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The Reading Pile – May 23

The Reading Pile is back this week with an eclectic assortment of titles that run the gamut from video-game tie-ins (Mega Man) to fairy-tale spoofs (Beauty and the Squat Bears) to sports manga (Cross Game). As always, we encourage you to join the discussion by telling us what kid- and teen-friendly titles are on your night stand.

ESTHER: This week, I got a bit of reading done. First, I read the inaugural issue of Mega Man which is being put out by Archie Comics. I’m not very familiar with the video game, but I did enjoy the comic. It was very much a set-up issue. After being shut out of the announcements of the Master Robots, Dr. Wiley (who bears a resemblance to Albert Einstein), tinkers with the inventions and has them attack innocent civilians. No one can stop them, except one robot. I think the best description for this comic: fun! I had fun reading it. I know that my middle school readers will enjoy the series.

I also read Mike Towsend’s Amazing Greek Myths of Wonder and Blunders. With Greek Mythology being so popular, this is the perfect comic, because it doesn’t take anything too seriously. The artwork was a perfect match to the tone of the storytelling. The stories are quite familiar. There’s “King Midas and the Midas Touch,” for example. (I never knew this story was rooted in Greek Mythology! And I always thought he had turned his daughter to gold!) There was “Pandora’s Box” and the story of Hercules as well as many others, some familiar and some not so familiar. This was a really enjoyable read, but can also be a great curriculum tie-in.

BRIGID: I read the first Garfield graphic novel from Papercutz this week. It’s the first in a new series that is based not on the newspaper strip but on the animated cartoon that was based on the newspaper strip. The basic ingredients are still there—greedy Garfield, clueless Jon, lasagna—but they have been made into longer stories rather than gag strips. The stories are not brilliant, just variations on the Garfield themes (Garfield is lazy, Garfield likes to eat, Jon is clueless), and the CGI art is gaudy in the extreme, but when I showed this to a fifth-grade classroom a couple of months ago they thought it was awesome, and I can see where it has kid appeal. It will probably not be of interest to anyone over 10, though, with the exception of hard-core Garfield fans.

Also on my stack, although Snow has already reviewed it, is Emile Bravo’s Beauty and the Squat Bears. It’s hard to believe anyone could make the twisted-fairy-tales thing fresh and new, but Bravo’s deft line and smart-alecky humor do the trick. This story starts out more or less like Snow White, but it quickly piles up with bears and princes and a fed-up fairy godmother. There are plenty of allusions to other fairy tales, and the humor works well for both kids and grownups. This is a beautiful book, too, hardcover and brightly colored, and it would make a great gift for a kid who likes a good laugh.

EVA: Back in April, while attending WonderCon, I had the opportunity to talk with Alexis Fajardo about his Kid Beowulf series. Lex was kind enough to give me a copy of the second book in the series, Kid Beowulf and the Song of Roland. I’ve been saving it up, hoping for a big enough chunk of time to get it all read in one sitting, but I don’t think I can wait any longer. I appreciate a well-retold classic and, if Esther’s review of volume one is anything to go by, this book should have what I’m looking for.

KATE: I finished a couple of books on my stack. The first is Agonizing Love: The Golden Era of Romance Comics, an anthology of classic romance comics from the 1940s and 1950s. The story titles alone make it a fun read — “With Hate in My Heart,” “Kisses Came Second” — but author Michael Barson has gone out of way to round up vintage covers, quizzes, and letters to the editor, giving contemporary readers a better feel for what it was like to leaf through a copy of Brides Romances or Romantic Marriage. I don’t know if this will have much teen appeal, though I could see handing it to a hardcore Harlequin fan.

The other title on my to-do list this weekend was Mitsuru Adachi’s Cross Game, a shonen manga about two teenagers struggling to honor a friend’s dying wish. Despite the premise, Adachi’s story isn’t the least bit mawkish; it’s funny and warm, populated by memorable characters who are, to varying degrees, besotted with baseball. Two years of living next door to Fenway Park soured me on baseball, but I found Cross Game‘s game-play just as dramatic and compelling as the off-field action. I also adored lead character Aoba, who’s the kind of smart, tough, and talented heroine that young female athletes will be able to relate to. (And man, does she have a pitching arm!) Librarians wanting to know more about this series may want to visit The Panelists, where writer/artist/librarian Derik Badman is hosting a week-long discussion of the series.

Katherine Dacey About Katherine Dacey

Katherine Dacey has been reviewing comics since 2006. From 2007 to 2008, she was the Senior Manga Editor at PopCultureShock, a site covering all aspects of the entertainment industry from comics to video games. In 2009, she launched The Manga Critic, where she focuses primarily on Japanese comics and novels in translation. Katherine lives and works in the Greater Boston area, and is a musicologist by training.

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