Cucumber Quest #1: The Doughnut Kingdom by Gigi D.G. First Second, 2017. 9781626728325. 189pp.
You know that kind of cartoon art I don’t have a name for? The one which features drawings that don’t have any inks at their base, they’re just layers of paint (or digital color) instead, and they just look really soft. This books is that style, and it’s cheery and fun.
Cucumber is a young rabbit getting ready to move to Puffington’s Academy for the Magically Gifted (and/or Incredibly Wealthy). But the Doughnut Kingdom’s Caketown Castle has been seized by the evil Queen Cordelia. Cucumber’s dad wants him to forget school and put an end to whatever she’s doing. The Dream Oracle shows up to put him on the right track. But Cucumber isn’t much of a hero. Luckily his little sister, Almond, is.
There are magic items, monsters that aren’t too monstrous, and lots of color. I’d give it to any kid looking for something to read, and I can’t wait for the second book, which comes out next year. But if you can’t wait, or want to read it now, the whole things still seems to be available here.
Grumpy Monkey by Suzanne Lang and Max Lang (siblings). Random House Children’s Books, 2018. 9780553537864.
Jim Panzee is having a bad day, so he’s grumpy. But Jim denies it. Some other animals teach him how not to look grumpy, but that doesn’t change how he feels. So then they try to show him how to enjoy the day. And this is the high point of the book for me — animals talking about what they enjoy. Snake (wrapped around an alarmed rabbit): “You should hug someone!” Hyena (next to a fly-ridden pile of yuck): “You should eat old meat!” Max Lang’s drawings are absolutely hilarious, especially when he gives the animals bug eyes.
Monkey Brother by Adam Auerbach. Henry Holt, 2017. 9781627796002.
A kid has a monkey for a little brother, who follows him/her everywhere, including into the bathroom. (Where, I might add, the kid is sitting on the pot reading a dinosaur picture book. Which I guess is good?) The little monkey always copies him/her, too. Irritating? Yep. But there’s a happy ending, and the drawings are totally fun. The best two-page spread is of a monkey-filled birthday party. And it all ends on a happy, natural note about little siblings (especially those with prehensile tails).
Pattern Behavior: The Seamy Side of Fashion, Natalie Kossar. Running Press, 2017. 9780762462742.
Natalie Kossar never learned to sew as a kid, despite the efforts of her mom and grandmas. She was too busy pretending to be a horse and building forts (don’t skip her introduction, it’s hilarious). As an adult, her mom asked her to find an old sewing pattern. She searched online and found hundreds and hundreds of patterns people had scanned. She started a sort-of-comic using the images she found, in which the long-gone garment “models” have conversations about their improbable poses and odd facial expressions, or are just plain silly. Your conservative aunt who sews may not like it, but you will, whether or not you sew.
In addition to her Tumblr site, her comics ran on the now-defunct humor site The Toast.
Anne of Green Gables: a graphic novel adapted by Mariah Marsden and illustrated by Brenna Thummler. Andrews McMeel Publishing, 2017. 9781449479602. 230pp.
I’ve tried to read the original novel by L.M. Montgomery a few times — it’s a favorite of my friend Liz and her family — but it’s never hooked me. But this relentlessly colorful graphic novel finally did the trick.
Anne Shirley is a red headed orphan girl sent to siblings Matthew and Marilla Cuthbert’s farm. (It’s in Avonlea, on Prince Edward Island, but I don’t think that’s mentioned.) The Cuthberts wanted a boy to help out, and seem about to return Anne to the orphanage when her chattiness and sunny disposition gets the better of them, and they keep her. She falls in love with her new home, charms Matthew Cuthbert in particular, and makes a friend, all while having hilarious misadventures. The summers are green, the falls have spectacular colors, and her competition and interactions with fellow student Gilbert Blythe speak of their relationship to come.
France is a Feast: The Photographic Journey of Paul and Julia Child by Alex Prud’homme and Katie Pratt. Thames & Hudson, 2017. 9780500519073. 208 pp.
Julia Child was a California girl who knew nothing about France and its cuisine when she and her new husband, Paul, took up residence there. She claimed she was astounded by the flavors of French food and was also shocked to be drinking wine during lunch. When Julia found out she and Paul were going to be living there a good while, she began cooking lessons to bridge her personal cultural divide. This anthology is filled with beautiful black and white photographs of the young couple, of French landmarks, and of course, of Julia teaching students how to master French cuisine. It is apparent through these pictures that Paul and Julia were very much in love with both one another and with their lifestyle.
Guest review by Murphy’s Mom.
Star Wars Darth Vader Volume 1 by Kieron Gillen, Salvador Larroca, Edgar Delgado. Marvel, 2016. 9781302901950. Originally published as Darth Vader #1 – #12. Publisher’s Rating: T
Gillen is an amazing storyteller, Larocca a great artist, and Delgado’s colors make every page sing. I have to confess that I’m not a huge Darth Vader fan, but the story caught my attention with its conflicts and quality, and with the fact that it’s expanding the space between stories from the movies that I already know without endlessly repeating the tropes established by the films.
The story opens after the destruction of the first Death Star (and after events in the first new Star Wars graphic novel put out by Marvel, which is also great), with Vader on Tatooine visiting Jabba the Hutt’s palace. Vader has failed his Emperor, the Empire is besieged, and a deal must be struck with the Hutt and other crime lords. Vader chafes under the command of Grand General Tagge, who assigns men to watch over him, which is a problem because Vader has his own agenda: finding the X-wing pilot who destroyed the Death Star, and finding out about a man who is engaged in secret work for the Emperor. Gillen makes a few noteworthy additions to the Star Wars universe: Doctor Aphra, a young rogue archaeologist who reactivates decommissioned weapons for profit, homicidal versions of C3PO and R2D2, and a cadre of lightsaber-wielding warriors vying for Vader’s spot at the Emperor’s side. When will Vader do away with Aphra? Will the Emperor or his agents discover Vader’s personal agenda, or can he manage to hide it from Imperial investigators?
In its best moments, this graphic novel feels like a great heist movie. I’m hoping Tarantino will one day direct a film about the killer droids.
Arne & Carlos Field Guide to Knitted Birds: Over 40 Handmade Projects to Liven Up Your Roost, Arne Nerjordet, Carlos Zachrison, photographs by Ragnar Hartvig, translated by Carol Huebscher Rhoades. Trafalgar Square, 2017. 9781570768231.
I attended the Nordic Knitting Conference this year and learned some pretty cool new things: how to work with more than one color of yarn at a time, how to use Sami patterns in a sock, and how to use a non-sewing machine style of steek. I didn’t end up going to any of the programs by celebrity knit designers Arne and Carlos, but I did see some examples of their projects — they looked really cool.
The knitted birds in their book are made with sock yarn on double-pointed sock needles, using the same techniques used in sock construction. If, like me, you knit a heck of a lot of socks, you’ve already got everything you need to get started, and this will give you a way to use up your leftover yarn. Plus the birds are pretty small and you don’t need to make two at a time if you don’t want to, so the projects go really fast. The book includes a lot of fancy variations: birds with sweater patterns, birds with tiny hats and scarves, birds with glasses, tropical birds with sequins — enough to fill this good-sized book. But after knitting my first awesome-looking bird with self-striping yarn and no other decoration, I think I may never need the variations!