Posted in Graphic Novels, Realistic Fiction, Teen, Young Adult/New Adult

February Graphic Novels bring big feelings

PTSD, by Guillaume Singelin, (Feb. 2019, First Second), $24.99, ISBN: 9781626723184

Ages 16+

A veteran home from an unpopular war, Jun is an outsider whose fate is similar to many of our own vets in the here and now. She’s mentally and physically broken, finding relief in the drugs she’s addicted to. When she connects with a single mom running a food booth, and a fellow vet and his dog, Red, Jun begins to heal and works toward helping her fellow vets heal.

Set in a fictional, Hong Kong-inspired city, PTSD chooses a gritty, urban futuristic landscape to tell the story of a veteran who went off to fight a war, and came home to indifference. Jun gives us a chance to glimpse into a vet’s psyche: beaten down, haunted by her memories, and physically broken, she’s been left behind by the people she thought she went off to defend. She’s angry, she’s in pain, and the only thing that seems to take the edge off is drugs. Basic human kindness angers her – she initially rebuffs the woman who runs a food stand, because she’s so unused to humane gestures. Readers will see our vets reflected in Jun and her fellow homeless vets.

The story is strong, although I struggled with the artwork. The manga-inspired artwork is dark and often muddy. It’s atmospheric, but often left me struggling to figure out what was going on and where. Manga fans will snap this up, and booktalk this with books like Elizabeth Partridge’s National Book Award nominee, Boots on the Ground. This is a young adult and up-level graphic novel with language and content that may be too rough for middle grade readers.

Bloom, by Kevin Panetta/Illustrated by Savanna Ganucheau, (Feb. 2019, First Second), $24.99, ISBN: 9781250196910
Ages 13+

This YA/New Adult graphic novel is a gentle love story. High school is over, and Ari can’t wait to move out of his hometown. He and his bandmates are planning on a big move to the city, where they can get more gigs and make their names – now, all Ari needs to do, is convince his dad to let him quit his job at the family bakery. At the same time, Hector comes to town to wrap up his deceased grandmother’s affairs and sell her house. He loves to bake as much as Ari is sick of it, and he ends up being the perfect replacement for the struggling bakery: even Ari’s dad loves Hector! But as Ari works side by side with Hector, getting him up to speed on the bakery, the two fall in love… until disaster hits, in more ways than one. Can Ari’s family recover when their business and home burns to the ground, and can Hector and Ari ever work out their relationship?

Created with soft blue and white artwork, Bloom is a sweet story of first love, identity, and independence. Ari can come off as pretty whiny, but his friends are even worse. Hector is the strong, silent type that pulls Ari out of himself and helps him discover who he is – and that he doesn’t need his friends in order to give him an identity. Bloom also explores consequences: Ari has to make big choices in this book, and not every choice is going to be the best one for him. It’s part of growing up, and growing up can be painful. It’s how you work through it that matters. Bloom is a good add to your YA/New Adult graphic novel collections and a love story that will give readers the warm fuzzies.
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Posted in Graphic Novels, Middle Grade, Non-Fiction, Non-fiction, Teen, Tween Reads

Maker Comics: DIY your life!

First Second has a new line of nonfiction graphic novels debuting in February: Maker Comics is a perfect DIY companion to their Science Comics series, adding a more hands-on component to the science behind everyday things. The first two titles to hit shelves are Bake Like a Pro! and Fix a Car! With the tag line, “Who Can? You Can!”, these books are ready to take readers step-by-step into the world of making and hands-on STEAM.

Maker Comics: Bake Like a Pro!, by Falynn Koch, (Feb. 2019, First Second), $12.99, ISBN: 9781250150066

Ages 10-14

Written and illustrated by Science Comics alum Falynn Koch, Bake Like a Pro! follows a young wizard in training, Sage, as she’s apprenticed to baking master mage Korian. Sage is not thrilled with this turn of events, because she thinks baking is boring. Where’s the pyromancy? Where’s the transfiguration? But what Sage doesn’t realize yet is that baking is a magic and science all its own: it’s a delicious form of alchemy! Korian and a group of enchanted ingredients teach Sage all about the science behind baking: how to combine different proteins, fats, and liquids to craft incredible pies, cookies, breads, cookies, dough, and more.

At once a science lesson, a fantasy tale, and a recipe book for new bakers, Bake Like a Pro! is perfect for middle schoolers and upper elementary readers who are ready to take on some next-level making. There are step-by-step explanations of how ingredients come together – and what happens when ingredients go wrong (always sift the flour!), plus an illustrated walk-through for 8 different recipes, including chocolate chip cookies, cheesy biscuits, pizza dough, and sponge cake with buttercream frosting. At the end of the story, Sage proudly serves up her delicious treats to her fellow novice mages, proudly proclaiming, “Every step in baking is magic!”

Like Science Comics, there’s a quick reference at the end that puts all the major info in one place. Here, we get some helpful reminders on the six baking methods, effects of ingredients and conversion tables, bread techniques, and continued reading (including one of my favorites, I’m Just Here for the Food, by Alton Brown).

Maker Comics: Fix a Car!, by Chris Schweizer, (Feb. 2019, First Second), $12.99, ISBN: 9781250150042

Ages 10-14

Next up is Fix a Car! by Crogan’s Adventures and The Creeps author and illustrator Chris Schweizer. A group of tweens and teens meet up when they join Car Club, overseen by auto whiz Ms. Gritt. Lena, Mason, and Abner are teens with their own wheels, and twin siblings Rocky and Esther are seventh graders who  love cards and want to learn all they need to know so they can be ready when they are old enough to drive. They’re different kids with different lives and circumstances, but the one thing they have in common is a love for automobiles, and Ms. Gritt is happy to show them all they need to know.

The story smoothly moves between each character’s life outside of car club, building a relationship between characters and readers and giving kids background that they can relate to, from a stressed out teen determined to excel in all the things, to the kids working through grief over a parent. Car Club gives them all a landing place, a place to belong, and place to come together and get their hands dirty.

Fix a Car! is incredible in its detail: Ms. Gritt teaches her group how to check the oil and how often to check it; how to check the pressure in their tires, and how to change a tire; how to investigate a squeaky noise. Full-color diagrams introduce readers to the complex systems and inner workings of autos, and safety is paramount, with Ms. Gritt providing smart advice on how to be safe while changing a tire including how to locate a spare tire in your car and the difference between spare tires and donuts (not of the Dunkin’ variety). There are instructions on 10 different parts of auto care, including creating a portable tool kit, changing the oil, replacing a drive belt or pulley, and washing and detailing a car (bonus: adding a racing stripe). There’s a wealth of resources at the end of the book, including an author’s note on how Chris Schweizer learned to take care of his car and some further reading.

Because of the hands-on subject matter, I’d definitely include Maker Comics in my middle school collections, but the reading level works for middle grade as well. With adult supervision, I’m all for teaching younger kids to bake and learn their way around a car, so I’d consider it for either collection in a public library – many of the middle schoolers in my library go between Juvenile and YA collections – and a solid choice for middle school libraries. Create a solid graphic novel nonfiction section, and the kids will love you for it.

Posted in Fantasy, Fiction, Graphic Novels, Middle Grade, Teen, Tween Reads, Young Adult/New Adult

Three graphic novels you should NOT miss!

It’s been a busy few months! I realized that some really good graphic novels passed their book birthdays, but that’s no reason not to shout about them! I’ve got a little something for most here – see what’s good!

Aquicorn Cove, by Katie O’Neill, (Oct. 2018, Oni Press), $12.99, ISBN: 9781620105290

Ages 8-12

The third outing from Princess Princess Ever After and Tea Dragon Society author/illustrator Katie O’Neill is another hit! A girl named Lana and her widowed father return to their seaside hometown to help her Aunt Lana – her mother’s sister – clean up after a storm devastated the community and discovers more about her mother, her aunt, and the magical underwater creatures whose fate is tied directly to the surface. A tender, thoughtful story about humanity and our relationship to our world, Aquicorn Cove explores at grief and loss, sustainability, and community. This timely – and yet, timeless – story has soft, warm artwork with lush scenery and gentle faces; diversity above and below the water, and a sweet, hinted-at relationship between Aunt Lana and the queen of the aquicorns. Put this one on your shelves if you don’t have it already. Also makes a great holiday gift.

Katie O’Neill is a two-time Eisner Award winner and a Harvey Award winner.

 

Beautiful Darkness, by Fabien Vehlmann & Kerascoët, (Oct. 2018, Drawn & Quarterly), $17.95, ISBN: 9781770463363

Ages 13+

Do not let a first glance at this cover deceive you: this is NOT a kids’ title. Take a closer look at that cover. That’s no leaf the little blonde pixie is standing next to: it’s a human hand. The story itself is grisly: what would happen if a little girl died in a forest, and a small, vicious, fairy society sprang up around her? Originally released in French in 2014, this is a dark fantasy; an anti-fairy tale that will grab the eyeballs of your horror readers. The sweet artwork is in direct conflict with the grisly, often bleak storyline; small moments within each panel pop up to remind us that we are not in an adorable, cotton candy fairy world: the fairies ransack an opened purse, and we see a little boot lying nearby; a character sits, hungry, in an outstretched hand, surrounded by worms, as she waits for food. The watercolor artwork is stunning, which makes the story of backstabbing, betrayal, and murder all the more nightmarish. This one is a headtrip, but worth the ride for horror and dark fantasy readers. Clearly mark this one so it stays in your teen or adult graphic novel areas. Beautiful Darkness has a starred review from Publishers Weekly.

 

Lumberjanes: The Infernal Compass, by Lilah Sturges/Illustrated by polterink, (Oct. 2018, Boom! Studios), $14.99, ISBN: 978-1684152520

Ages 9+

One of my favorite comic book titles – seriously, Lumberjanes always brings the goods – has a brand new original graphic novel! Lumberjanes, for those not in the know, is basically the X-Files meets summer camp as a group of girls in the Roanoke House at Miss Qiunzella Thiskwin Penniquiqul Thistle Crumpet’s Camp for Hardcore Lady Types: Friendship to the Max! In this installment, the Janes are off on an orienteering outing (finding your way with a map and compass), but one of the compasses is a little… off. When the friends start disappearing one by one, Molly knows something is up – and when she meets a strange female explorer who claims that she has no need of friends, she knows something is up! The Eisner- and GLAAD Award-winning series explores sensitive topics about relationships, gender, and sexuality in an upbeat, fun environment; this latest adventure is no different. The awkwardness of going from being “one” to “partnered” is a main plot point here as Molly’s and Mal’s relationship develops; April even bestows a “ship name” on the duo, which really makes it weird for poor Molly. Throw in a lost in time explorer, a mysterious compass, and some automaton butlers, and you’ve got a true Lumberjanes adventure. Usually a full-color comic, Infernal Compass is in black and white, with green accents to highlight the supernatural bits. The comic’s first issue is a bonus, included at the end, to orient new readers. Stock up on your Lumberjanes trades if you don’t already have them: this is a middle grade-and-up series (and there are middle grade books, too!) you want to have available to your readers.

 

Posted in Fantasy, Fiction, Fiction, Graphic Novels, Intermediate, Middle Grade, Tween Reads

Comic Quests: Choose your own comic book adventure!

Quirk has such fun books, don’t they? Who else would find authors and illustrators that give us The X-Files and Buffy the Vampire Slayer pictures books, Star Wars as the Shakespearean masterpieces we all know they are, and now… Choose Your Own Adventure graphic novels in their Comic Quests series?

Released in September, there are two Comic Quests adventures: Knights Club and Hocus & Pocus. The rules are closer to role-playing games than merely choose your own adventure comics; readers will collect supplies, solve puzzles, and keep track of food and supplies for themselves and any familiars and pets they’re traveling with on their own handy dandy Quest Tracker – tabletop gamers will recognize the similarity to character sheets for roleplaying games like Dungeons & Dragons. Don’t worry about destroying your book, though – there are free, downloadable PDFs online. Librarians, consider putting a note on the covers of your copies to let your readers know this.

Knights Club: The Bands of Bravery, by Novy, Shuky, and Waltch/Translated by Melanie Strang-Hardy, (Sept. 2018, Quirk Books), $13.99, ISBN: 978-1-68369-057-3

Ages 8-12

Originally published in France in 2012, this first Knights Club adventure takes place in the year 1012, in the kingdom of Louis the Little. The Royal Order of Knights help keep the peace in Louis’ kingdom, and three farming brothers dream of joining their ranks. They set off to join Knights School, and that’s where the fun begins. Readers get to select which brother they want to be, and the adventure unfolds, questing through snowy mountains, dark forests, and mysterious lakes. Readers get to solve riddles, seek out magical objects, and choose their own path by following numbered panels through to the end of each tale. Panels are in color, and the storytelling pace moves along, but some challenges can be a little daunting for readers who are expecting a simple choose your own adventure story. My suggestion? Make it into a roleplaying program, and invite kids to learn how to play as they read! You may be creating your next generation of Dungeons & Dragons players, after all.

Knights Club: The Message of Destiny is the second book in the series and will be available in January 2019.

Hocus & Focus: The Legend of Grimm’s Woods, by Gorobei and Manuro, (Sept. 2018, Quirk Books), $13.99, ISBN: 9781-168369-055-9

Ages 8-12

Originally published in France in 2016, Hocus & Focus takes place in a more fairy tale-inspired fantasy world where readers can choose to be either a male (Hocus) or female (Pocus) character, choose a pet and keep it fed, and go on an adventure where you can discover gingerbread houses, make your way through a brain-teasing forest, and find missing children. There are numbered paths and riddles to be solved in order to advance, and panels are in full-color, just like the Knights Club. Gameplay can be a bit of a challenge – there’s one riddle where I had to count spots on baby wolves in order to get the next panel number that confounded me time and again (“is that a spot, or an ink blot? My ARC is black and white!”), so you may want to mark up your own ARC, if you have one, or keep a handy document of answers for kids that approach you needing help.

Hocus & Pocus: The Search for the Missing Dwarves is the second book in the series and will be available in January 2019.

All in all? A fun series of brain teasers for kids, and a nice way to side-eye anyone who says comics and graphic novels aren’t real reading!

Posted in Fiction, Fiction, Graphic Novels, Intermediate, Middle Grade

Tiger Vs. Nightmare: Friends watch out for each other!

Tiger vs. Nightmare, by Emily Tetri, (Nov. 2018, First Second), $17.99, ISBN: 9781626725355

Ages 7-11

Tiger’s got a monster who lives under her bed! But it’s okay – this monster is her best friend. She shares her food with Monster, and they plays games and hang out together every night until it’s time for lights out. While Tiger sleeps, Monster scares her nightmares away. But a big nightmare is waiting in the dark, and Monster can’t fight this one alone – Monster is pretty scared, too. It’s up to the friends to work together to get rid of this nightmare for good.

Tiger vs. Nightmare is an adorable intermediate/early middle grade graphic novel about friends, bedtimes, and scaring away those big, bad nightmares. The Nightmare is spooky, but not so scary that it will give little readers nightmares. I read it with my 6-year-old, and he was fine. Honest. There are positive messages about teamwork, trial and error, facing fears, and friendship. The watercolor and pencil artwork adds a dreamy feel to the story, and the color schemes run cool blue for nightmares, warm colors for the dawn. Monster is blue, linking to the world of nightmares, but as Monster also offers support and comfort to Tiger; I think of blue as more of a bridge between the dreaming and awake worlds.

Tiger vs. Nightmare has a starred review from Kirkus.

Posted in Fiction, Graphic Novels, Middle Grade, Science Fiction, Tween Reads

Sanity & Tallulah are a STEAM Dream Team!

Sanity & Tallulah, by Molly Brooks, (Oct. 2018, Disney-Hyperion), $21.99, ISBN: 9781368008440

Ages 8-12

Life aboard a space station is never boring, especially when you have to cobble things together to keep things running. Sanity Jones, and her best friend, Tallulah Vega-Davisson, certainly know how to keep things interesting aboard Wilnick Station: their latest experiment is Sanity’s project; a three-headed kitten named Princess Sparkle Destroyer of Worlds (one name for each head, naturally!). Princess Sparkle is discovered, but the kitten escapes into the duct system. As the girls go on the search for their pet, before she can get hurt or caught, Dr. Vega, the station’s senior scientist and Tallulah’s mom, has bigger problems on her hands: Wilnick Station is experiencing some big-time glitches that could put the station at risk. While some of the crew point their fingers at Princess Sparkle Destroyer of Worlds, Sanity and Tallulah find evidence of something else in those ducts. They’ve got to solve the mystery and save their kitten, and they may just have to rescue the whole space station!

This is such a positive, fun read. The cast is diverse, with our two heroines coming from African-American and biracial (Latinx-white) families of prominence: Sanity’s dad is Wilnick’s station director, Tallulah is the daughter of the senior scientist. Her white dad rocks a man bun, prosthetic leg, and context clues allude to his being a celebrity heartthrob at some point in the past. There’s humor and technospeak that kids will love. The three-color white, purple, and pink artwork has bold lines and gives a real feel for the sheer size and scope of a space station.  Molly Brooks gives readers a vision of a diverse future where strong female characters are valued. A must-add to graphic novel collections – put this with your Zita the Spacegirl and Star Scouts books!

Sanity & Tallulah has starred reviews from Kirkus and Publisher’s Weekly.

Posted in Fantasy, Fiction, Fiction, Graphic Novels, Intermediate, Middle Grade, Teen, Tween Reads, Young Adult/New Adult

October graphic novels have something for everyone!

There are some solid graphic novels hitting shelves in October: LGBTQ+ positive stories and a dystopian adventure for tweens and teens, and for tweens and teens, Art Baltazar’s adorable artwork for kids are just a few of the books you can look forward to. Let’s dive in!

 

Gillbert, Vol. 1: The Little Merman, by Art Baltazar, (Oct. 2018, Papercutz), $14.99, ISBN: 9781545801451

Ages 6-10

If you have readers who get a kick out of Joey Weiser’s Mermin books, they’ll love Art Baltazar’s Gillbert: The Little Merman! He’s the son of King Nauticus and the prince of Atlanticus, and he’s surrounded by cool friends, like his turtle buddy, Sherbert, and his starfish buddy, Albert. One day, he meets playful mermaid named Anne Phibian, who takes him to a rocking party at WeWillRockTropolis. Meanwhile, aliens invade Earth, but quick action by Queen Niadora and her alien friend, Teeq, save the day.

Art Baltazar creates art that kids love: Tiny Titans; Grimmiss Island; DC Super Pets, and countless more comics have his signature bold, bright artwork and zest for zany adventure. He’s got kid-friendly artwork, storylines, and humor that kids eat up. When my library kids are too young for the DC comics on “the other side of the library” (the teen collection), but still want superheroes, I give them Art Baltazar’s books, and they’re thrilled.

Gillbert’s first outing looks like it’s the start to a fun new under-the-sea series. Papercutz won’t steer you wrong; add this one to your graphic novel shelves.

Lost Soul, Be at Peace, by Maggie Thrash, (Oct. 2018, Candlewick), $18.99, ISBN: 9780763694197

Ages 13+

Acclaimed Honor Girl author Maggie Thrash’s latest book is a continuing memoir with a touch of fiction. A year and a half after the events of Honor Girl, Maggie is spiraling into a deep depression. She’s failing 11th grade; her stuffy, image-consumed mother is baffled, and her workaholic father, a federal judge, pays no attention to her. The only thing Maggie cares about is her cat, Tommi, who seemingly disappears in her rambling home. While searching for Tommi, Maggie discovers a ghost named Tommy, who leads her to peel back layers of her father’s life and see him through new eyes.

Maggie Thrash beautifully captures the tedium and angst of adolescence and the hopelessness of depression. The feeling of shouting into the void is poignantly captured when she opens up about coming out… and being ignored, regardless. She maintains a bitter sense of humor through her journey, making her likeable and relatable, and her watercolor artwork intensifies the feeling of being not-quite-there.

Lost Soul, Be at Peace is a beautifully thoughtful graphic memoir and a must-add to upper middle school and YA collections. Download an author note (also included in the back matter) and Maggie Thrash’s Top 10 Songs for Lost Souls playlist here; view a sample chapter here. Lost Soul, Be at Peace has starred reviews from School Library Journal and Kirkus.

 

Last Pick, by Jason Walz, (Oct. 2018, First Second), $17.99, ISBN: 9781626728912

Ages 10+

Last Pick is the first in a new dystopian trilogy. Three years ago, aliens invaded earth, taking everyone between the ages of 16 and 65: everyone they deemed “useful”. The survivors left behind live under cruel rule. Too young, too old, too disabled, they’re seen as worthless, receiving slim food rations and living under constant threat. But Sam and Wyatt, a twin brother and sister, are about to change all that. Sam’s the rebel, distributing food and fomenting revolution; Wyatt, her special needs brother, is the brains of the operation: he’s cataloging the aliens, and knows how to work with their technology. They start disrupting the aliens’ plans and making themselves a general nuisance until the aliens decide they’re too much of a threat, right on the eve of their 16th birthday.

Last Pick is SO GOOD. I tore through this one during a lunch hour; it’s compulsive reading with a tight storyline and characters you want to root for. Aliens appear to be enthralled with earth culture and are played in part as comic relief, from the overlord who seems to be influenced by American Westerns, affecting a cowboy-type flavor of speech, to the gooey creature that shares a love of Ultraman with Wyatt. There’s some intrigue going on among the aliens, too; I’m looking forward to learning more in the next installment. Sam and Wyatt are a solid sister-brother unit; Wyatt’s special needs appear to place him on the autism spectrum, and Sam acts as his partner and protector. An underground radio broadcaster, a Latinx who refers to herself as La Sonida, offers moments of retrospection and I hope we get more of her, too.

Adventure, science fiction, and dystopian fans are going to love this. If you have readers who love Spill Zone and Mighty Jack, hand them this one. Last Pick has a starred review from Kirkus.

 

On a Sunbeam, by Tillie Walden, (Oct. 2018, First Second), $21.99, ISBN: 9781250178138

Ages 14+

Eisner Award winner Tillie Walden’s On a Sunbeam collects all the installments of her webcomic. It’s a science fiction adventure in a universe that embraces all relationships. Mia is a young woman on a reconstruction crew that travels through space, restoring buildings and structures. The narrative shifts between the present and Mia’s past, where she fell in love at boarding school with a girl named Grace; a girl who was taken away by her family before Mia could say goodbye. Mia learns more about her crewmates and their own stories as they travel through space, ultimately creating a family of their own.

The cast is incredibly, wonderfully, diverse. There’s Char, the co-captain; she’s an African American woman who shares captain duties with her Caucasian wife, Alma: “Char may have the degrees, but Alma knows how to yell”, according to one character, Jules. Jules should know: she’s Alma’s niece, taken in when her mother – Alma’s sister – died. Jules seems to be the youngest member of the crew; she’s most likely a teen, loves playing games, and is the happy optimist of the crew. Ell/Elliot is a Caucasian nonbinary person who prefers they/them/their pronouns – and the crew vociferously defends their right to those pronouns, as Ell is nonverbal. Grace, Mia’s lost love, is African American.

As the narrative shifts between Mia’s past and present, we see Mia and Grace’s relationship develop, right up until Grace’s departure from the school. The color palette shifts with the narrative: cooler colors like blues and purples dominate the flashbacks, while warmer colors creep during the present day. Mia is the central character, but every character in this novel has a story to tell. This is a book I had to move back and forth with during the first few chapters; not having read the webcomic, I wasn’t altogether sure I was reading a connected story until I got the hang of the shifts, and of Mia’s place in them. Stick with the story: it’s an wonderful work of queer speculative fiction that deserves a spot on your shelves. On a Sunbeam is good for young adult/new adult readers.