Hoops by Matt Tavares

Published by Candlewick

Summary:  The story opens on a November evening in 1970.  Judi Wilson is watching her older brother and his friends play basketball, while her friend Stacy practices cheers.  When they head off to the high school game, Judi picks up the ball, dreaming of making the winning shot at a big game.  Fast forward five years, and Judi and Stacy are senior co-captains of the cheerleaders, rooting on the boys’ basketball team.  When Judi hears that a girls’ team is forming, she decides to try out, abandoning cheerleading and upsetting Stacy.  Only eight girls show up, so they’re all part of the new team.  Despite the lack of uniforms, a bus, meal money, or the use of the high school gym, the girls love playing and begin to win games.  As they get better known, they’re allowed to use the gym when the boys are done with it, but they still have to wear t-shirts with their numbers taped on with electrical tape and drive to away games in their coach’s borrowed RV.  Finally, when they make it to the state championship, the athletic director apologizes in front of the school for his shabby behavior, and the booster club gives them real uniforms.  In the final game of the championship, the score is tied with just seconds left, and Judi gets a chance for the winning basket, bringing the story full circle to her early dream.  Includes a 4-page author’s note about how he came to write this book and with additional information about Title IX.  224 pages; grades 3-7.

Pros:  Based on a true story, this graphic novel is fun and fast-paced, showing the uphill battle female athletes faced in the early days of Title IX.  Although it takes place in high school, the friendships and sports action will be enjoyed by elementary and middle school readers.  While I love Matt Tavares’s picture books, I hope he’ll continue with graphic novels as well!

Cons:  Judi’s sweatshirt on the last few pages indicates that she’s on a college basketball team, but I wish I found out for sure if she and her teammates got to play in college.

Super Pancake by Megan Wagner Lloyd, illustrated by Abhi Alwar

Published by Knopf Books for Young Readers

Summary:  The struggle is real for Peggy Pancake, whose family who wishes she could be more like her brother Patrick, and who is struggling to find a friend at school.  When she sees the new croissant, Luc, being bullied by three strips of bacon, she’s hesitant to defend him.  A bacon prank gone awry causes Peggy to get some superpowers, and before long she and sidekick Luc have teamed up to fight the bullies and to defeat evil in their town.  Peggy defeats the villains, but chooses to keep her powers from her family, although it looks as though Patrick may get in on the act in book 2.  176 pages; grades 2-4.

Pros:  With an emphasis on goofy fun, this graphic novel is sure to be popular with those just starting to venture into chapter books.  Although I can’t find any information on book 2, the last page assures us that the story is “to be continued.”

Cons:  While I enjoyed this little romp, I’d rather see Megan Wagner Lloyd work on book 2 of Squished.

Squished by Megan Wagner Lloyd, illustrated by Michelle Mee Nutter

Published by Graphix

Summary:  Avery Lee’s life is full of ups and downs, in large part due to her big family.  She’s the second oldest of seven siblings, which makes for a lot of chaos and not much alone time to pursue the art she loves.  Her older brother just got his own room, which Avery sees as totally unfair, and when her friend Cameron tells her his family is building a bedroom in the basement, Avery decides to do some fundraising to earn money for her own construction.  Dog-walking and a lemonade stand each have their share of pitfalls, and before long Avery gets some news that derails all her plans…her mom has taken a new job, and the family is moving from Maryland to Oregon.  Avery is heartbroken to be leaving her friends and beloved hometown, but the promise of her own room in the new house makes the move a bit sweeter.  256 pages; grades 3-7.

Pros:  From the team that brought you Allergic, Squished is a complete delight, giving a sweet and realistic portrayal of life in a big family with sibling, school, and friendship issues that many readers will recognize.  If you’re buying for a library, get an extra copy or two.

Cons:  I struggled to keep all the kids straight; you might want to bookmark the labeled photo on page 15 for easy reference.

A First Time for Everything by Dan Santat

Published by First Second

Summary:  Dan Santat’s graphic memoir tells the story of his trip to Europe in 1989, the summer before he started high school.  Flashbacks show difficult times in middle school that have made him lose confidence in himself and want to stay invisible.  Surrounded by a supportive group of kids and an awesome teacher/chaperone, Dan flourishes in Europe, having adventures in several different countries that include sampling beer, smoking a cigarette, getting lost one night and stealing a bicycle to get home, and falling in love.  By the end of the trip, he’s experienced heartbreak but also grown and become more confident, presumably leading him to a high school experience very different from middle school.  Includes nine pages of photos and an author’s note that tells more about the trip and how he has kept in touch with the friends he made there.  320 pages; grades 5-9.

Pros:  This highly entertaining memoir will have you packing your bags for a European vacation.  Dan perfectly captures all the angst and bravado of being 13 years old, and of course his artwork is outstanding, showing many European landmarks with incredible detail.

Cons:  I was definitely planning to buy this for my elementary school library, but after reading it, I think it will be appreciated more by middle school readers.

The Art of Getting Noticed (Bigfoot and Nessie book 1) by Chelsea M. Campbell, illustrated by Laura Knetzger

Published by Penguin Workshop

Summary:  Bigfoot Littletoe can’t get noticed no matter how hard he tries.  While others in his family end up on the news, something always happens that leaves him out of the photo.  When he makes a mysterious new friend, though, his life starts to change.  His friend helps him do things just for fun, instead of trying to get noticed, and Bigfoot develops a passion for hedge sculptures.  Before long, he’s discovered as an artist, and the identity of his friend–Nessie the Loch Ness monster–is also revealed.  Celebrity culture isn’t all that it’s cracked up to be, though, and the two ultimately decide to go undercover again so that they can do all the things they like to do and enjoy their friendship.  64 pages; grades 1-4.

Pros:  Bigfoot and the Loch Ness Monster are generally irresistible to kids, and this story puts a new spin on the friendship graphic novel with a great message about doing what you love instead of what gets you noticed.  Looks like a sequel is due out in August.

Cons:  Nessie’s undercover disguise seemed a bit thin.

Captain America: The Ghost Army by Alan Gratz, illustrated by Brent Schoonover

Published by Graphix

Summary:  Captain America and his sidekick, 15-year-old Bucky, take on an army of ghosts during World War II.  The ghosts are attacking villages, and Captain America and Bucky are tasked with figuring out how they are being created, then destroying the machinery.  The evil goes even deeper than they first suspect, and they need the help of others that they meet: British fighter “Dum Dum” Dugan; Japanese American soldier Jim Morita who’s a master at creating illusions to trick the Germans; and local resistance fighter Andrei and his granddaughter Sofia, who has a bit of a clean-cut romance with Bucky.  At the end of the day, the good guys squeak out a victory, but the villain escapes, setting up the possibility of a sequel.  176 pages; grades 4-8.

Pros:  A superhero graphic novel is going to be wildly popular no matter what I say about it, and Alan Gratz has already proven himself a master of suspenseful historical fiction.  Readers will appreciate the excellent artwork and the non-stop action.

Cons:  The plot seemed kind of ridiculously far-fetched to me, but I am the first to admit this is not my favorite genre.

Worm and Caterpillar Are Friends by Kaz Windness

Published by Simon Spotlight

Summary:  Worm and Caterpillar are best friends share many similarities but also have some differences.  Worm is nervous when Caterpillar begins to change even more, eventually falling silent inside of a chrysalis.  When Caterpillar finally wakes up, he’s afraid that if he emerges, Worm will no longer like him.  Finally, Caterpillar reveals himself in his new incarnation as Butterfly.  At first Worm thinks he is a scary bird and hides deep underground, but eventually the two reclaim their best friendship.  Includes directions for drawing Worm and Butterfly.  64 pages; ages 4-7.

Pros:  A fun early reader, with a comic format that includes just a sentence or two of text on each page. The message is positive about keeping friends even when one or both parties go through some changes. There’s a nice introduction to reading comics before the main story begins.

Cons:  Early reader comics about two animal friends seem to be a bit of a glut on the market these days.

Beaky Barnes: Egg on the Loose by David Ezra Stein

Published by Penguin Workshop

Summary:  When uptight Town Inspector Cobb loses the egg out of his sandwich, he goes off on what seems like a simple search for a replacement.  The quest starts at a restaurant with a chef who has a secret to hide, a fish in search of something more to life than being eaten, and two customers–a woman and a chicken–who set off a chaotic chase through town.  By the end of the story, Inspector Cobb is wearing a barrel and a lovestruck rooster is wearing his uniform.  The whole story is presented as a movie, with several commercial breaks advertising products that turn out to be useful for the characters.  The final few pages fast forward six months, wrapping everyone’s story up with a happy ending.  128 pages; grades 2-5.

Pros:  David Ezra Stein of Interrupting Chicken fame has created his first graphic novel that is sure to be a hit with the Dog Man crowd with plenty of slapstick humor and a fun, offbeat cast of characters.

Cons:  I would have liked to have seen the “which came first” chicken and egg issue more fully addressed.

Bomb (Graphic Novel): The Race to Build–and Steal–the World’s Most Dangerous Weapon by Steve Sheinkin, illustrated by Nick Bertozzi

Published by Roaring Brook Press

Summary:  Steve Sheinkin has turned his award-winning nonfiction book from 2012 into a graphic novel that tells the history of the Manhattan Project, including those who gave information to the Soviets that helped them develop an atomic bomb just a few years after the United States.  One of those was Harry Gold, whose interrogation by the FBI forms the structure for this book.  As the agents question him, Harry slowly reveals the story of the project in Los Alamos, with descriptions of the various people involved like Robert Oppenheimer, Leslie Groves, Richard Feynman, and Klaus Fuchs.  The book ends with a showdown between Oppenheinmer and President Harry Truman, as each realizes the terrible power he has unleashed on the world. As Steve Sheinkin concludes in his author’s note, “How does this story end? We don’t know–because it’s still going on.”  256 pages; grades 5-12.

Pros:  I loved the original Bomb, and this graphic novel does an amazing job of telling many aspects of the story in a necessarily condensed format.  The excellent artwork helps to distinguish the many characters in the story.  It’s an important historical narrative, and the graphic format will make it accessible to many more readers.

Cons:  I missed the depth of the original book in telling about many of the characters and events.

Mia in the Mix by Coco Simon, illustrated by Glass House Graphics

Published by Simon Spotlight

Summary:  The Cupcake Diaries chapter books are now a graphic novel series, beginning with Katie and the Cupcake Cure and Mia in the Mix.  Mia’s book was the first one to reach me via interlibrary loan, so I ended up reading book 2.  Mia has recently moved to town with her mom, her mom’s boyfriend, and his son, leaving behind her dad and friends in New York City.  She meets Katie, Emma, and Alexis, and the four girls form the Cupcake Club.  As the business is starting to get off the ground, Mia finds herself torn between wanting to spend time with the club and hanging out with some other girls who share her interest in fashion.  Ultimately, Mia decides the cupcake girls are her truest friends, while finding ways to make room for other people in her life.  160 pages; grades 3-6.

Pros:  This series will appeal to Baby-Sitters Club fans, with similar themes of friendship and starting a business.  The artwork is appealing, and the situations with family and friends are ones that many kids will relate to.

Cons:  It feels like a bit of a rip-off of the BSC series.