24 posts categorized "Graphic Novels" Feed

Lunch Lady #4 and #5: Jarrett J. Krosoczka

Books: Lunch Lady and the Summer Camp Shakedown and Lunch Lady and the Bake Sale Bandit
Author: Jarrett J. Krosoczka
Pages: 96
Age Range: 8-12

I've enjoyed Jarrett J. Krosoczka's Lunch Lady series of graphic novels for elementary school kids (see reviews of prior books here and here). They're excellent escapist reading, featuring a crime-fighting school lunch lady and her gadget-inventing sidekick, Betty. My grandmother was actually a school lunch lady at one time, so I have a special fondness for this premise. Lunch Lady is no-so-ably assisted by the efforts of three friends known as The Breakfast Bunch. This week I read books #4 (Lunch Lady and the Summer Camp Shakedown) and #5 (Lunch Lady and the Bake Sale Bandit) of the series.

9780375860959Lunch Lady and the Summer Camp Shakedown finds Lunch Lady, Betty, and the three Breakfast Bunch kids all attending the same two-week summer camp. This is a bit of a departure for the series (generally set in a school). But not to worry, Breakfast Bunch nemesis Milmoe and his minion are at the camp, too. Things get off to a scary start when one of the counselors is attacked by "the terrible swamp monster." Lunch Lady and the Breakfast Bunch independently take it upon themselves to investigate (and naturally save the day).

I actually didn't care for this one as much as I have the others in the series. It felt a bit like a Scooby Doo episode for me, and I had to flip back and forth to keep track of the various new characters (camp counselors, directors, etc.). But it's still a fun read. We find Lunch Lady and Betty "Salisbury-staking out the pond", and undertaking explorations using "an Underwater Bendy-Straw Breathing Apparatus and an Underwater Mixer-Propulsion Backpack".

There's also a fun cameo by an over-the-top arts and crafts instructor ("Become one with your clay pots!" "Knead the clay, love the clay!"). My favorite character is the sole girl in the Breakfast Bunch, Dee, who reacts cynically to her peppy counselor ("This is all so lame...") and air-headed bunkmates. The contrast between the conversation in the boys vs. girls cabins is also entertaining (fart jokes vs. discussions of cute male counselors). Authentic if perhaps a trifle over the top.

In any event, kids seem to love it. Lunch Lady and the Summer Camp Shakedown received this year's Children's Choice Award for Third to Fourth Grade Book of the Year (Krosoczka also won last year's award in this category).

Bakesalebandit In Lunch Lady and the Bake Sale Bandit, everyone is back at school and excited for a bake sale/fundraiser. Until, that is, the baked goods are stolen. Lunch Lady and the Breakfast Bunch investigate a variety of leads before closing in on the culprit. It's possible that I liked this one better than the Summer Camp Shakedown because it includes the school's cranky janitor, one of my favorite characters. I love his Boston accent ("Theyah the bane of my existence", "I'll be cleanin' them up fah weeks") and his grouchiness.

There's more classic Lunch Lady rhetoric, like "It's as dark as the inside of a chocolate doughnut in here!", and "Porridge!" and "Brussels sprouts!" as expressions of disgust. And of course there are inventions, like the "Mac & Cheese cannon". I also love this from the end of the book (not a spoiler): "Justice is served!" say Betty and Lunch Lady. "And baked goods!" adds Hector.

The Lunch Lady books are perfect for third or fourth graders, including reluctant/dormant readers. They are fun, action-packed, over-the-top fare, while staying true to the day-to-day issues of elementary school kids. Krosoczka's black, white, and yellow illustrations are boy-and-girl-friendly, and excellent crutches for relatively new readers. Highly recommended, and a must-have for libraries.

Publisher: Knopf Books for Young Readers (@RandomHouseKids)
Publication Date: May 11, 2010 (#4) and December 28, 2010 (#5)
Source of Book: Review copies from the publisher

© 2011 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved. All Amazon links in this post are affiliate links, and may result in my receiving a small commission on purchases (with no additional cost to you).

The Memory Bank: Carolyn Coman and Rob Shepperson: #48HBC

Book: The Memory Bank
Author: Carolyn Coman
Illustrator: Rob Shepperson
Pages: 288
Age Range: 9-12

9780545210669_xlg My second book for the 48 Hour Book Challenge was another quick read, finished in about 50 minutes. The Memory Bank is an illustrated chapter book, along the lines of the Invention of Hugo Cabret, in which portions of the story are told through pictures. It's an over-the-top story reminiscent of Roald Dahl (with aspects of Matilda and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory). It's a fun, imaginative story, with wonderful visuals.

Hope Scroggins is devastated when her parents abandon her younger sister, Honey, by the side of the road. They declare that they now only have one child, and never want to hear her sister's name again. Hope retreats to a world of dreams, spending all of her time asleep, where she can at least dream about her sister. (Her parents respond to this by selling her day clothes at the thrift store.)

As a result of the excessive dreaming, Hope is eventually hauled off to the World Wide Memory Bank (WWMB), and asked to account for her deficit of new memories. There, she learns of the conflict between the and the Clean Slate Gang, a group that seeks to destroy memories, and the WWMB, guardians of memories. Meanwhile, Honey's story is shown via multi-page illustrated sections. The reader can gradually see how the stories will intersect.

Even young readers will clearly get that this is a melodrama, and not to be taken too seriously. The utter unsuitability of Hope and Honey's parents to be parents is made evident from the start (I was reminded a bit of the parents in Lois Lowry's The Willoughbys, and, of course, of Matilda Wormwood's parents). Hope is touchingly grateful for the tiniest bit of attention paid to her by the people she encounters through the WWMB.

Shepperson's black and white pencil illustrations are detailed and engaging. The trappings of the WWMB are delightfully fantastic, while the human characters display heart and hope. This would be an excellent book for a relatively new reader, with pictures telling part of the story (not just illustrating the story as an afterthought), even as the text uses some relatively advanced vocabulary.

The use of pictures is particularly helpful in conveying Hope's dreams. I mean, aren't dreams a series of pictures anyway? Why should one try to ever convert them into words? The hybrid word/picture format is perfect for this story.'

Coman's writing style is deadpan and quietly entertaining. Like this:

"Springing up on her cot, she asked, "Who are you?" It would never have occurred to Hope to call for help, as only her parents were home. (Page 42)

""Precisely," Sterlling said. "With nearly daily incidents of vandalism and trickery occurring, we cannot be too careful. Believe you me, it's no laughing matter," he continued, even though no one was anywhere near laughing. "I'm sure you can understand our position."
Hope was glad he was sure." (Page 101)

"It had all happened so fast! She could have been run over, mowed down. She could have died! And the instant she had that thought, Hope realized just how much she wanted to live! To find Honey! To eat more coffee cake!" (Page 166)

The Memory Bank has creative world-building, entertaining text, an appealing heroine, and the perfect illustrated format. It is pure fun for middle grade readers.

Publisher: Arthur A. Levine Books (@Scholastic)
Publication Date: October 1, 2010
Source of Book: Review copy from the publisher

© 2011 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved. All Amazon links in this post are affiliate links, and may result in my receiving a small commission on purchases (with no additional cost to you).

Squish #1: Super Amoeba: Jennifer L. Holm and Matt Holm

Book: Squish #1: Super Amoeba
Authors: Jennifer L. Holm and Matt Holm
Pages: 96
Age Range: 7-10

Squish The Babymouse series has a new spin-off. Arising out of a sample of pond water in Babymouse #14: Mad Scientist we have Squish: Super Amoeba. Although Squish is an amoeba, and lives in a world filled with paramecia, slime molds, flatworms, and the like, he's also just a regular guy. He goes to school. He likes comic books. He wears a baseball cap. He tries to be brave. He loves Twinkies. And he has two best friends, mooch Pod and relentless optimist Peggy.

As with the Babymouse books, my favorite parts of Squish: Super Amoeba are when the narrator makes smart-aleck remarks (this is probably because I can never resist the smart-aleck rejoinder myself). Like:

  • In a drawing of Squish's room, showing his dresser: "What's in there, anyway? It's not like he wears clothes."
  • And, in a panel showing Squish in science class we see: "smart at science"; "bad at paying attention"; and "never learns."

I also quite like Peggy ("she's like a ray of sunshine", says the narrator). Her exclamation points and sweetness are completely over the top, but they work, somehow. Pod is a total mooch, and an unrepentant geek - the kind of kid that a nice guy really can end up best friends with. For a bow-tie-wearing amoeba, he's a pretty realistic kid.

In Squish: Super Amoeba, there is a bad guy, because "Amoebas come in all shapes and sizes, just like snowflakes! (Some are pure evil!). There are some fantasy sequences, in which Squish imagines himself to be the comic book hero Super Amoeba. The fantasy sequences are helpfully colored in gray, while the main narrative is black, white, and green - this helps the reader to keep things straight. After all, when one is reading a book about an amoeba who sits in a beanbag chair and reads comic books, it's helpful to know which sequences are meant to be fantasy, and which are the everyday reality ;-)

Squish: Super Amoeba is, as you would expect, pretty much along the same mold (no pun intended) as the Babymouse series. It's a bit more of a buddy story (Babymouse is pretty much the total star of her show), and I think that's a good addition. And, of course, the green coloring, and the presence of molds and worms, makes Squish a bit more boy-friendly than the pink-and-black Babymouse books (though I personally think that either series could work perfectly well for kids of either gender).

In short, I think that Squish is going to be a hit with the early-to-middle elementary school set. He's a likeable character, with entertaining sidekicks, in a setting that's a fun mix of typical and unexpected. I'll be interested to see how the series evolves, in terms of taking advantage of unique traits of amoebae and their microscopic brethren. Recommended, and a must-purchase for libraries.

Publisher: Random House Books for Young Readers (@RandomHouseKids)
Publication Date: May 10, 2011
Source of Book: Review copy from the publisher

© 2011 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved. All Amazon links in this post are affiliate links, and may result in my receiving a small commission on purchases (with no additional cost to you).

Babymouse: Cupcake Tycoon: Jenni Holm and Matt Holm

Book: Babymouse: Cupcake Tycoon
Author: Jennifer L. Holm and Matthew Holm
Pages: 96
Age Range: 7-10

Cupcake I've said it before, and I'm sure I'll say it again: I LOVE Babymouse. I don't review all of the books, because, honestly, how useful is it to my audience for me to keep saying the same thing over and over again? Periodically, however, I give in to the urge to gush about these books. And given that the 13th installment of this series is about cupcakes, libraries, and the love of books, how could I possibly resist?

In Babymouse: Cupcake Tycoon, our intrepid heroine, in typical fashion, allows her imagination to run away with her while climbing the stacks in the library (she's Indiana Jones in the Tomb of the Unknown Fraction). To replace the books lost in the resulting flood (groan), the school decides to hold a fundraiser. In a dream come true for Babymouse, the students will be selling cupcakes to benefit the library. Not only that, there's a special, top-secret prize in store for the person who sells the most cupcakes.

Babymouse, needless to say, is on the job. She finds herself in fierce competition with nemesis Felicia, and she suffers mightily in her quest. Will she prevail? Will the library get lots of great new books? Will Babymouse be the school's hero, and become a famous cupcake tycoon? I can't tell you the ending, can I? Go and read the book.

Things I especially liked about this installment:

  • The library as bucolic, book-filled paradise (complete with a river of letters) (page 15)
  • Image of Babymouse's jaw literally dropping to the floor in surprise (page 50)
  • Image of it literally raining cats and dogs (page 76)

I think that my favorite thing about these books, besides the indomitable character of Babymouse herself, is the dry exchanges between Babymouse and her narrator. For example, she's all excited to sell cupcakes, and he comments: "Because of your track record of excellent salesmanship?" (after reminders of less than successful prior fundraisers) (page 27)

Fans of the Babymouse series won't want to miss this installment. Neither will fans of books and libraries, elementary school graphic novel afficianados, or anyone who likes the color pink. And if you love cupcakes, well, Babymouse: Cupcake Tycoon is the book for you. If somehow you don't fall into any of these categories (is that possible?), then I fear you can't be helped. No cupcakes for you!

In all seriousness, though, Babymouse: Cupcake Tycoon is wonderful. It should provide further incentive for all of us not to outgrow an appreciation for Babymouse. And cupcakes.

Publisher: Random House
Publication Date: September 28, 2010
Source of Book: Review copy from the publisher

© 2010 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved. All Amazon links in this post are affiliate links, and may result in my receiving a small commission on purchases (with no additional cost to you).

Lunch Lady and the Author Visit Vendetta: Jarrett J. Krosoczka: Middle Grade Graphic Novel

Book: Lunch Lady and the Author Visit Vendetta
Author: Jarrett J. Krosoczka
Pages: 96
Age Range: 8-12 

LunchladyLunch Lady and the Author Visit Vendetta is the third book in Jarrett J. Krosoczka's series of "Lunch Lady" graphic novels for middle grade readers. I reviewed the first two books back in September, and found this one quite similar (as early elementary school kids are likely to want from their series reading). In this installment, school lunch lady and secret crime fighter Lunch Lady notices odd behavior by a visiting children's book author, Mr. Scribson. This behavior may or may not be tied to the mysterious disappearance of the school gym teacher, Coach Birkby. Meanwhile, the three students in the Breakfast Bunch track down Mr. Scribson's home, in an attempt to right a wrong done by Scribson to long-time fan Terrence. Danger ensues.

Scribson is an entertaining character, a hilariously atypical children's book author. He doesn't eat cafeteria food (only gourmet for him), doesn't allow photos during his visit, and says things like "Now, children, I am an author--one who writes books. Some say that I am the greatest author all time." He also lives in a huge, gated mansion, attended by servants. [I'm sure that many of the children's book authors reading this will find Scribson's financial success familiar -- grin. You'll also suspect that he's up to no good when the gym teacher says "I have a few ideas for some books" and Scribson says "I'd love to hear about them."]

Like the previous books, Lunch Lady and the Author Visit Vendetta is filled with clever, kitchen-themed gadgets designed by Lunch Lady's sidekick, Betty. I especially liked the Hamburger Headphones and the Mustard Grappling Hook. Of course the Mole Communicator remains a hit, too. Lunch Lady still sprinkles her speech with food-themed exclamations, like "Good Gravy!" and "Great Brussels sprouts!". And the three children remain brave and resourceful (young boys will especially appreciate their technique for saving the day in the Author Visit Vendetta).  

Some of the humor in Lunch Lady and the Author Visit Vendetta, as is fitting for a graphic novel, lies in the pictures, rather than the words. For example, a glimpse into Couch Birkby's living room reveals a rack of basketballs. Krosoczka's illustrations are active and engaging, with people's expressions particularly well-rendered.

In short, Lunch Lady and the Author Visit Vendetta is an excellent addition to the Lunch Lady series, sure to please young graphic novel fans. As I said in my review of the previous books in the series, I highly recommend the Lunch Lady books for Babymouse fans (especially boys, since the Lunch Lady books are, well, less pink). This book in particular is also sure to entertain children's book authors of all ages, and would make a nice gift for them, too.

Publisher: Knopf Books for Young Readers
Publication Date: December 22, 2009
Source of Book: Review copy from the publisher
Other Blog Reviews: None that I found. But did you hear that Lunch Lady is going to be made into a movie?

© 2010 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved. All Amazon links in this post are affiliate links, and may result in my receiving a small commission on purchases (with no additional cost to you).

Lunch Lady: Jarrett J. Krosoczka

Book: Lunch Lady and the Cyborg Substitute and Lunch Lady and the League of Librarians
Author: Jarrett J. Krosoczka
Pages: 96 (each)
Age Range: 7 to 10

51k7CoWcebL._SL500_AA240_The Lunch Lady books are a new series of graphic novels for early elementary school readers. They're aimed at the same audience that's been gobbling up the Babymouse series, though the Lunch Lady books are a bit less, well, pink. The palette is an easy-on-the-eyes combination of yellow, black, white, and gray. But the important thing is that these books are a lot of fun! I mean, what right-minded elementary school kid could resist the premise that the lunch lady is a secret crime-fighter? Or the idea that the substitute teacher is actually a cyborg? Go ahead. Ask the closest 8-year-old, and come back if you find them intrigued.

Back? OK. On to the reviews. The first book in Jarrett J. Krosoczka's Lunch Lady series is Lunch Lady and the Cyborg Substitute. This small-format graphic novel introduces our hero, Lunch Lady and her tech support sidekick Betty. Lunch Lady rides a motorscooter, wears a yellow apron and yellow rubber gloves, and has a gadget-filled hideout in the boiler room. When you set the fridge in the kitchen to "coldest", it slides over to the side, revealing a hidden staircase down to the hideout. Betty's clever inventions range from the "milk-cam" to the "lunch tray laptop" to the "spork phone". My favorite, though, is the not-to-be-missed "Spatu-coper". Although she keeps a watchful eye on things at her school, Lunch Lady does, as you would expect, care deeply about food, too. She's constantly using expressions like "I'm on him like cheese on macaroni!" and "Good gravy!".

In the first book, a popular teacher is unexpectedly out sick, replaced by an enormous, oddly formal teacher. Suspiciously, he turns down fresh cookies! As Lunch Lady begins investigating the substitute, three friends (known collectively as the Breakfast Bunch) decide to learn more about Lunch Lady. A dangerous conflict ensues (think chicken nugget bombs and attacking robots). There's also a sub-plot involving the Breakfast Bunch's interaction with a bully. The blending of school cafeteria dynamics and clever spy tools had me giggling. I imagine that kids will love it, too. The Breakfast Bunch kids (Hector, Dee, and Terrence) have regular problems, mixed in with their dangerous cyborg encounter. I think that young readers will be able to relate to them.

613UvrlJ8jL._SL500_AA240_ Book 2 has a great title: Lunch Lady and the League of Librarians. In this installment, a league of power-mad librarians uses the book fair as a cover for an evil plan. It's up to Lunch Lady and the Breakfast Bunch to stop them. I must admit that I found it a little disturbing to read about librarians as bad guys. But I did like the names that Krosoczka used for the librarians: Rhonda Page, Edna Bibliosa, Vivian Bookwormer, and Jane Shelver.

Book 2 includes a bit of character development for Dee, Terrence, and Hector, as well as some new spy tools for Lunch Lady. I loved the hover pizzas. School bully Milmoe remains a thorn in everyone's side, adding a nice second layer to the story. I was also entertained to notice that the janitor (Mr. Kalowski) has a Massachusetts accent, a fun little in-joke from a Mass-based author ("Yah kids had bettah staht headin' home"). There's also a continuing gag whereby lunch lady Betty offers to put gravy on everything (even pizza! Yuck!).

In short, these books are pure fun, perfect for both new readers and older reluctant readers. I would classify them as a must-purchase for elementary school libraries.

Publisher: Knopf Books for Young Readers
Publication Date: July 28, 2009
Source of Book: Review copies from the publisher
Other Blog Reviews: Every Day Is Like Wednesday, Read About Comics, The Reading Zone, Book Aunt, The Excelsior File, Bookie Woogie, 100 Scope Notes, Miss Erin, and others.

© 2009 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved.

Babymouse #11: Dragonslayer

Book: Babymouse #11: Dragonslayer
Author: Jennifer L. Holm and Matthew Holm
Pages: 96
Age Range: 7-10 

Babymouse In need of something that would make me laugh the other night, I picked up the latest Babymouse book: Dragonslayer. And it was exactly what I was looking for. I think this might be the best of the series so far. Certainly it's the most appealing so far for fantasy fans. That's because Babymouse: Dragonslayer is chock-full of references to fantasy sagas, old and new. Where else can you find:

  • A locker that's a portal to another world (complete with fur coats);
  • The Fellowship of the Slide Rule; and
  • A geometry problem involving the flight of a boy and a dragon?

Short answer: nowhere else. (There's also a wonderful Harry Potter reference, but I don't want to spoil it.) Babymouse: Dragonslayer is full to the brim with creativity and fun. It's a perfect mix of fantasy elements (as you can see from the cover image of Babymouse, her sword and chain mail, and a menacing dragon), and the real-world problems of elementary school kids (in this case,  math). We have the mundane (a mean cat chanting "Babymouse is in trou-ble!"), the epic ("there is a prophecy that one will come..."), and the ridiculous (a bat, all of whose words are printed upside down), all mixed together. And it works, evoking snorts of laughter on virtually every page.

Despite all of these things, I think that my favorite aspect of this book, as with the others, remains the bickering between Babymouse and the narrator. Like:

Narrator: "Look on the bright side, Babymouse--you may be missing lunch, but at least you get to do math!"
Babymouse: "Sigh"


Narrator: "Babymouse, do you even know what a slide rule is?"
Babymouse: "No, but I want one."

There's something to the tone of these interactions (like that matter-of-fact, "That would be a no" on page 40) that never fails to please me.

There are swords. There are dragons. There are math problems. There are cupcakes. What more could anyone ask? Jenni Holm and Matt Holm are far, far from phoning it in with this series. Babymouse: Dragonslayer is my favorite yet. Highly recommended.

Publisher: Random House
Publication Date: August 25, 2009
Source of Book: Review copy from the publisher
Other Blog Reviews: Book Moot, Becky's Book Reviews, The Well-Read Child. See also my reviews of Babymouse: Beach Babe, Babymouse: Heartbreaker, and Babymouse: Puppy Love

© 2009 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved.

Encouraging Reading through Comic Books

Ghost CirclesIn response to my recent post about tips for encouraging young readers, Thomas Hanson of OpenEducation.net sent me links to three recent posts about using comic books as a tool for teaching reading:

  • Innovative Teaching - Comic Books in the Classroom: This post, the first published of the three, references the recent NY Times article on this topic. The specific attributes of comics that make it easier for kids to learn reading and writing are discussed, with the general idea being that "if they help young readers become more fluent readers" then they are worth a look. The article concludes with a discussion of the difference between comic books and graphic novels.
  • Innovative Teaching - Chris Wilson Discusses the Comic Book Movement: In this post, OpenEducation.net interviews Chris Wilson, author and editor of the site “The Graphic Classroom”. This post had me at the following opening statements: "Mr. Wilson ... feels that comics do a great deal more than help keep students invested in learning. In fact, Wilson’s number one goal is to develop of a love for reading in all his students - for him, the comic genre is one method to develop that love." I like Chris Wilson already! The interview is detailed and well-researched, and well worth your time.
  • The Twelve Best Comic Books for the Classroom: This post provides a list of five titles for elementary school readers and seven for middle school and high school readers. The list includes titles specifically selected to increase "administrative buy-in" at the schools, mainly traditional tales set to graphic format (which "set the stage for reading the real text later in school") and stories that "truly teach students about the world around them." The list includes the "Bone" series, by Jeff Smith, which was mentioned in my recent article.

I've bookmarked OpenEducation.net - I think that Tom Hanson is someone worth listening to. I hope that you enjoy the above articles.

Babymouse: Puppy Love: Jennifer L. Holm and Matthew Holm

Book: Babymouse: Puppy Love
Author: Jennifer L. Holm and Matthew Holm
Pages: 96
Age Range: 7-10

Babymouse: Puppy LoveI've said it before (here and here), and I will say it again. I LOVE Babymouse! For those of you have somehow missed this series, the Babymouse books are a series of graphic novels for elementary school kids, about a young girl mouse. In this eighth installment, Babymouse: Puppy Love, our brave heroine is on a mission to acquire and keep a pet. She tries goldfish (they either die or disappear), and then moves on to hamster, hermit crab, ferret, turtle, salamander, sea monkey, and Venus fly trap. But alas, her pets keep disappearing. After a particularly ill-considered experiment with an ant farm, however, Babymouse finds a stray dog, and makes Buddy her own. Having a dog brings a whole host of new challenges, but Babymouse is up to the task.

There are so many fun things about this book. It's a rare book indeed that makes the reader laugh aloud on the copyright page. Then there's what happens to the lost pets, living quite comfortably just outside of Babymouse's notice, eating cupcakes. They even have a disco ball. I think that kids will be rolling on the floor with laughter. But my favorite thing is that in a book about a child seeking a pet, the Holms manage to reference (with a trademark combination of sincerity and irreverence) several of the classic "child and animal" stories, including Charlotte's Web, National Velvet, Emily Elizabeth and Clifford, and even Calvin and Hobbes. For instance, when little Fern tells "Babypig" that "Daddy's going to kill you!", Babypig's response is "What kind of children's book is this, anyway?"

As with the other books in the series, this graphic novel features a combination of live action and dream sequences. The dream sequences have a pink background, making it easy for kids to visually distinguish them from reality (though this is usually also quite clear from the context). Deadpan humor is added to the live action sequences, in large part by the interjections of the narrator. He doesn't let Babymouse get away with anything. For example: "I'm sorry to say, but I saw that one coming a mile away" and "Uh, Babymouse? Hobbes isn't a dog. He's a tiger."

Babymouse's personality remains distinctive, hopeful and filled with big dreams, yet also wryly accepting of her less charmed lot. I love her trademark muttering of "Typical" when things don't go her way. Realities like mud puddles and dog poop make their way even into her fantasies.

Matthew Holm's black, white, and pink illustrations are a delight. My favorite in this book is one in which Babymouse's mother spells out her responsibilities in taking on the stray dog. We see a picture of Babymouse's smiling face, with the words streaming "in one ear" and "out the other". It's jokes like this that make the Babymouse books fun for adults, as well as kids.

Babymouse: Puppy Love is perhaps not as profound as my favorite in the series: Babymouse: Beach Babe (which showcases the relationship between a girl and her attention-seeking younger brother). But I think that the theme of a child seeking the right pet, and reacting to the joys, inconveniences, and responsibilities of pet care-taking, will resonate with many kids. I also think that the authors are doing a fabulous job at keeping this series fresh and interesting. It's clear that siblings Jennifer Holm and Matthew Holm take joy in creating the Babymouse books, and their joy passes on to the reader.

If you have a relatively new reader in your house, especially a reluctant reader, or one who does better with illustrations than text, I highly recommend that you give the Babymouse books a try. Although the pink coloring and presence of hearts on the cover suggest that these are more girl-friendly than boy-friendly books, I have heard first-hand from parents and librarians that many young boys who like them, too. You have humor, you have themes that are of universal interest to elementary school kids, and you have a graphic novel format. This combination is tough to beat. And if you're already a Babymouse fan, Puppy Love will not disappoint. Don't miss it!

Publisher: Random House Children's Books
Publication Date: December 26, 2007
Source of Book: Review copy from the publisher
Other Blog Reviews: The Well-Read Child (Where, I saw after I had written my review, Jill said "If your child is reluctant to read books with longer paragraphs and pages of text, give Babymouse a try." Great minds, I guess.) This book was also recommended today in the Chicago Sun-Times (via Matthew Holm's blog).

© 2009 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved.

Babymouse: Heartbreaker

Just in time for Valentine's Day, I bring you a review of Babymouse: Heartbreaker, the fifth title in Jennifer Holm and Matthew Holm's Babymouse series of graphic novels. Babymouse is an indomitable girl mouse who attends school (apparently early middle school) with a variety of other animals and has an adoring younger brother at home. Babymouse also has a rich fantasy life and a wry sense of humor. She has contentious relationships with the monster in her locker and with the narrator of her stories.

As this installment begins, Valentine's Day is approaching. Babymouse dreams of romance - flowers and candy and cupcakes and "cute heart outfits". When she learns that her school will be having a Valentine's Day dance, she puts all of her optimism and energy into getting a date. The results, sad to say, are less than impressive.

Even in her own fantasies, Babymouse is the kind of girl who falls when running down the steps of the palace at midnight and, bruised and battered, mutters "Typical". She kisses a frog, and he turns into ... a snake. She tries to become more feminine, with make-up and freshly curled whiskers, and she looks ridiculous. Even her own "mirror mirror on the wall" laughs at her.

Babymouse has to watch all of the other girls get dates, while there is, apparently, no one for her. But the thing about Babymouse, the thing that makes her stories so worth buying for all of the 7 to 10 year old girls in your life, is that she never quits. And in the end, she triumphs.

As in the other books, the illustrations (all pink and white and black) are hilarious. My favorite from this one is after Babymouse has her makeover. There's a random picture of space creatures, in a spaceship, watching video from earth. And one of them is lying on his back, feet high in the air. The caption is "I don't know, Commander - he was looking at something on Earth and he just fell over." And you see a tiny picture of Babymouse, on the viewscreen, looking dejected. It's priceless! There's also an amusing riff on the movie Dirty Dancing (I'll bet if you think about it for a minute, you can guess).

Underneath the over-the-top graphic novel format, Babymouse: Heartbreaker tackles issues that every girl can relate to. Who hasn't wanted to be invited to a school dance, but not been asked? Who hasn't daydreamed about receiving flowers, cards and chocolates, but gone home empty-handed? But Babymouse doesn't give up, and neither will her readers. This installment of the series is a must-read for Babymouse fans. And if you know any young girls out there who aren't familiar with Babymouse, I ask you to think seriously about introducing her to them. Happy Valentine's Day!

Book: Babymouse: Heartbreaker
Author: Jennifer L. Holm and Matthew Holm
Publisher: Random House
Original Publication Date: December 26, 2006
Pages: 96
Age Range: 7-11
Source of Book: Review copy from the authors. (Full disclosure, they also sent me a stuffed toy Babymouse - you can see a picture if you scroll back a couple of days.)
Other Blog Reviews: A review by A Fuse #8 Production and a mention at Big A little a. Updated to add: Kelly also reviewed this book today at Big A little a.

Please also note that Babymouse: Beach Babe is a Cybils shortlist title for Graphic Novels, Age 12 and Under. See my review of Babymouse: Beach Babe here.

© 2009 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved.

Babymouse: Beach Babe

Random House kindly sent an advance galley of Babymouse: Beach Babe, by Jennifer L. Holm and Matthew Holm. The book is scheduled for publication on May 23rd, and I was happy to have an early look at it. Babymouse: Beach Babe sat on my coffee table the day after it arrived, looking very pink, and calling out, in a high-pitched, squeaky sort of voice "read me." Eventually, just before bedtime, I gave in. And I have to say, after missing the first two books in the series, that I am now in love with Babymouse.

For those of you unfamiliar with the series, the Babymouse books are graphic novels, with engaging pink and black pictures, designed for the 8 to 12 set. They feature an indomitable heroine, with a rich fantasy life, and loving, if largely invisible, parents. This installment begins with Babymouse dreaming of being a surfing champion, only to wake to discover that (oh great joy!) it's the last day of school. After making it through the day, Babymouse learns (oh greater joy!) that her family will be vacationing at the beach. What follows is a mixture of real-life beachside trials and tribulations (sand-castles, surfing, sunburn, and boardwalks) and fantastical adventures (mermaids and genies in magic bottles).

But the real story is Babymouse's relationship with her much younger brother, Squeak. Anyone who has ever had a younger sibling, or been a younger sibling, will be able to relate to the images of Squeak, ready with his kite, eager for his adored older sister to play with him. And, sadly, we can also relate to Squeak's desolation when Babymouse is too busy, running off on her adventures. There's a scene in which Squeak's heart literally breaks, upon rejection from Babymouse. Clearly, the brother-and-sister creators of this book have some real-life experience in matters of older and younger siblings. You'll have to read the book yourself to see how it turns out.

Babymouse: Beach Babe is a quick and easy read, and will definitely appeal to reluctant grade school readers. Two things make the book stand out for me. The first is the irrepressible spirit of Babymouse, as expressed through her actions, through the wonderful drawings, and through her discussions with the invisible narrator. She carries echoes of Anne Shirley in her dramatic failures, and of Pippi Longstocking in her bravado. The other thing that I love about this book is the regular seasoning of small, humorous details. The scene where Babymouse cleans out her locker, finding, among other things, troublesome gnomes, aliens, and the dish that ran away with the spoon, made me laugh out loud.

Babymouse: Beach Babe is the kind of book that you want to read with someone else nearby, so that you can hold it up and say "look at this!" at intervals. I think that my elementary school nieces will adore it. As for me, Babymouse: Beach Babe made me wish that I had been a little nicer to my younger siblings. It also made me nostalgic for childhood summer vacations, where life's biggest problem is "who am I going to play with?" It's an excellent read for the start of the summer.

About the Authors: According to the promotional material for this book, "Brother and sister team, Matthew and Jennifer Holm, grew up playing with stuffed mice. Jenni had a mouse house and Matt had the garage attached to the house. Today Jenni is the author of several highly acclaimed novels, including the Newbery Honor book, Our Only May Amelia. Matthew is a graphic designer and freelance writer. Neither of them have mice, although Jenni does have a small son who likes cheese a lot and Matt has a weasel. Jenni resides in Maryland and Matthew lives in New York." You can find more information on the Babymouse website.

UPDATE: I just noticed that Kelly at Big A little a published a review of this book on Friday. Like me, Kelly especially enjoyed the locker clean-out scene.

© 2009 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved.