El Deafo by Cece Bell

El DeafoHow about an award-winning graphic novel for today? it still feels like summer where I’m located, so I was looking for something that felt like an outdoor book, the kind you can read while sitting in the park. I happened to walk to the bookstore today and picked up El Deafo, a book I’d been meaning to add to my classroom since it came out last year. This book was a Kirkus Prize finalist in the category of young readers’ literature, it was a Newbery Honor book, AND it won an Eisner Award, which is a comic book award. I came straight home and read it straight through in one shot. It was such a relatable story; Cece Bell expressed all of the normal insecurities about growing up, but added on the extra personal layer of having a main character with a major hearing loss. This is inspired by her own personal story, drawn out here for you. (The characters are all represented as rabbits, but a childhood photo in the back assures me she is not actually a rabbit! I love this choice so so much, especially when you think about the significance of the ears in this book.)

When Cece was four years old, she became ill with meningitis. Meningitis is a fairly rare disease that causes swelling of the brain and spinal cord. Cece recovers, but a side effect she has to deal with is a hearing loss. Cece is scared because she doesn’t quite understand what is happening, or how to express to her parents how she is feeling. Once they get her sorted out, she gets her first hearing aid and goes off to kindergarten where she meets other deaf students. Their teacher helps them to learn how to lip read and prepares them for elementary school.

As Cece gets older, she worries about how other kids will see her and if they will treat her differently, or even want to be her friend at all. Will they notice the large hearing aid she wears under her clothes, the Phonic Ear? Will they ask questions? Will it be…weird? Will they think she is weird? Frenemies, sleepovers, moving, meeting new people, getting glasses, a first crush, and peer pressure at school are topics that are for every reader. Cece sometimes thinks of herself as a superhero– she has special powers that give her strength, but also make her different. She imagines herself in different scenarios as her alter-ego, El Deafo, which helps her gain the confidence she needs to work through her insecurities.

Gosh, this was good, a perfect sixth grade book. I recommend it to anyone. For El Deafo, Cece Bell did the writing and the illustrating, but another artist, David Lasky, did the color work. So think about that, my friends. That’s a job. Coloring. That’s a job that a grownup has, a job that YOU could have. See, you can learn a lot of things when you read! (Also as a side note, Cece Bell is married to Tom Angleberger, the Origami Yoda guy! They even made a book together, called Crankee Doodle, so that’s pretty cool.)

El Deafo has an AR level of 2.7 and is worth 2 points.


Emperor Pickletine Rides the Bus by Tom Angleberger

pickletineGuess what just hit the bookstore??? The latest and last (noooo!) book in the Origami Yoda series! I’m eager to see what will come next from Tom Angleberger. If you haven’t been to his website, you should. It’s super interactive and has quite the community of Super Folders who also love origami and who send in samples and photos of their work. Tom Angleberger is so awesome that at the end of this book, he thanks the grownup people that helped him with his ideas and writing and support, and then he lists the screen names of a bunch of the Super Folders who contribute to his site.

That. Is. Cool.

I love it when I read a book and discover that the setting is a real place that I have visited before, so I can visualize it clearly, but also so I can remember all of the fun details of my own vacation at the same time.  In Emperor Pickletine Rides the Bus, the kids from McQuarrie are on a field trip to Washington DC. (I’ve been there! It’s an amazing place–put it on your bucket list if you haven’t already been. Heck, even if you have been, go again, because there is so much to see!)  Here’s the catch: Principal Rabbski has banned origami on this trip. How will anyone know what to do without their origami alter-egos?

Dwight has brought his lunch. No, wait, it’s a bag of green Fruit Roll-ups. Fruitigami Yoda? Not to be outdone, Harvey produces a pickle version of Emperor Palpatine from his underwear. (He says it was in his sweatshirt. We’ll never really know. Eww.)  Guess who else goes as a chaperone? Mr. Good Clean Fun, and with him as always, Soapy the monkey puppet.  Mr. GCF is pretty busy cleaning everything with antibacterial wipes and he has trouble managing his group, not a big surprise. I bet he has a song about it!

Some people have a great time, some people get in trouble.  Some people start dating, ooOOooooOoo!

There’s a part at the beginning when the kids are debating which buddies to choose, which groups to be in, and which bus would be better for their long trip. There’s a section written by Cassie called “Nobody Wants to Pee on the Bus,” in which she details all of the stresses involved in using the bathroom on the bus, and I totally relate. (Airplane bathrooms, no thank you!)  Needless to say, her explanation made me laugh so hard. Because the kids can’t make origami on the drive, they become inspired by Dwight and Harvey and begin imagining all sorts of food-based Star Wars characters and we get 5 pages of hilarious sketches, so that was another highlight of the book for me.

So many things happen, including a run-in with a very angry security guard at the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum, the kids buying $150 of freeze-dried astronaut ice cream because Fruitigami Yoda said to do it, a breakdown, a dance party, and a punch in the face. We also get a new version of Yoda at the end, which is SO perfect that I was both sad and happy at the same time with how clever it was. If you are a Star Wars person, you’ll totally get it.

Oh, and there’s a surprise at the end.  And that’s all I have to say about that.

Please read Emperor Pickletine Rides the Bus if you’ve read the others in the series. You have to, end of discussion. Read this book, you must. How can you not? No AR info is available on this book yet because it is just too new!


Flora and Ulysses by Kate DiCamillo

FloraUlyssesNewberry Award winner for 2014!

The thing that first caught my eye about this book was the title, because it has a subtitle where it says “The Illuminated Adventures.” I love the word “illuminated.” It sounds more regal than “illustrated,” doesn’t it? This book is illustrated though, more than a chapter book, but less than a graphic novel or comic, and the illustrations are adorable.  If I had a daughter, I couldn’t help but think she’d look just like Flora.

Flora is a self-described cynic. That means she has a hard time putting her trust in people and the world around her, and when we meet her newly divorced parents, we can seen why she has adopted this outlook. Her father is nervous and awkward, constantly and repeatedly introducing himself to people he already knows. Her mother is a writer and a chain-smoker, always hunched over her typewriter and does not have much to offer to Flora for emotional support. You definitely get the idea that Flora is a lonely child. Flora loves to read, in particular a comic book that sounds amazing called “Terrible Things Can Happen to You,” which contributes to her cynical outlook.

One day when she is watching out her bedroom window, she sees the neighbor chasing her new super-powered vacuum cleaner out into the yard. Flora is horrified when the vacuum sucks up a squirrel and runs outside to help. The squirrel is saved and he miraculously lifts the heavy vacuum up over his head! Flora names him Ulysses, after the machine that somehow gave him his superpowers, and takes him home to discover that the little guy has some more hidden talents as well. Flora’s mom does not react well to having a squirrel in the house though, and so begins a mission to save Ulysses.

Flora’s neighbor, Mrs. Tickham of the vacuum cleaner mayhem, has a nephew staying with her. He goes by his first and last name all the time, William Spiver, and he is always wearing sunglasses. He claims to be blind, but it turns out he has his own backstory to overcome. Mrs. Tickham and William turn out to be Flora’s biggest allies. I love that they are so willing to believe in Ulysses and his impossible feats, and they were my favorite part of this book.

Everyone learns something on this journey, as they have their eyes and hearts opened by this magical little squirrel. The one thing I do wish for is that we had been given a little more about Flora’s parents, because their resolution is unclear and I’d like to know how it impacted Flora in the long-term.  I enjoyed this book, but I’m not sure I would have chosen it for the Newberry Award. That might be because it feels so different from Kate DiCamillo’s other books. Read them all, see for yourself, compare and contrast! Maybe a poetry-writing squirrel will inspire you to make your own comic book someday, but mostly just read it because it is a fun story.

Flora and Ulysses has an AR level of 4.3 and is worth 5 points.

Zombie Kid Diaries by Fred Perry and David Hutchinson/Brian Denham

Last weekend I had the amazing opportunity to go to the 2012 ComicCon in San Diego.  If you don’t know what that is, ComicCon is this HUGE convention that takes over downtown San Diego for five days.  It is a giant gathering of movie studios, television channels, game companies, comic book artists, authors, and publishers.  Imagine everything you ever thought was cool, all in the same place at the same time! You can walk around and get sneak peeks at upcoming games and movies, meet favorite actors/authors/artists, spend tons of money on collectible items, get autographs from your favorite celebrities, and of course buy comic books.  I was down there for two days, spending one day walking around the outside of the convention and one day on the inside.  There are about a hundred million things to see and do, and the whole thing is slightly overwhelming.  Overwhelming with awesomeness!  I forgot to even mention the fact that all kinds of fans show up to this event, and lots of them wear amazing costumes that they have created themselves.  I didn’t wear a costume myself this time (maybe next year if I’m lucky enough to go again), so I put on my favorite Harry Potter shirt, and set out to see what I could find…

Of all the hundreds of booths in the convention hall, and of all the books that were on display and for sale, one caught my eye.  One caught my eye and made me stop walking, dead in my tracks.  I knew on first glance that this was a book I would have to check out immediately.  Zombie Kid Diaries has a cover that looks sort of like another book you may have read, or even seen as a movie.  Hmm.  Well, I love the Wimpy Kid books, too, so I got my hands on a copy and started reading!

Bill Stokes is  your typical middle school student.  He just wants to fit in, do well enough to stay out of trouble but not so well that he stands out, and he has plans to be a professional video game player.  His father was a bit of a jerk and ended up in jail, so now Bill is also adjusting to his mom going back to work.  Only it turns out that the job his mom was able to get is a position as a tester for new medications.  Working all the time makes her tired, but they are doing okay on their own.  Bill takes notes in his journal, so he can keep track of his gaming scores and the day-to-day things that might have influenced his game play, such as his breakfast or the weather.  These notes are what you read, and the journal is fully illustrated in that familiar cartoon style.

At school, Bill meets a weird girl who seems determined to be his friend, and he also unfortunately finds a bully.  Luckily, he still has his best buddy, Larry, on his side.  Things are going okay, except for his mother, who is stumbling around the apartment and falling down randomly.  Side effects from all those medications she has been taking at work maybe?  Then Bill starts noticing that HE feels different, too, and that everyone around him suddenly smells delicious… What do zombie kids eat for breakfast? How do they deal with pimples and showering in PE?  And speaking of PE, how do zombies run the track and play basketball anyway???

A couple twists and turns made this a very funny (and quick) book for a summer vacation read.  This book is illustration-heavy and has all of the middle school requirements like fart jokes and super-stinky BO.  The first book is called Zombie Kid Diaries: Playing Dead, and the second one is ZKD: Grossery Games.  The second book has a different illustrator and looks a little bit different in its style.  In this one, Bill has his sights on competing against a video game champ from Japan, only to discover that he has to go on a class field trip instead.  Maybe that’s okay because his newly developed zombie claws will just slow him down at the tournament anyhow.  Like the title explains, it’s all pretty gross, especially when Bill makes a gruesome discovery in the woods.

These books are not AR books yet, but they were pretty simple with no challenging vocabulary.  Read the Zombie Kid Diaries if you can imagine a combination of the Diary of a Wimpy Kid books added to the Goosebumps series.  Funny and icky at the same time, but not especially scary.  Go find out what a “road pizza” is and decide if you would ever eat one!

New Captain Underpants on the way!

Dav Pilkey has a new Captain Underpants book coming out in August. Check out the title:  Captain Underpants and the Terrifying Return of Tippy Tinkletrousers.  How can you resist that?!?  Even you, grownups.  That’s funny no matter what!

Until then, watch this cool little video that features one of everyone’s favorite author/illustrators drawing in real time–