Yuna feels too Korean in America and too American in Korea. So, she folds 1,000 paper stars and wishes for a world where she fits. The problem is something terrible happens after she makes the wish, and another thousand stars might not be enough to fix it.
Yuna is a Korean American girl who feels out of place at her middle school, including with her own friends. Even the other Korean American kids, like her friend Esther, are more American and accepted at school than Yuna. Esther is a “cool Asian” who speaks to her parents in English and eats school lunches rather than a Korean boxed lunch. Yuna is embarrassed by her mom’s boxed lunches and wants to buy lunch at school like everyone else.
If Yuna can’t fit in as an American, maybe she could be someone else who belongs in Korea. So, she wishes for this change after folding 1,000 paper stars and collecting them in a big jar to make a wish. Yuna and her family return to Korea, but things don’t unfold as she had hoped. They go to Korea because her halmoni (grandmother) passes away, and Yuna thinks she made it happen because of her wishing stars. She blames herself and is full of guilt. Now, Yuna needs to fold another 1,000 paper stars by midnight to wish Halmoni back to life before her soul is gone forever. She lashes out at her parents and younger sister, especially when her sister gets some of the star paper wet. With less than four hours left until midnight, Yuna is desperate to finish enough stars to wish Halmoni back.
A Sky of Papers Stars is clear and organized in its art style. There is a regular font for the parts in Korean, a bolded font for English lines, and italics for the characters’ thoughts. The present-day artwork is bright and colorful with outlined panels. Several scenes set in the past are lighter and resemble pastels or sepia tones. Some have lined panels, and some fade out or blur around the edges. These distinctions make it clear between the past and present. The colors help you feel Yuna’s mood and what she’s thinking about. For instance, there’s a burst of red and orange in the background when Yuna yells at her mom about the homemade lunches, or there are cool, pale shades of blue when Halmoni is on her mind. Jen Wang’s Stargazing is an example of a middle grade graphic novel with a similar writing and art style.
A Sky of Papers Stars includes two central themes: wanting to belong or feeling out of place and grief after the death of a family member. The story and writing style are clear and straightforward, even with the flashbacks to Yuna’s distant memories of Halmoni or Mom reminiscing about her own school lunches. These themes may not be new, but they’re still a much-needed aspect of coming-of-age narratives, especially for marginalized youth who feel separation or alienation from other kids.
If you’re interested in expanding your library’s collection of middle grade graphic novels, this one is definitely worth considering. The Korean and Korean American characters are well-represented, and the book explores significant coming-of-age topics like identity, loss, and grief. If you believe a reader would benefit from When You Trap A Tiger by Tae Keller, they would probably benefit from A Sky of Paper Stars too.
A Sky of Paper Stars Vol. By Susie Yi Macmillan Roaring Brook, 2023 ISBN: 9781250843890
Publisher Age Rating: 8-12
NFNT Age Recommendation: Middle Grade (7-11), Tween (10-13) Creator Representation: Korean-American, Character Representation: Korean-American,
I have been a fan of Maxwell Eaton from his first quirky picture books, featuring Max and Pinky, through his hilarious comics of the Flying Beaver Brothers, and now to his most recent work of picture book format comics with nonfiction subjects, presented with his trademark humor. Survival Scout introduces a new character and a new series, combining information about survival in various disasters with quirky humor, helpful facts, and an array of delightful characters.
Scout, the main character, was expecting to go on a hiking trip with her grandmother. Instead she’s gotten stuck with her older brother, wanna-be wilderness guide and know-it-all ignoramus, who promptly loses them in the wilderness and is chased off by a bear. As the story progresses, Scout makes good decisions, ensuring her survival and eventual rescue. Periodic humorous asides are included of her brother and the bear on their endless Looney Tunes-esque chase, and Scout’s efforts are cheerfully critiqued by a local skunk and other passing animals. She builds shelter, makes a fire, figures out a food supply, and weighs the pros and cons of staying put and moving out, including figuring out her position without a compass. There’s a happy ending for everyone, even (sort of) Scout’s brother and the bear. Grandma, Scout, and the skunk end the story with the expectation of more fun hikes to come. An appendix includes illustrated guides to making knots, building an outdoor latrine, Morse code, and more.
Eaton’s chunky art has been somewhat refined from his first picture books, but the deadpan faces and hysterical asides are still a strong feature. Scout and her brother are white; Scout has shaggy brown hair and is sensibly dressed in long pants, sturdy shoes, and button-up red shirt. The ubiquitous skunk is a fluffy black blob with a narrow white stripe and a habit of casually leaning their pointed nose into instructional sections to offer advice and commentary. Although characters’ eyes are all little ovals, Eaton still fills in plenty of expression, from Scout’s determination to survive to her quiet enjoyment of the beautiful night sky. The background is very simple, just a green meadow, blue river, a few trees, and snow-capped mountains in the distance. The narrative is interspersed with short comics demonstrating various skills, like different ways to light a fire.
These will be appreciated by kids and adults alike, especially those who can enjoy Eaton’s subtle humor. Full of helpful and practical information built into the light structure of a narrative, this new series is sure to be as popular as Eaton’s previous nonfiction foray, The Truth About…, and is recommended for public and school libraries.
Survival Scout, vol. 1: Lost in the Mountains By Maxwell Eaton III Macmillan Roaring Brook, 2023 ISBN: 9781250790460
Publisher Age Rating: 8-12
NFNT Age Recommendation: Easy Readers (5-9), Middle Grade (7-11)
Nick Bruel first introduced Bad Kitty in picture book format in 2005 and she was immediately popular. Her alphabetical shenanigans returned with the introduction of Poor Puppy in a second picture book and then she found her true metier in illustrated chapter books with Bad Kitty Gets a Bath in 2008.
Over the years, Bad Kitty has starred in a number of humorous adventures, the later titles including some pointed commentary on refugee (kittens), the election (of cats), education (of cats) and Bad Kitty’s cell phone usage. Bad Kitty retains her stubborn nature and chaotic behavior throughout, and the latest incarnation of this perennially popular character is the reissue of her tantrums and adventures in full color.
Her latest book, published in full color, starts with Bad Kitty leisurely scrolling through her phone while her exasperated (and unseen) human asks her to help clean up or at least do something that’s not electronic! It’s decided, to Kitty’s shock, that she must have… a playdate and Strange Kitty is the selected “friend.” Strange Kitty, who wears a top hat and tie, talks (unlike Bad Kitty who communicates only in meows), and has a mouse friend, arrives with a stack of comics and eventually, after an eloquent flow of language, convinces Kitty to join them in a make-believe game of superheroes. This involves several activities for readers to participate in as well, like using a superhero name generator and following instructions to create a comic. The arrival of another friend, going by the name of Dr. Lagomorph, sets the game going and the trio enjoy a raucous game throughout the house, ending when Kitty gets a little over-enthusiastic and breaks the rules. It all ends happily however, with a rather sententious speech from the mouse and amends from Kitty—and the human’s discovery of just what their game has done to the house…
Bruel’s layout for the Bad Kitty chapter books alternates between spot illustrations with short paragraphs of text and more traditional comic panels, with the primary dialogue from Strange Kitty, Dr. Lagomorph, and Power Mouse. Kitty has retained her trademark look throughout the series, a skinny black cat with spiky fur, bulging yellow eyes, and a splash of white on her chest. Bad Kitty’s expressions are most often seen in their lack, as she stares blankly at Strange Kitty’s antics, occasionally shrugs, and periodically erupts into a frenzied attack. Most of the humor is a combination of the deadpan delivery of lengthy perorations from Strange Kitty and the rapid switch between Bad Kitty’s indifference and wild reactions. Bruel plunges fully into the imagination game in this book, cutting panels in half with the imagined superheroes and villains, sporting full armor and massive muscles, and the real “kids” playing in homemade costumes.
As I’ve watched Bad Kitty evolve over the years, I’ve personally found the later books to be a little repetitive and leaning more heavily on didactic lectures. The combination of illustration, text, and comic can be both a pro and a con, as it discourages some struggling readers who can’t handle the lengthier text and complex vocabulary as well as falling on the radar of “comics are not real books” parents, but also gives readers a little bit of extra challenge on adding more text to what appears to be an “easy” chapter book. In my experience, most young fans gravitate to the earlier titles, those which don’t necessarily include a “lesson.” However, the series as a whole continues to be wildly popular and this latest title will both get kids giggling and as well as giving a tip of the hat (Super Kitty’s hat of course) to parents and teachers concerned with excessive screen use, not to mention including some inside jokes for superhero fans.
While I would not introduce a new reader to the series with this title, it’s certainly worth adding to the collection; the only real drawback is that this and the other newly reissued full color titles are not yet available in library binding, only in hardcover, and they are less likely to last through multiple readings from eager young fans.
Supercat By Nick Bruel Macmillan Roaring Brook, 2022 ISBN: 9781250749987
NFNT Age Recommendation: Easy Readers (5-9), Middle Grade (7-11)