binding…and beautiful

30 days of pbDay Three: This is the Rope: A Story from the Great Migration

by Jacqueline Woodson; illus. James Ransome 

Nancy Paulsen Books (Penguin group), 2013.

rope coverThis is the Rope has one of the prettiest picture book covers: the warm colors, the brush work, the suspended movement. In the little girl’s hands is the legacy to which the title alludes.

“For three generations, [the] rope is passed down, used for everything from jump rope games to tying suitcases onto a car for the big move north to New York City, and even for a family reunion where that first little girl is now a grandmother.”—publisher’s comments

The beautiful, rich hues continue as pages turn and time passes using historical cues in the fashion, furnishing, cars, and popular culture. Jacqueline Woodson has a smooth, rich storyteller’s tone in what translates into something more than an informative text or casual peek in the lives of a family who migrated northward—although she does include the informative for the edification of the reader.



 “From the early 1900s until the mid-1970s, more than 6 million African Americans moved from the rural South to Northern Cities. […] We came for better jobs, better treatment, better education, and better lives. This movement of Blacks from the South to the North would become known as the Great Migration.”—“Author’s Note” at the opening of the picture book.

The sense of continuity in the legacy of the little girl’s demonstration of imagination (finding the rope and implementing it) and adventurous spirit (heading away from home as a young mother with all her and her husband’s belongings strapped to the car) is stronger than a slight thread coursing throughout the picture book. The rope is both practically used, and playfully. It witnesses courageous moments and airs fresh laundry. What is constant is the presence of family; of hope: in the fresh starts of home-making, children, friendships; and the idea of legacy in the generational exchanges witnessed, and in the fact that the narrator is the youngest of the generations telling the story of her elders.


Anything Jacqueline Woodson and James Ransome are responsible for creating, individually or together, is going to be brilliant. Theirs are names to know. But This is the Rope is one you will especially loathe to have missed.


Jacqueline Woodson “is the author of more than two dozen young adult, middle grade, and picture books, including Each KindnessBeneath the Meth MoonFeathers, and Miracle’s Boys, the last of which was adapted into a miniseries directed by Spike Lee. She is a three-time Newbery Honor winner, a two-time National Book Award finalist, winner of a Coretta Scott King Award and three Coretta Scott King Honors, and a Caldecott Honor winner as well. She’s also the recipient of the Margaret A. Edwards Award for lifetime achievement for her contributions to young adult literature, the winner of the Jane Addams Children’s Book Award for Each Kindness, and is the 2013 United States nominee for the Hans Christian Andersen Award. She lives with her family in Brooklyn, New York.” — via Scholastic.

James Ransome “The Children’s Book Council named James E. Ransome as one of seventy-five authors and illustrators everyone should know. Currently a member of the Society of Illustrators, Ransome has received both the Coretta Scott King Award for Illustration and the IBBY Honor Award for his book, The Creation. He has also received a Coretta Scott King Honor Award for Illustration for Uncle Jed’s Barbershop which was selected as an ALA Notable Book” He earned his Bachelor of Fine Arts degree in Illustration from Pratt Institute in Brooklyn, New York. “ His commendations and commissions are impressive. “His work is part of both private and public children’s book art collections. James lives in Rhinebeck New York with his wife Lesa Cline Ransome a writer of children’s books. They live in the Hudson Valley with their four children and one St. Bernard.–via author’s site biography.

{images belong to James Ransome}


"review" · comics/graphic novels · concenter · juvenile lit · recommend · sci-fi/fantasy · series · Tales · young adult lit

{comics} delilah and her lieutenant

or is it The Lieutenant and his Delilah…?

delilah-dirkDelilah Dirk and the Turkish Lieutenant (book 1) by Tony Cliff

First Second Books, 2013. Tradepaper, 176 pages. first half sample.

Delilah Dirk is the heroine of a series of adventure comics set during the early 19th century. Each story is completely self-contained, and they’re suitable for readers of all ages!” –site.

as for the and the Turkish Lieutenant:

“First, Delilah Dirk causes his execution. Then, she saves his life. Honour-bound to return the favour, Selim, the titular Turkish lieutenant, plunges into a world of danger and excitement. What will he sacrifice to repay his debt?”


Tony Cliff renders 4 truly beautiful chapters of a Delilah Dirk adventure narrated by Selim, a gentle, tea-loving Turkish lieutenant swept up in her latest scheme: to rob a dangerous Sultan in Constantinople.

delilah dirk excerpt

Using Selim as the narrator facilitates a wonderful introduction to Delilah Dirk. Raised an English ambassador’s daughter, she has traveled the globe and learned skills from various exotic locations that contribute to a completely daring bad-ass heroine of epic-Indiana-Jones-proportion. Selim is less the risk-taker of this unlikely pairing; and as far as the story goes, he is the more mysterious character. His own characterization pulls her back from becoming a caricature—if having such a heroine could be deemed caricature-esque.  Their individual personalities, senses of humor and adventure collide and complement in entertaining ways. He is gentle where she is ferocious; longing for comforts while she mans an airship; and their aptitudes differ. That the story is one of friendship is as unexpected as their companionship.

delilah dirk bk 1

Delilah Dirk and the Turkish Lieutenant is as dynamic visually. It is flat-out pretty, illustration, ink, color, letters, its one of the easiest-on-the-eyes comics you’ll come across. And it is fluid, so much so that you eye-blink your way out of a magically real sequence that encloses one of the loveliest illustrations in the book—page 64. The energy is in the figure and antics of Delilah Dirk, in the expressive range of Selim’s visage , and the carefully paced frames racing and climbing across pages, looking for the restful vista of a full-page panel. There are tensions between the carefully contained and the explosive energy in the pairing of Delilah and Selim, and panel and page. The crafting is subtle and I had to recover from an infatuation with the art to re-view it.

delilah dirk coverLovers of potentially foolhardy adventures will enjoy Tony Cliff’s beautifully rendered work, but I think those who also possess an eye for craft will experience the most pleasure. Delilah Dirk and the Turkish Lieutenant is an exciting comic you’ll not want to miss.


a concenter-quality read: significant poc characters, foreign setting, gender defiance

{images belong to Tony Cliff}

"review" · comics/graphic novels · concenter · music · recommend · young adult lit

{comic} days like these

days like this coverDays Like This

Written by J. Torres

Illus. by Scott Chandler

Oni Press, 2003.

I slipped this one off the Library shelf, my eye caught by a cover with three young black women on it. 1960s isn’t a fascination for me as a general rule, music included, but I was curious. That it is J. Torres and Oni Press, didn’t hurt. Shall I just get it out of the way and say: I liked it.

It is the early 1960s and recent divorcee Anna Solomon is about to strike out on her own in her ex-husband’s world: the music business. She isn’t the only one launching her career. A fresh young female song writer is looking to sell her work where she can, and three high school singers are starting out where many do: the church choir and a school talent show. Its just good timing that the three paths should intersect, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t going to be easy.

Ben (the ex-brother-in-law: So I hear the little divorcee is starter her own record company.

Anna: With those ears, I imagine you can hear rhinos mating in Africa.”

Ben: Do you have any idea what it takes to run a record company?

Anna: I’ve been watching you Solomon Brothers do it for years. Learned what to do from Abe, what not to do from you.

Ben: Well, won’t you be surprised when it turns out to be more complicated than making meatloaf or starching a shirt…

Nice, guy, huh?! but such is the attitude with which Anna is confronted. Time is another conflict. Launching a record label and organizing a young up-and-comer is time consuming. Her daughter Ruth, who is the reason Anna was at that talent show, makes the introduction to lead singer Christina and her trio before fading into the background, reminded that if she gets hungry, they are well-stocked in frozen dinners. Illustrator Scott Chandler relates most of that story by placing and not forgetting a Ruth left behind and trying to negotiate her parent’s divorce and mother’s new career on her own. It is a testament to the book that Anna doesn’t come off as looking like an absolute villain; plenty has to do with her other admirable traits; much of it has to do with writer J. Torres’ decision not to moralize in that direction—and he doesn’t have to, you can sense an equilibrium of consequences in the offing… No, the stern frown is directed toward those conservative cultural notions that prove destructive (including self-).

Christina is the “Tina” of “the Tiaras,” and she dreams of being a star. We learn that she dreams this primarily through her mother who is valiant in her defense and encouragement of Christina signing with Anna. Her opposition? her husband Luther who thinks the choir should be the extent of his daughter’s ambitions, to say nothing of his feelings about the hell dimension that is the music world.

Have you heard about this Little Richard character? The man who wears make-up? Only man I know wears make-up is a clown! And then there’s Elvis! Stealin’ black folks’ music and gyratin’ on the TV, making all the young girls lose their heads… and speaking of young girls, what about Jerry-Lee-what’s-his-name marrying his teenage cousin!

And there is no convincing him after he finds out they’ve taken the “Christ” out of “Tina.” Even so, it is a study in marital dynamics the way two very determined parents pursue what they think is best for their child; especially the mother—who is finally fed up talking around one of the central issues in the story. What is a concern other than dreams? money. She is going to see to it her daughter will rise out of poverty and if she can do it while doing something she loves? The manipulative tactics may be uncomfortable for some, but for most: all too familiar. However, this is an issue upon which Christina’s mom is willing to take risks. All the women in the Days Like This have reached a decisive moment (Christina on the cusp) and prove self-determining.

The third path, which is actually the first one we meet, is Karen Prince age 17 and a go-getter in her own right. Along with the “Tiaras” (who are brilliant), she makes up the lighter, more comedic moments—well, when Anna isn’t telling some man what she thinks, that is. Karen bridges Anna’s boldness and Christina’s youth. She has just sold her first song with persistence and happenstance. But she crushes on boys and admits her own father had his doubts when trying to envision her future—a new golf-bag helped. In the end, you understand what Luther and other must: there is no stopping these women.

Not that all the men in the story are discouraging. Anna’s ex does not share his brother’s view of Anna’s capabilities. And Anna has made contacts in a male-dominant industry, with strings she can pull. One resource is a song-writer whom she wants to pair with Karen—as her b-side of the record. Ben, for all his “rat faced” remarks, bought Karen’s first song. And even Luther is complicated by what he is unwilling to say…those manipulative tactics look less manipulative as time passes; the wife is just giving him his plausible deniability—until she is no longer willing to give him that.

days like this prv51_pg1

The artwork, all in black and white, is reminiscent of the 60’s if not earlier. There is a nice balance of text and illustrated expression; engaging and easy to follow.  Torres references ‘60s culture, but most of the historical weight is in Chandler’s clean-lined renderings. And while Torres tries to off-set the serious with quick wit, Chandler provides his own sense of well-timed humor. Days Like This is a beautifully plotted out piece in form.

That the story is set in the ‘60s creates a nice conversation about that time in our country and in the music of the times; however, plenty of it still resonates today. Women and men both are faced with difficult decisions under the pressures of a lot of cultural baggage. The development of the girl’s image (weight, song choice) are abbreviated allusions any reader of the present will pick up on and connect with.

The story is a quick read, Torres choosing his moments carefully. The book ends as Tina and the Tiaras are properly launched, however it creates enough momentum behind a positive trajectory that you understand how it will all play out for our protagonists. The optimism isn’t in the present day reader, but in the characterization of the women (and men) in story.

"review" · comics/graphic novels · fiction · Illustrator · juvenile lit · recommend · Tales

the storm in the barn

The Storm in the Barn by Matt Phelan

Candlewick Press, 2009.

Hardback, full color, 208 pages.

When I saw Illustrator Matt Phelan had a graphic novel out, I had to have a look. Found this copy at the Library.

In Kansas in the year 1937, eleven-year-old Jack Clark faces his share of ordinary challenges: local bullies, his father’s failed expectations, a little sister with an eye for trouble. But he also has to deal with the effects of the Dust Bowl, including rising tensions in his small town and the spread of a shadowy illness. Certainly a case of dust dementia would explain who (or what) Jack has glimpsed in the Talbot’s abandoned barn — a sinister figure with a face like rain. In a land where it never rains, it’s hard to trust what you see with your own eyes — and harder still to take heart and be a hero when the time comes. With phenomenal pacing, sensitivity, and a sure command of suspense, Matt Phelan ushers us into a world where desperation is transformed by unexpected courage. ~publisher’s comments.


My first encounter with Matt Phelan was with Susan Patron’s Higher Power of Lucky. I knew what how much he could capture with a few whisps of line and color. Matt Phelan, like Jeff Lamire (of Tales of Essex County) before him, proves only the details that matter are the ones to use. Spare can be more. Matt Phelan has an original and creative voice in this graphic novel for children (10 & up)*.

The palette is a muted one, washed as if the dust formed a cloud before the Reader’s eye as well. The shift between warm color and cold is subtle, a seamless movement of the atmospheric. The soft off-white color of the page, the soft-penciled hand-drawn lines of the frames, give a dream-like and home-spun charm to the read. My only complaint is how the text comes across as cold and hard whenever it appears. No doubt the typed-font lettering was a necessity, nevertheless it was so staid amidst the constant sense of movement Phelan portrays. In a largely textless novel, Matt Phelan leaves nothing to chance, his images have a way of saying everything for him.


“I wanted to bring in elements of American folklore, like the Jack tales that were still being told and the Oz books that had been enthralling kids for thirty-odd years at that point.” Matt Phelan (“Author’s Note”)

That a figure with a face like rain, looming, sinister, is even a character in this Historical Fiction set during the Dust Bowl doesn’t come out of no where. Ernie at the general store likes to tell Jack stories of another Jack. And Oz is very much alive, very relevantly applied to The Storm in the Barn. But even the idea of that one of the children had never really experienced the rain seems incredible to the Reader. Indeed, what has kept the rain from falling? What might explain its fantastic absence?

Matt Phelan doesn’t leave out other explanations as to how the residents of this small town in Kansas happened into their plight. With a story told by Jack’s mother, we see a verdant landscape (rich and warmly painted) “an ocean of grass” (69). “The Indians had it first. Acres of pastureland.” accompanies an image of a singular Indian on a horse with the grass still green and wild. Below it on the page with four equal rectangular frames, “Then the white folks moved them out and started ranching.” There is a house (where the Indian stood), the ground is brown with tufts of grass, a fence with cattle behind it.” The last frame shows a land empty but for miles of  soil to farm and hope. Things went well for their mother as she grew up and started a family of her own. “And then…” (71) the dust comes to scrub out the image for “We were so happy.” The devastation becomes all the more stark. And yet there is a small nugget of hope proffered and Jack clings to it.

Jack is evidently different from the boys his age (who find this a reason to bully him no doubt), but that he doesn’t meet his father’s expectation is telling, too. He is seen as inept and sensitive.  However, because he is different, he provides us will some hope for change even if it does provoke real anxiety. Will Jack be able to confront and defeat that dark and sinister being who’s taken up residence in Talbot’s barn? Is he really as demented as the doctor’s say? His sister is certainly as ill as they’d diagnosed. But who else could bring back the rain? Certainly not the boys who join their fathers and the other grown men in the “Rabbit drive”–which is AWFUL, by the way.

Phelan discovered a “brutal jackrabbit drive” from documentary footage. “This last event still haunted survivors of the time who, now in their old age, were interviewed for the documentary” (“Author’s Note”). The sequence in The Storm in the Barn punctuates the ubiquitous sense of violence and desperation and anger–and most hauntingly, regret. The regret makes the hard landscape of the people (in particular the men) even more human than their fear does.

It is little wonder how Jack might come to see the sinister storm-faced figure as one who refuses to “serve. And in doing so, the Rain became powerful” (154). Selfish and domineering the self-proclaimed king put the thunder and lightning in a piece of luggage. Which, when released, frees everyone from all manner of repressed emotion–in particular Jack’s father. Being able to find connection between the realized form of Rain and the Father (who look notably similar if not the same) and the culture helps facilitate the most plausible change in the Father at the end–his hugging his son, his sudden acceptance of Jack. Otherwise, as when I read this novel the first time, it feels false and overly optimistic. But then, who doesn’t want a happy ending. Jack is such a likable character, you really desire his success and happiness.

The Storm in the Barn is not for the impatient. The sequences of stills progressing in emotion require more than a fleeting glance to enjoy the full sense of dread, despair, and an ultimately hard-won victory. The informative aspects of this Historical Fiction are caught up in the story of  Jack and his own heroic adventure. The Storm in the Barn is an easy sell to classrooms, will attract any level of reader of either gender. The cinematic start tantalizes the Reader with the idea there might be a few scares, you know, in case the cover hadn’t already lured them in with that kind of promise. And there are some scares. Tall tale or no, muted, yet vividly dark,  The Storm in the Barn would weave a compelling story.


*could go slightly younger, but the jackrabbits scene would be too much for sensitive readers. also, good comprehension of nuance, etc. should be considered.

Good and insightful as ever, but especially for the educators : The Graphic Classroom’s review.

"review" · juvenile lit · recommend · series

Kat, Incorrigible

Kat, Incorrigible by Stephanie Burgis

Atheneum Books for Young Readers, 2011; Hardcover, 295 pages.

Nineteenth Century England is not the place to be practicing magic. In this prim and proper world, twelve-year-old Katherine Ann Stephenson is at a loss: Her sister, Elissa and Angeline, have recently entered Society and now gossip incessantly in whispers; her foolish brother, Charles, has gambled the family deep into debt; and Stepmama wants nothing to do with them at all. What can Kat do but take matters into her own hands?

Luckily Kat has inherited her mother’s magical talents and has the courage to use them—if she can only learn how. But with her sister Elissa’s intended fiancé, the sinister Sir Neville, showing a dangerous interest in Kat’s magical potential; her sister Angeline creating romantic havoc with her own witchcraft; and a highwayman lurking in the forest, even Kat’s reckless heroism will be tested to the utmost. Will her powers be enough to win her sister their true loves? ~dust jacket.

I do not believe you have to get geeked on Regency Romances to find Kat, Incorrigible an absolute delight; but it may help.  One will not be surprised to discover Stephanie Burgis’ cited influences to be Jane Austen and Georgette Heyer (the instigator of the Regency Romance). Indeed, this is a perfect opportunity to introduce the young reader to a bit of a tongue-in-cheek exposure to this popular genre of pulp fiction/literature, because Ms. Burgis has the most fantastic sense of humor about her setting and the subjects therein.

Burgis places the reader quite firmly without including too many of the tedious details; although I’m not sure if it quite carries off the incredible angst which drives the plot. Will our “free-thinking” society’s daughters and sons understand the eldest Stephenson sister’s position, how dangerous the middle sister Angeline is, or how incredibly incorrigible the youngest Kat actually proves? Probably not, but the novel will be no less enjoyable, especially as it denouements with appropriately silly and dramatic flair! Kat and Burgis pull it all together by the end. In the necessary fashion that all good characters should have flaws there is plenty of idiotic behavior to keep the reader turning pages and wondering how it could all possibly end without concluding in an all out disaster. I mean, what was Mr. Collingwood thinking?! To say that Kat, Incorrigible is an amusing romp through an 1803 English countryside is an understatement.

Then there is the inclusion of witch-craftiness with its spells and its questionable reputation and those born with an inherent magical capability that far surpasses the need for incantations. Burgis isn’t too tedious with the details here either. In the world-building of Fantasy, Kat, Incorrigible might come across frustratingly light for some, but I thought it refreshing. If Burgis need illuminate further, she will do so in the next novel. And besides, Kat couldn’t shed character and become so accommodating as to willfully explore her personal history, that of the Order’s, and flesh out exactly how her powers actually work.

The interactions between the sisters, each with their indomitable (yet not unrealistic) personalities, is the most rewarding part of the read. They are the source of heart and humor in the novel; that and our first person narrator Kat’s ability to be both frightfully intuitive and woefully ignorant at the same time. Second would be the best open and close of a novel I’ve read in a long time. “I was twelve years of age when I chopped off my hair, dressed as a boy, and set off to save my family from impending ruin” (1). And –well, I should hardly spoil it.  The use of the oppressiveness of Society as a source of villainy and dread comes next in view of Kat, Incorrigible’s brilliance. It is Kat and her sisters against the world, and they mean to be incorrigible.


Do read Polishing Mud Balls Review which includes the Readerly Response of her brilliant daughter. I had been interested in the read, but Deanna and EJ really sold me on this very enjoyable book. I, too, highly recommend this read; primarily to girls, middle-grade, with Historical Fiction interests and Fantasy, likes a bit of humor in their adventures, loves feisty heroes, and is looking for light* reading.

My favorite part? Where twelve-year-old Kat transforms into the stylish Lady Fotherington and is suddenly sporting breasts must try to keep that extremely low cut front of her dress from plummeting. Oh, the consequences of fashion and hastily applied spells…

Character-wise? I agree with EJ, Angeline is a favorite. I love her sharp wit and dry daring confrontational style; though yes, she can be quite annoying at times. Burgis does create strong characters within definite types so as to not leave them wholly inside a cliche–at least with the three girls anyway.


*would not equate “light” with Fluffy, just effortlessly enjoyable.

The Unladylike Adventures of Kat Stephenson, Book One was published on August 1, 2010 in the UK as A Most Improper Magick, and was published on April 5, 2011 in the US and Canada as Kat, Incorrigible.

Book Two in the series Renegade Magic to be released Spring 2012.

Author site. And An Interview with the Ms. Burgis at Bart’s Bookshelf, here.