Stepping Stones by Lucy Knisley (Peapod Farm book 1)

Published by Random House

Stepping Stones (Peapod Farm): Knisley, Lucy: 9781984896858 ...

Stepping Stones (Peapod Farm): Knisley, Lucy: 9781984896841 ...

Summary:  Jen’s having a difficult adjustment from city life to country life, compounded by her parents’ divorce and her mom’s new boyfriend Walter.  When Walter’s two daughters start spending weekends on the farm, Jen has more changes to deal with.  Andy is bossy and seems to be better at everything than Jen (or at least to think she is), and Reese is a bit of a whiner, prone to tantrums when things don’t go her way.  Jen’s mom has always wanted to live on a farm, but Jen’s not so sure about it as she helps out at the farmer’s market, takes care of the new chickens, and performs other chores, sometimes with the help of Andy and Reese.  Things aren’t perfect by the end of the story, but the three kids and their parents are beginning to be something resembling a family.  Includes an author’s note about her childhood, which inspired Jen’s stories 224 pages; grades 3-7.

Pros:  Another fun graphic memoir for fans of Raina Telgemeier, Shannon Hale, and Jennifer Holm.  Kids will relate to Jen’s family issues, and there’s a relatively happy ending that seems to pave the way for a sequel.

Cons:  Walter seems at best insensitive and at worst, verbally abusive.  I hope he gets a chance to redeem himself in book 2, but in the author’s note, Lucy Knisley refers to the real-life Walter as “loud, bossy, and annoying” and “annoying and beloved until his dying day”, so I don’t have a lot of hope.

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When Stars Are Scattered by Victoria Jamieson and Omar Mohamed

Published by Dial Books

When Stars Are Scattered: Jamieson, Victoria, Mohamed, Omar ...

When Stars Are Scattered on Apple Books

Summary:  Omar and his younger brother Hassan have spent a good portion of their lives in a refugee camp in Kenya.  Originally from Somalia, they have been refugees since their father was killed and their mother disappeared during the civil war there.  An older woman named Fatuma lives in a nearby tent and acts as a foster mother to the boys.  Every day in camp is pretty much the same.  Omar wishes he could go to school, but feels that he must stay at home with Hassan, who is nonverbal and has seizures.  The book covers many of the years the boys are in the camp, starting when they are young, and continuing as Omar finally decides to go to school, where he is able to stay until he graduates high school; and their excruciating wait for resettlement, which finally ends when they get permission to move to the United States in 2009.  An afterword tells what happened to the two after they moved to the U.S.; there are also authors’ notes by both authors telling how they came to create this book.  264 pages; grades 4-8.

Pros:  This may be my favorite book of the year so far.  I love Victoria Jamieson’s work, and her artwork is as engaging as it was in Roller Girl and All’s Faire in Middle School.  The story is compelling, and readers will experience the boredom of the refugee camp, as well as the seesawing between hope and despair.  Victoria Jamieson has so many fans, and having her name on this book will make this important story accessible to kids who might not otherwise read it.  I’d love to see it considered for the Newbery or other awards.

Cons:  The story is very different from the lighthearted middle-grade fare of Jamieson’s other works.  While there’s nothing in here that’s inappropriate for fourth and fifth graders, kids who pick it up expecting more of the same may need a little guidance.

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Trespassers by Breena Bard

Published by Scholastic Graphix

Trespassers by Breena Bard

Summary:  Gabby and her family have always spent their summer vacation at the family’s lakeside cabin.  But this year is different.  At the beginning of the week, her father announces that he’s being transferred, but doesn’t know where yet.  And there’s a new family staying next door with two obnoxious kids the same age as Gabby and her younger brother.  The parents insist that the kids hang out together, and they find themselves breaking into a mysterious mansion that’s been abandoned for years.  The house fires up Gabby’s imagination, and she begins writing a mystery about it.  When new girl Paige finds out, they start collaborating, using clues they’ve found in the house.  Things get a little too real as they begin to find evidence of foul play, possibly involving their kind old neighbor.  By the time the week ends, bookworm Gabby has realized that there’s plenty of adventure to be found in real life, and when the family finds out where they’re moving, she’s ready for a new chapter to unfold.  256 pages; grades 3-7.

Pros:  Scholastic Graphix hasn’t disappointed me yet, and this fun summer graphic novel is sure to find many, many fans among the Telgemeier-Holm-Jamieson crowd.  The mystery is fun, and family and friendship issues feel real, yet wrap up reassuringly.

Cons:  I’d love to see another story about Gabby and/or Paige, but as near as I can tell there are no plans for a series.

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Fox & Rabbit Make Believe (Fox and Rabbit, book 2) by Beth Ferry, illustrated by Gergely Dudás

Published by Amulet Books (Released September 15)

Amazon.com: Fox & Rabbit Make Believe (Fox & Rabbit Book #2 ...

COVER REVEAL and Interview: Fox & Rabbit by Beth Ferry | Mile High ...Summary:  Fox and Rabbit enjoy each other’s company and make some new friends in this five-story graphic novel.  They take a trip to the ice cream store, enter a bubble-blowing contest (with disastrous results for Fox’s fur), make an imaginative new friend, get lost in a corn maze, and carve jack-o-lanterns with all their friends.  One story leads into the next, giving the whole book some continuity.  Their friends, a sparrow who loves to eat and a turtle who usually misses out on most of the action, make cameo appearances in each story.  Book 1 was released last week (April 21) and the graphic above showing a sample page is from book 1.  96 pages; grades 1-4.

Pros:  These gently humorous stories will undoubtedly be a big hit with young graphic novel fans.  The full-color illustrations and animal characters are appealing, and kids will connect to the everyday events and friendships in the stories.

Cons:  Due to the strange state of the world, I was only able to get an advanced reader copy of book 2, so I’m not able to review book 1, which would generally make a lot more sense.

Fox & Rabbit: Ferry, Beth, Dudás, Gergely: 9781419740770: Amazon ...

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Goldie Vance: The Hotel Whodunit by Lilliam Rivera, illustrated by Elle Powell

Published by Little, Brown Books for Young Readers

Thanks to Little, Brown for providing me with a free digital copy of this book.

Amazon.com: Goldie Vance: The Hotel Whodunit (9780316456647 ...

Summary:  16-year-old Goldie Vance divides her time between the Crossed Palms Resort Hotel with her father, and the Mermaid Club with her mother.  Her official job is parking cars, but she aspires to be the assistant to the house detective. When the hotel and the club become the location of a new Hollywood blockbuster, Goldie’s there to make sure everything runs smoothly.  The glamorous movie star takes a liking to her, and when a diamond-studded swimming cap disappears, Goldie winds up in the middle of the case, gathering clues and interviewing witnesses. Her own mother is a prime suspect, and it’s up to Goldie to prove her innocence and uncover the identity of the real culprit.  Reviews I’ve read mention two eight-page color comic inserts, but the Kindle version I got from Net Galley didn’t have these.  264 pages; grades 4-7.

Pros:  Based on the comic created by Hope Larson and Brittney Williams, Goldie Vance is like a queer Nancy Drew in a 1950’s Art Deco Florida setting.  With lots of colorful characters, a unique setting, and plenty of sleuthing action, this is sure to be a popular choice for late elementary and middle school readers.  

Cons:  The crime didn’t occur until halfway through the book; I was getting impatient to find out what mystery Goldie was going to be solving.

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Bug Boys by Laura Knetzger

Published by Random House Graphic

Bug Boys: Knetzger, Laura: 9781984896766: Amazon.com: Books

Bug Boys: Knetzger, Laura: 9781984896766: Amazon.com: Books

Summary:  Beetles Rhino-B and Stag-B are the closest of friends and enjoy exploring the world and having adventures.  They occasionally interact with humans and larger animals, but most of their expeditions take place in the world of insects, including spiders, termites, and bees.  There are some exciting moments and close calls, but they always manage to help each other make it through, and along the way pause to reflect on friendship, being present, and life in general.  Includes beetle facts and instructions for drawing both Rhino-B and Stag-B. 272 pages; grades 2-5.

Pros:  This graphic collection of stories is sure to delight a wide range of readers, while giving them the opportunity to ponder some of life’s deeper questions.  The last page delivers the happy news that volume 2 will be coming out in the spring of 2021.

Cons:  I prefer one long graphic novel to a collection of shorter stories.

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Real Pigeons Fight Crime by Andrew McDonald, illustrated by Ben Wood

Published by Random House Books for Young Readers

Image result for real pigeons fight crime amazon

Image result for real pigeons fight crime ben wood

Summary:  Rock Pigeon lives on a farm, where he loves disguising himself as various plants and animals.  One day an old pigeon named Grandpouter comes for a visit. Turns out he’s starting a squad of crime-fighting pigeons and is looking for a master of disguise.  Rock’s not sure he wants to go live in the city, but Grandpouter convinces him to try it out for one case. In the city, Rock meets the rest of the squad, and they get to work solving the mystery of why all the breadcrumbs have disappeared from the local park.  Cracking that case convinces Rock that he belongs with the Real Pigeons, and the squad successfully solves two more mysteries by the end of the book. Includes a page of facts about real-life pigeons and a promotion for the next two books in the series. 202 pages; grades 2-5.

Pros:  Fans of series like The Bad Guys, Inspector Flytrap, and, of course, Dog Man will enjoy this new graphic series that uses the same goofy sense of humor in both the story and the illustrations.  

Cons:  I had a bit of trouble keeping the different pigeons straight.  Guess I prefer the different species featured in The Bad Guys.

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Consent (For Kids!): Boundaries, Respect, and Being In Charge of YOU by Rachel Brian

Published by Little, Brown Books for Young Readers

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Image result for consent for kids rachel brian"

Summary:  With chapters on such topics as “You Rule”, “Trust Your Gut”, and “Giving and Getting Consent”, this short graphic book uses a light tone to help kids understand inappropriate behavior and how to maintain boundaries.  Without getting into explicit details, the author covers inappropriate touching, whether it’s tickling or something more sexual, and helps kids understand what they should do in such situations. The comic panels explore different scenarios to allow kids to see their roles in making sure they stay safe and happy.  For a sample of Rachel Brian’s adult work (contains the f-word and is about consensual sex), take a look at her Youtube video Tea Consent.  240 pages; grades 1-7.

Pros:  This is an amazing resource for anyone who works with kids.  The tone is light and fun, the messages are clear, and the graphic format will appeal to children of all ages.  

Cons:  A list of additional resources would have been a great addition.

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Cub by Cynthia L. Copeland

Published by Algonquin Young Readers

Image result for cub copeland

Image result for cub copeland

Summary:  On the first pages, Cindy is watching Wild Kingdom with her family and comparing the predators and prey she sees with her situation in seventh grade.  The predators are the mean girls, and she and her best friend Katie are they prey–at least until Katie starts sitting with the “predators” at lunch.  Cindy’s self-confidence needs a boost, and that’s just what she gets when a caring teacher notices her flair for writing and puts her in touch with a young woman reporter on the local paper.  Before long, Cindy is traveling around town, shadowing her hip young mentor, and occasionally writing her own articles. With Watergate and the Equal Rights Amendment shaking up institutions from the free press to her own family, Cindy can’t help feeling like she’s on a roller coaster as she navigates a seventh grade year that includes a new boyfriend and some pretty empowered new friends.  By the end of the year, she’s no longer skulking around the halls like a hunted animal, but has claimed her rightful place in middle school as she heads into eighth grade. Includes an author’s note and four pages of drawings showing the fun and games of the 1970’s. 240 pages; grades 3-7.

Pros:  Readers of a certain age (me) will enjoy this fond look back to what now seems like the naively innocent age of the 1970’s.  Current kids will be treated to another fun and relatable graphic novel memoir that will inspire them to follow their own dreams.

Cons:  One of the mean seventh graders is introduced as having French kissed an eighth grade boy, which is enough to raise eyebrows with teachers and parents in my elementary school.  Believe me, I’d be the last person to champion censorship, but I kind of wish writers would leave out those casual references (that don’t further the plot line) that make me hesitate to buy their books.  I acknowledge I’m a bit conflict-averse, so feel free to add your own differing opinion in the comments.

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Five Favorite Graphic Novels

Meet the House Kittens (Kitten Construction Company, book 1) by John Patrick Green

Published by First Second

Image result for kitten construction company book 1

Adorable kitties who do construction?  These cats have it all.  I can’t wait to introduce this series to my second and third grade students.  They are sure to be a hit.

Queen of the Sea by Dylan Meconis

Published by Walker Books

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Part historical fiction, part fantasy, all adventure–better not let your attention wander  or you might miss some key detail to the political intrigue underlying this amazing and complex tale.  I was on the fence about where this and New Kid should go; this could just have easily been on my Newbery contender list.

White Bird: A Wonder Story by R. J. Palacio

Published by Knopf Books for Young Readers

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Even though I wish R. J. Palacio would show us she can do something besides keep building on the Wonder franchise, I can’t deny this is a beautiful and moving story, perfect for kids just a bit older than the Wonder crowd.

Meg, Jo, Beth, and Amy by Rey Terciero

Published by Little, Brown Books for Young Readers

Image result for meg jo beth and amy

I was on the fence between this and This Was Our Pact for my fifth choice, but this is a personal favorite due to my love of the original novel.  It got a number of one- and two-star reviews on Amazon due to Jo coming out.  Come on, did anyone ever think Mr. Bhaer was anything more than a convenient cover for Jo’s real feelings?

Stargazing by Jen Wang

Published by First Second

Image result for stargazing jen wang

Seems like we can’t have too many realistic fiction/friendship graphic novels these days, and if the blurb on the front cover is by Raina Telgemeier, you know you have a winner.  Unique characters and an unexpected twist make this a sure-fire hit with the elementary crowd.