Welcome to the Alley – Harper Alley Graphic Novels

Lynn and Cindy: It is nice to find something to celebrate in these difficult times and we are happy to help welcome Harper’s new graphic novel imprint, Harper Alley. Nine titles are coming in September and October and we’ve been lucky enough to have been sent some of them to preview. And what a treat! Here’s a quick look at a few of these wonderful upcoming new books.

Early Readers

Pea, Bee & Jay: Stuck Together by Brian “Smitty” Smith (September 2020)

Pea loves to roll! He brags to his friends that no one on the farm as ever rolled as far as he has – all the way to the fence! Like kids everywhere, one of Pea’s friends challenges him with a risky dare – roll all the way to the big red tree OUTSIDE of the farm fence! Pea can’t back down and he rolls right into the biggest adventure of his round little life. Pea finds danger, two new friends and a new appreciation for home. Plenty of kid perfect humor and cute illustrations with just enough danger and surprises to keep the story rolling along. Simple vocabulary and plenty of visual assistance for early readers. Watch for more adventures to come!

Arlo & Pips Series: King of the Birds by Elise Gravel (October 2020)

Arlo is a crow with a big ego and he tells his friend, Pip, about his talents. He can imitate other sounds (a car honking) and count up to six. Footnotes add additional facts to back up Arlo’s claims. For instance, crows can count, and may even be able to add.) Arlo and Pip’s adventures are divided into three chapters, and the clear illustrations are in panels from one to six on a page with text appropriate for beginning readers. Humor, friendship, and animal science facts make this a winner for early comic fans.

Middle Grade

Lightfall: The Girl and the Galdurian by Tim Probert (September 2020)

Have you been struggling to find something to give to fans of the Amulet series (Graphix 2008) by Kazu Kibuishi? Look no farther than this outstanding new fantasy series. The sun has disappeared from the land of Irpa. Bea is the adopted granddaughter of the Pig Wizard who owns the Salty Pig and makes medicines and tinctures. While out gathering herbs, Bea encounters a strange traveler, Cad, a supposedly extinct Galdurian, looking for the Pig Wizard. When they return to the cottage, Bea’s grandfather has disappeared leaving only a note and a precious Jar of Endless Flame. The pair set out on a quest to find the Pig Wizard and perhaps they will save their world along the way.

A terrific storyline, endearing characters, humor, and mystery will delight readers along with absolutely gorgeous illustrations. I read this in galley form and even in that format, the luminous quality of the illustrations took my breath away. I cannot wait to see the finished copy and young fans will be clamoring for the second installment the minute they finish the first!

Measuring Up by Lily LaMotte (October 2020)

There’s nothing like a food competition to bring on stress in the kitchen and between friends. Cici is new to Seattle and misses her A-ma back in Taiwan but winning a local kids’ cooking battle would give her the means to bring her beloved A-ma over to celebrate her 70th birthday with the family. Schoolmates have already mocked her packed lunch food choices, so what can she make for the judges that they will like? Cici is a likeable character in a fun story that navigates some of the pitfalls of middle school, especially as an immigrant. Perfect for readers who liked Amina’s Voice, about a Muslim girl finding her self through music instead of food.

Cindy once created a bulletin board with chef’s aprons and red checked tablecloths captioned “Are You a Foodie?” and this book needs to be added to that fun display.

Go With the Flow – a Graphic Novel We Wish We’d Had

Lynn: Half the school bleeds so why are menstrual periods still being treated as embarrassing and disgusting by so many people, wonders Abby. Readers meet Abby, Christine, and Brit on the first day back to high school in Go With the Flow (First Second, 2020) by Lily Williams and Karen Schneemann. The three friends come to the rescue of new girl, Sasha, who has just started her first period and has leaked through her white pants, becoming the instant target of mean jokes and bullying. Fed up with the discovery that once more the bathroom dispenser is empty of pads and tampons, Abby decides to take on the challenge of de-stigmatizing periods and the issues of menstrual equality. She starts by going to the principal who is embarrassed and dismissive, eventually taking her activism to a level that impacts her friendship with the other 3 girls. Abby wants to change lives and make an impact but not this way!

My first thought when I heard about this upcoming graphic novel at ALA Midwinter was, “Why wasn’t this available when I was in high school?” That was the impetus behind the book for Williams and Schneemann. “Go With the Flow was born out of our desire to make the book we wished we had had growing up,” they write in the Authors’ Note. I am long past my menstrual days and it was both startling and saddening to discover that nothing much has changed in how menstruation is treated and talked about. The book is packed with frank and reassuring information but this is far more than an updated menstrual manual. The authors take on issues of bullying, gender equality, body norms, effective activism, family culture and more, weaving it all into a really charming and engaging framework of a supportive high school friendship.

I loved this terrific book and I told my husband while I was reading it that it should be required reading for every high school girl. He told me that it should also be read by every high school boy because they knew even less about this important topic! He is so right. This is a must purchase for every high school collection.

Cindy: When Sasha gets her first period at school while wearing white pants early in the book, I couldn’t help but flashback to reading the column “Was My Face Red,” in Young Miss Magazine in the early 70s. I always flipped there first when my new issue arrived to compare my embarrassing moments with those of other girls my age. I’d have devoured this book had it been available when I was in junior high.

In keeping with the theme, the art’s colors are done in shades of rusty red and feature a diverse cast of four friends and follow them from the start of school to a spring dance. The backmatter includes an authors’ note about the importance of sharing stories with friends to not feel so alone or abnormal and to understand the range of experiences that comes with menstruating, from irregular schedules to extreme pain and other scenarios. In support of Abby’s activism in the book there’s a list included “How to Be a Period Activist” with some useful tips for advocacy and action. The cover says “A friendship story. Period.” But it’s so much more. Make sure your school has multiple copies and that your machines are stocked, or better yet, that free supplies are available, just like toilet paper (post-COVID-19 hoarding, that is.)

Dragon Hoops: Gene Luen Yang and Basketball

Cindy:  March Madness may be canceled, but that doesn’t mean you can’t have basketball in your life! Regular readers know they can count on a basketball book from Bookends each March. Have we got a champion for you this year! Dragon Hoops (First Second, 2020) by Gene Luen Yang puts a new finger roll, er…spin, on graphic novel memoirs. Yang needs a story idea and wonders if a comic nerd can get his head in the game by following his high school basketball team’s run for the state championship. Yang teaches math and computer science at Bishop O’Dowd High School in Oakland, CA. He steps out of his comfort zone and talks to Coach Lou Richie about his idea, even though he’s unsure that it’s a good one. In superhero stories, you know who the good guys and bad guys are and who will win in the end. That’s not the case in sports.

Dragon Hoops is an interesting blend of an O’Dowd basketball season, player backstories (including their ethnic, racial, or religious identities and the challenges they’ve overcome related to those), basketball history, and Yang’s pull between teaching, comics, and his family life. The recurring theme of taking a “step”—across a threshold, onto a court, or into a life-changing decision—is beautifully played. Once again, Yang takes not just a step, but a giant leap in his graphic novel mastery…I can’t wait to see the finished book with its shiny gold foil cover accents. (It published yesterday so we no longer have to wait!)

Lynn: I’ve loved all of Gene Yang’s previous books but this one takes the game into overtime! It is highly entertaining and completely engaging while at the same time doing so much. Yes, it is about a championship basketball season but it is also about family, commitment, the craft of writing, courage, fidelity to the truth in story, friendship, work ethic, love and more. It is important to remember that while Yang is a superb storyteller, he is also a superb artist. He is masterful at conveying emotions through his deceptively simple drawings and in this book he also manages to create the intense action of a championship basketball season. Dragon Hoops leaves a reader feeling both satisfied and deeply thoughtful. This book is a winner!

Cindy and Lynn: Follow Gene Luen Yang on Facebook or Instagram to see some of the great promos accompanying this social-distanced book launch. He’s working hard to make up for the canceled book tour.

Studio Tour with Children’s Author/Illustrator Greg Pizzoli

Cindy: While we were in Philadelphia for the 2020 American Library Association Midwinter Meetings last weekend we were fortunate to get to tour author/illustrator Greg Pizzoli’s new studio. After several stand-alone children’s books, he is launching a new beginner reader graphic novel series called Baloney and Friends (Disney, April 2020). Baloney, a pig, is joined by three friends: Peanut, a blue horse, bumblebee Bizz, and Krabbit, a crabby rabbit. The four friends are featured in four graphic stories and three mini-comics. There’s even a graphic table of contents to help young readers. While in Greg’s studio he showed us a framed piece of art that Ed Emberley drew for him. Greg said Emberley was an inspiration and he showed us his collection of Ed’s books near where he works. He practiced his drawing with those books as a child and decided to include similar step-by-step lessons in the back of this book so that his readers can draw Baloney and his friends and create their own stories. He has a beautiful space to work and his wife has her studio up a circular staircase so they can share the dog while they work. There’s a lot of talent under this one roof.

Lynn: What a treat to meet Greg and his wife, Kay Healy, at ALA! Greg’s new book about Baloney and friends is perfectly designed for newly independent readers. There are plenty of visual assists, color-coded speech bubbles, and simple decode-able vocabulary. The short stories included are wonderfully silly and guaranteed to gather giggles. It is hard to choose a favorite among them.  The Magic Trick took me right back to the many “Magic Shows” put on at my house by little boys. A sweet and thoughtful story, Feeling Blue, is a real standout and addresses emotions of sadness in a wonderfully accessible way for young readers. I am so happy this is a series and that there will be more stories to come.

Greg and Kay were incredibly kind to open their studios to a bunch of librarians and to give us a peek at their creative processes. Check out Kay’s drawn, screen printed, and stuffed fabric installations which are brilliantly created. I loved her work too and was trying to figure out if any of them would fit in my suitcase. Fortunately, I regained control! Thank you to the wonderful people at Disney/Hyperion and to Greg and Kay for a memorable event.

Cindy: While you wait for Baloney and Friends you’ll want to reread Book Hog, winner of a 2020 Theodor Seuss Geisel Honor. Congratulations, Greg! You may have to get that other Geisel medal out of its box and on the wall now that you have a pair to hang!

Graphic Novel Round-Up – Something for Every Reader

Lynn and Cindy: A flock of fabulous graphic novels has swept onto our doorsteps lately and we’ve been happily flying through them. There’s something here for every interest and every age and we’ve been loving them all. Here’s a quick round-up of some of what we’ve been enjoying, starting with graphic novels for high school readers and moving on through to one for our youngest readers.

Laura Dean Keeps Breaking Up with Me, by Mariko Tamaki (First Second, 2019)

This is an absolutely brilliant look at love in a toxic relationship. Charismatic Laura Dean flies in and out of Freddie’s life, bewitching and beguiling her, taking complete advantage of Freddie’s adoration, stomping on her heart whenever she feels like it and leaving Freddie diminished at every turn.

We’ve all watched relationships like this. Maybe we’ve been IN a relationship like this. Tamaki nails the dynamics, the helpless attraction, the hurt that grows bigger and more destructive each time and the hope that THIS time will be different. Masterfully nuanced illustrations heighten the sense of being there and watching a dear friend walk back into the buzzsaw once again. High Schoolers exploring relationships will love and learn from this story.

Queen of the Sea, by Dylan Meconis (Walker, 2019)

A stunningly beautiful graphic story loosely based on the history of Elizabeth I and Mary Queen of Scots. While it was fun to notice the parallels, it isn’t necessary to know the history as Meconis creates her own richly immersive story full of period details, evocative characters, and vivid setting. The main protagonist, Margaret, an orphaned child who came to the island surrounded in mystery, is instantly endearing and readers experience the unfolding events along with her.

Meconis’ illustrations are gorgeous but they are also a brilliant part of the storytelling. Each panel has its own part to play in carrying the tale forward, providing important details and developing the characters. This is a visual treat but it is also masterful graphic storytelling. Readers ranging from high school to upper elementary will love the characters, the warmly human touches of humor, the historical feel, the fascinating political intrigue and the feel of an illuminated manuscript. Outstanding book design adds to all these masterfully done elements to make this an imaginative and immersive reading experience.

Sunny Rolls the Dice, by Jennifer L. and Matthew Holm (Graphix, 2019)

Middle school is fraught with changing friendships as tweens shift interests, alliances, and struggle to be “cool.” Some mature more quickly than others, some don’t care what others think, and some long for acceptance by a popular group, or are distraught when good friends leave them by the wayside. As a middle school librarian, I’ve watched these friendship struggles for decades. The Holms have captured the essence of this passage in this newest book in the series that started with Sunny Side Up. Sunny’s best friend has discovered boys, fashion, and makeup while Sunny doesn’t understand why they can’t pursue those interests while still playing Dungeons & Dragons with boys they are only trying to slay in the game. 70s memories of the perils of hot rollers and smelly rental roller skates bring the setting alive for those of us who lived through it…and it’s fun historical fiction with a timeless look at friendship for the intended audience.

Guts, by Raina Telgemeier (Graphix, 2019)

Does this book need promotion? Probably not, but given the reception it’s received in my middle school, not because it is Raina’s new book, but due to the subject matter, it’s worth highlighting to be sure you don’t miss it. Telgemeier continues her graphic memoir series with this new entry about what anxiety can do physically and mentally to a child (or an adult). Scholastic published an initial print run of 1 million copies, according to this Forbes! article about the release. Grab your copies quickly, they are already thinking of a second run to meet demand.

The Singing Rock & Other Brand-New Fairy Tales, by Nathaniel Lachenmeyer (First Second, 2019)

Here’s a graphic novel that is great for the Gr. 2-6 set. Bright, funny and also gorgeously illustrated stories tell four slightly twisted fairy tales that are joyful hoot.

Perfect for the young child who will appreciate the humor and I think middle school kids would love it if they’d be brave enough to look past the young appearance of the book. Besides being wonderful fun, this would make a GREAT writing prompt.