unbeatable squirrel girlI’m forever looking for graphic novels beyond the usual scope of muscle-bound, male-centered superheroes out to save the world. With the influx recently of all things Deadpool related and then subsequently all things Batman vs. Superman related, I needed a comic palette cleanser. My dilemma quickly fixed itself when I found copies of The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl: Volume 1, Squirrel Power on the shelves(I’m in the midst of reading volume 2, as volume 1 quickly caught my attention).

The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl: Volume 1, Squirrel Power introduces readers to Squirrel Girl, a very upbeat superhero who just happens to have partial squirrel blood running through her veins. If the thought of having to introduce yourself to yet another new superhero sounds a bit daunting, never fear! Squirrel Girl was actually introduced to the world in 1992 with her current creators paying homage to her previous comic book life by including Marvel Super-Heroes vol. 2 #8 as the very last issue in this trade paperback. Readers are given a look inot how the original creators envisioned Squirrel Girl and are also privy to the previous art styles and drawings of characters like Iron Man and Doctor Doom, since Squirrel Girl is out seeking a partner. Current creators, North and Henderson, are sure to reference back to her origins throughout their new reiteration of Squirrel Girl, talking about her first encounters with Iron Man as she is currently involved in new hijinks.

The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl: Volume 1, Squirrel Power follows Doreen Green, Squirrel Girl’s alter-ego, an alter-ego she adapts so that she can become a regular college student. If you’re looking for more background information about Squirrel Girl, she kindly provides that for you within the first few pages of this book by singing her theme song (Wondering what tune it’s sung to? It’s the Spider-Man theme song!) Squirrel Girl has the proportional strength and speed of a squirrel and, of course, the giant squirrel tail that she has to tuck into her pants in order to appear normal. Doreen is trying to balance school, boys, dorm life with her roommate Nancy and Nancy’s cat Mew, battles with super villains, and the fact that she can both talk to squirrels and they can understand her. This first volume is a fun introduction to an incredibly upbeat and dynamic female superhero who is struggling to find her place between two very different worlds.

floraandulyssesHoly Bagumba!

Flora and Ulysses by Kate DiCamillo is delightful!  I was smitten with this charming, smart middle grade novel from page one.  DiCamillo (Tale of Despereaux, Because of Winn Dixie) is joined by illustrator K.G. Campbell to bring to life Flora Belle Buckman, a natural-born cynic in the body of a tween girl.  Armed with an extensive vocabulary, an abundance of comic book knowledge, and an eye for the truth, Flora makes for a wonderful heroine.

But she wouldn’t see herself as the hero of this tale.  The hero (I mean, superhero) is Ulysses, a squirrel who acquires the abilities to write poetry and fly after being sucked up by Flora’s neighbor Tootie Tickman’s  Ulysses Super-Suction, Mult-Terrain 2000X vacuum.  The story that follows includes a terrifying cat, temporary blindness, a shepherdess lamp, an unexpected villain, a giant doughnut, and much more.

While this comic book/chapter book hybrid is funny and silly, it is also very sweet.  The examination of changing mother-daughter dynamics as girls grow up is so beautifully executed and subtle that readers may not notice it until they’ve finished reading.  Flora and Ulysses is a great read for loyal readers of Kate DiCamillo and fans of Liar and Spy by Rebecca Stead and Fortunately, the Milk by Neil Gaiman (or, really, anyone!)

backyard bird feedersThat wintry landscape means difficult times for our feathered friends. While some birds fly south for the winter, many common Iowa backyard birds stay – chickadees, song sparrows, cardinals, juncos – and stick it out through the brutal cold and snow. You can give them a helping hand – and in the process get a chance to enjoy watching them up close – with just a few simple steps.

Two of the most important things to provide are shelter and water. Shelter for the birds can be a brush pile, or vines or perennials that you don’t cut down in the fall. Providing water during bird feeder bookfreezing temperatures can be more difficult; heaters for bird baths available, or simply keeping some water open by hand will also do the trick.

Finally, you can feed the birds. Placing the feeders so that you can watch the birds from inside your house can provide hours of entertainment as they brighten our winter landscape. For information on what food suits which birds, check out some of these titles from the library:

The Backyard Bird Feeders Bible by Sally Roth

outwitting squirrelsCreating a Bird-friendly Backyard Habitat by Scott Edwards

Experts Guide to Backyard Birdfeeding by Bill Adler

The Bird Feeder Book by Donald Stokes

And, just because where there’s a bird feeder, there’s bound to be squirrels, Outwitting Squirrels by Bill Adler