Continue reading as many graphic novels as I physically can! Really enjoyed the little volume of Mameshiba short stories. And contemplating on the graphic novels publishing world — the major children’s books houses vs. the major comic books publishers. (Graphix – Scholastic, FirstSecond – Macmillan, for example, and Viz, Image, Dark Horse, DC, Marvel, etc.)
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I’ve been reading more graphic novels of late, due to my responsibility as the first round selection judge on the CYBILS Graphic Novels (both MG and YA) panel. And my mind swirls — especially after reading many reviews of graphic novels: both from educators/librarians and from GN fan sites. What glares back at me review after review is how most people spend at least 85%, if not more, of the review addressing plot, character, setting, writing style, etc. and only one or two sentences on the artwork. Often these sentences are general, broad, and feel like an after-thought.
Very few reviewers get into the actual artistic aspects of the books — how the artist uses lines (effectively or excessively?); how the facial expressions are captured (or not); do the background/foreground receive the same details (should they or should they not, depending on the style and the demand of the narrative); are there effectively varied perspectives; are depths of perception employed (in a good way or unnecessarily?); what TYPES of artistic styles or media are employed: cartoony? impressionistic? modern? realistic? pen-and-ink? watercolor?; how about tonal discussion: humorous? harsh? gentle? intense? and how did the artist achieve these tones? And so so many more things that should be addressed in any review of a graphic novel — including the colorist’s achievement, the letterer’s choice and accomplishment (yes, many people use computer fonts instead of hand lettering now, but the CHOICE of font is still important), the panel layouts, the employment of comic books conventional elements such as gutters, speech bubble placements/usages, narrative boxes, etc.
I am no art critic and have only a limited vocabulary when it comes to discussing artwork and layout designs but I intend to improve upon that and hopefully in the future, when I write about graphic novels, I will include a good balance between discussion of the text and examination of the artwork.
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Congrats to Cynthia Kadohata for her book The Thing About Luck winning the Young Readers fiction category at National Book Awards!
by Cynthia Kadohata
Kadohata once again proves that a book does not have to have an outlandish or extremely inventive premise to capture the reader’s attention and interest. Once I started reading this book about a young girl’s simple wishes and dreams, her family’s struggle to stay afloat as seasonal wheat harvesters, and her brother’s difficulty in connecting with his peers, I could not stop. I cared so deeply about Summer, her brother, and her elderly grandparents. It’s really quite a feat for such a slim and quiet book! Its inclusion as one of the five finalists of the 2013 National Book Award Young People’s Literature category is well deserved!
In the middle of Fangirl. It’s a lot less fun and a lot more serious (and angsty) than I was expecting.
Recently on an online listserv, a member posted some objections re Ender’s Game and I responded with the following. (I will be paraphrasing and truncating the original objections):
Since I have read (and listened to the audio book) multiple times, I hope that potentially I have done the “close reading” that [the listserv member] and her students have done with the book. I am going to address each of the four points:
1. A question on how could Ender repent/whine/moan when he obviously knew he was enlisting in the military for a total war?
We must consider the world that Ender is born into. He did not really have a choice to be on the training path to be chosen or not. His existence as a THIRD is quite literally unbearable, and his living in the house with a monster brother who at any moment might murder him definitely does not make staying home as a desirable option. He went up to Battle School at age 6 — even as brilliant a strategist as he was, he was naive in many many ways of the people — he was NOT given the opportunities to develop those. Just consider his first encounter on the launch shuttle, how he BELIEVES that Graff is his FRIEND and gets his wish shattered into pieces. So, to say that he “signed on to be the killer” because he joined the military and blame him later on for not being able to deal with not just WAR and KILLING but GENOCIDE — seems to me not fully understanding the book’s themes. Ask many service men, how many of them are shocked (in their late teens, early 20s or even later?) when they actually are put in combat? I’d say a LOT of them. So why can’t Ender be repentant? (He never moans or whines — his sorrow is SO much deeper than those emotions.)
2. Orson Scott Card praises children’s intelligence in the foreword but then makes his child character so manipulatable — that’s self-contradicting.
Not at all — In fact, in the end, Graff’s “intelligence” and “manipulation” – although ensured the winning of this ONE total war, makes him and the world leaders look like the worst people possible while Ender comes out as a lot more Humane and Saint-like. We must not forget that they live in a post-Alien attack world where everyone’s brainwashed to a certain extend, and there is a whole entire system of manipulation, lots of secret keeping, etc. For those of us who have read Ender’s Shadow, we would know how Card created another brilliant child who was NOT AT ALL manipulated by the System — and the reason why Ender was so manipulatable was the fact that he’s incredibly trusting and has “a flaw of wanting to form connections with others” — which is EXACTLY why he is a BELOVED leader and Bean is just his second in command whom everyone respects but cannot truly adore. So, no, the author (Orson Scott Card) knows exactly what he’s doing with his child characters.
3. Orson Scott Card romanticized total warfare and the video-game-style warfare, making him socially irresponsible.
I don’t really have much to say about this point except that I do not see how this book or the whole series is romanticizing total warfare where the ending was the strong sentiment AGAINST fighting against another group of people AT ALL — Ender finally understands The Other and spends the rest of his life to make peace and to make others see the peace that is necessary and achievable. And I am totally at a loss as to how “predicting the video-game-style warfare” that we are developing these days is “irresponsible.” Please elaborate.
4. To favor elitism is offensive. The book dismisses anyone who is not a genius.
I think this is definitely where people have to agree to disagree. For me, it is SO great that we have a book that celebrate intelligence and political savvy over brute forces or some sort of magical talents. I cannot understand how that is offensive. Are we saying that if we have characters who are geniuses, we should somehow portrait them as undesirable leaders of the society? We should make fun of them? We should “put them in their places”? and refuse to let them tell others what to do??? I also am not sure that there are ANY “not geniuses” characters in the book — and that’s kind of the point — Battle and Command Schools are for those who have the capacities to fight and to lead — we are not given the rest of the world and Card didn’t set out to write about the rest of the world. That’s the scope of the book’s setting — if Card included other aspects of the world (which he did in Ender’s Shadow and definitely in Speaker for the Dead and other sequels) and botched it, we should definitely discuss the flaws — but as an author, he made a choice: he CHOSE to set the tale within a confined environment. Surely we cannot fault him for that? (That would be like faulting Baum for not giving a good picture of Kansas at the turn of the 20th century when he wrote OZ stories!)
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Listening to Girl with the Dragon Tattoo… waiting for the story to BEGIN (1/3 of the book seems to be just exposition…. wow!) Reading Picture Me Gone… so far, very enjoyable and, may I say, Brilliant!
So, last night, more than 30 high school students of mine (SciFan Club) went to see Ender’s Game at the IMAX. Here are some thought I shared with the kids afterwards. For the most part, the teens who have all loved the book for a long time thought that the movie did as good a job in being faithful to the book and they all kind of agreed that it is really difficult to appreciate Ender as much in the movie as you would in the book because we simply were not shown his interior as much as in the book. The pitfall of a visual storytelling media.
I posted on our school’s internal email conference the following:
I am not sure that I can objectively critique the movie at all. I know that I’ll have to see it again AS a movie, and not something “translated” from a book into a movie to aptly analyze it — and even then I might not be able to do it.
But, here are some positive points first:
1. I think Asa Butterfield is a great choice for Ender and he really delivers. He’s not 6 – 11 as was in the movie, but he looks like 14-15 (since they truncated the timeframe by a WHOLE LOT) and not too old for the role.
2. Pretty much every actor did their job well (but a little sad that they didn’t put any stock in the guy who plays Peter so I can’t imagine sequels from Ender’s Shadow series featuring him heavily.) Harrison Ford and Ben Kingsley are just old pros.
3. Even though the battle room and the “stars” are totally different from my own imagination, it works well in the movie and the Null-G effects are well done. Actually, all the designs and CG effects are excellent.
4.Certain important phrases that stand out in the book are incorporated into the movie well — and most of the gist of the story is conveyed.
Then, there are some stuff on my WISH LIST:
1. I wish that somehow they could have incorporated Valentine and Peter’s brilliance and how they took control over governing Earth while Ender is away battling the formics. (But I totally understand why they have to eliminate that part for the flow of the movie.)
2. I wish that there is more scenes showing Ender’s brilliant leadership skills and his ability to unite and to strategize. You never truly see why everyone LOVES him so much — because they didn’t show the Launchies training scenes or all the fun things he figures out for Battle school games: such as freezing bent legs or rushing their enemies, etc. As one of the freshmen said, the movie really could have been a little longer (by 15 minutes?) and thus incorporating some montages of his final Crew.
3. I DEFINITELY wish that the shower room fight scene is longer, a LOT bloodier, and that Ender didn’t go to the operating room.. or mention that he sat beside Bonzo’s bed for days…
by David Sedaris, read by the author
Finished listening to Squirrel Seeks Chipmunk… here are my thoughts: I was really smitten with this audio production and the stories at the beginning — Sedaris is definitely hugely talented and oh so so very clever. And the excellent reader/actors (David Sedaris, Dylan Baker, Elaine Stritch and Sian Phillips!) definitely enhance the listening experience. However, half way through, I realized that Sedaris’ life view is just too bleak and his humor too mean-spirited for me at this time of my life. I almost cringed at the thought of listening to the next grotesque and undoubtedly bleak tale… … but I went on and finished the book — and enjoyed The Grieving Owl (toward the very end of the book). Looking back, that might have been the only story that I could say that I truly enjoyed (about 95% of the tale… the ending wasn’t pretty and I didn’t much love it). I almost wish that I had not encountered some of the denizens in this story collection or witnessed that much ignorance, vanity, pride, and all kinds of unattractive human traits, even when the author’s intention is to belittle and make fun of these traits. Now, I cannot unread or un-know these stories. Shucks!
I waited for a while to read this one. Was somewhat apprehensive. When one becomes friendly and very fond of an author, one sometimes also becomes worried. What if… What if the book isn’t as good as you’d hoped? As good as you believe that particular author could have made it? What it…
So, I didn’t read the galley. I did attend an overwhelmingly successful event at Book Court in Brooklyn with Adam entertaining a host of young readers and their parents. And then, finally, after I started seeing my students toting around this third volume and hearing that they really really enjoyed it (one of them read it more than twice in the week of its publication) I braced myself and delved into it!
What a treat! I couldn’t put the book down. Adam not only featured some of MY favorite Grimm tales, he even used one of my favorite STORY TIME staple (Anansi and the Moss-Covered Rock!) And not only Adam continues with the intrusive and flippant (but often kind and comforting) storyteller/narrator, he brings this narrator INTO the story (or, rather, brings the protagonists OUT of the story and into current day Brooklyn.) I was worried when I knew that there is a metafiction element of the tale that it would have seemed trite or forced — but Adam did it in a natural and fluid way that really works. The story as a whole seems a bit darker than the first two, but it is to my liking. And as in so many stories for children (and adults) the power of storytelling is celebrated at the end!
Same as in the first two books, there are definitely some very sticky moral dilemmas that the two kids have to face and conquer. I am happy to report that the messages do not get in the way of the enjoyment of the tales. And I suspect that these important “lessons” are being absorbed and are strengthening child readers everywhere as I type!
Finally, the new “Kingdom of Children” that the narrator refers to in the end of this book is an apt metaphor for the realm of imagination, for stories and books, and especially for the Grimm trilogy, where children venture in to “run, to play… to tell their tales and face their fears and let whatever is inside out.”
Reading Primates (Jane Goodall, Graphic Narrative biography) and Chew #6, Space Cake. Listening to David Sedaris’ Squirrel Seeks Chipmunk (hilarious but also gross and dark. Definitely from a twisted — but brilliant — mind.)
Really need to find time to write about quite a few books in more details. But here are quick notes: Dracula was good, for the most part, but I got annoyed by the over-emphasis on the GOODNESS of the purity and resourcefulness of the women (who then had to be so protected because, after all, they are the WEAKER ones.) March (John Lewis graphic narrative memoir) is really powerful and the art style matches the tone of the narrative well (although not my favorite kind of images.) The Grimm Conclusion (Adam Gidwitz) was a “sit down and finish it in one shot” kind of exciting book. I thoroughly enjoyed it and thought Adam did a fantastic job – and his prose got even smoother! Excited about the official release of Africa Is My Home (by my friend Monica Edinger) and will definitely write in more details about the book soon! Loved The Thing About Luck. Enjoyed Steelheart (Brandon Sanderson.) Impressed by Hereville #2: How Mirka Met a Meteorite. They each deserves a separate entry but I simply haven’t had time to give them the attention needed. Argh…
National Book Awards announced the finalists for young people’s literature: Kathi Appelt for “The True Blue Scouts of Sugar Man Swamp” (Atheneum); Cynthia Kadohata for “The Thing About Luck” (Atheneum); Tom McNeal for “Far Far Away” (Knopf); Meg Rosoff for “Picture Me Gone” (Putnam); and Gene Luen Yang for “Boxers & Saints” (First Second). I am almost done with The Thing About Luck and loving it. Will definitely read both the McNeal and the Rosoff!
Reading House of Hades by Rick Riordan; listening to Dracula by Bram Stoker; Finished Chew #4: Flambé and moving on to #5: Major League.
by Kathi Appelt
(narrated by Lyle Lovett for Audible)
This is what outstanding, distinguished, and thoroughly enjoyable children’s books should be! And of course, I had the additional pleasure of listening to Appelt’s narrative voice brought to live by Lyle Lovett: folky, hilarious, tender, with just the right amount of controlled drama. This environmental tall tale set in the swamp land, featuring anthropomorphized critters, caricatured villains, down home, real but also realer than life characters, and mythical beings is perfect for a family and classroom read aloud! One of my favorite 2013 books for sure!
Some thoughts on how to Take ComicCon as me, after no longer feeling so overwhelmed or clueless as I did the first couple of times going to the Con. Taking the time to go over the listing for all the panels and screenings and planning the days in advance definitely reduces the stress. And attending one event every 2 or 3 hours is more realistic than back-to-back, especially when the events are super popular and there is just not a chance to get in to see the panel. I “lost” my chance to see Felicia Day and Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. because I didn’t leave enough lead time (about 1 hour at the minimum) to wait in line for each. At this point, I do not seek out panels that are too closely related to print materials or how to promote Graphic Novels in Libraries/Schools — I got a lot of that in the past couple of years. This year, I was really looking to broaden my knowledge base — so I went to a presentation on a new online multi player game that has some new elements that really excite me: more chances to meet up with friends or compatible strangers on the same world (since the players do not choose the mini-worlds but being grouped organically); more opportunities to customize one’s virtual surroundings and items; NPCs that interact wie players more intelligently — and quests that utilize various abilities and virtues. I’m really rooting for this game! Shroud of the Avatar (a new incarnation of Ultima games.) The game creator also crowd sourced everything: from funding (almost 2 million dollars in 30 days on Kickstarter) to artwork, music composition, and even codes (such as a code to make the cloaks float artistically in the wind…) The Designer Toys panelists, the NY Indie Game Designers, and the Voice Actors shared so much of their expertise with the audience that I felt enlightened in their respective areas and wanted to find out more about those crafts. My favorite event has to be the talented writer/illustrator duo John Layman and Rob Guillory, talking about Chew, the crazy, sick, hilarious, dark, and always surprising graphic novel series that has been gaining fan base and is going strong still! They have published 37 of the planned 60 issues and we simply can’t wait for the plot to get wackier and more twisted! This was what made me most excited in the line-up and they totally delivered — with a highly competent and effective moderator from Images Comics. The hour went by too fast and we really could have stayed and listened and laughed more. You could tell how genuinely these two collaborators admire and enjoy each other, and how important that relationship shaped the tone of the story. Here are some things I learned:
- Layman always knows how a story begins and how it will end. He often writes the first and last parts of an arc first, and then fills in the middle to bridge the two points.
- Layman loves linguistics and enjoys making up all the food-related names for the series.
- Guillory thinks of his characters as actors and the humor often comes from his making them overact, as if they were on stage for a large audience.
- 95% of the background easter eggs are Guillory’s inventions — Layman does not always see them until the finished issue!
- Guillory does not draw from photo references for his characters — all the body positions, movements, perspectives come straight from his observations and memories. He told me (when I had him sign my Chew volumes) that he is a keen observer for people’s expressions and actions and it is really hard for him to have a phone conversation because he cannot see the other person’s face.
- And I learned that the whole series might end with everyone dead… or it might not…
It was refreshing to hear the writers and artists for Dark Horse comics stress the value of “text” novels and how much they respect the power of words that can create mental images within the readers’ minds. They shared some of their personal “must reads”: Philip K Dick shorts, Snow Crash by Stephenson, A Wrinkle in Time, the Foundation Series, and books by Robert E. Howard (Conan the Barbarian and others.) Glad to see quite a bit of overlapping of my own “must reads.” And it was entertaining to learn about the TV show King of the Nerds and the preparation of the second season. Also gald to find out some upcoming projects from Image, Dark Horse, Marvel, DC, and Funimation. Today was the last day of the 2013 NYCC — Sunday, October 12th. The two panels: one about Adventure Time and the other about a few new YA sci-fi books were both mediocre. The lack of excitement or insights for the first event was largely the moderator’s responsibility and the second, the lack of depth of thought by the panelists. I thought about what made some of the events work better than others and came up with a few ideas about moderators and panelists: To be a good moderator, these are some Do’s
- Do know and respect the materials and the panelists.
- Do be relaxed and follow up the panelists’ answers if there are extra sparks that can deepen the conversation.
- Since it is ComicCon, do give the fans ample time to ask questions … What they have to ask and say tend to be relevant and of interest to other fans.
- Do show the audience that it is fun to be on stage, having a thoughtful or funny conversation.
And here are a few Don’ts
- Don’t be nervous.
- Try not to “fan girl” the panelists to a point where you ask all the questions that you prepared without actually listening to the answers or following up with organic questions.
- Don’t try to stump your panelists with questions that they are not prepared to answer.
- Don’t ask questions that your audience members are smart enough to answer without being the experts on stage.
- Don’t force every panelist to answer every one of your prepared questions. It gets tedious!
As for panelists: do not sign up to be a presenter if you can only talk narrowly about your product and have nothing else to offer: it makes you look and sound shallow and it does not instill confidence in your potential customers to try out your products: be they books, toys, movies, games, art, or other merchandize.
Oh, I also visited publishers’ booths to read 2013 graphic novels nominated for the long list of the CYBILS G/N categories. So far, I enjoyed everyone of them and will write something up for each soon!
A long summary but since I attended the Con for four days, it seems appropriate.
Finished and loved Steelheart by Brandon Sanderson. Now reading and listening to Lyle Lovett reading True Blue Scouts of Sugar Man Swamp by Kathi Appelt.
Vol. 1 (Day1) : The Name of the Wind and
Vol. 2 (Day 2): The Wise Man’s Fear
by Patrick Rothfuss
Altogether, these two volumes are more than 1,500 pages long and the audio book versions took about 61 hours to finish. I mostly enjoyed the listening experience: the first volume is definitely tighter and since everything is new and the world is un-encountered before, I had a little more patience in all the details that Rothfuss put into the tale: colors of people’s clothing, the types of foods, some basic societal rules, etc. And there are definitely a lot of thrilling moments and some good passages.
The Wise Man’s Fear, though, suffered from being too detailed at moments, too many similes thrown into the passages (that really could and should have been edited OUT of the tale,) and just too long. I am really annoyed by authors who decided to use a particular narrative “device” and could not keep to the simplest or fundamental rules of that device. Here, each volume is supposed to be tales told to the scribe within the duration of ONE SINGLE DAY (where people do go to sleep, where the current day contains events such as robbery, lunch, fighting, etc.) So, almost 1000 pages of words (no matter how FAST one might be able to speak or write down the words) simply don’t compute.
One learns in writing classes that in order to create convincing and lifelike characters, one must know all the background stories (what colors they like, who was their first crush, when was their first experiences of fear and when and why and how, etc.) of the major characters. But so much of these details should remain in the mind of the author. Once in a while, perhaps, something can be drawn out and fill in a missing piece of a character’s traits. But, the Wise Man’s Fear is full of such details breaking through the backstage door and cavorting on the main stage. It just didn’t work for me.
I also got quite bothered by Rothfuss’ insistence of describing every single emotion or experience with a comparison to something else. It is OK, Patrick R, to sometimes just say that you feel soothed by someone’s voice without having to compare the soothing feeling to a mother’s gentle touch to a child’s cheeks and the voice is just like a lover’s breathy whisper by your ears. Some figure of speech enhances a narrative, but overindulgence in such narrative tool becomes tedious eventually.
All that said, did I love a LOT of what went into the books? Absolutely. I loved the world building, the mystery, the tentative romantic relationships, the exploration of language, means of communication, and how world history can be shaped and reshaped. And I will definitely read (or listen to) the final installment when it is published next year. Still a series worth recommending.
by Elizabeth Wein
I have only read three books by Elizabeth Wein. Years ago, The Winter Prince, last year, Code Name Verity, and now Rose Under Fire. But, I now know, unwaveringly, that this is an author who can steal people’s hearts and cleanse their souls with her storytelling wizardry.
Elizabeth Wein, my friends, has a creative mind that goes forever deepr and her stories always take you to unexpected but exciting places — no matter their subject matters. Her mind is so incredibly nimble that she can organize very complex threads into easily followed paths through intricate mazes she has devised for her readers. And, oh, the hearts and souls of her characters and the epic scale of their sufferings and triumphs! They linger on and sustain you like the LIFT under the wing of an airplane and a soaring kite! Read this book NOW and tell everyone else to read it.
I know that young teen readers will take to Rose’s story more readily than they with Verity and can’t wait to recommend this to them all!
(originally posted on 9/20/2013 on just vol. 1 — updated to include all three)
The story of two “nations” occupying the same land where one is now being demanded to remove itself mirrors eerily contemporary conditions in our current world. I’m delighted that almost all the important characters make their appearances here and their personalities consistent with the show. The artwork is definitely true to the show as well — for the most part. Of course, the fight scenes are slightly less epic or thrilling presented in still frames and not movements, but fans of the show can probably fill in the sounds and sequences. I know I read it with the actors’ voices in my head!
The story arc is convincing and the ending is satisfying. My biggest complaint might be that Zuko (the new Fire Kingdom King) is not quite what he looked like on the show — his features in the books are less defined and with less angsty charm that I so enjoyed from the show.