Saturday, July 03, 2021

Cartoon Saturday- Kyle's Little Sister and Long Distance

Jeong, BonHyung. Kyle's Little Sister 
June 22nd 2021 by JY (Yen Press)
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Grace is just entering 6th grade, and will be rejoining her older brother Kyle at school, where he is a popular and athletic 8th grader. Grace resents him, especially since her friend Jay has a crush on him. Their friend, Amy, often pushes Jay out of her comfort zone, and soon the girls have a falling out. Grace has worried about fitting in at middle school, since she is more of a quiet gamer, and now finds herself eating lunch alone. When popular but mean spirited Cam befriends her, "accidentally" bumping in to Amy and spilling things on her, Grace is a bit leery, but glad to have a friend. Cam continues her mean streak, refusing to let a new girl sit at their table, and asks to be introduced to Kyle, on whom she also has a crush. When Grace refuses, Cam cuts her off and is very mean. Amy and Jay, who have reached a d├ętente, see how Cam is treating Grace and tell Kyle about it. Kyle confronts Cam, which doesn't really help things. Will Grace be able to reconnect with her friends and find a way to be les resentful about her brother?
Strengths: Friend drama is a huge attraction when it comes to plots that my students request, and this has plenty of drama! Yen Press also publishes Svetlana Chmakova’s Awkward, Brave, and Crush which I have had to replace several times, and the themes are very similar. There's a wide range of middle school experiences, and we get a few glimpses of Grace's home life, which is supportive even though her father is away. There's also a decent amount of true-to-life middle school romance. 
Weaknesses: Grace is perhaps the single most challenging character I have ever encountered. The cover is very indicative of her every sulking move in the book. She's not even very nice to Amy and Jay. The art style will appeal to younger readers, but the manga style always makes me think that the story is being performed by the cast of Speed Racer
What I really think: I personally do not understand the appeal of Telgemeier's story lines (would anyone read a novel about dental trauma?), but this tale of mean girl drama in middle school will probably go over well with my students, who even like the Tessier and Amandine Chloe graphic novels, which make me cringe whenever they are checked out. Will probably purchase, but this was not a personal favorite. It's probably "toxic positivity" to suggest that maybe if we quit telling students to be anxious about middle school, they will stop being so anxious.

Gardner, Whitney. Long Distance
June 29th 2021 by Simon Schuster Books for Young Readers
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Vega is very unhappy when her dads move her from Portland to Seattle, especially since she has to leave her best friend Halley, who shares her love of space. To add insult to injury, they send her to a summer camp for kids who have trouble making friends. The counselors are a bit odd, and there are strange goings on in the woods as well. One camper, George, seems to have an especially close connection to the camp (he claims his parents run it, but they are never seen), and changes personalities constantly-- and they are all annoying. Vega does befriend Qwerty, who is also from Portland, as well as bunkmate Gemma and her brother Isaac. There are other campers, but it is these four who come across strange technology that seems to control the counselors, and seems to be somehow connected to George. Vega is very worried about her friendship with Halley, since her phone isn't working and she is getting no messages back from her best friend, after seeing Halley post pictures of herself with some new friends. When the suspicious technology leads the campers to find out the true nature of the camp, they must convince George that friendships are possible even when people are far apart from each other, a lesson which Vega is also able to apply to her situation with Halley. 
Strengths: Vega doesn't think she needs to go to a camp to make friends, but at least tries to join in to activities and not mope about Halley the entire time she is away. She's also not overly anxious about making friends, although she is angry about moving, which seems very realistic. The camp is just quirky enough to make it interesting, and the story line does take a very decided twist that I don't want to spoil. It has a good message about friendship, and shows kids connecting remotely in a way that I hope will be more historically important than a depiction of every day life. 
Weaknesses: The one father was only ever shown wearing a bathrobe, which seemed very odd. Isaac and Gemma were a tiny bit hard to tell apart, but on the plus side, I was not distracted by the noses! (My number one complaint about graphic novels!)
What I really think: This was a bit odd, but in a fun way. It's a great mix of summer camp and science fiction. There aren't a lot of science fiction graphic novels, so include this along with Brooks' Sanity and Tallulah, Winnick's HiLo, Hatke's Zita the Spacegirl, Graley's Glitch, and Hansen's fantastic My Video Game Ate My Homework. 

Sells, Chad. Roar of the Beast (The Cardboard Kingdom #2)
June 1st 2021 by Alfred A. Knopf Books for Young Readers
Copy provided by Young Adult Books Central

As Halloween approached, the Cardboard Kingdom characters are getting ready, but there are problems. Elijah is worried that his stepbrother doesn't want as much to do with him, Alice is generally secretive and the costume plans, and Miguel is still trying to understand his feelings for Nate. Vijay, whose role is the Beast, is bullied by older teenagers, who make fun of his mask,and even though his sister Shikha confronts them, they still pop up and give the group problems. When Nate breaks his leg going after what appears to be a monster in the neighborhood, the group is on high alert. They form watches at night and worry that the monster will bring trouble to the neighborhood on Halloween. When they find out who is controlling the monster, will they be able to do anything about it?

The best part of these books is the variety of characters. From Alice (who is always wandering aroudn with an evil plan saying "Bwa ha ha ha ha") to frightened Elijah to take charge Shikhas, the members of the Monster Mashers are well developed, and we get glimpses into their family life. My favorite is probably Animal Queen, who has a lot of power in the group, but whose parents don't want to let her go trick-or-treating. 

The illustrations help the story a lot, and enables us to see what the children really look like in their costumes and also how they FEEL they look. Imaginative play is rather a lost art, and by middle school, tweens don't engage in quite as much of it. Even though there are some naysaying teenagers, it's good to see that there is a neighborhood group encouraging creativity in costuming, story writing, and general world building. How cool is it that there is a Dragon's Head Inn that serves refreshments out of a garage!

The color palette has a lot of purple and orange, which helps create the spooky feel of Halloween. There should be more middle grade books involving this holiday-- it's huge in the tween world because of the freedom that children are allowed to roam the neighborhood at night, costumes that allow children to take on other identities, and most importantly... candy!

Roar of the Beast is a good addition to imaginative graphic novels like Moyer's Ham Helsing: Vampire Hunter, Winnick's Hilo, and Graley's Donut the Destroyer. 

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