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

Published by First Second 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.

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Measuring Up by Lily LaMotte, illustrated by Ann Xu

Published by HarperAlley

Measuring Up: LaMotte, Lily, Xu, Ann: 9780062973863: 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.

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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).

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InvestiGators (Book 1) by John Patrick Green

Published by First Second InvestiGators (InvestiGators, 1) (9781250219954): Green, John  Patrick: Books
InvestiGators | John Patrick Green | Macmillan

Summary:  Alligators Mango and Brash find themselves investigating multiple cases: first up is the mysterious disappearance of Chef Gustavo.  The two don fake mustaches, then head for the restaurant where Gustavo worked.  When the oversized cake they bake there shows up after a huge explosion in a science lab, it seems as though an even more nefarious plot is afoot.  It’s up to these two reptilian detectives to crack a series of cases, catch the villains, and get the good chef back to his bakery where he belongs.  Includes instructions for drawing Mango, Brash, and C-ORB.  First in a series, book 2, Take the Plunge is also available.  208 pages; grades 2-5.

Pros:  The whole time I was reading this, I kept envisioning 8-year-old kids coming up to me to share some goofball passage that would be totally cracking them up.  I mustache you to consider this guaranteed crowd-pleaser for your own library.

Cons:  Since I’m not eight, this was just a bit too goofball for me.  I prefer Green’s Kitten Construction Company and Hippopotameister.

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King of the Birds (Arlo and Pips, book 1) by Elise Gravel

Published by HarperAlley Arlo & Pips: King of the Birds (9780062982223): Gravel, Elise,  Gravel, Elise: Books
CanLit for LittleCanadians: Arlo & Pips: King of the Birds

Summary:  When Pips meets Arlo, the crow immediately sets out to impress the smaller bird with his many abilities: he can count, he has a big brain, and he can do imitations.  He’s new to the city, and Pips offers to show him around.  As they explore, Arlo continues to share the amazing things he (and all crows) can do.  His love of shiny objects leads the two birds on a trip to the beach, where Arlo demonstrates his ability to outwit the seagulls they meet there.  The two birds part ways at the end, with Arlo wondering, “Who am I going to brag to now?”  Guess we’ll find out in book 2, advertised on the final page, but not yet listed on Amazon.  64 pages; grades K-3.

Pros:  Marketed to fans of Narwhal and Jelly (Ben Clanton raves, “This book will fly off the shelves!” on the front cover), this new series will be popular with younger graphic novel fans.  Arlo’s bragging is funny, and there’s quite a bit of information about crows woven into the text.

Cons:  I found Arlo kind of obnoxious, and Pips a bit nondescript, neither quite matching the charm of Narwhal and Jelly.

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Max Meow, Cat Crusader by John Gallagher

Published by Random House Books for Young Readers Max Meow Book 1: Cat Crusader (9780593121054): Gallagher, John:  Books

Summary:  Max is a pretty ordinary cat keeping things real on his podcast for his 12 followers.  He decides to interview his friend Mindy the scientist for his next show.  They have a good time at her lab, learning about her new inventions, until they’re interrupted by an odd robot. The reader knows this robot is working for the evil Agent M, trying to steal the giant meatball that Mindy found in outer space.  In the midst of the struggle, Max accidentally ingests part of the meatball, and discovers it gives him superpowers.  How he uses those powers becomes a source of contention between Max and Mindy, and the two stop speaking.  But Max needs Mindy’s scientific mind, and his superhero deeds begin to fall apart without her.  The two manage to reconcile in time to take down one of the villains…but the other two are still at large, and a couple exciting twists at the end promise a fun book 2.  Includes instructions for drawing the Cat Crusader.  240 pages; grades 1-5.

Pros:  The Cat Crusader will not spend much time curled up on the library shelves, as this goofy, action-packed graphic novel is sure to appeal to Dog Man’s legion of fans.

Cons:  No Flip-o-Rama.

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Fancy Friends (Bunbun & Bonbon) by Jess Keating and Fish Feud (Squidding Around) by Kevin Sherry

Published by Graphix (Scholastic) Fancy Friends: A Graphic Novel (Bunbun & Bonbon #1) (1)  (9781338646825): Keating, Jess, Keating, Jess: Books
Fish Feud! (Squidding Around #1) - Kindle edition by Sherry, Kevin, Sherry,  Kevin. Children Kindle eBooks @

Summary:  Two new graphic series exploring friendships.  Bunbun the bunny doesn’t have a friend until he meets Bonbon, a bonbon (candy).  The two of them discover their mutual love of fancy music, fancy food, and fancy friends and decide to throw a fancy garden party.  By the end they are celebrating the beginning of a best friendship.  In Fish Feud, Squizzard is a squid who likes to be the class clown, but his shark friend Toothy doesn’t always appreciate his jokes and bossiness.  When Squizzard takes things too far, he has to figure out a way to apologize and win back Toothy’s friendship.  64 pages and grades 1-3 (Bunbun); 96 pages and grades 2-5 (Squidding)

Pros:  Watch as these new series openers from Scholastic Graphix fly off your shelves.  They’re cute, funny, and graphic…what’s not to like? Bunbun is simpler in both language and illustrations, while Squidding is more of a real chapter book and includes bits of information about the ocean and its inhabitants.

Cons:  While fun, these aren’t quite the graphic masterpieces that some of the Graphix series are (e.g., Bone, Amulet, Baby-Sitters Club).

If you would like to buy Bunbun on Amazon, click here. For Squidding Around, click here.

Jo: An Adaptation of Little Women (Sort Of) by Kathleen Gros

Published by Quill Tree Books Jo: An Adaptation of Little Women (Sort Of) (9780062875976):  Gros, Kathleen, Gros, Kathleen: Books

Summary:  Jo uses her blog to chronicle her life during eighth grade, as well as the lives of her sisters Amy, Beth, and Meg.  Amy’s excited about fifth-grade art; Beth’s recovering from leukemia and pursuing her musical interests through piano and band; and Meg is tutoring two neighbor children and crushing on a boy named Jon.  Marmee keeps them all in line while their father is overseas.  New neighbor Laurie has a crush on Jo, but Jo is more interested in Freddie, the girl editor of the school newspaper they both work on.  Everyone gets a chance to let their talents shine at the middle school’s end-of-year showcase, and happy endings abound for all.  272 pages; grades 4-8.

Pros:  Seems like the world will always embrace one more version of Little Women, and this one is as warm and life-affirming as a hug from Marmee.  Fans of Raina Telgemeier, as well as last year’s Meg, Jo, Beth, and Amy will love this graphic novel adaptation.

Cons:  I wonder how Bronson Alcott would feel about having his counterpart involved in a secret overseas military mission.

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Agent Moose by Mo O’Hara, illustrated by Jess Bradley

Published by Feiwel and Friends

Agent Moose - Kindle edition by O'Hara, Mo, Bradley, Jess. Children Kindle  eBooks @
Agent Moose | Mo O'Hara | Macmillan

Summary:  Agent Anonymoose is recovering from the failure of what would have been his 100th case (he thought the moon was missing, but it was really a lunar eclipse).  When he hears that his rival Camo Chameleon has just solved his 100th case, it just rubs salt in the wound.  But then a chipmunk arrives with an important message: a key witness in Camo’s last case has disappeared.  Agent Moose and his wise sidekick Owlfred head to the chameleon’s 100th-case celebration to investigate.  There are adventures and red herrings a-plenty before the two of them manage to crack the case.  The mystery is solved, but the villains make a last-minute escape, setting up a second adventure for Agent Moose and Owlfred.  128 pages; grades 1-3.

Pros:  Fans of Dog Man and Inspector Flytrap, rejoice!  This is sure to be a hit with the many readers who love graphic novels with plenty of action and zany humor.  

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

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Snapdragon by Kat Leyh

Published by First Second

Snapdragon: Leyh, Kat: 9781250171115: Books
Snapdragon by Kat Leyh, 240 pp, RL 4

Summary:  Snapdragon believes a woman in her town is a witch, and when her dog goes missing, she’s afraid the witch has eaten him.  An angry confrontation winds up being the beginning of an unusual friendship.  The “witch”, Jacks, turns out to be a lonely old woman whose business is rescuing roadkill and rebuilding their skeletons to sell online.  Snap and Jacks bond over their love of animals, but as they get to know each other better, Snap discovers that Jacks has a deep connection to her own family from long ago.  Not only that, but the woman turns out to possess some of the magical powers Snap first suspected her of having, and Snap begins to learn some magic herself.  When Snap’s mom’s abusive ex-boyfriend shows up, it’s up to Snap and Jacks to use their magic to save the day.  Jacks finds herself back in the family again, and it looks like there just might be a happy ending for everyone.  Includes pages showing the process of early sketches and turning them into the finished pages as well as some other book cover ideas. 240 pages; grades 4-8.

Pros:  Kat Leyh packs a lot into this graphic novel, with an ambitious story and lots of interesting characters including the two main ones, as well as Snap’s mother and grandmother, and Lulu, her transgender best friend.  She masterfully cuts from one scene to the next, keeping the action moving quickly.

Cons:  The ending wrapped up pretty neatly, and I don’t see any sign of a sequel.

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