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Articles, Book Reviews, Graphic novels

Comics on cartooning

If you have a young artist in the house, or if you're looking to inspire someone to try their hand at art, here's a collection to catch their attention. These are "how to cartoon" books that have been done as comics themselves – they both tell and show! There are plenty of cartooning books available, but most should be avoided. Parents might be under the impression that anything comic-related is just kid stuff, remembering the old Asterix and Obelix, Donald Duck, or Archie Andrews comics they used to read. The reality is that the vast majority of comics today are targeted at adults. Even old-school Archie wasn't as good-natured as we misremember him (always taking Betty for granted, and oggling every girl) and his newest iteration is now pushing homosexuality. There is a lot of twisted stuff in the comics, whether it’s the way women are depicted as impossibly buxom and skinny, or the heroic witches, ghosts, and demons that feature in more and more stories, or the queer agenda that’s inserted in comics for even the youngest ages. So comics as a genre aren't safe. But comics can be kid's stuff, and the ones below are awesome! I'm listing them by the age of their target audience, from youngest to oldest. (I've reviewed a couple of these elsewhere too, so you can click on their titles for more details). Adventures in Cartooning: How to turn your doodles into comics by James Sturm, Andrew Arnold, and Alexis Frederick-Frost 2009 / 112 pages This series has been called "the first books you should read if you want to cartoon." That's a pretty accurate descriptor. What sets these apart from the ones that follow is that the artwork is the easiest to copy, and the adventures are the goofiest! In the first story, a princess wants to make a comic but thinks she needs to know how to draw first. Appearing in a dramatic poof of smoke, a "Magic Cartooning Elf" arrives to tell her "THAT'S NOT TRUE!!!" He shows how a few simple lines here and then can create towers, mountains, swords, trees and so much more. Together they start crafting the princess's first comic adventure. It's about a princess who gets abducted by a dragon, and a brave knight (and his not-so-brave horse Edward) who set off to rescue her. Kids will get lessons in the importance of panels, perspective, how to show motion, and how dialogue can be used to helpfully tell what something is (when your artwork isn't quite up to showing it clearly enough). They'll learn how to draw the knight, Edward, and the Magic Cartooning Elf too. This is a book any kid will absolutely love! Cautions would include a few uses of "gosh" and "geez," as well as a "girl power" twist at the end when the young adventurous knight turns out to be the princess instead. It's not a huge thing, and I mention it only because we are in a world that is so confused about gender, it may have to be pointed out to kids that women have never been suited to wearing suits of armor.  I'll also note that as a wide floppy book, this could get pretty beat up in a school library, but I think it would still be a fantastic purchase. Maybe get two copies right away. There are all sorts of character tropes, and some of these are less admirable than a knight and princess – witches, monsters, superheroes, aliens, robots – but these are all minor elements to the story and I don't think are troublesome at all. Two sequels are every bit as instructive. Adventures in Cartooning: Characters in Action! and Adventures in Cartooning: Create a World take the knight on further adventures, imparting many more cartooning lessons along the way. There are also a few smaller spin-offs. I've read three – Ogres Awake!, Gryphons Aren't So Great and Sleepless Knight – and while they all include instructions on the insides of the front and back covers on how to draw some of the key characters, that's the extent of the instruction. These are more comic-book than comic education. I suspect another of these, Hocus, Focus!, might be a bit too witch-focused, and not educational-enough to bother with, but I'll let you know after I track it down. Maker Comics: Draw a Comic by J.P. Coovert 2019 / 124 pages Our guides, Maggie and her dog Rex, are trying to fulfill her grandfather’s dream of having a comic library. Maggie must buy the building before a villain turns it into a parking lot, and a discovered treasure map might lead to the money they need. Alongside their treasure quest, readers are given 6 projects to complete. We move from making a comic strip, to ending up with a one-sheet, 8-page comic book. My daughter loved learning how to fold and cut a single piece of paper to make this small comic booklet. Draw A Comic doesn't really cover much drawing. It's more about giving kids the basic tools – teaching them about panels, pacing, etc – to produce something pretty impressive, even if they can only make stickmen at this point. Two cautions: a passing mention is made about dinosaurs living 65 million years ago, and I'll also note that other books in this Maker Comics series (not this one) push the LGBT agenda. The Comic Book Lesson A graphic novel that shows you how to make comics by Mark Crilley 2022 / 156 pages Emily has a story to tell, and has settled on comic books as the way she'll tell it. But how can she begin? We get to follow along as Emily learns the ropes with three different talented ladies who are all willing to teach her. Step by step, instructor by instructor, Emily learns how pacing can increase drama, and the direction of an eyebrow can change a character's whole mood. I'm going to list two cautions here, the first for sensitive younger readers. Near the end of the story we learn why Emily so badly wanted to make a comic. In it, her hero rescues pets... and in real life, Emily wasn't able to rescue her own dog. Her loss is poignantly told, and made my eight-year-old sad enough that she stopped reading. I suspect though, that she might pick it up again. I think the 12-and-ups this is targeted to will be better able to deal with this bit of drama. The other caution concerns how The Comic Book Lesson briefly “bumps” into some of the weirdness of the comic world. One mentor mentions the “Electric Angel Nurse Mizuki” comic she’s authored, and we’re shown the cover depicting a nurse with wings. Another mentions she is writing a comic book about assassins for hire. And the 12-or-so-year-old Emily is depicted at a comic store and convention without her parents, which are weirder places than we’d want our 12-year-old to go without us. That’s it – nothing too big. This is another “how-to-decide-what-to-draw” book. It’s about learning how to plan out panels and pages like cartoonists do. For the art lessons, turn to this same author’s The Drawing Lesson which also uses a comic book format to teach, this time about shading, negative space, and more, with the only caution being one use of the word “Jeez.” Draw Stronger Self-care for cartoonists and visual artists by Kriota Willberg 2020 / 136 pages A key skill for an artist to learn is how to draw without hurting yourself. And how to recover after hurting your have done yourself an overuse injury. Even kids, if they are really into cartooning, can draw to the point of damaging themselves, whether that's coming from doodling with bad posture hour after hour, or the result of overuse of the tendons in their wrist as they color and shade. This could be a very important book for some, but it is not one a kid is going to pick up on their own. Young folk all seem to think themselves invulnerable... until they aren't. So this would be something a parent would have to read along with their teen, or read first to make the case for how it could be really helpful. In addition to a diagnostic function – putting a name to the pain – it also features exercises for hands and wrists, neck, chest, shoulders, and back, to help strengthen muscles to hopefully aid healing or prevent injury. This is a book I think many an artistic kid could benefit from, particularly if they keep pursuing their craft. There are no warnings needed for teens and up, and I can't imagine younger kids want to pick it up (it is simple black and white drawings - no bright colors to invite them in). However, for their sakes I will note that there are a couple of comic depictions of artists in pain – a guy holding his own, detached hand, for example – that you might not want to share with your toddler....

Book Reviews, Graphic novels

Lost & Found

Based on a True Story by Mei Yu 2024 / 124 pages Cartoonist and Chinese-Canadian Mei Yu shares the mostly true story of her own immigration experience as a young girl. On arriving in Canada, she is sent to school to sink or swim and there is a lot of floundering early on. Her classmates' dialogue, spoken in English which she doesn't yet understand, is shown in a green font, while her Chinese conversations, with her parents and with her stuffed animal, Kitty Paws, are shown in the typical black font. The large amounts of green in the first half of the book gives readers a good idea as to just how confusing it all is for Mei Yu. This could actually have been a pretty brutal book, what with how scary it is for Mei Yu to be in a country where she doesn't understand anything. But for comic relief we have her stuffie, Kitty Paws, coming to life to provide her companionship, and to narrate parts of the story. The brightly colored artwork, in its vaguely Manga, far-from-realistic-style, also helps ease the tension. There's also some comic confusion that lightens things, such as when Mei Yu eats her very first sandwich with chopsticks, instead of holding it with her hands! We do have to wait quite a while for our hero to finally start feeling comfortable – it takes all the way to page 100 before she begins to be able to communicate with her classmates. But there is a very happy ending, with Mei Yu's artistic skills helping to bridge the gap between the two languages. Cautions There is a very little bit of potty humor, but not done simply to be naughty. In one early miscue, Mei Yu's "pee levels" as her stuffie Kitty Paws puts it, are nearing the emergency mark, so she's desperate to go to the washroom. But in her hurry she ends up in the boy's bathroom, and then, when a boy comes in, she thinks he's made the mistake, so she can't figure out why her classmates are laughing at her. Conclusion This is a book every school library should get for how effectively it shows what it is like to be an outsider – this is a book that can help build some empathy. The target audience is elementary, but this would be an interesting read for anyone Grade 2 on into high school. For older kids, Shaun Tan's The Arrival offers a very different comic book immigration account....

Book Reviews, Graphic novels

Peter and Ernesto: A tale of two sloths

by Graham Annable 2018 / 128 pages As this tale begins, two sloth friends are "cloud picturing" looking up in the sky for whatever shapes they can find: "Rabbit," "Bear," "Ooh that one looks a little bit like a weasel." It's a fun game, but it unsettles the bigger sloth, Ernesto. "I like this piece of sky," he tells his friend Peter, "But I must go... this is only one piece of sky, Peter. I want to see ALL of the sky! I must take a trip." Now, if you know a little bit about sloths, you'll understand why Peter is shocked. Sloths don't get out much, and what about the bears and lions? Peter is sure it must be dangerous!. But the Ernesto is determined to go. And with hardly a glance backward he is off. And his adventure starts almost immediately, as he ends up crossing the ocean on the back of a friendly blue whale named Louie. Peter is happy to stay behind... except that he is worried about his friend. So, some time later, he slowly, cautiously, and loyally sets out, determined to rescue Ernesto from whatever dangers are out there. He gets help too, from a friendly and encouraging parrot. More animals are encountered, and with exception of one slightly scary polar bear, all of them become new friends to the adventuring sloths. That makes this a gentle tale that kids in Grade One through Four will really enjoy, especially because at more than 100 pages, it is long enough to really savor.  There are two more in the series so far. In Peter & Ernesto: The Lost Sloths the friends’ tree gets taken out by a hurricane so they brave the forest to find a new home. And in Peter & Ernesto: Sloths in the Night the sloths set out to find a dragon. That might sound a little scary, but rest assured, this is another fun, gentle tale!...

Book Reviews, Graphic novels

Beak & Ally: unlikely friends

by Norm Feuti 2021 / 64 pages If you're like me and can't get enough of comic duos, here's another odd couple pairing you'll want to get to know. Ally is an alligator that appreciates his alone time, and Beak is a Yellow-Bellied Fee Boo bird, new to the swamp, and eager to make friends. She's also blissfully unaware that predators and prey don't usually spend quality time together, so she makes her introductions by way of landing on Ally's snout. Ally isn't the most receptive, and is even quite annoyed by Beak's "Fee Boo" song. But when a Long-Bill Party Pooper kicks Beak out of her new nest, it's Ally to the rescue. This is light-hearted fun, and not really meant as anything more. That said, it could be used by a parent to talk about what it means to be open to friendship with folks who don't share exactly the same interests. There are three more in the series so far. In Bedtime Jitters Beak has trouble sleeping, because of all the weird sounds that happen in the swamp at night. Thankfully, Ally is there to explain that the Zump Zump Monster was just a bullfrog, and the Chatter Ghosts are just cicadas, and so on. They do get a little excitement when their night-time excursion leads them to some humans about to dump a load of trash in the swamp, but Beak and Ally make their own scary sounds and scare them away. In The Big Storm Beak senses a storm is coming and gets her nest ready. Ally is a little skeptical, but as the winds pick up, he starts helping smaller animals make it to cover, and when he later discovers his own home ruined, these neighbors pitch in to help – this is a sweet feel-good story. Finally, in Snow Birds, vacationing birds take advantage of Beak's good nature, and it is up to Ally to set some ground rules, and clear up the misunderstanding. The only caution for the series would a language concern in The Big Storm, where Beak says, "Oh my gosh." This would be a wonderful series for Grades 2 though 4....

Book Reviews, Graphic novels

Ant Story

by Jay Hosler 2024 / 158 pages This is as fascinating and creepy a comic about ants as you're likely to read. Ant Story is narrated by Rubi, an ant different from all the others in the colony in that she can talk. She also differs in that she is drawn rather "cartoony" while they are all quite realistic. It makes for a lonely existence, but being a talking ant means that Rubi can give us quite the inside look at her ant colony. As Rubi gives us the tour, we learn that there are about a "gajillion" ways for an ant to die, and we're shown one right off – an ant that Rubi was having a one-sided conversation with is suddenly slurped up by a "death tongue." Or, as we might describe it, a chameleon ate it. There is a bit of grim humor throughout, which will likely appeal to boys, with the main example involving Rubi and a friend. When Rubi meets what seems to be another talking ant – the first she's ever encountered! – she eventually discovers it isn't actually a talking ant, but is instead a talking parasitic phorid flea (named Miranda) that is growing and developing in the brain of this, now mostly "zombified," ant! That's grim, but realistically grim – these critters do exist, and do lay their eggs in ants, for them to grow and eventually burst out of. But I skipped ahead. Before we discover that Miranda is a phorid, and not just another talking ant, Rubi explains all sorts of ant basics, and we get to learn right along with Miranda. That makes this quite the educational journey. Cautions While the science, entertainingly told, is the reason to get this comic, it is that grim reality that makes for some cautions too. The parasitic phorid, and the predators Rubi and Miranda both evade, will raise questions which many younger readers may not know how to deal with, like: "If God created everything good at the start, why are so many predators so seemingly well designed to kill?" This secular book doesn't offer any answer, but we know it's due to Man's Fall into Sin. But to some, particularly this book's younger target audience, that general answer might not seem to adequately account for the impressive design behind these killing machines. Death via something uncontrolled like a volcanic explosion seems easier to understand. That fits with the brokenness that came with sin – the volcano has broken loose! But precision engineering in murderous parasites is the very opposite of brokenness, so... what's with that? Thus this might not be a book for a tween or early teen reader, though it is one that a student in Grade 11 and 12 should certainly be able to contend with before leaving the protective environment of our school. Some answers on this front can be found here: Why did God make viruses? Did God create parasites? If your school library doesn't have any resources addressing the problem of parasites, then it should get something like Answers in Genesis's The New Answer Book (Vol. 1, 2, and 3). Another caution concerns Jay Hosler's previous book about bees, which pushes evolution, and is not worth getting. Conclusion This is an absolutely fascinating read that will appeal to many a science-minded student. But the sometimes grim topic matter, and the complex theological issues that are tangentially touched on, mean this is one for high school and up....

Book Reviews, Graphic novels

Maker Comics: Survive in the Outdoors

by Mike Lawrence 2021  / 123 pages When mom and dad go off on a trip on their ownsome, Sophia and Alonso are driven to their grandpa's to spend the weekend fishing with him. Neither of them is wild about it, but thankfully they aren't bratty about it either: they do love their Grandpa, or Abuelito as they call him. When the kids get to their grandpa's house, it turns out the old man has a few tricks up his sleeve to build up enthusiasm for their outdoor expedition the next day: he gets them both doing a couple of fun projects. The first project has Sophia and Alonso building their own "buddy burner" – a candle of sorts that can be used as a handy fire starter, or even as a small camp stove in a pinch. To make it they have to melt wax and pour it around a cardboard spiral they cut out of a box. There are 8 projects in total, all described in detail so readers, with some parental supervision, can try them too. Some can only be done when you are actually out in the woods, but others can be practiced closer to home. Build a buddy burner Create your own compass Learn how to fish Start a campfire Cook a fish Learn some first aid basics Learn water purification basics Build a shelter After they get out in the great outdoors, their Abuelito twists his ankle, and they are forced to stay in the woods for the night and put these last three lessons to use. This is a survival 101 text disguised as a comic book, and author Mike Lawrence has done a good job of it – boys will be intrigued. Boys will also like a required bit of potty humor. To survive in the woods, you do need to learn how to do a #2 without a potty. Thankfully grandpa is up to the task of teaching how to do this right. I never knew there were so many different ways you can squat! The topic could have gotten distasteful easily enough, but this was done well. Cautions Cautions are limited to the other entries in this Maker Comics series. We liked Draw a Comic but there is definitely a woke edge to some of these others. So these two get two thumbs up, but the series does not. Conclusion Buy this one for your 10 to 12-year-old son, but only if you plan to put the lessons to use. Otherwise, it would be too much of a tease. All in all, a very fun, and very instructive introduction to surviving in the outdoors....

Book Reviews, Graphic novels

Stealing Home

by J. Torres and David Namisato 2021 / 112 pages During World War II, after Japan attacked Pearl Harbor, Canada rounded up Japanese Canadians living on the coast and shipped them away to abandoned mining towns further in the interior. To add to the horror, this "temporary measure" came with devastating permanent consequences: their homes and most of their goods were sold, and the money was used to build and maintain their internment camps. So when the war ended and they were released, these families couldn't go home. They had to start from nothing. So how could such a sad chapter of Canadian history get a gentle enough treatment to be suitable for this Grade-4-and-up graphic novel? By focusing on how at least some of these Japanese Canadians managed to overcome their mistreatment. For Sandy Saito, baseball was a big help. Even before the war, anyone of Asian descent didn't exactly fit in with the predominantly white population of Canada. But on the baseball diamond, it didn't matter what others thought; all that mattered was how you played. As we're introduced to Sandy we find out this young boy is a huge fan of the Vancouver Asahi, a local baseball team made up of Japanese Canadians. Because Asahi players were smaller than their opponents, they couldn't play bash ball; their game wasn't about hitting more home runs than the opposition. They, instead, played "brain ball" with steals and bunts. And it worked so well they won the league championship 11 of the previous 24 years. When Sandy and his family were sent away, he took his baseball glove, as did others. They had no insulation in their cabins, and families had to share space. There were outhouses instead of bathrooms. And they couldn't leave. But they could play baseball. I don't have any cautions to offer. The only critique I can think of is that in making this gentle enough for elementary students, the authors might have made a little too little of the horrible abuse that happened. My own fourth grader read this, and thought it was quite good, but it didn't disturb her like it did me. That's probably because I was reading between the lines, and she was just taking it as it was told on the page. As to audience, she didn't know if it would grab a fourth-grade boy's attention. I think she might be on to something. Even though baseball is central to the story, this isn't a sports book. We don't see any great plays, or tight games, so it doesn't have that sort of boyish pull. But for elementary-and-up kids with any interest in history, this will be a very intriguing read. And for adults like me, who never knew about these events, this is a must-read. If we want our government to act with restraint in the future, we need to remember the times when it didn't do so in the past. We need to know, and we need to share that history, lest in forgetting it, we have to live through it again. For a more brutal account of how the US treated Japanese Americans during the war, you'll want to read We Hereby Refuse: Japanese American Resistance to Wartime Incarceration....

Book Reviews, Graphic novels

Shackleton: Antarctic Odyssey

by Nick Bertozzi 2014 / 125 pages Sir Ernest Henry Shackleton was obsessed with reaching the South Pole. He tried to be the first to get there, setting out on two expeditions that fell short when harsh conditions drove them back. Ultimately he was beaten to the Pole by a Norwegian, Roald Amundsen, who made it there in December of 1911. But if Shackleton couldn't be the first to the Pole, then he was determined to be the first to traverse the Antarctic from one side to the other. With this ambitious goal in mind, he set out with his crew on August 1, 1914. Shackleton would fail this time too, but in such a spectacular and heroic manner that the tale of his failure has been retold again and again in countless books and several documentaries. His ship sunk, his sled dogs were killed to be eaten for food, and his crew was stranded on an icepack that was constantly breaking up, the only solid ground being an island 100 miles away across the open water. Yet, somehow, Shackleton and his crew all made it home alive, more than 2 years after they left. Nick Bertozzi's graphic novel is one of the latest and certainly one of the greatest additions to the Shackleton canon. At times humorous – it includes a toga party and a stowaway who readily accepts that should food be in short supply he will be the first eaten – and gripping throughout. Bertozzi presents Shackleton as a man who would risk much, but who wouldn't throw away his men's lives to complete this goal. As obsessed as he was with the Pole, Shackleton was more obsessed about his men's well-being and he was determined to do whatever it took to get them back home. Cautions This does have some language concerns, but doesn't take God's Name in vain. "Damn" or "damned" occurs about a half dozen times, and also notable is the use of the word "bloody" which I understand is quite offensive among the British (but doesn't seem so bad to me) – it is used more than a dozen times. Conclusion I'd recommend this for any teens who might have a history project to do. They might not find it as gripping as the latest Marvel movie, but this is a pretty rollicking tale, and especially if they keep in mind that this is true, it really could grip them. Shackleton: Antarctic Odyssey will also appeal to any adults who aren't embarrassed at the thought of being seen reading a comic....

Book Reviews, Graphic novels

Little Robot

by Ben Hatke 136 pages / 2015 This is one of those little-girl-meets-little-robot, little-girl-loses-little-robot, little-girl-kicks-some-big-robot-tushy-to-save-little-robot stories. What sets it apart from all the others is that the first 26 pages are entirely wordless, and there isn't much talking the rest of the way either. The little girl, it turns out, is quite the amateur mechanic, so when she comes across an abandoned box and discovers a robot inside, she sets out to get it running. And she gets a little frightened when it does come to "life." This little girl is also quite lonely, so once she overcomes her fear, she becomes convinced this is going to be her new friend. However (insert ominious music here) she isn't the only one interested in the little robot! His manufacturer has noticed he's missing, and has sent a big bad robot on a search and recover mission. And this thing is massive – a semi-truck-sized beast that looks like it could eat trees! When it swallows the little robot, it's up to the girl, and some other new-found robot friends, to outwit the big robot bully and free her little buddy. Cautions At one point the big bad robot also swallows a poor defenceless kitty, but never fear, the fuzzball isn't chewed up – it's just inside, waiting to be rescued. The only other caution would be the notion of robots as people. Kids' stories have all sorts of anthropomorphism – cats can have hats, rabbits have swords, and trees might even walk – so is it a big deal if robots get this treatment too? No, unless kids get too much of it. No one believes cats, rabbits, or trees could actually become people, but they are saying that about robots today. The world misunderstands mankind as simply "meat robots," and from there, it isn't much of a leap to think robots could one day become "metal people." But we are more than our meat - we are body and soul, and no amount of hardware or software will ever engraft a soul into a robot. And that's a point that might be worth sharing with our kids. Conclusion The protagonist of the story usually gives you a good gauge of the target audience, and as this one is a little girl, girls would certainly be among those interested. But it's also got robots, and robots hunting robots, which will appeal to the boys. And as a mostly wordless comic, it will also have some appeal for early readers. It has a bit of tension, which could be a bit much for some in Grade 1, but for most in Grades 1 through 5, this will be a real treat....

Book Reviews, Graphic novels

I survived the Nazi invasion, 1944

by Lauren Tarshis art by Alvaro Sarraseca 2021 / 158 pages Max and Zena are two Polish Jewish children who, at the time our story begins, have survived for almost five years living under Nazi rule. After Hitler's German troops conquered Poland, their mistreatment of the Jewish population started immediately. Jews were spat on, their synagogues burnt down, and their businesses destroyed. In the town of Esties, as happened elsewhere, Jews were forced to all move to the same small neighborhood, which was then walled off with barbwire so the Jews could never leave. With no employment, food was hard to come by, so when Max and Zena come across a raspberry bush just on the other side of the fence, Max decides to risk it. He slips through the wires to grab some berries. They both get caught. To save his sister, Max attacks the Nazi guard, whose gun goes off in the struggle, the bullet hitting the soldier in the knee. There's nothing to be done but to run, so off they both go into the woods. During the first long night in the woods, Max does some remembering, and we're given the siblings' backstory, how their aunt had warned them not to move into the ghetto, and how their papa had argued it was best just to go along with whatever the Nazis ordered. Their aunt soon disappeared. To America? That's what Max hopes. When the Nazis then take away Papa and the other men – to where no one is sure – Max and Zena are left to fend for themselves. Flashback complete, we see the two escapees stumble across a farmer. Will he help or turn them in? Thankfully he is a friendly sort, and after misdirecting the Nazi searchers, the farmer introduces them to the Polish underground. These are Polanders who have never stopped fighting the Nazis, and who have a safe place to hide in the woods. The siblings are delighted to discover that one of the underground fighters is their very own aunt! CAUTION When the Nazi soldier is shot in the knee, there is some blood shown, but not in much detail. A little more gory is a two-page recounting of a story that Max's father used to tell him about how David fought Goliath. We see rock-to-face with some blood spattering, but fortunately, the giant's beheading is dealt with just outside of frame (David is described and depicted as a boy, maybe of 10 or 12, and there is good reason to think he was an older teen instead). The scene is echoed some pages later when Max has to resort to hurling a rock to stop two Nazis about to shoot his sister. Again, we see rock-to-face, some small blood smattering, and, maybe more disturbing, a frame of the soldier, seemingly dead, staring up blankly. A gunfight follows, concluding with Max realizing that the Nazi trying to kill them is just a boy only a little older than himself. He realizes this just as his friend Martin fires and kills the young soldier. That's the most devastating scene in the story, made so not because of the blood spattering, but because we learn that Hitler was turning near-children into murderers. CONCLUSION This is a really well-done graphic novel, recounting a part of the war that our Canadian-Dutch heritage children might not be that familiar with: the Polish Jew's perspective. I'd recommend it for 12 and up, but add that many younger kids would be able to handle it too. There are plans in place for at least eleven books in the I Survived... graphic novel series. So far, I've read nine and quite enjoyed seven of them, though I don't think the others are as significant as I Survived the Nazi Invasion. The seven recommended ones are, in historical order: I Survived the Great Chicago Fire, 1871 – This is a bit of American history famous enough that many a Canadian has heard of it. A city full of quickly built wooden buildings goes through a heat wave, and while their fire department is impressive, one night they just can't keep up, and a one-mile by four-mile length of the city goes up in flames. This comic has it all, with the brave young lead willing to stand up to bullies and risk it all to save the girl. I Survived the Sinking of the Titanic, 1912 – Our guides are a pair of young siblings, including a rascal of a boy who manages to discover every last one of the Titanic's rooms, ladders, and passageways. While two-thirds of the passengers and crew lost their lives, everyone we're introduced to in this story makes it out, which makes it a relatively tame account of this tragedy. I Survived the Nazi invasion, 1944 – as reviewed above. I Survived the Battle of D-Day, 1944 – If you were to buy only one of the two 1944 World War II stories, it should be the one above, but D-Day is good too. Paul Corbet is a French kid whose village has been under Nazi rule for years now. His dad was party of the army, but in a German camp now, his best friend Gerard, a Jewish boy, was taken away with his whole family, and his favorite teacher was shot right before his eyes. And now a US paratrooper needs his help. Where can Paul hide him? The author throws in a messenger pigeon that won't carry messages (but will fight Nazis) for some comic relief, and tamps down on the tension by keeping it largely gore-free (even when people are shot). So, not one for the under 10 set, but over should be able to handle it. I Survived the Attack of the Grizzlies, 1967 – This is the story of what led to two fatal grizzly bear attacks occurring on the very same night in the US National Park system. Melody Vega and her little brother are visiting their grandpa at his cabin in Glacier National Park – their mom recently died, and their dad thinks it's important for them to head out to their traditional summer vacation spot even without her. But when a grizzly follows the girl right back to her cabin and tries to break down the door, Melody and her mom's best friend start investigating why the bears in the park are acting so strange. This isn't a Christian book, but the moral is that humans have to take better care of God's creation – Christian kids should recognize the stewardship implications. People were dumping their garbage where bears could get it, which made for great shows for the tourists ("Come to the back of our inn and see the bears up close as they eat") but which got the grizzlies dangerously familiar with people. It also harmed the bears physically, from the glass and trash they ingested along with the food scraps. There is some minor nonsensical environmentalism along with the stewardship message: kids are told they can protect wildlife by not buying single-serving bags of chips. It's quite the leap to go from showing the danger of feeding bears our garbage to saying that we're hurting them when we buy a big cookie wrapped in plastic. No, not if we throw the wrapper in the garbage. But this departure only amounts to a few sentences in the whole 150+ page book. I Survived Hurricane Katrina, 2005 – Barry Tucker's family tried to obey the mandatory evacuation order. But when all the roads leaving New Orleans were backed up for miles with wall-to-wall cars, and then his little sister got really sick in the car, they decided to turn back. They were going to tough it out at home, like they had for many a storm before. The difference this time was that a levee – one of the huge walls holding the stormwater back – completely crumbled, and suddenly the city, and Barry's street, were underwater. Even the attic wasn't high enough! Things get more dramatic when Barry gets separated from his family, falling into the flowing water. Then his resourcefulness and bravery are on full display, as he not only saves himself but saves a dog that he used to be terrified of. There is a happy ending for all at the end when Barry reunites with his family. The history here isn't as relevant to non-Americans, but this is a good story. One caution, or at least a point worth discussing with kids, would be the superhero character that Barry created with a friend, and how that fictional superhero serves as a source of hope for him and his sister. This is what unbelievers accuse Christians of doing – placing our hope in a fictional god just to make ourselves feel better. Here, Barry is actually doing so. I Survived the Attacks of Sept. 11, 2011 – 11-year-old Lucas loves football, but football may not love Lucas. When his parents tell Lucas that his third concussion in two years means he has to stop playing, he skips school. He has to go talk to his Uncle Ben, the guy who got him interested in football in the first place. Both Uncle Benny and Lucas's dad are New York firefighters, and Lucas is desperately hoping his uncle can get his dad to change his mind. But as he's talking with his uncle, we see the first plane hit one of the city's Twin Towers. Lucas has to stay behind as Uncle Benny and all the other firefighters head out to help. Author Lauren Tarshis initially considered having Uncle Benny be one of the victims but realized that would be too much for her young readers. So, all the main figures do make it out alive, but many of their friends don't. I thought this would be a heavy book for my kids. It wasn't, or at least not any more so than the others. I get it now – I lived through this and they didn't. It's just more history for them. I wasn't impressed with I Survived the Shark Attacks of 1916, where the new kid in town pranks his friends by spreading ketchup on the dock only to see a real shark swim up the river. Of course, now no one will believe him, and he ends up paying for his prank with a piece of his calf the shark bites off. That makes this unnecessarily grim. After all, why do kids need to learn about this particular shark attack? They can learn not to cry wolf without the panel-by-panel depiction of a shark attack. To be clear, it isn't super gory, but as there is no particular reason to get it, I'd argue there's also no particular reason to overlook any gore. I Survived the American Revolution 1776 struck me as too simplistic, with the main Loyalist shown as a bully and vicious slave-owner, while the boy revolutionary is brave and anti-slavery. Maybe its my Canadian roots showing, but, really? Additionally, the Lord's Name is taken in vain once. So, a couple to give a miss, but overall, quite a series. I'm looking forward to the tenth book, scheduled for Summer 2024, called I Survived the Destruction Of Pompeii....

Book Reviews, Graphic novels

Science Comics: a quality quartet

Comics that are hilarious and instructive? That's impressive! What's less impressive about this “Science Comics” series, is that quite a few of the titles give a nod, or a full-on bow, to evolution, and others push climate catastrophism. For materials intended for kids, that's a good reason to give them a skip. But the quartet reviewed below are the exception, and just give us the facts and history and hilarity. So, two thumbs up for these four, but be aware that others in the series are not always as praiseworthy. Flying Machines: How the Wright Brothers Soared by A. Wilgus & Molly Brooks 122 pages / 2017 This is the history of powered aviation as told by the Wright brothers' only sister, Katherine. She’s a lively and curious narrator, interacting with not only her brothers but other early aviation innovators as well. While this is history, as part of the "Science Comics" series, it digs deep into the science of how flight works, which makes this a comic even an adult could appreciate... though it is probably aimed at Grade 4 and up.  Skyscrapers: The Heights of Engineering by John Kerschbaum 128 pages / 2019 This is as funny as it is educational. The narrator is a flying superhero, and while he is never named, his red cape and boots and his blue full-body long johns sure look familiar. He’s also able to leap over tall buildings in a single bound… except that he just tripped over the tip of a new, really, really tall one. Boy, are they building them big these days! When his sort-of sidekick Quiz Kid show up, the two travel to and fro through time to find out how we learned to build up up and away! They get into why arches work, and how they distribute forces, the tensile and comprehension forces on stone, how concrete is made, and what technological leaps were made that’ll allow us to build a mile high. What makes this such a fun read is the comic duo: “superman” playing the straight man, and the Quiz Kid his foil. The only cautions would be a “Holy holes” utterance by Quiz Kid about how deep a foundation was. Rockets: Defying Gravity by Anne Drozd and Jerzy Drozd 120 pages / 2018 The comedians this time are all sorts of animals – pigeons, chickens, sheep, monkeys and even bears – who were the test subjects that served as the very first astronauts. There is a lot of science in this one, to the point that I'm not sure I understood it all. But I enjoyed it all! We're taken back in time, to meet Isaac Newton and get introduced to his three laws of motion. Then we're shown how those laws were in play with man's firsts attempts at flight, via balloons. We also get to meet some of the animals that were the first passengers. The animals, including a very enthusiastic bear, take us traveling around the world, to China and Europe, to see how rockets were used for both warfare and entertainment. We repeatedly pop back to the near present, watching the space race between the USSR and USA. Then the whole thing finishes off with some of the developments being made in private rocketeering today, by Elon Musk and others. There is so much packed into this one that I could see teens reading it again and again. There is a "dang" or two, but no other cautions. The sheer intensity of education on offer here means this is probably best for teens and up. Bridges: Engineering Masterpieces by Dan Zettwoch 122 pages / 2022 A quartet narrates this look at bridges all over the world. Each has their favorite type: Bea likes beams, Archie favors arch bridges, Trudy prefers triangles, and the youngest of them all and still a student, Spence likes suspension bridges. We are also introduced to the different loads that engineers have to consider, and the different forces they have to contend with, including compression, tension, torsion, and shear. This quartet also challenges readers to have a bridge-building contest at their school to experiment with what bridge types might be best. The only cautions? A passing mention of millions of years, and a bridge early on that, legend says, was built by the Devil to give himself a place to sunbathe. That's it....

Book Reviews, Graphic novels

Mister Invincible: local hero

by Pascal Jousselin 96 pages / 2020 My dad wasn't a fan of superhero comics because he figured that Superman and Batman were too much like God-substitutes. And when you consider how many DC and Marvel characters are gods (Thor, Hercules, Loki, Odin, Eros) or are super-powered beings able to fight toe-to-toe with gods (Hulk, Captain Marvel, Wonder Woman, Iron Man, etc. and etc.), he might have been on to something. But Mister Invincible is not that kind of superhero. His superpower isn't laser beam eyes or invulnerability: he's just the only comic book character to realize he's in a comic book!  As Gene Luen Yang explained it in his own New York Times review: "He can poke his head past the borders of his current panel to see into the future or the past. He can pass objects and even himself from one panel to another, moving through time and space." This is such a brilliantly original work that there's nothing else to compare it with. And that originality makes it a hard one to properly describe. But I'm going to give it my best go. In the opening one-page comic strip, we see Mister Invincible, in the top row of panels, look down and notice that further on down (in his future) a lady and her little boy are being robbed. So, he jumps down a row to land on one of the clueless villains. Then, to take down the second bad guy he relies on an intervention from future him, from further on down the page. Future Mister Invincible is looking up (to his past) and shoots the robber's gun right out of his hand.... using the bad guy's own gun, which future Mister Invincible picked up from the ground because, as we just saw in the past, the bad guy dropped it. You might have to read that last paragraph a couple of times before it'll start making some sense. That's true to the comic, which also requires repeated readings to follow. Normally, that kind of confusion would make a comic annoying. But what's different here is that it all really makes sense – it's like a puzzle most kids will be able to decipher, but one that no one gets at their first go. Still don't quite get it? Let me show, rather than tell, sharing an excerpt of a couple of rows from one adventure. I've handed this comic to just about everyone who's walked into our house this last week, and for anyone under 20, it's stopped them in their tracks. They've sat down and just started reading and rereading. I think a lot of adults will enjoy it too – anyone who appreciates a good logic puzzle. Cautions There are some minor language concerns with the bad guy calling his minions "morons," "maggots," and "toilet monkeys," and a bratty kid calling one of the villains a "fat loser big butt." Not a lot of that, but there is some. Also, one of the villains reforms her ways from caring only about money to caring about the planet, and that care is shown with her, in just one panel, marching with environmentalists singing, "We've only got one planet." True enough, but that sentiment is often used to justify policies that prioritize the planet over the people (particularly the poor) living on it. Those two concerns are minor when the comics' intended audience is considered. The little kids who'd titter at the juvenile insults probably wouldn't be interested in Mister Invincible because its puzzling nature would be a bit above them. The only other concern is a practical one. I think this is such an imaginative work it should be in every school library but, unfortunately, there is a foldout page that might not stand up well to library usage. Maybe librarians can reinforce that page ahead of time. Conclusion The French original is called Imbattable or "unbeatable" which is a better descriptor than "Mister Invincible." It's not that you can't hurt him - he's not invincible. It's just that with his creative comic-crossing abilities, you can't beat him. And I don't know whether you can beat this comic. It is utterly creative and so much fun to read again and again. I'd recommend it for ages 10 to 110....

Book Reviews, Graphic novels

The Miracle Seed

by Martin Lemelman 2023 / 80 pages In 70 AD, after besieging Roman forces destroyed Jerusalem and the Jewish Temple, they went on a destructive rampage through the rest of Israel, killing thousands of Jews and enslaving thousands more. And, as this graphic novel shares, they also cut down and burned groves of Judean Date Palm Trees. Eventually, a small group of Jewish forces retreated to the hilltop fortress of Masada. Numbering under one thousand, they tried to outlast a Roman force ten times their size, but it was only a matter of time. And when the Jews lost, they left behind broken weapons, scraps of clothing, and pots to be buried by the drifting sands... only to be uncovered by archeologists millennia later. Amongst those pots was one that contained Judean Date Palm seeds. The Judean Date Palms that remained after Rome's rampage didn't fare well without people around to tend them. Even the wild varieties started dying off, though we're told it is unclear whether that was due to changes in climate or perhaps the activities of the Crusaders one thousand years later. All we are sure of is that in our modern day the Judean Date Palms were only known by their accounts in the history books – they had been extinct for hundreds of years. The comic continues the story in 1963, when that the jar of seeds was discovered. The six seeds inside were put in a drawer and forgotten about for 40 more years. Then a medical researcher got involved.  Dr. Sarah Sallon wondered if what she'd read about the Judean Date Palm's healing powers might have been true. And that got her wondering if those six seeds could be used to revive the species! As the title gives away, the trees did have an amazing comeback. It was quite a process, involving inventiveness and imagination – who would have thought it could be possible to sprout seeds thousands of years old? Caution The author is Jewish, and that comes out in a couple of quotes from Jewish commentaries. The first, opening the book, is nonsense, and a young audience might need to be told that nowhere in the Bible does it say, "There is no plant without an angel in heaven tending it and telling it, 'Grow!'" The only other caution is that the title miracle is never ascribed to God – He is not mentioned. Conclusion This will be fascinating read for students curious about science or history – there's more than a bit of both here. I'd recommend it for Grade 6 and up, including adults who will appreciate this as a quick, light read about an intriguing topic. ...

Book Reviews, Graphic novels

Steve Jobs: Insanely Great

by Jessie Hartland 2015 / 216 pages What makes something a really good read? It can be the writing – some writers can turn anything into a page-turner. It might be the subject – newspaper accounts often lack artistry, but the facts themselves grab and keep our interest. And other times it comes down to the purpose of the piece. I've reviewed novels that didn't cut it as entertainment, but that was okay, because their main purpose was education. And this packaging of education as fiction made learning much more enjoyable than this same material would have been, had it been in textbook form. So, for learners, these novels would be really good reads. So if Steve Jobs: Insanely Great were read as simply a graphic novel biography, it is only middling. But if read to a different end? Well, this is an absolutely fascinating account of the tech industry's development from the 1960s through the 2000s. As a biography I picked this up because I am a bit of an Apple fan, based solely on the fact that my two Mac desktops both lasted twice as long as any of the five PCs that preceded them. I appreciate the quality. And that had me curious about the man who started it all – surely there must be lots to learn from an entrepreneur who turned his home-based business into one of the biggest companies on the planet! But as it turns out, in Jobs' life there are more examples of what not to do than examples worth imitating. He was a genius, undeniably, but genius is something you either have or don't. He was also driven, and while I think most of us could benefit from being a little more driven, we don't want to be like Jobs. He abandoned his young daughter for a time because she got in the way of his pursuits. So yes, he was self-absorbed, and also impatient; he smoked pot, and invented and sold a device which stole from the phone company. I'm not trying to say Jobs was an especially horrible person. It's only that I most often read biographies for examples who will challenge and encourage me. And this is not one of those sort of biographies. As a tech industry history For a generation who grew up with the Internet and smartphones and Netflix, it might be hard to imagine a world without computers. But when Jobs was born, personal computers hadn't yet been invented, and business computers were the size of buildings even though their computing power wouldn't match today's most basic calculator. In this account of Jobs' life, we also get an insider's look at the development of the personal computer and all the technology it spawned. As we go from decade to decade, author Jessie Hartland occasionally interrupts the story to provide a two-page spread on the technology of that time. For the 1960s, it was the record player, transistor radios, rotary phones and black and white TVs with no remote controls! And what a leap we see, in just a decade – in the 1970s there are color TVs, now with remote controls, and the first video game consoles have been invented. Invention after invention, we see it all progressing forward to our modern day. You might have to be a bit of a geek to like this, but that's all it would take – just a smidge of nerdy DNA – for anyone to enjoy this as a history of the tech industry. Cautions There is passing mention made of Jobs' interest in Zen mysticism, and as noted earlier, it shares that Jobs also smoked pot. So this is not one for young readers. But the style of the pictures, and the large amount of text means they wouldn’t pick this up anyway. Graphic novels are often a great means to grab reluctant readers, but I will note this is not that sort of graphic novel. It is much more book than comic, with lots of text, and the illustrations, while helpful, are not the eye-catching, action-packed sort of visuals that will draw the casual reader in. Conclusion So who would love Steve Jobs: Insanely Great? I’d recommend this to older teens and adults who have an interest in computers and technology. For them, this will be really fun, informative, and readable. I know I enjoyed it immensely. ...

Book Reviews, Graphic novels

Katie Luther: the Graphic Novel

Mother of the Reformation by Susan K. Leigh illustrated by Dave Hill 95 pages / 2016 My daughter recently asked, "Why aren't there more girl heroes? Why are the heroes always boys?" I explained that some of the heroes we read about are soldiers - generals and others – and that these are all boys because boys are bigger and stronger, so they make better soldiers. But that conversation also set me off in search of good examples of heroic women. And one very good example is Katharina Luther. An "ordinary" hero? This graphic novel biography is a sequel of sorts. In 2011 comic the same author and illustrator came out with Luther: Echoes of the Hammer. This sequel is slightly smaller, but every bit as good. Of course, not everyone will be impressed. I showed it to a friend and flipped through the page to share highlights from Katie Luther's life and he suggested that running a household was just something that women back then did. So, hardly amazing or exceptional. There's something to that. On the one hand, Katharina was extraordinary: as a nun she read Martin Luther's writings, even though that would have been a risky thing to do. Then, at the risk of grave punishment, she planned an escape from her convent. The first attempt was found out, and she was punished. But she tried again, and got out under cover of night, hidden away with 11 other nuns in empty barrels – she had conviction and courage! As the comic makes clear, she was also a remarkably capable woman – Luther's household was often very large, with 30 or more students, and as many as 11 children under their care (some of whom were nieces and nephews), plus many others, eating at the table. It was quite a feat to run this all, which was more restaurant and hotel than house. On the other hand, in many ways what Katharina did is what women have done through the ages: she was an able helpmeet, supporting her husband in his role, even as she took care of the children and managed the house. This supportive role is ordinary in the sense that many wives do this every day, but that hardly makes it unimportant. Supportive roles don't get the same recognition that leadership positions do, but they are every bit as vital. So this is a book I'm going to share with my daughter in the hopes that Katie Luther will inspire and encourage her in whatever role - whether ordinary or extraordinary - God sets before her. Conclusion At 95 pages, this is a comic that takes some time to get through, so it is not a casual, quick read. The artwork is just as the cover depicts - solid, colorful, and full of detail. There's also a lot of information packed in here, so anyone, whether teen or older, who wants to learn about Katharina Luther will enjoy it. That's why this would also be a good resource for schools. However, this is not a comic most students will pick up on their own. But if it were given as an assigned reading, the graphic novel format does make this pain-free reading for almost any student. It's a far easier read than any book, and more educational than many....

Book Reviews, Graphic novels

Super Pancake

by Megan Wagner Lloyd illustrated by Abhi Alwar 2023 / 170 pages Have you ever thought your breakfast could be heroic? If you have, this book is for you, with every character coming from the most important meal of the day. Our humble hero is Peggy Pancake, who comes from a suburban family of pancakes. Our story starts with Peggy late for breakfast (which seems to be cereal and milk) and missing the school bus. Not the best start to a day. When she gets to Winfred Waffle Elementary, a new kid, a croissant, is getting picked on  by the “bacon bullies” and when Peggy stands up for him they become friends. Things take a dramatic turn when Dr. Egg, the town’s leading scientist, gives a lecture to the kids, and the bacon bullies snag a vial from his backpack and put it in Peggy’s lunch. What they meant for ill, ends up giving Peggy superpowers. But because she didn’t know what the bullies had done, she doesn’t know why she can suddenly fly. There’s the usual, learning about her powers section, and then she has to face off against the villain of the piece, Dr. Breakfast Sandwich and his henchtoast. Fortunately, she has a sidekick to help her, Luc, the croissant. Cautions would be a little breakfast food violence as Peggy beats back the bullies, and Peggy not being as forthcoming as she should be with her parents about her superhero identity. She does this to protect them but I don’t like the idea of kids keeping any secrets from their parents. Still, it is a minor element, as she did tell them right away when she first got her powers; they just didn’t believe her....

Book Reviews, Graphic novels

Pea, Bee, & Jay #1: stuck together

by Brian "Smitty" Smith 2020 / 64 pages A bite-sized vegetable, a bug, and a bird wouldn't seem the most likely of friends, but hey, sometimes the oddest combinations just work, right? Pea is fresh out of the pod, and likes to roll. When he rolls right past the farm fence into the neighboring forest, the young-un gets a bit flummoxed, especially after a storm hits. Fortunately, he rolls right into Bee, a very smarter pollinator, who seems to be hiding from her fellow bees. That's odd, sure, but Bee is willing to help Pea learn the ways of the forest, and the two head off together. What's Bee's first lesson for Pea? To stay clear of birds because birds like to eat bugs and peas. Who do they meet immediately after? A blue jay, of course. But while Jay is indeed a bird, he's an unusual sort. First off, he doesn't fly. His nest fell out of the tree when he was but a lad, and he never knew his parents, so there was no one to teach him. Second, he doesn't seem to eat bugs or peas. This might be the beginning of a wonderful friendship! The three comrades go on to tangle with a hungry fox, three overzealous acorns, a host of loyal bees – it turns out that Bee is actually the queen of her hive, and as the adventure rounds up, it's time for her to head back to her royal duties. Cautions If there's a downside to the story, it'd be how Pea sets out on his adventure: he heads past the farm fence on a foolish dare from his "friends" to go check out a tree where he knows his momma wouldn't want him to go. But, at story's end, he does get grounded for it and mostly accepts that as a punishment he had coming his way. Added bonus: Pea learns to stop caring what these "friends" think. He was supposed to bring back a leaf to prove he made it to the big oak on the other side of the fence, but when he loses the leaf on the way back, Pea doesn't care, because even if he can't prove it, he knows he made it. Conclusion There are all sorts of farm-related puns in this one, whether it's raspberries giving raspberries, or Bee telling some of her subject bees to "buzz off." It didn't even hit me, but my kids all thought the PB&J combination of characters was super clever. There are six books in this series so far, and our family really liked the first three. In the second, Pea, Bee, & Jay #2: Wannabees, Bee's constant absence from the hive leaves an opening for a usurper named Lenny. Lenny goes over the top with all the trappings of royalty, arranging for a red carpet, trumpets-blowing sort of entrance wherever he goes. That's kind of annoying, but the other bees figure, well, at least he sticks around! Bee learns her lesson – her people need her to be dependable – and when she is able to prove that Lenny is embezzling honey, she's in again as Queen Bee. The third, Pea, Bee, & Jay #3: Lift Off, is still funny, but not quite as good, with Jay learning how to fly with a little help from his friends. It also has a passing mention of diarrhea that it could have done without. The last three didn't grab anyone. They weren't horrible, but certainly aren't worth recommending. In Pea, Bee, & Jay #4: Farm Feud, things take a turn as two of the friends are feuding for almost the whole book. Yes, they get back together in the end, but their constant fighting meant it just wasn't fun to come along for this ride. Pea, Bee, & Jay #5: Gotta Find Gramps starts with the three watching a professional wrestling match, and then discovering Grampa Pea used to be a professional wrestler too. Professional wrestling is often bloody and sexual, and while there's none of the sex here, it's just not a "sport" I want my kids to spend a lot of time learning about. Finally, Pea, Bee, & Jay #6: The Big Bully, is well-intentioned, tackling the topic of bullying. But I think it's also naive, encouraging kids to befriend their tormenter, because, after all, he's probably just been bullied himself. That might even be true sometimes, but other times the bullies are just bullies. Many kids won't have the smarts yet to tell one sort from the other, making this "befriending encouragement" unhelpful and possibly even harmful. So, three is company, and there's no need to get the rest. These would be great for Grades 1-3, though our older girls and their dad appreciated them too, as a quick light read....

Book Reviews, Graphic novels

What's Darwin got to do with it? A friendly conversation about Evolution

by Robert C. Newman & John L. Wiester 146 pages / 2000 A graphic novel about evolution vs. intelligent design? Now that's got my attention! The plot here revolves around an upcoming forum put on by Professor Teller, a Darwinist who believes evolution is a "Fact! Fact! Fact!" Of course, forums involve speakers from two different sides, so Intelligent Design proponent Professor Questor steps in to offer up another perspective. One of the first points Professor Questor makes is how important it is to define terms in this debate. Evolution is often defined simply as "change over time"  and if that was all there was to it, even creationists would agree that evolution happens. (After all, we believe that all the dog species – the vast array of them – came from just a couple or so types on Noah's Ark. We certainly believe change can happen over time!) The actual debate is over the limits and direction of this change over time, so when we debate evolution, the disagreement is over whether molecules can, over millions of years, evolve into Man. But in defining her terms, Professor Questor also makes it clear she is not a creationist. She doesn't attack creationists, but in distancing herself from them, it does leave the impression that creationism isn't quite as... legitimate as Intelligent Design. But that's a minor quibble in a wonderful book. Other issues and topics the two professors discuss include: Is there room in science for any supernatural explanations? And if we rule out supernatural explanations at the start, then is it any wonder we don't find evidence for God in our scientific explanations? Are Peppered Moths a "proof" of evolution? Are the changing beak sizes of "Darwin's finches" really evidence for evolution? Why do so many creatures have similar (homologous) body structures if we aren't all descended from a common ancestor? What is the real role of mutation? Can it do all that evolutionists say it does? Is "bad" design evidence of evolution? (And is it actually bad?) This might seem like the discussion could get quite dry and dusty, but the authors bring in all sorts of analogies and illustrations to keep things hopping. For example, Dr. Watson and Sherlock Holmes make a couple of appearances, and mutation and natural selection are personified as two superheroes (with less than effective superpowers) Mutaman and Selecta. And there's lots more! The result is a very fun book which is also highly educational. It would be a great resource for any high school science class to go through because it touches on a lot of the big issues, and it does so with wit and impressive clarity - pictures are used here to boil down pretty complex concepts into only a few pages or a few panels. And for any comic-loving teen, this would make a wonderful present, expanding and stretching them, without overly taxing them. ...

Book Reviews, Graphic novels

Officer Clawsome: lobster cop

by Brian "Smitty" Smith and Chris Giarrusso 2023 / 238 pages In the opening scene a fish peddler (the fish is the peddler, not the goods) calls out "Fresh fruit here! Get your fresh..." only to have something "ZOOOM!" past and purée all his oranges and apples. Momentarily at a loss, the peddler looks down at the soupy mess, only to, one panel later, start smiling again calling out, "Fresh fruit juice here! Get your fresh fruit juice." Comic genius? Not on its own, but just like a good dad-joke (are there any other kind?) the hilarity builds with every one you layer on top. And there are oodles here, including some awful/awesome puns, starting with the hero of our story, the lobster cop "Officer Clawsome," called "Clawful" by the villains he arrests. Like any good cop/buddy flick, Clawsome has a partner, the starfish Stariana who serves as both his badge of office, riding around on his chest, and as his ninja throwing star when needed. When the town's favorite bakery goes missing – the whole building, staff and all, are just gone – the twosome have to take on a whole host of underwater villains including Catburglarfish, the wrestler Masked Mussel, Brain Sturgeon, the Electric Eel, and a giant mechanized shark. It's all sorts of action, with all sorts of cinematic cliches thrown in just for dad to enjoy too – the best is the massive explosion in the background with Clawsome and Stariana strutting in the foreground. One reviewer called this a “safe grandma buying read for the grandkids” and I'd agree. No cautions needed - this is just good clean, very silly fun. And it's so good that even though it weighs in at 200+ pages, your kids won't have had enough. The sequel, Officer Clawsome: Crime Across Time, is, as its title indicates, a time-travel story, and when our fearless duo end up in the prehistoric past, they meet primitive cavefish (ie. their version of cavemen). In other words, while there is nothing all that explicitly evolutionary (no mention of millions of years, for example), there is definitely some implicit evolutionary assumptions on display here. And that might be reason enough to just get the first and hold off on the second....

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