Messy Roots: A Graphic Memoir of a Wuhanese-American

Where does one’s sense of identity begin, how does it evolve over time, and can it be shaped honestly to avoid misunderstandings? Laura Gao wrestles with these elusive questions as she navigates the curious wonders of growing up in her graphic memoir Messy Roots. Whether riding on a buffalo though the lily pad ponds of China, playing tricks on her little brother, or getting love struck by a slick female basketball player at her middle school in Texas, Laura Gao aims to find her identity and truth. This coming-of-age memoir presents a wildly amusing and deeply personal account of straddling between different cultures which will resonate with young adults seeking to find themselves along the universal journey of life.

Messy Roots transports readers on a ride through the curious and vivacious life of Laura Gao as she embarks on fanciful escapades in Wuhan, China, immigrates to Texas, returns overseas to her native homeland one summer, and finally reaches San Francisco in adulthood. Like an alien transplanted to another planet, she struggles to adapt to American culture by changing her Chinese name from Yuyang to Laura (after the first lady under President George Bush), hiding her Chinese dumplings for lunch at school, and defying stereotypes of being a math whiz. She further weaves cultural details seamlessly into her narrative–from reflecting on the Chinese legend about the young maiden whisked off to the moon during the mid-autumn festival to satisfying her cravings for white rabbit candy (a sweet milky confection).

Gao’s characters, rendered through sketched line drawings, resonate with comedic effect. Facial expressions and doodles capture a mixed range of emotional nuances and personas, sometimes with exaggerated effects reminiscent of manga. Intricately composed panels in some instances feature subtle details that warrant a second viewing to fully appreciate their thematic implications.

A remarkable and rollicking rampage through one teenager’s rites of passage, Gao delivers an honest and humorous take on the ups and downs of growing up in a constantly shifting world while tackling intersectional themes of immigration, assimilation, racism, sexuality, and self-identity. While the story adopts a warm, light-hearted tone, it also sheds light on more serious issues including the anti-Asian microaggressions that continue to persist during the Covid-19 pandemic. Her debut offers a refreshingly energetic voice to young adult library collections, bringing a queer Wuhanese American to the forefront of BIPOC characters.

Messy Roots: A Graphic Memoir of a Wuhanese-American
By Laura Gao
Harper Collins Balzer + Bray, 2022
ISBN: 9780063067776

Publisher Age Rating: 14+

NFNT Age Recommendation: Teen (13-16)
Creator Representation:  Chinese-American,  Queer, Genderqueer ,  Character Representation: Chinese-American, Queer, Genderqueer,

Muddle School

What would you do if you could time travel and redo your entire experience starting a new school? Dave gets the chance to do-over his awkward start at Muddle School, but will it be enough to win over his crush, Lisa?

Author and illustrator Whamond’s story starts off with middle school student, Dave, having to move to a whole new school where he doesn’t know anybody. To make matters worse, his mom makes him wear a powder-blue leisure suit because she’s convinced that all new students dress up for their first day of school. Dave isn’t so sure about this, but wears the suit anyway, which starts him off on a day of trouble with the school bullies before he even walks in the building. All kinds of things don’t go as well as he’d hoped, leaving Dave feeling like the universe is against him. 

Dave pairs up with another student, Chad and together, well mostly Chad, they invent a time travel machine. He can’t believe his luck! He finds himself at the beginning of his first day of school again in his regular clothes this time, no embarrassing old suit from his father. He exudes confidence when he realizes he can change how everything happened, and make a good impression on everyone, in particular, on Lisa. 

The artwork style is fun and appealing to young readers. It’s full of characters with expressive faces and dramatic words sprawled across panels. Sprinkled throughout are Dave’s notebook pages showing some of the often funny comics that he has drawn. The cover art is not as exciting as a lot of other graphic novels that are being published nowadays. It’s not likely to stand out on shelves. Furthermore, the entire work has been colored in with a simple blue, black and white color scheme, which again doesn’t make it as visually appealing as other full color graphic novels for this age group. 

Overall, Whamond has created a very relatable character that any middle schooler could empathize with as he goes from one embarrassing situation to the next. Starting a new school is hard and not knowing anyone can definitely be awkward, as Dave certainly demonstrates. This experience is captured realistically, but with a good sense of humor. It’s a quick read that does have a cover and pages that do lack some luster with the simple color scheme, but the story itself is educational and a sincere take on the author’s real life experience.

Muddle School
By Dave Whamond
Kids Can Press, 2021
ISBN: 9781525304866

Publisher Age Rating: 10-13

NFNT Age Recommendation: Tween (10-13)

Other Boys

Damian has a history of being bullied, and he decides his 7th grade year at a new school is going to be different. If Damian doesn’t speak at all, he believes the other kids won’t have anything to tease him about. This plan quickly backfires, yet Damian’s 7th grade year is also the time when he comes to terms with his homosexuality and the trauma in his past. An understanding therapist helps Damian work through his struggles and to find where he fits in the often tumultuous middle school community.

This graphic novel memoir spends about equal time on Damian’s watershed 7th grade year and flashbacks to earlier grades in school. We see Damian navigate difficulties finding friends with common interests, as he realizes he doesn’t enjoy the same things as other boys. He faces teasing for playing with dolls and wanting “girls’ toys,” and for befriending girls instead of boys at school. Damian’s heartbreaking family difficulties are also shown. He and his brother are being raised by his grandparents in a small apartment, since his mother was murdered by his father when Damian was a baby. Two older half-sisters are living elsewhere. The family is loving and close but has far less material wealth than Damian’s classmates. This is exacerbated when Damian’s grandfather dies from cancer. 

The combination of trauma from Damian’s childhood, bullying from peers, and the fear of being abnormal causes Damian a type of PTSD. The reader can experience a sense of Damian’s loneliness and anxiety about wanting to feel normal and avoid bullying. However, as the author’s note following the story acknowledges, it can be difficult to portray a lived experience in a memoir. There may be long periods of a person’s life in which nothing much of interest happens, punctuated by days and weeks of extreme significance. This results in some spans of time being shifted or condensed, especially when an author endeavors to fit one’s story into a graphic novel format. Indeed, some events of Other Boys seem to happen a bit abruptly. Once Damian finally opens up to his therapist, his life seems to make a complete turnaround immediately. It can be understood that this transformation was more gradual that what the book shows. The book’s setting in time also seems uncertain, as we see Damian and his brother playing with toys from the 80s like an Alf doll, and a Cabbage Patch Kid, and then hearing Brittney Spears references in middle school. Their toys could be secondhand, but this is never clarified. There are helpful labels at the beginning of each jump in time, which allows the reader to understand in which grade the experiences occurred.

The full-color illustrations are a highlight of the book. They are brightly colored and, as the author states in his end-note, intended to imitate the palette of his childhood including crayon drawings, video games, and fairytale books. There are some clever devices which add a playful feeling such as shaped frames to imitate the game in a section about Super Mario Brothers, and a backpack with facial features in a piece where Damian faces off against a bully. These elements add some whimsy to a heart-wrenching story, reinforcing the theme of hope in the midst of difficulty.

While Other Boys is a bit uneven in the narrative, it is an important and worthy addition to upper middle grade collections. Be aware that offensive terms for gay people are used in a few places, and the book is meant for readers mature enough to handle the subject matter compassionately. The moving timeline also requires a more adept reader, since the events do not move in a linear progression. Upper middle grade readers who allow themselves to empathize with Damian will emerge from the experience richer and more understanding.

Other Boys
By Damian Alexander
Macmillan First Second, 2021
ISBN: 9781250222817
Publisher Age Rating: 10-14

NFNT Age Recommendation: Tween (10-13)

Leonard Cohen: On a Wire

In this personal contemplation on the life, death, and influences of Leonard Cohen, Philippe Girard creates a tour de force. Originally published in French, the novel was translated to English by Helge Dascher and Karen Houle.

The graphic novel opens on December 7, 2016, with legendary Canadian songwriter and poet Leonard Cohen dying on the floor beside the bed. Girard imagines that a bird on the wire outside the bedroom window may be one of the last sights of Cohen’s final moments. He also imagines Cohen’s final reminiscences as he faces mortality to offer the reader a myriad of episodic flashbacks on Cohen’s life and achievements. As we turn the page, we are transported to a traumatic winter day in 1947 in Montreal, Quebec when young Leonard discovers his deceased dog. His sorrow immediately takes him to his typewriter and solitude, a familiar reaction to distress, which is constant throughout his lifetime.

This is soon followed by his reverence for poetry, music, wine, and, of course, women. Cohen moves to London where Girard dresses him in a blue raincoat, another nod to Cohen’s song titles that reverberate throughout the novel. His distress with his flagging writing career and the wet weather prods him to leave for Greece, where he meets his muse, Marianne Ihlen, and becomes a writer of songs. Girard returns us to the dying man saying his goodbyes to his life at that time and to Marianne. The palate of the background for the pages with Cohen lying on the hospital room floor are dark and cloudy while the backgrounds for his memories are filled with colour and light.

This episodic pattern continues throughout the book, highlighting his fascination with Suzanne, his recording career, his touring in Israel and other points of interest, and his escapades with well-known stars such as Lou Reed, Nico, Phil Spector, Joni Mitchell, Janis Joplin, Judy Collins, Rebecca De Mornay, John Cale, Rufus Wainwright, Jeff Buckley and more. A brief annotated Rogues Gallery of these cameo appearances is provided at the end of the novel along with a concise bibliography for further reading. We follow his iconic recording career, Girard’s humorous depiction of Cohen’s disenchantment with the popularity of the myriad of covers of his song Hallelujah and the lack of recognition of him as the writer, and his retreat to the monastery. Girard also highlights Cohen’s necessary emergence to tour again and his eventual diagnosis of leukemia, before returning us to early memories that offer us background knowledge of some of Cohen’s axioms hinted throughout the book.

The final full-page illustration by Girard of the towering mural depicting Cohen wearing his signature fedora with his hand over his heart pays respect to both the man and the city he called home. Both Leonard Cohen and Montreal are brought exquisitely alive in this tribute to the man whom Girard, along with a large universal fandom, obviously venerated.

I appreciated this personal view of Leonard Cohen. I have been a long-time fan with many memories of the man, his music, and his words. I appreciated the selective process that Girard must have undergone because of the length of Cohen’s lifetime and career. Of course, there were episodes I would have liked to see included, especially his time in Edmonton, Alberta. As my friend Gilbert Bouchard reported on July 23, 2008, Cohen wrote several poems and songs while he was here as the guest of the University of Alberta. This is where Sisters of Mercy, one of Cohen’s best-known compositions, was written and where Cohen got his first taste of real fame. “He became one of the first Canadian writers to step away from the academy and become a celebrity and a pop culture figure at a time when that was just not done. His visit wasn’t a celebrity experience for those of us there. It had a very personal feel.”

I appreciated the research methodology that Girard undertook. In a recent interview webinar, Girard explained how he wanted the book to represent his own impression of Cohen and so did not undertake any interviews himself. Instead, he made his way to the public library and took out everything they had on Cohen and read everything and watched every video he could for five months before he started to write the novel. He then drew a Star of David and allocated each point as a decade in Cohen’s life. A song, woman, and item were chosen as pivotal moments for each decade. Girard presented his material in a forthright manner, with straightforward lines and warmly coloured panels, for the most part, extending a nuanced and balanced portrayal of his subject. The layout of the panels is also fairly uniform and straightforward with simple backdrops to the personalities and items that are the focus of each panel.

This realistic and honest look at a man, his career, and his influences should be included in all biographical collections from high schools to public and academic libraries. There is a universal and spiritual appeal to the story and, for the wide legion of fans, could be considered required reading. Highly recommended for readers to pull up a chair, pour yourself something to sip, and listen to a selection of your favourite Leonard Cohen songs while appreciating the skill and talent of both Leonard Cohen and Philippe Girard.

Leonard Cohen: On a Wire
By Philippe Girard
Drawn & Quarterly, 2021
ISBN: 9781770464896
Publisher Age Rating: Adult

NFNT Age Recommendation: Adult (18+), Older Teen (16-18)
Creator Representation: Canadian
Character Representation: Canadian, Jewish


PassportMany teens struggle with at once wanting to be heard and seen while, at the same time, trying desperately to be invisible. Now imagine being the daughter of undercover agents in a foreign country while managing conflicting teen emotions about identity. Sophia Glock relates this tale in her debut graphic memoir, Passport, about figuring out who you are while in a foreign country, when everything you know about your parents is at best a fabrication, and a dangerous one at that.

Sophia’s tale starts as she’s in her sixth country in Central America, her seventh school, and ninth home. Her sister is about to go to the United States for college and Sophia is adrift. She explores dressing differently, going out with friends, mingling with boys, ending friendships, experimenting with her sexuality, doing a play, and more. The comic is truly a slice of life memoir but set in an extremely unusual circumstance, living in a foreign country with undercover parents.

Glock does an effective job conveying herself as a teen searching for who she is. It’s not overly dramatic, it’s more matter of fact, how most stories of growing up are. Towards the end of her time in high school, Sophia makes some low key decisions about who she wants to be and what kind of friend she is. It’s refreshing in many ways since many teen memoirs have to have a big dramatic moment of reckoning to depict this sort of growth. Sophia’s depiction seems more realistic. Readers looking for excitement and fireworks may be disappointed. 

This low-key narrative makes the one major event depicted, Hurricane Mitch in 1998, seem a little out of place. This event occurs early in the book and does a lot to show the reader where the book takes place.  We never learn exactly where Sophia grew up, but Mitch devastated Honduras, Guatemala and Nicaragua—so the reader gets a decent picture of where she is and how poor these countries were, along with how Sophia felt about this. It was a good idea to depict this early in the book so that it doesn’t overwhelm the story of Sophia’s growth as she gets older.

Glock is the artist on the book as well. Her artwork is consistently appealing with simple lines and clear accurate drawings of people and items. It’s not cartoony or overly mannered, and it’s effective at telling her story. It’s also easy to differentiate between characters. She does a few amazing landscapes of the countries she lived in as well. The muted tones in the coloring by Mike Freiheit, mostly oranges and purples, adds a consistent feel throughout. The characters are not super expressive at any point, but that may be on purpose as well. It is not an emotional book.

Passport is a good purchase for most teen graphic novel or nonfiction collections in public libraries and high school libraries. I won’t be surprised if it wins a few awards in the coming months as well. It’s a well done memoir with appealing art set in an interesting place. Many teens will enjoy it. 

By Sophia Glock
Abrams, 2021
ISBN: 9780316459006

Publisher Age Rating: 13+

NFNT Age Recommendation: Older Teen (16-18), Teen (13-16)

Marie Curie: A Quest for Light

The beautifully illustrated comic biography, Marie Curie: A Quest for Light, shares the story of Curie’s life and Nobel Prize-winning scientific accomplishments.

The authors, Frances Andreasen Østerfelt and Anja Cetti Andersen, both have a passion for science and for Marie Curie. Østerfelt is a dental scientist and Andersen works to make scientific information more accessible to others. Together they wrote and published this book as tribute to Curie. The book was originally published in Danish in 2018, and translated to English by Østerflet.  

The text follows the life of Curie from her childhood as Marya Sklodowska, through her schooling, then later her scientific work, her Nobel Prizes, and her death. It is a dense amount of information for the format (a middle grade comic biography). The text and book would have benefited from focusing on one aspect of her life (such as her scientific work with radiation). Instead, the book places a focus on her life as a whole, and each chapter deals with a set time period covering her life from childhood through her scientific career. Of the 5 chapters, only the last two discuss her scientific work and her life at that time. 

To be fair, Curie did have a fascinating life. A childhood in a politically unstable Poland and the early deaths of her mother and sister definitely affected her life and work as a scientist, but this would have been more effective to frame in the context of scientific work. Giving equal focus on all periods of her life makes for a drier read, aside from the compelling imagery from Anna Blaszczyk. 

Readers can’t help but to follow the flow of Blaszczyk’s collage illustrations filled with rich textures and dark muted colors.  Rather than illustrating a basic chronological story in a more traditional comic format, these images build mood and the emotions behind moment’s in Curie’s life. In one particularly moving spread after the death of her husband, Curie is lost in the background against a sea of black, with her two daughters in the foreground asking for their mother.  On another page images of Curie’s father, who first ignited her passion for science, float in a cloud of smoke across the page. Blaszcyzk’s illustrations carry fear, love, curiosity, sadness, joy and more throughout the story of Curie’s life. 

There are some moments with awkward wording that may be a product of translation from one language and culture to another. I did appreciate the authors’ frequent use of quotes from letters to and from Curie. These quotes helped readers to contextualize the importance of these moments for Curie. The authors, Østerfelt and Andersen, were also able to use their own scientific understanding to describe Curie’s work with radiation in an accessible way. Their descriptions of her experiments and findings would be understood by most audiences. They were also able to give the context of the Curies’ discovery against the backdrop of the scientific world at the time. 

Marie Curie: A Quest for Light could find a fit in a public library children’s collection or elementary (maybe middle) school libraries, especially where comic biographies are popular. I have been fascinated by Marie Curie since I was a child. When I was in elementary school, I read every biography I could find about her life, and I would have adored this book, dense with her life’s story and filled with captivating illustrations. I would have loved and cherished this book in elementary school. So there is definitely an audience for this book, but I am not sure it is a wide one. There are stronger Marie Curie biographies for a middle grade audience and more compelling comic biographies. I do not recommend this as a first choice purchase.

Marie Curie: A Quest for Light 
By Frances Andreasen Østerfelt, Anja Cetti Andersen
Art by Anna Blaszczyk
IDW, 2021
ISBN: 9781684058372

Publisher Age Rating: 9-12

NFNT Age Recommendation: Middle Grade (7-11)
Creator Representation:  Danish
Character Representation: Polish

Lugosi: The Rise and Fall of Hollywood’s Dracula

LugosiMost biographies, though classified as nonfiction, still have a narrative. Going beyond simply listing facts in chronological order, biographies will portray their subjects as protagonists in their own stories, having readers cheer for them as they overcome adversity or dread watching them succumb to the tragic flaws in their character. As promised by the title, Koren Shadmi’s Lugosi: The Rise and Fall of Hollywood’s Dracula beautifully shows both the highs and lows of Lugosi’s life.

Shadmi begins his story with an older Lugosi checking himself into a clinic to treat his drug addiction. In the throes of withdrawal, Lugosi recalls his childhood in Hungary and how his ambition to be an actor was a disappointment to his family. After making his way to America while speaking little English, he eventually lands the part of the captivating vampire Count Dracula, first in the stage production and then in the movie. His portrayal of Dracula not only shapes the image of vampires for the American movie audience, but the role catapults him into the public consciousness. However, Dracula’s cape creates a long shadow that Lugosi could not escape. And soon, the money would run out, the women in his life would come and go, and he would align himself with the man many call the worst director of all time, Ed Wood. Lugosi died still trying to pursue a comeback that was always out of his reach.

Shadmi’s portrayal of Lugosi reveals a deeply flawed but very charismatic person. Readers can see, through Shadmi’s dialogue and how he develops Lugosi as a character, why the actor was so well regarded in his performance as Dracula. This creates a likability in Lugosi even as readers observe his self-destructive behavior, from his addiction to morphine and methadone, to how he treated the many women in his life, to how he mismanaged his own finances. There are even some shocking scenes of drug use showing the tight grip Lugosi’s addiction had on him, but it does so in a way that highlights the very unglamorous side of drug addiction. Overall, Shadmi has depicted Lugosi as someone the reader will root for: a man determined to get back the fame he once had and to extricate himself from his addictions, even as door after door in Hollywood is slammed in his face.

The art style that Shadmi uses is black and white, much like the movies Lugosi is famous for, while making the characters seem vibrant and expressive. Shadmi’s skill for drawing faces means that readers will easily be able to tell the difference between Lugosi as a boy, a man, and an old man. Through Shadmi’s artwork, readers will also recognize many other famous faces Lugosi interacted with, including Boris Karloff, known to classic horror fans as the actor that brought Frankenstein’s monster to life and in many ways Lugosi’s rival. Shadmi is also not afraid to get surreal when, during Lugosi’s withdrawal, hallucinations of the people in his life appear to confront the actor with his failures. Shadmi also gives an understated but powerful visual representation of Lugosi indulging in his drug of choice.

Those librarians looking for something different for their biographies section should look at Lugosi: The Rise and Fall of Hollywood’s Dracula. Even some teen librarians should check out this title because it serves as an excellent anti-drug message, as well as telling a sweet yet tragic tale. It stands out not just because it’s a graphic novel, but through images, dialogue, and a flawed-but-sympathetic protagonist, Shadmi creates a bittersweet tale of what happens when someone gets a taste of fame early in their career and spends the rest of their life trying to recapture it.

Lugosi: The Rise and Fall of Hollywood’s Dracula
By Koren Shadmi
Humanoids, 2021
ISBN: 9781643376615

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

Button Pusher

Graphic novelist Tyler Page has written about his experiences with ADHD in his book Raised on Ritalin. Now he presents another view of his young life for middle school children. In Button Pusher, Page not only gives the reader a personal view into a young teen’s journey dealing with ADHD and family drama, but provides a closer look into the history of the disease and how far science has come in treatments and diagnosis.

Tyler has a difficult time concentrating in school and his behavior has been characterized as unpredictable. No one is sure why he acts the way he does, including him. After some counseling and a few doctor visits, Tyler is diagnosed with ADHD and is given the medication Ritalin to help him focus and calm down. With daily medicine, therapy sessions, and lifestyle changes, Tyler slowly begins to adjust to his new life. However, it becomes easier said than done when his parents’ constant arguments get out of control and the pressure of high school friendships are mixed into his new life.

What makes this graphic novel a must have for all collections is the author’s intimate look into his family struggles and how ADHD affects not only the child but everyone around them. While most scenes depict a normal day of school or having fun at a friend’s house, Page does not shy away from describing his parents’ arguments and his father’s short temper. With creative skill, these scenes are expressed vividly with drastic color changes, symbols replacing curse words, and characters’ heartbreaking facial expression and intense body language. Doctor visits with his mother show the difficulties of the diseases, with young Tyler bouncing off the walls and fumbling with anything he can get his hands on. Reprinted patient summaries after each visit offer readers a personal look at how an individual was diagnosed at the time. History of the disease and its symptoms are presented throughout the comic as infographics using different hues of blue and mini cartoons. Towards the end of the story, Page offers artwork from his childhood, ranging from original comics to character designs, along with a look inside the process of creating a comic page for the graphic novel.

Button Pusher is a great choice for any public and school library collection, especially those that serve middle school and upper elementary students. Tyler Page writes and illustrates with honesty, depicting the good memories of his teenage years and the awful ones without missing a beat. With his personal insight, young readers who are unfamiliar with the illness or feel like they may have it will see this graphic novel as a good resource to start with, prompting them to conduct further research.

Button Pusher
By Tyler Page
Macmillan First Second, 2022
ISBN: 9781250758330
Publisher Age Rating: 10-14

NFNT Age Recommendation: Teen (13-16), Tween (10-13)
Creator Representation: ADHD
Character Representation: ADHD

Women Discoverers: Top women in science

The cover of this collection of biographies shows a background of mathematical equations and a line-up of women with varying skin tones, dressed in clothing from an astronaut suit to historical gowns, but all with the same slim silhouette and of roughly the same height.

This sets the stage for a series of overviews of twenty women in the sciences, which manage to be largely similar, despite their different backgrounds and areas of study. The collection is oddly unbalanced, starting with approximately 20 pages on Marie Curie, giving a rapid overview of her life, relationship with Pierre and other romantic entanglements, and ending with her daughter Irene continuing her work. This is followed by several more contemporary scientists, with an overview of their lives and accomplishments in text accompanied by a thumbnail image and a single graphic panel showing them with other scientists in a lab or involved in their scientific work.

Several shorter comics, about ten pages each, profile Ada Lovelace, Hedy Lamarr, Rosalind Franklin, and Mae Jemison. Lovelace’s narrative is bracketed by a modern teacher introducing her to high school students and ends abruptly with her losing “everything” at gambling and then dying. Most of the narrative with Hedy Lamarr is given over to her personal life, including a full page on her husbands. Franklin’s narrative focuses heavily on her unsuccessful struggle for equality, emphasizing that she was most accepted and happy during her work in Paris. Mae Jemison’s story is upbeat, the only prejudice shown in her family huddling around a televised report of Martin Luther King’s death and a class of smiling white children playfully tossing a paper ball at her head. There are no sources cited or back matter. The longer comics all include what appear to be quotations from primary source material, but also fictional dialogue.

The art, although depicting a wide variety of women in different time periods, has a strong similarity. The women are all shown with the same slim figure and average height. Only Marie Curie is shown to age, with her lightening hair, stooped posture, and a few wrinkles. The backgrounds are also similar, with Curie and Franklin shown against tree-lined avenues in Paris and a few sepia-toned war scenes, Jemison in darkened, indoor areas until she blossoms in the sunny, outdoor spaces of California, and Lovelace in groups of indistinguishable people. It’s ironic that, despite the introduction claiming that the purpose of the book is to bring to light hitherto overlooked female scientists, the five women given the longest profiles are already well-known and their comics focus more on their personal lives than on their scientific achievements. Even Curie’s longer comic is taken up with images of her wedding and later romantic entanglements, while Lamarr’s is mostly a series of images of her in provocative period gowns and bathing suits, with a success of husbands, and later as a recluse in Florida. Her inventions outside of the frequency-hopping idea are not referenced, but her plastic surgery is. Rosalind Franklin is, ironically, erased from her own comic, which transitions from her work with DNA to showing the male scientists laughing about her and her ideas at a pub, and then to their awards, overlooking Franklin completely with a brief mention of her later work before her early death. The comic ends with the belated and posthumous recognition of her work, shown in plaques and a statue. Jemison is depicted in the most upbeat fashion, with an emphasis on her hard work and early achievements and ending with her inspiring girls at a science camp.

The aim of the book is worthy, but it is far from the only reference on the subject and it is poorly designed. The translation is rough, with frequent exclamations, choppy sentences, and the occasional typo. Readers interested in graphic interpretations of women in science will do better to explore Primates by Jim Ottaviani, selected Science Comics that emphasize the contributions of women, like Dinosaurs: Fossils and Feathers, or, for lighter fare, Corpse Talk from DK.

Women Discoverers: Top Women in Science
By Marie Moinard
Art by  Christelle Pecout
NBM, 2021
ISBN: 9781681122700

Publisher Age Rating: 12 years and up

NFNT Age Recommendation: Teen (13-16)
Creator Representation:  French
Character Representation: African-American, American-Austrian, British, French

The Disney Bros.: The Fabulous Story of Walt and Roy

This comic book biography reflects upon the career and major achievements of Walt Disney with an emphasis on the partnership between him and his brother Roy. While the subject and format will appeal to children, this particular treatment explores the complexities of the Disney empire as a business and cultural entity along with coverage of milestones in Disney’s career. Beginning with Walt Disney’s frustration at losing control of his character Oswald the Rabbit to Universal studios, the book follows Disney’s creation of his own studio with Ub Iwerks and brother Roy, the success of Mickey Mouse, the first full-length animated feature, Snow White, ventures into TV, and the eventual construction of Disneyland. A flashback portrays Disney’s childhood in Missouri and the abuse he endured from his father. Topics such as labor disputes in the Disney studio and Disney’s testimony before the House Committee on Un-American Activities give this book a complexity that will go over the heads of most young readers. However, adults and teens will find these aspects eye-opening as they shed light on lesser-known aspects of Disney as a businessman.

The full-color illustrations are done in a classic comic-strip style with rectangular frames of varying sizes and traditional speech bubbles. People are drawn in a caricature style with exaggerated features. The characters are expressive, with clearly shown emotions that depict Disney and his colleagues as three-dimensional characters. However, some of the individuals are difficult to tell apart, particularly Walt Disney and Ub Iwerks. This can create a bit of confusion near the beginning of the story. Otherwise, the book is well-illustrated, allowing the reader to be immersed in the studio environment, and the surroundings of old Hollywood.

In his foreword, Nikolavitch expresses the challenge biographers face adapting their subject to the graphic novel genre. Much of the subject’s life can be cut out, giving these biographies a choppy feel. However, Nikolavitch avoids that problem by focusing specifically on Disney and his brother Roy as businessmen. While this biography takes an episodic approach, it moves smoothly from event to event. Nikolavitch manages to fit a lot of nuance about Disney’s persona, business relationships, and cultural impact into a relatively short book. The reader is challenged not merely to learn facts about Walt and Roy, but to reflect upon the way they conducted their business and why it matters. Of particular impact is the post-script essay by Jarrett Kobek on the sociological impact of the phenomenon that is Disney. 

Disney fans and non-fans alike will be intrigued by this realistic look at a cultural icon. The temptation in a biography of a person like Walt Disney is to take a nostalgic approach, elevating the subject to a god-like status. This book does none of that, yet it does not demonize him either. It is certainly limited in scope, focusing only on his career, yet it does that in a candid and balanced way. Readers are left to consider how Walt Disney succeeded despite obstacles, where others did not. They are also clearly shown how his success was not achieved without the help of many key individuals working at his side, especially his brother. This book will be a great addition to nonfiction graphic novel collections for upper middle grade readers, teens, and adults. 

The Disney Bros.: The Fabulous Story of Walt and Roy
By Alex Nikolavitch
Art by  Felix Ruiz
NBM ComicsLit, 2020
ISBN: 9781681122663

NFNT Age Recommendation: Adult (18+), Older Teen (16-18), Teen (13-16), Tween (10-13)
Creator Representation:  French,