New favourite! Or at least, new book to add to the favourite list

Dragonbreath: No Such Thing as Ghosts by Ursula Vernon

After recommending the Dragonbreath books enthusiastically to parents of children who liked Diary of  Wimpy Kid (and what kid doesn’t like Diary of a Wimpy Kid?) I decided to actually read one.

And it was awesome!

With a little more text then Wimpy Kid, and notable more large scary words, Dragonbreath might not be a perfect read alike, at least as far as skill level, but totally in all other ways.

Danny Dragonbreath is a dragon (but no one believes him). Wendell the iguana is his best friend. Together they have all kinds of wacky adventures, mostly motivated by Danny’s hilarious willingness to do anything (like take advice from rats) and Wendell’s fear of pretty much everything. For this book they are also joined by Christiana the skeptically crested lizard when they go into a haunted house on a dare.

This book was full of information too (salmonella causes food poisoning, hydrogen atoms have one electron and science depends on stuff being provable) but there was no pausing to point out the importance of these facts. Or any other irritating values. It was also hilariously funny and just a little creepy (seriously, the drawing of the clown was scary). Anyway, all in all a super fun little read.

Last movie I watched: Jane Eyre. I felt like this version did a lot to emphasize the Gothic nature of the book, which was kind of important but also lacked a lot of plot subtleties.

Last TV episode I watched: Still on Leverage. Still awesome though.

Oh Geronimo Stilton why did they make you so much less cool?

Geronimo Stilton and the Dragon Prophecy

I love Geronimo Stilton completely and utterly. They are such good books for kids who are starting to read and finding it a little challenging. And let’s face it, that’s pretty much all children.

Since most adults haven’t every actually read one I feel like I need to explain how they do this. Through the text. Instead of writing the whole book in something boring and monotone like Arial or Times New Roman they mix it up. More than that, they mix it up in a way that is often useful for the reader. Orange would never be written the way I just wrote it – it would be coloured, giving the reader a visual clue to figuring out what the word was. Right and Left are likely to have little arrows under them pointing in the right (or left) direction. Smelly will probably be written in a gross green/brown colour. Of course, some words are a little harder to get across just through font changes (burp, dragged and light) but they still try to make the words more interesting (red capital letters with a ! at the end, italics, and yellow letters).

I don’t know for sure, since I never read these as a kid but I was a slow reader, and it was really hard to take in every word while I was reading. You know what really helps with that? A change of scenery.

This one is also really long, which is wonderful. The sense of accomplishment and the feeling like they’re reading novels – super important and the Kingdom of Fantasy ones are particularly good for this ’cause they’re really fat. The pictures are beautiful, colourful and surprisingly gender neutral. I mean, there are dragons and poop which tends to get slotted in the “boy” column but there’s also unicorns and fairies, which dominate “girl” reading. So that was pretty refreshing. Also just pretty. There’s even an awesome activity where kids can translate parts of the page out of fairy language and into English. This book comes with it’s own language! How cool is that?

I know, I know, Tolkien’s stuff does too but this one is functional.

So with cool pictures and wonderful fun words we get to watch the adventures of Geronimo, the mouse who just wants to eat cheese, sleep and read quietly in bed (with cheese if possible) fumble his way through an epic quest to find the stolen dragon’s egg. It’s just delightful.

All right, now here it comes. After all this discussion about how wonderful these books are why do I feel like this one is less awesome than the other few I’d read?


That’s totally a word.

I’m all for narrative pauses to provide informative breaks in my children’s lit, sort of anyway, but this just …. too much. Some of them weren’t so bad. The blurb about why onions make you cry was kind of neat (sulfuric gas! Yeah, I know everyone but me knew that). I enjoyed the discussion about the significance of the olive branch in Greek and Roman culture. But I started to get a little suspicious when I got to the one about how it’s bad to tell lies. And the one titled “Building Peace”. I mean, the science, history and language sort of made sense. If Firebreath is going to use onions so  he can fake cry maybe it’s important to offer the information in case someone asks. If there’s a kid who doesn’t understand jealousy I guess explaining it is worth while. But why can’t we just give stories to kids that demonstrate the importance of being honest and not starting wars? Why do we have to stop, look straight into the camera and spell it out for them like they’re dumb?

They’re not! The story does that all by itself. They’re perfectly capable of  looking at fiction and seeing how it could apply to their own lives. They don’t need us to tell us how to do it.

Also, I feel like the building peace blurb was pretty hypocritical. I mean when was the last time a member of our government sat down and “respected each other and tried to discuss problems fairly”? They’re all adults.

Clearly they need to read more Geronimo Stilton.

Last movie I watched: A little way into Jane Eyre. The Michael Fassbender Mia Waisunspellable one. It’s fantastic.

Last TV episode I watched: Leverage! A far superior episode to the last few.

Clearly, I’ve had a wildly exciting Sunday.

Oh George Lucas

Star Wars Adventures: Princess Leia and Royal Ransom by Jeremy Barlow, Carlo Soriano, Michael Atiyeh, Michael Heisler and Sean McNally

So this wasn’t bad.

But I didn’t like it.

The story was actually a little bit complicated. I mean, yes, it was about a kidnapped princess set up to show how kick ass Leia is (because the only way a woman can demonstrate her skills at anything is by contrasting herself against another woman), but there were like five or six different groups of people involved with their own agendas and Leia and Han had delightful chemistry and Leia was pretty kick ass ( although she allowed herself to be disarmed and kidnapped with disheartening ease and had to talk her way out of it before getting saved by Han) and there was a lot going on as far as plots go. I mean, this really short graphic novel had more plot than all of Attack of the  Clones.

But it just didn’t… I don’t know… work right. Somehow. Possibly because of a pink princess. Whatever.

The drawings of the aliens were  cool, but the drawings of the people were not so awesome. Some of them looked like Harrison Ford and Carrie Fisher, some not remotely, some they seemed to be in position that, as far as I am aware, no living person can actually be in without serious injury. I just can’t place why I didn’t like it.

Also, contrasting Leia against the pink princess when they are wearing essentially the same outfit just in different colours isn’t really that empowering to her. The movies were pretty good at making her beautiful without making her sexy (other than the Jabba the Hunt thing, obviously). Why can’t a graphic novel for ten year olds do that?

Whatever. Sort of a success. Sort of not.

Last movie I watched: Still the Debt. I feel like Jessica Chastain is a really good actress.

Last TV episode: Batman Beyond. Old Bruce, still epic.

This is the title I wish I could use: A very long list of all the reasons Alcatraz is awesome. But the list is just too long

Alcatraz Versus the Knights of Crystallia by Brandon Sanderson

So I totally loved the first two in this series. But for some reason, that I can’t place exactly, number three is my favourite. The reason it took me so long to read was because I left the epilogue for a day because I didn’t want it to be over.

Yes, there are two more after this one.

This book is an account of Alcatraz’s first experience outside the Hushlands. We meet more members of his family (his aunt Patty whose talent is saying inappropriate or embarrassing things at the worst times and his cousin Folsom who is an incredibly bad dancer) as well as get to know his father, and how spectacularly bad he is at being a father. We finally meet Bastille’s family as well as Himalaya, a recovering librarian. We watch, with our collective breaths held as Alcatraz and his grandfather try to find out why the Librarians want to sign a treaty with the kings, work out what Shasta Smerdy is doing in the city (since it’s obviously not seeing her son) and help Bastille through her punishment for breaking her sword.

And it’s spectacular! Every minute of it.

This one did kind of read a little bit like Harry Potter. Alcatraz finally comes to understand what it means to be a Smedry and the lost heir to the line as well – he’s famous! But it tends to focus on other things than J.K. did, even gently mocking it on some, well a lot of occasions, because this book gently mocks everything.

One of my favourite parts is Alcatraz’s discussion on the trifecta of potty humour (farts, poop and barf if you wanted to know). I’m sure that there’s no nodding to Captain Underpants or The Day My Butt Went Psycho in there.

The thing that delighted me most about this book is just how genre savvy it is. Alcatraz in particular seems to recognize narrative patterns and either 1) avoid them or 2) make fun of himself for walking into them.

I don’t know, I just loved this book so much I want to talk about it but I also want other people to read it so they can talk about it with me but they might not if  I spoiling the ending. So I’m just going to leave it there, for now, to give everyone a chance to catch up.

P.S. – I strongly recommend flipping to the back of the book

Last movie I watched: The Debt. Really good – very dark, kind of depressing but really good. Also – Sam Worthington. Just noticed, he’s kind of wonderful.

Last TV episode I watched: Leverage! I’m so sad that it’s done. Although these last few, haven’t been as awesome as some other ones.

Pictures are important

Batman and Robin: Batman and Robin Must Die by Grant Morrison, Frazer Irving and David Finch

So, what reading this particular Batman comic taught me is that I like the graphics in my graphic novels to be character and plot driven, not stylized.

Or maybe I just didn’t like this style. Everyone’s teeth were kind of the focal point of all the pictures. I don’t think I like teeth that much.

Anyway, unlike other books I’ve read where I initially didn’t like the graphics, like The Dark Knight Returns, they kind of grew on me and made sense with the feeling of the book and by the end I was pretty excited about them.

Not so much with this one. The story was pretty wonderful (The Joker and Damian had their first run in, Bruce comes back, Dr. Pyg who is the scariest villain ever turns up, Jim Gordon’s running around being awesome, Dick manages to survive despite a huge amount of head trauma, the Batfamily reassembles for a nice group picture at the end, Bruce decides that Dick works better with Damian then he does, generally awesomeness, Bruce goes public with Batman Inc, Alfred is himself, etc, etc) but the pictures just didn’t work right. Partly because the books were drawn by different illustrators. One of them had the kind of typical super hero pictures that I know and love – sharp lines, clear colours, mostly action driven pictures or close ups of faces, lots of shadows, lots of epic-ness. I like these kinds of pictures.

Which made the contrast worse. The other one’s pictures were very colour themed – blue mostly, or red so everyone and everything in them were washed by that colour and the only objects that weren’t were clearly accented to look, I don’t know, significant somehow. I kind of found it irritating. Maybe I wanted to figure out what was important all by myself. I also didn’t like the way the faces looked – they couldn’t seem to have expressions. There were comparatively few details in these pages and so emotional responses tended to be expressed mostly through teeth. I don’t know – I felt like those frames just lacked emotional impact. They felt more… art for arts sake. Which is fine. In an art gallery.

Apparently I don’t love it in my comics.

Last movie I watched: None

Last TV episode I watched: Young Justice. Seriously, that’s a smart cartoon.

In which Damian Wayne comes across as the sanest (and that’s not a good sign)

Batman and Robin: Batman vs Robin by Grant Morrison, Cameron Stewart and Andy Clarke

So Bruce is “dead” (he’s not dead – he’s actually lost in time, whatever that means – seriously!? Although I’m thrilled and not remotely surprised he’s not dead somehow I feel like losing in him time is the kind of idea that seems really, really awesome at 3 in the morning after eight packs of sour skittles and a two-four but probably not the kind of idea that should hold up to any level of scrutiny the next morning -anyway) Dick’s wearing the cowl and Damian is his Robin. Or would be, if he wasn’t recovering from recently being shot repeatedly by Jason.

So Damian’s with his crazy,crazy mother who’s giving him a new spine and if that seems likes a bad idea, what until you hear what Dick’s doing – he’s in England looking for a Lazarus pit to throw Bruce’s body into ’cause he’s still not ready to accept his mentor/best friend being dead. And that he has to be Batman.

The first half of this book is the story of why we never, ever raise dead loved ones using chemical soup we find in abandon mine shafts because it always ends badly. There are some neat moments – Dick meeting Batwoman for the first time as Batman was one of them. It was also my first introduction to Batwoman. I’ve been avoiding her generally, because clearly the last thing I need is another of member of the Batfamily to adore but she is pretty kick ass. Dick is also a really different Batman then Bruce and seeing that, I don’t know, was kind of wonderful.

Of course, the big reveal (spoiler) is that the body that Dick, Tim, Damian and Alfred buried was just a clone so…. drum roll!…. Tim’s right, Bruce isn’t dead.

Dick’s search for Bruce kind of dominates his half of the next story, while Damian has come to realize that his mother, being the spectacularly crazy person she is has managed to find a way to control him using his new spine. That will teach everyone to trust her.

No actually, I doubt that.

Anyway, this story was a little more Batman-y with more riddle solving and mysterious villains pulling strings and weird clues that Bruce left around the house while he was pretending to be his own crazy, devil worshiping ancestor. At least, I hope he was pretending. Anyway, this one kind of was the middle. It built off of some awesome set up and is building towards some awesome conclusions but it’s not that remarkable as a stand alone thing.

By far the most awesome part was Damian trying desperately to not kill Dick. That’s how Damian shows love – by trying not to kill you.

Last movie I watched: Time Travelers Wife. Rubbish.

Last TV episode I watched: Young Justice. Still really, really clever.

Batman and Lewis Carroll – seriously, why all the intertextuality?

Batman Dark Knight: Knight Terrors (The New 52) by David Finch, Paul Jenkins and Richard Friend

Although I think I enjoyed Alice in Wonderland when I read it as a kid, I also think it terrified  me. I remember being too frightened to get through the Disney Alice in Wonderland (and if you can’t get through the Disney movie you’re pretty screwed). As far as I know I’ve never found an Alice in Wonderland interpretation I actually liked. The closest I’ve come is probably that Tim Burton/John Depp thing that came out a few years ago and it was pretty abysmal. Still, I suspect if I did some deep soul searching I’d realize the reason I nearly liked it was probably because it had almost nothing to do with the original story.

I have no idea why children still read it. If they do. Actually, that’s a lie. I feel like their parents make them because its a “classic”.

Whether it deserves that or not is probably a debate for someone smarter than me.

Batman has lots of Alice references. The Mad Hatter villain is an obvious nod towards the…. “classic” piece of children’s lit and as far as villains go, he’s not too shabby. Mind control is an  issue. Batman fights two thugs called Dee and Dum multiple times. Kind of stupid, big, roundish guys not really to be taken seriously. And in this one, we introduce the White Rabbit.

Of course, she’s a lady and therefore wears as few clothes as possible plus some rabbit ears and gets hired by a much smarter, more dangerous big bad to run around and ruin Batman’s day.

Still, it’s got me thinking about why this particular piece of nonsense keeps overlapping with everyone’s favourite superhero (right everyone?!?) and weirdly, the thing that kind of ties them all together for me is fear.

‘Cause fear is a pretty important motif in Batman (that’s right, I  just used the word motif in something that’s not an English paper). Bruce Wayne decides that the best way to fight crime is to make criminals afraid of him, hence the bat costume. Most of the villains are manifestations of pretty basic fears (Two Face – who isn’t afraid of a part of themselves? Joker- complete insanity everywhere all the time! Ivy – (warning feminist tendencies) fear of powerful women who can control men through their sexuality). This whole graphic novel was really a study in what Batman fears – failing the people he loves (everyone’s afraid of that), pain (terrifying to most living things) and fear itself (which scares me, at least, and probably most people really).

Alice in Wonderland is terrifying nonsense, or at least it came across that way to me as a kid. I feel like if I were to reread it I’d start to find connections between “stuff that happens in this book” and “stuff that scares me in the real world”. Maybe because in and of itself nonsense is kind of terrifying.

I like sense! It’s important.

Or maybe it’s all in my head because the Cheshire Cat still creeps me out.

Oh, also, that was an epic Batman. I strongly recommend it.  Tim’s new outfit – fantastic.

Last movie I watched: The first half of the Time Travelers Wife. God it sucks. The book is WAY better.

Last TV episode I watched: Still Merlin. MORGANA KNOWS!

Brian Jacques – not really meant to be a picture book (although he did write one)

Redwall: The Graphic Novel by Brian Jacques

When I was growing up I loved the Redwall books, I think I read about 13 of them before I realized that they are all exactly the same. I know, I was a little slow to catch onto stuff. As an adult I’m kind of astounded that kids even read Redwalls at all. They’re really fat, full of pages and pages of description most of which is about food and all the characters are completely defined by their species. Its cool that they all talk funny (moles, hares) and even now I kind of think the sparrows and badgers are awesome but there’s just not much more to them. Brian Jacques built his awesome world and then just recycled it for 22 fat novels.

On the other hand, romance authors do the same thing I guess…

So the graphic novel, which also gets checked out of my library pretty regularly just wasn’t that awesome. It was kind of neat I guess, to get through the story without pages and pages listing all the foodstuffs but on the other hand the illustrations are black and white which isn’t that appealing to me (maybe kids like it more though, who knows?) and the dialogue is taken right from the book. Awesome for any Redwall enthusiasts who don’t want to see Jacques beautiful word getting watered down, but he was writing twenty, almost thirty years ago and the mice (pretty much the only characters not defined by some outrageous accent) sound… old somehow. Even the young ones.

I don’t know. I got through it, it was enjoyable but I feel like there are just so many other, better graphic novels about talking animals out there.

Like Sidekicks.

Last movie I watched: None

Last TV episode I watched: MERLIN! MORGANA KNOWS! AHHH! PANIC! Sorry, I’m a little excited.

New favourite graphic novel ever! (Excluding Batman for anyone who was about to ask)

Sidekicks by Dan Santat

Aging Captain Amazing is force to take a month off after a nearly fatal  allergic reaction to peanuts he was exposed to during a battle with a supervillain. Disheartened and tired he decides, reluctantly, that it’s time to look for a new sidekick. Rosco, his super powered dog and Fluffy his not so superpowered hamster both jump at the chance to audition for the job so they can spend more time with him. While Rosco strikes out on his own to establish his identity as a sidekick, Fluffy and the newest family member, a chameleon called Shifty end up getting trained by Manny the cat, Captain Amazing’s former sidekick who abandoned the family a long time ago. As the deadline for the auditions comes closer the more prepared the pets are but the more danger Captain Amazing is in.

Of course, this is a kid’s graphic novel. They all band together at the last moment, kick a villain’s butt and realize how important family is. No big shockers there.

I’m having trouble pinpointing exactly what was the most awesome thing about this one. The illustration were really fun, and that’s super important (see upcoming blog post on Redwall: The Graphic Novel). They were simple and colourful and hilarious, although a book about a crime fighting hamster and a chameleon is pretty much guaranteed to be funny. The story, although quite pointed and clear about the importance of brotherhood and family and working together and thinking to make up for your lack of superpower (if that’s a problem for you) is still fun, zany, clever and enjoyable. Each of the animals have strong, unique characters and are totally adorable.

Seriously, if I wasn’t a barely-not-broke part time librarian living in a sketchy apartment I’d probably go get a dog, a cat, a hamster and chameleon and watch for them developing superpowers.

It reads, in a lot of ways, like a parody of the superhero genre (which is important… superheroes need to be parodied) and maybe that was why it was so funny and wonderful as an adult. Either way – new favourite (up there with Pandemonium). Everyone should check this one out.

But not all at once. This poor copy’s starting to show how much it’s been loved.

Still no movie updates.

Last TV episode I watched :A Batman Beyond. ‘Cause they are awesome.

Children’s fiction would have me believe there’s nothing in the world as dangerous as going into one’s basement

Amulet Book One: The Stonekeeper

Amulet is one of the most well circulated graphic novel in our collection. Therefore I checked it out.

It starts with one of the most heart wrenching fictional car accidents I have ever read. Usually the victim ends up unconscious as some point but not for this one. Nope, poor Em gets to witness every moment of the accident that will kill her father, including him begging her and her mother to save themselves and their desperate attempts to save him.

Yup, off to a great start.

The accident, besides being super upsetting to me, really effected Em -not that this is surprising – and her behaviour later in the books seems super driven by these events. I’m not sure if the kids reading pick up on this quite as much as I do, but for me it was super important.

Some time later Em, Navin and their mother are moving to an old house in the middle of nowhere that used to belong to their great grandfather who mysteriously disappeared many, many years ago. Obviously this is the setup for something ridiculously scary happening (probably in a basement) but it isn’t just there to drive the plot. One of the most beautiful scenes in the whole book happens pre-action, when Em angrily demands that her mother explain why they moved and her mother starts to cry. Again, this might not be something that kids pick up as much as I do, but the book did a great job of setting Em up as someone trapped. She’s a child but she’s been forced to grow up by the death of her father and her desire to protect her family. Navin, her younger brother, is the voice of childhood and immaturity in the story and he balances her out because she really isn’t. She’s a grownup in a a kid’s body.

While they’re cleaning the house Em finds a necklace, puts it on, doesn’t think much of it and then starts to hear it talking to her, warning her that her family is in danger. Minutes later her mother and brother get eaten by a giant monster thing that came out of the door in the basement (I told you!). Em’s able to rescue Navin but has to let go of her mother in order to save him.

By now of course they’re in another world with nothing but a talking necklace to guide them towards their dying great grandfather, a quest to save their mother and their destiny.

Obviously, these is a pretty trope heavy plot but it’s a lovely version of it. The pictures are beautiful and engaging. Em, Navin and the bundle of robots who help them are genuine and lovely. It’s pretty picture heavy and light on the words so it doesn’t take an enthusiastic reader to long to get through it, but I think that also makes it great for … less enthusiastic readers because there’s a good, complicated story explained with minimal confusing words.

At some point I’m going to read Bone so I have something solid to compare it to. In the mean time, I’ll settle for excellent.

Last movie I watched: None. None of my holds have come in yet.

Last TV episode I watched: Rescue Heroes. I can’t believe I liked that show growing up. Didactic much?