Best friends Gabby, Mindy, and Priya are very different, but they have the same problem: all three girls love animals, and none of them are allowed to have pets. Determined to get quality cuddle time with some critters, they try out several schemes before creating a dog-walking business, which they name PAWS (an acronym—sort of—for Pretty Awesome WalkerS).
Several clients sign up immediately, and suddenly the girls have all the dogs they can handle—maybe even more than they can handle. Conflict bubbles up: Priya plays lots of sports, so the other two keep having to walk extra dogs when she has practices or games. Mindy can really use the dog-walking money, so she’s keen to take on more dogs even when the trio is already struggling. Gabby is the youngest, and sometimes feels that the other two don’t listen to her.
When the girls finally solve these issues, more trouble pops up: Mindy’s mom starts dating, which makes Mindy feel insecure and afraid of change just as the other two girls want to ask a new friend to join PAWS. Then Priya’s family moves across town, and her parents want her to switch schools. How will the girls of PAWS keep their business—and their friendship—going strong?
This fun series will inevitably draw comparisons to the Baby-Sitters Club, another series in which tween girls form a business together and deal with professional and personal issues. Both feature characters who are very different in personality and background but are close friends: Gabby comes from a secure, well-to-do family and is a little sheltered; Mindy is a stylish, chronically-online latchkey kid with a single mom; Priya is an athlete and the child of immigrants. Hazel, who joins PAWS in the second book, is new in town and uses a wheelchair. Each book focuses on the character whose name is in the title, with occasional sections following one of the others. Like the girls of the Baby-Sitters Club, these kids work through the practical details of how pre-teens might realistically organize and run a business.
PAWS is set in Vancouver, Canada, and feels very much of the present day. The girls use some current slang, especially when they squeal over animals, calling them “pupper,” “floof boi,” “lad,” “fren,” and “king,” and exclaiming “I would boop that nose so hard!” Phones and social media also feature frequently. All of this feels natural, and while the language may eventually seem a little quirky to future readers, the storylines and themes of friendship, accepting change, and taking care of yourself are timeless.
The art is a colorful, lightly cartoonified version of reality. The characters are expressive, sometimes becoming comically exaggerated to show extreme emotions. They are distinct and easy to tell apart, and each has an individual style, including plenty of different outfits. The animals have a lot of personality, too. While the focus is on the characters, the backgrounds are detailed enough to keep the settings—mostly parks, school, and the kids’ homes—clear and present. There are also a couple of illustrated recipes: Mindy narrates how to make gamja bokkeum, a Korean dish, and her mom’s boyfriend Mike explains how to make a kind of breakfast casserole.
There is no violence, no swearing (unless you count an embarrassed character mumbling “Oh God”), and no romantic content other than Mindy’s mom innocently hanging out with her new boyfriend. The stakes are emotional and logistical, not physical danger, except for one instance when Priya falls and hurts her leg.
These funny, relatable characters learn problem-solving and other life lessons through engaging stories. Definitely hand this series to fans of the Baby-Sitters Club, as well as to readers of other middle-grade realistic fiction, like the work of Raina Telgemeier and Shannon Hale.
PAWS By Nathan Fairbairn Art by Michele Assarasakorn Penguin Random House Razorbill, 2022 ISBN: 9780593351864
Publisher Age Rating: 8-12
NFNT Age Recommendation: Middle Grade (7-11), Tween (10-13) Creator Representation: Canadian, Thai, , Character Representation: Black, Indian, Korean, Wheelchair User, Hindu ,
A house can be just a place to live but a home can be so much more than that. It can be where you feel safe, where you feel loved, and where you feel comfortable. Mazie Lovie’s middle grade graphic memoir The Lucky Poor tells Mazie’s own experience growing up poor, with not always ideal living situations, until her mom becomes a homeowner through Habitat for Humanity Canada.
Mazie lives with her mom and her younger brother, Jake. They’ve lived in the Bug House, with her mom’s boyfriend, then an apartment that was way too small for the three of them. Her grandparents live on a farm nearby where she spends every weekend, the most stable and consistent home in her young life. Her grandparents have a (two room) vacation cottage home too, where Mazie gets to spend a week every summer. It’s great to live with so much family close by but when it comes to physical space, it’s not always that great.
As Mazie starts getting older, she admits to herself she needs more space, her own dedicated space without Jake barging in. Jake is autistic and it’s not always easy for Mazie to be patient with him. It’s not until she joins a group with other kids with autistic siblings that she feels safe admitting this. It’s a lot of emotions for a tween to handle, dealing with being poor and not having her own room, but Mazie knows her family is part of the lucky poor, the group of people who dance around the poverty line but always have a roof over their head.
When Mazie is 13, her mom is the recipient of a house from Habitat for Humanity Canada. The family is required to complete 500 volunteer hours and maintain the upkeep of the house. The House, as it’s referred to in the book, gives Mazie a taste of the classism that’s been lying within some of her family members. They think Mazie’s mom doesn’t deserve the house. There’s people worse off than they are, they already had a place to live, why should they get a free house? The Lucky Poor does a gentle job of dealing with these heavy topics, as Mazie looks within to try to understand why anyone would feel this way. Readers will also see how hard her mom works at being the perfect homeowner and her need to continue to prove they deserve it.
The book primarily focuses on Mazie’s family but delves more into her friendships as she gets older. The House becomes a space for community; her Girl Guides group uses it as a meeting spot and it serves as a help for other members of her troop. Readers can use the story as a kickoff to think about what their living situation means to them and how it may serve as a place beyond just where their family lives.
The story told in The Lucky Poor ties into the book itself, with Mazie deciding what she wants to do with her life as it ends. Lovie’s art style is colorful and cartoonish, reminiscent of a webcomic in the best way. It may potentially attract younger readers but the narrative of Mazie’s life is more on the older middle grade side. Readers who’ve personally experienced housing insecurity may find this graphic memoir particularly emotional at times and it could evoke big emotions in readers of any class background.
There’s a lot of heart and love in The Lucky Poor, along with potential for discussion about classism and dealing with discrimination, even from the people you love. It’s recommended for readers of other graphic memoirs for middle grade readers, such as The Tryout and Chunky.
The Lucky Poor A Habitat for Humanity Story By Mazie Lovie Iron Circus, 2024 ISBN: 9781638991250
Publisher Age Rating: 11-13
NFNT Age Recommendation: Middle Grade (7-11), Tween (10-13)
Don’t let its cute manga-inspired art fool you. Matchmaker, the queer slice-of-life comic book by Cam Marshall, addresses plenty of serious topics in its compact print volume, such as: staying safe during the Covid-19 pandemic; the stress of being unemployed or underemployed in a capitalist society; work life balance; and asserting and affirming sexual and gender identities.
In six chapters, the book reveals the lives of three young friends struggling through life and searching for romance, with fully realized side characters to round out the story. Transgender, nonbinary lesbian Kimmy attempts to set up gay cisgender Mason with the perfect guy. Meanwhile, Kimmy develops feelings for their mutual friend Marlowe. The relationships unfold at a natural pace while the reader waits to find out if Kimmy’s matchmaking will succeed. Romance is the core of the plot but subplots such as artist Marlowe’s wrist injury; animator Mason’s desperate search for decent paid work; the friends’ thorough efforts to protect immunocompromised Mason from Covid while others remain lax; and Mason’s sister Sam’s questioning of sexual identity balance out what would otherwise be a one-dimensional story.
Marshall’s art is in black, white, and gray. It is arranged in panels with full page artwork at the beginning of each chapter. The dialogue and images fit neatly within the panels and each enhances the other, especially in terms of humor which is depicted textually and pictorially. Exaggerated facial expressions and well-placed onomatopoeia give a fun, goofy vibe to the story. Picture a winking Marlowe handing a receipt with her phone number on it to love-struck Kimmy with a BAM! while Kimmy’s eyes spiral in a classic “knocked out” expression (151). The print book is about 5.5 inches tall by 5.5 inches wide, an unusual size for an adult section book. But it’s conveniently portable and surprisingly, the art and text are not negatively impacted.
The youthful sense of humor, timely existential woes, and art style of Matchmaker will mostly appeal to folks in the mid 20s to mid 30s age range. Recommend this charming book to fans of slice-of-life stories such as Giant Days or Wet Moon.
Matchmaker By Cam Marshall Silver Sprocket, 2023 ISBN: 9798886200294
NFNT Age Recommendation: Adult (18+) Creator Representation: Nonbinary , Character Representation: Bisexual, Gay, Lesbian, Nonbinary, Trans, Depression
Bad Medicine is essentially fairly good medicine—a graphic novel celebrating oral storytelling, Cree folklore, friendship, with five creative teens around a campfire by the river, telling horrific tales. The stories are cautionary tales that become more and more spooky as the teens try to excel each other’s stories and telling skills evoking monsters such as impish little folk, ghosts, shapeshifters, and demons from local folklore.
The first tale is told about the vivid experiences of a man fishing in the river in close proximity to the campfire where they are sitting. Although one of the teens protests from the onset that the story is not true, the others are a willing audience to the tale of the man and his fatal adventures with the small trickster beings in the river. The teens are spooked but ready for the next story which “is true, at least.” This tale is also eerie, but the malevolent creature in it is much too human and the story much too familiar for many young Indigenous women on their own. The third story begins in the daylight but, once again, the tale takes a very dark turn with the audience left feeling uncomfortable and uneasy at its conclusion. The supernatural in this story is perhaps not as frightening as the other evil creatures in the previous tales, but perhaps that depends on your perspective. Before the next storyteller takes a turn, one of the teens leaves the campfire to go home, not because he wants to leave but, as the others explain, because he needs to protect his sisters. His story is told next, but not as something that happened in the past. The horror is, unfortunately, much too authentic, happening to him over and over again each evening when he finally is at home. After he leaves, the four remaining teens safely extinguish the fire and make their way home in the dark. They are feeling satisfied with the evening and plan to tell more stories around the fire at a later date.
Brief and natural conversations around the campfire between each of the tellings and among the teens put the stories in context and make the reader feel that perhaps they too are sitting around the fire with the storytellers. The illustrations have simple unadorned backdrops that, at the same time, establish the distinct setting for each tale. The illustrations accentuate the natural world surrounding the teens as well as real-life concerns that also envelop them as they make their way in the modern world. The rectangular panels are coloured with a mostly subdued palette with the exception of the first tale, which offers bright yellows that fade away to the darker hues of browns and black for the remaining episodes. I did have a little trouble telling characters apart at times.
Writer and illustrator Christopher Twin is from the Swan River First Nations reservation in northern Alberta, Canada. He is a freelance illustrator and comic book artist currently living in Edmonton. He focuses on telling stories, both in text and illustration, of social and cultural divides and life as a mixed-race individual.
This graphic novel is suitable for a teen audience who like horror, scary stories, and realistic fiction featuring Indigenous people. Highly recommended for First Nation collections, those interested in the art of storytelling, and local Alberta lore.
Bad Medicine Vol. By Christopher Twin Emanata, 2023 ISBN: 9781772620870
Publisher Age Rating: 14-18 NFNT Age Recommendation: Older Teen (16-18), Teen (13-16) Creator Representation: Canadian, Cree Character Representation: Canadian, Cree
Tegan and Sara are twin sisters, living in Calgary, Canada, ready to face their first year of junior high together. They’ve been inseparable their whole lives but things aren’t so certain these days. Tegan and Sara: Junior High, by Tegan Quin and Sara Quin themselves, with art by Eisner Award winning artist Tillie Walden, tells the story of one year in the life of the twins as they discover who they are, both together and apart.
Their dad has a new girlfriend. Their best friend isn’t going to the same school as they are. People keep getting them confused and even calling them clones. The sisters have always been close, but maybe junior high is the time to start to explore who they are outside of being a duo and who they are as individuals. Their bodies are changing so quickly that it feels unexpected, like being caught off guard with a tampon on the very first day of your very first period. Drama happens within their new friend groups. There’s crushes on cute girls and the beginning of understanding their queerness. There’s a guitar in the garage and the growing desire to put all those feelings into a song.
Tegan and Sara: Junior High is the latest addition to the Tegan and Sara universe, which consists of not only their music, but their memoir about their high school years, aptly titled High School, and a subsequent television show based on it. Middle grade readers may not be as familiar with these previous outputs. However, no prior knowledge of the duo is needed to appreciate the story being told here; at its very core, this is a story about two sisters.
Unlike many other graphic novel memoirs for middle grade readers, the book does not reflect the time period when it actually happened, which was the early 1990s. Instead, it has been moved to the present day, potentially making it more relatable for its intended audience. These stories are timeless, there will always be certain aspects of the tween years that are inescapable, but making it modern may help some readers connect more with the story being told. It’s current but not too current. The characters have cell phones and watch streaming videos, but it never overtakes the story.
Readers seeking a realistic look at these in-between years will enjoy Junior High. It may not be as bright and fast paced as other graphic novels about similar years, but there is something reflective and honest about the combination of Walden’s art and the Quins’ story. The warm colors add a calming sense to the stress of tween years. The conversations between the sisters that begin and end each chapter are a highlight. Readers learn more about their individual inner thoughts and also their close connection to each other.
Tegan and Sara: Junior High will appeal to readers of Shannon Hale and LeUyen Pham’s Friends series or Jennifer Holm and Matthew Holm’s Sunny series. This graphic novel also has crossover appeal for some teens, especially those who have enjoyed Walden’s previous graphic novels. The book is a charming, optimistic look at seventh grade and all the possibilities it brings.
Tegan and Sara: Junior High By Tegan Quin, Sara Quin, Art by Tillie Walden Farrar Strous Giroux, 2023 ISBN: 9780374313029
Publisher Age Rating: 10-14
NFNT Age Recommendation: Middle Grade (7-11), Teen (13-16), Tween (10-13) Creator Representation: Canadian, Lesbian Character Representation: Canadian, Queer
As I Enfold You in Petals begins with several pages of wordless panels and near wordless panels depicting people in a huge line waiting to enter, one family at a time, the home of Benny the Bank, a notorious bootlegger first met in the first volume. The people are waiting to impress Benny on his birthday with promises and gifts. The winner will receive a substantial amount of cash, but it is an almost impossible task.
Curtis joins the line. He has just returned to Fort Smith, Northwest Territories, after fighting forest fires and six weeks in rehab for alcoholism. His gift is definitely a surprise for Benny: his lost watch, found when Curtis was fighting fires. Curtis does not want the cash; he wants title to his grandfather’s home which is now owned by Benny. Curtis is interested in helping others in Fort Smith in the struggle with alcoholism and wishes to connect with Louis, his grandfather. Louis’ legacy is as a healer who received his gifts from the Little People and Spirit Helpers.
Curtis’s invitation to the Little People is through a song which is witnessed by Benny and Crow, a mysterious female friend of Benny’s. Benny tells her “As I Enfold You in Petals,” a poetic phrase borrowed from letters he read from Curtis’s father to his wife. The reader also discovers Benny’s secret wishes and his illness in his conversations with his sons. All is dependent on Curtis regaining the trust and support of the Little People.
Written byRichard Van Camp (he/him/his) a proud member of the Tlicho Nation from Fort Smith, Northwest Territories, illustrated by Scott B. Henderson, Donovan Yaciuk and Nickolej Villiger. The first volume, originally published in black and white, has been completely revised by the four creators to provide a fresh and colorful rendition of the story. The newly released volume (2022) includes a precise essay regarding the background of this story as well as an essay on the interactions between the Japanese and the Dene.
It is a delight to have such a positive depiction of Dene spirituality and the people in this superb story of hope, strength of spirit, and redemption. The story celebrates family connections, memories, and stories through the text and the stunningly illustrated and colored illustrations. The pacing created by the panels, along with the rich and diverse coloring scheme, enfold readers into this story of cultural awakening and knowledge, leaving them satiated and complete. The characters and setting are vivid and authentically brought to life while the revisiting of memories is clearly delineated by sepia tones providing an accessible and seamless reading experience. Materials in the back provide information and cultural context about traditional Inuit tattoos that appear in the graphic novel.
The Spirit of Denendeh: As I Enfold You in Petals Vol. 2 By Richard van Camp Art by Scott B. Henderson, Donovan Vaciuk, Nickolej Villiger, Highwater Press, 2023 ISBN: 9781774920411
Publisher Age Rating: 15+
NFNT Age Recommendation: Adult (18+), Older Teen (16-18) Creator Representation: Indian American, Dogrib Dene, Character Representation: Indian American, Dene, First Nations or Indigenous, Addiction
Before opening the cover of the graphic novel, I knew that this was a true story, a memoir that had been originally told in an animated film for the National Film Board of Canada, but I had no other familiarity with the story or the reaction that it would generate within me. I was perplexed when I immediately recognized the setting of the story—I had been at that camp myself, a gift from an unknown sponsor much earlier and, while I distantly recalled much of the camp experience, I had totally forgotten where it was located until I saw the provided map. Memories came flooding back. Like my earlier experience, the author/protagonist was also attending the camp for the first time and, like this reviewer, was more excited about the accessibly of comic books and time to read than anything else!
The camp, in central Alberta, Canada, is located close to the small town of Eckville which, in the 1980s, became notorious because of its anti-Semitic mayor who also was a grade nine teacher in the local school. For several years the teacher, Jim Keegstra, taught his students that the Holocaust was a hoax. This was eventually halted by a parent campaign that resulted in a law case regarding hate and anti-Semitic propaganda. Keegstra was fired, but what was his legacy in the belief systems of those students? “Believing the curriculum was “incomplete,” Keegstra had been teaching Holocaust denial and anti-Semitic conspiracy theories in his classroom – that Jewish people had an international plot to control the world and were to blame for everything that’s wrong” (17).
To combat Keegstra’s troublesome legacy, the Alberta Jewish communities invited the students taught by Keegstra to the summer camp for a day of basketball and fellowship encouraging cultural understanding. The reader is privy to the initial worries and concerns of Hart and his fellow campers regarding the admission of these students into the camp and their lives. What follows is an illustration of misunderstandings and beliefs…and the natural healing and changing of worldviews through the game of basketball. The illustrations are simple line drawings, mostly in black and white, with spots of bright colors and backgrounds emphatically aiding in the emotional telling of the story. The perspective of the text and the illustrations is that of the children with the colored panels accentuating the outlandish monsters created by their imaginations and lack of knowledge of each other.
In the author’s note at the end of the book he discusses the effect Keegstra’s trial had on him as a grade 6 Jewish student. “Keegstra was successfully convicted of criminally promoting hatred of Jewish people, which was an important test of Canada’s hate speech legislation” (83). Hart continues to explain that the public debate surrounding this trial, although uncomfortable, forced Canadians and others beyond our borders to seriously consider the dangers of racism, the necessity of critical thinking skills, and the personal responsibilities to stand up against hate.
Although the basketball game took place in 1983, the trial in 1985, and Keegstra’s appeal to the Supreme Court of Canada in 1996, the issues of racism, anti-Semitism, critical thinking, conspiracy theories and the dangers of hatred are not limited to the past.
I was a mother with two young children when the Keegstra Affair came to light. I lived locally and followed the news faithfully but was never aware of this basketball game until now. This is a story that needs to be read and revisited both the in the original filmic version and this newly published graphic novel again and again. The book includes an introduction, follow up to the trial, study questions, and a glossary. It is a concise and accessible entry to the ease of spreading conspiracy theories, fake news, misinformation, and hatred. Highly recommended for school and public libraries.
The Basketball Game By Hart Snider Art by Sean Covernton Firefly, 2022 ISBN: 9780228103912
Publisher Age Rating: 12+ Related media: Movie to Comic
NFNT Age Recommendation: Adult (18+), Middle Grade (7-11), Older Teen (16-18) Creator Representation: Canadian, Jewish Character Representation: Canadian, Jewish
I am beginning this review with two caveats. First, I am a mother of a daughter who works in the trades and while she has not worked in Fort McMurray, she has experienced many of the same behaviors that Kate Beaton confronted in her two years in the camps. Second, I am an Albertan who has visited both the city and the camps in the oil field areas numerous times. Throughout the several readings of this graphic novel I was reminded again and again of the stories from my daughter and the observations I took away on my short visits. The contradictions innate in the oil-rich area around Fort McMurray has become better known outside of Canada in recent years, but it has always been controversial for the Canadian culture, economy, and, more even more recently, politically.
This was an amazing read, one that I highly recommend for everyone but especially for young women going forward in a disastrous misogynist society. Beaton’s memoir explores through her dialogue a myriad of complex issues including abuse of economic and human resources, lack of respect for the Indigenous inhabitants and culture, sexual harassment and rape, commodification, environmental destruction, isolation, and personal identity. These conversations, and graphic novel, begin with the home life she had before leaving her small town in Cape Breton, Nova Scotia to travel across the country for lucrative jobs in the oil sands of Alberta to pay down student loans. She was 21, naïve and unknowing, when she arrived. Her readers, through her bleak illustrations and chronological recording, journey with her in her personal discoveries of the enormity of the environmental tolls on the land and the people who work at the various sites.
When hundreds of ducks are snagged in a hazardous tailings pond and a co-worker dies in an onsite accident, Beaton becomes highly cognisant of the global and environmental consequences of the tar sands and camp life. At the same time, she must also contend with the rampant sexism, sexual harassment, and crassness of many of her male co-workers and bosses who have also come from away (the Maritime provinces). Her use of dialogue is effortless and natural, bringing the various characters to life, including Kate herself. There are flashes of subtle and wry humor that provide a welcome balance to the reading experience. Her use of muted grays and the proliferation of wordless panels exemplify the vastness of the landscape and the giant machinery. Beaton’s layout of mostly small panels emphasized the confined environment for the workers and herself. Her illustrations of the interiors reveal the limited spaces and rooms crammed with bed bunks, other furniture, and tools. These interiors are in direct contrast to the vastness of the exterior landscape and sky that she brings to life so effectively, often is full page spreads.
The isolation, loneliness, bleak lifestyle, and the lack of normalcy take its toll on the people in the camps. Some people handle it admirably, but so many were physically exhausted and mentally stressed in living conditions as foreign as the landscape. Her portrayal of the people she encounters and the experiences she has had in the various camps is candidly sincere. She relies on her own acute observations, underlining her personal connections with the people, land, and machinery. The graphic novel is commendably honest. The responses to the fate of the ducks contrasted to those of the Indigenous health and land concerns and the mental health of the migratory workers within and without the boundaries of the oil industry was frightening and telling. The repercussions of this willingness to overlook the dangers of the oil fields because of commercial gain underlies her novel but Beaton is never didactic in her remarks. This is a story that honors critical thinking on behalf of readers.
Beaton suffers through several horrendous experiences but maintained her humanity with her online connections and her creation and postings of Hark! A Vagrant webcomics. Her homepage for the webcomic eventually garnered half a million visitors each month and led to the publication of her first picture book, The Princess and the Pony and the printed collections of Hark! The story ends with hope as Beaton pays off her loan and returns to Cape Breton and her newly found career as a successful cartoonist. Here too, unfortunately, there is another repercussion of her time in Alberta. Becky, her sister who also worked in the oil sands, is diagnosed with cancer. Beaton writes about this in her afterword and later in an article for New York Magazine’s The Cut discussing the failure of the medical world in responding to Becky’s symptoms seriously in much the same way as the suffering of other workers and the Indigenous were treated with silence in previous decades.
Honest investigative reports from journalists and books such as Ducks help illuminate that silence and deserve a large audience. Highly recommended for high school students with a caveat regarding the inclusion of sexual abuse and mental distress. This is an essential purchase for public libraries and highly recommended for academic libraries as well.
Ducks: Two Years in the Oil Sands By Kate Beaton Drawn & Quarterly, 2022 ISBN: 9781770462892
Publisher Age Rating: Adult
NFNT Age Recommendation: Adult (18+), Older Teen (16-18) Creator Representation: Canadian, Character Representation: Canadian,
Rose is an amateur baker working as a waitress in a small town restaurant. When she makes a special dessert for a food critic, she is invited to participate in a baking competition with her childhood friend Fred. This isn’t an ordinary competition though as the contestants are faced with obstacle courses, sabotage, and surprise ingredients like brussel sprouts.
Rose is motivated to win the grand prize in order to attend college at a prestigious cooking school. She is also dealing with her parents’ eminent divorce, her developing feelings for Fred, and a rival who is willing to do anything to prove herself to be the best. It’s no wonder she finds herself distracted and just managing to stay off the bottom in the competition.
This story has all the feelings of a Hallmark romcom. The author/illustrator does a fantastic job of balancing the plot with humor, seriousness, and the competition. The judge makes a lot of corny baking puns, which is a fun recurring joke throughout the story. The illustrations are crisp and with just enough details to convey the emotions and visual cues that readers should be able to easily pick up.
Although there is not a lot of technique explanations in the text, this book does include detailed recipes sprinkled throughout the story. I did not have the chance to try making any of them, but the ingredients look to be standard baking fare and the directions easy enough to follow. Younger readers will need help from an experienced adult to help them understand some of the unexplained terms, but preteens and teens should be capable enough to follow along.
Batter Royale is recommended for any collection aimed at preteens or younger teens.
Batter Royale By Leisl Adams Amulet Books, 2022 ISBN: 9781419750755
Publisher Age Rating: 12+
NFNT Age Recommendation: Teen (13-16), Tween (10-13) Creator Representation: Canadian, Character Representation: Assumed Black, Canadian,
The Woman in the Woods and other North American Stories marks the fifth volume in the series of cautionary fables and fairy tales. The eight tales in this volume are from Indigenous nations, told and illustrated by Indigenous artists, and highlighting tales from Odawa, Chickasaw, Métis/Cree, Métis, Ojibwe, Tania, Navajo, and S’Kallam societies. The editors asked each of the authors to ask for permission from the Elders and/or nations to retell and rework the stories for inclusion in this anthology as they recognized and respected the protocol inherent in the gathering of the stories from the people. Unfortunately, there are no source notes included in the collection, making it of less value to educators, librarians, and storytellers than I had hoped. True, the intended audience is middle school readers, not scholars, but the authenticity of each of the tales should be paramount for them as well. I do appreciate the fact that each of the tribal affiliations has been identified for the tales.
While the tales are rendered in black and white with various hues of grey, the cover itself jumps with colour. Ironically, the story alluded to on the cover is not included in the collection. Editor and cover artist Alina Pete remarked that she had hoped to include the creation story of Sky Woman and Turtle Island, but she could not find anyone that had permission to tell this story. Sky Woman fell to the water-covered world and fell on the back of Turtle. One by one, the animals dive into the water to try and find land until Muskrat is successful in bringing back soil. Sky woman spreads the soil on Turtle’s back to create the world as we know it. She shows Sky Woman dancing for joy and two constellations on the back cover featuring two of the characters from the tales within the covers.
Most of the illustrations in the book itself have simple backgrounds, focusing on the characters of each tale. The different styles of illustrations make each of the stories individual in a collection continuous from tale to tale without any commentary. Most of the illustrations are rendered realistically, although one or two stories have manga-like characteristics and vary between historical and contemporary settings. They also vary in length.
The anthology begins with the Odawa creation story, “As it was told to Me,” retold and illustrated by Elijah Forbes, which demonstrates that the world needs the balance of good and bad to exist. It is followed by a trickster rabbit story about the cost of vanity from the Chickasaw people. “Chokfi” is written by Jordaan Arledge and illustrated by Mekala Nava. The next two stories are located closer to this reviewer. “White Horse Plains,” from the Métis settlement St. Francois Xavier, relates the tale of the dangers of greed and conflict. It is written and illustrated by Rhael McGregor. The second Métis tale is possibly the most familiar character in the collection for me. Written by Maija Ambrose Plamondon and illustrated by Milo Applejohn, “The Rougarou” tells the story of a werewolf like monster and a young boy who befriends the Rougarou. I must admit that while I am familiar with many Rougarou tales, this is the first time I have encountered this one. Alice RL’s Ojibwe tale of “Agonjin in the Water” relates a tale of another story of friendship between a human and a mythical creature: the mythical, Mishipeshu the Great Water Guardian of the lakes and rivers.
The Taino story that follows gave its title to the anthology. It is written and illustrated by Mercedes Acosta and also focuses on the relationship between a woman and a spirit of a young girl who sees the mysterious “Woman in the Woods.” The penultimate tale, “Into the Darkness,” is a Navaho shapeshifter tale about a character so frightful that no one dares to speak its name. It is written by Izzy Roberts and illustrated by Aubrie Warner. The final tale, written by Jeffrey Veregge and illustrated by Alina Pete, is a romantic tale from the S’Kallam people. The Moon in “By the Light of the Moon” falls in love with Octopus Woman, the Queen of the Salish Sea in Puget Sound. The bright light of the Moon makes it possible for the Moon to watch her dance and to send her kisses. The power of the kisses has a surprising repercussion.
The stories are followed by two pages of concise biographies of the creators including their tribal affiliations and, in most cases, their sexual orientations.
Recommended for middle school and public library collections. Because the book is part of the cautionary fables and fairy tales series, most of the stories have strong lessons imparted in the story line, but they are not dogmatic and do allow the power of the storytelling to shine through. I just wish there were adequate source notes—did I say that already?
Cautionary Fables & Fairy Tales, vol. 5: The Woman in the Woods and Other North American Stories Edited by Kate Ashwin, Kel McDonald, Alina Pete Iron Circus, 2022 ISBN: 9781945820977
Publisher Age Rating: 10-12 Series ISBNs and Order
NFNT Age Recommendation: Middle Grade (7-11) Creator Representation: Cree, Metis, Navajo, Bisexual, Queer, Genderqueer, Nonbinary, Trans, Two Spirit Character Representation: Cree, First Nations or Indigenous, Metis, Navajo