I’m still reading graphic novels by the bunch: I’ve even applied to be a CYBILS Graphic Novel judge this year, because I had such a great time being one last year! There are such good books coming out for middle grade and YA, and with a new focus on early reader graphic novels picking up strength, I can honestly say we comic book fans have inherited the earth and it feels good. Here are a few more to add to your Fall order carts.
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.
Translated from the German 2012 graphic novel Endzeit, Ever After is an unsettling zombie apocalypse story. Two German cities – Weimar and Jena – are survivor outposts in the days after the zombie apocalypse. Two young women, Vivi and Eva, travel from the harsh conditions in Weimar to Jena, hoping for a better life, but both women have secrets. Vivi is tormented by visions of her younger sister, while Eva is in the middle of a transformation. The two form an unlikely friendship on the road, protecting one another from the living and the dead. The story is focused on the two women for the most part, making it an interesting character study in personality. The colorful manga-inspired artwork is a stark contrast to the bleak story, and there are some very graphic moments that may not appeal to some readers. The story drops readers into the beginning of the story with very little context, so it is a little fiddly at first, but I hit my stride pretty quickly. It’s an interesting new take on zombie stories; if you have readers who enjoy zombie horror, consider adding this to your shelves.
Endzeit was made into a movie in 2019.
Award-winning author M.T. Anderson and illustrator Jo Rioux create a feminist fantasy with a Celtic influence with Daughters of Ys. Ys, a seaside kingdom, is shaken when its Queen, Malgven, passes away. Her two daughters, Rozenn and Dahut, are horrified to discover their father in the arms of other women so soon after their mother’s passing, and grow apart. Rozenn, the heir to the throne, would rather be in the wild, surrounded by animals and nature; Dahut enjoys palace life and all the attention that comes with being the “beautiful daughter” – but she’s got a secret directly connected to the monsters that threaten the Kingdom of Ys: the monsters that Queen Malgven used to be able to keep away.
Based on a classic folktale, The Daughters of Ys has M.T. Anderson’s hallmark storytelling, with epic fantasy fleshed out with strong characters and complex relationships. Jo Rioux’s artwork beautifully creates a Celtic-inspired world, and her lush artwork gives the fluid feeling of the seaside kingdom surreal life. She uses shadows and moody coloring to wonderfully dramatic effect. Hand this to any of your fantasy readers, and for anyone interested in more reading about Ys, this Wikipedia page has some very good information and links.
MT Anderson has won multiple literary awards, including the 2006 National Young People’s Book Award for his book The Pox Party. His 2018 book with M.T. Anderson, The Assassination of Brangwain Spurge, was nominated for the National Young People’s Book Award.
The Daughters of Ys has a starred review from School Library Journal.
The creative powerhouse that brought us the Raven original graphic novel is back with Teen Titans’s Beast Boy! Garfield Logan is 17 years old, and he wants things to happen! Senior year is almost over, and he can’t figure out how to get in with the in crowd, instead of being the pizza-eating, video-game loving nerd that everyone overlooks. Tired of being short and scrawny, he stops taking the supplements his parents always give him, and things start happening. He grows six inches overnight. His voice gets deeper, and he’s strong. Like, STRONG. And fast. It’s almost like he can… channel different animals? He starts taking dares from the social crowd, and Gar sees his chance for social currency! But although a big dare pays off, it also kicks something into motion, and Gar decides he needs answers from his parents. They’ve been keeping things from him, and it’s time they ‘fessed up. But his parents, and his best friends, Stella and Tank, aren’t the only people with a vested interest in Gar. A guy named Slade Wilson is skulking around town (DC fans will know that when Deathstroke shows up, that’s never good news), claiming to have some of the answers Gar’s looking for, but Slade is playing a longer game, and someone higher up is very, VERY interested in Gar.
I loved this Beast Boy origin story! I will be honest, though – while it doesn’t end abruptly, it does end with a lot of questions unanswered, so I hope there’s a second book in the works. There are nods to the Teen Titan fans know, including his green hair, his fanboy, upbeat attitude, and his self-deprecating humor. Kami Garcia nails it, as always, and Gabriel Picolo does his favorite Teen Titan (read the author and illustrator notes at the beginning of the book) justice by capturing Beast Boy’s look and attitude perfectly. Another DC YA graphic novel hit.
This girl power teen novel is a fantastic story of friendship, knitting, and smashing the patriarchy. Raina Petree is on track to have a great senior year until her boyfriend dumps her, her drama club leaves her in the lurch, and her college dreams aren’t as secure as she initially thought they were. Meanwhile, Millie Goodwin is tired of being her father’s servant, and when her Mock Trial team votes her out in favor of lesser-qualified, newer guys – even after she’s been the backbone of the team for the last three years – she has HAD IT. Raina turns to an advice column for help on getting over Brandon, the ex-boyfriend, leading her to take up knitting as a hobby; a hobby that leads to a meeting of the minds with Millie, and the two come up with the ultimate idea: start their own Mock Trial team. There are no rules against it, and they manage to find a mentor in their school librarian. Now, they just have to fill the open spots on the team – with girls who are sick and tired of being discounted and looked down on by the boys and men who think they’re calling all the shots. It’s time to pick up the knitting needles, study those legal briefs, and take down the patriarchy.
With a fantastic cast of multicultural characters that smash the gender spectrum, Adrienne Kisner has given readers a group of characters that we’d all want to hang out with. They’re smart, driven, and fed up with B.S., whether it’s from a teacher, an ex-boyfriend or fellow student, or a parent. It’s such an upbeat book, filled with major crossroad moments and stand up and cheer scenes while taking on some very big issues. It’s an excellent discussion book that will spark deep conversations.
Check out Adrienne Kisner’s author webpage for more information about her books, links to her blog and social media, and to sign up for her newsletter.
I haven’t done a roundup in a while, but I’m actually a little ahead of the game, so let’s do it! Here’s what’s good for March.
Gene Luen Yang is back, and Dragon Hoops is a memoir of a year following the basketball team during the 2014-15 season at the high school where he taught, Bishop O’Dowd High School in Oakland, California. Gene wants to write a new graphic novel – at the same time he’s being courted by DC Comics to write a new Superman story – and he’s wracking his brain, coming up with options. He isn’t really a sports guy, but he decides to explore the Bishop O’Dowd varsity basketball team, after hearing all the buzz in the school hallways. He approaches the men’s varsity coach, Lou Richie, and starts writing the story of the team, the story of the young men on the team, and the pursuit of the California State Championships.
I’m not a big sports fan, and you don’t need to be to read Dragon Hoops. It’s the story of the people behind the team, and it’s exciting to read about these diverse young men, their stories, and their drive. It’s great to see Gene Yang’s journey from someone who has zero interest in sports to becoming a rabid fan of the team, because of the connections formed with the players and Coach Lou. It’s also very much Gene Yang’s story as he struggles with a work-life balance, whether or not to take on the extra work – and excitement! – that Superman would bring, and his struggle to address a difficult chapter in Bishop O’Dowd’s history.
The artwork is realistic with a cartoony feel, and the dialogue and pacing is great. Gene Yang gets readers excited for each game, and builds relationships between reader and players/coaches by interspersing biographical chapters and pivotal games in the race for the championship. He has a powerful thread through each personal story, too: each character, including Yang, has a moment when they step outside their comfort zone to pursue something greater; something Yang uses a literal “step” to illustrate. Yang steps across the street from the classrooms to the gym to meet with Coach Lou; Coach Lou steps across the street to go from public school to Bishop O’Dowd as a teen; Sendra Berenson, the inventor of women’s basketball in in 1892 took a step into a gymnasium to teach the young women in her care a new sport she’d read about; player Jeevin Sandhu, a student and practicing Sikh, takes a step into a Catholic high school so he can play basketball. Gene Yang includes the evolution of basketball from its creation to the present, and the big role of Catholic schools in high school basketball; both things I knew nothing about and found really interesting. Back matter includes comprehensive notes and a bibliography. Catch a preview of Dragon Hoops, courtesy of EW magazine.
This eerie tale of twins, sideshows, and hauntings is perfect for tweens and teens who love their books on the creepier side. If you have readers who loved Neil Gaiman’s The Graveyard Book and Coraline, or loved Mary Downing Hahn’s books, this is the book to hand them.
At the turn of the 20th century, Isabel and Jane are conjoined twins, sold to a sideshow by their family, where they find a family among the “freaks” in the freak show. The two sisters are opposites, with Jane being the dominant personality. Where Iss would rather stay home, Jane wants to go out, and since she has more motor control over their shared body, Iss finds herself dragged along. Jane starts dating a surgeon who wants to separate them; despite Iss’s misgivings, Jane agrees: but doesn’t survive the surgery. Iss is left to face life on her own, but feels the phantom of her sister ever-present, like a phantom limb. Iss returns to the carnival, desperate for familiarity and to rebuild her life. Jane, still the dominant personality, tries to assert herself, and Iss finds herself rebelling against her sideshow family and her sister’s memory, as she tries to negotiate a life on her own and free of others’ expectations.
The Phantom Twin is fabulously creepy with an upbeat twist. It’s a feminist tale and a story of life on the fringes as much as it’s a story of grief, loss, and starting over. Back matter includes an author’s note on sideshows, carnival lingo, and more resources for further reading.
Hazelton High School has a problem: there are never feminine hygiene products available to their students. There never seems to be funds available to get these products in stock for students. But there always seems to be money to get new uniforms or equipment for the football team. What the heck? Sophomores Abby, Brit, Christine, and Sasha are 100% DONE with the leadership in their school blowing off their complaints and their needs, so they take matters into their own hands in this brilliant graphic novel by the creators of The Mean Magenta webcomic Lily Williams and Karen Schneemann.
Go With the Flow is crucial reading for everyone, because the problem of access to and affordability of feminine hygiene products is a growing crisis. Using a microcosm of high school, Go With the Flow illustrates the value placed on sports programs versus providing free and accessible pads and tampons to their students. As the girls come together to brainstorm solutions, they realize that this isn’t just a schoolwide problem, it’s a global problem. Using statistics, research, and infographics, Lily Williams and Karen Schneemann blend these facts and figures in with a storyline that will empower and rile up female-identifying readers – and hopefully male- and non-binary-identifying readers, too! There’s an LGBTQ+ positive subplot, fleshed-out, likable and relatable characters (I cringed in sympathetic recognition as the new girl bleeds through her pants on her first day at school). The two-color artwork will be familiar to Mean Magenta readers. Back matter includes comprehensive information about menstrual equality, including links to further reading.
Give this to your realistic graphic novel readers first and let them spread the word. Have menstrual equity resources available for anyone who wants them. Here are a few to start:
This fun mash-up of ’80s teen classic movies (Pretty in Pink, The Breakfast Club) and 1993’s Groundhog Day stars a high schooler who’s stuck in a time loop: her first day of school in a new town. Andie, daughter of a Gen X John Hughes fanatic, wakes up every morning with the Pretty in Pink DVD from the night before stuck in her DVD player. She goes through the first day of school again and again, trying to figure out how to break the loop; she tries everything from joining different cliques to trying on new personas, to no avail. But as she tries to get through each day and stave off the frustration and depression that tries to set in, she also sees past the social groups to the personalities of her classmates, and realizes that she can bring everyone together.
Pretty in Punxsutawney is a fun, light-hearted love letter to ’80s movies (the novel is loaded with great references), friendship, and finding your own space in your community. Andie gains depth as a character as the novel progresses; the other characters are there to support her, so we only get a taste of them. This one’s a fun beach read that Gen X parents can enjoy with their teens.
Recommended for ages 14+
High school senior Bree Hughes is trying to navigate her school year despite the drama all around her. Her parents have split, her best friend is dating a jerk, and her ex won’t stop trying to talk to her. But things start looking up: her crush, Sean Mills, just gave her his phone number, and she’s invited to the Prom Court after the school outcast, Maisey Mills, declines her nomination, made as a joke. Bree reaches out to Maisey, but it’s too late. Maisey commits suicide, leaving notes for a handful of people – including Bree – with an explosive explanation that also involves the current mean girl beauty queen.
Bree tries to juggle her guilt over Maisey’s death, the Prom Court drama, her parents’ divorce, and her growing relationship with Sean, but things fall apart during a drunken party where Bree finds out way too much about Sean and the beauty queen – she has to get her head together and she has to speak up; she’s got to tell Maisey’s story. Can she pull it all together and save her own relationship?
Liars and Losers Like Us is, on the surface, a YA/teen prom drama novel. That’s how you get drawn in. Once Ami Allen-Vath gets you, she hits you with the novel’s real story. It’s a story about survival, and it’s a story about being left behind. I liked that Bree isn’t a typical “in crowd” girl, nor is she the outcast: she’s a normal teen, navigating different social groups in high school. She’s friends with some, she’s not so tight with others. She’s moral, which can be a real test in high school. Her classmate’s death weighs on her, and she feels guilt not only for all the times she didn’t reach out to her, but for the knowledge that Maisey left with her when she chose to end her own life. She is the most interesting character in the book; we don’t really get enough of the other characters to form attachments to them.
Important information from the author, including resources to turn to regarding suicide, mental illness, and sexual abuse, make this a solid choice to have available in teen collections.
Recommended for ages 12+
Bob Jones is a beloved high school football coach who just won the election for Toronto mayor. He seems to be one of those guys that can do no wrong – but some people would say otherwise. He’s always got an excuse for his bad behavior. When he refuses to meet with the GLBT alliance or address crucial issues facing the city, he claims it’s because his priority is to coach the high school football team. And the kids on his team, particularly Maurice and Vijay, see that the coach not plays favorites and makes some uncomfortably racist remarks while trying to be the “cool old white guy”. He punishes his team by putting them through abusive practices and says it’s for their own good. But when word starts to leak out about the mayor’s public drunkenness, added to suspicious video and pictures surfacing that highlight a possible drug abuse problem, Maurice and Vijay know that they have to mobilize the team and take control back from the coach.
Crack Coach is another hi-lo reader from Lorimer. I’ve become a big fan of this line; the authors are knowledgeable about their subjects (Crack Coach author Steven Sandor is a soccer broadcaster and sportswriter for an online Canadian soccer magazine) and the topics are timely and interesting. They never talk down to their audiences, relying on smart, direct writing and captivating subject matter to draw their readers in.
Crack Coach is a dramatic title, I’ll be the first to agree, but it pulls you in, doesn’t it? I loved the book and enjoyed the characters. They’re teens that other teens can relate to, with real-life issues that affect kids’ lives today. If you think the coach’s story sounds familiar, you’re not wrong – the book was influenced by a true story. Talking to teens about the story behind the story will bring a current events aspect to lessons; bring in some newspaper clippings or access them online to teach teens about primary sources and how writers use them as a tool.
Crack Coach is another great Lorimer book, perfect for reluctant and struggling readers and tweens who are ready for some grittier novels. A good add to libraries and classrooms with a struggling reader population.
Recommended for ages 16+
I normally review books for children here at MomReadIt, but I felt like this was an important book to review here for parents, educators, and anyone else trying to wrap their heads around education these days. Education is a hot-button topic everywhere – it’s always been, because it concerns our kids, and our future, but it’s never hotter than it is during an election year, and that’s exactly where we’re heading.
We know the education system needs help. We know that underserved communities in our country are falling through the system’s cracks. The Battle for Room 314 tells the story of one man who tried to make a difference in both arenas. Ed Boland left a high-profile career at a non-profit to teach in a New York City public high school. He was ready to make a difference in the lives of young people, having seen the fantastic results of his non-profile organization, which sends exemplary children from low-income neighborhoods to the best schools, giving them an advantage in life they wouldn’t otherwise have. He’s ready to cut out the middleman and help these kids himself.
What a rude awakening. What Mr. Boland learns in his year of teaching is that politics enters the classroom at all levels. That the problems aren’t only in the classroom, they’re in the homes that these children come from. That teachers are burned out, overworked, and when they try to propose changes that will benefit the students and make things easier on themselves, they get stymied by their own union. He can’t make these kids turn on to learning, not when the issues they’re facing in their individual lives seem almost insurmountable. He met young girls who were prostituting themselves at middle grade age; children homeschooled on the subway by their homeless parents; kids who were running drug rings for their incarcerated family members. Their realities are so far away from anything Boland could comprehend – and myself, reading this book – that it seems like the ultimate Sisyphean task.
This isn’t going to be a fairy tale ending: the title alone is your heads-up to that. It’s not meant to be. It’s an indictment of so-called education reform and a plea for the powers that be to understand that changes need to be made at ALL levels, by multiple organizations. More standardized testing isn’t going to make these children succeed. Common Core isn’t going to help these kids.
I loved this book. Boland has a sense of humor and a sincerity in his belief that makes it hard to read this book at times. I hurt for him, and I hurt for the kids in the classroom just as much as I wanted to scream at them for Boland. I’m a public librarian in an area that serves a lot of underprivileged kids, and I only see a fragment of what Boland witnessed in his classroom every day. There are some days where I just knock my head against a wall and wonder if I’m ever going to get through to “my kids”. Some days, the answer is “maybe”. Some days, I even feel like it’s a “yes”. Boland’s book spurs me on, to keep doing what I’m doing, but I’m in a completely different area, doing a completely different job. I see where I can make change, and go for it. And that’s what Mr. Boland’s book reminded me to keep in mind.
Parents, read this book and understand what our educators are up against. Educators, read this book and know that you’re not alone. People get it, and more people will continue to get it. All we have to do is keep pushing for the right changes to be identified. And it has nothing to do with a new state test.