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

Published by Random House Books for Young Readers

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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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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

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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

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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

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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

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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.


The Okay Witch by Emma Steinkellner

Published by Aladdin

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Summary:  Moth has always felt like she doesn’t belong in the small town of Founder’s Bluff, Massachusetts.  Her mother grew up in the same town–only it turns out it was 300 years before Moth did. Moth learns near the beginning of the story that her mom was part of a group of witches that was driven out of town by God-fearing Puritans.  The witches escaped to a paradise called Hecate, but Moth’s mother was so unhappy there that she eventually returned to her hometown. Moth discovers her own magical powers over the course of the story, eventually meeting her grandmother and getting the chance to visit Hecate.  Although she learns to love being a witch, she and her mother both ultimately decide that they belong in Founder’s Bluff. As history begins to repeat itself, they find that their witchcraft comes in handy in making sure evil doesn’t return to their town. 272 pages; grades 4-7.

Pros:  Fans of graphic novels with spunky girl main characters (think Telgemeier, Jamieson, Holm, and Hale) will enjoy this story which has a little magic and witchcraft thrown in.  

Cons:  Guess I like my graphic novels to stay in the realm of realistic fiction; I didn’t enjoy this one quite as much as the aforementioned authors. 

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

Published by First Second

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Summary:  Marmalade has drawn up some pretty impressive blueprints for the new mayor’s mansion, but no one will take her seriously because she’s a kitten.  When she goes to drown her sorrows (“One saucer of milk! And keep ‘em coming!”), she meets a dishwashing cat who’s looking to ply his trade as an electrical engineer.  They decide to form a construction firm, and eventually hire a kitten plumber and kitten carpenter to join them. Since they’re never taken seriously (“How cute!” all the humans say, staring with adoring eyes), the kittens go to work in secret.  When the humans’ mansion collapses at the grand opening, the kittens are there to save the day with their own solid structure. The mayor still refuses to believe kittens built her house, but the city manager hires them on for a new job. 80 pages; grades 1-4.

Pros:  From the creator of Hippopotamister comes this delightful new series about some seriously talented kittens.  Children (and some adults) will relate to the feeling of not being taken seriously.  However, I have to add my voice to the chorus of “Awww!”s. These kittens are unquestionably skilled construction workers, but they are also super cute.

Cons:  Some of the humor (like the “saucer of milk” comment above) may be over some readers’ heads.

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Black Canary: Ignite by Meg Cabot, illustrated by Cara McGhee

Published by DC Zoom

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Summary:  Dinah Lance is your typical middle school girl: as the story opens, she and her two best friends are looking forward to competing in the Battle of the Bands, she’s prepping for cheerleader tryouts, and she dreams of becoming a police officer in Gotham City like her dad.  But things keep breaking at school–big things, like a glass trophy case–and Dinah seems to be the common element, even though she knows she’s not doing anything intentionally. As the story unfolds, Dinah learns that her mom used to be superhero Black Canary, and it appears that Dinah has inherited her superpower voice.  Bonfire, the villain her mom put in jail years ago, has escaped, and it’s up to Dinah to put her behind bars again. It all comes together at the Battle of the Bands, and by the last page it looks like Dinah’s future–as a crime fighter and a rocker–is assured. 144 pages; grades 5-8.

Pros:  I did not know that DC had a character called Black Canary.  But this spiffy little graphic novel gave me a good introduction, and sent me seeking more information.  Meg Cabot is a master of the middle school story, and does an excellent job, not only with Dinah, but with her friends Kat and Vee.  The artwork is colorful and captures the action perfectly.  

Cons:  There’s a lot of ground to cover in 144 pages, and the climactic showdown between Black Canary and Bonfire wrapped up a little too quickly.

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