Hidden Systems: Water, Electricity, the Internet, and the Secrets Behind the Systems We Use Every Day by Dan Nott (author and artist) is an enlightening nonfiction graphic novel divided into three main parts. The first part explains the development and infrastructure of the internet. Next, Nott outlines the history and current forms of electricity. He closes with an examination of water systems, which includes the natural water cycle and how humans use water. These three systems are hidden in plain sight and taken for granted until they malfunction, or cease to function altogether. Nott’s goal is to provide an understanding of how these vital systems actually work and how we need to improve them to reduce harm to the environment and to communities. In doing so, we can also sustainably ensure necessary access to all people.
The book is well organized with a table of contents, symbols key, introduction, conclusion, citations and a bibliography. The book is text-heavy, but the historic and scientific explanations are well supported by the illustrations. The panels are mostly in a grid pattern with artwork that depicts people inventing and interacting with various technologies as well as the physical components that comprise these infrastructures. Humorous facial expressions and asides make this book fun and encourage the reader to pay close attention. The restrained color palette keeps the packed pages from looking cluttered. Overall, Nott’s artwork is detailed and wrought with care.
Hidden Systems is cataloged as a children’s book. I found many concepts in this book to be complex and better suited for older readers and teens. Some of these concepts include colonialism and inequity of access. For example, communications systems that began with telegraph lines map geographically with colonial outposts that used communication to maintain control. Much of today’s infrastructure still follows those original lines, so that places of power are more advanced with communications while historically subjugated places are trying to catch up (p. 26-31). Another complex concept is that poorer communities and communities of color typically bear the burden of ill health caused by emissions from coal-burning power plants (p. 113). A mention of dams being financed with debt by the World Bank (p. 210) could confuse the reader who lacks knowledge of the global economy. A teacher, parent, or other adult may help a younger reader parse through these facts.
Recommend Hidden Systems to curious older kids and teens with interests in engineering, inventing, and science in general.
Hidden Systems Water, Electricity, the Internet, and the Secrets Behind the Systems We Use Every Day By Dan Nott Penguin Random House, 2023 ISBN: 9780593125366
NFNT Age Recommendation: Older Teen (16-18), Teen (13-16), Tween (10-13) Creator Representation: Queer,
Anya lives in a nocturnal desert village, a close-knit community where all kinds of people work together to survive. Every aspect of life here depends on the magical pollen of the Night-Flower tree, and the tree depends on the pollination of the Moon-Moths. These creatures are fragile, needing the protection and care of a Moth Keeper. The Moth Keeper spends every night—when the village is awake – out in the desert with the Moths. The position is a lonely one, but vital to the community. That’s why Anya, who wishes desperately to be useful and valued, has pledged to become the next Moth Keeper.
The nights are long and cold, and spending so much time alone beneath the endless desert sky has Anya questioning everything, from her own abilities and worth to whether she even wants to live in the night-village. Are things better in the neighboring sun-village, which sleeps at night and wakes during the day?
Anya’s best friend worries about her, and her mentor encourages her to transition into the job more slowly, but Anya is determined to prove herself. Refusing help and insisting she is fine, Anya pushes herself until she makes a dire mistake. The Moths are lost, and the Night-Flower tree is dying. Can Anya get the Moths back in time to save her village? And even if she does, is there a future for her as a Moth Keeper?
Fans of K. O’Neill’s award-winning Tea Dragon Society books will find in this story a new fantasy world with some familiar touches. Like those books, this has a cozy setting full of kind, well-intentioned characters (who also, incidentally, seem to drink a lot of tea). Both include characters with animal-inspired design elements, like Anya’s fox ears and tail, which are taken for granted as part of the world.
O’Neill’s bio says that they “strive to make books with themes of kindness, inclusiveness, and well-being”. These ideas permeate this story, in which we see what can happen when Anya fails to recognize her own limits, but also see her learn to depend on others and find strength in her community. The editor’s note at the beginning of this book describes this story as being about burnout, which is an extremely timely topic. Here, burnout is treated not just as something that Anya must overcome, but also as something her community must remedy by recognizing that the Moth Keeper job might be asking too much of any one person, and that Anya needs their support.
The artwork is softly colorful, its palette full of twilight blues and the earth tones of the desert. Both inside the village and out in the desert, the settings are full of interesting details and curving, organic shapes. The character designs are whimsical and varied: there are humans, centaurs, and people with wings and feathers or animal tails and ears, and they wear thoughtfully designed clothes and accessories. The lineart is loose and relaxed, drawn with fine lines, so that even the detailed settings feel spacious and spare, not dense or crowded.
There are touches of sadness in this story – Anya comes from an unhappy family situation, another character has not seen his parents in the sun-village for a long time, and Anya meets a wandering spirit with a lonely tale. Ultimately, though, this is a hopeful story of kind people helping and supporting each other. Hand it to fans of the Tea Dragon Society books and other gentle, positive fantasy.
The Moth Keeper By K. O’Neill Penguin Random House Graphic, 2023 ISBN: 9780593182260
Lemon Bird is a cheerful creature with a can-do attitude. She’s also just what she sounds like: a cross between a lemon and a bird. This isn’t so unusual in the colorful, whimsical world of this book, which has many such hybrid creatures. In fact, Lemon Bird has just made friends with one on the farm where she lives: the doglike, yet also pumpkinlike, Pupkin.
When Lemon Bird and Pupkin fall asleep on a farm truck, they don’t expect to wake up at a market far from home. Confused and worried, they start searching for a way back, but it won’t be easy. Luckily, this duo is so friendly and helpful that many people and creatures are happy to help them in return. But will that be enough to get them home to the farm? And why is another citrus bird—a smaller, greener, ruder version of Lemon Bird—following them around?
This is a gentle, straightforward adventure that celebrates helping others and making friends. In Lemon Bird’s first meeting with Pupkin, it finds the pup tangled in vines and hurries to help. The mischievous citrus bird Keylime is initially mean to them, but rethinks her behavior after Lemon Bird and Pupkin rescue her from danger. The duo also assist at least half a dozen strangers with a variety of tasks on their way back to the farm. Their kindness is repaid when the reformed Keylime comes to help them in a moment of need.
The real star here is the fanciful setting. There are lots of fruit-animals, including ones with punny or rhymey names, like the boarnana and pear bear. Some of them, like Lemon Bird, can talk to each other (but not, it seems, to people). Others, like Pupkin, may understand speech but do not seem able to produce it, and behave more like the animals of our world. The people we meet are also unusual: some sport pointed ears, and some have skin and hair in colors like blue, purple, and green. Every page is drenched in vivid, saturated colors that give it an otherworldly look, but also evoke the fruits that play a key role in the setting and its creatures.
In addition to being colorful, the art is active, making use of movement lines and varied panel layouts for a high-energy feel. In several places, we get a full-page illustration with a line showing Pupkin and Lemon Bird’s path through the setting, a little like a Family Circus cartoon. The sequential art often stands alone, as there are many panels and a few entire pages without text. The end pages include fun bonus material showing readers how to draw Lemon Bird and encouraging them to get creative with their own fruit-animal creatures.
While there is occasional peril – Keylime is menaced by what looks like a plum-cat hybrid, and Pupkin falls into a fast-moving river—no one is harmed. The danger serves mostly to give other characters the opportunity to come to the rescue.
With attention-grabbing artwork and a good heart, this fantasy romp will appeal to young readers, especially those who prefer their comics without too much text.
Lemon Bird Can Help! By Paulina Ganucheau Penguin Random House Graphic, 2022 ISBN: 9780593122679
What if the God of the Hebrew Bible was a woman? In Let There Be Light, Liana Finck’s playful Jewish humanist retelling of the Book of Genesis, this question isn’t simply a thought experiment. It isn’t even a ploy to swap out the mercurial God of Genesis for a more enlightened model. Finck just wants you to know that her God is a woman, floating above us with a crown and a fairy godmother wand, a woman who is quick to anger and has some attachment issues, but is mostly doing the best that she can.
Genesis lends itself to adaptation, as even the most Bible-illiterate among us are likely to have passing familiarity with its stories: the Garden of Eden, Noah and the Flood, Joseph of Technicolor Dreamcoat fame. These are origin stories meant to orient us to our place in the world and our responsibilities to one another and their meanings shift depending on the reader. In Finck’s hands, they form a narrative about relationships: resentful spouses, jealous siblings, and an emotionally insecure God who can’t seem to figure out what she wants from her chosen people.
Examining the human element in these ancient stories, Let There Be Light remixes its source material in funny, startling ways. The book is structured in three parts: “Past,” which is vaguely set in what we might call Bible Times, “Present,” in which a modern-day Abraham fulfills his covenant with God not in the Promised Land of Canaan, but as an art student in a sort of Promised City, and “Future,” a science fantasy that unexpectedly imagines Joseph’s Egypt as an underwater kingdom peopled by merfolk (perhaps poking fun at the exoticization of Egypt in contemporary and ancient depictions—but also, why not merfolk?)
The artwork in Let There Be Light has a spareness that recalls Tom Gauld’s graphic novels. Despite its simplicity, it’s perfectly pitched to carry the story’s tonal leaps. At one moment, we’re treated to visual gags designed to make readers cackle (wait until you get to the “Begatting” section, which lampoons the erasure of women from Bible lineages by depicting babies sprouting from patriarchs in the manner of Athena from the head of Zeus). Yet the next moment, Finck starkly renders a story like the binding of Isaac, in which Abraham is spared at the last minute from sacrificing his beloved son. Against the grayscale line art, the color red is used to link images of desire or destruction—reminding the reader that we are all connected by blood, in more ways than one.
In the afterword, the author acknowledges she’s dodged some of the most difficult stories in Genesis. We don’t read of the rape of Joseph’s sister Dinah, nor do we witness the forced enlistment of enslaved women Hagar, Bilhah, and Zilpah into the Abrahamic lineage. While this book is deeply concerned with gender, it doesn’t wholly reckon with the ways in which female characters in the Torah are treated like property instead of people. Finck explains that she didn’t want to make these women’s stories feel like an afterthought in a narrative that might not do them justice. I did feel these omissions in the text, but I can understand her reasoning.
By the end of this book, the tricky God-human relationship has become less histrionic and more sustainable, and Abraham’s desperate striving has given way to Joseph’s triumphant thriving. Finck leaves us with a lesson plucked from the Jewish diaspora, voiced by a God that’s mellowed out over the millennia: “What’s most important is that you stay alive, and stay together.” For readers open to reading the Bible as literature, whatever their faith background, Let There Be Light brings exuberant new life to this very old book.
Let There Be Light: The Real Story of Her Creation By Liana Finck Penguin Random House, 2022 ISBN: 9781984801531
NFNT Age Recommendation: Adult (18+) Creator Representation: Jewish Character Representation: Jewish
If your family was torn in two, what would you do to try to find the other half?
When 15 year old Lina Vilkas and her family are taken from their home in Lithuania one night in 1941 by Soviet officers, the women and children are forced onto separate trains from the men. Lina, her brother, and her mother end up in a work camp in the frozen tundra of Siberia, far from the life she used to know, but her father’s destination is unknown. Terrified that she will never see her father again, and inspired by her love of drawing, she devises an incredibly risky plan: she will use her skills as an artist to draw secret clues on scraps of paper, in the hopes that they will reach her father, and bring him back to them.
As weeks turn into months, Lina finds herself fighting for her life and the lives of those imprisoned with her as they try to endure the horrific conditions of the camp. And even as new connections are forged (and maybe, just maybe, even a little bit of love is found), one question still persists over everything: will her drawings be enough to reunite her family?
Can art keep you alive even in the darkest times?
Ten years after the original publication of Ruta Sepetys’ young adult novel, writer Andrew Donkin and illustrator Dave Kopka have adapted it into a graphic novel format which will bring Sepetys’ story to a whole new audience. Though the original is over 300 pages long, the graphic novel does not lose anything by being a shorter length. Donkin’s written adaptation feels complete and whole, and Lina’s point-of-view narration translates well into the graphic novel format, along with longer panels of dialogue. In fact, any text that may have been “lost” in this reduced page count is gained back tremendously through Kopka’s evocative illustrations.
Kopka’s choice to use a limited color palette that especially features shades of brown and the titular gray is a perfect one for this bleaker tale, as it sets a more somber tone right from the start. The combination of pencil line art and soft watercolor lend the illustrations a sketchbook-like look, something that can perhaps give readers a deeper connection to Lina and her own drawings and sketches, which are such a central part of the story. There is an almost frantic, harried look to the character design that feels tonally appropriate, along with vivid facial expressions that leave no emotion unexplored.
Additionally, Kopka does not shy away from depicting the harrowing experiences of life in an NKVD (Soviet secret police) work camp, yet his illustrations do not feel exploitative or unnecessarily graphic. Instead, they are necessary to punctuate specific narrative beats.
So many stories set during WWII traverse the same ground that teen readers have read about often, whether by choice or in school, which is what makes Sepetys’ original novel and Donkin’s adaptation stand out. Lina’s experience as a Lithuanian prisoner in a Soviet work camp in Siberia is unfamiliar narrative territory for many teens, and though her specific tale is fiction, it is of course based in fact. Her struggles and her resilience will resonate with readers, as will her amazing ability to find hope and love even in the darkest place. Her desire to leave behind a message for the world that she was here, that this happened, will feel especially poignant to teens whose own stories are often unheard, or worse, are intentionally covered up.
Recommended for teens ages 12 and up, Between Shades of Gray: The Graphic Novel would be a worthy addition to any library collection, as it makes a recent classic young adult novel accessible to a wider variety of readers, as well as providing a window into a lesser known part of history.
Between Shades of Gray: The Graphic Novel By Andrew Donkin Art by Dave Kopka Penguin Random House, 2021 ISBN: 9780593204160
Publisher Age Rating: 12+
NFNT Age Recommendation: Teen (13-16), Tween (10-13)
This “palindrama” is a graphic novel formed from the attempt to create a story featuring 200 palindromes, and no other words at all. Many of the palindromes are borrowed from other authors, credited in the end notes. The result is a somewhat disjointed story, tied together by a dream motif.
The adventure begins when Otto’s parents call him to dinner. As he stares into his bowl of wonton soup, his mind drifts to a day at the beach which soon becomes fantastical as an emu sails by and a rat walks past with a boogie board. These devices allow for the inclusion of palindromes like, “Was it a rat I saw?” The story takes every twist and turn typical of a fever dream, with Otto wandering through various scenes, sometimes in pursuit of his dog, through city streets, art museums, a cemetery, a desert, and elsewhere. He ends up back home at the dinner table.
With such limited dialogue, the illustrations are particularly important for assembling meaning from the story. In fact, some of the illustrations are part of the game, as many of the palindromes included are written into the illustrations, rather than spoken as dialogue. The names of businesses displayed on trucks and buildings are all palindromes. There is also a clever usage of call-backs in the dream as the toys and furnishings from Otto’s bedroom reappear as characters, having come to life in Otto’s imagination. Agee’s illustration style, full-color in somewhat muted shades with visible outlines, has an approachable and youthful quality, which gives a whimsical feel to the book. Emotion is communicated clearly on the faces of Otto and the other characters, despite their simple structure.
The value in this book is in the cleverness of carrying the palindrome device all the way through and making a story out of it, more so than in the story itself. However, the effect is also to disrupt the reader’s normal process which has some beneficial effects. Readers are challenged to stop and consider each phrase in the book to make sure it is indeed a palindrome. Since each bit of text must communicate a great deal more than it ordinarily would, the reader is forced to read this book more slowly than a typical graphic novel, which also creates the tendency to view the pictures more carefully. Finally, there could be various meanings drawn from the book’s conclusion, which would make for interesting discussion for students mature enough to delve into them.
Otto has many possible applications in a classroom setting. It could be used to encourage students to create their own palindromes and build a story around them. A variety of discussions around literary devices and symbolism are also possible, however the elements included are first and foremost palindromes before they are symbolic. This book is like a fairy tale in form, and like many fairy stories for children, older readers may draw deeper meanings from it. Agee has brought more to this work than a fun attempt to create a story made of palindromes, and Otto may prove to be a noteworthy, if unusual, example of children’s literature for many years to come. This book would make a worthwhile addition to collections for older children and teens.
Otto: A Palindrama By Jon Agee Penguin Random House Viking Books for Young Readers, 2021 ISBN: 9780803741621 Publisher Age Rating: Middle Grade (8-12)
NFNT Age Recommendation: Middle Grade (7-11), Tween (10-13)
Borrowing from the world of an invented lumber camp hero and his blue ox*,the author re-frames the familiar narratives of Paul Bunyan as a Chinese tale, told by the thirteen-year-old protagonist to the appreciative children in the lumber camp. Mei’s concocted Auntie Po is a Chinese giantess guardian who, aided by her blue water buffalo, Pei Pei, protects them from giant mosquitoes as well as outside devious enterprises. The children, both white and black, find these tales soothing as well as amusing. Alas, there are no Chinese children allowed in the camp other than Mei herself. The young protagonist, Mei, lives with her father in a Sierra Nevada lumber camp in 1885. Her father is the camp cook and Mei helps out by baking the most fantastic pies. Ah Hao, a Chinese immigrant, cooks for the white workers who have board as part of their salary and the Chinese workers who live outside of the camp itself and are not provided with board or part of the camp life.
The power of the tales’ characters and the telling of the stories become the backbone of this moving graphic novel. Within the storytelling and outside, in the historical recreation of the lumber camp itself, Shing Yin Khor delves into weighty and relevant matters such as identity, grief, loyalty, gender issues, privilege, racism, and family in an uplifting and honest manner for young readers. This is a tale where the telling of stories and the power of storytelling shine!
Mei and her father’s life are filled with hard work, but there is joy and friendship within the camp until they experience severe repercussions from the passage of the Chinese Exclusion Act. This piece of legislation renders their quiet life style amuck. Not even the famous pies seem to calm matters down, but the stories of the adventures of Auntie Po and her blue water buffalo, Pei Pei, help both Mei and her listeners navigate the muddy waters that are the result of decreed prejudice. During this time of introspection Mei realizes that her close friendship with Bee, the white daughter of the camp manager, is not quite as she hoped since Mei looks to Bee as a romantic partner, but Bee has a different future in mind. The honest and nuanced portrayals of friendships between both Mei and Bee and their two fathers highlights the distinct levels of privilege afforded the two families.
Khor’s digital pencil and hand-painted watercolor illustrations are as straightforward as her text. The illustrations of the camp scenes are factually accurate and those of the fantastical characters in the stories of Auntie Po intermingle with the historical world, alluding to their possible existence for Mei in times of stress. The backgrounds of the frames are predominantly white, while the bulk of the illustrations are infused with colour and emotion. The efficient use of diverse sized frames embodies the emotional pressure of the main characters when dealing with various degrees of grief, death, anger, discrimination, anxiety, and joy. The fresh, dramatic line work and muted watercolors depict both the perilous realities of logging and the occasional moments of serenity successfully. The openings to the individual chapters are illuminated with the thematic collections of tools of the logging camp and of their kitchens, offering the young reader further knowledge about the activities of loggers and cooks.
The back matter includes a brief bibliography and an author’s note where Khor acknowledges the Indigenous peoples on whose traditional lands this work of historical fiction takes place. “If history failed us, fiction will have to restore us.” – Shing Yin Khor, Afterword (286)
Highly recommended for all library collections.
*Although the story of Paul Bunyan mostly originated as advertising for logging companies, it eventually entered oral tradition in America.
The Legend of Auntie Po By Shing Yin Khor Penguin Random House, 2021 ISBN: 9780525554882
Publisher Age Rating: 9-13
NFNT Age Recommendation: Adult (18+), Middle Grade (7-11), Older Teen (16-18) Creator Representation: Chinese-American Character Representation: Chinese-American, Lesbian, Genderqueer
From Rob Harrell, author of Wink and Monster on the Hill, comes a new superhero, ready to take down the bad guys. In Batpig: When Pigs Fly, young readers are introduced to Gary Yorkshire, a young pig with superpowers galore. And with his loyal friends by his side, this pig can take on anything, no matter how ridiculous the situation may become.
Middle schooler pig Gary Yorkshire had a normal life. He went to school, ate sandwiches all day long, and played cards with his two best friends, Brooklyn the bat and Carl the fish. But when Brooklyn (who happens to be radioactive) accidentally bites Gary’s nose, he starts to gain a variety of superpowers. With his new powers of super strength, telekinesis, flight, and x-ray vision, Gary becomes Batpig, the city’s newest superhero. So far, Gary’s heroic deeds include arresting thieves and yelling at litter bugs, but he is soon put to the test when a giant lizard, a crazed butcher, and a pig in a blanket making robot terrorize the city.
Rob Harrell’s newest book will leave readers laughing until the very end. He combines zany humor, fourth wall breaks, and pop culture references that even adults can enjoy. The graphic novel’s layout with action word usage and narration is reminiscent of superhero comics from the golden age. But all that aside, it is also a story of friendships and finding enjoyment in your daily life, whether it be reading comic books or reconnecting with friends. Harrell’s cartoony art style will attract young graphic novel readers with his bright color palette and a diverse cast of characters (amongst the animal characters, you have some human characters here and there). He uses minimal background art so readers will focus on the characters’ dialogue and personalities, as well as their appearances.
With hilarious dialogue, an action-packed story, and superhero references, Rob Harrell has created a new superhero for fans of Dav Pilkey’s Captain Underpants and Dog Man books. It is a must have for all children’s library collections (public and elementary), especially those with patrons in Grades 3-5. And if they want more, the next book in the series will be out summer 2022.
Batpig: When Pigs Fly By Rob Harrell Penguin Random House Dial Books, 2021 ISBN: 9780593354155 Publisher Age Rating: 7-11
When Matt Russo went on vacation with his mom and his little sister Judy, he expected regular summer fun. He didn’t expect to come home and find out that Ruby, the best nanny ever, who just had a little cough when he left, would actually have died while he was gone. And it seems like he’s the only one who really cares that she’s gone.
Matt’s friends are tired of being canceled on while he wallows in his grief, but his single mom can’t keep calling out of her night shifts at work, so when his friends decide to cheer him up with a surprise sleepover full of all the classics—scary movies, junk food, and prank calls to strangers—they’re met with a surprise of their own: new babysitter Miss Swan, hired on the spot to watch the boys (and Judy) for the night.
At first, Miss Swan seems like every kid’s dream babysitter, she doesn’t care what they eat, and they can pretty much do whatever they want! But Matt thinks there’s something a little bit off about her. After all, why is she acting so strange? Could she really be the witch who eats local children, like the legend says, or have they all just been watching too many scary movies? Does Matt just miss Ruby too much? As the night takes a turn for the creepy, the kids just might find out if the monsters under the bed are purely stories, or if they’re real after all.
What seems on the surface like just a fun horror tale for middle grade readers, is, in Michael Regina’s capable hands, a nuanced portrayal of childhood grief and the challenges of dealing with sudden and unexpected loss. Matt’s feelings are palpable and real, and readers who have experienced loss of any kind in their own lives may relate to the way he shuts out his well-meaning friends and gets angrier than usual at his younger sister and his mom. But it’s how he handles himself and his past actions in the face of a new, perhaps more tangible monster, and how that will be encouraging to young readers.
The lore within the story of the Witch of the Woods (because what is a spooky story without a big scary forest that you probably shouldn’t go into, but you take your little sister with you into anyway?) sets off the high stakes thrills of the story, testing friendships, bravery, and horror movie trope knowledge with humor and heart. The early 90s setting of the story lends the kids a freedom to handle things on their own in a way a modern setting might not, and Regina’s colorful, engaging art style brings that decade to life, immersing readers in an authentic way.
With occasional jump scares executed creatively by Regina through formatting and layout choices, and characters who aren’t quite what they seem (watch out for ravens!), tweens will be enticed by the promise of chills, and will come away having learned just how far people will go for their family and friends (Matt’s got some pretty great ones, it turns out, and he learns how to be a good one, too), and what it means to face your fears and truly grieve.
The Sleepover would be a worthwhile addition to any middle grade collection, especially for readers looking for that Stranger Things blend of friendship, family, and creepy thrills with a throwback vibe.
The Sleepover By Michael Regina Penguin Random House Razorbill, 2021 ISBN: 9780593117347 Publisher Age Rating: 8-12
Are you cool enough to join the Cool Crowd? That’s the question facing Cookie and Broccoli. They think they’re cool enough but when someone else is making the call, maybe they’re not so cool after all.
In Bob McMahon’s Cookie & Broccoli: Play It Cool, the second title in the Cookie and Broccoli series, the titular best friends deal with Cucumber, the leader of the Cool Crowd. Cucumber decides who joins his very exclusive club. The Cool Crowd decides what’s cool for the whole school so everybody wants to be their friends. Along with their friend Garlic, the pair plead their case to Cucumber, who very quickly decides that they are actually quite uncool and can’t be members.
Facing this disappointment and the mean words of Cucumber, Broccoli stands up for himself and his friends with a speech about how cool friendship is. Before he knows it, Cucumber’s reign is overturned and Broccoli is immediately named the newest leader of the Cool Crowd. Now it’s up to him to decide what’s cool and to judge who gets to join their ranks. There’s a lot of pressure being a leader and Broccoli decides to run away from his problems. With a little help from a truth-telling talking rock, Broccoli reunites with Cookie and the rest of the crowd. Together they realize being cool is overrated and being kind is where it’s at.
This book is just plain fun! The characters all get a chance to express themselves as they show off just what makes them so cool. The epilogue celebrates the book’s characters with a two-page spread of all the things that make each of them cool and special in their own way.
Cookie & Broccoli: Play It Cool includes lots of fun puns and visual jokes for readers. Of course the leader of the Cool Crowd is a cucumber! Extra observant readers will pour over the many details McMahon includes in the graphic novel. There’s action in McMahon’s art style too. Cookie’s skilled rendition of the Hokey Pokey is a treat that pops up multiple times during the story. Some of the art is on the gross out end at times, something that could be a drawback for more sensitive readers.
The book is broken up into short chapters. This makes it even easier for beginning readers to dive into the story. It works as a transitional book for those readers looking to make the step from picture books to graphic novels. One particular highlight is the cool math trick Broccoli uses on Cucumber early in the story. Readers will want to test it out for themselves over and over again, getting in some math skills practice along with their reading!
Upon finishing the story, readers can complete the “Are You Cool?” quiz that closes out the book. It reinforces the main messages of the book — it’s cool to be kind, to appreciate others’ differences, and to let your friends be themselves. Readers who can’t get enough of graphic novel best friend adventures like Pizza and Taco or Unicorn and Yeti will love spending time with Cookie and Broccoli and discovering what makes them so cool.
Cookie & Broccoli: Play It Cool By Bob McMahon Penguin Random House Dial Books, 2021 ISBN: 9780593109090 Publisher Age Rating: 5-8