InuYasha 01 by Rumiko Takahashi

Bibliographic Information: Takahashi, R. (2003). InuYasha 01. St. Louis, MO: Turtleback.  ISBN: 1417650826.  178 pages.

Plot Summary: Kagome lives in modern-day Japan, but on her 15th birthday she falls down a well on her family’s sacred grounds and emerges hundreds of years in the past.  The Japan she has entered is full of magical creatures and dangerous monsters.  Kagome’s arrival in the past creates quite a bit of buzz, as she is the spitting image of Kikyo, a warrior who died many years before.  Even Kikyo’s, now elderly, sister is confused by this young girl who favors her long dead sister.  Kikyo died holding the powerful Jewel of Four Stones, and her likeness (Kagome) inadvertently releases InuYasha from the spell that Kikyo put on him many decades before.  Inu-Yasha is part demon, part dog, as his pointy ears indicate.  At first he is hostile toward Kikyo, but when the Jewel of Four Stones falls from Kikyo’s body and shatters he realizes they must work together to put the powerful and ancient jewel back together.

Critical Evaluation: The story line is exciting and the illustrations expressive and imaginative.  I am not familiar with manga, so it took some careful reading to understand the story; however, I do not believe manga fans would have the same difficulty.  This is book one of a large series that has also been made into a manga cartoon series for television, which is also very popular.  Amazon reader reviews by manga fans call the artwork “beautiful” and call Takahashi “magical” (Customer Reviews, 2005).  InuYasha, as a series, has been well received by critics and manga fans alike.  “Manga volumes from InuYasha have been popular in Japan, taking high places in rankings listing sales. In 2001, the manga won the Shogakukan Manga Award for best shōnen manga title of the year. In North America, the manga volumes have appeared various times in the New York Times and Diamond Distributions top selling lists,(Wikipedia, 2011).

A note about me and manga: Let me just start out by saying that I have never been a comic book fan, which is in one way surprising because I am a very visual person, I love picture books, and any novel with added visual elements thrills me.  But, comic books are difficult for me to read, my mind seems unable to integrate the illustrations with the text and come up with anything meaningful.  Manga brings that confusion up a level, as there are words that are totally unfamiliar to me and I have no context for the settings or the storylines.  I actually read another manga book for this blog, but did not understand it enough to write about.  So, it is with these major limitations that I reviewed InuYasha, with some significant help from the internet.

Reader’s Annotation: When Kagome falls down a well and lands hundreds of years in the past she must join forces with  half-demon dog boy, InuYasha, in order to survive.

Information about the Author: Rumiko Takahashi was born in Japan in 1957.  As a teen she was interested in manga, but not more so than any other high schooler.  Then, while in college, she enrolled in “Gekiga Sonjuku, a manga school that was known for the demanding nature of its founder, Kazuo Koike,” (Acres, n.d.).  It was at Gekiga Sonjuku that Takahashi’s skills and talents developed and she was well on her way to becoming a manga creator.

InuYashi is one of several manga series by Takahashi, who is extremely prolific.  Other Takahashi series include: Rin-ne and Ranma, among others.  According to Takahashi’s biography, “Inu-Yasha marked a major change in the way she presented her most mainstream works. It was much darker and decidedly non-comedic when compared to the works that had come before,” (Acres, n.d.).

Below is some fascinating information about Takahashi from Wikipedia:

Takahashi is one of the wealthiest individuals, and the most affluent manga artists in Japan. The manga she creates (and its anime adaptations) are popular worldwide, where they have been translated into a variety of languages. Takahashi is also the best selling female comics artist in history; as of February 2010, over 170 million copies of her various works had been sold. She has twice won the Shogakukan Manga Award: once in 1980 for Urusei Yatsura, and again in 2001 for InuYasha. (Wikipedia, 2011)

Genre/Format: Alternative Format: Graphic Novels

SubGenre/Themes: Graphic Novels: Manga

Curriculum Ties: n/a

Booktalking Ideas:

  • Falling down a well and ending up hundreds of years in the past

Reading Level/Interest Age: Ages 10 to 18 to adult

Challenge Issues: In response to any challenges, one can refer to the library’s collection development policies.  Also, there are several positive reviews of the book, and it has won several awards and honors.

Why is this book included? Manga Graphic novels are very popular and often reach out to reluctant readers.

References:

Amazon.com. (2005). InuYasha, Vol. 1: Customer Reviews.  Retrieved from Amazon.com

Acres, H. & Acres, D. (n.d.). Rumiko Takahashi Biography.  Retrieved from http://www.furinkan.com/takahashi/index.html

Wikipedia. (2011). InuYasha. Retrieved from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/InuYasha


American Born Chinese by Gene Luen Yang

Bibliographic Information: Yang, G.L. (2006). American Born Chinese. New York, NY: First Second.  ISBN: 1596431520.  240 pages.

Plot Summary: In three concurrent story lines, American Born Chinese follows Jin Wang, the only Chinese American student in his school; the Monkey King, who is on a quest to become a true deity; and Chin Kee (yes, that is his name), the embodiment of negative Chinese ethnic stereotypes who, when he comes to visit, humiliates his popular, all-American-looking cousin, Danny.  Jin Wang is picked on by bullies, falls in love with an “all-American” girls, and is an all-around sympathetic and likeable character.  The Monkey King’s tale is reminiscent of ancient fables.  And Chin Kee is so over the top, he just might make readers squirm.  Using illustrations with clean lines and a cool, earthy color palette, Yang raises issues of ethnicity, race, identity, and self-acceptance.  Each story gives readers lots to think about.  Are they really separate stories, or is there a connection between them?

Critical Evaluation: Expressive illustrations and carefully chosen text make this graphic novel sophisticated and intelligent.  Yang uses some over-the-top characters, as well as more relatable ones, to demonstrate the complexities of identity and being comfortable in one’s own skin.  His prose is humorous and poignant, entertaining and thought-provoking.  His illustrations work hand in hand with his prose to create a visual story with depth and emotion.  His weaving of the book’s elements into a whole that is so much more than the sum of its excellent parts is what makes Yang a master at his craft and highly praised by critics and award committees.  American Born Chinese has earned many awards and honors, what follows is a selected list: 2006 National Book Award Finalist for Young People’s Literature, winner of the 2007 Eisner Award for Best Graphic Album: New, Winner of the Printz Award, YALSA Great Graphic Novel for Teens – Top Ten List, 2007.

Reader’s Annotation: In three concurrent story lines, colorfully and expressively illustrated American Born Chinese follows Jin Wang, the only Chinese American student in his school; the Monkey King, who is on a quest to become a true deity; and Chin Kee (yes, that is his name), the embodiment of negative Chinese ethnic stereotypes.

Information about the Author: Gene Luen Yang lives in the San Francisco Bay Area; he started writing comic books in 5th grade.  For his Master’s in Education at Cal State Hayward, he wrote his thesis on using comics in education.  He has written several comic books; the highly praised American Born Chinese was his first graphic novel.

Yang is playful and has a great sense of humor, as is demonstrated by his books as well as the following answers to eight questions (as quoted from his Macmillan biography page.

EIGHT QUESTIONS from GENE LUEN YANG

What’s your favorite book that wasn’t written or drawn by you?

I have to pick only one?  I’m gonna say Understanding Comics by Scott McCloud. If it weren’t for that book, I wouldn’t be a cartoonist.

If you were shipwrecked on a desert island, what one piece of media would you take with you?  If it isn’t your favorite book, explain how you came to this peculiar decision. 

A picture of my wife.  Or maybe the Bible.  No, a picture of my wife.  Because she’s so pretty.

What’s your favorite ice cream flavor?

I love all flavors of ice cream, but I’m lactose intolerant so I’ll have to say Rainbow Sherbet.  Not as yummy as Mocha Almond Fudge, but so much better for my stomach.  And for the folks sitting next to me.

How are you planning to survive the zombie apocalypse?

I’m gonna develop a taste for zombie flesh.  Then I’m gonna go buy a large carving knife and lots of hot sauce.

What’s your favorite word?

“Moded.”  Remember when junior high kids used to use that word to diss on their friends?  So fun.  We gotta bring that back.  A whole generation is missing out on getting “moded.”

If you suddenly fell into a dimensional vortex and ended up in 1529, what profession would you adopt?

Ninja assassin!

Black or white?  Cats or dogs?  Apples or oranges?  Robots or vampires?

Black vampire apple-dogs

What’s the worst fortune cookie advice you ever got?  Did you take it? 

You take advice from fortune cookies?  Seriously?  We invented those things as a gimmick to sell you more moo shu pork.  You’re not actually supposed to run your life by them.

Genre: Issues, Humor

SubGenre/Themes: Issues: Racism,

Format: Graphic Novel: Real Life Themes

Topics Covered: Race, Racism, Outsiders, Fitting In

Curriculum Ties: Race in America, Stereotypes

Booktalking Ideas:

  • Thinking about being the only one in your school that…

Reading Level/Interest Age: Ages 13 to 19 to adult

Challenge Issues: Stereotypes.  Response: In response to any challenges, one can refer to the library’s collection development policies.  Also, there are several positive reviews of the book, and it has won numerous awards and honors, four are mentioned above.

Why is this book included? Graphic novels are very popular and often reach out to reluctant readers.  With an enthusiastic endorsement from YASLA and its numerous awards, this book is a great choice for adding diversity to a collection’s formats.

References:

Yang, G.L. (n.d.). Gene Luen Yang. Retrieved from http://us.macmillan.com/author/geneluenyang


Conquering the Beast Within: How I Fought Depression and Won…and How You Can, Too by Cait Irwin

Bibliographic Information: Irwin, C. (1998). Conquering the Beast Within: How I fought Depression and Won…and How You Can, Too. New York, NY: Times Books.  ISBN: 0812932471.  105 pages.

Plot Summary: Cait Irwin was no typical thirteen-year-old.  Every minute of every day she had a constant companion — the beast – her name for her depression.  At first, partially due to the nature of the disease, she kept it to herself.  She isolated herself and “the beast” was able to exert a lot of influence over her.  But, eventually she sought and received help, and fought the beast, and won.  Part memoir, part self-help book, part how-to book, and part comic book, Irwin takes readers on her journey through her words as well as her cartoon-like drawing of the beast and his teen victim.  Not only does Irwin give practical suggestions for steps to take for teens struggling with depression, she most decidedly wants to offer those teens hope.  The book ends with letters to the reader from some of Irwin’s family members about how they supported her and, in some cases, how they would have behaved differently.

Critical Evaluation: Depression is a real disease, but sometimes we do not want to acknowledge it.  We do not want to look at it.  We do not want to deal with it.  We want to pretend it is not there.  People with depression as well as those around them are sometimes more comfortable pretending “the beast” is not there, BUT, Irwin warns us, when “the beast” is ignored he grows.  Telling her story, while at the same time speaking in general terms, could really help a depressed teen both not feel so alone and find ways to cope with her/his illness.  In a dramatic, but straightforward and not overly emotional, way, Irwin paints a picture of depression as an illness.  In fact, Irwin compares depression to a broken leg, both takes a teen out of full functioning, they might miss school time, sports practices, afterschool activities, even socializing with friends, but when the healing begins, these things can start to come back into a teen’s life again.  Wise beyond her years, Irwin clearly wants to help other teens battle the beast of depression.

Reader’s Annotation: Thirteen-year-old Cait Irwin fights and conquers, “the beast,” depression and wants others to learn from and be inspired by her journey.

Information about the Author:  At 13, Cait Irwin’s life was devastated by depression, but she fought her way out and shared her story with the world in Conquering the Beast Within: How I Fought Depression and Won…and How You Can, Too.  In 2006, Irwin co-wrote Monochrome Days: A First-Hand Account of One Teenager’s Experience With Depression with two psychology experts.

Cait Irwin, now 31, is a working artist who expresses herself in many ways, including painting, wall murals and stenciling an original piece of artwork the side of a barn silo.  She continues to be a strong suicide prevention advocate.

Genre: Non-Fiction, Issue, Illness, Mental & Emotional Problems

Format: Graphic Book

Category: Non-Fiction

Topics Covered: Depression, Suicide, Mental Health

Curriculum Ties: Health, Mental Health, Biology

Booktalking Ideas:

  • Use one of the graphics from the book
  • Talk about just how down Irwin became

Reading Level/Interest Age: Ages 13-19

Challenge Issues: There are no obvious challenge issues associated with this book.  Preparation for any challenge can include the librarian’s: reading of the book, adhering to the library’s collection development department, and possessing reviews of the book from well-regarded sources

Why is this book included? Many teens suffer from depression.  This book gives teens hope as well as concrete suggestions for fighting depression.  As the author, when she wrote it, was a teen herself, teens (and their parents) reading the book will be able to feel its authenticity.  This book’s unique format makes it a great choice, as providing books that speak directly to depressed teens would be an excellent service for the library to provide

References:

Cait’s website: http://sites.google.com/site/realityimpairedartworks/Home


The Tree of Life by Peter Sis

Bibliographic Information: Sis, P. (2003). The Tree of Life: A Book Depicting the Life of Charles Darwin, Naturalist, Geologist & Thinker. New York, NY: Farrar, Straus and Giroux.  ISBN:0374456283.  44 pages.

Plot Summary: Charles Robert Darwin was born February 12, 1809, in Shrewbury, England.  That day no one knew that young Charles would one day change the world.  From his early days trying to live up to being the boy his father wants him to be, Darwin struggled with formal “indoor” learning and his strict boarding school.  “He wants to be outdoors, riding, shooting, fishing, taking long walks through the countryside collecting things.”  Eventually, Charles discovers his passion for the natural sciences: geology, zoology and botany, which he much prefers to the medical science path his father wants him to follow.  Through his naturalist studies Darwin finds his way to a boat, the H.M.S. Beagle.  The Beagle takes Darwin on a journey around the world where he discovers clues that will ultimately lead him to write his controversial and ground-breaking book, On The Origin of Species.  Through intricately rendered illustrations, diary entries and explanatory text, Charles Darwin’s story comes to life.

Critical Evaluation: The Tree of Life is not a child’s picture book.  It is a beautifully illustrated, deeply rich introduction to the life and work of Charles Darwin.  Sis has managed to take picture books to a whole new level, with complex concepts and explanatory illustrations, maps and diagrams.  Visual learners will be in heaven as each two-page spread contains multiple images that explicate parts of Darwin’s story.  The amount of text is significant, but not overwhelming, and the writing is appropriate for teens through adults.  Sis has clearly done his homework in presenting biographical as well as scientific details that many people will be fascinated and interested to learn.  His detailed illustrations of Darwin’s specimens would have made Darwin himself proud.  This New York Times Best Illustrated Book is a unique and welcome addition to the cannon of biographies.  Writing a report on a famous scientist was never before this fun. 

Reader’s Annotation: Peter Sis brings Charles Darwin to life in this picture book biography, with beautifully and intricately rendered illustrations, maps and diagrams, in addition to diary entries, and explanatory text.

Information about the Author: In his author’s note Sis wrote “Charles Darwin regretted that he hadn’t learned to draw.  Instead, he kept detailed descriptions of everything he saw.  It is these dense and vivid written passages in his diaries, letters, and journals that have inspired me to use my own drawings, based on contemporary sources, to tell this story of his life.”  It must be strange for Sis, who expresses himself so impressively through drawings, to imagine Charles Darwin being unable to draw images of those things that so fascinated and impressed him.  Sis has illustrated children’s books in addition to other tween, teen, and adult-level picture books.  He has also, “contributed more than a thousand drawings to The New York Times Book Review and his illustrations have appeared in Time magazine, The Atlantic Monthly, Newsweek, Esquire and many other magazines in the United States and abroad.”  (http://www.petersis.com/content/about.html)

Genre: Non-Fiction, Biography, Science

Format: Alternative Format: Graphic Book

Topics Covered: Biology, Evolution, Botany, Zoology, Naturalists, Independent Thinkers

Curriculum Ties: Science, Biology, Botany, Zoology, Naturalists, Evolution, 19th Century history

Booktalking Ideas: Start with one of Darwin’s quotes and discuss the negative responses he received for his work.

Reading Level/Interest Age: Ages 12-18

Challenge Issues: Some people’s religious beliefs lead them to think that Darwin’s evolutionary theories are not correct.  A potential challenge regarding this issue could be addressed by the several positive reviews of the book as well as awards and honors it has received.

Why is this book included?  Initially found while reading Cart, who wrote about Sis, “Both his picture book biography of Charles Darwin, The Tree of Life…and his autobiographical book The Wall…were selected as Best Books for Young Adults,” (Cart, 2010, p. 113). The format of this book is unique, so it has the potential to appeal to people to whom a linear, text-only biography would not.  Additionally, it provides excellent information for all readers.

References

Cart, M. (2010). Young adult literature: From romance to realism.  Chicago, IL: ALA.