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Fitting In – The Power of Belonging in Vera Brosgol’s Be Prepared

BE PREPARED
Written and illustrated by Vera Brosgol
(First Second; $12.99, Ages 10-14)

Starred Reviews – Booklist, Horn Book, Publishers Weekly, School Library Journal

 

book cover illustration from Be Prepared by Vera Brosgol

 

Be Prepared, a middle grade graphic novel written and illustrated by Vera Brosgol, is the book I needed in middle school. Aside from the fact that I never actually got to go to summer camp, I imagine my experiences would have been eerily similar to the protagonist’s trials and tribulations, including the torture of the unknown when it came to outhouse bathrooms. (I did go camping a lot and have never met a Port-a-Potty I liked, but then, who has?). The expressive and verdant illustrations truly capture the specific tumultuous emotions of tweens and beyond and captured my heart with the integrity and honesty given to this age group.

int artwork by Vera Brosgol from Be Prepared

Interior illustration from Be Prepared written and illustrated by Vera Brosgol, First Second Books ©2018.

 

Even though your kids are back to school with visions of summer lingering in their heads, Brosgol’s novel will help quell some of those summer pangs. Written from the perspective of a young Russian girl named Vera who is trying to fit in with her peers, Be Prepared simultaneously pulls the reader into an immediate place of recognition as well as a fresh perspective from a Russian family. 

int art from Be Prepared by Vera Brosgol

Interior illustration from Be Prepared written and illustrated by Vera Brosgol, First Second Books ©2018.

 

While her friends have big houses and to-die-for birthday parties, Vera struggles to gain acceptance in her smaller home she shares with her Mom and little brother. When Vera finds out from a Russian friend at Temple that a special summer camp exists geared towards Russian kids, she almost explodes with delight at the thought of going to a camp where she can relate to her peers and make some new friends. Since her school peers have been to sleep away summer camps and trips all over the world, Vera listens intently and absorbs information as they talk extensively about it all, hoping that following this summer she’ll have camp stories to share as well.

Int artwork from Be Prepared by Vera Brosgol

Interior illustration from Be Prepared written and illustrated by Vera Brosgol, First Second Books ©2018.

 

Vera and her brother have never been to summer camp, and she is determined to convince her mom that they should both go. And they do. As the first day of camp approaches, Vera is bursting at the seams. Her younger brother remains apprehensive. Thrown into the midst of a tent with two older campers who are seasoned participants, Vera’s welcome is not what she had in mind. Initially frowned upon for being so young, Vera’s artistic skills impress the older campers and they start asking for drawings. In return, Vera is suddenly at the center of attention she always thought she wanted. But giving away her art quickly turns into giving away her contraband candy stash as well as turning a blind eye to other campers she might have a genuine connection with. When Vera is caught with candy in her shared tent by the camp counselor, every bunk is raided until all the candy is gone, and Vera’s popularity with the older girls plummets. Adding to Vera’s stress and dismay is the fact that her younger brother seems to be enjoying camp just fine and isn’t anxious to leave as soon as possible like she is.

int artwork from Be Prepared by Vera Brosgol

Interior illustration from Be Prepared written and illustrated by Vera Brosgol, First Second Books ©2018.

 

The turning point for Vera is her camp counselor encouraging her to find friends that don’t ask for something in return for “friendship.” Soon Vera finds out that a young camper with a missing guinea pig is an interesting and fun person to hang out with. At the end of camp both Vera and her younger brother come to terms with some of the pros and cons of summer camp on the drive home and, in a tender moment of sibling connection, find out that they have both struggled. 

Check out Be Prepared and feast your eyes on the amazing artistry and storytelling skills of Vera Brosgol, an author your kids are sure to want more of.

  • Reviewed by Ozma Bryant
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Odd is the New Normal: Meet Cecil Castellucci

Ronna Mandel interviews Odd Duck author Cecil Castellucci. Odd Duck, published by :01 First Second Books, $15.99, ages 6-10, is illustrated by Sara Varon.

mail-3Cecil Castellucci, an L.A. author, has written everything from picture books to young adult novels. Her latest projects are Odd Duck and Letters for Kids, a bi-monthly subscription program through The Rumpus. In Odd Duck we meet Theodora and Chad, neighbor ducks who both waddle to the beat of a different drum yet actually have tons in common. Although the two become BFFs each one thinks the other is the strange one. Upon overhearing someone call one of them, odd, Theodora and Chad clash over which duck was being referred to. This winning picture book is a salute to individuality and uniqueness, a recurring theme for Castellucci.

mail-2How much of you is in Theodora?

I think all of me is in Theodora and Chad. It took a long time for me to figure out that my oddness was also what made me interesting.

Why do you think opposites Theodora and Chad attract?

I have always been a big fan of opposites. Some of my favorite friendships are the ones where we see the world in a similar way but we like radically different things. In Odd Duck, Chad and Theodora might move through the world very differently, but I think fundamentally they feel the same way about things.

Why do people shy away from what they don’t consider “normal”?

It’s hard to be odd. I’m no psychologist, but I think that we tend to gravitate toward groups to feel safer and that is what “normal” means. But I think that being odd is normal to other odd people. So I say, find your odd tribe and you will be “normal”! Because I think really there is no such thing as normal. And I think that everyone on the entire planet is a little odd about something.

Learn more about Cecil Castellucci and her other books at misscecil.com. For info about Letters for Kids and more about Odd Duck, read the extended interview at LAParent.com.

Find the extended interview at LAParent.com and remember to pick up their new May issue.

Click here for the link to my review of Castellucci’s First Day on Earth, a fantastic YA novel from 2011.

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Of Moths, Masks and Music

Guest reviewer Rachel Glade shares her take on this unique graphic novel.

On the planet Sirene, everyone wears masks and communicates through an array of musical instruments. Edwer Thissell, an ambassador to Sirene, has to adjust to the strange customs of this new planet while trying to solve a mystery of murder and mistaken identity. But how can he be sure who he’s dealing with when everyone hides behind a mask?

Based on the classic sci-fi short story by renowned author Jack Vance, The Moon Moth ($17.99, First Second Books, ages 14 and up), adapted by Humayoun Ibrahim, captures the intricate beauty of the original in the form of a graphic novel. Breathtakingly unique artwork combined with a fascinating plot make this book stand out among others. While the book contains dialogue and narrative, only the pictures tell the whole story. Though this can make the plot a bit difficult to follow at times, it really pushes the reader to pay attention to the pictures to figure out what’s going on; I found this particularly fun and engaging. Blending themes of foreign culture, social hierarchy, problem solving and courage, The Moon Moth packs a lot of big topics into a short story. This is a book that should be read many times to get the full meaning. Highly recommended for young adult readers.

Rachel Glade is a junior at the University of Pennsylvania, majoring in Geology. Though passionate about science, she is also an avid reader and writer. Rachel enjoys traveling and learning about foreign cultures, and has done science field work in Mongolia and Puerto Rico. Rachel loves books in almost any genre, including classic literature, science, and science fiction.

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For the Comic Artist in All of Us

Today Debbie Glade reviews an extraordinary book that teaches impressive techniques to professional and budding comic artists.

I’ll start by confessing that one of the many reasons I’ve been excited about reviewing Mastering Comics: Drawing Words & Writing Pictures Continued, ($34.99, First Second Books, ages 14 and up) is that I am a (very amateur) comic strip artist myself. And with graphic novels and new comics exploding, I’m certainly not the only one who wants learn more about visual storytelling.

Mastering Comics is a follow up book to Drawing Words & Writing Pictures: Making Comics: Manga, Graphic Novels and Beyond by comic artists Jessica Abel and Matt Madden. The first book is essentially an introduction course on comic creation, while this new book is a continuation of that course, offering advanced tips to help serious comic artists really hone their skills and to give teachers a great textbook for their students.

This beautiful book is a meaty 318 pages of detailed technique and creative homework assignments. The book starts with lessons about building stories by drawing pictures and working through the challenges of facing blank pages to come up with original ideas. In the section called Writing Words, there are detailed instructions on how to develop a story and write a script while thinking visually.

Readers will also learn how to create visual relationships with their comic panels, create comics for books vs. screens and choose the right style to tell their story. In addition, there’s essential information on lettering and web comics and even an incredible section about using ink and making your own paint tools. The last sections of the book deal with gray scales, color, book covers and getting your comic ready for the printer. There are also a couple of vital chapters dedicated to selling your comics, whether on your own or through a publisher.

Reading this book is a reminder that being a true professional comic artist requires great skill and technique, which take time and hard work to develop. Mastering Comics is like having a private mentor guiding you through the learning process and challenging you to think in wonderful ways you never thought you could.

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