Agent Moose

Although there’s a long tradition of goofy animal detectives, the wild success of Dav Pilkey’s Dogman series has inspired a fresh spurt and this latest furry investigator is a hilarious addition to the genre.

Mo O’Hara’s signature humor is well-established in previous series like My Big Fat Zombie Goldfish, and she’s teamed up with British artist Jess Bradley for her first graphic novel. Special Agent Anonymoose and his sidekick, Not-Quite-So-Special Agent Owlfred are introduced via their personnel files. Then the first chapter starts with a, well, he meant well… ok, it was a disaster. Instead of successfully solving his 100th case, Anonymoose has flopped, big time. As Owlfred says, “It wasn’t technically a crime, sir. More of a meteorological event.” To add insult to injury, Anonymoose is ordered down to headquarters to help celebrate the 100th case of his rival Camo Chameleon, and clean up the loose ends of Camo’s last case by finding a missing turtle who’s needed as a witness.

Anonymoose has the disguises, Owlfred has the smarts, and together they’re one great team. Can they solve the mystery, put up with Camo’s boasting, and prove that Anonymoose has what it takes to complete his 100th case? Or will they disappear before they solve all the strange happenings?

The silly text, full of jokes, puns, and general hilarity, is complemented by Bradley’s goofy art. Anonymoose’s disguises are each funnier than the last, and will keep readers giggling as they quickly find him disguised as a palm tree, giant turtle, and more while the onlookers are completely fooled. Owlfred reluctantly goes along, getting dressed up as a complementary coconut and other wacky disguises that fit his small owl form, and even use his big, wire-rimmed glasses. The art is bright and colorful with lots of action and movement among the plethora of animal characters and many dramatic close-ups as Revelations Are Made. The speech bubbles and panels are easy to follow and the bold art and simple lines work together well with the intermediate text for readers not yet ready to tackle more complex graphic novels. The chapter headings are included on each page, along with moose tracks and owl feathers, so readers can keep track of how far they’ve gotten in the story and the goofy fun comes full circle with another newspaper headline, this time about Anonymoose and Owlfred’s success.

This is pure fun and I laughed all the way through. It’s got some gentle lessons about paying attention to the facts and looking below the surface and Anonymoose does learn to appreciate the rather stereotyped Owlfred more, especially when he’s gone and Anonymoose realizes he hasn’t always been the good friend he should have been. Although most of the characters who are given a gender are designated as male, the head of Special Branch is a very snazzy skunk in pant suit and pearls. This is sure to be wildly popular with both Dogman fans and Mo O’Hara’s own readers. The next volume in the series is planned for 2021, so be ready for Anonymoose and Owlfred’s next exciting case!


Agent Moose 1
By Mo O’Hara
Art by Jess Bradley
ISBN: 9781250222213
Feiwel and Friends, 2020
Publisher Age Rating:
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Title Details and Representation
NFNT Age Recommendation: Middle Grade (7-11)

Monster and Me: The Complete Comics Collection

Gabby lives in a world where every kid has a pet monster. Gabby decides one day to take her pet monster, Dwight, to school and all sorts of trouble ensue in Monster and Me: The Complete Comics Collection by Robert Marsh and Tom Percival. Gaby’s parents have recently separated and her father no longer lives with them. Gaby has anxiety about school and navigating this new climate. She decides one day to bring Dwight with her. Dwight doesn’t make a smooth transition at the school. He roars when he responds to questions, tries to eat people, and has a hard time adjusting to the social norms. Dwight ends up being involved in school activities that are challenging for him, but he finds a way to adapt to these situations. Ultimately the lesson learned is that you can find a way to succeed no matter what your challenges may be.

The main character is biracial, her mother is black and her father is white. It’s revealed in the first chapter that her parents are separated. It’s the one thing that I applaud this series for, but I wish the authors had delved into it further. For example, what impact does the separation have on Gabby? The father is only shown briefly in two stories and has a warm relationship with his daughter. His absence in later stories makes me wonder how involved he is in her life. The mother and father have zero interaction in any of the stories. Dwight serves as a proxy for Gabby, however, I would have preferred if we experienced more things from Gabby’s point of view and knew how she felt about school.

The artwork is very colorful with a heavy emphasis on reds and purples. The colors match the whimsical nature of the story and complement its humorous tone. The human figures tend to have big heads and small bodies. The kids are clearly defined by a school uniform that consists of a white t-shirt with a sweater over it. The adults have more variation in the shapes of their bodies and heads. The male school staff all wear ties and suits, while the parents are casually dressed. Gabby’s father wears a t-shirt with a yellow jacket over it. Dwight reminded me of the Pokemon, Snorlax with his grey fur, pointy ears, and round tummy. Dwight is given an expressive face as he is the comic relief of the story.

Monster and Me: The Complete Comics Collection will charm the audience it is targeted at which is grade 3-6. As an adult, I didn’t find the humor worked for me, and I wanted more character development for Gabby as she is the main protagonist of the story. Other features that the graphic novel has are instructions on how to draw Dwight and Gabby. There are also monster jokes included in the last few pages.

Monster and Me: The Complete Comics Collection
By Robert Marsh
Art by Tom Percival
ISBN: 9781496587305
Capstone, 2020
Publisher Age Rating: Grades 3-6
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Title Details and Representation
NFNT Age Recommendation: Middle Grade (7-11)

The Riverdale Diaries, vol. 1: Hello, Betty!

My first comics, longer stories than the Sunday newspaper and collections of Peanuts and Garfield borrowed from the library, were the Archie comics. After pining over them in the grocery store checkout line I would get bags of hand-me-down clothes from my cousin with similarly passed down Archie books in little digest formats. I devoured these in my upper elementary school years, loving the glamorous world of teenagers that seemed to suggest the 50s and the early 90s were all the same. I must have read dozens, but I don’t have a single one among my books saved from childhood, they were ephemeral and timeless; the world of Archie continuing on long after I had moved on as a reader. I was still years away from my larger comics awakening as an older teen, but I think an understanding and love of the format was first planted in me by the Archie comics. While I haven’t kept up with all of the decades of Archie comics since my childhood, I have enjoyed the moving Mark Waid updates and the fascinating gritty trajectories of the Chilling Adventures of Sabrina and Riverdale. When I saw this foray into modern middle grade comics I knew I had to check it out. 

The Riverdale Diaries: Hello, Betty! treads the familiar middle grade territory of changing friendships at the start of middle school. Betty Cooper writes the titular diary, narrating her confusion and frustration as her best friend Val Smith (presumably the future Pussycat band member) pursues her passion for music. Val’s interests are clear to the reader from the start, making the split between the friends a byproduct of Betty’s inability to really listen to her friend and a benign oblivious bossiness. While Betty is still wrapped up in Sparklespacelandia, the STEM fantasy world they created as little kids and played through the summer (à la Cardboard Kingdom), Val picks a music elective and learns electric guitar from very cool pink haired classmate Toni Topaz. Suddenly left without her buddy, Betty has to choose Drama as her elective, a catchall for students not fast enough to snap up other options. She becomes fast friends with Kevin Keller and they team up against the mean girl energy of haughty diva Veronica Lodge. As Betty finds her footing using her imagination to fuel the class play, she also starts to mend her friendship with Val. She even finds a way to work with frenemy Veronica. 

The writing isn’t particularly remarkable. The kids feel younger than 6th graders, the pretend world Betty and Val have played all summer feels several grades younger. The characters don’t so much develop as Betty finally starts to understand more about them. Betty’s arc and the characters’ realistic interactions were the strong points, but it falls short of Sarah Kuhn’s previous work in Shadow of the Batgirl. A lot of characters are introduced, the “cast” page at the beginning lists 16, including the Drama teacher and Betty’s cat. Val, Betty, Veronica and Kevin Keller get the most play, but Archie, Jughead and a deep bench of side characters from the Archie world are present too. The titular diary element is somewhat confusing. We see Betty writing in a book, we see that she is drawing the ideas from the fantasy world, and we have boxes of first person narration, but it isn’t always clear how they’re connected. While much of the narration resembles the inner thoughts and feelings of a diary entry, there’s no familiar diary entry format and some boxes read more as general narration such as “The next day.” The disconnect was jarring at times but might not bother young readers.

The art hits a sweet spot between classic comic strip kids like Peanuts and the traditional Archie character designs. J. Bone finds a style that brings in the older comics but makes them feel accessible to modern kids, not at all dated. The heads are cartoonishly a bit oversized with spare facial features but enough for plenty of emotion. Betty, Archie, Jughead and Kevin are pink, but Val, Veronica and many of the side characters have a variety of skin tones. Nothing in the book adds any dimension to their cultural identities. The overall color palette is bright with varying blocks of flat color in place of backgrounds for many of the smaller panels. I loved the emotive bolts of color and sound effects interspersed throughout. There’s great dynamic movement in the characters. Visually it’s a delight to read. My 7-year-old daughter spotted it over my shoulder and knew right away she wanted to read it. 

Volume 1 of The Riverdale Diaries is successful in bringing the fun and melodrama of the older Archie comics to a new, young audience with a story that speaks more directly to them. It’s not the best example of middle grade writing but it’s much more rewarding than the shallow catty, backstabbing love triangle that engrossed me in my first Archie forays. Elementary readers who enjoy realistic school comics will find a lot to love. A lack of clothing styles and technologies that pinpoint a time will keep it relatable for years to come. I’ll be grabbing it off the shelf for kids disappointed when all the Shannon Hale and Raina Telgemeier are checked out and I’m curious to see where the series goes. 


The Riverdale Diaries, Vol. 1: Hello, Betty!
By Sarah Kuhn
Art by J. Bone
ISBN: 9781499810547
BuzzPop, 2020
Publisher Age Rating: 8-12
Series ISBNS and Order

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

Noodleheads Lucky Day

Tedd Arnold, best-known for his long-running and extremely popular easy reader series Fly Guy, branched out into a higher-level, comic easy reader series a few years ago, featuring Noodleheads Mac and Mac.

Mac and Mac are literally noodleheads—they’re macaroni noodles with completely empty noggins! These stories are based on folktales of the “fool” type, and Mac and Mac have had many silly adventures over the last few books. In three short chapters they go through a variety of dangers and complications, always realizing at the end of each how lucky they are. From a falling apple to a trick played by their friend Meatball (literally, it’s a meatball) everything always ends well for these two goofy guys.

These are more than just silly stories though; they’re based on very specific folktale types. For example, in one episode Mac and Mac are tricked by Meatball into begging for trouble and they get a bag full… of bees! Fortunately, however, it turns out that bees were just what their mother needed to get her hives going and the pair are lucky indeed. There are author’s notes in the back talking about the tale types and sources for the stories, as well as specific tales inspiring each chapter. The authors draw from fool tales all around the world, from the Jack stories of England to Nasreddin Hodja of Turkey and Juan Bobo of Puerto Rico.

The artwork will be instantly recognizable to Arnold fans, as it features his signature bulging eyes and wide smiles, but he adds a traditional feel to these folktale-inspired stories with a scribbled background that mimics a crackle finish. Although Mac and Mac wear contemporary clothes, boldly-colored t-shirts and shorts, the cracked background gives the stories a feeling of age and one could almost imagine them as traditional paintings from a book of old tales. Simple, bright colors and lines fill the rest of the panels, with a small group of goofy characters, from Meatball, in baseball cap and turquoise shirt, to their mother in a green dress and purple skirt.

Although the joke is usually on Mac and Mac, there’s no flavor of nastiness in these silly stories. The two have the occasional argument, but especially in this book they take everything in stride, reiterating how lucky they are as each adventure turns out right. Even Meatball’s tricks turn out well in the end, although readers will realize that he is certainly not intending to be nice! Intermediate readers will find these hit the spot, with a minimal of characters and not too much detail in the art, allowing them to focus on the mechanics of reading the more complex sentences and following the visual story through the panels. Kids will enjoy the wordplay and being “in the know” as they see the mistakes Mac and Mac make, but by the end of each story they’ll also recognize that the characters who feel superior to the Noodleheads never triumph, despite their supposed smarts.

These stories are not only a fun way to keep kids reading through the intermediate level, as they shift from early readers to chapters, but also would be great resources for a classroom focusing on folktale studies or social-emotional intelligence, discussing what it means to be “intelligent” and the intricacies of the English language.


Noodleheads Lucky Day
By Tedd Arnold, Martha Hamilton, Mitch Weiss
Art by Tedd Arnold
ISBN: 9780823440023
Holiday House, 2020
Publisher Age Rating:
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Title Details and Representation
NFNT Age Recommendation: Easy Readers (5-9)

Billy Johnson and His Duck are Explorers

The preface to this debut graphic novel is a series of thumbnails of the friends’ adventures, which turn out to be a song sung by Billy Johnson about himself and his best friend Barrace; a professor of linguistics (who happens to be a duck). The first chapter introduces the two in mid-adventure, trying to escape from a jungle temple with a golden statue. They’re stopped by an angry gorilla, but Billy gets away with an eye from the statue and discovers a map to the “lost Monkey Kingdom.” Barrace is doubtful about this fresh adventure; after all, he’s already taken ten days off from work for this trip, but Billy is adamant and they set off for more adventure.

Through the next chapters, Billy and his duck friend go through a series of wild adventures in his efforts to impress the Explorers League and move from part-time janitor to full-fledged explorer. Unfortunately, although he’s brave and bold and, well, not much else really—things just never work out for him. Hidden cities are destroyed by lava, he loses a cursed ring, and even when he sort of teams up with a competent tomb-thief/lady explorer; he just can’t catch a break. However, Billy’s indomitable enthusiasm rarely wanes and he’s determined to be an explorer, just like his famous parents and his hero, Hal Hardwick. But with mysterious entities and a strange hooded figure dogging his path, does he have a hope of succeeding?

The art is heavily on the cartoon side of comics. Billy is a lanky guy, dressed in a red shirt, tie, and tennis shoes no matter the occasion. He presents as a rather naive young adult, with an almost constant smile and a mop of black hair. Barrace is more mature, holding down a job as a linguistics professor and operating more or less as an adult, although Billy treats him alternately as a friend and a rather dim roommate. Barrace is without expression, a fluffy white blob with a yellow beak. To be fair, ducks are not really made to show emotion and he acts primarily as a foil to Billy’s exuberance. There are only a few human characters in the story, but other than a brief glimpse of Barrace’s students, they all present white. The landscapes vary from bushy green jungles to ominous red volcanoes and dark underground tunnels. There are plenty of gruesome mummies, demons, and monsters, but their cartoon depiction takes away any atmosphere of horror. Billy vigorously waves his sword, Mr. Jabbers, but rarely hits anything except the occasional door or annoying vine, and other than mysterious ectoplasm, there’s no body fluids.

Both the art and storyline make this feel like a kid-friendly wacky adventure, very much in the Saturday cartoon vein, as one nutty situation follows another. However, the overall idea of the Explorers League I consider to be very outdated. Although obviously not set in the real world, hence the existence of magic, a talking duck, etc., this harkens back to the traditional, white, European “explorers” and although this is a popular trope in a variety of middle grade adventures and fantasies, I don’t think it should be. Billy’s hero is a stereotypical muscled white man in khaki and Billy himself spends his time looting graveyards, damaging archeological sites, and stealing artifacts. These places are mostly shown as deserted, with the casual explanation for one that it’s near a volcano. Billy travels to a lost city in a jungle, a medieval-style castle with an underground maze and catacombs, a desert, and what appears to be a pyramid or temple. While there’s no clear use of a specific culture, it’s all vaguely boy-hero-adventure stuff of the early twentieth century, from mummies and hidden temples, to generic hieroglyphs and a mixture of creatures from different legends.

This is more a series of loosely connected adventures without a conclusion than a coherent story. There are innumerable hints of secrets and future adventures, characters introduced who then disappear, and a wild blend of magic, supernatural, and every day occurrences. It is often humorous and the cliff-hanger ending will both frustrate and intrigue readers. However, I would compare this unfavorably to a series like Nico Bravo by Mike Cavallaro, which also has quirky art, wild adventures, and a plethora of mythical characters, but I feel uses fewer stereotypes and is more respectful of the cultures it draws from.

With a wide variety of graphic novels available, and a plethora of adventure and fantasy titles, this is at best an additional title, considering the depiction of non-Western culture as a cartoon fantasy, the lack of diversity, and the trailing plot lines. If future volumes are published, I would be interested in seeing where the story goes and if the background of the setting is filled in more completely, which may redeem the story and resolve some of the issues.


Billy Johnson and His Duck are Explorers
By Mathew New
Art by
ISBN: 9781684461509
Capstone, 2020
Publisher Age Rating:
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Title Details and Representation
NFNT Age Recommendation: Middle Grade (7-11), Tween (10-13)

Unsolved Case Files: Escape at 10,000 Feet: D.B. Cooper and the Missing Money

In the first book in a new a new graphic novel nonfiction series, Unsolved Case Files, Sullivan retells the incredible and completely true story of the only unsolved airplane hijacking case in the entire history of the United States. 

Readers are taken chronologically, step-by-step through D.B. Cooper’s plan to obtain $200,000 USD by hijacking an airplane with an onboard bomb. Suspense is created by showing how stressful this situation was for the Northwest Orient Airlines staff, as well as to all those who were on the ground racing to assist with the situation. It ends on a mysterious note, as no one has all the pieces to this puzzle. The most likely theories of what happened, and who D. B. Cooper was are presented. The book concludes with a page of sources that were used to gather all the information to put this retelling together. This is an excellent tool for educators to utilize to encourage students to dig deeper. 

Author Tom Sullivan does an outstanding job of keeping the reader turning pages to see what happens next, and excels at immersing the reader into the 1970s. Pink sticky notes throughout the book give concise explanations of things like teletypewriters, how crazy the world was about letting everyone smoke wherever they wanted including airplanes and hospitals, and the absolute lack of security at airports. It’s hard to imagine this reality today. Additionally, sidebars and notes are added that give easy to understand descriptions behind the physics of flight, different types of parachutes, and all kinds of details that provide the reader with a much deeper understanding of what this whole event would’ve felt like.

The artistic style of this book is fun and completely appropriate for the topic. The entire book is enclosed in a yellow folder as if you’re opening an old police file. Inside reader’s discover scrapbook style pages, and full page artwork rather than the typical panel style often found in comics. Sticky notes, images of real evidence paper clipped in such as boarding passes and airplane schematics, maps, and diagrams provide variety across this publication. Typewriter style font adds to the authenticity of the early 1970s time period. Colors are used to intensify the drama of scenes, such as when D.B. Cooper is jumping out of the plane, the whole scene is pitch black, adding emotion to what a terrifying experience it must’ve been to actually make that jump.

Overall, this book is outstanding. Nonfiction books tend to have the reputation of being on the boring side, but this book is far from being dull. Sullivan expertly weaves together this true story, while adding in facts and explanations that somehow heighten the tension, rather than bog it down with too much detail. It’s a quick read that generates endless discussion questions. I highly recommend not only buying this book, but also keeping an eye out for the next installment, Jailbreak at Alcatraz, which isn’t yet published.


Unsolved Case Files: Escape at 10,000 Feet: D.B. Cooper and the Missing Money 
By Tom Sullivan
ISBN: 9780062991515
Balzer + Bray, 2021
Publisher Age Rating: 8-12
Series ISBNS and Order

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

Over the Garden Wall: Soulful Symphonies

Created by Pat McHale, Cartoon Network’s miniseries Over the Garden Wall has enchanted fans young and old with its over the top characters, dark fantasy storytelling, musical numbers, and creative storytelling. The comic series based on the show takes those elements and continues the adventures of the main characters, expanding the world of The Unknown. The newest addition to the comic series, entitled Over the Garden Wall: Soulful Symphonies, written by Birdie Willis and illustrated by Rowan MacColl, combines the show’s scary and musical plot points into a tale that can fit right into the original story.

Greg, Wirt, bluebird Beatrice, and Greg’s frog are still on the road within The Unknown, searching for their way home. They stumble upon a quiet town with no citizens in sight, except for theater owner Sophie and her two dramatic sisters Mezz and Altamira. The boys are invited to audition for the theater’s upcoming production, giving them a chance to exercise their musical skills. The boys are having fun creating new musical numbers, but Beatrice discovers something dark and sinister about the sisters and their theater. The bluebird must find a way to convince them that they are in danger before something terrible happens to them all.

For readers who are familiar with the cartoon series, or earlier comic issues, this title contains the familiar fun and dark whimsy the series is known for. Illustrator Rowan MacColl uses dark shadows and linework to bring up the suspicious atmosphere within the story. Two-page panels are used for most musical performances and plot revealing scenes to enhance the exposure of something serious or charming. The mysterious sisters are drawn with a suspicious appearance to them and their flair for the dramatics is shown within their actions and dialogue, allowing the reader to estimate the reason for the towns’ silence. Writer Birdie Willis has taken the unique qualities of the show and uses them to create a story that can fit right into the original story’s universe. Readers and fans will be reminded of the show’s musical interludes, Greg’s carefree behavior, and little nods to earlier adventures. The final reveal of the sisters and their theater takes a dark and scary turn, but the story ends on a high note (no pun intended) and a segue into the group’s next adventure into The Unknown.

This newest adventure of the Over the Garden Wall series will be well liked by young fans and readers in 3rd to 6th grade. It will make a great addition to any public or school library, especially for collections that have earlier issues of the comics and other graphic novel tie-ins to Cartoon Network shows. Not only will devoted readers enjoy it, those who are looking for a comic that delves into dark fantasy or the mystery genre will be intrigued with this newest adventure.


Over the Garden Wall: Soulful Symphonies
By Birdie Willis
Art by Rowan MacColl
ISBN: 9781684155569
Kaboom, 2020
Publisher Age Rating: 9 – 12
Series ISBNS and Order

Title Details and Representation
NFNT Age Recommendation: Middle Grade (7-11)
Related to…: TV to Comic

Pacey Packer: Unicorn Tracker, book 1

Pacey Packer, as shown in the dream sequence that opens the story, likes to imagine herself as a brave knight, protecting all creatures from harm. She also likes to be in charge and takes her responsibility seriously. So when her parents leave her in charge of her little sister Mina, she’s much too busy being responsible and in charge to play tea party with Mina and her stuffed unicorn, Slasher. Pacey is a hero, and heroes don’t play tea party!

But heroes do get worried about threats to call Mom, so Pacey zips up to Mina’s room to calm her down, just in time to see Mina leaving, with Slasher, on the back of a live full-size unicorn! After a disastrous journey where Pacey and Slasher fall from the rainbow to a pool, (“Lousy plushie grip,” grumbles Slasher), Pacey sets out on a real quest to save her sister… if she even needs saving. Pacey now has to survive the trek through Rundalyn, magical land of unicorns, and encounters with people-eating plants and other dangers. Her “I can do it myself” attitude is challenged when she reluctantly admits she does need Slasher and then discovers that all is not as it seems in Rundalyn, where the beautiful unicorns might be more evil than they look and even Slasher hides secrets beneath his plushie fur and purple heart.

This rather disjointed story is matched with two-dimensional, almost Cubist art. Pacey has pointed ponytails and a tall, lean build, while Mina is short and round, her face made even more circular by her bowl-cut hair. Everything is shades of purple, from pale violet to dark, almost black hues. Rundalyn is a nightmare realm, with grotesque purple flora covered with geometric patterns and plain gray stone, relieved only by scribbled purple graffiti. Most of the landscape is stretches of bare, empty space in shades of violet. The characters show little expression, even Pacey’s face changing only to exaggerated expressions of anger, pique, or exasperation.

The closest parallel I can think of to this story is the Chronicles of Narnia, where an imaginative younger sibling is followed by a more responsible, older sibling into a fantasy land with hidden dangers. However, there’s no strong plot holding the disjointed episodes together here, and Pacey alternately acts like a spoiled brat, refusing help from anyone, then switches to a bossy older sister, demanding to be in charge and proclaiming herself to be “awesome” to hide her own insecurities. This won’t appeal to most fans of fantasy graphic novels, who like carefully plotted stories and beautiful art, but neither will it attract readers who lean more towards the humorous, as its weird dreamscape is mostly just one strange event or object after another. However, if you have readers who are obsessive fans and willing to read anything that includes comics and/or unicorns, this may hold their attention while they wait for more polished fare.


Pacey Packer: Unicorn Tracker, book 1
By J. C. Phillipps
ISBN: 9781984850546
Random House Graphics, 2020
Publisher Age Rating: 7-10
Series ISBNS and Order

Title Details and Representation
NFNT Age Recommendation: Middle Grade (7-11)
Character Traits:
Creator Highlights:
Related to…: — select a Related Media —

Cassandra Animal Psychic: Cassandra Steps Out, vol. 1

Cassandra’s story begins with her playing with her English Shepherd, Miss Dolly, and a somewhat tense meeting with her mom, mom’s boyfriend Bruno, and his daughter Juliet. We learn that Cassandra is fourteen and Juliet seventeen, and Juliet is not happy about sharing her dad or the suggestion that she hang out with a little girl like Cassandra.

Cassandra takes Miss Dolly for a walk in the park to cheer herself up and there encounters a dog locked in a car. Determined to help the dog, she uses her ability to psychically communicate with animals to get help, but is alarmed when a young “journalist,” a blonde boy named Tristan, shows up and wants to know just how she managed to communicate with the dog! Cassandra has always kept her gift secret and she doesn’t want anyone else to know, other than her purple-haired best friend Sophie, and her mom.

With the encouragement of her mom and her friend, she decides to step out of her comfort zone and try using her ability to help others, starting with a little boy who has lost his pet cat. Along the way, she has to deal with many changes in herself and others, from the challenges of her blended family to Sophie moving away. By the end of the story, she’s more confident in her own abilities and herself in general and ready to meet new changes and challenges. Pages from Cassandra’s “secret notebook” at the back tell the reader more about Miss Dolly, her breed, and her own peculiarities.

The art is cinematic and attractive; Cassandra has brown skin and curly hair, presumably inherited from her father, as her mother is white. Juliet and Bruno are both white and blonde, Juliet with a short pixie cut and a curvy silhouette. Sophie is Asian and Tristan is white. The animals are cute and fluffy and the other people Cassandra interacts with, while mostly white, show a variety of body types. There’s lots of spring green, purples, and pinks in the color scheme and Cassandra’s abilities are shown in a kind of dream fashion, with pictures of animals and events in a large bubble above her head.

This was translated from the original French version, and it definitely has a more European vibe. Cassandra calls Tristan “Tintin,” and although there are skeptics, most people are accepting of Cassandra’s psychic gifts. It may also strike American readers as odd that Cassandra’s mom is so casual about her daughter going to a stranger’s house and telling them she can psychically communicate with their cat! There’s also a kind of ebullient flavor to the characters and their dialogue which I don’t normally see in American graphic novels.

While not a necessary purchase, readers who are fans of Raina Telgemeier and open to something a little different will find this attractive. There are lots of cute animals and a whiff of romance with Tristan, as well as Cassandra coming to terms with major changes in her life and her own psychic abilities.


Cassandra: Animal Psychic: Cassandra Steps Out, vol. 1
By Isabelle Bottier, and Norwyn MacTire
Art by Helene Canac, and Drac
ISBN: 9781541572836
Lerner Graphic Universe, 2019
Publisher Age Rating: 7-10
Series ISBNS and Order

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

Over the Garden Wall: Benevolent Sisters of Charity

The adventures of Wirt and Greg within the dark, mysterious world of The Unknown continue with this newest installment in the graphic novel adaptation of the Cartoon Network mini-series Over the Garden Wall. In Over the Garden Wall: Benevolent Sisters of Charity, written by Sam Johns and illustrated by Jim Campbell, readers will enjoy a new tale of mystery with comical and strange characters and detailed landscapes. Devoted fans and readers will recognize the familial love and protection the characters possess and the strange world they have wandered into.

As they continue on their journey home, Wirt, Greg, bluebird Beatrice, and Greg’s frog stumble upon a woodland hospital run by the Benevolent Sisters of Charity. For Wirt, it’s a dream come true. The poor boy needs some TLC after taking care of his brother and catching a little cold. But for the rest of the group, it becomes a bit of an annoyance. While Beatrice and frog are stuck in an old smelly barn with a sick dog, Greg becomes bored with the constant herbal therapies and pampering from the sisters. As the day winds down to a close, the group becomes suspicious of the sisters’ actions, especially when their care becomes too much to handle.

The charm of the original cartoon series continues in this newest graphic novel. You have the innocence of Greg, the strange behavior of the residential caretakers, the detailed autumn landscape of The Unknown, and the loving bond between the two brothers and their animal companions. Sam Johns’s story is both touching and mysterious, reminding devoted fans and readers the importance of self-care and listening to others when they lend their voice. Jim Campbell uses a pallet of earthen colors for the woodland landscape and bright colors within the hospital’s setting. Montages of the sisters’ care are depicted in small panels, allowing the reader to focus on the character’s actions. The combined character actions and dialogue work very well together, keeping the reader’s attention and allowing the story to flow from one scene to the next. When the story is all said and done, Greg breaks the fourth wall and talks to the readers about old school medical care (leeches, humors, etc.) and is reminded by Wirt that not everything on the internet is reliable when it comes to medical advice and self-care.

Fans of the original mini-series and readers of the graphic novels will definitely enjoy this newest installment of Over the Garden Wall. Public and school libraries will want to add this title to their collection, especially if they have other titles within the series. Young readers in 3rd to 6th grade who enjoy mysteries and dark fantasy will want to give this title a try, as well as the rest of the series.


Over the Garden Wall: Benevolent Sisters of Charity
By Sam Johns
Art by Jim Campbell
ISBN: 9781684156207
Kaboom, 2020
Publisher Age Rating: 9 – 12
Series ISBNS and Order

Title Details and Representation
NFNT Age Recommendation: Middle Grade (7-11)
Related to…: TV to Comic