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Season 1, Episode 4

West African Gods and D&D Graphic Novels

February 4, 2021

On this episode, Emily talks about stories with lore and epic world building, with guest Phyllis and Paige. Book recommendations for young adult and middle grade readers.

Titles Mentioned in This Episode

h Find title on Hoopla



Emily 0:01 Welcome to the Planet Book Podcast. I'm your host Emily Alexander. I am a youth services assistant with the Springfield-Greene County Library District. Join me each episode as we welcome guests to talk about their latest favorite teen and tween reads. Thank you for joining me on this podcasting adventure. For this episode, I'm joined by Phyllis Davis, the Youth Services manager at the Library Station. Hello, Phyllis


Phyllis 0:22 Hi, Emily. It's nice to talk to you. Thanks for inviting me.

Emily 0:27 Thank you so much for being here. Also joining us today is Paige Harp, the Infant through Grade 12 Resources Coordinator for the Meyer Library at Missouri State University. Welcome to the podcast Paige!

Paige 0:37 Hi, thanks for having me. This is so exciting.

Middle Grade Book Recommendation

Emily 0:41 I'm very excited to have both of you here. I love talking books with you. So I am excited to see what we are going to talk about today. So we're gonna start with Phyllis with our middle grade book. Phyllis what book are you sharing with us today?

Phyllis 0:52 I am sharing with you Tristan Strong Punches a Hole in the Sky by Kwame Mbalia.

Emily 1:00 I'm so excited. This book has been on my to-read list forever. So I can't wait to hear you talk about it.

Phyllis 1:05 I'm so excited to tell you about this book. It is going to take kids on an amazing adventure. Kwame Mbalia, he has created this world where words have real power and stories are literally magic. So Tristan Strong Punches a Hole in the Sky is like a roller coaster ride from start to finish. And kids will be begging for that next chapter. And they're not going to want the story to end. And the cool thing about this, Emily, is it's part of Rick Riordan's book imprint, Rick Riordan present.

Emily 1:38 Ooh,

Phyllis 1:39 He's been lending his name to help focus attention actually off of himself, and on to talented authors of color. So it's been going on for a little while and this is one of the newer releases. And Tristan Strong is a seventh grade boy from Chicago. And he comes from a family of prominent boxers. And his father and grandfather had been training him and they're counting on him on following in their footsteps. But he's not so sure he wants to do that. He's grieving from the death of his best friend Eddie, during a bus accident. And actually he blames himself for not saving his best friend. And all he has left of Eddie is his journal, which the two boys had been using for a special class project, gathering stories that Tristan's grandmother had been telling them as they were growing up together. And these are stories that have been passed down to her from her ancestors from West Africa and also ancestors from the time of slavery in the United States.

And you'll recognize some of those characters. There's Anasazi and John Henry, The People Could Fly and Br'er Rabbit and many more. So after losing the first boxing match of his life, his parents decided to send him down to his grandparents farm in Alabama for the summer. And while he's there, there's one night he's woken up to the sound of someone breaking into his room to steal that treasured journal. And while he's on that chase to take back the journal Tristan punches a hole into the sky of another world. And this is a world where West African gods and African American heroes are real. A world where black and brown people battle against these bone ship monsters and iron snake like creatures trying to capture them. And by mistake, he also releases an evil haint, which is kind of like an evil spirit, and it threatens not just their world, but also our world. Now, if you want to find out if Tristan defeats evil and saves the world, you have to read the book. Now, I don't want you to think this book is all serious. It was really exciting. But at times it's laugh out loud hilarious. In fact, the second time I read it, I actually listened to the audiobook. And it was narrated by the extremely talented Amir Abdullah and he had me rolling on the floor with his voice of Gum Baby. Have you ever seen The Princess in the Frog?

Emily 4:28 Yes.

Paige 4:28 Yeah.

Phyllis 4:29 Mama Odie. It was it sounds like Mama Odie or, Um if you have ever seen The Proud Family? If you know who Suga Mama is?

Emily 4:37 Oh, yes!

Paige 4:39 I love that show.

Phyllis 4:41 It was like it was like listening to you know, a version of Sugar Mama. It's so funny. Gum Baby is my favorite character in the books. She is hilarious. And the last thing I wanted to mention is you don't have to wait to read it. You can start reading it today on the device of your choice by using the Hoopla app. Do you use Hoopla?

Emily 5:05 Yes, I do.

Phyllis 5:06 I love Hoopla. Oh my gosh, you can just go onto Hoopla, you can download it today, you can read it today. If you want to listen to that audiobook, you can actually go to the Springfield-Greene County Library. Or if you're not listening from Greene County, and you're listening from somewhere else, you could just get connected with your own library. We have a copy of the audio book on the Libby app. And finally, Tristan's story is just getting started. I'm so excited. The second book in the series is called Tristan Strong Destroys the World. It's coming out in October.

Emily 5:47 Whoo. I was gonna ask if you knew when the next one is coming out?

Phyllis 5:50 Yes, I have an advanced readers copy. I've been reading.

Emily 5:54 Oh, nice!

Paige 5:56 So exciting!

Phyllis 5:57 New characters. More crazy, uh, adventures. More Gum Baby. It's amazing.

Emily 6:05 Oh, that's so exciting. So do you think what, like age range would you say or grade range? Would you say this book is really kind of geared toward. Is it more of a middle grade, or early elementary?

Phyllis 6:18 It's really a middle grade, I would recommend it for that, that sweet spot, that fourth through eighth grade range. And definitely for people who enjoy Rick Riordan's books, those adventure stories. But it's a book that will really appeal to everyone. There's a really strong female character in there that is a really good friend of a Tristan's. So it's, it's just non-stop adventure. It's great, fun read.

Middle Grade Read-alikes

Emily 6:53 So you, you said that some of the read-alikes if people enjoyed any of Rick Riordan's other books. Do you have anything else that you would suggest, as a read a like?

Phyllis 7:01 I would suggest to go to those Rick Riordan presents series. He has really done an excellent job of working with a very diverse group of authors to really introduce kids to lots of different cultures that they may not have any knowledge of. Indian culture. Native American culture. A lot of these characters, he's...he's giving those people voices so that kids can read about those characters and learn about those myths and see the the commonality between culture to culture. And hopefully kids can learn to be more accepting of people who are different from them and be interested in other people who are different from them.

Emily 7:58 All right. So Phyllis, I'm so excited that you shared this story because it is one that has been on my radar for a while. And so it sounds like it's going to be absolutely amazing. Thank you so much for sharing it with us today.

Phyllis 8:12 No problem.

Young Adult Book Recommendation

Emily 8:13 All right. And so that's our middle grade book today, the Tristan Strong series. We're going to move on to our YA book with Paige. Miss Paige, what have you brought to share with us today?

Paige 8:21 Okay, I am sharing The Adventure Zone Murder on the Rockport Limited.

Emily 8:28 Ooh!

Paige 8:28 Yes! It's a graphic novel. I've been reading a lot of those lately. Adventure Zone, I just thought we need something ridiculous and funny right now and this is a really ridiculous funny book that just kind of covers everything that I like personally, and a lot of the teens I've worked with really like. So going into the story it is the second installment of this series, The Adventure Zone. By, there's a lot of authors, It's Clint, Griffin, Justin and Travis McElroy, with the help of Carey Pietsch, who also did the art for the novel. They had an interesting task of adapting a D&D, which is Dungeons and Dragons, podcast, into graphic novel form. It was a little clunky for the first volume but the second volume Murder on the Rockport Limited, they really find their groove and it just gets really interesting. So we have all the, you know, D&D tropes. If anyone's familiar with them, we've got Taako, the Elven wizard. We have Merle, the Dwarf cleric and Magnus the Human fighter. And then we have Griffin, I guess as himself, as the dungeon master who just kind of pops in every once in a while and a little bubble breaking the fourth wall a bit, which is just really funny. And so it's a good way to get kids kind of who are interested in D&D, they can just connect with it, or if they don't know anything about it, I learned a lot about Dungeons & Dragons listening to this podcast and reading this book. So, I mean, I've played it for a long time. But when I was first, starting out listening to this podcast really helped.

Emily 10:25 In Adventure Zone, the podcast, it is it's run by like a dad and his sons, right?

Paige 10:32 Yes. So Griffin, he's the youngest son. If anyone's familiar with MBMBaM, My Brother, My Brother and Me, that's their main podcast that they do and this is one of their other podcasts. And so it's three brothers and their dad, just doing this Dungeons and Dragons podcast together. And it's just really fun to listen to. So that's the great thing about this, that you don't really have to wait for the next book, you can just listen to the podcast, which I like. Um, and the art is just amazing. I love her art and everything that she's brought to it. And she started out as just doing fan art for them for the podcast, and they saw it and they loved it so much that they brought her on to work on this project with them. Which I love. So they're really incorporating the fans.

Emily 11:20 That is so awesome!

Paige 11:20 Yeah. So in this installment, they are tasked with boarding a train to try and find a lost relic that's very powerful, very dangerous. And they at first maybe they think, okay, we can just masquerade as someone, get on the train, take it and leave. It's not that easy. There's the World's Greatest Boy Detective, Angus MacDonald, there, too, who, you know, catches on that maybe they have more to them than what they say. There's magic, there's monsters and a murder. So they have to just get past all of these things. I don't want to give anything away. But it's really fun. It's full of kind of weird pop culture references. And it's just really funny and exciting and high adventure. There are like very inclusive queer characters, and they don't come out and say it right away. Because it's just who they are. So they won't get to it in any of these books. But having queer characters that their story isn't them coming out, or their story isn't them being queer is just very refreshing to me. I mean, those books about coming out are very important. But having them just as, yes, this is normal, we're not really going to say much about it, because we don't think it's a big deal. And I think that inclusivity is really good about, you know, getting more and more people interested in that kind of thing. And we saw that in Phyllis' book, too, like bringing diverse characters and being very inclusive in how you do things. It's just so great and really refreshing. And it brings a lot of new fans in. And one of the reasons I chose this because the third installment Petal to the Metal comes out July 14, so it'll be out by the time people are listening to this. That one's basically like, um, you combine Dungeons & Dragons with pod racing.

Emily 13:24 Nice! So would you recommend, like what age range would you recommend this book for?

Paige 13:29 I would recommend older teens. There is some language and some crude humor sometimes, but I think that's something that is, you know, a lot of older teens, like find really funny. It's a, it's a ridiculous book. But yes, I would say older teens, and anyone who's like either interested or is an avid Dungeons & Dragons player, and you don't have to know a whole lot about it, too, to read it.

Young Adult Read-alikes

Emily 13:57 So do you have anything that you would suggest as kind of like a read alike for these books?

Paige 14:03 Yes. Um, I would suggest if they'd like this, Critical Role also has a graphic novel. It's another podcast that was based on Dungeons & Dragons.

Emily 14:14 No, they don't! I listen to Critical Role and I didn't know that.

Paige 14:17 Oh, yes, they have a they have a graphic novel. It's on Hoopla.

Emily 14:20 What is it called?

Paige 14:22 It's Critical Role: Vox Machina Origins.

Emily 14:26 I'm really excited.

Paige 14:27 Yeah, there you go.

Emily 14:29 And that's available on Hoopla?

Paige 14:30 Mm hmm. Yes.

Emily 14:31 So exciting. Okay,

Paige 14:32 There's also, and this one I know for a fact is in the YA section, there's Delicious in Dungeon and it's a manga series. And it has all these kind of d&d jokes in there. I don't know if it was based on anything like that, but it takes place in this dungeon, they're trying to, the main character is trying to save his sister and his party members are like we're out of food. We don't have we need to go up and restock. "No No, no, we don't have time for that we get to save my sister." So they run into this dwarf who is well versed in the culinary lore and he knows how to cook these monsters and eat them.

Emily 15:12 Oh! [Laughing]

Paige 15:13 [Laughing] So whenever they like encounter a monster, they, when they defeat it, the dwarf like talks about the recipe that he's going to use. They even have a little recipe page for what they're going to make. And it's just so fun. It's just such a fun story.

Emily 15:32 Paige, thank you so much for sharing that one with us. It sounds so fun. And I'm really excited about some of the books that you recommended with them too, because I did not know. I knew about Adventure Zone. But I did not know about all this other stuff. So thank you so much for sharing it with us. I'm so excited.

Paige 15:50 Yes, thank you!

Emily 15:51 Thank you both for being here and recommending such awesome books. I'm excited about Tristan Strong, excited about Adventure Zone. Thank you, Phyllis, for sharing, Tristan Strong with us.

Phyllis 16:01 Thank you so much. This was lots of fun.

Emily 16:03 I'm so glad you're able to come and Paige, thank you so much for doing this with us. I am so glad that you came and that you recommended these books because I cannot wait to read them.

Phyllis 16:13 Thanks for having me. Yes, it's so exciting.


Emily 16:17 And to our listeners. Thank you for joining me for this episode of the Planet Book Podcast. If you're looking for more book recommendations, check out the kids and teen pages at for book lists and other resources. If you would like personalized reading recommendations, click on the Your Next Read banner and answer our questionnaire and we will call you or email you with a list of books specifically geared towards the books that you like to read. Look for a new episode next week and thank you for listening to the Planet Book Podcast.

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