Staff Picks: Top Comics of 2022

Introduction

 Another year has come and gone, and the Features Team is proud to share our favorite titles from 2022. We hope you have a chance to revisit some favorites and discover new ones! 

Across a Field of Starlight

Blue Delliquanti

Fassen--a soldier in an intergalactic war-- and Lu--a member of a secret commune with a passion for research--become friends after a chance encounter. They use a special channel to communicate and develop their friendship. When they are finally reunited, trouble soon follows, threatening all they care about.

Appeals to

Across a Field of Starlight is a fantastic sci-fi story exploring how systematic factors shape us and how to break away. Delliquanti's rich artwork expertly captures the setting and characters, and I loved the diversity of characters and viewpoints. Fans of queer science fiction and fantasy and readers who enjoy stories that question systems will find much to enjoy here.

Creator Identities:

Nonbinary |

Main Character Identities:
Nonbinary |

Recommended by

Megan Rupe

Ducks: Two Years in the Oil Sands

Kate Beaton

Unable to find work in her home province, Kate Beaton worked two years in the Alberta oil sands in order to pay off her student loans. In this engaging memoir, she recounts the highs and lows of her experience—specifically the struggles of working as a woman in a male-dominated industry where isolation and grueling work are a key part of the workplace environment.

Appeals to

Beaton's nuanced portrait of working in a male-dominated field should not be missed; her discussion captures her and her co-workers' humanity while still exploring the bigger social forces at work. Her artwork captures the varied landscape and co-workers equally well and works to emphasize the humanizing message. Pick this up if you are interested in nonfiction about labor issues, gender, and inequality

Content Notes

Sexual assault; mental health (including a brief mention of suicide)

Creator Identities:

Main Character Identities:

Recommended by

Megan Rupe

Forest Hills Bootleg Society

Nicole Geaux

The year is 2005 and the location is a small town in California primarily known for its Christian boarding school; the situation is four friends trying to figure out all the big questions by selling bootleg anime to boys at their schools. Understandably, this goes poorly and things get out of hand. This is a story of how bleak life can be, and that maybe it's okay that things don't turn out well. It's complicated and dark, with gorgeous art in a limited teal color palette.

Appeals to

For readers who grew up encountering anime in the early 00s, this can be a solid pick for the nostalgia of it. Also readers of Squad who like a darker story of friendship, or readers of Slip that appreciated the way the story dealt with processing a changing friendship.

Content Notes

There are a lot of sad or difficult topics in this, either seen frequently or just briefly mentioned: Christian-based discrimination towards LGBTQ+ people, eating disorders, grief, depression, cheating in romantic relationships

Recommended by

Shannan Prukop

Frizzy

Claribel Ortega

Rose Bousamra

No matter what, it feels like everyone is always telling Marlene something about her isn't right: her skin's darker, she's not feminine enough, and her hair is the wrong texture. She dreads the weekly trips to the salon to have it straightened, and finally, with the help of her best friend Camila and her cool Tia Ruby, she starts to embrace her hair. Through it, she helps her mom let go of the past and embrace change as well.

Appeals to

While this is a great book to pick up for kids dealing with confidence issues around their hair, it's also a great story of a family learning to communicate better. This would be a great pick for readers of The Tryout or Miss Quinces, but also comics like the Berrybrook Middle School series.

Content Notes

Discussions of racism and colorism are kind of central to the book.

Creator Identities:

Main Character Identities:

Recommended by

Shannan Prukop

Garlic and the Witch

Bree Paulsen

After conquering many of her anxieties and fears when she went to encounter the vampire who is now a friend of the farm, Garlic is faced with a new problem: she might be turning human. But Witch Agnes has been so busy, and Garlic doesn't want to bother her. So she does what Garlic does best: go on a quest. This is a perfect sequel to Garlic and the Vampire, with all the charm and sweetness as the first book.

Appeals to

The gentle nature and focus on the natural world in Garlic and the Witch is a great choice for readers of Nightlights and Pilu of the Woods, and the adventurous side of Garlic's story can appeal to fans of the Hilda series. I could see this appealing to fans of the Tea Dragon Society series, with its gentle lessons on life.

Creator Identities:

Main Character Identities:

Recommended by

Shannan Prukop

M is for Monster

Talia Dutton

In this Frankenstein re-telling, Dr. Frances Ai is determined to bring her sister back to life after an accident leads to her untimely death. When Maura's body rises she thinks she's done it. But is Maura the one who is in this reanimated corpse? And if it's not Maura, then who is it?

Appeals to

Fans of the original story will appreciate this new way to look at the same themes, what is life, and what responsibility the creator has to its creation.

Content Notes

Death, ghosts

Creator Identities:

Main Character Identities:

Recommended by

Tayla Cardillo

Mamo

Sas Milledge

Jo goes looking for a witch to help with a situation in her home and finds instead Orla, granddaughter of the former village witch Mamo, who is adamant she's not the new witch for this village. As they work together to figure out why Mamo's death caused so much chaos, Jo and Orla learn more about their needs and the world around them. It's a beautiful comic full of vibrant landscapes and a realistic view of small village life.

Appeals to

Mamo is fantastic for readers of comics like The Well, Coming Back, or Tidesong that have small quiet magic and long moments of reflection, as well as dealing with the consequences of someone else's actions, and sometimes that turns out to be unprocessed grief.

Recommended by

Shannan Prukop

Messy Roots

Laura Gao

This graphic memoir, with the color pallet of the beach sunset postcard, is a heartfelt coming-of-age story about finding your place in the world when the country you were born in is vastly different than the country you grew up in. That journey becomes even more complicated for Gao when they start to realize they aren't straight. Then COVID-19 happens and suddenly the place Gao and her family are from becomes the center of the world's attention, most of it negative.

Appeals to

This timely graphic memoir will resonate with anyone who is struggling to find their place in the world, especially if part of that journey involves reconciling two or more cultural identities within oneself.

Content Notes

Discuss of the COVID-19 pandemic

Creator Identities:

Main Character Identities:

Recommended by

Tayla Cardillo

Other Ever Afters

Melanie Gillman

A princess falls for the goose girl but is stymied when her prestige and wealth do not influence her crush. A young woman enlists the help of a trickster to escape an unloving marriage. An individual's dead name starts to burn them when they are unable to tell everyone in their village their new name. These are just a sampling of the wonderful fairy tales you will find in Melanie Gilman's newest graphic novel.

Appeals to

These beautiful fairy tales filled my heart—they were warm and thoughtful, giving comfort and visibility and provoking thoughts about how things are. Gilman's amazing colored pencils bring the stories to life. Young and adult fairy tale lovers and misfits will find much to enjoy here.

Creator Identities:

Main Character Identities:

Recommended by

Megan Rupe

Our Not-So-Lonely Planet Travel Guide

Mone Sorai

Uptight Asahi and easygoing Mitsuki can seem like an odd couple, always at opposite ends of things, but one thing they agree on is taking a trip around the world as a test of their relationship. If they can make it, then the two will get married! But first, they have to find their hotel. And somewhere to eat. It's part explainer manga, with tidbits of info about each country they visit, part romance as we see Asahi and Mitsuki learn to work together and communicate their needs, and all gorgeous art. Of course, this is a new series with only two volumes so far, so who knows where it will go from here.

Appeals to

While this is billed as boys' love because it is a relationship between two men, readers expecting sex scenes will be disappointed; this series will appeal more to readers of slower stories like Restart After Coming Home or I Hear the Sunspot, especially as this focuses on adults rather than high school students. So pick this up for readers who want more grown-up relationships with less pining and quiet shared moments of happiness.

Content Notes

Some discussion of discrimination against LGTBTQ+ people, but generally this is more to look at how different countries treat the community

Creator Identities:

Main Character Identities:

Recommended by

Shannan Prukop

Space Story

Fiona Ostby

In a story that skips between the past and present, Hannah and Leah fall in love and start a family. However, their present is a struggle; Hannah is on a space station while Leah and their child Bird are stuck on a rapidly dying Earth. Leah and Bird are not about to give up though. Will they be reunited?

Appeals to

Space Story was a bittersweet yet comforting story that I wanted to read again immediately after I finished. I love Ostby's storytelling decisions in the artwork, their character designs, and the fact that they include a variety of body types. Readers looking for a warm, ultimately hopeful queer story will find much to enjoy here

Content Notes

Brief nudity but in contexts where it makes sense to be naked

Creator Identities:

Main Character Identities:

Recommended by

Megan Rupe

Supper Club

Jackie Morrow

Senior year can be tough. Classes, prepping for college, and extracurriculars, it can be hard to find time to just...hang out. Nora, Lili, and Iris come up with a solution. A supper club for a select group of their friends, held once a month so that they can make sure that they see each other before they all go away to college. But when life's demands get louder for all three girls, will they put supper club on the back burner?

Appeals to

If "sharing food with friends" is your love language, this book is for you.

Content Notes

Family member with a serious illness.

Recommended by

Tayla Cardillo

Swim Team

Johnnie Christmas

Bree was not excited about moving to Florida, but she was hopeful she'd be able to join the math extracurricular at her new school. Instead, she has to take a swimming class! Thanks to her kind neighbor's help, Bree discovers a new interest and joins her school team. With the team facing the potential loss of their pool, can Bree help them win a championship?

Appeals to

Swim Team is a heartwarming story about never giving up and discovering new passions. Readers who like the coming-of-age and realistic challenges of stories such as New Kid, Roller Girl, and Click will likely enjoy this one.

Creator Identities:

Main Character Identities:

Recommended by

Megan Rupe

The Cosmic Adventures of Astrid and Stella

HelloLucky, a stationery company owned by sisters Sabrina and Eunice Moyle, has produced a small line of board books and picture books, distributed through Harry N. Abrams. The Cosmic Adventures of Astrid and Stella is the first of a series of graphic novels for beginning chapter readers. Although it’s a new format for them, their trademark color and cheerfulness can be seen throughout this peppy adventure.

Astrid, a unicorn with a pink mane and purple horn and Stella, a flying squirrel with a fantastic hairdo, are taking off for outer space! If they can get their rocket going. With the help of their robot, Bobo, and despite multiple snack and dance breaks, they manage to blast off into space! Their lighthearted adventures continue onto the planet Caturn, where the inhabitants are threatened by the evil Kittywonkus, and then the beaches of planet Bloop, where they meet a whale in need of some good advice.

The pages are liberally sprinkled with rainbows, stars, and bright colors while the text is positively peppered with exclamation points. They battle Kittywonkus with a hose and the threat of being petted “against the grain” and spend much of their time on Caturn cuddling the kitties. On their way to new adventures, they see what appears to be a parade of giant balloon-like space creatures and join them, finding themselves at the beaches on Bloop, a planet that looks like a giant striped beach ball. The two main characters bounce exuberantly through the story, dealing with frustrations and setback with humor and plenty of snacks and dance breaks.

At just over 100 pages and with the silly story and child-like characters, this is aimed at a young demographic, those ready to move from early readers to chapter books. However, it’s actually a fairly complex book to read. The narrative throws a lot of unexpected changes at the reader, as part of the silly, surreal feel of the story and the art is crowded with a wealth of shapes, colors, and odd characters. Readers who are still focusing on the mechanics of reading are likely to find this frustrating. However, those who are already fluent but prefer shorter, illustration-heavy stories and readers who want a quick, comforting and funny story, will enjoy this wacky adventure.

Libraries building their beginning graphic novel collections should consider this if they are looking for more silly stories for younger readers or have the budget to fill in with additional titles, having purchased core works like the Branches and Acorn series.

The Cosmic Adventures of Astrid and Stella Vol. 1
By Sabrina Moyle
Art by  Eunice Moyle
Abrams Amulet, 2022
ISBN: 9781419757013

NFNT Age Recommendation: Easy Readers (5-9)

Sisters of the Mist

Swirls of green and blue introduce readers to the setting of the story, the enchanted forest of Frygea, with many strange creatures, some terrifying and dangerous, some cute, and all magical. The most terrifying are the Fog Furies, ghostly wraiths of mist who lure young girls into their clutches… or so the book of legends being shared by three sisters says.

Janna is the littlest, a preschooler with unbounded enthusiasm, a constant grin, and an eagerness to be friends with every magical creature she encounters. Kyra is the middle child, a preteen expecting that things will stay the same on this traditional vacation with her grandma and sisters; she’s ready at any moment to scramble up a tree, plunge into the enchanted woods, and bounce on the beds. Margot, getting ready to go to high school in the fall, is caught in between her sisters’ innocent fun and her own feelings of change; one moment she’s climbing trees and bouncing on beds with her sisters, the next she’s testing out makeup and diving into anime romances.

The three sisters start out their vacation squabbling, playing games, discovering magical creatures, and joking and laughing together. But there are hints that Margot is changing and this confuses Kyra – who would want to read a book with kissing in it? Why doesn’t Margot like to do the same things they’ve always done? When the three girls get lost in the forest, chased by the fearsome Hellhound, Margot and Kyra each have their own frightening encounter with the creatures of the forest – but Margot comes back changed. When she gets her period the next day, the two feel even farther apart and Kyra is hurt and confused, feeling left out and left behind by her sister’s new experiences. Eventually, they both return to the forest and Kyra is determined to save Margot – but from what? What do the Fog Furies want with her and who is the real danger?

The metaphor of a young girl growing into a woman is obvious, but it’s presented here in a fresh, comforting, and humorous way. Readers will empathize with the different life stages of all the girls and women presented, from innocent Janna, a plump, curly-headed kid who flings off her shirt with abandon and makes friends with cute root vegetable elves, to their wise and experienced grandmother, who knows just what to do when Margot gets her period and is clearly comfortable with her body, reacting with amusement when the family is bathing together and the girls joke about her large size bra.

Spaalj marks the change from the everyday world of their home to the magic of the forest with abrupt color changes; at first the farm is most often seen in daylight, with bright green grass, sharp blue sky, and friendly, colorful creatures. The forest is another world, dark and misty, covered in swirling fog out of which trolls and strange creatures loom and through which the girls stumble into frightening bogs. There can be magical moments in the forest, and as the story progresses the fog from the forest winds into the house, especially at night, entwining Margot and signaling that she is changing and experiencing something new and magical.

In a school library, with the ongoing increase in challenges, librarians will want to be aware of possible controversial points, depending on their community. Puberty, including breasts and periods, is referred to in a natural way and the girls joke together about “titties” and breast development. It’s a wholesome, positive message for those experiencing puberty and beginning a menstrual cycle, and coming from a smaller, low-profile publisher is unlikely to pop up on the radar of those looking for titles to challenge. In a public library, this will be popular with a wide variety of readers; younger kids can enjoy the magical creatures, fantasy plot of the story, and the experiences of a younger sibling. Tweens will sympathize with the girls who are dealing with different stages and changes in their lives. This would make a great choice for an adult-child book club, emphasizing the inter-generational tone of the book and art lovers of all ages will delight in the vivid colors and charming illustrations.

Sisters of the Mist
By Marlyn Spaaij
Abrams, 2022
ISBN: 9781838740740

NFNT Age Recommendation: Middle Grade (7-11), Tween (10-13)
Creator Representation:  Dutch,

Batter Royale

Rose is an amateur baker working as a waitress in a small town restaurant. When she makes a special dessert for a food critic, she is invited to participate in a baking competition with her childhood friend Fred. This isn’t an ordinary competition though as the contestants are faced with obstacle courses, sabotage, and surprise ingredients like brussel sprouts.

Rose is motivated to win the grand prize in order to attend college at a prestigious cooking school. She is also dealing with her parents’ eminent divorce, her developing feelings for Fred, and a rival who is willing to do anything to prove herself to be the best. It’s no wonder she finds herself distracted and just managing to stay off the bottom in the competition. 

This story has all the feelings of a Hallmark romcom. The author/illustrator does a fantastic job of balancing the plot with humor, seriousness, and the competition. The judge makes a lot of corny baking puns, which is a fun recurring joke throughout the story. The illustrations are crisp and with just enough details to convey the emotions and visual cues that readers should be able to easily pick up.

Although there is not a lot of technique explanations in the text, this book does include detailed recipes sprinkled throughout the story. I did not have the chance to try making any of them, but the ingredients look to be standard baking fare and the directions easy enough to follow. Younger readers will need help from an experienced adult to help them understand some of the unexplained terms, but preteens and teens should be capable enough to follow along.

Batter Royale is recommended for any collection aimed at preteens or younger teens.  

Batter Royale
By Leisl Adams
Amulet Books, 2022
ISBN: 9781419750755

Publisher Age Rating: 12+

NFNT Age Recommendation: Teen (13-16), Tween (10-13)
Creator Representation:  Canadian,  Character Representation: Assumed Black, Canadian,

Leviathan

Jason Shiga, author of Meanwhile, has created another addictive, interactive, and mind boggling graphic novel for tweens. Leviathan is a choose-your-own adventure story that keeps readers guessing until the end.

Leviathan, is about the Leviathan, a dragon-like mythical creature. The protagonist must navigate through an ancient medieval village to find and destroy the monster. The reader must choose between different paths to reach the final ‘ending’. Until the ending is reached, readers will find out a lot of secrets that they will need to fully understand the entire story. The character must navigate through an ancient medieval village to find and destroy the monster.

Kids will love navigating the story, learning about a powerful wizard, a mysterious medieval village, and hidden treasure in the process. Small tubes connect the illustrated panels, giving readers almost endless possibilities of plots and endings. Readers must follow the tubes that indicate what page number to turn to next. The story can be completed very quickly or take around an hour. There are so many possible endings, leaving no room for boredom. For example, readers explore a castle to find out more about the town, visit the library to learn more about a powerful sorcerer, or stay over at a lodge to inquire about the monster with an innkeeper. 

The author/illustrator Jason Shiga does a wonderful job creating a complex narrative. Even though there are many panels and interconnected stories, the reader is able to easily follow along and explore the seemingly endless mazes. The larger panels that let readers skip between various storylines on one page are engaging. For instance, readers get to choose to take a boat, swim off the dock, etc. Shiga’s art is worth high praise. His distinctly simply rendered characters with large- popping eyes add humor to an overall serious story. The illustrations are fun and humorous-sometimes unexpected. Action words and illustrations combine harmoniously to show emotional depth.

Reluctant readers will particular enjoy this engaging format that makes the reader feel like they are in a role-playing video game. There are fights, shipwrecks, and fights with mythical monsters. Leviathan is a perfect recommendation for a child that enjoys graphic novels and adventure stories. Middle grade readers will devour this book and anticipate more in the series. (Grades 4-7)

Adventuregame Comics vol. 1: Leviathan
By Jason Shiga
Abrams, 2022
ISBN: 9781419757792

NFNT Age Recommendation: Middle Grade (7-11)

Tales of Great Goddesses: Gaia Goddess of Earth

When the world began, lush forests and cool ponds were created all over the Earth. A goddess, Gaia, constructed everything. It was peaceful and perfect, but not for long. 

This story presents an environmentalist and feminist perspective on the  life of Greek goddess, Gaia. These two authors have taken a lot of artistic freedom to weave together a new version of her. In the original Greek mythology, this tale contains a lot of brutal circumstances of murder, incest, and pretty cruel events. In this version, her story is very much simplified. Serious scenarios are lightened by other characters, such as the three sisters, Clotho, Lachesis, and Atropos. These three pop onto the sidelines of panels and make humorous little comments as the story follows along with Gaia’s husband and her many children’s adventures. Chapters divide up major events, making it more clear for the reader which set of characters are going to be focused on, as there are a lot to keep track of. Like the first installment in this series, we start off with an overview of who all the major gods, goddesses, demigods, and mortals are and conclude with a glossary and bibliography.

This is another beautifully put together piece in this growing collection of tales of Greek Goddesses. It follows the same style as the first book that came out in this series, Athena. The pages are simple with full color drawings and a large variety of different panel styles. Full page graphics zoom in on important and often dramatic plot points with a scattering of a little bit of text to go along with it. The text is a bit on the small side, which should be fine for young readers with good eyes, but it was a little difficult to read it all the way through without feeling like I was straining a little at the end. 

Overall, this book is more like a work of art than a non-fiction history text. The pages are beautifully illustrated with minimal text. It’s printed on quite thick paper, making it appear like a larger book than it actually is. This is a very quick read. It would be a nice addition to any elementary or middle school library, but not essential. I wish it was longer, had more historical details, and used a larger easier to read font. 

Tales of Great Goddesses: Gaia Goddess of Earth
By Imogen Greenberg
Art by Isabel Greenberg
Amulet Books, 2022
ISBN: 9781419748615

Publisher Age Rating: 8-12

NFNT Age Recommendation: Easy Readers (5-9), Middle Grade (7-11)

The Prisoner of Shiverstone

Young Helga Sharp likes to tinker with technology. Unfortunately, such tinkering is frowned on in her world—a place that, until a few decades ago, was in danger from a wide variety of mad scientists. When one of her secret projects makes radio contact with a stranger, the lonely Helga finds a kindred spirit. A kindred spirit who is currently being held in an island prison. Specifically, Utley Island, where the mad scientists are kept.

Helga decides to rescue her friend, but after a maritime mishap, finds herself waking up in an Utley Island hospital and facing a lot of questions. She plays dumb, claiming that she got separated from her parents at sea and pretending to know nothing about the island. If she can just stick around long enough to steal a few high-tech parts, she can make a device that will free her friend. But the longer she stays on Utley Island, the more she discovers that nothing about it—from the officers who run the place to the scientists it imprisons—is what she expected.

Helga is clever, sneaky, and skeptical, but well-intentioned, and makes friends on Utley Island despite herself. The residents there seem surprisingly good-hearted and friendly, given that most of them are technically prisoners and the rest are technically prison guards. While Helga’s focus is on building the device to rescue her trapped friend, there is a parallel emotional journey in which she begins to trust others and to find that there are people who actually appreciate her interest in science.

The setting has a fun, fantastical feel, with quirky characters and weird science inventions aplenty. It is unclear what the bar is in this world for being a “mad scientist”—we certainly don’t see any who seem power-hungry or cruel. At worst, they are careless about the potentially dangerous side effects of their cutting-edge experiments. Interestingly, the island’s Chief of Security seems to be a full-on superhero, patrolling in a flight suit, despite the fact that that there are no real supervillains in sight and most of the island’s inhabitants seem perfectly happy to stay there.

The art is vibrantly painted, and the character designs have retro charm, from the oversized bow in Helga’s hair to the oddball appearances of the mad scientists’ outfits and inventions. The colors are saturated, with vivid shades of pink, teal, and blue often dominating the panels, adding to the sci-fi feel of the setting. There is some racial diversity among the island’s inhabitants, though most of the main characters appear to be white.

There is a small amount of danger, as when some robot guardians run amok on the island, but it never gets too intense. Most of the action is of a more puzzle-solving nature as Helga tries to assemble her rescue device while dodging questions from well-meaning adults. (Basically all of the adult characters seem supportive of Helga in general, if not supportive of her secret mission – which, after all, they don’t know about.) This is a fun and gentle sci-fi adventure with a fun retro aesthetic. A nice addition to middle-grade collections.

The Prisoner of Shiverstone
By Linette Moore
Abrams, 2022
ISBN: 9781419743924

Publisher Age Rating: 8-12

NFNT Age Recommendation: Middle Grade (7-11), Tween (10-13)

The Extincts: Quest for the Unicorn Horn

Lug the Wooly Mammoth, Martie the Passenger Pigeon, Scratch the Saber Toothed Tiger, and Quito the Collins Poison Frog make up a special group known as ROAR – the Rescue Ops Acquisition Rangers. ROAR exists to protect environmental artifacts, especially those that have become exposed by climate change. Their leader, Dr. Z, has just sent them on their first real mission, to rescue a rare horn from a Siberian unicorn, an extinct creature similar to a rhinoceros, which may have inspired the legend of the unicorn. The horn is thought to possess medicinal qualities which could be squandered if it falls into the wrong hands or is lost to the melting effects of climate change. ROAR travels via futuristic vehicles like a hovercraft and an all-terrain mobile support vehicle called the MoSUV. They also have a computerized guide named GAIA which shares facts with them during their mission. 

At first the story seems fairly straightforward. The group embarks on their mission with little trouble apart from being followed through Siberia by a mysterious cave bear on a motorcycle. However, astute readers may wonder why no origin story is presented for this group. It is also perplexing why these animals are alive and well even though they are members of extinct species. The cave bear who finally catches up to ROAR knows the truth, and a twist in the plot will surely surprise readers. Future volumes in the series will undoubtedly provide more adventure as “The Extincts” find their place in a world that was never made for them. 

The Extincts: Quest for the Unicorn Horn has a lot to delight middle grade readers. The story is action-packed, with an interesting illustration scheme that’s dynamic and attention-grabbing. Scott Magoon makes each character distinctive from the others and from the human world around them. Young readers will enjoy the characters’ ROAR uniforms, gadgets, and vehicles. There are typically two to three colors used per page, but the colors alternate frequently, making the book visually interesting and reflecting the different settings of the story. There is also plenty of age-appropriate silly humor—Lug the wooly mammoth has to go to the bathroom through much of the story and opens a new cave tunnel with a giant fart.

The book also teaches a great deal of science, especially about the effects of climate change on the arctic regions, including melting permafrost, collapsing buildings, and habitat loss. The end matter Includes an experiment you can try at home with supercooled liquid. Other features in the end matter are information about all the extinct species featured, a glossary of terms, more about the Siberian setting of the Batagaika Crater, and things readers can do to help the earth. The Extincts is a strong new series for middle grade readers, and its opening volume, Quest for the Unicorn Horn is as entertaining as it is educational.

The Extincts, vol. 1: Quest for the Unicorn Horn
By Scott Magoon
Abrams Amulet, 2022
ISBN: 9781419752513

Publisher Age Rating: 8-12

NFNT Age Recommendation: Middle Grade (7-11)

The flower garden

This colorful graphic novel, a blend of beginning chapter book and picture book, opens with the ringing of an old-style cordless phone in a house in the woods. Tess, a little Black girl, hurries over to the house of her friend Anna, a white girl with a sweep of knee-length red hair.

Anna has heard that bees are in trouble and wants to help them, but Tess is kinda scared of bees! But Anna doesn’t have time to listen to her friend and drags her outside, along with her cat Tiger, to hastily plant some flower seeds, then fall asleep waiting for them to grow…

The next thing they know, they’ve shrunk in size. They meet Maple, a gnome with a pointed red hat and Asian features. Anna is thrilled to go on an adventure and explore with their new friend May, but Tess isn’t so sure it’s a good idea. Will Anna start listening to her friend or will Tess have to stand up for herself? And will they ever get home—and back to their right size again?

The art is definitely a draw here, with vibrantly colored flowers and lush greens popping off the page. Even the gnomes show a diversity of skin colors and all are drawn with the same, simple rectangular-shaped body. Various creatures appear on the pages, from spiders to foxes, and readers who like miniature items will be delighted by the cozy details of the gnomes’ underground dwelling.

There is an attempt at a gentle lesson, with Anna learning to listen to her friend Tess, but Tess is still somewhat stereotyped as the sidekick with Anna as the main character. On the one hand, Black girls are often portrayed as extroverts and quieter Tess breaks stereotypes in that way. On the other hand, she’s still not the main character in the story and even when exuberant Anna is apologizing, she still makes herself the center of attention. I would love to see a sequel with Tess as the main character.

This makes a sweet read-aloud or a gentle and engaging story for readers ready for simple chapters and those who enjoy nature, imagination, and detailed art. Fans of Poppy & Sam or the Moomins will enjoy this quiet story.

The Flower Garden
By Renee Kurilla
Abrams Amulet, 2022
ISBN: 9781419750205

Publisher Age Rating: ages 6-9

NFNT Age Recommendation: Easy Readers (5-9), Picture Books (3-8)

Living with Viola

Raina Telgemeier’s breakthrough graphic novel Smile opened the door to a host of memoir-style books for tweens and teens, focusing on the angst of friendship troubles, first crushes, and negotiating the often difficult path into becoming teenagers and onward to adulthood. However, despite the flow of read-alikes, it’s only been in the last few years that a more diverse selection of voices have begun to be heard.

Rosena Fung’s story of a young tween trying to please her family, fit in at school, handle microaggressions as a second-generation immigrant, and deal with her growing anxiety is shaped by her own experiences. She is the daughter of a family that immigrated from Hong Kong to Canada and as a teen she dealt with her own mental health challenges.

Livy stumbles onto the page with a disastrous first day at a new school and the constant presence of Viola, the embodiment of her growing anxiety, who berates and taunts her. She finds refuge in her art and the library, and moments of joy as she makes dumplings with her mother at home. Eventually, she starts to be accepted into a trio of girls she joins for a group project. But the weight of her family’s expectations and the ever-growing presence of Viola keep her off-balance. As she worries that there might be something wrong with her, she grows obsessed with the family gossip about a cousin who has mental health issues and is further distressed by the break-up of the trio of girls she is trying to join. Her issues are exacerbated by the sometimes subtle, sometimes overt racism and harassment she receives as an Asian-Canadian and the child of immigrants. Will Livy break under the strain and what will her parents do when they find out how much she is struggling?

Fung’s artwork packs a huge range of emotions into the pages. As Livy’s anxiety grows, it’s shown as a looming, blue, ghost-like figure that hovers over her and drags along a torrent of negative words, thoughts, and images. Livy swings from wild enthusiasm over the things she loves, with starry eyes and bouncing ponytail, to abruptly recoiling into herself, physically crouching under the weight of the damaging words of family, friends, and her own inner voice. Some of the most entrancing art is the explosion

of sounds, scents, and tastes as Livy relaxes with her mom, creating the food they love together. Some of the most painful scenes show Livy with hunched shoulders and a nervous smile, as she struggles to navigate between the competing pressures in her life. Fung uses her nuanced artwork to show the widely differing personalities and cultures of Livy and Charlotte, the other Asian-Canadian in her friend group. Charlotte is a self-contained person, shown with a short bob, plaid skirts and jumpers, and unlike Livy’s wild emotional swings, she appears to be indifferent to the harassment they both suffer for their heritage. However, as the presence of Viola increases towards the end of the story, Charlotte breaks out of her mold as well. Once Livy is able to work past some of her anxiety, both she and Charlotte are able to deepen their friendship, with Charlotte breaking out of her containment with a genuine smile and banding together with Livy to speak out against how the other girls are treating them.

This graphic novel will appeal to fans of the fictionalized memoir genre, and also offers a welcome aspect of diversity to the genre. Readers who struggle with mental health issues or their cultural identity will find much to relate to in this story, while other readers will be prompted to consider how they relate to their fellow students and the experiences of others.

Living with Viola
By Rosena Fung
Abrams, 2021
ISBN: 9781773215488

NFNT Age Recommendation: Middle Grade (7-11), Tween (10-13)
Creator Representation:  Canadian,  Anxiety, Depression, Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) Character Representation: Canadian,  Anxiety