Way back in October, I attended MICE – the Massachusetts Independent Comics Expo. Started in 2010 to provide area artists with a place to exhibit their work away from the noise and expense of larger conventions, MICE has gotten bigger each year, attracting independent comics folks from all over the country. That’s a lucky thing for those of us excited to find new stories and art.
Well, Smalerie, and The Red Menace have done their reviews, and now it’s my turn. I read two Lego based graphic novels and one Nancy Drew and the Clue Crew book. Are these books something you or your kids might like? Take a read below and see!
Lego Ninjago #6 Warriors of Stone, and #7 Stone Cold
Lego Ninjago (ninja go, get it?) is Lego property that has expanded from building sets into cartoons, video games and now, comics. The comics follow the Masters of Spinjitzu: Kai, Jay, Cole, Zane and Sensei Wu, on various adventures. I read volumes 6 and 7 of this series. I went into these books pretty cold, but there is enough exposition in the beginning that I think you could hand a kid any volume and they can jump right in.
As Smalerie mentioned in her reviews, a friend of mine works at Papercutz and generously sent us some review copies of books. Papercutz is super cool, in my personal opinion, because they’re focused on printing all ages comics. While I can enjoy grim ‘n gritty adult themes and mature humor, I think that it’s important to also make comics that are great for everyone and anyone to read. Papercutz also provides teacher guides to some of its titles, a resource I’d love to see them grow. Reading comics should always be fun, but if it can also be a way to learn, all the better! So what did I choose to read?
Dance Class: African Folk Fever
I’ll admit that I thought I knew what this book would be about based solely on this cover – the young ballerina, surround by her peers engaged in African Folk dance, the dirty, dreadlocked drummer smiling vaguely in the corner, the look of confusion on the ballerina’s face – I was sure that this would be a long-form comic in which our ballet-star would be put off by her friends’ new obsession, and probably someone would learn a lesson about tolerance and differences by the end of the story.
WRONG, I was wrong! What they say about judging books by their covers must be true, because NONE of my predictions were right. There IS some African Folk dance, and some ballet, but there’s no real conflict between the two – the young ladies who form the central characters of the book – Alia, Julie, and Lucie -seem to love any and all dance equally. Additionally, Dance Class is not a graphic novel in the truest sense – it’s a collection of connected short-form tales about a group of teens at a dance studio. It reminded me of Archie or Caspar – humorous stories that are a bit longer than a 3 panel newspaper strip but never go beyond a few pages.
Thanks to the format, this is a quick read. The jokes are a bit corny, but cute, and the art is clean and easy to follow. I particularly like that the cast is racially and body-type diverse, although the curviest girl IS on a diet. While this is realistic for the dance world and is played for laughs, it still bums me out a tad. The cast also features male dancers, which was a pleasant surprise.
Overall, this book will mostly appeal to readers who have an interest in dance – many of the jokes are focused around the trials and tribulations of dancers – but if your kiddo really loves humor comics, they’d probably dig it, too!
Recommended age: 8-12
You might like it if: You had dreams of being a tap sensation; Archie Andrews was your dream crush
Power Rangers: The Terrible Toys
AUTHOR: Stefan Petrucha
ARTIST: Paulo Henrique
Now this book I went into with no particular expectations. By the time Power Rangers came out, in 1993, I was a sophomore in high school, and the show didn’t really capture my attention (which was reserved for Neil Gaiman comics and Monty Python reruns, thank you very much). So I had no particular nostalgia attached to these characters and wasn’t sure how I’d feel about this book. Imagine my delight, then, to find the story accessible and rather charming. Like most Power Rangers stories, from what I can tell, The Terrible Toys involves a plot by monsters from the netherworld (Nighloks, to the initiated) trying to break into our world, since it is generally nicer than their dank pit. In this case, the tricksy monsters play against type and instead of sending something big and menacing, they sneak in thousands of tiny, carbon copy monsters in the guise of action figures. When the tiny terrors wreak havoc in town (increasing their numbers exponentially for a quick and handy math lesson), the Power Rangers must stop them.
What I liked about the story is that, while there’s plenty of martial arts battles and fighting stances, the kids have to ultimately use their brains to defeat the monsters. Additionally, the teeny Nighloks themselves get some pretty snappy dialogue, and the two girls on the team, while not the focus of this installment, do get to be part of the action and disperse a fair number of monsters. The art is competent, with some extremely strange and original monster designs.
Recommended age: 7-10
You might like it if: You’re a monster lover, a budding mathematician, or a kung-fu fan
Ernest & Rebecca: Grandpa Bug
AUTHOR: Guillaume Bianco
ARTIST: Antonello Dalena
Rebecca is your typical 6 and half year old in many ways – she loves to run around outside, she’s not a big fan of her parents’ divorce, and she can be a pain to her big sister, Coralie. She also happens to have a best friend who is a giant germ named Ernest.
This charming book is the third in a series of Ernest and Rebecca stories, so I’ll admit I don’t totally know HOW Rebecca came to have an oversize germ for a (possibly imaginary, possibly not) friend, but the whole back-story wasn’t really necessary – there’s a small recap to get you up to speed on who everyone is (adorably drawn by “Rebecca” herself) that does a fine job of orienting a new reader. In any case, it turns out that Ernest doesn’t have a big role to play in this story – most of the plot revolves around the fact that he’s gone missing during Rebecca’s vacation to her grandparents’ farm. Rebecca is distraught at first, but learns to make her own fun, befriending (most) of the neighboring children, exploring the woods, and learning some lessons along the way.
It must be noted that Rebecca needs these lessons – one of the things I enjoyed about this story is that she is no sticky sweet angel. Rebecca is a bit bratty and temperamental at times. However, she’s also no nightmare child who gets away with murder – she acts like a real kid would, and is punished appropriately when it’s warranted. The art is rounded and cute, and the characters have extremely expressive faces. Compared to the Power Rangers, this is a quieter, gentler story, but overall I think that gives it a bit more universality.
Recommended age: 6-10
You might like it if: You’re an adventurous kid, or the imaginary friend of one
What all-ages books have you read and enjoyed? We’re always looking for new books – tell us about ’em in the comments!
FTC Full Disclosure: I received free copies of these books from Papercutz. I was not compensated with money or a sweet samurai sword to write this review.
We Ladies have shared some of our favorite comics series with you, and there have been some solid reads listed. However, all of the books we’ve raved about have very adult themes and content. In one sense, that’ s great – there’s definitely been a perception over the years that comics are juvenile or immature, and the books we’ve written about represent a reaction and a refutation of that. But just because comics aren’t only for kids doesn’t’ mean that they can’t be also for kids. So here’s a round up of some of my favorite comics that are great for kids and kids at heart.
Tiny Titans: What were the Teen Titans like before they were teens? According to Art Baltazar and Franco Aureliani’s Tiny Titans, they go to Sidekick Elementary, have a pet club, and protect their playground from the Fearsome Five. Basically, they have adventures just like adult superheroes – only smaller.
What’s so great about it?: The art, for starters. Baltazar’s characters are simple and super cute, with big heads, dot eyes, and sweet smiles. They look childlike and fun and very appealing. In addition, the humor is the right speed for your average six year-old; think pratfalls, puns, and penguins with rocket packs.
How about for grown-ups?: If you know these characters in the standard DC universe, these books are an extra treat (why IS Speedy called that, anyway?) Whether it’s a showdown between the [Hall] Monitor and the Anti-Monitor, or Lunchlady Darkseid initiating a “Finals Crisis,” there are plenty of goofy in-jokes to enjoy.
Best age: 4 and up
Castle Waiting: What happens after “happily ever after?” That’s the question Linda Medley asks and tries to answer with these stories, set in a fairy-tale world that’s not quite the one Walt Disney imagined. Oh, sure, the titular castle appears to be that of Sleeping Beauty, but she’s long gone by the time the story begins. Instead it’s being overseen by a stork-like butler named Rackham (named for the famous fairy-tale illustrator Arthur Rackham) and inhabited by a colorful cast of characters, from horse-headed knight named Chess to Sister Peace, a bearded nun. Into this group comes Jain, a pregnant young woman on the run from her unpleasant husband and looking for refuge. Things begin to get interesting when Jain’s baby isn’t quite what folks are expecting…
What’s so great about it? Is it cheating to say the art again? Castle Waiting is drawn in a very, very different style than Tiny Titans, but what they have in common is their appropriateness to their subject matter. While Baltazar’s art is cartoony and colorful and fun, Medley’s is flat-out gorgeous, black ink on heavy paper that is an homage to, but never an imitation of, Arthur Rackham’s work on classic fairy tales. Medley also presents compelling characters, each of whom have secrets to uncover. There’s a strong undercurrent of feminism running throughout the book, but it’s handled so subtly and deftly that kids won’t notice anything other than a ripping yarn.
How about for grown-ups?: If you like Fables, you’ll probably love this book. Though Medley’s take on fairy tales is very different than Willingham’s, the concept of knowing what happens to beloved characters after you close the book is there and strongly, and the themes will resonate with adult readers possibly even more strongly than for kids. While appropriate for younger readers, this is not a children’s book per se – just one I think kids, particularly those who like fairy tales and myths, would enjoy.
Best age: 12 and up. Medley’s prose is a bit advanced for younger readers, and some of the themes might not be appropriate for the littlest tykes. There’s no sex and not too much violence, but Lady Jain escapes her husband specifically because he’s hurting her and is noticeably bruised in her initial scenes.
Amulet: Kazu Kibuishi’s story begins with the tragic death of a father, and quickly moves on to magic talismans, secret worlds, monsters, robots, and missing moms. And that’s just the first installment! Emma and her brother Navin must save their mother from the Elf King with the help of some friendly robots and a magical amulet – but is everything what it seems to be?
What’s so great about it? Despite some of the heavy themes mentioned above, this is a fast-paced book that will appeal to any kid who loves adventure. Amulet is filled with some of the greatest hits of children’s literature, from a secret world under the stairs to the magical jewelry in the title, yet it somehow feels fresh and new. In part this is because it doesn’t talk down to kids – those scary or dark moments in the book are a sign that Kibuishi feels like his audience can handle the subject matter. The art in this book is almost what you’d get if you blended the previous two – the characters are cute and cuddly, but the backgrounds are lush and richly realized – the final page is simply stunning.
How about for grown-ups?: This book reminded me quite a bit of Locke and Key, minus the gory deaths. If you enjoy an action-packed mystery with supernatural elements, this is the book for you. Don’t be fooled by the adorable bunny – there’s plenty of thrills and surprises even for us jaded adults.
Best age: 8 and up. The aforementioned dark and scary bits would be overwhelming for younger readers.
That’s just a few of my favorite books for kids, but there are many more great ones out there – you may see this theme again. What are you reading that’s great for younger fans?