Tuesday, April 22, 2008

NYCC Reports

Publisher's Weekly has two reports of interest:

Kids' publishers panel
This post includes an interesting discussion about publishing formats and prices. I particularly like this quote from Jann Jones of DC, who is heading up the new kids' line, noting that many of the creators formerly working on kids' books would rather have been working on books for grown-ups: “They would just write watered-down versions of our characters,” she said. “I wanted something just for kids by people who were passionate about it.”

A short report on the panel about comics for girls, with title recommendations.
Jimmy Gownley, kids' comics superhero, speaks out: Gownley was quick to respond to a complaint that comics were “dumbed down,” noting that because the pictures help guide comprehension, a child can read a full grade higher in comic books than in prose.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Eisner Nominations: Best Publication for Kids

We'll be doing a column soon covering all these nominees, but here are my quick reations to each. It's a pretty solid lineup, but we need to read more before I can evaluate them all properly.

Amelia Rules! and Amelia Rules! Funny Stories, by Jimmy Gownley (Renaissance)
I have to be honest here - I haven't read a lot of Amelia Rules! The art just doesn't appeal to me personally so I haven't bothered to crack open the pages, but I know the girls have both read "The Things I Cannot Change" -- I promise I'll read it tonight.

Star Wars: Clone Wars Adventures, edited by Jeremy Barlow (Dark Horse)
I really, really like these books. There's definitely some cartoon violence, but how can you tell a story about Jedis without it? I completely dig the art and could just stare at the pages all day. That said, we've only bought few issues -- we'll get some more soon.

Mouse Guard: Fall 1152 and Mouse Guard: Winter 1152, by David Petersen (Archaia)
Here is a link to our review of Mouse Guard: Fall 1152.

The Wall: Growing Up Behind the Iron Curtain, by Peter Sis (Frank Foster Books/Farrar, Straus & Giroux)
I have no idea how this Caldecott winner has evaded my radar. I'll definitely be picking up a copy this week. Check out the preview at Amazon -- looks very intriguing.

Yotsuba&!, by Kiyohiko Azuma (ADV)
We have one trade of this title and we all liked it, but the translations are a bit akward at times. The girls had to ask me more than once to explain what was going on. I'll pick up a couple more volumes so we can give it another go.

Looks like I've got some shopping to do!

One last note: there are two titles in the Best Publication for Teens category that I absolutely love -- Mighty Skullboy Army and Laika. Go check those out for sure.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Eisner Nominations: Non-Kid Category Highlights

It's amazing how quickly the world of kid-friendly comics and graphic novels has grown! In addition to a Kids Comic-Con, we now have the Kids Comic-Con Awards (the winners of which will be announced at Kids' Day at the New York Comic-Con this Sunday) and a new cateogory in the Eisner awards. In addition to the Best Publication for Kids and Best Publication for Teens categories, there are nominations throughout the list for kid-friendly and all-ages creators and works.

First, let me congratulate Jimmy Gownley whose Amelia Rules! is not only nominated in the Best Publication for Kids category, but also for Best Coloring, Best Lettering, and Best Single Issue! James Sturm's Satchel Paige: Striking Out Jim Crow is also nominated in Best Writer and Best Reality-Based Work. I'm so happy to see "kid-friendly" creators being taken seriously. Way to go Jimmy, way to go James, and way to go Eisner judging panel!

Other notable kid-friendly nominations outside the Kids and Teens categories:

The Arrival, by Shaun Tan in Best Graphic Album—New and Best Writer/Artist. If this doesn't win, I'll be shocked -- at the moment I'd say it's the best graphic novel I've ever read. It's the first thing I would hand to someone who thinks that comics can't be art or literature because it is a shining example of both.

PX! By Manny Trembley and Eric A. Anderson, www.pandaxpress.com in Best Digital Comic. Also nominated in the Teen category, this is an odd and entertaining story. I love the evil goat.

Laika, by Nick Abadzis and Satchel Paige: Striking Out Jim Crow, by James Sturm and Rich Tommaso in Best Reality Based Work. I haven't had a chance to read Sturm's book but Laika, also nominated in the Teen category, is a touching and meticulously written work. It made me bawl my eyes out.

Kyle Baker, The Bakers: Babies and Kittens in Best Writer/Artist—Humor. I balked a little at paying $20 for this slim volume, but it's Kyle Baker and I would give every last cent I have just to keep him working!

Steve Hamaker, Bone, vols. 5 and 6 and Shazam: Monster Society of Evil in Best Coloring. The color Bone volumes from Scholastic are probably the most popular books in our school library - the kids fight over them constantly.

James Vining, First in Space in Special Recognition. It's funny that this story about chimps in the American space program came out at about the same time as Abadzis' Laika, which is about dogs in the Russian space program. This is not as ambitious a work as Laika, and I hope it doesn't pale in comparison because it is quite good.

Tomorrow, I'll take a look at the Kids and Teens categories.

Monday, April 14, 2008

2008 Eisner Nominations: Now More Kid-Friendly!

The 2008 Eisner Nominations have been announced and there's great news for kid-friendly comics. To start with, the former "Best Publication for a Younger Audience" has been split in two: "Best Publication for Kids," and "Best Publication for Teens." I'm so pleased to see this change!

Here are the nominees in each category:

Best Publication for Kids:
Amelia Rules! and Amelia Rules! Funny Stories, by Jimmy Gownley (Renaissance)
Star Wars: Clone Wars Adventures, edited by Jeremy Barlow (Dark Horse)
Mouse Guard: Fall 1152 and Mouse Guard: Winter 1152, by David Petersen (Archaia)
The Wall: Growing Up Behind the Iron Curtain, by Peter Sis (Frank Foster Books/Farrar, Straus & Giroux)
Yotsuba&!, by Kiyohiko Azuma (ADV)

Best Publication for Teens
Laika, by Nick Abadzis (First Second)
The Mighty Skullboy Army, by Jacob Chabot (Dark Horse)
The Annotated Northwest Passage, by Scott Chantler (Oni)
PX! Book One: A Girl and Her Panda, by Manny Trembley and Eric A. Anderson (Shadowline/Image)
Satchel Paige: Striking Out Jim Crow, by James Sturm and Rich Tommaso (Center for Cartoon Studies/Hyperion)

Secondly, there are some fabulous titles and authors/artists nominated, not only in these categories, but sprinkled throughout the nomination lists. I'll definitely have more to say about the nominations, hopefully later today, but for now I'll just say, "Hooray!"

Flight Explorer (and a rant about language)

Flight Explorer, Volume One. Edited by Kazu Kabuishi (Villard)

It’s time to discuss something that I know is a sore subject: “adult” language in children’s books. Now, before you go crying censorship or expounding on how you read Punisher when you were ten and it didn’t hurt you a bit, please understand that my personal feelings on this matter don’t always match my responsibilities as a teacher. My own kids know all the “bad” words; they read them in books and hear them in movies, they certainly hear them at school, and I really couldn’t care less. Words are words and we talk about when and where and by whom they are used. However, when it comes to being a teacher in a public school classroom, there are certain words that are completely off-limits if I want to keep my job.

I’m constantly dumbfounded by the inclusion of just one or two of these words in works aimed at the children’s market. One of the most surprising examples I can remember is in Tommysaurus Rex by Doug TenNapel. This touching tale of a boy and his dinosaur would be a welcome addition to any children’s collection except for one panel: when Tommy is dropped off at his Grandpa’s house, Gramps calls after the parents: “…Go have fun! Go have some sex! Call me when summer's over!” Because of that one panel, that one line, I can’t donate the book to our school library or have it on the shelf in my classroom. Was that panel really necessary? I don’t think it adds anything at all to the story and could easily have been left out. Obviously TenNapel and his editors felt differently, but that decision means that many children’s librarians and teachers won’t buy it.

This leads us to this week’s review: Flight Explorer. The Flight series has seen great success and is, in my opinion, showcases some of the most creative work being done in the medium today. Every anthology has its hits and misses, but the quality level overall in the Flight books is very high. Most of the stories are truly all-ages, with something for everyone, but there are a few small moments here and there that have led children’s librarians and teachers to keep these volumes off their shelves.

On the Flight blog, Kazu wrote, “After hearing from many booksellers and librarians that there weren’t very many high quality all-ages comics available for their youngest readers, we decided that a volume of Flight containing only the stories with the youngest readers in mind would be a great solution to the problem.” Hurray! What a fabulous idea!

Um, well, it would have been, with one – actually two – very small exceptions. While the stories in Flight Explorer are imaginative, colorful, well-written, and appeal to not only kids but to everyone, I cannot bring it into my classroom or give it to the school library.

In the story Missile Mouse, the eponymous character says, “Holy crap!” and “Oh crap.” That’s it. The same word, used twice, has cut this book out of many classrooms and libraries in America.

Lest you think, “Aw, that’s no big deal. Kids use that word all the time.” Yes, they do, when adults aren’t around. If they use it in the classroom they will be reprimanded and/or punished, so I can’t very well give them a book with crap in it, can I?

The kids in my class really struggle with reading, so I have a large selection of comics and graphic novels available in the classroom, hoping to stimulate their interest. Two of them were reading Lions, Tigers, and Bears and ran up to me yelling, “Ooooooh, there’s a bad word in this book! I’m gonna tell my mom!” Turns out the word was beastie, which they thought was bastard. I’m 100% sure they can decode the word crap.

I highly recommend Flight Explorer for both kids and adults. Buy it for your kids, your niece and nephew, grandkids. But unless your community has a tolerance for the word crap (and that word is definitely less onerous than when I was a kid), I can’t recommend it for elementary classrooms and libraries.

The girls and I reviewed each story individually – here are our favorites. As a reminder, Shelby is 12, Sarah is 9, and Tracy is the mom.

Copper by Kazu Kibuishi
Sarah: This is the second Copper story I’ve read in the Flight books and I like them. The mushroom-tree things in it are funny.

Shelby: I liked the art, especially the mushroom tops, and I like the dog and Copper.

Tracy: This short piece really stimulates the imagination. Where are Copper and Fred going? Where have they come from? I could almost feel what it would be like to jump from mushroom to mushroom.

Egyptian Cat: Perfect Cat by Johane Matte

Tracy: The story revolves around a cat living in an Egyptian royal family who becomes jealous of another cat who seems to be a palace favorite. Turns out that being the favorite gets you mummified as a gift to a goddess. Sarah actually didn’t understand the ending – I had to explain it to her. The jealous cat is such a great character; Matte manages to get a huge, Tex Avery-style range of facial expressions out of him. In fact, the whole story really plays in my head as an animated cartoon. It’s refreshing that the story doesn’t have a standard happy ending, though some little girls I know might be upset by it.

Sarah: This is probably one of my favorite stories in this. I like the way the different animals have different voices in the speech bubbles. I really liked the story, too, because it was really funny and it was also kind of sad.

Shelby: I like the art because the lines and the coloring are so straight and even that it looks very clean. The ending was a bit gross. I learned about mummies in class. We made a mummy chicken.

Big Mouth, by Phil Craven

Sarah: I loved this one! It’s kind of sad because he tries to be nice to everybody but they all be mean to him. Then there’s a bully and Big Mouth helps the little orange dude.

Shelby: I liked the way that he was drawn with the big, round body, and then the little, round teeth and the little, teeny arms and legs and a little, teeny hat.

Tracy: Any kid who doesn’t fit in will relate to this story about a misunderstood character who finds a friend.

Fish and Chips: All in a Day’s Work by Steve Hamaker

Sarah: I think it was really funny, especially when the fishy self-destructed his body and threw his bowl out to the Earth and he had a little propeller to make it swim.

Shelby: At first I didn’t really get what was going on, but then I could tell that the fish and the cat were a team. The cat only opened the door, though, and the fish did everything else.

Tracy: This is a great little story – Amazing Screw-On Head with a goldfish!

Delivery by Bannister

Sarah: I loved it – it was so funny! As long as you know the basic story of Tarzan or George of the Jungle, either way you wanna go, you’d get it.

Snow Cap: 2nd Verse by Matthew Armstrong

Tracy: The monster reminds me so much of Sendak’s Where the Wild Things Are, which is a good thing. This is one of my favorites because it’s achingly cute yet just a little creepy.

Shelby: I liked the art a lot. It’s like when my dog does something bad, like he barfs on the carpet, and he looks all sad and sorry. I still love him, but I know he’s gonna do it again.

Sarah: It was kind of sad when the monster eats the little girl, but it was funny when he spits her out and then she slaps him. It shows her little hat at the end. I think he ate her.

Sarah: I think Flight Explorer is good because it gives you some lessons and stuff. Like don’t get jealous and don’t try too hard to make friends or be nice to people who are different or don’t make fun of people ‘cause you might be wrong or you still love your family or your friend even if they do something wrong.

Shelby: This is like Flight but it’s shorter and cuter.

Links: Flight blog; Newsarama interview with Kazu Kibuishi including preview pages.