February 18, 2021

More comics for beginning readers!

(New comics for beginning readers added to our collection February 2021).

Once kids develop some fluency in reading comics it is important to provide high interest stories that retain their interest. Now the artist can play with the relationship between word balloons and imagery. Word balloons provide comfort for new readers, they can only contain a limited number of words, it is clear who is speaking them. Changes in font can denote emotion or emphasis. These all help in a read-aloud for any parent who is willing to get a little silly and provide the proper voices for each character. 

Below are a smattering of new comics that we have added for beginning readers that are willing to read on their own:

Cat Kid: Comic Club, by Dav Pilkey (Scholastic 2020)

In our weekly Scribbler’s Cabal aka Sketch Club, kids meet to draw and share their ideas. Here Captain Underpants author Dav Pilkey teaches similar lessons (in a class nominally hosted by Dog Man’s sidekick Cat Kid, though a protesting fish dad intrudes and steers the action). Poop jokes and world destroying mayhem teach the lesson that comics can be created with a variety of media and subjects. In sketch club we ask kids to feel free to make interesting mistakes, in the Cat Kid Comic Club the entire class is instructed to go home and make the worst possible comic they can. They fail at making terrible comics, by making comically interesting (if scatalogical or world-destroying) comics. Dav Pilkey’s humor reaches the target audience, with his usual loopy humor, yet all the while, gentle lessons are being imparted that for the creative process it is more important to try than to seek perfection. In presenting supposedly low quality comics Pilkey shows his mastery of the medium. In one notable section he presents a comic in Haiku and photo essay, providing a pleasant change of pace before diving back into the happy nonsense.

Chick and Brain: Smell my foot! (Candlewick Press, 2020)

Newberry Honor Winner Cece Bell presents a comics reader for the younger set. Here cartoon bird Chicky attempts to instruct the world on manners. Brain attempts to get the world to smell his foot. “Who’s on first?” style hi-jinks follow. With simple page layout and only a few words per page, the book serves as an easy reader, winning a Geisel honor for distinguished books intended for beginning readers. Your littlest comics readers will likely regale you with the title phrase for the rest of the day. Smell my foot!

Peter & Ernesto: Sloths in the Night, by Graham Annable (First Second, 2020)

A gentle and friendly adventure wherein a pod of sloths look for their friend, and quite possibly also a dragon. The Peter and Ernesto books by Graham Annable is an easy reading series aimed at younger readers. Here the crew wanders off into the jungle at night, escaping mild danger and meeting glowing frogs along the way. Clear lines, solid colors, cartoony characters, it will appeal to new readers. Some panels of complete darkness aside from word balloons would require interpretation for kids who are not yet reading, but otherwise the story should be readily accessible even to early readers who are not yet translating all the words in the speech bubbles.

February 1, 2021

New adds: simple comics for pre-readers! (February 2021)

Comics are excellent resources for kids who are past the ‘chewing on books’ stage, and are trying to read on their own. Comic panels provide context for the reader to decode the content. This helps the early reader to understand story whether or not they can read the words. This is distinct from many picture books where in many cases the reverse is true (the language describes what is happening in the pictures).

The trick of course is in finding stories that are fun to read whether or not you can decode the letters. At the Takoma Park MD Library we are always looking for excellent books that are fun for our littlest readers to dive into.

Here are a smattering of new titles we are adding that should be fun to explore for kids who have decided they are ready to read books on their own:

Bone Adventures, by Jeff Smith (Scholastic, 2020)

From BONE Adventures (Combined volume). Scholastic Books © 2020 Jeff Smith

Comics readers of all ages know Jeff Smith’s classic nine volume epic Bone, about three cousins who lose themselves in a valley where dangerous rat creatures have begun to invade. Fans have been waiting for a decade for a peek back into that world. Sadly this is not that.

However! For brand new readers it is a friendly introduction to the three Bone cousins: Fone Bone is thoughtful, Phoney Bone is Greedy, Smiley Bone is goofy and imaginative. Clear simple expressive line drawings animate the action. Sight gags and images in thought balloons make it a good read for pre readers. Word balloons with large text, and few words per page help the beginning readers. As a bonus, the solo adventure by Smiley Bone serves as a counting book from numbers one to ten, then back again.

And good news for Bone fans, after 10 years waiting for development, the Bone series was finally purchased by Netflix who will release the epic as a cartoon series this year. Release date still pending…

The Paper Boat, a refugee story, by That Lam (Owlkids; Illustrated edition, 2020)

Panel from The Paper Boat, A refugee story (Owlkids, 2020)

Wordless, deep, meaningful. The story can be understood by discerning readers or any age but the context may evade some younger kids. The book works as allegory for the adult readers, and as story for the younger readers. An ant crawls across a dinner table seeking food. Ending up in the soup of a kindly girl, she rescues him with a chopstick and sets him free. In her life in a small village trouble arrives in the form of soldiers. She has to hide. In the ant’s life, the insect and its family climb aboard a paper boat the girl has folded. Sailing across troubled waters, the ants endure a difficult and dangerous journey. Finally they arrive at a new world: a busy city, in a new land. The final images show the same family from the village now in a tall apartment building in a new land. Backmatter explains the authors journey as a refugee from Viet Nam.

In sharing wordless books with younger readers, I find enjoyment ‘reading’ aloud by narrating what we see in the panels. As panels change you can describe the story and ask what they think is happening. This teaches the youngest readers to decode panels for themselves, intuiting that a change in panels denotes an advancement in time or a change of perspective.

Most of this story will be able to be understood by a kid reading alone. The jump from perspective of the ant to the girl and the context of the soldiers entering the village may evade younger readers requiring interpretation by an adult, but the travails of the ant across the sea will be easily understood and felt.

Owly, Just a little blue, by Andy Runton (Scholastic, 2020)

Owly, Just a little blue, Scholastic 2020

Scholastic has undertaken full color reworkings of the Owly series, and the books benefit from the changes. The colors are vivid, saturating the page, adding a great deal of enjoyment to these classic books. In re-working the books the editors have cleverly isolated some sequences into single panel pages, to set up page turns for surprises that might otherwise have been lost when packed all onto one page.

Many books in the Owly series are wordless. Owly is one of the first comics I put in front of any kid. The story reads clearly, with no difficult panels. The characters are charming, helpful, and experience emotions that are easily understood. In this story images are included in word balloons to help early readers decode the text.

April 9, 2016

James Sturm. Monday April 11 7 PM, Takoma Park Maryland library

James Sturm of the Center for Cartoon Studies, and the Adventures in Cartooning series, (and various other excellent et ceteras, see below) will be joining us here at the Takoma Park Maryland Library to chat about comics, his process, his career, life in general, and also to introduce his latest work:  Birdsong (Toon Books, 2016).   See event details:


Here’s an auteur who truly writes for all ages: kids books (here with Birdsong, appropriate for ages 5-8) or his loopy and exuberant Adventures in Cartooning series, to very grown and thoughtful works in his adult comics.   Our library carries the following of these et ceteras:

  • James Sturm’s America: God, Gold and Golems ( 2007) Drawn and Quarterly
  • Satchel Paige: Striking Out Jim Crow (2007) Drawn and Quarterly
  • Market Day (2010) Drawn and Quarterly
  • Adventures in Cartooning with Andrew Arnold, and Alexis Frederick-Frost (2009) First Second
  • Sleepless Knight with Andrew Arnold & Alexis Frederick-Frost (2015) First Second
  • Gryphons Aren’t So Great with Andrew Arnold & Alexis Frederick-Frost (2015) First Second
  • Ogres Awake! with Andrew Arnold & Alexis Frederick-Frost (2016) First Second



February 23, 2016

The Wake.

The Wake, by Scott Snyder, Sean Murphy. (DC Vertigo 2014)



2014 Eisner award winner for best limited series, this is a story in two parts.  In the first half of the book a team of scientists assemble to a secret undersea drilling rig with the charge to analyze a startling discovery: a new species of intelligent sea-dwelling creature.  One has been recently captured, and has been sending out a signal: to whom, for what purpose?  Horror results when the call receives an overwhelming response.

In part two we see a near future dystopia akin to Water World or The Road Warrior, where the remnant populations of humanity  dredge a living from the drowned wreckage of our former cities:  now destroyed after the ice caps were melted in an act of war by a relentless opponent.

The writing is energetic and even frantic in the first half, borrowing pacing and tone from familiar sources (the Aliens franchise, for instance).  The second half has less urgency, with somewhat more exposition than action, but as a world-building exercise it’s interesting enough, with plausible new lingo and culture that evolved from the flotsam and jetsam of our drowned civilization.

The art is solid.  Matching the urgency of the first half plot, and welcoming the challenge of drawing a sinuous and malefic race of enemies in the depths away from sunlight.  Characters are easily distinguished from each other, the action is smooth and clear.  Matt Hollingsworth’s colors are surprising, giving a warmth to the story that makes the images friendly to the eye.  He works with a pastel palette reminiscent of Barry Windsor Smith, yet somehow warmer, more sunbleached than ethereal.

Brief hallucinations of nudity promote this book to our adult side.




April 29, 2015

Last of the Sandwalkers, by Jay Hosler. Beetle scientists! Action science adventures!

Come Meet Jay Hosler at the Takoma Park MD Library tomorrow night!  Thursday 4/30, 7:30 PM.  As he introduces and reads from his epic tale Last of the Sandwalkers.  Reviewed below.

LAST OF THE SANDWALKERS (First Second Press, 2015)

Six bold beetles gear up to explore the world beyond their small oasis in the desert.  Is there life in the great sandy wastes?  Or will the anger of the great god Scarabus smite them for the heresy that is curiosity…

sandwalkers look what I found smallerlast_of_the_sandwalkers_bat

Biology professor Jay Hosler writes interestingly complex and amusing comics that are fairly rustling with intelligence and humor.  Best known for his Xeric Award winning Clan Apis, a friendly and personable look at the life cycle of bees, Hosler has also penned a handful of other amusing and edifying graphic stories.  Whether we listen in on conversations between Charles Darwin and a follicle mite that lives in his eyebrow (Sandwalk Chronicles) or dive into the soup of human imagination to retrieve a lost eyeball and learn how the structure of the eye evolved over time (Optical Allusions) Hosler clearly loves the process of blending education and entertainment,

In Last of the Sandwalkers Hosler tackles a more straightforward but perhaps more ambitious project:  to tell a stand-alone story entertaining on its own merits, while hiding all the biology in the narrative.  This is the epic quest of a small band of inquisitive bugs whose inquisitive nature dares them to question the dogma that keeps them in line.  Well equipped for anything they could anticipate, except perhaps for jealousy and betrayal…

The characters are well drawn, funny, with distinct differences in appearance and abilities.   Their insect technology is cleverly imagined, and aside from some mechanical wizardry, highly plausible.  It’s neat to see a biology professor imagineering what innovations bugs would invent to tackle the problems of their world.  The plot is tight, great dialogue, the friendship and teamwork of the crew animates the action and adds charm.  The secondary plot suggests the political  swordfighing of academia and the struggle of rigorous science against blind faith.  Friendly upbeat with tense action and fun ‘ick’-factor’ moments  (in one moment trying to placate corpse beetles that they are not trying to steal a semi-liquified dead rodent or eat the grubs it contains).  Ultimately the tone of the book suggests the optimism and irrepressible nature of science, that the quest for knowledge is a joy in and of itself, that satisfying one’s curiosity is something of a sacred mission.  Or to quote from the philosopher Calvin in dialogue with his companion Hobbes::

H:  Whatcha doin’?
C: Looking for frogs.
H:  How come?
C: I must obey the inscrutable exhortations of my soul.
H:  Ah, but of course.
C:  My mandate also includes weird bugs.

Which would seem to be the genesis of how one becomes a biology professor, or even a cartoonist known for drawing the lives of weird bugs,

Last of the Sandwalkers is highly recommended for all ages of readers, basically anyone who likes, bugs, science, adventure, humor, cyborgs, and great action.

February 3, 2015

A return visit from George O’Connor and the Olympians!

Come hang out with George O’Connor and his Olympians, Thursday Feb 5th at 7:30 in the kids room at the Takoma Park Maryland Library.  He’s introducing Ares: Bringer of War, the newest in his Olympians series.

Talk process, research,  story, characters, etc. with the artist.  Plus he can sign for you, as our friends at Politics and Prose will be selling books on site.

All the gods, in one panoramic class picture.

All the gods, in one panoramic class picture.


George O’Connor broke into daylight with his graphic  non-fiction work Journey into Mohawk Country, (First Second Press, 2006).  Set in the 1600’s this meticulously researched book illustrated the journal entries of a 23 year old Dutchman who attempted to make contact with the Mohawk and Oneida  tribes northwest of Albany in order to establish better trading relations.

The wry humor of O’Connor’s pen animated the dry prose of this travel diary and brought to life what must have been a mind-expanding life-changing journey for the author.  In reading a fairly bland account O’Connor recognized the drama and absurdity of these three young men who sorta stumbled and blustered their way through the wilderness — despite being basically unprepared and armored chiefly with good-natured ignorance.

This love of history as a living thing serves O’Connor  well in his retellings of the tales of the Hellenic deities.  Projected to be a twelve issue series, these books depict the greater figures among the gods of ancient Greece.  Faithful to the mythology, O’Connor nevertheless finds new angles to tell these stories, often from the perspective of the gods themselves.

The art is bright, clear, pastel colors and whimsical line.  Dialogue is modern,  but only rarely with a jarring anachronistic phrase (and hey, they’re immortal gods, clearly they can transcend time and learn a phrase or two  from another era).  Kids who discover the Greek gods via Rick Riordan’s  ‘Percy Jackson and the Olympians’ series, will get a good dose of the real thing in these slim light volumes.

O’Connor also gives a peep into his methodology in the back of each book, discussing various aspects of each myth, things he discovered in research, challenges of drawing certain characters,  illustrating some difficulties or victories in his process.  These paragraphs are as valuable as the rest of the book in teaching kids how the study of history can be approached as an opportunity for adventure and discovery.

Pretty good,  each of them, a useful add to any library collection.  Some volumes are in our All-ages collection, others promote themselves to our young adult shelves because, well you know, these Greeks did not always behave themselves all that well.

November 26, 2014

Gossamyr and Stuff of Legend.

Th3rd World Studios has a couple sneaky-good comics out there for people looking for a new story to disappear into.   Some years past I found myself reading Stuff of Legend cover to cover while standing at their table at the New York Comic Con.   This year at Small Press Expo in Bethesda they caught me with another one:

Finding Gossamyr, Volume 1. by David A. Rodriguez and Sarah Ellerton.

Finding Gossamyr Volume 1

The story itself is familiar enough, a brother and sister are pulled into another world through a magic portal.  There they find beautiful evil sorcerers, get caught in great conflicts between powerful antagonists, struggle to survive, that sort of thing.

The unusual angle in this case is that magic in that far realm is enacted via abstruse mathematics, solving arcane equations to trigger the effects.  In our protagonist Denny we find a hero uniquely suited for that environment, even if it causes him distress.

At mathematics Denny is a natural talent, a boy genius.    His sister Jenna has been taking care of him in the absence of her parents and she needs all the help she can get;  if he can be cared for at school, then she can go to college herself.  If only Denny can keep it together during the admission process to an exclusive academy then she has a chance at a normal life…

Continue reading

October 27, 2014

New York Comic Con. Red Moon. Rust 3. Spera 4..

The New York Comic Con has hulked out and grown into an absolute monster.  What was once a two and a half day convention for comics industry fans and professionals has swollen to a 4 day carnival of brightly colored fantasy-made-flesh  overflowing the 1,800.000 square feet of the Javits Center and meandering out into the streets of New York.

And I love it for all of its excess, perhaps because of the excess,  for those moments of sublimely surreal humor interspersed with the chance to discover brilliant new works or talk with comics publishers and professional.  I suspect it is the only place where you can have a conversation with publisher Mark Siegel of First Second press (purveyor of high quality literary comics like Gene Yang’s masterpiece Boxers and Saints) only to glance over your shoulder as a nine foot tall zombie staggers by supporting himself on the shoulders of two zombie nurses.   A totally normal occurrence at the Comic Con.

In years past the Con had a day set aside for professionals and on those days it was easy to sweep the entire show floor to make a quick first pass and then cycle back to the exhibits you needed to stop by to get business done.  With the swelling popularity of the Convention, that day is now gone.  As of last year the Thursday professional day began selling one day tickets and now every day is a Tokyo-rush-hour crush of costumed lunacy, with every aisle packed with a bazaar of the fantastic and bizarre.

So okay it makes it tougher to get serious business done, shuffling along at the pace of a medicated madhouse patient, pausing every few seconds to gawp or to make room for people to take pictures of each other in costume, but once you get into the rhythm and allow things to take their time, you will still make great discoveries and get into interesting conversations with the people who make imagination their life.  The trick then is to simply take your time, and let the con come to you.  Or go every day all day for a few days in a row as I do.  It took a determined effort but I did in fact manage to hit the whole show and to twice pass through Artists Alley (in another warehouse section separated from the show floor) and to chat with the folks who crank out the ideas and images that find expression (in costumes and movies and books and video games) throughout the rest of the building.

Which is the best part:  meeting artists whose works I admire, or better yet find new works that are begging for a wider audience.  Best of all, every year I come back loaded down with GREAT NEW BOOKS to share with you all.  Both on our shelves at the Library and in reviews in these pages.   (See after the jump), and watch this space for a preview of more new books added to the shelves of our collection. Continue reading

September 10, 2014

How to Be Happy: Eleanor Davis, Monday Sept 15, 7:30

Monday Sept 15 at 7:30, Eleanor Davis (and maybe husband Drew Weing) visits with her slideshow presentation of life, work, art, etc and also to share her new work:  How to be Happy.  Come talk comics, process, the struggle between freelancing and working on personal projects, etc.  Takoma Park MD Library, 101 Philadelphia Ave, Takoma Park MD 20912.   (or a short-ish walk down the hill from the Takoma Park Metro stop on the Red Line).

Eleanor Davis, excerpt from How to be Happy,  Fantagraphics (c)  2014

Eleanor Davis, excerpt from How to be Happy, Fantagraphics (c) 2014


Eleanor Davis is one of those artists you know, even if you don’t know you know her.

Libraries love her for her stellar all-ages book The Secret Science Alliance and the Copycat Crook.  But magazine art directors seem to love her for everything else she does; and you will see her illustrations in every brainy and literate newspaper or magazine on the rack.

Continue reading

August 27, 2014

MOUSEGUARD! David Petersen visits the Library. Thurs Sept 4, 7:30

Mouseguard author/artist David Petersen comes to chat with us and talk about his process, works in progress, plans, whatever — in another in our series of visiting artists coming to the Takoma Park Maryland Library (101 Philadelphia Ave  Takoma Park MD 20912) at 7:30 PM on Thursday 9/4/14


Stunning artwork,  beautifully painted, appealing characters, small heroes proving stoic and determined against outsized odds — if you have not yet met the valiant warriors of Mouseguard then you are in for a treat.  If you have read them you know the story:  the woods and wild spaces are patrolled by an intrepid band of determined guardmice.  They protect the towns of civilized mousedom against constant threat in the form of predators and politics.

Where Mouseguard soars above most other comics is in the meticulously detailed and lush art.  Divinity is in the details, the architecture of the buildings is both credible and to scale.  If you happened to know any mouse-sized carpenters you could actually assemble these forts stone by stone, plank by plank. Realism promotes this book out of our ‘all-ages’ section where little kids might be frightened by plausible snakes and weasels taking swords through the eye and such like.  But that realism lends verisimilitude to a world peopled by sword-carrying varmints.

Continue reading