Clockwork Curandera: The Witch Owl Parliament

Cristina Franco is a curandera, a Latina natural healer, in training. She and her brother Enrique live in the colonial Mexico province of Santander in a steampunk reality where dirigibles and robots coexist with mythical creatures. When Cristina is attacked and killed by a parliament of witch owls, Enrique cannot accept her death. He repairs her body with robot limbs and restores her to life. Enrique’s actions use a combination of Islamic alchemy and other magic and prove controversial to the very Catholic community. Cristina must hide her robotic limbs as she continues to fight the witch owls. Meanwhile, she attracts the attention of Matteo, a shapeshifter who wants to both help her and court her. Enrique’s backstory shows him in love with a fellow male student prior to immigrating to the new world. This first volume of Clockwork Curandera sets up the brother and sister to face off against many forces in their world as the series continues.

End-matter includes an all-text prequel which describes Cristina’s training as a curandera. This helps explain the background of that profession, especially for those unfamiliar with it. An author’s note follows which relates the author’s experience with these healers during his childhood on the Texas-Mexico border. He shares how this experience birthed the idea for a story a la Frankenstein, where a curandera has become a cyborg and must deal with the implications of her connection to nature being disrupted. Also included in the end-matter are in-process sketches of Raul the Third’s art for the book. 

The art is pen and ink style with occasional red accents. This has the striking effect of highlighting certain elements such as the scar on Cristina’s cheek or her robotic arm. The illustrations are meant for a more sophisticated reader, as a great deal takes place in the images. They can be a bit difficult to interpret. The witch owls do not closely resemble actual birds, nor do some of the other elements look extremely obvious. The largely black tone makes the whole universe of the book seem rather dark. The pages are given a parchment look to fit the time period, as well. 

Clockwork Curandera: The Witch Owl Parliament is a story which raises many interesting questions. What does it mean to be human? What types of intervention in the natural world are acceptable? What role should religion play in our lives? These are questions a mature reader will contemplate while reading this book. However, the book isn’t accessible to everyone. It is definitely meant for a sophisticated reader with an appreciation for the graphic novel as an art form. For those who take the time and effort to engage with Cristina in her quest, the rewards are many, and the reader will look forward to future installments in the series.

Clockwork Curandera: The Witch Owl Parliament Vol. 1
By David Bowles
Art by  Raul The Third
Abrams, 2021
ISBN: 9781620145920

NFNT Age Recommendation: Adult (18+), Older Teen (16-18), Teen (13-16)
Creator Representation:  Mexican-American,  Character Representation: Mexican,

Hotel Dare

Hotel Dare tells us that family are the ones you fight for. The story comes out swinging, with newly adopted Charlotte explaining she beat up a kid at school because he was saying things about her family. As eldest sister Olive points out, everything the kid said is true, the siblings don’t look alike at all and Olive is queer. Still, it’s this fighting nature, and the notion that how you protect your family won’t always be popular with them, that holds the story together. Hotel Dare offers a number of ways for families to fall apart, from the space pirate Mila being exiled from their world for who they love, to Mamá Lupe neglecting her son while she lookes for her lost husband in the magical worlds. Amidst strife there’s always the hope for love triumphing.

Olive, Darwin, and Charlotte are spending their summer with their abuela in Mexico at the Hotel Dare. It looms on the first page in a splash of boxy house shapes cobbled together and teetering at the highest levels, connected by rope ladders. Olive has an ulterior motive to their trip: to discover why it is their father and Mamá Lupe are estranged, what fight it was that separated them. Mamá Lupe makes it clear they’re there to help her clean and fix up the hotel, but softens her expectations with conchas, hot chocolate, and several days of the siblings lounging around the house. 

Once the work gets underway, they split up to clean three separate rooms and simultaneously discover three closets leading to three different fantasy worlds. Olive is in a wizarding world where she finds herself comforting Brad, a muscled apprentice with chiseled features and long flowing blond locks crushed by his hideous inability to grow a beard, the most important status symbol of his world. Darwin, who almost never speaks in the real world, is drawn into a world of cotton candy colors and fluff juxtaposed with dark black glass. A fuzzy floating creature befriends him. Charlotte finds a world of space pirates and opportunities to put her tinkering abilities to good use. None of the worlds are quite what they appear and the siblings find out many family secrets as they begin to understand everything Mamá Lupe has been hiding in the Hotel Dare.

Terry Blas’s writing in Hotel Dare spins out character development and action in well measured doses. We never find out much about the siblings’ pasts, beyond Charlotte and Darwin having come from orphanages. What’s important is how they act now in preserving or stressing their family. The worlds they end up in tell us more about their inner struggles and identities. Mamá Lupe’s past is fully developed, a beautiful homage to a love of fantasy stories and Mexican history and mythology. Not to mention Mamá Lupe has led a pretty badass adventure-packed life in the many worlds. Blas weaves themes of isolation, gender, justice, and bigotry into the story. There’s a lot of the plot I’m leaving out so you’ll get to enjoy it unfolding, you’ll just have to trust me. The only weakness in the book is that it ends much too soon. You will feel like there should be a sequel before you realize that the resolution is already there, you just didn’t get to experience the fallout and emotional work still to come for the characters. You want more time with the characters. The kind of longing only great books can bring. 

Claudia Aguirre’s art is dynamic and busy, colors and shapes often crammed in like the erratic rooflines of the Hotel Dare. Sometimes the panels slant and crash under the action. The faces are cartoonish with crystal clear emotions, touching on the human core of the fantasy story. Color palettes and background art styles create the character of the different worlds, cool toned soaring fantasy for the wizard world, soft warm colors and childish shapes for Darwin’s world and geometric metallic settings for the space pirates. These divisions are necessary to help the reader navigate the story as it frequently switches between the different worlds. In every world, even ours, there’s always a sense of something glowing that makes Hotel Dare feel alive in your hands. 

I’m reaching back a bit for this review; Hotel Dare was published three years ago. It’s an often overlooked gem that features a Latinx cast, LGBTQ issues, and the kind of fantasy multiple dimension world building that never goes out of style. I breathlessly tore through the advance reader copy, pushed it in booktalks, and for years have worn a pin on my lanyard like the mysterious one discovered in Mamá Lupe’s office. If you missed it, I hope you’ll take a second look for your collections and programming. Hotel Dare has a place in any children’s collection. There are no content issues, but upper elementary and tween students will get more from the nuances of the family dynamics. Hand it to kids reading 5 Worlds, Star Scouts, and Lumberjanes. Chapter book fans of Dragons in a Bag and visitors to Narnia, Neverland, and other magical portals will also find a lot to love. 

Hotel Dare 
By Terry Blas
Art by  Claudia Aguirre
BOOM! KaBOOM!, 2019
ISBN: 9781684152056

Publisher Age Rating: 9-11

NFNT Age Recommendation: Tween (10-13)
Creator Representation: Mexican-American, Queer
Character Representation: Mexican-American, Queer

Lifetime Passes

What would you do for a lifetime pass to your favorite theme park? Maybe come up with a seemingly foolproof plan to ensure you and your friends get such passes? Jackie Chavez concocts a brilliant scheme to do exactly that in Lifetime Passes, written by Terry Blas with art by Claudia Aguirre. 

Jackie lives with her tía Gina, working alongside her at the Valley Care Living Retirement Home. Ever since Jackie’s parents were deported, her relationship with her aunt has been her constant. The retirement home isn’t glamorous, but luckily Jackie has an escape: Kingdom Adventure. She and her friends spend all their free time at the theme park, a world of fantasy and magic. It was where Jackie’s parents took her as a child and told her that she could be anything, be anyone. 

But theme parks are expensive and Kingdom Adventure is no exception. Jackie’s aunt can no longer afford to renew her season pass, leaving her with no way to get in and no place to go once the summer is over. She’s devastated until she overhears some of the park employees one afternoon. If a member of your party dies while you’re in the park, everyone else in the party receives a free lifetime pass, a way for the company to avoid any legal troubles. How convenient that Jackie works at a place full of elderly people! 

Jackie creates a new program to use the residents of the home for their advantage. Senior Time Outreach Program, or S.T.O.P., gives the group of friends a chance to take different members of the home to Kingdom Adventure for a day outing. It’s a hit! The seniors love getting out and Jackie finds herself bonding with Phyllis, who has a lifetime of stories from her years working in the entertainment industry and a special connection to the theme park itself. 

As readers spend the summer with Jackie and her friends, both old and new, more about Jackie’s parents and her struggles to fit in come out as her relationship with Phyllis blossoms. Phyllis encourages Jackie to embrace her adversity, to become stronger, and to force herself to grow. A girlfriend won’t necessarily be what makes Jackie happy, it will be herself and all the relationships she values in her life. 

The book also tackles the often uncomfortable subject of elder care, through the retirement home and Jackie’s relationships with its residents. For readers watching older folks in their life move onto the next stage of life, this book helps them deal and understand those very feelings. 

Lifetime Passes features characters with a number of different backgrounds, so there are multiple characters readers might find themselves relating with. Aguirre’s art matches the tone of the story and its shifts throughout. The characters are expressive, the colors are vibrant, and the world of Kingdom Adventure jumps off the pages. There is a lot of heart in the story being told and readers will root against S.T.O.P.’s goal. Readers who like stories of those who don’t exactly fit in or how you can change after making a mistake will be drawn into Jackie’s world and Kingdom Adventure.

Lifetime Passes 
By Terry Blas
Art by Claudia Aguirre
Abrams ComicArts, 2021
ISBN: 9781419746666
Publisher Age Rating: 14+

NFNT Age Recommendation: Older Teen (16-18), Teen (13-16)
Creator Representation: Mexican, Mexican-American, Queer
Character Representation: Mexican-American, Queer

Rise of the Halfling King: Tales of the Feathered Serpent

Mystical elfin beings, a monster serpent, a boy with a magical birth, a vengeful king, even a sweet monkey sidekick, this first in a new series of Mesoamerican-inspired graphic novels has fantasy action covered. Acclaimed author and teacher David Bowles provides the story while the art is by his daughter, Charlene Bowles, in her graphic novel debut. 

It’s a hard book to sum up, each piece of the tale is woven inextricably into the next. Set a thousand years ago in the Yucatan peninsula, the story follows Almah as she goes from a young woman seeking a powerful token from the jungle realm of the aluxes to a witch who has helped her town grow and prosper. But the aluxes also gifted her a special drum that would announce a new king of the Uxmal. She hides the drum and a cruel king rises up, one who tells the people they only need the king’s priests and they must forget the aluxes and shun the witches. Almah prays to the Goddess Ixchel about her deep loneliness and finds a strange egg on a walk in the hills. A baby hatches from the egg, growing into a young boy, but never aging past that. The boy, Sayam, learns Almah’s traditional magic and a prophecy has him squaring off against the cruel king in a special trial.

The story comes from the author’s YA-aimed Feathered Serpent, Dark Heart of Sky: Myths of Mexico. The Maya culture becomes a living, fully developed world in the graphic novel, full of lush colors and a great combination of iconography and realism. The cities, the agriculture, and the writing system are highlighted. The blend of religion and magical creatures creates an exciting power source that today’s readers of Greek myth-inspired fare will love. The aluxes are said to have gone in hiding when humans appeared, living thousands of years and shepherding magic. Shown shorter than our heroine, Almah, they have rounded features and intricate costumes that recall real Maya artifacts. David Bowles plan to portray the cohesive and vibrant mythological world of the Maya is very well executed.

The book is as fun to read as it is culturally enriching. Due to its focus on legend-building, the characters don’t have a lot of depth or development on their own, what we learn in the short descriptions of the cast list at the start is thorough. They stand in for common character types: wise and faithful Almah, hardworking and precocious Sayam, ruthless sorcerer Zaatan Ik. You still come to care about the characters and cheer on their successes. Their interactions feel realistic. Charlene Bowles’ gets a lot of emotion out of her modern cartoonish style, with angular faces and thick lines that are similar to standard realistic middle grade graphic novels. The build of the story and the action that comes from the many magical trials and tribulations is more than enough to make the book engrossing. The art has a sense of movement and glowing life that jumps off the page.

As with the mythology and fairytales of most cultures, there are some dark concepts in Rise of the Halfling King. A giant serpent eats the mummified dead of a village and is put down in an attack that is gory in theory. The experience of reading that section was fun and thrilling rather than frightening, it was only in looking back over the book a few times that I realized just how dark an episode it was. It has some slapstick moments, full of sound effects, and comes off as a suspenseful but action-packed time. The moody purples and grays of the underground mausoleum and the snake provide the appropriate dread, but Sayam, Almah and the clever but clumsy spider monkey Maax pull the reader along in a way that will not freak out the young readers it’s aimed at.

The publisher’s age range of 8-13 feels true, with a rich enough world to interest the older of that range but a brightness that still works for the younger. The page count is low and and the story flies by, when the series reaches the ten volumes David Bowles plans in his post script it will make a satisfying stack for many a fantasy and myth-loving reader.

Rise of the Halfling King: Tales of the Feathered Serpent
By David Bowles
Art by Charlene Bowles
ISBN: 9781947627376
Cinco Puntos Press, 2020
Publisher Age Rating: 8-13
Series ISBNS and Order

Title Details and Representation
NFNT Age Recommendation: Middle Grade (7-11)
Creator Highlights: Mexican-American
Related to…: Book to Comic

You Brought Me The Ocean

You Brought Me The Ocean is not your average coming-of-age and coming out story. Sure, our protagonist, Jake Hyde, lives in a town too small for his aspirations. And, yes, Jake has not yet come to terms with his sexuality. And, of course, his best friend, Maria is tragically in love with him. You Brought Me The Ocean has all the makings of a generic YA novel. But this graphic novel is different for one reason alone: the universe of this story is inhabited by superheroes and villains.

Jake is not only struggling to come out as gay to his family and friends, he is also trying to come to terms with his superhuman ability to control water. Though this is an interesting, and certainly unique, concept the execution of the story falls flat. Unfortunately, You Brought Me The Ocean is not the intricate story of sexual identity wrapped up in themes of self-discovery, defining the “superhero”, and magic realism it deserves to be. Instead, it is a shallow depiction of both the coming out story and the superhero origin story. Neither plot line gets the attention it deserves and, quite frankly, the two concurrent plot lines are not the only victims of this narrative.

Aside from Jake, the characters in this book are all woefully underdeveloped. Jake’s best friend, Maria, is resigned to being identified solely by her unrequited love for Jake and the fact that, unlike Jake, she enjoys living in the desert. Similarly, Jake’s love interest, Kenny, has few defining characteristics. And, as is often a problem with underdevelopment, the dialogue throughout the story is stilted and unrealistic. Let’s look at the following lines of dialogue spoken between Jake and Maria, as they head out on a hiking trip:

Jake: Ready to journey to the ends of the Earth?
Maria: So long as we’re back by dinnertime.

The dialogue throughout the entirety of You Brought Me The Ocean carries this same tone. Namely: awkward and cliched.

The artwork is, regrettably, as disappointing as the text. Artist Julie Maroh is perhaps best known for her work on Blue is the Warmest Color; a famous French graphic novel about the tumultuous relationship between two young women. Aside from the fact that Maroh has previously published LGBTQA+-themed work, she seems an odd stylistic choice for You Brought Me The Ocean. Maroh’s often monochromatic coloring washes out pivotal scenes throughout the story. Take, for example, a scene in which Jake uses his water-bending powers to part a flash flood. Rather than bright, deep blues and a menacing, stormy sky painted with grays, the reader gets a wave of neutral colors. Maroh is clearly a talented artist, but her work here clashes too much with the story to be ignored.

Ultimately, this is a disappointing book with an incredibly promising premise. However, I hesitate to discourage adding this to your graphic novel collection entirely, given the dearth of LGBTQA+ representation in the superhero genre. Though You Brought Me The Ocean does not exactly live up to its premise, one can only hope this book is an indication of better—and more LGBTQA+ representative—superhero comics that are yet to come. For now, You Brought Me The Ocean may have to suffice.

You Brought Me The Ocean
By Alex Sanchez
Art by Julie Maroh
ISBN: 9781401290818
DC Comics, 2020

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NFNT Age Recommendation: Tween (10-13), Teen (13-16)
Character Traits: Black, Chinese-American, Gay
Creator Highlights: Latinx, Gay

La Voz de M.A.Y.O.: Tata Rambo

La Voz de M.A.Y.O.: Tata Rambo is a book that aims to fill a gap in the historical record, highlighting the contributions of Ramon Jaurigue (Tata Rambo) to the Pascua Yaqui tribe in Arizona and the Mexican American Yaqui Organization (M.A.Y.O.). Ramon Jaurigue is the great-grandfather of the book’s writer, Henry Barajas, who channels his background as a journalist into piecing together Jaurigue’s story through interviews, oral histories, newspaper clippings, and the scant recorded history available through his public library.

The story opens in 2015, with Barajas taking an aging Jaurigue to a protest, relating to the reader that it may be the last march he would be able to attend, before traveling back in time to 1969. The book traces Ramon’s involvement with M.A.Y.O. to protest the construction of the I-10 highway, which would have further displaced around 12,000 members of the Indigenous Yaqui community. A vital step to blocking the measure is to get the tribe recognized by the federal government, an ongoing five-year-long struggle depicted over the course of the book. Barajas includes both community-oriented anecdotes and personal stories, with tension slowly building as more time dedicated to the community often seemed to mean less time he spent with his own family.

Barajas re-appears in the story several times, but always briefly and as a supporting character, prompting the reader to think of Jaurigue’s legacy and how history is recorded and remembered. The storyline can feel a little stunted with abrupt transitions between scenes, which may reflect Barajas’s difficulty with piecing together his great-grandfather’s story. But as a result, Barajas represents key moments in the history of the M.A.Y.O. without losing the facts in too much fictionalized connective tissue.

The art is very bold and stylized, with thick black outlines—almost any panel looks like it could be made into a poster. The color palette centers around shades of red, blue, and yellow, invoking traditional comic book colors, but with a twist—shades of teal and turquoise, deep red-orange, and muted sunflower yellow—that also references the American Southwest. The consistent use of these colors brings some unity to the disjointed scene changes.

In the book’s foreword, scholar Frederick Luis Aldama stresses the importance of corrective counter-narratives that balance our understanding of American history with appropriate, truthful representations of people of color. He describes how comics have become an important medium is this regard, and La Voz de M.A.Y.O. is an excellent example.

After the story, the book includes a two-page interview between Barajas and Congressman Raul Grijalva; five full issues of the titular newsletter, La Voz de M.A.Y.O.; various newspaper clippings; and a five-page letter from Ramon himself. Barajas has produced a well-rounded work that would be easy to place in a classroom curriculum, with a wonderful opportunity for studying primary texts alongside a historical narrative.

Librarians wishing to shelve this book and teachers looking to teach with it should be aware of the following content warnings: police brutality, brief depictions of colonial violence, and brief depictions of war.

La Voz de M.A.Y.O.: Tata Rambo
By Henry Barajas
Art by J. Gonzo
ISBN: 9781534313637
Image, 2019
Publisher Age Rating: T+ (Teen Plus)

Browse for more like this title
Character Traits: Pascua Yaqui, Mexican American
Creator Highlights: Latinx Creator, Chicano Creator


Old school Hong Kong action movies, Brooklyn B-Boys, giant space robots, the power of music, and the importance of friends and family are slammed together in an all-ages remix, Yehudi Mercado’s new stand-alone graphic novel Sci-Fu. It’s a premise that demands examination. Kung fu movies have been occasional fodder for comics, but it’s a difficult genre to emulate in a static format; creating a musical story in a silent medium is similarly challenging. A project with audacious ambitions like these is bound to have some eccentricities, but as is true for all creations worthy of the name, its successes far outshine its shortcomings.

The book’s plot centers on adolescent African-American hip-hop DJ Wax coming of age and dodging bullies in 1980s Brooklyn. Along with wannabe MC Cooky P, Wax dreams of proving himself to his ice cream vending uncle Rashaad and his ruthlessly brainy little sister D. He also wants to attract the attention of a pretty Hispanic girl known as Polly the Pirate, both for her eyepatch and her nautical flair. After he embarrasses himself by penning a cheesy love song to Polly, Wax redeems himself with his sick skills on the wheels of steel, creating a beat so perfect that his whole building is transported into deep space. On Discopia, a planet inhabited and run by robots, Wax takes part in a weaponized rap battle, and begins training in Sci-Fu, a martial art that turns the music of the spheres into skills to pay the bills. However, as he gains power and fame, he begins to alienate his friends and family from Earth in the pursuit of his DJ dreams, making mistakes that might end with Wax accidentally selling out both friends and the whole human race!

With an obvious love for the intersection of hip hop and Hong Kong action movies (Wax faces down robot crew Five Deadly Dangers in a reference to The Five Deadly Venoms, a noted favorite film of the Wu Tang Clan), the story attempts to thread the needle between ‘derivative’ and ‘homage.’ It usually succeeds, though it does run the risk of coming across as ‘Scott Pilgrim, Jr’ at times. The characters and the fast-paced story are largely comprised of tropes familiar to most casual fantasy and sci-fi fans. However, with a cast comprised almost entirely of people of color, this book stands out from others in this genre by placing black and Hispanic characters in main roles. The plot is also not as tightly scripted as might be expected—there’s a character who accidentally comes along for the ride and ends up disappearing into her apartment for the rest of the novel—and some challenging action sequences require more than one reading to follow. However, the storytelling is fast-paced and fun, and the art is vibrant, with a neon graffiti-inspired palate that brings Sci-Fu’s unearthly urban landscapes to life. The book also successfully brings music into its story, with credible rhymes and a visual shorthand that makes it clear who’s singing or rapping throughout. Plus, the uncle faux-swears by screaming out the names of exotic ice cream flavors. What’s not to love?

This is a great book for introducing younger readers to kung fu movies and priming their future selves as readers of books like Ed Piskor’s multi-volume graphic history Hip-Hop Family Tree. There is a lot of sci-fi fisticuffs throughout, but Mercado uses the old Saturday morning cartoon cheat of only “killing” robots, so violence will not be a big concern to most readers or parents. A good buy for librarians looking to add action, color, and fun for the tweens (ages 10-13) who like to peruse the children’s comics section, and especially recommended for urban libraries. Also great for fans of action action-comedy and deft rap lyrics.

by Yehudi Mercado
ISBN: 9781620104729
Oni Press, 2018
Publisher Age Rating: Tween

Characters: Black, Latinx

Creator Traits: Mexican American

The Dragon Slayer: Folktales from Latin America

In his first work intended for young readers, Jaime Hernandez reworks three traditional folktales from Latin America. F. Isabel Campoy’s useful introduction speaks to universal importance of folktales, the complex interplay of the folklore from various countries on the folktales from Latin America, and the importance of strong independent women in the body of tales.

The title tale, “The Dragon Slayer,” has many familiar motifs from other folklore traditions. The youngest daughter’s generosity to an older stranger results in a reward of a magic wand that informs her about everything she needs to know. Armed with her courage and wit, she seeks employment at a castle, falls in love with the prince and, in a series of clever maneuvers with the help of the magic wand, slays the dragon, saves the day, marries the prince, and, in a slight twist to a traditional ending, establishes a new home and kingdom.

The second tale, “Martina Martinez and Perez The Mouse,” is adapted from Alma Flor Ada’s version of the traditional story of Raton Perez’s marriage from Tales Our Abuelitas Told. Martina and her red hair ribbon catch the attention of several suitors, but it is little Raton Perez that captures her heart and hand in marriage. Unfortunately, one day he falls into a cauldron of boiling soup creating a series of overemotional and unhelpful chain reactions from Martina and neighbours and friends. Thankfully, for Raton and Martina, a wise older woman offers wisdom rather than melodrama and another happy-ever-after-ending is the result. The final story, “Tup and The Ants,”’ is another amusing tale, this time of three brothers, none of whom are particularly clever. The youngest, Tup, is especially lazy and he manages to create an advantageous alliance with ants to win the respect of his in-laws and family.

All three folktales are told sparingly and simply in both text and illustration. The brightly coloured illustrations are generally divided into six panels with ten pages allocated for each tale. These colourful, unpretentious, and unadorned illustrations are extremely appropriate for the retelling of folktales for readers of all ages. While economically drawn, the characters, human and non-human, are imbued with expressive body language and emotions. Their eyes, in particular, are effective in developing character, tension, and moving the story from panel to panel just as the oral storyteller would use his or her facial expressions to bring the stories alive. There is a joyful movement and play that is evident in each panel, in the gutters, and, ultimately, in the telling of the three tales.

There are four pages of notes following the stories that provide background on each of these tales. The notes, aimed at older readers, include a bibliography of print and online resources and several stock beginnings for oral storytelling in Spanish and English. They explain antecedents and put the tales within context of the history of the area where the tales were traditionally found. Realizing that this collection is intended for young readers and those who share books with young readers, I will not take umbrage at the fact that a moral or lesson for each tale is spelled out in the notes. Stories from a rich heritage such as these should not have to be elucidated to the reader or listener of the tales and, as told by Hernandez, they are left for the audience to embrace their own conclusions. At the same time, I am very pleased that the background information to the tales is included in this slim, colourful, approachable, and enjoyable collection.
Also available in Spanish: La Matadragones: Cuentos de Latinoamerica. hardcover and paperback editions of both languages.

Highly recommended.

The Dragon Slayer: Folktales from Latin America
by Jaime Hernandez
ISBN: 9781943145287
Toon Graphics, 2017
Publisher Age Rating: 8+

Dead Weight: Murder at Camp Bloom

Dead Weight: Murder At Camp Bloom, a new standalone graphic novel written by Terry Blas and Molly Muldoon and illustrated by Matthew Seely, follows a group of four teens attending weight loss camp who come together after witnessing a grisly murder. Though Jesse, Noah, Kate, and Tony all arrive at Camp Bloom with different goals and attitudes, they join forces to figure out which of their cabin mates or counselors may be responsible for murder.

While the title of this book is a tongue-in-cheek reference to the mission of Camp Bloom, the story itself relies very little on stereotypical ideas about weight. In popular culture, weight loss camps often serve as a punchline rather than a multidimensional setting. Perhaps the most famous example is Disney’s 1995 film Heavyweights, wherein a group of teen campers deal with outrageous situations imposed by a tyrannical fitness counselor.

In Dead Weight, by contrast, we’re not meant to derive humor from the antics of food-obsessed caricatures. Instead, the spotlight is on the mistakes and hypocrisy of the camp counselors, whose struggles with image and identity fuel the conflict in the story. The campers themselves, though still working to find their voices amidst the influence of parents and peers, generally behave in ways that are competent, brave, and well-intentioned. Weight loss camp, in this instance, is not a punchline. It’s a setting that is both zany and thoughtful, giving the story a unique hook while subverting pop culture’s stereotypical notion of “fat camp.”

Seely’s cartoonish and saturated style meshes effortlessly with the tone of the text. When tasked with illustrating corpses, he leans into the absurd, and the visual is similar to that of corn syrup and food coloring. Images that could be frightening or disgusting by another hand instead blend well with the overall silliness of the story. Depicting violence and humor on the same page is tricky, but Blas, Muldoon, and Seely manage it gracefully.

The mystery at the heart of the book is entertaining, though silly, and the four main characters are an unlikely and compelling band of allies. There are characters of color and LGBTQ+ characters in major roles. Fans of the Goldie Vance series will appreciate the diverse cast and light tone of the mystery, while fans of television shows like Adventure Time and Gravity Falls will like the artistic style and overall wackiness. Though there are moments of cartoonish gore (this is a murder mystery, after all), the story would be appropriate for middle school audiences, and may attract younger readers due to its visual similarities to popular cartoons. This is a solid title that will surely delight those who enjoy over-the-top stories in unique settings where friendship plays a vital role.

Dead Weight is an excellent additional purchase for a large graphic novel collection, particularly in communities where irreverent YA titles heavily circulate. Additionally, those looking to expand their collection to include more titles that deal with body image and size diversity may find this to be a valuable addition. This book contains a complete story arc and currently stands alone, though the ending allows for the possibility of a sequel.

Dead Weight: Murder at Camp Bloom
by Terry Blas and Molly Muldoon
Art by Matthew Seely
ISBN: 9781620104811
Oni Press, 2018