Stargazing by Jen Wang, color by Lark Pien

Published by First Second

Image result for stargazing jen wang

Image result for stargazing jen wang

Summary:  Christine’s not sure how she feels when Moon and her mother move into the cottage on Christine’s family’s property.  Moon is an artist who does her own thing and doesn’t fit in with Christine’s family or their Chinese American community.  But she also opens up new possibilities for Christine, introducing her to K-pop, nail polish, and dancing. Christine eventually gets to see a more vulnerable side of Moon, learning how Moon’s beloved father died when she was six, and how Moon sometimes has visions of celestial beings that she believes will one day take her away.  When Christine gets jealous of Moon’s popularity and plays a mean prank, Moon collapses and the truth about her visions comes out. Christine feels terrible about what she’s done to her friend, but by the end, they have learned to forgive each other. Includes an author’s note telling of her own childhood experiences that inspired this book.  224 pages; grades 3-6.

Pros:  A beautiful graphic friendship story that will appeal to fans of Raina Telgemeier, Jennifer Holm, and Victoria Jamieson.  Both Moon and Christine are multidimensional characters who will resonate with many middle grade readers.

Cons:  The artwork wasn’t quite as spectacular as Wang’s The Prince and the Dressmaker.

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Guts by Raina Telgemeier


Published by Graphix

Image result for guts telgemeier amazon

Image result for guts telgemeier

Summary:  After a bout with stomach flu, fourth-grader Raina struggles with anxiety about getting sick again.  Her stomach often feels upset, and she worries about germs when a friend or family member falls ill.  When fifth grade starts,  she starts missing school and being scared to eat.  Raina’s mom takes her to a therapist where she slowly starts to feel comfortable talking about the stresses in her life–not only food and getting sick, but difficulties with friends, a crowded home, and some concerns about going through puberty.  The therapist teaches her some breathing and grounding techniques, and by the end of the school year, Raina has overcome her shyness enough to share them with her class. She also finally admits to some of her friends that she’s seeing a therapist, and learns that this is more common than she thought. A final author’s note reveals adult Raina’s lifelong struggles with anxiety and digestive issues, encouraging kids to talk about their feelings.  224 pages; grades 3-6.

Pros:  Another winning memoir from Raina Telgemeier that will help kids deal with their own insecurities and to see that everyone is struggling with something.  As usual, the art is top-notch, with plenty of shades of green and swirling words to show Raina’s anxieties around getting sick.

Cons:  You could slap Raina Telgemeier’s name on a 1993 Chilton’s car repair manual, and kids would be clamoring to check it out of the library.  Who am I to start finding fault?

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Cheshire Crossing by Andy Weir, illustrated by Sarah Andersen

Published by Ten Speed Press

Image result for cheshire crossing amazon

Image result for cheshire crossing amazon

Summary:  Dorothy from The Wizard of Oz, Alice from Alice in Wonderland, and Peter Pan’s Wendy have all been in and out of institutions, diagnosed with dissociative psychosis for believing they can travel to other worlds.  They wind up together in a research lab, where Dr. Rutherford hopes to learn more about their powers. Alice, angry over her years feeling like a prisoner, steals Dorothy’s silver slippers and escapes to Oz.  The other two go after her, along with their nanny (who may or may not be Mary Poppins), and before long they are dropping in and out of Oz, Neverland, and Wonderland in an attempt to foil the Queen of Hearts, Wicked Witch of the West, and Captain Hook (the last two have a budding romance in Neverland).  Everyone is reunited back in the lab in the end, but a last page hints that there may be a sequel. 128 pages; grades 7-10.

Pros:  There’s plenty of girl power with these three, as they refuse to let anyone control their destinies or overshadow them in their adventures.  The artwork is gorgeous, and it’s great fun to see elements of the three familiar stories woven together.

Cons:  I was hoping this would find a home in my grade 4 and 5 library, but the frequent swears and sexual innuendos (there’s a great subplot where Peter Pan grows up, Alice shrinks him, and he has a thing with Tinkerbell) make it more appropriate for middle school and up.

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Wolfie Monster and the Big Pizza Battle by Joey Ellis

Published by Graphix

Image result for wolfie monster and the big bad pizza battle

Image result for wolfie monster and the big bad pizza battle

Summary:  Wolfie Monster is the youngest of three brothers who run Magik Cheez Pizza.  Jackson is the grumpy boss, Roy is the slacker video game player, and Wolfie is the perennially optimistic goofball.  When competitor Happy Leaf threatens to put them out of business, Jackson decides to cut his losses and sell their store to CEO Lord Mudpant.  Unfortunately, Lord Mudpant turns out to be an evil mastermind, and Happy Leaf juice turns everyone into a zombie. The only cure? Magik Cheez Pizza.  It’s up to Wolfie and his new friend Bea to save the day…and maybe the whole world. 144 pages; grades 1-4.

Pros:  I’d have to be a Happy Leaf zombie to not realize this is going to be a big hit with Dog Man fans (meaning pretty much every kid under the age of 11).  The non-stop action, goofy fun, and comic book format make this a certain winner.

Cons:  Teachers may not be quite as excited about Wolfie’s popularity

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This Was Our Pact by Ryan Andrews

Published by First Second

Image result for this was our pact amazon

Image result for this was our pact ryan andrews

Summary:  At the annual Autumn Equinox Festival, Nathaniel and his pals have agreed to follow the lanterns set afloat down the river.  Lots of kids ride along the river for awhile, but their group is going to find out once and for all where the lights end up. As they travel, though, the other kids turn back one by one until there are only two left: Nathaniel and Ben, the kid nobody likes who has been tagging along, unsuccessfully trying to join the group. Nathaniel begrudgingly agrees to travel with him, though, and the two end up on a madcap adventure where they meet a friendly bear on a quest, a tiny witch and her oversized dog, and some mysterious enlightened beings.  The two slowly bond over their shared experiences and narrow escapes, and by the end they’re still traveling, intent upon circumnavigating the world on their bicycles. 336 pages; grades 4-8.

Pros:  A graphic novel that would appeal to fans of Amulet, with its episodic plot involving ordinary mortals thrust into a magical world.  The dark-blue-and-black illustrations perfectly capture the feeling of a nighttime adventure.  We can hope for more of Nathaniel’s and Ben’s escapades on the road.

Cons:  The plot was pretty meandering.

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Comics: Easy As ABC!: The Essential Guide to Comics for Kids by Ivan Brunetti

Published by TOON Books

Image result for easy as abc comics ivan amazon

Image result for easy as abc comics ivan

Summary:  Budding cartoonists will enjoy this drawing book that gives how-to’s on drawing people and animals, as well as creating perspective and communicating emotions through body language and facial expressions.  A few prompts are given to encourage readers to create their own stories. Advice is offered from some heavy-hitters in the comic world, including Roz Chast, Neil Gaiman, Jeff Smith, and Art Spiegelman. There’s a section at the end for parents, teachers, and librarians on reading comics to kids (I believe this is standard in many of the TOON books).  52 pages; grades 2-5.

Pros:  Fun and accessible for many elementary-age kids, this is a good basic introduction to get graphic novel fans busy on their own creations.

Cons:  Each section is pretty brief; serious artists will outgrow this fairly quickly.

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Queen of the Sea by Dylan Meconis

Published by Walker Books

Image result for queen of the sea dylan meconis amazon

Image result for queen of the sea dylan meconis

Summary:  Margaret has spent her whole life in an island convent, cut off from the rest of the world except for twice-a-year visits from a ship bringing supplies.  When she is six years old, a boy named William and his mother arrive with one of the shipments. They stay for several years, and the two children become good friends; when William’s mother dies, though, he decides to leave and seek his fortune in the larger world.  Soon he is replaced with a new visitor–the mysterious Eleanor, accompanied by the cruel nun Sister Mary Clemence. As Margaret grows older, she starts to learn the secrets of the island and its inhabitants, including her own shocking story that changes everything. Based on the early years of Queen Elizabeth I (fictionalized as Eleanor), this story ends on a cliffhanger as Eleanor and Margaret prepare to escape the island to an uncertain fate.  393 pages; grades 5-8.

Pros:  I’ve never predicted that two graphic novels would win the Newbery in a single year, but this and Jerry Craft’s The New Kid are two of the best books I’ve read this year.  There are so many details about the history of the early Elizabethan period and convent life here, all unobtrusively woven into the story so that readers won’t even notice that they’re being educated.  And the characters are all so memorable that I wasn’t as challenged to keep them all straight as I sometimes am with graphic novels. I am praying to Saint Elysia for a sequel.

Cons:  It’s a heavy book and seems like the kind of pages that will quickly begin to part with the binding.

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