The Runaways are having a bit of a moment. The current run of the comic book series is written by superstar author Rainbow Rowell, and the characters have been adapted for television as Marvel’s Runaways. The show, currently in its first season on Hulu, is set in the Marvel Cinematic Universe continuity and was recently greenlit for a second season.
Not sure who the Runaways are? Created in 2003 by Brian K. Vaughan and Adrian Alphona, the original run of Runaways was a breath of fresh air in a medium that doesn’t see compelling new superheroes – or superhero teams – all that often.
In a nutshell, the Runaways are a group of kids whose parents were all villains known as the Pride. Once they discovered their parents were evil aliens, time travelers, magicians, and mutants, the kids turned on them and joined forces to defeat their parents and – ultimately – atone for their sins.
Do you like Star Wars? Stupid question, I know. Who doesn’t, right? Let me rephrase. Is what you love about Star Wars the exotic locales, weird aliens, and snarky characters who have nothing to lose? Do you want to see what might happen if Star Wars and Guardians of the Galaxy had a love child?
Of course you do. And boy do I have good news for you.
Michael Moreci’s Black Star Renegades is so clearly an homage to our favorite galaxy far, far away that it wouldn’t surprise me if it started out as fanfic (or if Moreci wrote the book to prove he has the chops to write Star Wars canon – which he does).
I don’t know about you, but I’ve found it’s sometimes hard to get kids interested in certain historical figures. Unless they’re famous for something that REALLY interests my kids, they all too often shrug off my attempts to get them to learn more.
“Yeah, sure, Marie Curie. She’s cool, but nah, I don’t really want to read that book about her.”
Frustrating, to say the least.
And that’s where Zen Pencils comes in handy. Couched in “inspirational quotes” and presented with approachable art, the book introduces kids to almost two dozen trailblazers throughout history in a way that engages them and makes them want to learn more.
I’m gonna be honest here. This is not usually my kind of book. I’m not necessarily the target audience. But because it’s written by Cecil Castellucci, I had to give it a go.
And boy am I glad I did. (Listen to my conversation with Castellucci here.)
Don’t Cosplay with My Heart is an ode to the glorious and brutal reality of being a young nerd today. Which is a totally different thing from being a young nerd in the 80s and 90s, which hits much closer to home.
- Canto Bight
- written by Saladin Ahmed, Rae Carson, Mira Grant, & John Jackson Miller
- published by Del Rey (2017)
So, in the lead-up to each new episodic Star Wars film, a series of books come out that are branded as a “journey” to that film. Each is tangentially related to the film and includes clues about the characters and events we’ll eventually see on screen. In the run up to The Force Awakens, we got Aftermath, Lost Stars, and a few junior novels.
This year, piggybacking on the excitement surrounding The Last Jedi, we’ve gotten Phasma, Leia: Princess of Alderaan, The Legends of Luke Skywalker, and now Canto Bight. Even though the books are all somewhat related to The Last Jedi, none outright includes spoilers or includes specific scenes from the film. And they all exist at different places along the “essential reading” spectrum.
So, what is Canto Bight? As a book, it’s a collection of four novellas from four authors that each takes place in and around a casino city very reminiscent of Las Vegas . . . if Vegas had aliens. As a location, Canto Bight is that casino city on the desert planet of Cantonica. It’s a place of excess and indulgence. It’s a “city of dreams, city of schemes, city of nightmares.” It’s an escape from the First Order, the Resistance, and the political turmoil engulfing the rest of the galaxy.
In short, it’s a place I think we could all use right about now.
The holidays are approaching, which means we’re currently getting assaulted with holiday-themed books and merchandise. Most of it doesn’t do much for me, but when the book features adorable Spider-Man and Spider-Gwen?
That gets my spider senses tingling.
- Swing It, Sunny
- written by Jennifer Holm
- illustrated by Matthew Holm
- published by Graphix / Scholastic (2017)
Here at Roarbots HQ, graphic novels are having a moment. Quite a moment. Our bookshelves and floors are overrun with them, and it seems like the kids always have one in their hands. Not a bad problem, to be sure.
And I’d be lying if I said brother-and-sister duo Jennifer and Matthew Holm weren’t particular favorites. Their Babymouse and Squish series of books routinely come home from the school library, and Sunny Side Up was a smash hit with both kids.
Zoey even sat down with Jennifer Holm a couple years ago (at the National Book Festival) to chat about the book, its messages, and creativity. Needless to say, Swing It, Sunny has been on our shortlist of anticipated book for quite a while.
This book first popped up on my radar after I read Bronze and Sunflower and was blown away by Helen Wang’s translation. I immediately went online to see what else she’d done, and The Ventriloquist’s Daughter came into my life.
Once again, Wang turns in a beautifully evocative translation that brings Lin’s story to life. Lin Man-Chiu is a well-known children’s author in Taiwan, and The Ventriloquist’s Daughter is the story of a young girl dealing with grief on multiple fronts. It’s also a somewhat surreal, mind-bending psychological twister that has more in common with The Twilight Zone than most modern YA books.
- The Winter Fox
- written by Timothy Knapman
- illustrated by Rebecca Harry
- published by Nosy Crow / Candlewick Press (2017)
Every year around this time, a bumper crop of winter- and holiday-themed picture books take over the bookstores. Some of them are blatant cash grabs, some are genuinely sweet and worth owning.
The Winter Fox is one that fits into the latter category. Originally published in the UK last year, this edition is distributed in the States by Candlewick Press and only just came out here.
It’s an adorable story of some forest friends preparing for winter, but one of them (the titular fox) is Mr. Procrastination. The Winter Fox is almost a reversal of the classic folk tale The Little Red Hen.
Every so often, a comic comes along that really “gets” parenthood and the surreal insanity that often accompanies it. Lynn Johnston’s For Better of For Worse is a classic of the genre. Lunarbaboon is a regular webcomic that simultaneously tags your funny bone and pulls at your heartstrings.
And now I’m adding Brian Gordon’s Fowl Language to that list. It’s flat-out hilarious and should be required reading for every parent: new, old, rookie, experienced, naive, or jaded.
- Great Big Things
- written by Kate Hoefler
- illustrated by Noah Klocek
- published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt (2017)
- Roar Score: 4/5
What’s that old adage? Oh, who am I kidding? You know what it is. Great things come in small packages, right? Well, Kate Hoefler’s Great Big Things is a beautiful picture book dedicated to that very idea.
Plus, it comes with a tagline on the cover that just screams movie poster: “Even the tiniest heart can be mighty.”
Echoes of Galadriel in the film version of The Fellowship of the Ring, sure, but come on. It’s still catchy.
Today, I’m thrilled to take part in a blog tour to celebrate the awesomeness of Science Comics. If you’re unaware, First Second Books has been quietly publishing an entire library of graphic novels that cover various nonfiction, scientific topics. From coral reefs to dinosaurs to flying machines to plagues, these books are a goldmine of accessible information for young readers.
They’re really great and should be on your shelf right now.
For a few weeks, the creators of some of these books are making the bloggy rounds (full list and links at the bottom of this post) to talk up the lineup and individual titles. Today, we welcome Jon Chad, who wrote and illustrated Volcanoes and who illustrated the upcoming Solar System.
I’m certainly not the first to say this, but Mac Barnett and Jon Klassen are consistently putting out some of the most compelling picture books on the market.
They’ve collaborated several times before, including on the extraordinary Sam and Dave Dig a Hole and a personal favorite here at Roarbots HQ: Triangle. Their books are deceptively simple but offer so much to chew on.
I even talked to Mac Barnett last year about how he pushes the boundaries of picture books and children’s literature in subtle (yet revolutionary) ways. And their newest collaboration – The Wolf, the Duck, & the Mouse – is no different.
- The Wendy Project
- written by Melissa Jane Osborne
- illustrated by Veronica Fish
- published by Super Genius / Papercutz (2017)
- Roar Score: 4/5
Sometimes it feels like there are just too many adaptations of J.M. Barrie’s Peter and Wendy. Every time you turn around, there’s another film version, another “reimagining,” or another new take on the classic tale. And many of them are, how should we say…less than thrilling.
So it was a genuine surprise to discover The Wendy Project, a graphic novel interpretation of the Peter Pan story that’s incredibly moving and explores the story’s fundamental themes along with a deeper dive into grief, family, and adolescence.
And it really is a fresh take on a familiar story.
As hard as it might be to believe, Curious George is still just as popular in 2017 as he’s been for the last 75 years. Yep: 75 years. Did I blow your mind? He’s gone from simple illustrations in a few picture books to becoming the center of a global franchise that includes an endless supply of books, toys, TV shows, and movies.
But have you ever wondered about the couple behind the perennially popular character, Margret and H.A. Rey? Turns out that have a remarkably compelling story, and the Curious George we all know and love almost never made it out of Nazi-occupied France!
- BB-8 On the Run
- written by Drew Daywalt
- illustrated by Matt Myers
- published by Disney-Lucasfilm Press (2017)
- Roar Score: 5/5
The job of most Star Wars books is twofold. First, they have to tell a compelling and interesting story. Second, they have to fill in some untold backstory or relate events that happened off screen for rabid fans who simply need to know everything.
The newest original picture book from the galaxy far, far away checks both boxes. BB-8 On the Run is a charming book with an important message for kids, and it also fills in a pretty major story hole from The Force Awakens.
Ben Hatke is something of a celebrity at Roarbots HQ. His Zita the Spacegirl trilogy is pure magic, and his other books (Little Robot, Julia’s House for Lost Creatures, and Nobody Likes a Goblin) are just downright enchanting.
We look forward to each new book as a major event, and the arrival of Mighty Jack and the Goblin King (the sequel to the phenomenally awesome Mighty Jack for First Second Books) set off all kinds of squee alarms around here.
If you’re familiar with our Questions from a Kid series of interviews and you haven’t seen Ben’s installment, you really should do yourself a favor and go check that out. Go ahead. I’ll wait.
- The Gauntlet
- written by Karuna Riazi
- published by Salaam Reads / Simon & Schuster (2017)
- Roar Score: 3/5
“Win and destroy the game, lose and be stuck in it forever.” Descriptions of Karuna Riazi’s debut novel The Gauntlet will naturally draw comparisons to Chris Van Allsburg’s classic Jumanji, which is only to be expected. Both are about board games that magically trap players in a dangerous, high-stakes world created within the confines of the game.
Riazi’s book, though, is free to explore the ramifications of what that experience might really be like – something Van Allsburg’s picture book couldn’t do in as much depth with a mere 32 pages.
Farah Mirza is 12 years old, and games are a standard in her family. But when a mysterious board game shows up during her birthday party, she assumes it’s a gift from her aunt. The Gauntlet of Blood and Sand.
Something seems a little…off about it, but she and her friends decide to crack it open and give it a go. And that’s when things start to go south.
- Dinosaur Pirates!
- written and illustrated by Penny Dale
- published by Nosy Crow / Candlewick Press (2017)
- Roar Score: 4/5
Look, sometimes you want a picture book to impart a deep meaningful message about life. Sometimes you need a picture book to help your kids get through a difficult time. Sometimes you want one that just makes you feel are warm and fuzzy inside.
Other times? You just want a book about dinosaurs. Or pirates. Or both! And that’s where Penny Dale’s appropriately named Dinosaur Pirates! comes in handy.
- Feminist Baby
- written and illustrated by Loryn Brantz
- published by Disney Hyperion (2017)
- Roar Score: 5/5
We’re beyond board books at Roarbots HQ, but sometimes a book comes along that just begs to stick around and become part of the collection. Feminist Baby is one of those books.
Listen, I could babble on and on about this book…or I could just let a 5-year-old read it to you (who insists on pronouncing it “venomous baby”). That’s a no-brainer.
(Disclosure: Disney Hyperion provided us with a review copy of this book. All opinions remain our own.)