as the crow flies

When I was researching my all-ages guide to girl power graphic novels, I expected to come across some amazing books. I could not have predicted how much I would love Melanie Gillman’s young adult graphic novel As the Crow Flies, though. It’s beautiful in so many ways: from art, to story, to emotional honesty, to tackling tough subjects. I LOVED it, and I think you will too.

as the crow flies by melanie gillman book cover
Charlie Lamonte is thirteen years old, queer, black, and questioning what was once a firm belief in God. So naturally, she's spending a week of her summer vacation stuck at an all-white Christian youth backpacking camp. As the journey wears on and the rhetoric wears thin, she can't help but poke holes in the pious obliviousness of this storied sanctuary with little regard for people like herself… or her fellow camper, Sydney.

Queer black teen Charlie’s parents have signed her up for a week at an all-girls Christian backpacking camp. Charlie has misgivings, but when she arrives and sees a room full of white girls she feels even more like an outsider. Charlie determines to stick it out – but along the way she questions her faith, her presence in the group, and whether she’s truly alone. How will the week end?

One of the strengths of this book is that it is truly Charlie’s story. She’s at the intersection of a couple of marginalized identities, and very aware of that fact. Add in to the mix what is sometimes a hostile (or seemingly hostile) environment and faith into the mix, and the result could have been a muddle. But Gillman’s careful storytelling avoids that. Charlie’s internal dialogues are key to the story, and her honesty (both with herself and with others) is the key to moving forward and finding something positive to carry with her.

A thread throughout the book is questioning the narratives that are being taught by society and the authorities in our lives – and in Charlie’s case, this means the camp story of the women who have gone before and been transformed by the journey (as told by the hike leader Bee). Charlie – sometimes openly and sometimes not – asks important questions that reveal racism and a limited version of feminism. Those around her react in a variety of ways that reflect reality: sometimes people learn and change, and sometimes they stick to their comfort zones. Meanwhile, Charlie’s struggling with her faith through prayer. I found those panels heartbreakingly earnest and honest.

If it’s not clear already, I believe Gillman tells Charlie’s story with sincere, heartfelt grace. Readers will see that and respond to it. As the Crow Flies is quietly magnificent.

And the art! I haven’t even covered it yet. The art is colored pencil and lovely – done in a warm color palette that works with the setting. The beauty of the art elevates the story. Gillman chose to illustrate some key scenes in creative ways – from overhead shots, to emphasizing tiny details, to grand panoramas. Seriously, the book is worth reading for the art alone.

In all, As the Crow Flies is notable for its gorgeous illustration, unusual story in a usual setting (summer camp!), and the kind, open, and unaffected way it tackles important topics.

Recommended for: all readers ages 12 and up, and especially anyone interested in seeing religion, LGBTQ+ representation, and black teens navigating white spaces together in a graphic novel format.

the city on the other side

Fairyland has figured heavily in my pleasure reading for almost as long as I’ve been reading. First, because it is and was a staple of English-language fantasy (a favorite), and secondly because it was the sort of thing I didn’t have to hide from my mother (she never really took to fantasy, but fairies were okay because it’s classic myth!). But complicated feelings about fantasy aside, I read some really fabulous fairy stories as a young one, and I know kid me would have loved Mairghread Scott and Robin Robinson’s The City on the Other Side.

the city on the other side by mairghread scott and robin robinson book cover
In The City on the Other Side, a young girl stumbles into a pitched war between two fairy kingdoms, and the fate of San Francisco itself hangs in the balance!

Sheltered within her high-society world, Isabel plays the part of a perfectly proper little girl—she’s quiet, well-behaved, and she keeps her dresses spotlessly clean. She’s certainly not the kind of girl who goes on adventures.

But that all changes when Isabel breaches an invisible barrier and steps into another world. She discovers a city not unlike her own, but magical and dangerous. Here, war rages between the fairies of the Seelie and Unseelie Courts. Only Isabel, with the help of a magical necklace and a few new friends, stands a chance of ending the war before it destroys the fairy world, and her own.

From Mairghread Scott and Robin Robinson comes a colorful fantasy graphic novel set in early twentieth century San Francisco.

Isabel is a young girl growing up in post-1906 earthquake San Francisco. She lives a sheltered and privileged life, though not necessarily a happy one. She’s admonished not to be a bother, to be silent, and to stay clean. Meanwhile, she’s shuttled between two distracted and/or absent parents. So of course, she ends up in the middle of a fairy war!

One of the strong points in this story is Isabel’s development. Isabel finds purpose and lives through more action in the course of her adventures in fairyland than she has seen in her whole life, and it changes her. She develops her voice, decides who to trust, comes up with plans (even if they’re bad ones), and speaks up to those she loves. In the end she finds a way to live in both worlds.

Another great element of the story is the art. The art in a graphic novel tells just as much (if not more!) of the story as the words on the page, and this book has PHENOMENAL art. Robin Robinson has illustrated fairy creatures of all stripes and looks and mythological traditions. The fairy that can travel through walls and the ground? Super cool! Fairyland also has a direct counterpart in the real world, and the parts where they are overlaid with each other or set side-by-side are wonderful.

On the list of weaker story elements, I’d put the character development of Isabel’s parents and the set-up for and consequences of the fairy war (we see lots of broken down buildings, etc., but the true reason for the war wasn’t revealed until too late in the story). I would also have liked to see more historical elements (rather than just dress), since the story is set quite far in the past.

In all, The City on the Other Side is an enjoyable, beautifully-illustrated middle grade graphic novel featuring protagonists of color, a fairy war, and a race to save the world(s).

Recommended for: fans of graphic novels and fairy art, and readers ages 8 and up who are looking for a quick, fun read.

Fine print: I received a copy of this book for review consideration from the publisher. I did not receive any compensation for this post.

the color of earth

Have you ever participated in a readathon? I hadn’t before. Though I have devoted whole days to reading before (many times!), I didn’t understand how awesome or intense a 24-hour readathon would be. If you are interested in participating, this is the one I did, and the next one is scheduled for October 20, 2018. So, how does this relate to Kim Dong Hwa’s graphic novel The Color of Earth? I read it during the April readathon, of course!

the color of earth by kim dong hwa book cover
First love is never easy.

Ehwa grows up helping her widowed mother run the local tavern, watching as their customers - both neighbors and strangers - look down on her mother for her single lifestyle. Their social status isolates Ehwa and her mother from the rest of the people in their quiet country village. But as she gets older and sees her mother fall in love again, Ehwa slowly begins to open up to the possibility of love in her life.

In the tradition of My Antonia and A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, from the pen of the renowned Korean manwha creator Kim Dong Hwa, comes a trilogy about a girl coming of age, set in the vibrant, beautiful landscape of pastoral Korea. 

Ehwa is the daughter of a widowed tavern-keeper in rural Korea, and though life is at times lonely due to her mother’s social status, it is also filled with unexpected beauty. As Ehwa grows up, her understanding of the world grows as well, and she relies on her mother for guidance and wisdom. But as her mother is letting romantic love back in, Ehwa discovers first attraction as well – one that may be complicated.

In this first of three connected volumes, the author writes and illustrates vignettes adapted from his mother’s life as a young girl growing up in pastoral Korea from many years past. The book is focused on Ehwa’s coming of age, and her rich inner life is the heart of the story (instead of dialogue, which most graphic novels rely on heavily).

There is much to love here: excellent art (black and white line work in an anime style with exquisite details in some panels), a strong mother-daughter relationship that features advice-giving, secret-telling, and teaching, an introduction to Korean culture through the meanings of flowers, among other things.

The story is also, if you read it closely, told through a male lens. The book’s blurb compares it to coming-of-age classics A Tree Grows in Brooklyn and My Ántonia. While it does share many similarities with those books, including a portrayal of Ehwa’s budding sexuality over time, it does not have some of the… how shall I say this… gentleness? or understanding? maybe the word I’m looking for is empathy? for a young girl growing up in a world designed for men. I can’t describe it any better than that, but you’ll (probably) understand what I mean.

So, who is this book for? I think it’s for fans of traditional manga or anime – folks who’ve read graphic novels before. But it is also a beautiful introduction into Korean dress, culture, art styles, and so on – and it could be used in education units. It would also be a good pick for those who like graphic novels but don’t usually read historical fiction.

In all, The Color of Earth is a quiet read with strong emotional underpinnings and gorgeous art. I’d pair it with The Undertaking of Lily Chen.

Recommended for: graphic novel fans ages 14 and up, and those who appreciate coming-of-age and historical fiction.

the things that i love about trees

I’ve mentioned this on Instagram before, but one of my local indie bookshops is just down the street from the place I get my hair done. I stop by to browse their picture books nearly every time I walk by, and thus I buy their latest selection, because I have several little ones in my life and no self-control in bookstores. I picked up Chris Butterworth and Charlotte Voake’s The Things That I Love About Trees the last time I was there, and I really adore it.

the things that i love about trees by chris butterworth, illustrated by charlotte voake book cover
In an exuberant text accompanied by gorgeous, windswept illustrations, two esteemed picture-book creators celebrate the mighty tree.

Journey through the seasons and discover how much there is to love about trees! From brand-new buds in spring to the sound of the wind whooshing through the leaves in summer, from the fall colors to the feel of winter's rough bark and the promise of spring returning again -- no matter what time of year, there's always something extraordinary to notice about the trees around your neighborhood. Chris Butterworth's text, gently sprinkled with facts, captures the wonder of a child as Charlotte Voake's busy, buoyant artwork conveys how something as simple and common as a tree can feel like magic taking root around you.

There’s just something wonderful about trees, isn’t there? I’ve always thought so, and I especially thought so growing up in the Pacific Northwest with a front yard full of trees, forts, and pine needles. Chris Butterworth’s nonfiction picture book about trees leads readers through the seasons, starting with spring, and describes how trees act and grow in the changing environment.

The Things That I Love About Trees invites engagement with the senses – Butterworth tells readers how trees react to hot days and storms, reminds them what to listen for, and describes the feel of bark and leaves. It may be printed on traditional paper, but it is a sensual buffet. It made me want to go outside on a tree-spotting walk, and I’m sure others will feel the same!

This book is perfect for a range of young readers – very little ones will love the illustrations and simplicity of the big text story that goes on a seasonal journey. Slightly older and independent readers will enjoy the brief tree facts in smaller text on each page. Adults will appreciate the book’s year-round readability, as each season in a tree’s life cycle is represented. The combination of beautiful art and interesting tree facts ensure that this book will be re-read over and over with love.

Oh, did I mention the art? Charlotte Voake’s illustrations are done in beautiful ink and watercolor, with broad, abstract strokes contrasted with precise, tiny details. The illustrations allow for generous white space on most pages, and the humans and animals included in the illustrations provide scale to trees (and keep the book from being an overwhelming smorgasbord of greenery).  The human figures are mostly fairly indistinct – trees are the focus of the book, after all! The pages depicting enormous summer-time tree trunks were perhaps my favorite – they reminded me of the great trees I’ve seen in my life.

My two personal favorite things about the book were the endpapers, which feature close-ups with different kinds of tree leaves and their identifying information, and the final page spread at the end which suggests tree-adjacent activities and guides younger readers in how to do research! The author doesn’t talk down to his young readers, and that’s always nice to see.

In all, The Things That I Love About Trees is full of facts that will delight curious kids, and perhaps prompt them to want to learn more (and see more)!

Recommended for: tree-lovers and -huggers of all ages, young readers who want to know how things work, fans of Kate Messner's Over and Under the Snow, and teachers doing environmental, natural world, and season-focused units.
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