reading log: graphic novel

Pilu of the Woods by Mai K. Nguyen

Nguyen, Mai K. (2019). Pilu of the Woods. Oni Press.

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Cover of Pilu of the Woods features a young girl with black hair and bangs and big round eyes and glasses. Behind her is a fluffy white dog named Chicory. She is holding a magnolia blossom. She is against a green background. Above her is the title of the book surrounded by a circular garland of leaves and branches..

Pilu of the Woods is a young reader’s graphic novel, written and illistrated by Mai K. Nguyen. The protagonist Willow is grieving the (indirectly hinted) loss of her mother and being teased by classmates. When she gets home, her feelings, personified as little monsters she keeps in jars to contain her emotions, erupt as her older sister, Linnea, asks what’s going on at school. Willow storms out the door, followed closely by her dog Chicory, and into her beloved woods, where she knows how to id many of the flowers and plants thanks to spending time there with both her mom and dad. From here, the main arc of the graphic novel takes us through the woods to where she stumbles upon Pilu, who has also run away from home, convinced that her mother (some sort of tree spirit) doesn’t care. As Willow leads Pilu home, to her mother’s favorite magnolia grove, the two exchange knowledge of the flora around them, and discuss the sensation of over-consuming feelings of anguish and anger, loneliness and in Willow’s case grief.

I love the representation of emotions as little monsters, and the discussion if whether it’s best to contain them or feel your way thru. The illustrations of the woods and characters balance light and dark as Will struggles with her emotions. With heartfelt moments of new friendship, tough themes are addressed as storms and darkness loom, forcing Willow to finally confront her grief, and the monsters, head on. The whimsy of the flowers and mushrooms, and a hint of fairy lore is intriguing and accessible to kids who might likewise be learning about the wild around them. At the end, the author includes space for readers to journal about local wildlife and their own curiosities. The text could be used as an introduction to exploring science and the outside as well as to address social emotional learning and to help kids give voice to and work through tough emotions that might feel like they’re taking over.

Check out the publisher’s website here.

reading log: audiobook

The Golden Compass by Philip Pullman, narrated by by Philip Pullman, et al. (12 hours)

Pullman, Philip. (2003). The Golden Compass. (Philip Pullman, narr., Joanna Wyatt, Rupert Degas, ALison Dowling, Douglas Blackwell, Jill Shilling, Stephen Thorne, Sean Barrett, Garrick Hagon, John O’Connor, Susan Sheridan, et al.). [Audiobook.] Listening Library (Audio). Penguin Random House Audio Publishing Group. (Originally published 1995).

Title details for The Golden Compass by Philip Pullman - Wait list

To evaluate an audiobook I decided to revisit one of my childhood favorites, The Golden Compass, the first book in the His Dark Materials series from Philip Pullman. Recently, it has been marvellously adapted to the screen by HBO, and having watched it, I wanted to reread it. I was delighted to find that the audiobook, which I accessed through my library’s Overdrive e-zone, is narrated by Pullman himself, along with a full cast of voice actors. Click on the link to hear a sample.

The Golden Compass is a children’s fantasy novel that follows Lyra, a young girl who lives in an Oxford that parallels our world and wherein each human has a daemon, an animal companion who acts as sort of a conscience and constant companion. Lyra, and her daemon Pan, live at Jordan College, an orphan to her knowledge, when a curious woman Mrs. Coulter takes her to London. The scholars of the College have always been at odds with those in power, a zealous church known as the Magesterium. With the help of the alethiometer, aka the eponymous Golden Compass, gifted to her by the Master of Jordan College upon her departure, Lyra learns that Mrs. Coulter is none too friendly, running the Genderal Obalation Board, an agency of the Magesterium supposedly responsible for the mass disappearance of children, including one of her missing friends. She decides to escape, with help of the Gyptians, a nomadic people who make their home on riverboats, to go North to find both her friend, Roger, a son of servants in the kitchens at the college, who has disappeared, and her uncle, Lord Asriel, who has been conducting mysterious experiments on a mysterious substance known as Dust whilst also looking for parallel worlds. Along the way Lyra finds harsh struggles but also deep friendships that along with her wit and cunning will help her reach her potential and fulfill her fate.

Northern Lights (novel) cover.jpg

As a classic, the production of this audibook is exquisite. There is a full cast of voice actors, each taking on a major character, as well as has music interspersed appropriately and minimally. It is sheer entertainment, wth excellent narration that is incredibly engaging for any any listener. Since it is narrated by the author himself, it is without a doubt that the audiobook can stand alone and exists in and of itself “as a fully realized expression of the author’s intent and meaning” (Burkely, 2007). Having done tremendous justice to the original written story, this audiobook would be a perfect introduction to books on tape for those young readers who have yet to thoroughly experience them. It is a great example of “the spoken word,” that is “imagination’s greatest champion,” according to the ALSC/Booklist/YALSA Odyssey Award for Excellence in Audiobook Production. Foremost I see this audiobook as a perfect opportunity for entertainment in the library, to foster of love of reading as an instrument of imagination. As a craft extension in response to the story, however, kids could create their own daemons, through writing or art. There could also be a deep study of setting, comparing Lyra’s world to ours, looking at how the author executes world-building.

After listening to the original story on audiobook, be sure to check out the trailer for the recently adapted series.

reading log: historical fiction

Becoming Muhammad Ali: a novel by James Patterson and Kwame Alexander, illustrated by Dawud Anyabwile

Becoming Muhammad Ali

Patterson, James and Kwame Alexander, and Dawud Anyabwile, illustr. Becoming Muhammad Ali. New York: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2020.

Alternating in verse (narrated by a young Cassius Clay) and prose (narrated by his friend, Lucky), this novel for young readers tells the story of Muhammad Ali’s youth and journey to and through the boxing ring. Althought ethe alternations in persepctive and writing style are jarring at first, a slight knock to the jaw, it quickly becomes habit, and is fun to read! Like any coming of age story there are crushes, bullies, and struggles with grades. Yet Cassius, known as Gee-Gee to friends and family, is growing up in 1950s Louisville, Kentucky, amidst segregation. Cassius is seeking to reconcile this with his big dreams – to be the greatest, to buy his mother a big house – in a world where “there’s two Lousivilles,” where he asks his father of his church painting, “where were all the black angels when they took the picture?” With engaging and rhythmic verse, readers follow as Cassius Clay trains, ” The name’s Cassius Clay / and I’m gearing to fight / my next foe may bark / but I’m sure gon’ bite!” According to Lucky, “Cassius wasn’t satisfied” with anything simple, but “had to “add a little drama. A little color. A little poetry.” Lucky writes that he “always had songs his head,” and always had “rhymes,” rendering the form of this book even more apt and the voice more authentic.

According to the acknowledgements, much of the book is based on never before heard oral histories, thanks to Muhammad Ali’s family, perhaps giving readers an unprecedented look at the youth of this great figure. Since it is a fictionalized biography, we see elements of truth and the history of the times rendered in a way that draws in readers and presents history in a way that is “relevant and meaningful to their lives today.” (Vardell, 214). Illustrations interspersed throughout the pages add to the deep character studies and further hook readers.

This book could be used as a basis in a unit on biographies and historical profiles, as well in conjuction with studies of the civil rights movement and segregation. Since Cassius is always talking about his hopes for the future, despite systemic racism and inequalities he faces, it could also be used in a discussion of dreams for the future, and a recipe for overcoming and shining the spotlight on societal injustices. The author’s website features this reading guide. Students can also check out the Muhammad Ali Center’s Digital Museum here.

Check out a converstation with Kwame Alexander, talking about the book, here from The Brown Bookshelf.