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Book Review: ASTRONUTS: Mission One: The Plant Planet! by John Scieszka and Steven Weinberg

ASTRONUTS: Mission One: The Plant Planet! by John Scieszka and Steven Weinberg. Chronicle, 2019. 9781452171197. 220pp.

The AstroNuts are four experimental animal astronauts with superpowers: AlphaWolf, SmartHawk, LaserShark, and StinkBug. They blast off from their top-secret headquarters in Mount Rushmore, in a rocket that was disguised as Jefferson’s nose. Their mission: investigate a new Goldilocks planet, because on Earth we’ve crossed the BIG RED LINE and there’s more than 400 ppm of C02 in the atmosphere. They crash. They gather data. They entirely fail to see the intelligent, alien Giant Venus Flytrap right in front of them. Are they doomed? Not really. Is this a wacky, science-centric comedy for kids with an aside about how humans caused climate change? Yep.

Weinberg’s illustrations were constructed from public domain images from the Rijksmuseum and elsewhere. More info is available at www.astronuts.space

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Graphic Novel Review: Nadya by Debasmita Dasgupta

Nadya by Debasmita Dasgupta. Scholastic India, 2019. 9789352759286. 64pp.

Life seems like a fairytale for Nadya until, one day, her father leaves. Nadya feels alienated from her mother and runs away into the woods.

The cover has a lot of shelf appeal, as do the interior pages. Dasgupta uses a combination of traditional media, digital color, and hand-painted textures to achieve a look that’s attractive and friendly. I found the colors of Nadya’s home and the exterior scenery particularly striking, and I keep returning to the book to look at the trees.

Divorce is still taboo in India, where the divorce rate is less than one percent. Dasgupta hopes her debut graphic novel will help start conversations about it. This is a simple story told with few words that belongs in children’s collections and schools everywhere.

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Graphic Novel Review: Cheshire Crossing by Andy Weir & Sarah Anderson

Cheshire Crossing by Andy Weir & Sarah Anderson. Ten Speed Press, 2019. 9780399582073. 117pp.

Weir (The Martian) and Anderson (Sarah’s Scribbles) make a fun graphic novel about Dorothy (Oz), Alice (Wonderland), and Wendy (Neverland) based on a webcomic Weir created way back when.

The three girls, now teens, meet in what they think is yet another mental institution. But Dr. Rutherford and their nanny/tutor Miss Pool know they aren’t crazy — they want to conduct experiments on the girls’ powers. But before that can all start, Alice puts on Dorothy’s slippers, transporting her and Wendy to Oz, setting off a series of events that brings about a super villain team-up between the Wicked Witch and Captain Hook. Throughout Alice is totally irritated, Wendy is the ultimate tomboy, and it’s worth reading just to see Peter Pan try to deal with puberty.

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Graphic Novel Review: Stage Dreams by Melanie Gillman

Stage Dreams by Melanie Gillman. Lerner / Graphic Universe, 2019. 9781541572843. 104pp.

Gillman’s follow-up to As The Crow Flies is a beautifully drawn (with colored pencils again!) historical western featuring queer characters, set in New Mexico Territory in 1861. (Confederate troops under General Sibly had just taken the southern half of the territory and renamed it. Gillman explains the history in annotations at the end of the book.)

Grace is fleeing her family in Georgia and Civil War conscription, heading by stagecoach for California where she hopes to work in the theater. En route the demonic Ghost Hawk robs the coach and kidnaps Grace, hoping for a ransom. Back at Ghost Hawk’s camp, she removes Grace’s bonnet, and it’s obvious from Grace’s growing beard and instant irritation at being unmasked the she was assigned male at birth. But Ghost Hawk treats her like the lady she is, and as they swap stories she even tells Grace about her dream of a last big heist and settling down to raise goats. Ghost Hawk’s plan involves busting up a Confederate cotillion to find out what they’re up to, and selling that information to the Union. Soon Ghost Hawk and Grace are partners in the venture and, after a quick trip to a fabulous tailor, they head for the party.


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Graphic Novel Review: Superman by Brian Michael Bendis

The Man of Steel by Brian Michael Bendis, with a host of famous and amazing artists. DC Comics, 2018. 9781401283483. Collects The Man of Steel 1 – 6.

Superman: Action Comics Volume 1: Invisible Mafia by Brian Michael Bendis, illustrated by Ryan Sook, Patrick Gleason, Yanick Paquette, and Wade von Grawbadger. DC Comics, 2019. 9781401288723. Collects Action comics 1001 – 1006.

Superman Volume 1: The Unity Saga: Phantom Earth by Brian Michael Bendis, pencilled by Ivan Reis, Inked by Joe Prado and Oclair Albert. DC Comics, 2019. 9781401288198. Collects Superman 1 – 6.

Bendis has been writing for Marvel for years, and recently started writing for DC instead. I’m not alone in being very (almost said “super”) excited to see him make this move. I haven’t looked forward to reading a Superman comic since Grant Morrison’s All-Star Superman.

Start with The Man of Steel. Clark is now married to Lois. They have a super-powered kid. Lois has quit the Daily Planet under somewhat mysterious circumstances. A BIG bad villain named Rogol Zaar comes to Earth to complete his cleansing of Krypton — he claims to have destroyed it way back when, and he’s come to finish the job. First stop: Metropolis, or was it the tiny Kryptonian city, Kandor? Plus someone is setting fires in Metropolis, but the tough new Fire Chief is one the job.

Bendis plays with time nicely, and it sets up the two next books very well.

Action Comics Volume 1 continues the story of the arsons. This is a small scale story about criminals who operate in Metropolis under Superman’s nose, with amazing art and colors. Bendis adds a bit of realism to Lois and Clark’s marriage, which is my favorite part of a great graphic novel.

Superman Volume 1 continues the Rogol Zaar storyline. Earth is in jeopardy and all the heroes pitch in. We get to see some of Krypton’s greatest villains on the battlefield, too. The art is epic.

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Graphic Novel Review: Smell My Foot! by Cece Bell.

Smell My Foot! (Chick and Brain) by Cece Bell. Candlewick, 2019. 9780763679361. 70pp.

Brain isn’t very smart. Chick likes to tell Brain and Spot the dog what they should have said, especially about what to say to be polite. Spot takes Chick home for lunch, which has two meanings. Chick doesn’t realize she’s on the menu, but Brain does. (Minor spoiler: Brain saves Chick.) Warning: features lots of foot sniffing, though that’s probably obvious from the cover.

A funny, short graphic novel perfect for early readers, from the writer/illustrator of El Deafo.

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Guest Graphic Novel Review: White Bird by R.J. Palacio

White Bird by R.J. Palacio. Random House, 2019. 9780525645535. 220 pp

Wonder is a multiple award-winning children’s book, the story of August “Auggie” Pullman, a young guy with facial deformities who has to deal with bullies in his junior high after he stops being home schooled. The biggest bully at Beecher Prep is Julian who receives the most extreme punishment for the way he treats Auggie.
White Bird a sequel of sorts, or at least a related book — it’s a graphic novel told from Julian’s point of view when he Skypes his grandmother Sara (whom he affectionately calls “Grandmere”) for a Humanities project. Grandmere tells him about growing up in an affluent home in Germany where father was a well-respected surgeon and her mother was a math teacher. She was their only child and admittedly a little spoiled. Life was good until Nazis started raiding Jewish homes, schools, and businesses. Her mother was taken to a camp in Auschwitz. She didn’t and doesn’t know know what happened to her father. Grandmere’s school was raided but she was able to escape with the help of a social outcast, Julien, who hid her in his family’s barn. His parents hid her in the hayloft while the raids continued. She lived there for over a year until Germany surrendered. 
The white bird of the story is a dove that represents peace and freedom. Julien’s Grandmere reflects on how her father referred to her as a bird when she was younger, and as he threw her into the air. The imagery plays into the end of the story, too, after she hangs up the phone, picks up the newspaper, and sees a headline about the US border patrol.
This is a beautifully inked graphic novel, a haunting and powerful story of the Holocaust. Palacio is a brilliant artist and storyteller.
Thanks to Murphy’s Mom for this guest review.
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Graphic Novel Review: BTTM FDRS by Ezra Clayton Daniels and Ben Passmore

BTTM FDRS by Ezra Clayton Daniels and Ben Passmore. Fantagraphics, 2019. 9781683962069. 300pp.

Fashion designer Darla moves into a big apartment in an old building in the Chicago neighborhood where she grew up, the Bottomyards. Weird shit starts to happen. A dude working for the power company is pulled into the basement by some kind of duck-thing, then starts ranting about reptilian hybrids, and Darla and her friend find what look like entrails in Darla’s toilet. Cue a Scooby-Dooby-by-way-of-David-Lynch adventure with a bit of social commentary thrown in along with a few hilarious touches. My favorite character is Plymouth Rock, a rap star who dresses up as a pilgrim, and who also lives in the building.

This is a small format, original graphic novel from two creators who have been hitting home runs lately: Daniels (Upgrade Soul) and Passmore (Your Black Friend). It’s a beautiful bit of grotesque weirdness in which the writing and art really flow, and that you can read in a sitting. Enjoy.

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YA Book Review: What I Leave Behind by Alison McGhee

What I Leave Behind by Alison McGhee. Simon & Schuster, 2018. 9781481476560. 199pp. (The page count is deceptive. The book has a few very short paragraphs of text on every other page, with the facing page having a single Chinese character for a number between one and 100, arranged sequentially.)

Will walks to and from the dollar store where he works, to and from school, past places and people. He talks to Superman (a guy who lives on the street), to a kid who shows him the butterflies that land on his garage, and to his socially challenged but kindhearted boss, Major Tom. Will thinks about cornbread all the time, which is a way of thinking about his dad, who used to make it. And sometimes he thinks about his friend Playa, who was raped by three guys at a party after Will left. He hasn’t talked to her about that, or about his dad, or anything for a while. But Will has a good heart, and after doing a few nice things for the kid with the butterflies, he decides maybe he can do a few nice things for Playa, too.

This is a short, poetic, big-hearted story that I read in a very short amount of time, and which I’m going to reread again, I’m sure.

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