Nonfiction Review: The Lines That Make Us: Stories from Nathan’s Bus by Nathan Vass

The Lines That Make Us: Stories from Nathan’s Bus by Nathan Vass. Introduction by Paul Constant. Tome Press, 2018. 9781732764101. 213pp.

Vass drives a Metro bus in Seattle. He loves the tough neighborhoods he drives through and their residents. He’s not just friendly with them, he’s friends with them, and remembers their names. He’s not simply compassionate, he’s real and open and, I think, very still and easy to talk to. His stories show the difference a moment of kindness and the absence of judgement can make in others’ lives, and how important it is for all of us to make genuine human connections no matter what work we do. I’m going to try to follow his example, especially when I’m working a library.

The chapters are all entries from Vass’ blog (and the photos throughout likely are as well). Here are two to check out:
Fecal and Philosophical Matters
I’M A LIGHT-SKINNED BLACK WOMAN!

Vass has an entry for those new to his blog and there are highlights listed in a column on the right. Not all of the entries are in the book, but everything I’ve read on his blog so far has been great, too.

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Picture Book Review: Infinite Hope: A Black Artist’s Journey from World War II to Peace: An Autobiography by Ashley Bryan.

Infinite Hope: A Black Artist’s Journey from World War II to Peace: An Autobiography by Ashley Bryan. Caitlyn Dlouhy Books / Atheneum Books for Young Readers, 2019. 9781534404908. 108pp including an index and list of sources.

Highly honored children’s book illustrator Bryan tells his story in a book filled with his art, photographs, and letters home. The emphasis is on his WWII experiences and racial segregation. His letters home tell of his experiences from the mundane to the harrowing to the totally puzzling (he was made a winch operator after basic training for no logical reason). Luckily for us, Bryan kept drawing throughout, and saved quite a number of drawings from that time, which he shares here.

I loved the illustrations of people throughout the book, in particular the energy of the quick sketches of Bryan’s fellow soldiers. In Boston, before being shipped overseas, he was billeted in an old schoolhouse in South Boston. Against regulations, he made friends with the neighborhood kids and even created art with them. (There are some drawings of the kids, too.) In Glasgow, the black GIs were warmly welcomed by the Scottish people, and it sounds like this irritated the white officers from the US who continued to try to enforce US Army segregation policies. Eventually the black soldiers were restricted to base after work, while whites weren’t. (Through sheer tenacity, Bryan still managed to find a way to study drawing while in Scotland.) This mistreatment continued throughout the war and even past its end, when black GIs were among the last to leave Europe because the ships took the white companies home first. “Only if there was an empty space might one or two Black soldiers be allowed on those first departing boats, and only if those ships had a segregated section for the Blacks to quarter in.”

I thought this would be a simple picture book, but it’s so much more. Though the book’s main text is simply written, I think middle and high school students would find as much value in it as younger kids, and could use it as source material for papers as well as inspiration to follow their passions.

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Graphic Novel Review: Dragon Hoops by Gene Luen Yang.

Dragon Hoops by Gene Luen Yang, with art assists by Rianne Meyers and Kolbe Yang plus colors by Lark Pien. First Second, 2020. 9781626720794. 436pp plus notes and a bibliography of sources.

Gene Yang documents a possible championship year in the life of the Bishop O’Dowd High School boys basketball team, the Dragons. Yang is not a basketball fan, but he pulled me into the book by adding himself to the story (he taught at Bishop O’Dowd), showing his awkwardness as he begins interviewing Coach Lou and learning a bit more about the game. There is a lot of on-court action, which is great, but Yang also sits down with the starters and tells their stories. Along the way he also shares the history of basketball. My favorite parts, though, involve Yang himself, from the handshakes to his sincerity to the way he shows himself creating comics and dealing with the opportunities that have come this way.

I’ve enjoyed every book Gene Yang has created, but this is my favorite. (And I don’t care much about basketball.)

 

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Graphic Novel Review: Stargazing by Jen Wang.

Stargazing by Jen Wang. First Second, 2019. 9781250183880. 224pp including an afterward about how the story relates to Wang’s life.

Moon Li and her mother have been having some trouble, so Christine’s parents let them move into the mother-in-law unit behind their house. Christine is worried about Moon living there because she’s heard Moon is a bully. After a meal at Moon’s house, and her mom’s amazing vegetarian dan dan noodles, she and Christine seem on the way to becoming friends. They even decide to dance together in the school talent show, to a song by Moon’s favorite K-Pop star. There’s some distance between the two as Moon doesn’t seem interested in learning Chinese, and her energy feels a bit out of control (especially compared to Christine’s, whose parents watch her every move). After Moon gets into a fight at school, and Christine gets a little jealous of her at a birthday party, she embarrasses Moon, and then things get serious.

The friendship between Moon and Christine has a flow that feels realistic, and it’s enjoyable to watch Christine try to navigate the small awkward moments between them as they grow closer. I’m giving this one to my daughter, who’s been a fan of Wang’s books since Koko Be Good.

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Guest Book Review: Dog Heaven written and illustrated by Cynthia Rylant

Dog Heaven written and illustrated by Cynthia Rylant. Blue Sky Press, 1995. 9780590417013. 40 pp.

Guest Review by NowBrusMom.

This is a special story to me because it was the last bedtime story I read to my beautiful Bassett hound/pit bull/beagle mix. I was still known as Murphy’s Mom then, and I guess part of me always will be, but I am now facing the challenges of raising a pit bull/pointer puppy named Brutus.

I take comfort in this amazing story by Rylant. I needed to read Dog Heaven to remind myself and Murphy that he wouldn’t be in pain anymore. There is an afterlife for him and all the other animals we have ever known and loved. Knowing he gets all the treats, pats, and walks he would ever want is comforting. I also cried during the story knowing Murphy and other pets are allowed, on occasion, to visit earth to check on their people. This was Rylant’s first attempt at illustrations, but her pictures are worth framing — they will comfort each of us who has lost a pet. (For the record, there is also a Cat Heaven.)

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Graphic Novel Review: Penny Nichols by MK Reed and Greg Means, art by Matt Wiegle.

Penny Nichols by MK Reed and Greg Means, art by Matt Wiegle. Top Shelf, 2019. 9781603094481. 206pp.

Penny is smart and funny, making the best of temp jobs when she gets the chance to help make a low-budget, gore-filled slasher movie. She gets sucked in by everyone’s enthusiasm, and soon quits temp work so that she can be involved in every aspect of the production. The movie itself is entertaining in a 1980s, direct-to-VHS way, and the personalities involved are all hilarious.

At the beginning of the book, you’ll fall in love with Penny as she passes out juice samples at a health expo while trying not to go insane. The date she goes on afterward is so cringeworthy. When she makes up a bedtime story for her sister’s kids, you’ll wish Penny had been your babysitter. She’s just fun to listen to and is the most entertaining character I’ve read about in a long time; a chatty, well-meaning smart ass who gets shit done. Plus the movie in the book is full of fake murder, and artist Matt Wiegel has as much fun with that as Reed and Means did writing the dialogue.

 

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Graphic Novel Review: Cosmoknights by Hannah Templer.

Cosmoknights by Hannah Templer. Top Shelf, 2019. 9781603094542. 216pp.

Pan dreams of living in space and working on spaceships, but her friend Tara is a princess, and Tara is never going to get to leave Viridian and explore the galaxy. Next week there’s a cosmoknights tournament (think people in cool robot suits), and Tara’s family is going to marry her off to the winner. She asks Pan to help her run away.

Cut to years later, and another tournament where cosmoknights are battling for the right (for their sponsors to) marry a different princess. It’s a kinetic, tech heavy version of jousting complete with robot suits. Pan, working at her dad’s garage, doesn’t want to watch. Afterwards, one of the competitors and her partner end up at Pan’s house for a bit of anonymous medical care. Pan is confused by why a woman warrior would compete in such games, and finds out they don’t believe in them, either. In fact they’re gaming the system. Soon Pan is running for the spaceport to join them.

Lots of action and bright colors make this an incredibly compelling start to what feels like it may become an epic story.

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Guest Book Review: An Elderly Lady is Up to No Good  by Helene Tursten

An Elderly Lady is Up to No Good by Helene Tursten, translated by Marlaine Delargy. Soho Press, 2018. 9781641290111.
Guest Book Review by Robert in Silicon Valley.
This book called to me from the new(ish) fiction shelves at the library: the title evoked the Marauder’s Map incantation from Harry Potter, and the cover looked like it was done in needlepoint. Also, I’ve a habit of reading foreign mysteries in translation for the incidental ethnography.
Tursten is best known in her native Sweden for police procedurals featuring strong female detectives. These, though, are crime stories.  In five short stories featuring four murders (one of which serves as the dramatic impetus for TWO stories), Maud affects weakness as she goes about killing unsympathetic victims. The attraction is in how she plans and gets away with the murders, using the appearance of age and the accessories of infirmity to camouflage herself as she does in spouse-beating lawyers, and new neighbors with designs on her more spacious apartment.  Retired, Maud lives alone in that spacious apartment when she’s a tourist for months on end.
Snooping old women solving mysteries has been a formula in detective fiction from at least Agatha Christie’s time. An Elderly Lady is up to no Good is a view from the other side, a self-justifying sociopathic killer hiding behind her gray hair and walker. These stories about her are a lot of fun.
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Let’s Make Ramen! A Comic Book Cookbook by Hugh Amano and Sarah Becan

Let’s Make Ramen! A Comic Book Cookbook by Hugh Amano and Sarah Becan. Ten Speed Press, 2019. 9780399581991. 184pp including an index!

This book has pretty much everything I would have ever thought to ask about ramen. My favorite parts from the introduction: the history of ramen, including the invention of the method of flash-frying ramen noodles in 1948, and the “Some Of Our Favorite Bowls” spread which serves as a great overview to ramen and the rest of the book. Making stock from scratch still seems like a lot of work, but the “Homemade Instant Ramen Cubes” sound like something I might try. (“Fast Weeknight Ramen Broth” is even more my speed.) “A Noodle Primer” with Kenshiro Uki of Sun Noodle and Ramen Lab (he’s not the book’s only guest star) made me hungry, and reminded me of my ex-stepfather rolling out his own pasta when I was a kid. There’s a section on meat along with lots of vegetarian options throughout including “Pickled Shitake Mushrooms” which sound amazing.

This book is pretty much guaranteed to make anyone hungry, and may have gadget-oriented folks like me shopping for pasta rollers and pressure cookers.

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Graphic Novel Review: Lily the Thief by Janne Kukkonen.

Lily the Thief by Janne Kukkonen. English translation by Lola Rogers. First Second, 2019. 9781250196972.

Lily, an ambitious young thief, is tired of getting easy jobs. She wants the thieves’ guildmaster to assign her real burglaries, and she’s annoyed that the other, more experienced thieves don’t think much of her. After she overhears the guildmaster telling her mentor that she’ll never get any of the tough jobs, she helps herself to one of the guild scrolls (and the job it contains). Her mission: to steal a bit of treasure from a coffin in the Earl’s castle. The problem: it’s heavily guarded, The Brotherhood of Fire wants it, and what’s she’s done has angered her guildmaster as well. The job doesn’t go well, and Lily is soon doing even more dangerous work to try to save herself and her mentor.

This is a fairly lighthearted, beautifully drawn graphic novel with a bit of magic, spookiness, and violence. I’d have read it to my kid when she was in grade school, and I think young readers are really going to love it.

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