MG – Freestyle

Galligan, Gale. Freestyle. Graphix, 2022. 978-1-338-04581-9. Unpaged. $24.99. Grades 3-7.

Cory Tan’s break dance team is about to compete in a big competition, and all eight members are excited. The team captain, Tess, is pushing the group harder than ever before to the point where it causes some strain in the group. Cory causes even more strain when his parents check his grades and ground him until he gets his grades back to acceptable levels. His punishment means the dance crew has to rehearse without Cory. His parents hire a tutor named Sunna, a classmate of Cory’s who is a bit of an outcast at school. She constantly is writing intensely in a notebook and barely talks to anyone. After a rocky first tutoring session, Cory discovers that Sunna has a secret: She has incredible yo-yo skills! Sunna uses yo-yo moves to help him learn geometry and in the process, Cory becomes hooked on yo-yoing. Instead of devoting what little free time he has to the dance team, he starts hanging out with Sunna outside of tutoring to work on his yo-yo moves. Eventually, Cory discovers that Sunna’s parents also have very high expectations of her which leaves her feeling like she is never good enough. Cory and Sunna have to figure out how to fit this budding friendship into their already packed lives while also navigating their parents’ and friends’ expectations of them.

THOUGHTS: The newest book from Galligan, the author responsible for the illustrated adaptations of the beloved Babysitters Club graphic novels, is a must-purchase for middle grade libraries. Featuring a diverse cast of characters living in New York City, this book shows that pre-teens from all backgrounds struggle with parental acceptance and peer pressure. The book is fun and full of heart.

Graphic Novel          Danielle Corrao, Manheim Central SD

YA – The National Parks: Preserving America’s Wild Places

Koch, Falynn. The National Parks: Preserving America’s Wild Places. First Second, 2022. 978-1-250-26587-6. 120 p. $19.99. Grades 7-10.

A friendly Sasquatch is our guide through The National Parks, a recent entry in First Second’s History Comics series of graphic nonfiction for middle grade and teen readers. Today, our parks and national monuments successfully blend tourism with conservation of unique ecosystems (as well as history), but getting here was a circuitous path. When Congress established the National Park Service in 1916, it was in charge of thirteen national parks. Today the National Park System encompasses over 60 national parks and hundreds of additional federal park sites. In this conversational history of “America’s best idea” to preserve our wild places, author and illustrator Falynn Koch colorfully portrays the visionaries, politicians, Native Americans, wildlife, and occasional scoundrels who contributed to the evolution of our park system. She also addresses the forced removal of indigenous people from land that would eventually be parks: “If we don’t reexamine the past and face these grim truths, we can’t learn from them and make a better future” (92).

THOUGHTS: Rich with historical anecdotes and images of our varied parks, this one will have readers thinking, “The mountains are calling & I must go” (~ John Muir).

333 National Parks          Amy V. Pickett, Ridley SD

YA – The Greatest Thing

Searle, Sarah Winifred. The Greatest Thing. First Second, 2022. 978-1-250-29722-8. 352 p. $25.99. Grades 7-10.

Winifred begins her sophomore year of high school feeling very alone after her two best friends transfer to a private school. She reconnects with an old friend, Mathilda “Tilly” Martel, and makes fast friends with April and Oscar, two students whose photography class overlaps with Win’s independent study period. The trio bonds over music, pop culture, and especially creating a limited edition zine together. Despite these positives, Win wrestles with deep anxiety, self-esteem and body image issues, and disordered eating. For example, she’s lactose intolerant but indulges in ice cream to punish herself for enjoying food. She also struggles with an emerging crush on Tilly … or maybe Oscar? … and wonders if “a relationship would fill the hole that ache[s] in my chest all the time.” When Win’s self-loathing spirals into self-harm, her guidance counselor steps in and recommends professional help. This thoughtful, sensitive graphic novel features softly shaded artwork (created in Clip Studio Paint) that complements Win’s moods and emotions. In particular, the red-tinted darkroom provides a safe space for Win, April, and Oscar to reveal their vulnerabilities.

THOUGHTS: There is so much to savor in The Greatest Thing. Readers will embrace Win’s exploration of her identity, her relationships, and her artwork. Potentially triggering content is handled with great care, and Sarah Winifred Searle includes a list of resources at the close of the book.

Graphic Novel          Amy V. Pickett, Ridley SD