Quirk's Quest: Into the Outlands by Robert Christie and Deborah Lang, 128 pp, RL 3

Quirk's Quest: Into the Outlands marks  the first visit to Robert Christie and Deborah Lang's Crutonia in book form. According to the author/illustrator bios, Christie and Lang met under a table in school while taking refuge from a food fight and began building the world of Crutonia shortly thereafter. They have been setting stories in this world for more than three decades now! Considering this, my first visit to this intriguing land was one I hope to repeat again and again.

Quirk's Quest, which is named for Captain Quenterindy Quirk, an explorer charged by King Hoonkl with charting the lesser known corners of the kingdom of Crutonia, might not be the best person for the job, or he could just be a soul who chooses to think the best of everyone. Either way, it doesn't serve him or the crew of the HMS Gwaniimander well at all when they are approached by giant, four-eyed creatures who try to eat their ship and then eat them.

Quirk, Smok, a kitchen assistant who save the captain's life, and an handful of other crew members are the only ones to survive the wreckage. Nersel Bukuby, the cartographer royal, Burtrym and Waldemar, the ecologists, Lanitee the botanist and her assistant Cleus, a centaur, along with scouts Gimil and Zaifer, as well as the Sxervian Frog Brigade, find themselves seeking shelter from the giants in dark, dank caves. There they meet Hukka, a sorceress and hermit who allows them three days to organize, tend to the injured and move out.
Nersel wanders off on his own and encounters the Yoons, unrelentingly cheerful creatures who are immune to Hukka's magical zaps and poisonous to the giants and therefore free to roam the land. They help Nersel and eventually the rest of the crew in the caves, but not before Hukka kidnaps an injured crew member and a battle ensues. Lang and Christie end this first in what should be a long series with the crew of the HMS Gwaniimander headed off into the unknown, fortified by their time with the Yoon and feeling confident after studying the flora and fauna of the land and making a map, despite their injured crew members. I can't say I feel entirely hopeful for their safety, but I HAVE to find out where they end up next!

The illustration style and characters of Quirk's Quest: Into the Outlands remind me of a delightful mix of Jim Henson's Fraggle Rock and Greek mythology. There is comic relief in the goofy, cheerful Yoon and, even though they are terribly destructive, the four-eyed giants look a bit like they wandered off of Sesame Street, making this the perfect fantasy adventure for readers who might be a bit sensitive.

There are a few fantastic maps included in the book as well as a couple of pages at the end of the novel that detail characters of note, including the various brigades of the Sxervian battalion. All in all, Lang and Christie have created a world that I want to spend more time in!

Source: Review Copy


First Snow by Bomi Park

I have only spent one year of my entire life, almost half a century, living in a place where it snows in the winter. Because of this, picture books about snow days have the same sense of magic and non-reality for me as a trip to Narnia might. The upside is that, as an adult, I can read a picture book about snow and feel the wondrousness of waking up to find snow on the ground and feel the cozy security of being inside with a cup of hot cocoa without being reminded of the work of shoveling out and the ugliness of dirty, slushy snow. First Snow by Bomi Park, a South Korean Renaissance woman (she studied piano, architecture and psychology) is yet another wonderful picture book about snow that transports me to a magical place. With minimal text and palette, Park's debut picture book, calls to mind the graphic novel The Only Child by Chinese author and illustrator Guojing.

In the dark of the night, a little girl wakes to snow falling. She suits up and heads out into the back yard, where a puppy emerges from the dog house where mother and sibling sleep, curled together. "Roll, roll, roll," we watch as the girl, dog trotting behind, rolls a snowball through her neighborhood, under the street lamps.

Through the woods, creatures looking on, she continues, "Slow. slow. slow." Park's sparse text captures what I imagine it feels like to be in a newly snow covered world early in the morning. The girl and her snowball arrive in a snowy filled filled with other children pushing snowballs and building snow people. A glorious two-page spread shows the children, seemingly floating in the air, dancing with their snow creations. A page turn shows the little girl in the corner of the recto, tongue sticking, waiting for a snowflake. The words on the verso read, "First snow." The final two pages show her backyard, a snowman in a red scarf, the puppy pawing at it.

Although I've only experienced a first snow once in my life, I imagine that Bomi Park's First Snow captures perfectly what it feels like to be a child waking to a new, enchanting landscape.

Source: Review Copy


Science Comics: Volcanoes - Fire and Life by Jon Chad, 128 pp, RL 3

With Volcanoes: Fire and Life, Jon Chad adds the third and newest title to FirstSecond's fantastic series, Science Comics. While I am not a fan of non-fiction, I find I am able to ingest it with large doses of illustrations, making graphic novels (and narrative non-fiction picture books) the perfect way for me to get my RDA of facts. I especially LOVE what Jon Chad has done with his addition to the Science Comics series by wrapping a very cool (literally) narrative around his volcano facts.

Volcanoes: Fire and Life opens (after a forward by some scientists) on a frozen landscape sometime in the future where young Aurora, or Rory, is searching through a long abandoned house looking for items with the longest burn time. Another Ice Age has befallen the Earth and survivors look for fuel to burn, soaking up what little solar energy is available to them. When Rory, her siblings Sol and Luna, and their leader/teacher Pallas travel far from their tribe searching for fuel and find a library that hasn't been raided yet, Rory finds something that changes her life - a book about volcanoes. As they are scanning the books into their portable database before they burn them so as not to lose the valuable knowledge inside, Rory begins reading a book about volcanoes.

Excited by what she has discovered, she wants to share it with the rest of the crew. Rory's moments of discovery are where the facts come in. Here, Chad starts at the crust of the earth and goes from there, informing readers about how volcanoes are made, the various kinds of volcanoes there are as well as the varying kinds of lava the spew forth - and at what rate and volume they spew! I really had no idea volcanoes were so complex and varied.

As the narrative of Volcanoes: Fire and Life unfolds, we learn that volcanoes, which may be the saving force for Rory's tribe, are also possibly what caused the Ice Age! The role of volcanoes in Earth's carbon cycle and Volcanic Winters, like those documented after the eruption of Krakatoa in 1883, Mt. Tambora in 1815 and Mt. Pinatubo in 1991 are also explored and absolutely fascinating!

There is a happy ending for Rory and her tribe find a Hotspot, specifically the Cobb Hotspot! Chad wraps up his book with the Hawaiian Islands, a series of islands made from hotspot activity that can be used to determine the rate at which the plates are moving! A glossary and a list of further reader make up the final pages of Volcanoes: Fire and Life.

Books 1 & 2 in the Science Comics Series:


Source: Review Copy