May 2023


May 2023 Stars & Big Picture

Starred titles are books of special distinction. See the archives for selections from previous months.

Brown, Don83 Days in Mariupol: A War Diary; written and illus. by Don Brown. Clarion, 2023 [128p]
Trade ed. ISBN 9780063311565 $22.99
E-book ed. ISBN 9780063311589 $10.99
Reviewed from digital galleys R* Gr. 9-12

See this month’s Big Picture, below, for review.

Davis, G. Haron, ed. Transmogrify!: 14 Fantastical Tales of Trans Magic. HarperTeen, 2023 [416p]
Trade ed. ISBN 9780063218796 $19.99
E-book ed. ISBN 9780063218826 $10.99
Reviewed from digital galleys R* Gr. 8-12

Estrela, JoanaPardalita; tr. from the Portuguese by Lyn Miller-Lachmann; written and illus. by Joana Estrela. Levine Querido, 2023 [224p]
Trade ed. ISBN 9781646142552 $21.99
Paper ed. ISBN 9781646142569 $16.99
Reviewed from digital galleys R* Gr. 7-10

Eggers, DaveMoving the Millers’ Minnie Moore Mine Mansion: A True Story; illus. by Júlia Sardà. Candlewick, 2023 [56p]
Trade ed. ISBN 9781536215885 $19.99
Reviewed from digital galleys R* Gr. 2-4

Lê, MinhReal to Me; illus. by Raissa Figueroa. Knopf, 2023 [40p]
Library ed. ISBN 9780593377505 $21.99
Trade ed. ISBN 9780593377499 $18.99
E-book ed. ISBN 9780593377512 $10.99
Reviewed from digital galleys R* 3-6 yrs

McWilliams, KellyYour Plantation Prom Is Not Okay. Little, 2023 [320p]
Trade ed. ISBN 9780316449939 $18.99
E-book ed. ISBN 9780316450133 $10.99
Reviewed from digital galleys R* Gr. 8-12

Nelson, S. D.Grandma’s Tipi: A Present-Day Lakota Story; written and illus. by S.D. Nelson. Abrams, 2023 [40p]
Trade ed. ISBN 9781419731921 $18.99
E-book ed. ISBN 9798887070599 $15.54
Reviewed from digital galleys R* Gr. 1-4

Oh, Ellen, ed. You Are Here: Connecting Flights. Allida/HarperCollins, 2023 [272p]
Trade ed. ISBN 9780063239081 $18.99
E-book ed. ISBN 9780063239104 $11.99
Reviewed from digital galleys R* Gr. 6-9

Paasewe-Valchev, MayonnThere Flies the Witch. Greenwillow, 2023 [224p]
Trade ed. ISBN 9780062993649 $18.99
E-book ed. ISBN 9780062993663 $10.99
Reviewed from digital galleys R* Gr. 4-7

Peoples, DariaHello, Mister Blue; written and illus. by Daria Peoples. Greenwillow, 2023 [32p]
Trade ed. ISBN 9780063206755 $19.99
Reviewed from digital galleys R* 6-9 yrs

Sindu, SJShakti; illus. by Nabi H. Ali. HarperAlley, 2023 [256p]
Trade ed. ISBN 9780063090132 $24.99
Paper ed. ISBN 9780063090118 $15.99
E-book ed. ISBN 9780063090149 $10.99
Reviewed from digital galleys R* Gr. 5-7

Spalding, AmyNo Boy Summer. Amulet/Abrams, 2023 [304p]
Trade ed. ISBN 9781419757525 $18.99
E-book ed. ISBN 9781647004439 $15.54
Reviewed from digital galleys R* Gr. 8-12

Van Otterloo, AshThe Beautiful Something Else. Scholastic, 2023 [288p]
Trade ed. ISBN 9781338843224 $17.99
E-book ed. ISBN 9781338843248 $17.99
Reviewed from digital galleys R* Gr. 4-7

83 Days in Mariupol: A War Diary

Written and illus. by Don Brown

In the most aggressive land grab by a major global power post World War II, Russian President Vladimir Putin declared a “special military operation” on February 24, 2022, with 190,000 Russian soldiers pouring into Ukraine. Most politicians and pundits believed Kyiv would fall in a matter of days; few expected the Ukrainians to resist, much less engage with and hold off Russian troops, and yet for over a year, the Ukrainians have successfully defended their country. News of bombings and destruction initially took over the headlines, and so too did a David versus Goliath narrative, rightfully positioning the Ukrainians as the smaller, more noble force against a vicious behemoth. It’s an inspiring—and correct—portrayal, but its optimism has eclipsed some of the true horrors of the war, casting the events as more a movie to some, especially Westerners who have the luxury of being far from the frontlines. In this month’s Big Picture, noted author/illustrator Brown offers up an intensely powerful graphic novel that humanizes an overwhelming tragedy, disabusing the reader of any notion that the invasion is anything but a still unfolding catastrophe.

The book opens with a brief history of Russia and Ukraine’s historical relationship, followed by an explanation that Mariupol is the highly sought after “gateway to the sea,” a strategic necessity to win the war and thus the target of Russia’s barrage of missiles and violence. The account then shifts fully to the experiences of that city’s residents and the monstrous acts they endure until Ukrainian forces fall back in the late spring of 2022. Brown’s masterful composition layers the emotional impact throughout, utilizing each element of the graphic novel format to function much like a documentary, chronicling the violence, terror, and bravery seen in the 83 days of intense battle. Text in narrative boxes is clipped, factual, like a news report or voiceover; these are the details behind the headlines, conveyed with a concise brevity that gives readers a solid, if unnerving, framework. That picture is sharpened with quotes, taken directly from newspaper and magazine interviews with citizens under siege (sourced in backmatter), appearing in dialogue bubbles, weighting the dispassionate facts with an aching, palpable grief over a home, a country irreparably damaged. The speaker often breaks the fourth wall, peering back at the reader with expressions of anger, despair, or more disturbingly, resignation, as the daily struggle for survival strips lives of safety and joy.

And then, of course, there are the haunting illustrations, rendered in watercolor and ink, showing what words cannot possibly convey. Brown strategically eschews cinematic flair in favor of more spare, focused scenes, homing in on individual moments of pain that when strung together offer a relentlessly pummeling visual of war. A single page of three horizonal panels, for example, show a world quickly, ruthlessly destroyed: the first box a neatly contained visual of a group of boys playing soccer, then a mess of flames and explosions tearing through the border, leaving the body of a bloodied child on a soccer field, surrounded by boys stumbling off the page in grief. In another spread, the aftermath of a brutal rape is just barely illuminated by a lightbulb, swinging from the top of the page above a Russian solder redressing as a young woman cries in the corner.

Readers rarely revisit locations or hear from the same person, and while the constant change in perspective could have seemed haphazard in lesser authorial hands, Brown’s movement among the people lends a purposeful intimacy to the chaos. When the action then comes to an abrupt, heartbreaking stop as Ukrainian soldiers surrender, readers understand the true scope of the tragedy beyond the final scenes’ smoking buildings and scorched streets. Young people who may have seen the headlines will know this to be an honest, albeit grim, ending to an account that can only offer hope in the idea that while this particular battle was lost, the human drive for survival might still yet hold off—and perhaps even defeat—the human capacity for cruelty.

—Kate Quealy-Gainer, Editor

Cover illustration © 2023 Don Brown from 83 Days in Mariupol: A War Diary, used by permission of the publisher, HarperCollins.