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Graphic Novel Review: Eight Billion Genies by Charles Soule and Ryan Browne

Eight Billion Genies by Charles Soule and Ryan Browne. Image, 2023. 9781534323537. Publisher’s Rating: Mature Readers. Contains #1 – 8. Includes an extensive cover gallery, The Secret History of…, sketches, and the behind-the-scenes guide to issue 1 including a list of Easter eggs.

It’s an ordinary day at the Lampwick Bar and Grill in St. Clair Shores, Michigan. The Bada-Bings are setting up their instruments to play a live show. It’s twelve-year-old Robbie’s birthday, and his dad is passed out at the bar. Mr. Williams is running the place, and he surprises Robbie when he speaks Chinese to help the couple who wanders in. And then a child is born, making the human population eight billion, and suddenly genies appear, offering a wish to each and every person alive.

Williams quickly makes his wish, to protect his bar and everything and everyone inside it. Outside, all hell breaks loose. Bombs go off, real and figurative. The human population starts falling, and so does the number of genies (each disappears after it grants its wish).

The story that unfolds is entertaining, wild, and really compelling. And in the end it covers 800 years or so after the first wish.

This is one of the few recent series I read whenever a new issue came out. Plus the hardcover is truly deluxe with lots of extras.

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Book Review: 101 Ways to Read a Book by Timothée de Fombelle, illustrations by Benjamin Chaud

101 Ways to Read a Book by Timothée de Fombelle, illustrations by Benjamin Chaud. Translated by Karin Snelson & Angus Yuen-Killick. Red Comet Press, 2023. 9781636550824. 128pp.

This book is just super fun. It’s full of illustrations of people reading, and each of them has an amusing label. The Baggage is in the far back of the car during the trip. The Wiggle Worm is twisting and turning inside and under and on a blanket. The Barbarians are actually tearing up a book to share it, so four can read at once. (I do not endorse this.)

It’s hard to say what age this book is for, but I’d have read it to my four-year-old, and she’d have improved her vocabulary, kept looking at the illustrations, and would never have given it away. (And if she had tried, I wouldn’t have let her because I’d want it on my shelf somewhere between the art books and the picture books.)

I hope this is a runaway hit for Red Comet Press, which seems to be publishing many lovely books.

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Graphic Novel Review: The Horizon Volume 1 by JH

The Horizon Volume 1 by JH. Translation by Ultramedia. Ize Press, 2023. 9798400900297. 376pp.

This is a post-apocalyptic graphic novel, but it’s never quite clear what the apocalypse is. There are dead bodies everywhere on some pages, and the art is nearly black and white, so it’s a bit less gory than it might otherwise look. But when the wide-eyed little boy protagonist finds his mother’s body, and then tries to gather her brains up and put them back into her head, that put my imagination into overdrive. And then he concludes that the value of life is just an illusion, and starts to walk through a ruined city, past more bodies and abandoned military vehicles and out into the county. He meets a little girl, and it becomes clear whatever violence they’ve both survived is still happening as bombs fall and people flee. Together they join the crowd (and eventually escape it). And from then on they travel together, taking care of each other.

I have no idea where this series is going, but I can’t wait to read Volume 2.

Thanks to Mark de Vera who was at the Yen Press / Ize Press / JY booth at ALA Annual, and who booktalked this series to my wife and me and then gave her the first book. If you’re at a library conference and have a chance to talk to Mark about comics, do it — he always knows about graphic novels I want to read.

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Graphic Novel Review: ¡Ay, Mija!: My Bilingual Summer in Mexico by Christine Suggs

¡Ay, Mija!: My Bilingual Summer in Mexico by Christine Suggs. Little, Brown and Company, 2023. 9780316591966. 328pp. Includes an Epilogue full of photos of Suggs and her family and Chiquito “the most spoiled cat in the world.”

This is a graphic memoir of Suggs’ visit to Mexico to see her grandparents (her Mamá and Papá) and tia, Mary, in Mexico during the summer after tenth grade. Her basic Spanish language skills are a source of stress, as is the fact that she looks a bit different from her family (her father is a white American dude her mom met while working at the US Embassy there as a translator). Even when it’s hard for her to follow conversations (she struggles for a while, then improves) there’s so much love (except from Chiquito the cat sometimes) that I was sure everything was going to be okay. Suggs also worries about her weight a bit, though the joy of food (especially bread!) and talking about food and eating throughout is very upbeat.

Worth noting: Suggs’ tia Paty, who went to the US to help take care of her, can’t return to Mexico to visit her parents because of her immigration status. Suggs spends some time thinking about this and the fact that her grandparents can’t afford to visit the US, plus remembers lots of moments from past visits and her childhood.

This is a beautiful book about a teen who always wanted to be an artist and a family story that will appeal to lots of older elementary and middle school students.

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Graphic Novel Review: Daughters of Snow & Cinders by Núria Tamarit

Daughters of Snow & Cinders by Núria Tamarit. Translated by Jenna Allen. Fantagraphics, 2023. 9781683967569. 212pp.

This book stands out on graphic novel shelves; it has so much shelf appeal that I’ve picked it up over and over and flipped through it to look at the colors and drawings. The pages that show the northern lights were my favorites before I started reading it.

Men are searching for gold, and two women caught up in that search are the center of the book. Joanna is looking for gold herself; she trades everything she has for supplies and a chance to join an expedition. After she’s rejected because she’s a woman, she meets Tala, who tells her about the only group that will accept her, Matwei’s. Then they leave without her and Tala. Both head out after the group on their own. Joanna soon has a rescued dog, Peg, accompanying her. Tala finds the group and they accept her as a tracker, though Matwei threatens her. The men in the group go a bit crazy when Joanna tries to rejoin the group, too. And then just after they threaten to eat Joanna’s dog a giant wolf attacks. (This surprised me even though I did see the cover.)

This becomes a story of survival and cruelty (via Matwei and other men) and eventually of friendship between the young women. Joanna spends a significant portion of the book remembering her homeland, which she idealizes but which has something seriously dark about it. (It feels like something awful happened there, and the truth is revealed throughout the book.) Even when the two women find gold (a late moment in the story shown early in the book) it’s unclear if the men will let them keep it or if they’ll be able to earn money from it.

Throughout, the beauty of Joanna’s home and the wilderness are amazing whether it’s the focus or just background details.

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Graphic Novel Review: Bea Wolf written by Zach Weinersmith, art by Boulet

Bea Wolf written by Zach Weinersmith, art by Boulet. First Second, 2023. 9781250776297. With an extensive Afterword by Weinersmith (also illustrated by Boulet) about the poem, its history and translations, that even has a great explanation of kennings, which he uses extensively throughout this book. Plus some pages of Boulet’s sketches.

This is a bizarre and beautiful thing. I listened to Weinersmith talk about it a bit at the American Library Association convention, where he appeared with his daughter Ada, which is cool since it’s pretty clear she got him to keep writing and was the first reader and even had nice things to say about Boulet’s art, which clearly buoyed Boulet’s spirits (as he explains in the Acknowledgements in the end).

This is a 600-some line illustrated, epic poem based on Beowulf that owes something to Edward Gorey, Tim Burton, and Weinersmith’s English teachers. I have never read anything like it before, and I don’t think there’s ever been anything like it before. It’s about a gang of kids in a treehouse filled with toys and candy and fun that is attacked by a monster who does the most unspeakable thing possible — he steals children’s childhoods. And it’s about the heroic girl who comes to face him. It is absolutely awesome, both silly and serious, and full of language that’s fun to read aloud and illustrations that are fun to look at.

Some kids will enjoy it, and some adults will enjoy it, but I think far more adults and kids will enjoy it together. In fact, I’d read this with my daughter now if she’d let me. (She’s in her early twenties, and after I tell her about it, or if she reads this review, I hope she might.)

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Graphic Novel Review: A First Time For Everything by Dan Santat

A First Time For Everything by Dan Santat. First Second, 2023. 9781626724150. 309pp plus an author’s note, a note on recreating old memories for the book, and many photos of Santat’s actual trip! And even the acknowledgments at the end are worth a read.

Santat’s graphic memoir opens with a scene of ultimate horror for any middle school student, and he captures it perfectly. It’s a brutal, embarrassing scene. It’s not gross, but he says it made him want to throw up and, I have to tell you, it made me want to throw up, too. The less you know about it going in the better. Forget I said anything.

The bulk of the book is about the three weeks Santat spent traveling in Europe with a few other students from school, none of whom is really his friend, and some other kids he doesn’t know. It’s an amazing story full of awkward moments I don’t want to be specific about, plus there’s a mutual crush and lots of friendship. It’s also just a great travel story and an ode to Fanta.

This is Santat’s third graphic novel and my personal favorite so far, though Sidekicks and The Aquanaut are both great, too.

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Graphic Novel Review: Hungry Ghost by Victoria Ying

Hungry Ghost by Victoria Ying. First Second, 2023. 9781250767004. 204pp. Includes an afterword and a list of resources (books and websites).

Val grows up with her mom telling her to watch what she eats, as if being overweight is the worst thing that can happen to her. And whenever she eats she can hear her mom’s voice in her head. But her best friend Jordan is bright, funny, and full of joy, and she eats whatever she wants. Jordan is also overweight and, secretly, Val looks down on Jordan for it. Val has a few other secrets — she makes herself vomit after meals so she can stay thin and she’s got a crush on Allan, who wants to hang out with her and Jordan.

As Val starts to apply to colleges and heads off with Jordan and Allan and others on a class trip, it feels like the tension is rising and something in her life is about to break. And it does in a few big ways, including one of the most painful moments in a friendship I’ve ever seen in a book.

The art and story are beautiful and straightforward, and I think even middle school kids might enjoy this graphic novel, though it might be triggering for some. The ending is hopeful without feeling unrealistic, which is echoed in the Afterword where Ying explains a bit about her own history with disordered eating.

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Book Review: LEGO Heroes: LEGO Builders Changing Our World

This book introduces twelve builders from around the world who are doing amazing, unexpected things with LEGOs. The book itself contains a brief introduction to each person and their work and includes a number of photos. Though there are no plans in the book, it could serve as inspiration in any maker space or library trying to inspire young engineers, artists, and activists. Here are my personal favorites from the book, with a link to additional information about what each does.
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