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.

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

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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Sunny Rolls the Dice by Jennifer L. Holm and Matthew Holm

Published by Graphix

Image result for sunny rolls the dice

Image result for sunny rolls the dice

Summary:  It’s 1977, and Sunny is starting seventh grade in her third graphic novel.  Her best friend, Deb, is interested in boys, makeup, and clothes, while Sunny sees the boys as partners for playing the new game Dungeons and Dragons.  For awhile, she gives into peer pressure, even telling the guys she’s through with D & D. At the big middle school dance, though, Sunny has curled her hair and bought a fancy dress, but she ends up with her three gaming friends out in the hall and decides she’d rather hang out with them.  Readers of the first books will enjoy cameo appearances by her grandfather and troubled older brother (who seems to be doing well in the Navy), but this book is mostly a middle school tale about Sunny. 224 pages; grades 3-7.

Pros:  The first two books have been very popular among the Raina Telgemeier/Victoria Jamieson groupies in my library, and I’m sure this one will be as well.  Lots of ‘70’s nostalgia (Sunny’s one year younger than me, and I’m pretty sure that the word “groovy” wasn’t as popular in the 1977-78 school year as this book would lead you to believe) and a fun lesson about being yourself.

Cons:  This book is pretty light and fluffy and doesn’t tackle the tough issues like the first two did.

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Astro-Nuts Mission One: The Plant Planet by Jon Scieszka, illustrated by Steven Weinberg

Published by Chronicle Books

Image result for astro-nuts scieszka

Image result for astro-nuts steven weinberg

Summary:  Planet Earth narrates this graphic adventure about four super-powered animals sent by NNASA (Not the National Aeronautics and Space Administration) to find a new planet that will support human life.  Blasting out of Thomas Jefferson’s nostril on Mount Rushmore, the four discover the Plant Planet, which at first seems like an ideal environment. AstroWolf, SmartHawk, LaserShark, and StinkBug each use their special talents to analyze the atmosphere and life on the planet.  Although their initial reports to NNASA are promising, the planet ultimately ends up being hostile to animal life, and the four heroes barely escape. If the last few pages are any indications, it looks like the team will be sent to explore The Water Planet in mission #2.  Includes notes about the collage art used for the illustrations. 220 pages; grades 2-5.

Pros:  Kids will love this wacky graphic novel with plenty of action, adventure, and bathroom humor, and will also learn a little about climate change and other science along the way.  

Cons:  The ultimate fate of the Plant Planet seemed a bit harsh.

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Boy-Crazy Stacey (The Baby-Sitters Club series) by Gale Galligan, based on the novel by Ann M. Martin

Published by Graphix

Image result for boy-crazy stacey gale

Summary:  When Stacey and Mary Ann are invited to go to Sea City with the Pike family as mother’s helpers, they can’t for a two-week vacation at the Jersey shore.  But when Stacey develops a massive crush on Scott the lifeguard, Mary Ann gets stuck with all the work. Not surprisingly, Scott breaks Stacey’s heart, and further tween-age drama ensues.  Mary Ann and Stacey eventually patch up their friendship, and the two of them meet a boy babysitter and his cousin, who are closer in age than the lifeguard. A fun double date (complete with first kiss in the Tunnel of Love) leaves Stacey feeling good about her trip. 176 pages; grades 3-5.

Pros:  Long-time blog readers know that I find the Baby-Sitters Club books as irresistible as the Jersey shore on a hot July day.  The non-graphic version of this book has always been one of my favorites (I’m not too proud to admit it was first published shortly before my 25th birthday…), and I was excited to see it was next up on the Graphix reissues.  It’s a good retelling of the original, with artwork that perfectly captures the Jersey shore.  

Cons:  I thought I was just being nitpicky with my irritation over the way Gale Galligan draws open mouths, but then I saw an Amazon review that mentioned the same thing.  When she doesn’t draw teeth, it looks like a brown blob on the character’s face.

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

Image result for gale galligan babysitters club

Smell My Foot! (Chick and Brain, book 1) by Cece Bell

Published by Candlewick

Image result for smell my foot chick brain

Image result for smell my foot chick brain

Summary:  Chick is a polite chick who meets the more literal-minded Brain.  In a series of humorous episodes, Chick tries to teach Brain manners, pretty much to no avail. What Brain really wants is for everyone to smell his foot.  Turns out, it smells pretty great…at least one of them does. Even Spot the dog agrees. What Spot really wants, though, is to lure Chick to his house so he can have a nice chicken dinner.  Fortunately, Brain is there to save the day…and it turns out his other foot doesn’t smell quite as good. 72 pages; ages 4-8.

Pros:  Non-stop goofiness, a graphic novel format, and a character in heart-covered boxer shorts with a big brain sitting atop his head: I predict this new series will be flying off the shelves.

Cons:  I still haven’t gotten invited to dinner with husband-and-wife-children’s-book-superstars Tom Angleberger and Cece Bell.

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

Stargazing by Jen Wang, color by Lark Pien

Published by First Second

Image result for stargazing jen wang

Image result for stargazing jen wang

Summary:  Christine’s not sure how she feels when Moon and her mother move into the cottage on Christine’s family’s property.  Moon is an artist who does her own thing and doesn’t fit in with Christine’s family or their Chinese American community.  But she also opens up new possibilities for Christine, introducing her to K-pop, nail polish, and dancing. Christine eventually gets to see a more vulnerable side of Moon, learning how Moon’s beloved father died when she was six, and how Moon sometimes has visions of celestial beings that she believes will one day take her away.  When Christine gets jealous of Moon’s popularity and plays a mean prank, Moon collapses and the truth about her visions comes out. Christine feels terrible about what she’s done to her friend, but by the end, they have learned to forgive each other. Includes an author’s note telling of her own childhood experiences that inspired this book.  224 pages; grades 3-6.

Pros:  A beautiful graphic friendship story that will appeal to fans of Raina Telgemeier, Jennifer Holm, and Victoria Jamieson.  Both Moon and Christine are multidimensional characters who will resonate with many middle grade readers.

Cons:  The artwork wasn’t quite as spectacular as Wang’s The Prince and the Dressmaker.

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