A Day in the Life of a Poo, a Gnu, and You: A Laugh-Out Loud Guide to Life on Earth by Mike Barfield, illustrated by Jess Bradley

Published by Aladdin

A Day in the Life of a Poo, a Gnu and You: Barfield, Mike: 9781780556468:  Amazon.com: Books
A Day in the Life of a Poo, a Gnu, and You: Barfield, Mike, Bradley, Jess:  9781534467217: Amazon.com: Books

Summary:  Divided into three sections–human body, animal kingdom, and earth and science–this book investigates life on earth through comic book-style stories about a day in the life of various things.  From the profound (brain, blue whale, moon) to the profane (fart, pimple, dung beetle), these stories will educate and entertain many different types of kids.  Includes a glossary.  128 pages; grades 2-6.  

Pros:  Both the format and the wide range of topics make this a very appealing book that is perfect for browsing.

Cons:  There’s a little information on a lot of topics, so probably not the best for research. 

Escape at 10,000 Feet (Unsolved Case Files, book 1) by Tom Sullivan

Published by Balzer + Bray

Unsolved Case Files: Escape at 10, 000 Feet: D.B. Cooper and the Missing  Money (Unsolved Case Files, 1): Sullivan, Tom, Sullivan, Tom:  9780062991522: Amazon.com: Books
Unsolved Case Files: Escape at 10, 000 Feet: D.B. Cooper and the Missing  Money (Unsolved Case Files, 1): Sullivan, Tom, Sullivan, Tom:  9780062991515: Amazon.com: Books

Summary:  On November 24, 1971, a man named Dan Cooper boarded a flight from Portland, Oregon to Seattle.  Six hours later, that man parachuted out of the back of the plane with $200,000 strapped to him.  No trace of him has ever been found, and only a small portion of the money has been recovered ($5,800 was discovered by a 10-year-old boy in 1980 when he was camping with his family in the woods of Washington).  The details of what happened that day are retold here with brief text, illustrations, and primary documents such as Cooper’s boarding pass and the transcript from the plane alerting the authorities about the hijacking.  Includes half a dozen photos and a list of sources.  104 pages; grades 3-7.

Pros:  It’s hard to imagine a kid unimaginative enough not to be intrigued by this mystery (and gobsmacked that in 1971 you could walk into an airport with a bomb, buy a ticket for $20, and saunter onto a plane unchecked).  The graphic format is appealing, but it’s also well-written nonfiction, with theories put forth and then carefully debunked, primary documents, and an impressive list of sources.  Look for book 2, Jailbreak at Alcatraz, coming in early September.

Cons:  The font, designed to look like it was made with a typewriter that needs a new ribbon, feels authentic but is not necessarily the easiest for kids to read.

Allergic by Megan Wagner Lloyd, illustrated by Michelle Mee Nutter

Published by Graphix

Allergic: A Graphic Novel: Lloyd, Megan Wagner, Nutter, Michelle Mee:  9781338568905: Amazon.com: Books
Allergic: Preview of Upcoming Middle Grade Graphic Novel

Summary:  Maggie is beyond excited to be picking out a new puppy for her tenth birthday, but when she and her family get to the shelter, she has a severe allergic reaction.  Not only will there be no puppy for her, but a round of testing rules out any pet with fur or feathers.  There are other trials in her life: redistricting means she’s at a new school for fifth grade; the family is getting ready to welcome a fourth child; and a new best friend gets a puppy, meaning Maggie can’t go over to her house anymore.  A year of allergy shots puts Maggie on the road to staying healthier around animals, and a new baby sister provides a welcome diversion from the pet issue.  Most issues are resolved satisfactorily as Maggie wraps up her fifth grade year.  240 pages; grades 3-6.

Pros:  Once again, Graphix nails it with a realistic graphic novel that many readers will love.  Maggie’s issues with allergies, family, friends, and school make her an easy protagonist with whom kids will connect.

Cons:  It seemed unlikely that Maggie’s severe allergies to anything with fur or feathers wouldn’t have come to light before she reached her tenth birthday.

Pizza and Taco: Best Party Ever! By Stephen Shaskan

Published by Random House Books for Young Readers

Pizza and Taco: Best Party Ever!: Shaskan, Stephen: 9780593123348:  Amazon.com: Books
Pizza and Taco: Best Party Ever!: Shaskan, Stephen: 9780593123348:  Amazon.com: Books

Summary:  Friends Pizza and Taco, bored with nothing to do, decide to throw a party at the water park.  Unfortunately, they forget a few details like finding out if the water park is open and checking the spelling on the sign advertising their “farty”.  One by one, the guests (Ice Cream, Cake, Hamburger, Hot Dog, Cheeseburger, and the Chicken Tender Twins) get fed up (pun intended) with the party’s lameness and go home.  Pizza and Taco conclude with a party-planning list for next time based on what they’ve learned.  72 pages; grades K-3.

Pros:  Somehow I missed this fast food duo’s 2020 debut, but it seems like a sure-fire hit: comic book format, friendly banter, humorous word play (“Loud noises make Ice Cream Melt Down”) and a third book on the way.  There’s a list of Random House’s other “Awesome Comics for Awesome Kids” at the end that look to be in a similar vein.

Cons:  I was hoping for some redemption for grumpy Cheeseburger, but instead he ended up on the party-planning list of don’ts: “Don’t invite Cheeseburger”. 

Katie the Catsitter by Colleen A. F. Venable, illustrated by Stephanie Yue

Published by Random House Books for Young Readers

Image result for katie the catsitter amazon
Image result for katie the catsitter amazon

Summary:  Katie’s facing a boring summer when her best friend Bethany leaves for camp.  Hoping to join her for a one-week session, Katie advertises her pet-sitting services in her apartment building.  She’s hired by the mysterious Madeleine Lang to look after her 217 cats.  Every evening, Ms. Lang goes off to work until midnight, and Katie deals with the cats.  As she begins to learn the cats’ various amazing talents, Katie starts to suspect Ms. Lang’s true identity.  By the end of the summer, Katie’s interest in going to camp has been replaced with more heroic pursuits at home.  224 pages; grades 3-7.

Pros:  Hand this graphic novel to fans of Raina Telgemeier and company; they will be delighted by the magic realism of Katie’s world and the amazing cats whose individual personalities and superpowers are lovingly delineated.

Cons:  So many cats made me sneeze.

Five favorite graphic novels

My final list for 2020 is my favorite graphic novels, always a fun one for me! I’m going to post one more review tomorrow of the perfect new year’s book, then take a vacation for a few weeks and start to read some 2021 books. Happy new year to you all!

Class Act by Jerry Craft

Published by Quill Tree Books

Class Act: Craft, Jerry, Craft, Jerry: 9780062885500: Amazon.com: Books

Jerry Craft outdid himself in his sequel to last year’s Newbery Medalist New Kid. This one followed Jordan’s friend Drew, and asks some hard questions about race and inequality while keeping its light touch and kid appeal.

Fox & Rabbit Make Believe by Beth Ferry, illustrated by Gergely Dudás

Published by Amulet Books

Amazon.com: Fox & Rabbit Make Believe (Fox & Rabbit Book #2)  (9781419746871): Ferry, Beth, Dudás, Gergely: Books

I can’t wait to get back to school and start introducing the younger graphic novel fans to Fox and Rabbit. There’s plenty of gently humor and friendship stories that include a couple of great sidekicks. Look for book 3 in April 2021.

Shirley & Jamila Save Their Summer by Gillian Goerz

Published by Dial Books

Shirley and Jamila Save Their Summer (Shirley & Jamila): Goerz, Gillian:  9780525552864: Amazon.com: Books

I didn’t read many mysteries this year, but this one was a ton of fun, with a quirky nod to Sherlock Holmes and Watson.

Twins by Varlan Johnson, illustrated by Shannon Wright

Published by Graphix

Twins: A Graphic Novel (1): Johnson, Varian, Wright, Shannon:  9781338236170: Amazon.com: Books

Two years later, I’m still trying to recover from the fact that Varian Johnson didn’t win the Newbery for The Parker Inheritance. Thankfully, Mr. Johnson has moved on to produce this series opener about identical twins who begin to discover their differences in middle school and wind up running against each other for class president. It’s billed as book 1…here’s hoping there will be more.

Snapdragon by Kat Leyh

Published by First Second

Snapdragon: Leyh, Kat: 9781250171115: Amazon.com: Books

Kat Leyh packed a lot into this unique story, including gender and sexuality issues, domestic abuse, and a touch of magic. This is the fifth year running that at least one of my graphic novel favorites has been published by First Second, and I applaud their standards for high quality and innovation.

Witches of Brooklyn by Sophie Escabasse

Published by Random House Graphic

Witches of Brooklyn: Escabasse, Sophie: 9780593119273: Amazon.com: Books
Witches of Brooklyn: Escabasse, Sophie: 9780593119273: Amazon.com: Books

Summary:  When Effie is dropped off at her Aunt Selimene’s home in the middle of the night, neither one is happy about it.  But Effie has nowhere else to go, and Aunt Selimene is her only living relative.  Selimene’s partner Carlota makes Effie feel welcome, and within a few days everyone is feeling better about the situation.  Selimene and Carlota claim to be herbalists and acupuncturists, but Effie soon discovers they are actually witches.  Before long, her own magical powers emerge, although she has difficulty controlling them.  When celebrity singer Tily Shoo shows up needing the witches’ help, her #1 fan Effie gets in on the case as well.  It’s Effie who makes a key discovery that will help Tily Shoo reverse the curse that has been placed on her.  Things wrap up with a happy ending, but there’s a preview of book 2 at the end, and the author’s biography says she’s working on a trilogy.  240 pages; grades 3-6.

Pros:  A fun graphic novel for anyone who likes school and family stories with a touch of magic thrown in.  There’s a lot of action and many characters, but the pace is good and the characters are well-distinguished in the illustrations, making it easy to follow what’s going on.

Cons:  There’s not much told about Effie’s previous life or what happened to her mother.

The Challenger Disaster: Tragedy in the Skies by Pranas T. Naujokaitis

Published by First Second

Amazon.com: History Comics: The Challenger Disaster: Tragedy in the Skies  (9781250174307): Naujokaitis, Pranas T.: Books
History Comics: The Challenger Disaster | Pranas T. Naujokaitis | Macmillan

Summary:  A group of kids going to school on board a 24th century spacecraft has an assignment to research the Challenger disaster.  Each presents one aspect of the event, including the history of the space shuttle, the crew, the launch, and the investigation of what went wrong.  The kids are all certain that Carmen, the slacker among them, hasn’t done her research, and when it comes time for her to present, it turns out they’re right.  But she’s been so moved by what she’s learned that she makes an emotional case for continuing to explore the universe, even though tragedies sometimes happen as part of those explorations.  The day ends with A plus grades for everyone, and the teacher musing to herself that she believes the future is in good hands.  Includes an author’s afterword and a list of additional Challenger facts.  128 pages; grades 4-6.

Pros:  A moving look at many different aspects of the Challenger explosion that includes holographic images of each crew member giving an introduction to his or her life and career.  This is part of a new series called History Comics that will undoubtedly have wide appeal, particularly for fans of books like Nathan Hale’s Hazardous Tales.

Cons:  The detailed descriptions of the space shuttle in the first third of the book may lose a few readers.

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

Measuring Up by Lily LaMotte, illustrated by Ann Xu

Published by HarperAlley

Measuring Up: LaMotte, Lily, Xu, Ann: 9780062973863: Amazon.com: Books

Summary:  Cici is anxious about her family’s move from Taiwan to Seattle, particularly when she learns that her grandmother, A-má, is staying in Taiwan.  The move goes smoothly, with Cici making two new friends almost immediately and getting the A’s in school that her parents expect.  But she misses A-má and wants to figure out a way for her grandmother to celebrate her 70th birthday with the family.  When Cici learns of a kids’ cooking contest with a grand prize of $1,000, she thinks she’s found the solution.  A-má has taught Cici a lot about Taiwanese cooking and Cici is sure she can win.  On the first day, she’s paired up with Miranda, an expert chef whose family owns a restaurant, but whose aspirations lie elsewhere.  While Cici’s dad thinks cooking is just a hobby and academic achievement is the most important thing, Miranda’s dad believes her cooking should take precedence over everything else.  Both girls have plenty to learn about the culinary arts, each other, and themselves as they make their way through the rounds of the contest to find out who will be the top chef.  208 pages; grades 3-6. 

Pros:  Part immigrant story, part friendship story, part cooking reality show, this graphic novel is sure to please a wide variety of readers.

Cons:  Cici’s transition to American life seemed a bit unrealistically easy.

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

Astronauts: Women on the Final Frontier by Jim Ottaviani and Maris Wicks

Published by First Second

Interior Image

Summary:  Real-life astronaut Mary Cleave narrates the story of how women clawed their way into the space program, beginning with a group of women called the Mercury 13 who tried to be part of the first group of astronauts.  Although they were qualified, and their smaller size would have been a plus on early space missions, they were eventually passed over for the all-male Mercury 7.  Meanwhile, in the Soviet Union, Valentina Tereshkova became the first woman to travel to space.  It wasn’t until 1983 that Sally Ride broke the barriers at NASA, and many other women have succeeded there in the decades since.  The final section of the book is a detailed narrative of Cleave’s own journey aboard the space shuttle in 1985.  Includes photos of a diverse group of astronauts, an author’s note, and a lengthy bibliography.  176 pages; grades 5-8.

Pros:  As I’m writing this review, my daughter is sitting at the dining room table taking an orbital mechanics final for her graduate program in astronautics at Stanford, so I can’t help but be grateful for how far women have come since Sally Ride burst on the scene during my own college days.  This book gives a humorous but honest account of the hard work those early women had to do, and the ridiculous sexism that made it so difficult for them to become part of the space program.  The artwork is appealing, and the detailed illustrations of life aboard the space shuttle are truly remarkable. 

Cons:  The beginning, with its whirlwind history of the early days of the space program in both the U.S. and USSR, is a bit confusing, with a big cast of characters, and a lot of switching back and forth between the two countries (the Russian scenes are cleverly shown with a font resembling Cyrillic script).

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