azziAzzi in Between
Sarah Garland
(Frances Lincoln Children’s Books)

Endorsed by Amnesty International and winner of the inaugural Little Rebels Awards,  Azzi in Between is a moving picture book, told in comic format, about a family’s journey from oppression in their native land to Britain where they take refuge. Azzi lives with her parents and grandmother in a faraway country until war slowly creeps into their town. Suddenly , Azzi and her parents are in danger and must flee in the dead of night, leaving her grandmother behind. And so begins a treacherous and dangerous journey until they reach their new home in an alien land, with a very different way of life and culture. Azzi must learn a new language but with that comes the realisation that maybe she is not the only one in her situation. Azzi in Between is such a moving story and such a universal tale about fleeing oppression from one’s country, and the difficulties of starting again somewhere new and unknown.  It is beautiful told and crafted in a way that  can easily be grasped by young audiences.  It is haunting at times, but so full of hope.  It is particularly touching how the beans are used as a symbol, as a bridge between the life Azzi has left behind and the beginning of her new, and that it is something from home that enables her to reach out to her new classmates. It is simple, but so beautifully done.
The panelling is very simple which makes it particularly accessible for younger children or those not used to reading comics, and also makes the book easy to read aloud,  which is not always the case with comics. Sarah Garland’s artwork is clear and child-friendly, and she has a knack for drawing particularly kind faces.
Azzi in Between is brimming with compassion and love and is teaches its readers a wonderful lesson about always holding on to hope in the face of adversity.


teenytinysaursThe Terrible Tales of the Teenytinysaurs!
Gary Northfield
(Walker Books)

The Terrible Tales of the Teenytinysaurs! is a hilarious collection of seven short stories featuring of gang of young dinosaurs and their daily adventures in prehistoric times. From bogey monsters to argumentative clouds, each adventure is hugely entertaining. And with plenty of snot and poo jokes, there is absolutely no doubt that the targeted audience (as well as, ahem, adults) will be in absolute stitches.  What is particularly great about this comic however is how perfectly the dinosaurs’ behaviour emulates the behaviour of children within a group. Little readers will instantly recognise this and possibly themselves in there, whether they are the easily scared one, the daring one, or the girl who knows how to hold her own. It is a fantastic study of little people behaviour, but in dinosaur form.  It also deals with very human worries, but again often in “dinosaur form”, such as bogey monsters (bogeyman), losing a horn (losing a tooth), and looking after younger siblings.  Though it is text-heavy at times, there is a mix of differently shaped panels which allows for breaks in the text and includes some wonderful double-spread illustrations by Gary Northfield, including the fabulous cross-section of Colin’s stomach, which gives readers so many little details to discover in the artwork.
The Terrible Tales of the Teenytinysaurs ! is an absolute hoot and will be a winner with so many readers, including those who might not initially be into comics. And there is Teenytinysaurs 2 on the way too (see here), hurrah!

Marguerite Abouet & Mathieu Sapin, translated by Judith Taboy
(Flying Eye Books)

This French comic follows the adventures of mischievous Akissi, a spirited little girl who lives in a small West African town and manages to get herself in trouble on a regular basis. Her adventures are broken down into seven separate episodes which feature our heroine as well as her poor tormented brother Fofana, as well as an array of other characters. There is something so appealing and weirdly satisfying about mischievous heroes, and though Akissi does not deliberately seek trouble, it seems to find her every time, with hilarious consequences. With each story readers get to learn a little bit more about Akissi’s world through her wacky antics, and this provides a wonderful introduction to life in West Africa and its culture, which might seem so far-removed from ours to young readers.  There is no caricatural portrayal of Africa here; it is definitely comical but depicts life in Africa justly. Marguerite Abouet is originally from Ivory Coast and bases her work on childhood memories of her native country. Therefore it might  be fair to give a pre-warning that one of the tales requires at the very least an open mind but also possibly a strong stomach … let’s just say tapeworm is involved. But this is a reality in Akissi’s world, so all it does it makes this comic all the more realistic in its portrayal of life in West Africa, albeit in a hilariously gross way.
Beautifully presented thanks to Flying Eye Books’ amazing design, this is a great comic for all comic-lovers:  Akissi’s mischievous ways will delight young readers while adult readers will welcome the unusual setting of the stories and the edge it brings to this book.

sleepwalkersThe Sleepwalkers
Viviane Schwarz
(Walker Books)

When children are being tormented by nightmares, all they need to do is write a letter, put it under their pillow to call the Sleepwalkers, who make it their business, from their floating safe house, to dip it and out of dreams to chase bedtime monsters away. But it is nearly time for them to return to the waking world and before they do, they must find and train replacements. Will the new recruits be up to the job?
Because most of the storyline takes place within dreams, anything, basically, is possible which allows for the most wacky ideas, and Viviane Schwarz does not disappoint with some surreal characters and storylines along the way. The fantastic use of panelling brings a real sense of space and movement and really gives  readers the impression that they, too, are floating between dream worlds. The text and slightly darker artwork makes The Sleepwalkers better suited to slightly older readers.  But The Sleepwalkers also deals with very real themes; obviously there is much about bad dreams and night terrors, but Bonno is a particularly interesting character which will attract much love and sympathy from readers. While he is a big bear, he lacks self-assurance and is a real worrier, particularly comparing to Amali. I love  how putting on his mask finally gives him  a new-found strength and confidence, à la Batman or Spiderman. In the end, he saves the day; it always so very satisfying when the underdog prevails.
With lovely added extras such as how to make a sock monkey and a banana milkshake as well as some amazingly detailed diagrams, this is an exciting graphic novel full of adventure, a bit of peril and plenty of surreal fun.


Source: review copies from publisher apart from Azzi in Between, which is a library copy.