Calamity Jack by Shannon and Dean Hale

I loved Shannon and Dean Hale’s (and the incomparable Dean Hale- no-relation’s illustrations) Rapunzel’s Revenge. See my review here.
Calamity Jack is the rip-roaring sequel to the first graphic novel and is so.much.fun! Tweens will gobble this one up, as it appeals to boys and girls. A retelling of “Jack and the Beanstalk”, the Hales have rewritten the story with a steampunk twist. This time Jack takes the reins, and he and Rapunzel are headed back to his hometown to settle a few financial issues.  But when they get there Jack learns that a few things have changed since he ran away.  The “giant” tycoons have taken over and the city is dirty, gritty, and full of thieves.  Have no fear, though- Jack and Rapunzel are here to save the day!

Hand this one to graphic novel lovers, fairy tale retelling lovers, and adventure lovers.  The illustrations are gorgeous, the dialogue will have you laughing out loud, and the story is perfect.  Highly recommended for middle school libraries!

*review copy courtesy of the publisher

Cinderella retold by Cynthia Rylant

“This is a story about darkness and light, about sorrow and joy, about something lost and something found. This is a story about Love. ” (page 1, Walt Disney’s Cinderella )

Cynthia Rylant is one of my favorite authors, and one I frequently rely on for great mentor texts. When I saw that she had retold Walt Disney’s Cinderella with illustration by Mary Blair, I knew I had to read it. The book does not disappoint.

This is the traditional, Disney version of Cinderella. However, Rylant has put her trademarks of beautiful language and deft storytelling on this edition. The story is gorgeous. Though you already know what happens, you can’t help but to keep turning the pages. And I noted so many spots that I can’t want to point out to my students. It is just a gorgeous book!

Mary Blair’s illustrations are also awe-inspiring. Blair was one of Walt Disney’s most brilliant conceptual designers, defining the look of classic Disney films like Cinderella, Alice in Wonderland, and Peter Pan. She spent 34 years working as an artist for Disney. Her illustrations are immediately call to mind the classic Disney films that she helped create. Each page is full of large brush strokes, gorgeous backgrounds, and complementary colors. There were many pages that I wish I could have as a print to hang in my home! (If you click on the link, you can search inside the book on Amazon. It’s not the same as viewing them in person, but you get a good feel for the mood the illustrations set).

This is a purchase I am very glad I made. In fact, I can imagine sharing this beautiful book with my own children someday. It’s just that wonderful and classic!

Rapunzel’s Revenge by Shannon and Dean Hale

I have to admit- I am not a graphic novel reader. Sure, I will read one, but it’s never my first choice. I think it’s because I read so fast and I tend to skip the pictures to get to the words, and then I have to go back to the pictures. It just slows down my normal reading pace. However, I was absolutely thrilled when I received an ARC of Rapunzel’s Revenge from the publisher. I read it in one sitting last night and can not wait to pass it on to my students. What a phenomenal story!

First, let’s begin with the size. The ARC is 7 1/2 x 10 7/8.  It’s bigger than your average book and it serves the illustrations well.  Nathan Hale’s (no relation to the authors) illustrations are just gorgeous.  I am not a “picture person” when it comes to books, hence my tendency to avoid graphic novels.  However, Nathan Hale forced me to linger over each and every panel!  The illustrations are beautiful and there is just so much going on in every one!

As for the story, WOW!  First of all, I so admire people who can co-write.  I can barely manage to write on my own, and coupled with the fact that I am a control freak, I can’t imagine writing with someone.  However, Shannon and Dean have crafted a fantastic fairy tale re-telling of Rapunzel’s story.  A much, much better story than the first time around!  The story is in direct contradiction to the original in many parts, but that’s what makes it so great.  Rapunzel is strong, witty, and smart.  No damsels in distress in this fairy tale!  The world she lives in is a mix of the Wild West and a fairy tale world.  Sounds crazy, right?  It works. And it works great!

This is going to be the perfect graphic novel for reluctant readers, fairy tale lovers, readers who love fairy tale retellings, and anyone who loves books that make you laugh out loud.  I can not wait to pass this one onto my students.  I can already foresee the fight that will break out over who gets to read it first.  And second.  And third.  And so on!

Princess Ben by Catherine Gilbert Murdock

Princess Ben is not your typical princess. Instead of a proper, waif-thin, ladylike teen, Ben (short for Benevolence) is loud, big-boned, and opinionated. Her parents encourage her independence and are her best friends. Unfortunately, Ben’s life is forever changed when her mother and father are murdered while on a day trip to her grandfather’s grave. Ben is left an orphan and becomes the ward of her aunt, Queen Sophia. Too young to rule her country, Ben is to be properly groomed by Sophia before becoming the ruler of her country.

Queen Sophia is cold and seemingly cruel to Ben- forcing her to learn how to be a princess, how to dance, and worst of all, how to eat a “princess portion”. Ben, never stick-thin, turns to food for comfort during her grief and Queen Sophia is furious. She locks her in a tower and forbids her to leave unless Sophia allows her to leave the room. Even worse is the fact that Queen Sophia has been grooming her for suitable suitors!

However, everything changes when Ben discovers the magic. Ben is amazed by the discovery: a hidden magical room. There she learns spells from a mysterious spell book while the rest of castle sleeps. But Ben will have to learn more than magic if she’s to ever escape from aunt’s clutches and keep her country from being overrun by the very people that conspired in her parents’ murders.

This book is very different from Dairy Queen, but there are similarities. Ben is a strong female character and not your typical, waif-y princess. She grows and changes throughout the novel, becoming stronger and more mature but never loses herself. This is not the story of a damsel in a distress who needs to be saved from the dragon. This is the story of a damsel saving herself from the dragon!

A fun YA read, I would recommend this to fans of Ella Enchanted. Ben is an inspirational strong female character that I think many young girls will love. Murdock has skillfully woven the mythology of this new fairy tale kingdom into the fabric of the rest of the fairy tale world. There are cameos by famous fairy tale characters, which left me laughing out loud, but they never distract you from the story at hand. Fans of Catherine Gilbert Murdock and fairy tales will love Princess Ben!

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