{diversity in lit} Friday #18

Read Every Day Poster featuring Kana and her little praying mantis friends. Art by Noni Gross, © 2011.

A few links to reviews, articles, sites, etc. of the Diversity in Literature concern from around a small portion the book blogosphere, accumulated over the past week or so.


–Nancy Powell (via Shelf Awareness) reviews The Hunting Gun by Japanese novelist Yasushi Inoue (transl. Michael Emmerich, Pushkin Press 2014). “A timeless, elegiac and masterful novella about a tragic postwar love triangle by one of Japan’s most prolific writers.”

While-We-Run-204x300–K. Imani Tennyson (Rich in Color) recommends we run out and buy While We Run by Karen Healy (Little Brown & Co 2014) the sequel to When We Wake. “Healey’s pacing in this sequel is much better balanced with heavy hitting points mixed with quiet moments between characters that really showcase the relationships in this novel. The themes Healey presents as well, such as the concept of collateral damage, she handles with skill and a deftness that allows explores the grey areas of political revolutions. Many YA dystopian novels that focus on revolution often have an “Us vs. Them” mentality and the fight is usually a “good vs. evil” trope. While Abdi, Tegan, and their friends view the Australian government as evil, through their experiences they eventually learn what it means to have to make those tough decisions and that sometimes you have to lose to win. It’s a very grown up lesson to learn and Healey presents those ideas well.”

Stephanie Harrison (BookPage) and Jeffery Renard Allen (New York Times) read Laila Lalami’s The Moor’s Account (Pantheon 2014). Allen observes: “Some might argue that a good historical novel should peel back the past to ­reveal what at the deepest level we already know: that black or white, rich or poor, woman or man, Muslim or Christian, we all are capable of being monsters. But “The Moor’s Account” asks something else of fiction. Lalami sees the story as a form of moral and spiritual instruction that can lead to transcendence.”

20262502And Harrison: “The Backbone of Estebanico’s story is brutal one that even the most disinterested history student will be familiar with. And yet, with Estebanico as the narrator and Lalami at the helm, the events take on such a deeply personal tone that it is all too easy to believe that The Moor’s Account is actually a long-lost memoir written from a shamefully overlooked perspective. [...] It feels like one of history’s silent witnesses has finally been given back his voice. Whether you have a special interest in this period of history or not, Estebanico’s miraculous journey is not to be missed.

–Kelly Fineman (at Guys Lit Wire) reviews A Wreath for Emmett Till, by Marilyn Nelson, illustrated by Philippe Lardy. “Read this one for the subject-matter, which is important. Read it to remember, and to experience the power poetry has to move you and transform you and to make you consider the many angles–the sonnets are told from varying perspectives, including the tree on which young Emmett was hanged, his poor mother, and the hypothetical life he could have led. And if you are a poet, read it for the craft. The form itself is beautiful enough to make you weep.”


–Asian American Writer’s Workshop  board member and resident comics expert Anne Ishii kicks off her new series of conversations with Asian American comics artists in The Margins with the Asian Canadian scene. She begins with Toronto-based comics publisher Annie Koyama. AI: “What did you want to be when you were little?” AK: “I am just one of those kids who never knew. I wanted to do languages. I studied criminology. I wanted to do social work. I did some volunteer probation work with young boys.” AI: “Sounds exactly like comics.”

secret sky–Hilli Levin interviews Teen fiction author Atia Abawi (The Secret Sky, Philomel) for BookPage. Levin: “What do you hope American readers take away from this story?” Abawi: “I hope the reader will understand the humanity that lives amongst the horror in Afghanistan. The majority of the Afghan people want to live peaceful and happy lives; they don’t want war, they don’t want rivalries, they want change for the betterment of their families and society. But it is hard for them because of the everyday challenges they face in their lives—obstacles that we can’t even imagine having to deal with.”

–Leonard S. Marcus (Publisher’s Weeklytalks Children’s Books in China in a Q&A with Xiaoyan Huang who is an editorial specialist for children’s books at dangdang.com, China’s leading online shopping service provider, and the country’s top online children’s bookseller. It is brief and massively informative, e.g. “Among the 581 state-owned publishing houses, 33 houses are designated by the government to publish only children’s books. These are known in China as ‘professional children’s book publishing houses.'”

–Amanda Nelson at BookRiot asks “How much of staying true to yourself while growing up in America’s cultural melting pot involves staying true to your (or your parents’) culture? Does embracing “American culture” mean you’re betraying your roots? Does America even have its own culture? We want to tackle big questions here, so tell us: what are your favorite books about growing up in America’s cultural melting pot? ” Check out comments for recs and the sponsoring book while you are at it.

–It was of interest to hear from across the pond when Malorie Blackman declared “Racist Abuse will not Stop Me from Seeking More Diversity in Children’s Literature” in The Guardian. The UK’s “cultural pie gets bigger, not smaller, as more people are allowed to partake of it. When children and young adults see their lives and concerns reflected in the homegrown books they read, the films and television programmes they see, the computer games they play, they feel they and their lives are not invisible. Seeing yourself in the cultural world leads to a sense of better social inclusion and a feeling that you are part of something, that you have a stake in it and wish to add constructively to it.”

—–Booklists, Sites, etc.—–

–Some more book recommendations for “Diversity on the Shelf” via My Little Pocketbooks.

LOGO2Koyama Press. “is a Toronto-based small press. Our mandate is to promote and support a wide range of emerging and established artists. Projects include comics, graphic novels, art books, and zines. We are known for our alternative edge and diverse range of titles that include a myriad of genres from autobiography to photography, from horror to humour, and more.”

–I’m going to place a review here, it’s of Flygirl by Sherri L. Smith (Putnam 2009). I enjoy how Alison (An Uncalibrated Centrifuge) writes the reader response. I sometimes am not sure to file her reading of a book under review or article. You be interested in her perspective and insight (as I am), she reads eclectically and you may notice how often I share her reviews here to inspire more diverse reading.

{book} mirrors

Zetta Elliott offered a free copy of her book to interested reviewers. Please do not believe that I proceeded to read and review The Magic Mirror with bias. If you’ve spent any real length of time here on ‘omphaloskepsis’, you know I’m a fair and balanced reviewer, but I felt it should be clarified nonetheless.

Pageflex Persona [document: PRS0000419_00052]The Magic Mirror

By Zetta Elliott, Illustrated by Paul Melecky

Rosetta Press, 2014.

“When a boy at school hurts Kamara’s feelings, she goes home and asks her grandmother if the mean words are really true. Gramma tells Kamara to go upstairs and clean the old mirror in the guest room. But when Kamara starts to rub the glass, she discovers that the mirror is magical! Kamara sees brave women from the past who faced many challenges yet never gave up hope. When the historical journey ends in the twenty-first century, the mirror once again shows Kamara her own reflection. She sheds her self-doubt and instead draws strength from the courage of the women she met in the magic mirror.” publisher’s copy.

It would be tempting to only promote The Magic Mirror as a more-than-suitable accompaniment to a grade-schooler’s studies of African American History.* Elliott captures a great deal in those shifting portraits through time. I can already imagine children choosing a portrait to expound on for the class, or as a personal project to learn more about a time witnessed.

However, more should be said about its personal impact. Elliott lays the groundwork in the opening pages, the timelessness of a soul. Despite the difficulties of aging, “grandma hasn’t changed inside” (2). She has a vitality and Kamara describes her as a safe place. What Kamara comes to see in the mirror is her legacy. She sees in the mirror courageous women exemplifying perseverance, hope and determination.

Not all of the historical reflections are easy to confront. Elliott buoys the text by anchoring the scenes upon the women she wants Kamara (and the reader) to see and know. They lend their courage to face, endure and overcome to Kamara (and reader). After one sequence, Kamara recognizes that “though they are trying to humiliate her, they have not touched her soul” (24). More, Elliott wants Kamara (and the reader) to know that these women live on. Kamara takes strength in what she’s learned in the magic mirror; which for the reader is the book.** “I stare at my reflection and see traces of the brave and beautiful women from my past. I know their pride, courage, and determination are still alive in me” (30).

Elliott’s story escapes the sentimental in its declarative voice. Hers is an extremely powerful use of the first person narrative, “I stare,” “see,” and “I know.” Kamara has heard some “hard words” from a boy at school, but what she’s seen and knows to be true is there to sustain her; like the relationships where her grandma and mother provide safe, empowering, loving homes from which to become.

The Magic Mirror is the first person narrative of Kamara’s struggle, journey and discovery, but I get the feeling hers is one that can be shared. The Magic Mirror, like the most precious of books, can be a safe, empowering, loving home to inspire one to become hopeful and courageous–to know they are beautiful.

I’ve a fond wish for readers to find less academic reasons for The Magic Mirror.* I imagine children (and adults) looking in mirrors and seeking out the stories that make them proud and that speak of a timeless beauty born of courage, hope, and determination—stories not unlike The Magic Mirror.


A word on the illustrations by Paul Melecky: I feel sure I would have called the scenes captured in the mirror as “portraits,” but the illustrations are framed stills, color shaped by loose lines that grant the images movement (and thus life); too, are those facial expressions. The illustrations hold the story and historical moment as complexly as Elliott describes them, creating a wonderful partnership between author and illustration.

All of the illustrations are of the mirror. It’s of interest that the story begins with an illustration of Kamara looking in the mirror, but does not close with another one her as her legacy dawns on her. Instead we are left with the last image of a young woman in graduation robes embraced by family. “One day I will go to college, too” (30), Kamara knows, confident in the pathway since created for her. What is left for Kamara and the reader to imagine is: what scene will be played out for future generations looking in that magic mirror. It isn’t a question of what legacy she will leave, but what moment in her life might exemplify that which still lives in her.


*this is not to say I wouldn’t love public, school, and classroom libraries to stock copies of this one–I just want to avoid the party line that this is one that will educate; which it will, but it is also quite moving.

**Rudine Sims Bishop’s essay “Mirrors, Windows, and Sliding Glass Doors” came to mind as I read The Magic Mirror, “Literature transforms human experience and reflects it back to us, and in that reflection we can see our own lives and experiences as part of the larger human experience. Reading, then, becomes a means of self-affirmation.”

recommendations: obviously this is a powerful book for girls, but I wouldn’t restrict this to gender lines, nor racial either. Both the writing and book length are excellent for younger readers up through the grade school years. It would be cool to have print-outs of the mirror to encourage writing/illustrating our own legacies of courage, or imagine a present/future scene wherein the reader can describe themselves.


{diversity in lit} Friday #17

Figure Reading, Half Light 2013 by Maxwell Doig

A few links to reviews, articles, sites, etc. of the Diversity in Literature concern from around a small portion the book blogosphere, accumulated over the past week or so.


–Swapna Krishna reviews Island of a Thousand Mirrors by Nayomi Munaweera (St.Martin’s 2014). “A gorgeously written novel about two young women affected in very different ways by the Sri Lankan civil war, Island of a Thousand Mirrors tells difficult stories without being too heavy. Readers who enjoy cultural fiction shouldn’t hesitate to pick up this illuminating book.”

–Thuy Dinh reviews The Lotus and the Storm by Lan Cao (Viking 2014) for Shelf Awareness. “Offering a rarely discussed perspective on the Vietnam War, Cao’s second novel contends that the loss of Vietnam was not inevitable, but due largely to the U.S.’s misguided exit strategy that left South Vietnam vulnerable to the Communist North. Shifting her focus to life in the U.S., Cao also questions the trajectory of material success among Asian Americans. Her novel suggests that a calm, integrated self–in spite of any traumatic history–promises more fulfillment than any outward embrace of the American Dream. As such, The Lotus and the Storm upholds Buddhism’s fundamental tenet: the need to cherish the present and let go of lost dreams.”

–I plan to post a review on this book next week, meanwhile A.V. Club has this to say about Haruki Murakami’s Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage (Knopf 2014), comparing it to his earlier works: “Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki may be Murakami’s most human novel yet.”

–I tend to post Fiction (and Poetry) reviews, but this Non-Fic post included a book of interest to me, so… Edi (Crazy QuiltEdi) shares Up For Sale: Human Trafficking and Modern Slavery by Alison Marie Behnke. “Up for Salebrings to light many of the ways this crime against our humanity is perpetrated today. I liked that the book made sure readers understood this global crime isn’t just committed ‘over there’, but that it happens here in America everyday. The author treats the young adult readers as if they’re aware enough to need to know about human trafficking and without being exceptionally graphic, she provides a dose of reality.”

—-Also at Shelf Awareness, Jaclyn Fulwood’s review of Michael Cho’s comic Shoplifter (Pantheon 2014). I’m looking forward to reading this one. “Cho expertly depicts the internal conflict between the need for security and the desire to explore one’s dreams. His drawings possess a subtlety yet broadcast emotions clearly; a single change in the set of Corinna’s mouth takes her from doubtful to wistful in only two frames. This quick read will capture readers’ sympathies with its everywoman heroine and quiet but powerful climax.”


–Maya Rajami (for The Riverdale Press) writes about how “Students Struggle with Ongoing Segregation.”Kathy Soba remembers her classmates’ disbelieving reactions when they heard she had never met anyone who was not black or Hispanic before coming to the High School of American Studies at Lehman College. “They kind of laughed. They were like, Kathy, you’ve never met a white person before, a Jewish person? And I was like, honestly, no.”

–Claire Kirch (for Publisher’s Weekly) writes “Over the Reading Rainbow: PW Talks with LeVar Burton” “Burton told PW that he was inspired to write The Rhino Who Swallowed a Storm in response to “all of the headline tragedies in America these days,” particularly shootings in schools and on streets. “The loss of life and property take a huge toll – especially on children,” he noted, explaining that he wanted to write a children’s book that addresses “when bad things happen to good people – which happens often in life.” Burton also wanted to relay a message of the importance of having family and friends to help one through life’s challenges. He did so via a children’s book because, he explains, “storytelling is my job. It’s what I’ve done for over 30 years.”

–Zetta Elliott’s “pitch” to a kid-lit review journal “Treasure or Trash? The Argument for Reviewing Self-Published Books” “Members of the children’s literature community are paying close attention to the diversity debate but the industry will not change overnight. If the most trusted review outlets exclude self-published books, then they are upholding the status quo by privileging a system that clearly disadvantages writers of color. They are also denying their followers access to titles that might help to fill the ‘diversity gap.'”

You should read the entire “pitch,” it isn’t long. And you should take Elliott up on her offer to read/review two of her books.

–You’ve hopefully seen the articles following Gene Luen Yang’s speech at the 2014 National Book Festival. Michael Cavna’s Washington Post article hosts the transcript. I’ve the impulse to excerpt the whole thing. “We have to allow ourselves the freedom to make mistakes, including cultural mistakes, in our first drafts. I believe it’s okay to get cultural details wrong in your first draft. It’s okay if stereotypes emerge. It just means that your experience is limited, that you’re human.

Just make sure you iron them out before the final draft. Make sure you do your homework. Make sure your early readers include people who are a part of the culture you’re writing about. Make sure your editor has the insider knowledge to help you out. If they don’t, consider hiring a freelance editor who does.

Also, it’s okay if stereotypes emerge in the first drafts of your colleagues. Correct them – definitely correct them – but do so in a spirit of generosity. Remember how soul-wrenching the act of writing is, how much courage it took for that writer to put words down on a page.”

NPR shares “In A Foster Home, Two Boys Become ‘Kinda Like Brothers‘”. They interview author Coe Booth about her experiences as a Social Worker and how that has influenced her writing. Kinda Like Brothers is her newest middle-grade novel. “On the intended audience for the book: ‘Everybody — but particularly, I want kids who see themselves in this book because it’s hard to find books that are for them and about them. It’s not a fairy tale, it’s a reality and it’s, you know, it’s complicated. But I hope it’s true.'”

–Edi (Crazy QuiltEdi) interviews award-winning author Kekla Magoon whose latest novel is How It Went Down (Henry Holt 2014). “I write about young characters. Probably partly because that is what I knew best at the time I started writing. My first book was published when I was 25, and so the natural things for me to write about were teenage things because that was my experience. [...] Young people have a lot to learn, sure, but we also have a lot to contribute. There is always plenty of talk about “when you’re older…” and “what do you want to be when you grow up?” but who is asking kids and teens, “what do you want to be right now, today?” As a writer for teens I get to ask those questions, of my characters and of my readers.”

–This week’s “Writer’s Life” at Shelf Awareness features Lan Cao, author of Monkey Bridge (Viking, 1997) and The Lotus and the Storm (Viking 2014); Thuy Dinh interviews. “Sometimes the American dream is portrayed as something that is a dazzling, slightly Pygmalion-like process that involves taking the raw material of the refugee or the immigrant and molding her into this new being called an American. Sometimes, it’s a very violent process. I remember Bharati Mukherjee saying somewhere that it’s akin to murdering a part of your old innate self and creating this new entity–but the new entity is a cobbled, brittle self prone to dissolution.”

>>A lot of interviews this week, I know! Two more though.

–Rachel Held Evans interviews the author of Too Heavy a Yoke: Black Women and the Burden of Strength, Dr. Chanequa Walker-Barnes. “The StrongBlackWoman is ubiquitous in popular culture and in day-to-day life. It’s hard to find a film or television character portrayed by a Black actress that does not personify the StrongBlackWoman in some way. [...] Unfortunately, examples of the StrongBlackWoman are not limited to film. You also see her in the African American women whom you encounter on a daily basis. One of the most striking experiences that I’ve had in writing this book is the fact that when I describe what a StrongBlackWoman is, nearly everyone I talk to, regardless of their own race and gender, can identify some woman in their life who lives into the role – a family member, friend, co-worker, or congregation member who constantly sacrifices herself on behalf of others, who carries an inordinately heavy load of responsibility, and who rarely asks for help.”

–Little Willow (Bildungsroman) interviews comic book creator Jen Wang (Koko Be Good) who has a new book out from First Second called In Real Life by Cory Doctorow. As Willow notes, “If you like multiplayer RPGs and graphic novels, then you should pick up IN REAL LIFE by Cory Doctorow and Jen Wang when it hits the shelves on October 14th.” Wang: “I’d never adapted anything before and part of the appeal was First Second allowed me a lot of flexibility in translating the story to comics. Cory’s prose is very dialogue driven, which would’ve been a little visually static, so I was able to move it in a more action-driven direction. It allowed me to use my skills as a writer too, which made the overall experience more fun for me.”

—–Booklists, Sites, etc.—–

–“We Read Too is a book resource app that includes OVER 300 books written by AUTHORS OF COLOR featuring CHARACTERS OF COLOR!” Yeah, I was pretty excited to learn of this as well.

–“Colorín Colorado is a free web-based service that provides information, activities and advice for educators and Spanish-speaking families of English language learners (ELLs).” I love that they provide links in order to purchase bilingual versions of books where available. They are a great resource for books lists: here are a few, but do explore further.

- Back-to-School Stories!

-{Hispanic Heritage} Immigration Stories for grades 7-12 and for the younger readers.

-{American Indian/Alaska Native Heritage} for Elementary (Links lead to a menu of Fic, Non-Fic, Resources, etc.). and Young Adult (links “references”).

{comics} atypical

“a sweeping tale of one young family fighting to find their place in the universe.”

Saga : Volumes One & Two by Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples

Image Comics 2012 & 2013 respectively.

from Volume 1

This waiting for the next volume to come off hold at the Library is excruciating. It isn’t that I do not have other things to read, it’s just that Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples’ Saga is that entertaining. Also, they leave you with these cliff-hangers. I just checked and I am 1 of 14 on the request list for Volume 3. Volume 4 is not even out yet; not until DECEMBER! I would like to now curse those rave reviews and that striking cover on Volume 1.

cropped from cover of Volume One

Volume One: “When two soldiers from opposite sides of a never-ending galactic war fall in love, they risk everything to bring a fragile new life into a dangerous old universe” (publisher’s comments). This “fragile new life” is both their relationship/family and Hazel. And it is some future Hazel who is our narrator, telling her parent’s story, telling a story, shifting through past tenses. We get other story-lines as well, with rarely any of Hazel’s commentary: the unionized assassins, the prince whose head is a screen.

I immediately fell in love with Staples’ artwork. Visually, Alana brought to mind Pink!, which can only be a good thing. The creatures are kick-ass. The placement of panel on page, compositions, color-work, all crafty-goodness. The lettering for Hazel’s voice says young, but not childish; her sarcasm perfectly applied. The, ah, language is profane and if you played a drinking game for every penis making an appearance you’ll get a nice buzz. Saga will keep your fellow public transit commuters reading over your shoulder and/or blushing and gasping. Yeah, now I know why nearly every introduction to Saga uses “adult” in its marketing. I think the humor and relationship foibles make for an unexpected romantic comedy that will appeal to the older audiences as well. Then there is just flat-out smart, subversive craftiness of the comic. The out-sourcing of the war between Wreath and Landfall? Whatever would inspire such a notion?

from Volume 1

Honestly, this is one of those comics to experience to really believe just how excellent it is. The timing of the wit, the dead-pan delivery, the provocative and absolute irreverence… I was sitting alone in a quiet house with a dog staring at me as I laughed like a maniac–especially during Volume 2 and the reading of Alana’s bodice-ripper.

cropped from Volume Two cover

Volume Two: “Thanks to her star-crossed parents Marko and Alana, newborn baby Hazel has already survived lethal assassins, rampaging armies, and horrific monsters, but in the cold vastness of outer space, the little girl encounters her strangest adventure yet… grandparents” (publisher’s comments). We meet Marko’s parents, when he is both a child and now an adult. It is amusingly awkward, of course, and necessarily intense. We also get Marko and Alana’s “meet-cute” and Hazel’s conception. Neither does Volume 2 abandon other lines from the first volume, with an exciting introduction to a troubling twist. You’ll know with the first volume whether you want to read the next, but the second could be the clincher if you weren’t entirely sold on the series.

from Volume 2

The family drama set against the action/adventure in space is brilliantly balanced. I mean, anyone who’s had a babysitter like theirs understands why Marko has to hurry off to rescue her after his mother over-zealously banishes her to the nearest planet whereupon horrors compound.

Bibliophiles, certainly Lit Majors, will completely dig this volume. Saga could make for a good Book Club read. Saga might look like a farce to break up the monotony of high-minded literary works, but I wouldn’t underestimate its effectiveness in drawing out the deadly serious.

Volume Three: promises that “the couple’s multiple pursuers [will] finally close in on their targets.” What could possibly happen next? The way Vaughan cross-cuts action, splices the narrative together, his play is diabolical in that it is tricky to anticipate. Some techniques are classic to earthbound tales, but the situating it in sci-fi fantasy makes his storytelling more interesting. The cleverness of couching the family drama in SFF is in the opportunities it provides to play with expectation (as well as rescuing it from Lifetime). Saga‘s realm of imaginative play makes it all the more important that Vaughan and Staples are so strong in their characterizations and in reinforcing the core.

The core: the family: an affectionate narrator, a soldier who has sworn-off killing, and a security guard who reads bodice-rippers that are “boring.” Just my kind of awesome.

from Volume 2

recommendations: For those ADULTS who like or dislike rom-coms, action-adventure stories, SFF, comics, the obscene…you’ll find Saga gloriously atypical.

of note: Volume One won the 2013 Hugo award for Best Graphic Story; Volumes Two and Three won an Eisner for Best Continuing Series, Best Writer (for Brian K. Vaughan) & Best Painter/Multimedia Artist (interior art) (for Fiona Staples) 2014.

{images are Fiona Staples’)

{comics} many happy returns

Zita-Cover-300rgbThe Return of Zita the Spacegirl

By Ben Hatke

First Second 2014.

Zita-Interior-FULL-91That the entirety of Ben Hatke’s The Return of Zita the Spacegirl is an epic jailbreak comes as no surprise. From the very first book in the series, Zita has been held against her will—or has she? We know her slip through the portal and into Space was an accident. We know she wants to return home. In the course of the first book, she discovers herself lost more than once and the second risks dangerous compromise. But since then, Zita has become the Spacegirl, how could she possibly go back?

The series has been packed with difficult choices for Zita. I consider such turmoil a favorite one of the adventures’ many charms. Too, that at the center of her conflicts are friendships and her desire to the right thing and do something meaningful. She rejects the accusation that she is “Zita the Crimegirl,” a “danger to society,” but Hatke throws that perspective out there. I mean, she did steal a spaceship and consort with known criminals. Then we come to learn that this particular adjudicator is corrupt. Heart matters, and it prevails; what it isn’t is painless.

Zita the Spacegirl has always been an entertaining adrenaline jolt of adventure with inventive creatures and awesome characters. Zita is sassy, earnest and resourceful. She is caring and yet heartless in the way children can be. Zita has also proven to be intelligently written by a storyteller willing to explore challenging situations that will resonate with his young audience. I love how Zita struggles to maintain courage in the face of difficult circumstances, and where she finds the friends and resources to help her along the way.* I love the persistent themes of identity and loneliness. Love how the forms of imprisonment vary.


I was reading through my reviews of books one and two and appreciate the consistency in this series. And Hatke’s stories do not wane, but rather quietly ups the ante. We reach a conclusion that leaves us reeling, literally. The fast-paced and heightened suspense of a spacegirl’s adventure pops and we are left with a wake.

The Return of Zita the Spacegirl was always going to be bittersweet, and Hatke does not disappoint. He writes in many returns and it is completely satisfying. He also writes a gorgeous twist or two. That ending is fantastic. I may have called Hatke a naughty name, but it was with the utmost affection as I laughed out loud and closed the book.

Must own. Add it to the back-to-school list. Shop for the Holidays already. But make sure your library (personal and/or private) has this series.


*Notice how Hatke builds his heroes by trial rather than prophetic gifting. Notice how much the stories value imagination, grit, and daring.

{images are Ben Hatke’s}

{comics} 15 & Fated

cleo01_frontcoverCleopatra in Space: Target Practice by Mike Maihack

Graphix (Scholastic) 2014

Comics you should already have read (and hopefully own) before the middle-grade years hit: Jellaby (Kean Soo), Zita the Spacegirl (Ben Hatke), Amelia Rules! (Jimmy Gownley) and Kazu Kibuishi’s Explorer and Amulet series (still incomplete). I’m obviously only naming a few. And I am being quite specific because Mike Maihack’s Cleopatra in Space is nice addition to this bookshelf for late middle grade into early High School readers.

Space saga geeks and Indiana Jones adventure fans will dig the familiar rush Cleopatra will provide, but that does not mean Maihack makes this series a predictable one.

Cleo in space
Newly-turned-15 and sucked through space and time, Cleopatra offers a lot of kick-ass action and snark. She also sulks. I mentioned she’s 15. As for Target Practice (book one), it is not as predictable as I’d anticipated plot-wise, which is nice. Really what Maihack is doing is developing consistent characters with a lot of potential for growth and adventure, which is excellent. I’m really looking forward to The Thief and the Sword (Book 2) due to be out in Spring 2015.

cleo in space 2

The artwork is damn likable and easy to follow. The panels follow contemporary trends of being as mobile as the characters themselves. The panels participate in controlling the movement and the action, contributing to mood and energy. I’m not suggesting it is completely nonsensical, but I was troubled by all the white space on the page. Is it more incidental than artful? I began to question whether the visual story could have been tighter, but its target audience will appreciate the expenditures. Maihack allots the action room to give chase and Cleo is a marvelous action star. She can be appropriately dramatic. And Maihack is savvy with the comedic timing as well.


Despite concerns on design-compositional scores, Cleopatra hits the targets of what makes for an entertaining comic: great artwork, characters, action, gadgets, humor, and story. Maihack is launching a series for this reluctant heroine that suggests the sinister and the exhilarating. He writes a satisfying start to a really promising new series. Be sure to check it out.

{images are Mike Maihack’s}

{comic} brand spanking new, except not.

battlingboycoverBattling Boy by Paul Pope

First Second 2013.

One of the things I like about superhero comics is their ability to both maintain continuity and prove regenerative. Need to reboot a character or story? Will do. Has the essence of the hero and their story really changed? No. Even so, it is still hard to break into the superhero realm of comics. Someone is always there to remind you that you didn’t start reading that particular comic early enough, never mind that you have to be born in order to have done so. Comparing storylines and/or creators is a competitive sport and that in itself can be entertaining. I get it. It is also exhausting. It is exciting to have the opportunity to start at the actual beginning with the character for once.

Battling Boy is familiar to the tradition of old school superhero comics with the paneling, line work, and a pleasing color palette just this side of garish.


We begin with Battling Boy’s origin story. Yet to be referred to as any name other than Boy, our reluctant hero hails from the Hidden Gilded Realm. He is set up to perform heroic deeds for the Acropolis as his rite of passage (a rambling).

battling boy westsAnother hero is introduced in the figure of Aurora West, the daughter of the recently departed Acropolis hero Haggard West. Her apprenticeship under her father was cut tragically short, but she has nerve and weaponry. Her “Alfred” is the impressive womanly amputee Ms. Grately—the only family Aurora has left.

battling boy T RexThe villains are creepy, and the scale of some of the monsters ups the ante for our action heroes. Battling Boy’s arsenal is clever. I love the t-shirt idea (and not just for its merchandising potential). Pope evidences a well-thought out narrative. He amusingly considers the angles, like where Battling Boy is going to reside and cover expenses. The relationship between parents and child is pretty sweet, too. I am trying desperately not to anticipate some looming tragic circumstance, Aurora’s loss is sobering enough.battling-boy-paul-pope-first-second-2013

battling boy

I feel a bit late to the Battling Boy party, but only a little. And now I won’t have to wait so long for The Rise of Aurora West. Battling Boy’s second(ish) installment hits store shelves late September. Yes, already with a prequel and Miss West’s backstory told from her point of view (which we do get portions of in Battling Boy). As for the first prequel published (October 2013), not sure how dedicated I am to getting a hold of the one-shot copy of Haggard West’s story—I wouldn’t say no if you could get my hands on a copy of the limited release…

Paul Pope has hit the ground running with an Eisner for Battling Boy. Battling Boy and Aurora West promise and fantastic series of adventures to grow up with. Too, the series returns us to the warm fuzzy of old school superhero aesthetics, while being all shiny and new and clever with it.


from Michael Cavna’s piece “Paul Pope: With Escapo and Battling Boy, 2014 Eisner Winner Deftly Blends the Old with the New” in the Washington Post

“There are all these classic superheroes we know, but [Battling Boy] is not another Spider-Man or Batman,” Pope says. It’s a new character — we don’t even know his name — and I think [that's] appealing to kids.”

“With ‘Battling Boy,’ I’m trying to use the rhetoric of the classic Silver Age hero’s story, and tell a genuine story about this kind of coming-of-age — through the metaphor of a superhero being a young person moving into their own,[...] “But I’m doing it through the [comics] language of Jack Kirby, John Romita and Steve Ditko.”

“But kids are getting it for the first time,” he continues. “They’re not aware of Kirby or Romita or Ditko. They might know the Red Skull from the movie, but they’re not going to know him from the comic.

“I’m trying to make a new story using these old tools, I guess.”


{images belong to Paul Pope, & remember to check out his site for more enticing fare}