SUNNY SIDE UP by Jennifer L. Holm & Matthew Holm

From the groundbreaking and award-winning sister-brother team behind Babymouse comes a middle-grade, semi-autobiographical graphic novel. Following the lives of kids whose older brother’s delinquent behavior has thrown their family into chaos, Sunny Side Up is at once a compelling “problem” story and a love letter to the comic books that help the protagonist make sense of her world.

sunny

Thanks Scholastic for sending an advanced reading copy of this serious yet funny middle-grade graphic novel.  The book definitely has the look and feel of Raina Telgemeier, and she is actually quoted on the front cover, “Heartbreaking and hopeful, SUNNY SIDE UP is just the thing to chase away the clouds.” I agree, Raina!

Ten-year-old, Sunshine (Sunny), is sent to spend the summer with her Gramps in a retirement complex in Florida. Through flashbacks, readers learn the reason for her visit. Sunny’s brother, Dale is struggling with substance abuse and had accidently punched Sunny when she tried to intervene. Rather than keeping secrets, Sunny realizes it’s better to discuss her feelings, and is able to do that with her Gramps.  It’s a good lesson to learn and I think it was done appropriately for the target age group.

While there are serious moments, there are plenty of funny bits with her Gramps and her new friend, Buzz. I laughed when “the girls” are introduced, and gift her with the Barbie toiler roll holder.  I also enjoyed that Sunny and Buzz bond over a shared love of comic books.  Full page spreads of popular comic heroes are featured; in fact, my favourite illustration is on page 176, of Sunny imagining her brother Dale turning into the Hulk!

Pick up this quick read on August 25, 2015.

Hansel & Gretel by Neil Gaiman

Best-selling author Neil Gaiman and fine artist Lorenzo Mattotti join forces to create Hansel & Gretel, a stunning book that’s at once as familiar as a dream and as evocative as a nightmare. Mattotti’s sweeping ink illustrations capture the terror and longing found in the classic Brothers Grimm fairy tale. Gaiman crafts an original text filled with his signature wit and pathos that is sure to become a favorite of readers everywhere, young and old.

hansel

Immediately, the atmospheric silhouette cover hints at the darkness inside this classic fairy tale. Since Neil Gaiman is known for his creepy storytelling, like The Graveyard Book, I was expecting something more than a basic retelling of Hansel & Gretel.  I was hoping for an interesting twist or surprise!

Luckily, between the text pages, interesting black and white spreads visually capture the reader.  The scratchy dark images look like a nightmare. Perfect for lines like, “They slept as deeply and soundly as if their food had been drugged. And it had (pg36).” How eerie yet fun would that be to read aloud to brave kids?

Upon the story’s conclusion, readers are treated to a bonus in the publisher’s note.   The note details the historical origin of Hansel & Gretel, including a bibliography.  I had never heard of the other folk tales, like “Nennillo and Nennella”.   If you liked Hansel & Gretel, try A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness.   It’s also a dark tale with the same sort of creepy black and white illustrations throughout.

Audrey (cow) by Dan Bar-el

Audrey is a cow with poetry in her blood, who yearns for the greener pastures beyond Bittersweet Farms. But when Roy the horse tells this bovine dreamer that she is headed for Abbot’s War, the slaughter house, Audrey knows that she must leave her home and friends sooner than she ever imagined. With the help of a whole crew of animals and humans alike, Audrey attempts to escape the farm she lives on–and certain death. Cleverly written as an oral account, this unique illustrated tale of an animal on the run, told “to camera”, uses over thirty narrative voices, including six humans, four cows, three sheep, two sheep dogs, one pig and a very silly rooster. Full of heart and humor, Audrey (cow) is ultimately a very human story about life and death, friendship, and holding on to one’s dreams–based more or less on a true story.

audrey

Audrey is a sweet middle grade read with a unique narrative style.  The story is told through transcripts of interviews with animals and humans. Adorable black and white illustrations are also included throughout.

When Audrey (cow) learns she is heading to the slaughterhouse, she enlists the help of a variety of farm and woodland animals. I was surprised to learn that Audrey was inspired by a true story of Charlene- a cow in Ohio that escaped the slaughterhouse. One can’t help to rejoice!  However, as a former vegetarian, I quickly found myself thinking (again!) about the treatment of animals for food. As Audrey states, ‘… I think that if I was to choose just one word to describe myself, that word would be alive.” Not only are animals alive, but they have personalities and emotions, and like Audrey, may even enjoy poetry! This book would be a great discussion starter on serious topics like the meat industry, treatment of animals and vegetarianism.

Fortunately, for Audrey, her story is a happy one. With themes of friendship and courage, this book is recommended for all animal lovers.

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