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

Long Distance: A summer camp like you’ve never experienced!

Long Distance, by Whitney Gardner, (June 2021, Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers), $14.99, ISBN: 9781534455658

Ages 10-14

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.

Visit Whitney Gardner’s webpage for coloring pages and more info about her books, including one of my favorites from last year, the 2020 Cybils-nominated Becoming RBG.

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

Pepper Page Saves the Universe!

Pepper Page Saves the Universe (Adventures of the Supernova, Book 1), by Landry Q. Walker, (Feb. 2021, First Second), $14.99, ISBN: 9781250216922

Ages 8-12

What happens when a comics superfan discovers that she IS her favorite superhero? That’s what happens to orphaned Pepper Page, a high schooler who loves her Supernova comics more than anything: she can rattle off major storylines, lament retcons and canon versus headcanon and fancanon with the best of us fangirls, but imagine if you woke up one day to find a supreme being telling you that you’re really Wonder Woman, and all these comics have been chronicling your adventures? It’s a little much for Pepper to handle; thank goodness she’s got her cat companion and her two best friends to help out. When they aren’t under a supervillain’s influence, that is. Comics fans will love the nods to comics fan favorites like Peter David and the iconic Jack Kirby; there are tips of the hat to Golden and Silver Age comics throughout the story, and this is just a great new series to get in on right now. Parents and caregivers, read along with your tweens and share your comics knowledge! I know I will. Have Zita the Spacegirl fans? Get them reading this series immediately.

Pepper Page Saves the Universe has a starred review from The Bulletin of the Center for Children’s Books.

Posted in Fiction, Graphic Novels, Middle Grade, Teen, Tween Reads, Young Adult/New Adult

Big Graphic Novels Roundup!

I’ve been reading a LOT of graphic novels during this quarantine. They relax me, and I know my graphic novels sections (both kids and teens) see a l lot of action, so I always want to make sure I’ve got the best stuff on my shelves for them – and that I know what I’m talking about when I hand books to readers. Let’s see what’s up:

Go To Sleep (I Miss You): Cartoons from the Fog of New Parenthood, by Lucy Knisley, (Feb. 2020, First Second), $14.99, ISBN: 9781250211491

Ages 12+

These are adorable meditations on new parenthood by Lucy Knisley, whose graphic novel Kid Gloves: Nine Months of Careful Chaos let us peek into the world of her pregnancy with her baby, known as Pal. Go to Sleep is a book of sketches Lucy Knisley created during Pal’s first year, and they are moments that every parent and caregiver will recognize, from diaper “blowouts” (oh, so many diaper blowouts) and breastfeeding through teething to tummy time and those moments where we can’t wait to get some alone time… only to spend that time gazing at our sleepy little one, and waiting for them to wake up and do it all again. Black and white, filled with love and humor, Go to Sleep (I Miss You) is perfect for your parenting bookshelves (and for older siblings, as my eldest reminds me).

In this sci-fi alternate history, we visit 1943 Los Angeles, home of the Zoot Suit Riots. Siblings Flaca and Cuata meet a five-foot tall lizard when he saves them from some unsavory sailors one night, when they got out dancing. They hide him in their home and discover he’s part of a race of underground lizard people. He wants to get back to his family, but there are soldiers and mysterious government men wandering the sisters’ neighborhood, on the lookout. To sneak him back to his home, the Flaca and Cuata dress the lizard up in one of Flaca’s zoot suits and head off on an adventure. Yellow, black and white artwork give a stark, noir feel to the story, which is both sensitive and funny. Marco Finnegan provides smart commentary on racism, gender roles and the counterculture of the period. Teens will enjoy this sci-fi take on a moment in U.S. history that isn’t discussed enough.

School for Extraterrestrial Girls Girl on Fire (Volume 1), by Jeremy Whitley/Illustrated by Jamie Noguchi, (Aug. 2020, Papercutz), $12.99, ISBN: 9781545804933

Ages 10-14

Tara Smith is a girl who live with a lot of rules: her parents demand it. Two of their biggest rules? No friends her own age, and always keep her bracelet on. One day, though, Tara’s routine gets thrown into a tizzy, and she loses her bracelet; that’s when the trouble begins. Things get even crazier when she seemingly bursts into flame in the middle of school! Tara learns that she’s not human at all: she’s an alien, and captured by the government, sent off to a school where she can’t put her human classmates in danger, and that’s where she learns the truth about herself. She’s an alien, and her parents – also aliens – likely kidnapped her at a young age. Now, she’s surrounded by other alien students, not all of whom are exactly friendly toward her race. An exciting start to a new middle grade-middle school graphic novel series, School for Extraterrestrial Girls is written by Eisner award nominee Jeremy Whitley, who you may know from his Princeless series and Marvel’s The Unstoppable Wasp. Don’t miss this first volume, which has some nice social commentary set within a very cool sci-fi story.

 

A Map to the Sun, by Sloane Leong, (Aug. 2020, First Second), $17.99, ISBN: 9781250146687

Ages 12-18

A strong story about sports and teen relationships, A Map to the Sun starts with Ren and Luna, two girls who meet on the beach during their middle school summer break. Luna disappears without saying goodbye when she suddenly moves, but returns two years later, expecting to pick up where she and Ren left off. But Ren is hurt, angry, and full off mistrust, especially since her older sister’s issues have made life nearly unbearable for her. A new teacher decides to form a women’s basketball team at the high school, bringing Luna, Ren, and a group of other girls who are tagged as the misfits in school. As they practice and improve, we get glimpses into each of their lives and see how succeeding in one arena changes how they react and are perceived in other spaces in their lives. The color palette is bright and beachy; lots of oranges, yellows, and purples, but some of the coloring made it difficult for me to tell characters apart (I read an ARC; this will likely be tightened up in the finished book). The story is strong, and highly recommended for teens and a solid choice for realistic fiction readers. A Map to the Sun has a starred review from Shelf Awareness.

Lois Lane and the Friendship Challenge, by Grace Ellis/Illustrated by Brittney Williams, (Aug. 2020, DC Comics), $9.99, ISBN: 978-1401296377
Ages 7-11
DC’s latest middle grade original graphic novel stars our favorite journalist-in-training, Lois Lane. Here, Lumberjanes co-creator Grace Ellis and Goldie Vance artist Brittney Williams create a tween Lois Lane who’s all about creating a viral video for a #friendshipchallenge. The only thing is, she’s kind of driving her best friend, Kristen, crazy with the challenge. Kristen is going to be going to sleepaway camp after the big neighborhood barbecue and bike race, and Lois is desperate to get her video make before Kristen leaves. But words gets out that the new bike store in town may be planning something shady for the bike race, and the fireworks planned for the barbecue go missing. Sounds like a mystery that the two best friends will have to solve – if they don’t drive each other crazy first. Lois’s intensity comes off as almost abrasive at first, but she’s relatable as a kid who’s single-mindedly focused on her task and upset at having to share her best friend – a best friend who is going away for the summer – with a new girl in town. Lois Lane and the Friendship Challenge is a fun summer story.
Displacement, by Kiku Hughes, (Aug. 2020, First Second), $17.99, ISBN: 9781250193537Ages 12+

Teenager Kiku travels to San Francisco with her mother to look for the place her grandmother, Ernestina, lived before she and her parents were sent to an internment camp during World War II. Kiku’s mother wants to learn more about her mother’s life pre-camp; Ernestine wasn’t given to talking about it often. As Kiku traipses alongside her, she finds herself being transported back in time, living alongside her grandmother as she, too, becomes a displaced person living in two Japanese internment camps. Powerfully written and beautifully illustrated, Displacement tells the story of the Japanese-Americans who were forced out of their homes and their established lives and stripped of their civil liberties. Kiku – and we – learn things from observing the day-to-day life in camp like human rights abuses that are quickly hushed up and the acts of resistance some engaged in, like the “No-Nos”, who answered “No” to two controversial questions on a loyalty questionnaire the Army had all incarcerated citizens answer. A tribute to the power of memory and, sadly, the power of intergenerational trauma, Displacement belongs with George Takei’s They Called Us Enemy and Art Spiegelman’s Maus in the canon of great graphic novels that belong on every reading list and every shelf.

Ages 14+
This is a weird, wild noir story that I’d hold for my readers who are always looking for something different. It’s Barcelona, 1942, and Laia is a pregnant woman working as a scriptwriter for a radio advice program. Her husband goes missing, a serial killer is on the loose, and Laia retains the services of a private detective to track down her husband… but she’s got secrets of her own. Read this one a couple of times; the story reveals itself with more than one reading. The drastic black and white artwork places you in the middle of this macabre detective story with a wry sense of humor. Got hard-boiled detective novel readers? Give this one to them, too.
Posted in Fantasy, Fiction, Fiction, Graphic Novels, Intermediate, Middle Grade, Tween Reads

#Books from Quarantine: Graphic Novels Rundown

I’m reading through my graphic novels stash this week, and have lots to talk about. Jumping right in.

The Black Mage, by Daniel Barnes/Illustrated by D.J. Kirkland, (Aug. 2019, Oni Press), $19.99, ISBN: 9781620106525

Ages 10+

This book was published last year, and I just found it as I was going through my hard drive during the quarantine. WOW, am I glad I did, because this is timely. It starts off with a young man named Tom Token being invited to St. Ivory Academy, a historically white wizarding school, as their first Black student, part of their “Magical Minority Initiative”. The headmaster, Atticus Lynch, wears a white robe with a pointed hood, but… it’s okay, right? Tom and his pet crow, Jim, arrive and face predictable racist treatment, from ridiculous questions (“Do you drink grape soda rather than potions to enhance your magical powers?”) to straight up hostility. When Tom discovers a mysterious student ID card, he’s determined to get to the bottom of what’s really going on at St. Ivory Academy. Joined by his new friend, Lindsay – a white girl who’s quickly learning that St. Ivory is up to no good – Tom meets two ghosts from history that will show him a dangerous conspiracy that goes all the way back to the Civil War. If Tom can’t expose St. Ivory, he may lose his soul!

This was SUCH a good story, with manga-influenced artwork, fast-paced action and dialogue, and a socially relevant storyline. I love having Harriet Tubman, Frederick Douglass, and John Henry featured as superhero freedom fighters, even in the Great Beyond. Great art, great story, great book for middle schoolers. Make sure you’ve got this handy when you rejuvenate your collections. Oni Press has an educator/discussion guide for The Black Mage available here.

 

Fun Fun Fun World, by Yehudi Mercado, (Apr. 2020, Oni Press), $12.99, ISBN: 978-1620107324

Ages 8-12

Written and illustrated by Sci-Fu’s Yehudi Mercado, Fun Fun Fun World starts off with the crew of the Devastorm 5, led by the inept Captain Minky, running from another failed mission. Minky’s in serious trouble if he doesn’t have tribute for his Queen, so he makes her an offer she can’t refuse: he’ll give her the Earth. The rest of the Devastorm has no idea how they’re going to pull this off, but Minky is convinced they can do it. So when they land at Fun Fun Fun World, a down-on-its luck amusement run by a single dad raising his son, Javi, they think they’ve got Earth laid out in front of them. Javi figures things out pretty quickly and decides not to tell them that they’ve landed in Des Moines: after all, he needs their technology to get the park up and running, saving his dad’s career and keeping a roof over their heads. The story is hilarious, bananas, and too much fun to read. It’s bright, it’s neon, with confused aliens and a kid who keeps outstmarting them to further his father’s dream. There’s a super secret mystery hidden at the heart of Fun Fun Fun World to spice things up a bit, and there’s always the threat of interplanetary war to keep things running. Kids who love watching Cartoon Network’s high-energy cartoons like Steven Universe and The Regular Show will love this.

Yehudi Mercado includes rough pages from the work in progress and a photo of the kids who helped come up with some of the featured rides at the park. There’s also an FFFW Character Quiz from publisher Oni Press that will make comic book discussion groups a hit. Checkout Yehudi Mercado’s webpage for a look at more of his books, a free preview of Fun Fun Fun World, and links to social media.

 

Wallace the Brave, by Will Henry, (Oct. 2017, Andrews McMeel Publishing/AMP Kids), $9.99, ISBN: 9781449489984

Ages 7-11

Reminiscent of Calvin and Hobbes, Wallace The Brave is a collection of comics strips about Wallace, an imaginative, inquisitive boy named Wallace, his best friend, Spud, and the new girl, Amelia. We also meet Wallace’s parents and unibrowed, feral little brother, Sterling, all of whom live in the small town, Snug Harbor. Kids who love Big Nate will get a kick out of Wallace, who’s always up to something; whether he’s spinning epic tales about the school bus, testing the strength of a stale muffin, or trying to figure out what seagulls are really saying.

The book includes a map of Snug Harbor, with major locations from the comic strip numbered; ways to organize a beach cleanup, help monarch butterflies, and make a nature crown. There’s a sequel, Snug Harbor Stories, for readers who want more. Wallace’s page on the AMP website has free, downloadable sheets with activities that you can do at home with the kids, and a book trailer for Snug Harbor Stories.

Cat and Cat: Cat Out of Water (Cat & Cat #2), by Christophe Cazenove, Hervez Richez & Yrgane Ramon (July 2020, Papercutz), $14.99, ISBN: 9781545804780

Ages 7-10

The second collection of Cat and Cat stories is just as much fun as the first. Catherine and her cat, Sushi, live with Cat’s dad; the strips are a series of funny slice-of-life moments. This time, the big story is that Dad takes Cat and Sushi on a camping trip, where Sushi proceeds to wreak havoc on the campgrounds. Other moments have Sushi visiting the neighbors to get his daily snacks in; constant struggles surrounding the cat door and Sushi’s habit of inviting all the cats in the neighborhood to Dad’s house, and Sushi trying to figure out what that big ditch filled with water (the new pool) is supposed to be for.

Brightly illustrated with expressive cartoony characters, this is a great addition to titles like Sisters, Ernest & Rebecca, Dance Class, and Chloe. Papercutz has the inside track on great graphic novels for Intermediate level readers who are looking to move up from Easy Readers and may need a break from chapter books.

 

Dance Class: Letting It Go (Dance Class #10), by Crip and BéKa, (March 2020, Papercutz), $14.99, ISBN: 9781545804322

Ages 7-10

Dance Class is one of the most circulated graphic novels series in my library. The kids love the stories about the dancers at Dance School, so I decided to finally sit down with a book that I got from Papercutz’s Virtual ALA email and see what the hubbub is about. I get it: it’s just a fun series! The adventures of the younger dancers and the teen dancers is good-natured and fun, with this latest storyline centering on the school’s upcoming production of The Snow Queen, and the beautiful new dress to be worn by the show’s star…. if they can get the dress to stop disappearing! It’s an amusing series of miscommunications and misunderstandings as the dancers get ready to put on their show.

Brightly illustrated with cartoon characters, fun dialogue and silly sight gags, like the dancer who’s menaced by a classmate – in her dreams! – this is a book that appeals to Loud House, Sisters, and Chloe readers. The cover is begging for Frozen fans to devour this book in a single sitting, and they will.

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

Last Pick: Born to Run continues the alien invasion story

Last Pick: Born to Run, by Jason Walz, (Oct. 2019, First Second), $17.99, ISBN: 9781626728936

Ages 10+

In last year’s first volume of Last Pick, we encountered an earth under occupation by aliens who dragged anyone deemed “useful” away to an unknown fate, leaving the very young, very old, and disabled to endure the aliens’ cruel rule on earth. Sam and Wyatt, twin siblings, were separated when Sam was taken; Wyatt, her special needs brother, was left behind, and has since gone to work embedding himself with a resistance group of survivors: the very young, the very old, the disabled, the angry, the fed-up. Operating under moniker “Bird One” they find ways to throw casual little wrenches into the aliens’ day-to-day operations, and have something bigger in the works. Meanwhile, Sam is laboring offworld with the other imprisoned humans, forced into terrorizing other alien races in their overlords’ quest to rule. The only bright spot in her days is Mia, a fellow prisoner, whom Sam finds herself developing feelings for.

Most of this installment’s story works with Sam and his resistance group, including his own crush, a deaf girl named Harper, and a burgeoning alliance with one of the aliens. The aliens here are cruel, yet amusing because they’re so influenced by American pop culture, particularly Westerns. (Interesting: Josef Stalin, Adolf Hitler, and Osama bin Laden all loved American Westerns. Coincidence?) The resistance is ragtag, but never count anyone out: it’s the aliens’ overconfidence and belief that the survivors are “useless” that leaves them ripe for a butt-kicking by Bird One. Jason Walz is a solid storyteller, continuing to build on the world(s) he created in the Last Pick’s volume one. The storyline stays strong, developing characters introduced in the first book and bringing in new characters. There are unexpected alliances and underdog heroes, with something to appeal to everyone.

Both volumes in the Last Pick trilogy have starred reviews from Kirkus. Sci-fi fans, dystopian fans, and adventure fans will love this story.

Posted in Fiction, Graphic Novels, Humor, Middle Grade, Middle School, Science Fiction, Tween Reads

Unplugged and Unpopular: Civilization undone by cell phones!

Unplugged and Unpopular, by Mat Heagerty/Illustrated by Tintin Pantoja & Mike Amante, $12.99, ISBN: 9781620106693

Ages 10-13

Seventh grader Erin Song lands herself in hot water with her parents after trying to help one of the popular girls cheat on a test. Erin’s parents take the hyper-connected tween’s phone away and revoke technology privileges, which – naturally – brings the pain; slowly but surely, though, Erin’s unplugged life makes her aware that fuzzy little aliens are kidnapping humans, and transmitting fake news to keep the general populace blissfully unaware! Erin joins forces with her unexpectedly rebellious grandmother and her tech-averse group of resistors to fight off the aliens and save the planet.

Unplugged and Unpopular is a comedic commentary on how wrapped up we are in our phones and other screens these days, with a a wink to the whole “fake news” travesty. A middle grade take on They Live (1988) (remember that one? Go watch it!), we have a society under siege by aliens, right under our noses, but if the news tells us everything is okay, there’s nothing to worry about. Once Erin gets out from behind the screens and starts seeing the world with her own two eyes, that’s when she understands that things aren’t what they seem, and that something is very wrong in her community. It’s a wacky, out-there story, but kids will get a kick out of it, and who knows – maybe it’ll get them to look up from their screens once in a while. The artwork is colorful and bold, and Erin is a biracial main character living in a diverse community.

This one’s an additional add; if you have heavy graphic novel circ, put it in – kids will read it.

Posted in Fiction, Fiction, Humor, Intermediate, Middle Grade

Beep and Bob bring the fun to intermediate sci-fi

I’m always on the lookout for good intermediate books (and good easy readers). There’s such an importance to good chapter books to develop that initial love of books into something really special; some kids can be a little scared by the leap from easy reader to chapter book, so you want to make sure you find that magic combination of artwork and story that will draw readers right in. When a publicist friend of mine sent copies of the first three Beep and Bob books by Jonathan Roth, she knew I’d love them and want to booktalk them. And what can I say? She was right.

Beep and Bob: Too Much Space! (Beep and Bob #1), by Jonathan Roth, (March 2018, Aladdin), $16.99, ISBN: 9781481488532

Ages 6-10

Here we have Beep and Bob’s origin story and first adventure: Bob is a kid who goes to school in space; he’s the new kid at a school called Astro Elementary, and space is apparently terrifying. Thankfully, he has a little alien friend named Beep at his side Beep’s a little guy who lost his 600 siblings while playing hide and seek in an asteroid field; he knocked on a door at Astro Elementary, Bob answered, and a friendship was born. Beep has bonded to Bob and thinks of him as a mother, even calling him “Bob-mother”. Luckily for the duo, the teachers let Beep stick with Bob throughout the school day. Bob’s got some other friends, including Lani, a supersmart girl who carries three supersmart pet spiders in a jar; and Blaster, kind of a bully, who likes to raise Bob’s hand and volunteer him for class missions: like being the first on the field trip to explore Pluto. Or exploring near the event horizon of a black hole. Which is where we find Beep and Bob in this first adventure: trying to escape, and save Lani’s spiders, from being sucked into the black hole (or, as Professor Zoome puts it, “the bye-bye-forever zone”). Can they make it out safe? (Hint: it’s the first book in a series, you tell me.)

Too Much Space! is a fun start to a new series. There’s a little bit of science fact tossed into the fun to give kids an idea of what exactly a black hole can do (bye-bye forever is certainly a clear explanation to me), and Beep’s observations are hilarious and even sweet. Extra-Credit Fun Space Facts gives drops some non-fiction knowledge related to the adventure: in this case, the discovery of Pluto , it’s downgrade to a dwarf planet, and the fact that it is seriously cold. Pair even pacing, fun writing, and outrageous scenarios with black and white artwork throughout, and this is the start of a beautiful friendship between Beep, Bob, and your readers. I started this one with my first grader last night, and he’s getting a big kick out of Beep and the whole Astro Elementary idea – but he’s not quite ready to jettison off into space just yet.

 

Beep and Bob: Party Crashers (Beep and Bob #2), by Jonathan Roth, (March 2018, Aladdin), $16.99, ISBN: 9781481488563

Ages 6-10

The second series of Bob’s Splog entries (space log entries – that make up each Beep and Bob adventure) starts off with a similar story: Bob introduces himself, Astro Elementary, and Beep’s origin. Rather than space being terrifying, though, this time, he asserts that “SPACE IS STUPENDOUSLY BORING”! This time out, things perk up a bit when Lani invites Beep, Bob, and the other Astro Elementary gang to her birthday party aboard the Starship Titanic! (Douglas Adams fans, this is where you chuckle.) It’s got everything: gravity, for starters, which is pretty fantastic; water parks, amusement parks, and 12 million hypershow channels on TV! What doesn’t it have? Ahem… escape pods. Because it’s indestructible. Where have you heard that before? Oh, and there’s a jewelry thief running around the ship, too. It’s up to Beep and Bob to save the day again!

Party Crashers ups the ante from Too Much Space by bringing the laughs and the crazy situations. We have the Titanic parallels, including the captain, a descendant of the original ship’s captain, who doesn’t know how to pilot his ship because everything is pretty much done for him. He spends most of his day in the amusement park! Throw in a little Agatha Christie-type whodunit mixed with some Star Wars humor, and laugh-out-loud moments throughout the book, and Party Crashers is a strong follow-up to Too Much Space. The Extra-Credit Fun section is all about Neptune, the planet posing a danger in this installment. Black and white artwork is plentiful and adorable.

 

Beep and Bob: Take Us To Your Sugar (Beep and Bob #3), by Jonathan Roth, (Sept. 2018, Aladdin), $16.99, ISBN: 9781481488594

Ages 6-10

Oh NO! Not only is space alternately terrifying and boring, now there’s a problem with THE FOOD! The artificial sweetinizer is broken, and Mr. DaVinci – the school maintenance man, whose genius goes unappreciated – is taking his sweet time fixing it. Bob needs sugar, and he needs it fast, so he decides to come up with his own holiday: Astroween! You see, Astro Elementary doesn’t celebrate Earth holidays, because they’re in space, so Bob and Lani form a secret club called S.C.A.R.E.S. (Society of Candy Addicts who Rely on Energy from Sugar) and employ some quick thinking to create an entirely new holiday and convince Principal Quark to let the school celebrate Astroween. It’s a success but as the kids are planning their costumes and waiting for the candy rush, Beep convinces Bob to send a message out into space, hoping to attract some of his own kind. The message ends up attracting a bunch of sugar-crazy aliens who want to convert all the candy into power for their fleet! Beep and Bob are going to need to do some fast thinking and talking to get out of this one.

Take Us to Your Sugar is a sweeter (no pun intended) adventure in this series, as Lani and Bob start thinking of how lonely Beep feels as the only one of his kind aboard the ship. It’s no less amusing, especially with the addition of the long-suffering Mr. DaVinci, who can’t seem to believe that human race has progressed to the stars and yet… we’ve stayed relatively simple. The Extra-Credit is on Earth holidays and planetary years.

Jonathan Roth has created a smart, humorous series with heart for intermediate readers. Have readers who aren’t quite ready for Diary of a Wimpy Kid but want something funny to read? This is the series for them. There’s a fourth book coming – Double Trouble – next  month, so invest in this series now and get your readers in at the beginning. Beep and Bob was named one of Scholastic Teacher Magazine’s “50 Magical Books for Summer”. Jonathan Roth’s Beep and Bob webpage has loads of info about the author and his series, including scans of his artwork from childhood on – he’s an elementary school teacher, so he knows how to talk to kids! – and there’s an adorable, free PDF available to teach readers how to draw Beep.  Absolute cuteness.

Posted in Fiction, Middle Grade, Science Fiction, Tween Reads

Children of Jubilee concludes Margaret Peterson Haddix’s latest series

Children of Jubilee, by Margaret Peterson Haddix, (Nov. 2018, Simon & Schuster), $17.99, ISBN: 9781442450097
Ages 9-13

The third book in Margaret Peterson Haddix’s Children of Exile series is told through Kiandra’s point of view as the alien Enforcers raid Refuge City, capturing Edwy, Kiandra, Enu, and Rosi and transporting them to an alien planet, where they are forced to labor in mines as slaves with no bodily autonomy. Somehow, the Enforcers control their every movement, pushing them to mine and harvest strange bluish pearls from the planet, long past the point of exhaustion and only giving them their bodies back for the briefest amount of rest. Kiandra plots to find a way out, but she can’t do it alone – luckily, little Cana has found her way to the group; working under the Enforcers’ radar, she’s able to explore the planet and just maybe, find some help.

Margaret Peterson Haddix writes fantastic science fiction and dystopian fantasy. I discovered her Shadow Children series when my eldest read the first book, Among the Hidden, in elementary school. The two of us hit our local bookstore and bought every book in the series that weekend, and I can’t wait until my youngest is ready to read them in a few more years. She creates fascinating characters and morally ambiguous situations that leave a wealth of room for discussion. Children of Exile has been a voraciously readable series from the first installment; Children of Jubilee includes some final plot twists, subplots, and a reveal that left me picking my jaw up from the floor. It’s that good.

For my home and my library, Margaret Peterson Haddix books are a must-have. If you have sci fi/fantasy readers, they should be for you, too. There’s a free downloadable discussion guide for the first book, Children of Exile, on Ms. Haddix’s author website; they provide excellent jumping-off points for deeper discussion into the series.

Posted in Fantasy, Fiction, Fiction, Graphic Novels, Intermediate, Middle Grade, Teen, Tween Reads, Young Adult/New Adult

October graphic novels have something for everyone!

There are some solid graphic novels hitting shelves in October: LGBTQ+ positive stories and a dystopian adventure for tweens and teens, and for tweens and teens, Art Baltazar’s adorable artwork for kids are just a few of the books you can look forward to. Let’s dive in!

 

Gillbert, Vol. 1: The Little Merman, by Art Baltazar, (Oct. 2018, Papercutz), $14.99, ISBN: 9781545801451

Ages 6-10

If you have readers who get a kick out of Joey Weiser’s Mermin books, they’ll love Art Baltazar’s Gillbert: The Little Merman! He’s the son of King Nauticus and the prince of Atlanticus, and he’s surrounded by cool friends, like his turtle buddy, Sherbert, and his starfish buddy, Albert. One day, he meets playful mermaid named Anne Phibian, who takes him to a rocking party at WeWillRockTropolis. Meanwhile, aliens invade Earth, but quick action by Queen Niadora and her alien friend, Teeq, save the day.

Art Baltazar creates art that kids love: Tiny Titans; Grimmiss Island; DC Super Pets, and countless more comics have his signature bold, bright artwork and zest for zany adventure. He’s got kid-friendly artwork, storylines, and humor that kids eat up. When my library kids are too young for the DC comics on “the other side of the library” (the teen collection), but still want superheroes, I give them Art Baltazar’s books, and they’re thrilled.

Gillbert’s first outing looks like it’s the start to a fun new under-the-sea series. Papercutz won’t steer you wrong; add this one to your graphic novel shelves.

Lost Soul, Be at Peace, by Maggie Thrash, (Oct. 2018, Candlewick), $18.99, ISBN: 9780763694197

Ages 13+

Acclaimed Honor Girl author Maggie Thrash’s latest book is a continuing memoir with a touch of fiction. A year and a half after the events of Honor Girl, Maggie is spiraling into a deep depression. She’s failing 11th grade; her stuffy, image-consumed mother is baffled, and her workaholic father, a federal judge, pays no attention to her. The only thing Maggie cares about is her cat, Tommi, who seemingly disappears in her rambling home. While searching for Tommi, Maggie discovers a ghost named Tommy, who leads her to peel back layers of her father’s life and see him through new eyes.

Maggie Thrash beautifully captures the tedium and angst of adolescence and the hopelessness of depression. The feeling of shouting into the void is poignantly captured when she opens up about coming out… and being ignored, regardless. She maintains a bitter sense of humor through her journey, making her likeable and relatable, and her watercolor artwork intensifies the feeling of being not-quite-there.

Lost Soul, Be at Peace is a beautifully thoughtful graphic memoir and a must-add to upper middle school and YA collections. Download an author note (also included in the back matter) and Maggie Thrash’s Top 10 Songs for Lost Souls playlist here; view a sample chapter here. Lost Soul, Be at Peace has starred reviews from School Library Journal and Kirkus.

 

Last Pick, by Jason Walz, (Oct. 2018, First Second), $17.99, ISBN: 9781626728912

Ages 10+

Last Pick is the first in a new dystopian trilogy. Three years ago, aliens invaded earth, taking everyone between the ages of 16 and 65: everyone they deemed “useful”. The survivors left behind live under cruel rule. Too young, too old, too disabled, they’re seen as worthless, receiving slim food rations and living under constant threat. But Sam and Wyatt, a twin brother and sister, are about to change all that. Sam’s the rebel, distributing food and fomenting revolution; Wyatt, her special needs brother, is the brains of the operation: he’s cataloging the aliens, and knows how to work with their technology. They start disrupting the aliens’ plans and making themselves a general nuisance until the aliens decide they’re too much of a threat, right on the eve of their 16th birthday.

Last Pick is SO GOOD. I tore through this one during a lunch hour; it’s compulsive reading with a tight storyline and characters you want to root for. Aliens appear to be enthralled with earth culture and are played in part as comic relief, from the overlord who seems to be influenced by American Westerns, affecting a cowboy-type flavor of speech, to the gooey creature that shares a love of Ultraman with Wyatt. There’s some intrigue going on among the aliens, too; I’m looking forward to learning more in the next installment. Sam and Wyatt are a solid sister-brother unit; Wyatt’s special needs appear to place him on the autism spectrum, and Sam acts as his partner and protector. An underground radio broadcaster, a Latinx who refers to herself as La Sonida, offers moments of retrospection and I hope we get more of her, too.

Adventure, science fiction, and dystopian fans are going to love this. If you have readers who love Spill Zone and Mighty Jack, hand them this one. Last Pick has a starred review from Kirkus.

 

On a Sunbeam, by Tillie Walden, (Oct. 2018, First Second), $21.99, ISBN: 9781250178138

Ages 14+

Eisner Award winner Tillie Walden’s On a Sunbeam collects all the installments of her webcomic. It’s a science fiction adventure in a universe that embraces all relationships. Mia is a young woman on a reconstruction crew that travels through space, restoring buildings and structures. The narrative shifts between the present and Mia’s past, where she fell in love at boarding school with a girl named Grace; a girl who was taken away by her family before Mia could say goodbye. Mia learns more about her crewmates and their own stories as they travel through space, ultimately creating a family of their own.

The cast is incredibly, wonderfully, diverse. There’s Char, the co-captain; she’s an African American woman who shares captain duties with her Caucasian wife, Alma: “Char may have the degrees, but Alma knows how to yell”, according to one character, Jules. Jules should know: she’s Alma’s niece, taken in when her mother – Alma’s sister – died. Jules seems to be the youngest member of the crew; she’s most likely a teen, loves playing games, and is the happy optimist of the crew. Ell/Elliot is a Caucasian nonbinary person who prefers they/them/their pronouns – and the crew vociferously defends their right to those pronouns, as Ell is nonverbal. Grace, Mia’s lost love, is African American.

As the narrative shifts between Mia’s past and present, we see Mia and Grace’s relationship develop, right up until Grace’s departure from the school. The color palette shifts with the narrative: cooler colors like blues and purples dominate the flashbacks, while warmer colors creep during the present day. Mia is the central character, but every character in this novel has a story to tell. This is a book I had to move back and forth with during the first few chapters; not having read the webcomic, I wasn’t altogether sure I was reading a connected story until I got the hang of the shifts, and of Mia’s place in them. Stick with the story: it’s an wonderful work of queer speculative fiction that deserves a spot on your shelves. On a Sunbeam is good for young adult/new adult readers.

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

Alien abduction, or something… more? Losing the Girl has questions.

Losing the Girl (#1), by MariNaomi, (May 2018, Lerner Publishing Group/Graphic Universe), $29.32, ISBN: 9781512449105

Recommended for readers 13+

A 14 year-old girl disappears, leaving questions and rumors in her wake. She’s the topic of conversation at her school, Blithedale High, but a group of teens have their own daily drama to work through, too. Nigel is desperate for a girlfriend who will laugh at his jokes, but Emily, the object of his affections, decides to pursue a relationship with heartthrob Brett, who doesn’t really seem to emotionally invest himself in anything. Emily undergoes a major life shake-up, which gives her friend – or frenemy – Paula a chance to steal what she perceives to be Emily’s spotlight.

Losing the Girl is about lives intersecting, with the main focus – the “lost” girl – being the common thread. She’s the character the conversation drifts back to, the reader’s focal point as we glimpse into the lives of four teens. This first installment didn’t quite grab me, but I think teens who want real-life storytelling will give this one a shot.

MariNaomi is an award-winning writer and illustrator; she’s an Eisner award nominee, and a podcaster. You can find out more by visiting her website.