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 Animal Fiction, Fiction, Graphic Novels, Humor, Intermediate

Blue, Barry & Pancakes: Danger on Mount Choco is the epic adventure kids needed

Blue, Barry & Pancakes: Danger on Mount Choco, by Dan & Jason, (Jan. 2022, First Second), $12.99, ISBN: 9781250255570

Ages 6-8

The third Blue, Barry and Pancakes adventure is another laugh-out-loud hit. The three friends enter an epic sundae-making contest this time, in the quest to win a trophy for Barry’s trophy room. But the winning ingredient can only be found at Mount Choco… are the friends up to the task? Of course they are! In usual hilarious, frenetically paced style, Blue, Barry and Pancakes set out on an adventure that brings laughter, disagreement, adventure, and ice cream sundaes. It’s not necessary to read the previous books before picking up Danger on Mount Choco, but why wouldn’t you? These books are great.

Don’t forget to download a free activity kit from the first Blue, Barry and Pancakes adventure at Macmillan’s website!

 

 

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

Margo Maloo is back in The Tangled Web

Time for another graphic novel roundup! I’ve been reading and tearing through both my new and pre-existing TBR, and work’s kept me on my toes, so please forgive the spotty posting schedule as of late.

The Creepy Case Files of Margo Maloo: The Tangled Web, by Drew Weing, (Dec. 2021, First Second), $15.99, ISBN: 9781250206831

Ages 8-12

The third Margo Maloo adventure is full of heart and humor, and introduces some new drama. Monsters’ hiding places are being discovered and they’re being run out by ghost-hunting teens, kids, and developers, who want to raze old buildings to make way for expensive new luxury housing (sound familiar?). There’s tension building between Margo and Charles, her assistant in monster ambassadorship, because Charles’s background as a monster journalist makes him a little sus in her eyes. A setup leads to a big misunderstanding between the two friends, but they have to put their differences aside when a family of giant spiders need to be saved from a factory about to be blown up!

Drew Weing has given us such fun, insightful characters in the Margo Maloo stories, and manages to address very real-world problems in the frame of a fantasy. He’s addressed diversity and prejudice in previous Case Files, and takes on gentrification and affordable housing this time around. Even Echo City’s human residents are feeling the stress as Charles’s superintendent dad fixes up the apartments in their building, expecting the rents to go sky high and price them out of their homes. Readers will be happy to see familiar characters, including Kevin Charles’s neighbor and friend, and Marcus, the Battlebeenz-playing monster. Drew Weing also starts an interesting new subplot that brings a shady new element into the story and causes strife between Margo and Charles. I can’t wait to see how this develops. Don’t miss this fun series.

 

Posted in gaming, Graphic Novels, Non-Fiction, Teen, Tween Reads, Young Adult/New Adult

Jon Chad’s graphic novel history of Pinball is great for gamer historians

Pinball: A Graphic History of the Silver Ball, by Jon Chad, (Feb. 2022, First Second), $24.99, ISBN: 9781250249210

Ages 10+

Before there was Atari, there was pinball. The first pinball machine made its debut around 1930 and captivated players from the beginning: so much that banned for being a “racket that fleeces children” and drive them to petty thievery”. In 1976, champion player Roger Sharpe played the game in a Manhattan courtroom to prove that pinball was a game of skill, not chance. Graphic novelist Jon Chad ‘s (Science Comics) graphic novel Pinball is the graphic history of the game, tracing its roots back to the Court of King Louis XIV, through its scandalous era in the 1930s, and renaissance in the 1970s, all the way up to the present day. It’s like Science Comics and History Comics, all put together in great volume. Jon Chad examines not only the artwork and cultural significance of the game – gaming fans, and pinball fans in particular, know all about the collectible, incredible artwork that went into the back glass and the game floor itself – but the physics of the game, and what makes it a game of skill.

Jon Chad’s artwork is colorful, filled with movement and amazing detail. He writes with expert knowledge and a true love of the game. This is an essential purchase for nonfiction graphic collections and anyone with a gaming collection.

Read an interview with Jon Chad at ComicsBeat, visit his author webpage for more comics and teaching resources, and have your own pinball/STEM program with these PBS Kids instructions or this pizza box pinball PDF from the UK’s Science Museum Group.

Posted in Fantasy, Graphic Novels, Teen, Uncategorized, Young Adult/New Adult

Wishes aren’t free: The Well

The Well, by Jake Wyatt/Illustrated by Choo, (Apr. 2022, First Second), $17.99, ISBN: 9781626724143

Ages 14+

A seaside village is attacked by a monster. A woodcutter, his wife and mother in law, two powerful witches, join forces to battle it, and disappear, leaving behind their child and her grandfather, to raise her. Thirteen years later, Lizzie is a teen who helps her grandfather by selling their wares at the local market, but when she needs money to cover her passage home, she grabs money from the sacred well and awakens a spirit that urges her to repay her debt. Lizzie must grant wishes, but every wish comes with a price; some are painful to bear. In her quest to cover her debts at the well, Lizzie will learn about the magic that almost destroyed her family.

The Well unfolds like a fairy tale: a monster, a tragedy, a child left behind, and a legacy of magic to be discovered. The moral – every wish comes with a price, and having a wish granted isn’t always what it seems – runs through the story, reminding readers to think before they act, even before they wish. The artwork is dreamlike, with vibrant color and fantastic monsters. A must for your fantasy fans.

I love the idea of having tweens and teens create their own fairy tales, and The Well is a great way to introduce a program like that. Invite readers to volunteer fairy tale elements they see in the story. Outback Aussie Teaching has a planning template on Teachers Pay Teachers, to help writers organize their thoughts; the Bilingual Language Institute has a Spanish/English picture board with options for characters, setting, problems, solutions, and magic powers to help give readers a flow to work with.

Posted in Graphic Novels, Realistic Fiction, Teen, Young Adult/New Adult

Himawari House: A glimpse of adjusting to life as an expat

Himawari House, by Harmony Becker, (Nov. 2021, First Second), $17.99, ISBN: 9781250235572

Ages 14+

A glimpse into the lives of three exchange students living in Japan, Himawari House is about the friendships, frustrations, and adjustments that come with living in a new country: in this case, Japan. Nao, Hyejung, and Tina all move into Himawari House and attend the same Japanese school, but have different reasons for being there. Nao wants to reconnect to her Japanese heritage and worries about fitting in with Japanese culture. “Too Japanese” for her American life and “Too American” to Japanese classmates, she struggles with cultural identity. Hyejung, is Korean and moved to Japan to escape her overbearing parents and their unrelenting focus on her academic success. Tina is from Singapore and struggles with connection, preferring to lose herself in fandom. Although Nao’s story is the main driver, Hyejung and Tina have fully realized, moving backstories, all explored here, along with their roommates, two Japanese brothers with widely differing personalities. The group all come together and live here at Himawari House, and the story is a slice of life look into a year in their lives, as they all live and work side-by-side, eat, fall in and out of love, go to school, and talk late into the night. The language barriers are expertly illustrated here – largely bilingual, Japanese characters appear in many word bubbles; the dialogue has a blend of English, Japanese, Korean, and Singlish (the English Creole spoken in Singapore), with a brilliant explanation of the use of accents in the story at the end. Black and white artwork is largely realistic, with Chibi renderings to communicate extreme emotion. It’s a well-done character study and will be popular with teens and young adults.

Himawari House has starred reviews from Kirkus, Publisher’s Weekly, and School Library Journal.

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

‘Tis the season for great graphic novel reading!

I know, that was awful, but trying to find new graphic novel headlines is tough! With that, let the games begin.

 

Barb the Last Berzerker, by Dan Abso & Jason Patterson, (Sept. 2021, Simon & Schuster), $13.99, ISBN: 9781534485716

Ages 8-12

A young Berzerker warrior is on a mission to save her fellow warriors after a villain named Witch Head takes them captive. With the help of a Yeti named Pork Chop, and wielding the Shadow Blade that she took from Witch Head, Barb goes on a journey that changes her thinking: where she once fought monsters, she’ll learn that monsters – including sausage-eating yetis – aren’t all bad, and not all humans are good. She meets snot goblins, vampire goats, and a giant who’s sensitive about his foot odor while calling on the power of the Shadow Blade to help her in battle. But the Shadow Blade’s power is not something to be used lightly, and Barb may find that relying on it too much could hurt more than it could help. The first in a new series, Barb is chaotic and hilarious, with gross-out jokes and positive messages about independence and unlearning endemic bias. Readers will cheer for Barb and Pork Chop, who are a buddy movie waiting to happen. Dan & Jason are the creators behind the younger readers’ series Blue, Barry, & Pancakes; visit their website to find out more about their graphic novels.

Barb the Last Berzerker has a starred review from Kirkus. It hasn’t been nominated for a CYBILS yet, hint hint!

 

Whistle: A New Gotham City Hero, by E. Lockhart/Illustrated by Manuel Preitano, (Sept. 2021, DC Comics), $16.99, ISBN: 9781401293222

Ages 13+

Yet another great DC YA graphic novel, this time from award-winning author and National Book Award Finalist, E. Lockhart. Willow Zimmerman is a 16-year-old Jewish teen activist, living in the Down River section of Gotham. It’s a run-down neighborhood and she’s tired of it being overlooked; she takes to the streets in protest when she’s not at school or at home, caring for her mother, who’s going through treatment for cancer. She works part-time in an animal shelter and feeds her friend, a stray Great Dane she’s named Leibowitz, on the side. When E. Nigma – her mom’s estranged friend – gets in touch with Willow, she learns that he’s cleaned himself up and is a successful real estate entrepreneur who runs an underground gambling promotion on the side, and he wants to give her a job. Faced with mounting bills and the fear of eviction, Willow accepts and starts earning more money than she could have ever imagined. When she and Leibowitz are attacked by Killer Croc, who has a grudge to settle with Nigma, the two realize that they can understand one another – where other people hear assorted growls and barks, Willow hears Leibowitz talking! The two decide to become a superteam and do their part to clean up Gotham: even if it means playing double agents to Nigma, aka The Riddler, and Pamela Isley, who’s helping Nigma out as her alter ego, Poison Ivy. I love the origin stories DC’s YA authors have been putting out, and their new heroes are go good, I can’t help but hope they’ll eventually show up in the big titles. Willow is a smart, likable heroine faced with big, real-world issues: lack of healthcare, a single, ailing parent, and the aggravation of living in a neighborhood that’s ignored by all but real estate developers who will gentrify for cheap and push the incumbent citizens out. She combats this first by taking it to the streets; when that isn’t working fast enough, she learns to play both sides of the game. Leibowitz is her steadfast sidekick with a funny, sly sense of humor (once we can hear him talk), and it’s great to see some Gotham familiar faces (including a surprise cameo) and a new spin on The Riddler. All around, a solid hit from DC yet again.

Whistle has not yet been nominated for a CYBILS yet – you know what to do.

 

 

Friends Forever, by Shannon Hale/Illustrated by LeUyenPham, (Aug. 2021, First Second), $12.99, ISBN: 9781250317568

Ages 9-13

The third installment in Shannon Hale’s autobiographical “Friends” series sees Shannon in eighth grade and dealing with anxiety over her looks, her grades, and her popularity. She sees her friends dating, but worries that no one wants to date her. She wants eighth grade to be her perfect year, but she just can’t seem to be happy. She becomes increasingly anxious, with OCD behaviors starting to creep into her daily life. A solidly relatable, realistic picture of the big emotions and worries facing kids as they become teens, Shannon’s adolescence in the 1980s is still every bit as relevant to tweens and teens today; with mental health issues gaining more mainstream attention today, Friends Forever can spark important conversations about the pressures tweens and teens face and coping mechanisms that can help. Friends Forever is about change and finding the courage to accept and love yourself. Beautifully illustrated, and with back matter that includes an author’s note from Shannon Hale that addresses mental health, actual school photos, a peek at LeUyen Pham’s sketchbook, and notes from Shannon Hale and LeUyen Pham to one another, just like real friends share. Download a free activity kit with discussion questions and a Readers Theater script, and find activities for all three Friends books at the Real Friends website.

Friends Forever is a first round Graphic Novels CYBILS nominee.

More to come!

Posted in Graphic Novels, Middle School, Teen, Tween Reads

Music linking generations: Lucy in the Sky

Lucy in the Sky, by Kiara Brinkman and Sean Chiki, (July 2021, First Second), $14.99, ISBN: 9781626727205

Ages 10 to 14
A girl connects to her father through music and forms a band, inspired by The Beatles. Lucy is a seventh grader who’s having a rough time: she feels like her single dad isn’t enjoying his life enough; her globe-hopping photographer mom isn’t around, and her grandmother is undergoing chemotherapy. Things change when she discovers a box of her dad’s old albums, particularly his Beatles records. They open up a new world to her, a world she can escape to when the real world is too much. Inspired to create music, she and her friends form Strawberry Jam, but – just like The Beatles – the collaborations aren’t always smooth. Relationships are hard, as beautifully communicated here. Lucy is conflicted about her relationships with her friends, and her place within her friend group. She has mixed feelings about her mother, and her anger and grief over her grandmother’s battle with cancer informs most of the story. There’s music history, great character development, and a heroine you want to root for here, making this a great graphic novel to give to tweens and early teens, who will relate to the frustrating, sometimes frightening, changes that come with the territory.
Posted in Fiction, Graphic Novels, Middle Grade, Middle School, Realistic Fiction, Tween Reads

Horse Trouble is a guide to tween life!

Horse Trouble, by Kristin Varner, (Oct. 2021, First Second), $12.99, ISBN: 9781250225887

Ages 8-12

Part horseback riding primer, part guide to tween life, Horse Trouble is the story of Kate, a 12-year-old who loves horses and is frustrated by her body. Her best friend is thin and gets the attention of Kate’s crush; the mean girls at the riding school and her middle school target her appearance and flaunt their expensive clothes and accessories while looking down on her. Kate is focused on riding – she works at the school to help pay for her lessons – and competing, but when she’s home, she’s at war with her reflection. Her brother calls her nicknames like “chubbs”, and her mother offers to join a weight-loss program with her, but Kate needs to find her confidence before she can see results. She finds that confidence at the riding school and through competition, but even there, she gets angry at the number of times she’s thrown from the horses. A strong story of finding one’s passion and inner strength, Horse Trouble hits all the right points: self-esteem and body image; coping with bullies; comparing oneself to others both in terms of body size and possessions; coping with crushes; finding mentors, and that connection to friends that we always come back to. Teal-and-white illustrations are appealing, the characters are all likable, and I love the fun character introductions, illustrated with fun facts about each. Each chapter introduction comes with a fun fact about the riding course, and there are great facts about horseback riding and competing throughout the story.

Inspired by Kristin Varner’s own tween experiences, Horse Trouble is just great reading. See more of her illustration at her website.

Posted in Graphic Novels, Middle Grade, Tween Reads

Bad Sister touches on sibling relationships

Bad Sister, by Charise Mericle Harper/Illustrated Rory Lucey, (Aug. 2021, First Second), $12.99, ISBN: 9781250219053

Ages 8-12

Award-winning author/artist Charise Mericle Harper writes a middle-grade memoir about her relationship with her younger brother in Bad Sister, and it will resonate with so many siblings who may feel conflicted about their own siblings. Charise is older, and therefore, better… right? Her younger brother, Daniel, is just such an attention-suck. He gets attention from her parents from the very beginning, he wants to play with her toys, he even monopolizes the family cat’s affection. Daniel gets hurt time and again, causing Charise to wonder: is she a bad sister? Try as she might, it’s hard being the eldest, and sometimes, she gets exasperated. But slowly, surely, as the two get a little older and a little more mature, they find themselves able to enjoy one another’s company more. Charise’s frustration is palpable, and the changing color palette alerts readers, with changes in her facial expressions and body language, plus cooler colors, particularly blues, calling the reader’s attention. Readers will see both sides of the equation – Daniel isn’t always guilt-free – and empathize with the injustices on either side. A good book for navigating sibling relationships, even close friend and classmate relationships, Charise Mericle Harper gets to the heart of family dynamics and doesn’t hide the highs and lows of these complicated relationships, going from antagonism, to guilt, to love and understanding with honesty and respect to the reader. Charise’s frustration is palpable, and the changing color palette alerts readers, with changes in her facial expressions and body language, plus cooler colors, particularly blues, calling the reader’s attention. Colors warm up as the two become closer.

Bad Sister has starred reviews from Kirkus and Publisher’s Weekly, and is a Junior Library Guild selection. Visit Charise Mericle Harper’s website for printables, crafts, and comics!