Right Round Round Round

Spinning by Tillie Walden. First Second, 2017. 9781626729407. 345pp

This is the best graphic novel I’ve read in a long time. Everyone once in a while a comic is so innovative or well executed it gives goosebumps. This is one of those.

The level of craft is as amazing as the art. It will be a crime if this doesn’t win a bunch of major YA and graphic novel awards.  I don’t really want to say anything more about it than GO READ IT!

But here’s a little more: I read a lot of high fantasy, more superhero comics than I’m comfortable admitting (I only tell you about the best), plus a bit of science fiction, crime, and literary stuff. Before this I had read one graphic novel biography about ballet (Mark and Siena Cherson Siegel’s To Dance) and zero books about ice skating. I never planned on reading a book about ice skating, and would have bet anyone money against my ever finishing one. But this autobiographical graphic novel showed me that ice skating is fascinating (there’s a taste of the diagrams skaters use to plan programs on the back cover). And as much as this is about ice skating (my high school English teachers just rolled over in their graves at my word repetition), it’s also about growing up: Tillie struggles to fit in, find people who love her, figure out if skating is worth the time and effort, and how to tell everyone who she is. (It most reminds me of another amazing YA graphic novel, Jillian and Mariko Tamaki’s This One Summer, which is also just so good.)

Croooooow! (Wise cracker)

Crow Smarts: Inside the Brain of the World’s Brightest Bird by Pamela S. Turner, photographs by Andy Comins, art by Guido de Filippo. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2016. 9780544416192.

Crows are so cool! Crow Smarts follows current research in the field on New Caledonian crows and puts it in context with other animal behavior, theories about the brain, and the complexities of animal use of tools. There’s also the funny story of a kid crow learning from its parent how to use a stick to get a juicy grub, as observed by the author. The book is entertaining, engaging, and I learned a lot.

I had heard bits and pieces about crow intelligence, but I had sort of lumped all of them together. Turns out New Caledonian crows are unique even among their clever relatives: they not only use tools, they design tools by carefully snipping twigs and pandan leaves and are able to solve multi-part puzzles like using one tool to retrieve another tool to grab a treat, and bending a piece of wire into a hook to pull up a tiny bucket. (There’s a pretty amusing chapter on some captive New Caledonian crows in a behavior lab in Oxford going through different tests of reasoning and problem solving. They are more successful than human children!) New Caledonian crows have straighter beaks (so it’s easier to hold tools), forward-facing eyes (better depth perception for tools), and no competition for the grubs that burrow in tree trunks (yum).

There’s great information on whether or not big brains are evolutionarily advantageous (only sometimes, as they require a lot of extra food), the overlap in brain processing for tool use and language use, and how both humans and crows live socially and are flexible in what they eat, which encourages cooperation and may have evolved at the same time as tool use.

Every Scientists in the Field book includes the background of a scientist that will broaden your idea of who can go into science fields. This one has a scientist who didn’t start college until he was 30, one who is also an artist and sketches in his field notes (he contributed illustrations for the book), and a local New Caledonian grandfather who captures and re-releases the crows, and is learning about their behavior along with the scientists.

Let’s cheat a bit, and flip to the end of the book: Turner’s bibliography is a long list of articles from peer-reviewed science journals and not, as is the case in many science books for kids, a list of other science books for kids.

Travels of a Brooklyn Boy

Thank You for Coming to Hattiesburg: One Comedian’s Tour of Not-Quite-the-Biggest Cities in the World by Todd Barry. Gallery Books, 2017. 9781501117428.

Sarah: I recently read The Not-Quite States of America, too, so this is my year for “Not Quite” books. Todd Barry is a working comedian, really well established. I wouldn’t say he can work wherever he wants, but he does mention several times in the book that he opened for Louie CK at Madison Square Garden.
G: Right. He’s not super famous, but he’s been in a lot of movies.
S: People know him.
G: You would recognize him instantly. But it feels like he’s a comedian’s comedian.
S: I can see that.
G: One of the things people kept saying to him that he interpreted as “this show may not go well” was, “I’m a little worried you’re too smart for this audience.”
S: Yes. And he might be a little to smart for any audience. This is about his year of going to secondary markets, as he calls them. Not the big towns, but the next ones down or the college towns, partly because he likes playing those venues but also because he likes finding indie coffee shops…
G: Coffee shops that make him feel like he’s still in Brooklyn.
S: Yes! Which is kind of hilarious. He lives in Brooklyn and tries to have the same experience everywhere. Continue reading “Travels of a Brooklyn Boy”

I Really Think So

Turning Japanese: A Graphic Memoir by Marinaomi. 2dcloud, 2016. 9781937541163. 217pp.

I picked this one up because I was a huge fan of Kiss & Tell, Marinaomi’s graphic memoir about all of her romantic entanglements from age 0 to 22. It’s amazing, and if you haven’t read it, I recommend you remedy that.

This one picks up post-breakup when she was 22, and is more than a little about her romance with Giuseppe. But the great parts for me were where Marinaomi works as a hostess in Japanese bars, first at an illegal place in San Jose and later during a trip with Giuseppe to Japan. She uses the jobs to learn Japanese and a bit more about Japan’s culture (her Japanese mother never really taught her much, and she feels pretty alienated). But my favorite bits are the weird, awkward customers at the bars and the folks she worked with. There’s the coworker who models, who tells her she could be a hand model (implying she’s not that good-looking). The boss who throws secret hand signals telling girls which table to switch to when they aren’t hitting it off with clients. Awkward karaoke — the guy in San Jose sings “Sometimes it’s hard to be a woman…” at the top of his lungs every night. Casual racism. Sexual harassment. The guy in Japan who carries around a photo of himself and Andy Warhol. And Marinaomi’s first regular customer who seems to want to know everything about her and to give her lots of money. But he may just be messing with her.

The straightforwardness of the comics made it easy to feel Marinaomi’s awkwardness, particularly during the trip to Japan and trying to connect across cultures with her relatives there.

Foreign Everywhere

Codex Seraphinianus by Luigi Serafini. Rizzoli, 2013. 9780847842131.

This is a huge, heavy book printed on textured paper that is really satisfying to touch, and the colors in the illustrations are bright and eye catching. The book itself is in an unknown alphabet, but you can recognize the layouts of chapter headings, tables of contents, illustration captions, and sidebars. (It reminded me of Lewis Trondheim’s book A.L.I.E.E.E.N, which is also written in an unknown language.) It appears to be some sort of guide to a bizarre world: one diagram shows the life cycle of a plant that grows into a finished chair, another shows a picnic table built on a slant so that crumbs fall to the ground while a plate is perched on a wedge that keeps it level. There are pages of bizarre machines, alien flowers, and outlandish costumes. (It reminded me of the mysterious Voynich Manuscript, too.) Some of the illustrations are visual puns, others are just plain odd. Aside from some nudity and one (non-explicit) sex scene in which the couple gradually turns into an alligator, I think this is a great book to share with kids: it made me think about how information is structured, plus every page would make a great story-starter.

Bicycle Book Mobile

Bicycle Book Mobile, Los Gatos Library

I love finding things in the library that aren’t books, media, or web pages. Today I found the Los Gatos library’s “Chartreuse Caboose.”

It’s built with a great deal of rigid materials — I am more used to bike trailers with fabric body panels or even duffel bags strapped to a frame. However, this trailer needed to be more robust since it’s meant to haul lots of heavy books, and it also contains a WiFi hotspot. (The trailer is also a library card issuing center so it needs to be connected anyway.) A hefty, locally sourced electric assist bicycle is the prime mover for the bookmobile; Los Gatos has just enough steep hills to make hauling such a loaded trailer like this a pain without the electric help.

For extra fun for librarians, here’s the Los Gatos Library’s grant proposal to the Pacific Library Partnership. You’ll notice the care taken in showing what other sources of funding would be applied. (The grant would cover the high-end hauler, helmets, WiFi hotspot, bike tools and staff time for a year.) The custom trailer was funded by the Friends of the Los Gatos Library (whose book sales room is larger than many libraries). Further, the grant notes what resources the library already has for this project. For example, some library staff can ride their own bikes to support Chartreuse Caboose deployments, which makes better economic sense than trying to purchase (and park) an electric assist tandem.

There’s a trend in the San Francisco Bay Area for bike-based bookmobiles. Library systems for Sunnyvale, Santa Cruz County and San Francisco have adopted them recently. If your library has nearby places to visit and scant parking space, it might be something to look into.

Thanks to Robert in San Diego for this guest equipment review!

Wyld Boys Always Shine!

Kings of the Wyld by Nicholas Eames. Orbit, 2017. 9780316362474. 544pp.

The last fantasy novel that made me laugh this hard was Joe Abercrombie’s The Blade Itself with its aging barbarian, Logan Ninefingers. This book has more swearing, weird tech and magic, and references the entire AD&D Monster Manual. It’s also got great characters and a whole lot of heart.

The adventurers formerly known as Saga, aka the Kings of the Wyld (a deep dark wilderness where everything will try to kill you), are legendary. They’re also retired. Gabriel’s daughter has become a successful badass adventurer in her own right, but she’s trapped with thousands of others in a city besieged by a horde of monsters. So Gabriel decides to put his old band back together and go rescue her. His first stop is to find his buddy “Slowhand” Clay Cooper, a man with an unbreakable shield who has settled down, has a daughter of his own, and helps guard his city. Clay initially says no to his friend and feels terrible, but where the hell would the book be if he stuck to that? So he goes off, leaving his wife and kid, determined to help Gabriel and return to his family. (As motivation, this works.) They get Gabriel’s sword out of hock from the man who stole his wife, and who also used to be their agent. Then they find their buddies: a wizard marketing his cure for erectile dysfunction, a knife fighter who’s a sedentary cuckold, and the greatest warrior among them who is currently turned to stone.

The violence is offhanded and often hilarious. The destruction is rampant. It’s the characters you’ll come back for again and again. My favorite among them is the immortal, undead bard who, I have a sense, refused to die when Eames planned. Oh, and if all of that isn’t strange enough, the story’s Big Bad has bunny ears. And somehow it all works wonderfully.