Saturday, June 12, 2021

Cartoon Saturday- All the graphic novels!

Moyer, Rich. Ham Helsing: Vampire Hunter
June 1st 2021 by Crown Books for Young Readers
E ARC provided by Netgalley

Ham comes from a long line of vampire hunters who make rash decisions that end in their deaths. After his brother Chad perishes in a wing suit accident, Ham is the only one left. He heads to a town where there is a vampire savaging the residents, and intends to take care of matters. The only problem? He's not sure what to do. With the help of two rats who hire him and Ronin, a wide eyed tree pig, and Lobos (a werewolf who by day is a young boy at a local camp), they take off for the spooky mansion at the edge of town where they meet Malcolm, a warthog(?) vampire who doesn't want to hurt people; he has social anxiety and just wants to keep to himself. Something is hurting the townspeople, so Ham and his band of merry marauders set out to find the villain. Through the twists and turns of their adventure, Ham learns the true meaning of both courage and friendship.
Strengths: Many adults struggle with an appropriate level of middle grade goofy, but Moyers nails it. First of all, a vampire hunting pig is just funny, and the other animals he encounters all work well with him. Sneaky but ultimately helpful rats? Check. Inexplicable but helpful werewolf? Check. Kick-ham Ronin, whose ability to save the day and also fend off Malcolm's slightly creepy interest? Check and double check! I also loved that the vampire wasn't really the villain, and that Ham and company have to determine who that really is before the forces of evil are dispatched. Perfect level of cartoon violence with a bit of philosophy thrown in to make discerning readers happy. Make sure you take a look at this one before dismissing it. I love when books surprise me. 
Weaknesses: While Ham had fairly standard pig eyes, Ronin had manga style wide ones that made me think of Penelope Pussycat, or another character I couldn't quite pin down. This is why I struggle with graphic novels-- I get stuck on one stylistic feature that distracts me.
What I really think: As a connoisseur of middle grade literature involving radioactive pocket pets and farting, wisecracking animals of all types, I can tell you: middle school libraries need Ham Helsing. Like Watson's fantastic Stick Dog, Ham can be enjoyed by elementary school students who like that they stomp spiders with wooden clogs, middle schoolers who take great glee in Ham's progenitors' ridiculous deaths, and teachers who appreciate Malcolm instructing Ham on what bravery really means. This could have gone so, so wrong, but went very right instead. 

Sharp, Tori. Just Pretend
May 18th 2021 by Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
E ARC provided by Edelweiss

In this graphic memoir, we see Tori as she is going into 7th grade. She and her friend spend a lot of time creating pretend worlds, both in written stories and in playing. This is an escape for Tori from her family. Her parents are divorced after bickering a lot, and while her dad's new girlfriend is nice, it's still not a great family dynamic. Her older brother is especially troubled, and Tori has to tag along to her older sister's ballet classes since her mother won't let her stay home alone. Even these lessons are a point on contention. As things worsen, Tori distances herself from her best friend, who has her own struggles and secrets.

Ostertag, Molly Knox. The Girl From the Sea
June 1st 2021 by Graphix
E ARC provided by Edelweiss

Morgan wants to leave the small island where she has grown up, since she feels that no one really understands her, especially since she has a secret she won't share with anyone. When she meets Keltie, things become even more confusing. Keltie is a selkie who is allowed to be on land because Morgan has kissed her, but Morgan wants to keep Keltie a secret as well. Morgan's parents are divorced, her younger brother doesn't get along with her any more, and she can't quite connect with her friend group anymore because of all of the things she is keeping from them. When she lets them in on her secrets, will she lose everyone dear to her?

Both of these were fine graphic novels, but just not my cup of tea. Just Pretend had some odd jumps in time that made it hard to follow, but my students will like the illustration style. The Girl From the Sea was okay, but I kept waiting for Keltie to kill humans, for some reason. Something about her eyes, perhaps? It would be fine for middle school students; there's a lot of kissing, but nothing else. 

Marsden, Mariah and Luechtefeld, Hanna. The Secret Garden: A Graphic Novel
June 15th 2021 by Andrews McMeel Publishing
Copy provided by the publisher

Like Edith's interpretation of Pearce's Tom's Midnight Garden or Marsden's own retelling of Montgomery's Anne of Green Gables, this version of Francis Hodgson Burnett's 1910 The Secret Garden is true to the original and will make fans of that work happy. The information about Mary's family's deep ties to troublesome British colonialism is left out of the text, but addressed in end notes, which is a good way to handle the topics. We don't get quite as much back story about Mary's evil parents, and still don't know quite why Collin is bed ridden, but the trajectory of the story remains positive. This always seemed like a depressing version of Alcott's 1874 Eight Cousins, which I adore. The difference is that Rose very quickly becomes a more upbeat character, since she is surrounded by an already positive environment. We're no longer allowed to find characters "unlikable", but I struggle with books where the setting is unpleasant and the characters are ones whom I might wish to avoid. I've never quite gotten the appeal of The Secret Garden, but this is certainly a worthy adaptation.

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