Rummanah Aasi
  I'm taking a mini-break from manga as I realized that I haven't put up any graphic novel reviews lately. Today I'll be reviewing three graphic novels, two of which I read last year and one I read this year, that can be enjoyed by a wide range of ages. The three graphic novels that I'll be reviewing are Smile by Raina Telgemeier, The Last Dragon by Jane Yolen, and Alia's Mission: Saving the Books of Iraq by Mark Alan Stamaty.

Description (from the publisher): From the artist of BSC Graphix comes this humorous coming-of-age true story about the dental drama that ensues after a trip-and-fall mishap. Raina just wants to be a normal sixth grader. But one night after Girl Scouts she trips and falls, severely injuring her two front teeth. What follows is a long and frustrating journey with on-again, off-again braces, surgery, embarrassing headgear, and even a retainer with fake teeth attached. And on top of all that, there's still more to deal with: a major earthquake, boy confusion, and friends who turn out to be not so friendly.

Review: I think we all have gone through a big event in our childhood that defined our lives. For author Raina Telgemeier that moment is when she randomly fell and lost her front tooth at the tender age of 12. Her recovery included painful surgery, implants, headgear, false teeth, and a rearrangement of her remaining incisors. As you can image, being a young kid who is already struggling with the roller coaster ride we all call puberty where boy confusion, changing bodies as well as expectations from family and friends isn't easy to deal with one its own. Telgemeir's storytelling is straight forward and honest, expertly portraying her mercurial moods. The full color illustrations transport you into the author's shoes allowing you to play through her emotions, insecurities, and self depreciating humor. What I loved about this graphic novel is that both adults and kids that surround the author's life are vividly and rapidly portrayed, giving its reader a quick reminder that things do turn around with perseverance and self confidence. Though the book may be about a girl, I've seen boys and adults pick up this graphic novel and enjoy it. It gets two big thumps from me.  

Rating: 4.5 stars

Words of Caution: There's a bit gush of blood after the accident, but other than that it's pretty clean. Recommended for Grades 5 and up.

 If you like this book try: Drama by Raina Telgemeier (available in Sept 2012), How to Survive Middle School by Donna Gephart, Popularity Papers series by Amy Ignatow, Dork Diaries series by Rachel Renee Russell

Description (from the publisher): Master storyteller Jane Yolen ("Owl Moon" and "Sword of the Rightful King") and celebrated fantasy artist Rebecca Guay ("Swamp Thing" and "Magic: The Gathering") weave a textured and lyrical tale of adventure, homelands, and heroism the hard way. Two hundred years ago, humans drove the dragons from the islands of May. Now, the last of the dragons rises to wreak havoc anew - with only a healer's daughter and a kite-flying would-be hero standing in its way.

Review: Jane Yolen's The Last Dragon is a beautiful graphic novel that bring us back to the fairy tales we were drawn to as children where there was a hero that saved the day by killing a terrorizing dragon.  The book uses the tropes of a traditional hero's journey, where a man who claims to be heroic is put to the test. While it's true that the male hero succeeds in slaying the dragon, the star of the story, however belongs to the real heroine, the hard headed, unique, and talented girl named Tansy. 
  The narrative is told well through great description that brings the illustrations to life. The serious overtones of the story may be a bit much, but there are few bits of humor that lighten up the mood. Since I read the e-galley of the graphic novel courtesy of Netgalley, the pictures were big and the text was a bit hard to read but I think that was fixed in the print version of the book.  I'd definitely recommend this graphic novel to those who like fairy tales and dragons.

Rating: 4 stars

Words of Caution: Some tongue and cheek humor, which would give it a PG rating. Recommended for Grades 7 and up.

If you like this book try: Dragon Heart series by Jane Yolen, Dragon Slippers by Jessica Day George, The Enchanted Forest Chronicles by Patricia Wrede

Description (from the publisher): The inspiring story of an Iraqi librarian's courageous fight to save books from the Basra Central Library before it was destroyed in the war. It is 2003 and Alia Muhammad Baker, the chief librarian of the Central Library in Basra, Iraq, has grown worried given the increased likelihood of war in her country. Determined to preserve the irreplaceable records of the culture and history of the land on which she lives from the destruction of the war, Alia undertakes a courageous and extremely dangerous task of spiriting away 30,000 books from the library to a safe place. Told in dramatic graphic-novel panels by acclaimed cartoonist Mark Alan Stamaty, Alia's Mission celebrates the importance of books and the freedom to read, while examining the impact of war on a country and its people.

Review: Alia's Mission is one of those rare graphic novels where I like the narrative much more than the actual drawings. We are narrated a story of a civilian heroine by an anthropomorphic book as it dramatically recreate Alia Baker's efforts to save the books of the Basra library in Iraq. Alia Muhammad Baker, chief librarian at the Basra Central Library, always had a lifelong passion for books and her country's history. Events in the 13th-century in when the Mongols invaded and a fire destroyed the Baghdad library have played a sense of foreboding and foreshadowing as to what could happen to her own precious library as her country is once again at war. We witness Baker requesting the government's permission to remove the collection from the building but gets denied. Refusing to quit, she begins to sneak books out of the library herself. Baker manages, with help from friends, to remove 30,000 volumes from the library, transporting them to private homes for safekeeping. With explosions in the background, Stamaty effectively captures the danger of the moment. We feel deeply saddened when the library is engulfed in flames and Baker's resulting. The author ends his graphic novel with a hopeful note that a new library is in developments. We are once again reminded that heroes can be everyday people and their work is just as important and inspiring.
  As I mentioned a bit earlier, I wasn't a fan of the illustrations in this book. All the panels were created in what seems to be in pen and are black and white. I didn't think they matched the intensity and passion of Baker's work. I would have liked to see little bits of color to show the various emotions that were well described by the text. Overall though a good story that is important to learn.

Rating: 3 stars

Words of Caution: Few depictions of war including bombs, depictions of guns, etc. Recommended for Grades 6 and up.

If you like this book try: The Librarian of Basra by Jeanette Winter, Nasreen's Secret School by Jeanette Winter

3 Responses
  1. Jenny Says:

    The Last Dragon looks like it has stunning illustrations! Though I can imagine reading an e-galley of a graphic novel would be a bit difficult at times:) Love the sound of that one and Smile. Fabulous mini reviews Rummanah!

  2. Why is self depreciating humor so fun? I love the cover for Smile, and the story sounds great. Lately, I've been worried about losing teeth because of roller derby, so I think I could relate to Raina's story. LOL

  3. I love the sound of the first graphic novel. My son is twelve and going through something similar, though he had to have a tumor removed in his mouth and his permanent tooth just hasn't come in. We are going through things like the author had to go through. I think that would be a good graphic novel for him.

    Thanks for the reviews!


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