Zita the Spacegirl by Ben Hatke: A Graphic Novel I Feel Good About Sharing With My Daughter

I have loved comic books since the age of three.  I still remember my first comic, an issue of World’s Finest featuring Batman and Superman.  I still love comic books, but unfortunately have trouble finding appropriate ones to share with my six-year-old daughter.  You see, even though I’m now thirty-seven, most Batman and Superman comic books are still written for me.  Furthermore, the all-ages comic books released by Marvel and DC tend to be one slugfest after another.  I’m not interested in my daughter reading that sort of thing.

A few weeks back, I started hearing good things about a graphic novel series called Zita the Spacegirl.  My daughter and I love making up space stories, so we headed to the local library and checked out the first volume.  My daughter immediately loved it.

I read it to her to double-check its appropriateness, and I’m pleased to say it’s a perfect match for what my daughter wants and for what I require.  I won’t lie, I love the character as well.  In fact, after we returned that first volume to the library, we bought all three volumes for her birthday.

I love Zita the Spacegirl because while it’s appropriate for a six-year-old, it’s also full of action and real science fiction.  There are aliens, spaceships, robots, and explosions.  But there’s also a lot of positive messages in it as well, such as loyalty, doing the right thing, facing your fear, and self-reliance.

Hatke’s art, by the way, is top-notch.  Yes, it’s purposefully cartoonish, but I challenge you to find a more diverse and interesting collection of robots and aliens in any comic book.  Furthermore, his sequential storytelling is perfect. My daughter has no trouble following the progression because of Hatke’s smooth transitions from panel to panel.  Make no mistake, by the way, this book is one-step away from being a little scary.  It never quite frightens my daughter, but some of the aliens are creepy, some of the story is pretty tense, and there are moments of real danger for our characters.  Hatke knows a good story has to be appealing, and he’s made it so by getting as close to the line as he can without crossing over it.

As a final boon, if you’re familiar with my writing you know I’m always searching on my daughter’s behalf for a female character that is not a male derivative (Supergirl) and that is also not in her underwear (Wonder Woman).  In Zita, we have a girl not much older than my daughter who is tough, kind, smart, funny, brave, independent, and respectable.

I’m so happy to have found a comic book that I feel good about sharing with my daughter.

The Astonishing Secret of Awesome Man by Michael Chabon – A Book Review

I’ve often said that Michael Chabon is one of America’s preeminent contemporary authors, so when I heard he had a children’s picture book available, I jumped at the chance to procure one on behalf of my three-year-old.

Michael Chabon’s The Astonishing Secret of Awesome Man is cute and innocent and consistent with what we know and love about super heroes.  The story follows the adventures of Awesome Man as he teases an astonishing secret throughout.

Personally, I found it a tad violent for my three-year-old because of the hitting and fighting.  Also, some of the language was not appropriate for her (but we’re talking “kick a little behind” and “what the heck” … nothing too serious).  I have no doubt that in another year or two I’ll be more comfortable letting her look at it.

It should be noted, however, that my daughter asked me to read it to her for three days straight after reading it to her only once … and she referred to it as “Awesome Man,” so clearly the one time I read it to her resonated.

Jake Parker’s artwork is beautiful.  The pictures are fun, colorful, charismatic, and I love the dots in places replicating the way comic books were once colored.

An instant favorite with my daughter, The Astonishing Secret of Awesome Man is a harmless, engaging picture book that, while a tad too violent for my three-year-old because of the fighting, will surely delight those a little older.


Horse Crazy: The Silver Horse Switch by Alison Lester – A Book Review

Intended for young readers, Horse Crazy is the story of Bonnie and Sam, two young girls living in the bush of Australia.  Though they don’t have their own steeds, they do everything they can to ride their fellow townspeople’s horses.  One night, a wild horse jumps the fence and switches places with Sam’s father’s horse that would much prefer to live in the wilderness.  Sam’s father is the sheriff, and this replacement horse must adapt quickly to the police horse lifestyle, especially when a child’s life is at stake.

The Silver Horse Switch is slow to start—very slow.  In fact, I have great difficulty believing a child would want to stick with this story that spends the first twenty pages simply describing each horse in the community.  It isn’t until midway through the book that anything resembling an actual story commences.  Once the story is fully rolling, however, the book becomes quite engaging.

The artwork by Roland Harvey is relatively simple but not without charm.  By and large, Harvey illustrates the scenes accurately and I particularly enjoyed his backgrounds.

I also found the glossary of Australian terminology a clever touch and helpful to the story’s clarity.

So while The Silver Horse Switch is overall a pleasant experience, it takes far too long for the actual story to emerge.

The Ghosts of Luckless Gulch by Anne Isaacs – A Book Review

This children’s book written by Anne Isaacs and illustrated by Dan Santat is a perfect example of two people who are extremely talented coming together in perfect union and creating a truly special work.

Isaacs’ story is just as charming as can be.  Estrella is a young girl who runs so fast she leaves fire in her wake.  One day her pets- each of whom have an unusual ability as well-are stolen right out from under her nose.  Her search for her pets brings about a confrontation with a gang of ghosts who are trying to greedily take advantage of the 1848 gold rush. 

This is a story well told.  Isaacs uses figurative language originally and effectively and also offered some truly funny scenes.  While there are ghosts in this story, there’s nothing scary about them and because Estrella has the upper hand nearly the entire time, I don’t think even the most timid of children would find this tale creepy.  Other than offering an appealing yarn much akin to a tall-tale, Isaacs also executes some solid expertise.  She introduces elements in the beginning that play a relevant role later, and there is not one wasted moment in this short book.  Not only will your child read a fun, charismatic story, but they’ll also witness great writing as well!

And let’s talk about Dan Santat!  His artwork perfectly compliments Isaacs’ craft.  His renditions of the speedy Estrella, her incredible pets, and the dastardly ghosts are beautiful to look at and I have no doubt a child could sit and endlessly study each and every picture in the book.  I know as a thirty-one-year-old, I stared quite a bit at his work with immense enjoyment.  His figures are cartoony yet oddly realistic, and his colors are simply mesmerizing.    

Isaacs and Santat’s talents blended marvelously together to create a striking work that I think all children will enjoy.