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Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Through Our Eyes

Here at the library, we're always trying to find ways to let everyone in the world know what we do and how we can help them.  That's why I was so excited when the Portland Main Street awarded a custom video to the library, to be used to promote our wonderful facility.  Eric Proctor from Quarterline Media created it, and he really captured all the things that I love about this place.  Have a look . . . 



Tuesday, July 21, 2015

A Bounty of Vegetables

As you all know, I'm a little bit obsessed with chefs, cooking, and cookbooks.  While I'm not usually a huge fan of Hugh Acheson, I find that I'm now a huge fan of his latest cookbook, The Broad Fork: Recipes for the Wide World of Vegetables and Fruits.  Acheson writes in a very casual, personal style, and the recipes look great.  If you have a garden that overproduces anything, if you have a CSA share where you sometimes get vegetables that you don't really recognize, or if you like to shop at the Farmer's Market and wish you could buy a greater variety of things, then this is the book for you.  There are recipes for zucchini, sunchokes, beets, apples, and more.  He even covers a vegetable called "salsify" that I've never heard of before!  None of the recipes seem too difficult to master, and there are a ton of photos to entice.  I highly recommend this new cookbook!


Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Graphic Novels: Rated G-PG


There is no denying that kids love graphic novels and they can be a great way to get reluctant readers excited about books. The problem with young readers is that a lot of graphic novels (and comic books) are, well, too graphic. Too much blood, too much violence, and way, way too much cleavage. Honestly, if a real woman tried to save the world wearing a comic book heroine costume she would fall on her face while trying to run in stilettos and die when a bustier wire perforated a lung.

There is, in fact, a huge array of graphic novels that are engaging and completely appropriate for elementary age kids.  The graphic novels below are just a few that I believe to be exceptional. Let me explain first that I did not include Batman, Superman, Star wars, or any other main stream graphic novels. Not saying that there are not good versions of these for kids, but I thought I would spend more time on ones that kids may not find on their own.

1. Giants Beware! by Jorge Aguirre and Rafael Rosado
Feisty and foolhardy Claudette craves adventure and danger beyond the confines of her boring village. What better way to prove her prowess as a warrior than by slaying a giant. Every hero needs sidekicks, though, so Claudette drags along her younger brother, Gaston, who prefers cooking to sword play; her best friend, want-to-be princess, Marie; and the aptly named pug, Valiant. 

I challenge any reader not to bust out laughing while reading the uproarious exploits of Claudette and her cohorts. Fortunately for readers Aguirre and Rosado just published the sequel, Dragons Beware!, in May 2015.



2. Binky the Space Cat by Ashley Spires
Binky may appear to be an ordinary house cat, but in reality (at least in Binky's reality) he is a fierce member of F.U.R.S.T. (Felines of the Universe Ready for Space Trave). Would such a heroic kitty live in a house in the suburbs? No, it is a space station and Binky must be dauntless in the battle against the alien horde (flies) that threatens the safety of his humans and the entire space station. Ashley Spires wry tales of a kitty with delusions of grandeur are fun for kids and adults of all ages.


3. Nathan Hale's Hazardous Tales by Nathan Hale
Believe it or not, if you give your child Nathan Hale's Hazardous Tales they will actually enjoy reading about history. I love it when I get to sneak something educational to my kids without them realizing it. I would have never imagined in a million years that my 11 year old son would read a biography about Harriet Tubman and like it!

The first book, One Dead Spy, introduces the reader to the illustrious hero of the American Revolution, Nathan Hale.  In case you have not noticed, Nathan Hale is also the name of the author and illustrator (he was named for his grandfather, James Nathan Hale). The first Nathan Hale was an American spy who is known for saying "I regret that I have but one life to give for my country" before being hanged by the British. In One Dead Spy, Nathan Hale (the dead one) is explaining to his executioner and the British soldier guarding him the events that led him to the gallows.

In the subsequent Hazardous Tales Nathan Hale  continues to divert his captors with fantastic stories of American history (or future from their point of view).  I do want to warn parents that even though Hale (the author) includes humor, he does not sugar coat history. There is violence, death, and blood; so I would not recommend the Hazardous Tales for children that are too young. If anything, plan on taking some time to discuss the events in the books with your kids.


4. Rapunzel's Revenge by Shannon and Dean Hale and illustrated by Nathan Hale
Wow, now we have a whole passel of Hales. Just so we have things straightened out Shannon and Dean Hale are married but Nathan Hale is not related to them. If you read any of the Hazardous Tales you know that Nathan Hale is a spectacular artist and his work in Rapunzel's Revenge is equally stunning. Shannon and Dean Hale are both amazing authors, but what Shannon Hale truly excels at is making strong female heroines.

The twisted fairy tale is currently all the rage in children's literature, but Rapunzel's Revenge is wonderfully unique. Who could ever imagine a steampunk Western version of Rapunzel in which the title character uses her trademark hair as a devastating weapon?

I know that Rapunzel's Revenge may seem like it is for girls considering it is about Rapunzel. This is not your Disney princess version of Rapunzel, though, and I promise that both boys and girls will love Rapunzel's Revenge and its sequel, Calamity Jack.


5. Smile, Drama, and Sisters by Raina Telgemeier
Ok,  Raina Telgemeier's graphic novels are definitely more girly. Not saying that boys would not enjoy the humor, but these books are more about relationships than action and adventure. Smile and Sisters are both semi-autobiographical and I can definitely empathize with the orthodontic drama young Raina faces in Smile, as well as, the sibling strife in Sisters. All of Telgemeier's books are funny, but they are also poignant and easy to relate to. 

For all of you Baby-Sitters Club fans Ann M. Martin and Raina Telgemeier are working together to reboot the popular 80s chapter books as a series of graphic novel series.

6. Cursed Pirate Girl by Jeremy Bastian
I am not going to go into too much detail about Cursed Pirate Girl since a while back I wrote an entire blog post about this extraordinary book.

Suffice it to say, Cursed Pirate Girl is a captivating story and the artwork will blow you away. My only complaint is that since Bastian's artwork is so intricate and he draws everything to scale it is taking him FOREVER to come out with a sequel. Oh well, I guess you just cannot rush perfection.



7. Lunch Lady by Jarret Kroscoczka
Have you ever wondered what the lunch lady does after an afternoon of serving chicken nuggets, tater tots, and diced peaches? Hector, Torrence, and Dee are also curious about the woman underneath the hairnet and apron. They soon discover that their lunch lady dishes out more than just lunch. She is a formidable crime fighter, who serves up defeat to villains everywhere. The Lunch Lady graphic novels by Jarret Kroscoczka are a campy thrill ride that kids will beg to read more of. 

I a huge fan of Kroscoczka's Lunch Lady graphic novels, as well as his Punk Farm picture books and his Platypus Police Squad chapter books. He is a talented and inspirational artist, but don't take my word for it. Watch his amazing TED talk here.
    





8. Apocolypse Bow Wow by James Proimos III

James Proimos may be better known for his Johnny Mutton graphic novels, but Apocalypse Bow Wow made me laugh so much I had to include it on this list. The story revolves around two pampered pooches, Apollo and Brownie, who wake up one day to discover that all of the humans have disappeared. There first challenge: How to get out of the house to go pee!

Now I have read several reviews of this book that complain about the fact that there is no explanation for the disappearance of mankind. Honestly, who cares? Apocalypse Bow Wow is not exactly fine literature or meant to be scientifically accurate. It is a graphic novel written for kids with an absurd plot and it is hysterical! Personally, I cannot wait for Apocalypse Meow Meow to come out in November 2015 so we can find out what happens to Brownie and Apollo on day 2 in the world without humans.


9.  Amulet by Kazu Kabuishi
Kazu Kabuishi has created some truly spellbinding graphic novels, but his Amulet series is my personal favorite. After the death of their father, Emily, Navin, and their mother move into their grandfather's dark and menacing home. A strange creature lures their mother through a mysterious door in the basement and Emily and Nevin will do anything to get her back. Even embark on a dangerous quest through an eerie underground world inhabited by robots, talking animals, and demons. If your child is easily scared the Amulet books are probably not a good choice. However, if they like things that are on the spooky side this is a spectacular series. Kibuishi injects such wonderfully creepy mood into every illustration and each one perfectly complements the action-packed story line.

Below are parts 1, 2, and 3 of an interview with Kazu Kibuishi in which he discusses the Amulet series, as well as, why and how he became a graphic novelist.










 


 














10. Mal and Chad by Stephen McCranie
Mal is a lab coat wearing genius whose best friend is is his talking dog, Chad. What more do I need to say? The Mal and Chad graphic novels are just goofy fun for kids that want something a little bit easier to read. McCranie's illustrations are bright and appealing and the story lines are silly, but inventive.





11. Missile Mouse by Jake Parker
Imagine that Buck Rogers is furry with big ears and a tail and you have Missile Mouse. This is another graphic novel series that is sure to appeal to countless young readers. The full-color graphics are incredibly engaging and since I am a Star Trek/Star Wars geek I love the sci-fi story lines.










12. Eek & Ack by Blake Hoena
More sci-fi, HOORAY!!!!  Eek and Ack are two squabbling alien brothers who have a talent for getting into trouble. Hmmm, sounds like my boys (except for the alien part, even though, I sometimes wonder about that too).  The duo from the Great Goo Galaxy zoom around in a spaceship they built out an old washing machine. More than once, they attempt to conquer planet earth, but things never quite turn out the way they plan them. Earthlings put dirty laundry in their space ship, they accidentally go to Pluto instead of Earth, they get sucked into a black hole, etc. Eek & Ack graphic novels are perfect for beginning readers that may feel intimidated by anything too long and wordy. 


13. Star Wars Jedi Academy by Jeffrey Brown
I know, I know! I said that I was not going to give you Star Wars and here it is. Star Wars Jedi Academy is far-removed form the original story of the Rebel Alliance battling the evil Empire. Also, this series is not your traditional graphic novel. Somewhat similar to the Diary of a Wimpy Kid books, Brown uses comics, doodles, journal entries, and letters to tell the hilarious misadventures of Padawan Roan Novachez.

Young Roan Novachez is not sure whether he should be excited or terrified when he is invited by Master Yoda to attend the Coruscant Jedi Academy. Anything has to be better than Agricultural School on Tattoine, though, right? Roan faces all of the typical middle school problems: talking with girls, making new friends, avoiding the school bully, etc. However, Jedi Academy is not just any middle school. Where else would your gym teacher be a wookie; the cafeteria serves traditional Gamorrean mushroom, liver, and eyeball recipes; and it is against the rules to use the force in a soccer game?

Some of you may recognize the name and style of Jeffrey Brown from his satirical Star Wars books for adults. These ridiculously funny books are a must have for every Star Wars fan. Darth Vader and Son and Vader's Little Princess make awesome Father's Day gifts if your husband is a Star Wars geek like mine.