Asterix Omnibus, vol 1/Asterix: the Chieftain’s Daughter

It’s hard to believe, but Asterix is turning 60 years old. He’s back, in a newly translated American English collection featuring the first three classic novels in the series. This globally popular French series has sold close to 380 million copies, and has been translated into 111 languages and dialects. The latest edition, #38 The Chieftain’s Daughter does not disappoint. You can expect the same clever wordplay, quirky characters and, of course, plenty of satire.

In the Asterix Omnibus series by Rene Goscinny, and Albert Uderzo, Volume One contains the first three stories in the series: Asterix the Gaul, Asterix and the Golden Sickle, and Asterix and the Goths.

In Asterix the Gaul, Getafix is captured after a Roman soldier sneaks into their village to figure out how these Gauls have invincibility. It’s up to Asterix to use his strength and wit to save Getafix. Getafix’s golden sickle has broken in Asterix and the Golden Sickle. This leaves Asterix and Obelix no choice but to venture to the city Lutetia, where they need to find Metallurgix, the sicklesmith, and the trouble and absurdity begins. Asterix and the Goths features Obelix and Asterix helping Getafix get to the druids’ annual conference. What they don’t know is that the Goths are there waiting to kidnap him. The silliness begins as they must put their heads together to get him back safely.

The latest edition to the Asterix series is The Chieftain’s Daughter by Jean-Yves Ferri, and Didier Conrad.
Adrenaline, the daughter of the Gaulish chieftain is on the run from the Romans. Luckily, she stumbles upon Asterix’s village, which happens to be the only place that can guarantee her safety. But, for how long?

Asterix comics have that classic cartoon style, which you would expect from the 1950s-60s comic era. There are many highly detailed images with a lot of activity happening in each panel. Careful time was spent adding in characters and animals that work to heighten the drama as it is unfolding. Buildings, nature, and scenery are accurate to the time and setting of these stories, thus providing a bit of a history lesson for children as they observe the tools, clothing styles, and structures. In The Chieftain’s Daughter, Conrad does a seamless job of staying true to the original illustrator’s drawing style. It’s remarkable work, especially when you consider how challenging it must be to learn how to copy all the characters and elements of another artist and re-create them just as the original illustrator would have created them.

These titles feature fun stories that can be enjoyed by children and adults alike. However, much of the satire would likely be lost on younger audiences. The recommended age range for this series is from 7-12 years old, but is unlikely that American children would know enough about the history of Gaul, the Romans and World War II to truly understand the satire. That’s not to say that they couldn’t be enjoyed by younger children, but this series would be best read with someone older who could explain some of the happenings. Additionally, children would need to have a fairly comprehensive vocabulary as these books are packed with abstract writing. “Intransigent”, “gesocribate” and “menhir sculptors” are a few of the rather complicated words that are sprinkled throughout. Much of the humor is in the language carefully selected and invented specifically for the characters, such as, Dirtipolotix, Vitalstatistix, and, Getafix. Wonderful for adults, but without the help of an adult, it can be difficult for younger kids to independently understand.

Overall, Asterix is a classic series that is sure to provide laughs, nostalgia for those who read these comics as children, and adventure. These new translations are well-done and make the text more accessible to American audiences. If you like Asterix, these are worth-while additions to your home or library collection.

Asterix Omnibus, Vol 1
By René Goscinny
Art by Albert Uderzo
ISBN: 9781545805664

Asterix: the Chieftain’s Daughter
By Jean-Yves Ferri
Art by Didier Conrad
ISBN: 9781545805695

Papercutz, 2020
Publisher Age Rating: 7-12
Series Reading Order: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Asterix (Wikipedia or Goodreads)

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NFNT Age Recommendation: Middle Grade (7-11), Tween (10-13), Teen (13-16), Older Teen (16-18), Adult (18+)

A Cat Story

This story is from HarperCollins’s new graphic imprint for young readers, HarperAlley, and their new imprint for “authors with a strong point of view, as well as those who are often underrepresented,” Quill Tree Books. It will be released in October 2020 as part of the first set of books from Quill Tree. It was reviewed from a galley, so the art was presumably not final and the paper quality was also not the finished product.

The story opens with an illustrated note from the author, explaining how she was inspired to make this book after a trip to Malta with her family, and reassuring readers that it has a happy ending.

The sun rises on the ancient harbor of Malta, and a sleepy black and white cat emerges from under an old boat, leaving her sleeping companion behind. Shortly afterwards, the tan cat awakes and snags a luridly green fish for his breakfast, fleeing for safety from thrown stones.

While the tan cat devours his breakfast, the black and white cat seeks out a home, only to be tossed out when the mother of the boy who took her in returns home. We discover her name is Cilla as she talks to a big brown cat named Alaya in the flower market and Alaya tells her the story of the Quiet Garden and the power of stories and art. Cilla hurries back to the docks to rejoin her friend, the tan cat named Betto, and tells him of her determination to find the Quiet Garden. This “kitten tale” place is supposed to be the perfect place for cats, where all are welcome, there is plentiful food and clean water, and a beautiful garden to explore. Betto tries to convince her that it’s just a story, but Cilla sticks to her determination, meeting different cats and braving a dangerous ferry ride to a nearby island to follow her dream. Eventually, Betto catches up and, although he doesn’t believe the Quiet Garden exists, joins her to keep her safe, and because of their friendship.

Along the way, they meet other cats, humans, and even a dog. They hear stories and become stories, as their journey leads them in and out of art, and finally, they tell stories to make sense of their journey. As they return to the docks together in the moonlight, they decide to search for the garden another day—as long as they eat lunch first!

Husted’s art is predominantly in earth tones, with squiggly lines showing the movement of the cats and the play of wind and water around the island. The few humans shown are distinctive, from the boy with light brown skin and glasses to the gray-haired sailor who picks them up, with her wedge-like nose and large eyes. The cats themselves have more personality than just their size and coloration. Cilla’s slightly smaller size is not the only thing that delineates her kitten-like innocence and hope. She has a more curved, rounded face than the other cats, and expressive green eyes that show her longing and determination to find the place where she belongs. Each cat she meets is distinctive, from the peaceful Old Paolo, enjoying his quiet old age in a monastery, to the mystical Dolce, painfully thin as she sheds her earthly body and meditates on her next phase of being.

The author has an extended background note, explaining a little about Malta and the artists involved in the book, and then giving careful details identifying the art on the pages from old masters like Caravaggio and Matisse, to contemporary artists, photography from the author’s family, and much more. The creator has gently adapted the art to her own style, adding or replacing elements with cats and seamlessly weaving it into the narrative of the story. There is a wide range of artists included and, although mostly Western, they do include a large number of female artists.

Husted’s reimagining of the art retains the original flavor, while adding her own loose lines and air of movement to the pictures. Some of the faces in the art do not, however, have the fine detail of the characters in the book. There are also some panels with hazy printing, but that is most likely to be fixed in the final version of the book.

It’s tempting to immediately slap a “Warriors read-alike” on this, since it’s about cats seeking a new home, but this is far from being similar to the popular fantasy series. It is more similar to the equally thoughtful Miss Annie duology (Freedom! and Rooftop Cat) by Frank Le Gall published a few years ago, or the new Brina the Cat by Giorgio Salati. The addition of art brings an increased depth to the story as well.

This is not likely to have a wide, popular appeal to middle grade readers. The complex art references especially are likely to confuse and bore the majority. The philosophic musings also seem aimed at a more mature (and patient) audience. However, if you have readers who like slower-paced graphic novels, more thoughtful animal stories, and are interested in art enough to chase all the references through to the end, this should satisfy those niche audiences.

A Cat Story
By Ursula Murray Husted
ISBN: 9780062932044
HarperAlley, 2020

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

Snapdragon

Snapdragon is a colorful, exuberant tale of witchcraft, love, and animal skeletons from a creator best known for her work on the beloved Lumberjanes series. This delightful middle grade story was tentatively titled Roadkill Witch, and I feel that’s important to share because it’s much more evocative of the creepy but playful tone of the book. And roadkill is the unlikely leitmotif that ties much of the story together.

Preteen Snapdragon meets elderly Jacks, who is rumored to be the town witch, when she bravely climbs to her porch in search of her lost dog, GB (short for Good Boy). It’s during one of the long afternoons alone when her mom is at school or working. Snap knows that the black-clad Jacks collects roadkill in her wagon, and is rumored to bring it home and eat it, so she suspects she might find GB there. GB is with Jacks, but instead of eating him, Jacks has patched him up after he almost became roadkill himself. Snap soon learns that Jacks buries the roadkill, then harvests their bones to make into articulated skeletons that she sells on the Internet. When Snap wonders why Jacks bothers to “mess around” with animal bones, Jacks replies, “I ain’t disrespectin’ these critters. Critters die all the time, but it ought to be for a reason. That’s what even the least of us deserve. But roadkill’s a lousy way to end up. Lotsa folks don’t even notice when they hit somethin’. So I notice ‘em.” Once she articulates their skeletons, “they become something new. And they’re remembered.” It’s this basic goodness and humanism that lights up this story.

After returning to Jacks with a box of baby possums she’s saved from their dead mother, Snap becomes an eager apprentice of animal anatomy and the curious kind of magic Jacks practices. This central plot is only one part of a wider story of growth and love of all kinds, as Snap learns that Jacks has a significant link to her family, and the mysterious “curse” that’s been following them since her grandmother was a young woman. We follow Snap and her friend Louis, who transitions over the course of the book into Lulu, as they watch scary movies and swap clothes, and Snap’s mom as she trains as a firefighter and tentatively steps into a new romance.

The characters in Snapdragon view queer identities as a normal part of life. Although discrimination is present, especially in flashback scenes to the 50s, even Lulu’s older brothers, who constantly tease her, accept her for who she is. They’re just as happy to bedevil a younger sister as a younger brother.

Ultimately, Snapdragon is a love story about two people finding each other after a lifetime apart, and about a girl finding her place in a world of magic, new friends, and fluid identities. The mood is joyful and mysterious, and the bright, humorous artwork takes a loving view of the characters. I’ve never seen an artist make a realistic illustration of a possum look cute, but Leyh does it.

I highly recommend Snapdragon, which will appeal to fans of Shannon Hale, Raina Telgemeier, Jennifer Holm, and Brenna Thummler’s Sheets.

Snapdragon
By Kat Leyh
ISBN: 9781250171122
First Second Books, 2020
Publisher Age Rating: 10-14

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NFNT Age Recommendation: Middle Grade (7-11)
Character Traits: Black, Multiracial Lesbian, Queer Trans, Genderqueer

The Cardboard Kingdom

The Cardboard Kingdom is an anthology book, with Chad Sell illustrating the stories of neighborhood children and the intersection of their make-believe and personal lives. Each chapter, written by a different author, features a protagonist’s imagined self serving as an outlet for how they feel in their normal life. The roles these children choose for themselves range widely, including heroes and villains, power fantasies alongside supportive roles, and invention taking place next to action. While some of the kids have brief periods of confusion getting into the collective fantasy or figuring out their individual place within the group, eventually all are accepted and lauded for their unique features.

This premise sounds light and fun, and it absolutely is, with Sell’s artwork generally portraying a bright, friendly neighborhood full of potential for play. This is an all-ages affair with easily understood themes, including ones of introspective struggle and frustration. For example, one of the children, a boy, role-plays as an evil queen, complete with boots and large hair. Another kingdom-dweller, a girl, wears a mustache. Each of them has a hurdle to overcome in getting their parents on board with how they play, which depends on communication and empathy.

Wordless sequences invite the reader to identify how characters feel and why they react the way they do, like a slightly more mature Owly. Any difficulty between family members tends to come down to a gap in understanding. In other cases, a child will play rough, want to incorporate animals in a certain way, or base their persona in reaction to their parents’ separation. Each writer’s story comes from a personal place, which results in a cascading emotional rush over the course of the book as one poignant tale bookends another and the group takes on a larger meaning than any given individual. Kids cameo in each other’s stories, and it’s fun to pick out their forms of play in each chapter. Forget DC and Marvel, this is the connected comics universe I want to follow!

The Cardboard Kingdom begs a certain comparison to another kid-friendly paean to creativity and lost afternoons adventuring around the neighborhood: Calvin & Hobbes. Calvin would absolutely get along/playfully wage war with these kids, and they would invite a living, breathing Hobbes into the action without a moment’s hesitation. In this case, instead of the standoffish “No Girls Allowed” treehouse, the level of play is closer to the anything-goes antics of Calvinball, where the rules are made up but anyone can jump in, including diverse skin tones.

There is no content warning for this book, though you will likely need a tissue by the end, whether you recognize yourself in one of the kids or share in the quiet and loud emotional triumphs that will speak to children and adults alike. I cannot imagine anyone with a heart not being affected by the unbridled joy of this book and so recommend it to the highest possible degree… from the children’s shelf. Keep some drawing materials, LEGO, or cardboard of your own on hand for when this book blows up your own creative urges.

The Cardboard Kingdom
By Various Authors
Art by Chad Sell
ISBN: 9781524719371
Knopf Books, 2018
Publisher Age Rating: Grade 4-7

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NFNT Age Recommendation: Easy Readers (5-9), Middle Grade (7-11), Tween (10-13)
Character Traits: Multiracial Queer Genderqueer
Creator Highlights: Own Voices, LGBTQIA+ Creator

Mirai: Magical Journeys through Time

If the imaginative worlds of master anime storyteller Hiyao Miyazaki are surprisingly magical, then the creative imagination of Mamoru Hosoda is aesthetically enchanting. From the mind-bending creativity of the acclaimed creator of The Girl Who Leapt Through Time (2006) and gamified intrigue of Summer Wars (2009) comes an adorable tale of sibling rivalry and family drama played out in Mirai.

Mirai tells the story of a four-year old named Kun who, during his wonder years, has enjoyed the center of attention until he gets a baby sister named Mirai, whose name translates into “future.” From there, the story detours into a Dickens A Christmas Carol-like tale where magical elements materialize, time journeys are undertaken, and life lessons are learned.

The story starts with young Kun indulging in his daily antics until his mom brings home a baby girl. When the spotlight shifts to his little sister Mirai, jealousy erupts, with Kun yowling in a tantrum of titanic proportions amidst Mirai’s frantic cries. Upset at his parents for showering their attention on her instead of him, he defiantly runs off into the backyard, and there he finds a so-called “prince” of the house where he lives, which turns out to be his pet dog in human form. Later on, he meets a young girl who is actually Mirai as a teenager. This turn of events enables him to learn from and interact more closely with various members of his family.

The subplots launch like springboards for each magical journey as Kun meets members of his family at different stages of their lives. Magical surprises weave in and out of the story during his emotional outbursts, the fantastical elements kick in, and he witnesses alternate versions of his great grandfather and mother. With each encounter, Kun gains insight into the pivotal decisions that led them to their present-day selves, demonstrating how decisions of the past connect with the circumstances of the present, while shaping their identities in the process. Imbuing Kun with a vibrant curiosity, Hosoda skillfully captures the integrity and youthful persona of a toddler with heartfelt compassion and delight.

The cinematic animation of Mirai is a distinguishing hallmark of this film. The story revolves around Kun (Mirai being somewhat of a misleading misnomer), the camera focusing on his point of view. Close-up shots highlight his charming, wide-eyed facial expressions, animating exuberant emotions that range from joy and sadness to anger and fear. This film captures the passion of one of anime’s youngest characters, dramatizing a most intimate experience through the lens of a child. Furthermore, the set design features a captivating spectacle as the camera pans between the kitchen, play area, and backyard. This quasi-realistic feel combined with adorable characters inhabiting a world where magic sneaks in at unexpected moments engenders a compelling story that entertains and mesmerizes.

As an auteur, Hosoda commands full artistic control over the spectrum of emotions portrayed by his characters, conjuring forth a story that depicts life through the nostalgic worlds of childhood filled with magical wonder and curiosity. At the heart of Mirai lies a story of conflicting family dynamics, where emotional tensions run high, secrets are revealed, and insightful truths illuminated. This feature film delivers a mixture of comedy and drama peppered with magic, fueled by a child’s adventurous persona. Fantastical elements integrate naturally into the plot, appealing to viewers both young and old, thus making this a fine addition to any library collection.

Mirai: Magical Journeys through Time
Universal Pictures Home Entertainment/GKIDS, 2019
directed by Mamoru Hosoda
98 minutes, Number of Discs: 1, Single disc/DVD
Company Age Rating: PG

New Kid

All Jordan Banks wants to do is go to art school. Instead, his parents send him to the prestigious Riverdale Academy Day School (which is far from his neighborhood and far from diverse), so he will gain opportunities that he might not otherwise. Out of his depth, Jordan finds himself struggling to fit in. Jerry Craft won the 2020 Newbery and Coretta Scott King awards for New Kid, and there are several good reasons for those accolades.

One of the great things about New Kid is that it strikes a balance between serious and light. It follows Jordan through his first year at his new school, where he has new experiences such as trying soccer and baseball and makes new friends, all while dealing with the microaggressions that people of color face in a predominantly white environment. While these issues are not played down, they never overwhelm the main narrative of a kid trying to figure out his new school. The result is a warm, thoughtful, and humorous story.

Another strength is the cast, particularly Jordan. Through his playful cartoons, the reader gets a clear sense of Jordan as a person, and Craft includes little details that give the character life, such as his fondness for his hoodie and love for superheroes. Craft strikes a balance between sweet, smart, and uncertain in a way that is highly relatable and engaging. The supporting cast are also distinct with their own unique quirks and struggles, and their interactions are true to life.

In addition to a strong story and protagonist, the artwork makes the action easy to follow and captures the actions and emotions throughout the book. Craft also uses the artwork to make his most serious points in a humorous way. For example, there’s a scene at the school book sale where most of the books featuring people of color have titles such as “Escape From Slavery,” their “empowering” messages the bookseller cries exaggerated tears over—a decision that make his points about bigger issues without overwhelming the main story.

Public and school libraries in particular will want to make sure to have it on the shelves as it is a great book for young people, and educators will be excited to know that there is a teaching guide to use in the classroom. Quill Tree Books (which is part of Harper) sets the age range at 8 to 12, and that is a good starting point; that being said, teens, especially those in middle school, will likely also enjoy New Kid. Other reviews have suggested that fans of Raina Telgemeier and Gene Luen Yang will enjoy this title. Because of its relatable protagonist and strong coming-of-age plot, readers who enjoy the work of Victoria Jamieson (author of Roller Girl), Nidhi Chanani’s Pashmina, and Shannon Hale’s Real Friends should also enjoy New Kid.

New Kid
By Jerry Craft
ISBN: 9780062691200
Quill Tree Books, 2019
Publisher Age Rating: 8 to 12

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Character Traits: Black
Creator Highlights: Own Voices, BIPOC Creator

Becoming RBG: Ruth Bader Ginsberg’s Journey to Justice

Thanks to her powerful stances on social justice and civil rights, Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg has become a cultural icon. Becoming RBG traces Ginsberg’s childhood and her legal career to her eventual appointment to the Supreme Court. Readers also learn about her personal life, such as her loving and supportive relationships with her husband and mother and her cooking tribulations. There is plenty to enjoy in the text, although there are some aspects that keep it from being a total home run.

The details of Ginsberg’s childhood through her early legal career are quite well done because of the way they mix the personal and public. In addition to learning about Ruth’s success as a student, the story tells the reader about her experiences with anti-Semitism and gender discrimination, setting the stage for her legal career. Ginsberg’s childhood and her personal relationships are well-portrayed and add charm to a work that focuses predominantly on her career. The story also clearly captures Ginsberg’s passion and abilities, and that with the mix of personal and public create an inspirational and engaging read.

The illustrations capture Ginsberg’s passion and explain certain aspects of her career without weighing the reader down. That being said, there are parts where text is broken up unnecessarily, and there are images where people appear with Ginsberg but are not clearly identifiable unless they have appeared before. The last few pages of the book are predominantly text with an image of Ginsberg—a jolting diversion from the rest of the text that makes the last few pages a bit of a slog.

Later in the book, it is difficult to fully appreciate her impact as a lawyer and how she fits into the broader conversation. One example of this is the article, Jane Crow, which drew connections between gender and racial discrimination and had an impact on Ginsberg’s legal arguments. The comic does not clarify that Pauli Murray (a black female lawyer and activist) co-wrote the article until much later in the text; the delay results in a less clear demonstration of Murray’s influence on Ginsberg as effectively as compared to other individuals, such as Ginsberg’s mother Celia Bader and First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt. Another point that could have been clarified is the different level of scrutiny laws can undergo; that makes some of the latter parts of Ginsberg’s legal journey a little unclear and, at times, makes it difficult to fully understand the impact of Ginsberg’s work and its contributions to civil rights as a whole. While these issues don’t entirely detract from the work, they—along with the set-up of the last few pages—keep the work from rising to its full potential.

Despite the issues mentioned, Becoming RBG is a solid work that will likely appeal to RBG fans who are interested in an easily digestible and triumphant biography, and libraries will likely want to purchase it for this reason. Libraries will be excited to know that there is a hardback version available for purchase, and there is a bibliography and timeline available at the end. Simon & Schuster recommends this for readers ten and above. Because the work goes into some detail about social issues and law but not too much detail, this recommendation makes sense as a starting point. Tween, teens, and adults will likely be the most interested.

Becoming RBG: Ruth Bader Ginsberg’s Journey to Justice
By Debbie Levy
Art by Whitney Gardner
ISBN: 9781534424562
Simon & Schuster Books For Young Readers, 2019
Publisher Age Rating: 10 & up

5 Worlds, vol. 3: The Red Maze

The story of Oona Lee, An Tzu, and Jax Amboy continues in 5 Worlds: The Red Maze, the third volume of the 5 Worlds comic series. After successfully defeating the Mimic—and paying a steep price—in the previous book, Oona and her friends set off for the moon of Yatta to light the red beacon in their ongoing quest to save the five worlds from environmental disaster. They soon discover the Mimic is not exactly eradicated and that getting to the beacon in order to light it won’t be as easy as they’d hoped. Though the other worlds admire Yatta for its democratic system of government, there are downsides to that system that Oona and her friends have not anticipated, the largest of which is the corruption of the few large corporations that seem to control Moon Yatta’s politics.

Much like the previous volume, The Cobalt Prince, this book picks up the story as a direct sequel without additional context or explanation. The major arc of the story resolves within its pages, but readers will need to already be following the series for the events and characters to make sense. The Red Maze is a strong addition to the series. It is fast-paced and enjoyable to read, and it skillfully handles its world-building and sub-plots.

In keeping with the rest of the series, the book introduces plenty of big ideas and dangers that may seem familiar to readers. The ongoing climate crisis looms large in Oona’s mind as she struggles to gain access to the beacon. She and her friends soon learn about the native Yattan people, shapeshifters who have been defeated and subjugated, and are forced to wear collars that identify them and prevent them from using their abilities. As Oona struggles to advance in her quest, she encounters the disinterest of politicians focused only on their next election campaign, as well as the extensive amount of political power wielded by a handful of large corporations. Soon, the sinister head of a corporation, viewed by many as a “refreshing change” and an appealing “outsider” is running for Head Citizen of Yatta. There is even a scene in which the gang discovers they can’t get appropriate medical care for An Tzu because they can’t pay the doctor’s exorbitant fees.

At times, the cultural criticism can be a bit too on the nose for me, even though I agree with most of it, but I think overall it’s a credit to the series. It helps enhance the world-building and brings a certain depth and maturity to the story. An Tzu’s condition continues to be depicted as a disability, which is nice to see, but at this point in the series, I would have liked to see a little more diversity of ability. The comic continues to do a fair job presenting characters with a variety of skin colors and appearances. However, one complaint I had with the previous book that continues here, is that racism and discrimination continues to be addressed only in an allegorical sense, with people of color represented by aliens or magic creatures. See my review of the Cobalt Prince for more on this topic and why it can be an issue.

There are some echoes of The Hunger Games in this particular volume of 5 Worlds, as the societies of Moon Yatta and the Capitol resemble each other, and both stories invite us to take a hard look at our own world. As part of a middle grade series, however, The Red Maze is more appropriate for a younger audience, though easily enjoyable for readers of all ages. The artists remain the same from the previous two volumes, so everything I liked about the art continues to hold true.

Overall, the further I get into the 5 Worlds series, the more I like it, and I’m already looking forward to the next book. There’s a lot to enjoy about the comic and its memorable characters, and I’m eager to see where the creative team takes the story next.

5 Worlds, Book 3: The Red Maze
By Mark Siegel, Alexis Siegel
Art by Xanthe Bouma, Boya Sun, Matt Rockefeller
ISBN: 9781101935927
Random House, 2019
Publisher Age Rating: 8-12
Series Reading Order

Dear Justice League

Dear Justice League is a bridge between two worlds of superhero fandom. One is populated by children in love with superheroes because of their adventures and unquestionable coolness. On the other are adults who research and harbor enough opinions about superheroes to write a Ph.D. thesis. Both sides tend to wish for an elusive kind of superhero story: one written and drawn full of joy. Dear Justice League is that wish granted, mainly for kids, but adults chasing an innocent-but-fun superhero vibe will grin ear to ear during this book. Each chapter of the book features a different member of the Justice League answering a letter from a child, often revealing some humanizing foible about themselves in the process.

Gustavo Duarte’s artwork captures these heroes during their less-than-heroic moments, which may not be violent or melodramatic, but they add so much dimension to each character as they brainstorm their replies. Kendra/Hawkgirl taking a long slurp out of a soda can, Simon/Green Lantern typing alone on top of a skyscraper, Clark/Superman holding multiple leashes for a dog walker—these glimpses go a long way toward showing how their secret and public identities are intertwined, taking readers “under the hood” of their practical personalities. Wide panels and arrows with humorous captions make the art and its intentions crystal clear. A battle against an insectoid invasion near the end lets the heroes (and Duarte) show off their battle prowess, but that’s not the main draw of the book. The consistent theme of Dear Justice League is that reaching inside yourself to provide a positive (if self-effacing) example only makes you more extraordinary.

Duarte’s expressive illustrations and easy-to-follow layouts, similar to his work on Bizarro, shine a fun light within the DC universe. Wes Abbott’s lettering makes distinguishing dialog, captions, and written responses a breeze, while Marcelo Maiolo’s colors are bright and always serve to make characters and action pop. The art team’s efforts complement each other at every turn—a two-page spread of Diana/Wonder Woman playing Pin The Tail On The Kanga blindfolded uses color changes, sound effects, fonts, and linked panels to effectively convey how she plays the game.

Michael Northrop’s scenarios show off the kids’ and Justice League’s personalities in tandem. A question to Arthur/Aquaman about how he smells turns into an extended gag about his lack of self-awareness. A couple of knuckleheads try to prank Barry/Flash (from the school library, no less!), only to be shown up in a lighthearted way. DC’s icons are cooler for relating to kids on their level. Bruce/Batman’s clocked plenty of villains, but check out the utility kit he designs for someone’s first day at a new school. Diana/Wonder Woman gains credibility for giving advice based on gross mistake she made as a child. Victor/Cyborg kind of gets the short end of the “heartwarming self-awareness” stick, with his chapter mostly setting up the alien battle finale.

This graphic novel is a must-have for your children’s section, and don’t be surprised when you spot parents and older fans flipping through it, too. There’s plenty of heart and kid-friendly antics to earn this book a recommended spot on your juvenile graphic novels shelf. Also of note: African American Victor/Cyborg, Hispanic Kendra/Hawkgirl, and Lebanese-American Simon/Green Lantern are all colored in different shades of brown, and a black Amazon appears in Diana/Wonder Woman’s childhood flashback. While the League’s specific cultural makeup is not addressed beyond a Themysciran flashback, it’s still nice to see color that matters beyond a green ring or scarlet blur. A cute bonus section at the back details League members’ bios, including those of some super-pets and the book’s creators.

Dear Justice League
By Michael Northrup
Art by Gustavo Duarte
ISBN: 9781401284138
DC Comics, 2019
Publisher Age Rating: E (everyone)
NFNT Age Recommendation: Middle Grade (7-11)

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Character Traits: Black, Hispanic, Middle Eastern

Peter and Ernesto: The Lost Sloths

Peter and Ernesto, two sloth best friends, have returned in a second adventure. The pair are about as different as can be, with confident Ernesto always up for adventure and cautious Peter preferring to stay close to their tree home and compose music. But when a sudden hurricane destroys their tree, Peter, Ernesto, and their sloth friends have no choice but to venture into the rainforest to seek out a new tree. Finding a great new home won’t be easy. The sloths’ quest is marked by danger from jaguars, snakes, biting ants, bats, crocodiles, and a hazardous waterfall. But with help from some friendly peccaries, a group of armadillos, an anteater, and a bird open to a new roommate situation, they just might find a great new home after all.

The Lost Sloths features a delightful plot with endearing new characters. Readers meet the rest of Peter and Ernesto’s sloth friends, each with their own personalities, as well as a host of other animals who are more or less helpful to the sloths along their journey. The text is accessible to young readers, yet witty enough to entertain older children and adults. End matter includes interesting facts about real sloths, as well as details about how Peter and Ernesto met and became friends.

The full-color illustrations feature a simple panel structure with few panels per page. Earth tones reflect the rainforest setting, while the animals are drawn in a representative fashion. By contrast, the sloths in the end matter look much more like real sloths. Care has been taken to make the text and illustrations considerate to young readers. Each sloth in the story is shown in a distinct color along with other distinguishing characteristics making it easier for readers to tell them apart. Each of the other animals the sloths encounter is identified in the text, and many are given names which is helpful for following the plot.

Like the first book in the series, Peter and Ernesto: The Lost Sloths is a quality offering for young readers from Graham Annable. Positive messages abound in this early-reader graphic novel, showing that while individuals may differ, we are always stronger together. As in the first installment, Peter and Ernesto’s friendship is put to the test. But readers learn that with perseverance, cooperation, and flexibility, great things can happen.

Peter and Ernesto: The Lost Sloths 
By Graham Annable
ISBN: 9781626725720
First Second, 2019
Publisher Age Rating: 6-10