probably more my reading style than that of Boaz's writing.  That aside though, this is a powerful story and is one that you’ll want to read again and again to see what you might have missed. Although Boaz fictionalized parts of the story, much of it still has the feel of a biography which makes it even more interesting to read.

Nick’s black and white illustrations make it feel like we’re watching one of those old classic black and white films and gives the film a sense of heaviness, of reality that grounds the story and helps keep it real. We watch as the characters grow and change during this 8 year time period and come to life. Although the illustrations are relatively simple, Nick adds details to keep visual interest that will keep the reader looking for visual imagery that enhances the story.

This is one of those books that you need to have a box of tissues next to you and a computer handy so that you can lookup aspects of the history, not to verify anything, but to enhance your understanding of the story and the places discussed. And once you get done...read it again. And then pass the book onto someone else. I give the book 4 out of 5 stars.

ARC provided by Gina at FirstSecond

18 April 2013

Book Review -- Nothing Can Possibly Go Wrong

Nothing Can Possibly Go Wrong
Prudence Shen & Faith Erin Hicks
May 2013

Even though they they are social opposites, Nate and Charlie have been best best friends since a young age, and together they’ve braved the high school world....until Nate runs for school president to get the money his team needs to go to a robotics competition. And Charlie’s former girlfriend, a cheerleader, has other ideas on where the money can go, and a battle ensues that puts Charlie in the middle of opposing groups, with somewhat disastrous and hysterical results.  When the school's money is put out of their reach, the two groups must put aside their differences and come together to win the biggest, baddest, robot competition of all time.

This is the first time I’ve read any of Prudence’s work and I’ve got to say I really, really enjoyed it.  In large part because the story focuses on two male friends and there just aren't that many books out there like this that don't make it so that the guys are in a competition for romance or have weird plot twists to them (like one of the guys being alien...or a girl.)  This book just captures that sense of being on opposite ends of the social spectrum, but still being able to be friends.  And even more importantly is that even though these guys are on opposite ends, its not made out to be a detriment and we never see anyone making fun of either character for hanging out with the other because one is a jock and the other is a geek.  Overall this was a just a nicely written story with some fun twists to it and excellent robot action.

I really like Faith's art style and it works well this story, as she just has this way of capturing teenager characters well as illustrated in her own book Friends With Boys.  In this book she again just captures the movements of teenagers well, that slightly cocky, yet unsure of themselves style of walking, talking, and even fighting.  They have a lot of depth to their expressions so that even without the words of the story you can tell what’s going on. Faith also has a way of capturing the feelings and movements of being in high school. That sense of being crowded and all alone at the same time. I especially love the robotic fights, and the expressions on the character’s faces as they battle it out.

I'd give this book 4 out of 5 stars, I’d recommend it to the male teenage population in both middle and high school. The story is engaging, fun characters, and best of all a great robot battle at the end.

ARC provided by Gina at FirstSecond

11 April 2013

Book Review---Primates

Primates: The Fearless Science of Jane Goodall, Dian Fossey, and Biruté Galdikas
Jim Ottaviani & Maris Wicks
June 2013

Prior to 1950 the world knew very little about primates.  While many researchers tried to understand and observe these creatures in their natural habitat, they all failed and came back frustrated and dejected. And then....three women, Jane Goodall, Dian Fossey, and Biruté Galdikas, all students of Louis Leaky, changed everything that we knew about primates and changed what we understood about ourselves. While they worked on different continents with different primates at different times, these three women challenged the world and showed us just what we have left to learn. This book weaves a story and introduces the reader to the woman and their work...and leaves us wanting more.

For me Maris Wicks artwork is what sells this book. Don’t get me wrong Ottaviani’s writing and storytelling are par none, but Maris’s art takes this story and makes it special. In fact when I heard she was going to be illustrating this book I couldn't wait to see it because I love her style.  Not familiar with who she is?  Well check out her illustrations for this book and you'll see why I love her style so much.  Her character design effortlessly captures the movement of not only the human characters, but the grace of the various primates they studied. It feels like we're out in the jungle with Jane, Dian, and Birute watching these amazing animals with them.  Maris's color choices are bright and vibrant and help breathe life into the story making it feel like we can reach out and shakes hands with Jane or brush the fur of a great ape.  If I were to make a comparison of who Maris reminds me of it would be Smile by Raina Telgemeier.  

Ottaviani’s writing style is pitch perfect for this type of book and helps the reader feel like we’re a part of the adventure vs. reading a history book.  We're actively participating in the research and the adventure and learning along with these three women.  What I really like about this book is that he intertwines their stories together to help create one cohesive narrative and flowing story. In fact he leaves me wanting to know more and makes me want to tell other people to go read about these three amazing scientists.  

Were parts of the story imagined to make a good story? Yes, but it helps readers better understand these three powerful and free thinking women who challenge preconceived notions on how things should be and helped make the world their own. Ottaviani’s and Maris provide a biography and an explanation of how the book was created to help readers understand what was changed and how they can learn more. I highly recommend this book for all ages and anyone that wants to learn more, not only about primates, but about the three amazing women that helped us begin to understand them.  5 out of 5 stars.

ARC provided by Gina at FirstSecond

05 March 2013

Book Review--Odd Duck

Odd Duck
Cecil Castellucci & Sara Varon
May 2013

Theodora is a perfectly normal duck, thank you very much. She swims with a teacup balanced on head to help maintain perfect posture and stays north when the rest of the ducks fly south for the winter (why would she want to leave her home??) and there’s nothing strange about that. Chad, her newest neighbor, on the other hand is a bit odd. I mean he dyes his feathers weird colors and has all kinds of weird art projects around. But...they do like some of the same things. But can Theodora ever be friends with such an odd duck as Chad?

While this is an age old story, being yourself and making friends, Sara Varon and Cecil Castellucci bring their own unique twists to the story. By creating ducks as characters that are both clearly a bit different, Cecil lets the reader see that differences can seem perfectly normal to the other person. Even better though, is that Cecil shows that being the different...isn't all that bad. In some ways its a good thing, because it means you get to experience things differently than everyone else. And you might just have a friend to acompany you along the way.

Sara Varon’s normal color palette of soft pastels works well for this book, making it feel like a book from 30+ years ago. Especially with the end papers of the book, they are just absolutely beautiful and I feel like I could spend hours just looking at them. I mean they don't have a lot of detail, repeating patterns of duck characters, but the memories associated with that type of design and color are fantastic. Sara also had lots of nice details hidden in the images, such as Theodora’s carpet in the bedroom that looks like moving water with a dolphin and seahorse swimming around. All in all it's just a beautifully illustrated book.

In many ways this book reminds me of one of my favorite all time picture books The Big Orange SplotTogether these two create a vibrant and colorful story that readers young and old will greatly enjoy. I give the book 4 out of 5 stars.

ETA: Please note I misspelled Sara's name when I first posted, it should be Varon, not Varnon.

ARC provided by Gina at FirstSecond

08 February 2013

Book Review--Relish

Relish:  My Life in the Kitchen
Lucy Knisley
April 2013

Lucy Knisley is the daughter of a chef/caterer and a gourmet foodie.  So unsurprisingly she also loves food and equates many of her memories growing up with it.  In this thoughtful and funny memoir, Lucy shares with readers key moments in her life -- her parents divorce, her moving to the countryside, trips out of the country -- and how food framed each moment of this journey.  We see how a trip to Italy is influenced, not by Italian cooking, but by eating a local McDonald’s that brought the comforts of home.  And we learn how even though her parents are separated that home cooked meals prepared by Lucy’s mother can bring them together once again.  Through many meals and snacks, Lucy shares with us her memories of growing up and the unique experiences she has.  Each chapter concludes with an illustrated recipe that ties into the just completed chapter, daring us to sample some of the adventures.

Like many people, I was first introduced to Lucy Knisley through her travelogue French Milk and I was quickly enthralled.  Her simple, yet evocative, line drawings created an entertaining story that made me feel like I was sitting with a good friend, sharing a meal, and listening to their adventures.  Since that time I’ve eagerly kept up with Lucy’s work and career and she has quickly become one of my all time favorite artists and storytellers.  And her latest work of course is no exception.  

What I love best about this story, is not only that Lucy shares her journey and her story with us, but I find it easy to relate to her work.  I know that sounds strange because I’m not a foodie and I’m not female, but I can honestly say that I can look at her work and find some trace of myself in it.  Mainly because Lucy doesn’t try to hide those unflattering moments that so many of us wish we could hide, such as being a brat and rebellious towards are parents.  Lucy instead embraces it and share it with us in such a way that we can relate to it and remember our own experiences growing up.  And I stress that point because some authors seemingly want nothing more than pity or take such a hard look at themselves they no longer seem human.  Lucy’s writing puts us on her level and makes it easy to relate to her and feel like we’re talking with a good friend, which to me is the sign of a great writer.  

While the story is fantastic, Lucy’s artwork is even better.  Her watercolor paintings of her adventures are bright, colorful, and exude life.  It makes me feel like I’m standing right there with her sampling exotic candies in Mexico and smelling fragrant cheeses in Chicago as she serves them to customers.  She has an elegance to her work that easily captures the human figure without overwhelming it with detail and unnecessary lines and just brings the story to life.  I could say more, but why give unnecessary detail?  Go check out her work and you’ll be impressed as well.

As you can tell I really enjoy Lucy’s work and I think a y’all will as well.  I highly recommend this book.  The story is simple, easy to follow, and flows naturally and the artwork is beautiful.  And I can’t give it any higher praise than that.

ARC provided by Gina at FirstSecond