We’re in this together! V for victory! The onset of World War II brought a whole new way of life to the United States, one that affected everyone in many different ways. The latest addition to First Second’s History Comics series, World War II: Fight on the Home Front, written by Kate Hannigan with art by Josh Rosen, details the realities of living in America during that unprecedented time.
Readers meet a group of everyday American kids, learning to live without ice cream as part of the nation’s pursuit of freedom around the world. These kids act as the graphic novel’s narrators, taking us through the beginning of the United States joining the war as Allies after the attack on Pearl Harbor to the country’s final act of war in the atomic bomb, causing the destruction and death of thousands of Japanese citizens. The book dedicates some focus to the facts of the war overseas, but doesn’t act necessarily as a full picture of the entire global conflict. Instead, readers learn what daily life was like for the folks not fighting on the frontlines.
History Comics: World War II is full of nonstop facts. Young readers will learn the realities of rationing and how it affected Americans’ diets and cooking habits. Real recipes are even included for anyone wanting to taste the era! They’ll learn about changes in culture, like how the war popularized paperback books and superhero comics, when some of the Marvel and DC superheroes still popular today made their debuts. These facts and how they still affect our nation today could make for some spirited discussions amongst readers, especially when compared to the ongoing division of the last few years of the country’s history.
While there is a lot of fun trivia to be learned, Hannigan and Rosen don’t shy away from the uglier realities of the American homefront during the war. Readers get a brief history on Japanese-Americans being forced into internment camps, leaving everything but one bag behind. Racism against Black Americans and Latino Americans continued even as these citizens stepped up to fight for their country. Due to the intended audience and focus of the book, while these topics are included, the subjects aren’t covered in extreme depth. However, this is the case for everything included in the graphic novel, as it is an overview of the period. Hannigan provides additional resources for readers looking to learn more at the book’s end.
Rosen’s art reflects the tone of the particular topic at hand throughout the book. Familiar faces and scenes are recognizable without being too on the nose or comical. The characters are diverse in race, body, and ability, which will help young readers understand how this time affected everyone in the nation. Many primary sources are used alongside Hannigan’s writing; there are excerpts from personal letters and newspapers throughout the book. These are given as much consideration on the page as everything else, making the facts come alive and feel much more personal.
While there’s no shortage of WWII focused books for young readers, World War II: Fight on the Home Front is a welcome addition to the genre with its unique focus on the average American citizen. A variety of topics are covered, as well as how they affected life after wartime too, so readers looking for more detailed stories about the war itself and its atrocities may find the book too general. Still, Fight on the Home Front is an excellent addition to classrooms and libraries, with lots of potential for activities, discussions, and further reading.
History Comics: World War II: Fight on the Home Front By Kate Hannigan Art by Josh Rosen Macmillan First Second, 2023 ISBN: 9781250793348
Publisher Age Rating: 9-13 NFNT Age Recommendation: Middle Grade (7-11), Tween (10-13)
Have you ever driven past a pond and heard a symphony of frog croaks? Well, you were probably hearing those frogs’ regional accents. (Yes, their accents!). Maybe you’re familiar with tadpoles as part of the frog life cycle but did you know out of 2000 eggs, only five will make it to adulthood? (Don’t worry, not only have frogs adapted but they’ve flourished!) There is so much to learn about frogs and Liz Prince’s Frogs: Awesome Amphibians, the latest entry into FirstSecond’s Science Comics series, has no shortage of them.
Fran’s a city kid until one of their dads gets a new job and the whole family moves out to the country. It’s quiet, there’s no one around, and the only thing for them to do is sit by the pond through the trees of their backyard, missing their friends back home. That is, until they meet a talking tadpole in said pond and find themself in Professor Sal A. Mander’s class at Amphibian Academy. The professor is an upright talking salamander who wears glasses and a jacket, just as one would expect at such a school.
Before they know it, Fran’s learning all the ins and outs of amphibians, frogs’ particular classification of cold-blooded vertebrates. This graphic novel is packed to the gills with fascinating frog facts! Fran transports to the Andes Mountains to meet the Lake Titicaca frog, watches a play about the four life stages of an amphibian, and visits the African tropical savannah to discover the role water plays in some frogs’ home environments. They even learn how they can help keep frogs safe and thriving in their very own town!
Prince’s enthusiasm and adorations of frogs shines throughout Science Comics: Frogs. It is very heavy on the information and often goes into detail overload, which will make frog fan readers not want to put this graphic novel down. Not all of the facts are pretty and some more sensitive readers may find themselves slightly grossed out. Fran will be relatable to readers, as even they can’t always hide their disgust at some of the grosser info. Prince’s art style is bright and fun so even the slightly difficult portions are more palatable to younger readers.
Like others in the Science Comics series, the book begins with an introduction from a scientist and ends with additional information for anyone looking to learn more. Frogs: Awesome Amphibians ends with a glossary, as well as a mini comic featuring Prince. She encourages readers to take action and find local Big Night projects, where frog appreciators of all ages come together to help the creatures cross busy roads during their yearly migrations.
Frogs are a common classroom and library pet, so this book is recommended to those that have one, as it’s a handy and colorful guide for readers of all ages who want to learn more. It would also be a great supplement for students learning about the animal kingdom at large and looking for a more in-depth deep dive on a specific vertebrate.
There’s so much to learn about these amazing amphibians, as the title suggests, and Science Comics: Frogs fits nicely both into this ongoing series and onto your non-fiction graphic novel shelf for middle grade readers.
Science Comics: Frogs Awesome Amphibians Vol. By Liz Prince Macmillan First Second, 2023 ISBN: 9781250268860
Publisher Age Rating: 9-13
NFNT Age Recommendation: Middle Grade (7-11), Tween (10-13)
Your face is crooked. You’re going to make everyone you love sick and die. You’re ugly and no one likes you and you’re going to be alone forever. The bees flying around Isaac Itkin’s mind never seem to shut up. What if they’re right? Buzzing, written by Samuel Sattin and illustrated by Rye Hickman, is a look into the life of a twelve year old boy with obsessive compulsive disorder.
Isaac was recently diagnosed with OCD. Focusing is impossible with the same intrusive thoughts never giving him a break. He just wants to get through the school day and maybe draw a little before going home where he doesn’t have to worry about being such an embarrassment. His mom is busy and his sister can’t stand to be around him, so diving into his sketchbook is the perfect way for Isaac to escape all the noise. The particular unrelenting noise of his OCD is depicted in the form of a small squad of bees that encircle him at every chance, always colorful in an otherwise drab world. They’re always waiting to pop up and ruin his day, to convince him of things that are untrue that he can’t escape.
Then Isaac meets Micah at school. Micah notices his drawing of a dragon and asks if he’s interested in joining their Swamps and Sorcery game. Similar to Dungeons and Dragons, the tabletop role playing game is all about fantasy, letting players be whoever (and whatever) they want to be as they work together. It also doesn’t hurt that Micah themself catches Isaac’s eye as he develops his first crush. Within the world of the game and the supportive circle of friends he plays with, Isaac finds life becoming more colorful day by day.
Buzzing is one of the latest graphic novels aimed at younger readers that features a RPG within the story. While parts of the game do come to life on the pages, the story isn’t so much about the game as it is about Isaac’s relationship with his new friends and his family, especially as they begin to understand his mental illness. His sister is learning how to deal with her younger brother’s new diagnosis and how to support him, even if she doesn’t quite understand.
His mom wants to keep him away from anything that could potentially be triggering and to live in the present in the real world, taking advice from doctors they’ve seen. Any reader who’s had to defend their interests to misunderstanding families will relate to Isaac and his mom. She only wants the best for him and has to listen to him to understand what that best really is. Sattin doesn’t write Isaac’s mom as bad or negative, but instead as a parent learning to understand what her son is going through.
Hickman’s art style features very expressive faces and the wordless panels contain just as much emotion as the others. The color palette fluctuates throughout the book. It’s colder and sterile when Isaac is feeling his worst but bright, warm, and colorful when he’s feeling joyful and accepted. The fantasy scenes will catch the eyes of RPG loving readers especially!
Buzzing is recommended to middle grade readers and has some cross appeal to younger teen readers. It’s also recommended to anyone working through their own OCD diagnosis or even to parents reading to better understand their child.
Buzzing By Samuel Sattin Art by Rye Hickman Little, Brown, 2023 ISBN: 9780316628419
Publisher Age Rating: 8-12 NFNT Age Recommendation: Middle Grade (7-11), Teen (13-16), Tween (10-13)
Character Representation: Queer, OCD, Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD)
The first time you visit New York City is a rite of passage. It’s a magical metropolis, full of famous museums and people and shops, with people from all over the world making the pilgrimage every single day. Jillian Tamaki and Mariko Tamaki’s incredible new adult graphic novel Roaming lets readers spend time with three friends as they spend five days in the city, finding themselves somewhere on the path to adulthood.
It’s spring break 2009. Dani has dreamt of New York City; she was that girl who was reenacting songs from Rent in high school. Now a freshman in college, she’s apart from her best friend Zoe for the first time. The two friends are reuniting in the city for their getaway, with Dani bringing along her new friend Fiona, a fellow art school student. Dani’s been planning for this trip for years and she is ready for the three of them to see the sights of the Big Apple. Fiona will help them navigate; she has American parents and her brother lives in Brooklyn, so she’s very familiar with the city (and she won’t let you forget it).
But, even though it’s only been a few months away at school, Zoe is different. She’s shaved her head and only wears black. She isn’t as excited by Dani’s meticulously planned binder full of maps and activities as Dani hoped she’d be. Zoe finds herself increasingly intrigued by Fiona. Sure, she can be a bit of a know-it-all at times but, unlike Dani, she’s not acting like a typical Canadian tourist. She’s magnetic and new. The trio quickly finds they all are seeking much different New York experiences on this trip.
Roaming is a beautiful look at early adulthood and the intricacies of relationships during that time. The characters spend time essentially playing what it’s like to be an adult around the city, even as Dani resists it and tries to stick to plan. There’s worth in fulfilling the dreams you’ve had for yourself, even if it’s as simple as visiting all the museums and tourist sites. The story is simultaneously very simple and very intense. Dani, Zoe, and Fiona all experience and navigate situations both familiar and brand new.
The book is aimed at an adult audience and includes scenes with nudity, sex, and substance use. It is recommended for older teen and adult readers. With its 2009 setting, it is both incredibly nostalgic for millennials (the thrill of visiting a Uniqlo for the first time!) and just retro-tinged enough for readers currently in college (what life was like before most people had smartphones).
Mariko Tamaki writes characters who speak like your own friends, ones you can relate to and understand. Readers will find themselves wanting to be friends with every character and also annoyed by every character. Jillian Tamaki’s art is expressive with a simple, warm color palette. There are multiple conversations about art throughout the book. Tamaki mirrors this art in the captivating double page spreads throughout the book, including as day/chapter breaks. The art and the words fit beside each other perfectly, it is a true collaboration between the cousins.
Another graphic novel by the duo, This One Summer, was a smash hit and a Caldecott Award winner. Many of the readers of that graphic novel are older now and will find themselves just as drawn to Roaming. You may not find yourself understanding or knowing everything about these characters, the story is truly a moment in time, but you will find yourself engrossed and enchanted by this story of three friends and their 2009 spring break trip to New York City.
Roaming Vol. By Mariko Tamaki Art by Jillian Tamaki Drawn & Quarterly, 2023 ISBN: 9781770464339
NFNT Age Recommendation: Adult (18+), Older Teen (16-18) Creator Representation: Japanese-Canadian, Gay, Character Representation: Canadian, Canadian-American, Gay, Queer,
Katie the Catsitter is back in another installment of her eponymous graphic novel series! This time, she’s preparing to officially become the Mousetress’s sidekick but things like friendship, jealousy, and, oh yeah, robots just keep getting in the way. Katie the Catsitter #3: Secrets and Sidekicks, written by Colleen AF Venable and art by Stephanie Yue, is a fast-paced, colorful adventure in Katie’s New York City.
Katie and her best friend Beth are ready to start their sidekick training. They even have the perfect sidekick names picked out: Aluminum Foiled and Cheesy Justice. Madeline, aka the Mousetress, is one of New York City’s top superheroes, even if the media likes to paint her as a supervillian (but Katie and Beth know the truth!). Along with her literal hundreds of extremely intelligent powerful cats, the Mousetress uses brains and technological know-how to protect the citizens of the city. Meanwhile, Katie’s mom is so busy working all hours of the day that she doesn’t even know what her daughter is up to.
Suddenly, a giant yellow robot is stomping its way through the city, about to destroy everything in sight, until it’s hit by a puddle splash. Turns out, this robotisn’t waterproof. Katie knows this robot is from the heinous Buttersoft Bionics but how can she prove it? No one wants to believe her.
On top of everything going in the world of superheroes and supervillains, Katie’s got regular middle school drama. Her skateboarding crew, the Wheel-las, is dealing with too many third and fourth wheels (pun intended). Katie’s friend Jess really feels the brunt of this, on top of Katie’s suspicions about Jess’s boyfriend’s family who owns Buttersoft Bionics, even though Jess swears they aren’t evil people. Plus, the threat of robots is threatening NYC PopCon, where Katie and her friends are cosplaying. With everything going on, can Katie do the right thing, defend her city, and prove who are the real villains after all?
While some readers might find Secrets and Sidekicks easy to dive into, it’s recommended that readers are familiar with the previous two books in the series, as they’ll give them the world building to help understand Katie’s world of superheroes and supercats. The names and skills of the many featured cats are both adorable and hilarious, readers will love meeting them. The book’s back matter includes Yue’s sketches, as well as words from the creators, some facts about them, and a friendship bracelet making guide, appropriate even for an arm with a paw.
There is a lot of action in the book but there are points where it feels more drawn out, making Secrets and Sidekicks appropriate for a more solidly middle grade audience. Katie’s friendship troubles will be relatable to readers her age. The superheroes aspect gives the book more appeal to readers who might not otherwise pick up a book about cats. As previously mentioned, the art is bright and cartoony at times, matching the action and the vibe of the book perfectly.
Katie the Catsitter #3: Secrets and Sidekicks is a charming addition to the series. Any cat loving reader will enjoy this book, as well as readers who enjoy the Paws or Making Friends graphic novel series, both of which have similar elements (cats! magic!) to Venable and Yue’s series.
Katie the Catsitter #3: Secrets and Sidekicks By Colleen AF Venable Art by Stephanie Yue Penguin Random House Graphic, 2023 ISBN: 9780593379691
Publisher Age Rating: 8-12
NFNT Age Recommendation: Middle Grade (7-11), Tween (10-13)
Asking for help isn’t always easy … and what do you do when that help causes you to develop superpowers overnight? Welcome to Hannah’s world, told in Side Effects, a graphic novel by Ted Anderson with art by Tara O’Connor.
Hannah’s in her first year of college and things just don’t feel right. She’s overwhelmed, her roommate walked in on her crying, and she feels like such a failure she’s not sure she’ll make it through the semester. She doesn’t want to disappoint her parents and the pressure is getting to be too much. Hannah meets with Dr. Jacobs, the on-campus doctor, who prescribes her medication for her mental health. Despite not being fully on board, as she believes those pills can change your personality, she decides to take them anyway, just to see if they offer any help in dealing with her anxiety and depression. Suddenly, she feels almost superhuman as she develops different superpowers with each new medication! Are the meds really causing her to read people’s minds? How will these powers affect her relationship with Iz, the cute girl she’s been seeing?
Before the story even begins, Side Effects has a content warning, a helpful tool for readers to be aware of some of the more intense parts of the story. It is never graphic or explicit and no real medications are named. Hannah’s side effects, however, can be read as exaggerated versions of those found in real life medications. Her ability to shoot electricity from her hands? Similar to brain zaps. She experiences other realistic side effects, like dissociation and drowsiness. Readers who’ve dealt with the process of finding the right medication will find themselves understanding what Hannah is going through. Framing Hannah’s side effects as superpowers makes the book accessible for readers who might be tentative regarding their own mental health care. The focus on therapy, as well as medication, is appreciated.
O’Connor’s art is expressive; the character’s faces are excellent. The coloring, also done by O’Connor, matches the changing situations dynamically. The scenes of Hannah and her superpowers are very superhero comic like, just like she feels her life is turning into when she develops them.
Side Effects is appropriate for an older teen audience and up. The book deals with some very heavy topics, including attempted and implied sexual misconduct from a professor, hence the appreciation for the content warning before the story begins. Anderson’s storytelling is easily readable, but late high school and early college readers will find more relatability to Hannah’s experiences. While it takes place in modern time, adult readers long out of college can enjoy the graphic novel, too.
Side Effects is a book about mental health acceptance and not being afraid to ask for help when you need it. It wants to break the stigma of mental health medications and does a good job of showing them in a realistic but not irresponsible way. There’s always a need for stories about mental illness that still have happy endings and Side Effects is a welcome addition to that world of graphic novels.
Side Effects By Ted Anderson Art by Tara O’Connor Seismic Press, 2022 ISBN: 9781956731088
Publisher Age Rating: 13-17 years old NFNT Age Recommendation: Adult (18+), Older Teen (16-18)
Creator Representation: Ambiguous Mental Illness Character Representation: Lesbian, Anxiety, Depression
Tegan and Sara are twin sisters, living in Calgary, Canada, ready to face their first year of junior high together. They’ve been inseparable their whole lives but things aren’t so certain these days. Tegan and Sara: Junior High, by Tegan Quin and Sara Quin themselves, with art by Eisner Award winning artist Tillie Walden, tells the story of one year in the life of the twins as they discover who they are, both together and apart.
Their dad has a new girlfriend. Their best friend isn’t going to the same school as they are. People keep getting them confused and even calling them clones. The sisters have always been close, but maybe junior high is the time to start to explore who they are outside of being a duo and who they are as individuals. Their bodies are changing so quickly that it feels unexpected, like being caught off guard with a tampon on the very first day of your very first period. Drama happens within their new friend groups. There’s crushes on cute girls and the beginning of understanding their queerness. There’s a guitar in the garage and the growing desire to put all those feelings into a song.
Tegan and Sara: Junior High is the latest addition to the Tegan and Sara universe, which consists of not only their music, but their memoir about their high school years, aptly titled High School, and a subsequent television show based on it. Middle grade readers may not be as familiar with these previous outputs. However, no prior knowledge of the duo is needed to appreciate the story being told here; at its very core, this is a story about two sisters.
Unlike many other graphic novel memoirs for middle grade readers, the book does not reflect the time period when it actually happened, which was the early 1990s. Instead, it has been moved to the present day, potentially making it more relatable for its intended audience. These stories are timeless, there will always be certain aspects of the tween years that are inescapable, but making it modern may help some readers connect more with the story being told. It’s current but not too current. The characters have cell phones and watch streaming videos, but it never overtakes the story.
Readers seeking a realistic look at these in-between years will enjoy Junior High. It may not be as bright and fast paced as other graphic novels about similar years, but there is something reflective and honest about the combination of Walden’s art and the Quins’ story. The warm colors add a calming sense to the stress of tween years. The conversations between the sisters that begin and end each chapter are a highlight. Readers learn more about their individual inner thoughts and also their close connection to each other.
Tegan and Sara: Junior High will appeal to readers of Shannon Hale and LeUyen Pham’s Friends series or Jennifer Holm and Matthew Holm’s Sunny series. This graphic novel also has crossover appeal for some teens, especially those who have enjoyed Walden’s previous graphic novels. The book is a charming, optimistic look at seventh grade and all the possibilities it brings.
Tegan and Sara: Junior High By Tegan Quin, Sara Quin, Art by Tillie Walden Farrar Strous Giroux, 2023 ISBN: 9780374313029
Publisher Age Rating: 10-14
NFNT Age Recommendation: Middle Grade (7-11), Teen (13-16), Tween (10-13) Creator Representation: Canadian, Lesbian Character Representation: Canadian, Queer
It is spring of eighth grade, time for a Riverdale Academy Day School tradition: a school trip to somewhere exciting and educational. For Jordan and his friends, that just happens to mean a trip to Paris. School Trip is the third installment of Jerry Craft’s graphic novels about Jordan, who readers first met in the Newbery and Coretta Scott King Award winning New Kid, and an excellent addition to the collection.
At the cusp of a new stage in his life, Jordan finally feels a part of the RAD community and can’t wait to travel overseas with his classmates and teachers. He never gets to see kids like him, other young Black kids from New York City, traveling the world and experiencing different cultures. This is his chance to be the main character and blaze a path. But there’s more than just the trip on his mind. Eighth grade will be over before he knows it and he’ll have to decide between RAD, where he’s no longer the new kid, or art school, the place that could help make his dreams come true. He knows what his parents want him to do and where his friends will be but hasn’t quite come to realize the best path for himself.
A prank causes some unexpected changes to the RAD trip to Paris, but the group makes the best of the situation. Along the way, the classmates learn more about each other, sometimes resulting in conflicts amongst the characters. Craft’s masterful storytelling gives these arguments and discussions depth, without seeming unrealistic for a bunch of eighth graders.
The trip exposes each student’s prejudices, fears, and unrealized ideas about themselves and their peers. Readers will see characters like themselves reflected back at them and School Trip gives them the space to discuss similar things happening in their lives. Witnessing Jordan and Ramon, amongst others, sticking up for themselves against unaware bully Andy may even give readers confidence to do something similar.
The introduction of the Thumbs-Downers in the story gives a realistic explanation to why negative, hateful people always speak the loudest and get the most attention. A two page spread between Drew, the focus of Craft’s Class Act, and Andy is particularly visually striking as a follow up to this idea. Andy is a Thumbs-Downer but he’s much more than that and must recognize his own privilege. This scene could, and should, cause reflection in young readers as they consider their own racial, socioeconomic, and religious backgrounds.
As with Craft’s previous books, it is recommended readers keep an eye out for easter eggs throughout School Trip, especially anyone who reads lots of graphic novels. There’s even some aimed at older readers! Craft does a great job of setting his characters in very specific places without the cities and backgrounds becoming the main focus. Your eye is always drawn to the characters and their stories.
School Trip belongs on every library’s and classroom’s shelves, alongside its predecessors. Craft’s fondness and appreciation for these characters is evident throughout the book, something that readers of all ages will find themselves feeling as they follow along with Jordan, his family, and his classmates.
School Trip By Jerry Craft Quill Tree, 2023 ISBN: 9780062885531
When your friends are your whole world, what happens when you lose one of them and everything seems to be slowly falling apart? Dear Rosie, with words and art by Meghan Boehman and Rachael Briner, is a gentle graphic novel for middle grade readers about grief, friendship, and change.
Millie is about to start eighth grade at Tuscarora Middle School with her three best friends, Florence, Claire, and Gabby. It’s a difficult beginning, as the girls lost their fifth friend Rosie in a car accident the summer before. A new school year is a new start and the girls try to make the best of it, kicking it off with cupcakes in Rosie’s memory. After school, Millie helps her parents out at their laundromat. One day, a woman in a red coat leaves behind a mysterious journal and despite her best efforts to return it, Millie decides to peek inside.
The journal is full of sketches of buildings around their town but one thing really catches her eye—she finds the symbol Rosie always drew on its pages! Millie wants to use the sketchbook to explore and possibly find one final connection with her deceased friend, but getting everyone together to do so isn’t that easy. As the four friends deal with navigating their final year of middle school, they realize sometimes friendship can start to look different than it might have looked before.
Dear Rosieis a delicate look at one year in the lives of four young girls who’ve undergone a huge tragedy in their life. There are new things happening all around them, but the bond of friendship is the main focus of the novel. Rosie’s memory bonds them together and even when things don’t look ideal, they make it through and support one another. Boehman and Briner deal with heavy topics, such as moving, running away, and depression, with such grace and tenderness without ever speaking down to the graphic novel’s intended middle grade audience.
Young readers will find themselves drawn to the warm cottagecore style of the art of Dear Rosie. The book has warm fall coloring except in instances of memories of Rosie. In those panels, the coloring is muted and slightly colder, sending us back into the past when she was still alive. The graphic novel takes place in a world with all humanistic animals, enhancing its cozy feel. There’s additional information about these artistic choices in the book’s back matter for readers looking to learn even more about those. Boehman and Briner really bring the book’s very specific world to life.
Readers who appreciate graphic novels that deal with tough topics, like Stargazing or Sunny Side Up, will enjoy Dear Rosie. It’s also recommended for mystery lovers. This book has the possibility to prompt discussions and bring up heavy feelings as it deals with multiple major life changes, so be aware of any applicable warnings for some readers.