The Moth Keeper

Anya lives in a nocturnal desert village, a close-knit community where all kinds of people work together to survive. Every aspect of life here depends on the magical pollen of the Night-Flower tree, and the tree depends on the pollination of the Moon-Moths. These creatures are fragile, needing the protection and care of a Moth Keeper. The Moth Keeper spends every night—when the village is awake – out in the desert with the Moths. The position is a lonely one, but vital to the community. That’s why Anya, who wishes desperately to be useful and valued, has pledged to become the next Moth Keeper.

The nights are long and cold, and spending so much time alone beneath the endless desert sky has Anya questioning everything, from her own abilities and worth to whether she even wants to live in the night-village. Are things better in the neighboring sun-village, which sleeps at night and wakes during the day?

Anya’s best friend worries about her, and her mentor encourages her to transition into the job more slowly, but Anya is determined to prove herself. Refusing help and insisting she is fine, Anya pushes herself until she makes a dire mistake. The Moths are lost, and the Night-Flower tree is dying. Can Anya get the Moths back in time to save her village? And even if she does, is there a future for her as a Moth Keeper?

Fans of K. O’Neill’s award-winning Tea Dragon Society books will find in this story a new fantasy world with some familiar touches. Like those books, this has a cozy setting full of kind, well-intentioned characters (who also, incidentally, seem to drink a lot of tea). Both include characters with animal-inspired design elements, like Anya’s fox ears and tail, which are taken for granted as part of the world.

O’Neill’s bio says that they “strive to make books with themes of kindness, inclusiveness, and well-being”. These ideas permeate this story, in which we see what can happen when Anya fails to recognize her own limits, but also see her learn to depend on others and find strength in her community. The editor’s note at the beginning of this book describes this story as being about burnout, which is an extremely timely topic. Here, burnout is treated not just as something that Anya must overcome, but also as something her community must remedy by recognizing that the Moth Keeper job might be asking too much of any one person, and that Anya needs their support.

The artwork is softly colorful, its palette full of twilight blues and the earth tones of the desert. Both inside the village and out in the desert, the settings are full of interesting details and curving, organic shapes. The character designs are whimsical and varied: there are humans, centaurs, and people with wings and feathers or animal tails and ears, and they wear thoughtfully designed clothes and accessories. The lineart is loose and relaxed, drawn with fine lines, so that even the detailed settings feel spacious and spare, not dense or crowded.

There are touches of sadness in this story – Anya comes from an unhappy family situation, another character has not seen his parents in the sun-village for a long time, and Anya meets a wandering spirit with a lonely tale. Ultimately, though, this is a hopeful story of kind people helping and supporting each other. Hand it to fans of the Tea Dragon Society books and other gentle, positive fantasy.

The Moth Keeper
By K. O’Neill
Penguin Random House Graphic, 2023
ISBN: 9780593182260

Publisher Age Rating: 8-12

NFNT Age Recommendation: Middle Grade (7-11), Tween (10-13)
Creator Representation:  Nonbinary ,

Lemon Bird Can Help!

Lemon Bird is a cheerful creature with a can-do attitude. She’s also just what she sounds like: a cross between a lemon and a bird. This isn’t so unusual in the colorful, whimsical world of this book, which has many such hybrid creatures. In fact, Lemon Bird has just made friends with one on the farm where she lives: the doglike, yet also pumpkinlike, Pupkin.

When Lemon Bird and Pupkin fall asleep on a farm truck, they don’t expect to wake up at a market far from home. Confused and worried, they start searching for a way back, but it won’t be easy. Luckily, this duo is so friendly and helpful that many people and creatures are happy to help them in return. But will that be enough to get them home to the farm? And why is another citrus bird—a smaller, greener, ruder version of Lemon Bird—following them around?

This is a gentle, straightforward adventure that celebrates helping others and making friends. In Lemon Bird’s first meeting with Pupkin, it finds the pup tangled in vines and hurries to help. The mischievous citrus bird Keylime is initially mean to them, but rethinks her behavior after Lemon Bird and Pupkin rescue her from danger. The duo also assist at least half a dozen strangers with a variety of tasks on their way back to the farm. Their kindness is repaid when the reformed Keylime comes to help them in a moment of need.

The real star here is the fanciful setting. There are lots of fruit-animals, including ones with punny or rhymey names, like the boarnana and pear bear. Some of them, like Lemon Bird, can talk to each other (but not, it seems, to people). Others, like Pupkin, may understand speech but do not seem able to produce it, and behave more like the animals of our world. The people we meet are also unusual: some sport pointed ears, and some have skin and hair in colors like blue, purple, and green. Every page is drenched in vivid, saturated colors that give it an otherworldly look, but also evoke the fruits that play a key role in the setting and its creatures.

In addition to being colorful, the art is active, making use of movement lines and varied panel layouts for a high-energy feel. In several places, we get a full-page illustration with a line showing Pupkin and Lemon Bird’s path through the setting, a little like a Family Circus cartoon. The sequential art often stands alone, as there are many panels and a few entire pages without text. The end pages include fun bonus material showing readers how to draw Lemon Bird and encouraging them to get creative with their own fruit-animal creatures.

While there is occasional peril – Keylime is menaced by what looks like a plum-cat hybrid, and Pupkin falls into a fast-moving river—no one is harmed. The danger serves mostly to give other characters the opportunity to come to the rescue.

With attention-grabbing artwork and a good heart, this fantasy romp will appeal to young readers, especially those who prefer their comics without too much text.

Lemon Bird Can Help!
By Paulina Ganucheau
Penguin Random House Graphic, 2022
ISBN: 9780593122679

Publisher Age Rating: 4-8

NFNT Age Recommendation: Easy Readers (5-9)

Spidey and his Amazing Friends: Team Spidey Does It All!

Peter Parker teams up with Miles Morales and Gwen Stacy for the Spidey and His Amazing Friends franchise, which features the trio having adventures together as Spidey, Miles, and Ghost-Spider. Based on the Disney Junior TV show, this comic is aimed at young children and features silly humor and childlike, prank-pulling versions of villains Green Goblin, Doc Ock, and Rhino. While it follows the show’s premise, this volume is made up of all-new stories.

This comic begins with an introduction to the heroes and villains, then a brief explanation of how to read comic panels. From there, it dives into a series of over a dozen short adventures, each ranging from two to eight pages long. These stories are fast-paced but gentle: no one gets hurt, including the villains, and there are often silly twists. Occasionally, we get cameos from other Marvel heroes, like Black Panther, the Hulk, and Ms. Marvel.

In some stories, the heroes face villain-free challenges like getting to a movie on time or making cookies for Aunt May. When villains do appear, they are up to mild or nonspecific mischief – Green Goblin tries to steal parade balloons, Rhino threatens to “smash the city” unless Spidey races him, Doc Ock tries to turn a park into a giant aquarium, and so on. These are often resolved with outcomes that leave even the villains satisfied: for instance, it turns out Green Goblin is playing pranks at the library because he is upset he can’t check out books, but he is happy to stop when the heroes help him get a library card.

Given the pace and length of these stories, there isn’t a lot of time for character development. It is clear, though, that the three heroes are friends, and they support and care about each other as well as others, like Aunt May and her cat Bootsie. Like good superheroes, they will drop what they are doing to help others.

The art is bright and dynamic. All of the heroes and villains except for Rhino and the Hulk are drawn child-sized and with childlike proportions, which is especially clear when they appear with an adult character like Aunt May. Backgrounds are colorful and detailed, but do not compete with the characters, in part because the characters tend to have thicker, bolder outlines than anything else in the panels. Most pages have three or four panels each, but the layout varies, adding visual interest.

A dozen words throughout the story have asterisks marking them as vocabulary words, which are defined at the end of the book. Many of these are terms specific to the Spider-Man universe, but the list also includes words like “trap” and “invisible.” The book specifies on its back cover that it is a “Level 1 title tailored for ages 5 to 7” and that its Lexile Level is 400L, all of which may be useful to potential readers and their parents and teachers.

Spider-Man has long been popular with children. Unlike a lot of superhero media, this comic offers action and humor but no scary danger or violence, making it a good fit for young fans.

Spidey and his Amazing Friends: Team Spidey Does It All!
By Steve Behling
Art by  Giovanni Rigano, Antonello Dalena, Ellen Willcox
Marvel, 2022
ISBN: 9781368076074

Publisher Age Rating: 5 to 7
Series ISBNs and Order
Related media:  TV to Comic

NFNT Age Recommendation: Easy Readers (5-9)
Character Representation: Afro-Puerto-Rican, Assumed White,

Miles Morales: Stranger Tides

Miles Morales is adjusting to his identity as the new Spider-Man in town. It can be tough, but it has some serious perks, like being a guest of honor at the release event for the video game launch of the century. Which is awesome . . . except it turns out the game is a trap set by an alien mastermind who plans to use it to destroy humanity.

Everyone who logs onto the game—or even sees a video of it—is frozen in a state of suspended animation. Miles would be one of them, but he is grabbed at the last moment by an unlikely rescuer: former supervillain Trinity. She and another villain, Vex, have been working with a powerful alien entity called the Stranger, who is responsible for the video game plot. According to the Stranger’s plan, in three days, the frozen people will unfreeze and attack everyone else, causing potentially millions or even billions of deaths. But Trinity doesn’t actually want humanity destroyed, so she proposes a team-up to save the world.

The problem is that the Stranger is powerful. Maybe too powerful even for Spider-Man, his loyal “man in the chair” Ganke, and Trinity to take on. Especially when Miles is distracted by worrying about his own friends and family who have been frozen by the game. Things are looking grim, but as it turns out, Trinity is not the only surprising ally willing to help Spider-Man take down the Stranger.

Miles is brave and goodhearted and has all the snarky banter one expects from a Spider-Man. His friendship with Ganke, in particular, feels caring, real, and full of fond ribbing. But Miles also feels things deeply, especially when someone he loves is hurt. This book gives considerable page time to Miles’ worry about his beloved uncle Aaron, who became frozen while driving and crashed his car, ending up in the hospital. Other family and friends are targeted by the Stranger as the book goes on, strengthening Miles’ resolve.

The art is angular and colorful, giving the pages a lively look even before the additions of classic superhero visuals like action lines and sound effects. Kool-Aid-bright colors highlight the neon lights of the city and the larger-than-life characters, settings, and action sequences. The cast is racially diverse and the characters visually distinct and expressive. Screentones are used frequently, but subtly, often to highlight a character’s altered state: for instance, simple screentones help differentiate the frozen people from others, and is one of the visual indications used when Miles turns invisible.

The stakes are high in this story, with danger both global and personal, but things do work out well in the end. The frequent fight scenes are full of teleportation and spider webbing, but no blood or graphic injuries.

This is a smart, fast-paced story with lots of superpowered action. Hand it to young readers who want a relatable hero with attitude and heart. Fans who enjoy seeing superhero comics written by popular YA authors may also like this volume’s preview of Captain America: The Ghost Army by Alan Gratz.

Miles Morales: Stranger Tides
By Justin A. Reynolds
Art by Pablo Leon
Scholastic GRAPHIX, 2022
ISBN: 9781338826395

Publisher Age Rating: 8-12

NFNT Age Recommendation: Teen (13-16), Tween (10-13)
Creator Representation:  African-American, Guatemalan
Character Representation: African-American, Puerto Rican

The Prisoner of Shiverstone

Young Helga Sharp likes to tinker with technology. Unfortunately, such tinkering is frowned on in her world—a place that, until a few decades ago, was in danger from a wide variety of mad scientists. When one of her secret projects makes radio contact with a stranger, the lonely Helga finds a kindred spirit. A kindred spirit who is currently being held in an island prison. Specifically, Utley Island, where the mad scientists are kept.

Helga decides to rescue her friend, but after a maritime mishap, finds herself waking up in an Utley Island hospital and facing a lot of questions. She plays dumb, claiming that she got separated from her parents at sea and pretending to know nothing about the island. If she can just stick around long enough to steal a few high-tech parts, she can make a device that will free her friend. But the longer she stays on Utley Island, the more she discovers that nothing about it—from the officers who run the place to the scientists it imprisons—is what she expected.

Helga is clever, sneaky, and skeptical, but well-intentioned, and makes friends on Utley Island despite herself. The residents there seem surprisingly good-hearted and friendly, given that most of them are technically prisoners and the rest are technically prison guards. While Helga’s focus is on building the device to rescue her trapped friend, there is a parallel emotional journey in which she begins to trust others and to find that there are people who actually appreciate her interest in science.

The setting has a fun, fantastical feel, with quirky characters and weird science inventions aplenty. It is unclear what the bar is in this world for being a “mad scientist”—we certainly don’t see any who seem power-hungry or cruel. At worst, they are careless about the potentially dangerous side effects of their cutting-edge experiments. Interestingly, the island’s Chief of Security seems to be a full-on superhero, patrolling in a flight suit, despite the fact that that there are no real supervillains in sight and most of the island’s inhabitants seem perfectly happy to stay there.

The art is vibrantly painted, and the character designs have retro charm, from the oversized bow in Helga’s hair to the oddball appearances of the mad scientists’ outfits and inventions. The colors are saturated, with vivid shades of pink, teal, and blue often dominating the panels, adding to the sci-fi feel of the setting. There is some racial diversity among the island’s inhabitants, though most of the main characters appear to be white.

There is a small amount of danger, as when some robot guardians run amok on the island, but it never gets too intense. Most of the action is of a more puzzle-solving nature as Helga tries to assemble her rescue device while dodging questions from well-meaning adults. (Basically all of the adult characters seem supportive of Helga in general, if not supportive of her secret mission – which, after all, they don’t know about.) This is a fun and gentle sci-fi adventure with a fun retro aesthetic. A nice addition to middle-grade collections.

The Prisoner of Shiverstone
By Linette Moore
Abrams, 2022
ISBN: 9781419743924

Publisher Age Rating: 8-12

NFNT Age Recommendation: Middle Grade (7-11), Tween (10-13)

Pokémon Journeys, vols. 1-3

Pokémon trainer Ash Ketchum and his buddy Pikachu are back! This time they are joined by a friend called Goh and his Pokémon partners for adventures that have them traveling all over the Pokémon world.

At the start of this series, Ash and Goh meet and are invited to become “research fellows” by Professor Cerise, who runs a lab studying Pokémon. They accept the position, and Cerise Laboratory becomes their home base in between trips that are theoretically about research but also involve lots of Pokémon battles. While most Pokémon manga are set in a particular “region” of the world—that is, the setting of one of the Pokémon video games—this series sees its protagonists traveling between several regions, sometimes in the same volume. In particular, they spend a lot of time in the Galar region, the setting of the games Pokémon: Sword and Pokémon: Shield.

Each volume of the Pokémon Journeys manga is essentially a collection of short stories. While theoretically these stories are sequential, many of them can easily stand alone. The stakes vary from “save the realm from an unstable, overpowered Pokémon with the aid of legendary heroes” to “we found a mischievous little Pokémon, does it belong to someone?” A couple of plotlines come up repeatedly: Ash is competing in a battle tournament called the World Coronation Series, and the goofy Team Rocket villains Jesse, James, and Meowth periodically show up to try and steal Pikachu or otherwise meddle. Neither of these is likely to leave readers confused if they start reading in the middle of the series.

Like most Pokémon manga, this series features optimistic, good-hearted young heroes and lots of creatures with different personalities and powers. There are frequent Pokémon battles, some friendly (like when Ash and Goh’s Pokémon train against each other), some competitive (like the ones to move up the ranks in the World Coronation Series), and some serious (like to defeat villains or control a rampaging Pokémon). There is also silly humor and some character development, as when Goh learns that he has to pay attention to what his Scorbunny wants in order for them to battle effectively as a team.

The visual style will be familiar to readers of other Pokémon manga series. The art is black and white, the book reads from right to left, and there is tons of action—much of it the over-the-top superpowered action of Pokémon battles, which can involve things like lightning, fire, and significant damage to buildings.

There is not much explanation here of how things work in the world of Pokémon. Battles, Pokéballs, and Pokémon evolution, for instance, may confuse readers who are brand-new to the franchise. For those who know the basics, however, this is an accessible entry point to the Pokémon manga universe, not requiring readers to know the events of many other volumes to understand what is happening. The “journeys” aspect may particularly appeal to fans of the games, who will recognize the different regions but may not be used to seeing characters travel between them.

Pokémon Journeys, vols. 1-3
By Machito Gomi
VIZ, 2021
vol 1 ISBN: 9781974725748
vol 2 ISBN: 978197472652
vol 3 ISBN: 9781974730094

Publisher Age Rating: All Ages

NFNT Age Recommendation: Middle Grade (7-11), Tween (10-13)
Creator Representation: Japanese

Ride On

Victoria loves horses. She used to share that love with her best friend, Taylor, when they rode and competed together. But when Victoria decided she’s more interested in riding for fun, while Taylor stayed intensely focused on competing, a rift opened between them that wound up destroying their friendship.

Which is why Victoria has left the elite stable where she used to ride for a smaller, more relaxed stable. Here she can enjoy spending time with the horses. No competitions . . . and no so-called friends. Victoria has been focused on horses for a long time, in part because riding and competing were Taylor’s all-consuming interests and the basis of their friendship. So, Victoria wants nothing to do with the other riders at Edgewood Stables. At least, not until she realizes that her peers at this stable aren’t like Taylor: they have other interests in common than just horses, and they value friendship above competition. It’s not until the kids at her new stable start talking about “Beyond the Galaxy”—a low-budget sci-fi TV show that Victoria used to love—that she realizes she can bond with people over more than one thing. Hicks notes that parts of the story are inspired by her own years as a Horse Girl, as well as her own experience with being hurt by a childhood best friend.

This is a story about finding your people and embracing your interests, as well as about horseback riding and silly sci-fi fandom fun. We also get glimpses of the various family dynamics that Victoria and her friends go home to: Victoria lives with her big sister and mentions that she got into “Beyond the Galaxy” because she would escape to her grandmother’s house to watch it when her parents fought. Victoria’s new friend Norrie resents her accomplished older brother for setting such a high bar academically, but when Norrie gets in trouble, he ends up being more supportive than she expected. Another new friend, Sam, has two rowdy older brothers who tease him a lot, but also show up for him and cheer him on.

There is no violence in the story and no action more harrowing than a brief topple off a horse. No sexual content and only the faintest hint of a possible future romance. The book does touch on some sad situations, like Victoria’s broken friendship with Taylor, but ends on a happy and hopeful note. The characters’ ages are not stated, but they seem to be about thirteen.

The art will be familiar to fans of its Eisner-award-winning creator. Like her other original graphic novels, it has a style of expressive, slightly simplified realism, with rich backgrounds and characters drawn in poses that look natural and dynamic. This book includes a lot of horses along with the human characters, and many of the settings are horse-centric, but we also get scenes at characters’ homes, a library, and other places. The colors are generally natural and realistic, but sometimes bright backgrounds are used to reflect a character’s emotional state or add drama to an action sequence.

This uplifting, realistic story will appeal to fans of other contemporary graphic novels that feature tween girls navigating friendships and feelings. Hand it to readers of of Raina Telgemeier, Jennifer L. Holm, and Victoria Jamieson.

Ride On
By Faith Erin Hicks
Macmillan First Second, 2022
ISBN: 9781250772824

Publisher Age Rating: 10-14

NFNT Age Recommendation: Middle Grade (7-11), Teen (13-16), Tween (10-13)

The Rema Chronicles: Realm of the Blue Mist

Fifteen-year-old Tabby Simon is in a depressing rut. Her father died seven years ago in a mysterious accident. His death was attributed to mist emitted by the strange tree he was studying, but Tabby doesn’t buy that. So now, she spends all her free time studying the tree herself, in secret. But it’s going nowhere . . . until the day a handsome boy with glowing blue eyes shows up, and everything changes.

Tabby is pulled through a portal and finds herself on another planet. Rema is a beautiful world, full of alien architecture and sweeping vistas. It is also dangerous. The geists, people with supernatural powers, are feared and shunned – and some of them are plotting against the government. The Keepers, meanwhile, travel between worlds and protect the realm. The blue-eyed boy, Philip, is a Keeper who is also, secretly and unhappily, a geist. He promises to get Tabby home, but that proves difficult—maybe even impossible. Meanwhile, Tabby and Philip are beginning to grow attached to each other. Would either of them even want her to leave Rema?

And that’s before Tabby meets a strange being who knew her father. A being who knows what really happened to him—and who wants something from Tabby.

It’s easy to feel for Tabby: she’s an intensely lonely kid who misses her dad, doesn’t get along well with her mom, and seems to have no friends. This ends up being convenient, as she is not terribly upset by the prospect of being stuck in Rema, unable to return to Earth. Philip, too, is lonely. He has no family and is isolated by his dangerous secrets. The book drops hints of a tragic backstory, too. Tabby finds Philip handsome and kind, and he finds her sympathetic and easy to talk to. Throw in a lot of blushing and one very emotional hug, and an Earthling-Reman romance is born.

The romance is not the only plotline likely to be expanded in future books. There is the mystery of what happened to Tabby’s father, and also the geist rebel who suggests that Tabby can expect a visit from one of the Reman gods. Lots of reasons to keep reading the series!

The world of Rema, in which most of this book takes place, is lush and imaginative. Its history, religion, laws, and social structure are introduced in this book, but it feels as if we have seen only the tip of the iceberg. The visuals underscore the alien feel of the world: not only is it full of whimsical architecture and art, but it is often seen from above, as citizens of this city can fly.

The characters have a manga-influenced look – some more than others – but they are simpler and more realistically-proportioned than many manga characters. They fit well with the backgrounds, having a similar level of detail and smooth, organic feel.

Many graphic novel readers will be familiar with the Amulet books by Amy Kim Kibuishi’s husband, Kazu Kibuishi. The series have some things in common; fatherless young protagonists who find themselves in bizarre, richly-illustrated fantasy worlds in which they have important destinies. Fans of Amulet may enjoy this series, too, especially if they like a little light romance with their otherworldly adventures.

The Rema Chronicles: Realm of the Blue Mist Vol. 1
By Amy Kim Kibuishi
Scholastic GRAPHIX, 2022
ISBN: 9781338115130

Publisher Age Rating: 8-12

NFNT Age Recommendation: Middle Grade (7-11), Tween (10-13)

Miss Quinces

What’s not special about celebrating your quinceanera? This traditional fifteenth birthday celebration is a special time for many young ladies as they enter adulthood. But there is always someone who is a little hesitant in keeping up with traditions. For Kat Fajardo’s protagonist in her newest graphic novel, Miss Quinces, a family party with dancing and dresses is not her thing.

Young comic artist Suyapa Yisel Gutierrez, or Sue for short, is so not looking forward to her trip to Honduras. Not only is she miles away from her friends and summer camp, she is staying out in the country with no cell service, Wi-Fi, or cable and visiting her loud relatives. Things go from bad to worse when she finds out that her mother is planning her quinceanera behind her back. The family is so excited for her but Sue would rather skip it. Wearing a frilly dress and making speeches is just not her. However, with some coaxing from her grandmother and a willing compromise with her mother, Sue settles into the planning stages of her party and gets a chance to finally express herself.

Fajardo’s graphic novel combines the craziness and love of family. Readers will be reminded of their own families after witnessing emotional and hilarious scenes between Sue and her relatives. The main character’s journey to rid her of self-doubt and to be expressive in her own special way is reminiscent of any teenager’s life. Along with her storytelling, Fajardo has created a diverse cast of characters with their own unique style and expressions. Scenes of Honduras’ countryside, city life, folklore, languages, home life, and meals provide U.S.-based readers with a look into a place different from their own, Readers of Latinx descendant will find a connection with Sue and her culture, especially young girls who are preparing for their own quinceanera. For those unfamiliar with the celebration, the author provides a brief explanation of the party, its traditions and photos from her own.

Kat Fajardo’s Miss Quinces is a definite purchase for school and public libraries. Middle school and junior high school readers who enjoy reading graphic novels by Raina Telgemeier, Kayla Miller, and Terri Libenson will want to give this one a try. For libraries who serve a bilingual community, it will be beneficial to include Miss Quinces in their graphic novel collection, along with the Spanish edition that will be published simultaneously with the English one.

Miss Quinces Vol.
By Kat Fajardo
Scholastic GRAPHIX, 2022
ISBN: 9781338535594

Publisher Age Rating: 8-12

NFNT Age Recommendation: Middle Grade (7-11), Teen (13-16), Tween (10-13)
Creator Representation:  Latinx,  Character Representation: Honduran, Latinx,