Borders by Thomas King, illustrated by Natasha Donovan

Published by Little, Brown Books for Young Readers

Borders by Thomas King | Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
Thomas King publishing his first graphic novel — get a sneak peek now | CBC  Books

Summary:  A boy tells the story of his family in the present and through a series of flashbacks.  His older sister Laetitia, growing bored with life on the Blackfoot reserve in Alberta, moves to Salt Lake City.  The boy and his mother decide to visit her.  At the border, they’re asked for their citizenship, and the mother replies, “Blackfoot.”  This is not an acceptable answer for crossing the border into the U.S., nor will it allow them back into Canada, and the two of them are stuck at the crossing for days.  Finally, after the media descends on the station, the boy and his mother are allowed to cross into the United States.  They visit Laetitia, who has come to appreciate her family and heritage more and is considering returning home, before an uneventful trip back to Canada.  192 pages; grades 5-8.

Pros:  This brief but powerful graphic novel, based on a short story by the author, provides plenty of food for thought about the artificial nature of nations and borders and the impact they have on indigenous people who lived in those places long before the nations existed.  

Cons:  Several reviews recommend this for grades 3 and up, but in my opinion, the language and content make it more of a middle school book. It’s a deceptively simple story that younger kids may not fully grasp.

Bad Sister by Charise Mericle Harper, illustrated by Rory Lucey

Published by First Second

Bad Sister: Harper, Charise Mericle, Lucey, Rory: 9781250219060: Amazon.com:  Books
Bad Sister

Summary:  Charise tells the story of her childhood with her younger brother Daniel, from the time he comes home from the hospital through the next several years growing up together.  Each chapter is entitled “The Power of _____” (The Power of the Trick, The Power of Seeing and Knowing).  At first, Charise enjoys her unfettered power as the older sibling, and doesn’t care if Daniel gets hurt or upset.  But as she grows older, she begins to experience more guilt about abusing her power, culminating with an accident in which she breaks Daniel’s tooth.  Her parents blame her, and she considers herself a “bad sister”, but the truth is more nuanced, with parental dynamics and regular kids’ play/roughhousing playing a part.  The final chapter, “The Biggest Power”, reveals Daniel’s power to forgive, allowing Charise to admit to the traits that she admires in her younger brother.  Includes a photo of the real Charise and Daniel as kids.  240 pages; grades 3-6.

Pros:  This graphic memoir deserves a place alongside Raina Telgemeier’s, Jennifer and Matthew Holms’, and Shannon Hale’s books, and will undoubtedly be enjoyed by a similar audience.  Anyone who’s ever had a sibling will recognize the friendship, torment, guilt, and forgiveness that are all part of Charise’s and Daniel’s relationship.

Cons:  Young Charise was awfully hard on herself.

Chunky by Yehudi Mercado

Published by Katherine Tegen Books

Chunky: Mercado, Yehudi, Mercado, Yehudi: 9780062972781: Amazon.com: Books
Chunky: Mercado, Yehudi, Mercado, Yehudi: 9780062972781: Amazon.com: Books

Summary:  Hudi just wants to hang out with his imaginary friend Chunky and make people laugh, but his parents think it’s better for him to play sports.  Not only are they concerned about his weight, but he had some health issues as a child that resulted in him losing part of a lung.  Most of the chapters have sports titles: “Soccer”, “Football”, “Swimming” as he tries one after and other and not only fails, but often ends up in the emergency room with some sort of injury.  in the last chapter “Theater”, he finds his true passion; his parents eventually come around and become his biggest cheerleaders.  Includes an author’s note with additional autobiographical information and a couple of photos.  208 pages; grades 3-7.

Pros:  An engaging graphic memoir; kids struggling to find their own identities will relate to Hudi’s difficulties on the sports field and cheer for him as he discovers where he really belongs–on stage.

Cons:  In his author’s note, Mercado says how he and his dad shared a passion for art.  While this is alluded to very briefly in the story, it would have been an interesting dimension of their relationship to play up a little more.

Frog and Ball by Kathy Caple and Spring Cakes by Miranda Harmon (I Like to Read Comics series)

Published by Holiday House

Frog and Ball by Kathy Caple: 9780823443413 | PenguinRandomHouse.com: Books
Bound To Stay Bound Books, Inc. - Bookstore
Amazon.com: Spring Cakes (I Like to Read Comics): 9780823449354: Harmon,  Miranda: Books

Summary:  In Frog and Ball, Frog checks out a book about magic from the library.  On the way home, he comes across a deflated ball, and decides to try out the book to bring the ball back to life.  His magic works a little too well when the ball really does come to life and starts chasing him all over town, including a chaotic return to the library.  Frog finally manages to subdue the ball back into deflated submission, but when Rabbit comes along, it looks like things are going to start up again.

A family of cats has big cooking plans in Spring Cakes, but first they have to gather the ingredients: flour, honey, eggs, strawberries, and some magic roses.  Each item requires going to the source, so the kitties get a series of adventures, including a visit to the witch who has the roses.  Finally, it’s time to bake, and everyone who helped out gets to enjoy a picnic with some spring cakes.  Both books are 40 pages; ages 4-8.

Pros:  I’ve long been a fan of the I Like to Read books, and was excited to hear that there was a new comic series (and grateful to Holiday House for the free copies!).  These are sure to be a hit with kids learning to read: the comic format is, of course, hugely popular and the stories are well-crafted with cute illustrations.

Cons:  One of the things I love about the I Like to Read series is that it includes books that look like “real books” (not like early readers) that are written at the earliest Fountas and Pinnell levels (A, B, C).  These comic books are at a higher F&P level (Frog and Ball is I and Spring Cakes is L).  I’m hoping Holiday House will come out with some that are for those earlier levels.

Big Apple Diaries by Alyssa Bermudez

Published by Roaring Brook Press

Amazon.com: Big Apple Diaries: 9781250774279: Bermudez, Alyssa, Bermudez,  Alyssa: Books
Big Apple Diaries Book - Comics and Illustration Portfolio — Alyssa Bermudez

Summary:  Alyssa Bermudez used her real diaries from seventh and eighth grade to create this graphic novel that takes place in New York City from 2000 to 2002.  Her main concerns starting seventh grade are dealing with the popular kids, her crush on Alejandro, and owning as many pairs of funky shoes as her parents and Catholic school will allow.  She slowly matures through the next two years, a process that is hastened by 9/11 (her parents both work in the financial district), her father’s illness, and a desire to get into the best high school she can.  By graduation time, it’s clear she’s ready for the new challenges that lie ahead in high school.  Includes a 4-page author’s note with lots more information and photos about her life during those years.  288 pages; grades 4-7.

Pros:  Fans of the Raina Telgemeier graphic novel genre will love the real-life story of Alyssa that includes many light moments (shaving her eyebrows, accidentally dyeing her hair orange), as well as the very serious ones engendered by being so close to the events of 9/11.  

Cons:  The art is all done in blue and black…I prefer the full-color illustration of Telgemeier and Victoria Jamieson.

Kyle’s Little Sister by BonHyung Jeong

Published by JY

Kyle's Little Sister: Jeong, BonHyung: 9781975316549: Amazon.com: Books
Kyle's Little Sister by BonHyung Jeong, Paperback | Barnes & Noble®

Summary:  Grace is excited to be starting middle school, but before long she’s dealing with what’s been a lifelong problem for her: living in the shadow of her popular, athletic brother Kyle.  One of her two best friends, Jay, has a crush on Kyle, and the other friend, Amy is trying to push the shyer Jay into telling Kyle how she feels about him.  Finally, Jay and Grace have had enough, and the whole friendship falls apart at a disastrous sleepover.  Feeling friendless, Grace welcomes the overtures of a more popular girl named Cam, and enjoys hanging out with her and her friends until she starts to notice what a bully Cam can be, particularly towards Amy.  When Grace learns that Cam has a crush on Kyle and is just using Grace to get to her brother, she realizes that Cam isn’t a real friend…and that Amy and Jay were.  Fortunately, the two other girls have come to a similar conclusion, and the friendship is soon back and better than ever (and even Kyle turns out to be not such a bad guy).  240 pages; grades 3-6.

Pros:  Did you follow all that?  There is a LOT of middle school drama in these 240 pages, but it is true to life, and fans of the realistic fiction graphic novel genre will love both the story and the anime-style art.

Cons:  At times, dialog was written in bubbles with no little tail indicating who was saying the words, which I found a bit confusing.

Long Distance by Whitney Gardner

Published by Simon and Schuster Books for Young Readers

Long Distance: Gardner, Whitney, Gardner, Whitney: 9781534455665:  Amazon.com: Books
Long Distance: Gardner, Whitney, Gardner, Whitney: 9781534455658:  Amazon.com: Books

Summary:  When one of Vega’s dads gets a new job, the whole family packs up and moves from Portland to Seattle.  Vega’s so unhappy about leaving her best friend behind that her parents decide to send her to Camp Very Best Friend, where even the most introspective kids are guaranteed to find friends.  Camp turns out to be a pretty strange place, from the odd bus ride there to the weirdly peppy counselors, but Vega does actually find herself making some friends.  Good thing, too, because when she and some of the others start to make some disturbing discoveries about camp, they need to band together to figure out how to escape and make it safely home again.  Although the lessons are unexpected, Vega learns plenty about friendship during her unusual summer, and winds up with a lot more friends than she started with.  320 pages; grades 3-7.

Pros:  From the graphic novelist who brought you Fake Blood comes this fun summer read that celebrates friendship in all different forms. There’s some good suspense as the kids try to figure out what’s going on at camp, and a happy ending for all life forms. 

Cons:  Your kids may never want to go to summer camp again.

Monster Friends by Kaeti Vandorn

Published by Random House Graphics

Monster Friends: (A Graphic Novel): Vandorn, Kaeti: 9781984896827:  Amazon.com: Books
Monster Friends: (A Graphic Novel): Vandorn, Kaeti: 9781984896827:  Amazon.com: Books

Summary:  Reggie is spending his summer house sitting for relatives, living by himself after what seems to have been some unsettling events in his recent past.  He seems torn between enjoying his solitude and feeling lonely.  When gregarious Emily the rabbit shows up, he has a good time hanging out with her.  Emily’s got her own troubles with four sisters, one of whom makes fun of her for her vivid imagination.  As the summer progresses, Reggie starts to make more connections and to accept that he may not be as adventurous as the best friend he left behind.  By the end of the summer, he and Emily are good friends and he has decided on a new life path for himself.  272 pages; grades 1-5.

Pros:  Younger graphic novel fans will love Reggie and his friends, all of them monsters with some surprising abilities.  The illustrations are adorable and the “be true to yourself” message that Reggie learns is a good one.

Cons:  I found the first chapter confusing.

Turtle in Paradise: The Graphic Novel by Jennifer L. Holm and Savanna Ganucheau

Published by Random House Graphic

Amazon.com: Turtle in Paradise: The Graphic Novel (9780593126318): Holm,  Jennifer L., Ganucheau, Savanna: Books
Amazon.com: Turtle in Paradise: The Graphic Novel (9780593126318): Holm,  Jennifer L., Ganucheau, Savanna: Books

Summary:  Turtle’s gotten her nickname from being hard-shelled, but a new friend guesses that she also has a soft underbelly.  This proves to be the case when her mother sends her to live with her aunt in Depression-era Key West, Florida.  Her overworked aunt wasn’t expecting her, and Turtle finds herself spending her days with her boy cousins and their friends, a group that calls themselves the Diaper Gang because of their abilities to calm babies and cure diaper rash.  An unusual friendship with Turtle’s newly-discovered grandmother leads Turtle to a discovery that results in near-tragedy, but ultimately triumph (and treasure!).  Just when Turtle thinks she’s on her way to a home and family with her mother, another unexpected twist destroys their plans.  But in the final few pages, Turtle and her mother learn the value of their Key West family, and it looks like they have found a home after all.  256 pages; grades 3-7.

Pros:  Based on the 2010 Newbery honor book by Jennifer Holm, this graphic novel is told in vignettes which I assume are similar to the original (which I haven’t read).  The story and artwork are engaging, providing a look at the impoverished Key West before it became a tourist destination.  Fans of Raina Telgemier, Victoria Jamieson, and Holm’s other graphic novels are sure to want to read this one.

Cons:  Like I said, I haven’t read the original, but I did read the prequel Full of Beans, and I felt like some of the interesting historical details were lost in the transition to a graphic format. 

Jukebox by Nidhi Chanani

Published by First Second

Amazon.com: Jukebox (9781250156372): Chanani, Nidhi, Chanani, Nidhi: Books
Jukebox | Nidhi Chanani | Macmillan

Summary:  When Shahi’s music-obsessed dad goes missing, she and her cousin Naz wind up at Earl’s music store where her father spent a lot of time.  They find an unusual old jukebox that plays LP records, then accidentally discover that it transports them back to the time the album was released.  While they get some interesting glimpses of history, they don’t find Shahi’s dad.  It takes a lot of trial-and-error and some detective work to finally figure out what’s going on and to have a reunion that not only brings Dad back to the present but mends some of the more difficult parts of Shahi’s relationship with him.  Includes a playlist of songs referenced in the story; an author’s note explaining her inspirations for the book; and several pages showing the evolution of some of her artwork.  224 pages; grades 4-7.

Pros:  The premise of this graphic novel is very cool, and serves as a great introduction to a lot of music and some of the historical events that both inspired that music and were influenced by it.  Although there’s a bit of an age gap between the two girls (Naz is Shahi’s babysitter), they are loyal friends who help and protect each other.

Cons:  The story felt a bit too ambitious with not only the musical and historical aspects, but a variety of relationship issues and subplots about Naz’s ear surgery and worries about coming out as bisexual.  The pictures at the beginning of the time travel sections included some jotted notes about the artist and/or album, which looked really interesting, but were hard to read.