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The Reading Pile: What we are reading this week (August 9)

Once again, the Good Comics for Kids crew reveals what we are carrying in our briefcases and beachbags this week!

Kate Dacey: Up first for me is The Ellis Island Experience, a hybrid history primer/comic that IDW Publishing was distributing at the ALA’s annual convention back in June. It’s a neat idea: the creators juxtapose a narrative describing what it was like to arrive at Ellis Island with a comic telling a real immigrant’s story about coming to America from Italy. The correlation between Diego Jourdan’s illustrations and the text is done quite artfully, making it easy for young readers to make the connection between the historical information being imparted and the primary character’s experiences. I was also pleased to see the book tackle some difficult and sophisticated issues. In one passage, for example, author Ginjer Clarke discusses the fact that many immigrants were subjected to crude psychiatric evaluations, a process made more complicated by language barriers and different cultural norms for expressing grief and anger, while in another, Clarke spells out some of the reasons immigrants were deported back to their home countries.

If I had any criticism of the book, it’s that the text occasionally traffics in cliche; as a feature in the appendix readily demonstrates, people from “all over the world” did not immigrate to America at the beginning of the twentieth century, but mostly from Eastern Europe and the Mediterranean. Clarke does mention other important immigration centers around the country—among them Angel Island in San Francisco, where the majority of early Chinese and Japanese immigrants were processed—but it would have been nice to see the Eurocentricity of the Ellis Island experience addressed more explicitly. Still, that’s a very minor criticism of a book that, taken as a whole, is nuanced and thoughtful, the kind of text that should prompt some excellent classroom conversation among young readers.

Also on my reading list this week is Bat-Manga! The Secret History of Batman in Japan, a book I read when it was first released in 2008. I saw it at my local library last week, and decided to look at it again. (As you may remember, the book collects a group of rare Batman comics that were written by a Japanese artist in 1966.) I like the book as an art object; it’s filled with beautifully photographed Bat-paraphenalia, and it does a nice job of conveying the experience of reading the original comics, right down to the sidebars and advertisements. Many of the stories are fragments, however, which makes it a less-than-satisfying experience for someone who’s interested in reading them as comics. I also found the claims about the work’s quality and significance a little overblown; the stories are certainly fun—I love evil talking gorillas as much as the next gal—but the plot twists often feel arbitrary, driven more by the artist’s desire to draw a giant bug or robot than by something fundamental to the characters or storylines. Even though I’m glad that Chip Kidd did such a thoughtful job of preserving Jiro Kuwata’s vision, I didn’t have any trouble imagining why these comics were never collected after their original run in Shonen King.

Robin Brenner: I haven’t read a ton graphic novel-wise this week, but what I did read was enormous fun. I finally pulled off my to-read stack Solomon’s Thieves by Jordan Mechner with strong art from Alex Puvilland and LeUyen Pham. This title is being pitched as Ocean’s 11 with the Knights Templar (and really, who wouldn’t want to read that!?) and I must agree that this first volume is off to a rollicking start. Anything to do with the Templars is at once intriguing and likely to cause me to question the veracity of what I’m being told. The rumors, slander, and factual history about the Order are so muddled it’s hard to know what was ever true. This title does a nice job of side-stepping the more looney tunes speculations about Templars and concentrates instead on workaday members getting caught up by the vicious political and public turn against the Templars in 1307. A few lucky men escape the initial purge, and this volume follows them as they try to survive, looking for a way to reclaim their good name and finding other members in hiding. The series will eventually be about these unlikely heroes trying to relocate the famous Templar treasure and move it into safekeeping for when their wronged superiors can reclaim it, but this volume is all set up. I was happy with that—too often you’re thrown into a heist tale without any reason to care (beyond cleverness) whether the thieves succeed or not. Solomon’s Thieves takes its time to get you invested in these men, using the time-honored combination of empathy for their situation and amusing banter among them to win a reader over for what will be an action piece. What would Ocean’s 11 be without the charming old-married-couple teasing between George Clooney and Brad Pitt? So, if you’re in the mood for a period piece, a dash of actual history, lost loves with sassy ladies, a bit of torture, a bit of action, and the company of less than pious Templars who are nonetheless honorable sorts, this is for you. References to drinking, wenching, torture, and fighting all keep this an older teen to adult title, but thus far there’s been nothing worse than your average PG-13 action flick, so teens will be a strong audience for the title. I’ll have no problem putting it in my teen collection.

Lori Henderson: I’m back to catching up on One Piece. I read volume 44, which finishes up the fight at Enies Lobby. This volume is mostly the battle between Luffy and Rob Lucci, the leader of CP9. Even though Luffy wins the battle, they are surrounded by the Navy with seemingly no escape, until the last shipmate appears at the last moment to save them. The end of this volume made me tear up, as that same last shipmate is lost. It’s sad, but also very touching, in a way that only Eiichro Oda can do. It’s just another reason why One Piece is such a great series.

Mike Pawuk: I’m actually re-reading the entire Scott Pilgrim series of graphic novels in anticipation of the movie release of Scott Pilgrim vs. the World. It’s for older teens, but it’s a great series with strong, realistic characters that feel like your friends you should have known in college.

Brigid Alverson: I was lucky enough to get a galley of Jimmy Gownley’s new Amelia Rules book, True Things (Adults Don’t Want Kids to Know). He has done a perfect job of letting Amelia and her friends grow up just a little bit while staying true to the characters, and I’m enjoying it every bit as much as I enjoyed his earlier books. It seems like we’re seeing a bit more of the grownups in this book, but Amelia is still the true star of the stories, as she turns 11 and negotiates the perils of young romance and family feuds—and even a moment of nostalgia, when she sees a bunch of kids playing like she and Reggie and Pajamaman used to. The finished book is due out in October, and I can’t wait to see it.

Gabby & Gator is definitely aimed at a younger crowd—it’s the story of a misfit girl who makes friends with an out-of-place gator, and the art has a classic cartoon feel to it, sort of a Nickelodeon vibe. Both Gabby and the Gator are cute and engaging and not quite what you would expect. This is a thick book, but with just two or three panels to a page, it’s a quick read. I’m really enjoying watching the story unfold, and I think this will have a lot of kid appeal.

OK, that’s what we have been reading on the beach and by the pool—what are you reading this week?

Brigid Alverson About Brigid Alverson

Brigid Alverson, the editor of the Good Comics for Kids blog, has been reading comics since she was 4. She has an MFA in printmaking and has worked as a book editor and a newspaper reporter; now she is assistant to the mayor of Melrose, Massachusetts. In addition to editing GC4K, she writes about comics and graphic novels at MangaBlog, SLJTeen, Publishers Weekly Comics World, Comic Book Resources, MTV Geek, and Good Brigid is married to a physicist and has two daughters in college, which is why she writes so much. She was a judge for the 2012 Eisner Awards.

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