Soulless, Vol. 1

cover image for Soulless graphic novelCarriger, Gail. (2012) Soulless, Vol. 1. New York, NY: Yen Press.

Plot Summary:

The manga version of Soulless follows the same plot as the prose novel, only much abridged.  Miss Alexia Tarabotti is attempting to catch a moment of peace and some decent food at an otherwise trying and under-catered ball, when a vampire comes across her all alone and attempts to have a snack himself.  Alexia, however, is a preternatural – a person who was born with a deficit of soul and whose touch renders mortal those whose excess of soul has allowed them to become a supernatural being.  More confused than alarmed at the loss of his fangs, the vampire continues to attack Alexia in vain – until Alexia is forced to end his life in defense.  This sparks of a series of events that grows ever more dangerous, fantastic, and hilarious.

excerpt from Soulless graphic novelCritical Evaluation:

The lack of insights into Alexia’s thoughts are much missed and the pixie-fied version of our forthright heroine is a bit more fanservice-y than such a character deserves; the story loses a lot in switching from it’s focus on seeing the world through Alexia’s eyes to seeing her through the conventions of the male gaze.  Despite that, it was a fun read and the character’s expressions and body language were quite often priceless and hilarious.  Though I would strongly suggest that the prose novel be read first, the graphic novel could act as a gateway to those who may be reluctant to pick up a relatively dense title.

Reader’s Annotation:

Miss Alexia Tarabotti may look like an ordinary miss in Victorian London (if a bit too Italian to be fashionable) but how many other proper young ladies can claim the ability to defang vampires and werewolves with a single touch?

Genre:

Graphic Novel Series

Booktalking Ideas:

It’s manga – you gotta have lots of props in the form of images form the text. Otherwise it would be like trying to booktalk a prose novel using only pictures. (hmmm…that’s an intriguing idea, actually)

Reading Level/Target Age:

8th grade/16-24

(yeah, I know, it’s a graphic novel, you would think it would have a lower reading level than that.  They keep a lot of the big words though.  “Consumate” is not vocab for fourth graders.)

Possible Controversy:

It’s a graphic novel with nudity.  Even keeping it shelved in the adult section, there will be people who object.  It is, however, technically an adult title, and I think placing it in the adult section is justified – especially if you have a large enough adult graphic novels section that the teens are able to find it easily anyway.

Reason for Choosing This Title:

Mere curiosity.  I haven’t given you the impression that I’m a fan, have I?

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Nightschool

art for NightschoolChmakova, Svetlana. (2009). Nightschool: The Weirn Books Vol 1. New York, NY: Yen Press

Chmakova, Svetlana. (2009). Nightschool: The Weirn Books Vol 2. New York, NY: Yen Press

Chmakova, Svetlana. (2010). Nightschool: The Weirn Books Vol 3. New York, NY: Yen Press

Chmakova, Svetlana. (2010). Nightschool: The Weirn Books Vol 4. New York, NY: Yen Press

Plot Summary:

Alex Trevaney is a witch, and cursed besides.  Her only friends are Sarah, her older sister and guardian, and a cookie stealing astral.  So when Sarah doesn’t come home one morning, Alex has no one she can turn to for help.  All Alex knows is that the last time she saw Sarah, she was headed for her shift as the new Night Guardian at the Nightschool for supernatural beings.  Now it’s up to Alex to save her sister by doing the one thing she’s managed to avoid all these years: enroll in school.

Critical Evaluation:

Nightschool does not, unfortunately, always manage to stay on the useful side of the confusing vs. mysterious divide.  It is, however, a fun and fast-paced read with a rich backdrop and cast of characters that will leave teens wanting more.  Chmakova’s artwork is almost uniformly readable and more than occasionally elegant.  As will surprise no one that has read Dramacon!, Chmakova is capable of conveying a remarkable complexity and depth of feeling with just a few words and glances; she is also particularly adept at balancing this out with humor and magical explosions.

Reader’s Annotation:

Alex Trevaney has survived curses, unruly astrals, and living with her sister.  But now she might just have to face the one thing she’s avoided for so long: school.

Author Information:

Chmakova has several sites, but she does not seem to update any of them regularly.

http://www.svetlania.com/

http://www.facebook.com/pages/Svetlana-Chmakova/250746558664

@svetlania

http://svetlania.livejournal.com/

Genre:

Graphic Novel

Booktalking Ideas:

What would you do to save your only sister?  Would you face demons and witches?  Battle creatures you’ve never even heard of before?  Would you brave the halls of…high school?

Reading Level/Target Age:

4th grade/ages 12 -16

Potential Controversy:

As teen manga goes, this is an incredibly innocuous series.  There is magic and a small amount of gore and, being manga, finding all of it it is as easy as flipping the pages.  However, this shouldn’t bother anyone who isn’t already protesting Harry Potter.  As long as the titles remain properly filed in the teen section, it’s highly unlikely that this will prompt any kind of objections.

Reasons for Choosing This Title:

I am a huge Dramacon! fan and was quite eager to see if Nightschool was just as good.

Runaways, Vol 1.

cover image for Runaways, Vol 1Vaughan, Brian K. (2005) Runaways, Vol 1. New York, NY: Marvel

Plot Summary:

Alex, Gertrude, Chase, Karolina, Molly, and Nico couldn’t care less about each others existence, but their parents are involved in the same charity, so every year they are stuck together for a whole evening while the grown-ups debate fundraisers and tax write-offs.  Then Alex suggests that they spy on their parents – it’s not like they have anything better to do, and six unlikely and underage heroes stumble onto the knowledge that their parents are super villains.

excerpt from Runaways, Vol 1Critical Evaluation:

I should probably make it clear up front that I adore this series to pieces – especially the first volume.  As if the premise itself wasn’t enough, Gertrude gets a dinosaur.  That speaks to her telepathically.  There is nothing about that that is not made of cool.  Runaways awesomeness doesn’t stop there, either. The characters have depth, are rendered engagingly and realistically, and there is enough variety between them for a large number of readers to strongly identify with one or several of them.  The plot moves along quickly with lots of twist and turns but never ties itself into knots.  The individual issues also each tell a complete chapter and yet add up to a coherent and meaty story.  Runaways is a must for any young adult collection.

Author Information:

http://www.facebook.com/pages/Brian-K-Vaughan/112230948792041

Genre:

Graphic Novel Series

Booktalking Ideas:

Runaways is one of the few graphic novels that you might be able to sell on the premise alone, minus any artwork as props (as nice as it is) which makes it an excellent choice for a booktalk.

Reading Level/Target Age:

5th grade/14-29

Possible Controversy:

Some parents might object to the story on the grounds that it casts the parents as evil super villains.  Also, there is the part where the teens, well, runaway. This should be a relatively easy challenge to defend against, however – and I am guessing most of the parents who would object are too busy objecting to books they find even more unsettling.

Reasons for Choosing This Title:

Did I mention that Gertrude has a dinosaur?

Dragonbreath

cover image for DragonbreathVernon, U. (2009) Dragonbreath. New York, NY: Dial Books.

 

Review:

 

Danny Dragonbreath may be a dragon, but he can’t breathe fire.  Yet.  At the moment, though, he has bigger problems, like the F his teacher gave him on his report on the ocean.  Apparently it’s not acceptable to turn in an essay on the fictional Snorklebats and pretend it’s a scientific research paper.  Now Danny has just one day to make up his missed assignment or his mom’s going to kill him.  So he drags his best friend Wendell to the pier to visit his Uncle Edward, a sea serpent.  Perhaps Danny should be more worried about something other than his mom wanting him dead?

 

With Vernon as the author, a big part of Dragonbreath’s appeal is, of course, the illustrations, which are sprinkled throughout the book.  Some appearing where they would in more classic children’s novels, others going on for pages and including comic style speech bubbles.  That’s not all this book has to recommend it though, the story was entertaining, the humor spot on, and the characters likable.  Personally, I also loved the science information Vernon seamlessly added into her story.  You wouldn’t think that a humorous tale about a dragon, an iguana, and a sea serpent would try to include educational, scientific information, but Vernon has a keen understanding of what younger tweens know to be fantasy and a respect for their ability to separate likely fact from clear fiction.

Best for ages 6-10

 

Author website: http://ursulavernon.com/

Smile

Smile

cover image for SmileTelgemeier, R. (2010) Smile. New York, NY: Scholastic, Inc.

 

Review:

 

I loved this story and identified with Raina so much that I just can’t manage an objective sounding review for this book. It was so completely awesome from start to finish, but I think the part where I was certain that I loved it to pieces and always would was when Raina went in to see The Little Mermaid and came out to declare to her mother that she wanted to be an animator when she grew up. That was me. I did that. (Except that we were still in the theatre watching the credits. And what I said was that one day my name would be up there.)

 

Needless to say, today’s tweens will not feel that spark of “I remember that!” when Telgemeier talks about the Loma Prieta earthquake or playing with her NES, just as I certainly never had to have my two front teeth pulled out. They will, however, identify with her social struggles, finding solace in creative work, and learning to stand up for herself. This was a fantastic book and I highly recommend it for both tweens and teens. It will likely appeal most to readers that are in or have been in middle school. Best for ages:10-16

 

Awards and Reviews: Horn Honor Book

 

Author Website: http://goraina.com/

Brain Camp

cover image for Brain CampKim, S., Klavan, L. Hicks, F. E. (2010) Brain Camp.  New York, NY: First Second

Review:

Jenna Chun is an ordinary teenager in a family where “ordinary” might as well mean “failure.”   Lucas Meyer, on the other hand, is on the fast track to a career in auto theft.  Both are sent by their parents to Camp Fielding, whose brochures claim to turn even the  biggest losers into prodigies. Since both arrive late as replacements for campers that had to mysteriously leave early, Jenna and Lucas quickly form an uneasy friendship.  They also soon begin to suspect that Camp Fielding is up to no good.

Brain Camp may not be a must-have or must-read, but it is certainly entertaining enough to be worth the money and time.  It will mainly appeal to older tweens, especially those that are older in age but aren’t always as mature or eager to grow up as their peers.  However, any tween who feels a little overwhelmed by the new responsibilities and the higher expectations that come with leaving childhood behind will  find much to identify with in Lucas and Jenna’s personalities and predicament.

Best for ages 10-14

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