Thursday, November 23, 2023


Written by: Christina Diaz Gonzalez and Gabriella Epstein

First line: I came as soon as I heard. 

Why you should read this book: When the principal insists that Jorge "George" Rivera agree to community service hours "with students like you" so the school can win an award, he assumes that means working with the other gifted kids, not cleaning the cafeteria with the Spanish-speaking students who already think he's a gringo. Despite the principal's blithe categorization, the five members of this breakfast club seem to have nothing in common, until they bond over the common cause of helping a mother and daughter living in a car across the street from the school. Each child has their own secrets, fears, strengths, and weaknesses, but they all find that they're willing to risk punishment in order to do what they know is right. 

Why you shouldn't read this book: You only talk to people who share you exact ethnic background and financial circumstances.


Written by: Megan Wagner Lloyd and Michelle Mee Nutter

First line: Welcome to beautiful Hickory Valley, Maryland...home to my family, the Lees.

Why you should read this book: Avery Annie Lee already has a rough time being the second-oldest child (and oldest girl) of seven siblings, but when her parents inform her that they're moving her toddler brother into the room she already shares with her sister (who plays multiple instruments badly and practices constantly in their room) because her older brother is "having a hard time," it really throws a wrench into the gears of her carefully-thought out plan to finally have her own space. Her next plan, to earn enough money to transform the basement, seems doomed, and all the while, she still has to deal with the trials of taking care of five younger siblings and all the tribulations of moving from elementary school to middle school. As Avery considers the emotions of the people around her carefully, she starts to feel less squished, and to see more possibilities in the world. 

Why you shouldn't read this book: You're morally opposed to large families. 

The Waters

Written by: Bonnie Jo Campbell

First line: Once upon a time M'sauga Island was a place where desperate mothers abandoned baby girls and where young women went seeking to prevent babies altogether.

Why you should read this book: For Bonnie Jo Campbell's forthcoming (WW Norton, January 2024) novel, I have to abandon my typical 4-sentence format. If you're not familiar with my creative relationship with Bonnie Jo Campbell, you can learn a great deal about it here on my visual art website. If you do know about the 4 volumes of comics based on her work I've published, you probably won't be surprised to learn that I drew the map that will appear as the frontispiece of this new novel, and that I read an early draft (the version she sent to the publisher) last year and that I just finished reading the ARC. I'm deeply inspired and I've just been telling people for well over a year to keep an eye out for this book, because I think it's going to knock people's socks off. 

Obviously, this is a biased account and not a true book review. Because I freaking love this book. 

Like most of Campbell's work, it's set in rural southwestern Michigan, is deeply tied to the land, and features a quirky and colorful cast moving through circumstances that perfectly balance comedy and tragedy. It covers new ground by opening the world up to a fairy tale sensibility and the possibly of true magic.

Hermine "Herself" Zook, age unknown, has always lived on M'sauga Island, and has long been the resident witch of the town of Whiteheart, guided by the spirit of her mother, Baba Rose, who haunts her right arm and also the eternal flame of her stove. In addition to providing natural remedies to those who need healing, she also adopts unwanted babies, and, if approached properly, herbal abortions. And thus the tale unfolds. Now raising her granddaughter Dorothy "Donkey" Zook in her footsteps, Hermine finds herself increasingly at odds with a hypocritical world that want to use and control her strength even as the poison of modernity seeps into the swamp from every direction. 

I have a million things to say about this book, which I'm saving for the comic I want to write about it. However, if you like rural noir, fairy tales, strong female characters, strange children, the state of Michigan, nuanced debates about ethics and religion, or detailed descriptions of the natural world, you will probably like this book. 

Pre-order it from your local bookstore or public library and be the first to know. 

Friday, November 10, 2023

The Dragon Prince: Bloodmoon Huntress

Written by: Nicole Andelfinger and Felia Hanakata

First line: You shall both be missed, Lain.

Why you should read this book: This is the second graphic novel in a series of prequels to the popular cartoon The Dragon Prince, depicting the young Moonshadow elf, Rayla, at a pivotal moment in her childhood. Filled with anger that her parents have chosen their sacred duty to Xadia as Dragonguards over family life in Silvergrove and left her in the care of foster parents, Ethari and Runaan, Rayla is more furious when she learns that Runaan is an assassin whose job is to kill those who threaten the elves. A chance meeting with a lost Skywing elf leads to a confrontation with an ancient evil, and Rayla learns what it means to sacrifice for your family and embraces her future career path. 

Why you shouldn't read this book: If you're a fan of the series, it's a fun, if lightweight backstory, but if you haven't seen the show, it probably makes very little sense. 

Satan in Goray

Written by: Isaac Bashevis Singer

First line: In the year 1648, the wicked Ukranian hetman, Bogdan Chmelnicki, and his followers besieged the city of Zamosc but could not take it because it was strongly fortified; the rebelling haidamak peasants moved on to spread havoc in Tomaszow, Bilgoraj, Krasnik, Turbin, Frampol--and in Goray, too, the town the lay in the midst of the hills at the end of the world.

Why you should read this book: When news that the messiah has arrived in the form of a man called Sabbatai Zevi, a strange religious mania overtakes the beleaguered shtetl of Goray, where Jews have long adhered to the biblical traditions of their ancestors. Turning away from their rabbi and the old ways, the people embrace mysticism and prophets and follow kabbalists who declare that that the rules of decency and morality are suspended, creating a strange, lawless world in advance of the paradise to which they believe they will soon be delivered. But Zevi is no messiah, and their prophets are less holy than they had been led to believe, and the people of Goray will not be delivered to paradise.

Why you shouldn't read this book: If you haven't got a decent grounding in European Jewish tradition or history, a lot of this probably won't make much sense. 

The Goody

Written by: Lauren Child

First Line: Chirton Krauss was a good child, the very goodest.

Why you should read this book: For a kid's book, this story gets pretty deep, depicting the ways that adults lazily typecast their own children, locking them into roles that cut the child down and prevent them from growing as individuals. Chirton is the "goody" who always does what he's supposed to do, regardless of how he feels about it, and his sister Myrtle does whatever she feels like doing, regardless of what she's supposed to do, and accepts that she's the bad child. When Chirton finally gets fed up with the inequality of the situation, both kids get to experience life from the other point of view and they, and their parents, come to accept that nobody fits neatly into a behavioral box, and nobody should have to, and that it's best for children to be seen as children and not be reduced to binaries. 

Why you shouldn't read this book: If you were always the good kid who always suffered while your siblings slacked off and you never addressed this with your family of origin, this book might be a bit heartbreaking/

Thursday, November 2, 2023

The Complete Fairy Tales of George MacDonald

Written by: George MacDonanld 

First line: Once upon a time, so long ago that I have quite forgotten the date, there lived a king and queen who had no children. 

Why you should read this book: There is something deeply appealing about these tales, whose foundations are rooted deeply in the ancient, mythopoeic tradition, but whose leaves and branches are nourished with the most modern ideas any Victorian gentleman could possibly lay his hands on. From a princess who is cursed to lose her gravity to shadow spirits lamenting the rise of gaslights and the decline of the real fires that allow them to dance among the humans, the fairy creatures of these stories are well aware that their world is in flux and the balance is tipping away from the past. Delightful and imaginative, but still adhering to the laws of the genre, this is a timeless work on par with the best fairy stories of any era. 

Why you shouldn't read this book: You would never go anywhere with or for a magical creature and have zero sympathy for teenagers in love.

Monday, October 9, 2023

The Prophet

Written by: Kahlil Gibran

First line: Almustafa, the chosen and beloved, who was a dawn unto his own day, had waited twelve years in the city of Orphalese for his ship that was to return and bear him back to the isle of his birth. 

Why you should read this book: A beloved and enduring longform poem written one hundred years ago, The Prophet is a series of mind-expanding dialogs between the prophet and the people of Orphalese, who ask him to speak to them of various aspects of the human condition. The prophet answers with advice--some metaphorical, some concrete--on living fully, openly, joyfully, and honestly. Each short chapter offers musings on topics such as love, work, freedom, pleasure, and so on, turning the everyday experience of all humans into a spiritual quest wherein every individual can hope to achieve enlightenment in this world. 

Why you shouldn't read this book: The dust jacket of the edition I have in my hand suggests that if this book doesn't uplift, educate, and inspire you, that you are likely "dead to life and truth."

Daddy Poems

Edited by: John Micklos, Jr. 

First line: It was still dark when I woke up/and stumbled out of bed,/sleepily searching for my slippers/on my way to the bathroom.

Why you should read this book: A beautifully illustrated and carefully curated collection of poetry for young readers about fathers, featuring a diverse sampling of poets. The book takes into account the complicated feelings of children whose parents are divorced, and includes a poem about a child's confusing feelings for his stepfather. These poems are full of emotion and love and joy and pain.

Why you shouldn't read this book: Probably not a great choice for people with absent or abusive fathers. 

The Goddess of Ugly

Written by: Deborah Nourse Lattimore

First line: Once, not very long ago there were twin sisters, Kiri and Mareweia.

Why you should read this book: Two little Maori girls look forward to their coming of age, when they will receive their chin tattoos, but first they must perfect their haka dance. However, one of the sisters cannot take her practice seriously, and their grandmother warns them that making ugly faces will leave them vulnerable to the Punga, the Goddess of Ugly, who once trapped Mudfish and Lizard in a lodgepole, to teach them a lesson about being ugly on purpose. Still not taking the warning seriously, the girls, naturally, have a terrifying run-in with Punga, where they quickly learn their lesson and get the best of the situation.

Why you shouldn't read this book: You're very shallow.