Young Leonardo

Young Leonardo depicts the life of artist and thinker Leonardo da Vinci during his childhood, prior to beginning his formal art study under Andrea del Verrocchio. The plot is episodic, moving through a series of short vignettes of experiences in the young artist’s life.

While it may be impossible to document da Vinci’s childhood years with total certainty, the episodes are based on information from his many notebooks. Quotations from the artist are interspersed throughout the book. Through the series of lighthearted comics, we see Leonardo’s beginnings in art, as well as his curiosity about the world around him which manifested in inventions, scientific discoveries, and constant observation. Other character traits are also highlighted, such as da Vinci’s habit of working on many projects at once, often abandoning one to start another, and his style of drawing subjects realistically at a time when most patrons of the arts expected to be shown in a more flattering light. 

Young Leonardo does an excellent job showing the human side of the legendary artist. We see him deal with teasing and trouble fitting in from the neighborhood kids, at the same time dishing out some teasing of his own to his family members. His Nonna seems especially harried by Leonardo’s antics. While joking and playing like an ordinary child, Leonardo is forever engaged in lofty ambitions such as the pursuit of flight. Several of the vignettes show him testing a variety of wings he has constructed. Several comics show his other scholarly interests such as architecture and anatomy. 

The full-color artwork consists mainly of a traditional panel structure with between nine to twelve cells per page. Some pages lack borders around cells, and a few vignettes are wordless. Characters are drawn in a cartoonish style, only given four fingers per hand for example. However, astute readers will recognize the realism Augel brings to the book. Drawings from Leonardo da Vinci’s actual notebooks are woven into the story and appear throughout the book. Characters are included who match portraits sketched by da Vinci, and the entire da Vinci family is introduced in a pose reminiscent of The Last Supper. Most of the vignettes are comical with some tongue-in-cheek references along the way. One page sees Leonardo painting the borders around the cells, yet failing to finish them, a reference to the many projects he abandoned throughout his career. 

Endmatter includes biographical information which illuminates the main text, as well as activities the reader can try in order to practice one of da Vinci’s experiments, a vocabulary quiz, and a matching game. A teaching guide follows which includes additional background information, common core connections, and ideas for using the book within a classroom setting. There is much young readers can learn from the life of Leonardo da Vinci, and Young Leonardo presents these lessons well. Leonardo is a character who shows perseverance and grit, While he does abandon some projects, he never stops inventing and trying new ideas. He continues his pursuit of human flight despite setbacks. Even when others mock or question him, he continues to seek knowledge and to create. This book is a great tool for classroom instruction, and an enjoyable title for readers interested in history.

Young Leonardo
By William Augel
Art by  William Augel
Big, an imprint of Humanoids, 2020
ISBN: 9781643376417

Title Details and Representation
NFNT Age Recommendation: Middle Grade (7-11), Tween (10-13)
Creator Representation: French,

Super Turbo saves the day

Graphic adaptations of popular prose texts are nothing new, but this past year has produced a trend of producing these adaptations for ever-younger readers. Graphic versions of I Survived and Goosebumps are being succeeded by graphic adaptations of beginning chapter books and even easy readers.

My Weird School, Magic Tree House, and others are getting their own graphic versions, but Simon and Schuster has gone all the way with a flurry of new releases adapting their most popular Little Simon titles, from The Kingdom of Wrenly to the selection for this review, Super Turbo.

The original title includes black and white illustrations and is a graphic blend, with short comics woven into the story. The art was conceived by George O’Connor, better-known for his Olympians series and the author, Lee Kirby, is most likely a pseudonym either for O’Connor himself or a Stratemeyer-like syndicate used by Simon and Schuster. There is a similar series, Captain Awesome, by “Stan Kirby” with O’Connor’s illustrations as well. I suspect the “author” for the graphic novel version, Edgar Powers, is also a pseudonym, since it is a faithful adaptation of the prose book, with simplified dialogue and some of the description cut out.

The plot is a familiar one, featuring classroom pets with a secret life. In this opening story, Turbo, the class hamster for the 2nd graders in Classroom C, is doing a little light exploring during a snow day when he encounters a number of other class pets. Once their initial surprise wears off, they discover they all have something in common: secret identities as superheroes! Their casual jaunt through the school to meet the other class pets is derailed when they encounter the villainous Whiskerface and his army of “rats” in the cafeteria and the story finishes with the class pets’ decision to use their powers to protect the school and the promise of more adventures to come.

The artist, Salvatore Costanza, is part of a large graphic design group, Glass House Graphics, and the group has done a decent job of expanding and colorizing O’Connor’s original art. The animals match the original black and white pictures: Turbo the pudgy hamster, Angelina, a guinea pig with a lightning bolt on her chest and dramatic mohawk, polka-dotted gecko, etc. The only color in the original is on the cover and the graphic novel matches Turbo’s colors there, giving him a creamy belly, green goggles, and yellow cape. Several of the pets, including Angelina the Wonder Pig, have rather freakish bare arms but this is also true to the original. The art is simple but colorful, with brightly colored but minimal backgrounds, basic furniture, and cartoon animals sporting bright colors. The panels maintain a strict sequential order, making it simple for intermediate readers to follow the dialogue and action.

If you have young readers who refuse to look at anything that’s not fully illustrated and in color, are big fans of Branches and other easy, illustrated chapters, or who love the original series, this is a good addition. The cost is higher than the original of course, but the paperback bindings appear to be sturdy and they are an attractive addition to beginning chapter collections. One caution though; unlike other graphic adaptations like My Weird School which maintain the same size, Simon & Schuster’s graphic adaptations are significantly larger, closer to the size of a typical Graphix paperback like Bone rather than the smaller paperback chapters. If, like me, you keep your beginning chapter books in tubs, this is definitely something to keep in mind when considering this addition to your library.

Super Turbo Saves the Day
By Edgar Powers
Art by Salvatore Costanza
ISBN: 9781534474468
Simon & Schuster, 2021

Title Details and Representation
NFNT Age Recommendation: Easy Readers (5-9)
Related to…: Book to Comic

When Cloud became a cloud

Although it’s hard to figure out exactly where this book belongs—picture book? easy reader? chapter book?—one thing is for sure, it’s a fun read!

Colorful cartoons walk readers through a simplified version of the water cycle. The end pages are a rainbow of speckled strips of color and this cheerful theme reappears in the first chapter where a blue lake sits peacefully amidst a swathe of vibrant green grass and is bracketed by a brilliant orange sky and purple hills. The lake has a cheerful smiley face, a motif that will be repeated throughout the book. A simple sequence of cartoons shows the grinning sun warming up the lake, then the page shows a series of exuberant water droplets flying upwards, with yells of “Whoopie!” They form the cheerfully smiling Cloud who then becomes the main character in the story.

Readers will follow the fluffy white Cloud through many different incarnations, from fog to snow. Cloud is tipped with blue, frowns in worry as she turns black and spouts rain drops, and zips through the air with the help of wind, shown as a swirl of lines, eyes, and a pursed mouth. After a number of clouds come together to form a storm, the original Cloud gets to see a brilliant rainbow, echoing the sparkling end pages, and returns to her original lake where the evaporation process repeats and gives her a new cloud friend.

Throughout the informational plot, Hodgson moves back and forth between simple sequential panels showing the movement and changes in water from droplets to clouds and back again as precipitation, and full spreads of colorful but simple pictures. Basic drawings show mountains, forests, and beaches, but the focus is always on the action in the sky with smiling water droplets rising and falling, coming together to form snowflakes, and more. Most of the natural formations, from white-topped mountain peak to the brightly shining sun sport smiley faces.

At 68 pages this is double the length of the standard picture book and the size, 9.5×7″ is a little larger than a typical easy reader. The text, although simple, is also a little more complex than is usual for an easy reader, being similar to a beginning chapter although lacking the longer paragraphs. However, it would slot easily into any of these three collections.

The bright cartoon pictures, vibrant colors, and simple text will attract young comic fans, especially those who enjoy the gentle humor of Mo Willems and Maxwell Eaton III, and are not averse to a little learning with their comic fun. This is an ideal introduction to the water cycle and a perfect choice for a classroom read-aloud leading into a project and more research on the water cycle and formation of clouds and storms.

When Cloud Became a Cloud
By Rob Hodgson
ISBN: 9780593224915
Rise/Penguin Workshop, 2021

Title Details and Representation
NFNT Age Recommendation: Easy Readers (5-9)

Transformers: The Manga Vol. 1

Here we have a 1980s classic Transformers manga collection of three stories available for the first time in English. All written by the original author for the G1 series Transformer comic in Japan. The three stories, “Fight! Super Robot Life-Form Transformers”, “The Story of the Super Robot Life-Forms: The Star Transformers”, and “The Great Transformers War” tell us all about the origins of the autobots, decepticons, and how they face off with each other, on planet Earth. Despite these stories being written in the 1980s they do not feel dated, and could easily be enjoyed by children nowadays. 

Each story is quite short and often features full page images, or battle scenes that involve a lot of action words and not a lot of genuine dialogue. The plot of each of these tales is very shallow and unfortunately, don’t expect to see the unique personalities that you may be familiar with from more recent Transformers television shows, or movies. Bumblebee isn’t driving around making joke after joke. Instead the robots are all serious about fighting each other. These stories take place in and around Japan, instead of America, and feature the human character, Kenji. A Japanese boy who is made into an honorary autobot as he helps fight the bad guys too. A lot of silly sounding “curse you’s” are thrown in, making it a fairly repetitive line throughout. Overall, the stories would be better enjoyed by younger audiences who aren’t looking for as much depth, and instead can enjoy the artwork and action. 

Illustrator Magami, also known as the dynamic artist, did a wonderful job of creating action filled and exciting panels. These read from right to left, in typical manga fashion. Characters have expressive faces with typical manga style of large eyes and loud emotions. Action verbs explode out of panels. The book’s artwork starts off with a few glossy color pages explaining the basic background of who the transformers are, and ends with a large section of glossy pages featuring a mix of color and black and white images called Illustration Works. This features all kinds of magazine artwork from the mid to late 1980s. The three stories found in between this, are all in matte black and white. There are many scenes of the robots fighting each other, so do expect to see the transformer’s guns out, shooting bullets, airplanes getting shot down, etc. However it isn’t excessive, it is not gruesome, and it doesn’t contain anything more than what you would see on the animated television show or anime movie. 

This is a well-done translation of the original Transformers manga produced in 1986 by Japan. The stories are silly, and shallow with beautifully done detailed artwork. This series is recommended for readers aged 12-17 but I would recommend it for the youngest of that age range only. The entire series is already out, so if you purchase this one I would recommend completing this Transformers: The Manga series by buying volumes two and three.

Transformers: The Manga Vol. 1
By Masumi Kaneda
Art by Ban Magami
ISBN: 9781974710560
VIZ Media LLC, 2020
Publisher Age Rating: 12-17
Series ISBNS and Order

Title Details and Representation
NFNT Age Recommendation: Middle Grade (7-11), Teen (13-16), Tween (10-13)
Creator Highlights: Japanese
Related to…: Classic to Comic

The Fox & Little Tanuki

This all ages manga begins with a mystery—a small, frightened creature hiding, pursued by wolves, and finally captured. Then the story begins with the history of Senzou, the black fox. Powerful, selfish, and evil; he was imprisoned by the Sun Goddess for three hundred years and he’s finally free… but he’s not at all remorseful.

Then he discovers that he’s not free after all; his punishment will continue and he’s been assigned as guardian to Manpachi, a young tanuki and that’s just to start! Manpachi is lonely, bewildered by his parents’ rejection, and uncertain of how to use his new powers. Senzou is revengeful, angry, and hates everyone, especially this annoying little pup. This isn’t going to be easy for anyone, including the annoying dogs and wolves keeping an eye on them, a white fox trying to mother them, and a sly and wicked badger with his own agenda coming back from Senzou’s past.

The art jumps quickly from chibi characters to more serious, artistic washes of ink. Senzou is sometimes his own, terrifying self, with intricate markings, but more often his cartoon transformation, complete with white-tipped tail and cartoonishly big nose. Some characters change from human to their animal or spirit form, but they always keep their own personalities, so readers will giggle to see carefree spirit dog Tachibana racing through the streets in his human form, tongue lolling out, or the wacky transformations the little tanuki inflicts on Senzou as he loses control of his new powers. The chapters are divided by single illustrations of the various creatures, “The Bakemono Field Guide” with delicate drawings illustrating the types of characters and their abilities and weaknesses.

This story combines cute, big-eyed furry characters of the Disney variety with darker and more dramatic mythological creatures and several underlying plots. It’s rare to find truly all-ages manga, but so far as can be seen in the first volume it should be just right for readers who love the manga format and the magical and mystical creatures of Japanese legend but aren’t ready for the more mature relationships and plots of most manga. There are definitely dark and dangerous moments, so this is not for extremely sensitive readers, but if they can handle Pokémon or Studio Ghibli films they should have no problem with this series. The only barrier to adding this to collections serving middle grade readers who enjoy manga is the unreliability of Tokyopop’s publishing schedule and the rapidity with which their publications tend to go out of stock and out of print.

The Fox & Little Tanuki 1
By Mi Tagawa
ISBN: 9781427863188
Tokyopop, 2020
Publisher Age Rating: All Ages
Series ISBNS and Order

Title Details and Representation
NFNT Age Recommendation: Middle Grade (7-11)

El Deafo: The Superpowered Edition

Cece Bell’s Newbery Honor award winning and #1 New York Times bestselling graphic novel is back in an all new edition. Enjoy the same wonderful story, now with 40 additional pages of  background information on how Bell drew the first images that she submitted to her editor, childhood pictures of Bell herself, how the pages came together as she developed the story; and maybe best of all, fan mail and artwork she has received and cherishes.

This story begins with how as a young girl, Bell, lost her ability to hear after an illness when she was four years old. She has to learn how to adapt to life with her hearing aid, the Phonic Ear, and how to better lip read so that she can again communicate easily with others around her.  When Bell transitions from a private school for deaf children to a public school, she  is no longer surrounded by classmates who have hearing loss just like her. Instead she’s going to be the only one that has hearing loss, and the only one wearing a Phonic Ear device. The Phonic Ear works well, but it comes with visible cords coming down to a box that hangs from her neck and sits on her chest. It’s not anything that she can hide, when she just wants to fit in with her classmates. It has her feeling alienated, self-conscious, and like she might never make a true friend. 

The artwork in this comic is a cute and appealing style to young readers. The backgrounds are simple and colorful. The characters are drawn as bunnies, thus emphasizing their ears. The pages are full of easy to follow panels with not too much text, so the story flows smoothly. It’s one that’s easy to understand, yet has a lot of depth to it, and creativity as she stylizes pages uniquely to emphasize different moods or dramatic events. 

Overall, this is an outstanding comic. It is one that is sure to never be on the shelf, and instead be in a young reader’s hands. Middle schoolers will love how fun and relatable this story is. The enjoyable drawing style, combined with Bell’s witty sense of humor, make this a wonderful addition to any collection. There are many important themes throughout the story, from believing in yourself, friendship, disability, and overcoming life changing challenges. Bell is truly deserving of the recognition and awards that she has won for producing this timeless piece of artwork, with excellent storytelling. 

El Deafo: The Superpowered Edition
By Cece Bell
ISBN: 9781419748318
Harry N. Abrams, 2020
Publisher Age Rating: 8-12

Title Details and Representation
NFNT Age Recommendation: Easy Readers (5-9), Middle Grade (7-11), Tween (10-13)
Character Traits: Deafness
Creator Highlights: Deafness

Fox & Rabbit

Beth Ferry, a best-selling picture book author who has collaborated with a number of illustrators, branched out into graphic novels in 2020 with a new series, Fox & Rabbit. A classic odd couple story on the surface, it introduced a new illustrator as well, Gergely Dudas, who has previously created a number of seek-and-find activity books. This new series portrays a quirky pair of friends, the rather childish Fox and slightly more mature Rabbit, as well as a small cast of sweet and funny characters including perpetually hungry Sparrow and perpetually late Tortoise.

Both books feature a series of simple, interconnected adventures. In the first volume, Fox and Rabbit visit a fair and win a beach ball, so they go to the beach. At the beach they find a bottle with a map to Surprise Island. On the island they discover a trunk full of seeds, which they plant in a garden. Rabbit succumbs to temptation and eats the garden, but they repair their friendship by growing one remaining seedling together with a surprise all its own that leads them to creating a lemonade stand. In the second book they decide how to spend the money earned at their lemonade stand, which leads to a bubble gum glowing contest, then to an unfortunate haircut for Fox and a brand-new friend for both Fox and Rabbit. At the end of each story Tortoise appears, disappointed that they’ve once again missed all the fun, until all the friends join together at the end of the second book for some autumnal fun.

The imagination of the characters truly shines in the second volume, as Fox and Rabbit switch between everyday activities and a delightfully imaginative inner life. For example, when they are playing with Owl they fall into quicksand, climb a volcano, and rescue a friend all in the confines of a woodland playground with swings and a slide.

Dudas’ previous work in seek-and-find books is shown throughout the art in the series, which features a delicacy of line and detail not usually seen in graphic novels for younger readers. Bright greens and oranges meld with the soft browns of Rabbit’s fur and are set off by a sprinkling of sharp red leaves in the second volume. The carefully organized panels make it easy for young readers to follow the action and events of each short story, even when the characters are switching between their imaginations and reality. Dudas shows a wonderful grasp of timing and clarity in his art, especially since it Is his first venture into making comics, as he draws readers through Ferry’s simple adventures. The characters are not very emotionally expressive, with simple dots and lines for facial features, but their movements are clear and convey their little arguments, reconciliations, and games and the fun they have together.

Ever since Mo Willems introduced Elephant and Piggie there’s been a growing market for comics for younger readers and this is a strong bridge comic that will help beginning readers move on to longer and more complex titles. It’s less likely to appeal to struggling or reluctant readers, due to the smaller font and early reader style of stories, lacking the more explosive adventure and wacky hilarity of Captain Underpants or Bad Guys. However, this is ideal for beginning readers who are fluent but not yet ready for more complex themes or who cannot handle scary or suspenseful stories. If you have 1st and 2nd graders who are capable of reading at a higher level but not emotionally ready for older fare, this sweet series will be just right for them, combining gentle lessons of friendship, quirky humor, and attractive art for a relatable and comforting reading experience.

Fox & Rabbit
By Beth Ferry
Art by Gergely Dudas


Amulet, 2020
Publisher Age Rating:
Series ISBNS and Order

Title Details and Representation
NFNT Age Recommendation: Easy Readers (5-9)

Super Mario Manga Mania

This book is filled with silliness from page one and features Mario characters from all different Nintendo versions of the globally famous game. Author and illustrator Yukio Sawada selected some of his favorite stories from his Japanese Super Mario-kun series and put them together in this newly translated English collection, Super Mario: Manga Mania. Sawada has been creating manga since 1980, and has recently been recognized by the well-known Japanese 65th Shogakukan manga award in 2020. Manga Mania is a black and white, space travel filled graphic novel, which is read from right to left, as you would expect from manga. 

This compilation is organized just as the games are, by stages instead of chapters. This is a fitting way to title them as these stories certainly do not need to be read in order. Each stage is a short story based off of a different Mario game, such as: “Paper Mario,” “Super Mario Galaxy,” “Super Mario Sunshine,” “Mario & Luigi: Partners in Time,” “Super Paper Mario,” and “New Super Mario Bros. Wii”. This collection is full of zany fantasy scenarios with every range of humor from cheesy to absolutely gross. Sawada stays true to the basic storyline given in the games themselves, and has a short description of this at the beginning of every stage so that the reader knows what the inspiration is for that particular tale. Little side notes given by Old Yukio provide some interesting background and bonus information.

Sawada does an excellent job of drawing exactly what you’d expect from a manga comic book. When characters are happy, their entire faces shine, and when they’re sad they pour tears. No dull expressions can be found anywhere. This book has jam packed pages filled with busy manga style artwork and tons of action words popping out of the page, often followed by excessive exclamation points. Many of the action words are in a made up, silly English, like “sparkl, wggl, smak,  slrrp, hrrngh”, so don’t expect this to be a great title to choose to develop spelling skills. Backgrounds have little detail, instead the panels are filled with zoomed in characters so that the focus is on the dramatic facial expressions. 

Don’t take any of the stories in this book seriously, instead prepare yourself for a lot of gag humor, ridiculous situations, and overdramatic characters. I think the translator, Caleb Cook has done an excellent job of navigating the differences in not only the Japanese and English languages, but cultural differences, and different styles of humor. Younger readers who enjoy reading manga and like Mario would likely enjoy this compilation. However, older readers or those who aren’t a fan of video games might find it a bit too illogical and overly silly. There are conversations in which characters are calling each other losers or dumb, and being excessively rude to each other, but I believe it’s meant to be in good fun for the reader. The author does include a parental advisory for the last chapter, which deals with the loss of a parent. However, this section is well-done and quite sentimental, it’s not inappropriate for young readers, just could be skipped if that’s a sensitive topic. Overall, if you’re looking to add a humorous manga title to your elementary library collection this one will surely get checked out.

Super Mario Manga Mania
By Yukio Sawada
Art by Yukio Sawada
ISBN: 9781974718481
Viz Media, 2020
Publisher Age Rating: 7-10
Series ISBNS and Order

Title Details and Representation
NFNT Age Recommendation: Easy Readers (5-9), Middle Grade (7-11)
Creator Highlights: Japanese
Related to…: Game to Comic


With many publishers creating imprints for graphic novels and a plethora of new content, it’s a great time to be a comic-loving kid. This series start comes from Houghton Mifflin Harcourt’s new graphic imprint, Etch, and it’s a wild, goofy ride.

The informal leader is Teri-Dactyl, smart, inspirational, strong, and she can fly! Dave the triceratops is the strong guy; his only weakness is pizza. T-Lex is always ready for hugs, selfies, and terrifying roars. Bach is their genius, except he only writes in chicken scratch and never says anything but bok. This can be hard to understand. Together they are Dinomighty! the protectors of their city and the nemesis of evil-doers. But, unbeknownst to them, they have two dangerous enemies who are planning a skillful heist of the rare golden Egglettes, safely hidden in Cosmo Castle.

Well, not that skillful. Their secret enemies are Diplodocus and Diplodoofus and they’re just… not that smart. Which means that, however evil they want to be, they just never pull it off. But not this time! This time they have a plan that will make them the Dinomighties’ foremost evil foes! Hijinks ensue, with poetry-spouting dinosaurs, missing security guards (hey, they were on vacation!) and a final shocking surprise from the Egglettes themselves.

Blecha, a native of my own state of Wisconsin, has illustrated a long stream of children’s funny stories, including the popular series George Brown, Class Clown, the sadly out-of-print Zombiekins, and also works in the toy and game industry. This is his first graphic novel and he brings the wild fun with his character designs and clever illustrations of Doug Paleo’s (I’m pretty sure this is a pseudonym) goofy situations. Teri wears a warm-up suit, as she’s always ready to go, Dave has a classic 80s sweatband that makes his horns and neckfrill look like an afro, T-Lex is dressed in pink polka-dots with her ever-present pink phone and selfie stick close at hand. The city and landscape are covered with riotous colors and the dinosaurs themselves shine in hues of orange, purple, and green. There’s lots of humor around their size, as they cram into tiny cars or balance on rafts, and the Diplo brothers show off the full range of their ridiculous schemes in silly disguises, like wearing a wooden log as a hat/mask. Bulging cartoon eyes, lots of crashes, explosions, bams and pows, fill out the story and will keep readers giggling and turning the page until the end.

This latest series joins a hilarious line-up of comics for young readers, from Bad Guys to Dogman, that will keep them reading and laughing all the way through. Unlike many of these popular series however, these creators give equal time to the female members of the group and they’re all given distinct, if one-dimensional personalities. The text and art will be accessible to readers who are at an intermediate level in their chapter book reading, but less fluent readers will also appreciate the story, even if they aren’t able to catch the more subtle humor. Be ready to preorder the next title in the series, and pair it with some great nonfiction dinosaur comics if you want to expand your reader’s horizons.

By Doug Paleo
Art by Aaron Blecha
ISBN: 9780358331568
Etch, 2020
Publisher Age Rating:
Series ISBNS and Order

Title Details and Representation
NFNT Age Recommendation: Middle Grade (7-11)

Mellybean and the giant monster

Mellybean, an energetic little terrier, really wants her cat siblings to play with her, but they’d rather nap! So they trick her into going outside, and when she starts digging Melly falls, Alice-like, into another world. There she meets a huge, rabbit-eared orange beast called Narra. Melly loves humans – they rescued her from a shelter, she loves playing with “tiny humans” (kids) and she thinks that everything can be solved if she sits nicely! But Narra was betrayed by his first human friend, who stole his magic and betrayed him to the king. Now he’s hunted for the gold he produces and constantly attacked by the soldiers of the selfish, cruel king.

Narra doesn’t intend to be friends with anyone, let alone humans, ever again. However, Melly has different ideas. When they discover a trio of orphans, left alone when their caretaker Ms. Oliver was thrown into the dungeon by the king, they decide to try to save her. Will Narra trust them enough to help them and does Melly have what it takes to win this tricky battle and save the kingdom?

This debut graphic novel is rather uneven in plot, but there’s no denying the adorability of the animals featured (all based on real pets belonging to the author) and the charm and humor of the brisk, colorful art. Most of the humans present as white, but two of the orphans have darker skin. The kingdom is shown as quasi-medieval, with a castle, mounds of golden treasure (most of it collected from Narra’s “eye crusties”) and loose, earth-colored clothes for the populace and armor for the soldiers. However, there are also glasses for several characters, including a hapless sculptor employed by the king and bearing a bit of a resemblance to the author himself. The king is a slightly pudgy redhead, very proud of his athletic prowess and confident in his privilege and selfish indifference to the people he rules. Most of the panels have green and blue backgrounds, focusing on the action of the small cast of characters. Humans shown only briefly look very much alike – Narra’s betraying friend, Melly’s humans, and Ms. Oliver all have very similar facial structures, lank hair, and pursed, red lips. The furry protagonists are well-done, and I especially enjoyed the subplot of the cats arguing, cat-like, about who is going down the hole to rescue Melly.

The plot of this series opener throws a mix of loose ends into the story, from the theft of Narra’s magic to the ultimate fate of the selfish king. The bits of “gross” humor, like Narra’s eye crusties and the discovery of a portal up her nose, feel like afterthoughts, thrown in under the mistaken assumption that kids need at least a modicum of farts and boogers to enjoy a story. The more serious aspects of the story are confused as well, from the king who ranges from cruel (off-scene) punishments to being a ridiculous braggart, much like his advisor who at first tries to argue with him to cut taxes and then abruptly turns against the band of rebels, instructing the soldiers to attack them.

However, despite the confusion of the plot, it’s overall a fast-moving and satisfactory story. Presumably more loose ends will be tied up in future volumes and there are frequent moments of genuine humor and an overall emphasis on kindness and doing your best without being didactic. An additional purchase for readers who enjoy graphic novels, cute animals, and a gentle, low-stakes fantasy story.

Mellybean and the giant monster 1
By Mike White
Art by
ISBN: 9780593202807
Razorbill, 2020
Publisher Age Rating:
Series ISBNS and Order

Title Details and Representation
NFNT Age Recommendation: Middle Grade (7-11)