Braidy Punch, Draculola and Scream Soda: How To Roller Derby for Girls

In this graphic novel for children, Victoria Jamieson tell the story of Astrid, who loses her best friend but gains roller derby. It wasn’t a trade-off she chose, but sometimes it happens like that. Fifth grade can be one of those turning points when you and your BFF suddenly have different interests, and can’t seem to get along anymore, no matter how you try.

When Astrid and Nicolle, who’ve been best friends since first grade, go with Astrid’s mom on an “evening of cultural enlightenment” to women’s roller derby, you can see the writing on the wall. Astrid is energized, while Nicolle is freaked out. Astrid wants to do junior roller derby camp together, but Nicolle doesn’t tell Astrid she’s doing ballet camp instead until the last minute, so Astrid lies to her mother about carpooling with Nicolle.

Astrid quickly finds out how demanding roller derby is, that it requires not only a tough spirit, but physical endurance and skill. She’s never even skated before, unlike the rest of the girls, and she’s one of the youngest girls, so she feels doubly disadvantaged. But with encouragement from the other girls and her roller derby hero, Rainbow Bite, she keeps at it.

I knew nothing about roller derby before reading this book, so it was fun to learn about how it works. The skating skill required reminds me of hockey, while the theatrics bring WWF wrestling to mind. There are legal hits and illegal hits and a penalty box, like in hockey. Players get to choose their own derby names, and they are usually a bit tongue-in-cheek: Braidy Punch, Draculola, Blondilocks, and Scream Soda, to name a few. The author’s bio on the back flap shows a photo of her in full roller derby regalia: Her derby name is Winnie the Pow.

Jamieson obviously speaks with authority on the subject of roller derby, but she is also convincing in her portrayal of this early coming of age story, and the loneliness of losing your best friend and realizing how much you were defined by that friendship. Astrid has to make new friends while somehow making peace with Nicolle, as well as explaining to her mother what is going on when mom finds out she’s been lying. 

Jamieson’s drawing style is realistic and expressive, while the color palette is bright and fun. Younger readers will enjoy Astrid’s bulldog persistence and feistiness; older readers will appreciate Astrid’s growing confidence in herself; moms like me will savor the bonus of Astrid’s pride in becoming a role model for younger girls.


Snow White and The Seven Robots: A Graphic Novel by Louise Simonson

Now here’s a Snow White we feminists can get behind! There is not one mention of Snow White’s beauty in this entire “Far Out Fairy Tale,” a new series of children’s graphic novels from Stone Arch Books, a Capstone Publishing imprint.  Instead, this girl’s threat to the queen is her intelligence. On a planet called Techworld, scientists create a future successor to their queen, only the selfish queen messes with their potions, which makes the child’s skin a pale white–did I mention that everyone’s skin is green on Techworld?  Snow White is born.

As Snow White grows up, she turns out to be a quick study and soon becomes smarter than the queen, at which point the queen banishes her to live in Lowtown and apprentice to the trash robot. Snow makes friends with another human, Doc, and while he tends to people, she uses her intelligence to learn to fix robots. She also builds a rocketship with spare parts that she uses to save herself during one of the queen’s attempts on her life. 

The seven robots of the title are a motley assortment who finish each other’s sentences, but we never know their names and they are important in the story only as far as they are the ones who send out a plea for help after Snow is poisoned. With less time spent on the robots, there’s more space for Snow’s character development and adventures. Kindness and friendship are the main themes, and it’s a fun adventure in an attractive format for kids.

Is there anything missing in this retelling?  Oh yes, no prince. Prince absent. Prince, in a word, unnecessary. 

Next in the “Far Out Fairy Tales” series that we’ll be reading: Ninjarella. Bring it. 

If You Could Go Back and Fix It

I just finished the graphic novel Seconds by Bryan Lee O’Malley for my Graphic Novel Book Club. Then I found out that O’Malley is the creator of Scott Pilgrim, which I’ve never read but even I, relatively ignorant of the stars of the graphic noveldom, know of Scott Pilgrim and O’Malley’s success with said Pilgrim. So maybe now I’ll read that.  I’m kind of glad we didn’t read Pilgrim because there would have been too much expectation.  But I took Seconds at face value on its own and really enjoyed it.  


The title Seconds refers to second chances, as in you messed things up, but you get a chance to go back and fix your mistakes.  The title also refers to the name of the main character’s restaurant, as in the food is so good you want seconds.  Clever, no? And the drawings of the food do look delectable, even when I can’t tell exactly what they are. 

The story is ostensibly about chef Katie leaving Seconds and starting a new restaurant where she will be chef and own the place. She’s been saving up for this for years, living in a hovel above Seconds, and now the building she bought for the new restaurant is turning into a money pit.  Should she have picked a different location, one in better shape that she wasn’t so passionate about but would have been less risky?

All she can do now is wait, and so she’s hanging around Seconds when there’s an accident and a server gets injured, basically because of Katie’s disruptive presence. Enter the second chance, involving a house spirit and some magic mushrooms.  When Katie wakes up the next morning, she relives the moments before the accident and makes a different choice so that it doesn’t happen.  That’s “Revision #1.” As you might expect, something else happens that she wants to fix, and she starts to get greedy, fixing so many things so many times that she can hardly keep track of what version of her life she’s living. She even argues with the narrator at times, revising her version of events as well. 

I love the exploration of this idea of being able to go back and make a different choice, something we’ve probably all wanted the power to do at least once in our lives.  Of course, there are consequences, and O’Malley has fun creating an abstract visual representation of the universe being out of balance.  

I’m pleased to say Seconds passes the Bechdel test: There is an ex-boyfriend and a couple of love interests, but the female characters are interesting and have intelligent conversations that have nothing to do with men! Plus, they don’t have Barbie bodies. They actually have individual shapes.  

I really enjoyed the drawing style as well as the story.  O’Malley gives us a map of Seconds, showing everything from the prep kitchen to someone messing with their cel phone while sitting on the toilet in the bathroom. I love maps. He also has a great variety of page layouts, some with only a few panels, and some with as many as fifteen when there’s lots going on, but they’re never confusing.  It’s easy to follow the flow of the panels.  

I suspect O’Malley is an expert storyteller, making it look easy,  and that the more I read graphic novels, the more I will go back to O’Malley to see exactly what he does to make it so good.

Which Oz?

Okay, so I’ve been re-reading The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, after reading Oz Reimagined.  And I realized something.  I never read the original.  I only know the movie version ending!  That is a crime!  The real ending is sooooo different, it sends such a different message to kids.  Aunt Em doesn’t question Dorothy’s adventure or tell her she must have been dreaming, she just hugs her and tells her she’s so glad she’s home.  There’s so little respect for the Dorothy of the movie version, really for children in general.  It’s all in her head!  It never really happened.  She’s just such a flibbertigibbet! Good God, if I had read the correct version, that could have shaved years off of my therapy bills! Years, people. Thanks, Hollywood.  You suck.

wizard of oz shanary cover

On the bright side, I really enjoyed Marvel’s new (2014) graphic novel version of the first Oz book.  It’s very faithful to the text, which I was reading alongside to make sure.  Eric Shanower is the artist, and I love his drawing style.  In the back there are several pages from his sketchbook showing the evolution of the characters, and you can see just how perfect they are in their final form, especially with the Lion, who looked too fierce at first, too much like a lion at the zoo.  His finally round face (see cover above) makes him kinda cute, and more convincingly cowardly when necessary.

I also liked the color palette, which felt bright but not too bright, very earthy colors, which feels Midwestern to me.  Then when we get to Oz, it’s a really rich, deep green.

At first, when I saw it was a Marvel book, I thought Oh, no, but it has nothing to do with superheroes or tights or cleavage.  And it’s officially kid-approved, as my 7-year-old daughter loved it.

Looking up Shanower, I see that he has a several-volume set of graphic novels on the history of the Trojan War, called Age of Bronze.  Blip, just reserved it from the library.