Book Review - ODD DUCK

Author: Cecil Castellucci
Illustrator: Sara Varon
Publisher: :01 First Second
Source: e-galley from NetGalley; Purchased Personal Copy
Audience: For all ages
Keywords: Graphic Novel Hybrid, Friendship,  

Description from publisher page:
Theodora is a perfectly normal duck. She may swim with a teacup balanced on her head and stay north when the rest of the ducks fly south for the winter, but there's nothing so odd about that.  

Chad, on the other hand, is one strange bird. Theodora quite likes him, but she can't overlook his odd habits. It's a good thing Chad has a normal friend like Theodora to set a good example for him.  

But who exactly is the odd duck here? Theodora may not like the answer. 

Sara Varon (Robot Dreams) teams up with Cecil Castellucci (Grandma's Gloves) for a gorgeous, funny, and heartwarming examination of the perils and pleasures of friendship.

My thoughts on the book:
Sometimes I want to just take the easy way out and say to everyone, "You'll love this book.  Go out and buy it." However, that is technically not a review but an endorsement of a book.  And yes, I endorse ODD DUCK as a book worth buying, but I will say more.

ODD DUCK can be slightly hard to describe.  It isn't exactly a picture book, nor is it a graphic novel.  It's really sort of a hybrid graphic novel/early reader/chapter book.  It is also not just for young children.  ODD DUCK can certainly entertain listeners and readers of all ages. There is a lot between the pages that young children will find funny or silly and simply an enjoyable story about two friends who happen to be ducks and a bit odd at that.  Adults who pick this up because they have enjoyed Castellucci's other books or Varon's graphic novels will also find meaning on the pages of this story and will identify with the story of friendship and being unique.  

The story is about a duck named Theodora who lives her life a little differently than the other ducks.

Soon, another duck moves into the neighborhood.  His name is Chad.  Theodora bakes him a cake as a welcoming gift and soon they have developed a special friendship.  But as it happens, sometimes things can come between friends.  Of course, for real friends, there is always a way back to that friendship. 

This past Saturday, I had an opportunity to attend the book event for ODD DUCK at Skylight Books in Los Feliz.  There were special ODD DUCK cupcakes on hand for the event.

Cecil Castellucci was there to share about how ODD DUCK came to be.  She shared that illustrator, Sara Varon felt a special connection with Theodora; whereas, Cecil sees herself a little more like Chad.

Cecil projected the story onto a screen and read it for everyone.  All of the children (and even big "kids") really enjoyed hearing about Theodora and Chad.

I was sitting over by Alethea (@frootjoos), Kristen Kittscher, and Elizabeth Ross.  Kristen was sharing her copy of ODD DUCK so that we had a close up look at Varon's quirky and just right artwork.

There is even an tree in the center of Skylight Books and if you look closely, author, Leslie Margolis was in the audience. 

If you haven't picked up a copy of ODD DUCK, I would encourage you to head over to your local bookstore and pick one up.  Remember to shop Indie whenever possible.

For more information:
Cecil Castellucci - website | facebook | twitter

Sara Varon - website | facebook 

Complete the Rafflecopter below to enter to win a signed copy of ODD DUCK. a Rafflecopter giveaway

Book Review: Anya's Ghost

Author/Illustrator: Vera Brosgol
Publisher: First Second Books (June 7, 2011)
Audience: Young Adult
Source: Purchased a copy
Graphic Novel * Paranormal * Young Adult 

Description from Goodreads:
Anya could really use a friend. But her new BFF isn’t kidding about the “Forever” part . . . Of all the things Anya expected to find at the bottom of an old well, a new friend was not one of them. Especially not a new friend who’s been dead for a century. Falling down a well is bad enough, but Anya’s normal life might actually be worse. She’s embarrassed by her family, self-conscious about her body, and she’s pretty much given up on fitting in at school. A new friend—even a ghost—is just what she needs. Or so she thinks. Spooky, sardonic, and secretly sincere, Anya’s Ghost is a wonderfully entertaining debut from author/artist Vera Brosgol.

Last summer, I discovered the world of graphic novels, particularly those for children and teens. (Yes, they have been around for a long-time, but I was slow in catching up.)   As I made them a part of my regular book diet, I also found ways to use them in working with children.  Consequently, I have tried to take note of new releases.  One of those new releases that caught my eye was Vera Brosgol's debut graphic novel - Anya's Ghost.

One of the qualities in a graphic novel that appeals to me is the creator's ability to deal with elements of real life in a way that will connect with readers.  Brosgol's first book does exactly this.  Her debut deals with themes familiar to most teens - fitting in, crushes, family relationships & expectations, friendship, decisions & consequences, and also how all this is made more complicated by being an immigrant. However, Brosgol doesn't stop there.  The real twist comes with the introduction of a century old ghost who is more than eager and willing to be Anya's BFF.  

Another aspect of the book that made the story work for me was that Anya truly grows as a character.  Through her experiences and interactions with her new friend, Anya comes to learn more about herself, those around her and what is important in life.  This can be tricky in a YA story.  How do you talk about things like being responsible or making hard decisions without coming across as preachy?  Brosgol manages to do it with humor, and sincerity.  

I also loved Brosgol's illustrative style.  Here is where I struggle....I lack all the right words to best describe how the simple color scheme used throughout the book fits the mood and theme or how the art is engaging and fun.  I am sure that there is a way to do this but unfortunately, I seem to lack the right words.  Maybe the best way to share about Brosgol's style is to share with you the official book trailer.

Check out the official book trailer for Anya's Ghost:

I am excited to add Vera Brosgol to my list of graphic novelists to keep an eye on.  She has a solid debut and I look forward to future books from this talented artist and writer. 

Vera Brosgol details the process she used to create Anya's Ghost.  Click here to read it.

Here is an interview with Vera Brosgol by Macmillan:
Check out Vera Brosgol's website:

Follow Vera Brosgol on Twitter: @verabee

Find her on Facebook:

Book Review: Bake Sale

Author/Illustrator: Sara Varon
Publisher: First Second (August 30, 2011)
Audience:  Ages 9 to 12 years old
Source: Advanced Readers Copy for Review
Graphic Novel * Middle Grade * Friendship

Description from GoodReads:

Cupcake’s life is pretty good. He’s got his bakery, and his band, and his best friend, Eggplant. His days are full of cooking, socializing, and playing music. But lately, Cupcake has been struggling in the kitchen. He’s sure the solution to all his problems is out there somewhere. But maybe that solution is hiding closer to home.

Sara Varon returns with an ageless tale as dreamy and evocative as her break-out hit graphic novel Robot Dreams. At once deeply metaphorical and hilariously literal, Bake Sale is a story for anyone who’s ever looked for an easy answer to life’s intractable difficulties. It’s also a cookbook: Varon includes seven delicious recipes, from classic cupcakes to sugared flower petals to marzipan.

Relatable book characters, things that make me laugh, and brownies are all things I like.  When all of these elements are included in the same book, it is a definite win.  Sara Varon's Bake Sale has all of those features and not just one recipe but seven (and I have heard from a reliable source that the dog biscuit recipe makes a lot and are well liked by furry friends).  Cupcake owns a bakeshop, hangs out with his best friend Eggplant, and plays drums in a band.  Life is good, and then Eggplant invites Cupcake on a trip to Turkey to meet his aunt who is friends with Turkish Delight.  Imagine being invited on a vacation where you will be able to meet one of your idols?  The challenge - getting the money to go.

Bake Sale is one of those graphic novels that will appeal to a variety of people.  Varon tackles issues of friendship, choices, consequences and sacrifices.  Cupcake's life struggles are realistic even if depicted in a humorous manner.  Children will enjoy it because of the friendship and how ultimately everything works out for Cupcake and Eggplant.  Adults will likely catch the deeper messages of how going after one desire may put in jeopardy some of the other things that are important in our lives (friendships or even work).  Everyone can enjoy Varon's simple yet distinct drawing style which will hook a reader.  Of course, there are still the recipes and I plan to make the brownie recipe when I book talk this one at my next teacher/librarian/bookseller group meeting.

This was my first Sara Varon graphic novel and when I finished reading Bake Sale, I immediately went to the bookstore to check out Robot Dreams.  I look forward to how I can use both Bake Sale and Robot Dreams with students this year.  

Bio from First Second:
Sara Varon is one of the rising stars in the indy comics scene. Her previous projects include the graphic novel Sweaterweather and the picture book Chicken and Cat, a 2006 Parent's Choice silver honor award winner. Originally from outside Chicago, Sara now resides in Brooklyn, where she likes to ride her bike, see movies, and hang out with dogs.

You can check out her website here:

Book Review - Hera: The Goddess And Her Glory

Author/Illustrator: George O'Connor
Publisher: First Second (July 19, 2011)
Audience: Young Adult
Source: Copy for Review
Graphic Novel * Mythology * Upper Middle Grade * YA

Description from GoodReads:

The story of Hera, Queen of the Gods, and the heroes who won her favor. 

Volume 3 of Olympians, Hera: The Goddess and Her Glory, introduces readers to the Queen of the Gods and Goddesses in the Pantheon. This volume tells the tales of the many heroes who sought and won Hera’s patronage, most notably Hercules.

In Olympians, O’Connor draws from primary documents to reconstruct and retell classic Greek myths. But these stories aren’t sedate, scholarly works. They’re action-packed, fast-paced, high-drama adventures with monsters, romance, and not a few huge explosions.

O’Connor’s vibrant, kinetic art brings ancient tales to undeniable life, in a perfect fusion of super-hero aesthetics and ancient Greek mythology.

Today I was talking with the Director of a local art center.  We got on the topic of graphic novels and he looked at me and bluntly said "You don't seem like someone who reads graphic novels".  I smiled.  I wasn't insulted by his comment.  There was a point when it would have been true.  I had little interest in something that seemed like glorified comics.  However, as an educator who desperately wants students to read and enjoy reading, I learned to stretch myself and to explore the world of graphic novels and manga.  And guess what?  I fell in love with graphic novels.  I have learned to appreciate both the art and the form of storytelling that comes within the pages of a good graphic novel.  Additionally, it has helped me to hook readers that might not otherwise be interested in a book.

In my journey to discover quality graphic novels to share with students, I discovered the Olympians Series by George O'Connor.  The series begins with Zeus which I felt was good.  However, personally, I thought the second release -  Athena was even better.  This may have had something to do with my personal preference (Athena vs. Zeus), but I also think it may be that O'Connor is growing as an artist and storyteller with each installment.

This brings me to Hera: The Goddess And Her Glory.  I have never been much of a personal fan of Hera.  She just seemed cruel and revengeful on some level.  However, O'Connor has managed to win me over.  Well, I still personally like Athena but with this installment, he has won me over enough to actually feel like this installment is the best in the series. 

O'Connor packs a lot into the 80 pages of this graphic novel.  In addition to the story, he provides an Olympian Family Tree, author notes, facts about key characters, recommendations, and my favorite - The Geek (Greek with the r crossed out) Notes.  Don't miss the Geek Notes.  I can't wait to get back to school and pull out my copies of Zeus and Athena and look up some of the things that O'Connor ties together between the three books.  Hmmmm...I can already imagine how I can turn this into a fun activity to do with kids.

So, sure all these little things are fun, but what is so special about the story you might be asking?  With Hera, O'Connor masterfully chose to focus on two critical parts of Hera's life.  He juxtaposed her life to both Zeus and Heracles (Hercules).  I never really thought of how Hera was in many ways the perfect partner for Zeus (who was no prize of a husband).  She was his equal.  Also, mostly I would have said that she just had it out for Heracles, but O'Connor chose to pull together lesser known stories that when woven together seem to emphasize more the ways that Hera's challenge prepared Heracles to ascend to Olympus.

This is part of O'Connor's brilliance as a storyteller.  The selection of facts/tales that when melded together challenge the reader to see with new eyes.  Will children or teens appreciate it?  Maybe not.  They will likely enjoy O'Connor's humor and wit much more.  However, adult readers will certainly "get it".

Teachers and librarians - Hera: The Goddess And Her Glory is a must have if you loved the previous books.  For those new to the Olympians, you are in for a pleasant surprise.  Also the Olympians are a perfect tie in for fans of Riordan's Percy Jackson Series

The Official Olympians Website:
Note: Teachers - there are lots of good resources on this      site.

The Official Website for George O'Connor:

Marvelous Middle Grade Monday - Zita The Spacegirl

Author/Illustrator:  Ben Hatke
Publisher: First Second (February 1, 2011)
Pages: 192
Ages: 9 to 12 years
Source: Personal Copy
Rating: Buy multiple copies - This one won't stay on the shelf for long.

Description from GoodReads:

Zita’s life took a cosmic left turn in the blink of  an eye.

When her best friend is abducted by an alien doomsday cult, Zita leaps to the rescue and finds herself a stranger on a strange planet. Humanoid chickens and neurotic robots are shocking enough as new experiences go, but Zita is even more surprised to find herself taking on the role of intergalactic hero. Before long, aliens in all shapes and sizes don’t even phase her. Neither do ancient prophecies, doomed planets, or even a friendly con man who takes a mysterious interest in Zita’s quest.

Zita the Spacegirl is a fun, captivating tale of friendship and redemption from Flight veteran Ben Hatke. It also has more whimsical, eye-catching, Miyazaki-esque monsters than you can shake a stick at.

When I first heard about Zita The Spacegirl, I knew I wanted to read it.  Then I made the connection that Ben Hatke had contributed to the Flight series, and I really wanted to read it.  Fortunately for me, my 10 year old niece wasn't home when it arrived or we would have had a tug of war over who got to read it first.  (Yeah, I know an adult fighting with a child about who gets to read a book first is kind of childish.  I assure you that I do let her win.) Once the book was in my hands, I sat down and devoured it immediately.  

Hatke's first foray into the world of full-length middle grade graphic novels is quite a success.  The story follows Zita and her friend, Joseph.  After an meteoroid hits the earth, Joseph is abducted into space and Zita follows to rescue him.  Confused and alone, Zita encounters a myriad of space creatures - some friendly and some not so friendly.  With the help of her new friends and some quick thinking, Zita finds herself in the role of hero.  However, being a hero usually means that a lot goes wrong first. 

Though the transitions felt a little clunky in the beginning, Hatke finds his groove and leaves the reader wanting more by the end.  Zita and her friends will delight middle grade readers and fans of Flight, Flight Explorer, or The Amulet Series will have a new series to clamor after.  Now if Ben Hatke and Kazu Kibuishi (The Amulet Series) can just keep alternating release dates of their graphic novels, I (and my niece and students) might just be able to wait for the next book.   

For more information about Zita and her creator, Ben Hatke, check out his website here

To read an excerpt from Zita The Spacegirl, click here.

Check out the Official Book Trailer below:

* Marvelous Middle Grade Mondays were started by Shannon over at Ramblings of a Wannabe Scribe. You can check out her Marvelous Middle Grade Monday choice and Giveaway Post here.