Howdy! This page is part of a guide to comic books recommended for younger readers (along with some stuff their parents might like as well. This page covers the letter "B", other books are linked to below.

So, come celebrate that groovy, geeky, magical medium that we all grew up on... and share that special sense of wonder with someone smaller and newer than you. By the way, this is a work in progress, and your recommendations are always welcome... )








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"Babymouse, v.1: Queen Of The World"
Written by Jennifer L. Holm Illustrated by Matthew Holm
(Random House, 2005)

It took me a while to warm up to Babymouse... When the series began, my kid was too young for it; I also thought it looked kind of too dumb or too cutesy when I glanced at a couple of the early volumes. But finally one day a friend's family passed one of the books along to us and -- whammo!! -- my kid ate it up like ice cream. I can see why: Babymouse is a sometimes-whiny, always-spacey little girl mouse with a talent for daydreaming, and she's also a marvelously flawed character. There's a constant undercurrent of complaint, including the sort of school-hating negativism that's seemingly obligatory in American culture... Still, the tone is pretty light, and it's hard not to love the character, as she spaces out time and time again -- in class, at recess, back home, in the car, pretty much anywhere -- and always snaps back into reality just in time to either feel mortified or to save the day and grow up a little bit. There's a realistic, refreshing life-ain't perfect tone, as well as a lot of fluidity in Babymouse's self-image: she looks all princess-y but she dreams of doing plenty of "boy" things, along with lots of girly stuff, too. She's into fantasy and sci-fi as well as figure skating and pink cupcakes and sleepovers. In this first book, we are introduced to our heroine and her insecurities: she's a so-so student who feels intimidated by the socially-alpha Felice (a haughty, mean-girl that she goes to school with,who also happens to be a big, white cat ...) Babymouse thinks Felice has got it all -- power, popularity, whiskers that don't get all curly and frizzy -- and she tries everything she can to worm her way into Felice's social clique. Finally Babymouse weasels an invitation to an in-crowd slumber party, but in order to go, she has to stand up her best friend, who had invited her over to watch monster movies that night. And guess what? Felice's party is boring and shallow, and Babymouse realizes she's made the wrong choice. It's kind of a conventional story arc, but the cartoon art is appealing... The sister-brother duo of Jennifer and Matthew Holm have a nice rhythm; even with the embedded anti-schooliness (which still bugs me), this is an entertaining, dynamic, quick read, with an emotional tone that rings true. These books probably won't have a long shelf-life, but when the time is right, some kids will really identify with them and like 'em a lot. (B)


"Babymouse, v.2: Our Hero"
Written by Jennifer L. Holm Illustrated by Matthew Holm
(Random House, 2005)

(B)


"Babymouse, v.3: Beach Babe"
Written by Jennifer L. Holm Illustrated by Matthew Holm
(Random House, 2006)

School is out and Babymouse and her family go for a vacation by the beach. She doesn't want to hang out with her baby brother Squeak, and keeps trying to ditch him and find "someone cool to play with," but in the end accepts that little kids can be okay playmates. Several typical Babymouse fantasy sequences (she's an underseas mermaid; she finds a genie bottle in the sand...), a couple of barfing-in-the-car scenes, and some obligatory school bashing at the start. Typical. (B)


"Babymouse, v.4: Rock Star"
Written by Jennifer L. Holm Illustrated by Matthew Holm
(Random House, 2005)

(B)


"Babymouse, v.5: Heartbreaker"
Written by Jennifer L. Holm Illustrated by Matthew Holm
(Random House, 2006)

Then again... maybe Babymouse really is too negative a book. Here's yet another set of school-sucks stereotypes (boring math, yucky biology lessons, teasing kids...) and Babymouse freaking out about social pressure (this time it's finding a date for a Valentine's Day dance... And, by the way, how old is Babymouse? Is she in second grade or junior high? I'm getting mixed messages here...) Anyway, I'm starting to hide these Babymouse books under the rug and in strange corners and I'm thinking maybe I should have vetted this series better... Hmmm. Maybe I was right the first time? (B)


"Babymouse, v.6: Camp Babymouse"
Written by Jennifer L. Holm Illustrated by Matthew Holm
(Random House, 2007)

In one of the most resolutely negative volumes of the series, Babymouse goes to a two-week sleepover camp and blows all of the activities so badly that er cabin gets KP duty at the end. They do win one challenge, but while this does raise her self-esteem, it isn't enough to make up for all their earlier demerits. I guess if you're into promoting an accepting-that-life-isn't-always-fair message, this is pretty good lesson to learn, but surrounding it is a lot of really negative stuff about how sucky camp can be... Maybe not the best volume for a kid to read who hasn't already been to summer camp? (B)


"Babymouse, v.7: Skater Girl"
Written by Jennifer L. Holm Illustrated by Matthew Holm
(Random House, 2007)

Imagine my disappointment when I found that Babymouse wasn't going all gnarly and tubular, with ripped jeans and grubby old Converse (or whatever gear modern skaters use...) but rather doing a Michele Kwan number, in tutu and ice skates. No "Thrasher" subscription here... at least not yet... (B)


"Babymouse, v.8: Puppy Love"
Written by Jennifer L. Holm Illustrated by Matthew Holm
(Random House, 2007)

(B)


"Babymouse, v.9: Monster Mash"
Written by Jennifer L. Holm Illustrated by Matthew Holm
(Random House, 2005)

The Halloween issue! (B)


"Babymouse, v.10: The Musical"
Written by Jennifer L. Holm Illustrated by Matthew Holm
(Random House, 2005)

(B)


"Babymouse, v.11: Dragonslayer"
Written by Jennifer L. Holm Illustrated by Matthew Holm
(Random House, 2005)

Take that, Bone! En garde, Bilbo! (B)


"Babymouse, v.12: Burns Rubber"
Written by Jennifer L. Holm Illustrated by Matthew Holm
(Random House, 2005)

(B)


"Babymouse, v.13: Cupcake Tycoon"
Written by Jennifer L. Holm Illustrated by Matthew Holm
(Random House, 2005)

(B)


"The Baby-Sitters Club, v.1: Kristy's Great Idea"
Written by Ann M. Martin
Adapted and illustrated by Raina Telgemeier
(Scholastic/Graphix, 2006)

The absolute perfect, total antidote and diametrical opposite of every dumb superhero book in the world. This is the first of four volumes adapting the long-lived and incredibly successful "Baby-Sitters Club" series, in which a group of nice, young tweenage girls form a babysitting collective, pooling their resources in order to get more work and smooth out their schedules. Along the way, their friendships deepen as they entertain each other with babysitting war-stories and confide about their lives. Now, unlike several million people alive today, I have not read any of the chapter books on which these graphic novels are based, but the comics themselves are enthralling and compulsively readable. Comicbook artist Raina Telgemeier has a light, masterful touch, bringing warmth and nuance to all the characters while deftly telescoping the stories into a smooth, involving narrative. This is a pitch-perfect adaptation, and a great model for future graphic novelizations of other children's stories, particularly those in more prosaic, non-sci-fi/fantasy/superhero settings. I say bring it on: make comicbooks real-world and girly and emotionally complex! (Speaking of which, you might also enjoy Telgemeier's autobiographical Smile, which covers a similar age range or junior-high and high-school aged girliness...) Anyway, here's Volume One... Once you read it, you'll be hooked. (A+)


"The Baby-Sitters Club, v.2: The Truth About Stacey"
Written by Ann M. Martin
Adapted and illustrated by Raina Telgemeier
(Scholastic/Graphix, 2006)

One of the most action-packed BSC adaptations, with the girls facing ruthless competition from a rival "Baby-Sitters Agency" started by some older, meaner girls at their school. As their clients drain away, Kristy and her pals wonder if they'll be driven out of business, and struggle to keep the customers they already have. This volume also focusses on the group's newcomer, Stacey, who has to grapple with teenage diabetes, and a pair of overprotective parents who are determined to find some kind of medical breakthrough to help her. Both plotlines are engaging and strong, and there are also a lot of sweet interludes with the children that the girls babysit. As with all the other books in this series, this is highly readable, and ends all too soon. Highly recommended. (A+)


"The Baby-Sitters Club, v.3: Mary Anne Saves The Day"
Written by Ann M. Martin
Adapted and illustrated by Raina Telgemeier
(Scholastic/Graphix, 2007)

The girls have a falling out over the club and the club rules -- and nobody wants to budge an inch. Cold shoulders and icy stares follow them from home to school, and into their work as well. So, it's up to mousy, nervous Mary Anne -- the narrator of this volume -- to make the peace, even though her feelings are as hurt as anybody else's. But while navigating the shoals of preteen friendships, Mary Anne finds out a lot about herself, makes a new friend, and even works up the nerve to persuade her overprotective dad to lighten up a little. Another great entry in this graphic novel series, with lots of subtle touches in the story and the art. (A+)


"The Baby-Sitters Club, v.4: Claudia And Mean Janine"
Written by Ann M. Martin
Adapted and illustrated by Raina Telgemeier
(Scholastic/Graphix, 2008)

This volume, apparently the last in the series, focusses in on BSC-er Claudia Kishi, a Japanese-American girl whose irritating, overachieving older sister gets more praise from their parents because of her drive to succeed academically, while Claudia's interest in art and even her work as a babysitter are looked down on. This family dynamic is thrown out of wack when the family's beloved grandmother is hospitalized for a stroke, and the nurturing, empathic Claudia is better suited to help with her recovery. A sad and sometimes difficult story, but once again, a rewarding, engaging book, with fine artwork by Raina Telgemeier. Highly recommended: I wish Telgemeier could continue adapting these stories... We'd love to read more! (A+)


"Bad Island"
Written & Illustrated by Doug Tennapel
(Scholastic/Graphix, 2011)

This is a fast-paced sci-fi adventure story about an average American family who go on vacation and accidentally get mixed up in an intergalactic war... They're marooned on a mysterious island filled with all sorts of hostile alien lifeforms (drawn in a style that reminds me of Jeff Smith's "Bone" series) and at times the action gets a bit intense. (Parents of smaller ids, beware!) There's an inspirational side as well: family members, who went into the adventure with a bagful of typical resentments and miscommunication, wind up banding together and finding resourcefulness and emotional depths they hadn't realized they possessed. Great book for middle-schoolers and above, a real pager-turner with a weird, engaging plot. Recommended, though not for the littlest readers. (B)


"Bone, v.1: Out From Boneville"
Written and illustrated by Jeff Smith
(Cartoon Book/Scholastic, 1995)

A multi-volume graphic novel fantasy epic, the Bone books are a publishing phenomenon similar to the Harry Potter saga, a series that has become near-universal in children's libraries across the country. It's easy to see why: Bone is a really good read. Starting with this first volume, you'll be hooked as our hero, the short, bald, nondescript fellow named Fone Bone, heads away from his village (Boneville) into a big, wide world full of slobbering, giant-sized rat creatures, evil demons and friendly dragons. There are also bodacious babes, such as the sweet, welcoming farm-girl known as Thorn, who takes Bone in when he arrives lost in the forest, and who Bone instantly falls in love with. Echoes of J. R. R. Tolkien and Dave Sim are readily apparent, but Bone has its own unique, carefree feel. The series is probably best suited for slightly older kids -- there are some dark themes, mild intimations of sexual attraction and drinking of alcohol, etc. -- but the series is essentially pretty tame, and suitable for all but the littlest readers. Despite some action, the opening chapters are deceptively lighthearted, and compulsively readable... Once you start, there's no stopping 'til you're done! (B+)


"Bone, v.2: The Great Cow Race"
Written and illustrated by Jeff Smith
(Cartoon Book/Scholastic, 1996)

Now, I'm not gonna go on and do individual reviews for each volume of this series -- that would just be too darn geeky. But I will say that this volume, Number Two, is probably the weakest of the Bone books. In it, we are introduced to the village that Bone and his cousins come to live in, and the wacky cast of characters who we will follow up with for the rest of the series. However, the plot, which revolves around a silly "cow race" is a little too quirky and the machinations of the greedy, venal Phony Bone are pretty flimsy -- he gets everyone in town to bet one way in a race he hopes to rig, and is defeated when -- gasp -- one person bets against him. However, if you can get past this one, slightly uneven volume, the rest of the series picks up steam pretty quickly and comes to a satisfying end. On a more fanboy-ish note, I'd like to point out some of the qualities of Jeff Smith's art that I enjoyed, particularly the obvious debts to Will Eisner and Walt Kelly, who are pretty good touchstones for any up-and-coming cartoonist. Get past the silliness with cows, and Bone is pretty fun. (B+)


"Bone, v.3: Eyes Of The Storm"
Written and illustrated by Jeff Smith
(Cartoon Book/Scholastic, 1996)

(B+)


"Bone, v.4: The Dragonslayer"
Written and illustrated by Jeff Smith
(Cartoon Book/Scholastic, 1997)

(B+)


"Bone, v.5: Rock Jaw, Master Of The Eastern Border"
Written and illustrated by Jeff Smith
(Cartoon Book/Scholastic, 1998)

(B+)


"Bone, v.6: Old Man's Cave"
Written and illustrated by Jeff Smith
(Cartoon Book/Scholastic, 1999)

(B+)


"Bone, v.7: Ghost Circles"
Written and illustrated by Jeff Smith
(Cartoon Book/Scholastic, 2001)

(B+)


"Bone, v.8: Treasure Hunters"
Written and illustrated by Jeff Smith
(Cartoon Book/Scholastic, 2002)

(B+)


"Bone, v.9: Crown Of Horns"
Written and illustrated by Jeff Smith
(Cartoon Book/Scholastic, 2004)

(B+)


"Bone: The Complete Cartoon Epic In One Volume"
(Cartoon Books, 2004)

(-)


"Bone: Rose"
(Graphix, 2009)

(-)


"Bone: Tall Tales"
(Graphix, 2010)

(-)


"Bourbon Island: 1730"
Written and illustrated by Lewis Trondheim & Appollo
(First Second, 2008)

In this fanciful, engaging pirate tale, a young explorer named Raphael accompanies a Darwin-like scientist to a far-away tropical port, on an island that just happens to be one of the last bastions of a dying pirate culture. The island has a budding colonial plantation economy, but is heavily populated by the remnants of a vigorous renegade piracy, outlaws who have been forced to abandon the high seas and either submit to lawful society, or elude it. A naive romantic, Raphael is drawn to the former pirates and their tales of lost treasures and losing battles, and to their subterranean struggle against the corrupt colonial authorities. Told in a broadly cartoonish (and captivating) graphic style, Bourbon Island features anthropomorphic animal characters and a sly understanding of colonialism (as only a pair of French authors could portray...) This is a very engaging, fast-paced book, highly readable and good for a wide range of ages. Recommended! (A)




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