Great Graphic Novels for Tweens!

Graphic Novels for TweensThe tween years, ages 9 to 11, can be a challenging age when it comes to finding appropriate reading materials. These kids may devour Harry Potter, but they might not be mature enough to handle The Hunger Games or Divergent.

The same is true for graphic novels. Beyond Diary of Wimpy Kid, BoneDork Diaries or Big Nate, graphic novels can be gritty, violent and sometimes sexual. Like much of adolescence, graphic novels for this age group can be an awkward fit.

But great tween graphic novels are out there, and can meet the needs of even the most discerning reader. Here are a few with inventive plots, vivid settings, mythical creatures and heroic, fully realized characters. And of course, these books have gorgeous illustrations. Because why else would a kid want to read a graphic novel?

The Last Unicorn is lyrical story about the last unicorn in the world, adapted from the novel by Peter S. Beagle. The illustrations are lush — like a dream spread on the pages of a book.

— Doug TenNapel’s Tommysaurus Rex tells the story of Eli, and his discovery of a full-grown, friendly dinosaur in a cave. What kid hasn’t fantasized about having a dinosaur as a pet?

— In Ben Hatke’s Zita the Space Girl, Zita must rescue her best friend in outer space who has been kidnapped by aliens.

—  In Dan Santat’s Sidekicks, a dog, a hamster and a chameleon develop superpowers and battle it out with each other to be a superhero’s sidekick.

— Who would have thought that a cardboard box would make the best birthday gift ever? Doug TenNapel did in his imaginative story, Cardboard.

— Rapunzel’s Revenge is Doug and Sharon Hale’s hilarious twist on an old tale. The heroine enters the wild west and teams up with Jack (from the beanstalk). The magic continues in Calamity Jack, the second book.

— Talking animals find evidence that humans once inhabited the world in the futuristic and imaginative The Travels Thelonious by Susan Schade.

— Six orphans escape their orphanage and travel to an uninhabited moon in A. J. Lieberman and Darren Rawling’s The Silver Six.

— If the kids in your life loved the Geronimo Stilton series, they’ll appreciate the extraterrestrial adventures of Jake Parker’s Missile Mouse as he saves the universe.

— Readers who love technology will relate to the inventors in Eleanor Davis’ The Secret Science Alliance, who use their gadgets to outwit an evil scientist.

— Poisonous frog warriors defend Amphibilands against the spider queen and an army of scorpions in Trevor Pryce and Joel Naftali’s An Army of Frogs.

— The Encyclopedia of Early Earth is Isabel Greenberg’s epic tale about gods, monsters, mad kings and medicine men, which follows the journey of a young man from the north to the south pole.


Branching out

Call me a throwback…but I’m at my local public library branch at least once a week, more often when I’m stressed out about something and I need to take in the smell of old paper pages and a tad bit of mold. But roughly 70% of the books I check out don’t get read. And for maybe 30% of that 70%, I don’t even crack open the cover. (I feel a word problem coming on…If Anjali checks out twelve books a week, and 70% of them don’t get read, and 30% don’t even get opened, how many books simply sit on the floor in the mud room before getting returned? Solve for x.)

It’s almost as if my library is the school car line. I drop books off, I pick them up. I drop them off, I pick them up. There are exceptions to the rule, of course. Because I actually do quite a bit of reading. But with the number of books I read for work and for school, that number’s not nearly as high enough as I would like.

In the past month, one of the only two non-school, non-work books I’ve read is Ann Patchett’s This Is the Story of a Happy Marriage. If I were to form a literary religion, where writer-worshippers vowed to love and support the pursuit of the written word, its holy trinity would be Anne Lamott, Ann Patchett and Stephen King. I hear their soft, soothing voices in my ear whenever I am confronted with Doubt as to whether this is what I should be doing.

But I’ve gotten off track a bit. Here’s my confession: Whenever I’m standing in front of the new book shelves at the public library, I  close my eyes and wish that the binding of my novel would magically appear. It’s a silly thing, I know. But I dream for the day I open my eyes, and I see my novel looking right back at me.

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Disney's Animal Kingdom. The tree of life.

Disney’s Animal Kingdom. The tree of life.

Last week we spent a few days at Disneyworld. I don’t know what it is about that place, but I don’t think I’ll ever tire of it. Thank goodness my youngest child is still only 5. I will have many years there to come. Because I honestly don’t know who gets more excited about seeing Mickey Mouse, me or her.

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Speaking of books I read for work, I’ve read some great ones, and I can’t wait to write about them. My latest is B.J. Novak’s debut short story collection One More Thing. Novak was a writer, actor and executive producer of The Office. Clearly, he’s a jack of all trades. My review of his collection is here.

No Rhyme or Reason

At the end of last year, I was running around about as ragged as a person can run. I timed getting sick with the kids getting out of school for Winter Break. I had a work deadline for an article published for ArtsATL on Christmas Eve. (And another part of an article published a few days later.) I was drowning in school deadlines in preparation for my Queens residency, which this year began on January 5.

Is it any wonder that on both December 25th (take out) and January 1st (at restaurant) we ate Chinese food?

On December 31st, I went with my whole family to the Fiesta Bowl to watch Duke get killed by Texas A & M. I had an amazing time, and hung out with dear friends, but those few hours were my only “break” before heading to Charlotte.

Fiesta Bowl

Residency was amazing but I was so bone tired this time around, I had trouble standing on my own two feet. And when I returned home, I ran myself ragged catching up with kid/home stuff.

Sometimes, driving myself into the ground serves a good purpose. It helps me refocus and rewrite my priorities. It helps me to know when to say when. It means turning down some freelance work with potentially new employers. It means making sure we keep extra-curricular activities for three kids to a minimum.

So far, so good. In the two weeks since I’ve been back from Charlotte, I’ve written nearly 50 pages of my novel. Granted, it is 50 of the worst pages ever, but even a lousy page is a page, right?

I’ve also *gasp* been writing poetry. Like, hello? Poetry? Am I for serious? I didn’t even start reading poetry until I started school a year ago. And now I’m all, What the hell, Poetry? Why not?

I’m 40, now. I’ll try anything.

Hanging with my writing buddies in Charlotte.

Hanging with my writing buddies in Charlotte.

Zen and the Art of Homework


It’s been about a year since I started a new job and a full time Masters Program. Life is funny that way, isn’t it? You look, and look, and look for a job in your desired field, and then BAM, a job comes out of nowhere, and you didn’t even have to get a resume together. And then you talk, and talk, and debate, and talk about whether you should go back to school, then BAM, you get into your first choice program and begin.

Life cycles are bizarre and curious things. I sit at my dining room table every evening doing homework with both my 4th and 6th graders (my Kindergarten draws or cuts out snowflakes). We have conversations about assignments, and productivity, and whether highlighters are better than simply underlying text with a pen. “I can’t tuck you into bed tonight,” I’ll call upstairs some evenings. “I have too much homework.”

“I can’t unload the dishwasher right now,” one of them will say. “I have too much homework.”

Going back to school, in some ways, has put me back into the same phase of life as my children. We bemoan our lack of reading-for-leisure time. We compete about who has the greater work load and complain about assigned readings we feel are boring and irrelevant. We pass a thesaurus around when we write papers. We accuse each other of jamming the printer. We debate the merits of having several thinner loose leaf notebooks over having one giant one.

pencilsWe are in two separate life cycles, that bisect and conjoin at a shared arc. My daughters have barely embarked on their education journey, and I’m hoping to be at the end of mine. And yet, in the middle somewhere, in this place of shared learning and studying, our goals mirror and match.

I head to Charlotte, North Carolina for my third MFA residency in early January. And before then, I’ll be buried in assignments for school. Keep an eye out for a couple of upcoming pieces of mine on ArtsATL, but otherwise, I hope you have a wonderful end of 2013.

I’ll see you on the other side.

Once Shy, Twice Bitten

I am an atrocious baker. Really, I don’t know anyone who is as bad at baking as me. Roughly half of everything I try doesn’t turn out right. I make an awesome Oatmeal Chocolate Chip Cookie. It’s so good, I usually bake 10 dozen or so a year to give away to friends. But that’s about it. Cakes and muffins (I won’t even bother to try pies) only come out about fifty percent of the time.

So you know if I’m going to share a recipe with you, it’s because I’ve baked it at least three times and it comes out every time, i.e., any idiot can get it right. So here are some muffins that have recently come out really well for me. And if you’re dairy-free, you just need to substitute nuts or fruit for the chocolate chips. It makes between 24-28 muffins, perfect for any household that enjoys binging on junk food.

Oatmeal Pumpkin Chocolate Muffins

Pumpkin Oatmeal Chocolate Chip Muffins:

— 3 cups of whole wheat pastry flour

— 2 cups of old fashioned rolled oats

— 3 teaspoons of baking powder

— 1 teaspoon of baking soda

— 2 teaspoons of cinnamon

— 2 teaspoons of nutmeg

— 2 tablespoons of vanilla

— 1 cup of honey

— 4 egg whites

— 1 and 1/3 cups unsweetened almond milk

— 2 cups of pure, canned pumpkin

— 2/3 cup of unsweetened, all natural applesauce

— 1 ripe banana, mashed

— 1 bag of Ghiredelli chocolate chips


Preheat oven to 350 degrees, line muffin tins with paper cups or spray with butter or olive oil. Mix together flour, oatmeal, nutmeg, cinnamon, baking powder, baking soda. In a separate bowl, combine pumpkin, mashed banana, honey, almond milk, egg whites, applesauce. Add the flour mixture into the pumpkin mixture and stir to combine. Add a ridiculous amount of chocolate chips (1 bag if you’re feeling really greedy). Fill each muffin cup 3/4 full, then sprinkle a little oatmeal on top. Bake for 25-28 minutes.

Happy eating!

Lighting Up in the ATL

There was a time, about 7 years ago, when I desperately wanted to relocate to another town. When I realized it wasn’t going to work out, and that my family and I would be moving to Atlanta instead, I was depressed for days.

Now, after spending six and a half years living in the Atlanta metro area, I can’t imagine living anywhere else. I will consider myself very, very lucky, if I can live here for the rest of my life. Because I will never have enough time to do all the wonderful things that this city has to offer.

Here are a few photos from the amazing Garden Lights show going on right now, at the Atlanta Botanical Garden.

Earth Mother

Earth Mother

cropped-garden-lights-christmas-tree.jpgcropped-garden-lights-poinsettias.jpgGarden Lights Globes

Have you ever seen a cobra with Christmas lights? Well, now you have.

Have you ever seen a cobra with Christmas lights? Well, now you have.

Garden Lights Closeup Cobra Tree

Another picture...because it really is that impressive.

Another picture…because it really is that impressive.

Library Anywhere

Saturday morning, I moved with great difficulty after hosting our newly minted 12 year-old’s slumber party at our home. Still, I wanted to get out of the house for an hour. And I needed to pick up some books on hold for me at our library.

If you are anything like me, you find the holidays annoying in part because the library is not open during normal business hours. And because of this, the beginning of any holiday signifies a trip to the library to haul twenty to thirty books back to your home for consumption.

I arrived at the library ten minutes before it opened, and waited outside its doors with at least two dozen other people.

Let me repeat that: We were not standing outside of a toy store on Black Friday to get the next hottest toy, we were not waiting in line for tickets for the opening day of the biggest blockbuster movie of the season. Instead, we were anxiously awaiting the opening of our neighborhood library.

“They’re taking their own sweet time, to open up, aren’t they?” one eager patron mumbled. I laughed. “Yes, but how cool is this? There’s a line for the library on Saturday morning…The library!”

There may be hope for humanity after all.

Here’s some of our loot, in case you’re looking for something to read:

Library Dragon Library GonLibrary Secret RiverLibrary Moby Dick Library Smith