Best friends Gabby, Mindy, and Priya are very different, but they have the same problem: all three girls love animals, and none of them are allowed to have pets. Determined to get quality cuddle time with some critters, they try out several schemes before creating a dog-walking business, which they name PAWS (an acronym—sort of—for Pretty Awesome WalkerS).
Several clients sign up immediately, and suddenly the girls have all the dogs they can handle—maybe even more than they can handle. Conflict bubbles up: Priya plays lots of sports, so the other two keep having to walk extra dogs when she has practices or games. Mindy can really use the dog-walking money, so she’s keen to take on more dogs even when the trio is already struggling. Gabby is the youngest, and sometimes feels that the other two don’t listen to her.
When the girls finally solve these issues, more trouble pops up: Mindy’s mom starts dating, which makes Mindy feel insecure and afraid of change just as the other two girls want to ask a new friend to join PAWS. Then Priya’s family moves across town, and her parents want her to switch schools. How will the girls of PAWS keep their business—and their friendship—going strong?
This fun series will inevitably draw comparisons to the Baby-Sitters Club, another series in which tween girls form a business together and deal with professional and personal issues. Both feature characters who are very different in personality and background but are close friends: Gabby comes from a secure, well-to-do family and is a little sheltered; Mindy is a stylish, chronically-online latchkey kid with a single mom; Priya is an athlete and the child of immigrants. Hazel, who joins PAWS in the second book, is new in town and uses a wheelchair. Each book focuses on the character whose name is in the title, with occasional sections following one of the others. Like the girls of the Baby-Sitters Club, these kids work through the practical details of how pre-teens might realistically organize and run a business.
PAWS is set in Vancouver, Canada, and feels very much of the present day. The girls use some current slang, especially when they squeal over animals, calling them “pupper,” “floof boi,” “lad,” “fren,” and “king,” and exclaiming “I would boop that nose so hard!” Phones and social media also feature frequently. All of this feels natural, and while the language may eventually seem a little quirky to future readers, the storylines and themes of friendship, accepting change, and taking care of yourself are timeless.
The art is a colorful, lightly cartoonified version of reality. The characters are expressive, sometimes becoming comically exaggerated to show extreme emotions. They are distinct and easy to tell apart, and each has an individual style, including plenty of different outfits. The animals have a lot of personality, too. While the focus is on the characters, the backgrounds are detailed enough to keep the settings—mostly parks, school, and the kids’ homes—clear and present. There are also a couple of illustrated recipes: Mindy narrates how to make gamja bokkeum, a Korean dish, and her mom’s boyfriend Mike explains how to make a kind of breakfast casserole.
There is no violence, no swearing (unless you count an embarrassed character mumbling “Oh God”), and no romantic content other than Mindy’s mom innocently hanging out with her new boyfriend. The stakes are emotional and logistical, not physical danger, except for one instance when Priya falls and hurts her leg.
These funny, relatable characters learn problem-solving and other life lessons through engaging stories. Definitely hand this series to fans of the Baby-Sitters Club, as well as to readers of other middle-grade realistic fiction, like the work of Raina Telgemeier and Shannon Hale.
PAWS By Nathan Fairbairn Art by Michele Assarasakorn Penguin Random House Razorbill, 2022 ISBN: 9780593351864
Publisher Age Rating: 8-12
NFNT Age Recommendation: Middle Grade (7-11), Tween (10-13) Creator Representation: Canadian, Thai, , Character Representation: Black, Indian, Korean, Wheelchair User, Hindu ,
Clar Angkasa skilfully breathes new life into three traditional folktales from her native Indonesia, offering a fresh look from the perspective of her female characters. In these retellings, her female protagonists are the ones with power and agency as they defend and defeat attacks against them physically and psychologically.
The first story, “Keong Mas,” revolves around two competing princesses as they combat selfishness by employing magic and, over time, selflessness. When the proud one is turned into a snail and regretfully thrown away by her younger sister, she is rescued by a fisher woman who teaches the princess the meaning of compassion, friendship, and, ultimately, affection. This is done through flashbacks of the backstory and there is an element of mystery concerning the identity of the person transformed into the snail. The flashbacks are established with muted colours while the palate of most of this tale is primarily shades of purple and gold.
The second story follows two sisters as well, but in this case, they are younger, the best of friends, and stepsisters. Bawang Merah and Bawang Putih develop a deep attachment to each other as well as their individual stepparents, but when the mother dies, the beloved father becomes despondent and angry, so much so that he is dangerous to both of the girls. When they meet a helpful stranger in the forest, they are offered a pumpkin containing a fortune. This fortune does not ease their situation, but it does release them from the inertia and hopelessness of their father’s heartbreak. Along with the purples used in the first tale, this story is augmented with shades of green and brilliant reds.
“Timun Mas,” the final story, is about a young woman who is a healer and horticulturalist living by herself and selling her seeds and natural medicines in the market. One day, to her horror, she is confronted by a giant who commands her to plant a magic seed that will produce a “fruit” he will claim when he returns in 17 years. Reluctantly, she plants the seed in her garden and grows . . . a young baby from a cucumber plant. She names the child The Golden Cucumber, or Timun Mas. The years pass by much too quickly. But before her daughter’s seventeenth birthday, mother and daughter concoct a plan to defeat the giant and his plans. This story’s palate shines with shades of greens and browns.
All three tales celebrate the rural lush landscapes of Indonesia, local customs and traditions, and magical forces and strong female characters through the colourful, cartoon-like illustrations. The panels are bursting with flowing patterns, fonts, and dialogue, adding an additional dimension to the visual telling of the three tales. There is a feeling of joy interspersed with the danger of the situations the protagonists find themselves caught up in through, for the most part, no fault of their own. The swirling panels, the colours, and the expressive features of the characters all add to an enjoyable adventure for the reader.
In the author’s note following the three stories, Angkasa explains her rationale for reworking these particular tales, focusing on feminine matters and issues ahead of the masculine focus of the traditional tales. She briefly explains why these three stories were chosen for the book before providing the texts for the original folktales. As a storyteller I would have also appreciated definite source notes for these tales, but understand that she is providing the texts that she is familiar with herself.
Highly recommended for the intended readership of 8- to 12-year-olds as well as adult readers who enjoy a well adapted tale that, while including some familiar tropes and motifs, will possibly be new to them too. Perfect for school and public library folklore collections.
Stories of the Islands By Clar Angkasa Holiday House, 2023 ISBN: 9780823449781
Publisher Age Rating: 8-12 NFNT Age Recommendation: Adult (18+), Middle Grade (7-11), Picture Books (3-8) Creator Representation: Indonesian Character Representation: Indonesian, Asexual
Printer’s apprentice Cinzia has worked for printer Mestra Aronne in the sunny city of Siannerra for almost three years. Mestra has taught her a lot about the printing press, news sources, listening to the city’s talk, and the importance of truth when printing an avvisi, the town news pamphlet. Mestra is certain that Cinzia will be a fine printer someday. But when Cinzia and Mestra are taken to the principessa for something they printed, the principessa says the guards will keep them in jail until she and the magistrate (her brother) figure out what to do with them. The principessa says they’re treasonous for reporting what Mestra says is the truth. But if it’s the truth, why won’t anyone speak up for them?
Cinzia escapes and sets out to prove that her Mestra’s story is true—but she won’t have to do it alone! Unknown to the principessa, her daughter (the contessina Elena) knows that, “truth is dangerous, and power is dangerous.” She will help Cinzia find the proof that may help release Mestra. Carlotta the pirate has ears all through the city and wants to help. Cinzia knows that nothing stays secret for long, and the powerful have a vested interest in keeping secrets secret.
The three young women are from very different backgrounds. The book delves into many topics, some of which are complex for readers ages 8-12, which is the age range Greenwillow Press has marked the book for. The Italianate style of the city, the whispers and politics, and the Romanesque palazzos all add complexity to the story. This is a fast-moving story for middle school kids interested in European history, journalism, historical reenactment, or sleuthing and mysteries. Cinzia, Elena, and Carlotta are positive role models who portray persistence, honesty, and bravery. Kids will identify with being scared but wanting to do the right thing, even when it’s hard and not what you thought it would be or costs you something dear. They’ll also learn a lot about the power of the press and friendship. The book asks hard questions and makes young people think.
The art is bright and clean lined and the panels flow easily. Some pages show the warm bright Mediterranean sun and describe the characters’ escape from the guards using maps of the different palazzos. The pages aren’t text-heavy and word balloons are placed so that young readers can easily see the conversation flow. The characters are diverse and have many skin colors. Kids will see themselves represented in many of them. The title is 287 pages and comes with an author’s note in the back, explaining the real history of avvisi and the fictional city of Siannerra.
I agree with Greenwillow Press, this is a great addition to a middle school library—it’s a unique subject and time period for this age group.
Ink Girls By Marieke Nijkamp Art by Sylvia Bi Harper Collins Harper Alley, 2023 ISBN: 9780063027107
Publisher Age Rating: 8-12 NFNT Age Recommendation: Middle Grade (7-11)
Emma feels jealous, inadequate, and alone. To make it worse, she feels like she can’t talk about her feelings with anyone. Instead, she has outbursts and treats everyone harshly. She is guarded and defensive, causing the distance between her and her family and friends to grow and grow. This affects her social life, her family life, and her role on the All-Star basketball team. Then, Emma’s guardian spirit appears in the form of a cute french bulldog called Lexi. Lexi seems to be an ordinary dog to everyone, except Emma, who she can talk with. With Lexi’s help, Emma slowly learns how to open up, share her feelings, and get close with others again.
No Such Thing as Perfect is a well-written book addressing perfectionism, jealousy, and the power of communication. The author beautifully exemplifies the complexity of these feelings. The reactions and responses of Emma and the people she struggles with feel realistic, common, and relatable. I recognize many of the scenes and characters from my own life. All of the characters feel like real people. Some of the characters are understanding and forgiving of Emma’s bad behavior; others aren’t. The author does a great job of showing the inability to express yourself. Many characters wanted to say something and, as a reader, I could see how difficult it was for them. When Emma learns how to talk through her feelings with others and discovers that others have been experiencing similar issues, she feels better, like she’s not alone. Seeing these feelings and thoughts in a book character can give an almost cathartic feeling to the reader. The acceptance of her family and friends when Emma finally expresses herself gives her the freedom to let go of her perfectionism and be herself. This sentiment may encourage readers to talk through their feelings with their loved ones. Overall, the story has a serious tone and covers serious matters. However, the guardian spirit adds a bit of humor, creating a pleasant balance.
Visually, this book is cute and appealing. The art style carries a lighter tone than the topics and feelings addressed, making the story more digestible. The colors, soft lines, and big eyes provide a welcoming atmosphere for the reader. Facial expressions and movement are clearly conveyed. The guardian spirits’ animals have hearts in their fur patterns, which I think was a beautiful connection to their roles. There is a broad range of dress styles represented. Each character has their own style and many fun outfits throughout the book. There is a large representation of different skin tones and hair colors. However, I feel that the author should have included even more skin tones and hair types, especially considering that this story takes place in diverse New York City. This book is appropriate for people aged 9-14, especially those struggling with perfectionism, those interested in basketball, and those learning to manage relationships.
Bounce Back, vol 2: No Such Thing as Perfect By Misako Rocks! Feiwel and Friends, 2023 ISBN: 9781250838919
Publisher Age Rating: 9-13
NFNT Age Recommendation: Middle Grade (7-11), Tween (10-13)
I was intrigued by the story line of this book when I first heard about it as I was just completing an entry in my upcoming volume of contemporary legends on the Hoia Baciu Forest where this graphic novel takes place. This large forest has a large clearing within it which is a barren circle void of trees and other vegetation but not of supernatural phenomena. It is an area long thought to be cursed. The trees, said to once stand straight and tall, are now twisted into knots.
Locals assert the forest’s circular clearing at the center is a portal and that those who pass through it may never return. Regardless of the legends and the perceived dangers, Hoia Baciu Forest remains a popular tourist mecca with guided legend tours taking place both in the daylight and in the ghostly night.
The premise of the story line is the question of what happens when a foreigner ignores the warnings from the local inhabitants and, in search of his missing friend, travels to the middle of Romania’s most ghostly forest. Adam also ignores the warnings about the iele, a witch who hunts men in the area. Iurov familiarizes readers with the legend throughout the intense and vivid illustrations and pacing. She also incorporates some of the Romanian language to give verisimilitude both to the legend and the setting.
According to Romanian folklore, iele are reported to appear mostly at night by moonlight, as young, beautiful, naked, voluptuous supernatural creatures dancing Horas with their breasts almost hidden by long unkempt hair. They would leave the ground where they danced burned, the grass not able to grow for a long time but when it returned, it would be red or dark green. Animals would not consume it but, instead, mushrooms would thrive on it. When offended by someone who refuses to dance with them or mirrors their movements or are observed while dancing, or when people slept under a tree considered theirs, or when people step on the burned ground, they would inflict terrible punishments. A main characteristic is their stunning voices used to enchant their listeners. They are known to abduct the victim, punishing the guilty with enchanted spells before they cause them to disappear forever without a trace.
All of these characteristics are employed in the graphic novel while Adam attempts to locate his friend Vlad. Each of the three nights he spends in the neighbouring village and the forest emits more data and creates more and more threats to Adam in his quest to find his friend and then his own sanity. The illustrative style resembles that of manga. All of the actors in the drama are individuals and easily recognizable. The colour palate offers definite contrasts between the daytime in the village and the haunting darkness of the forest. The village and residents are brightly illuminated during the day, but nocturnal scenes in the Hoia Baciu forest are accurately frightening and the iele as a truly eerie supernatural being. The panel layout effectively offers an intense theatrical aspect to the story while remaining true to its oral storytelling and folklore roots. A special nod should also be made for the exquisite and appropriate lettering by Micah Myers.
In an introductory page, the author establishes the role of the folkloric iele before leaping into the story. This page and the one at the end of the story offering background information about the creator are stunningly illustrated with traditional textile designs and colours, completing the book as a compelling and satisfying package.
Highly recommended for horror fans as well as those intrigued by supernatural myths and legends.
WHISPER OF THE WOODS By : Ennun Ana Iurov Mad Cave Studios, 2023 ISBN: 9781952303746
NFNT Age Recommendation: Adult (18+), Older Teen (16-18) Creator Representation: Romanian, Character Representation: Romanian,
Junji Ito’s Mimi’s Tales of Terror is an adaptation of Hirokatsu Kihara and Ichiro Nakayama’s collection of urban legends, Shin Mimibukuro. Each of the tales in the original compilation is reworked by Ito and features Mimi, an original character. The book consists of nine stories featuring college student Mimi, a bonus tale introducing different protagonists, and two afterwords describing how he altered the tales. This is a treasure trove for those who are fans of Ito, horror, contemporary legends, and evocative and haunting illustrations.
The first tale “On the Utility Pole,” is only a few pages long and takes place in only a few minutes, during a car ride on a rainy dark night. It sets the stage for the spookiness that will follow in the rest of the collection. Several of the tales focus on Mimi’s various problems with her disturbing neighbours while offering relevant background about modern Japanese culture. In “The Woman Next Door,” Mimi is annoyed by her noisy neighbour, but soon realizes that the problem is much scarier than she anticipated. Mimi survives to feature in the next story, assuring the reader that she has moved to a different apartment building. The legend in this tale reminded me of the legend of “Teke Teke” because of the significance of the sound effects in both.
“Rustling in the Grass,” offers another horrific interlude for Mimi and her boyfriend, this time while they are walking in the woods. The story, like many legends, does not have a tidy conclusion…it just is! Mimi’s new apartment in the next tale, “Grave Placement,” also features an eccentric neighbour and an eerie setting. Obviously, Mimi needs to be more selective of her living arrangements. Mimi and her friends take a trip to the beach but, of course, things cannot be straightforward for her. In “Seashore” one of her friends is drawn to ghostly spectres that only he can see. One of the creepiest tales in the collection for me is “Just the Two of Us,” in which Mimi meets a child who is haunted by her mother’s burnt corpse. Through his illustrations and pacing, Ito conveys both dread and affection in this almost intimate tale. The next tale, “Scarlet Circle,” is also dreadfully affectionate, but not in a warm or comforting way. Mimi is the target of an extremely jealous classmate who wants Mimi’s boyfriend for herself. “Sign in the Field” is the final tale featuring Mimi and is the shortest one in the book. The images strongly echo those of the legendary Slender Man.
The first afterword is told through two pages of panels featuring Ito himself. It is followed by two coloured pages, one of which is the splash title page for the bonus story “Monster Prop.” Haunted house attractions can be very disturbing, but when it includes a very dubious monster prop, the attraction can be even more dangerous than anyone imagines. It is a perfect tale for Halloween and those who admire horror films. The collection concludes with a two-page written appreciation by Ito for the original material, the chance to introduce the bonus tale to the audience, and the work of art of the book itself.
I must admit that I purchased this hardcover volume for my personal collection. It is truly a work of art, perhaps macabre art, but a gorgeous example of book making. The red-covered minimalist cover and endpapers are wrapped in a dust jacket that contains numerous spooky visual references to the stories inside. The illustrations inside are striking, unsettling, and sinister. The characters are distinctive, the settings evocative and realistic, and the monsters truly chilling and horrific. The pacing is well organized, with the panels offering just enough information to foster anticipation and activate the reader’s imaginings.
The essence of these tales may be familiar to those who know the three folklore collections of Alvin Schwartz and Stephen Gammel’s Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark. Both this book and those by Schwartz and Gammel are sourced from urban legends that have been circulating for years and both were newly adapted and illustrated for a contemporary audience. Highly enjoyable for those who like their horror based on folklore and those who like to be creeped out by things that may go bump, not only in the night, but in their ordinary habitats. Recommended for older teens and adults.
Mimi’s Tales of Terror By Junji Ito VIZ Signature, 2023 ISBN: 9781974738519
Publisher Age Rating: T+ Related media: Classic to Comic
NFNT Age Recommendation: Adult (18+), Older Teen (16-18) Creator Representation: Japanese Character Representation: Japanese
In volume one, we are introduced to Miso Kim, secretary of nine years to Youngjun Lee, who decides that she is finally able to leave the working world and focus on herself and her future. This comes as quite the surprise to narcissistic Youngjun, who can’t understand why his secretary would want to leave when they work so well together. He spends a large amount of time trying to persuade her to stay and continue working with him. From promising a promotion, her own secretary, a car, and even his hand in marriage. None of it works, so he tries more elaborate schemes to find out how to woo her. Unfortunately, Miso Kim has a secret. One that she can finally track down once she no longer has to answer to a boss who doesn’t know the meaning of time off.
In volume two, after manipulating Miso Kim onto a surprise “date”, the awkwardness is truly apparent. At least to Kim. Youngjun doesn’t seem to notice and continues to exude confidence and nonchalance throughout. Later, we learn that Youngjun pulled out all the stops to make sure Kim compared all future dates or potential dates with the one he provided as a going away present. We also learn more about Youngjun’s older brother and the mystery of what happened to Kim in her youth that she’s trying to track down. The mystery involves Youngjun and his brother in some way, which makes the relationship between them even more intriguing.
This author ably balances the plot and relationship building. We get little hints at a deeper mystery sprinkled throughout while focusing on the complicated relationship between Kim and Youngjun. It’s not love at first sight either. There are layers upon layers that get revealed slowly. By volume two, I can already see that what is happening on the surface level only looks like a simple romance. I love that there is no info dump that gives us the whole backstory yet. Although I would like to know more than what we’ve been given.
I appreciate that this series has color illustrations that incorporate a variety of textures. I find that makes it much easier to separate characters in a realistic setting (as opposed to a fantasy setting that has access to fantastical elements to make characters distinct). And I just really like color illustrations.
This series feels like new adult romance, with the hints of mystery pointing towards a darkness that isn’t present in the first two volumes. I’m not sure just how dark the story will get, so it would probably be best in a teen or adult collection. Either option is sure to find readers who fall in love with it.
What’s Wrong with Secretary Kim? Vol. 1-2 By Gyeong Yun Jeong Art by MyeongMi Kim Yen Press, 2023 Vol 1 ISBN: 9781975366803 Vol 2 ISBN: 9781975366827
Publisher Age Rating: Grade 8+ NFNT Age Recommendation: Adult (18+), Older Teen (16-18)
Many people are said to live in a dream world. For teenager Robbie Boone, this is a literal truth!
As a boy, Robbie was chosen to become a companion to the Princess of the Dream Realm. By day, he was an ordinary student. By night, he joined the Princess in defending her father’s kingdom from nightmares and monsters.
Unfortunately, Robbie’s dreams are different now that he’s started high school. He dreams of becoming an animator and making comics. But those dreams are distracting him from his schoolwork and worrying his mother. Not only because his grades are slipping, but because he spends so much time alone working at his art instead of socializing.
The Princess of the Dream Realm is worried too. She misses her friend and wonders what can be so exciting about high school and the Waking World that it is keeping Robbie from wanting to spend time together like before. This leads her to follow Robbie to school and opens the door to trouble for her father, the King of Dreams!
Waking Life was reportedly inspired by the work of Winsor McCay, who created the classic comic Little Nemo in Slumberland. Artist Ben Humeniuk has updated the concept for the 21st century, while delving into the question of what happens when a boy-hero starts growing up. The resulting comic is an eclectic mix of fantasy and slice-of-life, which drama born of Robbie’s struggles at his new school and the hint of a rising darkness in his dream world.
Humeniuk’s characters are the strongest aspect of the series. The supporting cast is unique and memorable, with more nuance than is usually seen in a comic aimed at teenagers. While Robbie’s mother is presented as a stern authority figure, there is no doubt that she loves her son and that her condemning his art is born of a fear that he is missing out on life by living in a dream world. The irony is this is literally true, and that Robbie is trying to free himself from the fantasy that keeps calling him back. There are also hints of there being more to the bully that menaces Robbie than meets the eye.
Humeniuk’s artwork is not as detailed as Winsor McCay’s, but it is perfectly suited to the story at hand. There is a subtle shifting towards exaggeration in the Dream Realm, with things slightly indistinct. Most of the time, however, the comic looks like any other teen drama… right up until Max the Clown or some other dream world denizen shows up to crack the façade.
Comicker Press has not given the first volume of Waking Life an official rating. However, there is nothing in it that would be inappropriate for its target teen audience. There is no sex or nudity, nor even a joke about what a teenage boy’s dreams might involve or what he might be doing in his room alone apart from making art. The violence is largely cartoonish, with no bloodshed and nothing scarier than a few cartoon nightmares.
Waking Life Book One: Pleasant Places By Ben Humeniuk Comicker Press, 2018 ISBN: 9780997487329
Publisher Age Rating: Series ISBNs and Order Related media:
NFNT Age Recommendation: Older Teen (16-18), Teen (13-16)
Silent meditation retreats are havens for deep, spiritual enlightenment, and it’s the last place Binh wants to be—especially after fighting off a bully in school for having taunted his Vietnamese heritage. From award-winning author and graphic novelist Minh Lê (Drawn Together, Green Lantern: Legacy) and New York Times bestselling illustrator Chan Chau (Baby-Sitter’s Club) comes Enlighten Me, a coming-of-age story steeped in Buddhist traditions, history, and folklore.
The story begins with Binh and his family headed to the peaceful Three Jewels Mountain Retreat, a silent meditation camp where he surrenders his treasured Game Boy upon arriving. This is the last place he expected to find himself after defending himself from a school bully who directed anti-Asian slurs at his Vietnamese culture. Why was he punished for being the victim? The vice principal figured a weekend family trip here would address his violent behavior. He joins the others kids to practice the art of meditation, but before long, sore legs, a stiff back, and disruptive thoughts invade his mind and distract his focus. Not until Sister Peace, one of the Buddhist monks, begins recounting wondrous tales about the Buddha does Binh embark on a path toward self-enlightenment and deep understanding.
The plot shifts into gear as Binh learns about Prince Siddhartha—a young boy sheltered from the evils of the world—who would one day venture beyond the walls of the royal palace, destined to become the Buddha. Another story drawn from the Jataka tales, stories of the Buddha’s past lives, reveals how as a young prince, he wielded five deadly weapons to combat a ferocious monster lurking deep inside a dark forest. In another tale about devotion to family, Buddha in the form of a golden deer gets caught in a trap, so its siblings come to its aid, refusing to leave its side even when a hunter comes along. Lê and Chau have created a delightfully heartwarming story that blends snatches of humor with moments that capture Binh’s hyperactive fascination with videogames. From serene images of nature to the digital world of Donkey Kong, he envisions himself floating through nebulous space in dynamically arranged panels. Events in the present unfold as Binh imagines taking part in adventures from the traditional tales, each one bearing a nugget of wisdom.
Structured in a semi-episodic style similar to the Arabian Nights, Enlighten Me paves an intriguing path into Buddhist philosophies, yet also weaves in themes of bullying, fitting in, self-control, community building, and finding oneself in the moment. This entertaining and thoughtful semiautobiographical graphic novel highlights a unique perspective on how one middle-schooler learns to navigate the challenges of life to find inner peace through self-disciplined mindfulness, thereby adding a culturally enriching experience to middle grade collections.
Enlighten Me Vol. By Minh Lê Art by Chan Chau Little, Brown, 2023 ISBN: 9780759555488
NFNT Age Recommendation: Middle Grade (7-11) Creator Representation: Vietnamese American, Character Representation: Vietnamese American,
Bad Medicine is essentially fairly good medicine—a graphic novel celebrating oral storytelling, Cree folklore, friendship, with five creative teens around a campfire by the river, telling horrific tales. The stories are cautionary tales that become more and more spooky as the teens try to excel each other’s stories and telling skills evoking monsters such as impish little folk, ghosts, shapeshifters, and demons from local folklore.
The first tale is told about the vivid experiences of a man fishing in the river in close proximity to the campfire where they are sitting. Although one of the teens protests from the onset that the story is not true, the others are a willing audience to the tale of the man and his fatal adventures with the small trickster beings in the river. The teens are spooked but ready for the next story which “is true, at least.” This tale is also eerie, but the malevolent creature in it is much too human and the story much too familiar for many young Indigenous women on their own. The third story begins in the daylight but, once again, the tale takes a very dark turn with the audience left feeling uncomfortable and uneasy at its conclusion. The supernatural in this story is perhaps not as frightening as the other evil creatures in the previous tales, but perhaps that depends on your perspective. Before the next storyteller takes a turn, one of the teens leaves the campfire to go home, not because he wants to leave but, as the others explain, because he needs to protect his sisters. His story is told next, but not as something that happened in the past. The horror is, unfortunately, much too authentic, happening to him over and over again each evening when he finally is at home. After he leaves, the four remaining teens safely extinguish the fire and make their way home in the dark. They are feeling satisfied with the evening and plan to tell more stories around the fire at a later date.
Brief and natural conversations around the campfire between each of the tellings and among the teens put the stories in context and make the reader feel that perhaps they too are sitting around the fire with the storytellers. The illustrations have simple unadorned backdrops that, at the same time, establish the distinct setting for each tale. The illustrations accentuate the natural world surrounding the teens as well as real-life concerns that also envelop them as they make their way in the modern world. The rectangular panels are coloured with a mostly subdued palette with the exception of the first tale, which offers bright yellows that fade away to the darker hues of browns and black for the remaining episodes. I did have a little trouble telling characters apart at times.
Writer and illustrator Christopher Twin is from the Swan River First Nations reservation in northern Alberta, Canada. He is a freelance illustrator and comic book artist currently living in Edmonton. He focuses on telling stories, both in text and illustration, of social and cultural divides and life as a mixed-race individual.
This graphic novel is suitable for a teen audience who like horror, scary stories, and realistic fiction featuring Indigenous people. Highly recommended for First Nation collections, those interested in the art of storytelling, and local Alberta lore.
Bad Medicine Vol. By Christopher Twin Emanata, 2023 ISBN: 9781772620870
Publisher Age Rating: 14-18 NFNT Age Recommendation: Older Teen (16-18), Teen (13-16) Creator Representation: Canadian, Cree Character Representation: Canadian, Cree