At the heart of the latest release from Jon Scieszka, former National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature, is a lesson on media literacy. The author doesn’t hide his contempt for the advertising tactics and ubiquitous sloganeering of the modern era—his protagonist Michael K. is a savvy fifth grader with a healthy dose of skepticism. That’s a quality that Scieszka is eager to instill in his readers. To foster a better understanding of the media blitz directed at today’s children, Spaceheadz includes clever, interactive Web material designed to allow readers to create their own content. Here, the former teacher spoke with Kirkus about his fifth-grade friends at Brooklyn’s P.S. 58, incorporating new technology into basic storytelling and diplomatic immunity.
Printed in a warm shade of evergreen and illuminated by Peter Sís’ signature spare quasi-pointillist pen-and-ink drawings, Pam Muñoz Ryan’s achingly beautiful fictionalized account of the childhood of Neftalí Ricardo Reyes Basoalto—better known to the world as Pablo Neruda—employs a dazzling array of forms to capture the genesis of her subject’s poetic genius and budding political activism in The Dreamer.
Thin, sickly, stuttering and shy, Ryan’s young Neftalí is dogged by two opposing forces that wish to direct his life—the imaginative lure of poetic expression and his domineering father. Kirkus asked Ryan and Sís about the challenges and interpretive choices involved in rendering so famous a figure’s life, especially for young readers.
A mortally ill boy is prematurely transported to the afterworld through the inept agency of Frank Gallows, a ghost wrangler on the skids. It is a creepy land, populated by specters, mummies, will-o’-the-wisps, zombies and ghostly skeletons, all under the thumb of a dark master. But it is also just the kind of place where Darwin meets God on the road to Oz. Doug TenNapel draws the copious panels in a spidery hand, with sponge-soaking colors. “Being a writer/artist isn’t like wearing two hats,” he says. “It’s like wearing two halves of a hat. I have to meticulously write the story before I know if it’s even worth drawing.” This one’s worth it, a tale of loss, discovery, phantasmagoria and return. “My children are at the age when they ask the tough questions about life and death,” says the author. This is his apocalyptic, happily-ever-after answer.
Stowaways, sea chanteys and sirens—they’re all here in Aaron Renier’s rip-snorting new graphic novel. Drawing on motifs from sources as diverse as the great Homeric epics, Moby Dick and the snarky romp of The Pirates of the Caribbean movies, Renier reinvents adventure at sea for a new generation. The first in a series of five, Walker Bean began “as a parade of my ideas and fantasies…masquerading as an adventure story,” he says. “I wanted to use all the usual tropes—a shadowy stranger, a cursed object, the journal from an elder to come to the rescue—and try to use them in a way that worked with my personality. I wanted it to be fun to draw. And it was.” The frenzied pace of the storytelling, the cluttered chaos of the images and the faded palette, designed with colorist Alec Longstreth, combine to get readers’ hearts pumping with excitement, scrambling to turn the next page.
In a novel that Kirkus praised as "a highly entertaining page-turner," Margi Preus (The Peace Bell, 2008) returns to Japan to tell the rousing story of 14-year-old Manjiro, the first Japanese person to set foot in America. When asked what inspired her to translate his adventure as a novel, Preus says, "All that salty adventure!" Inspired by reading Horatio Hornblower and Patrick O'Brian to her sons, Preus became fascinated by the differences between Japan and the New World. In 2009, she traveled to Japan. "It was great to meet all the bright, curious and independent-thinking people who live in Manjiro's village of Nakanohama," says Preus. "I caught the smell of the ocean, seaweed, fish and this sweet smoke, and I suddenly realized how it must have been for him to catch that first scent of home." The book is complemented by Manjiro's own drawings and other archival materials, as well as Jillian Tamaki's original drawings.