Max and the Midknights by Lincoln Peirce

Published by Crown Books for Young Readers

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Summary:  Max serves as Uncle Budrick’s apprentice, learning to be a troubadour, but really wants to be a knight instead. When the two arrive at the city of Byjovia, Uncle Budrick tells of his idyllic childhood there, under the rule of kindly King Conrad.  But when the two arrive, they discover that Conrad is missing, presumed dead, and that his evil brother Gastley has taken over. Most of the townspeople are under a spell that makes them nasty, but kids are immune.  Max and Uncle Budrick meet up with Kevyn, Simon, and Millie; Max reveals that she’s really a girl, and the five of them begin their adventures as the Midknights. They meet up with a wizard, zombies, dragons, and an evil sorceress who’s the real brains behind Gastley.  Eventually, they discover and rescue Conrad, and help him defeat his brother to take his rightful place on the throne once again. Having witnessed Max’s courage and fighting skills as well as Millie’s magic, Conrad decrees that boys AND girls are free to become whatever they want.  Kevyn aspires to be a writer; Millie will train as a magician; and Simon and Max head off to knight school, as all involved prepare for a happily-ever-after ending. 288 pages; grades 2-5.

Pros:  This combination chapter book/graphic novel by the author of the popular Big Nate series is sure to be a huge hit across a wide spectrum of elementary readers.  

Cons:  Everything wraps up neatly at the end, and there’s no mention of a sequel in the book or on Amazon.

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

Click by Kayla Miller

Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

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Summary:  Even though Olive has plenty of friends, she doesn’t have a best friend, and when the fifth grade variety show comes around, she finds herself without a group to perform with.  She’s pretty bummed, so her cool Aunt Molly invites her for a sleepover, then rounds up a bunch of DVD’s of old 1960’s variety shows to inspire her. Olive is captivated by the show’s host, and decides that’s the role she wants for the school program.  It’s a perfect fit–she’s something of a ham, and she knows kids from all different groups. When a few of her friends finally invite her to join their group, she’s torn, but decides to stay true to what she really wants. The final page shows her the night of the show, standing in front of the microphone, with the spotlight shining on her, ready to go.  The last page invites readers to look for Olive’s next adventures at camp, which looks like it will be coming out in April. 192 pages; grades 2-5.

Pros:  Fans of Raina Telgemeier, Victoria Jamieson, and Shannon Hale will enjoy the addition of another realistic graphic novel with a girl main character.  Olive seems like a kid everyone likes, yet even she struggles with friend problems. This would make a good intro to the genre, as it’s a little shorter and simpler than some of the others.

Cons:  There’s not the rich character and plot development of the authors mentioned above.  Fifth and sixth graders may find this a little too short and simple for their taste.

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

Five favorite graphic novels

Graphic novels continue to be wildly popular at all levels.  Here are five of my favorites–something for everyone, starting in elementary school and going through high school.

Hey, Kiddo: How I Lost My Mother, Found My Father, and Dealt With Family Addiction by Jarrett J. Krosoczka

Published by Graphix

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Already a National Book Award Finalist, there may be another sticker or two on the cover by the end of January.  Jarret Krosoczka doesn’t spare too many details about his difficult childhood; how he overcame those difficulties to become the beloved author of the Lunch Lady books and others makes compelling reading for teens and adults.

 

All Summer Long by Hope Larson

Published by Farrar Straus and Giroux

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Bina’s struggles over the summer between seventh and eighth grade make fun and inspiriring reading for fans of Raina Telgemeier, Jennifer Holm, and Victoria Jamieson.

 

Mr. Wolf’s Class by Aron Nels Steinke

Published by Graphix

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A Google search of Aron Nels Steinke reveals that he is a second and third grade teacher by day and graphic artist by night.  Ha!  I should have guessed by how firmly he has his finger on the pulse of both elementary school students and teachers.  Looking forward to the February 2019 sequel about Mr. Wolf’s class.

 

New Shoes by Sara Varon

Published by First Second

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Francis the Donkey was one of my favorite characters this year, a master craftsman who had to leave his well-established routine to go off in search of a lost friend.  The story is targeted toward younger elementary readers, but Sara Varon treats them with respect and isn’t afraid to use a big vocabulary.

 

The Prince and the Dressmaker by Jen Wang

Published by First Second

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Fashion, fairy tales, and feminism come together in this “be yourself” story of Frances, a dressmaker who gets hired to design clothes for Prince Sebastian and his alter ego Lady Crystallia.

Sheets by Brenna Thummler

Published by Lion Forge

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Summary:  Marjorie Glatt is only 13 years old, but since her mother died, her father has been overwhelmed by grief, and Marj is trying to keep the family laundromat running.  The building is in a prime location, and the evil Mr. Saubertuck wants to buy it and turn it into a luxury spa.  Meanwhile, a ghost named Wendell wanders off from the ghost world and ends up in the laundromat, where he unknowingly gets into mischief and causes problems for Marj.  When the two finally meet, Wendell is contrite and wants to help her.  It turns out the ghost world has something that Marjorie needs, and when she and Wendell combine efforts, they turn into an unstoppable force for defeating Saubertuck.  There are a lot of emotional ups and downs for both girl and ghost, but fortunately, there’s a happy ending for all the deserving parties.  240 pages; grades 4-7.

Pros:  Graphic novel fans will enjoy this story that combines the middle school angst of Raina Telgemeier with the supernatural elements of the Amulet series.  The muted pastels of Marj’s story contrast interestingly with the dark, blue-toned hues of the ghosts’ world.

Cons:  Marj’s life seems unrealistically wretched for a 13-year-old.

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

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Hey, Kiddo: How I Lost My Mother, Found My Father, and Dealt With Family Addiction by Jarrett J. Krosoczka

Published by Graphix

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Summary:  Jarrett Krosoczka spent his first few years with his mother until his grandparents intervened and got custody of him.  It was not until he was a teenager that he learned that she had been a heroin addict from the age of 13.  Jarrett grew up with Joe and Shirley, his mother’s parents.  Despite their drinking, smoking, and occasional unkind words, they loved him deeply and did their best to provide him with a good home and to support his artistic ambitions. This memoir also includes Jarrett’s memories of friends, school, and the first time he met his father and half brother and sister during his senior year in high school.  Determined not to let his past curtail his future, he graduated from the Rhode Island School of Design and has gone on to create many beloved children’s books, perhaps most famously the Lunch Lady series.  Includes an author’s note with more information about his life, the people in the book, and how he came to create this memoir. 320 pages; grades 8 and up.

Pros:  A National Book Award finalist, this graphic memoir is hard to put down (I read it in one sitting).  My already high esteem for Jarrett Krosoczka (whom I once arranged to have visit my school) grew to worshipful admiration as I learned of all the obstacles he has overcome to achieve his success.  The artwork is particularly effective, with the beginning of each chapter including actual documents, many of them letters his mother wrote to him from jail and halfway houses.

Cons:  I was hoping to get this for my middle school library, but the language and subject matter make it more of a high school/adult book.

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

Anne Frank’s Diary: The Graphic Adaptation adapted by Ari Folman, illustrations by David Polonsky

Published by Pantheon

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Summary:  In his adaptor’s note, Ari Folman describes how he was approached by the Anne Frank Fonds (Foundation) to create an animated film for children as well as a graphic novel based on Anne’s life.  He estimated that turning the entire diary into a graphic novel would have taken about ten years and resulted in 3500 pages. Instead, he took the essence of Anne’s diary, beginning shortly before she and her family went into hiding and continuing until her last entry before all the members of The Secret Annex were arrested in August 1944.  Although life in the annex was extremely stressful–not only was it a matter of life and death to stay hidden, but day-to-day life was monotonous, there were plenty of squabbles among the eight people, and the food situation grew increasingly worse–Anne manages to find a great deal of humor and insight as she observes her family, the van Daans, and Albert Dussel. The afterword, as ever, is heartbreaking, as the reader learns of the tragic deaths of Anne, her mother and sister, Dussel, and the Van Daans, and of Otto Frank’s discovery and publication of her diary.  160 pages.

Pros:  I was skeptical about how Anne’s diary would translate into a graphic novel, but both the adapter and the illustrator have done a truly amazing job.  Despite the grim topic, there is a lot of levity in both the text and illustrations, and the approximately 5% of the original document that is shown here really captures Anne’s voice and spirit.

Cons:  It’s hard to recommend this for an age group; it really depends on individual readers.  Of course, there is the whole Holocaust topic that is the backdrop for the entire book. In addition, there are more sexual references than I remembered from my original high school reading, including a detailed description by Anne of female genitalia that I was pretty surprised to have forgotten.  Turns out that passage was edited out of many diary editions, including the one I previously read, but it is here, with illustrations, in this one.

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

The Faithful Spy: Dietrich Bonhoeffer and the Plot to Kill Hitler by John Hendrix

Published by Harry N. Abrams

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Summary:  Growing up in Germany in a family of scientists, Dietrich Bonhoeffer went his own way, showing a keen interest in theology at a young age.  At age 12, he lost his older brother in World War I and began a lifelong quest to understand human suffering in the light of his Christian faith.  When Hitler came to power in Germany, Bonhoeffer found himself with increasingly difficult choices to make. He founded the illegal Confessing Church to support those who opposed Hitler’s takeover of the German churches.  When that was shut down, he decided the moral choice was to join forces with those who sought to assassinate Hitler, and was part of two unsuccessful attempts before being arrested. He spent a year and a half in prison, ministering to other prisoners and guards and refusing a chance at escape because of the danger it would bring to his family.  Finally, Bonhoeffer was found guilty of trying to kill Hitler, and was executed on April 9, 1945, just three weeks before Hitler committed suicide.  Includes an author’s note, bibliography, notes, and an index. 176 pages; grades 6-12.

Pros:  I’ve read a lot of good reviews of this book, and I was not disappointed.  It’s kind of like a graphic novel, with the text well-incorporated into the black, turquoise, and red illustrations.  The rise of Hitler is chilling, and the lessons to be learned from the complacency of those in power in Germany can’t be overstated.  Hendrix clearly wants readers to think about how those lessons can be applied to today’s political situations. Bonhoeffer’s faith and humanity in the face of an increasingly inhumane world is inspiring to say the least.  Both the Newbery and Caldecott committees should give this book consideration.

Cons:  Some of the print was so small I had to take my glasses off to read it.  (If you’re over 45, you’ll understand what I’m talking about).

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