nnewtsIf you happen to spend your days working with 11- and 12-year-old readers, then Doug TenNapel is a name you get to know. His past books, including Cardboard and Ghostopolis, have made the YALSA best graphic novels lists in their respective publication years. It’s easy to appreciate the appeal: TenNapel is a master of creative, imaginative, and visually arresting stories for young readers.

Nnewts: The Rise of Herk continues in this imaginative tradition, with a sensibility that is primarily targeted towards boys whose voices haven’t yet cracked. The world of the Nnewts is goofily implausible: if the alternate spelling wasn’t weird enough, these magical amphibians live in a colorful and richly hued world. Apparently Nnewts have family pets that look like cauliflower, and they can send messages to each other via tadpoles in an above-ground sewer system. Who knew? The Nnewts are under threat of attack from the Lizzarks (again, with the wordplay), and at the heart of it all is the Snake Lord, who is looking forward to avenging his father’s defeat against the Nnewts.

“So you’re a snake who looks like a radish but wants to be made of stars,” a Nnewt in captivity tells the Snake Lord. “You seem hard to please.”

And while the premise of this story has an easy audience, I am concerned that the plot of this one will be tough for some readers to follow. There are minor characters who flit in and out of panels, their importance never completely flushed out; there are characters masquerading under false pretences; the story shifts in place, time, and point of view with little announcement to the reader that such a shift is being made. These are the kinds of issues that tend to frustrate the readers I work with the most often because they interfere with the enjoyment of the story.

Despite these issues, Nnewts: The Rise of Herk should be considered for any library that already have solid middle grade graphic novel collections and is looking to expand.

Nnewts, vol. 2: The Rise of Herk
by Doug TenNapel
ISBN: 9780545676540
Graphix, 2016
Publisher Age Rating: 8-12

  • Amy Estersohn

    Past Reviewer | She/Her

    Amy Estersohn is a seventh grade English teacher at Hommocks Middle School in Larchmont, NY and the inheritor of a large classroom library. She has always been struck by the ability of graphic novels to convey a story that transcends written language alone. That story can be for developing readers, such as the time a five-year-old saw her reading Akira on the subway and snuggled next to her, insisting he “read” along, or it can be for proficient readers who want to explore a topic in more emotional depth, such as Don Brown’s depiction of a post-Katrina New Orleans in Drowned City. She holds a BA from the University of Chicago and an MA from Columbia University’s Teachers College.

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