Gabby lives in a world where every kid has a pet monster. Gabby decides one day to take her pet monster, Dwight, to school and all sorts of trouble ensue in Monster and Me: The Complete Comics Collection by Robert Marsh and Tom Percival. Gaby’s parents have recently separated and her father no longer lives with them. Gaby has anxiety about school and navigating this new climate. She decides one day to bring Dwight with her. Dwight doesn’t make a smooth transition at the school. He roars when he responds to questions, tries to eat people, and has a hard time adjusting to the social norms. Dwight ends up being involved in school activities that are challenging for him, but he finds a way to adapt to these situations. Ultimately the lesson learned is that you can find a way to succeed no matter what your challenges may be.
The main character is biracial, her mother is black and her father is white. It’s revealed in the first chapter that her parents are separated. It’s the one thing that I applaud this series for, but I wish the authors had delved into it further. For example, what impact does the separation have on Gabby? The father is only shown briefly in two stories and has a warm relationship with his daughter. His absence in later stories makes me wonder how involved he is in her life. The mother and father have zero interaction in any of the stories. Dwight serves as a proxy for Gabby, however, I would have preferred if we experienced more things from Gabby’s point of view and knew how she felt about school.
The artwork is very colorful with a heavy emphasis on reds and purples. The colors match the whimsical nature of the story and complement its humorous tone. The human figures tend to have big heads and small bodies. The kids are clearly defined by a school uniform that consists of a white t-shirt with a sweater over it. The adults have more variation in the shapes of their bodies and heads. The male school staff all wear ties and suits, while the parents are casually dressed. Gabby’s father wears a t-shirt with a yellow jacket over it. Dwight reminded me of the Pokemon, Snorlax with his grey fur, pointy ears, and round tummy. Dwight is given an expressive face as he is the comic relief of the story.
Monster and Me: The Complete Comics Collection will charm the audience it is targeted at which is grade 3-6. As an adult, I didn’t find the humor worked for me, and I wanted more character development for Gabby as she is the main protagonist of the story. Other features that the graphic novel has are instructions on how to draw Dwight and Gabby. There are also monster jokes included in the last few pages.
Monster and Me: The Complete Comics Collection By Robert Marsh Art by Tom Percival ISBN: 9781496587305 Capstone, 2020 Publisher Age Rating: Grades 3-6 Series ISBNS and Order
Title Details and Representation NFNT Age Recommendation: Middle Grade (7-11)
The preface to this debut graphic novel is a series of thumbnails of the friends’ adventures, which turn out to be a song sung by Billy Johnson about himself and his best friend Barrace; a professor of linguistics (who happens to be a duck). The first chapter introduces the two in mid-adventure, trying to escape from a jungle temple with a golden statue. They’re stopped by an angry gorilla, but Billy gets away with an eye from the statue and discovers a map to the “lost Monkey Kingdom.” Barrace is doubtful about this fresh adventure; after all, he’s already taken ten days off from work for this trip, but Billy is adamant and they set off for more adventure.
Through the next chapters, Billy and his duck friend go through a series of wild adventures in his efforts to impress the Explorers League and move from part-time janitor to full-fledged explorer. Unfortunately, although he’s brave and bold and, well, not much else really—things just never work out for him. Hidden cities are destroyed by lava, he loses a cursed ring, and even when he sort of teams up with a competent tomb-thief/lady explorer; he just can’t catch a break. However, Billy’s indomitable enthusiasm rarely wanes and he’s determined to be an explorer, just like his famous parents and his hero, Hal Hardwick. But with mysterious entities and a strange hooded figure dogging his path, does he have a hope of succeeding?
The art is heavily on the cartoon side of comics. Billy is a lanky guy, dressed in a red shirt, tie, and tennis shoes no matter the occasion. He presents as a rather naive young adult, with an almost constant smile and a mop of black hair. Barrace is more mature, holding down a job as a linguistics professor and operating more or less as an adult, although Billy treats him alternately as a friend and a rather dim roommate. Barrace is without expression, a fluffy white blob with a yellow beak. To be fair, ducks are not really made to show emotion and he acts primarily as a foil to Billy’s exuberance. There are only a few human characters in the story, but other than a brief glimpse of Barrace’s students, they all present white. The landscapes vary from bushy green jungles to ominous red volcanoes and dark underground tunnels. There are plenty of gruesome mummies, demons, and monsters, but their cartoon depiction takes away any atmosphere of horror. Billy vigorously waves his sword, Mr. Jabbers, but rarely hits anything except the occasional door or annoying vine, and other than mysterious ectoplasm, there’s no body fluids.
Both the art and storyline make this feel like a kid-friendly wacky adventure, very much in the Saturday cartoon vein, as one nutty situation follows another. However, the overall idea of the Explorers League I consider to be very outdated. Although obviously not set in the real world, hence the existence of magic, a talking duck, etc., this harkens back to the traditional, white, European “explorers” and although this is a popular trope in a variety of middle grade adventures and fantasies, I don’t think it should be. Billy’s hero is a stereotypical muscled white man in khaki and Billy himself spends his time looting graveyards, damaging archeological sites, and stealing artifacts. These places are mostly shown as deserted, with the casual explanation for one that it’s near a volcano. Billy travels to a lost city in a jungle, a medieval-style castle with an underground maze and catacombs, a desert, and what appears to be a pyramid or temple. While there’s no clear use of a specific culture, it’s all vaguely boy-hero-adventure stuff of the early twentieth century, from mummies and hidden temples, to generic hieroglyphs and a mixture of creatures from different legends.
This is more a series of loosely connected adventures without a conclusion than a coherent story. There are innumerable hints of secrets and future adventures, characters introduced who then disappear, and a wild blend of magic, supernatural, and every day occurrences. It is often humorous and the cliff-hanger ending will both frustrate and intrigue readers. However, I would compare this unfavorably to a series like Nico Bravo by Mike Cavallaro, which also has quirky art, wild adventures, and a plethora of mythical characters, but I feel uses fewer stereotypes and is more respectful of the cultures it draws from.
With a wide variety of graphic novels available, and a plethora of adventure and fantasy titles, this is at best an additional title, considering the depiction of non-Western culture as a cartoon fantasy, the lack of diversity, and the trailing plot lines. If future volumes are published, I would be interested in seeing where the story goes and if the background of the setting is filled in more completely, which may redeem the story and resolve some of the issues.
Billy Johnson and His Duck are Explorers By Mathew New Art by ISBN: 9781684461509 Capstone, 2020 Publisher Age Rating: Series ISBNS and Order
Title Details and Representation NFNT Age Recommendation: Middle Grade (7-11), Tween (10-13)
The Incredible Rockhead features panels full of silliness. Chip Stone, our main character, gains the ability to transform his head into a huge rock, giving him the power to smash through walls, school buses, and whatever else he needs to get out of his way. However, this power doesn’t come without its challenges. As Chip soon discovers, if he falls over, it’s rather difficult to lift a massive head made out of the equivalent of a small boulder back up again. See how he manages in this collection of four stories combined into one complete volume.
In this compilation, there isn’t a clear beginning or end to each of the individual stories. Instead there are phony, and often humorous, ads that divide up different storylines throughout the book. These tales flow so smoothly from one to the next that readers won’t even notice that they’ve moved onto an entirely different volume.
Meet Chip Stone, a regular nerdy kid who spends his time avoiding being beat up by Troy, trying to catch Jennifer’s eye (when not being bullied, preferably), and hanging with his best friend, Spencer. Chip’s head gets transformed into a rock by an imposter nurse, giving him super strength that’s a mixed blessing. After all, it’s hard to secretly transform your head into a rock without anyone else noticing. Luckily, his friend Spencer becomes his sidekick, and helps him so that he can transform secretly to save the day. Spencer even eventually gets his own scissor powers to really help out when things get dangerous. Together, they run into all kinds of crazy situations from saving his classmates from roaming zoo animals to defeating Papercut, a villain made from rock’s greatest weakness, paper.
American illustrator C.S. Jennings has worked as an illustrator and an author on numerous creative projects for audiences of all ages. The variety in his style of cartoons is impressive, and he does not disappoint with his work on all of the titles included in this complete comics collection. Rockhead and Chip feature sharp geometric face shapes that complement the other quirky characters. You’ll find lots of bright colors, simple backgrounds, and lots of action that will keep kids turning pages.
This is a fun and easy comic to read. The language is not difficult and the amusing storyline is an easy sell to reluctant readers. It may be too simple for the older end of the recommended age group of 8-12, but could be useful for middle grade English-language learners. This book features a cast of characters at the beginning, so there is no confusion for young readers in figuring out who everyone is, and it concludes with a glossary full of witty, yet accurate definitions of some of the more complicated words throughout the stories. For educators, there is a page of discussion questions and writing prompts to spark creativity.
Overall, I think this collection of silly stories would be a good addition to a library.
The Incredible Rockhead: The Complete Comics Collection By Scott Nickel Art by C.S. Jennings ISBN: 9781496593214 Capstone Press, 2020 Publisher Age Rating: 8-12 Series ISBNS and Order
Title Details and Representation NFNT Age Recommendation: Middle Grade (7-11), Tween (10-13)
Meet our “sweet” heroine, Halo Nightly, also known as Princess Candy. In this complete comics collection of the Princess Candy series, we have four separate books compiled into one volume. We follow Halo, whose adventure begins when her Aunt Pandora gifts her a wooden box full of candies. She’s warned to use them wisely, and we soon see why. She discovers that each different flavor of candy give her distinct, and temporary, superpowers, which she uses to tackle her unfair teacher and treacherous classmates.
“Sugar Hero” is the introductory story that explains Halo Nightly’s character and background, thus setting up all of the following comics in the series. In this first story she faces her nemesis classmate, Doozie Hiss’s magical hair.
In “The Marshmallow Mermaid,” marshmallows and humans have started disappearing from the school’s swimming pool. Halo uses her magical candy, wit, and stealthiness to find the culprit and save Midnight Elementary School.
Halo partners up with Flora in “The Green Queen of Mean” to write a report about ways to reduce pollution for their teacher, Mr. Slink. Unfortunately, their assignment gets sabotaged, pushing the already extreme environmentalist Flora to her breaking point. Now, Halo has to contend with the Green Queen.
In “The Evil Echo,” Halo’s relationship with Cody is put to the test when Echo gets jealous of the attention Cody pays to Halo. Echo decides to do something about it by disguising herself as Halo and wreaking havoc on the entire campus, but things turn dangerous when Halo discovers that her candy collection has been stolen.
American illustrator Crowther uses a vibrant color palette that demands your attention. This cute and uncomplicated artistic style is very appealing to young readers. This book just looks like it would be fun to read. Fantastic gusts of wind, waves of water, and exciting action words fill the panels along with a lot of seriously colorful hair styles.
This is the kind of book that is an easy recommendation to make to reluctant readers, especially girls who like princesses and candy. The eye popping colors, geometric cartoon nose shapes, and wild hair are enough to catch anyone’s attention. The stories are quick, simple yet engaging, and use basic English that is easy to comprehend. The authors include a cast of characters at the beginning so there is no confusion as to who is who, and biographies of the sour-villains at the end. A glossary, discussion questions, and a write-your-own-stories section with creative writing prompts are nice bonuses at the end for educators as well as young readers.
I’d recommend this comic for elementary and middle school librarians to add to their collections.
Princess Candy: The Complete Comics Collection By Michael Dahl Scott Nickel Art by Jeff Crowther ISBN: 9781496587312 Capstone Press, 2020 Publisher Age Rating: 8-12 Series ISBNS and Order
Title Details and Representation NFNT Age Recommendation: Easy Readers (5-9), Middle Grade (7-11)
One sign of an excellent author is when they can sprinkle in completely made up words that fit so perfectly with a story, that you find yourself looking them up to double check that they are in fact not real words. Author Steve Foxe uses language creatively and humorously to create a world of adventure. From an octopus alien using twists on common expressions, such as “on the other tentacle,” to being glombuxed, this book is sure to get a laugh out of kids.
Our main character, Mr. Kazarian, or Mr. K, turns out to be more than just a school librarian. He is, in fact, an alien working on learning as much as he can about human children. However, his research, and the entire galaxy are threatened when his evil cousin, Kronkold, invents a new device that can generate black holes.
At the same time, we have four students: Walden, TJ, Shea, and Dani, who need to complete a research assignment on a famous scientist. They team up with Mr. K to get all the research they need for their assignment, while helping to save the galaxy! We meet strange alien characters while the students are forced to get creative, even using a library card to help them escape. Oh, and they need to do all this before lunchtime.
Real scientific facts are peppered throughout the dialogue, complemented with lots of jokes and clever plays on words. Additionally, Foxe has created wonderfully diverse characters. One of the students, Walden, has a cochlear implant. This isn’t mentioned in the story, it’s just a natural part of him. I haven’t come across this in any other children’s comics, so this would be a great title to add to your collection if you’re looking for diverse characters.
The artwork in this book pops out of the panels. British artist Gary Boller keeps the backgrounds to a minimum, often with a simple solid color, or a single feature like a solid color bookcase, stairwell, or hallway. This allows the reader to focus on the excitement that’s unfolding and the details of the characters. Different font styles are used to emphasize action words, show conversational dialogue, and get the reader’s attention that scientific facts are being shared. A bright color palette and expressive faces makes for a fun visual experience that compliments the text well.
Overall, this is a great addition to any elementary or middle school library collection. Especially for kids who have a passion for learning. This book is filled with interesting facts about black holes, outer space, and Einstein. Foxe used several credible resources, such as NASA Kids, to research all the material that went into this book. He includes a couple of pages of facts about black holes, a glossary of terms, and a page of questions to help the reader think deeper about what they’ve just learned. This would make it an easy book to read for an after school or library comic book club as the author provides a lot of great conversation starters. Children will enjoy this fact filled science fiction story.
Mr. Kazarian Alien Librarian: The Black Hole Bandits By Steve Foxe Art by Gary Boller ISBN: 9781496598806 Capstone Press, 2020 Publisher Age Rating: 8-10 Series ISBNS and Order
Title Details and Representation NFNT Age Recommendation: Easy Readers (5-9), Middle Grade (7-11) Character Traits: Hearing loss
Meet the Invincible Boy-Bot, a young boy who’s created an indestructible robotic suit that’s a little bit of Iron Man and Superman put together. With the touch of a button on his chest, the suit instantly pops out. When he wards off evil doers, he leaves a wake of destruction. He’s got a lot of learning to do, from blasting through less ceilings, walls, and the entire town, in general. The book is divided up into what feels like chapters, but are actually four individual books put together into one.
In “Super Zero”, we are introduced to our main character, Zach, who is a comic loving youngster that is bullied in school for his nerdy ways. He decides to do something about it, so with his pet spider alongside him, he builds a robot suit. He sets out to help Metro City by stopping a runaway train, though clumsily, as he gets used to navigating his new invention. His parents are clueless about what he’s doing. Their oblivious comments add humor throughout the story.
After saving the day, Zinc Alloy is praised, so in “Revealed!”, he reveals his identity. Suddenly, the kids who bullied him want to help him, and love comics too. He confidently enters a swim race, which pushes his robotic suit to its limits.
“Vs. Frankenstein” has Zach disastrously tackling a tornado which angers the town. While running away from a mob he ends up meeting Frankenstein, a cast off from society. They become friends and work together.
Finally, in “Coldfinger”, Zach, while on winter vacation, stumbles into the evil Dr. Icee and defeats him easily. While his parents have no idea that he’s once again saved Metro City from destruction, we have a side story of them consuming cup after cup of cocoa. Zinc Alloy accidentally wins a ski race, and simultaneously, the heart of his crush, Monique.
Australian illustrator Douglas Holgate does an excellent job of bringing Lemke’s characters to life. Throughout the comic he uses different color palettes to add to the atmosphere of the scene he is capturing. For example, when Zach has a crush, we see not only lots of hearts drawn, but there is a strong emphasis on the color red in all the panels that she’s in. Frozen scenes with Dr. Icee feature icy blue backgrounds, and the coldness is further highlighted with icy blue action words. It’s a subtle but effective way to aid the text in producing the mood the author is aiming to get across. This talented and award-winning artist has a pleasing drawing style that children will enjoy.
Overall, I have issues with this comic. The parents are in extremely traditional roles. We have scene after scene of his father not parenting, not helping with housework, and instead indulging in selfish activities. This leaves the clueless, but loving mother in the kitchen to do 100% of the parenting, and all domestic duties. The family dynamics feel like you are reading a comic set in the 1950s, however, it is set in modern times. Also, “Coldfinger” concludes with Zach’s father passed out on the drive home, after a long day of gulping down cocoa. The story is emphasizing Zach’s father giving into his own weaknesses, versus Zach, who overcomes his weaknesses. However, the depiction of cocoa consumption and its after effects are more consistent with alcohol consumption than cocoa, possibly exposing young readers to a parental figure that has a drinking problem.
Furthermore, the lack of explanation as to where and how Zach is suddenly able to create a futuristic robot can leave the reader feeling confused. More background is needed, it reads like it’s an incomplete thought. There is a violent scene when Zinc Alloy is fighting, and a zoomed in image of a starting pistol is included. Both feel too mature for the recommended age range. Lastly, a panel is included that shows what appears to be a Japanese city, as a building has Japanese writing on it, and a speech bubble with Chinese coming from a man shouting. There is a clear difference in these two languages. This panel comes across as lacking cultural awareness for one of the most basic differences between China and Japan.
Considering all the great comic books out there, if budgets are of concern I’d pass on this comic, it’s just missing the mark on too many key areas.
Zinc Alloy: the complete comics collection By Donald Lemke Art by Douglas Holgate ISBN: 9781496587336 Capstone Press, 2020 Publisher Age Rating: 8-12 Series ISBNS and Order
Title Details and Representation NFNT Age Recommendation: Middle Grade (7-11), Tween (10-13)
Bullying. Puberty. Peer pressure. Surviving middle school is not easy, but the latest from writer Louise Simonson and illustrator Sumin Cho sheds some light on how to get through all the drama.
Told in short-story format, Junior High Drama: A Graphic Novel, features the trials and tribulations of four Memorial Middle School students. From mean girls, gossip and peer pressure to chronic illness, self-esteem and romantic relationships, tween readers will find plenty they can relate to.
While the content may be familiar territory, what makes the book stand out is its innovative approach to storytelling. At the end of each vignette, the co-creators include an informational section cleverly presented as a mock magazine cover and interview insert. Both offer facts about the issues highlighted within the previous story as well as inspirational quotes and advice for tweens and parents. A list of resources, such as the Suicide Prevention Hotline, also makes it a great addition to any library’s juvenile section.
Additional “stand-out” features include the back matter, which revisits all the characters through a special school newspaper edition featuring the different clubs and activities that populate the book. It’s also a subtle but effective way to encourage tweens to get involved with healthy social outlets that reflect their interests. Whether its anime, theater, sports, gardening or books, the key to surviving the drama is self-acceptance and a support team who accepts you for you.
The warm and engaging illustrations, done in soft pastels, complement the text while also providing more detail. Through the images, we learn about the characters’ inner emotions, desires and insecurities. In one telling scene, Cho deftly conveys the motivation behind Kamilla’s reluctance to participate in the school musical by portraying her as a tutu-clad elephant on display for all to ridicule. Specific techniques, such as the “fishbowl” effect, also parallel the storyline by warping the frame much as body dysmorphia warps self-perception.
The illustrations also create expressive characters that pull readers in through the subtle angling of an eyebrow, curve to the lip or wink of an eye. Cho goes beyond what the text provides to create a diverse student body comprised of all shapes, sizes and ethnicities. She also represents a variety of family structures, which range from two-parent to single-parent to multi-cultural. The result is an engaging cast of characters who appear throughout the book. Observant readers will enjoy spotting previous characters in the background of subsequent stories.
Interestingly, all the protagonists are female, which left me with mixed emotions. On one hand, I am a strong proponent of “girl power,” but on the other hand, the addition of a few male characters may have been a more inclusive approach to covering challenges that all tweens face.
The story’s somewhat didactic tone also may run the risk of turning some readers away. Each chapter hammers home a specific lesson or moral, and the simplistic way in which problems quickly resolve themselves by story’s end does not quite ring true. Life, unfortunately, is not always so cut-and-dry.
Overall, the graphic novel is a fun read that contains a lot of meaty content most suitable for ages 8 to 11. Simonson explores age-old issues tweens can relate to, while the inclusion of social media, texting and mobile phones keeps the story current. I also commend her for the positive role parental figures play in the characters’ lives. As sources of love, support and stability, they may border on the overbearing at times, but the main takeaway here is to keep communication channels open.
Junior High Drama: A Graphic Novel By Louise Simonson Art by Sumin Cho ISBN: 9781496547125 Stone Arch Books/Capstone, 2019 Publisher Age Rating: 8-11 Series Reading Order: (Wikipedia or Goodreads)
Browse for more like this title NFNT Age Recommendation: Middle Grade (7-11), Tween (10-13)
This series of four wordless graphic novels for pre-schoolers is a fantastic set for those who are new to wordless books. Each story starts off with a page visually explaining how to read through the panels in the right order, so that the story makes sense. The conclusion of each story has illustrated discussion questions. These help adults check that readers have understood what is happening in the story and get them to think beyond the pictures. This is an excellent aid for teachers and parents to introduce their little ones to the world of not only wordless graphic novels but to comics in general.
This series has four separate books in it. Each book has unique characters and stories, so you do not need to purchase all four to make sense of what is happening. You could just enjoy one.
Benny on the Beach Young Benny isn’t sure about playing at the beach, until he starts to make some new friends. A little crab helps him come out of his shell, so to speak, and opens up his eyes to all the exciting adventures you can have in the sand and ocean. When Benny digs up a woolly mammoth, the story really kicks off. Together they learn that clearly woolly mammoths can’t do everything that humans can do. Playing with a beach ball or trying out boogie boarding quickly result in disaster. This story is fun while providing a message about keeping natural bodies of water clean and free from trash.
Poppy and Tito Poppy and Tito live happily together in a whimsical tree house. They do everything with each other until one day, when they get into a silly argument while playing in a nearby pond. This sends Poppy running, and Tito on an adventure to find him. He runs into all kinds of different animals, and even some dangerous situations on his hunt for Poppy.
Coco the Crocodile Bunny lives in a black and white world until Coco the Crocodile flies into it, literally. Follow Coco and Bunny’s incredible adventure as they journey through magical rainbows, to busy cities, to star-filled night skies.
Dino and Pablo’s Prehistoric Games Our main character, a little boy named Pablo, loves using Dino as a slide. That is until Dino accidentally sends him flying with the birds. He is taken on a wild ride across the jungle, off a cliff, and even underwater.
The artwork throughout this series is similar in that they have chosen the same fonts and style for the covers and introductory and concluding pages. In the stories themselves, each book has a unique illustrator. You can see that each artist has been able to exercise their own creative styles. Pages are filled with simple color schemes that are pleasing to the eye. Along with these colors, we have images that are full of details and beautiful backgrounds that give readers much to visually explore.
This series of four wordless graphic novels is a fun set to add to any collection. They have easy-to-follow stories with relatable characters and lots of added humor. As with all wordless books, these stories provide easy access for children to enjoy “reading” without any barriers to understanding what is going on. This series could be used as a stepping stone in learning how to follow along with a story and most importantly to have fun while doing it. These books certainly promote a love of reading, which is crucial to setting up kids for lifelong success in literacy.
I recommend these titles for educators and parents to enjoy with little ones as they are nicely set up with a simple instruction page to start you off, humorous, easy-to-follow stories, and concluding questions to check comprehension of the plot and character’s feelings. These are the kinds of books that make it easy to help young readers have reading success.
Wordless Graphic Novels series
Benny on the Beach By Ed Art by Diego Arandojo ISBN: 9781515861362
Poppy and Tito By Mathilde Domecq ISBN: 9781515861379
Coco the Crocodile By Ankh ISBN: 9781515861386
Dino and Pablo’s Prehistoric Games By Baptiste Amsallem Art by Loic Dauvillier ISBN: 9781515861393
Capstone, 2020 Publisher Age Rating: 5-7
Browse for more like this title NFNT Age Recommendation: Picture Books (3-8)
When elementary school students Shea, TJ, Walden, and Dani receive an assignment on gas giants, they head to the library to get help from Mr. Kazarian. During the aftermath of some cat-induced chaos, they discover that their librarian Mr. Kazarian is really an alien! Fortunately, Mr. Kazarian is here to study humans rather than conquer them, and he uses his alien technology to take the students on a tour of Jupiter, Saturn, Neptune, and Uranus in exchange for keeping his secret.
Mr.Kazarian, Alien Librarian is a mix of science fiction adventure and science nonfiction. Over the course of the story, the reader learns facts about the gas giants, including the length of their orbit, any key physical traits, and the origins of their names. Writer Steve Foxe explains the information using straightforward, simple language, with a good dollop of humor. Gary Boller’s bright and expressive illustrations present the information in a clear and playful way. The mix of anthropomorphized planets, alien technology, and mythological characters make the information engaging and easy to understand. The transition from the introduction to the main adventure is a bit abrupt and unclear, but otherwise, the art and words flow well.
The characterization and underlying narrative are weaker. The small cast is reasonably diverse: Shea is black, Walden wears a hearing device, and TJ has two moms. That being said, the story relies on certain character tropes, such as the class clown, rather than fully developing the students’ characters. The story rushes to get to the adventure, and the problems—such as the danger of the students revealing Mr. Kazarian’s secret—are quickly handled. While the book would be better if these aspects were stronger, it does succeed in conveying the information.
Libraries will be happy to know that this brief work (sixty-four pages) has reinforced library binding to keep it from easily falling apart. The glossary at the back should help readers with unfamiliar scientific terms, and educators will be interested in the further reading and discussion question sections. Capstone Publishing recommends this book for grades 3-5, with a reading level of grades 2-3. Given the story’s simple plot and characters, younger readers in the recommended age range will most likely enjoy this work. Mr. Kazarian, Alien Librarian is an entertaining and informative read that libraries could offer alongside The Magic School Bus and other educational works.
Mr Kazarian, Alien Librarian By Steve Foxe Art by Gary Boller ISBN: 9781496583666 Capstone, 2020 Publisher Age Rating: Grades 3-5
Capstone has been doing sets of four fractured fairy tales; so far they’ve done Far Out Fairy Tales with titles like Goldilocks and the Three Vampires, Far Out Fables with The Lion and the Mouse and the Invaders from Zurg, and now they’re tackling folktales. One small quibble—technically, this latest set is tall tales, but clearly they had to stick with the alliteration!
I looked at two titles from this set; Paul Bunyan and Babe the Blue Whale takes the story of Paul Bunyan under the sea. Along with his best friend Babe, Paul Bunyan performs feats of strength, creates natural landmarks under the sea, like mountains and trenches, and defends the merpeople from mean sharks. He’s got his own fans, worried but loving parents (the king and queen of Atlantis), and eventually decides to move up onto land.
In the second title, Johnny Slimeseed and the Freaky Forest, Johnny Appleseed gets a monstrous makeover. Johnny lives in the town of Nightmare, where all the monsters love to get out and scare people. After all, there’s nothing else to do. But Johnny doesn’t think it’s nice to scare people—if only he could find something that was more fun, everyone would do that instead. As he searches in the human world, he meets Sleeka, a worm from Bugsville, who tells him of a wonderful, slimy tree on an island. After a lengthy search, Johnny discovers one last slimy seed and with plenty of green snot, he’s ready to change his world and cover it in slime!
Both books begin with a cast of characters and end with the original tall tale, a visual comparison of the “twists” in the tale (apple seeds swapped for slime seeds for example), and visual questions, showing panels from the book and asking readers to take a closer look. There are also notes on the authors and a glossary.
The art is done by two different creators; Otis Frampton in Paul Bunyan uses a more classic cartoonish style, using lots of blues and earth colors, and showing characters with big cartoon eyes, curly hair, and exaggerated expressions. These are cartoon mermaids, not the beautiful or dangerous mermaids of older stories, and Paul Bunyan combines a stocking cap, plaid shirt, suspenders and belt with his fishy tail. Berenice Munz in Johnny Slimeseed looks more manga-inspired, showing characters with spiky hair, manga-style eyes, and lots of slick, digitized color. The slime is sparkly and goopy and the colors are wild purples and greens. Everything has an extra shimmer, from Johnny’s metal pot hat to his green snot explosions.
The additional resources will make these useful in a classroom setting, especially if teachers are studying tall tales. Kids who have enjoyed the previous titles in these collections will be eager to take a look at these, although they include more exaggerated humor and gross stuff. These would make good additional purchases for a school or library wanting to add to their graphic novel collection or fill out resources for studying tales of different kinds.
Far Out Folktales series (Capstone) Paul Bunyan and Babe the Blue Whale By Penelope Gruber Art by Otis Frampton ISBN: 9781496578426
Johnny Slimeseed and the Freaky Forest By Stephanie True Peters Art by Berenice Muniz ISBN: 9781496578433 Capstone, 2019 NFNT Age Recommendation: Easy Readers (5-9), Middle Grade (7-11) Series Reading Order