Comics Alternative for Young Readers: Reviews of A Different Pond, Swing It, Sunny, and Pashmina

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Time Codes:



On this episode of the Comics Alternative Young Readers podcast, Gwen and Paul discuss three comics that run the gamut from early readers up to teens.

First on deck, they discuss Bao Phi and Thi Bui’s A Different Pond (Capstone Young Readers), a children’s hybrid picture book/comic that focuses on a bonding moment between a young boy and his father.

Then, Gwen and Paul talk about Jennifer Holm and Matt Holm’s sequel to last year’s acclaimed Sunny Side-Up, Swing It, Sunny (Graphix), which sees preteen Sunny trying to figure out why her older brother has changed so much.

Finally, the Two Academics Talking about Comics look at a middle/grade…or maybe YA text, Nidhi Chanani’s Pashmina (First Second), about a young immigrant who tries to gain a deeper understanding of her mother’s past in India.

Also, Gwen and Paul have a special segment for this month’s episode, as Paul’s daughter tells us about her thoughts after reading two of our books, Swing It, Sunny and Pashmina.


Comics Alternative for Young Readers: The Best of 2015

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Perfect Gifts for Hanukkah!

As the end of 2015 draws near and the holiday shopping season is in full swing, Andy and Gwen have drawn up their lists of their favorite comics for young readers released during the last year. Although their choices run the gamut from texts for early readers up through to texts for teens, every text mentioned creates a fine balance between serious subject matter and engaging artwork and writing. Many of these comics would be great choices for parents and kids to read together.


Andy’s List:


Gwen’s List:


Books that both Gwen and Andy Selected:

Andy and Gwen alternate leading discussion for each book and finish up by discussing two books that made both of their lists.

Young Readers: Reviews of Baba Yaga’s Assistant and Sunny Side Up

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Something for the Kids

The Comics Alternative is happy to feature a brand new monthly series, this one devoted to comics and graphic novels for young readers. The cohosts for this show are Gwen Tarbox and Andy Wolverton. Longtime listeners of the podcast will know that Andy is an old hand at cohosting duties, filling in for Andy Kunka occasionally and, up until recently, being the cohost on the monthly webcomics series. (In fact, Andy left the webcomics show so that he could pursue this new idea.) Gwen is a professor of children’s and young adult narrative, especially as it applies to comics. This is her first time cohosting a podcast, and everyone at The Comics Alternative is excited about having her on the team. Now, every month Gwen and Andy will look at two recent comics written for a young audience, one for teenage or young adult readers and another title devoted to younger children.

For their inaugural episode of Two PhDs Talking About Comics for Young Readers, discuss recent developments in comics for children and teenagers, and they reference Raising a Reader! How Comics and Graphic Novels Can Help Your Kids Love To Read! This resource, written by Dr. Meryl Jaffe and illustrated by Raina Telgemeier and Matthew Holm, provides parents and educators with advice on how to share comics with children. (A shorter version of this text is BabaYagaavailable on the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund’s website.) Gwen and Andy also talk about connecting kids with comics, beginning with an exploration of recommended comics lists put out by the Eisner Awards committee and the Young Adult Library Services Association (YALSA). For the last few years, the Eisner Awards have included categories for early readers, kids, and teens, and YALSA, a part of the American Library Association, publishes lists of recommended graphic novels for middle grade and high school readers.

During the review section of the program, Andy and Gwen discuss Baba Yaga’s Assistant by Marika McCool and Emily Carroll (Candlewick Press). Both are impressed by the depiction of Masha, a young woman who comes to terms with changes in her family life and learns to stand up for herself by matching wits with Baba Yaga, a character who walks off of the pages of Slavic folklore and into Masha’s life. Gwen and Andy discuss the text’s effective use of flashbacks and embedded narratives, and praise Carroll’s use of color to evoke mood and to signal shifts between past and present. Next, they talk about the semi-autobiographical graphic novel Sunny Side Up (Graphix), written by Jennifer Holm and with art by SunnySideUpMatthew Holm, the sister/brother team behind such popular children’s comics series as Babymouse and Squish. Noting that Sunny Side Up contains much to interest both adult and child readers, they focus on the way that the Holms capture many features of life in the 1970s while telling a story with contemporary relevance about the impact of substance abuse on a close-knit family. Although the text deals with serious subject matter, the Holms employ a gentle humor and a relatable child protagonist who, like Masha in Baba Yaga’s Assistant, learns to confront her fears and to turn a summer long visit with her grandfather into a journey of discovery. Parents will enjoy the many references to 1970s popular culture, and kids will learn about the transformative power of comics in the lives of Sunny and her friend Buzz.

All in all, both Gwen and Andy bring their rich experiences — she as an instructor and he as a librarian — into their analyses, and this first show is just a small taste of many insights and recommendations to come. This is a must-listen podcast series for every teacher, librarian, parent, and reader of comics intended for younger audiences.