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Graphic Novel Review: Amazing Ash & Superhero Ah Ma by Melanie Lee & Arif Rafhan

Amazing Ash & Superhero Ah Ma by Melanie Lee & Arif Rafhan. Difference Engine, 2020. 9789811450440. 212pp. Contains discussion questions and a short explanation of dementia at the end.

Ash’s life sucks — her mom just took away her phone because her math scores are dismal, and her grandma needs help and supervision because she’s losing her memory. But when a laundry pole is about to fall from a neighbor’s balcony and hit Ash on the head, Ah Ma saves her by flying through the air and kicking it to splinters. She seems to forget it happened, then tells Ash her secret — she has superpowers. Her daughter, Ash’s mom, doesn’t know. Ash soon discovers she may have powers, too, when she and her friend Zoe face bullies outside the elevator in her apartment building. Not too long after that Ash and Ah Ma are fighting crime and helping folks as costumed heroes despite Ah Ma’s memory problems. (Secrets don’t last long in the book, and the whole story has an upbeat ending.)

Thanks to my friend Sarah who got me a signed copy at an academic conference in Singapore!

If you’re wondering how to get one of your own, the publisher’s website has a list of retail and academic partners at https://differenceengine.sg/comics/amazing-ash-superhero-ah-ma/ The book and its sequel seem to be available in the US for Kindle, Kobo, Apple Books, and Google Play.

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Graphic Novel Review: Fight Girls Volume 1 by Frank Cho

Fight Girls Volume 1 by Frank Cho, colors by Sabine Rich. AWA Upshot, 2022. 9781953165268. Contains #1 – 5.

The queen abdicated her throne a year ago, her marriage has been annulled, and an ancient contest of ten champions is about to start. The survivor of the trials will become Queen of the empire, but that will be a trial of its own. The contestants are a diverse group of women from across the empire, and not all of them fight fair. (Because Cho drew this, they’re all beautiful though. And athletic.) The trials are violent and of course the entirety of the bloodsport is broadcast live. The frontrunner doesn’t last long. And the woman who is unexpectedly doing better than expected is being investigated by authorities, who fear something is amiss.

There’s a lot going on in this science fiction action movie of a graphic novel. Right when I was deciding whether or not to close the book because I was tired of seeing young women torn apart by well-drawn monsters, it took a pleasant turn. Two of the blurbs on the back mention The Hunger Games, and it’s a good read-alike for those looking for a straightforward, R-rated version.

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Graphic Novel Review: Thieves by Lucie Bryon

Thieves by Lucie Bryon. Nobrow, 2022. 9781838741198. 208pp.

This great romantic YA graphic novel starts with Ella investigating Madeleine, a girl in one of her classes whom she’s obsessed with. They bump into each other at a party, Ella drinks quite a bit, and when looking for a bathroom to barf in she finds a closet full of cool stuff. The next morning she wakes up at her apartment surrounded by some of those things unsure how she got there. Madeleine arrives shortly after and the romance proceeds to its next step, but Madeleine also reveals that the party was at her house and that some of her stuff was stolen.

I don’t want to spoil the story, but the next part of the book is the same sequence from Madeleine’s point of view, which leads to revelations. The two end up with a mission they try to complete for the rest of the book as their relationship develops.

Byron does a great job capturing the energy of a crush in her writing and art. The whole thing feels wonderfully lo-fi, in particular because of the way she switches between colors throughout and because of her use of screen tones.

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Graphic Novel Review: Family Style: Memories of an American from Vietnam by Thien Pham

Family Style: Memories of an American from Vietnam by Thien Pham. First Second, 2023. 9781250809728. 236pp. including endnotes in the form of Q&A comic strips. http://www.powells.com/book/-9781250809728?partnerid=34778&p_bt

Pham’s graphic memoir starts with his first memory, when he was five, on an overcrowded boat with his family. They’re given aid by a boat, and then shortly after they’re attacked by pirates; during the attack Pham’s mom holds him and urges him to keep his eyes closed, telling him she’s right there and that everything will be okay. It’s one of the most intense and riveting scenes I’ve ever read. (If this book doesn’t win a few major comics awards from the library and comics communities because of that scene alone, something is wrong.) His family lives at Songkhla Refugee Camp, where Pham makes friends and his mom takes over a restaurant to support their family. Then they get the chance to settle in the US where his parents work exceedingly hard, he meets a familiar friend from the camps, and then he discovers potato chips. The book jumps forward to Pham’s teen years when his parents are once again entrepreneurs, and then again at the end of the book to a time closer to now, when Pham worked at a school with Gene Yang. (Seeing Yang through Pham’s eyes is fun; read the great graphic novel they did together, Level Up, if you haven’t.)

At the heart of the book is the story of Pham becoming American (minor spoiler: he gets his citizenship in the final part of the book), and throughout he relates the journey to the food he ate and his family and friends. This is the kind of remarkable, emotional story librarians and readers love to share with everyone, and it’s amazing to see that Pham continues to improve as a storyteller with every book.

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Graphic Novel Review: Squire & Knight by Scott Chantler

Squire & Knight by Scott Chantler. First Second, 2023. 9781250249333. 176pp. Includes a few pages of Fun Extra Stuff at the end including the origin of the idea, characters, sketches, and a quick look at Chantler’s process of moving from script to finished pages.

The boastful Sir Kelton and his book-loving squire arrive in Bridgetown, but there aren’t any people in the street, and the town’s namesake bridge is gone, too. Turns out everyone is inside because they’re afraid of the dragon. The townsfolk blame a curse for bringing the dragon and for everything that’s gone wrong in the town, including the bridge. Sir Kelton loudly proclaims he’ll take care of the dragon and rebuild the bridge (and take care of other problems) and then gallops off after it. Days later he still hasn’t reappeared. But his squire is trying to investigate using the books in the hall of records and by talking to the townsfolk. The wizard who founded the town, Elden Augerhand, keeps coming up, as does his tower (where the dragon now resides).

It all turns into a wonderful fantasy/mystery with a satisfying ending. And though I loved Chantler’s Three Thieves graphic novels series, this is by far my favorite book of his. (I’m a huge fan of Chantler’s art, and this is some of his best, plus the limited color palette is used to great effect.) I highly recommend it to fantasy readers of all ages.

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Kids Graphic Novels!

Mad About Meatloaf (Weenie featuring Frank & Beans Book 1) by Maureen Fergus, illustrated by Alexandra Bye. Tundra, 2021. 9780735267916. 56pp.

This book is worth buying for the series name alone. Weenie is the dog, Frank (a cat) is his best friend, Beans (a guinea pig) is his other friend, and Bob takes care of them all. Bob made a meatloaf that he left on the counter and that Weenie simply must have. First the friends have to work together to get on the counter, and then they work together to make Bob a new meatloaf. It’s zany fun that’s beautifully illustrated by Bye.




Sir Ladybug and the Bookworms (Sir Ladybug Book 3) by Corey R. Tabor. Balzer + Bray, 2022. 9780063069121. 64pp.

An ant delivers a notice to Sir Ladybug that the book he checked out is due at sunset. Turns out it’s in his friend Sterling’s shell (he’s a snail). They set off with Pell, a roly-poly, to find the library and return the book, which is a biography of a dung beetle. But there are a lot of bugs that need help along the way, and then three bookworms who want to eat the book. The best part by far is the library, which is a bit of a surprise.




The Spooky Story (Paige Proves It #2) by Amy Marie Stadelmann. Aladdin, 2023. 9781534451643. 112pp.

Paige loves facts. When her friends Penn and Karla say the Evergreen Street Music School is haunted, Page makes a list of evidence and starts investigating to determine the facts. My favorite thing about the book: there are even a few pages on how facts need evidence, or they’re just guesses, and another page that explains what to do when new evidence shows up. It reminds me of classic Scooby-Doo episodes (back when the supernatural stuff was found to be some sour adult with an agenda) but with more of a library-friendly focus.




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Book Review: The Skull: A Tyrolean Folktale by Jon Klassen

The Skull: A Tyrolean Folktale by Jon Klassen. Candlewick, 2023. 9781536223361. 108pp.

I picked this up at Third Place Books and then had to buy a copy. The free print that came with it had something to do with that, but mostly I was buying it for the illustrations, and because the shelf talker was right, it’s a perfect children’s book.

It’s about a girl named Otilla, who runs away in the middle of the night. She runs and runs and falls and in the forest finds a huge house that looks abandoned. But it has one resident, a skull who has lived there a long time. (He can talk and move around with some difficulty, but he needs some help.) There’s a bottomless pit, a bunch of spooky masks, and a tower, and something that comes looking for the skull every night.

The story is spooky, but not too spooky. In Klassen’s author’s note at the end, he explains how he first read the original tale (in a library) and how his brain misremembered it. I’m so glad the bookseller who sold me a copy told me to read his comments.

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Board Book Reviews

Happy Halloweenie by Katie Vernon. Little Simon, 2023. 9781665930604.
Weenie can’t decide what to be for Halloween, which provides a chance for Vernon to create hilarious illustrations and for young kids to learn some rhyming vocabulary words. My favorite is the Chewbacca-esque “hairy” costume.
Birthday Monsters by Sandra Boynton. Boynton Bookworks, 1993, 2014. 9781665925105.
Five birthday monsters wake a poor hippo up at 6am and create chaos! My daughter loved it when I used to read this book to her, and then she loved reading it to me.
And, good news, it seems like every Sandra Boynton book I remember is back in print now!  Did they ever leave print? At least I’ve seen more out there recently than I remember reading, and I remember quite a few.) My favorites are :
  • Fifteen Animals (I’m sending this one to my friend Bob)
  • Jungle Night (I love Boynton’s hippos best, but the way she draws monkeys is a close second)
  • and EEK! Halloween! (the chickens are nervous)


Yeah, tuk tuk wheels go round and round, and people jump off and off as you’d expect. It also stops for the moo-moo-cow, and the riders say namaste-ji. It’s all a nice way to honor the tuk tuk walas in India who don’t stop for anything (and one of whom inspired the authors to write this). Golden’s illustrations are what keep me coming back to this book — they’re bright and friendly and make me want to take a ride.
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