Hooray! I’m going to be a Round 1 Panelist for the Elementary/Middle Grade Speculative Fiction Panel on the Cybils again! Now is the time to look through what you’ve read and want to read this year so you can nominate some good titles for us once nominations open to the public on October 1. And, take a look at the blogs of my fellow panelists, listed in the link above!
Here’s me catching up with the latest from perennial favorite Gene Luen Yang, author of American Born Chinese and The Shadow Hero, among many others, including many of the Avatar: the Last Airbender graphic novels which I haven’t read, but my daughter rereads every couple of months.
Superman Smashes the Klan by Gene Luen Yang and Gurihiro. DC, 2020. ISBN 9781779504210. Read from purchased copy.
Bestselling author and lifelong Superman fan Yang retells a 1946 radio serial called the Clan of the Fiery Cross. It’s 1946 and young teens Roberta and Tommy Lee are being welcomed to their new home in Metropolis after living their lives up until then in Chinatown. Their father, a scientist, has a new job working for the city’s health department. But while Tommy’s baseball skills quickly win him friends at the local youth center, Roberta has more trouble fitting in.
Then one night, they wake up to men in white robes and a burning cross in their front yard. Fortunately, the next morning, Clark Kent and Lois Lane come to investigate. And as the Lees decide whether they should stay or move back to Chinatown, Superman remembers times in his own life when he felt like he didn’t belong.
The story somehow manages to feel like a good superhero story, a snapshot of history, and still have personal development for the Lee kids and Superman. Gurihiu’s artwork also feels modern while being strongly reminiscent of classic comics. I really enjoyed this, and my daughter has gone on to read it multiple times.
Dragon Hoops by Gene Luen Yang. First Second, 2020. ISBN 9781626720794. Read from library copy.
The story opens with Yang himself explaining how even though he’s always hated sports, he was in such desperate need of a new story to tell that he stepped out of his comfort zone to talk to the basketball coach, Coach Lou, at the school where they both teach. Coach Lou has led his team to the state championships multiple times, only to lose at the last minute. This year, though, with a pair of star players who are also best friends, he’s convinced they’ll make it all the way.
And so Yang follows the team through the whole year, with the books going through each major game and going into the background of each player. I often have difficulty with movies all about men or boys, as they all start to blend together for me – but here, where all the kids wearing uniforms could make this extra confusing, Yang gives each character a distinct look, even showing a discussion with one character where he disagrees with Yang about the way his hairline is shown, and it changes three times in the panels as they find something that will work for both of them.
This could be plenty for a book on its own, but they also go into the history of basketball – both men’s and women’s – as well as Yang’s thoughts on how to write the book, his worries that it won’t turn out well, and discussions with his agent about starting to write Superman comics for DC. All of this is told with clean and deceptively simple-looking art that packs tons of nuance into the frames. I’d like to give a shout-out to the colorist, Lark Pien, as well, for her excellent work here, and to whatever book designer decided to put a nubbly basketball texture on the cover. I found myself wanting to take it to the local basketball court and talk it up to all the teens there, and will certainly be recommending it to people at my library. This is a sports book for both sports fans and general readers.