All’s Faire in Middle School by Victoria Jamieson

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ALL’S FAIRE IN MIDDLE SCHOOL
Written and illustrated by Victoria Jamieson
(Dial BYR; $20.99, Ages 8-12)

 

cover image for All's Faire in Middle School by Victoria Jamieson

 

Starred Reviews – Kirkus, Publishers Weekly
A New York Times Editor’s Choice
An Autumn Kids’ Indie Next List top pick

 

Victoria Jamieson’s graphic novel, All’s Faire in Middle School, provides a much-needed glimpse into alternative lifestyles. Twelve-year-old Imogene has been homeschooled by parents who work at Florida’s Renaissance Faire. When Imogene starts public school for the first time, she faces a very different world than at the faire where she is a knight-in-training.

Each chapter begins with brief synopsis of the brave heroine’s plight, conveyed in somewhat Old English. With much of the book set at the faire, readers gain insight into this medieval reenactment where people choose which role to play. Imogene never wanted to be the princess, but she questions whether she is destined to be a knight—maybe she’s more like Cussie, the hermit. Sometimes, Imogene behaves like the dragon.

The story explores Imogene’s turbulent journey to self-discovery. This is a tale of acceptance, forgiveness, friends, and blossoming sexuality. Imogene is every preteen, learning what it takes to fit in at school. She is teased for wearing thrift-store clothes with the wrong shoes. Imogene’s family becomes an embarrassment to her when they show up still dressed in Elizabethan costume and think nothing of it. Before entering sixth-grade, Imogene hadn’t noticed her family was different and how this is viewed suspiciously.

As with Jamieson’s successful Newbery Honor Book Roller Girl, in All’s Faire, the protagonist is a tough girl struggling with prepubescent emotions. The love of Imogene’s family—including her “faire-mily”—is a constant. Even when at odds with her parents and brother, in the end, Imogene realizes that the bullies and popular kids at school are something to suffer in passing. Her philosophy of what’s important shifts—and that makes all the difference.

Imogene makes unkind choices, acting out against others because of her own frustration. Her journey to finding the right path is a realistically portrayed ongoing battle. In life, there are no easy answers. Family can embarrass us by just being themselves. We all make mistakes, yet, each day, we can choose which character we wish to play. The book concludes with an understanding that, if you believe there are happy endings in sixth-grade, then you haven’t attended middle school—a declaration which will resonate with readers everywhere.

 

 

  • Reviewed by Christine Van Zandt

Writer, editor, and owner of Write for Success www.Write-for-Success.com

@WFSediting, Christine@Write-for-Success.com

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Lost in NYC: A Subway Adventure by Nadja Spiegelman & Sergio Garcia Sanchez

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Lost in NYC: A Subway Adventure
Written by Nadja Spiegelman
Illustrated by Sergio Garcia Sanchez
(Toon Books; $16.95, Ages 8-12)
Also available in Spanish

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A Junior Library Guild Selection
Starred Reviews – Kirkus Reviews, School Library Journal & Booklist

Ever gotten lost on a subway? In New York? I have and I’m from New York! But once you’ve navigated your way around and feel you’ve got the hang of the subway, it’s like you’re on top of the world, not 35 feet underground (like at the 42nd St. Station). You might never take the bus again.

intimageLostinNYC.jpgI’ll start this review by pointing out that a purchase of Lost in NYC: A Subway Adventure, is like getting multiple books in one! First there’s the graphic novel adventure featuring Pablo, a boy new to both his school and to the city. Alicia, a classmate, volunteers to partner with him on a field trip to the Empire State Building using public transportation. At the uptown Manhattan subway station (96th St.), the pair get separated from their class and have to find their way alone. Eventually even Alicia and Pablo get separated which may seem frightening, but it’s never presented that way. In fact, it’s empowering for kids to see their peers commuting this way successfully. Demonstrating common sense, the two make tracks individually to the Empire State Building, one on foot, the other using a cross town train. Ultimately, across a crowded lobby, Pablo and Alicia are reunited in time to join the tour, running towards each other like in a scene from a film. They’re clearly overjoyed, but Mr. Bartles, their teacher, is not as impressed.

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Interior image from Lost in NYC: A Subway Adventure by Nadja Spiegelman with illustrations by Sergio Garcia Sanchez, Toon Books ©2015.

In addition to the adventure, there’s the budding friendship story. As the bungled journey evolves, Pablo eventually comes to appreciate Alicia’s gesture of kindness to buddy up on the field trip which he so vehemently rejected at the beginning of the book.

“I was only trying help.” – Alicia
“Help?” – Pablo
“What makes you think I need help! I don’t need anything.” – Pablo
“I thought maybe you wanted a friend…” – Alicia

It’s through this friendship that Pablo is able to  look at New York with new eyes and begin to feel at home.

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Interior image from Lost in NYC: A Subway Adventure by Nadja Spiegelman with illustrations by Sergio Garcia Sanchez, Toon Books ©2015.

Another draw is the NYC subway system, like an extra character, with its express and local lines, the colorful maps, and the various stops or stations in the city. I was delighted to see my old subway stop in Queens even made it into the book! Fans of transportation trivia will enjoy the enlightening repartee between Mr. Bartle and his students as he educates them on their subway knowledge. I lived in New York for 30 years and had no idea why the Y and U letters were never used. After reading the fact-filled end pages I learned it’s because the MTA (Metropolitan Transportation Authority) worried the public would be confused thinking they sounded too much like “why” and “you.”

Last but not least is the inclusion of archival photographs from old New York taking readers back in time to the 1800s and into the 20th century for a glimpse of what early subway stations and construction on them looked like. There are also more details about the Empire State Building and a Further Reading & Resources for those who, like me, cannot resist finding out more about the Big Apple’s history. Author Spiegelman has packed a plethora of interesting information into this engaging and extremely original book. I had no idea that the Empire State Building, where my uncle once worked, has its own zip code (10118) and had its grand opening on May 1, 1931, 84 years ago today! Lost in NYC closes with Tips for Parents, Teachers, and Librarians to make young readers’ experience of diving into a TOON graphic novel more pleasurable.

I have to give a shout out to the amazingly detailed illustrations by Garcia Sanchez. My favorite is the angled perspective of the Empire State Building as the school children zoom up to the observation deck in one of seventy-three elevators. Early on I noticed a man taking photos in almost every scene, but I didn’t notice the policeman watching him. Sanchez, while on a reconnaissance mission for the book, must have aroused suspicion. In a humorous touch, the artist has cleverly inserted himself and the cop who followed him into the story so be on the lookout!  Between the diverse cast of characters, the compelling storyline and the excellent artwork, I have to say I am very happy to have found Lost in NYC: A Subway Adventure. 

Click here to download a guide for teachers.

– Reviewed by Ronna Mandel


Lowriders in Space by Cathy Camper

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Lowriders in Space written by Cathy Camper
and illustrated by Raul The Third (Raul Gonzalez III)
(Chronicle Books, 2014; paperback $9.99, hardcover $22.99, Ages 8-12)

✩Starred Reviews – Kirkus & Publishers Weekly

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Last month I met the editor of Lowriders in Space at an SCBWI (Society of Children’s Book Writers an Illustrators) event and her enthusiasm about this new graphic novel was contagious. I couldn’t wait to read it and find out what all the buzz was about.  Now I know and intend to spread some serious bajito y suavecito (translation: low and slow) love your way! Lowriders in Space worked for me on so many levels, but I’ll start with Camper’s creative storyline since that’s what will capture kids’ attention and it’s what drives this novel forward.

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Interior artwork from Lowriders in Space by Cathy Camper with illustrations by Raul The Third, Chronicle ©2014.

Middle grade readers will easily get on board with Lupe Impala, El Chavo Flapjack, and Elirio Malaria, the three amiable and unusual main characters whose impressive automobile-related skills help them reach new heights. The trio are eager to leave the used car dealership where they work and in order to do so they decide to enter the Universal Car Competition. With its grand prize haul of  “… a carload of cash and a solid gold steering wheel,” winning the UCC would provide the seed money needed to open their own garage. They immediately get started with a broken down shell of a car, ” … so slow it didn’t even go.” Then, utilizing their individual expertise (Lupe’s a self-taught auto-mechanic – YES, she fixes cars like a girl, Elirio’s a detail artist, and Flapjack’s an eight-armed cleaning marvel), they make a plan of action. The three contribute whatever funds they can muster up and find spare rocket parts at an old airplane junkyard. Will the resulting lowrider be special enough to win first place?

Camper’s tale is unique and engaging. It’s obvious she had a blast writing it. Now that I’ve read it, I can’t imagine it with anything but Raul’s original artwork and the impressive interplay between text and illustration. His ballpoint pen illustrations in black, blue and red on a yellowy-beige background are going to grab readers (even the most reluctant ones), pull them in and keep them thoroughly entertained. He’s created a retro feel that joyfully took me back to my youth, when buying comic books with my allowance was a much anticipated weekly outing. This book deserves multiple visits to pick up the many details included, so read, observe and admire.

Another highlight for me was how Camper’s incorporated many Spanish words and phrases for the reader to learn. Whenever there’s an * readers can find the translation below, plus there’s a glossary in the back with Mexican-American slang, car and astronomy terms (oh and don’t miss this section because there’s more to read afterwards and readers can get their appetites whet for Book 2).  So, in addition to having a strong Latino female character who repairs cars, Lowriders in Space also introduces readers to the culture of lowriders, it mixes in facts about outer space, and is equally accessible to reluctant readers as well as those simply seeking a rollicking ride that’s totally cosmic and caliente. In other words, this lowrider delivers!

– Reviewed by Ronna Mandel


The Brilliant World of Tom Gates by Liz Pichon

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The Brilliant World of Tom Gates (Candlewick Press, 2014, $12.99, Ages 8-12), written and illustrated by Liz Pichon, is reviewed by Dornel Cerro.

The British are coming, the British are coming …

… with the brilliant and hilarious world of Tom Gates.

 

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It’s the first day of a new school year and 5th year student Tom Gates writes in his journal:

“Woke up-listened to music
Played my guitar
Rolled out of bed (slowly) …
Played some more guitar
Realized I hadn’t done my ‘summer reading homework’
PANICKED … (p. 3).”

Alongside the words “woke up,” Tom draws a pair of sleepy eyes. This wonderfully chatty middle grade fiction book is accompanied by a multitude of extremely funny doodles and eye catching font types that will draw kids in.

At school, Tom’s teacher, Mr. Fullerman has moved him to the front of class. In his journal Tom wails:

“This is a DISASTER. How am I going to draw my pictures and read my comics? Sitting at the back of the class, I could avoid the teacher’s glares. But I am SO close to Mr. Fullerman now I can see up his nose (p. 6).”

Guess what Tom doodles in after “nose?”

For Tom, forgotten homework assignments, playing tricks on annoying students, and other antics keep him in perpetual trouble – and coming up with convincing excuses for his behavior. Tom’s attempt to get out of an assignment by claiming he spilled water on it is hysterically rendered in a smeared doodle (p. 47).

At home, Tom must also deal with his moody teenage sister, Delia, and his eccentric grandparents, “The Fossils,” who love to experiment with such unsavory food combinations such as pizza with banana topping.

When Tom finds that Dude3, his favorite band, will perform in concert locally, he’s determined to attend. However, things go sour (and get really funny) when his best mate’s dog eats the tickets.

The comic doodles and varying fonts, while creating a busy page, make the story more visual for reluctant readers. This book will be a big hit with children who enjoy the humorous diary/journal formats of Jeff Kinney’s Diary of a Wimpy Kid or Ruth McNally Barshaw’s Ellie McDoodle series.

Unfamiliar with “British?” Check out Tom’s glossary in the back and learn that a “climbing frame” is British for “jungle gym” (p. 243). Despite the differences in languages, Pichon demonstrates that 5th year kids are the same on both sides of the pond.

British author Liz Pichon won England’s Roald Dahl Funny Book Prize (2011). Visit the author at her blog and sneak a peek into Tom’s world by watching the book trailer below.

Click here to download a sample chapter.


Big Nate: Great Minds Think Alike By Lincoln Peirce

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Big Nate: Great Minds Think Alike by Lincoln Peirce
is reviewed by Dornel Cerro.

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That mischievous boy with a winning personality is back in a new compilation of colorful comic strips called Big Nate: Great Minds Think Alike (Amp! Comics for Kids/Andrews McMeel Publishing, 2014, $9.99 paperback, Ages 8-12). Nate has a lot of big ideas for fun and achieving greatness and tries his hand at Sudoku, life skills coaching, painting, business, and a world record holder of anything (the only record he holds is for detention).

Big Nate fans will be pleased to see favorite characters from past volumes: his clueless dad; Mrs. Godfrey, his strict teacher; teacher’s pet, Gina; and Nate’s best buddies, Frances and Teddy.

Hilarious vignettes include a planned YouTube video of Nate jumping off a shed onto a trampoline while dunking a basketball into a hoop ends in a flop. Attempting to form his own lawn mowing business, he works during a heat wave and is unable to finish even one lawn. Turning to something less strenuous, Nate offers to cool people off with his water hose for $1.00. Unfortunately, he doesn’t adjust the nozzle spray, creating very unhappy customers.

 

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Interior spread from Big Nate: Great Minds Think Alike by Lincoln Peirce, Amp! Comics for Kids/Andrews McMeel Publishing, 2014.

Nate also tries to propel his friend Frances to greatness by competing against Nate’s archenemy “brainiac” Gina for “Outstanding Scholar” medal (p. 100). Unfortunately for Nate and Frances, Gina is one step ahead of them.

Nate’s instructions to Teddy on how to write a three page report on the Boston Tea Party in just one page are an absolute riot. Many teachers are on to student tricks like these: large font and dragged out sentences and words. Here’s an example: “When King George III received news of the Boston Tea Party, he flew into a rage.” A super-long “ARRRRRRRRRRRRR” fills up three panels of the strip, and of course, several lines on Nate’s paper.“Just call me Dr. Filler’!” quips Nate (p. 72).

Finally, my favorite: Nate’s outburst in the (quiet) library when teased about reading a comic strip popular with the girls catches the attention of the librarian. “The life of a school librarian is never dull, “ she muses stoically ( p. 79). Amen, sister.

Big Nate fans, those who enjoy comic anthologies, and reluctant readers will appreciate this collection. Also steer them to Peirce’s well-illustrated Big Nate novels. Big Nate is a growing hit at my school library and I look forward to putting this book into eager hands. Recommended for ages 8-12.

Visit Lincoln Peirce’s Big Nate website www.bignatebooks.com for info on his books, videos about the author, games, a link to the comic strip, and more. See Lincoln Peirce discuss how he works in this YouTube video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7TOTYCrLKSM