Category Archives: kid lit

Johnny Boo Volumes 1-3 by James Kochalka

One thing I’m looking forward to as my kids get older (they are almost three now) is introducing them to some of the books and comics I like. Right now their reading tastes tend towards wanting to be read various Thomas the Tank Engine stories over and over again, which is fine. But I’m curious to see if they’ll eventually enjoy reading comics. I was lucky enough to snag the first three volumes of Kochalka’s Johnny Boo series at ALA and they’ve become a real hit at my house. The stories about Johnny Boo, his friend Squiggle, and their frenemy the Ice Cream Monster are simple enough to keep the attention of a three year old and fun for parents to read out loud.

The first volume introduces the little ghosts Johnny Boo and his friend Squiggle. They have debates about which is better, Boo Power or Squiggle Power. When they go to find Johnny Boo’s secret ice cream (secret ice cream is more delicious than regular ice cream) they meet an ice cream monster who claims to be friendly, but he swallows all the ice cream and Squiggle! Fortunately Squiggle’s loop-d-loops cause the monster to burp, and everyone becomes friends in the end!

The second volume deals with the stars and Johnny Boo’s flippy haircut. When his hair flips and Squiggle laughs too much, Johnny Boo proclaims that Squiggle will not be his best friend anymore. In fact Johnny Boo states “maybe this dumb old rock will be my new best friend.” Squiggle cries and he and Johnny Boo make up, but Squiggle decides to visit the stars to learn about Twinkle Power, leaving Johnny Boo alone in the dark.

The third book shows the effects of eating too much ice cream, as Johnny Boo discovers that is muscle is all floopy, but the Ice Cream Monster is strong because he has started eating happy apples. Johnny Boo tries to find the happy apples, only to run into mishaps involving mushy apples and the strangely compulsive eating habits of the Ice Cream Monster. Even when trapped in a monster’s belly, Johnny Boo and Squiggle manage to make the best of the situation, perhaps because the Ice Cream Monster’s stomach is equipped with television.

One of the things I appreciated about the Johnny Boo books was the pacing of the yelling. Frequently being able to yell things like “Boo,” “Squiggle Power Extreme,” and “Run from his butt!” does wonders for maintaining the attention of young children. If you’re reading the books to kids, you can encourage them to yell along, and I think any child will be happy to yell “Boo!” or “EEK EEK EEK!” if given any encouragement.

I figure any time my kids will independently pick up a book and demand a reading session, that’s a good sign of the book’s appeal. Johnny Boo and the Happy Apples has been a daily read for the past week, and I was interrupted when I was writing this post and had to read all three books in a row. So that was around 120 pages that my kids sat through since each book is divided up into short chapters totaling 40 pages. These books would be a no brainer to add to a kid’s graphic novel section in a library, and they’re great to have at home if you want to introduce comics to your children. The production quality from Top Shelf is nice, these are hardback books printed on nice paper stock so the illustrations look very crisp and clear.

Power Pack Classic Volume 1

Power Pack Classic Volume 1 by Louise Simonson and June Brigman

This is a title I read as a kid that I’m excited to see in print again. Although Power Pack has had new adventures, this trade paperback reprints the first 10 issues of the series from 1994. Alex, Julie, Jack, and Katie Power are normal children, squabbling over chores and teasing each other. Their father is a brilliant physicist who has developed an anti-matter device that attracts off-world attention. When the kids sleep out on the porch of their beach side home they spot a falling star. They go to investigate and they find a horse-like alien who introduces himself as Whitey, a Kymellian. Whitey has a sentient space ship named Friday. Whitey is a huge fan of human literature and rushed to Earth to prevent the testing of Mr. Power’s new machine. His race made a similar anti-matter discovery and testing the concept blew apart their world. Whitey doesn’t want to see Earth be destroyed too. Unfortunately an evil race of lizard-like aliens Whitey names the Snarks have also learned of the anti-matter device and are determined to harness its power. The snarks kidnap Mr and Mrs Power. Fatally wounded by battle, Whitey decides to transfer his Kymellian powers to the children so they can save their world.

Alex has the power to control gravity, making whatever he touches light. Julie can fly super-fast, leaving a rainbow trail behind her. Jack can assume a gaseous form or become super dense by shrinking. Katie can disintegrate matter and use the energy to fire off explosive power balls. The first half of the series has a space-opera feel, as the kids try to rescue their parents from the Snarks. When the family return to Earth, they move to New York and the children start to figure out what life might be like for kid super heroes in the big city. Their parents don’t know about their super-powers, so they deal with trying to practice their powers while keeping their identity secret.

A big part of the appeal of Power Pack is reading about true kid superheroes that aren’t functioning as a sidekick to an adult hero. The concerns of the Power children match their ages. Katie is concerned about the tooth fairy being able to visit her when she loses her tooth in space. Alex has to deal with a tragic first day of school outfit when he goes to school in New York. Julie struggles with being overly bossy and her desire to spend all of her free time reading. Jack thinks that his super powers are lame and is constantly teasing his sisters. As the youngest Katie has the most destructive power and the least amount of maturity in order to handle the consequences of losing control of her explosive blasts.

The art is clear and expressive. The main creators of Power Pack were both woman (June Bridgman and Louise Simonson) which was pretty rare when the comic was coming out. I do think that the suggested retail price point ($30 for a trade paperback!) is definitely on the high side. While the paper stock used for the reprint is high, I quail at the idea of paying $30 for a paperback without any extras. For a great series that kids today could enjoy, I almost wish that they’d used cheaper paper and produced a more affordable edition of this series. Still, it is very nice that these stories are back in print, and I enjoyed rereading them.

Polo and the Magic Flute & Polo and Lily

These wordless books for young readers are whimsical and imaginative, providing a great introduction to the comic book medium.

Polo and the Magic Flute by Regis Faller

Polo is a little dog who lives in a tree surrounded by the sea. He goes out on his boat to catch some fish but a whale leaps over his boat creating a wave that sends Polo far away to the top of a steep hill. Polo’s boat falls down and crashes. While stranded he meets a panda in monk’s robes who hands him a flute and promptly disappears. Polo waits for the bus, but unfortunately it is a snail bus so it must not go very fast. The snail drops Polo off at a fancy pagoda, and when Polo climbs up to the top he meets his mysterious friend the panda. The panda shows Polo how to use the flute – the music powers flying carpets! They take off into the sky flying until they fall off the carpets into Polo’s tree house.

I appreciated the pacing and narrative flow of the panels in Polo. There are never more than four panels per page, and more often the action will be split between two panels. Younger readers who might not have been exposed to comics very much before will be able to easily follow the transitions between the illustrations as a splash of water introduces an annoyed looking whale, it leaps out of the water, and its tail disappears behind Polo’s boat, producing an enormous wave that sweeps Polo away. While the illustrations are simple, they are also sophisticated with unexpected coloring choices like a transition to a deep red for the sky that signals that Polo is in a country very far from home.

Polo and Lily by Regis Faller

Polo goes through a regular day at his house, watering the garden, preparing dinner, eating outside to watch the sunset, and getting ready for bed. Elsewhere a rabbit named Lily reclines and smiles as she travels through the sky on a grey cloud, accompanied by a suitcase and umbrella. In the morning Lily’s cloud becomes caught in the branches of Polo’s house and she lands on Polo’s bed. Polo gives her hot chocolate and is amused by her milk mustache. Lily is mischievous, liking to play pranks on Polo and proposing that they stick a ladder out of a window to use as a trampoline. Instead they meet some very startled fishes.

Lily and Polo have a fun visit, but eventually she whistles for her cloud and floats away with her red umbrella. Polo feels lonely when he goes back to his house and sees Lily’s suitcase. It starts ringing, and when Polo opens it up he finds a phone and joyfully utters the only word in the book, “Lily!”

While I think slightly older readers will appreciate the wordless story more, I shared the books with my toddlers and they enjoyed looking at the pictures as I described them and they pointed at symbols they recognized like the moon, stars, and sun. I enjoyed the character design and narrative in Polo and the Magic Flute and Polo and Lily. These are lovely books for young readers and great starter books to teach kids how to read comics and explore their own sense of storytelling.

Review copies provided by the publisher

Naruto Chapter Books

One piece of information coming out of BookExpo America that I thought would be interesting for public and school librarians is the announcement that Viz is going to produce Naruto chapter books. They could be just the thing for ninja-crazed reluctant readers.

Here’s the description for the books coming out in October:

#1: NARUTO: THE BOY NINJA • Recommended for Ages 7 – 10 • SRP: $4.99 US/$5.99 CAN • Available October 7, 2008
Naruto’s training to be a ninja, but he’s having trouble keeping his jokester ways under control. He’s causing all kinds of trouble at the Ninja Academy and his teachers think he’s annoying. Naruto himself thinks he’s going to be the best ninja that ever lived, but first he’ll have to prove to everyone that he’s more than just the class clown!

#2: NARUTO: THE TESTS OF A NINJA• Recommended for Ages 7 – 10 •
SRP: $4.99 US/$5.99 CAN • Available October 7, 2008
After graduating from Ninja Academy, Naruto makes new friends including the pretty and smart Sakura and the moody and popular Sasuke. He also meets his new sensei named Kakashi. But Naruto’s jokester ways won’t help him to keep up with his talented new pals. If he wants to be the best ninja ever, he’s going to have to work for it!

Full Press Release up at MangaBlog

Matisse: Dance for Joy

Matisse Dance for Joy by Susan Goldman Rubin (amazon)

I’m always happy when I get a new board book. My twins enjoy being read to and I don’t have to worry about them lunging over and tearing the pages. Matisse: Dance for Joy does an admirable job of matching active words to Matisse’s colorful collages, with fun to read aloud phrases like “kickity-kick”, “shimmy-shake”, and “rumble tumble.” The primary colors will definitely attract attention, and I think it would be nice to use the book as an excuse to get up and dance when reading it with an older kid. The book is attractively designed, with the text printed in white against colorful borders that frame the illustrations.
While I don’t think that exposing my kids to art at a young age is going to turn them into itty bitty Picassos, I don’t think it hurts! Both of my children tried to eat this book when I was reading it to them, so I think that counts as a positive review from them. Other books available in this series include Counting with Wayne Thiebaud and Andy Warhol’s Colors.

Review copy provided by Chronicle Books

Swinging for the Fences and The Lonesome Puppy

Swinging for the Fences: Hank Aaron and Me by Mike Leonetti and David Kim (amazon)

Swinging for the Fences is story of a young fan and baseball player named Mark watching closely as his idol Hank Aaron attempts to break the home run record. Mark gradually learns how to improve his own baseball game as he follows Aaron’s winning season. Kim’s illustrations are rendered in soft pastels, giving the pictures a hazy nostalgic quality, and most importantly managing to make the 70’s not look ugly. There are little details that keep the reader reminded of the time period, like a woman’s feathered hair cut and the wideness of a man’s suit collar. Even though this is a fictional story, I think the book would likely appeal to any kid who enjoys sports or reading non-fiction. As someone who is not a big fan of baseball myself, the drama of Aaron trying to break the record maintained my interest, and the illustrations captured the excitement of Mark and his fellow fans watching baseball. Swinging for the Fences includes supplementary material – a brief biography of Aaron, a mention of what happened when his record was broken by Barry Bonds, and a bibliography listing books and articles consulted by the author.

The Lonesome Puppy by Yoshitomo Nara (amazon)

Giant dogs loom large in fiction. You’ve got Clifford the Big Red Dog, Big Dog and Little Dog, and there’s always Marmaduke. They are now joined by the Lonesome Puppy who is so gigantic that when he stands on top of the earth he dwarfs cities. He is so huge, no one even knows that he exists so this naturally makes him very lonesome. One day a girl notices him, and after spending an eternity climbing up his leg, crossing the vast expanse of his body, and falling against his nose she sings the puppy a song and they become friends. The story is sweet, but it is probably the weakest aspect of the book. Nara’s illustrations show the girl and the puppy with wry expressions on their faces that act as a counterpoint to the simplicity of the story. This is a picture book that functions as an art object, which makes sense as the author is a pop artist in Japan. There are several illustrations after the main story, showing the girl and puppy in various settings like outer space. If you enjoy Nara’s aesthetic and have small children, you have the perfect excuse to check out this extremely cute book.

Review copies were provided by Chronicle Books

Kaput and Zosky

Kaput and Zosky by Lewis Trondheim 5/5 stars (amazon)

Kaput and Zosky is a thoroughly delightful comic book for young people about inept space invaders. Kaput and Zosky travel from planet to planet looking for a world to rule but they never seem to manage to pull it off. They land on a planet where the inhabitants immediately capitulate, run into issues with another planet’s potato-like populace, accidentally take over a world due to gambling and investments, and fail in an attempt to rule through democracy. Each time, the duo’s plans for mayhem and domination are spoiled, so they set out for new worlds to conquer.
Kaput is short and squat, with a wide mouth full of sharp teeth. He’s determined to cause as much mayhem as possible, saying things about like “Let’s be charitable and share our knowledge. We’ll teach them the meaning of pain and fear!” Zosky is taller, with expressive yellow antennae. He tends to be a little more moderate and logical in his quest for absolute power; “Phase 1: Analyze the ground situation. Phase 2: Devise a plan of action. Phase 3: Seize Power!!!!”
The art is expressive and whimsical, with a variety of cool looking aliens and monsters that Kaput and Zosky are never able to enslave no matter how hard they try. There’s an excerpt of Kaput and Zosky available on the First Second web site, so you can preview the book. I’m not sure that very young children will be able to fully comprehend the finer points of a parody of democracy or the trouble with arms races, but parents reading the book with their children will appreciate these plot elements. I’m definitely looking forward to sharing this book with my sons when they’re older, because I think every child should have a book that contains vocabulary building words like destruction, ruination, and planetary domination.

Review copy provided by First Second

My Mommy’s Tote

My Mommy’s Tote by P. H. Hanson (amazon)

Thankfully my children are too young to be walking around, grabbing my purse, and emptying the contents on the floor. If your children are old enough that you fear for your personal possessions, My Mommy’s Tote may serve as a simulacrum of your handbag. This board book in the shape of a tote contains tons of flaps to lift and objects to manipulate, including a handkerchief, white board, wallet, keyring, and more. I liked the look of the book, but the story aspect was a little thin. The child narrator basically says many complementary things about his/her mom and how she’s “Just like me!” Touches of humor include a button on the tote proclaiming “No Whining” and there are issues surrounding missing socks and cookies.
But the main point of the book is the design, which does replicate the many things one might carry in a tote bag with a whimsical style. I imagine a kid would enjoy all the different objects to manipulate in My Mommy’s Tote, and I heartily approve of the fact that the Mom in the book carries her knitting along with with all of her other stuff. The book is recommended for ages 3+.

A review copy was provided by the publisher.

Bath Time!

Bath Time! by Sandra Boynton (amazon)

Sandra Boynton is the queen of board books, but does her appeal translate to a different format, namely plastic floating books? Bath Time! tells the story of a little pig who goes on an epic quest for cleanliness after getting messy from a mysterious painting project. The pig must be accompanied by numerous toys that float, along with the ubiquitous rubber ducky. Bath Time! concludes with the admirable sentiment “Now I Kiss You on the Nose!” along with a squeaky toy embedded in a page, which is a delightful way to end a book. I think that reading while bathing is an excellent habit that should be cultivated as early as possible, and Bath Time! will serve as an excellent toy and waterproof reader for any tiny preliterate humans you have in your house.

A review copy was provided by the publisher.