Posted in Fiction, Graphic Novels, Middle Grade, Tween Reads

Graphic Novel Bonanza: Swim Team

Swim Team, by Johnnie Christmas, (May 2022, HarperAlley), $12.99, ISBN: 9780063056763

Ages 8-12

Bree is starting her new middle school and can’t wait to select her electives. She’s got her eye on Math Club, but it’s closed out. In fact, everything is closed out of her time slot, except for Swim 101. Bree, afraid to swim, reluctantly takes the class, but tries to dodge it until she realizes that it will affect her grade point average. A mishap at her apartment complex leads her to Etta, an older woman who lives in the building, who also happens to be a former swim team captain from Bree’s school. As Etta trains Bree, she becomes a confident swimmer who gives the school team a chance at victory over rival Holyoke Prep. A strong subplot about Etta’s time in middle school delves into the history of segregation and public pools, and busts the “Black people don’t swim” myth wide open. Solidly constructed storytelling keeps readers invested and engaged; they’ll be white-knuckling the book and cheering Bree’s team, the Manatees, at every meet. A strong theme of social justice and change provides historical background and back matter includes resources for more reading. Talk this up with realistic fiction graphic novels like Jerry Craft’s New Kid and Class Act; Alyssa Bermudez’s Big Apple Diaries, and Gillian Goerz’s Shirley and Jamila Save Their Summer. Put this book on your shelves!

Swim Team has starred reviews from Publishers Weekly, School Library Journal, Kirkus, and BookPage; it’s also been selected for the Kids’ Indie Next List.

Posted in Fiction, Graphic Novels, Middle Grade, Realistic Fiction, Tween Reads

Graphic Novel Bonanza: All My Friends

All My Friends, by Hope Larson, (Jan. 2022, First Second), $12.99, ISBN: 9780374388669

Ages 10-14

Hope Larson’s third installment in Eagle Rock series keeps the momentum going. When we first met Hope’s main character, Bina, in 2018’s All Summer Long, she was a 13-year-old finding her way through music, and figuring out her evolving friendship with her bestie, Austin. Now, in All My Friends, Bina and her friends are in Fancy Pink, a band getting a lot of notice; she’s in a back-and-forth with her parents as she tries to take her band to the next level, and her parents worry about things moving too quickly, and she’s still figuring out relationships, whether it’s her strained relationship with Austin or how she feels about Cooper, the cute guy in a local band. The Eagle Rock books have captured big moments in a tween/teens’ life: relationships, dating, parents, and growing up. The characters have grown with each book, as Hope Larson’s audience is growing, keeping them invested in the stories of the Eagle Rock friends. Artwork in shades of pink, black, and white keep the focus on the story while using fonts to give the feeling of music moving through crowds. Whether she is weaving magical tales driven by a human story, or a character-driven story with a spark of magic (in this case, through music), Hope Larson always nails it.  A great third act for a popular series.

Posted in Animal Fiction, Fiction, Fiction, Graphic Novels, Humor, Intermediate, Middle Grade

What does the first cat in space eat? Pizza, of course!

The First Cat in Space Ate Pizza, by Mac Barnett/Illustrated by Shawn Harris, (May 2022, Katherine Tegen Books), $15.99, ISBN: 9780063084087

Ages 7-12

Two award-winning kidlit powerhouses come together for a laugh-out-loud tale about a cat, a toenail-clipping robot, and a group of hungry rats posed to devour the moon. Rats from another galaxy are eating the moon! What is the Earth to do? Dispatch a cybernetically enhanced cat – First Cat – to take care of business. Accompanied by a stowaway robot who believes he’s destined for greater things than clipping toenails, and a ship’s computer who’s furious at being upstaged from a larger part in the story, First Cat lands on the moon, and the adventure begins: frozen wastelands, living forests, churning waters (Sea of Tranqulity? HA!) and dangers at every turn. There are repeating gags that get funnier with every utterance, and readers will giggle themselves silly as First Cat tries, time and again, to have a mouth-watering slice of pizza. Artwork is boldly outlined and colorful, hilariously communicating the madcap storytelling.

Did you know First Cat is Instagram famous? Kids can watch First Cat’s live adventures on Instagram or the First Cat webpage, where they can also sign up for the newsletter! The graphic novel includes sheet music and links to songs from the series. The First Cat in Space Ate Pizza is perfect for summer reading your readers will love.

The First Cat in Space Ate Pizza has a starred review from Publishers Weekly and is on the May/June 2022 Indie Next Kids List.

Posted in Fantasy, Fiction, Middle Grade, Tween Reads

The Monsters of Rookhaven is all about Family

The Monsters of Rookhaven, by Pádraig Kenny/Illustrated by Edward Bettison, (Sept. 2021, Henry Holt), $16.99, ISBN: 9781250623942

Ages 10-14

Mirabelle loves her very unique family: there’s Uncle Bertram, who can transform into a grizzy bear, and Aunt Eliza, entirely made up of spiders. There are the twins, Dotty and Daisy, who can be a little cruel, and Odd, who travels through portals. There’s Gideon, the newest addition to the family, and the mysterious Piglet; and there’s Uncle Enoch, who presides over the group. They have an agreement with the English village that separates them by way of a magical border: they don’t cross the border and eat the townsfolk, and the village keeps them fed and safe from the outside world. But Jem and Tom, two orphaned siblings, discover a tear in the magic and find their way into Rookhaven, with consequences for everyone on both sides of the border.

This book is gorgeous; beautifully macabre and perfect for kids who loved Neil Gaiman’s The Graveyard Book. The narration moves swiftly along but is never rushed; it’s deliberate and takes its time creating the world of Rookhaven and the post-War English countryside; we meet a group of people devastated by war and the grief and loss it brings, making them susceptible to the worst type of manipulation. We meet another group of beings, specially gifted but assumed terrible, also suffering from grief and loss, with the added confusion of having two very human children stumble into their secure world and turn things upside down. Pádraig Kenny masterfully brings these elements together with dark humor and gentle moments, tension and terror mixed with wonder and pain. Edward Bettison’s blackwork illustrations add the perfect moodiness to the story. An excellent choice for book groups

The Monsters of Rookhaven is out in hardcover now and will be released in paperback this September, to coincide with the hardcover release of the next Rookhaven book, The Shadows of Rookhaven.

The Monsters of Rookhaven has a starred review from Booklist.

Posted in Fantasy, Fiction, Middle Grade, Tween Reads

Indie Spotlight: The Voting Tree by Gareth Griffith

The Voting Tree (The Pelagius Chronicles, Book 1), by Gareth Griffith, (Nov. 2018), $10.25, ISBN: 978-1729264485

Ages 10-13

The Voting Tree is an epic fantasy taking place across two worlds: Sydney, Australia in the year 2000, and a fantasy kingdom called the Land of Pelas. In the current world, Sam Archer is a middle schooler who’s just moved to Sydney, thanks to his dad’s new job. He starts school where he meets new friends Hamish, Sylvia, Athena, and Oscar… and the local bullies, who target Sam and his group of friends for being “freaks”. In the fantasy world of Pelas, there’s open war as Lord Boreas slays his brother, the king, and his wife; their child, Pelagius, is sent into hiding and will live in exile until he’s old enough to retake his father’s throne. Back in Sydney, Sam and his friends gather around a fig tree near their school, and discover that it’s a portal to Pelas, where they meet Pelagius and join his quest. Sam and his friends all have special abilities in this fantasy world to guide them and Pelagius on their way, and time works differently here: they can spend hours in Pelas, but almost no time has passed when they return home. At times, the differences between the two worlds made for a challenging transition, especially because there isn’t a lot of involvement with each of the worlds. Their time in Pelas does lead to character growth and confidence, making this a nice hero’s journey story to recommend. Characters deal with family stress, bullying at school, and inaction on the part of the teachers. Give this to your fantasy readers who love Garth Nix.

Posted in Fiction, Middle Grade, Science Fiction

Indie spotlight: Immigrant from the Stars by Gail Kamer

Immigrant from the Stars, by Gail Kamer/Illustrated by Daniel F. Bridy, (June 2019, Gettier Group LLC), $12.99, ISBN: 978-0999459553

Ages 9-12

I’ve been working to catch up with review requests, so I dug into my indie review pile while I was off and caught up with Gail Kamer’s 2019 middle grade tale, Immigrant from the Stars. Iko is a middle school kid who’s like other middle school kids: he loves hanging out with his friends; he loves his grandfather and his parents, he loves his dog. Oh, and he’s an alien from the planet Trinichia, ruled by a totalitarian government, with eyes and ears seemingly everywhere. Iko’s parents put their escape plan in motion and leave Trinichia, fleeing to Earth, where they start their new lives in Kentucky, disguised as the Newman family, a completely normal Earthling family from Texas. Iko tries to adjust to this new life – this new species! – while desperately hoping he doesn’t give himself and his family away, and worrying about his grandfather and dog, who are still on Trinichia.

I enjoyed Immigrant from the Stars so much! Narrated in the first person by Iko, the story has humor and pathos in equal amounts, with some tense moments that inject some excitement into the story. The story puts a sci-fi spin on the challenges facing immigrants who arrive as refugees and find themselves faced with a new way of life – and possibly an unfriendly reception. If your readers loved Geoff Rodkey’s We’re Not From Here (2019), consider recommending Immigrant from the Stars.

Posted in Fiction, Graphic Novels, Middle Grade, Tween Reads

Sweet Valley High gets the graphic novel treatment!

Wow, this is taking me back. If you’re of an age, you may remember Francine Pascal’s Sweet Valley High – I can still see the shelf full of novels in the kids’ section at my childhood Barnes and Noble. (We didn’t have a separate YA section yet; teen books just wrapped around the end of the kids’ books. It was the ’80s, folks.) I never got into them the way some of my friends did; I was all about S.E. Hinton’s angsty boys by then, but those books were everywhere and I had friends who were OBSESSED. So this morning, when I saw that Sweet Valley High is getting the graphic novel treatment ala Babysitters’ Club, I knew I had to get the word out.

Random House Graphic is publishing the series, starting with Sweet Valley Twins #1: Best Friends. Nicole Andelfinger is adapting, which is fantastic news; Andelfinger has worked on Sabaa Tahir’s graphic adaptation of the An Ember in the Ashes novels, worked on Steven Universe, and writes the Power Rangers comics for BOOM! Studios. Nicole Andelfinger knows how to write for graphic novels AND knows how to adapt teen novels for graphic novels, so I think my library kids are in very good hands. GLAAD Media Award nominee and Eisner nominee Claudia Aguirre is illustrating, and she’s done incredible work on Morning in America and Lost on Planet Earth, so I’m ready for this.

The story is getting a little bit of a reworking to be more available to middle graders, which makes perfect sense, especially in light of the fact that I cannot keep any of my Babysitters Club books on the shelves. From the press release: “In SWEET VALLEY TWINS #1: BEST FRIENDS, Jessica and Elizabeth are ready to take on middle school . . . but are they ready to take on each other? Jessica and Elizabeth have always been inseparable, but starting middle school means a chance for new beginnings. Elizabeth is excited to organize a school newspaper, but Jessica is more interested in joining the exclusive Unicorn Club. Middle school is hard enough, but with these twins each dealing with becoming their own person, will they be able to stay friends?”

The graphic novels will be available simultaneously in hardcover and trade paperback formats on November 1, 2022. The second book in the series, Teacher’s Pet, will be published in 2023.

 

Francine Pascal is the creator of the Sweet Valley universe, which includes Sweet Valley Twins, Sweet Valley High, and Sweet Valley Unicorn Club. Over their lifetime, Sweet Valley books have sold millions of copies, been adapted into a TV series (in the eighties), and inspired board games, puzzles, and dolls. It is one of the most popular kids’ book series of all time. Francine lives in New York and the South of France.

Claudia Aguirre is a Mexican lesbian comic-book artist and writer. She is a cofounder of Boudika Comics, where she self-publishes comics, and is a GLAAD Media Award nominee and Eisner Award nominee. Her comic works include Lost on Planet Earth with ComiXology Originals, Hotel Dare with Boom! Studios, Firebrand with Legendary Comics, Morning in America with Oni Press, and Kim & Kim with Black Mask Studios.

Nicole Andelfinger was crafting stories back when jelly shoes were cool. When not changing her hair color or writing comics for some of her favorite franchises—such as Jim Henson’s The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance, Regular Show, Rugrats, Steven Universe, and more—she works a day job best described as “emails.” She lives with her absolutely, most decidedly perfect cat in Los Angeles.

Random House Children’s Books (rhcbooks.com) is the world’s largest English-language children’s trade book publisher. Creating books for toddlers through young adult readers, in all formats from board books to activity books to picture books, novels, and nonfiction, the imprints of Random House Children’s Books bring together award-winning authors and illustrators, world-famous franchise characters, and multimillion-copy series. Random House Children’s Books is a division of Penguin Random House LLC.

 

SWEET VALLEY TWINS: BEST FRIENDS

By Francine Pascal, Illustrated by Claudia Aguirre, Adapted by Nicole Andelfinger

Random House Graphic | On sale November 1, 2022 | 224 pages | Ages 8–12

HC: 978-0-593-37647-8 | $20.99/$27.99 Can.

TP: 978-0-593-37646-1 | $13.99/$18.99 Can.

Ebook: 978-0-593-37649-2 | $8.99/$10.99 Can.

Posted in Fiction, Graphic Novels, Middle Grade, Middle School, Non-Fiction, Tween Reads

Graphic Novels Bonanza Begins with Button Pusher!

Button Pusher, by Tyler Page, (Apr. 2022, First Second), $14.99, ISBN: 9781250758330

Ages 10-14

What did I do on vacation? I read books and played tabletop games! Starting off my graphic novel bonanza is Button Pusher, Eisner-nominated cartoonist Tyler Page’s memoir of living with ADHD. Tyler begins as a rambunctious 8-year-old who can be the class clown or lose track of a lesson as the teacher is speaking. He cuts up a school bus seat but doesn’t really know why he did it, when asked. His teachers think he just likes to be a troublemaker, but that isn’t it, and his mother takes him to the doctor to find out what’s going on, leading to his ADHD – attention deficit hyperactivity disorder – diagnosis. While the memoir centers on Page’s ADHD, and how he moves toward functioning with (and without) medication and treatment, the story also revolves around his school and home life, including the troubled relationship between his parents and his father’s own undiagnosed neurodivergence. The story is incredibly readable and offers sensitive portrayals of Tyler Page and his mother, who works toward understanding and helping her son while in a difficult marriage. Page also touches on male adolescent anxiety, particularly Tyler’s body image issues when he realizes that the medication is contributing to weight gain. Back matter includes an author’s note, samples of Page’s childhood art, and his working process. An informative and outstanding introduction for middle graders to understanding ADHD.

Button Pusher has starred reviews from Publishers Weekly and Booklist.

Posted in Fantasy, Fiction, Middle Grade

The Button Box is perfect for Magic Tree House readers!

The Button Box, by Fawzia Gilani-Williams, Bridget Hodder/Illustrated by Harshad Marathe, (Apr. 2022, Kar-Ben Publishing), $17.99, ISBN: 9781728423968

Ages 8-12

Cousins Ava and Nadeem are fifth graders and best friends. Ava is Jewish, from Sephardic descent, and Nadeem is Muslim; this opens them up to comments from bullies at school. After a particularly tough day, the two confide in their Granny Buena, who tells them a story of a legendary ancestor, Ester ibn Evram, and her role in saving a famous Muslim prince, Abdur Rahman, in Medieval Spain. As they look through Nanny Buena’s button box, which holds one of Ester’s buttons, the two discover that have traveled through time and landed back in Medieval Spain, just in time to witness – and maybe assist! – Ester ibn Avram on her quest, and help create a “legendary Golden Age for Muslims, Jews and Christians”. The story is exciting and the relationship between Ava and Nadeem is wonderfully supportive. Granny Buena speaks with a sprinkling of the Judeo-Spanish language Ladino, which leans closely to Spanish, giving readers some exposure to a new language. Back matter includes a glossary and an author’s note about Sephardic Jews, Muslims, and the actual Prince Adur-Rahman (Ester ibn Avram is fictional). An excellent choice for readers who enjoy the Magic Tree House series, and very similar to Marcia Berneger’s A Dreidel in Time (2021).

Posted in Fiction, Fiction, Middle Grade, Middle School, Realistic Fiction, Tween Reads

Tales from the TBR: Danny Chung Sums it Up

Danny Chung Sums it Up, by Maisie Chan/Illustrated by Natelle Quek, (Sept. 2021, Amulet), $16.99, ISBN: 978-1-4197-4821-9

Ages 8-12

Eleven-year-old Danny Chung loves to draw, but his parents, especially his Ba, want him to pay more attention to school – especially math. His parents, who run a Chinese food takeaway in their British suburb, are all about “the Chinese Way” and adhering to those traditional Chinese values they grew up with. It doesn’t help when family friend Aunt Yee, who loves to stick her nose into Danny’s family business and provide uninvited commentary, is always around to compare Danny to her oh-so-perfect daughter. When Danny’s Nai Nai – his father’s mother – arrives from China to live with them, Danny is frustrated: he’s never met her; since he doesn’t speak her dialect, he can’t really communicate with her, and she’s staying in his room! She’s also showing up all over his neighborhood, including at his school, trying to make a connection with him but instead, opening him up to even more teasing from his classmates. As Nai Nai becomes a more permanent fixture in his life, though, Danny finds himself warming to his grandmother, and math ends up being a bridge between the two. Maisie Chan weaves a funny, loving story that spans generations and cultures in a way so many readers will recognize. Danny’s drawings fill the story, giving readers a good chuckle over his “Ant Gran” comics and his unique spin on events. Covering family pressure, friendship’s ups and downs, racism, and the journey of a relationship between a grandparent and grandchild, Danny Chung is on my booktalk list for sure. Pair with intergenerational stories like Lily LaMotte’s Measuring Up, Nancy J. Cavanaugh’s When I Hit the Road, and Donna Gephart’s Death by Toilet Paper. You can also booktalk and display with other authors of Asian heritage for Asian-American and Pacific Islander month in May, including Kelly Yang, Jen Wang, Christina Matula, and Lisa Yee.

Visit Maisie Chan’s webpage to find out more about the first Danny Chung book, Danny Chung Does Not Do Maths, and get free downloadable resources for both books! Visit illustrator Natelle Quek’s webpage to see more of her illustration work.

Check out Maisie Chan as she talks about the inspiration for Danny Chung Sums it Up here!