Real Friends

April 17th, 2017 · Books

Review By KRISTIN WALD

The ups-and-downs of childhood friendships, the painful drama that ensues when treasured friendships change, and the various coping mechanisms children employ are on full display in Shannon Hale’s new graphic memoir Real Friends. Recommended for ages 8-12, the book will evoke discussion about friendship, kindness, being mean, and all the emotions wrapped up in those topics.

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Real Friends is a memoir, and it reads as a personal and moving version of elementary school experiences. Despite its focus on the lower grades, the characters do not come across as very young, and older children will find that the conflicts relatable and universal. Each chapter focuses on the main character, Shannon, and her relationship with a particular friend, but there are recurring characters in each section that tie the various threads together.

Conflicts in the memoir include losing a best friend, feeling left out and different, having hurt feelings and hurting feelings, being lied about, possessiveness, rivalries, friends moving away, regrets, and feelings misunderstood. Basically, it runs through most friendship challenges in its 224 pages. In addition, sibling conflicts are a part of the mix, making sure that at times Shannon truly feels like she has nowhere to turn.

Real Friends is not only about elementary school difficulties. Balancing out the problems in friendship are joyful moments of connection and belonging. Scenes of a summer vacation, finding a BFF, being accepted by “cool kids” who accept you for who you are, and finding forgiveness all work to make this memoir very real, not just morbid.

The bright and delightfully expressive illustrations by LeUyen Pham are at once quirky and awkward and lovable, much like the main character. Pham is able to show the characters growing up, while remaining recognizable, throughout the six years of the story. There are also several fantastically illustrated sequences that depict an imaginary and child-like world.

A few scenes felt particularly confessional. Both at school and at home, Shannon hides in the bushes (sometimes finding a fellow victim of mean girls) to cry and be alone. There are also hints at issues with anxiety and obsessive compulsive disorder sprinkled throughout the book. The scenes in which Shannon’s sister Wendy physically and emotionally attack her are particularly painful. And a standout scene comes at the end of the book, when Shannon makes a conscious decision not to be “nice” to someone who has repeatedly tormented her.

This book, despite focusing on the friendship of girls, will appeal to all genders because of its clear and honest approach to the emotionally fraught friendship conflicts all children (and adults!) face at one time or another. Don’t miss the author’s opening “interview” with her own children about the book’s subject matter and the Author’s Note at the end of the book. Both are Must Reads.

Real Friends is out May 2nd, 2017. I received an Advance Reader’s Edition for review.

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The Muppet Movie (1979)

April 5th, 2017 · Movies

Girl holding a movie camera - stock image to accompany movie reviewReview By JENNIFER KALI

I was so happy to hear that the American Film Institute movie theatre near my home was running a Muppet retrospective. The Muppets were a huge part of my childhood, but haven’t been much a part of my kids’ lives. But with this retrospective, I set out to fix that shortcoming.

The first movie we attended was the original, “The Muppet Movie,” which came out in 1979. I was wondering how well this movie, now 37 years old, would hold up in modern society. I was happy to find that it holds up quite well. When we first meet the Electric Mayhem band, they are in the midst of turning an old country church into an organic coffee shop/night club, a scene that feels plucked from a movie today. In a very modern twist, gender roles are subverted when Miss Piggy saves her and Kermit’s life with her famous “Hiya!” chops and kicks. When Miss Piggy starts fighting, my 7-year-old daughter exclaimed, “Wow, she’s strong!” Later she said this was her favorite scene in the movie.

What I had forgotten about this movie was its source of conflict. The movie follows Kermit and Fozzie on their way to Hollywood to try to become famous. Along the way they are discovered by Doc Hopper, the owner of restaurant famous for its deep fried frog legs. Doc Hopper spends the entire movie trying to convince Kermit to star in commercials for his restaurant, something that Kermit describes as morally repugnant. My daughter talked about this storyline for days. I don’t think she was previously aware that people eat frog legs.

Common Sense Media recommends this movie to ages 6+, but I think 3+ is more appropriate. Both of my kids loved this movie. My daughter loved Miss Piggy. My 3-year-old son loved “that singing frog.” There are many jokes that 3-year-olds will not understand, but they will love the crazy characters and the singing and dancing. Older kids will understand the plot more and get more of the jokes. There is really not a wrong age to watch the Muppets.

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Artemis, Wild Goddess of the Hunt

March 8th, 2017 · Books

Review By KRISTIN WALD

The ninth in the hugely popular George O’Connor OLYMPIANS series is here, and it’s a must-have for those who love the Greek Gods, and especially for fans of Artemis, Wild Goddess of the Hunt. This volume focuses on several of the most notorious and bloody stories in the Artemis myth. The re-telling, as with the prior volumes, pulls no punches and holds true to the moral ambiguity of the Greek Gods.

9781626725225The narrator for much of the volume is Apollo, brother to Artemis. As narrator, he concentrates on three main tales: Niobe and her children, Actaeon and his temptation, and Orion and his friendship with Artemis. Despite the modern language and affect employed throughout, the stories are loyal to the classic myths, and the illustrations help tell the tales as well.

First time readers may be shocked at the violence in the stories about Artemis. One man is hunted by his own hounds, a mother loses her children to Artemis and Apollo’s arrows, and Artemis knowingly kills a potential love interest in her quest to stay unattached to a suitor. But these are classic myths retold, not embellished. And the illustrations support the story without dwelling on the gory details.

Animal loving readers will appreciate the attention to forest dwelling animals and the love Artemis has for them. However, the spotlight on hunting for sport and enjoyment, and the role animals play in the death in one of the stories can and should be discussed, especially with younger children. Again, for readers familiar with the Greek myths and the Olympians, this will be nothing new, but the smart and sharp treatment of the subject in this volume provides an opportunity for thoughtful notice.

As with the previous volumes, the focus is on one Olympian, but other characters appear and play variously significant roles. Children familiar with the past books will delight in seeing the developments with characters they already recognize and enjoy.

Artemis, Wild Goddess of the Hunt is an excellent addition to the Olympians series by George O’Connor.

Ages 8 to 12.

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Bats: Learning to Fly

February 1st, 2017 · Books

Review By KRISTIN WALD

The wonderfully fun and informative SCIENCE COMICS series, which has brought us exciting topics like coral reefs, dinosaurs, and volcanoes, is about to get a new addition: Bats: Learning to Fly. Infusing storytelling with sidebar information, author Falynn Koch tells the story of Little Brown, a bat who loses his way and is swatted away by a human and injured as the bat tries to feast on bugs. As we follow him to a rehabilitation center where he gets to know dozens of other bats and how he is similar and different from them all.

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A lot of information is packed into this graphic novel. Little Brown’s journey allows us to learn about bats from all over the world, the dangers bats face from their environment and humans, how they help control insects and spread seeds, and how humans can be helpful and not harmful to the bats around us. Sidebars throughout the story, identified easily by different color backgrounds, give direct information related to Little Brown’s story. At times, the sidebars can be confusing to children unused to following graphic novel layout, but readers will quickly acclimate to the format.

Highlights in the book include sections about the Bracken Cave colony and the Congress Avenue bridge, both in Texas. The illustrations of various bat faces is fascinating, and you’ll catch readers returning to the page again and again. Little Brown’s realistic personality (sometimes vulnerable and inquisitive, other times defensive) will help readers relate to his journey and the things he learns.

Readers will learn about bats’ wing structure, use of echolocation (they don’t all use it!), where and how they sleep, how bats use their bodily functions to help grow trees and plants, and how they are able to stand being upside down for so long. There is plenty of detail for the casual bat fan as well as the bat aficionado. And besides that, there is a fun story for kids to follow.

Humans as a danger to bats is emphasized (although cats are a close second), but solutions are offered that will make us all better friends of bats. Tips are shared for hikers, homeowners, and tourists, and the end of the book gives great ideas about making or setting up your own bat box. Did you know that hikers can fool hibernating bats into thinking its spring merely by exploring a cave?

As with all the Science Comics books, there are suggestions for further reading and a glossary of important terms. This newest version, Bats: Learning to Fly, is a wonderful addition for its sense of humor, creative approach to learning, and reliably detailed and beautiful illustrations.

Bats: Learning to Fly, along with the entire Science Comics series, is highly recommended for ages 8-12.

The publisher provided a review copy.

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