This is one of those weeks where I don’t have a nicely themed stack of books to present to you, but I do have a wild assortment of books that never quite fit into a themed category: some comic books, a little bit of fiction, and a picture book or two. Some have been out for a long time, and some are coming to stores soon. Enjoy this grab bag!
This picture book pays homage to hard-boiled detective stories with a pigeon detective who’s recruited by a little bird to investigate birds going missing all over town. He doesn’t want to take the case, but the kid is convincing—but where will the clues lead? The book includes some fun puns and really adorable illustrations. We enjoyed McLaren’s previous book, Rabbit Magic, and this one’s also delightful. If you like bird puns and those old “Tracer Bullet” sequences from Calvin & Hobbes, you’ll enjoy this one.
Turtle decides it’s time for a change, so he decorates his shell … and then goes a little overboard. It starts with just a fresh coat of paint, but then he builds a deck (“just to use up the extra paint”), and before you know it, he’s built an entire village on the back of his shell. It reminds me of any sort of house renovation: my sister just got the tile replaced in her bathroom shower and floor, and then realized that the new tile makes the cabinets look shabby. Of course, if you replace the cabinets, then the sink and toilet are going to look old … and you know how that goes.
In this picture book, though, a host of creatures from all over the world discover the new town as Turtle is sleeping and they move in, bringing cheer and friendship to Turtle. It’s a cute story and an imaginative tale of creativity.
Okay, despite the fact that I personally fear allowing glitter into my home because you can never completely clean it up, I was charmed by this glittertastic picture book. In rhyming verse, it promotes the sparkly stuff as the cure for everything from boring walls to bored kids: just add glitter! (Though, fortunately, it does admit that there is such a thing as too much glitter—it’s just a much higher threshold than I’m comfortable with.)
The illustrations are pretty amazing: they feature photographs of paper cut-out scenes and characters covered in glitter, and many of the images also have actual, sparkly glitter embedded on the pages. Luckily, it seems to be glued on pretty well, so you can feel the texture but I don’t think it’ll rub off and start a glitter infection. It’s the perfect book for the sparkliest kid in your life.
The International Society of Writers of Odd and Weird are tired of boring stories: stories about bedtime and fuzzy kittens and bear cubs and birthdays. And, of course, adorable bunnies. Miss Mole, Giraffe-Necked Weevil, Babirusa, and Yeti Crab are meeting to workshop their story ideas about the fierce Princess Babirusa and her trusted advisors, battling humongous grape monsters, and they’re not at all interested in the bunny who shows up with her notebook. As each character shares their parts of the stories, they’re illustrated in little speech bubbles.
As it turns out, of course, this bunny is also not interested in boring stories, but it takes some convincing before the other writers are ready to accept her. It’s a fun book that gets kids thinking about the types of stories (and the types of animals) that we often see in picture books, and also shares a little peek into how writers can collaborate on telling stories together.
Dana Simpson is now well-known for Phoebe and Her Unicorn, a wonderful comic book series that reminds me a bit of Calvin & Hobbes. (You’ve probably seen several of the books mentioned in previous Stack Overflows.) But before Phoebe and Marigold Heavenly Nostrils appeared on the scene, Simpson got her start with Ozy and Millie, a webcomic that eventually ran for 10 years.
This book collects some of those strips, newly colorized, with an eye to introducing the characters to a new audience (and omitting some dated references). Ozy and Millie live in a world of talking animals (they’re both foxes), but they’re also fifth grade kids dealing with things like bullies, being cool, and so on. Although it’s not as polished as Phoebe and Her Unicorn, the strips are still a lot of fun. I particularly liked the segments featuring Ozy’s adoptive father, who’s a dragon.
This book may as well be the centerpiece of today’s Stack Overflow: it’s exactly what the title says. Mike Lowery (who has also illustrated things like Mac B., Kid Spy) just likes to keep a sketchbook where he jots down doodles about random things that he learns about, and this book is a collection of about two hundred pages of them. They’re roughly divided up into categories, like facts about sleeping, or historical facts, or food—though there’s no table of contents, so you’ll just have to flip through it anyway. There are fun little cartoons and doodles to go along with the factoids, and it’s the sort of book you can just pick up and leaf through to learn a fun bit of trivia whenever you feel like it.
For instance, here’s a weird fact: before rubber erasers, people used balled-up bread!
Sanity and Tallulah are two young girls who live on a space station—and they’re a bit too smart for their own good. Sanity secretly breeds a three-headed kitten (illegally) using her lab skills, and the girls name her Princess Sparkle, Destroyer of Worlds … and then she escapes. Meanwhile, the space station starts having a lot of strange electrical issues, and the station directory (who also happens to be Sanity’s dad) thinks that her experiment is responsible.
This comic book is a great introduction to these spunky girls. I like that, wrapped around the sci-fi adventure story, there are also some interesting family dynamics, depicting some of the difficulties and blessings of dealing with gifted kids. Looks like a second book is expected in October this year.
I haven’t ever actually watched Star vs. the Forces of Evil—in fact, I hadn’t even heard of the show before this book arrived on my doorstep. So I wasn’t entirely invested in it when I started flipping through it just to see what it was about. What I found, though, was a pretty engaging and entertaining look at a world of spell-casting princesses (and one prince), who recorded their histories and spells in this tome.
The book is designed to be an artifact of the world: Sir Glossaryck of Terms, who lives inside the book, gives a brief introduction. It’s passed from queen to princess, and each one introduces herself with a portrait and poem, then describes her wand, and then fills a few pages with whatever they want. Some sections are like journal entires; some are filled with doodles; there’s even a chapter that is mostly recipes. Most of them include at least a few spells, and there’s also a lot that is written in another language for you to decipher.
Throughout the book, there are scribblings in the margins from Star, the main character from the show, made as she read through the book before her own entry concludes the book. From what I can tell, most of what’s in the book (other than Star’s own section) is back-story rather than depicting what happens in the show, but it fleshes out the world and is a lot of fun to explore. The back of the book even has some template pages for you to fill out for yourself, as the current owner of the book.
On a more serious note, here’s a graphic novel for teens that isn’t easy to read, but can spark conversations about a difficult subject. Alfonso Jones is excited about his school’s upcoming hip-hop Hamlet, because he’s going to be in the starring role—but then he’s shot by a police officer in a case of mistaken identity. The story doesn’t end there, though: Alfonso wakes up as a ghost, riding a train along with other (real) victims of police shootings, who show him their stories. Meanwhile, Alfonso’s friends and family try to get justice for Alfonso while they grieve for their senseless loss.
The tragic story of young black men being shot and killed by police is, alas, far too common, and this graphic novel tackles the topic enthusiastically. It doesn’t shy away from painful truths, but it also doesn’t pretend that things aren’t sometimes complicated. Although Alfonso is a fictional character, his story—both before and after his death—ring true, accompanied up by the accounts of real situations that ended with needless death.
This volume kicks off a planned graphic novel trilogy about Nina Overstreet, a singer-songwriter trying to make her way in New York in the 1960s. Then she meets Nick Ladd, an ex-FBI agent working to flush out undercover Nazis in America, and he thinks Nina’s music career could be the perfect cover for traveling around the country. It’s a story with a lot of uncertain loyalties—Nick’s partner doesn’t believe Nina’s up to the task, and although Nina is on board with the mission, she still wants to find real success with her music, too.
The book includes lyrics to Nina’s songs, as well as short “recommended listening” lists before each chapter that include one of her songs and a couple of actual songs from that era, to help set the tone of the book. If you like music and post-War spy action, you may want to check this one out.
Last month I shared an excerpt from Here and Now and Then, and mentioned just a little about the premise: Kin Stewart is a secret agent who travels back in time to prevent people from messing with the timeline. But then he gets shot while attempting to capture a criminal, and his retrieval beacon is damaged—the gizmo that lets the Temporal Corruption Bureau pull him back to the future after his mission is done. Stuck in the past (our present day), Kin eventually gives up hope of rescue and starts a new life, falling in love, getting married, and raising a daughter.
And then the TCB finally finds brings him home, but at this point Kin has been married nearly two decades and has a teenage daughter, Miranda. He’s not ready to return to his old life—in fact, his brain has erased much of his memory of his own past, and he has to relearn a lot about living in the 22nd century, including all of his friends and family, for whom he’s only been gone for a couple of weeks. They don’t know that he’s lived 18 years of his life in the interim, just that there was some sort of accident that caused his aged appearance and memory problems.
It’s a great setup, this tension between two lives, particularly Kin’s connection to his daughter and his worries about what happens to her if he suddenly just vanishes from her life without a word. But communicating with her puts him even more in violation of the TCB’s protocols, because technically Miranda shouldn’t even exist. His desire to maintain a relationship with her actually puts her in danger.
The time travel in the book does get a little hand-wavy, and while they do bring up things like the grandfather paradox, it’s never made entirely clear whether it’s an actual paradox or if it’s just something the TCB bigwigs have decided is policy—so that’s a clever bit of sidestepping by the author there. My main complaint is hard to explain without giving spoilers, but it has to do with the problem of Kin having two relationships, one in the past and one in the future. Still, despite those complaints, I did enjoy the book, in part because I’m a dad and I could empathize with Kin’s emotions as he wrestled with his dilemma. It was a fun use of time travel, and if this were ever made into a movie, I’d want to see it.
My Current Stack
Just recently I’ve been plowing through the Last Kids on Earth series by Max Brallier (with illustrations by Douglas Holgate). I’ve had them for a while, since the series started in 2015, but just had never gotten around to them. The fourth book in the series was released this past fall, and I decided to go ahead and check them out. It’s about a post-apocalyptic world with zombies and monsters … and a kid named Jack Sullivan who thinks he’s some sort of hero. (Plus his friends.) It’s fun—I’ll tell you about it soon.
Disclosure: I received review copies or advance proofs of these books.