The Nightmare Brigade Vol 1. The Girl from Deja Vu

The Nightmare Brigade, Volume 1: The girl from Deja Vu is a mesmerizing dive into the world of dreams. When Esteban is rescued in the forest by Professor Angus, he joins the Nightmare Brigade, a group of people tasked with entering kids nightmares, and stopping them. Professor Angus, Esteban, and Tristan make up part of the team. Esteban can’t remember his past, Tristan uses a wheelchair, and Professor Angus is harboring secrets. There is more to these characters than what meets the eye. These nightmares are debilitating, sometimes causing the kids harm.

Their newest case deals with a girl with amnesia named Sarah. Sarah is suffering from nightmares that are so terrible they are causing her to lose her memory. When Esteban is given a picture of the case patient Sarah, he recognizes her. The professor is hiding a secret that he thinks Esteban may be unable to handle. Equipped with watches called omiricohms that tell them when the patient is dreaming, the Nightmare Brigade enters dreams with the help of a computer. Entering dreams is dangerous, and the only way back to reality is to find the physical door in the lab that leads out of the dream. If a brigade member discovers what is plaguing the patient, the ultimate goal, they are able to save them from their nightmares.

This story delivers by putting the protagonists in dangerous situations including dealing with a war between adults and children. This is a story about the difficulties of growing up and the conflicted feelings that often go with it. There are further twists and turns that make the reader question the professor’s ethics as well as the Nightmare Brigade itself. 

The Nightmare Brigade is very original. It is rare that a tale is told in the world of dreams. The story can be rather scary as the lines become blurred between what is reality and what is fiction. The illustrations are very simple, yet effective. The characters are eerie looking, sporting larger than average eyes. The colors are muted tones of blue and orange, giving the story a dreamlike quality. The illustrations don’t reflect realistically proportioned people. This is what a reader would imagine what people in a dream world would resemble. 

This story works on many levels. Kids and young teens who are experiencing growing pains will gravitate towards this fantasy. Although the world of dreams is not real, many of the nightmares reflect the real fears of adolescents. This can be a difficult time in their lives, and this story is able to teach them difficult concepts in an engaging way. Readers might identify themselves in any of the lead characters. Overall, I would recommend the Nightmare Brigade to middle grade readers. I would also recommend this story to a reluctant reader looking for a good fantasy read. Readers will be anxious to join the Brigade again and enter new dreams in volume 2. A library interested in expanding their selection of middle grade fantasy would benefit by adding this to their collection.

The Nightmare Brigade, Vol 1. The Girl from Deja Vu
By Franck Thilliez
Art by Yomgui Dumont
NBM Papercutz, 2022
ISBN: 9781545808771

Publisher Age Rating: 7-12

NFNT Age Recommendation: Middle Grade (7-11)

The Queen’s Favorite Witch, Book 1: The Wheel of Fortune

Readers will enter the vivid world of Elizabethan England in The Queen’s Favorite Witch, a story of magic and intrigue. Daisy is an ambitious young witch living near London with her mother. Her poverty and her mother’s fear for her safety are barriers to her becoming the Queen’s Witch, the most coveted role in the country for a magical practitioner. Daisy’s mother wants her to stay home and help sell their healing potions. Against these wishes, she travels to London. Through pluck and bravery Daisy gains a position competing against more wealthy and worldly witches to earn this position. 

At court, Daisy must compete against rival witches who fit a somewhat tired “mean girls” mold. Helping her with these challenges are her rat familiar Nathaniel, chambermaid Edith, Valentyne the friendly con man, and John Dee, the real-life astrologer to Elizabeth I. Various skin tones are represented in the cast of characters.

The action of the story culminates in an attack from an infamous deceased monarch, who decides that death is no barrier to rule. Through all her trials, Daisy shows creativity, spirit, and a willingness to struggle through the aspects of herself that hold her back from success.

The Queen’s Witch offers a mixed bag of appeals. On one hand is the charm and wit of Daisy’s adventures. Daisy is set the task of enchanting a group of spiders, which usually resist enchantment. Instead of forcing them to her will, Daisy offers them the dead insects stuck in her hair, and in return they weave a web that reads “Long live Queen Elizabeth.” The final crisis with the aforementioned deceased monarch is also full of narrative delights and satisfying humor. The volume ends with Daisy’s immediate problems solved, but the last page makes it clear that the larger story is only beginning.

On the other hand, the toxic court environment that confronts Daisy feels forced. We’re used to seeing modern sensibilities overlaid on historical settings, but these social politics feel more 1980s than 2020s. Daisy’s competitors are catty and conniving in a two-dimensional, female-coded way. We never learn more about their motivations, other than that a man’s influence is behind most of their behavior. 

Daisy’s relationships with her male supporters at court are in some ways just as toxic as those with her bullies. She reflects that her friend Valentyne has greatly helped in her performance of magic, but his coaching amounts to the encouragement to “just let it flow” and “not force it.” In several instances, Daisy is lectured by her male supporters, who are fond of telling her things like, “you know the real problem” You’re trying to be something you’re not,” and “can you stop thinking of yourself for one minute?” After her rat familiar upbraids about what being a witch is “about,” she replies with “I’m sorry…I’m sorry I wasn’t better.” The repeated criticism from the males in her life don’t sound like frustrated support, but as enraged, gendered take-downs.

An additional issue with The Queen’s Favorite Witch is an episode that takes a strange and disquieting turn. One of the plots against Daisy by her rivals is to take her to a pub, over-serve her beer, and drug her so that she is too seemingly hungover the next day to perform magic. The fact that she’s 12 is never mentioned in this context. Although in every other way this is a middle grade graphic novel, this instance of unquestioned underage drinking would cause most librarians to wonder if it is appropriate for that age group.

These serious plot issues aside, The Queen’s Favorite Witch is a charming and fun read. The pacing of frames brings the story forward with expertise, pausing to emphasize an important moment, or moving quickly to pull the reader through an exciting passage. The visual humor is a delight, as when Daisy’s mother catches her coming home late by magically lighting a candle instead of dramatically flipping a light switch. 

The Queen’s Favorite Witch will appeal to young fans of history and fantasy. Lovers of Dylan Maconis’ Queen Of the Sea are an obvious target audience, but fans of friendship comedies like Shannon Hale’s Real Friends will also find themes to connect with. Because of its appeal and forthcoming volumes, The Queen’s Favorite Witch: the Wheel Of Fortune is recommended for medium to large graphic novel collections.

The Queen’s Favorite Witch, Book 1: The Wheel of Fortune
By Benjamin Dickson
Art by Rachael Smith
Papercutz, 2021
ISBN: 9781545807224
Publisher Age Rating: 7-12

NFNT Age Recommendation: Tween (10-13)

School for Extraterrestrial Girls, Vol. 1: Girl on Fire

Every day is pretty much the same for Tara, but according to her parents, routine is good and important. She just has to keep her head down, graduate high school, and she can work towards her dream of going into space as an astronaut. It takes just one morning of breaking the routine for her entire life to flip upside down—not just some spilled orange juice, but everything she thought she understood about herself (she’s not human), her parents (they aren’t), and the world (aliens are real?!). 

The story focuses on Tara Smith, a teen who until very recently thought she was human. She’s given the option to go to a special school for aliens seeking citizenship or to be sent into space. She chooses school, but has trouble adjusting to the apparent strangeness of everyone. Her roommate Summer is an especially bad case. Summer’s human form is pink haired and perky, which makes her feels like a Starfire or Miss Martian knockoff. When she reveals her alien form to Tara, which is of course large and not classically feminine by human standards, Tara screams, burns Summer, and runs away.

As the weeks pass and Tara gets more comfortable, she continues to be confronted with new information she has to process and use to break down old concepts. Eventually, Tara and Summer make up, but Summer is never quite as cheerful as she was and things are a little strained. Thankfully, we see Tara go through growth in her relationships with multiple characters, and the volume ends with her confronting the people she used to think were her parents, working together with her new friends, and finding out the school has to move because the site is now compromised. It’s a lot of ground to cover, but the comic gets the big concepts across well, at the cost of losing some smaller moments.

The art of School for Extraterrestrial Girls has a very smooth, low detail look often seen in webcomics that can be very appealing, especially as webcomics continue to climb in popularity. Backgrounds in panels are often simple without feeling generic, very clearly drawn to give an understanding of location and action. Facial expressions are where the art really shines; even in some of the moments that can be harder to convey, the artist captures very vivid emotion in every character’s face. Another great detail is that there are a number of body types (when we’re looking at humanoid bodies; there are myriad alien body types also represented), ages, physical ability, and ethnicities represented in the comic. Heck, the two main adults in the story are both older appearing women with very different bodies and aesthetic choices. I’m not sure if it lessens the impact knowing that also, almost no one in the comic is human, or not. 

While the writing in the comic is pretty solid, it has some weaker moments and the story as a whole wraps up awfully neatly. In some ways, it feels like an older sitcom, with the family all smiling at the camera as they discuss the moral of today’s story. I’m not sure if that’s purposeful, but I’m guessing it is, considering how much of the story is really about acceptance and understanding, both internal and external. Some of the comedic moments feel really forced, like the continued joke about the main character’s name that’s never actually explained in-text (and I will admit, took me longer to figure out than I’d like).

At first the premise may seem somewhat unusual, but the core story of learning to accept truths about the world and differences in others is pretty universal and can be a great addition to a younger teen or middle grade audience that doesn’t feel too preachy. And though it centers on aliens, the sci-fi elements are approachable for readers less interested in that genre.  Considering this is labeled as #1, I’m guessing there are plans to continue this series, something to consider for collection development if readers want more of Tara’s adventures. Currently, though, the first volume works very well as a standalone story.

School for Extraterrestrial Girls, vol. 1: Girl on Fire
By Jeremy Whitley
Art by Jamie Noguchi
ISBN: 9781545804926
Papercutz, 2020
Publisher Age Rating: all ages
Series ISBNS and Order

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

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: (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+)

Attack of the Stuff: The Life and Times of Bill Waddler

Meet Bill Waddler, a duck who has the ability to hear everyday objects speak to him. This sounds as if it would be amazing to experience, only we quickly discover that it’s not as fantastic as you would think it’d be. Everything has an opinion, making it difficult for Bill to even use the toilet!

Attack of the Stuff is the first book in a new series by New York Times bestselling author and illustrator Jim Benton. Bill starts us off on his adventure with a stressful dream about farting snakes coiling everywhere on and around him. He’s going through a period of self reflection as he thinks about childhood dreams of becoming a famous musician and questions why his current job of selling hay doesn’t seem to be as successful as it used to be. He’s frustrated and feels like he is falling behind the rest of the world as technology advances without him, yet he doesn’t want to change his ways.

Bill’s ability to hear every object, animal, and appliance around him just adds to this stress. Nothing around him is happy. All the objects are continuously complaining and putting him down, from the jelly jar, to the lamp, to his toilet. Here’s where we see lots of classic fart jokes that will make kids giggle. Done with all the insults and certainly done with all the farting, Bill gets the idea to leave it all behind and try out living in nature. However, as he wrestles for survival out in the woods, simultaneously, disaster strikes civilization. Bill will have to help fix it by using his unique power, but this time with a purpose. Here’s where the story brings together educational themes such as sexism, working together to solve difficult problems, and the importance of friendship.

Middle school children will love this story and be asking for the next title in the series. The dialogue is easy to understand, but packed with silliness that will have any child laughing. Benton’s simple style color illustrations make it effortless to follow along with the panels in order. There aren’t many panels per page and the dialogue or thought bubbles are kept to a minimum. This makes it easy for any beginner to know where to read next without having to think about where their eyes should go. This combined with short chapters make it a great pick for reluctant readers as they will not easily get lost or confused and can celebrate the success of finishing entire chapters quickly.

If you are looking to add a middle school friendly graphic novel that is both humorous and smart, I highly recommend checking out this one.

Attack of the Stuff: The Life and Times of Bill Waddler 1
By Jim Benton
ISBN: 9781545804995
Papercutz, 2020
Publisher Age Rating: 7-12

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NFNT Age Recommendation: Middle Grade (7-11)


Fairy tales have enabled children to confront some of the darkest parts of humanity through stories with a clear moral or lesson to learn. Retellings of fairy tales often gloss over the violence and gore present in the original versions of the tales, and we forget that some of these tales sprang from dark parts of history. Bluebeard, recaptured by Metaphrog, balances the darkness of the story with the light of a new moral.

The basic premise of Bluebeard begins with a rich, mysterious man who marries a poor, beautiful young woman. Early in the marriage, he tells her he has business to attend to. He leaves her with keys to every room in his castle, but points out one key she must never use, lest she bring about his wrath. Of course the wife uses the key. She opens the door and finds bodies of previous wives, and her husband returns that night. He is about to add her to the body count when she is saved by her brothers, who kill him.

The commonly agreed origin for Bluebeard is in Charles Perrault’s Tales of Mother Goose from 1697 (source: Encyclopaedia Britannica). Other cultures have similar versions of the story, and many point to tales of historical serial killers as inspiration for the tale. The stated moral in Perrault’s tale is that sating curiosity comes at a high cost and is not worth the price (perhaps in comparison to Eve and the apple). Others have since said that using the key brings about knowledge, allowing the wife to leave her naivete behind. Metaphrog’s version perhaps takes this moral further by saying if you make a decision that endangers you, while friends and family bring hope to save you, you must also be prepared to fight for yourself.

Metaphrog’s Bluebeard, a self-proclaimed feminist retelling of the tale, provides a backstory for the young woman, Eve. We see her growing up, living with her family in poverty, and developing a close friendship with Tom, a local goat herder. When Bluebeard asks her father for a daughter to marry, Eve understands her marriage will provide for her family. As in the original tale, she too falls prey to curiosity and opens the forbidden room. She is about to be killed by Bluebeard, but in this retelling, she has more agency in saving herself.

While the building of a backstory gives this version a more dynamic depiction of the wife, the way it is incorporated into the story is a bit clumsy. Characters are given more depth through details, but these details don’t seem to serve much purpose other than to lengthen the tale. For example, Eve nurses a a bird back to health that later delivers a message from Tom, but it seemed unnecessary and took several pages. Another several pages depict a terrible season for the village, emphasizing their poverty and providing a reason for Eve to feel justified in marrying a man to help her family. However, it could’ve been presented in far fewer panels, and perhaps without the panel of screaming goats that called to mind the work of Lane Smith, artist for The True Story of the Three Little Pigs.

Screaming goat panel aside (which stands out in pretty stark contrast to the other artwork), the stylized art makes this retelling of Bluebeard vibrant. Pink and blue washes depict village life versus Bluebeard’s castle, saturating the pages with rich color. Many panels use silhouettes to pace the story, focusing on a quiet moment between Eve and Tom or showing the distance of the castle from the village in silhouettes climbing Bluebeard’s mountain. Bluebeard is set apart from the villagers by his opulent clothing—a giant cloak, fur collar, hat, and cane—and Eve stands out with her shining pink hair with pearlescent highlights. Despite being a gory story, gore is not depicted. The closet of dead women is a panel of shirts and feet washed in red.

Metaphrog wrote this story as a children’s book, aimed at ages 7 and up. The age range is appropriate, especially for parents reading the book to their children. Some parents may feel uncomfortable with the morbid closet of dead wives, but parents who share non-Disney fairy tale stories with their kids are unlikely to mind. The story is labeled as a “feminist retelling,” but I wouldn’t add it to a display of books of such a theme, because it’s not overtly so. I would add this tale to a digital collection, but I don’t know if it merits a spot on shelves where real estate is a high commodity. This version of Bluebeard didn’t really resonate strongly with me, but I am completely on board for more graphic novels and comics retelling fairy tales that give more agency and depth to characters while retaining some of the darkness of the original stories.

By Metaphrog
ISBN: 9781626720794
Papercutz, 2020
Publisher Age Rating: 7+

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NFNT Age Recommendation: Middle Grade (7-11)
Related to…: Retelling

Brina the Cat, vol. 1: The Gang of the Feline Sun

An adventurous cat learns that the grass is not always greener on the other side in the new graphic novel Brina the Cat, vol. 1: The Gang of the Feline Sun. Written by Giorgio Salati and illustrated by Christian Cornia, this Italian import provides a valuable lesson on family and home, but its entertainment value lacks in places. Readers may find little enjoyment in this feline’s adventures due to its limited story structure and plain artwork.

During a vacation in the mountains, Brina becomes upset when she cannot join her owners outside their rental home and explore. She soon meets a stray cat named Vespucci, who convinces her to run away and join his group of wildcats called the Gang of the Feline Sun. At first, Brina is having a great time doing whatever she wants, but when she notices the gang’s cruelty towards other cats and each other, she realizes that she has made a terrible mistake. In the meantime, her two owners, Margret and Sam, search around town for her, trying not to lose hope that she will return.

Even though the feline’s story does contain drama and a heartwarming ending, it feels a bit rushed. Brina learns her lesson too quickly, cutting her adventure short. A more fleshed out storyline would work better, providing more drama and further insight into the secondary characters that Brina meets along the way. The narration itself jumps from an unknown storyteller to either Brina’s thoughts or Vespucci’s stories. A smart indication of colored cat ears keeps the reader from being lost in the story, but the storyteller’s narration still awkwardly switches from being straightforward to talking directly to the characters. The illustrator’s comic style and bright color palette adds significant details, especially their emotions, to a number of characters, and the landscape and background art works well with significant parts of the story, such as Brina’s tour of the forest and her owners’ search around town. However, there is nothing significant about the style that readers may discover.

Brina’s first graphic novel adventure is an additional purchase for most library collections. Elementary school readers, especially those in 3rd-4th grade, may give this one a try if they are looking for a short read. However, those who are wanting a longer tale with more adventure may want to look elsewhere.

Brina the Cat, vol. 1: The Gang of the Feline Sun
By Giorgio Salati
Art by Christian Cornia
ISBN: 9781545804254
Papercutz, 2020
Publisher Age Rating: 8-12 yrs

Cat & Cat, vol. 1: Girl Meets Cat

Cat is a girl. Sushi is a cat. Together, they are a mischievous force that keeps Cat’s single dad on his toes.

When this book opens, Sushi is a recent addition to Cat and her dad’s household. Cat is excited about getting to know her new pet, and spends a lot of time observing Sushi’s behavior. That behavior, to her dad’s dismay, includes hogging the sofa and tearing up curtains, carpets, wallpaper, and the occasional Christmas tree. Still, neither Cat nor her dad is immune to Sushi’s charms, especially when he makes them laugh or shows them a new way to have fun together.

This book is a series of one-to-two-page strips that stand alone, rather than a continuous story. Each one features Sushi, Cat, and usually her dad; very few other characters appear, and none of them for more than a single page. Many of the strips follow Cat, sometimes including captions that relate to her inner monologue. A few of them follow Sushi the same way. His inner monologue is perhaps even more complex than Cat’s, featuring elaborate daydreams and reflections on his past lives—none of which stops him from acting like an ordinary cat.

These comics are geared toward punch lines and silliness rather than deep storytelling. We don’t get much information about the characters: we don’t know Cat’s age, or her dad’s job or name, or how Sushi came to live with them, nor is there any real supporting cast beyond these three. What we do know is that Cat, her dad, and Sushi have a lot of fun together. The affection the two humans feel for one another and their pet comes across well, despite the fact that they are in a near-constant state of bemused distress at Sushi’s antics.

The art really boosts the fun factor in this comic. It’s colorful: Cat has pink hair, Sushi is orange, and both humans wear bright outfits. Even the furnishings and walls of their house are drawn in vibrant fruit-salad shades: guava pink, warm peach, lime green, and so on. The artist does a great job coordinating and balancing the colors so that they never clash, and the resulting pages are pleasant to flip through and look at even without stopping to read them. The characters add to the humor with their expressive faces and elastic, contorting postures.

Sushi cycles through attitudes of laziness, exuberance, and apprehension in a way that will remind many cat owners of their own pets. “Misbehaving cat” is a rich topic to mine for humor, and this comic offers a take that is gentler and less snarky than Garfield or Catwad. Having a kid as a prominent character may also help the story feel relatable to young readers. Hand this to comics fans who are looking for something light and silly.

Cat & Cat, vol. 1: Girl Meets Cat 
By Christophe Cazenove Hervé Richez
Art by Yrgane Ramon
ISBN: 9781545804285
Papercutz, 2020
Publisher Age Rating: 8-12

Monica Adventures

Brazilian cartoonist Mauricio de Sousa has written and drawn the comic series Monica for a little over fifty years. Centered on the adventures of a group of children (Monica, J-Five, Maggy, and Smudge), the series has a long history of popularity in Brazil, appearing in movies, cartoons, and in print. Now in their teenage years, the gang are faced with typical adolescent issues (dating, money, friendships, etc.), but the nostalgia for their younger days is still very much present. It becomes a reminder of where these characters originated and whether or not they have grown up since then.

In the first book of the series, Monica Adventures #1: Who Can Afford the Price of Friendship Today?, readers are introduced to the gang, as well as other characters within the series. Monica and her friends decide to go to the movies but they don’t have enough money. As the boys go to the comic book store to trade in some old comics, the girls pet sit for the afternoon. However, going to see the newest movie is easier said than done when their classmate Tony decides to derail their plans. The following book Monica Adventures #2: We Fought Each Other as Kids…Now We’re in Love?! explores the possible romantic relationship between Monica and J-Five. Ever since they were children, J-Five and Monica were always at odds with one another, usually resulting in Monica hitting him over the head with her stuffed blue bunny. But now, things may change when the two start showing romantic feelings for one another. Everyone is happy at first, but it causes tension when the two are unable to leave each other’s side for just a moment.

The storylines for both graphic novels are reminiscent of tween and teen comedies, providing enough entertainment that tween readers can enjoy. Fourth wall breaks and various pop culture references and parodies add to the books’ humor and invite readers to seek out any easter eggs they may recognize. De Sousa’s artwork is a black and white manga style, providing characters with big glassy eyes and over the top expressions during stressful or sad situations. Most scenes feel like a comedic or dramatic moment from a traditional anime, especially when a panel has a lightning or flowery background. A brief introduction into the iconic Monica series can be found at the end of the first book, as well as a letter by De Sousa for the readers. There are also introductions for each of the main characters, letting readers know about their individual quirks and other striking characteristics.

The Monica Adventures graphic novel series is a great addition for public and school libraries, especially with those who serve tween patrons (6th-8th graders) who are avid manga readers. Patrons who enjoy graphic novels that take place within a middle school, such as Raina Telgemeier’s books and Shannon Hale’s Real Friends series, will want to give this series a try. With its adorable characters, great storytelling, and manga artwork, this new series will be enjoyed by fans of the old comics and those who are new to it.

Monica Adventures
By Mauricio De Sousa
vol 1 ISBN: 9781545802182
vol 2 ISBN: 9781545802168
Papercutz, 2019
NFNT Age Recommendation: Tween (10-13)

Geeky Fab 5, vol. 2: Mystery of the Missing Monarchs

Geeky F@b 5 returns with volume 2, Mystery of the Missing Monarchs, an educational adventure full of friendship and girl power. Geeky F@b 5 is a collaboration between pre-teen author Lucy Lareau and her mother, Liz Lareau, that tackles “geeky” STEM (Science Technology Engineering Math) topics for young readers. The first book, It’s Not Rocket Science, brought together the group of friends for their first challenge: creating a new school playground. In volume 2, the girls discover an abandoned lot near their school full of native plants, monarch butterflies, and honeybees.They fall in love with their “secret garden,” but it’s soon threatened by a mysterious developer that wants to bulldoze the area to build a new convenience store. The girls must rush to discover the identity of the developer and find a way to save the endangered insects.

Although I personally enjoyed the first book more and felt the plot and writing was a little stronger, Mystery of the Missing Monarchs is still a worthy addition to the series. There is a healthy dose of educational content about monarch butterflies and the role they play in the ecosystem, as well as the dangers they currently face. As with the first book, the girls face a problem that seems insurmountable—something that would be a challenge even for grown-ups—but their determination and creative thinking, as well as the support of the adults around them, carry them through. This volume shares the same energetic, upbeat tone as the first, and does a good job making STEM topics accessible and interesting for young readers. Mystery of the Missing Monarchs can stand alone, despite being a sequel, so there is no worry about adhering strictly to the series order. The first chapter introduces the characters and setting, and makes for an easy entry point for readers.

An element I continued to appreciate in this comic is the diversity of the main group of friends. They are not only racially diverse, but one is adopted, and they represent a wide variety of interests and hobbies ranging from those often seen as masculine (math, computer programming, sports, etc.) to those often seen as feminine (art, fashion, singing, etc.). The comic does not gender these hobbies and doesn’t value one type at the expense of the other. In this volume, we are also introduced to the brother of one of the girls, who is a person of color with a disability.

One thing I particularly liked about the comic was that the eventual solution to the main conflict was small-scale and realistic, making it seem achievable and inspiring for readers eager to follow in the girls’ footsteps. As with the first book, things tend to fall into place fairly conveniently for the story (characteristic of many books for young readers) but I felt the girls’ solution in this volume was more reachable than in the last. The comedy provided by Hubble the cat was a bit too much for me at times, but the humor might be just right for the target age group.

Artists Ryan Jampole and Jen Hernandez continue to serve up cute, distinctive characters in panels with lots of movement, energy, and color. There is a simplicity to it, with most of the attention focused on the foreground and the characters, which pairs well with the story and helps to move it along.

The Geeky F@b 5 series is a fun way to emphasize and teach positive messages about girls in STEM, female friendship, and children’s capacity for thinking about and addressing large-scale problems in the world. These important ideas are timely and useful for kids of all genders to be exposed to. It will be interesting to see how the series continues to develop as more books are created.

Geeky F@b 5, vol.2: Mystery of the Missing Monarchs 
By Lucy Lareau Liz Lareau
Art by Ryan Jampole Jen Hernandez
ISBN: 9781545801567
Papercutz, 2019
Publisher Age Rating: 7-11

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Character Traits: Black, Latinx, South Asian,