January 2023 Stars & Big Picture
Starred titles are books of special distinction. See the archives for selections from previous months.
Bow, Erin Simon Sort of Says. Disney Hyperion, 2023 [320p]
Trade ed. ISBN 9781368082853 $16.99
E-book ed. ISBN 9781368089999 $10.99
Reviewed from digital galleys R* Gr. 6-8
Brun-Cosme, Nadine Rabbit, Duck, and Big Bear; illus. by Olivier Tallec. Random House Studio, 2023 [40p]
Trade ed. ISBN 9780593486986 $18.99
E-book ed. ISBN 9780593487006 $10.99
Reviewed from digital galleys R* 4-7 yrs
Bryant, Elise Reggie and Delilah’s Year of Falling. Balzer + Bray, 2023 [400p]
Trade ed. ISBN 9780063212992 $18.99
E-book ed. ISBN 9780063213012 $9.99
Reviewed from digital galleys R* Gr. 7-12
Dalton, Angela To Boldly Go: How Nichelle Nichols and Star Trek Helped Advance Civil Rights; illus. by Lauren Semmer. Harper, 2023 [40p]
Trade ed. ISBN 9780063073210 $18.99
E-book ed. ISBN 9780063292796 $12.99
Reviewed from digital galleys R* 6-10 yrs
Gansworth, Eric My Good Man. Levine Querido,2022 [424p]
Trade ed. ISBN 9781646141838 $21.99
Reviewed from digital galleys R* Gr. 8-12
Hardinge, Frances Unraveller. Amulet/Abrams, 2023 [432p]
Trade ed. ISBN 9781419759314 $19.99
E-book ed. ISBN 9781647005627 $15.54
Reviewed from digital galleys R* Gr. 7-10
Parappukkaran, Sandhya The Boy Who Tried to Shrink His Name; illus. by Michelle Pereira Abrams, 2023 [40p]
Trade ed. ISBN 9781419761584 $17.99
E-book ed. ISBN 9781647006594 $15.54
Reviewed from digital galleys R* 4-8 yrs
Rubin, Adam The Human Kaboom; illus. by Marta Altés, Daniel Gray-Barnett, Rodolfo Montalvo, Daniel Salmieri, Adam de Souza, and Gracey Zhang. Putnam, 2023 [416p]
Trade ed. ISBN 9780593462393 $18.99
E-book ed. ISBN 9780593462416 $10.99
Reviewed from digital galleys R* Gr. 4-8
Strong, Karen, ed. Cool. Awkward. Black. Viking, 2023 [336p]
Trade ed. ISBN 9780593525098 $18.99
E-book ed. ISBN 9780593525111 $10.99
Reviewed from digital galleys R* Gr. 5-9
Turner, Erika And Other Mistakes. Feiwel, 2023 [320p]
Trade ed. ISBN 9781250834843 $19.99
E-book ed. ISBN 9781250834850 $10.99
Reviewed from digital galleys R* Gr. 9-12
Weinersmith, Zach Bea Wolf; written by Zach Weinersmith; illus. by Boulet. First Second, 2023 [208p]
Trade ed. ISBN 9781250776297 $19.99
Reviewed from digital galleys R* Gr. 3-7
See this month’s Big Picture, below, for review.
Woon, Yvonne My Flawless Life. Tegen/HarperCollins, 2023 [352p]
Trade ed. ISBN 9780063008694 $17.99
E-book ed. ISBN 9780063008717 $9.99
Reviewed from digital galleys R* Gr. 9-12
Written by Zach Weinersmith; illus. by Boulet
In this magnificent graphic novel retelling of Beowulf, an epic standoff between a man who loathes joy and the kids who flaunt their unbridled delight in his face (or more accurately, in a treehouse near his property) comes to a head, requiring the fabled Bea Wolf to come and stop the monster (or more accurately, the monstrous man) and save the innocent.
Treeheart was built by kids, the dream of one king in a line of many just, noble, and wise rulers, and the treehouse is a symbol of freedom from surly teens and hopelessly boring adults—the kids are quite literally above it all. One evening, however, their noise enrages Mr. Grindle, “Gloom’s guardian, teacher of grief! Born mustache-mouthed, tie-bound, Baron of Boredom.” Horrifyingly, Grindle has the power to destroy the luster of childhood with a single touch and thus turns nearly all of the children into much older, far more sullen versions of themselves. He has won! But wait, the few children that he has missed have one last hope, a savior from a fate of appreciating tax codes and eating carob cakes (“Lies! Fruit in cake’s clothing. Fibs enfleshed in flour!”). She is the hero who can right the wrongs and reinstate the wonders of childhood—she is Bea Wolf and she is verily a beacon of hope.
This is true bardic glory, a wild embrace of absurdity and wit with exaggerated language used for maximum impact: “Helmets of undies, no hand-me-downs these—fresh from the undie-pack! Your leader sparkles with power and also with sparkles.” It’s a drama that matches the kids’ fervent calls for childhood chaos, as if the fate of growing up is worse than death. Weinersmith leans into this with a zeal and unabashed dedication that will likely have older readers feeling a pang of loss as they find themselves closer to Carl, the original fearless leader of the kids, who is now a teen bagging groceries with only his legacy and memories as cold comfort.
Boulet’s illustrations are no less epic than the story, and the finely lined black and white drawings invite careful examination, with the payoff being clever visual side jokes. Grindle is particularly memorable, with angular lines and foreboding shadows, standing in sharp contrast with the open, brighter faces of the kids. The overflowing scenes of youthful revelry war for page space with the crowded scenes of adulting, offering a visual embodiment of self-expression battling with the inevitability of time (which, of course, eventually takes over everything). That is a darker consideration for another day, however, and effervescent youth triumphs here, even against as fearsome an enemy as Grindle.
Readers willing to digest some words after so many glorious, chaotic pictures will be richly rewarded by a highly detailed and lengthy author’s note, which wryly acknowledges that the only ones making it to the note’s end are probably librarians or future writers. In addition to a comparison of this graphic novel to the original Beowulf (about a third of which was adapted, with the author noting that the head eating parts of the original would freak out modern parents too much), the end matter features plentiful background information on the writing style and language, as well as drafts of illustrations. Long live the memory of Bea Wolf, hero to the oppressed and defeated, and long live Weinersmith and Boulet, faithful bard and illustrator of the tale.
—April Spisak, Reviewer
Cover illustration © 2023 Boulet from Bea Wolf, used by permission of First Second.