Summary: Maddie’s heartbroken when her mom tells her they can’t keep a stray dog in their apartment. She decides to take him to Animal Rescue Friends, where she meets a girl her age named Bell and decides to volunteer. Bell has a little trouble letting go of control, but eventually the two learn to work together and become friends. A reformed troublemaker named Noah joins the group when he rescues a cat. Over the course of five stories, the kids work together to take care of all kinds of animals and help them find new homes. Includes 20+ pages about comics and how to create them. 160 pages; grades 2-5.
Pros: If you’re a teacher who worked through the pandemic, you’re probably familiar with Epic!, a website where kids can read books online. Apparently, they’ve started publishing some of their original works as paper books, including this one, billed as Book 1. True to the Epic! spirit, it’s a high-interest graphic novel about kids helping animals, so sure to appeal to all kinds of readers.
Cons: Animal Rescue Friends appears to have one adult working there, with 11-year-old volunteers making up the remainder of the staff; this may not present an accurate picture of how animal shelters actually work.
Summary: Portico “Stuntboy” Reeves loves living in a castle, which is how he thinks of his apartment building. He knows just about everyone in the building, including his neighbor and best friend Zola, and likes just about all of them, with the notable exception of bully Herbert Singletary the Worst. When Portico’s parents announce they will soon be living in two apartments and start fighting over dividing up their possessions, Portico starts getting the frets, which is what he calls his anxiety. He and Zola deal with this by imagining themselves as superheroes. Cartoon panels recap episodes of their favorite TV show, Super Space Warriors, which bear an uncanny resemblance to the Reeves parents’ fights. When Portico finally figures out what’s going on with his family, he feels split in two, but his friends–including Herbert Singletary, who turns out to be not so bad after all–help him get through. 272 pages; grades 2-6.
Pros: I could scarcely contain my glee when I first heard about this collaboration between Jason Reynolds and Raúl the Third, and I am happy to report my expectations were met. The text and the art work together beautifully, and I’m sure this appealing and highly relatable book will not spend much time lounging on anybody’s library shelves.
Cons: There’s clearly going to be a sequel, but the ending felt unnecessarily abrupt.
Summary: The author based this story on her life, portraying herself as a young girl named Chang who commits to becoming a wildlife conservationist after witnessing people extracting bear bile on a bear farm. As she grows up, she’s given little encouragement due to her gender and age, but she persists in her goal, and eventually is accepted as a volunteer for an organization called Free the Bears. There she meets a sun bear cub named Sorya and takes on the task of reintroducing her to the wild. This proves to be a long process, since Sorya is shy and becomes attached to Chang. Again, Chang’s persistence pays off, and after many months, Sorya gradually goes back to the wild. Chang misses her friend, but is happy that Sorya is where she belongs. 128 pages; grades 3-7.
Pros: This unusual graphic story features gorgeous artwork showing the forests of Vietnam and an inspiring story about a determined young woman who is able to make a difference with her conservation work.
Cons: The scene at the bear farm is a bit disturbing.
Summary: Cranky Chicken is constantly…well, cranky. Then along comes Speedy, a worm with a perennially upbeat attitude, and things begin to change. In five chapters the two slowly become good friends, and Speedy is occasionally successful in changing Cranky’s outlook on life. The final chapter sees Cranky overcome a fear of heights to help Speedy realize his dream of flying, and even Cranky has to admit that it was pretty great. 116 pages; grades 1-4.
Pros: Fans of Narwhal and Jellyfish will happily embrace this new pair of friends and their comic-style adventures. There’s plenty of humor, friendship, and good simple watercolor art in mostly pastels with a few bright highlights (like Cranky’s expressive unibrow). I hope there will be some sequels!
Cons: The font looks like hand-lettered printing, which may take some getting used to for early readers.
Summary: In this spinoff from the Click series, best friends Liz and Chanda are trying to make some money. When their lemonade stand fails, Liz’s older sister hands over her dog-sitting job to the two girls. They’re thrilled to get to hang out at the owner’s fancy home, raiding her closet and posting photos of themselves in luxurious surroundings. When the popular girls see the pictures, they want a piece of the action. Liz and Chanda invite one of the girls over, but she brings three more; in the ensuing chaos, an expensive lamp gets broken. As the girls try to make amends, they learn some important lessons about responsibility and friendship and are able to bring about a satisfying conclusion for everyone. Includes six pages of Q&A with the book’s creators and four pages showing how the illustrations were created. 216 pages; grades 3-6.
Pros: There ought to be a name for the Raina Telgemeier/Victoria Jamieson/Shannon Hale/Jennifer Holm genre of graphic novels. Whatever that name is, this book will have great appeal to fans of it. It’s a realistic friendship story about irresponsibility and learning to make amends for it. Hoping to see more books about Liz and Chanda.
Cons: Chanda’s parents were kind of insufferable with their favoritism toward their older daughter.
Summary: It’s 1885, and 13-year-old Mei is working as an assistant cook, helping her father in a logging camp in the Sierra Nevadas. The stories she makes up about Auntie Po, a larger-than-life character inspired by Paul Bunyan, entertain the other kids and help her to celebrate her Chinese heritage. Prejudice against her father and other Chinese workers leads to their dismissal and Mei’s anger at her helplessness. When the White workers strike to protest their bad food, the boss is forced to hire back Mei’s father. The two men are friends, as are the boss’s daughter and Mei (who sometimes dreams of something more than a friendship), but Mei and her father frequently have to remind the White man and his daughter of the privileges they have that the Chinese don’t. A tragedy forces Mei to question her belief in Auntie Po, but eventually brings about a chain of events that give her and her father hope for a brighter future. Includes an author’s note and bibliography. 304 pages; grades 5-9.
Pros: It’s not often that I’m actually reading a book when it’s announced as a National Book Award finalist (okay, that has never happened to me before and probably never will again). There’s so much here: historical fiction, folklore, explorations of racism and privilege, coming of age, LGBTQ issues…plus a great story with outstanding artwork. I’m guessing this will be considered for a Newbery or maybe a Printz award. It would definitely have appeal for either age group.
Cons: There are a lot of characters and storylines to keep track of, and I felt like I missed some of the subtleties in my first reading.
Published by Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
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.
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.
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.
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.