Leigh Luna has created a work of art with her first ever graphic novel. This new series is filled with inclusive language as it follows Clementine Fox, the self proclaimed professional amateur adventurer, through a fantastic adventure, while navigating growing up and dealing with teachers, bad grades and a voyage on a giant turtle.
Clementine’s adventure starts off as an everyday middle schooler. She has to go to school and deal with hard math tests, but has great friends that help her. She comes home to a fun and supportive family, with a mom that has a great sense of humor, and a younger math whiz brother who gives her a hard time, like any typical sibling does. Then she and her collection of unique friends decide to go on a real adventure by heading out to an isolated island to find Clementine’s great-aunt Marnie. Marnie has lots of rumors swirling around about her, including possibly being a witch. Jesse Otter, Nubbins Squirrel, Penelope Rabbit and Clementine skip the day of school and head out. They face all kinds of silly situations and creative fantasy style happenings. In the end their parents are understandably worried sick and the aunt that they visited never contacted the parents to let them know that their children were safe. This is brushed off as not a big deal because they had fun. Then the story somewhat abruptly ends. I was left puzzled by the conclusion.
The artwork is stunning throughout this graphic novel. Luna is clearly a gifted artist. The pages are full of creativity, and color. The characters are adorable and the pages use a wide variety of layouts.
Overall, this graphic novel wouldn’t be a bad addition to an elementary school library collection, however it’s definitely not an essential read. It excels at utilizing non offensive language and including a lot of diversity. The story has so much potential with beautifully done artwork; the details and colors make each page pop and a pleasure to look through. However, the humor falls flat and the story isn’t attention grabbing, nor does it end on a cliff hanger leading you into Clementine’s next adventure. Usually books intended for this age group include easy to recognize major themes and lessons for the child to take away, however this is another missing piece. It’s more of a light read without any depth.
Clementine Fox Vol. 1: Clementine Fox and the great island adventure By Leigh Luna Scholastic, 2023 ISBN: 9781338356250
Do you know what a wombat is? I had to look it up. They live in Australia and can get to 1 meter in length! They’re marsupials whose pocket is on their back, not stomach! (They are good diggers; this way, the dirt doesn’t fill the pocket.)
The wombats in is this book are Albert, experienced outback camper, and hopelessly mistaken Pickles, who brings a huge rolling suitcase, a large glass jar of pickles, donut-colored innertube, pineapple-shaped sunglasses, and huge expectations for glamping. Pickles thinks they’ll be taking a bus to their luxury cabin where he can eat rich food by the fireplace and swim in a pool! BOY, will HE be surprised! He doesn’t know how a compass works, he has trouble setting up his tent, and everything seems to make a sound or a tooting smell! He’s SURE that “…there’s nothing amazing about nature, Albert.”
Albert is very patient with him and is sure that Pickles just hasn’t had his “one special moment in nature” yet. You know, the moment that makes you FEEL ALIVE! Things begin to take a turn when they find a lost baby koala and need to find the baby’s mama, with help from Platters the Platypus.
This is a very funny and well-paced story with lots going on around the edges of the main action. Panels are mostly side by side and square or rectangular, with not a whole lot of text in each frame. Middle readers should find it an easy read. There are lots of surprises within the pacing of the story too, the main one being who baby koala’s mama really is! (There’s a doorbell on Mama’s cave! Ha!) Even though he’s scared, Pickles faces his fear, surprises himself and does some really amazing things on his camping adventure. But will he find his “one special moment?” No matter what kind of camping adventure they have, Albert, Pickles and Platters know it’s their friendship that’s the best thing about anything they do together.
This is an easy addition to a middle readers graphic novel collection for schools or public libraries. The book is marked “Age Range: 6-9”, but I think kids aged 6-12 should love the silliness and the Aussie accents and jargon. This is a complete story arc, and there is no violent content or adult themes. The art is clear-lined, colorful and sharp, with white gutters that brighten the page.
I reviewed the print copy. The hardcover and binding are very sturdy and should withstand many circulations and shoves into and out of the shelving for the reasonable price of $12.99!
Wombats! Go Camping By Jen Stutesman Penguin Random House Viking Books for Young Readers, 2023 ISBN: 9780593465295
For some immigrant families, the American dream may seem like a fairy tale where things somehow work out neatly in the end, their arrival to the United States marking the culmination of a long awaited destination. For others, the struggle persists as immigrants strive to make sense of their identity in a strange world, trapped between the old and the new. The Lin family, undocumented immigrants from Taiwan, falls into the latter category in their goal to negotiate the multiple roles they play in American culture in Betty C. Tang’s Parachute Kids.
The year is 1981, the Lins have just arrived to the US after an overseas flight from Taiwan, and they meet up with some relatives shortly upon landing in Los Angeles. The heart of the story centers on a trio of children that includes Feng-Li (her American name is Ann), her older brother Ke-Gng (Jason), and older sister Jia-Xi (Jessie). No sooner than they start adjusting to their newfound lives than their parents announce they must return to Taiwan.
Their father must maintain his overseas business while their mother’s visa has expired, thereby leaving the kids to fend for themselves. Feng-Li wrestles with learning the English language, Ke-Gng is pressured into fitting in with a clique of Hong Kong boys at school, and Jia-Xi crams for SAT exams for college and must find a job to make ends meet. The lives of each character crystalize into focus as they tackle intense situations that drag them into the throes of smoking, shoplifting, and even being swindled into a deportation scam.
Tang navigates themes of assimilation, racism, bullying, sacrifice, family secrets, and identity searching on the path towards achieving the American dream. Intense dilemmas are punctuated by hilarious moments of comic relief, reflecting the gamut of emotions ranging from arduous struggles to triumphant resilience. Vibrant colors accentuate the scenes in each panel, capturing the nuanced personas of each character as they juggle the ups and downs of daily life.
An enriching addition to graphic novel collections for juvenile and middle grade readers alike, Parachute Kids depicts the harsh realities of an Asian American experience balanced with warmth, humor, and dramatic flair. Most importantly, the Lin’s story debunks model minority stereotypes that continually perpetuate clichés, focusing instead on developing three-dimensional characters that portray a more holistic experience of growing up and adapting to American society.
Parachute Kids By Betty C. Tang Scholastic GRAPHIX, 2023 ISBN: 9781338832686
Publisher Age Rating: 9-12
NFNT Age Recommendation: Middle Grade (7-11), Tween (10-13) Creator Representation: Taiwanese-American, Character Representation: Taiwanese-American,
Who could resist exploring beautiful woods that surround the only place you’ve ever known? Serafina stays within the walls of the Biltmore Estate, following her Pa’s wishes; as long as she can but how can she stay inside when children start mysteriously disappearing?
This graphic novel edition of the best-selling quartet fantasy novel series by the same name has been well adapted into this new format. Adapting author, Michael Moreci, stays true to the magic you find in the original book series written by author Robert Beatty.
Serafina’s story starts off tragically. She was born malformed with a strange back and collarbone, with eyes closed and the wrong number of toes. The Biltmore Estate’s maintenance man found her in the forest near the estate and brought her back to hope the nuns would help her. They called her a demon child. He feared they would kill the baby so he secretly kept her to raise by himself. He loved on that little baby and she finally opened her eyes for the first time under his loving care.
It was heartbreaking for Serafina to learn the story of her beginnings when she was a young child, but there was a piece of her that felt such immense gratitude and love for her Pa that it strengthened their relationship even more. The story picks up quickly as the man with the black cloak is introduced and strange things start happening around the estate. Children start to go missing, the electricity stops working, and it’s clear right away to Serafina that something is wrong with this man with the black cloak as she finds his dropped glove, lost in haste, filled with large chunks of old, hairy, shedding skin.
The artwork, by Braeden Sherrell, is so beautifully done and created in a style that is absolutely perfect for this rather dark children’s tale. A lot of text keeps the story moving and keeps details consistent with the original book. Pages are colored to match the mood of the current scene in the story. Bright yellows for daytime cheerfulness or dark purples and blues splash across pages to highlight the darkness of not only the nighttime but of the situations that characters face.
Overall, this is a wonderful adaptation of the original book. I hope they do continue on this series and create the next 3 in this children’s fantasy quartet. The story follows a typical hero’s journey pathway with tragedy and challenges to overcome that strengthen the protagonist and help her to grow, learn her strengths and conquer.
Serafina and the Black Cloak Vol. 1 By Robert Beatty, Michael Moreci and Braeden Sherrell Disney, 2023 ISBN: 9781368076906
Picking up right where volume one ended, Sorceline must face more than one secret about her family in order to save her new friends from a mystery assailant. Meanwhile, a new apprentice, Charlie, arrives on the island to everyone’s surprise, including Charlie’s since he can’t see mythical creatures at all. This causes some confusion as they work to further unravel the mysteries presented in book one, which lead to new and more dangerous mysteries. As the overarching story progresses, the characters explore different areas of the island to help cryptids in distress, discover new and unexpected abilities, and learn about old enemies that may not be as helpless anymore.
This was an excellent second volume that manages to answer questions posed in the first book while introducing new storylines that will hopefully be expanded on in volume three, which does not currently have an English release date. I continue to be impressed by the use of color in the illustrations. The illustrator uses them to evoke emotions to great effect and enhances the storytelling by juxtaposing bright, cool color schemes with darker elements.
All of the characters are given more definition, building on volume one. Because there are so many side characters in this series, it is hard for each of them to have the same depth of characterization, especially when they do not appear central to the main plot. However, each character does contribute to solving the mysteries presented. This volume also includes a bestiary that highlights the name, habitat, special characteristics, and life span of the various cryptids found on the Isle of Vorn.
I still highly recommend that this series be added to any library with a middle grade patron population that enjoys magical schools, mythical animals, or a layered mystery. There is a little more violence in this volume than in the first, but not much.
Sorceline Vol. 02 By Sylvia Douye Art by Paola Antista Andrews McMeel, 2023 ISBN: 9781524882310
Publisher Age Rating: 9-12
NFNT Age Recommendation: Middle Grade (7-11) Creator Representation: Italian,
Tegan and Sara are twin sisters, living in Calgary, Canada, ready to face their first year of junior high together. They’ve been inseparable their whole lives but things aren’t so certain these days. Tegan and Sara: Junior High, by Tegan Quin and Sara Quin themselves, with art by Eisner Award winning artist Tillie Walden, tells the story of one year in the life of the twins as they discover who they are, both together and apart.
Their dad has a new girlfriend. Their best friend isn’t going to the same school as they are. People keep getting them confused and even calling them clones. The sisters have always been close, but maybe junior high is the time to start to explore who they are outside of being a duo and who they are as individuals. Their bodies are changing so quickly that it feels unexpected, like being caught off guard with a tampon on the very first day of your very first period. Drama happens within their new friend groups. There’s crushes on cute girls and the beginning of understanding their queerness. There’s a guitar in the garage and the growing desire to put all those feelings into a song.
Tegan and Sara: Junior High is the latest addition to the Tegan and Sara universe, which consists of not only their music, but their memoir about their high school years, aptly titled High School, and a subsequent television show based on it. Middle grade readers may not be as familiar with these previous outputs. However, no prior knowledge of the duo is needed to appreciate the story being told here; at its very core, this is a story about two sisters.
Unlike many other graphic novel memoirs for middle grade readers, the book does not reflect the time period when it actually happened, which was the early 1990s. Instead, it has been moved to the present day, potentially making it more relatable for its intended audience. These stories are timeless, there will always be certain aspects of the tween years that are inescapable, but making it modern may help some readers connect more with the story being told. It’s current but not too current. The characters have cell phones and watch streaming videos, but it never overtakes the story.
Readers seeking a realistic look at these in-between years will enjoy Junior High. It may not be as bright and fast paced as other graphic novels about similar years, but there is something reflective and honest about the combination of Walden’s art and the Quins’ story. The warm colors add a calming sense to the stress of tween years. The conversations between the sisters that begin and end each chapter are a highlight. Readers learn more about their individual inner thoughts and also their close connection to each other.
Tegan and Sara: Junior High will appeal to readers of Shannon Hale and LeUyen Pham’s Friends series or Jennifer Holm and Matthew Holm’s Sunny series. This graphic novel also has crossover appeal for some teens, especially those who have enjoyed Walden’s previous graphic novels. The book is a charming, optimistic look at seventh grade and all the possibilities it brings.
Tegan and Sara: Junior High By Tegan Quin, Sara Quin, Art by Tillie Walden Farrar Strous Giroux, 2023 ISBN: 9780374313029
Publisher Age Rating: 10-14
NFNT Age Recommendation: Middle Grade (7-11), Teen (13-16), Tween (10-13) Creator Representation: Canadian, Lesbian Character Representation: Canadian, Queer
Batcat, a roly-poly, plump, and pink creature with no tail, pointed ears, and magenta bat wings, lives in a tree house and they are just fine all by themselves, playing video games, eating fast food, and watching the stars. Alone. Just the way they like it.
Then, one day, a ghost shows up. Batcat is shocked, annoyed, and extremely displeased, so they travel to the friendly neighborhood witch for a solution. From there they set out on a quest for ingredients for a potion that will solve all their problems. It turns out to be a difficult and miserable journey, especially when Batcat encounters bats and cats, neither of whom are willing to accept them. Exhausted mentally and physically, Batcat makes it back to the witch with the ingredients, only to be faced with the challenge of deciding exactly what they want to do with the ghost in their house and their life.
Ramm’s goofy cartoon art sends grumpy Batcat fluttering through caves, with a host of purple-black bats who don’t find Batcat quite batty enough, through a cemetery of selfish cats who definitely do not think Batcat is catty enough, and through encounters with skeletons, griffins, and other magical creatures. Along the way there is confetti, explosions, and longings for fast food, jokes, hijinks, and lots of pink, purple, and turquoise puffy art.
Meggie Ramm, who uses they/them pronouns like their creation, which was built from short cartoons they drew for elementary kids during comic classes, makes a central point of Batcat’s duality. They are frustrated and hurt by the bats and cats who insist they be one thing or the other and not their own, unique amalgam of both bat and cat. In the end, Batcat develops empathy for the ghost (whom they have been thinking of as merely obnoxious) and realizes they too might have different sides to their character. It’s difficult to fit a lot of emotional nuance into a short comic book for kids, but I was frustrated that Batcat at no point tried to communicate with the ghost about their feelings, even when they returned, they just suddenly accepted them as a roommate. I think a lot of early elementary books, especially those that push heavily on the “odd couple” friends trope like Frog and Toad, are guilty of one-sided relationships like this and don’t really teach kids that it’s ok to be an introvert, want to be alone, or not be friends with someone who annoys and bothers you. This is definitely an adult perspective, and a somewhat personal one, but it definitely threw me out of the story and made me disappointed with the ending.
Despite my own objections, this is a cute story, specifically encouraging young readers who may feel they don’t fit any single mold, and encouraging everyone to see things from other perspectives. This will be popular with fans of Yi’s Cat & Cat and stories of cheerful grumps like Cranky Chicken, and makes a nice addition to early elementary graphic novel collections.
Batcat By Meggie Ramm Abrams Amulet, 2023 ISBN: 9781419756573
Publisher Age Rating: 6-9
NFNT Age Recommendation: Middle Grade (7-11) Creator Representation: Nonbinary Character Representation: Nonbinary
Danni is twelve when her faithful companion Pirate the dog dies. While trying to work through her grief, a substitute teacher named Miss Pallas introduces the class to mythology. Since there weren’t enough copies of the textbook for everyone in class, Miss Pallas gives her personal copy to Danni to use. Reading the book of mythology helps Danni start to recover gradually. However, when they read the section about Hades, one of the illustrations looks familiar. Danni is sure the entrance to Hades is a cave she used to visit with her family when she was younger.
Danni decides to leave immediately, in the middle of the night, to find Hades and bring back Pirate. If Orpheus could do it, so can she. Unfortunately, her younger brother, Sammy, follows her and they tumble into Hades together. Upon meeting Cerberus, Danni learns she is on an official quest from a god or goddess and that she can’t go home to drop her little brother off and then come back to continue. After choosing a hero to protect them, Danni faces several obstacles on her quest to find her faithful companion and bring him home.
This is an interesting introduction to myths for young readers set in a contemporary setting before entering the world of mythology and quests. I was reminded of the Percy Jackson series, if the main characters were aged down a few years in strength, wisdom, and priorities. The pacing is just right for younger readers ,as well, and there aren’t as many words per page as other comics meant for upper middle grade audiences. My favorite aspect of this retelling is using Danni’s knowledge of the world as a clever way to progress the plot instead of a detriment to her success. I am interested to see where the story goes in the next volume. I recommend this series for any public or classroom library that has middle grade readers looking for adventure, retellings, or help dealing with grief.
Fetch, book 1: The Journey By Mike Sizemore Art by Dave Kennedy Storm King Productions, 2023 ISBN: 9781734389197
Publisher Age Rating: 8-12 NFNT Age Recommendation: Middle Grade (7-11)
Science Comics! Making up for my 48th-in-the-nation-in-STEM-education-education. (Only partly joking about that, teachers.) I’m serious about this, though: these comics are neat!
Science Comics include a wide variety of representations! This comic has a multigender, multicultural number of characters in non-stereotypical roles, which is also something different from when I was 8-12 years of age. I wish we had had them when I was little. These comics try to include a whole bunch of science information in a short space. This issue has 119 pages. As in my previous Periodical Table review, the comic is text heavy, has asymmetrical panels, comical drawings to help solidify the lesson, and uses well-known (to kids) tropes to make the lessons clear. This comic uses mecha-transformer-type robots and rampaging monsters to introduce the principles of electricity, like voltage (volts), current (amps) and resistance (ohms). A young (and very punk-looking) girl named Julie must help her engineer uncle Niko repair the electricity substation when a battle between their mecha and a somewhat goofy-looking monster takes down their grid.
Many subtle middle-age winks made me smile, and parents will like the two-layered humor when reading this with their kids. An example:
In explaining the types of potential and kinetic energy on page 22: Niko: “Huh. These looked different when I was a kid.” Julie, with eyerolls: “There’s been a reboot.” Niko: “Looks like the city’s hero is coming out of retirement! *squnch*…The city’s hero used to be more flexible.”
I think the writing and the story flow better in this comic than the Periodical Table one. For example, on p. 50-51 is a very funny way to explain how solar panels work. Equally amusing stories depict how and why different deliverers of energy work like they do, like natural gas, coal, nuclear, wind, and hydroelectric plants. I’m sure the snarky self-assured teenage comments from Julie (“Ya’ll used this for HOW long?”) hit home with her uncle. (How far does that mecha’s electrical cord stretch, anyway?)
Kids will likely be the generation that will deal with climate change and this comic takes that issue head-on. Blackouts and other climate change-induced problems will probably increase, especially when the security of the electrical grid is increasingly discussed in places like California, Texas, and Florida, and this part of the comic teaches students this. The comic stays on the positive side, though, explaining that we can begin to improve things with newer technology currently being invented and refined.
The comic includes an introduction, a glossary of terms used in the book, and is brightly colored through all the panels and pages. I reviewed the pre-published online version, but if its release is like the previous Science Comics, it will be sturdily bound and will hold up to many circulations. Recommended for middle school and public libraries.
Science Comics: Electricity: Energy in Action By Andy Hirsch First Second, 2023 ISBN: 9781250265852
I don’t know if it’s because of the volume of his output, but Franco (Franco Aureliani) shows a wide range of quality in his writing. I was disappointed by the last comic of his that I read and reviewed, but enjoyed this gentle fantasy adventure and think it will find a ready audience.
The story opens with red-haired Fae, wearing a vaguely medieval-style brown dress, sitting sadly alone under the moon. She goes to bed and has nightmares of her mother’s mysterious disappearance and wakes to sit sadly at the table and stare at her breakfast. Percival, a small white bunny with vine-like markings on his head and back, appears and tries to comfort her, encouraging her to remember her mother, hold on to her memories, but also to let go and move on. Fae mulls over his words and eventually decides to do something concrete to remember her mother and to call her attention, wherever she is; she takes the moon out of the sky.
Fae’s actions set in train a a dark series of events, from rampaging rat hordes to fleeing villagers. In a startling twist she learns some dangerous secrets, including discovering her own inner power and the truth behind her mother’s disappearance. There is a happy and satisfying ending, despite the constant perilous situations throughout the book, and charming art throughout. The Satruns’ colorful art has lots of curves and lines including delicate flowers that bloom under the moon, sleek dragon-like creatures, and cute and cuddly mice. These contrast with the pointed noses, scowls, and dark menace of the rat horde. Lots of blooming, growing, and expanding circles show magical transformations, and the whole story is alternately flooded with shadows or gently shining with the moon’s bright light.
There are some odd little moments, like Fae’s sudden change from the dress she wore throughout the story to a Victorian-style suit on the last page, and a few holes in the story as well as some awkward phrasing. Still, young readers looking for a fantasy adventure that doesn’t end on a cliffhanger will be satisfied with the pretty art and fast-moving story line. There’s a hint of sequels at the end, but not enough that the story feels unfinished, and some gentle reminders throughout about not judging by appearances.
Young readers who aren’t ready for Amulet and enjoy the Dragon Kingdom of Wrenly and Guardians of Horsa will be the ideal audience for this story and will eagerly snatch it up.
Fae and the Moon By Franco Aureliani Art by Catherine Satrun, Sarah Satrun Publisher: Yellow Jacket, 2023 ISBN: 9781499813289