Orphans Maddy and Aiden survived a brutal Kansas winter. But facing starvation, they join a wagon train going to the Washington Territory, trading years of indentured servitude as payment to the wagon master. The Oregon Trail is hard and many do not make it.
Aiden eventually witnesses the Army’s use of smallpox as a weapon against the Native Americans. After reaching the coast, he spends time in a logging camp where he takes a dangerous chance to make a difference in the Natives’ lives.
Why I picked it up: It promised to bring the Oregon Trail to life. (It did.)
Why I finished it: It had bare-knuckle fighting, which took place in the Northwest Territory logging camps! I learned about Washington State (where I live) history while being entertained, and the book did not romanticize the hardships of the road.
I'd give it to: Andrew, a 9th grader who needs books that start fast and where the action keeps going. Middle school boys who enjoyed (or will one day enjoy) Fight Club and have a history project due.
Paul and Marie, two children in “free” France during World War II, choose sides and become part of the Resistance to save a friend.
Why I picked it up: Another graphic novel about the holocaust and World War II??? I was reluctant to start it, even though the publisher sent me a copy. But the cover image with the kid ready to attack the Nazi with a slingshot is great, and I like the idea of kids joining the French Resistance, so I did finally open the book.
Why I finished it: There’s a positive tone to this book -- after all, Paul and Marie decide to help their Jewish friend, Henri, escape the Nazis and find his parents, and friends still have fun despite the war. But there’s a dark tone, too, that’s more prevalent. One of their friends has absorbed the Nazi attitudes about Jews. They hear from their Aunt Celia about what’s been happening in occupied Paris. Their father is a POW and they don’t know when they’ll see him. And, as they help Henri they become suspicious of everyone, creating a real sense of danger.
I'd give it to: My daughter, who is curious about France because I went there last winter (and because she loves French comics, too) because it would give me a way to start talking to her about my father’s father’s Army experience in World War II.
Interviews with dozens of my favorite comedians and humorists on the subject of satire, conducted by the director of The Aristocrats.
Why I picked it up: John Stewart, David Cross, Patton Oswalt, Stephen Colbert, Bill Maher, George Carlin, Tom Lehrer, Terry Jones, Judd Apatow, Lili Tomlin, Mike Nichols, Penn Jillette...
Why I finished it: These are the world experts on what I do for a living, talking about what I do for a living. If cartoonists got continuing education credits, it would be for reading things like this.
I'd give it to: Gene and Paul so we can have informed discussions about our craft.
The new guy at middle school wants to hide his nerdy love of science from the other kids, but he's noticed by some people who appreciate his skills: The Secret Science Alliance! They team up, share their cool inventions and face a terrible foe!
Why I picked it up: It's a graphic novel with science! The style occasionally reminded me of Chris Ware’s work!
Why I finished it: It's an awesome kid science-team adventure. (Did you watch The Bloodhound Gang segments on 3-2-1 Contact? I totally did.) I liked how the characters encouraged each other to follow their passion in science. I wish I could make or at least use their inventions. It's all beautifully laid out and saturated with bright colors. All of these elements are wrapped into a fast moving and satisfying adventure.
I'd give it to: Science teachers who want to show their students that kids from all kinds of neighborhoods, families, and backgrounds can be into science. The students in the Titan Robotics Club, who would love the cutaway diagram of the Alliance's secret hideout.
In this book, as in Nick & Norah’s Infinite Playlist, the authors alternate chapters, with each writing from the point of view of a single character throughout the book. In this case, both are named Will Grayson. One is a socially awkward, upper middle class heterosexual. His ambition is to stay as removed from people as he can, since he believes that caring only leads to disappointment and pain. His unlikely best friend, Tiny, is a very social young man Will describes as, “…the world’s largest person who is really, really gay, and also the world’s gayest person who is really, really large.” Tiny wants to get Will involved in the world. Tiny’s other ambition is to write and stage a musical called Tiny Dancer, featuring such songs as “The Nosetackle (Likes Tight Ends).”
The other Will Grayson is a depressed, cynical, closeted, financially insolvent teen whose only relationship is a ‘friendship’ with a girl named Maura, whom he doesn’t really like. He also has an online boyfriend, Isaac, whom he’s never met. Desperate to connect but is unsure how to do it, he maintains a veneer of hostility to everyone but Isaac.
Why I picked it up: John Green and David Levithan, two of the most amazing voices in YA literature, make me think and laugh at the same time.
Why I finished it: Each chapter is such a view into the Wills’ lives! I needed to find out if one would finally participate in the world and if the other would find love, happiness and self-acceptance. Both characters are likable (although I’m truly in love with Tiny and want to be his new best friend) and I found myself pulling for each of them.
The climax of the story, the premiere of Tiny’s musical, is delightful and perfectly orchestrated.
I'd give it to: That goth boy at my daughter’s high school would totally love both Wills and have a literary crush on Tiny. Mike, that boy from my high school days (long ago), who I now realize was in so much pain and filled with self denial.
Scully lives on the ice, trading goods with settlements. He’s frequently double-crossed, and the only friend he can trust is Rahrah, his pet badger. Then he saves a young girl, Wynn. He plans to leave her at the next settlement but they’re attacked and taken prisoner. After being traded to The Farm as slaves, Scully escapes but finds that he cannot abandon Wynn.
Why I picked it up: I love low budget science fiction movies, and that’s what this would be if it was filmed. Most B movies take place in a desert, but this one would take place on the ice.
Why I finished it: Zaffino’s art is great. It conveys the brutality of survival without going overboard. It’s black and white, which makes the violence seem PG rated at first glance.
This lack of color helped the book age well despite the advances in technology that can make comics reprinted from the 1980s look less than appealing.
I'd give it to: Anyone who enjoyed Beyond Thunderdome (though The Farm doesn’t have pigs), Waterworld (there are sharks in the second part, but they’re not mutants), or the ubiquitous, direct-to-VHS post apocalyptic movies made before anyone had ever heard of DVD or Blu-ray.