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

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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

Image result for okay witch

Image result for okay witch

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. 

If you would like to buy this book on Amazon, click here.

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

Published by First Second

Image result for meet the house kittens amazon

Image result for meet the house kittens john patrick green

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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Image result for black canary ignite cara mcgee

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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White Bird by R. J. Palacio

Published by Knopf Books for Young Readers

Image result for white bird palacio

Image result for white bird palacio

Summary:  Julian (from Wonder) wants to interview his grandmother about her childhood in France during World War II.  She tells the story of growing up Jewish in occupied France. One day, Nazi soldiers came to round up all the Jewish children at her school.  She managed to hide, and was rescued by a boy named Julien. Julien was crippled from polio, and Sara and her classmates had always shunned him.  But he takes her to his family’s barn, where she hides for the next year, helped by his whole family. The two become close friends, and just as it looks like a romance is beginning, everything falls apart.  Julien is arrested by the Nazis, and Sara is discovered by the neighbors, whom Julien’s parents believe are German informants. Sara concludes by remembering Julien’s kindness, which she memorialized when naming her son, whose name has been passed to her grandson.  224 pages; grades 5-8.

Pros:  Another engaging Wonder story, this one in graphic novel format, that celebrates kindness.  There are enough deaths and disturbing details about World War II to make this more of a middle school book, but those who loved Wonder will not be disappointed by this latest entry.

Cons:  This book has an odd binding that does not look it will hold up well in a library.  Apparently the “Wonder Story” sticker on the cover is reason enough to charge $24.99 for this title, but as a librarian, I don’t appreciate this combination of high price and fragile binding.

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Fever Year: The Killer Flu of 1918 by Don Brown

Published by HMH Books for Young Readers

Image result for fever year don brown

Image result for fever year don brown

Summary:  Using a graphic novel format, Don Brown tells the story of the flu epidemic of 1918 and how it spread across the United States and around the globe.  The tale is told in three acts: January-July 1918 when the epidemic began; August-December 1918 when it raged full force; and 1919 when it came back to life, sickening, among others, President Woodrow Wilson at an important peace conference in Paris.  The text is brief, but covers many different aspects of the epidemic, including the spread and death toll, the importance and shortage of nurses, how different cities reacted when the flu hit them, and scientists’ attempts to figure out what was causing the disease.  The book concludes with recent scientists’ experiments that lead to the revival of the virus which had been preserved in the lung tissues of one of its victims, and questions as to the ethics of such work. Includes a five-page bibliography. 96 pages; grades 5-8.

Pros:  Don Brown packs a lot of information into fewer than 100 pages, in a format that will appeal to many readers.  Fans of Nathan Hale’s Hazardous Tales may enjoy this, as well as other graphic history books by Brown.

Cons:  All the reviews I saw recommended this for grades 7 and up, but I feel like there’s no reason not to suggest it to fifth and sixth grade history buffs.  True, it’s a story of disease, pestilence, and death, but nothing that I would consider inappropriate for kids 10 and up.

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