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.
And now, the catch-up posts begin! First up: The Okay Witch and the Hungry Shadow
Get ready for graphic novels! I’m working on my massive catch-up, so there will be several round-ups posts as I get all my cats herded and book notes together.
Personal note: Library’s open! We opened today and had a nice, fairly small (for us) group in and out today. It was a relaxing, wonderful way to start reconnecting with our families. I can’t wait to see what tomorrow brings!
Personal note 2: Did we finish weeding and adding the new books yet? To quote Pete the Cat, Goodness No! But we’re rocking and rolling, and I’ve weeded my way through the adult collection 300s; onward and upward. And now… let’s get graphic!
The Okay Witch and the Hungry Shadow, by Emma Steinkellner, (July 2021, Aladdin), $12.99, ISBN: 9781534431485
The follow-up to 2019’s The Okay Witch takes on some big issues, and it’s so good. We get a quick recap from Lazlo the Cat (if you don’t remember him, or haven’t read the first book yet, don’t worry: he’ll catch you up nicely). Moth and her mom are still hanging in there, and the racist and creepy jerks at her school are still… racist and creepy. Moth is stressed out, frustrated, and no one can quite understand; even her best friend, Charlie, isn’t able to. The minute Moth pushes back against her tormentors, she’s the one taking the heat and she’s the one who “can’t take a joke”. Issues of race and equity take center stage here in a way that kids can identify with and understand; others will hopefully gain more of an understanding. Adults could do with reading this book, too; there’s a moment when Moth chafes at having to attend a school founded by someone who tried to wipe out witches that really eloquently frames what I like to call “the great statue debate”.
I digress. Moth manages to get hold of a charm that contains a power to make Moth into the popular, funny, confident girl she wants to be – but we all know what happens when you get what you wish for, don’t we? Great story, great artwork, characters you’ll love (and love to rage about), and an altogether great graphic novel for middle graders who love fantasy as much as they love realistic fiction.
Blog Tour: The Okay Witch by Emma Steinkellner
I’m excited to be a stop on The Okay Witch blog tour! I picked up a copy of this graphic novel at BookExpo this year, and loved it. Now, without further ado…
Magic is harder than it looks.
Thirteen-year-old Moth Hush loves all things witchy. But she’s about to discover that witches aren’t just the stuff of movies, books, and spooky stories. When some eighth-grade bullies try to ruin her Halloween, something really strange happens. It turns out that Founder’s Bluff, Massachusetts, has a centuries-old history of witch drama. And, surprise: Moth’s family is at the center of it all!
When Moth’s new powers show up, things get totally out-of-control. She meets a talking cat, falls into an enchanted diary, and unlocks a hidden witch world. With that revelation, Moth’s adventure truly begins – an adventure that spans centuries, generations, and even worlds – as she unravels the legacy at the heart of her life. (from the publisher)
Where to start gushing about The Okay Witch?
The story stars a heroine of color, and the main storyline addresses it from the beginning: Founder’s Bluff’s leader wanted, as Moth’s mother, Calendula states, “a town of sober, obedient, lily-white Pilgrims”. Women – especially women of color – who had any kind of independent spirit? Women of color? That didn’t fit into Judge Kramer’s mold, and it didn’t fit into colonial America’s mold, so they were hunted until Moth’s grandmother and her coven tore the fabric between worlds to create a safe space of their own: Hecate. Moth is a child of color in a mostly white town, where she’s bullied by young white men, one of whom happen to be a descendant of one of the founding families, who even asks Moth where “she’s FROM from”. Moth is a teen coming into her own power and struggling with the decision to embrace it or suppress it to “be normal” as her mother, who eschews magic and witchcraft, begs her to. When Sarah, Moth’s grandmother, shows up to see her granddaughter, there’s a power struggle on either side of Moth that represents her internal struggle.
We also get a sassy talking cat, Moth and Calendula’s friend reincarnated; who also happens to have the sweetest backstory (and gives the story an LGBTQ nudge, further establishing Moth and her family as awesome socially aware folks). Using witchcraft and witch hunts to address prejudice and racism, The Okay Witch makes history and current events equally relevant – and sadly, we see that not much has changed.
The Okay Witch is a fantastic coming-of-age story with characters you’ll love and return to long after you’ve finished the book. Give this to your Roller Girl readers, your BabyMouse readers that are ready to take on more challenging material, and your Raina Telgemeier readers.
The Okay Witch, by Emma Steinkellner, (Sept. 2019, Aladdin)
$12.99, ISBN: 978-1-5344-3146-1
Emma Steinkellner is an illustrator, writer, and cartoonist living in Los Angeles, California. She is a graduate of Stanford University and the illustrator of the Eisner-nominated comic Quince. The Okay Witch is her debut graphic novel as an author. You can visit her webpage to see more of her illustration work.
Toil and Trouble… Tales of witchcraft for YA and beyond
Toil and Trouble, edited by Tess Sharpe and Jessica Spotswood, (Aug. 2018, Harlequin TEEN), $18.99, ISBN: 9781335016270
Did you love Radical Element, with its historical fiction tales of young women breaking conventions and being amazing? Then you’ll love Toil & Trouble, an anthology loaded with tales of women and witchcraft. And not the Hocus Pocus, “I Put a Spell on You” type of witchcraft, either: these witches are in touch with nature and themselves; they’re multicultural, they’re queer, they’re angry, and they’re very, very human. Wild Beauty‘s Anna-Marie McLemore weaves a story about faith in “Love Spells”; Brooklyn Brujahs author Zoraida Cordova writes about the wisdom of age and the passing of generations in “Divine Are the Stars”. Robin Talley’s “The Legend of Stone Mary” goes the historic route, with the legend of a dead witch haunting a local community. Elizabeth May’s “Why They Watch Us Burn” is a chilling companion story to readers of The Handmaid’s Tale, simmering with rage and rebellion. The women in these stories are never victims, even while others may try to victimize them: they own their power, no matter what the circumstances may hold.
Jessica Spotswood and Tess Sharpe have curated a strong collection of short stories written by strong authors here. There’s something for everyone in this volume, with strong, solitary characters who defend their homes to women who form a collective to survive. There are non-binary, LGBT, and cis characters, and there are characters from world cultures throughout. Characters confront big issues including sexual assault and emotional abuse. As Kirkus writes in its starred review, “No damsels in distress to be found here”. Toil and Trouble has starred reviews from Kirkus and Booklist.
Find more books about witches in this great BookRiot feature.
(Note: I watch Hocus Pocus every Halloween; nothing but love for my Sanderson Sisters!)
Add Labyrinth Lost to your TBR NOW.
Labyrinth Lost (Brooklyn Brujas #1), by Zoraida Cordova, (Sept. 2016, Sourcebooks Fire), $17.99, ISBN: 9781492620945
Recommended for ages 13+
Alex lives in Brooklyn with her mom and her sisters. Her dad disappeared a few years ago, and she’s taking it hard, feeling responsible. She’s about to turn 16, so the family is planning her big party. Her Death Day party. Alex and her sisters are Brujas – witches – and they’re the very real thing. But Alex doesn’t want this power. In fact, she suppresses it as much as she can – but keeps that from her family – because she’s afraid of what would happen if she were to let it go. Again.
At her Death Day party, Alex thinks she’s going to cast a spell that would leave her powerless, but something goes haywire, and her entire family vanishes right before her eyes. Now, she’s forced to get help from a Brujo named Nova; they have to travel to the in-between world of Los Lagos to bring her family back, but can Alex even trust Nova? He’s got a lot of secrets and seems to be working from his own playbook.
I loved, loved, LOVED Labyrinth Lost: it’s easily one of the best books I’ve read this year. The story is narrated in Alex’s voice, and she is hilarious. She’s full of snark – “resting witchface” is now a term I need to put into regular rotation – and she wields it like a weapon, guarding herself from the fears that plague her. Unchecked, her power makes her the most powerful witch in her family, and it frightens her, because she’s seen that power loosed once. Zoraida Cordova has a gift for breathing life into her characters; every single character in Labyrinth Lost is amazing. I love the interactions between Alex and her sisters and between Alex and her mother; the Lady and Nova; the characters she meets as she travels through Los Lagos, everyone. Cordova gives us wild fantasy with a realistic tale of a young woman struggling with adolescence. Her adolescence comes with dead relatives, portals to limbo, and witchcraft, but still, adolescence. Steeped in Latin American knowledge and tradition and filled with rich characters, Labyrinth Lost draws you into a world you won’t want to leave. Thankfully, it’s the first in a new series, so hopefully we’ll be visiting with the Brujas again sooner rather than later.
If you haven’t already added this to your YA collections, WHY? If you haven’t picked this up and read it yourself, stop reading this review immediately and go get a copy.
Zoraida Cordova has a great webpage where you can sign up for her newsletter, read interviews and learn more about her books, and follow her on social media.
Took – You’ll never look at your dolls the same way again
Took, by Mary Downing Hahn (Sept. 2015, Clarion Books), $16.99, ISBN: 9780544551534
Recommended for ages 10-14
Local legend says that Old Auntie takes a new girl every 50 years to slave for the old witch. Once she’s worn out, she lets her go and takes another. And the girl let go never lives for long after.
Daniel and his sister Erica are new to West Virginia when they hear this story. It sounds ridiculous, right? And Daniel has more on his mind than worrying about some crazy old fairy tale. His family has relocated from Connecticut to this ramshackle house with a history in West Virginia after his father’s layoff. The kids at school are awful, and Erica withdraws further into herself and her doll, Little Erica. But when Erica disappears one night, word is that she’s been “took” – especially when a girl who looks like the one who disappeared 50 years before shows up wearing Erica’s clothes. His family is falling apart, and Daniel knows it’s up to him to get his sister back and make things right.
This book wraps itself around you like a fall chill. You can feel it creeping through you, but you can’t quite get it out of your bones until you finish it. Ms. Hahn creates a tale that had me searching the Web to find out if this was an actual local legend, it’s so fleshed out and believable. She gives us solid characters with issues we can certainly understand, possibly even empathize with – unemployment, underemployment, being bullied for being the new kid at school, and watching the cracks in one family threaten to tear it apart. It’s a very human story set within a paranormal thriller, and it’s a great read for kids who have aged out of Goosebumps and are ready for a little something more.
Mary Downing Hahn is an award-winning children’s book author and former children’s librarian (whoo hoo!). You can check out her author page and see a complete list of her books and read an FAQ with Ms. Hahn.
The Lunch Witch will have you looking at your lunch ladies in a whole new light.
The Lunch Witch, by Deb Lucke (PaperCutz, 2014) $14.99 ISBN: 978-1-62991-162-5
Recommended for ages 8-13
Remember those lunch ladies when you were in elementary school? Remember how so many of them would slop that unidentifiable morass of…something onto your plate, almost gleeful at your confused or terrified expression. Meet Grunhilda, everyone. With fewer and fewer people believing in magic, she’s out of a job and down on her luck. So what’s a poor witch, with generations of experience stirring up cauldrons of trouble (and possibly, children) to do? You guessed it: she puts on a hairnet and an apron, and goes to work as a lunch lady in a school cafeteria. You’re seeing things from your childhood a lot more clearly now, aren’t you?
Being a cafeteria lady is awesome. Grunhilda cooks up awful pots full of foulness that turn kids’ stomachs upside down, and almost no one seems the wiser. Except for Madison, a quirky kid that kind of sees Grunhilda for who she really is, and attempts to blackmail Grunhilda into helping her. When things go awry for Madison, will Grunhilda actually help a kid? And if she does, how will the witch community feel about that?
The Lunch Witch is one of those graphic novels that works great for readers of all ages. It would go so well with a unit on fairy tales, as a kind of epilogue – what happens to the wicked witch when everyone else lives happily ever after? Fairy tales, and re-tellings of fairy tales, are experiencing a renaissance in media and in the classroom these days, so teachers and parents, jump on this!
I loved the look of this book. The book itself looks like an old tale, with stained-looking pages and black, white, and grey/olive artwork. The occasional use of color is impactful, whether it’s to draw attention to a frog or show the jarring blue of a cafeteria door.
There is some delightfully morbid humor, too. After all, witches aren’t known for being sunshine and flowers, unless you’re talking about Glinda the Good Witch. Any original Grimm’s fairy tale will tell you that these ladies were formidable in their own right. Ms. Lucke uses these awful characteristics to make Gruhhilda’s plight even more desperate in this day and age. You really can’t get away with grave robbery, and how many kids are getting left in the forest to happen upon a candy house these days?
I’d love to see some more Lunch Witch adventures! In the meantime, give this book to your younger readers, and get ready for some laughs when they start looking at the lunch lady differently.
The Lunch Witch is on sale in stores now.
The Demon Notebook: The Craft, for middle-graders
The Demon Notebook, by Erika McGann (Sourcebooks Jabberwocky, 2014). $6.99, ISBN: 9781402295386
Recommended for ages 10-14
Grace and her friends, Una, Jenny, Rachel, and Adie want to be witches – well, they want some wishes to come true, and figured magic would be the best way to make it happen. Their spells have failed, but when they use a Ouija board, something happens – the notebook where they wrote their spells has a strange message, all of their spells are coming true – and it’s not always great to get what you think you want – and Una is acting… strange. Worst of all, one of the spells is something awful, made while one of the girls was angry – the girls have to stop the magic before that last spell runs its course, AND figure out what’s wrong with Una and how to fix her. They’re going to need some help to face this.
This was a fun book with some genuinely creepy moments. It reminded me of a middle school version of the ’90s movie, The Craft – will any middle graders even know that movie if I mention it to them? I really enjoyed Mrs. Quinlan and Ms. Lemon, the two adult characters the author introduces into the story; it was gratifying to a) see the girls realize that they needed help and actually ask for it, and b) have two adults that weren’t completely incompetent or dismissive of the girls.
This book has a June 1 pub date, making it a perfect summer reading choice for tweens. Obviously, there’s magic and talk of demons, so for those audiences and parents that are sensitive to that subject matter, this isn’t your book. For anyone else who wants a good read about friendship and sticking together through thick and thin, with some good, old-fashioned creepiness, check this one out.
Book Review: The Inquisitor’s Apprentice by Chris Moriarty (Harcourt, 2011)
The Inquisitor’s Apprentice is the first book in a a science fiction/fantasy adventure series, taking place in an alternate New York City around the turn of the 20th century. Magic exists in this world, and each immigrant group has their own magic that they bring to the New World with them. Inquisitors, a branch of the New York Police Department, patrol to make sure magic is not being abused.
Thirteen year-old Sacha Kessler, who lives in the Lower East Side with his family, has the gift of seeing magic; for this, he is recruited into the NYPD, as an apprentice to Inquisitor Wolf; his fellow apprentice, Lily Astral, is from a wealthy New York family and is an entitled snob who rubs Sacha the wrong way almost immediately.
Inquisitor Wolf, Sacha and Lily are put on a case involving death threats to Thomas Edison, who is creating a witch-detectiing machine – every magician in New York City has a reason to want him dead, but as they delve deeper into the case, things become more complicated for Sacha, who sees the case leading back to his neighborhood – and possibly, his own family.
The book is compulsively readable, with well-drawn characters and an interesting alternate New York setting. Moriarty offers a new way of glimpsing life into the Jewish immigrant experience in turn of the century New York; this book would be good companion reading to a unit on immigration in America as it allows for many areas of discussion wrapped within a solidly enjoyable fantasy setting. Some may struggle with the many Yiddish terms, but context should answer most questions. A paperback edition may consider a guide to terms for some readers. Black and white illustrations by Mark Edward Geyer add to the moody feeling that permeates much of the novel.
Chris Moriarty has an Inquisitor’s Apprentice website set up that provides information on the series and on the actual New York City of the time, with photos and information about key individuals that appear in the series, like Harry Houdini and Thomas Edison. There is author event and contact information as well. He blogs at SFness.com about his own books, other author’s books, and offers writing advice. His website features his writing about science fiction and cyberpunk, along with other science fiction subgenres.