The Adventures of Odysseus
Hugh Lupton and Daniel Morden
Illustrations by Christina Balit
Readers can partake of a wonderful journey when they set sail with Odysseus in this book chronicling the events of his journey to Ithaca after the Trojan War. Wonderful, poetic phrases paint vivid pictures of episodes of Odysseus and his sailors as they trek across the seas. The authors’ well written text will hold the attention of young and older readers alike. Along the way Odysseus meets up with and conquers the eerie one-eyed Cyclops using his wit and humor. Some of his other gripping adventures include his battles with the wind and Poseidon, spirits from the Land of the Dead, and a daunting dragon and a whirlpool. The character of Odysseus comes across as intelligent, brave, and haunting all at once. Readers can become immersed in his journey due to the page-turning text. This riveting tale is enhanced by bright artwork that will be viewed time and time again. Because of its quality, students will not need much coaxing to pick up this book. In addition, teachers will find this book to be an excellent supplement to units about Greek heroes. 2010 (orig. 2006), Barefoot Books, Ages 8 to 12, $12.99. REVIEWER: Nancy Garhan Attebury (Children’s Literature).
The Amazing Adventures of Bumblebee Boy
David Soman & Jacky Davis
From the creators of Ladybird Girl comes superhero Bumblebee boy Sam, enriching his adventurous play with his vivid imagination. “BUM BA BUM BUMM!” But as he aims his “stinger” at an attacking pirate, he is interrupted by his little brother Owen, who wants to play with him. Preferring to play alone Sam tells him, ” you are not a superhero like me.” With his “BUM ” introduction, Bumblebee Boy is about to capture Fire Dragon when Owen tries again to join in, only to be rejected. The superhero is off again, this time to stop the Giant Saber-Toothed Lion. And again, there is Owen, in the way. It is only when Bumblebee Boy encounters aliens on Mars that he realizes he needs help. He and Owen reach a comforting understanding. The end pages serve as display panels for isolated, seemingly cut out drawings of the characters. Ink and watercolors produce sketchy single and double-page illustrations of Sam preparing for adventure and creating his imaginary actions using his real toys. The light-hearted tale needs only a few lines of text along with the action pictures. 2011, Dial Books for Young Readers/Penguin Young Readers Group, Ages 3 to 6, $16.99. REVIEWERS: Ken Marantz and Sylvia Marantz (Children’s Literature).
The Astonishing Secret of Awesome Man
Illustrated by Jake Parker
Superhero Awesome Man has “a cape as red as a rocket, a mask as black as midnight, and a stylin’ letter A on my chest.” His superpowers are spectacular, too, what with his positronic eyeball rays, ability to cross the time barrier, and trademark Awesome Power Grip. But when Professor Von Evil’s Flaming Eyeball gets away, Awesome Man has to get a grip of a different sort: A tantrum simply will not do. Who is Awesome Man really? Kids might be surprised, although observant readers and listeners may not only have figured out Awesome Man’s secret identity from clues in the art, but Professor Von Evil’s too. This fresh, funny take on imaginative play features stylized illustrations in perfect synch with the comics-style sensibility of the story. 2011, Balzer + Bray / HarperCollins, Ages 4 to 8, $17.99. REVIEWER: CCBC (Cooperative Children’s Book Center Choices).
Athena: Grey-eyed Goddess
Following his graphic novel Zeus: King of the Gods, which told stories of Greek god Zeus’ birth, early childhood, and war with the Titans, comic book creator O’Connor now turns his attention to Zeus’ daughter Athena. Narrated by the Fates, this graphic novel reveals how Zeus’ fears that his child would overthrow him caused him to devour his first wife Metis, who gave birth to Athena within Zeus’ head and enabled her to emerge full-grown from Zeus’ skull. From there, readers find more stories about this unusual goddess–from her early years of training with the warrior women of Libya, to her epic battle with the Gigantes leader Pallas, to her role in the creation of the snake-haired monster Medusa. With each story Athena gains a new trophy for her aegis, a cape that symbolizes her power and relates the history of this wise but also terrible goddess. Fans of Greek mythology will be pleased at how well Athena’s stories translate to the comic book form (no surprise since many of today’s comic book superheroes, including Superman, Wonder Woman, and the Hulk, are largely based on earlier pantheons of gods and monsters). Yet credit must also go to O’Connor, whose excellent grasp of comic book pacing gives Athena’s stories an almost cinematic feel. The book ends with several notes that provide more details about Athena’s stories, as well as a handy bibliography for readers curious about other Greek myths. Highly recommended. 2010, First Second/Roaring Brook Press, Ages 8 to 12, $16.99. REVIEWER: Michael Jung, Ph.D. (Children’s Literature).
Captain Awesome to the Rescue!
The all-too-perfectly named Kirby (alluding to comic book giants Stan Lee and Jack Kirby) kicks off an early chapter book series that introduces eight-year-old Eugene McGillicudy, who views life through the lens of comics and believes himself to be a superhero: Captain Awesome. “That’s one of the cool things about being a superhero,” Eugene says. “You get to pick your own name.” Dressed in his superhero finest (a hoodie, a pair of shorts outside his pants, and a towel cape), Captain Awesome sees villains everywhere: his baby sister is Queen Stinkypants; his teacher Ms. Beasley becomes Miss Beastly; and class meanie Meredith is dubbed Little Miss Stinky Pinky. O’Connor (Kapow!) opens each chapter with crayoned cartoons “drawn” by Eugene that, along with more polished spot art—complete with sound effects like “Bonk!” “Pow!” and “MI-TEE!” (Captain Awesome’s superhero rally call)—bring Eugene’s imagined feats of daring to life, as he investigates the disappearance of class pet Turbo the hamster. Action, comedy, and hyperbole should easily hook readers, especially those who share Eugene’s love of comics. Simultaneously available: Captain Awesome vs. Nacho Cheese Man. 2012, Little Simon/Simon & Schuster, Ages 5 to 7, $14.99. REVIEWER: Publishers Weekly.
Jennifer L. Holm & Matthew Holm
Squish has joined a sports team! In the fourth “Squish” book, Squish learns a lesson about leadership and teamwork. Is the most important thing winning games? Or is it giving everyone a chance to play? Squish struggles with leading his friends. Told in black-and-white and green (with grayscale sections depicting a comic that Squish reads to himself), Jennifer and Matthew Holm maintain the goofy sensibility that has made Babymouse and Squish famous. The silly illustrations of Squish and his friends navigating an anthropomorphized world are supplemented with arrows throughout the story commenting on the action (i.e. “Kind of hard to wear shin guards when you don’t have shins, huh?”). Although there is a short spread at the end describing an “experiment with air pressure,” there is hardly any scientific content in the core story, besides the identities of the characters (the coach is a member of the Cyclops genus of crustaceans). This is a fun story about the challenges of leadership, but do not expect hardcore scientific content here. 2012, Random House, Ages 8 to 12,$6.99. REVIEWER: Raina Sedore (Children’s Literature).
DC Super Heroes: The Ultimate Pop-up Book
As befits the subject matter, the illustrations in this detailed and decidedly heroic pop-up compendium of superheroes and supervillains feel ripped from the pages of classic DC comics. Favorites like Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman get their own majestic spreads (sorry, Martian Manhunter!), while mini-booklets highlight their allies, nemeses, and histories. Each spread is dramatic and dynamic, and, as fans have come to expect from Reinhart, clever touches are in abundance: Aquaman’s enemy, Black Manta, pulls on his mask as he pops up, and the Bat-Signal lights up above Gotham City. A towering final composition offers a veritable pantheon of characters (who are ID’d in an accompanying legend). Expertly crafted and superfun. 2010, Little Brown, Ages 3 and up, $29.99. REVIEWER: Publishers Weekly.
Jack Blank and the Imagine Nation
Jack Blank is an orphan, living in a dismal place where comic books are his only escape. One day, a robot straight from his comic books tries to kill him, which he just barely escapes! Following this, an emissary from the Imagine Nation comes for Jack, taking him away to a land where all of his comic book heroes and villains are alive and well, and telling him that he has a special power. Jack is happy until he finds out that the people believe him to be in league with the evil robots, the Rustov, who have been dead until now. Jack begins training with two other acquaintances to realize his special powers and become a hero. However, not even the hardest tests prepare him for the sacrifices that are made, the secrets that will define him, and the ultimate showdown in a terrifying situation. Full of adventures, lessons, and puns, the story starts slow, but finishes with a bang! This unique and fun book would be perfect for upper elementary and middle school students. 2010, Aladdin, Ages 9 to 11, $16.99. REVIEWER: Christine Gingrich (Kutztown University Book Review).
The Lightning Thief: The Graphic Novel
by Rick Riordan ; Adapted by Robert Venditti
Art by Attila Futaki ; color by Josae Villarrubia ; layouts by Orpheus Collar ; lettering
by Chris Dickey
Disney/Hyperion Books, 2010
Venditti’s adaptation of the critically acclaimed first installment of the Percy Jackson & the Olympians series faces a daunting challenge: to present a beloved, contemporary, young adult fantasy novel as a 128-page visual narrative. But the team succeeds in spectacular fashion. Venditti (The Surrogates) takes the story of the half-blood Percya “who discovers that he is both the son of a god and the prime suspect in a theft of cosmic implicationsa “and forges an adaptation that does justice not simply to Riordan’s story but works perfectly as a graphic novel. The book retains the excellent pacing of the original and gives a face to Riordan’s vision of the mythological made modern. Futaki’s artwork is exemplary, but what leaves such a lasting impression is Villarrubia’s coloring, which reveals both subtlety and spectacle when needed. The graphic novel compression must, of necessity, sacrifice something, namely some of the humor of the original. 2010, Disney/Hyperion, Ages 10 and up, $26.99. REVIEWER: Publishers Weekly.
Lily Renée, Escape Artist : From Holocaust Survivor To Comic Book Pioneer
Illustrated by Anne Timmons and Mo Oh
Graphic novels run the gamut from ephemeral to Maus and Persopolis, but their best use is to entice reluctant readers. Lily Renee exceeds that goal remarkably well. This biographical novel of a Viennese Jew, educated as an artist, who rides the last Kindertransport out of Austria, is a worthy historical entry into the genre. Lily Renee Wilheim was a pioneer comic book artist of female superheroes during World War II. Her trials in coming to America are the important backstory to her success. In England, her host family treated her as an unpaid servant. The girl is forced to scrub and starve until she runs away and finds work as a nurse’s assistant. She is declared an “enemy alien” by the British and subjected to the possibility of internment. Miraculously, she finds that her parents have made it to America and makes it on the boat by sheer luck (a sailor falls overboard and delays the departure). In America, her family struggles, but she chances on the job as a comic-book artist (a male-dominated field), and creates one of the era’s female Nazi-fighting heroes, Senorita Rio. Amended articles describe the time period, from a glossary of German terms to the genesis of the Horn and Hardart’s Automat where Lily Renee was able to cadge food. The descriptions are done in an engaging, conversational manner. The artwork is excellent, and recalls the period comics that Lily, herself, might have created. Unlike some graphic novels, the dialogue boxes and balloons are clear enough to be easily read. Buy this one for kids who won’t read biographies and adults who think that there is no such thing as a great graphic novel. Then refer good readers to The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Klay, by Michael Chabon, for the rest of the story. 2011, Graphic Universe, Ages 12 to 16, $29.27. REVIEWER: Lois Rubin Gross (Children’s Literature).
The Odyssey: A Graphic Novel
A hair-raising adventure tale that’s lasted well over two millennia can hardly be said to need new life breathed into it. A fresh retelling, though, is always welcome, and with this graphic-novel interpretation Hinds will hook some of those holdouts who have thus far resisted The Odyssey’s lure. Hinds notes in an afterword the translations consulted and favored for his opus, and his own narrative style stays true to the epic in both tone and form. With the text broken into “books” according to Homeric organization, readers encounter Odysseus’ travails, the gods’ intervention, and the Ithacan homefront drama in nonlinear fashion that may require extra concentration from those unfamiliar with the plot. However, the depth of the dialogue, the outstanding individuation of characters, and the patient and lovingly developed flow between frames often in wordless stretches make the work accessible. Hinds’ delicate pencil lines and softly blended watercolors coax an amazing variety of moods and settings from the sandy beiges and sea blues dictated by the Mediterranean milieu. Monstrous encounters and the suitor slaughter are satisfyingly sanguinary, and although Odysseus’ dalliances are perhaps less discreetly presented than some middle-school collections will permit, librarians who subscribe to the “They’ve seen worse in the movies” school of thought will happily extend this to a junior-high audience. “Near-direct quotes” from other translators are credited in the concluding note, along with a few Greek terms and comments on visual representation of the setting. Review Code: R* — Recommended. A book of special distinction. 2010, Candlewick, Grades 9-12, $24.99. REVIEWER: Elizabeth Bush (The Bulletin of the Center for Children’s Books).
Robin’s First Flight
Illustrated by Gregg Schigiel and Lee Loughridge
In the tradition of the “Batman” DC Comics series, this book provides an explanation for the beginning of a new Robin’s career. Dick Grayson, the original Robin, has grown up and become a new crimefighter named Nightwing. Tim Drake wants to take his place as Batman’s sidekick, so he undergoes the necessary training. Now, Batman wants to put him through a final test. He arranges for Nightwing to follow Tim as he searches for Batman. During the search, they encounter crimes that must be dealt with immediately. Tim helps the victims in spite of his time limit. He comes through with flying colors, partly because he has learned to put the needs of others before his own needs. A very quick read, this book seems more appropriate for a nine-year-old reader than for a twelve year old. The author downplays the violence of the original Batman series and makes it more timely. The illustrators do an excellent job of recreating the vibrant and colorful illustrations of comic books. Includes a table of contents, character summaries, author biographies, a glossary, discussion questions, and writing prompts. 2010, Stone Arch Books, Ages 9 to 12, $13.98. REVIEWER: Sue Poduska (Children’s Literature).
Sammy Keyes and the Power of Justice Jack
Wendelin Van Draanen
SAMMY KEYES AND THE POWER OF JUSTICE JACK by Wendelin Van Draanen tells of Sammy’s encounter with Justice Jack, the town superhero who has been asked to track down a neighbor who vanished with a lot of cash. Sammy’s friends think Justice Jack is admirable, but Sammy is not so sure of his real abilities and finds herself in the idle of a mystery in this fun detective story. 2012, Delacorte/Knopf/Random House, Gr. 5 to 8, $16.99. REVIEWER: Midwest Book Review (Children’s Bookwatch)
When old age and a peanut allergy threaten to take Captain Amazing out of commission, the hero of Metro City starts looking for a sidekick and potential replacement in this graphic novel. After watching their owner take down bad guys for years, Captain Amazing’s pets are certain they’re ready for the job even if their master has no idea they’re even interested, much less in training. Roscoe, a.k.a. Metal Mutt, has been using his super strength to fight crime for some time now, while the near-invisibility powers of Shifty the chameleon are sure to come in handy while fending off villains. Fluffy the hamster isn’t quite sure what his superpower is yet, but he’s got guts and determination, and when he runs into Static Cat, former member of the Captain’s animal cohort and current runaway vigilante, he begs the kitty to take him under his wing er, paw. Static Cat’s return to the household brings up some long buried (and probably natural) tensions between Manny (Static Cat’s alias) and Roscoe, but in the end, the four pets team up to save Captain Amazing from certain doom and live to fight another day. Panels populated with “BAM!”, “POW!”, and “KABOOM!” and defined, angular linework call up images of the golden age of superheroes. The rusty palette that characterizes the daytime scenes gets a bit monochromatic, but is nicely broken up by the more intense jewel tones indicating the pets’ nightly adventures. There’s a pleasingly understated parallel to human relationship in the sibling-like dynamics between the pets, and most youngsters will readily identify with one of the four creatures, be it the overburdened older brother in Roscoe or the underestimated little guy in Fluffy. Lively, insightful, and just plain fun, this convergence of capes and creatures will find a wide audience in animal lovers and superhero fans alike. Review Code: R — Recommended. 2011, Levine/Scholastic, Grades 3 to 6, $24.99. REVIEWER: Kate Quealy-Gainer (The Bulletin of the Center for Children’s Books).
The Superheroes’ Employment Agency
Illustrated by Noah Z. Jones
Where do misfit superheroes go to find a job? The Superheroes Employment Agency of course. Through rhyming verse, readers meet Blunder Woman, the Bulk, Muffy the Vampire Sprayer and Stuporman who are all looking for opportunities to put their special skills to use. Got rodents? Call Herman the Verminator. Need to persuade a dog to give up his bone? You need the Cajoler. While many of the superheroes are readily identified with their more well-known counterparts, references to heroes of a bygone era (think The Lone Ranger or a knight in shining armor), miss the mark and seem out of place. The subject matter and picture book format will appeal to younger readers. The subtext of some of the poems will be more fully enjoyed by the upper end of the target audience; however some passages may still be outside readers’ frame of reference. “We’re B-list superheroes, but our talents are A-plus!” The quirkiness of the characters is highlighted by the unsophisticated cartoon-style illustrations. Readers may find themselves wanting to create and illustrate their own superheroes which possess unusual superpowers. Recommended for collections in need of poetry with boy appeal. 2012, Clarion Books/Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, Ages 6 to 10, $16.99. REVIEWER: Mary Clemens (Children’s Literature).
Superman Versus The Ku Klux Klan : The True Story Of How The Iconic Superhero Battled The Men Of Hate
Superman remains one of the most widely recognized superheroes in the history of comic books and graphic novels. But, despite the fame of this caped crime fighter, few people realize that he was created by two teenagers who began working on the concept of Superman while attending a predominantly Jewish high school in Cleveland in the 1930’s. It was during the tail end of the Great Depression that Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster teamed up to produce what would eventually become a character worth a phenomenal amount of money. It is also worth noting that Superman was a figure who stood in opposition to one of the most hateful and racist organizations in American history–the Ku Klux Klan. In this fascinating book author Rick Bowers traces the seemingly unaffiliated rise of both Superman and the KKK during the early to mid-twentieth century. These seemingly unrelated elements came together following World War II when the writers of the Superman radio program aired a series of sixteen episodes dealing with a fictional racist organization and heroic efforts by not only Superman but of everyday people to oppose what in reality was the KKK. In telling this story in an artful and informative way, Rick Bowers accomplishes two successes. First, Superman Versus the Ku Klux Klan chronicles a little know confluence of comic book artistry with social justice in a way that is truly thought provoking. Second, this is a book that leaves readers contemplating not only the historical events covered but also the implications for their own lives. 2012, National Geographic, Ages 12 up, $16.95. REVIEWER: Greg M. Romaneck (Children’s Literature).
Trial of the Amazons
Text and illustrations go hand-in-hand in this book, sure to be an exciting read for middle school students. Girls will be especially intrigued. There are three new books in the Wonder Woman Adventures series that students can look forward to reading. If the stories seem familiar, it is because they can be found in some comic books. The rules of Themyscira Island were set by ancients, and they are carried out by the Amazon Queen, Hippolyta. Only immortal Amazon women live on the island. Then, a plane crashes on the island. No mortal man has ever set foot on the island before. It has been foretold that such an event could result in death and destruction. At the same time, the Queen learns that wars are going on in other parts of the world and that she must send her best warrior to stop the battles. She decides a series of battles will decide who is best, but tells Princess Diana that she cannot compete because she is needed on the island. When the competition day arrives, the Queen believes Diana is at the castle. The trials are difficult and dangerous so that they can identify the best warrior in all areas. The trial will determine who will try to bring peace to the warring nations. The outcome of the contest is surprising. A glossary explains words readers may be unfamiliar with and provides pronunciations for each. A page of discussion questions and writing prompts extend comprehension of this interesting novel. 2010, Stone Arch Books/Capstone, Ages 9 to 14, $25.32. REVIEWER: Jennie DeGenaro (Children’s Literature).