Dinosaurs Are Go!

Dad and the Dinosaur by Gennifer Choldenko, illustrated by Dan Santat. G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 2017. 9780399243530.

dad-and-the-dinosaurI’ve met Santat a few times since Sidekicks was published, and the way his happiness and enthusiasm permeate his art makes every book he illustrates worth reading. The “glowing” quality of this book’s pictures make them look like something between paintings and art created for a tablet. They’re utterly beautiful.

Nicholas is afraid of the dark (and a lot of other things), but he has help being brave — he clutches his toy dinosaur and imagines a ferocious, gigantic companion that can easily deal with everything he fears. But one day, after a soccer game, his dinosaur is gone. Nicholas freaks out. Luckily his dad is there to help.

Charlotte and the Rock by Stephen W. Martin, illustrated by Samantha Cotterill. 2017. 9781101993897.

charlotte-and-the-rockCharlotte wants a pet, and she doesn’t care what it is. Her parents buy her a big, round rock. They hang out a lot and do almost everything together, but the rock doesn’t love her. And then it hatches because (spoiler alert) it’s not really a rock. (You can probably guess what comes out from the title of this blog post.)

Cotterill’s drawings are very cartoony, and are notable for their use of patterns and textures, particularly on clothing and the surface of the Charlotte’s pet. It’s very fun.

Worn Skulls

Skullsworn by Brian Staveley.  Tor, 2017.  9780765389879.
skullswornFirst, if you’re a fan of Staveley’s The Emperor’s Blades and its sequels, stop reading now. Yes, this book is about the backstory of the most compelling character from those books, Pyrre Lakatur, priestess of Ananshael, the God of Death. Yes, it’s as good as you’re hoping. Skip the minor spoilers ahead, ignore the dust jacket copy, and read it NOW. If you’re anything like me you won’t be able to put it down. 
If you’re a fantasy reader who hasn’t given Staveley a chance yet, stop waiting. His world is filled with gods new and old who occasionally walk among men, as well as other creatures and warriors that are equally as deadly. His books are right up at the top of my list with the best by Brandon Sanderson, Richard K. Morgan, Anthony Ryan, and Joe Abercrombie (which they compete with in terms of the amount and beauty of violence they contain) 
Pyrre Lakatur is facing her final trial. If she passes, she will become a priestess of the God of Death. If she fails she will be killed by her Witnesses. She must kill seven people in fourteen days who fit the criteria detailed in a song. For a devotee of Ananshael as skilled with knives as she is, this would present little trouble — she has no fear of death, and no hesitation sending people to meet her god. Except for the last person on the list: she’s supposed to give her god one who made her mind and body sing with love. And Pyrre has never been in love. 
To find the man she’s felt the most for, she returns to Dombâng, a sweltering town on a river delta full of deadly creatures, where he is in charge of the constables. To draw him to her she sets the city on edge, reminding its citizens of their ancient gods and fanning the flames of their resentment at the Empire that now rules them. To experience love, she may have to reveal who she truly is, and why she has come home. 

Ah Gee

I fell in love with Jon Agee’s picture books when I read and reread and rereread…. Terrific to my daughter. It was one of her favorite picture books (probably because I loved doing the grumpy protagonist’s voice — he’s unhappy no matter how well things work out for him). It was his drawings that really got me — they’re absolutely brilliant cartooning. Not a line is wasted and they perfectly convey action and character. (Maybe it’s time for me to cosplay the old man in the brown overcoat.)

I was looking at Terrific and Nothing the other day, getting ready for a talk I’m going to give on picture books that use the tools of cartooning, and decided to order all of the Jon Agree books at the Seattle Public Library that I’d never read. These were my favorites.

Orangutan Tongs: Poems to Tangle Your Tongue by Jon Agee. Disney-Hyperion, 2009. 9781423103158.

orangutan-tongsHands are hard to draw. Hands using chopsticks, even harder. The title page of this book features 10 orangutans using chopsticks. It’s a signal that Agree is going to show off throughout the book, both in terms of the funny poems and in the variety of things he draws: a newsstand, the Purple-Paper People Club’s meeting, two moose, embers, a carnival, three-toed tree toads tying shoes, two hotels, dodos, more orangutans, and a crowd scene on a New York City subway.

(If you guessed that the tongue twister “Two Tree Toads” is my favorite poem in the book, you were right. But it was a close race.)

Little Santa by Jon Agree. Dial Books for Young Readers, 2013. 9780803739062.

little-santaI’m as surprised as you that there’s a Christmas book on this list. Not my holiday. The last time I enjoyed anything overtly Christmasy was the Finnish horror film Rare Exports.  Agree’s young Santa dresses in a red hooded onesie that makes him look like he’s trying to sneak into Gabbaland unnoticed. He lives with his family at the North Pole where they are all miserable (he’s the only one who loves it). They decide to relocate to Florida, but their house is buried in a snow drift. They send Santa up the chimney to get help leading to…Christmas. When his family is finally rescued, Santa stays behind, but you probably already knew that.

Strong is Beautiful

Strong Is the New Pretty: A Celebration of Girls Being Themselves by Kate T. Parker. Workman, 2017. 9780761189138. 256pp.

strong-is-the-new-prettyGene: It’s the ultimate coffee table book. Photos of girls, a lot of them doing sports – it’s a celebration of how strong and tough girls are. It’s not quite against the idea of dolling yourself up, but it makes it clear you don’t have to to be strong and pretty.
Sarah: So a wider variety of pretty than you’d see in a lot of books.
G: Right. The photographer, Kate Parker, said she was shooting pictures of her daughters and their friends and the ones that resonated were the photos where they are 100% themselves. They’re celebrations of who the girls are. (Reading) “I wanted my girls to know that being themselves is beautiful, and that being beautiful is about being strong.” There’s a quote from each girl next to her picture, with her age and her first name. Continue reading “Strong is Beautiful”

Turn On Your Witchlight

Witchlight by Jessi Zabarsky. Czap, 2016.

witchlightContains material originally published in Witchlight #1 – #4 plus new material.

Sanja is visiting the market with her father and brothers when she accidentally confronts a witch, Lelek, who is dealing with an unhappy customer. Sanja awakens to find herself tied up in Lelek’s camp, though she doesn’t seem too concerned. Lelek wants Sanja to teach her to fight with a sword. Sanja agrees provided Lelek stops cheating people in different towns. They’re soon on the road together with Lelek challenging other witches to fights wherever they go for a share of the spectator’s fees.

The beginning of the story (the kidnapping) is a bit odd and abrupt, but the budding friendship (and perhaps more) between the two young women makes it very enjoyable, as does Zabarsky’s cheerful black and white (and somewhere in between) art.

I’ve picked up a few Czap books at small comics shows over the last few years (Seattle’s Short Run, and maybe SPX), and I was happy to be able to pledge to their Kickstarter.

Stone Cold Foxes

How To Find A Fox by Nilah Magruder. Feiwel and Friends, 2016. 9781250086563.

how-to-find-a-foxA determined-looking little girl tries to follow directions on how to find a fox so that she can take photos of it. Unnoticed, the fox has already found her, and follows her throughout. The best bit: when she takes a picture of a family of raccoons, the fox photobombs it after applying a bit of makeup.

After things don’t go according to plan, she wants to give up and go home. But she sticks with it. There are great “photos” of her and the fox at the end.

Pandora by Victoria Turnbull. Clarion Books, 2017. 9780544947337.

pandoraThat circle of blue-grey things around the fox on the cover? It’s garbage — I see a shoe, a joystick, a fast food container, and even a grenade in there — but at the spine it morphs into the strange vegetation that covers the back of the book.

Pandora lives alone, in a house on stilts in a garbage dump that stretches as far as the eye can see. She has an amazing home full of things she salvages and repairs, but no friends. Then one day a bird falls from the sky. She nurses it back to health.

Is this a post apocalyptic picture book? I think so, despite the lack of lonely robots, war boys, and deadly gameshows. And at the end (warning: minor spoiler) it offers hope as Pandora’s world transforms with friendship and an accompanying burst of color that wipes away the grey.

Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spider

Black Widow Volume 1: S.H.I.E.L.D.’s Most Wanted by Mark Waid & Chris Samnee. Marvel, 2016. 9780785199755.

black-widow-1Contains Black Widow #1 – #6.

Many comics have borrowed the cinematic action style of comics that Darwin Cooke perfected in Catwoman: Selina’s Big Score. (In fact, some pages from Fraction and Aja’s Hawkeye run may have one-upped it, though they feel a little grittier.) But only Waid and Samnee seem able to equal Cooke’s sense of fun despite this story’s life-or-death stakes.

The opening sequence is really all you need to hear about to know if you want to read it. Black Widow wades through S.H.I.E.L.D agents trying to stop her from leaving what appears to be an office building. After a fight she drops a bomb, blowing her out a window, which reveals that she’s falling from a helicarrier 40,000 feet in the air without a parachute. Does she panic? No. She has a plan. And those agents in flying cars and with rocket packs are part of it. It’s a ballet that ends perfectly and elegantly. And it’s all because someone is blackmailing her by threatening to reveal her secrets.