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.
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!
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.
This is a graphic novel summer: so many good ones hitting shelves week after week! Perfect for Summer Reading and anytime reading, there are some gorgeous, fun, fantastic stories to be found.
Ham Helsing is a young descendant of a long line of vampire hunters who never seem to live quite long, usually because they make rather silly decisions. Ham was always content to let his older brother, Chad, wear the monster hunting mantle; he preferred more creative pursuits, like painting and poetry, but Chad’s daredevil acts led to… well, Ham is the new monster hunter in the family, so he’s off to hunt a vampire. The only problem is, the vampire he’s out to get isn’t what you’d expect. Ham Helsing: Vampire Hunter is the first in a planned trilogy and is a fun, not-at-all scary story about learning that people aren’t always what they seem, and that it’s always good to have friends to back you up. The action is animated, the dialogue is fun and witty, and there are robotic knights, sight gags, a toddler werewolf, and animated bacon. What more can you ask from a graphic novel?
Author Rich Moyer’s website has links to more of his illustration work, social media, and school visit information. Get a look at some more of Ham Helsing at Random House’s website.
A fantasy more geared toward middle- and high schoolers rather than middle graders, the third volume of the Rickety Stitch and the Gelatinous Goo book continues the adventures of the skeletal bard and his jelly-like friend, Gelatinous Goo. In this adventure, Rickety Stitch – an animated skeleton who retains his love of music and his gentle soul, despite having no memory of who he was when he was alive – and Goo travel with an acting troupe to perform in a music competition, but Rickety discovers another performer, a woman named Canta, who brings back memories of his past. It becomes clear that the competition is a distraction from some seedy behavior underneath the city, and Rickety and Goo find themselves right in the middle of the action. The story is full of action and adventure and manages to tug at readers’ heartstrings with Rickety’s genuine tale of loss and memory. Middle schoolers and early high schoolers in particular will love this great wrap-up to a fantasy tale. It helps to read the first two before beginning the third; you may feel lost otherwise, as there is a lot of world-building and character development that’s gone on thus far. Great for your fantasy section.
The follow-up to last year’s Donut Feed the Squirrels, the newest Norma and Belly adventure is an adorable romp to save Pops, who falls onto a truck and heads to the apple orchard where he may end up in a pie! Norma, Belly, and their friend, B, are on the case in this sweet story, perfect for newly confident readers. The watercolor artwork is colorful but not overwhelming, with lots of calming earth colors and cute animal artwork. A school trip to the orchard provides some extra fun as the squirrels dash around the kids on their race to find Pops first.
Mika Song’s website has all sorts of treasures for readers, including extra comics, a newsletter signup, and printable activity sheets! Great to bundle with other graphic novels for young readers, like Narwhal and Jelly, Blue Barry and Pancakes, Fox and Chick, and Shark and Bot. You can also mix up the formats and include other books, like Mo Willems’s Unlimited Squirrels series, or Mélanie Watt’s Scaredy Squirrel series (graphic novels are forthcoming, too: future post!).
Apple of My Pie has a starred review from Kirkus.
Much, much more to come: let these three start you off!
With Spring and Summer come a lighter type of picture book: open spaces, verdant greens, cheery yellows, happy colors and stories about enjoying the outdoors. I’ve got a few picture books here that are perfect for those longer, warmer days.
The boy and his grandfather from Sam Usher’s Seasons With Grandad series are back! In Free, the boy and Grandad care for a sick bird who returns to them every day. Grandad looks up new ways to get the bird to reunite with other birds, but it looks like their new feathered friend needs a bit of help, so they gather their equipment and strike out to find a tree for their new friend. Sam Usher brings his touch of magical realism to this story of a boy, his grandfather, and a little bird that needs their help, elevating it from sweet to simply extraordinary. Ink and watercolor illustrations are expressive and provide a soothing, intimate feel to the storytelling and the relationship between Grandad, Boy, and Bird. Riots of color in strategic moments make for a delightful surprise. I love Sam Usher’s books, so this one is a definite buy for me.
Free has a starred review from Kirkus.
A girl’s her father brings her to spend the summer with her grandparents when her mother has to go into the hospital. To keep her occupied, her grandfather invites her to help in his garden, asking her to look after his snow peas. She learns to care for them and nurture them, taking great pride in the growing pods, and her grandfather suggests she may even get to enter them in the flower show when the season ends. So what happens that causes the flowers to start dying? Stumped, the girl tries multiple fixes until she discovers the reason. A gently told story of love, nurturing, perseverance and determination, this is a beautifully illustrated story, with colorful spreads of the English countryside and cheery gardens. There are so many details to discover in the sprawling townscape and countryside, from bustling businesses and commuters to the playful garden animals hopping and frolicking around the greenery. A book that encourages readers to endure hard times and embrace the support around them, Sweet Pea Summer is a good warm-weather read. Have some sweet pea coloring pages handy for an accompanying storytime activity. Pair with Zee Grows a Tree for a storytime about the love between nature and kids.
The companion to last year’s William Shakespeare’s The Tempest, A Midsummer Night’s Dream is a dreamlike, picture book interpretation of the famous Shakespeare comedy, great for new audiences. The Fairy Kingdom is up in arms as King Oberon is in a disagreement with his wife, Queen Titania; a group of young nobles arrive in the magical forest from Athens, all in love with the wrong person; and Puck, a mischievous servant of King Oberon’s decides to stir up some trouble just for the fun of it. Retold from Puck’s perspective, this is a very readable, enjoyable breakdown of the hilarious story of mistaken identity, love, and mischievous fairies. Shakespeare’s famous ending, “If we shadows have offended…” closes the story. The artwork is a tapestry of beautiful color, artwork that captures the playful spirit of the play and the otherworldly characters in the story. Moonlight figures heavily in the artwork, a glowing sheen adding illumination and bringing out the details in each character. A great read-aloud idea for older classes (1-3 grades, for instance), consider an Introduction to Shakespeare display for your Children’s Room with books like Anna Claybourne and Tilly’s Where’s Will?, The Stratford Zoo Midnight Review series by Ian Lendler and illustrated by Zack Giallongo, and Mabel and the Queen of Dreams, by Henry, Joshua, & Harrison Herz. Visit ilustrator Jane Ray’s website for free printable coloring pages.
Esme Silver is a 15-year-old mourning her mother, Ariane, who disappeared when Esme was 8. Her father has just remarried, despite Esme’s objection (at the wedding!). Her father takes his new bride away on their honeymoon, leaving Esme under the eye of her stepmother’s sister; not thrilled with that situation, Esme, determined to use the time to learn more about her mother’s disappearance, finds her way to a magical underwater world, where she learns more about her mother and the secret part of her life she hadn’t shared with Esme. Esme’s Wish is geared toward teens, but is more accessible to upper middle grade-middle school students. There is a lot of fantasy world-building, including dragons and mysterious pasts, a mythical history, and new friends from other lands, but sometimes gets mired in itself rather than moving forward. Overall, though, it’s a solid fantasy book, with interesting characters who aren’t merely plot devices. The world-building will appeal to fantasy readers – there are dragons! – and Esme is a likable character that kids can relate to at her heart: a girl who’s lost a parent, and coping with her remaining parent remarrying. The girl who’s considered an outsider by her town, merely because of who her mother was. A girl trying to find out why. A good additional purchase for collections where you have big fantasy readers.
The second book in the trilogy, Esme’s Gift, was published in in 2019. Visit author Elizabeth Foster’s webpage to learn more about the books and view trailers for each.
Wyatt Croft is a witch on the run. Originally from the fae kingdom of Asalin, Wyatt – a transgender 17-year-old boy – escaped a past loaded with trauma and abuse, finding home and family in our world. That all changes when Wyatt’s fated mate, the fae prince Emyr, shows up and demands that Wyatt return with him to fulfill his role as Emyr’s husband and take the throne of Asalin. Wyatt reluctantly returns to Asalin, with his best friend, Briar, in tow, and learns that relations between witches and fae are heading toward revolution – and Wyatt, who’s trying to resolve his own conflicted feelings about Emyr – is right in the middle of it. An anti-fascist, queer fantasy with incredible worldbuilding and characters you’ll love – and love to loathe – The Witch King has it all: romance, high fantasy meets contemporary fiction, and a wicked sense of humor. There’s powerful storytelling throughout The Witch King: being trans isn’t at the heart of the hatred toward Wyatt; transgender and nonbinary characters are major characters in the story, but Wyatt’s being a witch is the issue. The abuse and abandonment of witches takes the place of being LGBTQ+ in our society here, allowing readers to both see a functioning society where diversity is embraced in theory, but in practice, it’s very different. Sound familiar? Revolution, reform, and the idea of burning everything down to rebuild make The Witch King one of the most readable, relevant novels you’ll read this year.
Bestselling author Dave Eggers creates a story about a boy, his grandmother, and the wild world. A young boy’s grandmother comes to visit him, with her long, white hair and her spotted black and yellow coat. When his parents leave the two alone, Grandmother suggests the two become jaguars and explore the night! The two roam the night, having adventures, until the boy decides it’s time to head home. Was it all in good fun? Eggers’s dreamlike storytelling has a childlike feel, as he blends the fantastic – “She laughed like great thunder and I laughed like lesser thunder and we jaguared on” – with the adorably kidlike – “I didn’t want to eat raw rabbit so I said I was allergic” – to create a story that will transport readers to rainforests and the Himalayan mountains. Woodrow White’s mixed media illustration opens up an incredible, exotic world. A gatefold panel begins with the boy and his grandmother transforming into jaguars, and opens to place them, fully “jaguared”, in a wild, nighttime world. The grandmother’s jaguar face looks self-assured; the boy’s, tentative, like he’s never quite sure about this whole experience. When the two drink from a lake, their blurred reflections reveal their human faces. Endpapers show the light and dark of their journey, with vines striping the pages, and bursts of color at the edges. A stunning and playful story.
We Became Jaguars has starred reviews from Publishers Weekly, Kirkus, and School Library Journal.