Zita the Spacegirl, Book One: Far From Home, written and illustrated by Ben Hatke, 183 pp, RL 3

A HUGE thank you to Ben Hatke for creating Zita the Space Girl! I am pretty new to graphic novels and I certainly don't know all of the great books out there for kids, especially online graphic novels, but this one feels pretty unique - and familiar at the same time - if that is possible. Zita is a girl! A Space Girl!! A science fiction heroine in a kid's graphic novel is unique, as far as I can tell. Of course, we have the amazing Mirka, created by Barry Deutsch and her adventures in Hereville: How Mirka Got Her Sword, which is a great fantasy graphic novel. We also have the take-charge Emily from the excellent Amulet series by Kazo Kibuishi, which is a nice mix of fantasy and science fiction. But for some reason, boys seem to dominate this realm of space ships and many limbed creatures with weird weapons to such a degree that a girl does get noticed when she steps into this universe. Especially when she enters it wearing a cool green cape and surrounded by a fantastic, colorful group of characters like those Hatke has created. Published by the excellent :01 First Second, the production quality of this book is high and worth every penny. First Second is also the publisher of Sarah Varon's wonderful wordless graphic novel, Robot Dreams as well as Bake Sale, which comes out in August of this year and is about a cupcake who longs to travel abroad and meet foreign pastries. American Born Chinese by Gene Luen Yang (review coming soon) and Lark Pien, author of the wonderful picture book, Mr Elephanter also create for First Second. And, of course, they also publish the hugely popular Adventures in Cartooning by James Sturm, Alexis Frederick-Frost and Andrew Arnold.

Before I tell you anything about Zita, I have to share the marvelous quote from GK Chesterton that introduces her story:

There are two ways of getting home; and one 
of them is to stay there.

The other is to walk around the whole world 
Til we come back to the same place.

I love it! You could spend hours just talking about his with your kids alone! But, there is more! Zita goes from being a boisterous kid with impulse control issues to a loyal, brave explorer who takes responsibility for her choices over the course of this, the first book in the series. 

Besides crafting a great story, I adore Hatke's artistic style. Colorful and gentle, the characters in Zita the Space Girl are never too threatening, making this a great book for younger readers, as well as a super read out loud for pre-readers. When Zita and Joseph discover a crater that has a mysterious mechanism smoldering in it, Zita's grabs it and it ready to push the button but Joseph is afraid. Zita does it anyway and a tear opens up in the universe, creepy tentacles reach out and the next thing you know Joseph is gone. Zita only has one choice - push the button again and try to find him.

Zita and a Screed

Zita finds herself on a planet that is going to be destroyed by an asteroid in three days. The original inhabitants of the planet, the Scriveners, believe that a prophecy foretold of a human boy who would save the planet and have chained Joseph to a rock in anticipation of this. Their creepy henchman, the Screed, is hunting down Zita as well. As Zita searches for Joseph, she makes a few friends who are best described by Hatke himself in an interview for MTVGeek,

She gathers up a motley group of friends as she travels. There’s Piper, who is equal parts con-man, wizard and junk dealer, a giant Mouse named Pizzicato, a war machine named One who was imprisoned for “failure to work well with others,” a timid robot named Randy who lives in a junkyard, and a large oafish creature named Strong Strong.

With out giving away too much of the story, I can tell you that things don't go quite as Zita had planned and, finding herself stuck on the planet with her new traveling companions, her last words are, "I'll just have to take the long way home."

Hatke, who is the father to three daughters, has created a magical, marvelous story and I can't wait to see the next installment! For those you who also find yourself having a hard time waiting, there are a few one-page webcomics and a fifteen page story featuring Zita and a magical wishing sock in Flight EXPLORER, which is the kid's edition of FLIGHT, the gorgeous graphic novel compilation editted by Kazu Kibuishi that is definitely worth checking out. Flight EXPLORER is also where Jake Parker's Missile Mouse (review coming soon) also got his start!

I just love, love, love Ben Hatke's style, so here are a few more glimpses of Zita I just couldn't resist! And, at the end is a self-portrait of the author and an account, in comic form, of his FIRST book signing!


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