kids

Yotsuba&! vol. 2

by Kiyohiko Azuma

Usually I would start with the first volume of a series when reviewing it, but volume 2 is my favourite and the premise is always the same with Yotsuba&!, so if it sounds good you should start from the beginning and read all of them. This is slice-of-life manga at its best, focusing on a 5-year-old girl named Yotsuba as she encounters new people, places, and concepts in her small Japanese town. In volume 2, we follow Yotsuba as she encounters a terrifying bulls-eye, learns that she isn’t as good an artist as she thinks, and–my personal favourite–practices the many uses of the phrase “no bother”. (In the Yen Press translations, it is changed to “no sweat”, which I think makes it lose some of its charm, so try the ADV Manga edition if you can find a copy.)

If it all sounds too precious for you, get over it and just read it. No book or show has made me laugh out loud this much, ever. I wish they took longer to read, because the agony of waiting for the next volume is only relieved for the hour or two that it takes to gobble up the newest stories before starting up again.

Although these comics are usually put in the kids’ section of the library, they are intended for a middle-aged male audience in Japan. They are suitable for anyone to read. I’ve met 4-year-olds who love them as read-alongs, 8-year-olds who read them alone, 20-somethings who are devoted to them, and 50-somethings who read them with a twinkle in their eye. I was recommended this series by a 30-year-old man and I recommend it to anyone of any age and gender. It is particularly good as a happy distraction when life gets sad.

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The Boy at the End of the World

by Greg van Eekhout

Fisher becomes born by accident. His body was in a pod, already aged to about 12 or so, equipped with basic information about the world and a full vocabulary. His first word is a profanity and is used when the Ark where he became born starts to crash down around him as he hurriedly tries to sever his plastic umbilical cord. He is the only survivor. Along with Click, a humanity-helping robot, and a woolly mammoth Fisher names Protein (just in case he gets hungry), he journeys across a post-apocalyptic America in search of other surviving humans. When he finds another ark with its own helper robot, it seems almost too good to be true….

Like post-apocalyptic Hatchet, but with darker implications about humanity as a species. It’s also really funny. I love that Fisher names the mammoth “Protein”, and Click’s bossiness allows for a lot of comedy. The way things are phrased is quirky, like how Fisher “became born” and wants to avoid “failing to survive”.

This is a really thoughtful, funny, action-packed book for fans of survival books, dystopian settings, and sci-fi robot stuff. The thickness and font size of this book made me think it was for much younger kids, but it’s actually pretty dark and disturbing, so I’d reserve it for older kids who like thin books with lots of action.

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Monster Blood Tattoo: Foundling

Rossamund is a boy with a girl’s name, who must travel from his orphanage to his post as a lamplighter. He encounters pirates, a magically-enhanced lady, and a bunch of monster creatures. That’s about it.

With a series name like Monster Blood Tattoo, I had high expectations for an action-packed adventure, but this book was so boring I could hardly get through it. The author spent years and years inventing the monsters in the book and creating a seamless magical world. It has been praised for standing out as an original fantasy series. The monsters are interesting, but Rossamund, the main character, is not. His journey from the orphanage to his work post is fraught with adventure, but none of it comes across as exciting. There are just too many things to describe, and the old fashioned England-ish setting doesn’t help hasten the pace. The book is a description of everything Rossamund encounters, but by the end of this sizeable tome I felt like nothing had been discovered. Also, there are over 100 pages of reference materials in the back. Yawn.

Probably a hit with Tolkien fans or anyone with a pre-80s attention span.

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Prime Baby

by Gene Luen Yang

Thaddeus hates his new baby sister. He comes up with a conspiracy theory that she is an alien because she says “ga” in prime numbers (she’ll say it once, twice, three times, five times, etc). He starts monitoring her closely, interpreting everything she does as evidence that she is an alien. His sister loves the time they spend together and babbles to him even more. Then one day, she starts puking up these rather large capsules, which are actually space ships for an alien race hellbent on bringing peace and happiness to Earth! Thaddeus is vindicated. He was right! He tells his parents, he tells the FBI, he tells everyone! Then his sister is taken away to be studied….

I loved this comic. It’s pretty short and seems more like a picture book and could be used as a nice bridge from picture books to comics. It’s a very cool take on sibling rivalry. Very different from the author’s other work and I liked it the best, maybe because it’s more for kids.

Older elementary could tackle this one on their own, but I think it’s a good read-along for parents to read with younger kids.

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Shadow Children: Among the Hidden

by Margaret Peterson Haddix

Luke has always been in hiding. He is a “shadow child,” a child born to a family that already has two children. Ever since the food crisis that started before Luke was born, the government has made it illegal to have more than two children. For Luke, that means staying hidden or risking being put to death.

His life is already limited, but when the government starts cutting down the woods that surround his home in order to make way for a new housing development, Luke can’t even go outside anymore. When he realizes that one of the new families on the block also has a third child, he has to decide how much he is willing to risk for some companionship and, ultimately, for his freedom.

This is the first book in the Shadow Children series. Like Haddix’s Missing series, this one has a lot of intrigue and suspense. I read up to the fourth or fifth book in the series and quit. The story is compelling enough and I got more than halfway through the series before the logic/common sense gaps in the story got too annoying for me.

Not for super-sensitive readers, since it is basically a story about a government that hunts and kills children, but kids who like stories of spies and intrigue will most likely enjoy it.

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Malice

by Chris Wooding

Malice is just a rumour, like Bloody Mary. Burn a few items, chant “Tall Jake, take me away” six times, and get taken away to a world seen only on the pages of the mythical Malice comic. It’s said that the kids in the comic look like kids who have gone missing, which must just be the author’s sick joke… right? When Luke gets his hands on an issue of Malice, he can’t wait to prove his bravery to his friend Heather. He says the chant. The lights go out. Then nothing happens… that night. Tall Jake only comes for you when you’re alone.

Luke’s disappearance sets a ball in motion. The main characters of the book are not Luke and Heather but their concerned friends Seth and Kady, which threw me off a little at first. Seth and Kady are well rounded characters, though, so I had no trouble getting into the story once I realized they would be the main characters. This book had me pretty giddy with horror. It’s mostly text, but some pages show the story as it is represented in the fictional comic book. The text also changes sizes and fonts for a visual effect and a few of the reveals had me shuddering. My favourite part is that it isn’t romantic! It’s the first in a two-part series, with the story continuing in Havoc.

Definitely for fans of horror. Older kids and up into teen (although I enjoyed it in my twenties).

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Rapunzel’s Revenge

by Shannon and Dean Hale, ill. Nathan Hale (no relation)

Rapunzel lives a sheltered life within high fortress walls that surround the house she lives in with her mother, whom everyone calls Mother Gothel. One day, Rapunzel decides to scale the walls and sees that Mother Gothel has used her magical green thumb to control the land and make the villagers slaves for her coal mines. Rapunzel discovers that Gothel stole her from her birth mom when she was a baby and sent her mom to work in the mines. When Rapunzel demands to be reunited with her real mom and refuses Mother Gothel’s offer to inherit the family business, Gothel locks her up in an enchanted tower of a tree. As the tree continues to grow, so does Rapunzel’s hair. She uses her lasso skills and her long braided hair to rescue herself from the tree and begins a wild west adventure to undo Mother Gothel’s evil deeds and rescue her birth mother from the mines.

The only negative thing I can say about this book is that it raised my expectations for other cracked fairy tales. I was incredibly disappointed with Tangled after having read this. Thankfully, there’s a sequel: Calamity Jack, which focuses on Jack’s backstory. I can’t stress enough how much I love this comic. Strong female main character, positive First Nations secondary character, incredibly clever writing, and good consistent drawings make this story stand out as one of the best books for kids I’ve picked up in the last few years.

Anyone who liked Jeff Smith’s Bone series will enjoy the humour and adventure of this story, and it’s a good one for those who love cracked fairy tales. Kids enjoy this book, but I also recommend it to adults who are interested in comics and appreciate a good parable about unchecked capitalism.

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The Ranger’s Apprentice: The Ruins of Gorlan

by John Flanagan

A good first book for a great, long series. Will, an orphan, must undergo a selection process in order to become an apprentice of some trade or other in his fiefdom. He desperately wants to be a soldier, but he is overlooked and Horace, the boy who bullies Will constantly, is chosen instead. Will has been chosen to be the apprentice of the mysterious Halt, the fiefdom’s ranger. Rangers are trained to be stealth protectors of the kingdom, and Will undergoes intense training to hone his skills in undetected movement, archery, and hand-to-hand combat. When an old enemy from Halt’s past re-surfaces, Will’s training is finally put to the test. Meanwhile, Horace has become the victim of bullies at Battleschool, and must learn how to thwart his foes without showing any weakness that might cause him trouble as a knight’s apprentice.

Honestly, the events of the first book seem boring to describe, as it involves a lot of realistic hard work and character development. Will shows a lot of promise, but he only becomes good at what he does by lots of practice. I thought it was a nice change from a lot of other books where the protagonist is “special” and comes equipped with more power than he knew he had. The mentor-mentee relationship between Halt and Will progresses as the series goes on and is really strong but not overly mushy. The books are dependably righteous adventure novels. Will never really fails or has too many moral quandaries, although he does later have to dig himself out of an accidental drug addiction.

Even though Will is 15 in the first book, a lot of younger kids will find him accessible as a character since he is pretty naive and immature. The way I sell these books to kids is by telling them that it’s set in the times of kings and castles, and a boy has to train as a king’s ranger, which is basically like a medieval ninja.

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The Night Tourist

by Katherine Marsh

In the New York underworld live all the ghosts of those who have died in NYC. At least, they’re still there until they resolve all their issues and move on. Jack has not moved on. In fact, Jack didn’t even die when he got hit by that car. Even though he’s not dead, he can see dead people. That’s how he meets Euri, a ghost girl about his age who leads him to the underworld. He enlists her help to find his mother, who died in New York years ago. The living are not welcome in the underworld, though, so Jack and Euri must conduct their search while being hunted by a three-headed hellhound who wants to tear Jack to pieces. On top of all of this, Jack can only stay in the underworld for three days before he loses the ability to return to the land of the living.

This book is full of mysteries, like, Just who is this Euri? Why is she helping Jack? Why does Jack share some abilities with dead people? Did he really die in that accident? And why don’t the dates on his mother’s death records match up?

This is a cool mystery for kids who are into Greek mythology. It has a balanced amount of suspense, action, and character development, and is also obviously written by somebody who knows their stuff. A good one for older kids suffering Percy Jackson withdrawal.

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Beyonders: A World Without Heroes

by Brandon Mull

This is a good a book as any to start the blog off with. Like this book, my blog is similar to scores of other blogs out there. It’s predictable, and you’ve probably read similar reviews elsewhere. But hopefully, as I found with the first installment of Beyonders, there will be that something extra that catches your fancy and makes it worth your time to read.

On to the book! Jason is just a regular kid (yawn). Then he falls into a hippo’s mouth, which takes him to another world, called Lyrian. There he accidentally starts on a quest with Rachel, a girl from our world who also recently stumbled into Lyrian. They want to go home, but are persuaded that the best way to get home is to first destroy the evil emperor, Maldor. They go about Lyrian trying to gather all the syllables of Maldor’s secret name, which will destroy him when spoken in his presence.

I picked this book up because it was shiny. I started reading it and was instantly bored by the main characters: a “regular” guy whose one non-average talent will surely come in handy later, and an annoying know-it-all girl whose demands to be treated equally are kind of silly because, danger! I came to like them a little bit more as I read on, but it was really the world that kept me reading. Such interesting side characters and weird creatures! There’s constant adventure, with captivating (if sometimes predictable) twists throughout. Even though the characters and the set-up are total cliches, I actually really enjoyed this book and would read the next one.

Definitely a good one to recommend to kids who like adventure stories like Percy Jackson.

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