Comics Alternative for Young Readers: Reviews of The Brain: The Ultimate Thinking Machine and Hey, Kiddo: How I Lost My Mother, Found My Father, and Dealt with Family Addiction

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Blinded by Science

On this episode of the Comics Alternative’s Young Readers series, Gwen and Krystal discuss two new releases: Tory Woollcott and Alex Graudins’s The Brain: The Ultimate Thinking Machine, the most recent volume in First Second Books’ Science Comicsseries, geared towards upper elementary and middle grade readers, and Jarrett J. Krosoczka’s Hey, Kiddo: How I Lost My Mother, Found My Father, and Dealt with Family Addiction, a YA comics memoir, published by Scholastic’s Graphix imprint.

To introduce Woollcott and Graudins’ The Brain, Gwen and Krystal talk about non-fiction, informational comics for young readers, bringing up other volumes in the Science Comics series, such as M.K. Reed and Joe Flood’s Dinosaurs, as well as Maris Wicks’ Human Body Theater, and Gene Luen Yang and Mike Holmes’ Secret Coders. Gwen explains that all of these texts place scientific or mathematical information within a fictional frame, and she summarizes the basic premise of The Brain, which places two sisters, Fahama and Nour, in a setting that is reminiscent of wacky 1960s and 1970s monster films or TV shows like The Munsters. Krystal praises Woollcott and Graundin’s use of a diverse cast, both in terms of the principal characters and of the individuals who appear in illustrations of the way that the brain impacts human functioning. Both Krystal and Gwen detail some of the memorable spreads in the comic and view the text as an excellent story and reference book for young readers.

Next, the two PhDs move on to a young adult graphic memoir, Jarrett J. Krosoczka’s Hey, Kiddo, which is already earning critical acclaim and award buzz (it is a National Book Award finalist). Krosoczka is well-known as the author of nearly a dozen picture books and of the Lunch Lady graphic novel series, but Hey, Kiddo is his first YA offering. Gwen recommends Krosoczka’s 2012 TED Talk “How a boy became an artist,” as well as his 2014 TED Talk on the Lunch Lady comics. Both provide insight into Krosoczka’s childhood influences and artistic choices. Krystal then gives a detailed description of the way Hey, Kiddo mirrors — and expands upon — many of the artist-focused coming of age narratives that have been popular in recent decades, including Alison Bechdel’s Fun Home: A Family Tragicomedy (2006) and Özge Samanci’s Dare to Disappoint: Growing Up in Turkey (2015).  Krystal also applauds Krosoczka’s use of line style and color in commenting on memory, and Gwen testifies to the author’s ability to evoke a convincing depiction of 1970s New England. Both reviewers love this text and highly recommend it for teens and adults.

The Young Readers series will be on hiatus in December, but Gwen and Krystal will be back in January with a look at some of the YA graphic novel highlights of 2018.

 

 

 

Comics Alternative for Young Readers: Reviews of 3×4, The Creepy Case Files of Margo Maloo: The Monster Mall, and Sheets

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Boo!

On this episode of the Comics Alternative’s Young Readers show, Gwen is joined by her new co-host, Dr. Krystal Howard, an assistant professor in the Liberal Studies and English departments at California State University, Northridge. Krystal has been reading, writing about, and teaching children’s and YA comics for a number of years and has a particular interest in gender and comics studies. In 2017, Krystal’s essay “Gothic Excess and the Body in Vera Brosgol’s Anya’s Ghost” appeared in Gwen’s co-edited volume (with Michelle Ann Abate), Graphic Novels for Children and Young Adults, and she has another comics-related essay, “Comics Grammar in Neil Gaiman and Dave McKean’s Picture Book Collaborations” that is forthcoming in The Artistry of Neil Gaiman: Finding Light in the Shadows. Regular listeners to the Young Readers show will already know Krystal from her spot as a panelist last summer on a special roundtable that Gwen and Paul Lai hosted on the future of children’s and YA comics.

Before they begin discussing the books for this month’s show, Gwen and Krystal mention the wonderful contributions of Paul Lai, who has recently graduated with his doctorate from the School of Education in Language, Literacy, and Culture at the University of California, Berkeley, and who has begun a new position as Director of UC Berkeley’s prestigious BE3 program, which stands for Berkeley Educators for Equity and Excellence. Paul intends to return to the Comics Alternative family from time to time as a podcaster, and Gwen and Krystal wish him the very best in his new role.

During the main portion of the show, Gwen and Krystal discuss three new releases: Ivan Brunetti’s 3 x 4, published last month by TOON Books and geared towards early elementary readers, and two Halloween-oriented middle grade graphic novels: Drew Weing’s The Creepy Case Files of Margo Maloo: The Monster Mall, which is the second in the Margo Maloo series from First Second books, and Brenna Thummler’s debut, Sheets, put out by Lion Forge’s Cubhouse imprint.

Both Krystal and Gwen found Brunetti’s 3 x 4 to be a great addition to the plethora of STEM-focused comics that have been published in the last five years, including First Second’s Science Comics series and Mike Holmes and Gene Luen Yang’s Secret Coders. Krystal praises Brunetti for his inclusion of a diverse and eclectic group of young people, and Gwen notes that for the detail-oriented child, every page offers up an opportunity to discover the many ways that the number 12 can be divided into sets!

Next, the two PhDs consider Drew Weing’s follow up to his highly successful first volume of the Margo Maloos series: The Creepy Case Files of Margo Maloo: The Monster Mall. Gwen appreciates Weing’s decision to continue focusing on the costs of gentrification, while Krystal notes that the inclusion of teenage characters adds a new dimension to the series.

Finally, Gwen and Krystal discuss the amazing debut by Brenna Thummler, Sheets (Lion Forge), which takes place in a lake resort town and focuses on the struggles of a young woman who has become the proprietor of her family’s laundromat, all while trying to fit in at middle school. Her interactions with Wendell, the ghost of an eleven-year-old boy, end up making life a lot better for both of them. Krystal points out Thummler’s attention to figural placement and atmospherics, and Gwen suggests that while some of the plot points might seem a little far-fetched, the novel holds together well and deals with class conflict in a manner that is also present in Weing’s Margo Maloo series.

In November, Gwen and Krystal will be back with another set of books to review, as well as 2018 best-of-list recommendations for our listener’s winter holiday celebrations.

Comics Alternative for Young Readers: A Roundtable Discussion on Contemporary Issues in Children’s and Young Adult Comics

Listen to the podcast!

Time Codes:

  • 00:00:27 – Introduction
  • 00:03:06 – Roundtable discussion with Charles Hatfield and Krystal Howard
  • 01:25:00 – Wrap up
  • 01:27:49 – Contact us

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Talking It Out

For this Young Readers show, Paul and Gwen change things up a bit by hosting a roundtable on the state of children’s and YA comics with two amazing scholars: Dr. Charles Hatfield, professor in the department of English at California State University, Northridge, and his new college, Dr. Krystal Howard, an assistant professor who is dual appointed in English and Liberal Studies.

The conversation in this month’s episode includes a number of timely topics, including the way scholars define children’s and YA comics, the challenges and benefits of teaching children’s comics, and the exciting formal aspects of comics, as well as other categories, such as verse novels.

Charles had just returned from the San Diego Comic Con, and he shared a list of sessions that were held in conjunction with SDCC at the San Diego Public Library, as well as commentary on this year’s nominees in the three award areas devoted to young readers: Best Publication for Early Readers, Best Publication for Kids, and Best Publication for Teens.

Another rich topic for discussion among the panelists was the portrayal of children in comics written for adults. Recent releases mentioned in this regard included Emil Ferris’s My Favorite Thing Is Monsters, Nick Drnaso’s Beverly, and Brecht Evens’ Panther. Recommended children’s texts that seem to be breaking conventions include Eric Orchard’s Bera, the One-Headed Troll, Drew Weing’s The Creepy Case Files of Margo Maloo, and favorite texts to teach included Luke Pearson’s Hilda series, Barry Deutsch’s Hereville series, and Lewis/Aydin/Powell’s March series, among others.

If listeners have been looking for a good list of must-read children’s and YA comics, this roundtable delivers on that count.