Artie and the Wolf Moon is, on the surface, a YA graphic novel about werewolves and vampires, but there’s so much more waiting for you here. Artie Irvin lives with her mom, a park ranger. She’s a burgeoning photographer who sneaks out one night, against her mother’s wishes, to take some photographs and discovers a huge wolf that somehow morphs into her mother! Confronting her mother, Artie learns that she comes from a long line of werewolves, but may be a “late bloomer” because she hasn’t shifted yet. Artie’s mom agrees to tell her about everything, including her late father, but when racist bullies at school lead to Artie shifting, her mom realizes it’s time to introduce her daughter to her family – and learn about what it means to be shifter.
Olivia Stephens has created a truly original werewolf story with origins in Black history, infused with the power of the wolf to guard and survive. I could read stories about every character in Artie’s family and still want to read more; I love Olivia Stephens’s storytelling and artwork so much. She creates realistic characters and her origin story reminds me of indigenous artwork with earth tones and primitive figures. She creates harrowing moments in the struggle between wolf and vampire and gives readers an incredible story of Black culture, community, family, and history. Fantastic storytelling and I want more.
Ages 8 to 12
Mel is a kid who just wants to grow up already. Adults don’t listen to kids, after all, and Mel is fed up with not having a say in where she lives, what she wears, what she eats, or where she goes to school. Things change, though, when Mel discovers a magical world where she can make her own choices – and meets Otto, an old man who was just recently a young boy with the same wish. He cautions her that growing up quick isn’t all it’s cracked up to be: there are consequences, after all. Mel and Otto go on an adventure to make things right again, and Mel discovers that taking the time to enjoy childhood may be the better choice after all (because adults feel just as ignored by kids).
Random House Graphic has been bringing some great graphic novels in translation to American shores. I loved The Runaway Princess (2020) and Aster and the Accidental Magic (2020), both originally published in French; Mel the Chosen One was originally published in Italy in 2019 as Melvina. The story is engaging and addresses that need to grow up and be independent that so many kids have. Rachele Aragno acknowledges and respects Mel’s point of view, and gently introduces, through her storytelling, the reality behind the fantasy: rushing through life does no one any favors. Adults feel just as ignored as kids do. Maybe it’s time we all took a deep breath and started enjoying the moment, while actually hearing one another? It’s a magical story that brings home that age-old saying, “Be careful what you wish for… you just might get it.” Middle graders will understand, and hopefully share with the adults around them. Rachele Aragno’s artwork is expressive, and creates fanciful settings like magical animals, including a monocle-sporting fox and an owl sporting a top hat; a headless princess; a cheery graveyard filled with children yet to be born, and enchanted forests. Fun for your fairy tale fans and fantasy readers.
Vega is a girl who’s not thrilled with summer vacation this year. Her parents have moved her from Portland, Oregon, to a new life in Seattle, and she’s miserable. She’s left behind her best friend, Halley, and to add insult to injury, her dads are sending her off to Camp Very Best Friend, hoping she’ll make some new friends. When the Camp VBF bus pulls up, Vega’s got a strange feeling about this camp… and it only gets weirder once she and the other campers arrive! Cell phones don’t work, and the counselors are just… different. Together with fellow campers Qwerty (like the keyboard), and twins Gemma and Isaac, Vega decides to get to the bottom of this odd camp in a hilarious story about making friends! Early in the story, Vega Googles how to make friends; each piece of advice she receives heads a different chapter, giving readers a humorous idea of what to expect. The characters are likable, and dialogue and story move at a good pace, and readers are going to love this summer camp story. Artwork is colorful with cartoon-realistic characters, similar to Raina Telgemeier and Shannon Hale’s characters. A good book to hand to introverts – Camp VBF is filled with kids who don’t find it that easy to make friends, until they’re put into the unusual situation that sets the stage for this story. Vega is interested in astronomy, Qwerty relates to computers “better than people”, and Gemma and Isaac are all about rocks and minerals, so there’s a nice little STEM/STEAM thread quietly running through the story. A fun summer story that satisfies wanderlust.
Ages 8 to 12
An 11-year-old boy named Grey takes a shortcut through a cemetery on his way to school, drops his school project down an empty grave, and discovers the unlikeliest new friend: a young ghoul named Lavinia. Lavinia leaves little gifts for Grey that are a little unsettling to the living – finger bones, teeth necklaces, that sort of thing – and Grey seeks Lavinia out, leading to the two forging a friendship that’s as sweet as it is dangerous. Ghouls are forbidden from associating with the living, and Grey’s friend, Marshall, is determined to tell all because he just knows Grey’s making a bad decision. Eventually, Grey is caught up in a struggle between ghouls and ghosts, with his friend Marshall’s – and Grey’s own – life in the balance!
A funny, creepy story for readers who love all things Neil Gaiman, Doug TenNapel’s Ghostopolis, and – naturally! – Goosebumps. It’s a story of friendship with a touch of intrigue and just enough creepiness to make paranormal fans shudder with glee. Cullen Bunn writes a lot of big-people comics that I love (including Harrow County, which makes a fun little cameo in The Ghoul Next Door), and Cat Farris’s artwork is spooktastic, with color, great shadow work, and a ghoul that is as heartwarming as she is startling.
Fantasy fans have so much to read this year, but make space on your shelves for a graphic novel duo: Scales and Scoundrels is a fantasy series that will resonate with fantasy role-playing gamers and fantasy fans alike. Publisher TKO Studios released definitive versions of Volumes 1 and 2, which include the collected issues plus incredible, new material. I wasn’t familiar with the story until I saw these on Edelweiss, but I am so glad I rectified that.
The second Scales and Scoundrels volume, like the first, contains a wealth of new material, and picks up the adventure from where we left off in Book One. Luvander continues on her journey to break her curse; it’s a quest that will bring her to a monastery that guards a secret entrance to The Dragon Dream, where few have dared to enter. She and her group of friends face dark trials ahead, including demons and their own deepest fears. An introspective adventure that prompts conversations, this is an excellent companion to Book One. The artwork is gorgeous, with bright and vibrant colors, movement, and beautiful fantasy artwork. There’s great world-building – seriously, you can create a Dungeons and Dragons adventure based on the information contained in these two books – that readers will return to time and again.
With Summer Reading in full swing, I thought this may be a fun challenge for middle grade and tween readers!
Adam Perry, author of The Thieving Collectors of Fine Children’s Books, has a summer challenge that just sounds like too much fun. I’ve got his book coming up shortly – I’m finishing a few graphic novels and two more middle grade books at the moment – and it sounds like just the sort of lost-in-a-book-adventure that I adore. Think The Ninja Librarians, the Mr. Lemoncello’s Library series, or Book Scavenger.
Hey, how about a readalong? Read The Thieving Collectors of Fine Children’s Books along with me, right here! I’ll aim to start it next week; I’ll post when I start it, and can post every few chapters, to see if we can get a discussion going!
So while you’re waiting for me to get my act together, watch this video where Adam Perry talks about his book and his fun Summer Challenge, with very cool goodies. And download your Adam Perry Summer Reading list here: your kids have until September 22nd to read just one of these books!
Psst… if any of my library families are reading this? Our library system has the book in 8 of our branches (all requestable!), and an ebook available.
The Thieving Collectors of Fine Children’s Books has a starred review from Shelf Awareness. Read John Schu’s interview with the author here!
Get ready for graphic novels! I’m working on my massive catch-up, so there will be several round-ups posts as I get all my cats herded and book notes together.
Personal note: Library’s open! We opened today and had a nice, fairly small (for us) group in and out today. It was a relaxing, wonderful way to start reconnecting with our families. I can’t wait to see what tomorrow brings!
Personal note 2: Did we finish weeding and adding the new books yet? To quote Pete the Cat, Goodness No! But we’re rocking and rolling, and I’ve weeded my way through the adult collection 300s; onward and upward. And now… let’s get graphic!
The follow-up to 2019’s The Okay Witch takes on some big issues, and it’s so good. We get a quick recap from Lazlo the Cat (if you don’t remember him, or haven’t read the first book yet, don’t worry: he’ll catch you up nicely). Moth and her mom are still hanging in there, and the racist and creepy jerks at her school are still… racist and creepy. Moth is stressed out, frustrated, and no one can quite understand; even her best friend, Charlie, isn’t able to. The minute Moth pushes back against her tormentors, she’s the one taking the heat and she’s the one who “can’t take a joke”. Issues of race and equity take center stage here in a way that kids can identify with and understand; others will hopefully gain more of an understanding. Adults could do with reading this book, too; there’s a moment when Moth chafes at having to attend a school founded by someone who tried to wipe out witches that really eloquently frames what I like to call “the great statue debate”.
I digress. Moth manages to get hold of a charm that contains a power to make Moth into the popular, funny, confident girl she wants to be – but we all know what happens when you get what you wish for, don’t we? Great story, great artwork, characters you’ll love (and love to rage about), and an altogether great graphic novel for middle graders who love fantasy as much as they love realistic fiction.
Before I get into the bones of this book, I need to say it right here: I had to request the first Cardboard Kingdom from a library other than mine, because both my copies ARE NEVER THERE. When I covered at my neighborhood branch while mine was closed? Their copy was out, too! Chad Sell has tapped into something incredible with his Cardboard Kingdom and Doodleville books: he’s woven fantasy storytelling into a realistic setting that captures what we’ve been doing as children for as long as any of us can remember. His characters create their own fantasy worlds with cardboard costumes and by bringing their doodles to life, and as you read it, he (and his collaborators – there are so many, find them here!) seamlessly has his characters inhabit the “real world”, having a conversation, and then – in the space of a panel – the conversation continues, but those cardboard costumes are now high fantasy dress pieces, and we see these kids as they see one another. It’s just incredible, and the kids in my library system can’t get enough of it.
In the second Cardboard Kingdom book, we have Vijay, who goes by The Beast, decide he’s not going to be The Beast anymore. He’s being bullied by some mean teenagers, and he pulls into himself, unreachable to his friends and even his older sister. Meanwhile, another friend, Nate, sees what he swears is a giant monster outside his window one night, and breaks his leg trying to get a better look at it. Who is this scary monster? Is it a new cardboard character, or is this something really, really, real and scary? (Depends on who you’re talking to.) With a gender- and culturally-diverse group of friends working together, this latest Cardboard Kingdom adventure is exactly what middle graders need. They have the chance to see themselves and receive encouragement to continue living through their imaginations and creativity. I love this series, and even more, I love Chad Sell’s webpage, where you can find costume designs and coloring book pages for Cardboard Kingdom and Doodleville.
The Cardboard Kingdom was an Eisner nominee (2019), received 5 starred reviews, and was a Texas Bluebonnet second place.
The Cardboard Kingdom: Roar of the Beast was created, organized, and drawn by Chad Sell with writing from nine other authors: Jay Fuller, David DeMeo, Katie Schenkel, Molly Muldoon, Vid Alliger, Manuel Betancourt, Michael Cole, Cloud Jacobs, and Barbara Perez Marquez.
Rikt is a stubborn young goblin who argues with his parents and storms off to bed. He wakes to the smell of smoke, and discovers his home is under attack by a raiding party of humans. His parents are slain, and he’s forced to run into the woods to escape with his life. Angry, grieving, alone, Rikt vows revenge, but where does he begin? A benevolent deity intervenes and sets him on a path to what he thinks will give him the tools to exact vengeance – but along the way, he meets friends and learns a great deal about himself.
Goblin is a gorgeously illustrated fantasy graphic novel. The colors are as incredible as they are horrible at points: the insidious curling of the smoke around Rikt when he awakens; the firelight as his home burns; the colors dance across the page, looking almost real. Will Perkins brings Rikt’s grief and terror to the page, using color and shadow, to hit readers in the feelings. The majesty of the Goddess as she appears to Rikt is one of the best panels I’ve read so far this year.
Let’s talk about Eric Grissom’s writing: his dialogue is wonderful, with humor, pathos, and wisdom throughout the book. He expertly addresses negative stereotypes, and the damage it wreaks, in a fantastic setting. Think of your own literary biases: when you think of a goblin, do you think of a loving family? A sweet, typical kid? Probably not: and that’s the point of the story. Rikt often hears that goblins are “filthy monsters”, or “dirty filthy thieves”. Grissom touches on the cycles of violence that cause generation after generation to kill (see Jason Reynolds’s Long Way Down for a brilliant, meditation on this cycle) and even hints at the violence against indigenous populations, with the murder of Rikt’s family. There is an incredible amount of wisdom waiting in this book. Perfect for fantasy fans and middle schoolers. A must-add to your shelves.