Danni is twelve when her faithful companion Pirate the dog dies. While trying to work through her grief, a substitute teacher named Miss Pallas introduces the class to mythology. Since there weren’t enough copies of the textbook for everyone in class, Miss Pallas gives her personal copy to Danni to use. Reading the book of mythology helps Danni start to recover gradually. However, when they read the section about Hades, one of the illustrations looks familiar. Danni is sure the entrance to Hades is a cave she used to visit with her family when she was younger.
Danni decides to leave immediately, in the middle of the night, to find Hades and bring back Pirate. If Orpheus could do it, so can she. Unfortunately, her younger brother, Sammy, follows her and they tumble into Hades together. Upon meeting Cerberus, Danni learns she is on an official quest from a god or goddess and that she can’t go home to drop her little brother off and then come back to continue. After choosing a hero to protect them, Danni faces several obstacles on her quest to find her faithful companion and bring him home.
This is an interesting introduction to myths for young readers set in a contemporary setting before entering the world of mythology and quests. I was reminded of the Percy Jackson series, if the main characters were aged down a few years in strength, wisdom, and priorities. The pacing is just right for younger readers ,as well, and there aren’t as many words per page as other comics meant for upper middle grade audiences. My favorite aspect of this retelling is using Danni’s knowledge of the world as a clever way to progress the plot instead of a detriment to her success. I am interested to see where the story goes in the next volume. I recommend this series for any public or classroom library that has middle grade readers looking for adventure, retellings, or help dealing with grief.
Fetch, book 1: The Journey By Mike Sizemore Art by Dave Kennedy Storm King Productions, 2023 ISBN: 9781734389197
Publisher Age Rating: 8-12 NFNT Age Recommendation: Middle Grade (7-11)
Set on an alternate Earth that was invaded by an alien race that calls themselves “Agartha,” three teenage girls have been gifted with the ability to transform into powerful magical girls. Wielding fruit wands, they are nicknamed Flavor Girls by the humans they protect. A fourth, Sara, is selected after being chased by the Agarthians through the streets of her hometown. Sara decides to leave her friends behind to join the Flavor Girls to train at the Temple of Mother Tree. Mother Tree provides the power each Flavor Girl uses to transform and defend Earth. Unfortunately, Sara has a lot to learn about fighting and teamwork and not much time before she is called to defend one of the relics protecting Mother Tree.
After the Agarthians manage to steal one of Mother Tree’s relics, the story follows them back to their spaceship. The Agartha celebrate their success and explain why they are hunting down the relics while showcasing their structure of power and personalities. There is also a short side story included at the end that deviates from the main story, which follows the Flavor Girls as they investigate a missing person and discover a haunted house.
My favorite aspect of this graphic novel is that the backstory sequences are told without words and with muted colors, relying on the action portrayed in the illustrations. This is very successful when juxtaposed with the colorful main story elements. Locatelli-Kournwsky has paced the story well, with a good balance between character development and world building. Nothing feels extraneous to the plot. The inclusion of the aliens’ point of view in the second half of the book, gives the audience new information about the ongoing war and raises questions about why they originally came to Earth and their relationship to Mother Tree and the relics. I’m looking forward to seeing how both sides’ stories progress in volume 2.
This would make a great addition to any public library collection for teens (since it does contain the usual superhero violence, making it inappropriate for children’s collections). It would also appeal to teen fans of magical girl manga and anime and would be a fantastic diverse addition to superhero collections.
Set in a steampunk world reminiscent of a fairy tale, Dreams Factory tells the story of Indira, a young girl working in the mines to help support her father and little brother. Unfortunately, she has fallen ill, so her brother Eliott tries to take her place, but is too short to be allowed to work. The mine’s owner, Ms. Sachs, overhears that Eliott can’t work and offers him a different job in her factory making mechanical insect toys. When Indira learns that Eliott and other village children have gone missing, she looks all over town for him. When someone finally tells Indira that her brother went with Ms. Sachs, Indira tries to confront this highly respected woman and finds herself arrested for assault. After escaping the police, Indira follows a mechanical insect into the factory and finds the missing children, who have lost their memories. It seems that the factory feeds on children’s memories in order to power the mechanical insects being produced.
The illustrations in this graphic novel are magnificent. The artist and colorists brought the world and characters to life so well that few words were needed to flesh them out. Many panels are devoid of speech bubbles, so the illustrations can appear in their entirety without interruption. I do wish there had been a little more description or explanation of how the mystical elements of the factory work exactly, or its origin. The climax gets very confusing, so something to help slow things down would help readers to better understand both what is happening and the characters’ motivations. Perhaps it makes more sense in the original French, but the English translation could have been longer to address these issues.
Although there is a small pacing problem with the plot, I still recommend this book be added to public libraries or collections that focus on splendid illustrations. Because there are heavier topics of child labor, some body horror (limbs replaced with mechanical versions), and on-page death, this story is more suited to teenagers.
Dreams Factory By Jerome Hamon Art by Suheb Zako Magnetic Press, 2022 ISBN: 9781951719524
Publisher Age Rating: 14 and up NFNT Age Recommendation: Teen (13-16)
When Elle starts at a new school, she immediately makes friends with a group of four other students. Things are going well for a few weeks until Elle is confronted by a variety of stressful triggers and starts acting differently. Her friends think these might be different versions of Elle peeking through various emotions, but are confused and hurt but Elle’s actions. Maelys, one of Elle’s new friends, isn’t ready to give up on their friendship, though, and starts working with Elle to identify these other personalities and how to control them. As they start to put together clues, things about Elle’s past don’t add up and she has even more questions than before. Meanwhile, inside Elle’s head, a blue version of her wants to be in charge and is the one activating the other personalities to cause mischief.
Volume two continues the story of Elle’s main personalities, Rose and Blue. Rose is now stuck in her subconscious looking for a way out while Blue is in control of Elle’s body. Rose finds herself traveling thorough each part of her subconscious, learning more about her other personalities while trying to find her way out. Maelys is sure that this Elle isn’t her friend and tries to talk to Blue about the changes she and their other friends have noticed. When Blue won’t listen, Maelys tries something drastic to help her friend.
The best part of these two volumes is the use of color. The artist did a brilliant job using color to show the reader the six distinct personalities of Elle across both volumes. Besides being integral to character development, the colors are bright and vibrant and create the perfect atmosphere for each part of the story, even the sad and tense moments. I also like the variation of panel layouts and how those affect the pacing of the story. There are lots of small, short panels to indicate faster pacing while full page panels have the reader slowing down to admire the details and think about the story.
I highly recommend this series to any reader over the age of ten. Although each volume is just under 100 pages, the subject of multiple personalities and exploring feelings and anxiety can get heavy. The main characters are young teenagers, so there is also plenty of regular teenage angst in the mix as well as the mystery of Elle’s personalities. It looks like there are only two volumes planned at this time, so I’d like to note that many of the story threads are wrapped up in volume two, but readers may want to spend longer in this world exploring Elle’s head space.
Elle(s), vol 1: The New Girl Elle(s), vol 2: The Elle-verse By Kid Toussaint Art by Aveline Stokart Ablaze, 2022 vol 1 ISBN: 9781684970933 vol 2 ISBN: 9781684971282
Publisher Age Rating: 12+ NFNT Age Recommendation: Teen (13-16), Tween (10-13)
Liliana, a planeswalker who can travel between planes aka dimensions, is taking time to reexamine her life as she teaches necromancy in Strixhaven. Unfortunately, her time there is interrupted by Tezzeret (another planeswalker)waiting in her office, where he attempts to kill her.During their battle, Tezzeret mentions some interesting facts about a planeswalker Liliana has never heard of in connection with a deadly opponent, Marit Lage. Once Tezzeret is defeated and flees, Liliana explores the vast Strixhaven library to learn more about Isona Maive, who has a rare amplification power. However, there is more to the story than the library reveals and soon Liliana must make a difficult choice: to be a hero or the villain.
Although this is a standalone volume, it is highly connected to the main comic series Magic from BOOM! Studios. There are several places within the story that are glossed over with a note that directs the reader to specific issues to read more. I don’t think this volume stands up by itself and would highly recommend that it only be added to collections that are also purchasing the main Magic series. This graphic novel series is not canon to the trading card game it is related to, but I loved learning more about the planeswalkers’ adventures and relationships. Isona is not currently part of the game, so it was exciting to explore an entirely new character.
The consistency of the artwork in this volume is great and each planeswalker is given a color scheme that matches their personality, making it easier for readers to follow the action depicted. I prefer when the same artist is used across issues for long running storylines, so it is great that the same artist is used for the main series as well as the side stories. This is especially helpful with so many different characters featured across arcs. High school and older readers will appreciate this world the most.
Magic: The Hidden Planeswalker By Mairghread Scott Art by Fabiana Mascolo BOOM! Studios, 2023 ISBN: 9781684158553
Related media: Game to Comic
NFNT Age Recommendation: Adult (18+), Older Teen (16-18), Teen (13-16)