The Prince and the Dressmaker by Jen Wang

Published by First Second

Image result for princess and the dressmaker amazon

Image result for princess and the dressmaker amazon

Summary:  Frances is a talented but struggling dressmaker in 19th-century Paris.  When she designs a daring dress for the spoiled teenage daughter of an aristocratic family, Frances is simultaneously fired by her employer and summoned by a mysterious “client” to design similar clothing.  The client turns out to be Prince Sebastian, the 16-year-old son of a visiting king.  Sebastian’s secret life of dressing up in fancy clothes and wigs would be devastating to his royal parents who are trying to find him a wife.  Frances becomes part of the secret, designing amazing garments and going out on the town with Sebastian disguised as Lady Crystallia.  Meanwhile, Sebastian reluctantly chooses a wife to please his parents, but when her brother discovers his secret, the game is up.  Frances has become tired of having her talents hidden away, and a fashion-show showdown allows both her and Sebastian to embrace who they truly are.  Even the king accepts his son, and shows his support by strutting down the runway.  A happy-ever-after ending caps off this unique fairy tale.  288 pages; grades 7+

Pros:  Fans of fashion, fairy tales, and feminism will enjoy this graphic novel that showcases two unique teenagers coming to terms with their true identities.  The illustrations are lots of fun, particularly those featuring Frances’s designs.

Cons:  Teen readers may not feel the king’s ready acceptance of his son is entirely realistic.

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New Shoes by Sara Varon

Published by First Second

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Image result for new shoes sara varon

Summary:  Francis is living his dream, working as a shoemaker on the outskirts of the jungle.  He uses the finest coconut wood for the soles, goats’ wool for extra padding, and wild tiger grass collected from his friend Nigel the squirrel monkey to weave into fabric.  When he gets a rush order for famed calypso singer Miss Manatee, and Nigel is nowhere to be found, Francis decides to venture into the forest himself.  Clearly leaving his comfort zone, Francis eventually finds the tiger grass, resolves a darker side of Nigel’s personality, and meets some new types of animals who become friends.  Upon his return, he comes up with an innovative way to create shoes for Miss Manatee (who, it turns out, doesn’t have feet), and works with his old and new friends to help her make her dry-land debut.  Includes photos from Guyana, the real-life inspiration for Francis’s home. 208 pages; grades 1-4.

Pros:  This graphic novel combines the best of the picture book and chapter book worlds, with a big cast of fun and funny characters, an interesting story with chapters, and lots of engaging artwork.  It was an extra treat to see the photos of Guyana. Sure to be popular with the newly independent reading crowd.

Cons:  I worried that the “downstairs chickens” who wove the wild tiger grass into fabric could be experiencing some unfair labor practices.

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Clem Hetherington and the Ironwood Race by Jen Breach and Douglas Holgate

Published by Scholastic Graphix

Image result for clem hetherington amazon            Image result for clem hetherington

Summary:  Clem and her robot brother Dig are orphans whose brilliant archaeologist parents were killed when the kids were young.  After living in an orphanage for years, Clem and Dig decide they are better off fending for themselves. It’s not easy, though, and when old friend (or enemy?) Kilburn shows up and offers them the chance to compete in a race to unearth archaeological relics, they find it hard to say no.  The race is illegal, but the stakes are high. Kilburn is in it for the money, while Clem is more interested in the archaeological value of the items they’re seeking. Each leg of the race is dangerous and filled with adventure, but in the end, Clem and Dig triumph. Kilburn shows his true colors, though, and the kids find themselves on their own once again.  The last few pages reveal that Clem has held on to one of the treasures she found, and is considering using it to fund another race. 208 pages; grades 3-7.

Pros:  Even the most reluctant readers will enjoy this action-packed graphic novel.  The premise of the story is interesting and the artists have created an intriguing fantasy world.

Cons:  There were too many pages of race action that were little more than pictures with “Crash! Boom! Bang!” type text.

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The Breadwinner: A Graphic Novel based on the original book by Deborah Ellis, adapted from the feature film directed by Nora Twomey

Published by Groundwood Books

Summary: Parvana lives in a one-room apartment with her family in Kabul, Afghanistan.  Following the takeover of the city by the Taliban, her history teacher father no longer has a job, and her mother, like all women, must stay hidden as much as possible.  Parvana helps her father as he earns money on the street reading and writing letters for people, but when he is arrested for selling books and sent to jail, she can no longer work.  As her family descends into starvation, Parvana decides to disguise herself as a boy to find jobs and try to get her father out of prison.  Danger and desperation are everywhere, and while Parvana succeeds on some level, it’s clear that many hardships lie ahead for her family beyond the last page.  80 pages; grades 4-8.

Pros:  A compelling story that celebrates one family’s resiliency in a dark and dangerous world.  I haven’t read the original trilogy by Deborah Ellis or seen the animated film from 2017, but this graphic novel will undoubtedly inspire many readers to seek them out.

Cons:  At 80 pages, the story was a little bare bones, and I’m sure excludes a lot from the original novel.

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Five favorite graphic novels

Graphic novels continue to be popular with kids from the time they start to read all the way into high school.  Here are some that I particularly enjoyed this year.

Raid of No Return by Nathan Hale.  Published by Amulet Books

There’s no better way to learn history than with Nathan Hale’s Hazardous Tales; add this World War II one to the collection.  Link to Amazon.


The Amazing Crafty Cat by Cherise Mericle Harper.  Published by First Second.

At first, the premise of a girl who dons a cat costume and does crafts seemed a bit odd, but Birdie, a.k.a. Crafty Cat, is a resourceful and funny narrator, and her crafting abilities often save the day.  Link to Amazon.


All’s Faire in Middle School by Victoria Jamieson.  Published by Dial Books.

I’m a Raina fan, but I’m an even bigger Victoria Jamieson fan, and this book is in a dead heat with Roller Girl for my affections.  Her heroines are likeable, fallible, and believable.  I also enjoyed The Great Art Caper for younger readers this year.  Link to Amazon.


Invisible Emmie by Terri Libenson.  Published by Balzer + Bray.

A hybrid between a regular novel and a graphic, this introduced a sympathetic character, shy Emmie, and her graphic alter-ego Katie, who seems to be a different character until the end of the book.  Introverts everywhere will root for Emmie.  Link to Amazon.


The Witch Boy by Molly Ostertag.  Published by Scholastic Graphix.

The “be yourself” message and questions about gender roles are strongly stated without overwhelming the engaging story about a community of magicians, and Aster, the boy who doesn’t conform to expectations.  Link to Amazon.


Raid of No Return: A World War II Tale of the Doolittle Raid by Nathan Hale

Published by Amulet Books

Summary:  In 1942, at a time when the Japanese empire seemed invulnerable, the U.S. government came up with a plan to bomb Tokyo.  Famed aviator James “Jimmy” Doolittle was chosen to lead the raid.  The men who were chosen to join him prepared without knowing anything about the top-secret mission they would be going on.  On April 18, 1942, sixteen bombers, each with a five-man crew, flew off an aircraft carrier, dropped bombs on their targets, then attempted to fly to China.  Fifteen made it, but crashed short of their destinations; the sixteenth landed in Russia.  Most of the men survived, although some were taken prisoner by the Japanese, and three of them were executed.  Although the mission didn’t do much damage, it was an important morale-booster for the United States that led to more military successes in the Pacific.  128 pages; grades 4-8.

Pros:  It’s difficult for me to find superlatives to express how much I love Nathan Hale’s Hazardous Tales.  For those who dismiss graphic works as “trash”, I would invite them to peruse this book and see how the graphics enhance the information.  Pages 20-24 show an aerial view of Pearl Harbor before and after Japan’s attack, demonstrating how devastating that was to America in a way words alone couldn’t do.  I love all the books; this particular one tells an exciting adventure story placed in the context of the early days of World War II.  There is plenty of humor without any disrespect to the heroic men whose stories are told.

Cons:  There were a lot of characters and planes (80 men and 16 bombers) to keep track of.

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The Witch Boy by Molly Knox Ostertag

Published by Scholastic

Summary:  Aster lives in a magical community where boys are expected to become shapeshifters, and girls, witches.  He is fascinated with witchcraft and has no interest or ability in shapeshifting, much to his family’s chagrin.  Spying on the witches’ classes, he learns as much as he can, practicing spells on Charlie, a non-magical girl who lives nearby.  When a monster begins stealing kids from Aster’s community, he realizes he is the only one who can help rescue them.  Assisted by Charlie, he makes a daring journey, and is able to reveal to his community the monster’s true–and surprising–identity.  This revelation uncovers some family secrets about some who have also not always conformed to the gender roles of magic, and gives Aster the permission to be himself and explore the magical powers he possesses. 224 pages; grades 4-7.

Pros:  This highly engaging graphic novel creates a magical world that will draw readers in immediately, and conveys messages about gender roles and being yourself that will resonate with kids.

Cons:  The messages about gender were a little heavy-handed.

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