Dungeons & Dragons: Ravenloft: Orphan of Agony Isle

Celebrity endorsements and a pandemic that forced many to stay indoors has helped the tabletop roleplaying game Dungeons & Dragons (or D&D) achieve a kind of resurgence. While enduring in an age of Xboxes and Playstations, its current popularity boost has created a smorgasbord of D&D tie-in media, even whole universes that exist under the D&D umbrella. One such universe doesn’t even use a dragon. The Ravenloft universe of D&D has its players typically fight vampires and werewolves rather than fire-breathing dragons, but this world does provide a lot of storytelling opportunities, as demonstrated in the book D&D: Ravenloft: Orphan of Agony Isle, written by Casey Gilly and illustrated by Bailey Underwood.

The opening of this story might be very familiar to some: a dark, foreboding castle; flashes of lightning, and a creation that has just awakened. However, it is not Dr. Frankenstein who has brought his creation to life. The doctor in question is Viktra Mordenheim and what has awakened has no memory of who she was before. She chooses the name Miranda, and she mostly obeys Dr. Mordenheim’s rules, particularly that she should stay on the castle grounds and never venture outside, but Miranda is desperate to learn more about her past, even if it could cost her the new life she was given.

This book could initially be dismissed as heavily plagiarizing Frankenstein. However, the dynamic of Miranda and Viktra is just the wraparound story, and the majority of this collection features stories about other Ravenloft inhabitants encountering ghosts, sea monsters, and other creatures that stalk the night. These stories might vary in quality from one to another, but they all involve characters meeting gruesome ends, which brings to mind horror anthology films that also keep their individual terrifying tales tied together with a wraparound story.

The artwork itself is restrained, using a more spooky atmosphere rather than relying on visceral, full-on horror. The designs of the various characters even show a slight manga influence, which signals that the target audience of this book are young adults who are familiar with the world of Ravenloft and of D&D. There are characters that appear to resemble elves and halflings (or Hobbits, a term familiar with Lord of the Rings fans), meaning that Gilly and Underwood expect their audience to have at least a basic familiarity with the universe their characters occupy.

This book is definitely for a specific audience, but that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s a niche one. There are plenty of people that, if they’re not currently playing D&D, then they remember playing the game and having fun, and there are still those who have fond memories of or wish to learn more about the Ravenloft setting. To see if this would be a good purchase for your library’s collection, look for signs in your own library. Does it have a Dungeons & Dragons group? Do you have the rulebooks and adventures for the game, and if so, how often do they check out? This book is a solid collection of creepy stories, but the entryway into them requires knowing something about the book’s dark and dreadful universe.

Dungeons & Dragons: Ravenloft: Orphan of Agony Isle
By Casey Gilly
Art by Bayleigh Underwood
IDW, 2022
ISBN: 9781684059560

Related media:  Game to Comic

NFNT Age Recommendation: Adult (18+), Older Teen (16-18)

Clementine Book One

Writing stories set in a much loved, previously established universe is always a highwire act. It’s hard to make everyone happy. Tillie Walden takes the challenge in Clementine Book One, as she adapts a graphic novel from a Walking Dead video game character. Her success or failure is probably dependent on how invested in the Walking Dead universe you are.

This story opens with a Black teenage girl with an amputated leg traveling alone through a zombie apocalypse. She clearly knows how to take care of herself. She’s also been through a lot of trauma and doesn’t trust people easily, though no one seems to trust each other in this world. We learn that it’s been many years since the apocalypse began and Clementine has lived in this world for most of her life. We see flashbacks of what happened to her before (likely parts of the video game) and it informs who she is today. Soon she comes across a religious community and reluctantly accompanies one young man on a quest he’s undertaken to meet others on the top of a mountain in the hopes they can survive there away from the living dead. As with most zombie stories, nothing goes as planned and mayhem ensues. There is a complete story in this book but another door opens at the end in the hopes that readers will want to see what Clementine’s next steps are.

Walden’s art and storytelling are clear and distinctive. She is able to create the appropriate mood and atmosphere for a zombie apocalypse. The book is in black and white, just like the original Walking Dead series, which does make it hard to tell some characters apart. Walden uses clothing and hairstyle to do most of this work and she’s successful most of the time. The book is mostly set at night, so everything is pretty dark. This makes depicting Clementine’s race particularly challenging. In general, if you liked Walden’s art previously, you’ll enjoy what she does here.

We’ve had a lot of tales told in the world of the Walking Dead. Focusing on the trials of a capable teenage girl is a good story to tell, but it’s not breaking much new ground other than the fact she is an amputee. Fans of Tillie Walden will be interested to see her working in someone else’s “playground.” Fans of the Walking Dead and the video game will get to see Clementine’s story move forward. Not all of them will be happy about where the story takes us, though. I am curious where planned books two and three go. Image Comics head and Walking Dead creator, Robert Kirkman, has picked a good property to launch his new Skybound Comet imprint at Image with. It will be interesting to see how well this imprint expands Image’s audience to include a younger crowd of comics readers. Clementine is rated for older teens and could go in most public library YA or adult collections. Whether it stands alone or if it has too much backstory for most teens will be the test of whether it is a hit or not.

Clementine Book One
By Tille Walden
Image Skybound, 2022
ISBN: 9781534321281

Publisher Age Rating: 14+
Related media: Game to Comic

NFNT Age Recommendation: Older Teen (16-18)
Creator Representation: Lesbian
Character Representation: African-American, Bisexual, Missing Limb, Prosthesis

Magic, vol. 1

Magic is a tie in comic to the popular collectible trading card game Magic the Gathering and assumes some familiarity with the story and characters that have appeared in the game. In terms of storyline, this takes place sometime after the “War of the Spark” expansion, but I am unsure of the exact placement. The first caption reads, “The multiverse is vast, and the planes of existence innumerable,” which gives an idea of the scope covered here. The focus narrows from there to the plane of Ravnica which is a gigantic city, but it’s still an intimidating opening.

A mysterious group sets off explosions around the city of Ravnica, following up with assassination attempts on three guildmasters who are also planeswalkers (people who can travel between worlds). The three main characters: Vraska, Kaya, and Ral attempt to find out who is behind the attacks and end up embroiled in a wide ranging conspiracy. Along the way they work with other planeswalkers, butt heads with other guildmasters, and explore the many worlds they can travel to. There is a focus on exploring the world of Ravnica, as that is where the bulk of the action takes place.

The artwork is detailed and vibrant, very similar to the artwork typically found on Magic cards, but with some variations that differentiate from the game’s style. Some breaks from traditional layout and gutter style can be hard to follow. For example, early in the book the gutters are replaced with lightning effects for one page, but those same bolts can be found in the panel art, making it hard to tell what’s part of the story and what is meant to break up the sequence. There is a lot of fun to be had in the backgrounds. The main character’s ability to travel to different dimensions leads to a wide variety of locations, each with a distinctive environment.

McKay repeats place names and key pieces of vocabulary early on, which can be useful to the unfamiliar reader. Thankfully, voices of the main characters are distinguishable from each other. For example Vraska, the gorgon, is written as somewhat haughty while Kaya, the assassin, is more casual and modern. Some characters are introduced without much description, such as Jace Beleren, who is described as “the mind mage”. No further explanation of him being a planeswalker similar to the main characters is given, or a reason why he is so important to protect later on in the story. There are short descriptions of the various locales, but for more information the reader would have to turn to the game itself.

The publisher, Boom! Comics does not list a suggested age range for Magic, but I would place it firmly in teen. There are flashes of violence and death throughout, but very little in the way of adult language or sexual content. The concepts of various fantasy worlds that can be explored is a bit too complex for younger readers. This places the comic in the same suggested age bracket as the card game.

I would recommend this for public libraries with a strong fantasy or gaming population. If you have other tie-in works in your collection, or have a few Dungeons and Dragons groups using your space, this would be a welcome addition to your shelf.

Magic, vol. 1
By Jed MacKay
Art by Ig Guara
BOOM! Studios, 2021
ISBN: 9781684157358

Related media: Game to Comic

NFNT Age Recommendation: Teen (13-16)

Dungeons & Dragons: At The Spine of the World

This installment of the Dungeons & Dragons graphic novel series oDungeons and Dragons: Spine of the Worldpens with a group of traveling miners caught in a blizzard in the Icewind Dale area when they are overcome by anger and start brawling, which ruins their cart and leads to the death of almost the entire party. The only survivor is the driver, Amos, and his leg was injured in the cart crash. Luckily, Runa, a nearby warrior, follows the wolves previously pulling the cart and arrives just in time to save Amos from a remorhaz that bursts out of the mountain and consumes the last of the cart and all of its contents. Runa finds herself facing the remorhaz alone while trying to keep Amos in one piece until she loses her ax in the beast’s eye and a passing dragonborn ranger named Saarvin, avails himself to save her life.  

Runa decides to travel with Saarvin until she can repay the blood debt and save his life, so the three of them travel to Ten Towns to see if the local druid can heal Amos’ injured leg. Upon arrival to the town’s tavern, another brawl has broken out between two drunken humans over a bag of chardalyn, which introduces Patience the tiefling and her employer, Belvyre the druid. Amos convinces the party that they should look for the magic-filled lost city his miner companions were discussing in order to find plants that could survive the magical blizzard and help feed Ten Towns, which is almost out of food supplies. Along their travels, they must fight and defeat several frost giant skeletons, recover from a betrayal, overcome a confrontation with Runa’s family, and save a duergar army from a volcanic eruption.

This graphic novel ties in with the recently released D&D Icewind Dale adventure from Wizards of the Coast and does a good job of providing a sense of the terrifying creatures and icy conditions players could encounter were they to travel through the area. Overall, the story makes sense and follows a typical adventure path as the party forms and moves deeper into the dungeon. The side characters brought some extra worldbuilding even though they felt like forgettable non-player characters (NPCs). The main characters stayed pretty flat throughout the story with the exception of Amos, who exemplifies the bad guy with a heart of gold trope. Seasoned Dungeons & Dragons players will catch the Easter eggs sprinkled throughout, but new readers will still be able to enjoy the story as well. 

The colored art does a great job of adding atmosphere to the story and identifying our main characters in a blizzard of snowy white and gray. It is highly detailed with a care for shading to add extra depth, which helps immerse the reader in a fantasy world. I particularly loved the facial expressions that conveyed a wide range of emotions from anger to sulking to big-bellied laughter. Although this would not be a core title to include in an average graphic novel collection, if you have a population interested in gaming in general, or D&D specifically, this title would do well. Be aware that there is violence and blood depicted throughout, so it’s probably for teens or older readers. 

Dungeons & Dragons: At The Spine of the World
By AJ Mendez, Aimee Garcia
Art by Martin Coccolo
IDW, 2021
ISBN: 9781684057917

Related media:  Game to Comic

NFNT Age Recommendation: Adult (18+), Older Teen (16-18), Teen (13-16)
Creator Representation:  Latinx, Uruguayan
Character Representation: Black

Vampire The Masquerade: Winter’s Teeth

Vampire: The Masquerade (or V:tM) is probably the most successful role-playing game in history, apart from Dungeons and Dragons. The first game made for what became known as the World of Darkness setting, V:tM cast players in the role of the titular blood-sucking monsters, who spend their nights struggling to survive the Machiavellian political structure maintained by the eldest vampires, control the dark hunger that animates their undead forms, and retain what little humanity they have left. Generally V:tM is not a game of heroes and bold deeds, and that is well reflected by the new tie-in comic book series from Vault Comics.

“Winter’s Teeth” spins two different stories set among the vampires of St. Paul and Minneapolis. The first is centered around Cecily Bain, a freelance troubleshooter who reluctantly works as the muscle of the leaders of the Camarilla—the vampiric society that runs the nightlife of the Twin Cities and enforces the Masquerade that hides the existence of vampires from humans. Pressured to further tie herself to the local Prince, Cecily decides to claim the rare privilege of being allowed a “childe” and adopts Alejandra; a fledgling vampire seemingly abandoned by her creator and, by the laws of the Camarilla, an outlaw with no right to an afterlife. Thus does Cecily introduce “Ali” (and us) to the World of Darkness, even as she begins investigating Ali’s origins and a plot to overthrow the Prince.

The second story, “The Anarch Tales,” centers around a found family of Anarchs; vampires who live outside the structure set up by the Camarilla, but still try to maintain the Masquerade and their humanity. The central character here is Colleen Pendergrass; a thin-blood vampire who can pass for human and survive the touch of the sun but lacks the specialized powers most vampires possess. Colleen’s family takes a courier job that takes them to the Twin Cities, with each chapter revealing the origins of each member of the family and how the curse of vampirism altered them differently.

Fans of urban fantasy will find the stories of Cecily, Ali, Colleen, and company enjoyable, as Tim Seeley, Blake Howard, and Tini Howard do a fantastic job of establishing them as relatable, if not entirely likable, protagonists. What’s even more amazing is how well they establish the Vampire: the Masquerade setting and utilize the terminology of the game mechanics naturally within the context of the story. Newcomers who can’t tell a Brujah from a Gangrel will have no trouble getting into the swing of things, as the central story has Cecily showing Ali the facts of unlife and The Anarch Tales explains the Sabbath (i.e., vampires who embrace their inhumanity and seek to overthrow the Camarilla) as well as the particulars of some of the bigger clans and their powers.

Despite being a solid primer for the game and including some character sheets and other materials for players, Winter’s Teeth is a comic book, first and foremost, and the artwork perfectly suits the setting. Devmalya Pramanik and Nathan Gooden capture the Gothic splendor and horror of vampiric unlife. What truly completes the art, however, is the color art of Addison Duke, who renders most of the comic in a washed-out palette that subtly hints at the faded glory of the older vampire aristocrats and the muted half-life experienced by most young vampires.

Vault Comics rates this series as 15+, but I would suggest that it is more appropriate for adult audiences. As one might expect from a story centered around vampires, this series does not skimp on the bloodshed and there are many disturbing images of people being cut, stabbed, beheaded, set on fire, buried alive, eviscerated, defenestrated, and undergoing nearly any sort of physical punishment you can imagine. There’s not much in the way of sexual content, apart from the Prince of St. Paul (a vampire named Samantha) painting in the nude and even then only her bare backside is shown. While this is tame by the standards of True Blood and other similar shows, the story is mature enough to be best appreciated by adult audiences rather than most older teens.

Vampire The Masquerade: Winter’s Teeth Vol. 01
By Tim Seeley, Blake Howard, Tini Howard
Art by  Devmalya Pramanik, Nathan Gooden, Addison Duke
Vault Comics, 2021
ISBN: 9781939424808

Title Details and Representation
Publisher Age Rating:  15+ Only
Series ISBNS and Order
Related media:  Game to Comic
NFNT Age Recommendation: Adult (18+), Older Teen (16-18)
Character Representation: American,

Super Mario Manga Mania

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pokémon Adventures Collector’s Edition, vol. 1

In case you were unaware, Pokémon (poe-kay-mon, intended to mean “pocket monsters”) has been a cultural juggernaut since the late 90s. I should know because I was 11 when the very first Game Boy games arrived in America. Within the first day of playing, my middle school friends and I were immediately in the thrall of that world full of fantastical creatures, their trainers, and the different cities and environments to explore. Don’t take my word for it, though—there have doubtless been children asking your library where the Pokémon manga are.

There are multiple series within the Pokémon Adventures manga, each one based on a different video game, and now Viz is reprinting them in combined editions, starting with this 3-in-1 volume that collects the first three volumes of the original manga. Great news: this thick paperback represents the first story arc and reads well on its own, so even if you’re not interested in purchasing a few dozen more books in this series, you can at least stock this one and know it represents a satisfying reading experience.

Pokémon Adventures starts as the adventures of a young boy named Red with an affinity and empathy for Pokémon. He is tasked by a local Professor Oak with finding and capturing Pokémon in order to send him their data for study. However, Oak has also sent his accomplished grandson, Blue, on a similar quest, leading to an intense rivalry. Each chapter of the story, often named in a punny fashion (“…But Fearow Itself,” “A Hollow Victreebell”), centers on a different featured Pokémon and contains a lesson or challenge for Red. His eagerness to help others in danger and all-around good heart see him win the day more often than not, though there are recurring villains from the ruthless organization Team Rocket to battle.

Reading this manga for the first time, I am pleasantly surprised by how unerringly wholesome it is. Girls are drawn with the same proportions as the boys, and free of any leering perspectives. The harshest word in the text is “heck.” Early on, Professor Oak tells Red, “Do you know what it takes to be great? Knowing a lot of clever tricks? Having a Pokémon power house in your arsenal? …What counts is in your heart! That connection you had with the Bulbasaur… that feeling from deep within… that’s the key to becoming a great Pokémon trainer.” That ethos informs Red’s entire journey, along with expertise gleaned from trainers he meets along the way. As this book includes the first three volumes of the original manga, it also represents Red’s initial journey in three clearly delineated phases. He starts part one as a rough-and-tumble enthusiast, learns the ropes during part two, and is an expert in his own right by the finale.

It’s hard to interact with Pokémon stories and not notice how close the franchise comes to a sort of sci-fi dogfighting ring. Pokémon trainers carry Pokémon in tiny, spherical containers and mainly let them out to fight others for sport and profit, which leads to the impression that Pokémon are strictly interchangeable commodities. The manga goes out of its way to emphasize the importance of friendship and empathy with Pokémon, starting with Red’s backstory. His first Pokémon was a tadpole-like Poliwag that played in water with him and helped him escape bullies when he was younger. It evolved into a larger, stronger Poliwhirl in order to save Red from drowning in an accident. There is a Pokémon fan club that refuses to evolve or battle their Pokémon, preferring them to remain small, cute, and docile. There’s a through line in this arc of Pokémon performing more reliably and powerfully when they fight of their own free will and not under coercion. Team Rocket experiments on Pokémon to enhance their strength without regard for what modification does to them physically or mentally. Meanwhile, “good” trainers like Red, Blue, and the enigmatic Green are able to count on their Pokémon friends to show extra endurance and surprise enemies with unpredictable tricks because of their bond. Living things are not ends that justify any means, and Red personifies compassionate concern for Pokémon. There are a couple of chapters that note the importance of unspoiled nature and the harms of pollution.

There’s a wide variety of Pokémon in this volume, representing many different types from the original 151. Bugs, fish, bipedal humanoids, dino- and kaiju-esque monsters, and many other designs resembling real-world animals and elements burst off the page with special attacks and fighting poses. Kusaka and Mato share goals in their forewords about imagining how Pokémon live and move, and it shows: Pokémon will appear cute, scared, hurt, angry, tired, joyful, in various turns. This manga reads right to left, and the paneling is usually simple enough to not riddle anyone grappling with reading order. Action is also easy to follow, though some attacks will result in powerful beams or splashes of impact that won’t make much sense to someone unfamiliar with every last Pokémon command. Pokémon violence includes slapstick, martial arts, fantastical elemental and psychic abilities, and even some mortal danger. Humans and Pokémon alike are stomped, slashed, burned, electrocuted, frozen, drowned—what was Prof. Oak thinking to send children on such a journey?!

It is worth noting that girls take the center stage in this series, too, and they go toe to toe with the boys. Where Pokémon trainers are concerned, there’s the tomboyish Misty, elegant Erika, mischievous Green, and the menacing Sabrina. In one chapter, Red assumes the local Pokémon gym leader must be a boy, when his new friend Misty was the actual expert all along. No character is the best at all things, and everyone has their own personal strength or talent.

There are a few moments in the series where characters will check a handheld device for Pokémon information and see graphics from the original Game Boy game, a neat Easter egg that bridges the formats. This 3-in-1 edition includes some color artwork and a map of Red’s adventures after each third of the story. Younger readers may have trouble recognizing the technology of 1997, with floppy disks, desktop computers, and a buttons-only cell phone making appearances. They will not, however, have any trouble latching onto this manga, and I absolutely recommend it for children’s collections. Whether readers have already mastered the games or are learning about Pokémon for the first time, these stories have evergreen appeal.

Pokémon Adventures Collector’s Edition, vol. 1
By Hidenori Kusaka
Art by Mato
ISBN: 9781974709649
Viz, 2020
Publisher Age Rating: A (All Ages)
Series ISBNS and Order

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

Science Ninjas: Big Trouble with Simple Machines

Fans of Dr. Stone and science-themed adventures won’t want to miss Science Ninjas: Big Trouble with Simple Machines by Nathan Schreiber.

From the co-creator of the popular chemistry game, Valence, comes a book that makes learning physics fun! Set in a place far in the future, three young science ninjas test their strength and physics knowledge as they embark on a treasure hunt to find a prize that could revolutionize energy. Along the way, they must use ramps, wedges, screws, levers, pulleys, wheels, and axles to solve a series of puzzles before the mechanized drones can stop them.

The book is a great tool for teaching basic physics to tween readers. Edited by middle and high school science teachers, each chapter covers a different simple machine in addition to exploring principles of force, work, and mechanical advantage. It forgoes watering down content in favor of proper terminology, inserting plenty of examples within the storyline to make complex concepts accessible. Back matter extends these lessons with a glossary of terms and experiments readers can do at home.

If this sounds a bit too cerebral for the typical tween, rest assured there is plenty of action, drama, suspense, and humor to keep readers engaged as they learn. The dialogue is smart, and the characters are fully formed, quirky, and downright likable. The three young protagonists include a science genius and two science ninjas—genetically modified humans who are super strong, but need a bit of training at the Science Ninjas Academy to unleash their full potential. (Keep an eye out for clever names like Carlos Einstein, Dr. Eureka Fermi, and Julie Joules!)

What gives the book its personality is the deep connections between the main characters, who gradually reveal their inner struggles as the adventure unfolds. While physics may be front and center, equally important is the friendship and support they offer one another. In the spirit of physics, Carlos Einstein says it best when he explains that dealing with life’s challenges means pushing back with more force than any one of them could alone. Friendship is quite literally their very own simple machine.

Supporting characters also are a lot of fun, including a robot cat and security drones that remind me of futuristic Minions with their big, yellow heads. These little bots spend just as much time apologizing as they do policing, but the considerate “baddies” most definitely heighten the suspense level as our heroes juggle solving physics puzzles with escaping capture.

The book features bright pages with colorful illustrations in a cartoon-like style. Warm and engaging, the images create a fantasy world filled with absorbing landscapes.

From an educational perspective, the pictures also help clarify science concepts difficult to grasp from the text alone. This multi-modal approach to learning uses both text and image to teach content, highlighting important information in a way that breaks the written word up. This is a handy way to prevent readers from feeling overwhelmed as they tackle increasingly complex subject matter.

Admittedly, I had to reread some paragraphs and go over the accompanying images a few times to pick up everything. Even then, I didn’t grasp it all, but younger readers with more background knowledge and/or academic support should have a much easier time.

Overall, this book is an engaging and educational read that would fit well in a science classroom or a library’s tween section. Readers will enjoy the video-game like vibe as the characters battle mini science challenges using their knowledge of physics and a few key tools. Each challenge moves them closer to the ultimate prize, and the ending will definitely surprise.

Science Ninjas: Big Trouble with Simple Machines
By Nathan Schreiber
ISBN: 9781733559706
Science Ninjas, 2019

Browse for more like this title
NFNT Age Recommendation: Tween (10-13)
Related to…: Game to Comic