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Zita the Spacegirl Paperback – February 1, 2011
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From School Library Journal
Grade 2–5—While exploring a meteoroid crater, young explorers Zita and Joseph discover an unusual device featuring a conspicuous red button. Zita's curiosity compels her to press it, only to discover that it summons an alien creature that instantly abducts Joseph. The fearless heroine follows him to a planet inhabited by Scriptorians, who intend to use him as a ritual sacrifice to prevent the destruction of their planet. In her quest to save her friend, Zita assembles a cadre of unusual cohorts: a giant mouse that she rides; an oversize bloblike creature named Strong Strong; a Heavily Armored Mobile Battle Orb known as One; and Robot Randy. Together they head off to the Scriptorians' castle to rescue Joseph. Along the way, she meets Piper, a fellow earthling traveling through space who becomes an important player in the story. Aptly named, he is part Pied Piper and part inventor but always a smooth talker who alternately assists and sabotages the mission. In order to save her friend, Zita must ultimately risk her own chance to return to Earth. With echoes of The Wizard of Oz, this charming, well-told story has a timeless "read to me" quality that makes it perfect for one-on-one sharing. Adults will enjoy the subtle humor and inside jokes, and children will love intrepid Zita and her adventures. The art is simply delightful: a realistic heroine surrounded by a world of bizarre creatures. Fans of the Flight anthologies (Villard) will cheer for the return of Zita.—Barbara M. Moon, Suffolk Cooperative Library System, Bellport, NY
(c) Copyright 2011. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
For no reason at all, a little red button crashes to earth while Zita and her pal Joseph are out cavorting around. Of course, no one could resist pushing a mystery button, which pops open an interdimensional portal that whisks Joseph away. Zita follows and lands on a delightfully bizarre alien planet, where she sees Joseph being captured by a tentacled, scuba-headed creature. She makes some allies, takes off after him, and zany mishaps and dashing adventures ensue. Any story in which one can escape prison with a tube of “doorpaste” (just like toothpaste, except that it makes magic doors appear when smeared on a wall) obviously puts more stock in wowing imaginations than satisfying logic, and it needs solid cartooning chops to back it up. Fortunately, Hatke’s got them, and he doles out an increasingly loony and charming array of aliens, robots, and unclassifiable blobs and hairy things for Zita (herself a cross between Ramona Quimby and a Matt Phelan waif) to encounter. It’s fun, plenty funny, and more than a little random. Kids will love it. Grades 3-6. --Ian Chipman --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Here are some basic rules governing meteoroids. Should you happen to find one in a field and should it happen to contain a device with a big red button, do NOT press that button! It would have been useful for Zita to take that advice when she found the meteoroid and device with her friend Joseph. Needless to say, a button was pushed. After creating an inadvertent rift in space, Joseph is pulled through the hole by a set of furry tentacles. Zita, daunted but intrepid, follows. Her mission? To find Joseph, wherever he might be, and bring him home. Along the way she befriends a host of strange characters like One, the battle orb with self-esteem issues, and Mouse (real name Pizzicato) a large rodent who prefers to communicate with short printed notes. Along with a couple others, Zita sets out to fulfill her mission. What she may find, however, is that while she wins her temporary battles, she may end up losing the war.
Children's science fiction is only now attempting to slip into the shoes left by fantasy. The standard Alice in Wonderland / Wizard of Oz storyline where a girl finds herself in a new world and befriends strange creatures used to be the territory of your Wonderlands and Ozes. With the appearance of books like "The Search for WondLa" and "Zita the Spacegirl", however, sci-fi now waltzes merrily in the same spheres. We've finally hit the point where girls can explore not just alternate worlds but alternate planets as well. I don't know quite what to make of this. It is interesting to note that like her predecessors Zita does want to find home but we don't know why. She never mentions her parents or friends. And after seeing all the cool friends and characters in space, what's the lure of Earth? Hopefully this is something that will be covered in other books in the series. Otherwise, Zita's ultimate goal is a little less than gripping.
Of course there are some pretty familiar looking figures in this book. Mouse is your large mammalian mode of transportation, like The Cowardly Lion or Iorek Byrnison. Strong Strong is your basically sweet but gigantic companion, like Ludo in "Labyrinth". That leaves Piper as the character you don't know if you can trust (your Han Solo, if you will), Randy as the coward who is more than he seems, and so on. I'm being facetious, but the fact of the matter is that while none of these characters are particularly new in terms of the storytelling, it doesn't really matter. Sure they're rote, but they're reliable. There's a reason so many storytellers like to use them in their books. And while I have seen them appear in lots of works of fiction and film, I've never seen them in a graphic novel for kids before. Not really. The "Amulet" books are a little too much like the "Bone" series when it comes to companions, and "Jellaby" includes only one lovable monster. I do get a lot of kids asking me to recommend books just like those, though. For them, "Zita the Spacegirl" is a kind of answer to a prayer. Even if the friendships are different, the exciting tone stays the same.
Ben Hatke has a style that at first reminded me of Raina Telgemeier more than any other graphic artist working today. It's something about how he draws Zita. Telgemeier is behind books like the graphic adaptations of "The Baby-Sitters Club" or "Smile". Then I thought a little bit more about it and felt that Hatke's book felt a lot like the style of Matt Phelan, particularly when it came out his graphic novel "The Storm in the Barn". Yet here the comparisons stop. In spite of the supernatural element to Phelan's tale, both artists keep well within the realm of the realistic. Hatke, in contrast, has a penchant for combining the cute with the weird. He'll throw in a realistic creature like Mouse (a Beatrix Potter influence, perhaps?) alongside Zita and her sometime manga-esque expressions. Throw in adorable critters along the lines of Walt Kelly (or, more recently, Jeff Smith) and you've got yourself a "Zita". His landscapes are also worth noting, making good use of claustrophobic city dwellings as well as vast junkyards and sweeping vistas. I was particularly taken with how nicely he breaks up the action. Hatke isn't afraid to include wordless sequences to set the pace, or to switch up the panel size and jump cuts when we're in an action scene. Sometimes I did have a bit of a hard time following one fast-paced moment to the next (Zita gets on an elevator in one scene so quickly that I had a hard time figuring out where she was without the normal visual clues). But generally it works to the book's advantage.
Yup. It's fun. Fun is good. With any luck there will be more in the series too, so those of you who live in fear that the books will just end without reaching their natural conclusion will have to hope that Hatke will not leave you disappointed (I watched too many episodes of the "Dungeons & Dragons" cartoon as a kid so I know that particular brand of disappointment). Still, if you have to take it on its own, "Zita" makes a pretty good series title on its own. This is definitely something you can hand to your kids, boys and girls alike, secure in the knowledge that they'll take a lot of enjoyment out of the experience. A sweet tale.
For ages 8-12.
The trilogy is made up of Zita the Spacegirl, Legends of Zita the Spacegirl, and The Return of Zita the Spacegirl. The books are aimed at YA, and it’s hard to imagine any child not enjoying every aspect of it—character, plot, visuals. While it lacks the rich depth or wholly original characters to make it a full crossover book, it’s equally hard to imagine most adults not enjoying it either, even if they’ll recognize some well-worn characters. And of course, reading it aloud to your child would be the best of both worlds.
In Book One, Zita’s adventures begin when she and her friend Joseph witness a meteoroid crash to the Earth. Inside is a device with a big red button. Joseph, standing in for pragmatic, cautious, adult-minded folks everywhere warns Zita not to push the button. Zita, representing kids and like-minded adults, of course pushes it anyway. The results are not good. A portal opens up, tentacles grab Joseph and pull him in, the portal closes. After doing the obvious—running away—Zita returns to the device and takes on the burden of dealing with the consequences of her action by pushing the button and jumping into the ensuing portal. Cue adventures.
What kind? The kind that involve a giant mouse named appropriately enough “Mouse,” who communicates via ticker-tape; a huge Lennie-like alien named Strong-Strong, several down-on-their-luck robots, a can-he-be-trusted Rogue named Piper, Piper’s former and-not-so-happy-with-him significant other (and her giant cat), Doom Squads, living ships, Dungeon worlds, space giants, swarming planet-consuming hearts, asteroids hurtling towards planetary destruction, prison breaks, a talking skeleton and his best friend, a sentient pile of rags, last-minute rescues from certain death, and the list goes on.
The action is fast-paced much of the time, with lots of driving urgency (planets about to explode, friends about to be executed, etc.) behind the plot. But Hatke also knows when to slow things down and allow for some quieter moments, for both the characters and for the readers, letting some more emotional moments settle in, during a moment of self-sacrifice, for instance, or a realization that maybe fighting isn’t always the answer. Along those lines, he also isn’t afraid to now and then let the visuals alone carry the story or the emotions, offering up several wordless pages at a time, with no loss of impact.
You can see from above the books also have their share of “lessons”, beginning with that very first one of taking responsibility for one’s actions. But these lessons in ethics are part and parcel of the story and characters; there’s no moralizing, no didacticism here. What’s learned grows naturally out of the events and sits side by side with the joy of adventure.
As mentioned, some of the character types will seem familiar. Piper is your usual rogue of apparently questionable trustworthiness/ethics that you know will come through in the end (think Han Solo), Strong Strong is the typical big strong fella of few words whose size is only overmatched by the largeness of his heart, Mouse the usual stalwart warm-blooded animal companion, and so on. Kids of course won’t react the same way to these types, and for adult, even if they are familiar types, they’re well, familiar types and there’s something pleasant about familiarity. And Hatke does a good enough job of breathing personality into each so that they read more of a kind than a simple, empty clone.
Humor in the stories is both through dialogue (especially the skeleton and the rag creature) and visually. And speaking of the visuals, while I’m no judge of art in and of itself, I thoroughly enjoyed the richness of Hatke’s background detail in more rich panels of an urban street, a junkyard, and the like. Otherwise, the art seemed clear and lively to me. Best I can say is I responded well to it.
I’ve spent a lot of time bemoaning how little I’ve enjoyed the graphic novels/comics I’ve read over the years, including many of award-winning or highly hyped ones. Just a year or so ago I wondered in a review if I maybe just am the wrong person. But since then (and with a lot of help from Brad), I’ve discovered a few that I’ve thoroughly enjoyed, and while Zita is more geared to YA and less rich than those several (Daytripper, Saga), it goes in that category as well. Highly recommended, all three (and here’s hoping he writes some more, though it ends well).