City of Spies
Susan Kim, Laurence Klavan, and PascalDizin. Roaring Brook/First Second,$17 paper (172p) ISBN 978-1-59643-262-8
This graphic novel takes the kid detective genre to theworld of WWII espionage. In this case, the role of Nancy Drew is being playedby Evelyn, a 10-year-old girl who's recently come to live with herfree-spirited aunt in New York City.Imaginative and bored, Evelyn and her friend Tony see spies everywhere, withdecidedly mixed results. Unlike the Hardy Boys or Boxcar Children, they don'talways get it right, and their false alarm about a surly doorman makes forembarrassing headlines. Eventually, they do happen upon a real Nazi spy, andthey're off on an exciting adventure, hiding in bakery vans, sneaking intoparties, and decoding secret messages with a little help from Evelyn's Aunt Liaand a friendly policeman. The writers manage the difficult trick of writingreal children into a terrific adventure story, and the book is completelyage-appropriate without ever talking down to its readers. Dizin's loopilyexpressive art has a period feel while still looking fresh and kid-friendly.His work on "Zirconium Man and Scooter," Evelyn's comic about herself and herabsent father as superheroes, is particularly charming. City of Spies is a good old-fashioned adventure story andrip-roaring fun. Ages 12-up. (May)

To Teach: The Journey, in Comics
William Ayers and Ryan Alexander-Tanner.Teachers College Press, $15.95 paper (144p)ISBN978-0-8077-5062-9
Quinn is a pudgy and energetic boy, whose enthusiasticembrace of snack time prompts a school administrator to label him "hyperactivedisordered." His teacher, however, notes, "it's too easy to caricature everyexcitable African-American boy as ‘at risk' " and goes on to identifyQuinn's many strengths and then persistently encourage them. That teacher isBill Ayers, the school reform activist and a cofounder of the WeatherUnderground who got so much attention during the Obama campaign. Ayers is allteacher in this graphic novel ode to the power and potential of his profession.Alexander-Tanner's black and white ink drawings show a classroom in full bloomwith activity and learning, while Ayers's text offers pointed discussions ofwhat's wrong with the current state of education in this country. Ayers doesn'tjust present critiques like the one relating to Quinn that "labeling studentshas become an epidemic in our schools"; he also shows the methods he uses "todevelop a permanent readiness for the marvelous" in his classroom. With plentyof anecdotal examples, he demonstrates ways of opening up a child's eagernessto learn. This fascinating and, yes, educational book will certainly be ofinterest to teachers, but it will also teach, inspire, and entertain anyoneelse who picks it up. (May)

High Soft Lisp
Gilbert Hernandez. Fantagraphics, $16.99 paper (136p) ISBN978-1-60699-318-7
From the pages of the venerable comics institution Love andRockets come 11 stories that loosely revolve around the emotional and sexualmisadventures of psychoanalyst, sci-fi fanatic, and heroically voluptuousgrade-Z film star Rosalba "Fritz" Martinez. Originally a minor character inHernandez's expansive Palomar universe, Fritz doesn't exactly take center stagein her own book, either. In fact, we're introduced to our ostensible heroine asmerely the fourth of world-famous motivational speaker Mark Herrera's sixwives. The ensuing leaps in chronology and POV can be jarring for those notfamiliar with Hernandez's episodic style (not to mention the daunting mythologybuilt up over 25-plus years of Love and Rockets), but the stories'offbeat humor and manic sexual energy make the adjustment more than worthwhile.Fritz's hypersexuality, bizarre fetishes, rampant vanity, and burgeoningalcoholism provide many of the volume's finest comic moments, but the ample sexon view is rarely sexy. Rather, the characters' libidinous pursuits are tiedinto an affecting strain of loneliness and regret that pervades even the mostoutlandish panels. Add to that Hernandez's characteristically thick, expressiveline and character design that owes an acknowledged debt to Archie comics, andthe result is a charmingly incongruous, occasionally titillating collision ofpoignancy and pulp. (Apr.)

The Simpsons Futurama Crossover Crisis
Ian Boothby and James Lloyd.Abrams, $24.95 (208p) ISBN978-0-8109-8837-8
Two classic animated series are brought together in a comicthat offers many surprises, including how well it all works when transported toa new medium. Although both sources are the creation of cartoonist MattGroening, the broadcast runs of each series referred to the other as works offiction within their own universes, perhaps seeking to avoid the temptation ofan attention grabbing crossover. And yet somehow this assemblage ablyaccomplishes just such a task while remaining faithful to the source materials.When Futurama's crew from the Planet Express delivery service become trapped inthe fictional world of a Simpsons comic book, they must escape fromSpringfield. But shortly afterward they open a rift that brings the Simpsonscharacters into the Planet Express world, where the fictional characters mustbe rescued and returned to the pages of their comic book. Boothby's writingexcels at letting each universe and the characters in them maintain theirsubtly distinct identities even when they blend. The overarching story for thebook is designed to easily allow opportunities for affectionate references tocomics, to science fiction, and to notable works of fiction. While the Simpsonscomics included in the collection are not as strong, the crossover story takeswhat could have been a simple throwaway gag and instead crafts a funny,intricately detailed story. (Apr.)

Peter H. Reynolds andFableVision. S&S/Atheneum,$16.99 (121p) ISBN 978-1-4424-0454-0
This slow-paced and melancholic graphic novel for childrenopens to kids goofing around with musical video games and ends with themactually making a difference with music. This is in part thanks to Vita, a girlwho dyes her hair and wants to have a rock group named Zebrafish, thusexplaining the name. One member of the group is a girl who announces she hasleukemia, a proclamation that spins Vita's thoughts to dark and sad places.Rather than take the news lying down, Vita wants to see if her music can raiseawareness and funds for a children's research hospital. Surprisingly, it takesa while for this part of the story to come in, but once it does, it's quitepowerful. The rest of the book is taken up by the usual hijinks and fun ofkeeping the band together. The sketchy art has the stylized look of a cablecartoon, which is fitting since the characters are also being adapted as a Webcartoon. The lack of backgrounds and details keep the focus squarely on thecharacters and their motivations. Ages 10-14. (May)

GuineaPIG, Pet Ship Private Eye: #01 Hamster and Cheese
Colleen AF Venable. Lerner/Graphic Universe, $6.95 paper (48p) ISBN978-0-7613-5914-2
This promising new series opens in a pet store where asmart guinea pig named Sasspants spends her time reading the many books shekeeps around her. Her smarts-in addition to the fact her cage accidentally saysGUINEA PI instead of PIG-gets her tapped as a crime solver. When sandwiches gomissing, a hamster becomes convinced the local pet private investigator will bethe one to solve the case. While initially against getting involved, Sasspantsnevertheless starts an investigation. Children can look and guess forthemselves about the clues and red herrings the book presents. The humor in thecharacters' personalities and dialogue makes this a lively and entertainingbook. Ages 7-11. (Apr.)

MaxFinder Mystery Collected Casebook #4

Craig Battle, Ramón Pérez, and Liam O'Donnell.Owlkids, $9.95 (96p) ISBN 978-1-897349-80-9
As a modern-day Sherlock Holmes in junior high, Max Finderruns through the pages solving short but interesting mysteries and encouragingreaders to help him. While the fourth book in the series, it's easy for newreaders to dive right in thanks to character explanations in the beginning.There are 13 mystery tales in all, three of which are short stories; the restare in comic book form. Each story has a central mystery-like "Who stole themuseum's painting?" "Who cheated at chess?" "Who planted the stink bomb?"-thatgets solved on the last page, right after Max asks the readers if they'vefigured it out. On the last page of each story the perpetrator is named, alongwith how and why he or she committed the crime. Clues are laid out for thesharp eye and clever reader in everything from dialogue to art details in thebackground, which the clean, inviting art by Perez makes a pleasure to searchfor. This series is aimed for children and up, so in general younger readersmight sift for clues while adults find them with much more ease. These storiespreviously ran in Owl magazine. Ages8-up. (Mar.)

Jane Yolen and Mike Cavallaro.Roaring Brook/First Second, $15.99 (160p) ISBN978-1-59643279-6
Aliera Carstairs attends a small high school in New York City and feelslike an outcast in its crowds of cliques, jocks, goths, nerds, and preps. She'salways been a loner and doesn't know where she belongs. The only control shehas is fencing and the role-playing games she plays with her disabled cousin.Then the gorgeous and flirtatious Avery Castle becomes her lab partner, and acrush quickly ensues. Plus there's her mysterious practice sword with the irremovableruby in the hilt. Famed YA author Yolen weaves a familiar tale of the heroine'sjourney, while addressing Aliera's helplessness before Avery's glamour. ButAvery has some secrets of his own-cutting up frogs in lab class is his idea offun-and all the threads converge at Grand Central Station in a botched firstdate that turns into a high fantasy adventure. Cavallaro's art is rounded andcartoony, handling action and the fantasy elements well while skimping a bit oncharacterization-his Avery is just a sorta cute cartoon boy, not a devastatingheartbreaker, but Aliera is a strong and likable protagonist. Yolen weaves herknowledge of fencing vividly throughout the plot, powerfully creating romance,mystery, adventure, fantasy, and drama, all rolled into a strong narrative.Ages 11-up. (Apr.)