Posted in picture books, Preschool Reads, Toddler Reads

Books about friends make back to school all better!

So how’s everyone doing? My kids went back to school as fully remote students today… it’s got to get better, right? RIGHT? I will say that one thing that’s been a saving grace during this has been the ability to get together with friends. We wear our masks, we sit out in the open, and our kids are able to run around together and get some much-needed friend time in.

My older son, a high school senior (WOW), has been active throughout the quarantine by gaming and videochatting with his friends; he’s just started meeting up with them in public parks and spaces, so that’s helped him, too.

Seeing my 3rd grader brighten up when he saw all his friends online (the remote learners all have the same class for now) was amazing. He saw a bunch of these kids yesterday, but seeing him light up at the thought of having ALL of his school friends in his class was wonderful: “Mom! There’s Harry! And Rahwi! And Miles!” He went down the line, calling out every one of his friends, and it helped him engage with the teacher and ease into a fairly stressful day (for me, anyway).

Having said that, I thought I’d talk up some books about friends that are just right for readalouds this time of year, when we’re making new friends and greeting existing friends. Enjoy some buddy time with your littlest friends and read a few of these.

Lost Beast, Found Friend, by Josh Trujillo/Illustrated by Nick Kennedy and Melanie Lapovich, (June 2020, Oni Press), $16.99, ISBN: 9781620107423

Ages 3-7

This rhyming story of friends helping one another is absolutely adorable. Keelee is a young girl living on an island, who discovers a big, purple beast one day! The poor beast is lost and scared, and Keelee comes to the rescue by calming and befriending the Beast, and journeys with her new, lost friend across the island to find Beast’s home. The rhyme is so comforting; it’s a joy to read and listen to, and kids will ask for this one again and again. The colors are just incredible: so vibrant and happy, with adorable characters and lush landscapes. I love spending time with this story and can’t wait to bring this to my preschoolers. It’s a sweet story of friendship that appeals to all ages.

 

 

Will You Be Friends With Me?, by Kathleen Long Bostrom/Illustrated by Jo de Ruiter, (July 2020, WorthyKids), $7.99, ISBN: 9781546033806

Ages 0-3

I love board books! Will You Be Friends With Me? is an adorable board book that’s all about celebrating the little things that make us individuals: “I like orange. / You like pink. / I use crayon. / You use ink.” Each phrase ends with the question, “Will you be friends with me?”; it’s an invitation to embrace these fun differences and celebrate the choices available to us. Featuring a soothing rhyme scheme and a gently illustrated group of diverse children, this is an adorable story for storytime and cuddle time. It’s a sweet way to introduce personal preferences and remind toddlers and preschoolers that we don’t always have to like the same things to be friends: in fact, liking different things just gives us that much more to talk about. Don’t miss the free, downloadable companion activity sheets, courtesy of publisher, Hachette.

 

The Same But Different Too, by Karl Newson/Illustrated by Kate Hindley, (March 2020, Nosy Crow), $16.99, ISBN: 9781536212013

Ages 2-6

Another book about celebrating what makes us unique, The Same But Different Too is a rhyming look at what makes us the same – but different, all at once. Diverse children and animals join together to celebrate what we have in common, and what makes us each a special individual: children play hide and seek with a zebra, against a striped wall: “I am playful. / You are too. / I can’t hide as well as you”;  a child and a tiger wait at a rainy bus stop, while another child dives underwater with jellyfish, a whale, and a squid: “I am wet. / You are too. I can splash and swim like you.” The pencil artwork and digitally colored illustrations are lively, cartoony, and fun. This one is a guaranteed win for storytime.

 

The Word for Friend, by Aidan Cassie, (June 2020, Farrar, Straus and Giroux BYR), $18.99, ISBN: 9780374310462

Ages 4-8

Kemala is a pangolin who’s moved, with her family, to a new country! She loves to talk and can’t wait to make new friends… but she realizes that their words are different from hers. She doesn’t understand the language here in her new country, and she curls into a little ball, feeling alone. But not to worry! A friendly anteater named Ana introduces herself to Kemala as she sits by herself at recess, cutting animal shapes from leaves. The two bond over a shared love of crafting, and before Kemala knows it, she’s laughing and learning how to communicate, with and without words. A timely story of kindness, empathy, and being the new kid, The Word for Friend is touching and heart-aching at points. Aidan Cassie makes us ache for Kemala when she realizes that “all her wonderful words were missing”; and we rejoice as Kemala and Ana discover how to communicate together with the puppets they create, giving Kemala the confidence she needs to come out of her little ball. An author’s note introduces readers to Esperanto, Kemala’s “new language”, and provides phrases used throughout the book. There’s a note about pangolins, too! (If you love them and want more pangolin stories, may I steer you to Tracey Hecht’s Nocturnals series?) The artwork has earth colors and softer, less cartoony versions of animals like foxes, otters, raccoons, and, naturally, a pangolin and an anteater. The endpapers are stunning, with black, intricate cutout artwork of animal puppets that become part of the story, set against a brown/beige background.

A gorgeous story of friendship and language that you shouldn’t miss. Keep this with books like Anne Sibley O’Brien’s Someone New and I’m New Here, and Chana Stiefel’s My Name is Wakawakaloch!

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

Graphic Novels, Life Stories

I’ve been really loving the graphic novels coming out this year. Lots of life stories have found their voices in the pages of graphic novels; it’s a trend I’m enjoying, because the artwork really helps bring a person’s story to full, visual life, with little nuances and nods to things not always easily described with just words. Shades of grey; pops of color; a flash of a poster in a teen’s room: these are all things that a graphic novel can illustrated and communicate much more easily and quickly, reaching visual readers who may otherwise not experience the full breadth of a story. Here are some great lives I’ve read about recently.

Frankie, by Rachel Dukes, (Oct. 2020, Oni Press), $17.99, ISBN: 9781549306884

Ages 12+

This is the sweetest book! Cartoonist Rachel Dukes is the Lucy Knisley of pet parenthood, as she chronicles life with her cat, Frankie. Rachel and their spouse, Mike, find the cutest black and white kitten outside their door, and Rachel is in love. Inspired by Rachel’s webcomic, Frankie is a series of vignettes in pet parenting, with comics taken from their webcomic and with some new material. Cat-lovers and pet-lovers will all recognize moments like Frankie choosing Rachel’s backpack over a snuggly new bed; the conversations we have with our furry friends; the nicknames we give them, and many, many, bedtime moments (what is it about sneezing in our faces as they settle in on our chests?). Frankie is adorable and full of personality that comes shining through the page. Rachel’s artwork is fun and expressive, silly and upbeat: it’s just what so many of us need to read these days! Each vignette has a name that pet parents will relate to, including moments like “Language Barriers”, “The Box”, “Night Song”, and “Cuddles”. Rachel includes a section on Quick Tips for Aspiring Cat Parents. Talk up to your readers who love Chi’s Sweet Home and Pusheen, and visit Rachel’s Frankie website for adorable downloadables! See more of their artwork on Rachel’s Instagram, and read more of their comics and buy some swag by clicking here, at MixTape Comics.

Little Josephine: A Memory in Pieces, by Valérie Villieu/Illustrated by Raphaël Sarfati, (Apr. 2020, Humanoids Inc.), $17.99, ISBN: 9781643375342

Ages 12+

Visiting nurse Valérie Villieu tells the story of Josephine, a patient that touched her heart, in this aching and quietly lovely story that examines the bonds between patient and nurse while it gives readers a look at the unsettling treatment of the elderly by overwhelmed social workers and home health aides. Josephine, an Alzheimer’s patient, lives alone in a Paris apartment when Valérie is assigned to her. While Josephine is at first resistant to Valérie’s help, the two eventually find common ground in humor. As Valérie strives to learn more about her charge, she discovers that Josephine is a playful, charming woman who enjoys conversation. Valérie expresses her frustration at an overloaded health care system, which leaves an elderly woman in the care of a conservator who just isn’t able to keep up with their caseload – a relatable, upsetting issue. Josephine’s lapses are creatively envisioned in fractured panels, where she’s swept away on her bed, or thrust into the middle of a chaotic panel. The colors are muted shades, giving the story a quiet dignity, even as we ache, seeing Josephine increasingly lost in her own world. A beautiful story of connection and a painful memoir of Alzheimer’s from a caregiver’s point of view, Little Josephine is gorgeous storytelling. Back matter includes an author’s note on Alzheimer’s Disease.

Gender Queer, by Maia Kobabe, (May 2019, Oni Press), $17.99, ISBN: 9781549304002

Ages 14+

Gender Queer is illustrator Maia Kobabe (pronouns: e/em/eir)’s autobiography. Assigned female at birth but never quite feeling that designation fit, Kobabe journals em’s journey through fandom, identity, and sexuality; finally coming to the discovery that nonbinary and asexual are the best descriptors. From a rustic childhood, through puberty, high school, college, and grad school, we walk with Maia through years of introspection and self-discovery. Written as a journal, readers will hopefully see themselves, or gain an understanding of others as Kobabe describes the trauma of body dysmorphia and gynecological exams; appreciate em’s supportive family, and come away with sensitivity and compassion. Have this available for readers who identify as nonbinary or asexual. There are some strong resources to keep available for asexual and nonbinary readers, including Queer Books for Teens, and booklists from YALSA, Book Riot, GoodReads, and Tor. Author Jeanne G’Fellers has an excellent author webpage, including The Enby Booklist, containing fiction, nonfiction, and poetry with a non-binary focus. There is a lesson plan available for Gender Queer through Diamond Bookshelf.

Gender Queer has a starred review from School Library Journal, is a 2020 ALA Alex Award Winner and a 2020 Stonewall — Israel Fishman Non-fiction Award Honor Book.

Invisible Differences: A Story of Asperger’s, Adulting, and Living a Life in Full Color, by Julie Dachez, (Oct. 2020, Oni Press), $19.99, ISBN: 9781620107669

Ages 12+

From her opening dedication: “This comic is dedicated to you. You, the deviants. People who are ‘too much like this’ or ‘not enough like that’, Julie Dachez creates a safe, welcoming space for readers delving into her graphic novel, revealing what life is like for a person living with Asperger’s Syndrome. Twenty-seven-year-old Marguerite loves staying home with her books, her little dog, her purring cats, and her soft pajamas. Within her silent apartment, they form her “cocoon”. She’s stressed by commuting to her job, but relies on routines to usher her through her day. Coworkers don’t seem to understand her. Her boyfriend is frustrated because she doesn’t want to go to parties and socialize as he does. As she searches for answers to her anxiety, she discovers that she is not alone: there is a community of people with Asperger’s Syndrome, a form of autism, and their experiences are there, online for Marguerite to read. No longer in the dark and alone, she begins a search for the right therapist, and the resources she needs to advocate for herself.

Julie Dachez’s black and white artwork skillfully uses reds and yellows to communicate Marguerite’s stressors and anxiety: loud conversations and everyday noise; panels are bathed in red to denote stressful moments in Marguerite’s day, when her defenses are running low, gradually fading back to black and white as she separates herself from social situations to recharge. Her red sneakers are the sole point of red that provide a reassuring, routine constant. Back matter includes a history of autism, information on Asperger’s Syndrome, and a list of resources for further reading (incuding children’s books!). A good book to have in your collection; consider also purchasing Camouflage: The Hidden Lives of Autistic Women, a nonfiction graphic novel by Dr. Sarah Bargeila and illustrated by Sophie Standing.

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

Graphic Novels for fantasy/D&D fans

Scullion: A Dishwasher’s Guide to Mistaken Identity, by Jarad Greene, (July 2020, Oni Press), $19.99, ISBN: 9781620107539

Ages 12+

In the fantasy world of Timberwood Village, The Great Warrior Riqa and her fiancé, Prince Chapp, are the It Couple. Riqa is a celebrated warrior and author, and Prince Chapp is a dashing hunk with muscles on his muscles. Palace scullions Darlis and Mae are paired together for the dishwashing portion of the wedding preparation festivities, but a comedy of errors leads to Darlis being mistaken for Riqa by a couple of enterprising trolls who are hoping to ransom the celeb for a big payday. Mae is captured when he tries to rescue Darlis, but the two rely on their knowledge of Riqa’s book, The Fair Maiden’s Guide to Eating Your Captor for Breakfast”, to save themselves. But the big question remains: Where’s the real Riqa, who’s gone off in search of Prince Chapp?

Scullion is a fun tale of mistaken identity with a lot of character and a healthy dose of realistic humor built into a fantasy world: celebrity gawking and public image stress are two main themes in the work. The artwork is in-your-face bright and moves easily between close-ups and long shots as each character handles journeys, fights, and… book signings?

Fantasy fans will eat this one up. It’s funny, it’s fantasy, it’s a graphic novel, it’s an easy choice for your collections.

 

Savage Beard of She Dwarf, by Kyle Latino, (June 2020, Oni Press), $19.99, ISBN: 978-1620107386

Ages 14+

Savage Beard of She Dwarf began as a webcomic that just finished a 4-year run. She Dwarf – that’s her name – is the descendant of Battle Mother, a celebrated warrior  who died in battle, leaving She Dwarf to believe that she may be the last living dwarf. She undertakes a quest to the Lost Underground Dwarven Kingdom of Dammerung to find answers, joined by a barbarian named Hack Battler, who seeks membership in his own Barbarian Warband.

Fantasy fans will love the feats of strength – sword fighting! Beard fights! – that run throughout the book, but the gore factor can be a little high, so I’d consider this for teens and up. (Give younger fantasy fans the Munchkin comics, though: those are great.) The action is fast, chaotic fun, and the bright and wild colors always give you somewhere to look. If you have fantasy readers, add this one.

Posted in Graphic Novels, Young Adult/New Adult

Essential Guides to Gender and Sexuality for Your Shelves

I’ve been working on my teen nonfiction and graphic novel collections lately. I’ve been reading a lot of graphic novels and thinking about what’s currently on my shelves (lots of superheroes, lots of Big Two titles) and what I need more of (more indies, which I’d started right before the shutdown; more nonfiction and classics getting the graphic treatment). I read the Quick and Easy Guide to They/Them Pronouns a couple of years ago, and was really happy with the no-nonsense, yet fun, explanation and the small, portable format. I did some wandering and found more Quick and Easy Guides from Limerance Press, the Oni Press imprint that includes sex education, and gender and sexuality studies comics. These are all good books to have available in your new adult/young adult graphic novel collections.

A Quick & Easy Guide to Queer & Trans Identities, by Mady G and JR Zuckerberg, (Apr. 2019, Limerance Press), $9.99, ISBN: 9781620105863

Ages 16+

Gender and sexuality explained by a series of adorable cartoon characters, including Iggy, a snail, who serves as a guide to other snails while his “dad”, Bowery, a queer educator, hangs out with students at a campfire, and forest creatures called The Sproutlings. Well-explained and illustrated sections on the big questions What is Queer?; What is Gender Identity?; What’s Gender Expression?; What Does Dysphoria Mean?; What is Asexuality?, and What Does It Mean to Come Out?, give detailed and easy-to-understand information. A Relationship Basics section encourages readers to be proud, safe, and engage in self-care, and there are empowering activities, including how to make a mini zine, at the end. There’s a list of further resources that would be good for you to add to your own references resources list, too.

A Quick & Easy Guide to Sex & Disability, by A. Andrews, (May 2020 2019, Limerance Press), $9.99, ISBN: 9781620106945

Ages 16+

Snarky, self-described “totally queer, totally complete, incomplete paraplegic cartoonist” A. Andrews is our guide to embracing and enjoying disabled bodies. Andrews points out the sobering facts: disabled people are less likely to receive adequate sex education and sexual healthcare, are more likely to experience sexual trauma and stigma surrounding sex and sexuality, and deal with countless microagressions and misconceptions. The book defines disability and debunks the biggest (and craziest) myths about disabled bodies, and offers the best ways to communicate about sex. The book includes writing prompts to get readers thinking and speaking; a Goofus and Gallant way of what to say – and NOT to say – to a disabled person; and quick, helpful tips for self-care and having the best sexual experience possible. Important for everyone to read, with realistic cartoon artwork that depicts a diverse range of bodies, A Quick & Easy Guide to Sex & Disability contributes a great deal to the self-care, self-love conversation.

A Quick & Easy Guide to Consent, by Isabella Rotman & Luke Howard, (Oct. 2020, Limerance Press), $7.99, ISBN: 9781620107942

Ages 16+

Finally, we have an upcoming guide to consent, which is a HUGE word to know. Sargent Yes Means Yes, decked out in a dress uniform, gets in between a young couple to explain consent: what it is, nonverbal cues people use when they may feel bad about not giving consent, and how to communicate – verbally and nonverbally – with your partner(s) to create the best experience for each of you, together. There are helpful phrases, input from sexual educators, and red flags to watch out for (read: GUILT AND EMOTIONAL MANIPULATION ARE NOT WAYS TO GET CONSENT). There’s an important section on the ability to give consent, and about the age of consent, which can provide some uncomfortable moments for teens and college students just under the age of consent and dating someone just over the age of consent. Be informed, be safe, be responsible, and have fun. There’s a checklist to share with your partner(s) to get an idea of what flips your switches, too.

The artwork in each of these books is consistent; created by different illustrators, it’s got a nice sense of continuity with realistic cartoon characters (only Queer and Trans Identities has non-humanoid characters) and I appreciate the conversational tone that communicates so much information in a comfortable, real talk way. I hope my high school and college kids will find what they need here.

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

#BooksfromQuarantine: Graphic Novels You May Have Missed

The graphic novel devouring continues as I raid my laptop hard drive and rediscover books I downloaded with the intention of getting to, but apparently needed a pandemic lockdown to provide the time. If you’ve missed out on these, revisit them. There’s good stuff here.

 

The Last Dragon, by Jane Yolen/Illustrated by Rebecca Guay (Sept. 2011, Dark Horse Comics), $12.99, ISBN: 9781595827982

Ages 12+

Kids who grew up with Jane Yolen’s picture books, like the How Do Dinosaurs…? series, will be thrilled to read her fantasy graphic novel, The Last Dragon, illustrated by Rebecca Guay (who also does gorgeous Star Wars art). Two hundred years after dragons were driven out of the islands of May, a lone dragon hatches and grows, and dreams of blood. As the dragon starts a reign of terror, a group of boys from the village seeks out a hero. Someone who can save them. Who they find is a man who looks the part, but his heroic acts like mostly in his gift for exaggeration. When he arrives on the scene and realizes what he’s up against, he realizes he’s bitten off far more than he can chew. He’ll join forces with Tansy, a healer’s daughter, and discover that the most unconventional of ways may be the only way to survival and victory.

Beautifully illustrated in a dreamlike, fairy-tale style, and written with a combination of dialogue balloons and narrative storytelling, The Last Dragon is a good choice for fairy tale fans who like their fairy tales a little grittier, a little darker.

 

Kaijumax Season 1: Terror and Respect, by Zander Cannnon, (Sept. 2016, Oni Press), $9.99, ISBN: 9781620102701

Ages 16+

This book has been going strong for a few years now; the collected trades for Season 4 published in late 2019, so I expect we’ll see a Book 5 sometime this year? Maybe? Anyway, the series is written by two-time Eisner Award winner Zander Cannon, and it centers of the lives of Kaiju – giant monsters, a la Godzilla and Friends – in lockdown on a prison island. Think Pacific Rim meets Oz. In Season One, Electrogor is a loving Kaiju single dad who goes out to get some radioactive waste for his kids to eat, gets nabbed, and sent off to Kaijumax, where he experiences all the prison horror: he gets shanked, meets corrupt guards, and has run-ins with gangs that run the prison.

I’ll be honest, I was expecting a lighter-hearted co@lionforgemic. The artwork is bright, the monsters and guards’ Ultraman-inspired uniforms are amazing to look at, and, come on: it’s monsters! On a prison island! I didn’t expect things to be so heavy, so if that’s not your jam, watch Pacific Rim one more time. It was entertaining for me, and I know older teens who will love this, but I just felt so bad for poor Eletrogor and his kids while I read this. So if you’re a mush like me, you’ve been given notice. Kaijumax was a Best New Series nominee in the 2016 Eisners. When I finally get back to my library, I’ll order the first four trades, because I am confident that these will move.

Witchy, by Ariel Slamet Ries, (Sept. 2019, Lion Forge), $14.99, ISBN: 9781549304811

Ages 11+

Witchy is a webcomic that just got its first print run last year. Perfect for middle school and up, it’s glorious fantasy storytelling that smashes gender stereotypes. Nyneve is a young witch living in the kingdom of Hyalin, where the length of your hair determines your magic power. Witches deemed too powerful are taken away and killed – it’s called a “witch burning”, and this is what happened to Nyneve’s father. Keeping her hair pinned up so no one can tell its true length, she withstands the laughs and bullying of her classmates, until conscription time rolls around and she makes the choice to run away rather than serve or risk being on the kingdom’s hit list. Nominated for the 2015 Ignatz Award for Outstanding Online Comic, Witchy is just great storytelling. It moves along at a good pace, letting readers enjoy the worldbuilding and meet the characters; there’s always something happening, so there’s no lag time. The colorwork is beautiful, and the magic arts really stand out in the book with sweeping magical gestures and bursts of color and movement. This one was a hit, and it was one of the last books I ordered, just on what I’ve read about it; I’m so glad this turned out to be everything I hoped it would be.

Witchy by Ariel Ries was nominated for the 2015 Ignatz Award for Outstanding Online Comic, and it still ongoing at Witchycomic.com. It’s also part of the Library of Congress’s Small Press Expo Comic and Comic Art Web Archive, and the Queer Comics Database has a great entry on Witchy. You can find a Witchy Discussion Guide here, courtesy of the publisher.

There’s more to come! Enjoy and keep reading!

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, Fiction, Graphic Novels, Intermediate, Middle Grade

Dewdrop is the cheerleader we all need right now

Dewdrop, by Katie O’Neill, (Apr. 2020, Oni Press), $16.99, ISBN: 9781620106891

Ages 3-7

One of the ruling monarchs of All That is Adorable, Katie O’Neill – whom you may know from her Tea Dragon series, Aquicorn Cove, or Princess Princess Ever After graphic novels – now gives us a cheerleading axolotl named Dewdrop, in an upbeat, sweet graphic novel.

Dewdrop and his underwater friends are practicing their skills to show off at the yearly sports fair. Mia is a weightlifting turtle, Newman the newt is a musician, and three minnows fancy themselves as chefs. Dewdrop? He’s a cheerleader! And as his friends practice for the fair, Dewdrop visits each one of them to cheer them on and get them past their fears, which is perfect practice for his own skills: cheering! Dewdrop is a sweet story with tips about mindfulness, positivity, and friendship, and it turns some antiquated gender tropes on their heads: Dewdrop is male. A pink, cheerleading, adorable male. Mia is a female turtle, rocking a little flower head decoration, and she’s a weightlifter. Having a male character radiate positivity – something we’ve often seen as the female characters’ responsibility – sends a refreshing, reassuring message to all children about how easy it is to be a good friend. Katie O’Neill is fantastic at upending outdated gender roles, and Dewdrop continues to deliver upbeat, inspiring messages through colorful and bright artwork with charming characters.

Katie O’Neill is an award-winning author and graphic novelist. Her author webpage has more of her illustrations, information about her graphic novels, and an online store.

Want to learn more about axolotls? Live Science has pictures and facts, as does National Geographic. Author Jess Keating has the cutest axolotl coloring page, and her book, Cute As An Axolotl, is all about “nature’s cutest weirdos”.

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 Fantasy, Fiction, Fiction, Graphic Novels, Intermediate, Middle Grade, Tween Reads

Katie O’Neill follows up The Tea Dragon Society with The Tea Dragon Festival

The Tea Dragon Festival, by Katie O’Neill, (Sept. 2019, Oni Press), $21.99, ISBN: 978-1-62010-655-6

Ages 8-12

The Tea Dragon Festival takes place in the universe introduced in the Eisner-winning The Tea Dragon Society (2017) and is a prequel of sorts, featuring two characters from the first book. Taking place in a mountain village called Silverleaf, Tea Dragons are small dragons that live with the villagers; the villagers care for them, even pamper them, and harvest tea leaves that the dragons grow on their bodies. Each dragon is named for the teas they produce: we’ve previously met Jasmine, Roobios, and Chamomile, and The Tea Dragon Festival debuts some additional dragons: Fennel, Marshmallow, and Mountain Chamomile.

A girl named Rinn goes into the woods to gather ingredients and discovers a real dragon, fast asleep. Upon waking, Aedhan – the dragon – explains that he was sent to protect Silverleaf, but dozed off. But he’s ready for the barley tea celebrations at the next Tea Dragon Festival! The only problem is… the barley tea celebration happened 80 years ago. To lift Aedhan’s spirits, Rinn brings him back to the village and introduces him to everyone, including her Uncle Erik and his companion, Hesekiel, who previous Tea Dragon readers will remember. The couple are younger here, and are still in their bounty hunting days; they deduce that the bounty they are hunting – a mysterious forest creature who can put people to sleep for decades. While Erik and Hesekiel seek out the bounty, Rinn includes Aedhan in festival preparations, and endears him to the village – and vice versa.

This is just a lovely, uplifting story. Katie O’Neill once again gives us a world where diverse characters live and work together in harmony; we have fluid gender identities and diverse characters, even diverse species, living among one another in peace. It’s a visually beautiful story, with verdant forest colors and lush landscapes. Aedhan is a shape-shifting dragon who looks stunning, majestic, in flight and shifts into a softer, humanoid form to interact with the Silverleaf inhabitants. Back matter includes a note about tea dragons and dragons, and an Alpine Tea Dragon Handbook, introducing three new tea dragons from the story. A wonderful fantasy that will make readers happy.

The Tea Dragon Society webpage has a cast of characters, an almanac of tea dragons, and the tea dragon webcomic! Add to your friendly list of links for kids!

Katie O’Neill is an Eisner and Harvey Award-winning graphic novelist. Visit her webpage for more about her books and illustration.

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

Three graphic novels you should NOT miss!

It’s been a busy few months! I realized that some really good graphic novels passed their book birthdays, but that’s no reason not to shout about them! I’ve got a little something for most here – see what’s good!

Aquicorn Cove, by Katie O’Neill, (Oct. 2018, Oni Press), $12.99, ISBN: 9781620105290

Ages 8-12

The third outing from Princess Princess Ever After and Tea Dragon Society author/illustrator Katie O’Neill is another hit! A girl named Lana and her widowed father return to their seaside hometown to help her Aunt Lana – her mother’s sister – clean up after a storm devastated the community and discovers more about her mother, her aunt, and the magical underwater creatures whose fate is tied directly to the surface. A tender, thoughtful story about humanity and our relationship to our world, Aquicorn Cove explores at grief and loss, sustainability, and community. This timely – and yet, timeless – story has soft, warm artwork with lush scenery and gentle faces; diversity above and below the water, and a sweet, hinted-at relationship between Aunt Lana and the queen of the aquicorns. Put this one on your shelves if you don’t have it already. Also makes a great holiday gift.

Katie O’Neill is a two-time Eisner Award winner and a Harvey Award winner.

 

Beautiful Darkness, by Fabien Vehlmann & Kerascoët, (Oct. 2018, Drawn & Quarterly), $17.95, ISBN: 9781770463363

Ages 13+

Do not let a first glance at this cover deceive you: this is NOT a kids’ title. Take a closer look at that cover. That’s no leaf the little blonde pixie is standing next to: it’s a human hand. The story itself is grisly: what would happen if a little girl died in a forest, and a small, vicious, fairy society sprang up around her? Originally released in French in 2014, this is a dark fantasy; an anti-fairy tale that will grab the eyeballs of your horror readers. The sweet artwork is in direct conflict with the grisly, often bleak storyline; small moments within each panel pop up to remind us that we are not in an adorable, cotton candy fairy world: the fairies ransack an opened purse, and we see a little boot lying nearby; a character sits, hungry, in an outstretched hand, surrounded by worms, as she waits for food. The watercolor artwork is stunning, which makes the story of backstabbing, betrayal, and murder all the more nightmarish. This one is a headtrip, but worth the ride for horror and dark fantasy readers. Clearly mark this one so it stays in your teen or adult graphic novel areas. Beautiful Darkness has a starred review from Publishers Weekly.

 

Lumberjanes: The Infernal Compass, by Lilah Sturges/Illustrated by polterink, (Oct. 2018, Boom! Studios), $14.99, ISBN: 978-1684152520

Ages 9+

One of my favorite comic book titles – seriously, Lumberjanes always brings the goods – has a brand new original graphic novel! Lumberjanes, for those not in the know, is basically the X-Files meets summer camp as a group of girls in the Roanoke House at Miss Qiunzella Thiskwin Penniquiqul Thistle Crumpet’s Camp for Hardcore Lady Types: Friendship to the Max! In this installment, the Janes are off on an orienteering outing (finding your way with a map and compass), but one of the compasses is a little… off. When the friends start disappearing one by one, Molly knows something is up – and when she meets a strange female explorer who claims that she has no need of friends, she knows something is up! The Eisner- and GLAAD Award-winning series explores sensitive topics about relationships, gender, and sexuality in an upbeat, fun environment; this latest adventure is no different. The awkwardness of going from being “one” to “partnered” is a main plot point here as Molly’s and Mal’s relationship develops; April even bestows a “ship name” on the duo, which really makes it weird for poor Molly. Throw in a lost in time explorer, a mysterious compass, and some automaton butlers, and you’ve got a true Lumberjanes adventure. Usually a full-color comic, Infernal Compass is in black and white, with green accents to highlight the supernatural bits. The comic’s first issue is a bonus, included at the end, to orient new readers. Stock up on your Lumberjanes trades if you don’t already have them: this is a middle grade-and-up series (and there are middle grade books, too!) you want to have available to your readers.