Graphic Novels- verdict two

Two weeks into my graphic novel challenge and I am so pleased that I took this on. My bag always has at least one in to keep me company along with whatever fiction book I am currently reading.

Verdict Two is – Graphic Novels pack an emotional punch just as any other book could.

What I am discovering throughout this challenge is that graphic novels have the same features as a fiction story in that they deal with hard and sometimes sensitive issues. Characters have challenges to face, whether through disability, fitting in, being new- much of what we see in full length chapter books and settings are uniquely important to the story in new ways.

In the three graphic novels for today, hope springs eternal though life is tough and unfair.

“This book is a true story. And also made up”. Words from author Vera Brosgol about the truth and inspiration for Be Prepared. Vera, the main character, has been desperate to make friends and attend a proper summer camp for a long time. When she is finally given the chance, she must face the honesty of camp. Sharing a cabin with mean girls, an unfortunate toilet facilities, critters everywhere. Torn between loving it and hating it, Vera must stick it out! This book is honest, funny and superbly illustrated. I was rooting for Vera throughout her summer camp experience, feeling as hurt and hopeful as she did. Brilliant book!

Cat and her family are moving to a new town that will help younger sister Maya with her breathing. Maya has Cystic Fibrosis. As they meet neighbours, explore the town and make friends, they learn the importance of Día De Los Muertos! The entire town welcomes the spirits of dead loved ones back every November. Cat feels more nervous than excited about ghosts being everywhere, while Maya is thrilled, even building an Ofrenda for their grandmother. Dealing with Maya’s illness, anger over ghosts and feeling worried takes its toll on Cat. Wonderfully told and Illustrated, this book is hopeful and heartwarming.

This book needs to be discussed in length and I hope to see it added to the curriculum in the future. In September, Ben Harris is taking this important book blether to twitter to focus on the brilliance of When Stars are Scattered. I am very excited to take part in that discussion. Told by Co-author, Omar, this is a true account of his life, of 15 years spent in Dadaab, the refugee camp in Kenya. Caring for his brother, attending school and always waiting for good news from the UN filled those years, along with hope of finding their mother. Truly inspirational, filled with hope and humour, this book packs a serious emotional punch and will no doubt open your eyes to the plight of refugees, their hardships and their lives. The message in the back written by Omar is beautiful and worth remembering.


Turtle Boy by M. Evan Wolkenstein

I am thrilled to be part of the blog tour celebrating this unique and important book! I was lucky enough to draft some questions for author, M. Evan Wolkenstein about his book and life and his answers are thoughtful, honest and moving!

Can you tell us about Turtle Boy, the character and the book?

Will Levine is an introverted 12-year-old grader who wishes he could spend all his time with his turtle specimens, rather than adventure out into the world. He is called “Turtle Boy” because kids at school say he looks like one – but it’s a double meaning: he hides in a shell of his own creation. Turtle Boy is the story of what happens when this shy and awkward kid, as part of his Bar Mitzvah, is sent to visit RJ — who is the exact opposite: extraverted, brash, a punk-rock drummer — but who is confined to a hospital room. RJ has a bucket list, and no one to help him accomplish the tasks, except for Will.

Turtle Boy, Will, is a fascinating character- troubled, bullied and unwilling to socialise outside his comfort zone. Is he inspired by you and your own experiences?

Yes, I had the same facial condition Will is diagnosed with — and while not everyone noticed the way my chin receded — it only took a few cruel kids and a silly nickname to make me miserable at school. While I was a bit more outgoing than Will, Will is a part of me, and I drew his emotional life from my own. That said, as you discover through the book, Will is incredibly resilient, funny, clever and resourceful. Those qualities, and the support of friends and families, got me out of my comfort zone and into the world…and maybe Will can do the same!

A Jewish protagonist is a breath of fresh air and the book has plenty of Jewish traditions highlighted. How important was the authenticity of these for your story?

Very important. Growing up, it was nearly impossible to find well rounded, fictional Jewish role models. Rather, in the TV shows and movies I saw in the 80s and 90s, Bar/Bat Mitzvahs were mainly mocked for comedic effect, and Jewish life was reduced to stereotypes and the same, repeated tropes.

But growing up, I was proud to be Jewish and loved the sprinkling of Yiddish my family spoke, the Passover seder, and the melodies in synagogue. At the same time, I was a troubled kid and I wasn’t always in the mood for what Hebrew school had to offer. Now, thirty years later, I teach Jewish studies at a Jewish high school, and I make it my job to provide complex, interesting, and nuanced answers to my students’ questions. And when they don’t have questions, I try to provoke them with my own eccentric and unusual way of practicing Judaism. I wanted the Judaism portrayed in Turtle Boy to be exactly that: complex, interesting, and nuanced, and eccentric.

Some aspects of Jewish life never changes. Many Jewish kids aren’t thrilled about going to Hebrew school. But Will experiences a wide range of Jewish experiences — and while some of them are frustrating, many are surprising, exciting even, and by the end, Will invents a new form of Jewish expression so unique – he may be the only person on earth practicing it. Still, this new way of “doing Jewish” is deeply Jewish and authentic in its core. And I hope it provides a model of a way to live, wherever we are in life: balancing heritage, tradition and innovation.

When Will is given an opportunity to complete his Bar Mitzvah Community Service with RJ, he is reluctant and scared of hospitals after the death of his father. Stepping foot into the hospital and out of his comfort zone is an incredible scene. Was this a challenge to convey and were there other scenes that were difficult to write?

Yes – some of those scenes are so emotional, I both laugh and cry when I read them, even today. What I discovered by writing Turtle Boy is that creating a scene that is emotionally powerful, so as to pull straight from the deepest part of my heart, but which will protect the reader from being overwhelmed, takes many, many drafts and revisions. Too intense is like trying to drink from a fire hose. I had to learn to have a light touch, then ease into a bit more intensity, and provide humor to balance it out. This took drafts. Revisions. Do-overs. I wrote complete garbage, literally groaning about how awful it was — only to return and extract a line here and a line there.

This was a great lesson for life. We need to try things and fail and mess up and tread onwards, fixing, fixing, fixing along the way. To quote Brene Brown: “I’m here to get it right. Not to be right.” When we apply this thinking to whatever we do: writing, football, school, friendships, love – we can learn and grow, and the water will come from the fountain at the perfect pace.

RJ has a bucket list…Do you have one? If so, what is next on your list?

I’m proud that many of the things I’ve had on my bucket list I’ve done! I’ve backpacked through India and Egypt, I’ve lived and studied in Israel, I’ve played in rock bands, I’ve done Capoeira (a Brazillian martial art-dance), and I’ve gotten married and become a father! Writing a book – that’s something that’s been on my bucket list since I was a teenager. There’s a few things that are still on my list that I may never get around to: I love Pop-and-Lock dance, but watching two Youtube videos a year and practicing the moves for 5 minutes probably won’t get me very far.

Now, I’m focusing on being a great dad and husband. Some bucket-list items aren’t something we cross off a list – they’re things to commit to for the rest of our lives.

My own list of hopes and dreams!

Will and RJ form an unlikely friendship and they learn to accept each other and stick up for each other- who is your go to person for help and friendship?

Two people I turn to constantly: both are wise, thoughtful, and hold me accountable to the highest standards of behavior. My wife, Gabi, who is an author, a feminist, and the best mother to our daughter imaginable… and my best friend, who has been just enough years ahead of me in life to offer wisdom and perspective on each life stage as I encounter it.

That said, I once heard a speaker say that in order to succeed, we must all assemble a board of supporters, cheerleaders, and kind critics. The friends we make, the colleagues we cultivate, and the people we love — they are on our board. I have an inner circle of around ten people who are confidantes, trusted sources of comfort as well as critique, and they, collectively, are my RJ.

If you didn’t write Turtle Boy, what else might you have written?

When I began writing Turtle Boy, my fiction-writing ability was like a ball of roots, underground. I was a pretty prolific writer twenty years ago and then, strangely, the well seemed to dry up. I moved on to drawing and reading and making music and blogging about men’s style and fashion. Then, one day, I drew a comic strip that evolved into Turtle Boy, and my author self emerged from the soil, up into the light. I wrote this book, and now I’m at work on a sequel…so the answer to the question is: without Turtle Boy, I might not have written anything!

Were there any alternate endings you were considering?

The final scene of Turtle Boy is, I hope, a beautiful image – and at some level, I’d been picturing that scene from day one. I knew I needed to steer Will closer and closer to that place. But the details and the road map to get there were murky. I tried to take some shortcuts and I tried to make Will’s path easier for him, but it didn’t result in an authentic story. Robert Frost has this great line: “The only way out is through.” And Will needed to go through every difficult step to find freedom.

What do you hope readers will take away from reading Turtle Boy?

I hope that young people see that the journey of going from whatever shell they may find themselves in to freedom is one of many baby steps, baby steps, and then, one day, a giant leap. There will be angels to help you along the way. Find the people who put love into the world and keep them nearby.


The Island that Didn’t Exist by Joe Wilson

Welcome to My Shelves Are Full where I am pleased to share my love for the book titled The Island that Didn’t Exist by Joe Wilson. This is a fantastic, dare to dream type of adventure, perfect for those seeking danger, mystery and breaking the rules!

Author Joe Wilson was kind enough to to write a guest post for my blog as part of the tour celebrating this dynamic book!


Attention span, that’s the crucial thing. To repeat, attention span.

I’ve just gone past a dozen words. In broadcast terms that would be roughly four seconds of duration. By now any piece would have had to ‘move’. This is especially pertinent in television. The picture sequence would need to shift, an attention grabbing soundbite could – by now – have been added to the edit and of course there are the words. The script, the bit the reporter writes and reads. It must blend, complement and lift the pictures. Sometimes this is a gift. Often it can make the job harder. It is tricky, for example, to report on a career defining moment of somebody’s life when you don’t have footage of it.

Anyway, attention span!

When I came to write ‘The Island That Didn’t Exist’ I realised at a very early stage that I needed to construct suspense. Books are potentially a wonderful antidote to the pulsating screens of video games and action movies. But young readers need excitement. That’s only right; I think older readers need excitement too.

My mantra became ‘the twelve page plummet’.

My general plan was that each chapter should last about a dozen pages and should conclude with a dramatic lurch in pace and plot. It wasn’t necessary for a character to literally plummet at the climax of the chapter, although I wasn’t against the idea.

Now I come to analyse the book in it’s finished form I realise, firstly, that each chapter is longer than 12 pages. We can put this down to an act of Font. What really matters is whether I achieved the crescendo conclusion each time. Only the reader can decide, of course, but here are some sentences which end the chapters.

‘..you are the legal and rightful owner of that tiny speck of land.’

‘..he’d taken the most monumental decision of his life and he couldn’t look back’

‘..something, or someone, was trying to kill him’

‘..that was all he could think of as everything turned to darkness.’

‘…and who, exactly, was going to come to their rescue?’

‘…just solved the biggest mystery of the century.’

‘He started walking and, in stunned silence, they all followed.’

‘The children were already sprinting for their lives.’

‘The game, Rixon knew, was up.’

Well….I will give you a second to get your breath back.

There are one or two chapter endings I have left out here because they might just reveal a touch too much about the plot. There is one chapter which ends with Rixon, the central character, falling asleep; not thrilling. But, generally, I’m pretty happy with my execution of ‘the twelve page plummet’. Finally, I acknowledge there is another, well established phrase to describe the creation of suspense. In fact, I can reveal that at one stage in the story young Rixon, literally, finds himself hanging from a cliff……

A hugely adventurous book sure to wow readers!



This is the weekly meme from BookCraic celebrating the amazing middle grade books! I hope others will enjoy taking part- it is a great way to share favourites and add to wish lists!

How to Join In…

  • Post a picture of the front cover of a middle-grade book which you have read and would recommend to others. Include details of author, illustrator and publisher.
  • Open the book to page 11 and share your favourite sentence.
  • Write three words to describe the book
  • Share why you would recommend this book or link to your review.
Written and Illustrated by Sophy Henn, Published today by Simon and Schuster

Page 11 Sentence…page 11 in this book is a chapter header so I have skipped to page 12 and the best sentence is…”Yes, you did hear that right. My name is Pizazz.”

Three Words to describe this book! Funny, surprising, super!

Recommendation! This book is the first in a series by Uber talented Sophy Henn and is perfect for readers aged 7 and up! Pizazz is a super hero, as are all her family, and they need to balance living normal lives with saving the world! When they move to a new town, Pizazz’s sister fits in immediately while it takes longer for Pizazz to find her feet.

Becoming Eco Monitor for her class is a step in the right direction and her first project is to save the park from becoming a car park. Can she do it by using her super power or by asking her family for help? Without knowing her super power, the reader can imagine all the cool things Pizazz could do!

However, striking the balance between being a normal 9 1/2 year old and a super hero is important and there may be a simple solution to solving this eco concern!

The amazing comic style illustrations make this feel like a superhero epic and the conversational style text is perfect for building the story and feeling a part of Pizazz’s world!

I can highly recommend this newly published delight!


My Headteacher is an Evil Genius- Written by Jack Noel

Written and Illustrated by Jack Noel, Published by Walker Books

Shy and unassuming Tom Ginger spends her breaks playing the solo game “Walk the Block” as she has no friends. She isn’t likely to become popular or a hero at all…or is she?

Belton Primary is your normal, everyday primary school where cliques of kids hang out, ignore their teachers and attend boring assemblies. When a new flamboyant head teacher leads the latest assembly, the children get on board with the flashing lights, cheers and promises to make Belton Primary better! It seems as though she may have some interesting plans for the school.

Tom’s class has a pet guinea pig, named Hammy, or Hamilton Ariana McDonalds McHamface Yas-Queen Potter. The entire class loves him and are devastated when he escapes and goes missing! There are too many changes taking place and the students are slightly worried about where Hammy might be hiding!

Scroll down to see some of HAMMY’s antics!

Tom, having broken a window quickly gets ostracised with popular kid, Sam. As other children misbehave they get brutally called out and shamed, becoming a gang of rejects. Using a hidden talent of Tom’s, they quickly learn some scary truths about their new headteacher! Is Tom able to make friends and stop the plans of the evil headteacher? Can anyone find Hammy?

Hilariously funny and full of super, quirky comic style illustrations, this book had me giggling throughout reading it. Tom is an excellent character, and set to become a hero…and HAMMY is the sweetest class pet ever!


Graphic Novels…verdict one!

I launched my own personal summer reading challenge last week, to spend the summer reading graphic novels. I had believed some wrong stereotypes about graphic novels and set myself the goal to read as many as possible to hone my knowledge, understanding and perceptions on this genre.

One week later and my first verdict is “How have I missed these gems for so long?”. I have read 10 graphic novels and have adored them all. Being a huge fan of picture books and Illustrated chapter books for the 7-9 age range, it shouldn’t have come as a surprise I would love Illustrated middle grade novels. Yet I was surprised as just how genius these books are.

Full of stunning and impressive art work,these books are set the challenge to tell a story with few words so the reader must learn to study the illustrations to fill in the blanks so to speak. This is where this genre truly shines as it takes an incredible talent to convey meaning in art and to have the story unfold frame to frame with little to no text.

Today I want to share three graphic novel adaptations of classic children’s literature. Though the story may be altered, it in no way detracts from the classic or from the adaptation. These could be read by children with little or no knowledge of the original. I would hope the child might be encouraged to read the classic as well as the graphic novel.

Growing up near to where Anne is from in Canada, it was hard not to fall in love with this classic story. Anne is a feisty, hot tempered red head and she is ever so dramatic! This adaptation captures Anne’s spirit and dramatics brilliantly, keeping certain favourite scenes and iconic statements within the pages of this book. I would recommend this to all school libraries,as an easy and accessible way to enjoy the antic and dramatics of a certain Miss Shirley!

I love the story of Little Women and am a huge fan of this modern retelling. The premise remains the same, the sisters are poor, Dad is away in the military and they have the usual arguments and antics of sisters living too closely together. The family has come together when Jo and Meg were younger and their parents fell in love. Beth and Amy are the siblings from that marriage. Mum works hard to provide for the family while Dad is in the Middle East. If you know the story then you can come to expect heartache and worry but also a firm love and loyalty between the siblings. There are some surprises that fit so well into the modern story and make a lot of sense.

Please do not get cross but I have to admit to not having read Tom’s Midnight Garden in its entirety. That may be my next challenge…

This adaptation is stunningly illustrated and features a secret garden when the old grandfather clock strikes thirteen. Tom, being sent to his Aunt and Uncle while brother, Peter, recovers from the measles, discovers the garden and makes a new friend Hatty. Each time Tom visits the garden, time has passed differently and he tries to leave clues for himself so he can share this with Peter. Asking plenty of questions but discovering few answers, leaves Tom bewildered. Before Tom leaves to go home, he is keen to discover what happened to Hatty!

GN I have read

  • Cici’s Journal
  • Tom’s Midnight Garden
  • InvestiGATORS
  • Ghosts
  • Roller Girl
  • Anne of Green Gables
  • Be Prepared
  • Amulet, Book One
  • The Inkberg Enigma
  • Meg, Jo, Beth and Amy


  • Best Friends
  • Real Friends
  • When Stars are Scattered
  • Cardboard
  • The Breakaways
  • Awkward
  • Donut the Destroyer
  • Ghostopolis
  • The Camping Trip

I have also discovered a website listing some new graphic novels to try. So this weekend I am spending time hunting down some different titles to test out!


Umbrella Mouse to the Rescue Blog Tour- Anna Fargher

Welcome to my stop on the Umbrella Mouse to the Rescue blog tour. This is a highly anticipated sequel to the much loved Umbrella Mouse. As you will have seen from the blog tour, there is a lot of love for Pip and her gang of brave animals as they fight behind the scenes of World War II.

It was so lovely to be back with Pip, Madame Fourcade and the gang from Noah’s Ark, although when we re-join their adventure, they are mourning the loss of several comrades. During the battle and escape from Nacht und Nebel camp, Hans, Leon and GI Joe were killed in action and all the survivors have scars and wounds to heal. However the war is not won and so onwards to new adventures and battles to turn the tide towards the Allied Forces.

There are few dull or quiet moments in Pip’s adventure as they now race towards Paris to meet the Allies there. Of course, travelling through occupied forests and traps is never safe and Noah’s Ark must have their wits about them and learn who to trust- it is not always easy to spot a spy, as we learned with Lucia in the first book.

There are several bands of resistance fighters hiding on their journey to Paris and Pip is revered by most- although some worry she is leading danger to them. A mouse kitten with an umbrella is hard to miss. I still love Pip and her headstrong courage and love for her comrades- she is willing to sacrifice plenty on this journey- and I loved her more for it.

Madame Fourcade is still leading the troupe and putting her hoglets first in keeping them secretly safe. Henri, and plenty of new animal friends are welcomed into the throng of animals fighting to push the Nazis back to Germany. Simple tricks of chewing through wires, and being small enough to squeeze through gaps ensures that sabotage is working, and the people of Paris are urged to revolt against those occupying their beloved city.

When Lucia returns to get Pip, it is with a heavy heart that the group agree to Pip’s plan- I was on tenterhooks reading this part of the book- willing Lucia to find a deep inner kindness but we know she has none. There are certainly some sad moments to follow but we can celebrate the rescue of the hoglets, the push from the human Allies and the end of the war.
Perhaps my favourite part is the ending- simply wonderful and so emotional. You will need tissues throughout this incredible and courageous journey!