graphic novel

Building a Library

Um, yeah, I have no good excuse for taking so much time off…

So, as some of you may have noticed – if anyone reads this blog anymore – that I haven’t posted in a long time. A very, very long time. Like the whole summer, practically.

And you may be asking yourself, “Tom, have you forsaken us? Have you recommended all of the books you care to recommend? Are your suggestions for ‘building a home library’ now complete”?

The answers are – yes, I did forsake you a little bit and, no, I’m not done recommending kids’ books.

In fact, I have lots more recommendations coming in the next few weeks, even though you have NO reason to believe that claim, based on this past summer.

My excuses are extremely mundane. It’s been a weird summer. Work has been hectic, life has been hectic – but that’s pretty normal. Mostly, I’ve been dealing with the most selective form of writer’s block I’ve ever experienced.

During this summer, I’ve actually written quite a few things, including seven chapters of a young adult novel I’m working on that I’m convinced (today, at least) will never, EVER be done.

But, whenever I’ve sat down to write for this blog, I’ve been blocked. Blocked entirely.  I would try to write a glowing review of a book we just discovered at the library and… nothing.  Just nothing and a blank brain and anxiety and excuses for going to sleep early and/or watching Game of Thrones on HBOGo again. So… yeah… I’m a bad, bad kids’ book blogger.

However, I think I’ve turned the corner. In fact, I didn’t even let myself post this mea culpa until I had four subsequent book posts written and in the hopper, so I can guarantee that some new content IS coming.

So, if you stuck with this blog, thanks a ton. If you bailed during the doldrums, hopefully, I can win you back someday. But new stuff is coming and I can’t wait to share some new recommendations with you and steal some suggestions from you guys as well.

Thanks for listening,


PS – I just read Madeleine L’Engle’s A Wrinkle in Time for the first time last week. Oh my god, how good is that book, guys? I mean, seriously, I tossed it onto the “Books My Kid Will Read in the Future” shelf as soon as I was done. Just a gorgeous book that made me want to give fictional Meg Murray a hug for at least a week.

A Wrinkle in Time

What a seriously cool book… I even love the ’70s-looking, Zardoz-esque cover of this old paperback.

PPS – The Hope Larson graphic novel adaptation of A Wrinkle in Time is similarly amazing. A brilliant work of adaptation. I know me liking a comic book isn’t a huge surprise, but… wow. It’s seriously good.

A Wrinkle in Time Graphic Novel

One of the best graphic novel adaptations I’ve ever read…


If you’re in a participating area of North America today, try taking your kid to Free Comic Book Day today, May 4th. There are a lot of really amazing books available and they’re free, free, FREE. If you’re wondering if there’s a participating store in your area, you can click HERE for the FCBD store locator. It’s an event that’s definitely worth seeking out.

Free Comic Book Day

Admit it – Getting free comics is much, much cooler than voting…

Some stores put on more of a show than others. Some will have people in elaborate costumes, prizes, comic book artists signing copies of the free books. And others will only have the books themselves and not much else. But, regardless for how elaborate your local store’s celebration is, Free Comic Book Day is a great opportunity to pick up some high-quality free reading material for your kids – comic books that have been designed to draw in new readers and introduce them to all that comics have to offer.

Free Comic Book Day

Here are some of the free comics we picked up this morning…

So, if there’s a participating store nearby you, maybe swing by with your kids and see if they’re interested. All it’ll cost is some time… unless your kids end up REALLY liking the comics and want you to buy some of the non-free ones, which… isn’t all that bad either.

Plus, Hugh freakin’ Jackman also thinks you should celebrate Free Comic Book Day and who are you to argue with Les Miserable Wolverine? Have fun today!


Free Comic Book Day

Seriously, how can Arbor Day ever hope to compete?

Parents – Want to have a fun time with your kids at an event that actively encourages them to read? Then you should definitely take advantage of Free Comic Book Day, which takes place this Saturday, May 4th. I can tell you from experience that it’s a whole lot of fun.

What is Free Comic Book Day? To quote the official FCBD website:

Free Comic Book Day is a single day – the first Saturday in May each year – when participating comic book shops across North America and around the world give away comic books absolutely FREE to anyone who comes into their stores.

Now – important qualification coming – that doesn’t mean that EVERY comic in the store is free. What is does mean is that most of the major comic book companies publish special “free” issues for the stores to pass out on Free Comic Book Day. These free books are often designed to hook new readers, so they make a great introduction to comics and comic series that your kids may not have been exposed to yet.

If you’re interested to see what titles are available for Free Comic Book Day, Glen Weldon (from NPR’s Monkey See blog) compiled a wonderful breakdown of the best free comics for kids this year. You can find it here: Which Comics Should I Get? Your Free Comic Book Day Cheat Sheet

And, if you click on this link, you can find the Free Comic Book Day Store Locator that can help you find a store near you that’s participating in FCBD this year.

Free Comic Book Day by Sergio Aragones

I love this Free Comic Book Day promo image from the great Sergio Aragones. (Click to embiggen.)

FAIR WARNING #1 – Most stores don’t let you take unlimited copies of the free comics. Most have some policy or limit in place. Some stores only let you take one free comic per person (Boo!), some let you take four comics per person (Yay!), and, if your local store isn’t getting much foot traffic that day, some stores will let you take as many as you want (Double Yay!). You might want to call ahead to confirm your local store’s policy. [read the rest of the post…]


Giants Beware

Q: Who would in a showdown – Claudette or Merida from “Brave”? A: The audience.

First Second Books published Giants Beware!, our favorite kid’s book of 2012, and no one can fault them for failing to create some great promotional material for Jorge Aguirre and Rafael Rosado‘s sublime graphic novel. I mentioned the book’s great downloadable activity kit in my review, but First Second also created two very cool book trailers for Giants Beware as well.

The first trailer is a dynamic movie trailer-esque preview of the book – the video is a montage of music and images that really sells how Claudette’s adventures read like a blockbuster animated movie.

The second trailer is interesting. It’s less of a trailer and more of a look behind the scenes at the creation of the book. Basically, it’s a three-and-a-half minute, real-time video of Rafael Rosado digitally inking a page from Giants Beware. There’s no commentary or narration, just some accompanying music as we look over Rosado’s shoulder while he works. While there’s a part of me that really would’ve enjoyed hearing Rosado talk more about his creative process, I found myself really sucked in by the video and this look into his studio. (You will either find this video fascinating or dead boring – fair warning.) Enjoy.


Giants Beware

A truly superior graphic novel for kids

My daughter and I have read a lot of books together this year. A LOT. But, as the year winds down and I find myself looking back at our favorite books of 2012 – the instant classics, the bedtime staples, the required road-trip reading – I keep coming back to Giants Beware!, a fantastic, tour de force graphic novel by Jorge Aguirre and Rafael Rosado, which stands as one of the best examples of comics for kids that I’ve ever read.

And, because due diligence is important, I did check with my daughter before bedtime last night and she did authorize me to, quote-unquote, “tell your blog, Dad, that Giants Beware is my favorite new book I read this year.” So, it’s unanimous – Giants Beware is Building a Library’s Best Book of 2012.

What’s so great about Giants Beware? It’s hard to know where to start. I’ve been trying to review it for most of the year, but there are times when I like a book so much that I almost find it impossible to write about it. I find myself tripping over my words, unable to express how much I enjoy the book in question, until I’m halfway tempted to just type “Book am good. Make me happy” and be done with it. But Giants Beware does so much right, it deserves better and, thus, here we are.

With Giants Beware, Aguirre and Rosado have created a blockbuster reading experience. What I mean by that is – this graphic novel is so smart, exciting, accessible, and entertaining that, if it was a movie, it would make $500 million dollars at the box office. The experience of reading Giants Beware is akin to watching a Pixar movie. (One of the best ones.) You just sit there amazed at being told a story with such obvious genius and craftsmanship and also at how you and your child are both able to appreciate it on multiple levels.

That is all to say, I really, really like Giants Beware and so does my kid.

The story revolves around Claudette, a headstrong tomboy who’s always clutching a wooden sword and who can’t wait to one day leave her provincial village and prove herself as a mighty giant slayer. Her father, the town blacksmith, used to be a renowned adventurer (and is now missing a few limbs due to those adventures), and Claudette is aching to follow in his phantom footsteps. She especially wants to set off on a quest to a local mountain range to hunt down a legendary local giant with a reputation for eating babies’ feet. (Aguirre and Rosado are able to make the alleged baby-feet-eating into something that’s really funny as opposed to downright chilling.)

Giants Beware

Don’t cross Claudette if you know what’s good for you…

Claudette is just a fantastic creation – she’s so singularly obsessed with killing monsters that she can barely see anything else in the world. She’s funny, clever, earnest, and loyal – her loyalty particularly shines through when it comes to her best friend Marie and her little brother Gaston. (One of my favorite Claudette lines comes after she dispatches some bullies who were picking on Gaston – “Violence is not just efficient. It feels good, too.”)

Giants Beware

Words to live by…

However, Claudette is so obsessed with slaying the feet-eating giant that she tricks Marie and Gaston into accompanying her on a giant-slaying quest – a quest that was expressly forbidden by both her father and the town’s ruling Marquis (who happens to be Marie’s father). As the kids set off across the countryside towards their date with a giant, pursued doggedly by their annoyed parents, they encounter witches, haunted trees, mad river kings, and a wide variety of fairy tale oddities, experiences that help them test their meddle, conquer their fears, and learn a lot more about the strange world around them.

Giants Beware is a very fun read that really connected with my daughter. It’s a longer graphic novel – around 200 pages – but, the first time I finished reading it to her, my daughter asked me to immediately re-read it, which has never happened before. But the re-read factor isn’t the only reason why I regard this as our favorite book of 2012. While, I’ll admit, there were books we read this year that packed a deeper emotional punch (a tear-jerker, this ain’t), Giants Beware is just an exceptionally accomplished piece of work, a work that shouldn’t be trivialized just because you could accurately describe it as “a fun adventure.”

Giants Beware

This is a seriously funny and beautiful book…

And, personally, one of the main reasons why I think I’ve responded to Giants Beware so strongly is that it expertly plays with so many of the children’s literature themes and tropes that I keep obsessing about on this blog (to the point where it almost feels like it crawled out of my subconscious at times). For example, let me list FIVE areas where I think Giants Beware really, really excels:

1. It’s an Ideal Comic Book for Kids

Recurring readers know that I’m a big proponent of exposing kids to comic books and graphic novels, but, as I’ve complained about before, most comic books aren’t designed in a way to make them accessible to developing readers. The vast majority of so-called “kid’s comics” have miniscule font sizes, hectic layouts, and little-to-no concern with helping new readers follow their way throughout the story. Giants Beware, on the other hand, excels at making itself both accessible and appealing to younger readers. The text is extremely readable, the layouts are clean and clear, and the visual storytelling is top-notch. Even though it’s 200 pages long, Giants Beware is a very quick, readable work for kids. I’d almost equate it to a beginning chapter book, along the lines of a Mercy Watson book, and there just aren’t that many kid’s graphic novels out there that pay such careful attention to the needs of new readers. [read the rest of the post…]


Clone Wars Adventures, Volume 1

The children have to learn about The Clone Wars sometime, right? Right?

Welcome to the third installment of What We Took Out From the Library Last Week, a good-natured peek at the FIVE books my five-year-old daughter checked out during our last trip to our local library. We’re going in order, so let’s talk about the third book my daughter picked out, otherwise known as “the book I have no control over.”

Remember, in my introductory post to this series, when I said that my daughter gets to pick put one book every time that I can’t veto? Well, per usual, for her no-veto pick, she went for a book based on a movie or a TV show. Usually, that means Scooby Doo, but this week it meant… Star Wars.  Specifically, a Star Wars comic book anthology called Clone Wars Adventures, Volume 1.

And, as a big pop culture geek, Star Wars is kind of a hot button issue with me. Like a lot of people, I adore the original trilogy, despise the prequels, and beyond-despise the various unnecessary and artistically-suspect revisions George Lucas has made to the original trilogy. But, after observing my daughter’s first year of kindergarten, I have to say – there is NO other pop culture property that is more prevalent in the minds of young children than Star Wars right now. Maybe it’s the due to the popularity of Star Wars Legos or maybe it’s because the children of the ‘80s grew up, had kids, and decided to share their favorite trilogy with their offspring at a very young age, but, man oh man, in my experience, five- and six-year-old boys and girls will NOT stop talking about Star Wars.

(I said “boys and girls” right there to be inclusive, but I will say, in my limited sphere of experience, boys do seem to be WAY more into Star Wars than girls. And I don’t know why. It might be the guns. It might be that the overwhelming majority of Star Wars characters are male. It might be the big, glowing, phallic swordfights… who knows? But I will say, earlier this year, my daughter was the only girl invited to an all-boys Star Wars birthday party and… yeah, I’m still brimming with pride.)

Darth Vader and Son

Being a parent in the Star Wars era isn’t easy… (Image taken from the very funny “Darth Vader and Son” by Jeffrey Brown.)

However, the Star Wars issue is difficult in our house because, while it is VERY much on my daughter’s radar, I won’t let her watch the movies or the Clone Wars TV series yet. I just think she’s too young and it’s too violent. And that’s hard because almost ALL of her friends watch the movies frequently. So, instead, since she is really, really eager to learn about Star Wars, we talk about the Star Wars universe A LOT. (Fortunately, as a card-carrying geek, I have an almost-photographic memory about Star Wars lore.) I’ll flip through Star Wars books with her and she has some Star Wars toys (including some of mine from my childhood). I also show her a decent amount of YouTube clips – a selection of short glimpses of Star Wars-related material that I deem appropriate.

For example, there are some pretty funny animated Lego Star Wars videos online at the moment. Or there are these crazy “Star Wars Dance-Off” videos from the Disney Studios Star Wars Weekends that have to be seen to be believed. (You haven’t lived until you’ve seen Chewbacca’s Axl Rose impression.) Or, at times, I will show her small clips from the actual movies. I normally keep these short, but I have given her brief looks at lightsaber fights, space battles, Ewoks, etc. Since it is SUCH a front-of-mind topic with her peers, I have no problem sharing with her knowledge of the Star Wars universe – showing her videos, having discussions, letting her play with the toys – but I’ll be damned if I let peer pressure force me to show her the movies before I feel she’s ready for them.

Clone Wars Adventures, Volume 1

How do I explain Jedi haircuts to my daughter?

That’s a long preamble to say that, when my daughter showed up with a Star Wars book in her hands at the library and asked if she could check it out, I definitely went through some conflicting emotions. (Particularly since it was a Clone Wars book. Why did my child have to be born in the age of the prequels?) I eventually let her check out the book in question – Star Wars: Clone Wars Adventures, Volume 1 – and here are the three reasons why:

1. It wasn’t a mindless retelling of the movies. It was a new story. Granted, Clone Wars Adventures is set during the Clone Wars – the dumbest of all wars – but nothing is worse than a corporate-produced kids’ book that just recounts what happened in a movie. At least, the author had to try to create something new and not just say “and then this happened… and then this happened…”

2. It was a graphic novel – a format that I really love and that my daughter is really enjoying. She’s very into comic books right now and Clone Wars Adventures is a neat little Star Wars comics anthology series, published by Dark Horse Comics, with three separate stories per volume. The format is also pretty cool for young readers – big readable text, only 2-3 panels per page, and the library-binding editions are hardcover and super-tough. [read the rest of the post…]