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.

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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

Cybils Review: NEW SUPER-MAN VOL. 1: MADE IN CHINA

Synopsis: Reboots seem to be the story fad du jour when it comes to comic franchises, and while there have been some reboots of Superman, I doubt you’ve seen one like this before. Brought to you by the writing talents of our own local NorCal comics genius Gene Luen Yang, along with illustrator Viktor Bogdanovic, one of this year’s Cybils finalists for Young Adult Graphic Novels was New Super-Man Vol. 1: Made in China.

This “DC Universe Rebirth,” as DC is calling it, posits a brand-new origin story for your rebooted Superman, one steeped in DC universe lore as well as more recent traditions in Chinese comics. This time, the would-be Superman starts off as a blustering teenage bully from Shanghai named Kong Kenan. After accidentally saving his own bullying victim from a marauding supervillain, Kenan attracts the eye of a super-secret group trying to build a homegrown Chinese Justice League—they need a Superman, and they think Kenan’s perfect for the part. Kenan is stoked: he has fancy powers and his new friends include Chinese Wonder Woman. What could possibly go wrong?

Observations: This is a really fun, international/multicultural take on the Superman comic adventures—kudos for diversity and for introducing new characters and storylines to a classic (some might even say old-fashioned) franchise. And, of course, Gene Yang’s writing is always stellar, so this one has a good balance of entertainment and deeper themes, such as politics, family, and, naturally, good vs. evil. Readers will catch a glimpse of some ongoing sociopolitical issues in China through the lens of popular culture—both shared pop culture AND some stuff that will be new to readers, such as some homegrown Chinese superheroes that are not too thrilled with this new Justice League homing in on their crime-fighting turf.

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Not every reader is into superheroes, but those who are will surely enjoy this one. Effort has been put into making Kenan a relatable teen character with regular human storylines, while still packing the story with superhero adventure and humor. That extends to the artwork, too, which was well done: solid and not overly exaggerated superhero-style character design, good flow to the layout, and fast, exciting storytelling.

Conclusion: Pushing diversity to the forefront of comics makes some stodgy grouches go a little nuts, but personally, I’d rather read this new take over the old chestnut. Sorry, dudes. More variety in stories is always good. And I think this one is also being marketed in China, which is, I hope, a success.


I received my copy of this book specifically for the Cybils, courtesy of the publisher. You can find NEW SUPER-MAN VOL. 1: MADE IN CHINA by Gene Yang and Viktor Bogdanovic at an online e-tailer, or at a real life, independent bookstore near you!

Source: Finding Wonderland

Cybils Review: WHERE’S HALMONI? by Julie Kim

Synopsis: Uh-oh, Grandma’s gone missing…. In this year’s Cybils winner for Elementary/Middle Grade Graphic Novels, Where’s Halmoni? by Julie Kim, Noona and her little brother Joon decide to visit their Halmoni (Grandma in Korean) only to find that she’s mysteriously disappeared. Following a set of animal tracks on the floor, they climb through an odd new window and discover a magical forest world peopled with characters from Korean folklore, such as dokkebi (not-so-scary goblins) and various clever and/or greedy animals that help and/or hinder their quest to find Halmoni.

In the process, the kids themselves learn more about Korean culture and language; in fact, some of the creatures they meet speak Korean, and we, like the kid protagonists, have enough context to figure out SOME of it—but never fear; you’ll find a really cool visual glossary in the back of the book. It was like a fun little quest of its own to find the corresponding image and Hangul text in the glossary.

Observations: This was an intriguing adventure with lots of action, relatable kid protagonists, and plenty of humor. The characters from Korean folktales, which are explained in the back of the book, make this one feel both traditional and new. For readers unfamiliar with Korean culture, it’s a friendly, welcoming opportunity to learn a few new tidbits and also see the similarities between kids across the world. (The little boy’s candy stash in his backpack and the epic Rock-Paper-Scissors battle in particular made me smile.)

The images are beautiful, tactile, and present a sort of cross between traditional picture books and graphic novels. Korea, of course, has a strong comics tradition of its own, and this is also a clear influence on the art. The story is simple and in many ways universal, with a folk tale structure, and the author does well in conveying meaning whether in English, Korean, or purely visual form.

Conclusion: Very charming and with many re-read possibilities. It kind of felt like a Korean interpretation of Where the Wild Things Are.


I received my copy of this book courtesy of my library. You can find WHERE’S HALMONI? by Julie Kim at an online e-tailer, or at a real life, independent bookstore near you!

Source: Finding Wonderland

Thursday Bits and Bobs and Whatnot

…I’ll leave you to decide which are the bits, which are the bobs, and which are the whatnot.

Firstly, I don’t want anyone to miss the great Kickstarter project that has been launched by our good blogging friend Lee Wind of “I’m Here. I’m Queer. What the Hell Do I Read?” Lee says:

With your help, and the help of our community, the professionally designed, copy-edited, and published book of my young adult novel, “Queer as a Five-Dollar Bill,” will become a reality. 

Together, we’ll donate at least 400 copies to LGBTQ and Allied Teens.

Together, we can change lives, shift the cultural conversation, and empower every teen who reads it to dig deeper, be inspired, and create their own future.

Donate to the Kickstarter and watch the video right here. You can also check out Lee’s Facebook Live event coming up: “I’ll be doing a Facebook Live event on Feb 19 at Noon Pacific to demo ‘instant antiquing’ (what Wyatt is doing in the first chapter of the book) and celebrate the project President’s Day-style.”


In case you missed it, don’t forget the Cybils Awards have been announced! Check out the winning titles for 2017 over on the Cybils blog, and stay tuned right here on Finding Wonderland for upcoming reviews of nominees and finalists from the Spec Fic and Graphic Novels categories.

Source: Finding Wonderland

Monday Review: IN SOME OTHER LIFE by Jessica Brody


Synopsis: I’ve finally been able to get back to some pleasure reading after a long stint of Cybils reading (which has now slowed down), and I picked up Jessica Brody’s In Some Other Life for a bit of fun escapism—and I was not disappointed. As you might know, I enjoy fiction about parallel universes; this one follows high-achieving Kennedy Rhodes, superstar of the student newspaper at Southwest High. Her life seems great: cute longtime boyfriend, supportive family, ever-loyal best friend, and high hopes for getting into the Columbia journalism program. Her only secret regret is that she didn’t attend the prestigious Windsor Academy, which sends 89 percent of its graduates to Ivy League schools.

Then, the disasters start piling up, culminating in one fateful moment: Kennedy takes an accidental fall down the steps and wakes up….in the life of some alternate version of herself: an alternate version that DID end up at Windsor Academy. As you might guess, at first it seems amazing and incredible, but looks can be deceiving…

Observations: This book was, above all, tongue-in-cheek funny. In some ways it felt like something I’d pair with my book The Latte Rebellion in terms of tone and style, as well as underlying theme—a well-meaning, earnest, but flawed main character gets caught up in circumstances beyond her control, and has to own up to her decisions in order to truly make good. While Kennedy isn’t perfect, sometimes to the point of being annoying, her imperfections are completely relatable, and are in fact necessary for her overall growth.

I did end up guessing the big story twist relatively early on: the clues were clear and it seemed fairly obvious that alternate-Kennedy was up to something, and so I assume the reader is meant to realize what’s going on before the narrator does. That was my only quibble with the story, though. The way everything wraps up was very satisfying, and I enjoyed how the various loose ends are dealt with, leaving things just a bit open-ended. And, as a bonus, the chapter titles were really fun.

Conclusion: This was a highly enjoyable story, with good pacing that kept me wanting to read it even when I probably should have been reading more Cybils finalists. Recommended for fans of paranormal and/or spec fic with a humorous twist.


I received my copy of this book courtesy of my library’s ebook collection. You can find IN SOME OTHER LIFE by Jessica Brody at an online e-tailer, or at a real life, independent bookstore near you!

Source: Finding Wonderland

Happy New Year–and Happy Writing!

Words of wisdom from Lawrence Ferlinghetti’s typewriter in the Museum of American History in Washington, D.C., augmented with a few extra for those of us who need them.

May your 2018 be the best writing year yet!

XO,
Sarah and Tanita

Source: Finding Wonderland

Thursday Review: THE BOOK OF DUST by Philip Pullman

Synopsis: This was one of my “waiting on” titles of 2017—the His Dark Materials trilogy is one of my favorites (and one I wish I’d read as an actual young adult), and I’ve enjoyed other books by Pullman as well. The Book of Dust: La Belle Sauvage is the first in another trilogy, it seems, and it’s a prequel to the adventures of Lyra in His Dark Materials. To my mind, it was worth the wait.

This story also concerns Lyra, but she isn’t the main character this time. In fact, she’s just a baby—a mysterious baby, as it turns out, who is being cared for by the nuns of a village priory outside Oxford. In that village lives our main character: a boy named Malcolm, whose parents run an inn. Malcolm lives at the inn, so all kinds of interesting gossip reaches his ears, and thus it is perhaps not such a huge surprise that he witnesses the unfortunate death of a spy and ends up with the spy’s secret message in his very own hands…

Observations: I don’t want to give away too much of the story, because it’s too delightful to watch it unfold (plus you can always read the cover blurb). I will say that I was happy to return to this alternate world very like our own, and root for a hero with curiosity, tenacity, and an innate sense of right. Malcolm is truly good, and his love for the baby Lyra and determination to keep her safe drive the story and keep the reader hanging on every word.

Of course, any story that involves good vs. evil would be incomplete without a truly bad baddie, and Pullman has a talent for pushing just the right buttons to make the reader really uncomfortable—the enemy here takes the form of a truly frightening individual, and the philosophical underpinnings of WHY he is evil are possibly even more frightening.

Conclusion: I can safely say that, despite a few quibbles here and there with the style, I enjoyed this almost as much as the original trilogy, and sank gratefully and willingly back into the vivid world of Lyra’s Oxford. Now I’m anxious for the second book…


I received my copy of this book courtesy of my library’s ebook collection. You can find THE BOOK OF DUST: LA BELLE SAUVAGE by Philip Pullman at an online e-tailer, or at a real life, independent bookstore near you!

Source: Finding Wonderland

Happy NaNoWriMo 2017!

Hey, it’s November, and that means it’s National Novel Writing Month! As per usual for me lately, I don’t even have a wisp of a dream of a hope of participating–but that doesn’t mean I don’t LOVE NaNoWriMo. I’ve been a participant (and a completer) a handful of times in the past, and I’m here to encourage you to GO FOR IT if you can. You never know what greatness might occur; what jewels in the rough; what bezoars in the poo, or whichever metaphor you prefer.

Don’t believe me? Well, two of my three PUBLISHED novels started during NaNoWriMo. I wouldn’t necessarily describe myself as either a panster or a plotter, but the evidence seems to tip me into the former category, doesn’t it? When you let the words flow, sometimes that’s what you need to find your voice and loosen your imagination.

So. No excuses (unless you’re like me and have enough work this month for at least two months’ worth of stress)–grab your computer and get going!

Source: Finding Wonderland