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The reading pile: What we are reading this week

As summer vacation winds down, it’s time to take a look at what books the Good Comics for Kids bloggers were tucking into their beach bags or dropping into the pool this week.

Kate Dacey: I recently finished The Sons of Liberty, a supernatural adventure set in the Revolutionary War era. The first in a projected series, Sons focuses on two runaway slaves who acquire super-strength after Benjamin Franklin’s son conducts a nasty experiment on them. As the boys learn how to control their powers, they quickly discover that everyone—including their friends and family—is terrified of them. It’s a nifty concept that’s ripe with possibilities, but the execution is wanting. The artwork is, at times, clumsy, with the characters’ appearance varying considerably from panel to panel, while the story is told in a choppy, disjointed fashion, relying too heavily on flashbacks to cohere into a satisfying narrative.

Though I thought the authors did a credible job rationalizing Benjamin Franklin’s inclusion in the story, there’s a lot of ahistoric silliness that didn’t sit as well with me. The goofiest, by far, is the authors’ take on Benjamin Lay, a real-life abolitionist who is depicted as a cave-dwelling expert in the martial art of dambe. The authors clearly did their homework, as the old abolitionist shows the boys a few of the strikes used in dambe matches, and wraps his hand in the same fashion as contemporary dambe fighters do, but the
authors felt the need to take things a step further by swathing their dambe fighters in ninja attire—a disappointing choice, considering how old and rich a tradition dambe is! I was also bothered by the fact that the boys’ mentor is an old white man; there’s a patronizing, “Dances With Wolves” vibe to these passages in which yet another noble white person shows a person of color what’s worthy about his or her culture.

On a more positive note, I just received the third volume of Twin Spica, a coming-of-age story about a teenage girl who wants to join Japan’s fledgling space program. As with volume two, there’s a lot less emphasis on training and a lot more emphasis on the characters’ personal lives. We learn why Asumi’s physics teacher loathes her, for example, and we also get a glimpse into Marika’s troubled home life, offering us some insight into her prickly, standoffish behavior. There’s also a lovely, self-contained story exploring Asumi’s friendship with a junior high classmate. Though the basic set-up is a familiar one, You Koginuma infuses the story with genuine feeling, making the story’s predictable ending surprisingly poignant. Bottom line: I’mstill bullish about Twin Spica, and can’t wait for volume four.

Esther Keller: This week, I enjoyed Adventures in Cartooning Activity Book which is a companion to Adventures in Cartooning. I liked that even though it was a tutorial, that covered a lot of the basics of the first book, this one offered a chance for the kids to try their own hand at it. Just when I started to get frustrated that there wasn’t enough for the kids to do to stretch their imaginations, I got to the end, where there were a slew of blank panels for kids to try their hand at their own story. I do wonder how libraries will handle this title… will they or should they ignore it?

I guess this was a First Second week, because I also read Brain Camp which is a bizarre camp story of two misfits who are forced by their parents to go to a camp where a lot of strange things are happening. Both kids get wind of something amiss rather quickly and are catapulted into a survival (of sorts) adventure. They have to figure out what’s going on, before they too are turned into zombie-like teens. I really want to re-read this one, because while I liked it, it just didn’t grab me in the way I expected. And yet, I can’t figure out why! I figure, another read, when I’m possibly in a different frame of mind, I’ll either like it better or figure out why I didn’t like it.

Finally, I read Resistance: Book 1—which actually reminded me again, not to judge a book by its cover! I didn’t expect this title to have any kid/teen appeal and it actually does. (But I think the cover will make it a difficult sell). It’s about a brother and sister living in France during WWII. Their father has been taken as a POW. Their mother has taken over a hotel for Jewish neighbors, so that the Nazis won’t take it from them. But when the Nazi’s come the parents of their young Jewish neighbor friend, Henri, is taken. Paul and Marie try to hide Henri and end up being caught up in the French Resistance movement. This was quite touching and poignant. It’s a story that’s very different than the ones normally told about WWII—and will allow readers to see another part of the Nazi destruction and the good bravery of people who lived during that time.

Lori Henderson: This week I ran the gamut of manga, reading books for kids, teens and adults. For kids, I read the most recent, and last volume, Legend of Zelda manga, The Phantom Hourglass. It was a lot of fun, and did a good job of translating a lot of its original video game elements into the story. The writing and cartoonish art makes it more appealing to a 12 and under crowd.

For teens, I read the first volume of <a href="">Mach GoGoGo: Speed Racer. I really liked the nostaligic feeling it gave, having been a fan of the TV series when it ran in the US. The manga kept all the goofy names from the TV series and the chapters were recreated scene for scene in it. But those same things disappointed me somewhat. I wanted to read a translation with the original characters names. While this won’t change the plot of the stories, it would change the tone, and not make it seem so goofy. I don’t really see teens picking this up as much as their parents would for the feeling of being a kid again.

For older teens and adults, I read Gente: The People of Ristorante Paradiso. It’s a collection of vignette stories about the male waiters from Natsume Ono’s manga Ristorante Paradiso. I haven’t read Ristorante Paradiso, but found I could still enjoy Gente, and I really did. The first few chapters show how the ristorante came together and came to have older gentlemen with glasses working there. Each chapter is a self contained stories and shows their personal lives. Ono’s art is a little unusual, but works very well.

Scott Robins: In the midst of moving, I read the first two books of the Good Neighbor series (Book #1 Kin and Book #2 Kith) written by Holly Black and illustrated by Ted Naifeh.The story follows Rue, a teenage girl who discovers that her mother is a member of the Faerie realm, meaning that she is also part fairy. While the first volume is a lot of narrative set-up, the second book is where the reader starts to see the dangers and consequences when the dark realms of Faerie mix with our own world. Naifeh delivers some really moody artwork here that really complements Black’s story. They were both enjoyable reads and I’m looking forward to seeing what happens in the third volume—the 2nd volume ends with a real cliffhanger!

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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