Svetlana Chmakova revisits the Night Realm of her original English-language manga Nightschool in a new middle grade graphic novel series. In the Night Realm, the small town of Laitham changes when night falls. The local school building physically shifts into a night school appropriate for educating young werewolves, vampires, and weirns, a type of witch with a spirit guardian known as an astral. Ailis and Na’ya are weirns who are known in their school as the “loser cousins” by a cadre of popular kids, led by quintessential middle school bully Patricia Chow, who dresses impeccably, never seems to have a single hair out of place, and literally sparkles. Patricia used to be friends with the cousins, but now she prefers to mock Ailis for her astral’s tendency to shed, and Na’ya for summoning heavy rains to postpone the school’s beloved astral race. Ailis and Na’ya do have a crew of allies, though, including their magic shop-owning grandma, with whom Ailis lives; Russ, the cute teen werewolf who works at the magic shop; Jasper, their weirn classmate and neighbor; and Na’ya’s little brother D’esh.

A mysterious night creature that looks like a larger astral starts appearing to the girls en route to night school. Then, Ailis, Na’ya, and Jasper stumble upon a mystery surrounding the creepy old mansion in the silent woods. Grandma tells them the mansion used to be a weirn school, which she attended many years ago with her twin brother, Jacen. The headmistress and all of the students disappeared — all except Grandma, who suspected something was awry and stayed home that day. One night in present day, the night creature kidnaps Patricia and is ordered by a shadowy figure to prepare the lab. The following day, Patricia is back at school, but she is uncharacteristically friendly and polite, if a bit robotic. Ailis and Na’ya deduce that she is possessed and decide to stay away from her. Unfortunately, she convinces D’esh to play with her and brings him to the mansion. Ailis, Na’ya, Jasper, and Russ are forced to venture into the mansion to confront the somehow-still-alive headmistress and save D’esh — and they suppose they may as well save Patricia, too.

The art style is more similar to that of Chmakova’s recent Berrybrook Middle School series than of Nightschool, which was originally published from 2008-2010. This suggests that the Weirn Books series is intended to bring a touch of fantasy to her newer fans, rather than appeal to older fans of Nightschool. While Chmakova is clearly influenced by manga, she has crafted her own style that seamlessly combines chibi, modern cartoon art, and a hint of realism for exceptionally well-constructed, varied facial structures. Characters are delightfully diverse, as is always the case in Chmakova’s recent work. The aesthetic standout in this graphic novel is the coloring. Backgrounds are a gorgeous combination of pinks, purples, and blues, which reflect the nighttime setting. Flashbacks are depicted in a soft monochromatic purple tint.

In her author’s note, Chmakova admits that her favorite aspect of working on books that take place in the night realm is drawing astrals. Readers, too, are sure to fall in love with astrals. Fans of the His Dark Materials series will love their similarities to dæmons. Much like dæmons, astrals have personalities of their own. Jasper’s astral, for instance, is mischievous and destructive, a fact that Jasper constantly bemoans. Astrals in general, and particularly the night creature who appears to be a large astral, look like No-Face from Hayao Miyazaki’s Spirited Away. Young anime and manga fans, middle schoolers who love Berrybrook, and spooky fantasy fans will all love this book. It belongs in every library serving upper elementary and middle school-age kids.

The Weirn Books: Be Wary of the Silent Woods 1
By Svetlana Chmakova
ISBN: 9781975311223
JY, 2020
Publisher Age Rating:
Series ISBNS and Order

Title Details and Representation
NFNT Age Recommendation: Middle Grade (7-11), Tween (10-13)
Character Traits: African-American
Related to…: Book to Comic

  • Shira

    | They/Them Youth Services Librarian, Northville District Library

    Shira is from the DC area and is currently a Youth Services Librarian in Northville, Michigan. They have been involved in ALA in an Association for Library Service to Children committee, a Graphic Novels and Comics Round Table committee, and as an elected member of the Executive Board of the Rainbow Round Table. When Shira is not putting comics and queer books into the hands of excited children and teens, they can be found snuggling all the cats, playing drums in rock bands, or testing out recently-purchased board games. Shira also writes professional reviews for School Library Journal and AudioFile Magazine, plus not-so-professional reviews of Baby-Sitters Club books in exhaustive detail for their Goodreads profile (username Shiramario).

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