Animorphs Graphix #1: The Invasion

Jake, Rachel, Cassie, Tobias, and Marco are normal kids until the night that a spaceship crashes to Earth in front of them. A dying alien emerges, tells them that humanity is under attack, and offers to grant them an ability they can use to fight for their species. Though scared and conflicted, they accept the alien’s gift.

Now, the five kids have the ability to transform—to morph—into any animal after touching it to “acquire” its DNA. They can fly as birds, pass unnoticed as lizards, even wreak havoc as elephants and tigers. (Conveniently, Cassie’s parents are veterinarians with access to a local zoo.) It’s an amazing power, even if they are still getting the hang of it.

But the alien threat is powerful, too. Ruthless parasites that hide inside the brains of other creatures and control their actions, these creatures have already enslaved many species from other worlds, and the human race is their next target. In fact, they’ve already started infiltrating Earth, and there’s no knowing which people are their puppets. They also have advanced technology and armies of mind-controlled alien slaves.

And humanity? We have five shapeshifting kids who are thinking of calling themselves Animorphs.

Fans of the Animorphs book series—a popular, many-volume phenomenon in the 90s—will note that this graphic novel is a largely faithful adaptation of the first book, also titled The Invasion. Like the original version, this one tells its story from Jake’s point of view. The other four kids are certainly prominent, and readers get glimpses of their personalities and circumstances, as well as meet a few other supporting characters. If the graphic novel series continues, then we can expect to see books from the other Animorphs’ perspectives.

Like the original series, this volume pulls no punches. The Animorphs face terrible odds. They are frequently in danger, and they both see and experience great suffering. Of course, the original version is not illustrated (except for the tiny morphing flip-book images that appear in the lower corners of the pages), so the artist of this book had a lot of choices about how to portray the grimmer events. He uses a light hand, not shying away from showing the violence, but certainly not making it gory or gratuitous. And he seems to have fun with the weird, quasi-body-horror scenes of the characters morphing into and out of animal forms.

The human characters are distinctive, and the animals are realistically detailed, not anthropomorphized or cartoonified. The backgrounds, outfits, and accessories are kept streamlined, but not overly simplistic. For instance, the heroes wear similar clothes throughout the book: jeans and t-shirts with hoodies or overshirts (very 90s), most of which are solid colors. Backgrounds, whether they involve mall parking lots or alien spaceships, are portrayed with a similar level of detail: clear and functional, if not intricate. The lighting and vivid, sometimes unexpected colors add drama and interest. The artist also makes good use of other visual techniques: where the original novels used punctuation to indicate thought-speak (the telepathic speech that characters use to communicate while in animal forms), the graphic novel simplifies and effectively uses a different style of speech bubble.

This adaptation captures the high stakes, danger, and desperation of the original story, as well as the small moments of humor and wonder: Marco’s snark, Tobias’s joy in the experience of flying as a hawk. Many fans of the original series will enjoy this interpretation, which follows the original closely but adds a rich visual element. Newcomers who like action, imaginative sci-fi, and high emotion, will also likely enjoy meeting the Animorphs.

Animorphs Graphix #1: The Invasion
By K.A. Applegate Michael Grant
Art by Chris Grine
ISBN: 9781338538090
Graphix, 2020
Publisher Age Rating: Ages 8-12 / Grades 4-7
Series ISBNS and Order

Title Details and Representation
NFNT Age Recommendation: Tween (10-13)
Character Traits: African-American, Latinx
Related to…: Book to Comic

Rise of the Halfling King: Tales of the Feathered Serpent

Mystical elfin beings, a monster serpent, a boy with a magical birth, a vengeful king, even a sweet monkey sidekick, this first in a new series of Mesoamerican-inspired graphic novels has fantasy action covered. Acclaimed author and teacher David Bowles provides the story while the art is by his daughter, Charlene Bowles, in her graphic novel debut. 

It’s a hard book to sum up, each piece of the tale is woven inextricably into the next. Set a thousand years ago in the Yucatan peninsula, the story follows Almah as she goes from a young woman seeking a powerful token from the jungle realm of the aluxes to a witch who has helped her town grow and prosper. But the aluxes also gifted her a special drum that would announce a new king of the Uxmal. She hides the drum and a cruel king rises up, one who tells the people they only need the king’s priests and they must forget the aluxes and shun the witches. Almah prays to the Goddess Ixchel about her deep loneliness and finds a strange egg on a walk in the hills. A baby hatches from the egg, growing into a young boy, but never aging past that. The boy, Sayam, learns Almah’s traditional magic and a prophecy has him squaring off against the cruel king in a special trial.

The story comes from the author’s YA-aimed Feathered Serpent, Dark Heart of Sky: Myths of Mexico. The Maya culture becomes a living, fully developed world in the graphic novel, full of lush colors and a great combination of iconography and realism. The cities, the agriculture, and the writing system are highlighted. The blend of religion and magical creatures creates an exciting power source that today’s readers of Greek myth-inspired fare will love. The aluxes are said to have gone in hiding when humans appeared, living thousands of years and shepherding magic. Shown shorter than our heroine, Almah, they have rounded features and intricate costumes that recall real Maya artifacts. David Bowles plan to portray the cohesive and vibrant mythological world of the Maya is very well executed.

The book is as fun to read as it is culturally enriching. Due to its focus on legend-building, the characters don’t have a lot of depth or development on their own, what we learn in the short descriptions of the cast list at the start is thorough. They stand in for common character types: wise and faithful Almah, hardworking and precocious Sayam, ruthless sorcerer Zaatan Ik. You still come to care about the characters and cheer on their successes. Their interactions feel realistic. Charlene Bowles’ gets a lot of emotion out of her modern cartoonish style, with angular faces and thick lines that are similar to standard realistic middle grade graphic novels. The build of the story and the action that comes from the many magical trials and tribulations is more than enough to make the book engrossing. The art has a sense of movement and glowing life that jumps off the page.

As with the mythology and fairytales of most cultures, there are some dark concepts in Rise of the Halfling King. A giant serpent eats the mummified dead of a village and is put down in an attack that is gory in theory. The experience of reading that section was fun and thrilling rather than frightening, it was only in looking back over the book a few times that I realized just how dark an episode it was. It has some slapstick moments, full of sound effects, and comes off as a suspenseful but action-packed time. The moody purples and grays of the underground mausoleum and the snake provide the appropriate dread, but Sayam, Almah and the clever but clumsy spider monkey Maax pull the reader along in a way that will not freak out the young readers it’s aimed at.

The publisher’s age range of 8-13 feels true, with a rich enough world to interest the older of that range but a brightness that still works for the younger. The page count is low and and the story flies by, when the series reaches the ten volumes David Bowles plans in his post script it will make a satisfying stack for many a fantasy and myth-loving reader.

Rise of the Halfling King: Tales of the Feathered Serpent
By David Bowles
Art by Charlene Bowles
ISBN: 9781947627376
Cinco Puntos Press, 2020
Publisher Age Rating: 8-13
Series ISBNS and Order

Title Details and Representation
NFNT Age Recommendation: Middle Grade (7-11)
Creator Highlights: Mexican-American
Related to…: Book to Comic

Squidding Around: Fish Feud!

Kevin Sherry’s debut picture book, I’m the Biggest Thing in the Ocean, remains a classic with its humor and cartoon illustrations. In 2014, Sherry began writing and illustrating beginning chapter graphic novels and had two successful short series; Remy Sneakers and the Yeti Files. His latest series, Squidding Around, shows the same sense of humor, gentle lessons for young readers, and colorful cartoons, while returning to his origins under the ocean.

Squizzard is simply the best. He’s got lots of cool talents, he’s full of great ideas, and he’s got a great sense of humor. He’s also got a best friend, Toothy, a great white shark. They’re on their way to school, at least that’s what Toothy thinks. Squizzard has other ideas—lots of them! He’d rather play tricks on Toothy, come up with some cool games (Toothy is the villain, of course) and do magic tricks, like squirt ink. When they finally arrive at school in the coral reefs, Squizzard realizes he forgot to bring anything in for an oral report—Toothy will help him stall though, right? But when Squizzard makes fun of Toothy and gets him into trouble, it’s the last straw and Toothy says they’re not friends anymore.

Squizzard goes through a lot of denial, justification, and argument, before he finally admits that it’s true—he’s been a bad friend. With the help of Shay, a seahorse, he begins to change, becoming a kinder and less shellfish (ha ha) squid. When Toothy saves Squizzard and the new friends he’s made by being helpful, he thinks all is well again—but Squizzard finds out that a broken friendship takes more than just an apology to repair.

Sherry’s bold colors and lines show the wacky characters in high definition. Toothy is a plump and nerdy shark (in shorts) and bright red Squizzard pops up all over the place, waving his tentacles in excitement as he disrupts everything. The story is woven with facts about the fish, switching from their cartoon depiction to more realistic illustrations, as we learn about the barracuda bully, coral reefs, and great white sharks. The text is bold and there is generous white space between the panels, helping intermediate readers easily follow the progression of the story.

This funny story includes some great lessons about ocean creatures—including an author’s note about symbiosis – as well as showing readers how Squizzard learns how to be a friend. While his jokes and hijinks will keep the kids laughing, they’ll also see that there’s a difference between laughing at someone and laughing with them, and that it takes real work to repair a friendship. A sequel is planned for 2021 and beginning readers who enjoyed Sherry’s previous chapter books will be eager to get their fins on this new undersea adventure. Teachers and school librarians especially will want to be sure to add this series to their classroom and school libraries and use it as a fun and easy way to incorporate social-emotional learning into their reading time.

Squidding Around: Fish Feud!
By Kevin Sherry
ISBN: 9781338636680
Graphix, 2020

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

Pepper & Boo: A cat surprise!

This deceptively simple story begins with a house, in which there are 12 paws. These paws belong to Boo, a corgi in shades of blue, Pepper, a small, fluffy dog, and the Cat. The Cat is sneaky, yellow and orange, and has some things to say.

The first things the Cat has to say are about all the places that make a good napping spot for a cat. When the Cat has a nap attack, they pick the first spot handy—which just happens to be Boo’s bed! Pepper has almost gotten Boo psyched up to deal with this catastrophe, despite their worries about a possible cat surprise, when the Cat moves on to their next project and Boo is left in control of their bed and their squeaky toy. But the cat has some surprises left… not to mention another nap attack!

The story alternates between simple panels, framed in peach hues and with colorful speech bubbles matching the protagonist, to more detailed diagrams and lists produced by the Cat. Young readers will have no problem following the changes in perspective as each is carefully matched to the speaker. Only one animal speaks at a time in each panel. Boo has blue speech balloons and Pepper has a sandy yellow that matches their curly fur. The Cat has more variety in their text, as they diagram how cats find beds, sleep, eat, and more, but mostly speaks in simple black text with lines leading to the cat, rather than speech balloons. The simple art is focused primarily on the three protagonists, including a few accessories as needed like dog beds and a squeaky toy (Popo).

Harper has created many popular comics in picture book, easy reader, and chapter book form. Her anthropomorphic Crafty Cat and Fashion Kitty are enduringly popular, wherever they have not fallen apart, and she contributed a popular title, The Good for Nothing Button! to Mo Willems’ Elephant and Piggie Like Reading series. This title combines many of the popular aspects of her previous work—simple cartoons, lists and diagrams, a quirky sense of humor, and cute animals – for the start of another intermediate series that is sure to delight young readers.

A word on the binding—I’ve found in the past that Harper’s books have very poor bindings, often paper over board, that simply can’t last through the eager use of many small hands. I was very surprised and pleased by the high quality of this hardcover binding. The cover is glossy and the binding appears to be stitched fairly solidly. For the affordable price, this is very good and while I prefer to purchase Harper’s books in pre-bound form when available, this should hold up well to multiple uses.

This is a little more challenging than the traditional easy reader, but will be a good next step for readers who have finished Elephant and Piggie and moved on to Scholastic’s Acorn series. Teachers will find this a fun and simple way to teach perspectives and voice, and young readers hungry for comics will devour this new series.

Pepper & Boo: A Cat Surprise! 
By Charise Mericle Harper
ISBN: 9781368049047
Little Brown, 2020

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

Donut feed the squirrels

Many publishers are getting graphic novel imprints and it’s exciting to see new creators with a fresh look creating comics for kids. I’m especially pleased at the excellent offerings for beginning and intermediate readers, as I work a lot with this age group and they love comics!

This series starter comes from Random House Graphic and an experienced picture book creator, Mika Song. It’s an adorable story about two squirrels, Norma and Belly. Now, in the interest of honesty and my own experience, I have to say that squirrels are not like this in real life. But in the story, Norma and Belly, well, you’ll see.
One fall morning Norma wakes up Belly for pancakes. They’re in the middle of their pancake dance when disaster strikes—the pancakes burn! Belly is comforting Norma, when they smell a new smell. “It smells like crispy sugar, oil, and a hint of linden flowers.” Joined by all the hungry squirrels, Norma and Belly discover a food truck and doughnuts! They quickly hatch a plan to exchange chestnuts for doughnuts for all the squirrels, but it’s very complicated and involves roller skates, weevils, and a stopwatch.
Song’s artwork, which I have appreciated in her previous picture books, is a lovely accompaniment to this gentle and sweet story. Soft browns and greens fill the simple panels and quick, sketched lines and splashes of color fill in the tall and sneaky Norma, plump and kindly Belly, and all their squirrel friends in a rush of browns and quick lines. The little girl who inadvertently supplies the roller skates has a purple helmet, brown skin, and straight black hair. The doughnut machine purveyor is one of the most interesting side characters—his initially grouchy exterior, conveyed with a few quick lines on his face and downturned mouth, eventually cheers up as he discovers the squirrels’ present, and all ends happily with a flurry of brown squirrels and a colorful line of people looking for doughnuts. Subtle bits of humor, like Belly warning away the weevils, spot the pages and the spare, simple text fits well into the soft washes of color in the illustrations.
The aura of kindness and gentle humor that pervades this story will make it a favorite with sensitive young readers and anyone who likes watching the antics of squirrels. Hand to fans of Narwhal and Jelly, Elephant and Piggie and to readers not yet able to read Stick Dog. And don’t forget to pick up the sequels as Norma and Belly explore more potential food sources!

Donut Feed the Squirrels
By Mika Song
ISBN: 9781984895837
Random House Graphics, 2020

Title Details and Representation
NFNT Age Recommendation: Easy Readers (5-9)
Creator Highlights: Filipino-American

Baloney and Friends

As the first in a new series from Geisel Award-winner Greg PizzoliBaloney and Friends is a whimsical collection of short stories in graphic novel form. 

This colorful comic, intended for young readers, chronicles the adventures of four friends. From dabbling with magic to swimming for the first time to getting through a case of the ”sads,”  these short tales are full of silly humor that children and parents alike will enjoy. 

For first-time readers, Pizzoli cleverly reveals each of the four main characters through a short introduction that uses repetition and humor to help youngsters remember each oneThere’s the star of the show, fun-loving and likeable Baloney the pig, Peanut the caring horse, Bizz the sensible bumblebee, and Krabbit the crabby rabbit. Their interplay is engaging, providing the perfect platform to get to know the characters, their names, and distinct personalities. All of the characters are unique, but what brings them together is their unwavering friendship While each animal has their fair share of imperfections, it is these idiosyncrasies alongside their connections with one another that makes them strong.  

Visually, Pizzoli renders the characters in bright colors, with bold and simplistic lines that create expressive faces. Each dialogue bubble is color coded to correspond to the animal speaking, which makes the stories easy to follow. This is especially important for readers just learning how to navigate a graphic novel. The illustrations also include a lot of white space, perfect for young eyes still developing. They also facilitate the process of decoding texteliminating distractions so children can use the straightforward and engaging pictures to boost their reading comprehension.  

At the end of the book, children also have the opportunity to channel their own creativity by following step-by-step directions on how to draw each character. This is a fun way to encourage hands-on learning by building a strong foundation for more independent reading.  

In fact, the chapter-book format extends similar reads like Mo Willem’s Elephant and Piggy into a more advanced platform for those ready to transition out of picture books.  With that said, children would benefit from an initial readthrough with an adult. Pizzoli does not shy away from big vocabulary, and words like “marvelous,” buoyant,” and starving” (a good introduction to hyperbole), require some explanation. Besides that, reading out loud together is just plain fun, highlighting the auditory nature of the graphic novel, which features plenty of gasps, splashes, crunches, and munches. 

The book also lends itself well to plenty of re-reads. The shortstory format allows for breaks between tales, which is ideal for shorter attention spans and provides time for Q & A to test reading comprehensionThe mini comics interspersed between chapters also are short, sweet, and funny, breaking up longer text while keeping children immersed in Baloney’s world. One quick note about the namesSome adults may find food-inspired titles like Baloney and Captain Skypork ethically questionable, so they will need to use their discretion if this is an issue 

Overall, the book is lighthearted and entertaining, serving as a great introduction to graphic novels and more self-directed reading. However, I couldn’t help but notice there was a missed opportunity to explore emotions in greater depth. I am a big proponent of books that encourage children to think about their own feelings, facilitated by relatable characters grappling with similar issues. Even at a young age, kiddos often have to process a lot of heavy stuff, and books can be a wonderful outlet to help them navigate through and examine their emotions in a safe way. Instead of lamenting about wet socks, falling down, or soggy cereal, Pizzoli could have included some more realistic situations that many children struggle with like divorce, illness, or poor self-esteem. However, in this current climate of stress and uncertainty, I also can see why we need reading material that has the power to make us laugh and escape, even for a little while.  

This compilation of short tales would fit nicely with early elementary collections, especially for children ages 5 to 8 ready to start transitioning into chapter books. It’s always a positive to provide young readers with access to a variety of mediums, and graphic novels are an especially helpful tool when it comes to helping children learn (and hopefully love) to read. 

Baloney and Friends 01
By Greg Pizzoli
Art by Greg Pizzoli
ISBN: 9781368054546
Little, Brown and Company Books for Young Readers, 2020
Publisher Age Rating: 5-8 years
Series ISBNS and Order

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

Song of the Court

In a colorful kingdom of anthropomorphic animals, Arietta the cat makes new friends as she learns to follow her dreams.

Arietta, a white cat with pink and purple accents and luminous green eyes, is sadly preparing to sell her treasured family violin at the Castle Market. She supports herself with the family garden and needs money to buy seeds, but she feels that selling the violin means losing part of her family’s heritage. When Princess Cassia, a long-eared, brown rabbit sees the violin, she is delighted and invites Arietta to play at the upcoming royal concert. Arietta recklessly agrees, even though she’s never played, and gets lessons from Emily, a fluffy sheep and close friend.

As Arietta becomes more absorbed in her music, her garden begins to suffer from neglect, and she is deeply conflicted about which part of her family’s legacy to honor—their garden or their music—and what she herself wants to make her priority and what is most fulfilling for her.

Cute, fluffy animals abound, all with blushes of pink and violet, against a background of jewel-toned greens and blues. The animals have large, sparkling eyes of green, blue, and brown and wear accessories like aprons, collars, jewelry and scarves, with only the royal family and their bodyguards in full clothing. Music is shown in curving bands of notes and pastel shades that twist among the trees and buildings. Arietta’s garden thrives with flowers and fruit, and even when neglected shows only a few drooping flowers and some dropped fruit. The characters have a manga-like excitement, yelling their emotions with exaggerated cartoon faces when things go wrong, especially Arietta as she is caught between her new love for music and her family garden.

The plot of the story is slight, mostly a vehicle for the animals to discuss their feelings about art and creative expression. It’s very much a wish-fulfillment story—it’s never explained how Arietta will support herself after she gives up the garden that supplies her with food and income—and she quickly becomes an expert musician after only a few months of dedicated practice.

Adults may be exasperated with the “follow your dreams and do what makes you happy” message, without any practical advice to back it up, but young readers who enjoy sweet and cute art and want a feel-good, Disney-esque story will enjoy this slight volume. The strong friendship between the three females, each with a very different personality and background, is a bonus and Arietta’s struggles to reconcile the different legacies from her family, although easily resolved, are heart-felt.

Song of the Court
By Katy Farina
ISBN: 9781454933014
Sterling, 2020
Publisher Age Rating: 6-8
Series ISBNS and Order

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

Nat Enough: Forget Me Nat, vol. 2

New York Times bestselling author, Maria Scrivan, is back with her second installment in the Nat Enough series. This book has all the typical middle school challenges: popular kids, braces, a school election, kickball, and music practice. Days are filled with ups and downs, heartbreak and self-confidence shifting to feelings of self doubt. Luckily, Nat has great friends to help her pull through, or does she? 

To start off, we’re introduced to Nat, or should I say, to her crush on Derek. He’s the avocado to her toast, the frosting to her cake, he is her everything. She thinks about him constantly and starts slowly losing her own identity to his. Favorite foods, favorite things to do, figuring out what to wear in the morning, all of these choices come down to, “what does Derek think?” Her patient and supportive friends, Zoe and Flo, finally just can’t take it anymore. They get ignored and promises are broken routinely. After cooling down from a big fight, Natalie realizes she’s taking them for granted. She’s somehow let herself become a bad friend. There’s got to be a way for her to win them back.

Award-winning syndicated cartoonist, Maria Scrivan, does an excellent job of creating a whole world for her own characters. Her artistic style reminds me of Raina Telgemeier’s Smile or Sisters. Fans of her books would certainly enjoy these titles too. They are very appealing to middle school kids, with pages filled with cute animals and funny details. Scrivan uses a combination of full panel fun explanatory pages that give background information, such as how Nat’s feeling, chapter pages with funny banter between a cat and dog, and comic style pages with panels that are easy to follow along with. 

This is a wonderful series that is sure to be popular with middle schoolers. It’s a light story that can easily be read without needing to read the first book. Nat’s story is completely relatable as we see many issues that students commonly face such as, trying to fit in, having first crushes, and figuring out who you are. Scrivan sprinkles in lots of good natured humor, and laugh out loud chapter title pages in between serious lessons, including how to have a positive self-image with practical strategies to help improve it and the value of friendship. This book will be easy to circulate in your library, and I highly recommend adding it to your collection. 

Nat Enough: Forget Me Nat, vol. 2
By Maria Striven
ISBN: 9781338538243
Scholastic, 2020
Publisher Age Rating: 8-12
Series ISBNS and Order

Title Details and Representation
NFNT Age Recommendation: Middle Grade (7-11), Tween (10-13)
Related to…: Book to Comic


Maureen is nervous about starting sixth grade. As a new middle schooler, she will have to navigate new and confusing class schedules and all kinds of new expectations, and Maureen isn’t sure she’s ready. Still, at least she has her twin sister, Francine. They’ve always done everything together!

Except that suddenly, Francine is different. She’s taking different classes from Maureen, and joining different clubs. She’s changed her style so that the two of them look less alike. She’s even going by Fran. Maureen doesn’t know what to do. She hates the idea of drifting apart from her sister—not to mention the awkwardness of splitting up their friend group!—and is frustrated with Fran for acting this way.

Maybe that’s why she decides to run against Fran for student president. The good news: she has new friends who will help with her campaign. The bad news: Maureen is shy and a nervous public speaker, and doesn’t really know what she’s doing, and now Fran is mad at her for joining the race. What has she gotten herself into?

This realistic, relatable middle-grade story deals with changing relationships with family and friends, building confidence, and challenging yourself. The heroine, Maureen, has a good heart but also realistic, understandable flaws. It’s easy to sympathize with her insecurity and fear of change, even while it’s clear that Fran has the right to strive to be seen as her own person rather than part of an interchangeable set of twins. Though Maureen’s initial decision to run for student president stems partly from spite and frustration with her sister, she does develop a meaningful platform and is able to use the experience to connect with friends and, ultimately, with Fran.

While Maureen is the clear protagonist of the book, Fran is a prominent and interesting character. At first, her motivations are a mystery to Maureen: why would her sister, always happy to share the same classes, activities, and friends, suddenly want to change things up? But as the twins reach out to each other and reconnect, Maureen—and the reader—learn that Fran has a very different perspective on their relationship.

Rounding out the book is a rich cast of supporting characters: the twins’ parents and half-brother, their shared friends and Maureen’s new friends, and one influential teacher. There are also various incidents and subplots, like Maureen’s friend’s ambition to become an ROTC squad leader.

The cast is diverse, and largely composed of people of color. While race is not a major component of the story, Maureen’s experience as a Black girl is definitely not ignored. Observant readers will appreciate small touches like Maureen and Fran wearing hair bonnets to sleep. And while the word “racism” is not used, it is clearly in play during one incident at the mall when a white store clerk brushes off Maureen and her friends, making it clear she does not take them seriously as customers. Refreshingly, there are consequences: the clerk is reprimanded by customers, who decide to shop elsewhere. By the end of the book, the shop’s “Store CloseOut Sale” sign is visible in the background of one panel.

The art is clear, colorful, and consistent, and the characters expressive without being cartoonish. Maureen and Fran can sometimes be a little easy to mix up— understandable for identical twins!—but their clothing and hairstyles, plus context clues, help differentiate them. The backgrounds consist mostly of school hallways, classrooms, and Maureen’s home, and while they remain firmly in the background, they match the characters well in their level of detail.

With relatable characters and lots of heart, this will appeal to fans of other middle-grade contemporary realistic comics. Hand it to readers of Raina Telgemeier, the Babysitters Club graphic novels, Roller Girl, and Jennifer Holm’s Sunny series.

By Varian Johnson
Art by Shannon Wright
ISBN: 9781338236132
Graphix, 2020
Publisher Age Rating: Ages 8-12 / grades 3-7
Series ISBNS and Order

Title Details and Representation
NFNT Age Recommendation: kids, Middle Grade (7-11)
Character Traits: African-American
Creator Highlights: African-American

The Weirn Books: Be Wary of the Silent Woods

Svetlana Chmakova revisits the Night Realm of her original English-language manga Nightschool in a new middle grade graphic novel series. In the Night Realm, the small town of Laitham changes when night falls. The local school building physically shifts into a night school appropriate for educating young werewolves, vampires, and weirns, a type of witch with a spirit guardian known as an astral. Ailis and Na’ya are weirns who are known in their school as the “loser cousins” by a cadre of popular kids, led by quintessential middle school bully Patricia Chow, who dresses impeccably, never seems to have a single hair out of place, and literally sparkles. Patricia used to be friends with the cousins, but now she prefers to mock Ailis for her astral’s tendency to shed, and Na’ya for summoning heavy rains to postpone the school’s beloved astral race. Ailis and Na’ya do have a crew of allies, though, including their magic shop-owning grandma, with whom Ailis lives; Russ, the cute teen werewolf who works at the magic shop; Jasper, their weirn classmate and neighbor; and Na’ya’s little brother D’esh.

A mysterious night creature that looks like a larger astral starts appearing to the girls en route to night school. Then, Ailis, Na’ya, and Jasper stumble upon a mystery surrounding the creepy old mansion in the silent woods. Grandma tells them the mansion used to be a weirn school, which she attended many years ago with her twin brother, Jacen. The headmistress and all of the students disappeared — all except Grandma, who suspected something was awry and stayed home that day. One night in present day, the night creature kidnaps Patricia and is ordered by a shadowy figure to prepare the lab. The following day, Patricia is back at school, but she is uncharacteristically friendly and polite, if a bit robotic. Ailis and Na’ya deduce that she is possessed and decide to stay away from her. Unfortunately, she convinces D’esh to play with her and brings him to the mansion. Ailis, Na’ya, Jasper, and Russ are forced to venture into the mansion to confront the somehow-still-alive headmistress and save D’esh — and they suppose they may as well save Patricia, too.

The art style is more similar to that of Chmakova’s recent Berrybrook Middle School series than of Nightschool, which was originally published from 2008-2010. This suggests that the Weirn Books series is intended to bring a touch of fantasy to her newer fans, rather than appeal to older fans of Nightschool. While Chmakova is clearly influenced by manga, she has crafted her own style that seamlessly combines chibi, modern cartoon art, and a hint of realism for exceptionally well-constructed, varied facial structures. Characters are delightfully diverse, as is always the case in Chmakova’s recent work. The aesthetic standout in this graphic novel is the coloring. Backgrounds are a gorgeous combination of pinks, purples, and blues, which reflect the nighttime setting. Flashbacks are depicted in a soft monochromatic purple tint.

In her author’s note, Chmakova admits that her favorite aspect of working on books that take place in the night realm is drawing astrals. Readers, too, are sure to fall in love with astrals. Fans of the His Dark Materials series will love their similarities to dæmons. Much like dæmons, astrals have personalities of their own. Jasper’s astral, for instance, is mischievous and destructive, a fact that Jasper constantly bemoans. Astrals in general, and particularly the night creature who appears to be a large astral, look like No-Face from Hayao Miyazaki’s Spirited Away. Young anime and manga fans, middle schoolers who love Berrybrook, and spooky fantasy fans will all love this book. It belongs in every library serving upper elementary and middle school-age kids.

The Weirn Books: Be Wary of the Silent Woods 1
By Svetlana Chmakova
ISBN: 9781975311223
JY, 2020
Publisher Age Rating:
Series ISBNS and Order

Title Details and Representation
NFNT Age Recommendation: Middle Grade (7-11), Tween (10-13)
Character Traits: African-American
Related to…: Book to Comic