A paean to the great girls of FirstSecond's graphic novels

Of course I said "yes please!" when asked if I was interested in being a stop on FirstSecond's celebration of their girl power graphic novels.  These are great books, about which more later in the post.

But in thinking about what I wanted to say about these books, I find myself wanting to talk a bit about graphic novels with strong girls as not just wonderfully empowering stories for girl readers, but as a wonderful opportunity for boys.

In all sincerity, one of the absolutely best things that came from starting a book blog was being on the receiving end of review copies from FirstSecond.  I hadn't really had any awareness that such books existed before blogging, and thanks to this realization, and the review copies that began arriving, my older son began to be a reader.  Before graphic novels I worried about him; he was a capable reader, but not a keen one, and I was afraid he would be deprived of the mind-expanding wonder of discovering imagined worlds in the pages of books.  Not only did graphic novels make him a reader (primarily of graphic novels still, but they are as real as any other books), but he ended up starting his own graphic novel blog (A Goblin Reviews Graphic Novels), and gained the self-confidence that comes of allowing oneself to have opinions, and the invaluable writing practice that comes in expressing them.

And he got to see a whole bunch of strong girls, having adventures, saving the world, saving themselves and their friends, naturalizing that this is what girls can be.  I don't think he will ever save a damsel in distress; I think he would expect the damsel to be able to save herself, though he'd help if needed/asked.  (I just went upstairs to ask him if in fact reading about strong girls had made him think of real girls as strong; he said "That is a stupid question.  I think of people as strong or weak people, not as strong or weak male or female people. Can I be left alone now please?" which is basically the same point....).

But regardless of the inner workings of my son's mind, if you have a boy who has been tricked into thinking that boys shouldn't read books about girls, give that boy a great graphic novel starring a strong girl and they may well love it.  And then they might read more and more books about girls, internalizing girls as persons, not as stereotypes, which is a good thing.

So happily FirstSecond is still going strong, and still sending us books (yay!).  Here's what's new in the way of girl power.  (links go to my more detailed reviews where applicable).

Monsters Beware is the third volume in the Chronicles of Claudette series by Jorge Aguirre and Rafael Rosado (the first two being Giants Beware and Dragons Beware.  Set in a vaguely medieval French world with magic and monsters, Claudette dreams of being a famous warrior and monster slayer.  Her adventures are full of humor, charm, and danger, but what I love about this series most is not just that Claudette is fierce in her sword-waving, but that the two kids who are the main supporting characters, her princess-best friend and her little brother, a would-be chef, get to be just as fierce without the sword part.  They also play an essential role in counterbalancing Claudette's action-oriented zeal.  While being a fun romp that's entertaining as all get out, this series is also a really pleasing exploration of different ways to have strength of character.

The City on the Other Side, by Mairghread Scott and Robin Robinson

Isabel is growing up in sheltered comfort, looking out her windows at San Francisco, a city still recovering from the great earthquake of 1906.  She's not allowed out to explore it, though she would love to.  Her mother is distant and unloving, and sends Isable off to spend the summer out in the country with her sculptor father, who she doesn't know.  There she stumbles through the barrier separating our world from that of the fairies.  In the other world, the two factions, Seelie and Unseelie, are at war.  Isabel is plunged right into the middle of the conflict, when she's entrusted by a dying Seelie warrior with a magical gem that could restore balance...if she can get it to the captured Seelie Princess.  Fortunately Isabel find friends--a mushroom fairy, Button, and a Filipino boy, orphaned by the earthquake, who's also crossed the barrier.  Exploring the city on the other side is magical, but dangerous and scary...but there's never any doubt that it will all work out.  Connections between the two world add weight to Isabel's mission--unbalance on one side of the barrier affects the other.

It's a fine story, and the main characters are charming, but what makes this one truly stunning is the artwork.  It is utterly magical and magnificent and full to bursting with curious denizens of the fairy world.  Gorgeous.

Scarlett Hart: Monster Hunter, by Marcus Sedgewick and Thomas Taylor

Scarlett Hart isn't legally old enough to be monster hunter.  But with her parents, two legendary monster slayers in their own right, dead, she has to do something to bring in a bit of money.  So her loyal butler drives her to locations where monsters have been spotted, supports her in the slaying part (though being tough as nails and a dab hand at weapons and ropes, she doesn't need much help in this department), and delivers the monster corpses to collect payment. But her parents' arch-rival, Count Stankovic, is determined to cut her out of the business, and if she gets busted, she'll loose her ancestral home.  And then she finds out the Count has even more horrible schemes afoot, and the monsters keep getting bigger and fiercer....

Fortunately Scarlett is up to the challenge of both the Count and the monsters!  It's fun adventure, Scarlett's a heroine to cheer for, and I found the illustrations very easy on the eye--clear and crisp.  Give this one to young fans of Jonathan Stroud's Lockwood and Co. series.

The Ripple Kingdom, by Gigi D.G. (Cucumber Quest 2)

The Cucumber Quest series tells the saga of a young rabbit boy (Cucumber) whose plans to study magic got derailed by a quest to save the world.  Fortunately for the world, his little sister, Almond, goes with him; she actually has useful fighting skills, whereas Cucumber's magic hasn't yet fully come into its own, and she's much more keen on the whole quest business in general --finding the fabled Dream Sword and defeating the Nightmare Knight.  This installment finds the rabbit siblings and sundry companions battling a tentacled monster with both sword and magic, and learning more about the nature of their mysterious quest.  It is good fun for elementary school kids, and for older kids who aren't in a hurry to grow up!  And Almond and Cucumber subvert gender stereotypes of heroes very nicely indeed.

The League of Lasers (Star Scouts 2), by Mike Lawrence

Avani is happy just being a Star Scout, but when she is invited to join the League of Lasers, for the most elite scouts, she can't say no.  And the moment she accepts, she's whooshed to outer space, and sent on an initiation challenge.  Things go wrong, and she ends up stranded on a methane planet.  With her arch-enemy, the alien Pam.  Happily, Avani and Pam realize that they need to work together, and become pretty good partners...just in time to make first contact with the aliens who live on this planet.   In the meantime, Avani's dad has realized his daughter's missing, despite the efforts of her alien Star Scout friends to convince him otherwise.  And he's ready to travel through space himself to find her again....

It is a very enjoyable survival/friendship/alien encounter story!  It's so much fun to see the girls working together, in good scouting fashion; Avani is an especially good roll model of practicality and determination.   The story moves briskly, and there are plenty of touches of humor to both the story and the illustrations.  It's a bit tense at times, but never really scary...even the most alien of the aliens is rendered in a non-horrifying way.

That's the round-up of the new releases being featured in this particular blog tour, but I can't write about FirstSecond's girl power books for kids without mentioning the queen of them all--Zita the Space Girl!  She blasted into the world back in 2011, and if I were a betting blogger, I'd put my money on her to be a classic for the ages.

Thank you, FirstSecond, for both the review copies and for publishing awesome books!

1 comment:

  1. Love your point that these books can help create strong boys! I too love seeing all of the books that First Second puts out - I think they have an amazing list!!


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