Calvin & Hobbes & Blog Reviews

My seven year old, a second-grader, is a mover and a shaker. Oh, sure, he likes his art projects and his Legos, but most sedentary activities are not high on his list of priorities. Our water bill and the miniature canyons in the flower beds ("Mom! I made a river!") give evidence of the elaborate engineering projects that he favors over homework during the after-school hours. (I am considering getting a rain barrel, so that he will have his own reservoir of cost-free h2O.)

One homework requirement is 15 minutes of reading each day at home. After his waterways experiments, Junior enjoyed reading picture books, particularly with his dad or me or his grandmothers, but he was not a bookworm. Until Calvin & Hobbes. I remembered a mention of Bill Watterson's comic-strips about the boy and his toy tiger; Camille, over at the blog Boot Moot, recommended them some time back. ("It continually amazes me that guys and girls cannot remember their multiplication tables but can recite entire pages of Calvin & Hobbes dialog and strips from memory.")

I found a C & H compilation at Junior's school library and left it out for him stumble upon. (To judge from its raggedy cover, I see it's one of the school's more well-loved volumes.) Upon discovery of this treasure, Junior sat down and read for an hour and a half.  He'd seen and liked the comic before, but he really claimed this one as his own. Although I kept my elation to myself, I was thrilled that he found something he loved enough to read independently. An hour and a half: I almost fainted. Anyway.

Camille's recommendation, part of a post called "Books That Guys Love," is something that I wouldn't have found in the book review section of a newspaper. After all, Watterson stopped writing the comic almost twelve years ago. Book review sections consider new titles—ones that adult reviewers think will appeal (or not) to children. I understand that; it's what I do in my reviews of new books, too. Camille, a school librarian, knows which books get checked out over and over; children talk to her about what they like and don't like. That valuable perspective is one of the many ways in which blog reviews supplement reviews in the mainstream media. I am grateful—and so is the local bookstore. After discovering such a great book, Junior needed a copy of his own, of course.


Coming-of-Age Titles, "Kimchi & Calamari," New Authors, Adult Beverages

You'll see her bylines from Booklist to Bookslut, where she reviews young adult titles. Colleen Mondor's most recent column at the latter considers "Boys and Comics."

At her own blog, Chasing Ray, Colleen is gathering recommendations for coming-of-age novels. Scoot on over and see the list so far, and make a suggestion. It doesn't matter what year the book was published.

I added to the roster Kimchi & Calamari, which comes out in April. Keep your eyes out for this wonderful book by Rose Kent, who very kindly sent me an advance copy. Here's what I told Colleen:

The novel, for 9 to 12 year olds, tells the story of 14-year-old Joseph, who was born in Korea and adopted as a baby by an Italian American family. Using a lot of humor and compassion, Rose Kent relates Joseph's struggles with identity (and his growing relationship with his adoptive father) with the ease of an old pro. An impressive first novel—and lots of fun.

Rose Kent belongs to the Class of 2k7 posse of children's and YA authors with first books coming out in 2007. Hats off to the Class and their smart idea to band together and utilize the marketing power of the Internet. Many of the group will join Newbery judge Betsy Bird and others at Kidlit Drink Night in NYC this Friday. For details, see  A Fuse #8 Production.

A big Society of Children's Book Writers & Illustrators confab takes place in NYC this coming weekend. I know we'll get some updates from the many bloggers in attendance.


Mid-Week Coffee Break

Some fun places to visit this Wednesday morning:


Girls & Comics

Girls read comic books? Do tell. Or as Read Roger says about a certain comic-book honcho's comments, "News Flash: Girls Are Smart." I had to laugh. I'm talking about an article in today's New York Times on girls and comics, specifically DC Comics' upcoming new line, Minx. Cecil Castellucci (one of the YA authors gone wild at NCTE) gets a prominent mention for her new graphic novel, The P.L.A.I.N. Janes.


Manga! A Guest Column by TangognaT

Fond of a good palindrome, the blogger known as TangognaT is the author of the first library blog I ever read. I've been a fan ever since.  TangognaT writes frequently about manga, graphic novels, and comics, all wildly popular with children. I am so happy that TangognaT is Monday's guest columnist. Take it away, T.!  —Susan

*****
It can be difficult to find good comic books and graphic novels for children aged 12 and under. Fortunately several publishing companies have recently started comic and graphic novel lines aimed at young readers. I’ll present several short reviews of kid-friendly comics from a variety of publishers.

Tokyopop

Tokyopop started a series of “Manga Readers,” short works that are to regular manga what chapter books are to novels. All the books are produced originally in English; they are not translations of manga titles previously published in Japan. The line is rated for children from ages 8 to 12. Two of the inaugural manga reader titles are:

Kat and Mouse: Teacher Torture, by Alex de Campi and Federica Manfredi.  Kat relocates to New Hampshire when her father accepts a job as a science teacher at a boarding school. Most of the kids at her new school seem stupid and stuck-up, but she quickly becomes friends with Mouse, a fellow “cool nerd." When someone starts sabotaging the science classroom, Kat and Mouse use their skills to unravel the mystery. The art is very appealing and de Campi writes her characters with a great sense of humor, making Kat and Mouse a fun read for any kid who enjoys a detective story.

Zapt! by Shannon Denton, Keith Giffen, and Armand Villavert, Jr.  Although Armand is bullied and picked on at school, his life takes a turn for the extraterrestrial when he is suddenly warped out of the school bathroom and into the headquarters of the Pan-Galactic Order Of Police where he is inducted as a new recruit. Will he survive space pirates and giant robots? How can he work for an organization named P.O.O.P? Will he be able to get back to Earth before he misses school picture day? Zapt! is funny and features plenty of action.

The web site for Tokyopop’s Kids Manga is http://www.tokyopop.com/kidsmanga/

Graphix

Scholastic’s Graphix imprint features graphic novels based on popular series like The Baby-Sitters Club and Goosebumps. Graphix is also the new home of Jeff Smith’s Bone and a new series by Chynna Clugston called Queen Bee.

Bone, by Jeff Smith. Bone is a long running fantasy series that was originally issued in black and white. The Scholastic editions feature new colored artwork. The cousins Fone Bone, Smiley Bone & Phoney Bone get lost in a new world and quickly get caught up in an epic struggle of good and evil. Along the way they meet a princess, rat creatures, a dragon, and a mighty strong grandma. Jeff Smith’s art is reminiscent of classic cartoonists like Walt Kelley and Carl Barks. Kids who enjoy epic fantasy will be captivated by Bone.

Queen Bee, by Chynna Clugston. Queen Bee is set in one of the most treacherous environments known to mankind—middle school. When Haley transfers to a new school, she decides to leave her nerdy image behind. She decides to study how to be popular, and becomes one of the trendiest girls at her new school. But whenever she gets upset, objects around her move because she doesn’t have good control over her power of psychokinesis. When a new girl named Alexa starts becoming more popular than Haley, she doesn’t know what to do. Queen Bee has slapstick comedy, manga-influenced art, and retro pop cultural references.

Goosebumps. This book features three adaptations of previously published R.L. Stine novels. So, the plots are exactly what you’d expect from a graphic novel called Goosebumps. One of the things I appreciated about this title is the selection artists with wide-ranging styles showcased the versatility of black and white comics. Not having the comics in color actually made them look more moody and atmospheric.

The web site for Graphix is http://www.scholastic.com/graphix/

First Second

First Second is a new graphic novel line from Henry Holt and Roaring Brook Press. It just launched recently, but it is clear that their graphic novels have wonderful production values and great artistic merit. First Second graphic novels are targeted at a variety of age ranges and several of their books are meant for young readers.

Sardine in Outer Space, by Emmanuel Guibert and Joann Sfar. Sardine travels through space on the ship Huckleberry with her piratical Uncle Yellowshoulder and her friend Little Louie. They frequently run into the villain Supermuscleman and manage to beat him every time. Other adventures include a visit to the disco planet and the dreaded No-Child-Left-Behind-School-II. The illustrations are colorful and filled with whimsy. Kids will enjoy all the extra details in the art, which features plenty of ooze, aliens, and parrots wearing sunglasses.

The web site for First Second is http://www.firstsecondbooks.com

I hope that this mini-tour of kid friendly comics has given you some new ideas to add to your reading list!

*****

Absolutely. Thanks a million for being a guest columnist!


Guest Column No. 2 by Pooja Makhijani

Editor's note: I am so pleased to run this column by Pooja Makhijani. In May, Pooja shared the terrific "South Asian Stories to Tell" with readers here. Welcome back to Chicken Spaghetti! Susan

India Ink
A Guest Column by Pooja Makhijani

A few months ago, Susan and I exchanged comments on her post "Comics Classic." I urged her to find the Amar Chitra Katha (ACK) version of the Hindu epic The Mahabharata wherever she could. Luckily, thanks to the wonder that is the interlibrary loan, Susan was able to score a copy through her local library.

Like many Indian-American children, ACK was my first introduction to the myths, history, and folktales of my parents' native India. Though far from perfect, the comics made the convoluted plotlines of the Mahabharata and Ramayana easier to follow. They introduced me to historical figures such as the Rani of Jhansi, Akbar, and Rabindranath Tagore. They brought the Panchatantra—a collection of Sanskrit fables exported to western Europe through travelers via Persia, Arabia, and Greece—to life in my suburban American home.

I outgrew my ACK books when I was 10 or 12. By then, I had graduated to Wonder Woman and X-Men. I was also ready and interested in exploring the moral complexity of the Mahabaratha and Ramayana and began reading more "adult" versions of those tales.

o o o o o

Earlier this year, new-age kook guru Deepak Chopra, filmmaker Shekhar Kapoor (best-known for Cate Blanchett-starrer Elizabeth), and Sir Richard Branson joined creative forces to form Virgin Comics, whose mission is "to create original stories and characters that tap into the vast library of mythology and reinvent the rich... narratives of India."

The new comic line launched three imprints this summer—Shakti, Director's Cut, and Voices. Shakti, loosely translated as "female power" or "female force," focuses on re-imagining myths from the Indian Subcontinent. Director's Cut is a collaboration between comics writers, artists, and famous filmmakers. Voices is a collaboration between Virgin Comics and "iconic mavericks" or "masters in their own fields... that have something to offer the world of graphic fiction." Virgin alerts us to keep our eyes peeled for "the man everyone considers the best-kept secret in the creative arts" and a "certain pop icon" to show us their comic book skills. (Madonna, is that you?)

Wow! 

And was I excited when I received Issue #0 in the mail, which featured excerpts from two of the comic series in the Shakti line—Devi and Ramayan Reborn

Devi literally means "goddess" and is the story of a goddess reborn as a young woman who fights crime in modern Sitapur, a town in northern India. The comic hit shelves in early July and has sold more than 10,000 copies, according to Virgin Comics and Animation. Devi is one cool chick. The black-leather-clad superhero is busty, goth, and extremely fair-skinned for the average Indian woman. Here, why don't you take a look at Devi. A cross between Angelina Jolie and The Most Beautiful Woman in the World, Aishwarya Rai, maybe? 

Ramayan Reborn (FYI, the epic is referred to as "Ramayan" and "Ramayana") is the relaunch of one of Hinduism's central narratives. The series will land in bookstores and libraries in September. The original Ramayan chronicles the fourteen-year exile of Prince Rama, an incarnation of the Hindu god Vishnu, and his defeat of the evil demon, Ravana. The Virgin version takes place in a post-apocalyptic world and describes Rama's quest to recover Earth's most precious element from Ravana. The excerpt I read is beautiful, heart-wrenching, and intriguing; I will definitely pick up Issue #1 next month.

Shakti and Director's Cut also launched several other series that use India as their inspiration: Sadhu, Snakewomen, and Vetaal: The First Vampire. Shakti plans to release ten additional stories in 2007. 

o o o o o 

The most obvious difference between the ACK comics of my childhood and these slicker versions is the art. The ACK art is, to me, quite traditionally Indian. It often reminds me of a ubiquitous form of color, line, and type found in contemporary India on everything from shop counters to calendars to roadside signs. The Virgin comics use what I associate with modern superhero comic book conventions: dark and psychologically complex characters, varied panel angles, and complex montages. However, like ACK, Virgin's art is seeped in Indian and Hindu motifs and iconography. Check out these panels.

These comics aren't for the youngest readers, of course. And those expecting faithful adaptations should look elsewhere. Ramayan Reborn is not for the mythology-phile trying to get a grasp of the original text; it's for the comic book fan open to an reinterpretation. Check them out. I was pleasantly surprised with what I saw. (An aside: The Ramayana has become a controversial text; it is both a flashpoint and touchstone for Hindu fundamentalists. To that end, Virgin has included a disclaimer on the material they sent me: "Ramayan Reborn is a reinvention of the Ramayan in every way. There is no intention to faithfully recreate the original text. Our goal is to tell a whole new story by springboarding off the original that we love so much, with respect and admiration." Such a disclaimer is not included with the art and text of Devi.)

o o o o o

*Sigh.* All this chat of comic books is making me nostalgic. I haven't looked at my hard-bound, plastic-covered ACK version of the Ramayana in years. Now I want to call home and have my mother dig it out.

Pooja Makhijani is the editor of Under Her Skin: How Girls Experience Race in America, an anthology of essays that explores the complex ways in which race shapes American lives and families. Her first picture book, Mama's Saris, is forthcoming. She maintains a frequently updated online bibliography of South Asian youth literature.


Comics Classic

While remembering "Amar Chitra Katha," an old Indian comic book series, Sepia Mutiny's Neeraja Viswanathan (no relation to you know who) calls for a good comics version of the Mahabharatha. I once had a chance to attend a nine-hour Mahabharatha play in Brooklyn, but chickened out at the last minute. A comic book, though? That I could handle.

Props to Mitali Perkins for mentioning the group blog Sepia Mutiny.

Update: thanks to a suggestion from Pooja Makhijani in the comments, I found the ACK Mahabharatha at a library a few towns away, and it's available by interlibrary loan. Amazing.