Cybils Review: SOUPY LEAVES HOME by Cecil Castellucci and Jose Pimienta

Synopsis: Graphic novels lend themselves to telling a wide variety of stories, and Soupy Leaves Home is one of those that helps push the boundaries of the medium, bringing us a story of intrepid, valiant underdogs and misfits made good. It’s also a historical piece, set in 1932, in the heyday (if you can call it that) of the hobo lifestyle—when hobos were not just vagrants, but train-hopping rovers, down on their luck but riding the rails here and there to find work and their next meal. (Thanks, Herbert Hoover.)

Our narrator Pearl has run away from an abusive home life to try to find a new existence, and when she stumbles on a hobo camp she takes on a new identity: Soupy, a young boy new to the hobo life. An older hobo named Ramshackle takes Soupy under his wing, and they continue their journey Westward together. They might not have much food or shelter, but they share what they do have…and both have their secret hidden baggage that needs to be dealt with if they want to reach a satisfying end to their ramblings.

Observations: Running away to find yourself is a timeless topic and one that has enduring reader appeal—I was immediately drawn into the idea of Pearl leaving a difficult home life for a life on the road. Also, there is a certain romanticism to the old-style hobo way of life depicted in this book. It provides an inside look at a lesser-known cultural lifestyle of the time period (including a glossary of hobo signs!), and the difficulties of the Depression that forced so many onto the road.

Beyond the historical elements, this one is also thematically strong; themes of empowerment and redemption are woven throughout the book, focused as it is on characters who lack social and economic power for a variety of reasons. The characters are intriguing and sympathetic, particularly the Pearl, who learns the meaning of friendship and how to rely on her own wits to survive—not simply blindly believing in others’ judgments.

I loved the art style and judicious use of color in this one—it manages to be both stark and whimsical in equal measure, with a lot of fun little hidden drawings that make it rewarding to explore slowly and re-read.

Conclusion: It’s clear why Soupy Leaves Home ended up on the Cybils shortlist for 2017. The timeless story of journeying to find oneself, along with the intriguing historical backdrop, make for an appealing combination.


I received my copy of this book courtesy of my library. You can find SOUPY LEAVES HOME by Cecil Castellucci and Jose Pimienta at an online e-tailer, or at a real life, independent bookstore near you!

Source: Finding Wonderland

March Flicktion Tuesday Challenge

I missed February’s challenge, but things are a little less busy this month, so I managed to write something in response to the prompt Tanita posted over at Finding Wonderland–everyone’s welcome to participate and post a link to the results! Mine somehow ended up being a bit dark…

20131213_DSC8849.jpg

“What are you doing?” I lunged after Laurie as she stepped off the curb, the side of her high-heeled boot slipping down the edge and making her stumble. She laughed even harder and then bullfrog-jumped into the middle of the Brockton-Mendoza highway, waving her arms.

“What, Josh, are you scared?” she yelled.

I blinked. It was a two-lane road, but still, she had to be crazy. A car whipped past in the far lane, honking and Laurie screamed, still laughing, as her hat flew off into the hay field on the opposite side of the road.

“Jesus, God, what the hell–?” I couldn’t stop swearing. I could see the faint beams of headlights growing brighter in the twilight, a car turning the corner from the other direction. Laurie was barely visible in her dark coat; I could just see her short honey-colored hair as an amber blur. My stomach dropped down to somewhere near my balls. I had no idea how fast the car might be making that turn. Before I even made a conscious decision, my feet were hitting the pavement, my stupid tread-less dress shoes almost sliding out from under me as I scrabbled toward Laurie and managed to grab hold of her arm, pulling her after me to the opposite shoulder.

I rested my hands on my knees, trying to reckon with what had just happened.

Laurie let out a theatrical sigh. She’d had so much vodka her breath smelled like rubbing alcohol. “Why can’t you let me have any fun? God.”

For a moment, I thought she was laughing again, but when I looked up, tears were running down her cheeks.

Cybils Review: PASHMINA by Nidhi Chanani

Synopsis: This was such a charming, delightful story about the many questions that come up for kids whose families have in some way crossed cultures. I found a lot to relate to personally here, as the daughter of an immigrant from India/Pakistan. I also really enjoyed the fantastical twist. From the jacket copy:

Priyanka Das has so many unanswered questions: Why did her mother abandon her home in India years ago? What was it like there? And most importantly, who is her father, and why did her mom leave him behind? But Pri’s mom avoids these questions―the topic of India is permanently closed.

For Pri, her mother’s homeland can only exist in her imagination. That is, until she find a mysterious pashmina tucked away in a forgotten suitcase. When she wraps herself in it, she is transported to a place more vivid and colorful than any guidebook or Bollywood film. But is this the real India? And what is that shadow lurking in the background? To learn the truth, Pri must travel farther than she’s ever dared and find the family she never knew.

Observations: Pashmina is a wonderful and colorful rendition of growing up Indian-American, with all the cultural baggage (sometimes literal baggage) that entails. Children of immigrants in particular will see a lot they recognize here, and those who aren’t children of immigrants will catch a vivid glimpse of what it’s like to have that relationship with the “old country,” its traditions and religion and even cultural mores. The shock of what it’s like to visit India for the first time is also nicely rendered.

The book is nicely pitched to appeal to a wide range of ages. The cute animal characters in the world revealed by Priyanka’s shawl are adorable and mysterious, and the elements of darkness in this tale are thought-provoking without being scary. I loved the deceptively simple, appealing style of the artwork, too. The drawings of places in India contrasted well with America, and the images were easy to read.

In terms of the language used, the use of Hindi and “Hinglish” was really well done, and provides not just a particular “flavor” for non-Indian readers but is accurate and recognizable for those American-Born Confused Desis among us. The glossary is a great addition, too, although the visuals make it possible to figure out vocabulary from context.

Conclusion: This is one of those books I wanted to hug (but I couldn’t, because it was a digital review copy!). There still aren’t enough stories about and/or featuring 2nd-generation Indian-Americans—it’s such a complex and multilayered and varied experience—so I was happy to see one that not only covers the topic an a thought-provoking and satisfying way, but also doesn’t limit itself to being a particular “type” of story. (Priyanka draws comics, and has an identity that isn’t just about being South Asian.) I look forward to seeing more from this author!


I received my copy of this book courtesy of the publisher for Cybils. You can find PASHMINA by Nidhi Chanani at an online e-tailer, or at a real life, independent bookstore near you!

Source: Finding Wonderland

Cybils Review: BUDDHA: AN ENLIGHTENED LIFE

Gateway to the Great Stupa at Sanchi, 1st century CE.

Synopsis: The life (well, lives) of the Buddha are almost naturally suited to graphic storytelling. After all, Buddhist jataka tales and stories of his birth and death have been illustrated in visual form on architectural monuments for centuries…even millennia. They come with their own visual conventions and pictorial traditions, so it is interesting to tackle a depiction of the Buddha’s life in a contemporary comics format, taking an ancient visual language and blending it with one that current readers are familiar with.

The graphic novel Buddha: An Enlightened Life by Kieron Moore and Rajesh Nagulakonda covers the story of how the Buddha became the Buddha: how a minor noble named Prince Siddhartha experienced a great spiritual awakening, abandoned his princely life, and wandered as a pauper before reaching enlightenment and establishing one of the world’s great religious traditions. This intriguing and educational book was a finalist for Cybils Young Adult Graphic Novels this past year.

Observations: This book does a great job of bringing to life the story of how Prince Siddhartha became the Buddha, animating his various trials and life events with a sense of drama and even adventure. While there is a distinct whiff of the “educational” with this one, and some young readers might simply not be interested in the topic, the story of Buddha is international and timeless, and an important part of world culture as well as the culture of many young readers.

The drawing style is beautiful and the colors ethereal, bringing a visible Asian flair into a traditional, easy-to-read comics layout. I kind of wish it hadn’t followed the Victorian-era convention of making everyone fair-skinned, though; fair skin is considered a favorable trait in Indian culture, but it is also a symptom of a pernicious colorism that perpetuates the damaging class divides of the caste system. All that aside, though, the art was really quite lovely, and its delicacy fitting for a story about spiritual enlightenment.

Conclusion: I’ve been wanting to explore Campfire Graphic Novels for a while now, interested in what might emerge from a homegrown comics publisher in India, and the educational value and overall quality of this one has me eager to read more. I appreciate the effort being made by this Indian imprint to produce high-quality literary titles to be marketed to English-speaking audiences around the world.


I received my copy of this book courtesy of the publisher for Cybils 2017. You can find BUDDHA: AN ENLIGHTENED LIFE by Kieron Moore and Rajesh Nagulakonda at an online e-tailer, or at a real life, independent bookstore near you!

Source: Finding Wonderland

Cybils Review: THE BIG BAD FOX by Benjamin Renner

Synopsis: I can’t really beat the flap copy for this one, in terms of plot summary, so here you go, fresh from Amazon:

Who’s afraid of the Big Bad Fox? No one, it seems.

The fox dreams of being the terror of the barnyard. But no one is intimidated by him, least of all the hens―when he picks a fight with one, he always ends up on the losing end. Even the wolf, the most fearsome beast of the forest, can’t teach him how to be a proper predator. It looks like the fox will have to spend the rest of his life eating turnips.

But then the wolf comes up with the perfect scheme. If the fox steals some eggs, he could hatch the chicks himself and raise them to be a plump, juicy chicken dinner. Unfortunately, this plan falls apart when three adorable chicks hatch and call the fox Mommy.

Beautifully rendered in watercolor by Benjamin Renner, The Big Bad Fox is a hilarious and surprisingly tender parable about parenthood that’s sure to be a hit with new parents (and their kids too).

Observations: Funny cartoon animals and a classic-comic vibe will make this appealing for younger readers with a sense of humor that will appeal to somewhat older readers as well. New and returning fans of classic cartoons will enjoy all the silly visual gags and Looney-Tunes-style cartoon violence. It’s a fun take on the Big Bad Wolf and classic animal story tropes, turning them on their head and making kids think twice about who the real bad guy is. The fun simplicity and humor of the cast of characters is appealing, and I enjoyed the lack of panel boundaries—it had a very loose but clear and easy-to-follow style.

click to embiggen

Conclusion: Fans of Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus, Chicken Run, and Calvin & Hobbes should enjoy this one—the humor is fun for a wide range of ages and types of readers. Another winner from First Second!


I received my copy of this book courtesy of the publisher for the purposes of Cybils judging. You can find THE BIG BAD FOX by Benjamin Renner at an online e-tailer, or at a real life, independent bookstore near you!

Source: Finding Wonderland

Cybils Review: SPINNING by Tillie Walden

Synopsis: First Second consistently puts out high-quality and varied graphic novels for audiences from kids to adults, and Spinning by Tillie Walden—one of our Cybils finalists for 2017 in Young Adult Graphic Novels—is a standout. It’s a graphic memoir, a genre which I always find interesting (oddly enough, I’m not usually that interested in regular memoirs), and it’s about (among other things) the world of figure skating, which is awfully topical with the Winter Olympics just past but is not a world I know the ins and outs of.

After reading Spinning, I have a lot better idea of what it’s like to train as a competitive figure skater—and I can unequivocally say it would not have been for me. For the young Tillie, who has been a skater for ten years, figure skating is her life, her passion, her talent, and even her refuge. Until, that is, her family moves, and she starts at a new school. Not only is her environment new, she discovers she has new interests, like art. She also falls in love—with another girl. It takes some more time to realize maybe the rigid world of figure skating doesn’t mean to her what it once did.

Observations: This book covers issues of growing up as a girl and coming to terms with sexuality across a wide age span, and should be accessible to a range of readers. It’s easy to be flip and say it’s a story about skating, but it’s about so much more than that. It’s also very down-to-earth both in writing/art style and in the narrator’s way of looking at the world. Readers will recognize and relate to the various small and large dramas of coming of age—of friendship, competition, school, and learning who you are.

Image: Macmillan

Thematically, this one is complex—beneath the veneer of the ice-skating world, the importance of the story is really about Tillie learning who she is and learning to inhabit that self. Yet it remains easy to follow and clearly structured. As mentioned before, the style is down to earth—simple, clear, and effective—and keeps us focused on the story. The limitation to just a few colors lends atmosphere to the simplicity of the drawing.

Conclusion: This was truly deserving of being a Cybils finalist. It’s wonderfully well-written, it’s an intriguing glimpse into the world of professional ice skating, and it’s a heartening story about the rollercoaster of coming to terms with who you are.


I received my copy of this book courtesy of my library. You can find SPINNING by Tillie Walden at an online e-tailer, or at a real life, independent bookstore near you!

Source: Finding Wonderland

Cybils Review: THE DAM KEEPER by Robert Kondo and Dice Tsutsumi

Synopsis: I found out during Cybils deliberations that The Dam Keeper originated as an Oscar-nominated short animation, which makes me sad that I missed it. While I was growing up, I was a big fan of the Spike and Mike Festival of Animation, which introduced me really early on to faves like Nick Park/Aardman Animation and Pixar, now a household name. I’m guessing The Dam Keeper would’ve been right at home in that arena—and, in fact, both of the authors have worked for Pixar, so there you go.

Pig, who lives in Sunrise Valley, has a really important job he inherited from his father: he’s the Dam Keeper, and he’s responsible for keeping back the deadly black fog that threatens from outside the valley’s walls. Unfortunately, he’s been alone for a while—ever since his father inexplicably left and walked right out into the fog. And now, there’s a huge wave of black fog on the horizon, and it’s up to Pig, his best friend Fox, and the bully Hippo to figure out how to stop it.

Observations: This story’s very cute animal characters will appeal to younger readers, but the touch of darkness to the storyline will broaden its age range—there’s a depth of emotion here that doesn’t shy away from difficult challenges like the departure of a parent or, I suppose, imminent death by scary black fog. The story and setting is unique and interesting—I love the touch of steampunk-type technology with the dam and its fog-busting fans—and the characters, while young, have plenty of agency as they set off on their quite possibly dangerous adventure.

While the story and characters are fun and strange, they deal with a variety of familiar themes that are of interest to elementary-aged readers: friendship and friendship conflicts; understanding bullies (Hippo is obnoxious, but Fox is there to tamp down his bullying and bring out his better side); who is safe to trust; missing parents. The art (which is digitally done, I think) is really striking, though I’m not necessarily into this particular style of cute animals personally. The artistry in terms of panels and pages was amazing, as was the use of atmosphere in depicting the fog and the darkness.

Conclusion: I can see this appealing to a generation of readers who have grown up with the style of digital art that’s everywhere now—but it definitely transcends the mass-market stuff with its sense of artistry and intriguing story.


I received my copy of this book courtesy of my library. You can find THE DAM KEEPER by Robert Kondo and Dice Tsutsumi at an online e-tailer, or at a real life, independent bookstore near you!

Source: Finding Wonderland