Red Scare by Liam Francis Walsh

Published by Graphix

Summary:  Peggy’s got a lot going on: she’s recovering from polio and has to use crutches, her twin brother Skip has started being mean to her, and her father has returned from the Korean War with serious physical and psychological injuries, forcing her mother to work as a hotel maid.  One night, Peggy goes to work with her mom and winds up being a witness to a murder and unknowingly coming into possession of a mysterious substance.  When she realizes that she has this potion and that it enables her to fly, she and her new neighbor Jess begin having adventures all over town.  The FBI catches up with them eventually, intent on recovering the potion no matter who gets in their way.  When a suspenseful showdown atop a fire tower puts Peggy, Jess, and Skip in danger, Peggy finds out that she is braver than she thinks.  Includes additional information about polio, the red scare, and the atomic age. 240 pages; grades 4-7.

Pros:  Great snakes!  Tintin fans will love the Hergé-inspired artwork and nonstop adventures of this historical graphic novel that features the red scare of the 1950’s, polio, UFO’s, the Korean War, and a stirring speech about freedom and respecting others’ beliefs delivered by Peggy’s father to the mob going after Jess’s Communist dad.  

Cons:  There was a lot going on in 240 pages, both the rapid-fire plot and the characters’ development and growth, making some resolutions feel a bit too speedy.

Play Like a Girl: A Graphic Memoir by Misty Wilson, illustrated by David Wilson

Published by Balzer + Bray

Summary:  Misty’s always loved competing with the boys, so when they tell her football’s not for girls, she decides to prove them wrong. It’s the summer before seventh grade, and she convinces her best friend Bree to sign up for seventh grade football with her.  Practices in the August heat are grueling, and the girls have to learn new skills like tackling and learning how to wear football pads.  It proves to be too much for Bree, but Misty sticks with it and becomes an important part of the team.  Most of the boys eventually accept her as a teammate, but a couple never do, which results in some uncomfortable situations.  In between practices and games, Misty deals with friendship issues, a crush on a teammate, and being part of a large blended family.  In the end, she learns the importance of being herself and surrounding herself with people who believe in her.  Includes an author’s note with some additional information about her football career.  272 pages; grades 3-7.

Pros:  This husband-and-wife team has produced an excellent graphic memoir that will inspire kids to try something outside of their comfort zones.  Sure to appeal to the many fans of the ever-growing middle school graphic novel genre.

Cons:  I was bummed that Misty quit football after seventh grade.

Your Pal Fred by Michael Rex

Published by Viking Books for Young Readers

Summary:  “Welcome to the future!”  “The future stinks” read two signs on the opening page.  The evidence is there in chapter one when brothers Pug and Plug are traveling through a post-apocalyptic world, each one only looking out for himself.  When they accidentally awaken an AI boy named Fred, they get a few lessons in friendship and sharing.  When Fred learns about the world war going on, he decides to take his lessons to the two warlords to try to negotiate a peaceful settlement.  Fred befriends everyone he meets in his travels, a gift that later is returned when he’s rescued from the warlords’ attempts to destroy him.  A surprising revelation unexpectedly brings peace, and Fred decides to wander the world, helping anyone who may need him.  Includes Fred’s six-step guide to making friends.  272 pages; grades 3-6.

Pros:  A graphic novel with equal parts fun and heart, as Fred’s unstoppable kindness saves the day in a grim future populated by all sorts of unusual creatures.  As I have mentioned, Mike Rex grew up down the street from me, and I appreciated his dedication, “To my father, who was, above all, kind.”

Cons:  Kindness does not always feel like its own reward here.

Freestyle by Gale Galligan

Published by Graphix

Summary:  Cory’s part of Eight Bitz, a dance team getting ready for the annual Bronx Kids Battle dance competition.  When progress reports come out, though, his straight C’s upset his parents, who insist that he cut back on dance and get a tutor.  That tutor winds up being Sunna, his science lab partner who Cory has dismissed as a nerd.  But when he accidentally discovers her passion for yo-yo’ing, he changes his mind completely.  Sunna proves to be a good tutor of both the yo-yo and the more academic subjects, and before long Cory has come a long way with both and earned his way back into Eight Bitz.  There are rifts within the team, including Cory’s new friendship with Sunna, and the eight kids have to work hard and compromise to keep the group together.  A yo-yo competition and the Bronx Kids Battle wrap things up, with realistic successes for everyone.  272 pages; grades 3-7.

Pros:  It’s graphic novels week after a bunch of them arrived for me at the library all at once. This one, from Baby-Sitters Club alum Galligan, is a high-energy middle school story with plenty of action and early teen angst.  The artwork beautifully captures the dance and yo-yo moves, and the kids do an admirable job of working out their differences pretty much without parental assistance

Cons:  There’s a good review on Amazon by a Muslim parent who mentions some of the ways Sunna is not accurately portrayed, including being alone with Cory in her bedroom and holding his hand when they dance together.

Frizzy by Claribel A. Ortega, illustrated by Rose Bousamra

Published by First Second

Summary:  Marlene’s curly hair has been the bane of her existence for the last several years, as her mother insists on the two of them making weekly visits to the salon to have their hair straightened.  Not only is this physically painful, but it makes Marlene feel like her natural look isn’t beautiful.  After a few disastrous attempts to style her hair on her own, Marlene gets into trouble and is sent to her tía Ruby for a weekend of gardening.  Ruby has fully embraced her Dominican heritage, including her hair, and she shows Marlene how to manage her curls and make them beautiful.  Marlene is nervous to show her new look to her mom, but it serves as a catalyst to a much-needed conversation that brings them closer together.  224 pages; grades 3-7.

Pros:  Marlene is a character many tweens will relate to, torn between wanting to fit in, wanting to please a parent, and wanting to be herself.  This graphic novel also has a great message about the Eurocentric standard of beauty and embracing beauty from all cultures.  

Cons:  I always enjoy a good subplot or two, but this story stuck pretty closely to the main hair-related plot.

The Prisoner of Shiverstone by Linette Moore

Published by Harry N. Abrams

Summary:  Helga Sharp, an 11-year-old inventor, accidentally makes contact with Erasmus Lope, who’s been trapped on an island where “mad scientists” are exiled away from the mainland.  When Helga is found unconscious on the island, she’s housed with a brother and sister who work as island guards, but who have a few secrets of their own.  With the help of the sister’s robot butler, Helga gets to work trying to free Erasmus.  The secrets of both Helga and the island characters are gradually revealed, as Helga carries out her mission and ultimately finds a new home on the island.  160 pages; grades 3-7.

Pros:  A fast-paced graphic novel with lots of fun characters and plenty of adventure.  The end is somewhat open-ended, and readers will no doubt hope for a sequel to learn about what’s next for the plucky Helga.

Cons:  There was a lot of world-building and plot to cram into 160 pages.

Scout Is Not a Band Kid by Jade Armstrong

Published by Random House Graphic

Summary:  Scout’s greatest dream is to go to AlmonteFest and meet her favorite author.  When she finds out her school band is going, she decides to join, pretending that she can play trombone.  The only other trombone player is Merrin, a dedicated player who is trying to get into an exclusive arts high school.  Merrin has been wanting to have first and second trombone parts and is annoyed that Scout is faking her way through all the music.  A disastrous concert forces a reluctant Scout to take lessons from Merrin, and much to the surprise of both girls, they discover they actually have quite a bit in common.  By the time of the festival, they’ve become pretty good friends.  A falling out on the trip reveals to both how much they need each other, and that having dreams come true isn’t always as important as having a best friend to count on.  Includes several pages from the artist showing how they developed the characters and story.  272 pages; grades 4-8.

Pros:  As I revealed a couple of years ago, I too was a band kid, so I always enjoy reading about the fun if slightly cringey world of teen musicians.  This particular ensemble has a pretty stellar cast of unique characters, and I found it satisfying to watch Scout gradually realize that her true friends are in the band.  Raina Telgemeier fans will enjoy this when they’re ready to move onto something a little bit edgier.

Cons:  Occasionally some of the characters looked like they were sketched in instead of fully drawn.  I think there was probably a reason for this, but I couldn’t figure it out.

Killer Underwear Invasion! How to Spot Fake News, Disinformation & Conspiracy Theories by Elise Gravel

Published by Chronicle Books

Summary:  In six chapters, Elise Gravel covers the bases of information literacy: fake news, disinformation, how social media spread such things, confirmation bias, and how to check for accuracy.  Her drawings and examples are funny, with cute monsters talking to each other about why doctors are bad, pollution is okay, and how drinking shampoo will make you healthy, but underwear might kill you.  The final chapter gives ten tips for telling real news from fake.  No back matter, alas.  104 pages; grades 2-6.

Pros:  This would make a great text to use for an information literacy class, using the humorous examples to springboard to real-life ones.  Kids will definitely be entertained, and there’s plenty of great information.

Cons:  Feels like librarians have been teaching this stuff for my whole twenty-plus-years-long career, yet the spread of disinformation is worse than ever.

Adventuregame Comics: Leviathan by Jason Shiga

Published by Harry N. Abrams

Summary:  In this choose-your-own-adventure graphic novel, a giant sea creature called Leviathan is terrorizing the villagers.  It’s up to you to find a way to defeat it.  On almost every page, a choice is given with page numbers attached to comic panels or different parts of the illustration.  Turn to that page to continue your story.  Be sure to read the first page before starting, as it contains important information about how to navigate your way through the book.  144 pages; grades 3-7.

Pros:  According to the author’s introduction, this deceptively small book contains hundreds of adventures.  Kids raised on video games are going to love going back and forth to discover the different stories.  I can’t even imagine creating this!  It’s billed as book 1, so look for more to come.

Cons:  Personally, the format of this just about drove me mad.  Guess I am a linear reader.

The Tryout by Christina Soontornvat, illustrated by Joanna Cacao

Published by Graphix

Summary:  Seventh grade is tough, and to Christina, the cheerleading squad looks like they have it all figured out.  She and her best friend Megan decide to try out, a two-step process that involves a first round with a panel of judges and a second round in which the whole school votes.  Christina, who is Thai-American, and Megan, who is Iranian-American, have often felt like outsiders in their small Texas town.  Megan decides to partner with someone else for the tryouts, feeling that they’ll stand out less if paired with white girls.  Christina is hurt but finds a new partner and throws herself into preparing for the big day.  Things don’t turn out the way the girls are hoping, but just getting through the terrifying experience of auditioning in front of their classmates gives both girls new confidence to pursue other goals.  Includes an author’s note and five pages of photos that give more information about Christina’s real-life middle school experiences.  272 pages; grades 3-7.

Pros:  Add this to the list of high-quality books produced by the incredibly prolific Christina Soontornvat. Readers will be entertained and inspired by her middle grade graphic memoir that looks at racism, bullying, and learning to be yourself.  

Cons:  This seems like a truly terrible way to choose a middle school cheerleading squad.