Author and illustrator Ricardo Liniers Siri, better known as simply Liniers, gives us a glimpse into his magical, imaginative mind in this delightful beginner reader comic. He is becoming more and more of a well-known name in the literary world as he receives more acclaim with each work he publishes. He won the Eisner Award for Best Comics for Beginning Readers for his second book, Good Night, Planet

Wildflowers starts off with a page of wordless panels showing dramatic smoke coming from a lone tropical island. The smoke turns out to be coming from a plane crash where, luckily, three sisters have survived unharmed. They find themselves in a magical kind of world, full of exotic and wild plants. Are the plants speaking to them? Are there dragons on the island? The girls have so much to explore. The adventure really picks up when they discover a tiny home built into the bottom of a tree where it’s beginning to split into large, old roots. There they find a pocket gorilla living inside. Every page of this story is filled with creative wonders that readers of any age will enjoy.

What a delightful, beautiful little book. The artistic style brings you back to older style gardening books with lots of lines to indicate shadow and details in the leaves, petals of the flowers and insects. Yet, there is a modern take to this style that includes the adorable characters. It is filled with vibrant colors and a lot of detail to catch the eye. 

Overall, this is a wonderful short comic. I would certainly check out the rest of Liniers’ Toon Books, including the books, The Big Wet Balloon, Written and Drawn by Henrietta, and Good Night Planet. Wildflowers is a level 2 reader which is recommended for grades 1-2, reading recovery level 11-18, and guided reading level G-K. This makes it very easy to determine if the reading level is appropriate. The story is fun and the characters are colorful in personality as well as in artistic style. It would be a superb addition to any children’s library collection.

By Liniers
TOON Books, 2021
ISBN: 9781943145539

Publisher Age Rating:  6 – 9
NFNT Age Recommendation: Easy Readers (5-9), Middle Grade (7-11), Picture Books (3-8)

Written and Drawn by Henrietta

Reading books is fun . . . but what about making them? Armed with new colored pencils, Henrietta’s ready to try. Peek over her shoulder as she draws the story of a brave young girl, a three-headed monster, and an impossibly wide world of adventure. Whether read aloud to a toddler or discovered by a young reader, Liniers’s celebration of the creative process is sure to make everyone want to bring out their pencils.

(Publisher Description)

This title has not (yet) been reviewed by our staff, but it is a title that we highly recommend for the majority of libraries building collections for this age range.

Written and Drawn by Henrietta
By Liniers
ISBN: 9781935179900
TOON, 2013
NFNT Age Recommdnation: Picture Books (3-8)

Orpheus in the Underworld


Orpheus, the son of one of the Muses, is gifted with the talent of music. His playing of the lyre is so beautiful that even rocks creep closer and the waters still just to hear him play. He wins over the heart of Eurydice to be his bride through the sound of his lyre and voice. But tragedy strikes on their wedding day when a poisonous fanged serpent bites Eurydice on her ankle and kills her instantly. Determined to test the limits of his abilities, Orpheus grabs his lyre and heads to the underworld to achieve the impossible—bringing Eurydice back to life.

One of the things I like most about Orpheus in the Underworld is that it’s a pretty decent adaptation of a famous tale. Not only that, but unlike other versions I’ve read or heard, this one takes the time to let us get to know Orpheus and why he could go to the underworld. Instead of just saying “He lost his love and went looking for her. Oh, and right he was great with music too.” we get to hear about his mother being one of the Muses, how he practiced his talent and wasn’t just gifted it, how he fell in love, and how Eurydice died thanks to another god’s child. Then, and only then, do we get to his journey to the underworld. It’s nice to have an actual story to follow for a change. Does it tell everything? No, but that includes an entire epic that is quite long. Most of the time people just discuss the death bit and attach a crappy moral to it. Instead, this version allows us to get to know the characters on their own.

Here’s where I’m going to ding the book a little bit, because I’ve really come to expect exceptional production quality from Toon Books and Orpheus in the Underworld falters in a couple of places. Right at the beginning, a couple of the images look as though they were enlarged to take up more space on the page than was originally intended. As such, some of the lines are fuzzier than in the rest of the book. It doesn’t kill the overall book, and maybe if I wasn’t as attuned to illustrations I wouldn’t notice, but it does present some weird contrasts of sharp crisp lines, then fuzzy lines, then sharp crisp ones again. The other thing that bugs me, and again this sounds weird, is the font choice. It’s just too formal and cold versus something that could match the life and depth of the illustrations. It just doesn’t jive well for me, because the illustrations have an air of depth to them. I mean, there’s a scene halfway through the book where Orpheus enters the underworld for the first time and sees the stillness of the place and, instead of just showing rocks and unswirling dark pools, it’s this giant cave with a field of flowers and trees not moving. And you get this epic sense of quiet and stillness. The font just doesn’t match it.

Looking past the font, there are some really great artistic choices in this book. For starters Pommaux draws Cerberus, the three headed dog that guards the underworld, with snakes on his body, which is apparently something that he is supposed to have, but never gets included. Who knew? I also liked that Hades is actually pictured looking more like the classic renditions of Zeus, with just a bit of red mixed into his clothing instead of a depressed emo goth type or a a being made of flame. Hades is Zeus’s equal in many regards and this depiction puts him in that place, which is nice.

Overall this is a great addition to the Toon Books line of adaptations of Greek myths. It has some minor flaws to it, but the depth to the story and the quality of the illustrations outweigh those flaws. In addition, there are some great notes and resources included that allow for readers to learn more about the characters. Orpheus in the Underworld could be a good way to introduce English classes, especially middle/high school age, to Greek myths. Reading the story on the page, especially a normal translation of the tale, can be painful to read with outdated language and phrasing. This series gives readers a visual narrative to follow, so they can make a connection and understand. It also allows for discussions on different ways of interpreting and understanding different tales, as you can discuss why Cerberus in this book has snakes, or why Hades looks like an actual king instead of an emo flame. A great way to introduce a complex topic to multiple ages.

It’s also important to note that the story is not fully told through the comics medium. Many pages are more like a children’s book, with a large image accompanied by narrative text.

Orpheus in the Underworld: A TOON Graphic
by Yvan Pommaux
ISBN: 9781935179849
Toon Books, 2015
Publisher Age Rating: 8-12 years

Lost in NYC: A Subway Adventure

lost-in-nycEver feel lost? I mean like REALLY lost? Where you just kinda wanna vanish because you can’t quite figure out what happened or where you went? Lost In NYC: A Subway Adventure follows Pablo on his first first day in the city, which also happens to be his first day at a new school and a field trip day to boot! Pablo finds that being lost is hard, but being lost in NYC without any friends? Even harder still.

Pablo and his family just moved to New York City, and of course on his first day of school his parents had to see him off and embarrass him; his mom even put his teddy bear in his backpack! And then shouts it out to everyone! By the time he gets inside the school he just wants to disappear. Then he’s partnered up with Alicia who wants to show off her knowledge of maps and NYC and help him get around and well…he doesn’t need that. And soon he’s lost on the wrong subways, trying to catch up with his class, and hoping he’ll be able to find his way home at the end.

This is the first book I’ve read from Nadja Spiegelman, but it won’t be my last. Nadja has a deft touch at crafting realistic dialogue that makes me really think I’m listening to a radio show made by kids about their adventures. The taunts, the way the teacher talks, kids trying to explain where things are…the dialogue is just effortless and well paced. Nadja does an excellent job of making the navigation around NYC via subways (and its history!) interesting and fun for the reader. In just a few short pages we get a good feel for Pablo and Alicia, not only as characters in a book, but as real people.

Sergio Garcia Sanchez is the artist on this fantastic book. Never heard of him before? Well don’t fret, that’s because this is his first book published in the United States, but he’s been well known elsewhere in the world with over forty five books to his name. Hopefully, this will be his first of many published in the US as he brings a new way of looking at the world around us in this book. Sergio rarely uses a panel layout in this book, instead allowing the words and images to fill and drift on the page, leading the reader in circles or squares, as our characters travel across the city. While this type of pattern is likely to confuse some hardcore adult readers, the sequence of events unfolds much like how a young person might think, rambling and lose, but with a somewhat defined path. It’s a style that works really well for a story about travel, as the characters can descend from the street level to the stairs, and to the subway all on the same two page spread. Plus, he mixes in archival photos, so we get to see pictures of the subway from various points in its history!

I could go on and on about this fantastic book, instead I’ll end so that you can go and pick it up and check it out. It’s short and packed with information that all ages will enjoy.

Lost in NYC: A Subway Adventure
by Nadja Spiegelman
Art by Sergio García Sánchez
ISBN: 9781935179818
TOON Books, 2015
Publisher Age Rating: 8-12

Oh, Brother!: Brat Attack!

bratattackAmp! brings another webcomic from the popular online site GoComics.com to print in this new collection.

As you might guess from the title, Oh, Brother! plays on tried and true cliches of sibling rivalry. Sensible Lily, the older sister, has a mature outlook on life and tries to get her brother to follow in her footsteps. Bud, however, is a typical little brother and he’s got his own ideas about “fun.” While each short comic is contained in a page, they are organized roughly, with stories set in different seasons and holidays together, although school and summer are intermixed. The humor varies widely from classic scenes with Lily’s journal to jokes that will make adults and kids alike snicker along, like Bud waiting in line for a cool ride at the fair that turns out to be the women’s bathroom line.

Despite Lily and Bud’s occasional clashes, the majority of the stories are funny in a sweet way with Lily as a mostly caring, if exasperated, older sister and Bud as a mischievous but good-hearted little brother. In one scene, Lily reflects sadly on the all the problems in the world—and Bud presents her with his problem; he only got one slice of cake! In the final panel, as Bud munches happily on another piece of cake, Lily remarks, “Well, we solved ONE of the world’s problems!”

There are no parents present and Lily often seems to take on the role as she’s constantly accompanied by Bud, feeds him, reminds him to do his homework, etc. However, this seems to be more played for laughs than an actual family situation.

The art style is classic newspaper cartoons, similar to Family Circus. Lily and Bud wear the same clothes: a black dress with a white collar and a red headband for Lily, and a green shirt or jacket and black pants for Bud. Their expressions are quintessential cartoon humor with dramatically tilted eyebrows, large, roughly expressive eyes, and exaggerated reactions. The backgrounds are drawn in basic blocks of color with simple, minimal details. Continuing the newspaper comic strip feel, there are “spot the difference” puzzles in the back of the book.

AMP! has very sturdy paperbacks that will hold up to quite a lot of use if you aren’t able to acquire the hardcover or prebound edition. While this isn’t a necessary purchase, if you’re looking for some new cartoon books it’s a good title and can be enjoyed by a wide range of kids and teens. Aside from a few fart jokes, there’s very little “gross” humor and most of the jokes are situational or play off the siblings’ relationship without being mean. A fun addition to any cartoon collection for elementary and middle grade readers.

Oh, Brother!: Brat Attack!
by Bob Weber Jr., Jay Stephens
ISBN: 9781449472252
AMP!, 2015
Publisher Age Rating: 7-12

The Wild Piano, volume 2

1935179837.01._SX450_SY635_SCLZZZZZZZPhilemon returns in another absurd adventure. In his first story, Cast Away on the Letter A, he finds himself on the crazy islands of the letters that span the map—the “A” of the Atlantic Ocean, to be precise. Now he’s worried about the friends he left behind, and his father is out of all patience with his daydreaming teenage son.

Philemon’s father isn’t too happy when Uncle Felix shows up—he’ll just encourage Philemon in his wild fantasies! But to Philemon’s delight, Uncle Felix knows just what he’s talking about and even has a plan for Philemon to rescue the old well-digger Mr. Bartholomew, who helped him escape from the letter A. It will be a dangerous journey though…and soon Philemon is back in the weird and sometimes frightening absurdist world of the letter islands, this time on the letter “N.” There he encounters a strange community of flying folks and braves the dreaded wild piano. Will Philemon make it back home, with or without Mr. Bartholomew?

The art varies little from the first book. Lines look careless and quickly drawn and there is minimal detail, but each panel moves the eye quickly to the next moment of action or dialogue. Fred’s fertile imagination provides many memorable pictures, from the zebra prison to the strange butterfly people and the wild piano itself. The color palette shifts from deep blues and greens as Philemon struggles through the ocean to the rich golds of the court and back to the everyday browns of his normal life.

Toon includes a plethora of accompanying information and detail. The endpages are detailed maps, showing exactly where Philemon’s adventures occur. There is a “Meet Philemon” spread to get new readers up to speed with Philemon’s adventures and cast of characters. The back matter includes a brief biography of Fred (Frederic Othon Aristides), and explains various references further from the parts of the story drawn from Alice in Wonderland and Gulliver’s Travels to historic details like Roman arenas and the French Revolution. There is also a section for parents and teachers to help children read deeper in the text and graphics.

Like the first volume, this is not one that will fly off your shelves, but it’s an interesting series and fans of classic European comics or more introspective readers will enjoy the mix of absurdity and allusion.

The Wild Piano, volume 2
by Fred
ISBN: 9781935179832
TOON Books, 2015
Publisher Age Rating: 8-12 years

We Dig Worms!

Some people think it is easy to write for children, and those people are fools. You have to express a great deal in very few words, keep your imagery simple but rich, and, ideally, entertain while educating. Writing non-fiction for children is even trickier—do you entertain and risk only getting a few facts across, or do you run down a list of facts and get relegated to being solely useful as school report fodder?

We Dig Worms! is a fabulous and rare example of what children’s books should be. It is extremely well-paced with an effortless sense of rhythm (“Excuse me, Mister Worm… Do you have a big family?” “Oh yes, One worm can have 100 babies!”). The story of worms unfolds as a sort of conversation between the omniscient narrator, a group of worm-observing kids, the worms themselves, and a hungry bluebird. We learn about their anatomy, their diet, how they help enrich the soil, and the variety of species from the aquatic to the ten-footers. And it’s all done in a brisk, efficient, 40 pages. Every idea is communicated with as few words as possible, but piques one’s curiosity in a way that may lead to further questions and annelid explorations.

Of course, since this is a Toon Book, We Dig Worms! doesn’t skimp on looking good. McCloskey illustrated the book on paper bags and the tannish-brown background gives the perfect earthy tone to the tale. Pink squirmy worms pop delightfully off the page, the wacky bluebird flies in and out of frame, and richly painted garden flowers top a maze of worm tunnels as the book draws to a close. No page is panelled exactly like the last, making for a gleeful element of surprise while reading. I wouldn’t quite call this a full fledged comic-book, since it’s not really paneled per se, but it’s definitely not a straight picture book either. And this, too, adds to its delightful and accessible pacing, offering the best elements of both.

Kevin McCloskey wrote this book because his librarian wife asked him to come up with a book to increase interest in worms (because why not?). I think it’s fair to say he’s accomplished this. Early readers, older kids, and adults alike will learn something new and have a good time doing so. It’s not an encylopedic tome on every single thing one might want to know about worms, but it’s a great start. This would be an excellent companion piece to a school unit on worms, science report fodder, or just a personal introduction to one of nature’s great, overlooked, underground wonders—the mighty, the marvelous, the mud-munching worm. McCloskey will hopefully have you saying, as I certainly did after finishing this book, I dig worms!

We Dig Worms!
by Kevin McCloskey
ISBN: 9781935179801
Toon Books, 2015
Publisher Age Rating: 4-8 years


heartsToon Books, Francoise Mouly’s early-reader graphic novel imprint, brings artsy fare for the toddler set to a new level—impeccable illustration, richly printed colors, quality book construction, and simple stories told primarily through imagery. Hearts is exemplary of this, almost to distraction. It almost feels like a waste to hand it over to a messy, page-ripping, crayon-wielding tiny person. Is this a good thing or a bad thing? I think it depends on the hand that holds the tome.

On one hand, Hearts is lovely. It’s the story of Penelope the fox, who loses her heart (literally) when her best friend takes off in a rocket ship to space, and her quest to get it back again—sort of an abridged version of Goodbye Chunky Rice or Robot Dreams. Penelope’s wild-heart chase takes her through the sea, to a spooky royal palace, and into the big city. Most of the story is wordless and takes place in panels that actively pour into one another. The heart tumbles from a dolphin’s beak to a seagull’s mouth to a paper airplane’s wing and on and on. The settings are both identifiable and fanciful, ripe for a child to fill with their own imagination. Perfectly geometric trees repeat, triangular shark teeth chomp, and castle turrets devised of nothing but rectangles, diamonds, and symmetrical squiggles offer a sense of harmony. It’s playful, simple, and direct, a complete story with very few words and lots of room for a child to roam.

There is much to be said for such a lovely, simple story. On the other hand, it may be too pretty, and too deliberate. Is that possible? I think it depends on the viewer—for me, it felt precious to the point of being greeting card ready, albeit the kind you get at that cute local hipster store. The geometric symmetries and visual repetitions of the panels felt static to me, and the color palette seemed purely aesthetic rather than story-driving—almost making the story come off as emotionally flat, which is unfortunate for a story about emotional longing. I think some kids, especially miniature aesthetes, might respond very well to the particular look and feel of Hearts, and even be inspired in their own visual storytelling by it, while others may say meh, and move on to more kid-coddling fare.

All in all, Hearts takes a chance with a very specific aesthetic vision, and doesn’t quite hit the mark of combining a bold visual appeal with a dynamic story, but it is lovely to look at and may inspire more visually sensitive kids to explore their own aesthetic visions.

by Thereza Rowe
ISBN: 9781935179597
TOON Books, 2014
Publisher Age Rating: 4 – 8 years

Cast Away on the Letter A: A Philemon Adventure, Vol. 1

  Toon Books, long known for their innovative and unique comics for beginning readers, have recently begun expanding into graphic novels for elementary and middle grade kids. Toon has long had a tradition of introducing well-known European artists to the States, and they take this one step further by introducing a comic series almost as famous in Europe as Tintin to a new US audience.

Philemon, an “imaginative teenager,” is introduced along with his friend Anatole the donkey, and his skeptical father, Hector. In his first adventure, Philemon is investigating the mysterious lack of water in their well when he discovers something even stranger: bottles are bobbing up from the well, seemingly out of nowhere. Philemon decides to investigate this curious phenomenon a little more closely and suddenly finds himself on a strange island. Everything there is topsy-turvy. Philemon is bewildered by the strange creatures and plants, but most of all he just wants to get home. But where is he, and how can he escape? And what will his dad say if he ever makes it home?

The endpapers at the beginning of the book consist of a map with two comic panels explaining exactly where the “Letter A” is. There are quite a few extras at the back, including a short biography of the author Fred, a note from Toon editor Francoise Mouly, and additional information on different things mentioned in the story, from Philemon’s name to the history of unicorns and red carpets. The final endpapers recreate the map at the beginning, but also include a page of suggestions for teachers and parents to help readers get the most out of reading this book and other graphic novels.

Anyone who is familiar with French and Belgian comics like Tintin and Asterix will find the art familiar and accessible. However, while Philemon has the same quick, sketched feel of an Asterix comic, with messy hair and quickly repeated details like hands that are oddly out of perspective if you look at them too closely, it still retains a unique style. There are larger, more smoothly created scenes, such as some of the panels set underwater, that showcase the artist’s ability with color and line. Unique characters, like the centaur and well-digger, stand out not only in their odd shapes but also with their personalities, neatly differentiated with a few skillful changes to facial expressions. Some of the buildings have an almost Seussical feel, with their curving lines and vibrant colors and shapes. The book is larger format than most Toon readers will be used to, in order to fit the longer story, but it still includes a good layout of panels, with plenty of white space and a large font that won’t discourage intermediate readers.

This won’t immediately fly off the shelf like perennial favorites such as Bone or Amulet. Its odd, quirky storyline doesn’t lend itself well to booktalking, and many kids will be unfamiliar with the art style and prefer a more cinematic, digital experience. However, if you already have aficionados of other classic comics like Asterix or kids who like funny nonsense stories, give this one a little extra time to catch on and it will find itself a niche in most library collections, primarily among older elementary/younger middle grade readers.

Cast Away on the Letter A: A Philemon Adventure, vol. 1
by Fred
ISBN: 9781935179634
Toon, 2014
Publisher Age Rating: 8-12

Benny and Penny in Lights Out!

This title is part of Geoffrey Hayes’ Benny and Penny series, an early-reader comic series featuring two sweet but realistic little mice. In this story, big brother Benny is annoying little Penny as they get ready for bed. First he scares her, then he’s noisy, then he burps at her! Penny just wants to read her book, but she can’t even do that in peace because Benny prefers dinosaur books to princess books. But when Benny goes out into the dark to get his pirate hat, Penny gathers up her courage to follow after him and they both have some fun and scary adventures in the dark.

Benny and Penny, even though they’re furry and have tails, are very realistic little kids, from their short attention spans to their mostly friendly bickering. Their adventures have just the right blend of cozy surprises for beginning readers. This is a level 2 reader, which Toon Books directs at audiences that are emerging readers. It uses between 300 and 600 words and while it has some repetition and short sentences, it features a definite plot and a simple cast of characters.

Geoffrey Hayes’ art is cozy and colorful. It invests the shadows of the night scenes with a little shivery feeling, but nothing too scary or creepy. Benny and Penny, despite their adorable furriness, also have realistic and expressive faces showing naughtiness, surprise, fear, and finally sleepy contentment. The layout of the story blends clearly delineated panels with artwork that bleeds into the panels around it or is surrounded by white space. The panels and artwork are clearly laid out, making it easy for emerging readers to follow the action and text from panel to panel. The text in the speech bubbles is a little on the small side for an easy reader, but it adds emphasis to important phrases with bold type.

Although many publishers have jumped on the bandwagon of comic easy readers, Toon Books remains the leader in the field and Benny and Penny is one of their most popular series. It’s relatable, fun to read, and an especially good choice for younger readers reading above grade level as it doesn’t tackle the more complex plots of many easy readers at this level. The artwork is sweet and blends smoothly with the text, improving both visual and textual literacy. If your library is only going to own one Toon series, Benny and Penny is a good choice.

Benny and Penny in Lights Out!
by Geoffrey Hayes
ISBN: 9781935179207
Toon Books, 2012
Publisher Age Rating: Grades 1-2