izzy gizmo

Monday, May 21, 2018 | | 1 comments
For almost a decade I’ve been talking a big game about how when my friends and family have kids I fully intend to be “crazy Aunt Celia.” A defining characteristic of Aunt Celia is that she brings a new picture book with her whenever she visits. Well, the dream is now reality (and I’ll stop talking about myself in the 3rd person!). My friends have coached their little ones (parent: “What does Aunt Celia like to do?” child: “READ!!!”), picture books have become my #1 book buying category, and I couldn’t be more pleased (they’re so fun!). I’ve been really impressed by the recent crop of picture books, including Pip Jones’ Izzy Gizmo, beautifully illustrated by Sara Ogilvie.

izzy gizmo by pip jones, illustrated by sara ogilvie book cover
Izzy Gizmo just loves to invent, but her inventions never seem to work the way she wants them to. When she finds a crow with a broken wing she just has to help. Izzy tries again and again to build him a new pair of wings, but nothing is working. Can Izzy overcome her failures? Or will her new crow friend never fly again?

This wonderfully feisty new character from bestselling author Pip Jones is brought to life by acclaimed illustrator Sara Ogilvie.

Precocious young inventor Izzy lives with her supportive grandfather. She designs and builds machines of all kinds, though they don’t always seem to work as they ought. When Izzy finds an injured crow one day, she takes it home – and so begins her most ambitious project yet – to fix its wing.  However, some problems can’t be solved easily. Izzy will need to learn to try and try again before she succeeds.

Izzy Gizmo’s smart, quirky protagonist and her will to carry on despite setbacks will please plenty of children and their parents. The story is rhymed, which could annoy/delight depending on the reader. For my part, it lent the book charming, rhythmic pacing. I look forward to seeing what my nieces think about it – though I expect they’ll be focusing mainly on the vibrant illustrations (and possibly the crow sidekick).

Of course the pictures matter as much (or more!) than the story in some cases, and the art of Izzy Gizmo is eclectic, funny, and possibly inspiring for junior inventors in the wild. Beyond the bright colors themselves, I loved the small details in Ogilvie’s art, like a flying pig lamp, the grandfather’s recognizable Ikea armchair, a picture of an animal with a whole pot stuffed in its mouth at the vet’s office. These subtleties will make rereads a pleasure for both children and adults.

The single thing I loved most about the book? Izzy is a black girl with natural hair and glasses. Though the book has a light tone, Izzy learns serious lessons about coming up with original ideas, getting frustrated, researching to come up with a better solution… and in the end, going back to fix any messes you’ve made along the way. It’s positive picture book representation for smart little girls, and that’s important.

On a personal note, I may have been predisposed to like Izzy because I read this book the day I found out that I have a new niece with that name. This will (of course) be one of her gifts in the coming years.

In all, Izzy Gizmo is a smart, fun picture book with verve. It’ll pair excellently with Rosie Revere, Engineer and other Andrea Beaty books.

Recommended for: readers aged 4-8 and their adults, and especially young ones interested in how things work and/or inventing.

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

scarlett hart: monster hunter

I have the United Kingdom on the brain these days. First, there’s the royal wedding this Saturday (I’ve been invited to an early-morning watch party, and I’m making a Victoria Sponge). Second, next Saturday I’m headed to Scotland with my mom for a 12-day tour/adventure (!!!). And thirdly, I recently read and thoroughly enjoyed Marcus Sedgwick and Thomas Taylor’s England-set middle grade graphic novel Scarlett Hart: Monster Hunter.

scarlett hart: monster hunter by marcus sedgwick and thomas taylor book cover
Scarlett Hart, orphaned daughter of two legendary monster hunters, is determined to carry on in her parents’ footsteps—even if the Royal Academy for the Pursuit and Eradication of Zoological Eccentricities says she’s too young to fight perilous horrors. But whether it's creepy mummies or a horrid hound, Scarlett won’t back down, and with the help of her loyal butler and a lot of monster-mashing gadgets, she’s on the case.

With her parent’s archrival, Count Stankovic, ratting her out to T.R.A.P.E.Z.E. and taking all the monster-catching rewards for himself, it’s getting hard for Scarlett to do what she was born to do. And when more monsters start mysteriously manifesting than ever before, Scarlett knows she has to get to the bottom of it and save the city... whatever the danger!

In his first adventure for middle-grade readers, acclaimed YA author Marcus Sedgwick teams up with Thomas Taylor (illustrator of the original edition of 
Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone) to create a rip-roaring romp full of hairy horrors, villainous villains, and introducing the world’s toughest monster hunter—Scarlett Hart! 

As you can tell from the title, this is the story of Scarlett Hart, the orphaned heir to a monster-fighting legacy. She has a trusty butler and housekeeper on her side and an old mansion filled with cool gadgets to her name, but not much else. She’s too young to officially fight monsters, and her fellow monster-fighting bounty hunters don’t respect either her age or her family name.

In Sedgwick’s first foray into graphic novel territory, the action is pretty much non-stop, there are plenty of fight sequences, and cool gadgets, discoveries, and mysteries make their way into the narrative as well. It’s basically Sherlock Holmes crossed with Batman, with fantastical monsters and a preteen protagonist. In other words, reliable fun. The first page features a sea monster chomping down on a sailor, so it’s pretty clear from the get-go what you’re getting into.

Young readers will identify with wanting to fight their own battles and make a difference, and the frustration of not being taken seriously by adults. Adults will want to take it at face value as a fantasy, and not murmur too much at the irresponsible parenting. All readers will enjoy the transitions from one monster emergency to the next, with some extra big-picture mysteries and a possible open door left at the end for further adventures.

Now, the art! It was my favorite part of this book. The monsters were by far the best part – everything from zombies to ghostly dogs to sea monsters and more. It’s a field day for the imagination, but nothing gets so gory that a younger crowd can’t enjoy it. The color palette also enhance the story – darker, muted tones set a serious mood that complimented some of the lighter moments and contributed to the background scenery.

In all, Scarlett Hart: Monster Hunter is a graphic novel with rousing adventure art that will appeal to monster-obsessed kids.

Recommended for: graphic novel aficionados ages 10 and up, those who think a girl-powered Batman/Sherlock Holmes mashup sounds like fun, and fans of Jonathan Stroud’s Lockwood & Co. and Maryrose Wood's The Incorrigible Children of Ashton Place series.

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

how to trick the tooth fairy

When did you lose your first tooth? I think I was in first or second grade, and it happened on a camping trip (or was it at an outdoor swim meet? my memory is fuzzy). Like many children, after the shock and pain of losing a tooth had worn off I got super excited for a visit from the Tooth Fairy – I’d heard all about it from older friends. Erin Danielle Russell’s adorable How to Trick the Tooth Fairy combines the legend of the Tooth Fairy, pranks, and Jennifer Hansen Rolli’s charming art in one gorgeous picture book package.

how to trick the tooth fairy by erin danielle russell, illustrated by jennifer hansel rolli book cover
Kaylee loves pulling pranks: from dropping water balloons on passers by to even tricking Santa Claus, she’s a prize-winning prankster!

But is she the Princess of Pranks? No! That title is held by none other than the Tooth Fairy. But when Kaylee loses a tooth and the Tooth Fairy goes about her usual tooth-taking business, Kaylee pranks her with a fake frog. As Kaylee and the Tooth Fairy try to out-prank one another, things get way out of hand, until the two finally see eye and eye and decide to share the crown!

Kaylee loves to play pranks – she has a twinkle of mischief in her eye, her favorite holiday is April Fool’s Day, and she’s a prank princess in training. The only person who might be better than her at pranking is the Tooth Fairy herself!  When the Tooth Fairy arrives to collect one of Kaylee’s teeth, a truly epic prank battle begins. But how will it end? Will Kaylee be named reigning prank princess?

How to Trick the Tooth Fairy will tickle kids’ funny bones and (possibly) inspire future prank wars. There’s a mounting sense of competition throughout the story as both Kaylee and the Tooth Fairy try to one-up each other – though of course the Tooth Fairy has the ultimate advantage as a magical being. After some truly disastrous pranks, Kaylee and the Tooth Fairy join forces, which should cause readers to speculate long after finishing the book – which pranks would they pull next?

Young readers will love the flood of frogs, ice cream food fight, and thunderstorms that rain actual cats and dogs. Adults will appreciate the way that each page invites interaction – and that the story can be tweaked with every read through. There’s also a good lesson by the end – that cooperation and friendship can be better than even a prank war. The book invites year-round reading as kids lose teeth, but would be perfect in the lead up to April Fool’s Day as well.

I haven’t even mentioned one of the best parts yet – the art! Illustrator Hansen Rolli’s painted pages include lots of pink, frills, and trimmings and embellishments galore. The Tooth Fairy has pink hair and a handbag full of tricks, and Kaylee is a black girl with natural hair who is smart and cute and wears pink pajamas covered in crowns (truly, a princess). I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention that the dust jacket is also delightfully glittery. How to Trick the Tooth Fairy is the whole package – it’s so cute that you can’t help but be drawn to it, and the insides won’t disappoint.

In all, this fantastical picture book is full to the brim of hijinks, fun, and beautiful illustrations.

Recommended for: spirited 5-8 year old kids (especially girls!) everywhere, and their designated adult readers.

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

girl power graphic novels for all ages

I began reading graphic novels in adulthood – partially because I was very committed as a kid and tween to “reading up” (graphic novels would have been too easy!)(silly me), and partially because the kids’ graphic novel publishing explosion hadn’t yet hit. There weren’t that many gorgeous graphic novels for kids and teens about everything under the sun when I was young (or at least I didn’t know about them). If I read comics, I was reading the Sunday paper, the occasional Calvin & Hobbes compendium, and supermarket Archie comics second-hand.

To put together a list like this, and really feel proud of it, I had to do some research. It was a good excuse to dive in. I checked out 30+ books from my local library, and read some others that had been waiting in the wings. Conclusion? Graphic novels are alive and well! And there are fantastic girl power graphic novels for all ages.

Ages 8 & up

The City on the Other Side – The setting, stakes, and various fairy characters are the stars in this story about a girl in post 1906 earthquake-ravaged San Francisco who stumbles into the middle of a fairy war.

Cucumber Quest: The Doughnut Kingdom – Bright, beautiful art will draw in readers of all ages, and the magical story of siblings who may or may not be the Legendary Hero their kingdom needs will keep readers entertained.

El Deafo – Cece Bell’s funny, creatively-styled graphic memoir of growing up deaf, and having a superhero alter ego (as you do) is a delight. And I don’t just say that because we share a first name.

Giants Beware – Main character Claudette is set on slaying a giant – so of course she must go on a quest! With her best friends, of course. Suitable for even a slightly younger crowd – a six- or seven-year old advanced reader would love this adventure!

Roller Girl – This sweet Newbery Honor book focuses on friendship and surviving the trials of middle school through the power of roller derby.

Star Scouts – A space romp featuring a Hindi-speaking protagonist who goes off-planet for camp. Detailed art and robots galore.

Zita the Spacegirl – Heroism and friendship shine in this sci-fi tale, the first of a trilogy. Ben Hatke’s art is *kisses fingers.*

Ages 10 & up

The Adventures of Superhero Girl – Hicks writes and illustrates in classic comic strip style, detailing a-day-in-the-life of a young superhero. Will appeal to those who like traditional superhero comics & slice of life storytelling. There’s also a bear fight.

Lumberjanes – Female friendship is the real hero in this story of girls unraveling summer camp mysteries, fighting supernatural wildlife, and completing a magical quest.

Scarlett Hart: Monster Hunter – Titular heroine Scarlett Hart wants to continue in the family business (monster hunting) despite her youth. With a tragic backstory analogous to Batman’s (up to and including a devoted butler), she’ll get her dangerous wish. My favorite part? The art.

Ages 12 & up

As the Crow Flies – When queer black teen Charlie must spend a week at an all-girls Christian backpacking camp, she feels like a true outsider. Gilman’s story tackles racism, feminism, and religion – a complex mix – with sincere, heartfelt grace. Also the art is awesome. LOVED this.

Nimona – Noelle Stevenson’s subversive, funny, fantasy comic turns chivalry upside down. Nimona is a character with power who turns her story (or is it her villain boss’ story?) into something no one expected. I loved it.

Ms. Marvel – By turns hilarious and heartwarming, this is a novel take on coming of age and discovering superhero powers – with Muslim-American family pressure and the Marvel universe tied in.

Spill Zone – Horror, sci-fi, gorgeous art – there’s a lot here, but at its heart Spill Zone is a story about sisters surviving and taking care of each other in the midst of a weird world. It’s the sort of tale to make you shiver, but leave you with a gorgeous visuals you can’t forget.

The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl – A superhero you’ve never heard of (from the Marvel universe) goes off to college, fights crime, and saves the world, all while trying to keep her identity a secret. Not my jam, but solid girl power.

Ages 14 & up

Brazen: Rebel Ladies Who Rocked the World – Possibly the most enjoyable way to absorb history and “her”story – the lives and accomplishments of women too often left out of textbooks and off of lists. Feisty fun.

The Color of Earth – This quieter graphic novel by Kim Dong Hwa features the bonds between mother and daughter and the awakening of self-identity amidst rural Korea. A gem.

I focused on graphic novels that had a strong “girl power” feel, but there were plenty of wonderful, girl-centric books that didn’t make the cut because for one reason or another. If you want a personalized recommendation, just drop me a note in the comments!

Also check out the remainder of the tour stops for the Girl Power Graphic Novel blog tour!

Fine print: I received copies of the First Second graphic novels for review. I did not receive any compensation for this post.
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