Thursday, November 15, 2012

Mini Reviews: Comics

I can see why this comic is so popular.  Naruto has a lot of action and humor and a rich setting.  Watching Naruto's antics, the fight scenes, and immersing yourself in the mythology and ways of the world it's set it is a lot of fun.  Plus, it's about ninjas. The story has a lot of heart as well though.  Naruto has the spirit of a demon that tormented the town trapped inside him and as a result the villagers have never really accepted him.  He acts out to get them to notice him and has big goals to prove them wrong--that he does have what it takes to lead the town and be a force of good.  As he learns the ways of ninjitsu he also learns about teamwork and discipline.  He refuses to sink to the level of his bullies and defends the town even when it's tempting to do otherwise.  There's a lot of good lessons for the real world to be learned in this manga.  Due to the ample and bloody fight scenes and Naruto's famous Ninja centerfold move I'd save this for teenage manga fans.  Naruto: Volume 1 &2 by Masashi Kishimoto: Buy it or check it out today!

This manga is about a girl who can see fairies who ends up on a quest to find a lost artifact in the service of a handsome man with a mysterious and dangerous past.  She has to solve riddles and uncover clues while unraveling layers of deception and deciding who to trust.  Did I mention she has a talking cat who isn't really a cat but a fairy?  What more could I ask for?  Gorgeous costumes stemming from a setting in 19th Century England?  Wait, it has that too.  It's certainly not the most thought-provoking thing I've ever read but darn is it diverting!  I'm looking forward to breezing through the rest of the volumes in this series.  The Earl & the Fairy Story and art by Auyko, Original Concept by Mizue Tani: Buy it or check it out today!

This nearly wordless, surreal gem is exquisitely strange and absolutely delightful.  It stars a little girl who literally eats herself out of house and home as she consumes everything in sight and is sent to the market.  There she finds an egg that hatches into a shapeshifter and leads her on a series of strange journeys including one seemingly meta-fictional one where she calls a time-out and asks that Forsythe alter his drawing.  Being nearly wordless it would be great to give to a child and ask them to describe what's happening in the story.  Adult fans of the surreal are sure to enjoy it as well.  Jinchalo by Matthew Forsythe: Buy it or check it out today!

I enjoyed this manga about two middle school kids who team up to make manga together.  It has a nice quiet plot, but it takes time to develop the characters so that I really wanted them to succeed in their plans.  I think their struggle of whether they should do what is expected of them or follow their dreams is one that many middle school students will be able to relate to.  It was interesting to get a glimpse into the world of how manga gets made as well.  I have mixed feelings on the romantic subplot though.  On the one hand I like that the main character is a romantic and wants to exchange e-mails with the girl he has a crush on instead of seeing her in person.  On the other hand I am not okay with the way gender roles are portrayed.  One of the male main characters describes the female lead by saying "Azuki naturally knows that a girl should be graceful and polite...and because she is a girl, she should be earnest about things and get average grades.  She knows by instinct that a girl won't look cute if she's overly smart."  While they are serious about their goal of making manga "'the reason she's thinking about becoming a voice actress is she naturally chose a dream that many girls have nowadays, and she's just trying to fully enjoy her life as a girl.  She doesn't feel any pressure like we do about our future and whatnot.'  'Because she's a girl?' 'That's right.  She knows what it means to be a girl she knows by instinct that the best thing for a girl is to get married and become somebody's wife...and until then--no, even after she's married, she'll remain graceful and polite.'"  Excuse me!  I'm really hoping that this is just an example of how the characters are clueless about girls and that in later issues they learn how wrong they are because I enjoyed this comic otherwise.  If they don't join the rest of us in the 21st century though I'd be hesitant to recommend it.  Bakuman by Tsugumi Ohba and Takeshi Obata: Buy it or check it out today!

I absolutely loved this irreverent, Scheherazade-esque take on American history.  Nathan Hale is about to be hanged when he utters his famous last words and the Big Huge Book of American History swallows him up.  This infuses him with knowledge beyond his life and allows him to stay the hand of the executioner as he regales him with historical tales.  This first volume is all about Nathan Hale and the Revolutionary War and despite wars being my least favorite part of history to study I was just as rapt as the executioner, and learned a lot that I had either never learned or forgotten due to lack of interest.   I particularly enjoyed reading about Henry Knox, the kick-butt bookseller.  The book definitely has an American bias, but it doesn't view American history as sacred.  When Nathan Hale encounters the ghost of Crispus Attucks and they tell the hangman that they're in the brotherhood of American Martyrs the hangman asks "What's a martyr?" their response: "Nothing. What's a martyr with you?"  It takes a special kind of person to make puns about martyrs, and that is a kind of person whose work I want to follow.  Even the notes at the end of the book were entertaining: Nathan (the author) introduces us to the people who helped make the book and the team of adorable babies that he put in charge of research.  He has a panel with all of his references arranged in two stacks with the title, author, and pub year showing on the spines.  Perhaps not MLA formatting, but very attractive.  Nothing about it is conventional but it is actually something that kids will read as opposed to most backmatter which I'm sure is entirely passed over even by adults.    Nathan Hale's Hazardous Tales: One Dead Spy by Nathan Hale: Buy it or check it out today!

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Geeks, Girls, and Secret Identities Review

Book talk:  Vincent Wu knows Captain Stupendous like no one else.  Sure everyone in the city loves their caped crusader and there's four separate fan clubs devoted to him, but the one that Vincent is president of is the only one that's the real deal-even if it only has three members.  Still, Vincent takes his responsibilities seriously--he writes about Captain Stupendous for every school report, he knows all his moves, and he watches and re-watches footage of his fights.  But when he finally meets Captain Stupendous he's nothing like Vincent imagined him.  On the outside he's big, strong, and super fast but on the inside he's...a girl?  Something's gone terribly wrong and Captain Stupendous's stupendous powers have been passed on to a surly girl who doesn't even want to be a superhero.  Will Vincent and his friends be able to change her mind and whip her into shape or will Professor Mayhem take over the town?

Rocks my socks:  I love that the superman-esque hero of the story ends up being a sassy teenage girl who isn't thrilled about suddenly changing form into a burly man.  Just because she doesn't want to be a superhero doesn't mean that she can't kick butt though.  And she will kick Vincent's and his friends' butts if they don't watch what they say.  The awkward tensions that ensue among them are comedy gold and while Jung is clearly a fan of the superhero comic genre he isn't afraid to make fun of it either.  I enjoyed watching him play with superhero cliches and turn them on their heads.  I also appreciated that while there was a mad scientist there were good scientists as well.  In fact they use science to fight him and without their knowledge and quick-thinking Captain Stupendous would never be able to fight Mayhem.  I enjoyed the romantic subplot as well and the unconventional path it takes.

Rocks in my socks:  The plot is riddled with holes that nagged at me, but I was enjoying myself so much I was mostly able to ignore them.  I would have also preferred it if a bit more time was spent on character development. Hopefully we'll find out more about them in the next novel.

Every book its reader:  I'd give this to anyone 3rd grade and up looking for a humorous story.  Fans of superhero comics will enjoy the novel in particular.  The fast pacing and ample pictures make it great for those just starting to read full chapter books.  I'd also give it to anyone interested in stories that play with gender stereotypes and strong female leads.

So there's this video of Mike Jung performing a hilarious song he wrote, just watch it:

Mike Jung also has a website with a blog, information about him, and "contact the galactic emperor" feature

Scholastic has a page for the book as well

Source: Free ARC from #ALA12

Geeks, Girls, and Secret Identities by Mike Jung: Buy it or check it out today!

Sunday, November 11, 2012

These go to 11!

I was working on a gift for a friend recently when it dawned on me that much like the famous amps from This is Spinal Tap, Doctor Who's doctors also go up to eleven.  I whipped up this little graphic to amuse myself and other fans of both the famous satirical movie and the excellent British science-fiction show:

Here's a clip from the movie for those who don't know what I'm talking about:

And for those who don't know what Doctor Who is, a 6 minute recap of a show that's been running for decades:

Rules Review

Book talk: Have you ever had to explain something that you thought was obvious?  Well, Catherine is an expert in that field.  Simple rules like "Don't stand in front of the TV when other people are watching" or "You can yell on a playground, but not during dinner" or even "Flush!" need to be spelled out for David.  Younger brothers can be embarrassing enough without them taking off their pants in public.  Catherine loves David, but sometimes she wishes her life were a bit more normal.  That's why she's so excited about the new girl moving in next-door.  With her best friend gone for the summer, this is her chance to make a new friend who can do all the normal best friend things: she already has the tin cans and flashlights ready for secret messages.  Will this be the summer she's always dreamed of?  Or will it turn out to be another disaster?

Rocks my socks: I enjoyed the way Cynthia Lord worked the various rules Catherine has created into the narrative.  Catherine with all of her hopes, dreams, and insecurities seemed very real to me and one of the people in my reading group who is the parent of an autistic child said that those aspects of the story rang true as well.  This would be a great book to get a discussion started about what normal really means and how we treat those who we perceive as different.  My favorite character in the novel was Jason.  He  is unable to speak and communicates by pointing to cards with words on them contained in a binder.  Catherine volunteers to make some new cards for him and I found it interesting to see how she decided what cards to make.  I don't know how he lived so long without the card 'joke' to indicate sarcasm!

Rocks in my socks:  The novel has a pretty laid-back pace with not much happening for most of it, then the conflict that leads to the climax seems to come out of nowhere and be over very quickly.  I felt like characters overreacted to produce an inflated climax and then made up again in ways that seemed off to me. The other people in my book club were also a bit confused about what exactly was supposed to have happened between some of the characters and what their real feelings on the situation were.  Perhaps this is because the other characters weren't fleshed out as well as Catherine so we weren't able to infer what tone, etc they were using to say certain things and we weren't clear on all of their backgrounds that effected how they responded.

Every book its reader: I'd give it to readers 4th grade and up looking for a school story with a lot of heart.  It would make a particularly good class read to give students the chance to discuss the themes raised in the novel.  


Cynthia Lord has her own site with a page for the book as well as extras and a discussion guide

Scholastic has a page for the book as well

You can find fan-made book trailers for the book on YouTube including these two

Source:  Copy received as part of faculty & staff book club

Rules by Cynthia Lord: Buy it or check it out today!