children's books, Graphic format, Higher Elementary, nonfiction

Review: Nathan Hale’s Hazardous Tales #5: The Undergorund Abductor

23167768Nathan Hale’s Hazardous Tales #5: The Underground Abductor
Nathan Hale
128 pages
First published in April 2015 by Amulet Books
Where did I get this? From my local library

Growing up, I didn’t read much nonfiction. As a kid and even as a teen, I think the closest I got to reading nonfiction was with historical fiction like Lois Lowry’s Number the Stars. Kids nowadays have so many engaging non-fiction titles to choose from, that it almost makes me wish I was growing up today. Almost.

In Nathan Hale’s latest volume of Nathan Hale’s Hazardous Tales, Harriet Tubman is the subject of choice. Readers first meet Tubman as Arminta Ross, a six year-old slave who’s been rented out to a local family. When she can’t get the hang of weaving, Arminta is taught how to check muskrat traps in the swamp. The job is a cold and hard one, as the young girl catches the measles and ends up with bronchitis. After recovering, she’s hired out again and the next family isn’t any better.

Readers also see what happens when Arminta accidentally gets in the way of an irate slaveowner who tries to injure another slave. It took her months to recover from her traumatic head injury and even then, her owner tries to sell her.

After a series of events, Arminta Ross becomes Harriet Tubman, badass abductor of the Underground Railroad. She travels back and forth from the South to Canada and various places to help slaves get to freedom. The journey was so scary that Tubman really did keep a pistol on her in case someone wanted to turn back instead of completing the trip.

I was amazed at Tubman’s courage to go back and forth, helping strangers and reuniting her family. You can’t help but be in awe at her determination even as she risked her own life and freedom. I laughed at the jokes and felt sadness when Tubman was never able to rescue her sister, nieces, and nephews.

Nathan Hale does a wonderful job presenting Harriet Tubman’s life in graphic format. The story is rich with details and includes a bibliography in the back for more information. Nathan Hale’s Hazardous Tales: The Underground Abductor is a book that needs to be on the shelf of every library. It’s a book that’s perfect for readers in higher elementary school to adults. I will warn you; once you read this book, you’re going to want to reread it right away. Plus, there are four more books in the series with a sixth book being published in March 2016.

My rating: 5 out of 5 stars.

Graphic format, reviews

Review: The Truth Is a Cave in the Black Mountains by Neil Gaiman and Eddie Campbell

gaimanThe Truth Is a Cave in the Black Mountains: A Tale of Travel and Darkness with Pictures of All Kinds
Written by Neil Gaiman
Illustrated by Eddie Campbell
74 pages
Published in 2014 by William Morrow

In Neil Gaiman’s, The Truth is a Cave in the Black Mountains, two men journey to a cave located on a mysterious island in the Scotland. The cave is said to grant gold to anyone who can find its location. But in return, visitors have to give something up. . .

I hesitate to call this work a book. It’s more like an illustrated short story in graphic format. Gaiman collaborated with artist, Eddie Campbell, and the result is a dark tale. In reviews that I’ve read about The Truth is a Cave, some readers have found themselves a little thrown back by the style of this book. There’s art on every page, and sometimes the art is used to illustrate while other times it’s part of the story itself. At times, the art felt like a perfect match for the story, though it can seem like a distraction. I think it had to do with the different styles used by Campbell.


Overall, this was an engaging read. After I read it once, I had to reread it again. For those looking for a short and creepy read for the R.I.P. Challenge, I would recommend this tale. My rating: 4 out of 5 stars.

The first lines:

You ask me if I can forgive myself?

I can forgive myself for many things. For where I left him. For what I did. But I will not forgive myself for the year that I hated my daughter, when I believed her to have run away, perhaps to the city. During that year I forbade her name to be mentioned, and if her name entered my prayers when I prayed, it was to ask that she would one day learn the meaning of what she had done, of the dishonor that she had brought to my family, of the red that ringed her mother’s eyes.

I hate myself for that, and nothing will ease that, not even what happened that night, on the side of the mountain. . .

Graphic format, nonfiction

Nonfiction November: Graphic Memoir/Biography

nonfiction novo

Lu of Regular Rumination and Kim of Sophisticated Dorkiness are hosting Nonfiction November, celebrating the power of nonfiction. Each week, the duo ask a particular question and participants are encouraged to answer the question and even post reviews of nonfiction.

One of the things I’ve really enjoyed about reading nonfiction is watching the emergence of graphic non-fiction. To be clear, graphic non-fiction is nonfiction narrated in a graphic format. The really nice thing about nonfiction in this format, is that there’s pretty much something for everyone. New topics and experiences are being shared in really unique ways that aren’t dictated by any rules. Below you can find a few of my favorite graphic nonfiction reads with a focus on memoirs autobiographies.

Graphic Memoir

telSmile by Raina Telgemeier (2010) I read Smile years ago after reading Telgemeier’s adaptation of the middle school classic series, The Baby-Sitters Club. When Raina was in the sixth grade she fell, severely injuring her two front teeth. As if sixth grade isn’t awkward enough for most people, she had to go to a lot dentist and orthodontic appointments because of the fall, while also trying to figure out who she is and where she fits in. Smile was one of the first middle school graphic memoirs I had ever seen or read. After you finish reading it, you can hand the book over to your middle schooler. My daughter enjoyed the book as much as I did.


Persepolis: The Story of a Childhood by Marjane Satrapi. (2004) Persepolis is one of those rare books that if you haven’t read, you need to go out and buy it. Now. Satrapi retraces her childhood in Iran during the Islamic Revolution and the war with Iraq. We see a young fierce girl who’s trying to stay sane in a country that was changing sometimes overnight.

smallStitches by David Small (2009) Small has been one of my favorite illustrators for years as he often teams up with his wife, Sarah Stewart to create wonderful children’s books. Stitches is nothing like the light children’s books he’s co-authored. As a teen, the author was told that he needed to have surgery to remove a growth from his throat. What he wasn’t told was that his parents and doctors thought he was going to die. Secrets played a huge role in the Small family as his parents hide things from their children and each other. After the surgery, David is a mute. With the help of a therapist and new found freedom, he’s able to slowly recover and make sense of the silence of his childhood. Stitches is a powerful memoir about resilience even after being surrounded by dysfunction for so long.


March Book One by John Lewis, Andrew Aydin, and Nate Powell (2013). It always amazes me how simple an illustration can be drawn, yet still remains powerful. In March, the first book in a trilogy, Congressman John Lewis recounts his childhood as a boy living in Alabama to becoming a young man who participated in sit-ins during the Civil Rights era.


We Are On Our Own by Miriam Katin (2006). I kept going back and forth with whether or not I should add this book to my list. I finally decided I should after remembering the strong feelings I had for it. We Are On Our Own recounts Katin’s childhood as she and her mother escaped Budapest during the Nazi invasion. Drawn in pencil and told decades after the events took place, readers don’t get a full picture of everything that went on. Much of it is because Katin was just a child during this chaotic and terrible time. I found this book to be raw and powerful.

Graphic biography

rednissRadioactive Marie & Pierre Curie: A Tale of Love and Fallout by Lauren Redniss (2010). Has there ever been a song or book you wished you created? Radioactive Marie and Pierre Curie may be one of those creations. This isn’t your typical biography. Redniss writes about the lives of Marie and Pierre Curie but also includes anecdotes from people who have survived Hiroshima, the aftermath of Chernobyl, and other issues about the effect of radiation on people. Add that to the book’s cyanotype illustrations, photographs, and ephemera and readers get an enjoyable biography.

Feynman by Jim Ottaviani (2011) I like this book so ottaviani feynmanmuch that I usually reread it every year. Richard Feynman was a Nobel Prize-winning quantum physicist, adventurer, and breaker of safes. Ottaviani takes a lot of information from Feynman’s books and give readers who haven’t heard or read about the physicist, a nice introduction.

There are many books I could have added to this list but didn’t because this post is long enough as it is. Notables include: Maus by Art Spiegelman which won a Pultizer, Fun Home by Alison Bechdel, Relish: My Life in the Kitchen by Lucy Knisley, Embroideries by Marjane Satrapi, and Marbles: Mania, Depression, Michelangelo and Me by Ellen Forney.

Have you read any of these? Are there any graphic memoirs/biographies you would add to this list?

Graphic format, nonfiction

Book Review: Marbles by Ellen Forney


forneyMarbles: Mania, Depression, Michelangelo & Me

A Graphic Memoir by Ellen Forney

256 pages

Published in November 2012 by Gotham Books

Where did I get this?  Public Library

Marbles: Mania, Depression, Michelangelo & Me chronicles illustrator Ellen Forney’s years-long struggle to find balance with her bipolar disorder while maintaining her passion for art. Right before her thirtieth birthday, Ellen was diagnosed with biopolar 1 disorder. Highly manic at the time, she had tons of ideas on how to keep working creatively before her depression hits. When it does, things change. Through this chaotic time, Ellen seeks comfort from the fact that many gifted artists like Georgia O’Keefe, Sylvia Plath, and others have gone through similar mental challenges. She also explores the relationship between creativity and mental illness. Told with brutal honesty, Marbles is a book that will appeal to many people.

Marbles starts with Ellen getting a back tattoo. It was something she thought about and the many ideas for her tattoo are coming at her at once. She even kisses the tattoo artist (a stranger to her) after the tattoo is done. Readers see the mania of it. Throughout the book, the author brilliantly illustrates to readers what manic and depression looks and feels like. Readers watch as some of Ellen’s friends distance themselves because she’s so manic and others who help her when she’s depressed. Throughout this four-years struggle, it’s drawing, Ellen’s passion, that helps her.

If the name Ellen Forney sounds familiar to you, it’s probably because she’s the illustrator behind Sherman Alexie’s The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian. In Marbles, Ellen has a similar drawing style. The black and white drawing adds to Ellen’s writing without bogging down the story in any way.

Click to enlarge
Click to enlarge

Something that stayed with me about this book is Ellen’s journey as she tries different medications in various combinations. The side effects for these pills range from anything like hair loss, low blood platelet levels, tremors, memory loss, to skin breakouts. It takes weeks for these pills to work and if they don’t, the person has to start over with a different pill in a different combination. I also learned that most health insurance companies don’t cover prescriptions for these types of medications. Ellen breaks down the costs of her pills while she’s going through this. It was shocking to find out that a month’s worth of one pill could cost her almost $1000. That is ridiculous. So not only is there a pretty good chance that this prescription won’t work, but it’s also so expensive. I would think that insurance companies would know that if a person can’t take care of their mental and emotional health, they won’t be able to take care of their physical health. You can’t have one without the other. I felt frustration about this, right along with Ellen.

With the right pills, her passion of art, and the support of family and friends, Ellen finds balance in the end.

Marbles is a fantastic read. It’s a book that will appeal to people who’ve had their own mental struggles, older teens, lovers of the graphic format, and anyone who likes a good story. My rating: 5 out of 5. I need this in my personal library.

Fantasy, Graphic format, graphic novel, Middle Grade, reviews

Graphic Novel Review: Hereville: How Mirka Met a Meteorite by Barry Deutsch

Hereville: How Mirka Met a Meteorite

Barry Deutsch

128 pages

Published in October 2012 by Abrams Books

Source: Publisher

Mirka is at it again in Barry Deutsch’s latest Hereville book, How Mirka Met a Meteorite. In the first book, Mirka wants to fight a dragon. But after many twists and turns, including a duel with a troll, it didn’t happen. Now she just wishes that she had a villain to fight. When a troll sends a meteorite to the witch’s house, Mirka saves the day (and Hereville) by warning the witch just in time. Unfortunately, the witch transformed the meteorite into Mirka’s double. The new Mirka is faster and better at just about everything than Mirka. Sharing Mirka’s life isn’t good enough. One of them has to go.  Will it be Mirka?

Mirka is definitely one of my favorite middle grade characters. In case you haven’t read the first book, Hereville is a village of Orthodox Jews. Readers see Mirka and her family celebrating the Sabbath, find out rules about non-relatives touching, and more in a way that never bogs down the story but enlightens it. Hereville fills a space in literature. Before reading the first book, I don’t think I’ve ever read a book with an Orthodox Jewish girl as the main character especially not in a graphic novel. The emphasis is never on the religion but on Mirka. She’s an average girl who dreams of being of hero and doesn’t find it out of the ordinary when she finds herself talking to trolls, fighting a talking pig, or seeing magic performed by the witch who lives on the outskirts of the village. In her view, anything is better than learning how to knit.

Sometimes when you read a fantastic first book in a series, you often wonder how the next book will stand up.  How Mirka Met a Meteorite was just as good as the first book though I do have to say that I miss the talking pig. The book starts out with Mirka still being grounded after her last adventure with the troll. After getting off of punishment, Mirka’s stepmother Fruma tells her that whenever she needs to make a decision, she should imagine the person that she wants to become and ask “what would that person do?”. That advice is one of the reasons why I really love the Fruma character. She’s one of the many strong and opinionated female characters in the book.

Since I had an advance reading copy, the artwork and coloring wasn’t finished but it didn’t take away at all from the story. The story stands on its own. Not every graphic novel can say that.

How Mirka Met a Meteorite is a fantastic book with a spunky protagonist. I waited a year for this book. I hope the next story in the series comes out soon. My rating: 4 out of 5 stars.

You can find a preview of the book on the author’s site here.

If you’re still unsure about the series, you can find my review of the first book here.

Graphic format, graphic novel, reviews

Graphic Novel Review: Saga Vol. 1 by Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples

Saga:  Volume 1

Written by Brian K. Vaughan and illustrated by Fiona Staples

160 pages

Published in October 2012 by Image Comics

Source: Publisher

“This is how an idea becomes real. . . but ideas are fragile things.”

An intergalactic war has been going on for longer than anyone can remember between the people of Landfall and the inhabitants of Landfall’s moon, Wreath. The war between the two lands is no longer contained and has reached the rest of the galaxy. It doesn’t matter if a planet doesn’t want to be a part of the war; choose a side or it will be chosen for you.

Marko and Alana are soldiers on opposing sides who want nothing more to do with the war. Their story would probably end there if it wasn’t for the fact that they’re also lovers. Now the governments of both planets want them dead and their relationship to remain a secret. With their newborn daughter, the couple try to race to safety while encountering soldiers from both sides and freelance assassins.  Will their efforts be enough to keep their daughter safe?

What a ride! I didn’t know what to expect when I picked this up. Honestly, I decided to read Saga because of the beautiful cover. I’ve heard of the author, Brian K. Vaughan, before since I’ve read the first volume of his other series, Y: The Last Man, and it’s also a favorite among book bloggers I’ve talked to.

Marko and Alana are such a fun couple to read about. When readers meet them, Alana is giving birth to their daughter in the back of an auto body shop as Marko urges her on. Alana is really sarcastic and ready to shoot anyone who comes around while Marko tries his best to honor his promise to himself, never to lift his sword against another person. Throughout the book, readers learn how the couple met and a little bit about why they’ve decided not to fight in the war through the people who’ve been hired or commanded to hunt them down. We also see the dynamics of their relationship from their encounters with soldiers and ghosts.

Vaughan and Staples do an amazing job with the world-building. The inhabitants of Wreath all have horns of some type and magical abilities while the people of Landfall have wings. There are people who look like half-human and half-spiders, along with some who have televisions for heads. This galaxy is intertwined in this war and you see it. There’s something different and special about all the worlds that are come across in this first volume that makes readers want to know what happens next. The illustrations were gritty but nice to look at plus they help to keep the story moving along.

The one thing I didn’t like was that the story is too short! I wouldn’t have cared if the first volume of this new series was 300 pages long.

Overall, this new series is too good to miss. My rating: 5 out of 5 stars.

fiction, Graphic format, mysteries, reviews, Young Adult

Review: Chopsticks by Jessica Anthony and Rodrigo Corral


Jessica Anthony and Rodrigo Corral

272 Pages

Published in February 2012 by Razorhill books, an imprint of Penguin Group

Source: Library

Gloria “Glory” Fleming is a world-famous pianist, who sells out concert halls all over the world. She’s also only seventeen. Her days are filled with practice as demanded by her father, Victor. It’s all she knows until Francisco Mendoza moves in next door. Now Glory’s world is filled with not only music but art, late-night movies, and text messages. She’s finally becoming a normal teenager. After a while, Glory falters because of her father’s demands and is unable to play anything but the song “Chopsticks”. Everything is not what it seems and when Glory disappears, it’s time for everyone –Victor and readers – to figure out what really happened in Glory’s life.

I picked up Chopsticks because I heard a lot of positive things about it on Twitter. The bloggers, who have read it, didn’t say much about it except that more people should read it. After reading this book, I understand so I won’t tell you much about the plot. Chopsticks  is a love story but also a mystery. The mystery isn’t easy to solve, which I love, so you’ll probably have to read it twice. But it is a fast read.  If you’re a reader who shies away from YA because of melodramatic teenage angst, there’s none of that in this book. Readers of all ages can enjoy.

Jessica Anthony and Rodrigo Corral give this unusual teenage story a great format. It’s told through not only words but also postcards, text messages, newspaper articles, piano recital programs, and more. The format reminds me a lot of The Scrapbook of Frankie Pratt. I was left wondering what kind of novel I should call this. Is it right to call it a graphic novel? I called Frankie Pratt a “scrapbook novel” but Chopsticks doesn’t fit that description. Maybe it should be called a “novel in collage”? Either way, I would love to see the authors write more novels in this new format.

If you’re looking for a great read in a unusual format, Chopsticks is your book. My rating: 4 out of 5.

Graphic format, nonfiction, reviews

Review: And The Pursuit of Happiness by Maira Kalman

And The Pursuit of Happiness
Maira Kalman
480 pages
Publication Date: October 14, 2010
Publisher: Penguin Press

And the Pursuit of Happiness is Maira Kalman’s beautiful year-long exploration into democracy in America. Divided into months, the book starts out in the month of January with President Obama’s inauguration and ends in December with George Washington and the question of happiness and its pursuit. In-between, the author interviews Supreme Court Justice Ruth Ginsberg, falls in love with Abraham Lincoln, and watches a town hall meeting in Vermont. Kalman, being the wonderful artist that she is, has illustrated virtually every page in the book.

Isn’t that gorgeous? What I really like about this book is its spirit. Nowadays when you watch the news there’s so much pessimism and negativity when it comes to politics in this country. And the Pursuit of Happiness is so far from that. Kalman is optimistic about this country which is so refreshing.

Though the book is more than four hundred pages long, it can easily be read in one setting. Once you do finish it, you’ll want to go back and read it again. This is one of the best books I’ve read this year. Highly recommended.