Posted in Graphic Novels, Middle Grade, Tween Reads

DC Original Graphic Novel Rundown

There’s a new batch of DC original graphic novels coming up, and trust and believe these will be on my shelves (and if my Kiddo has anything to say about it, my home shelves are included).

Shazam! Thundercrack, by Yehudi Mercado, (Feb. 2023, DC Comics), $9.99, ISBN: 9781779505026

Ages 8-12

Yehudi Mercado is the perfect author/illustrator to bring this fun Shazam tale to comic book life. Beginning with Billy Batson’s arrival at his new foster family home and bonding with his new foster brother, Freddy, the main plot kicks in pretty quickly: as Billy and Freddy tests the limits of Billy’s power when he’s Shazam, they realize that even when he’s in Billy’s form, he’s got some power moves – and that leads him to join the school football team. The only thing is, Billy isn’t much of a team player. He just doesn’t have that kind of trust in others, so when the chips are down for the team, why should Billy come through? Maybe because a rival school is using biotech experimentation that makes them very, very dangerous? Maybe because Billy’s foster dad drops some wisdom on Billy? Thundercrack is fun, easy reading that captures the light spirit of the 2019 movie (and the upcoming movie, Fury of the Gods). Mercado is at the top of his game when he’s writing everyday family comedy that balances with a pathos that understands each character’s backstory. Having the story take place within the DCU timeline has a nice link for readers who are versed in the cinematic universe; Freddy is a strong Number 1 to Billy and has his own spirited journey in the story, with vlog entries and commentary running through the story. Add this one to your middle grade graphic novel collections – kids aren’t getting nearly enough Shazam! in their comic book diets.

 

Bruce Wayne: Not Super, by Stuart Gibbs/Illustrated by Berat Pekmezci, (March 2023, DC Comics), $12.99, ISBN: 9781779507679

Ages 8-12

Another middle grade luminary takes the reins for this Bruce Wayne-Before-Batman story. Batman: Not Super is all about Bruce Wayne, who attends a super-special school. No, really, all the students have superpowers except for Bruce, who’s only there because his parents paid for the school to be built before they passed away. He’s rubbing shoulders with superhero elite here, but he’s not the most popular kid in school; he hangs out with an 11-year-old named Dick Grayson, whose gymnastic abilities got him into the school. He’s bullied by Clark Kent, who uses his x-ray vision to see through Bruce’s clothes and tell everyone what underwear he’s wearing that day. Things change when bully Jack Napier steals Dick’s ice cream money, though: Bruce has found his mission, and it’s to be a vigilante! Now, to just figure out how to get around his guardian, Alfred, who won’t let Bruce undertake any dangerous missions. Even when Dick overhears Jack telling Bane that they’re going to rob all the lockers while everyone is at the big game. Fast-paced dialogue and swiftly moving action come together with jokes and humor. Pekmezci’s artwork is a feast for superhero-loving eyes as the DC Middle School Universe unfolds in front of them: Harley Quinn and Poison Ivy are canoodling by the lockers; Penguin and Selina Kyle are here; Arthur Curry is more AquaKid than Aquaman, but he’s talking to the fish in the school fish tank, and Wonder Girl Donna Troy is Diana Prince’s younger sister. Sharp-eyed comics fans will catch some deep cuts, like Polka Dot Man, and comics fans of a *cough* certain age will appreciate the Bat Shark Repellent joke that finds its way into most Bat-humor. Bruce Wayne: Not Super is another home run for middle graders. Put this one on your shelves.

 

Teen Titans: Robin, by Kami Garcia/Illustrated by Gabriel Picolo, (March 2023, DC Comics), $16.99, ISBN: 9781779512246

Ages 13-17

The third in the Teen Titans series from Kami Garcia and Gabriel Picolo, Teen Titans: Robin is the fourth Teen Titans story that includes Raven, Beast Boy, and Beast Boy Loves Raven. Joined by Damian Wayne and Max Navarro, the group is on the run from Slade Wilson and H.I.V.E.; Dick Grayson leaves Gotham to find his younger brother, Damian. Damian resists getting to know his adopted brother, feeling like his father, Bruce, attempted to replace him, but Grayson just wants to get to know his brother and keep him and his friends safe. With equal emphasis on character growth, developing relationships, and action, this is a great addition to the series. Picolo does so much storytelling through his color changes and shading; he takes each color that readers and viewers familiar with the Titans will recognize and makes them part of the story, leaving Slade Wilson’s story gray and desolate. This one’s for the middle and high schoolers, but upper grade elementary schoolers may be interested, too.

I’ve been such a fan of these YA and middle grade books since they launched a few years ago. By bringing original graphic novels to kids and finding authors and illustrators that are standout names, they’re investing brand new generations of readers into comics and graphic novels.

Posted in Graphic Novels, Intermediate

Bad Kitty is SUPERCAT!

Bad Kitty: Supercat, by Nick Bruel, (Dec. 2022, Roaring Brook Press), $13.99, ISBN: 9781250749987

Ages 7-10

It’s always a good day when there’s a new Bad Kitty book! Supercat is the latest Bad Kitty graphic novel, where Bad Kitty is forced to endure a playdate in an attempt to be sociable. Strange Kitty brings along some superhero-loving, comic book-reading friends, and the group don their costumes to become Supercat and Fantasticat, and find themselves fighting the evil Doctor Lagomorph with the universe hanging in the balance! With sidekicks and laugh-out-loud pop culture references throughout, this may be my favorite Bad Kitty yet. Kids and grownups alike will recognize the familiar call to put the devices down and go play with friends. Hilarious and relatable moments include Bad Kitty’s playdate choices and the spot-on comic book story reenactments, as envisioned by the friends; every kid will remember a playdate gone sideways when the playdate gets rough and feelings are hurt; Bad Kitty and friends teach readers that things will happen, but it’s always important to apologize. Another adorable entry in a series that makes a seamless transition from chapter book to graphic novel.

Posted in Fantasy, Fiction, Middle Grade, Tween Reads

Middle School Twofer: Lightning Girl by Alesha Dixon

As I continue scaling Mount TBR, I’ve got a fun middle grade two-fer today: the first two books in the Lightning Girl series by British singer, dancer, and Britain’s Got Talent judge Alesha Dixon.

Lightning Girl, by Alesha Dixon & Katy Birchall/Illustrated by James Lancett (June 2020, Kane Miller), $6.99, ISBN: 9781684640782

Ages 8-12

Life isn’t always a breeze for 10-year-old Aurora Beam, a biracial British girl living in a UK suburb, but when she discovers that her hands light up, and that her mom is a secret superhero, things get even wilder! Aurora is descended from a long line of female superheroes, and her mom is delighted to start putting her through training exercises. But how can she keep this a secret from her best friend? And how can she navigate her parents’ separation, school life, and her morally ambiguous auntie while learning about her superpowers? Lightning Girl is absolute fun, using superpowers to communicate all the frustrations of being a tween: Aurora is coping with body changes, weird friendship dynamics, school drama, siblings, and parental ups and downs. The dialogue and action move quickly, and the characters are funny and relatable. Black and white illustrations throughout add to the fun. A great entry into a fun middle grade series.

 

Lightning Girl: Superhero Squad, by Alesha Dixon & Katy Birchall/Illustrated by James Lancett (Sept. 2020, Kane Miller), $6.99, ISBN: 9781684640799

Ages 8-12

Aurora, aka Lightning Girl, is back and so are her friends, The Bright Sparks! After the events of the first Lightning Girl adventure, Aurora is in high demand: she’s got appearances booked right and left, leaving her almost no time for herself – and the paparazzi is always there to capture her worst moments! Aurora and her family head off to a superhero convention, where she hopes to get away from it all for a little bit, but a crime is committed and all fingers seem to be pointing at her! Can Aurora and the Bright Sparks clear her name, and can she finally get away from the glare of the spotlight? Superhero Squad is Aurora’s second adventure, and takes on the havoc social media can wreak on a person’s reputation and psyche. You don’t need to be a superhero to be bullied on social media; Aurora trying to turn the tide of public opinion is a great discussion point for booktalking and book groups. Themes of friendship and family run strong in this story. Back matter includes stats on the newest members of the Bright Sparks. With a diverse cast and great storytelling, this is a great series to add to your shelves.

There are a total of five Lightning Girl books available.

Posted in Non-Fiction, picture books

Excelsior! Stan Lee has a picture book biography!

With Great Power: The Marvelous Stan Lee (An Unauthorized Biography), by Annie Hunter Eriksen/Illustrated by Lee Gatlin, (Oct. 2021, Page Street Kids), $18.99, ISBN: 9781645672852

Ages 4-8

Gone but never forgotten (or, if you’re like me, maybe you prefer to think he’s hanging out with The Watcher somewhere), Stan Lee changed the faces of comic books forever: from The Hulk and the Fantastic Four, to the X-Men and the Avengers, he collaborated with industry giants like Jack Kirby and Steve Ditko, to give us heroes that were super AND human. With Great Power is a wonderful tribute to our “generalissimo”, beginning with Stanley Lieber’s spare childhood in New York City, his job at Timely Comics, which, along with his love of books and fantasy led to him becoming an editor while still in his teens, and ultimately, his work creating superheroes that have since become household names: Spider-Man, Iron Man, Doctor Strange, Black Panther, and so many more. The book even mentions “Stan’s Soapbox”, a column in Marvel comics where Stan would take on issues of the day like racism, sexism, and enjoying comics, no matter your age. (You can also buy the collected Soapboxes!) The comic book artwork is loaded with heroes that even casual fans will recognize; toned in sepia as we look back to Stan’s earlier years, things come to life when his career takes off. There’s a diverse crowd thronging as he walks a red carpet, a host of Marvel superheroes following him, and he’s surrounded by a diverse group of superhero fans, dressed as their favorites, at the story’s close. Back matter includes some more Stan facts and a bibliography, and endpapers are a collection of comic book exclamations, which you’ll also discover as you read the story. A fitting tribute for a man who gave his life to comic books. Make sure to check out the free activity guide. Display and booktalk with Boys of Steel by Marc Tyler Nobleman; the book profiles the lives of Superman creators Joe Shuster and Jerry Siegel.

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

‘Tis the season for great graphic novel reading!

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

 

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

Ages 8-12

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

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

 

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

Ages 13+

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

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

 

 

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

Ages 9-13

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

Friends Forever is a first round Graphic Novels CYBILS nominee.

More to come!

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

It ain’t easy being a superhero’s kid: I Am Not Starfire

I Am Not Starfire, by Mariko Tamaki/Illustrated by Yoshi Yoshitani, (July 2021, DC Comics), $16.99, ISBN: 9781779501264

Ages 13-17
The latest original DC YA graphic novel, by YA rock star Mariko Tamaki, is all about the fraught relationship between (Teen) Titan’s Starfire and her teen daughter, Mandy. Mandy’s been raised by her mom – no word on her dad’s identity, although everyone around her sure has opinions they don’t mind sharing with her – and she is NOT like her mother at all. She isn’t sparkly. She isn’t a tall, alien superhero with superpowers. She’s a goth chick who dyes her hair black, wears combat boots, and looks at just about everyone her with total disdain, except for her best friend, Lincoln. When Mandy is paired with “in” girl Claire for a school project, the two hit it off – so well that Mandy, who’s just walked out of her SAT and decided to run away to France rather than go to college – may be interested in sticking around after all. But Starfire’s family unrest follows her from Tamaran to Earth, and Mandy finds herself facing a fight for her life – or her mother’s.
I Am Not Starfire is all about the up-and-down relationships between parents and kids. Are parents aliens to teens? Possibly. Are teens aliens to grownups? Heck yes (speaking for my two, exclusively). The relationship between Mandy and Starfire is recognizable, whether you have a parent that expects too much from you, or that you just can’t relate to for a moment in time, but that you still love and want to be loved by in return. It’s about family secrets, starting over, and discovering ourselves for who we are, sparkly powers notwithstanding, and it’s about relationships with our friends, nurturing a crush to see where it goes, and the (sometimes) explosive relationships we have with family. Yoshi Yoshitani’s artwork is amazing, and Mariko Tamaki is one of best writers in comics right now. Together, they create a great book for your teen graphic novel collections.
Posted in Fiction, Graphic Novels, Middle Grade

The Ocean Strikes Back in Super Sidekicks #2!

Super Sidekicks #2: Ocean’s Revenge, by Gavin Aung Than, (July 2021, RH Graphic), $12.99, ISBN: 9780593175125
Ages 8 to 12, Grades 3 to 7
The second book in the Super Sidekicks graphic novel series is all about the sidekicks standing on their own. The world’s leaders and the superhero grownups have been captured by The Mother of the Sea, who’s sick and tired of the damage us humans are wreaking on the planet, and it’s up to Junior Justice (JJ), Flygirl, Dinomite, Goo, and Ada, the most intelligent belt buckle in the universe, to save things and start the world on a better path. Mother of the Sea has put together a Trash Titan – a giant monster created out of all the trash from the Pacific Ocean – and wants to destroy all the land dwellers, so talking her down is going to take all of the skills the Sidekicks have at their disposal!
This is a perfect series for readers who are moving up from chapter books. It’s a fast-paced adventure story with fun superheroes who show the adults a thing or two about respecting kids and the planet. Illustrations are colorful, and the beginning of the story carries incredible weight: drifting trash in the Great Pacific Garbage Patch; seagulls feeding plastic bottle caps to their babies; a sea turtle swimming with a plastic soda ring around its neck. Watching the Trash Titan form from the tons of junk polluting the waters, you kind of want to root for the Mother of the Sea. Naturally, the adults are all clueless, but the kids know what’s up! Empowering kids to save the world one piece of junk at a time, Super Sidekicks: Ocean’s Revenge includes tips on reducing our trash footprint, and tips on how to draw Dinomite and Goo.
Posted in Fiction, Middle Grade, Middle School, Realistic Fiction, Tween Reads

Dan Unmasked: Everyone has a story

Dan Unmasked, by Chris Negron, (June 2021, HarperCollins), $7.99, ISBN: 9780062943071

Ages 8-12

Nate and Dan are best friends. They share a love of baseball and a love of comic books, especially Captain Nexus by comics legend George Sanderson. They’re always talking, always together, until an accident at baseball practice leaves Nate in a coma. Dan feels crushing guilt that he caused the accident and desperately comes up with an idea that HAS to work: convinced that Nate is trapped, like Captain Nexus in his latest storyline, he’s going to create a comic that will show Nate the way out. He joins forces with Nate’s brother, Ollie, and Courtney, a friend from school to plot out a storyline that has to work. Right?

Dan Unmasked is as much a story of grief, loss, and recovery as it is about friendship, comics, and baseball. Chris Negron weaves all the parts of a middle schooler’s life together in his story, including parental relationships and relationships with school friends and teammates. He gives a reclusive comic book artist real life as a fully realized character with as rich a backstory as the main characters. Baseball fans will love the game narration; comics fans will love the comic book references he liberally sprinkles throughout. John David Anderson fans will easily jump into this story; it’s got that wonderful mix of the extraordinary and the everyday. Get this on your Summer Reading shelves.

The hardcover release (July 2020) of Dan Unmasked was an Independent Booksellers’ Debut Pick of the Season.  Author Chris Negron has a Dan Unmasked Curriculum Guide available for download at his author website.

Posted in picture books, Preschool Reads

Blog Tour: Super Rooster Saves the Day!

Get your cape on, put on the Chicken Dance, and turn up the volume, because here comes SUPER ROOSTER!

Super Rooster Saves the Day, by Maureen Wright/Illustrated by Rob McClurkan,
(Oct. 2020, Two Lions), $17.99, ISBN: 978-1542007788
Ages 4-7

Ralph the Rooster wants to be a superhero. He borrows the farmer’s kerchief to use as a cape. He reads superhero books. He crows flies, makes himself invisible… within reason, of course. The other farm animals are a bit dubious as to Super Rooster’s status as a superhero, but his best friend, Rosie the Pig, is always in his corner! Life on the farm really isn’t terribly exciting, but one day, when the farmer leaves the radio on in the barn, Ralph hears a song that changes his life… the Chicken Dance. With a cheep-cheep-cheep, a flap-flap-flap, a wiggle-wiggle-wiggle, and a clap-clap-clap, he is off and running! The only problem? Where Ralph sees opportunities to be a superhero, the other animals see the ordinary: until the chance to save the day appears. Will Ralph rise to the occasion and save the day?

Super Rooster Saves the Day is such fun! The digital artwork is expressive and cartoony, with picture book and comic book-type panels throughout; there are sound effects and repetition, making this a super read-aloud choice and a great book to give to your superhero fans. The colors are bright and the text is bold and black, popping right off the page. The sound effects and Chicken Dance movements just beg listeners to jump up and dance along.

Absolute fun for a farm or a superhero readaloud – heck, add some of John Himmelman’s “To the Rescue” books (Chickens, Cows, Pigs, Ducks) and have the best of both worlds. And whatever you do, play The Chicken Dance LOUD.

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

More #BooksfromQuarantine, Graphic Novels edition

I’ve been tearing through my graphic novel stash now that I’m back at work two days a week. Here’s some from the new crop.

Supergirl: Being Super, by Mariko Tamaki/Illustrated by Joëlle Jones, (July 2020, DC Comics), $16.99, ISBN: 9781779503190

Ages 12+

The latest DC YA graphic novel is a collection of the 4-issue Supergirl storyline, Being Super (2018). Caldecott winner and YA graphic novelist powerhouse Mariko Tamaki and Eisner winner Joëlle Jones, whose work I’ve really loved on Lady Killer and Helheim, join forces here to tell the story of Kara Danvers, a teen who’s got BFFs, irritating parents that she totally loves, and a ginormous zit. She can also lift a car with one hand, and runs slower than she really can on her track team, but who cares? She loves her life in Midvale… until catastrophe strikes, and leaves Kara with more questions than answers about her past.

What I’ve been enjoying about DC’s YA graphic novels is the relatability. The super powers take a back seat to the relationships and the frustrations of adolescence; here, it’s Kara’s struggle to discover who she is, and the decisions she makes as she seeks that answer. Coping with grief is a secondary theme running through the story. Joëlle Jones’s  artwork is expressive, bold, and eye-catching. Being Super is a Newsweek Best Graphic Novel of the Year.

 

Child Star, by Brian “Box” Brown, (June 2020, First Second), $19.99, ISBN: 9781250154071

Ages 13+

This documentary-style graphic novel gives a look into the life and times of fictional child star, Owen Eugene. From his overbearing stage parents and his sitcom catchphrase to his post-fame struggle to steady his life, this is a story we can see – have seen – unfolding on reality TV. It’s all in here: interviews with co-stars, hangers-on, and former loves; the parents who felt they had a right to Owen’s money; the D-list reality TV shows that feel like the last stop on the road to obscurity. Readers familiar with some of the bigger child star stories will recognize them in Owen Eugene’s story. A sad look at the collateral damage of 1980s pop culture, Child Star is great reading, written by graphic novelist and biographer Brian “Box” Brown, award-winning writer and illustrator of Andre the Giant: Life and Legend, and Is This Guy for Real? The Unbelievable Andy Kaufman.

Child Star has a starred review from Publishers Weekly.

One Year at Ellsmere, by Faith Erin Hicks, (July 2020, First Second), $14.99, ISBN: 9781250219107

Ages 10+

Originally published in 2008 as The War at Ellsmere (thanks, ComicBeat!), Faith Erin Hicks’s boarding school story gets some updated art and some color. Juniper is a new student at the prestigious (read: snobbish) Ellsmere Academy, an exclusive boarding school where she – daughter of a single mother with thrift store clothes – is quickly labeled “the project” by the school’s Queen Bee, Emily. Juniper and her roommate, Cassie, quickly bond over being outcasts in a school full of Mean Girls; something that helps Juniper as she endures Emily’s brutal bullying. Running through this boarding school story is a touch of magical realism surrounding the forest next to the school. I loved the character development, the fantasy touch with the forest story, and how both elements come together to make yet another great story from Faith Erin Hicks.

Read Faith Erin Hicks’s webcomics at her author website.