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.
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.
Of this sly feline’s debut in Binky the Space Cat (2009) Kirkus wrote in a starred review, “Spires’s mix of sly, dry and slapstick humor in her first graphic novel is perfect.” In this new adventure, Binky and Ted fall into “OUTER SPACE!” Children will savor knowing that Binky and his stuffed mousie have simply tumbled outdoors, but that doesn’t lessen the threat of a bee hive (aka “an alien warship”)—especially after Binky and Ted become separated. “Anyone who has lived with a cat knows that there are a lot of things going on in their lives that we humans aren’t privy to,” says Ashley Spires. “Cats are already superheroes in their own minds; all they need is a nemesis. I’ve never met a cat that doesn’t love the crunch of a juicy housefly, so bugs were a natural choice. Plus insects make the best villains. Who wouldn’t want to take them down?”
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.