Real Friends by Shannon Hale, illustrated by LeUyen Pham

Published by First Second

Summary:  Shannon Hale recounts her elementary school days, starting with her first friend, Adrienne, whom she met in kindergarten.  Shannon loved creating imaginary games, and Adrienne was an enthusiastic participant.  Adrienne’s family moved away for a year.  When they returned to the neighborhood, things had changed.  Adrienne befriended second-grade ringleader Jen, and Shannon found herself on the outer fringes of the clique, desperately trying secure her position.  Things were pretty rough at home, too, being stuck in the middle of five children and often bullied by a troubled older sister.  Finally, in fifth grade, Shannon declared her independence from the clique and learned to make her own good friends.  Much to her surprise, Jen admired her independence and became a friend as well.  In an author’s note, Shannon Hale tells more about her childhood, and her class pictures from elementary school are included at the end as well.  224 pages; grades 3-6.

Pros:  Brought to you by the creators of the Princess in Black series, this heartfelt memoir with its message of being yourself will be a hit with fans of Smile, El Deafo, and Roller Girl.

Cons:  Shannon’s life got pretty depressing about halfway through the book.  (Don’t worry, it all turns around for a happy ending.)

Fish Girl by Donna Jo Napoli and David Wiesner, pictures by David Wiesner

Published by Clarion Books

Summary:  Neptune welcomes you to Ocean Wonders, a three-story building that houses a giant aquarium.  Along with the octopus, shark, and fish, there lives a mermaid whom you just might catch a glimpse of if you are patient.  After hours, Neptune tells the fish girl the story of how he rescued her when fishermen and sharks killed off all the other mermaids.  Now he protects her, and in return she hides among the sea flora and fauna, revealing just enough of herself to lure humans into Ocean Wonders.  One day, though, she makes a connection with a girl her own age, who names the fish girl Mira.  The two become friends, and Mira’s world begins to change.  She learns that Neptune is really just an ex-fisherman, who creates his “magic” world with machines.  One night she manages to leave the tank, and learns that her tail becomes legs on dry land of water.  Mira sees her chance to escape, but will she be able to leave behind the aquarium world she has known all her life?  192 pages; grades 5-8.

Pros:  Triple Caldecott medalist David Wiesner creates a fairy-tale world reminiscent of his book Flotsam.  Middle school readers will relate to Mira’s struggle to figure out who she is and where her place in the world is.

Cons:  The relationship between Neptune and Mira borders on creepy.

One Trick Pony by Nathan Hale

Published by Amulet Books

Summary:  Nathan Hale takes a break from his Hazardous Tales graphic novels (relax, he has a new one coming out in November) to create a futuristic science fiction story.  Much of Earth has been destroyed, and a small band of humans is trying to preserve what’s left of its culture and history.  They live in a caravan that has to constantly move to avoid the alien Pipers that travel in bubbles and devour any technology they can find.  At the beginning of the story, Strata, Auger, and Inby discover a cave filled with robots, including a robotic horse.  Activating the robots attracts the Pipers, and the three kids barely escape on the horse.  Their adventures have just begun as they struggle to return home, pursued by the aliens.  Meanwhile, the caravan has gotten wind of the new Piper activity.  There is a push to move on, but the parents of the three missing children don’t want to leave without them.  There are encounters with other groups of humans living in more primitive societies, and a final showdown when the aliens capture Strata and her horse.  The action comes to a quick finish, indicating that this is most likely a stand-alone story rather than the first of a series.  128 pages; grades 3-7.

Pros:  Hale’s fans won’t be disappointed with this exciting adventure told with his trademark illustrations.  There is enough action to keep a 13-year-old engaged, yet it is mild enough to be appropriate for an 8-year-old.

Cons:  The defeat of the aliens seemed way too easy, and the ending was a little too pat.

NewsPrints by Ru Xu

Published by Graphix

Summary:  Blue is an orphan who lives at a newspaper office and works as a newsboy…except that she’s really a girl in disguise.  Her country is at war, and only boys are supposed to sell the important newspapers that tell the people what’s going on.  Besides having to keep such a big secret, Blue is happy, enjoying her work and the people she lives for.  Then she meets Jack, a mysterious inventor, and Crow, an even more mysterious boy.  As she slowly learns their secrets, she starts to suspect that the people in her life aren’t always being truthful, and she can’t believe everything she reads in the paper.  By the end of the story, she is ready to reveal the truth about herself and to prepare to take a potentially dangerous trip to help her new friends.  208 pages; grades 4-7.

Pros:  Graphic novel fans will love the latest entry from Scholastic’s popular Graphix imprint.  Blue’s world is filled with intrigue, fascinating characters, and dozens of fairy tale references.  The art will draw readers in; by the end, they will be eagerly anticipating the next installment.

Cons:  There were a lot of characters and storylines to keep track of.

A Perfect View (Cici: A Fairy’s Tale) by Cori Doerrfeld and Tyler Page

Published by Graphic Universe

Summary:  When Cici turned 10, she found out from her abuela that she is really a fairy, just like her grandmother.  Cici has recently weathered her parents’ divorce, enjoyed finding a new best friend (Kendra), and is in the process of learning how to use her magic powers.  She, Kendra, and her little sister Sophie go on a camping trip with Cici’s dad, and, right from the start, everything goes wrong–there’s no record of their reservation, the marshmallows are missing, and the first day is rainy.  Cici keeps seeing a little creature in the woods who tries to befriend her.  She rejects his offers of friendship, focusing instead on all that is going wrong, until she has a meltdown.  Her friend and family help her to see all the good things that have happened on the trip, and she finally makes friends with the creature.  When she returns, her abuela tells her it was a wood sprite, and that she is a very lucky fairy to have seen one.  48 pages; grades 1-3.

Pros:  A fun graphic novel for the younger set, with a nice blend of realism and fantasy, and featuring a Latina protagonist.

Cons:  The $20+ price tag certainly gives me pause about purchasing this series for my library.

Seven Favorite Graphic Novels

Teachers, parents, and librarians may have mixed feelings about graphic novels, but they’re the most popular books in my libraries, by far.  I couldn’t get my list down to five, so here are seven from 2016 that raised the bar on both art and storylines:

I Am Pan! by Mordicai Gerstein.  Published by Roaring Brook Press.

Caldecott winner Mordicai Gerstein may have entered his ninth decade, but he’s still creating masterpieces.  This fun introduction to mythology focuses on fun-loving Pan.  We can only hope for some follow-ups.

Mighty Jack by Ben Hatke.  Published by First Second.

Jack and the Beanstalk with a lot of modern twists, from the author of the Zita the Spacegirl series.  A sequel is in the works.

The Nameless City by Faith Erin Hicks, color by Jordie Bellaire.  Published by First Second.

I haven’t had a chance to review this, since I just finished reading it about 20 minutes ago, but trust me when I say upper elementary and middle school students will love the action, political intrigue, and courageous, likeable kid characters in this first installment of a new series.

The Great Pet Escape by Victoria Jamieson.  Published by Henry Holt.

Victoria Jamieson followed up her Newbery-honor Roller Girl with this hilarious tale about three classroom pets who make a break for the wilderness.  It’s billed as part of the “Pets on the Loose!” series, so we can hope for a sequel in 2017.

Snow White by Matt Phelan.  Published by Candlewick Press.

There’s got to be at least one award in store for this dark, highly original version of Snow White that takes place in Depression-era New York City.

Dog Man by Dav Pilkey.  Published by Graphix.

I’m a tiny bit embarrassed to include this on my list, but I did love it…millions of 8-year-old boys can’t be wrong, can they?  Good news, Dog Man Unleashed was released last Tuesday.

Ghosts by Raina Telgemeier.  Published by Graphix.

Fans of Smile, Sisters, and Drama will not be disappointed by Raina Telgemeier’s slightly darker story about two sisters exploring life and death in their new haunted hometown.

Mighty Jack by Ben Hatke

Published by First Second 

Summary:  Jack’s summer is not looking too great: he’s expected to take care of his autistic sister Maddie while his single mom struggles to make ends meet with two jobs.  At a flea market, an unsavory vendor (with the help of Maddie, speaking for the first time) trades Jack a box of seeds for the keys to his mother’s car.  Needless to say, this doesn’t go over too well with Mom.  The next day, Maddie is outside at the crack of dawn, digging up the backyard to plant the seeds.  Before long, the two kids have created a garden of plants that come to life in more ways than one, and that attracts both the neighbor girl, Lilly, and a talking dragon.  After a gigantic snail almost crushes Maddie, Jack has had enough, and tries to burn the entire garden.  But complete destruction seems impossible, and by the end of this book, Maddie’s been carried off by a garden monster, and Lilly and Jack are arming themselves to go after her.  Readers will have to wait for the next installment to see if they will be successful.  208 pages; grades 4-7.

Pros:  This graphic novel retelling of Jack and the Beanstalk has all the adventure, compelling characters, and fantastic artwork to make it irresistible to middle grade readers.

Cons:  The cliffhanger ending.