The Storm in the Barn

The Storm in the Barn by Matt Phelan; published by Candlewick Press, Somerville, Massachusetts; 2010.

Sorry again for the cross-post, but this graphic novel seems to have made awards and notable books lists that bridges the perceived gap between children’s and young adult titles.  For my take on the book, please check out the review on my KidsRead blog (

"Migrant Mother" by Dorothea Lange

As for teens, I think the blurred line between folklore and fiction, between oral and factual history, will appeal.  I also think that reluctant readers will appreciate the nuances in the images, the use of color to bring depth to the storytelling, as well as the fact that it has limited words to read.  As I mentioned in the children’s review, this graphic novel will have a symbiotic relationship with the Library of Congress’ FSA slideshow on Flickr.  I can imagine a forward-thinking English teacher pairing this graphic novel with the images and Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath and Karen Hesse’s Out of the Dust.  What an exciting grading period that would be!  But then again, I am a fan of historical fiction….

3P     5Q     Grade Level: 5-12

Cover Art: The image is taken from a cell within the book.  The haunting hand reaching for Jack might appeal to teens.  I really think that an interest in historical fiction or using this book in an assignment will be the way to get this book into young adult hands.

From Reading List: Great Graphic Novels for Teens


En garde! It’s Foiled

Foiled by Jane Yolen and illustrated by Mike Cavallaro; published by First Second, New York, 2010; 160 pages.Foiled cover art

Even the smallest high schools have cliques.  That’s what Aliera Carstairs tells us.  She’s a New York City high school sophomore that doesn’t fit in with any clique; she’s a loner and she likes it that way.  Her after-school routine is bus and subway transfers to her fencing school where she dominates thanks to a “shaggy Hagrid kind of guy” who teaches her.  Saturdays follow a similar routine but end with visits to her aunt and teen cousin (who happens to be wheelchair bound due to arthritis).  Aliera and Caroline, her cousin, spend their time in a role-playing game in which Aliera is the Defender and Caroline, the Queen.  But is that a role-playing game or real life?  When breathtakingly handsome Avery Castle develops into more than just a lab partner, much of Aliera’s world will be unmasked.

I wondered why the graphic novel was predominantly rendered in greyscale.  As I progressed through the story, I learned that the heroine is color blind.  Aha!  Then flashes of color begin creeping into the drawings.  Brilliant use of illustration to help tell the story!

I am also ashamed to admit that my familiarity with the incredible Jane Yolen comes only through her fiction and nonfiction books for children.  I wasn’t even aware that she writes sci fi for teens until I picked up this book and researched a little more about one of my favorite children’s authors.  Wow, is it possible to hold her in even higher esteem?

Aside from the wonderful marriage of story and pictures, I was impressed by the theme of self-discovery.  Yolen portrays strong, confident women in a very positive light.  In addition, it’s okay to be a loner and pursue your passion.  All of these are wonderful themes to carry into the hands of young women.

YALSA has included Foiled in the list of nominations for 2011’s “Great Graphic Novels for Teens.”  I think this is a wise choice since so many graphic novels are geared toward male readers, especially reluctant readers.  Here’s a hook for reluctant readers of the female persuasion looking for a strong heroine.

For librarians (or anyone else who’s interested!) there is a Foiled board game!  All the pieces you need to assemble a game  box is included in this PDF*.  Can you imagine including a life-sized Foiled game in the teen area while the children’s department hosts a life-sized Candyland?!  Even just a display of the book and a box with all the components of the game (laminated, of course) in the young adult area would be super.

4P     5Q     Grade Level: 9-12+

Cover Art: The sly glance of our heroine on a fiery red-faded-to-orange background will intrigue young adults.

From Reading List: Great Graphic Novels for Teens (YALSA)

*If the link isn’t working, here’s the Web address:  Or try googling “Foiled board game Yolen.”

And The Wall came tumbling down

The Wall: Growing Up Behind the Iron Curtain by Peter Sis; published by Frances Foster Books (Farrar, Straus and Giroux), New York, 2007; 48 pages.

Don’t let the fact that this is a “picture book” fool you.  Sis’ autobiographical (“Any resemblance to the story in this book is intentional.”) portrayal of Communist Czechoslovakia is intended for older audiences.  Because his preferred medium is illustration, the images in this book speak louder than any words he could commit to paper.  Growing up behind the Iron Curtain created a dual world for Sis–his proper public COMPULSORY image and his dreamy, internal DISCOURAGED world.  His struggles with being himself in a world where that could destroy his family shaped the adult.

Since today’s kids have not had “duck and cover” drills at school, Sis provides a personal glimpse of a history they could never imagine.  I grew up at the tail end of the Cold War and I was amazed by the life Sis and his family were forced to live.  This book should be included in pathfinders for social studies!

The cover of the book appears to be a homemade corrugated cardboard cover to a scrapbook.  Inside, the images are the focal points, telling the abundance of the story.  However, Sis includes well-written definitions of unfamiliar terms, pages from his childhood journals, as well as stunningly written introduction and conclusion.  The end pages feature a black-and-white line art map of the world with the Communist Block colored red, with close up views of Czechoslovakia and Prague; no question what this book will be about!  After the introduction, I was struck by the “wall” of words, definitions of Communist-era terms, that imprisoned the drawing of baby Peter Sis.  Throughout the book, Sis also included captions beside the panels of his art, further describing Communist life.  Every aspect of this book was meticulously considered, all supporting the story of repression and ultimate independence.

3P     5Q     Grade Level: 5-12+

TheWallCover Art: As mentioned before, the cover looks like a scrapbook that the author decorated with his black, white and red art.  Unfortunately, I think the image of the baby playing drums inside a brick star will not appeal to teens.  Also, the format of the book, a picture book rather than a graphic novel, will also turn off the teens.  This book will have to be a required-reading text; that’s too bad, because there is much to be learned by older kids in this story.

From Reading List: Great Graphic Novels for Teens, 2008

Adventure! Humor! Science?! Meet Atomic Robo

Atomic Robo: Volume One (Atomic Robo and the Fightin’ Scientists of Tesladyne) by Brain Clevinger, Scott Wegener, Ronda Pattison and Jeff Powell; published by Red 5 Comics, Calgary, Alberta, Canada, 2008; 180 pages.

As our story begins, it’s 1938, the United States is under attack and only one man—er, robot—can save the nation.  In exchange for his services, Atomic Robo is given American citizenship.  Who is Atomic Robo?  Famed scientist Nikola Tesla created this sentient robot in the waning years of his life.  Indeed, the indestructible Atomic Robo is intelligent, independent and highly sarcastic.  After earning his citizenship, he creates his own business, Tesladyne, and staffs it with a multitude of fighting scientists.  Together, they battle enormous ants, heat-ray shooting mobile pyramids, and Rasputin’s ghost, among other scientific anomalies.  The genius of these stories is the science intermingled with adventure and sardonic humor.

This graphic novel is a collection of the first six comic books in the Atomic Robo comic franchise.  The book opens with background information from the publisher and writer.  The back of the book includes pin-up images from the covers of the six issues included in this volume.  Perhaps the best addition to the collection is the “Concept Art” section at the back of the book.  Sketches illustrate how to draw Atomic Robo and pseudo-scientific plans are included which describe all of the robot’s skills.

Fighting scientists and a humanistic robot make science cool.  There are affectionate jabs at science fiction themes and nods to the genre’s implausible science.  Add funny one-liners and incredibly engaging art and this book is a terrific read that should appeal to reluctant and avid readers alike.

4P     5Q     Grade Level: 7-12atomic-robo

Cover Art: The murky colors and sci-fi theme will appeal to comic book aficionados, fans of The Iron Giant, and sci-fi lovers.  Teen boys, in particular, should be immediately hooked.

From Reading List:  Great Graphic Novels for Teens (2009 Top Ten List)

Like sand through the hourglass…Sand Chronicles

Sand Chronicles (Vol. 3) by Hinako Ashihara; published by VIZ Media, LLC, San Francisco, 2008; 200 pages.

Having jumped into this graphic novel series somewhat in the middle, I can summarize this installment of the story along with a little background information thanks to a recap provided at the beginning of the book.  Ann is a 16 year old girl whose mother committed suicide in an earlier installment of the story.  Her father lives in Tokyo and Ann stays with him during the school year.  But she spends her summer with her grandparents in Shimane, where she has a boyfriend (Daigo) and friends Shika and Fuji (wealthy sister and brother who have a family secret—one of them is illegitimate).  In this volume, Ann finds herself in the throes of first love (physical and all) with Daigo.  Siblings Shika and Fuji throw a wrench in the works as threats to the love story.  In the end, we find the four friends struggling with emotions—all the typical teen angst.  The cliffhanger for this story is that Ann recognizes some of her mother’s depression in Fuji and expresses her concern to him, only to find that he has disappeared….  Stay tuned to Volume 4; like Sand through the hourglass, these are the days of our teens.

I have to get used to the idea that a graphic novel is different from a comic book:  The story is told more through images and what’s between the lines than in the text.  The themes and content are far more mature than the Archie comic books I read in the dentist’s waiting room.  At first, I was confused by the story and the stilted dialog, but then I enjoyed the rhythm of the tale.  The book will appeal to teens because of the “soap opera” content and because it is manga.  

Several things made reading this book unique.  First, it is manga.  That means that the book is read from back to front and from right to left—on each page and from page to page.  That took some getting used to but then it was actually fun to read in a different style.  Second, there is a glossary at the front—I mean back—of the book explaining terms and expressions that are unfamiliar to Western readers.  Third, there is a short summary of “the story thus far” and a list of main characters on the table of contents page.  Lastly, there is a parental advisory label on the copyright page.  Apparently, the publisher has rated this page “T+” meaning its content is for teens 16 years old and older; it is described as having mature content.  I can’t imagine an author or publisher in the United States labeling their books.

4P     3Q     Grade Level 9-12+

SAND_CHRONICLES_3Cover Art: The manga images will appeal to fans.  The colors and images on the cover will pique interest among teen girls especially.  The cover art belies the maturity of the content however and may make the book appeal to a younger crowd than the book intended.

From Reading List: Great Graphic Novels for Teens (2009 Top Ten List)

RSS Braingle’s Teasers

  • Today's Daily Brain Teaser (Jul 19, 2018)
    Automobile Makes Name the automobile makes: 1. river wading place 2. ringed planet 3. famous emancipator 4. weep convulsively 5. Star Wars action figure 6. earth wanderer 7. spotted cat 8. heavy metal 9. evade 10. diminutive 11. endlessness 12. bawl + disparaging remark Check for the answer.