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Picture Book Reviews!

At The Drop of a Cat by Élise Fontenaille and Violeta López (illustrator). Translated from French by Karin Snelson & Emilie Robert Wong. Enchanted Lion, 2023. 9781592703821.

The narrator of this book loves his grandfather Luis, who takes care of him on Wednesdays and Sundays. Luis’s house is surrounded by an incredible garden, and the narrator is just learning to read and write. Luis speaks the language of birds and everyone is jealous of his green thumb. (I’m envious of everything about this book, it’s so great!)




As Night Falls: Creatures That Go Wild After Dark by Donna Jo Napoli and illustrated by Felicita Sala. Random House Studio, 2023. 9780593374290.

As kids fall asleep, nature goes wild, from glowing dinoflagellates to fish to spiders and bats and more. The bat illustrations are particularly fabulous, especially if you’re not a fan of spiders. At one point the story becomes an homage to There Was An Old Lady Who Swallowed A Fly, and then it gets super playful. Just beautiful.




You Can’t Kill Snow White by Beatrice Alemagna. Enchanted Lion, 2022. 9781592703814. 96pp.

This retelling of Snow White from the queen’s point of view is an oversized picture book for adults. I don’t love all of the illustrations — some of them seem, by design, too much to take — but I can’t stop looking at them. And the book’s design, particularly the way it opens, is amazing.








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Graphic Novel Review: Birdking Volume 1 by Daniel Freedman and CROM

Birdking Volume 1 by Daniel Freedman and CROM. Dark Horse, 2022. 9781506726076. Includes a short making of section in the back that includes sketches, preliminary drawings, and more.

This is the first act of what promises to be an epic, coming-of-age fantasy series. At its center is Bianca, assistant to Thonir, a gifted smith, once called the Hammer of the North. She’s helping him make swords and shields for their master Aghul, who united the North under a single banner with the help of six wraiths and their magical weapons.

Bianca loves her hammer, and, in particular, loves to use it to smash statues at a nearby haunted castle. It’s there that one day a bird (a little red bird with a skull on its chest) leads her to the tomb of the King of Feather Hill. And it’s about that same day when Aghul sends her master a broken magical blade to repair, a sword that can bring a wraith to life. Fixing it is the beginning of Bianca learning how special she is. It’s also the beginning of the end of the relationship between her master and Alghul. As they flee his forces, the sword awakens a wraith that’s on Bianca’s side (which is good because of the foul creatures Alghul sends after them).

The story and art are as playful as they are powerful, and remind me of both Andrew Maclean’s Head Lopper and Mike Mignola’s Hellboy. Get this one for your library.

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Book Review: All Your Racial Problems Will Soon End: The Cartoons of Charles Johnson

All Your Racial Problems Will Soon End: The Cartoons of Charles Johnson by Charles Johnson. New York Review Comics, 2022. 9781681376738. 280pp.

I had no idea Dr. Johnson (Middle Passage) was also a cartoonist. I regret that I didn’t take one of his writing courses when I studied English at the University of Washington — something I told Dr. Johnson when I met him years later — but now that I know he’s a talented cartoonist as well I’m smacking myself in the forehead again.

This is a retrospective of Dr. Johnson’s cartoons with introductory text to each section, starting with the beginnings of his career, when he published illustrations in a magic company’s catalog while still in high school, and ending with comics he’s done more recently, many of them Zen-themed. The bulk of the book contains work from the late 1960s and early 1970s, when Dr. Johnson was, as he explains, “…philosophically, a Marxist and a socialist.” They’re excellent single-panel gags, mostly political, and very much of their time. Many of the best concern the black power movement and responses to it. Reading the bulk of this book reminded me of reading Willie & Joe Come Home by Bill Mauldin, a collection of comics about the struggles of soldiers returning home after WWII, in that both that book and this reflect struggles I should know more about the context of. (In other words, great comics are once again sending me off to read about history I should already know.)

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Graphic Novel Review: The Scumbag Volume One: Cocainefinger by Rick Remender and artists Lewis Larosa, Andrew Robinson, Eric Powell, Roland Boschi, and Wes Craig

The Scumbag Volume One: Cocainefinger by Rick Remender and artists Lewis Larosa, Andrew Robinson, Eric Powell, Roland Boschi, and Wes Craig. Image, 2021. 9781534318908. Contains #1 – 5. Publisher’s Rating: M / mature.

Ernie Ray Clementine is a “profane, illiterate, drug-addicted ne’er-do-well with a fight-grade education. And the only thing standing between us and armageddon.” As the book opens Ernie is trying to buy some drugs from Spanish Larry. Ernie steals charitable donations to make the purchase and prepares everything on a sidewalk with his pants down, having diarrhea, as he gets ready to shoot up. (Yes you see it all.) About then that he ends up in the middle of a super-powered fight and gets powers himself. This makes him the only person who can save the world from the evil plans of Scorpionus (imagine a more insane, less politically correct Cobra Commander). Ernie’s demands for helping out include a suitcase of drugs, Judas Priest concerts, a muscle car, and a sex robot.

If my father or his hard-partying friends had survived into their 70s I’d be buying gift copies of this ironically for them, and they’d have loved it anyway. And you will too if you’ve ever hung out with folks like them. You’ll probably like it if you haven’t too.

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Graphic Novel Review: Sunburn by Andi Watson and Simon Gane

Sunburn by Andi Watson (story) and Simon Gane (art). Image, 2022. 9781534322332. Publisher’s Rating: T+ / Teen Plus.

Rachel’s mother runs into a friend, Diane, whom she hasn’t seen in years, and Diane and her husband Peter invite Rachel to spend the summer with them on an island in Greece. (Rachel’s dad seems to think she should spend the summer working for the local butcher as planned, but he quickly gives in.)
Peter picks up Rachel when she gets off the boat and drives her to their villa where she meets Diane, who is super excited she’s there. They can’t believe how much she’s grown up (Rachel is sixteen) and insist Rachel treat their place like a home or hotel room, coming and going as she pleases. Diane gives Rachel nice clothes to wear and alcohol to drink and anticipates a romantic summer for her. They take her to parties and Diane introduces Rachel to the only other young person there, Benjamin. And of course he and Rachel hit it off and start hanging out, and things do get romantic as she tries to teach him to swim. But there’s something off with all of the partying and hanging out, and it turns out Benjamin and others have secrets.
This is a book I’d give to adults and that some teens would find compelling. Gane’s art makes me want to visit Greece (or at least this island in the Greece-that-was of the undefined time this book takes place in, maybe during the 60s or 70s) with its white buildings and nearly traffic-free streets.

I’m a huge fan of Watson’s graphic novels, and I enjoyed this one enormously. So I’m off to read his other graphic novel that Image published last year, Paris, which was also drawn by Gane.

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Graphic Novel Review: Talk To My Back by Yamada Murasaki

Talk To My Back by Yamada Murasaki. Translated and with an afterword by Ryan Holmberg. Drawn & Quarterly, 2022. 9781770465633.

This alt-manga was originally published in the early 1980s, and Holmberg’s essay at the back explains Murasaki’s place in the history of manga and more. But I’m recommending this book because it’s a good read, and once I started it I couldn’t put it down.

It’s about a Japanese housewife struggling with her role in her family, the demands of her kids, and the way she’s taken for granted. Her response to her loneliness and isolation is to at times struggle against it and at other times to just accept it. She ultimately decides what she wants, finds a part-time job, and forces her husband to take care of their kids and their home sometimes. While it’s fun to watch him “suffer” in those moments, I valued this more as a meditation on marriage; it made me reflect on how cultural expectations continue to shape my life and the ways my wife and I ignore them. The art is marvelous, too — most panels use minimal details to set the scene in a way I really admire — and the pace feels much more realistic than most true-to-life manga I’ve read.

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Bookstabber Episode 35: The Face in the Frost by John Bellairs

Long ago when wizards walked the earth, some of them had magnificent adventures with dragons, giants, and powers beyond comprehension. Willow and Gene read about two wizards who do none of that. Will the hero save the day? And does the day actually need saving??

Available at bookstabber.podbean.com and in many podcasting apps.

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Graphic Novel Review: One Beautiful Spring Day by Jim Woodring

One Beautiful Spring Day by Jim Woodring. Fantagraphics, 2022. 9781683965558. 402pp.

If you’ve never read a Frank book by Woodring this is the one to pick up. It’s a combination of material originally published as three books — Congress of Animals, Fran, and Poochytown — with an extra hundred pages around those stories, connecting and completing them. It is epic, plus it’s completely wordless, insanely weird, and somewhat gory and horrible in a way that I never quite recall. Frank and his friends remind me of classic cartoons, which are also often filled with suffering and awfulness in a way that’s both amusing and unreal and that I don’t really remember.

Bonus: I can almost guarantee that the art will make you stop reading to admire individual lines in the a drawing at some point.


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Book Review: Trees: An Illustrated Celebration by Kelsey Oseid

Trees: An Illustrated Celebration by Kelsey Oseid. Ten Speed Press, 2023. 9781984859419. 160pp.

I love seeing the world through Oseid’s paintings — she notices little details and then points them out via her paintings in a way that looks exactly correct and which makes me realize I need to pay more attention to everything. There is science in this book but it’s overwhelmed by the drawings: note just the anthropomorphized trees but also detailed images of leaves, flowers, fruit, bark, and cones. I love the unexpected paintings best: the Brazilian grapefruit with its bark covered in berries, the one showing crown shyness (this is when some trees maintain a distance from each other at the canopy), underground trees, the Ogham tree alphabet. Before reading this I had no idea monkey puzzle tree seeds were edible, nor the collective term for the acorns that fall in a season (mast). And I was surprised to learn that no one quite agrees on what a tree is, taxonomically speaking anyway.

Includes an index. Trees is a great gift for readers young and old, and it’s the kind of book I wish I’d gotten instead of those classic National Geographic books for kids my grandparents gave me every Christmas. This deserves a spot in school libraries at all grade levels.

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