Mr. Wolf’s Class by Aron Nels Steinke

Published by Graphix

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Summary:  New teacher Mr. Wolf has his hands full with 17 lively elementary students…or at least there are 17 until Penny, sleep-deprived from her baby brother’s crying, falls asleep in a box in the library.  A missing student is only one challenge Mr. Wolf has on his first day of school; he also deals with lunch-eating rats, kids cutting the line, and a boy who spends math time surveying his classmates on whether they prefer ice cream or farts and charting the results on a Venn diagram.  Mr. Wolf rises to all occasions, though, and the kids are pretty happy as they head home at the end of the day. Stewart and new girl Margot bond on the bus ride home; Margot comes to the rescue when Stewart leaves his shell collection on the bus, and a new friendship is made.  Book #2 (Mystery Club) is due out in February.  160 pages; grades 2-5.

Pros:  Aron Nels Steinke has clearly spent some time in an elementary school, and I laughed out loud at some of the scenes that will be recognized by most teachers and students. I loved this graphic novel from start to finish, and recommend it as first-day-of-school reading for anyone who will be going back to school in September.

Cons:  The evil Mr. Mane, a lion teacher who steals Mr. Wolf’s stapler, but then pretends not to have done so with false friendliness.

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Cardboard Kingdom by Chad Sell

Published by Knopf Books for Young Readers

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Summary:  A neighborhood group of kids plays some pretty complex imaginary games in this graphic novel, aided by their extensive use of cardboard to make costumes and other accessories.  Each chapter is written by Chad Sell and another writer, and focuses on a different kid in the group.  There’s some gender bending, with the sorceress being played by a boy in a long gown and heels, and a girl in a mustache taking the role of mad scientist.  While parents occasionally question these choices, the other kids never do, and there is a satisfying aura of acceptance around the games all summer long.  Even the bully is shown to have a difficult home life and is eventually drawn into the fun.  At home, kids are dealing with divorce and absent parents, but the camaraderie and joy of play help them to put aside those issues when they don their costumes.  288 pages; grades 4-7.

Pros:  A celebration of imagination, adventure, and being true to yourself, told in graphic format with a diverse cast of characters and plenty of colorful costumes.

Cons:  There are a lot of characters to keep track of.

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The Creativity Project: An Awesometastic Story Collection edited by Colby Sharp

Published by Little Brown Books for Young Readers

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Summary:  Colby Sharp, co-founder of The Nerdy Book Club, embarked on a creativity project with 44 children’s book authors and illustrators, who were each invited to create two prompts.  Mr. Sharp then sent them two prompts from other artists and asked them to create something based on one of them.  This book is the result: a collection of poems, stories, artwork, and comics. Each one shows the prompt that was given (and who made it up), followed by the creative work it inspired.  The names will be familiar to any fan of children’s literature: Lemony Snicket, Jennifer Holm, Dan Santat, Victoria Jamieson, and many, many more. The final section, entitled “Prompts for You” includes intriguing text and pictures to inspire readers.  Includes brief biographies of all the contributors and an index. 288 pages; grades 3-7.

Pros:  This unusual book is fun to read (especially for us nerdy children’s book fans) and an inspiring look at the creative process.  There were some fun surprises (a deliciously creepy tale by Dav Pilkey comes to mind) and enough different genres to keep things interesting.  The prompts at the end will make you want to cast everything else in your life aside and start writing.

Cons:  It takes some persistence to plow through the whole book, and a few of the entries seemed like the writers kind of phoned it in.

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The Party and Other Stories by Sergio Ruzzier

Published by Chronicle Books

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Summary:  Friends Fox and Chick share three stories for early readers.  In the first, Chick asks to use Fox’s bathroom, then proceeds to have a party with her friends there.  Next, Chick can’t understand why Fox prefers vegetables to small animals, but when she realizes she herself is a small animal, is happy to share his vegetable soup.  Finally, Chick asks Fox to paint her portrait, but can’t sit still look enough for him to do it.  56 pages; grades K-3.

Pros:  Early readers will love the cartoon dialogue and friendship reminiscent of Elephant and Piggie or Frog and Toad.  With any luck, this will be the beginning of a new series.

Cons:  A friendship between a fox and a chick makes me a bit nervous.

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All Summer Long by Hope Larson

Published by Farrar, Straus and Giroux

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Summary:  Bina’s excited that seventh grade is over, but disappointed to learn that her best friend Austin is going to soccer camp for a month.  Summer seems totally boring without him, but then surprising things begin to happen.  She gets to know Austin’s older sister, Charlie, who has always seemed mean, but turns out to be pretty cool.  Bina loves music and has started learning guitar, but over the summer her passion deepens.  She gets the opportunity to meet the guitarist from one of her favorite groups, and dreams of starting her own band in high school.  When Austin gets home and starts acting weird, Bina’s confident enough to stand up to him and get their friendship back on track.  The end of the book suggests there might be a sequel that includes a new high school band for Bina.  170 pages; grades 5-8.

Pros:  Fans of realistic girl-centered graphic novels (Raina Telgemeier, Victoria Jamieson, Jennifer Holm, et. al.) will embrace this emotionally engaging summer tale with a strong and quirky heroine.

Cons:  Although there is nothing that makes this explicitly inappropriate for elementary grades, it definitely has more of a middle school/teen vibe than some of the authors mentioned above.

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Positively Izzy by Terry Libenson

Published by Balzer + Bray

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Summary:  Like she did in her first book, Invisible Emmie, Terry Libenson tells two intersecting stories. Brianna’s is in comic format, while Izzy’s is a mix of text and illustrations, some with cartoon bubbles. Izzy often struggles with focusing on her school work, but loves to dream up stories and act them out.  Brianna is a serious student whose drama teacher mother wishes she would try acting. When Izzy flunks a math test, her mother’s punishment is to forbid her to perform her act in the talent show. Brianna, on the other hand, gets recruited to perform in the show when one of the actors can’t make it.  Both overcome internal and external obstacles on their way to success, and the two stories come together in a surprising way at the end. 224 pages; grades 3-7.

Pros:  This is sure to be a hit with graphic novel and diary fans.  I did not see the surprise coming at the end, and loved the way the two stories fit together.

Cons:  “Izzy” is a silly nickname given to her by her sister; we never find out her real name.

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Be Prepared by Vera Brosgold

Published by First Second

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Summary:  Vera often feels like she doesn’t fit in–her family is from Russia and her single mom is struggling to put herself through school.  When Vera hears about a Russian summer camp that’s paid for by the church, she’s sure she’s found a place to make     new friends.  She begs her mom to go, but when the big day finally arrives, she discovers camp isn’t the paradise she had imagined.  She’s the youngest in her group, and the other kids are either mean to her or treat her condescendingly.  The bathrooms are gross, and when she tries to make friends with a chipmunk, he bites her.  Vera is relieved when the two weeks is over, but when her mom comes to pick her up, she tells Vera that she’s gotten an important job interview.  Vera and her brother have to stay for two more weeks.  Vera is desperate, but then slowly things start to change.  She begins to enjoy striking out on her own, and by the last week, she’s made a friend from the younger group.  Ultimately, Vera decides that camp is not for her; she doesn’t plan to return the next year, but she has learned a lot about herself and gained some confidence during her four weeks there.  256 pages; grades 5-8.

Pros:  Fans of Raina Telgemeier and other girl-memoir graphic novels will enjoy this summertime tale based on the author’s real experiences.  The ending is kind of refreshing, in that Vera decides camp was a good growing experience, but it’s not her thing.  I personally didn’t love the green and black color palate, but it was a good choice for the somewhat austere Russian camp.

Cons:  Heads-up on a scene near the end that may raise an eyebrow or two from elementary parents:  two of Vera’s older tentmates get in a fight; one of them steals the other one’s underpants after she’s gotten her period and runs them up a flagpole.

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