Book Reviews Comics

Sisters : Raina Telgemeier

SistersSisters by Raina Telgemeier
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Telgemeier’s work is a joy and this book is life-affirming. ‘Sisters’, a sequel to Smile details the great joy and pain that is sibling life. Raina has longed to be a big sister but, upon the arrival of Amara, she rapidly learns that things aren’t quite what she thought they would be. A younger brother, Will, also follows making Raina the big sister in a family that she desperately wanted but doesn’t quite know how to deal with now that it’s here.

Things come to a head on a road trip which sees the narrative shift between the present and past; a richly coloured lushness placed against sepia tinged frames, and it’s delicious. It really is. This is artwork that thrives and lives. I’d defy anybody not to laugh at some of the more emphatic panels which focus on Amara’s temper tantrums, and the subtle background work which hints at some discord between the parents is clever, delicate and sympathetically done. These are books that capture story and life and moments within their pages and it is quite fabulously done.

Telgemeier’s work came somewhat strangely into my life. I found my copy of Smile all by itself on a shelf in Asda and I snatched it up in a ‘wait, what’s this doing here’ sort of manner. And I’m so glad that I did. Telgemeier writes with such a genuine warmth, lightness and humour that I am rapidly in the process of devouring everything she’s ever done. I’ve just read The Baby-Sitters Club: Kristy’s Great Idea. It’s fabulous.

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Book Reviews Comics

Y : The Last Man : Brian K. Vaughan

Y: The Last Man, Vol. 1: Unmanned (Y: The Last Man, #1)Y: The Last Man, Vol. 1: Unmanned by Brian K. Vaughan

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I have a lot of time for Brian K. Vaughan.

It started with my discovery of Runaways, a series that rapidly came to encapsulate some of the best things about comics for me. And with Pride, I realised that I was in it for the long haul. I like what Brian K. Vaughan does. I like the art of his writing; the great soaring arcs of plot and of action that can be captured over ten issues or ten frames, the moments where everything seems to still and hinge upon a word, and those moments of writing that seems to almost split and bare a characers soul before me. I like that. I am, at times, rampantly jealous of that.

I’ve taken a long time to get round to Y:The Last Man. I’m not sure why. A little bit of it is due to the fact that I get a lot of my books from the public library and they’ve always been hard to get hold of. The comic books, I mean, not the libraries. Although in today’s climate – ? I digress. Suffice to say, though I have been aware of the series for a long time, I’ve only just got round to it.

And that pains me because this series, this book of such a simple premise – what happens if all the men on earth suddenly die? – is so very good. It is so good because there is a coda to that thesis statement and that is this: all the men on earth have died, save one. The last man. The eponymous Y – Yorick Brown. And his monkey, Ampersand. The two of them have, against all odds, survived whatever it was that has killed every other man on earth.

This volume follows Yorick as he tries to find his girlfriend, tries to escape the various authorities on his tale, and tries to figure out just what it means to be the last man.

What I love about this volume (and the great, wild arcs that develop from it) is the fact that Vaughan is unafraid to give us a problematic hero. (A Hero. Ha. Yorick’s sister is called Hero. Their father was really into Shakespeare.) Yorick is flawed. His life is not as it should be.

Maybe that’s it. Perhaps Y:The Last Man is about the nature of heroism and what that entails. Destiny, maybe, and the problem of great and world-shattering hope being put into the hands of those who aren’t quite ready for that yet. Humans, maybe. That’s the best way to describe it. This volume, and the series as a whole, colours the post-male world in shades of vivid and deep grey. Nothing is quite right any more. But then, what’s right? Why do we do what we do? Is this simply the world reasserting itself? Is this how it was always going to be? What would you do? What should Yorick do? How do you continue to live in a world where you’re the only one left?

Choose light. Choose dark. Choose rage. Choose hope. Choose to walk into tomorrow with your eyes wide-shut, or with your arms outstretched and ready to receive whatever may come. Just choose something. Something. Anything.

I love that Vaughan throws all that at us and asks us to consider what we’d do. And I love that he doesn’t make it clear. He doesn’t make it easy. He doesn’t make it right. Yorick makes decisions, foolish and blind, and – it’s true. To him. Maybe not to the ideals of what this world could be. But it’s his experience of that world, and Vaughan lets that happen in the right way. The complicated, contradictory and often foolish way.

This is storytelling, really, even the parts that made me feel uncomfortable and antagonistic towards the text. And don’t get me wrong, there are parts of this story which are deeply problematic – but they are problems of this story and they are integral to this story and this story is Yorick’s and so, to ignore these problems and to edit his storyline would pull the story far away from him and to a place that it should not be.

Y: The Last Man is a lesson in how to handle the light and dark, the madness of story and how to let it tell itself. It is a lesson in complexity and darkness and shadows and light, and it is is a lesson in a comic that is anthemic in scope and reach.

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Comics #kidbkgrp

So last night #kidbkgrp met online and we talked about comics. Comics! Shazam, kathwop, kablammo comics! I love comics, but I know I don’t know as much about them as I could. I know as well that a lot of people find them intimidating (I mean, where do you begin?) or baffling (So – that X-Man is dead in this one, alive in this one, and a zombie in this one?) and sometimes just don’t know where to go with them. And I think that was a big part of my rationale for holding this chat – a sort of ‘de-mystification’ of the genre and the chance to pick the brains of some genuinely talented people for their hints and tips and personal favourites.

I need to thank @illusclaire and @sarangacomics for helping me out massively with this chat. @illusclaire is the assistant editor of Women Write About Comics (website), and @sarangacomics has a hugely good blog here full of reccomendations for new readers. Both of them are very, very good at their thing.

I also need to spotlight @neillcameron as well who gave a lot of brilliant sounding reccomendations for comics for six year olds (and, in a moment of very handy public spirit, storified them here). Thanks Neill!

Here’s the storify of last night and here’s a link to the previous chats. See you next time! December 12th – we talk school stories!

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News and more from this week in the world of children’s literature

Hello! It’s your weekly roundup of Things Which May Be Interesting! As ever, if you’ve got anything that you think should be included, let me know? Enjoy!

1. Nosy Crow features a 20 month old retelling of one of their stories (not as in an old retelling, a retelling by a very young individual!). It’s a fascinating insight into developing literacy and well worth watching. You can see the video and accompanying blog post here.

2. Di Laycock talks about the changing (and unchanging) attitudes towards comics in the classroom. “Keep watering the rocks” also features a very useful looking bibliography if you’re needing to look at using / justifying comics in an educational context.

3. If you’re in Oxford / can get to Oxford on October 12th, you should be going to this conference. The lineup looks amazing, plus you get the chance to make me rampantly jealous. Frankly, it sells itself!

4. This is a lovely, proper lovely, interview with Hilary McKay.

5. I enjoyed this essay: “Disenchanting the fairy godmother : an exploration of the evolution of fairy godmothers in modern retellings of Cinderella.”

6. I am planning things for #kidbkgrp and would welcome your thoughts! You can see more about this here. I’d really welcome your thoughts (and I have great things planned 😉 )

7. This is ace. 22 times when Harry Potter’s bitch face was better than yours. Turns out that the chosen one? He sassy.

8. And finally, it’s very much not from this week but I loved it and wanted to share it, Viviane Schwarz talks about what it feels like to write a picture book. It’s beautiful.

Previous posts in this series are available here. See you next time!

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Sunday round up and reflections

Happy Sunday! I hope you’ve managed to have an ice-cream this lovely sunny weekend and have had chance to put your feet up and enjoy things 🙂 Here’s the round up of things that caught my eye this week.

1. Zoe from @playbythebook pointed me in the direction of this excellent and powerful piece: “How to Really Read Racist Books to Your Kids” It’s one of those things you really need to read.  It reminded me of this other blog post: “How to be a fan of problematic things”. Both posts are really brilliant in how they approach the issue of reading difficult and problematic texts with a modern day perspective.

2. If you’ve not discovered KM Peyton (who is one of my utter author loves) have a look at this review of Fly-by-night. It totally sums up why KM Peyton is the wonder that she is. Also on a KM Peyton note, have a look at this beautiful piece from Meg Rosoff.

3. I *loved* this. One professor asked his students to do him a comic instead of take a final exam. Clearly the students chose the right option in comic-making 😉 and here are the results.

4. And finally, here’s some excellent posts on diversity with a lot of links in them that are worthwhile to take a bit of time in exploring: “Female Sexuality in YA Fiction : Exploring the range of experiences” and “Heck YA, Diversity! Pro-Tips Edition”.

If you’d like to view other posts in this series, they’re available here. See you next week!

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Standing on the Shoulders of Giants

I think about things, probably much more than I should, and sometimes the expressing of things is difficult. That’s life, I suppose, that tongue-knot that comes when you least expect it. But it’s how you deal with it, that’s what matters. It’s how you learn to speak, to write to express yourself even through all the boundaries you place in your way.

And that’s why I love blogging. I love the freedom of it, the way the space can be constructed as however you wish. I love the way that by engaging in it, you’re engaging in,  well, everything. You’re throwing out little hooks into society and every now and then you’re meeting somebody who just blows your mind. An anchor. Somebody to hitch your colours to, somebody who speaks about the things you believe . Somebody who says what you want to say, what you want to be said.

Books have done a lot for me. They’ve given me power and words for the darkest darknesses. In a way that’s why I write – I want to share that power with others. I want to pay it forward. I believe in the transformative power of literacy. I believe in books.

And I believe in people. One of the greatest joys of doing this blog has been finding my anchors. People such as Ali from Fantastic Reads, Zoe from Playing By The Book, Melanie from Library Mice and Anne-Marie from Child-Led Chaos. People such as Yvonne from Babbleabout, Megan and Claire from Women Write About Comics, Saranga from New Reader’s Start Here and Carmen Haselup. There’s  more, of course there’s more, but I’m moments from typing in all of the lyrics to ‘The Circle of Life’ so I’m going to stop it there.

The thing about this community (am I calling it a community? I think I am. That’s kind of splendid) is that there’s so much here.So much skill, knowledge and passion. So many genuinely fascinating people doing genuinely fascinating things, pushing, prodding and examining children’s literature be that examining the representations of female animal characters in children’s literature, running edible book festivals, reviewing forgotten classics and giving voice to the great unsung stories that deserve to be sung about that little bit louder.

And I think that’s a bit amazing and should be a little bit recognised. Hence this.