30 posts categorized "Graphic Novels" Feed

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.