March: Book Two by John Lewis, Andrew Aydin, and Nate Powell


Goodreads: March: Book Two
Series: March #2
Source: Library
Published: 2015


Following the Nashville sit-ins, John Lewis is now committed to helping the Freedom Riders integrate the buses.  Despite experiencing beatings and other violence, Lewis and the other activists continue to fight.  But the federal government is only willing to lend so much support.  And local law enforcement is often fighting against them.


March: Book Two continues the powerful story of John Lewis’ involvement in the Civil Rights movement, picking up after the Nashville sittings and focusing on the struggles of the Freedom Riders.  Lewis’ words leave much of the violence to the imagination, fading away tellingly.  And yet the art does not allow readers to escape.  The violence, the brutality, the ugliness of it all is presented to readers so that they might not forget.

Lewis’ presentation of history is always compelling because he does not seek to provide an easy or straightforward narrative.  Rather, he discusses the internal politics of the Civil Rights movement, noting how the principles of non-violence that he believed in were questioned and ignored over time.  He acknowledges that he understands the frustration, but also suggests that there are some paths he simply cannot choose to take.  His version of history is not the textbook version, but the lived version.  And readers are privy to all the setbacks and maneuverings, as well as to the triumphs.

March: Book Two makes an obvious addition to any classroom library, but it is not a dull “educational comic.”  It is not a textbook with illustrations.  It is a vibrant living story that brings the reader from the past into the present, daring them to remember the struggles that came before–and to keep on fighting.

5 stars


Batgirl, Vol. 1: The Batgirl of Burnside by Cameron Stewart et al.


Goodreads: Batgirl, Vol. 1: The Batgirl of Burnside
Series: Batgirl, Volume 1V #6
Source: Library
Published: 2015


Barbara Gordon is ready to start over.  She’s moving into Gotham’s coolest neighborhood, working on a thesis her advisor thinks could be great, and reinventing Batgirl.  She’ll have a new outfit, new equipment, and a new image–carefully curated for social media.  But Batgirl has enemies and they’re willing to do whatever it takes to steal her spotlight.


Batgirl of Burnside is an intriguing mix of a Barbara Gordon who seems to be simultaneously living too fast like she’s desperate to be “cool” and “grown-up” and a Barbara Gordon caught up in drama reminiscent of high school.  The parties go late, the memories (and the hookups) fade under the influence, and adult responsibilities are forgotten in favor of pursuing both love and social media stardom.  It might not be a mix for everyone.  But I will say it’s a mix I have seen far too often in college students in real life.

I really appreciated this candid look at college life.  Stories often seem to divide characters into the “party girls” and the “studious students,” and yet many students straddle both lines.  It may be inconceivable to some that their darling girl, star of the field hockey team and member of an honor society, sometimes drinks until she passes out–and yet there it is.  Batgirl of Burnside is the university uncensored.  It doesn’t feel the need to pretend that its characters are perfect.

When it comes to Barbara’s other life however–the life she leads as Batgirl–the story does feel admittedly weak.  The villains are kind of laughable and certainly not powerful.  And too often they feel like a message.  Batgirl is literally fighting the urge to put her entire life on social media and pursue “likes” instead of focusing on what is really important.  Talk about heavy-handed.

Fortunately, the artwork is very good.  (Though I did grin a little because it’s just too much that every character here always looks sexy at an given moment–even after waking up with hangover!  And who stands with their butt and hips sticking out all the time?  But I digress.)  I enjoyed reading the story even when the story fell a little flat.  I’m not dying to get my hands on the next volume, but I’d be willing to see where it takes Batgirl.

3 Stars

Yvain: The Knight of the Lion adapted by M. T. Anderson and Andrea Offermann



Goodreads: Yvain: The Knight of the Lion
Series: None
Source: City Book Review
Published: March 14, 2017

Official Summary

Eager for glory and heedless of others, Sir Yvain sets out from King Arthur’s court and defeats a local lord in battle, unknowingly intertwining his future with the lives of two compelling women: Lady Laudine, the beautiful widow of the fallen lord, and her sly maid Lunette. In a stunning visual interpretation of a 12th century epic poem by Chrétien de Troyes, readers are — at first glance — transported into a classic Arthurian romance complete with errant knights, plundering giants, and fire-breathing dragons. A closer look, however, reveals a world rich with unspoken emotion. Striking, evocative art by Andrea Offermann sheds light upon the inner lives of medieval women and the consequences Yvain’s oblivious actions have upon Laudine and Lunette. Renowned author M. T. Anderson embraces a new form with a sophisticated graphic novel that challenges Yvain’s role as hero, delves into the honesty and anguish of love, and asks just how fundamentally the true self can really change.


As a fan of medieval literature, I was excited to see Anderson adapt this story about one of King Arthur’s knights by Chrétien de Troyes for a new audience.  Although I enjoyed Anderson’s take in general, he does make changes to the plot and characters (presumably to streamline the story) that fundamentally change some of the themes explored in the original French medieval romance.  This, I think, does a disservice to Chrétien’s text, which is undoubtedly entertaining but is about so much more than epic battles and encounters with monsters.  Chrétien’s stories tend toward the complex and thought-provoking, and Anderson’s changes do away with some of this in order to present a slightly more digestible tale.

The story that Anderson and Offermann present is one of courage, love, and loyalty lost and regained. Yvain is not always heroic and the outcomes of the adventures are not always happy, but this is the point, and it paints a more complicated version of King Arthur’s times and his knights than readers get from other sources.  (Indeed, there are a lot of medieval texts that paint Arthur or his knights in a less than flattering light, which I think many modern readers are unaware of.) The female characters in particular in this story seem stuck between having power and being unable to wield it to get what they want.  It is a story that asks readers to question social and gender roles, as well as the definition of real power.

Offerman’s illustrations are gorgeous, if a bit lacking in color for my personal taste, and they are often the backbone of the story when Anderson chooses not to use words to explain plot events from his source material. Her art is detailed and based in extensive research, adding a wonderful layer of nuance to the book. This adaptation will make the most sense to readers who have read Chrétien’s version (and I do recommend reading that; Penguin publishes a very accessible translation), but it is a solid introduction to the medieval romance for those who have not read the original.

3 Stars Briana

The Adventures of Rabbi Harvey: A Graphic Novel of Jewish Wisdom and Wit in the Wild West by Steve Sheinkin


Goodreads: The Adventures of Rabbi Harvey
Series: Rabbi Harvey #1
Source: Library
Published: July 1, 2006

Official Summary

A fresh look at Jewish folktales wise, witty, hilarious.

After finishing school in New York, Rabbi Harvey traveled west in search of adventure and, hopefully, work as a rabbi. His journey took him to Elk Spring, Colorado, a small town in the Rocky Mountains. When he managed to outwit the ruthless gang that had been ruling Elk Spring, the people invited Harvey to stay on as the town’s rabbi. In Harvey’s adventures in Elk Spring, he settles disputes, tricks criminals into confessing, and offers unsolicited bits of Talmudic insight and Hasidic wisdom. Each story presents Harvey with a unique challenge from convincing a child that he is not actually a chicken, to retrieving stolen money from a sweet-faced bubbe gone bad. Like any good collection of Jewish folktales, these stories contain layers of humor and timeless wisdom that will entertain, teach and, especially, make you laugh.


The Adventures of Rabbi Harvey is a collection of short humorous stories about a rabbi who leaves school and finds a job in small Western town, quickly earning a reputation for wit and wisdom and his ability to fairly judge any case put before  him.  This background is necessary for the book because Rabbi Harvey’s history is explained only in one of the stories in the middle of the book; if you’re a reader who likes to go into books “blind” without reading the jacket summary, you might be confused, because there’s no introduction; the book simply opens with a story and goes from there.

I wasn’t entirely sure what to expect from this book, but I found it an entertaining collection of amusing, clever tales.  It was in the YA section of my local library, but I think it works well as an upper middle grade book, too, and the brand of humor is something I think could resonate with many middle schoolers.  The stories are not laugh-out-loud funny (at least in my opinion), but they’re quirky and amusing, and it’s great fun to watch Rabbi Harvey answer riddles and out-think others.

The combination of a Jewish community and a Wild West setting is a great one.  I’ve seen some other reviewers express skepticism of this, but I honestly never questioned it, and the book works really well.  There’s a nice combination of Western grit with traditional tales and wisdom, and I don’t think readers need to be particularly interested in either the Wild West or Judaism to enjoy the book.

This was a random find for me at the library. I checked it out because it just seemed so unexpected.  A graphic novel about a fictional rabbi just walking around being clever?  But after reading it, I will definitely be recommending it to others.

4 stars Briana

Malice in Ovenland by Micheline Hess


Goodreads: Malice in Ovenland
Series:  Malice in Ovenland Vol. 1
Source: Purchased
Published: 2016


Lily Brown is expecting to spend the weekend completing the list of chores her mother left–but then she finds a tunnel leading from the back of the oven to a strange new world.  Who are the Oven Frites?  And why do they think Lily’s responsible for their recent grease drought?  Can Lily escape their prison and find her way home?


The clever play on the title of Alice in Wonderland suggests that Micheline, much like Suzanne Collins in her Gregor the Overlander series, is rethinking children’s fantasy so it can star protagonists from the city.  And, of course, Hess is also featuring a girl who looks like many young readers, but who may not often appear in literature–a girl with brown skin, frizzy hair, and glasses.  Lily Brown is the fantasy heroine many have been waiting for.  Adventures aren’t just for Alice anymore!

It’s pretty cool that Lily can find adventure right in her own kitchen.  Unfortunately, however, though the characters are engaging, the artwork delightful, and the plot full of action, the premise is also…a little heavy-handed.  The story revolves around the anger of the Oven Frites when they learn no grease drips from the Browns’ oven anymore because Lily’s mom is cooking healthier meals.  But the Oven Frites don’t want to eat fruits and vegetables.  They want their fried, fatty foods back!

If you can get past the healthy eating message, the book is quite delightful.  There is some good material in here involving a haunted prison cell, a trio of elite Oven Frite rangers, and a charming traitor to the Oven Frites.  They may be kind of standard elements, but they work.  And sometimes a solid fantasy is all you really need.

[As an aside, Micheline Hess has also appeared on some panels and spoken about her art and Black women in comics.  Search her name and you can find her speaking at the Schomburg Center, with Black Enterprise, etc.]

4 starsKrysta 64

The Amazing Crafty Cat by Charise Mericle Harper

The Amazing Crafty CatInformation

Goodreads: The Amazing Crafty Cat
Series: Crafty Cat #1
Source: City Book Review
Published: April 11, 2017

Official Summary

Sometimes school can be scary, and even embarrsing, but not today.  Today is Birdie’s birthday, and everything will be perfect!  Birdie’s panda-riffic cupcakes are beautiful, and there’s one for everyone.  She will be the star of the class.  But then…disaster!  A trip and fall on the way to school means no more cupcakes!  Who can save the day?  Who can make the class smile again?  This is a job for Birdie’s alter ego…the Amazing Crafty Cat!

After a quick transformation, Birdie is ready.  She’s not afraid of sticky paws or paper cuts.  She’s not afraid of anything, not even Anya, the class bully.  It’s time to get crafting!


To be clear from the start: this book is not actually about a cat.  Yeah, I was disappointed, too.  Crafty Cat is the imaginary alter ego of our human protagonist Birdie.  And while I have no idea why imagining herself as a cat of all things gives Birdie confidence or why she must envision herself as a cat whenever she does crafts to try to creatively problem solve, I grant that it works for her.  The story centers on Birdie/Crafty Cat’s quest to save an in-school birthday celebration that keeps going horribly wrong.

I really liked that this book centers around a very normal and relatable activity for a lot of children: bringing cupcakes in to share with their class on their birthday.  (Though Birdie’s class seems to have a rule that you can do any birthday activity of your choice; you don’t need to bring in snacks.)  Things go wrong for Birdie throughout the course of the school day, and while I recognize some of these things as relatively “trivial” problems as a adult, I also know I would have been equally upset/mortified as Birdie is if some of these things had happened to me when I was younger.  (Mom can’t drop everything she’s doing and bring something I forgot to school?!  Crisis!)  Chraise Mericle Harper really gets into Birdie’s mind and envisions a book that will appeal to children.

Birdie is also a very realistic character. She’s kind and creative and cares about her friends.  But she also gets grumpy when things don’t go her way and has reasonable flaws.  The side characters are also nicely outlined, considering how little page time they get in the story.  I would have only liked to see more of Anya the bully, or at least more resolution of her role in the story.

The artwork is pastel and somewhat sparsely drawn.  Personally I tend to be a fan of more lavish artwork, things I can spend a long time looking at and still find more detail to appreciate. However, the art here is clean and easy to follow.  There are also a few whimsical touches in the background.

It took me awhile to get into the story and I think the structure could be stronger, but the plot is very relatable and Birdie is a realistic protagonist.  There are also some fun panda crafts in the back of the book, so readers can be more like Birdie.


Saints by Gene Luen Yang


Goodreads: Saints
Series:  Boxers and Saints #2
Source: Purchased
Published: 2013


Abused by her family, a young peasant girl flees her village and becomes a Christian convert.  Now named Vibiana, she struggles to understand her calling in light of the visions she sees of Joan of Arc. When the Boxer Rebellion arrives at the gates, Vibiana will have to decide how strongly she believes in the faith she has adopted.


Drawn mostly in sepia tones, Saints is a more reflective volume than its longer predecessor, Boxers.  In a parallel story, it follows a girl from Bao’s village as she leaves her unloving family and becomes a Christian convert–initially because she thinks Christians are “foreign devils” and that she is assuming the demon nature her family has ascribed to her.  As the story progresses and the Boxer Rebellion gains in intensity, however, Vibiana must choose if she really values the faith she has been living.

Saints is a thought-provoking story, though its use of humor might obscure it reflectiveness for some readers.  Vibiana does not convert out of any spiritual or intellectual conviction, and her growth seems from the outside a little rocky.  She has a habit of asking questions that annoy some of the adults (though others appreciate her thirst for truth and knowledge) and she sometimes seems a little flippant about the faith, to the the despair of the priest who burns himself with an intensity others find uncomfortable.  The wide range of Christians depicted, however, ultimately suggests that there is room for all in the faith as they struggle on trying to find their way and trying to become better.

Also intriguing are the visions of Joan of Arc, a figure Vibiana does not recognize and whose unfolding story intrigues her as she gets to live it.  Joan inspires Vibiana with a desire to be like her by picking up a sword and fighting for her country.  Juxtaposed with Bao’s own visions of the opera gods and his seeming ability to transform into them on the battlefield,  Joan appears enigmatic.  Is she real?  Is Vibiana really seeing her?  Ultimately,  Vibiana must decipher for herself the message Joan brings and what that means for her own future.

Together, Boxers and Saints form a thoughtful look at the Boxer Rebellion, the motivations that drive people to commit acts of violence or acts of great sacrifice, and the ways in which war can distort one’s perception of what is right and what is wrong.

4 stars