MG – Growing Pangs

Ormsbee, Kathryn. Growing Pangs. Random House, 2022. 978-0-593-30129-6. 249 p. $20.99. Grades 4-7.

As a homeschooled kid with bright red hair, freckles, and crooked teeth, Katie knows she is a little different from most kids her age. But as long as she has her best friend Kacey, none of that matters. The pair head off to spend their summer at Camp Aldridge, and that’s when things begin to change. Katie notices that Kacey gets very jealous when Katie hangs out with other people at camp. When they both start at their homeschool co-op for the year, Katie’s circle of friends continues to grow while Kacey shrinks back into the sidelines of Katie’s life. One aspect of Katie’s life that hasn’t gotten smaller is the “buzzing” in her mind. The buzzing orders her to accomplish tasks like turning a faucet on and off ten times. If she completes the task, nothing bad will happen to Katie or the people in her life. When Katie finds out she needs oral surgery and that Kacey is moving away before their friendship can be repaired, the buzzing gets louder and louder. Katie realizes she needs help from her parents to take control of her Obsessive Compulsive Disorder.

THOUGHTS: Katie is insightful for her age yet also relatable. Her struggles mirror the pressure and anxiety tweens face every day. This semi-autobiographical graphic novel will most definitely appeal to fans of Raina Telgemeier and the Sunny series.

Graphic Novel           Danielle Corrao, Manheim Central SD

YA – Tin Man

Madson, Justin. Tin Man. Amulet Books, 2022. 978-1-419-75104-2. 219 p. $17.99. Grades 7-10.

Solar is a senior but instead of feeling like her whole life is ahead of her, she feels scared and uncertain. The death of her grandmother, who was also her best friend and mentor, has shaken Solar to her core. Fenn, her little brother, is confused and saddened by her change in personality. The two of them used to work on building a rocket together, but now Solar has little interest in much of anything, especially if it involves Fenn. Campbell is a tin man, a woodsman who wants more in his life than just chopping down trees. Against his father’s wishes, Campbell receives a heart and leaves home to work through all of the feelings he suddenly has. Fenn, Solar, and Campbell become unlikely friends and together, they work through all of their difficult feelings to understand what life has to offer them.

THOUGHTS: This graphic novel is a heart-warming story of how friendship can help heal feelings of loss and confusion. Read closely to see other objects and symbols from The Wizard of Oz peppered throughout Tin Man. 

Graphic Novel                Danielle Corrao, Manheim Central SD

Elem. – Sir Ladybug

Tabor, Corey R. Sir Ladybug. Balzer + Bray, 2022. 978-0-063-06906-0. $12.99.  68 p. Grades PK-3.

This epic insect tale is constructed as an early-reader graphic novel. In four chapters, an introduction, two interludes, and an epilogue, readers will be delighted with the antics of Sir Ladybug, his Herald, Pell (an anxious pill bug), and his Trusty Squire, Sterling (a gamer snail with a penchant for cake). The three friends are on an epic quest to save a yellow caterpillar from the dreaded monster, Chickadee. Though initially tempted to hide in Sterling’s shell to avoid being eaten, the friends devise an amusing plan to befriend their nemesis. Delightful and bright comic illustrations highlight the action, which is packed with non-stop humor.

THOUGHTS: At first glance this early-reader graphic novel is pure fun. Silliness abounds in both the text and illustrations. New readers and graphic novel enthusiasts will be completely amused. Dig a little deeper, and it is clear the book is also cleverly teaching literary vocabulary and structure. A fabulous read aloud or independent reading selection.

Early Reader          Anne McKernan, Council Rock SD
Graphic Novel

YA – Chef’s Kiss

Melendez, Jarrett, and Danica Brine, illustrator. Chef’s Kiss. Oni-Lion Forge Publishing Group, 2022. 978-1-620-10904-5. 160 p. $14.99. Grades 10+.

Ben Cook is a recent college graduate who longs for a job connected to his English major. He goes on over a dozen interviews, but lacks the experience needed to land a job that will allow him to gain experience. Luckily, a local restaurant is hiring, with NO experience required (plus a very dreamy sous chef, Liam). Now Ben must excel at Chef Davis’s series of challenges, mastering recipes both classic and original. He also has to please Watson, Le Cochon Doré’s official taste-tester; Watson is a pig, an adorably affectionate one. “Cook the cook” really takes to the restaurant gig, especially the camaraderie that’s forged in the kitchen, but his roommate and longtime bestie, Liz, feels that Ben has given up on writing too easily. This upbeat graphic novel (with abundant character diversity) joyfully depicts the life-changing moments that happen when your life’s prescribed path opens up to a world of possibilities.

THOUGHTS: With incredible culinary sequences, a slow burn romance, and a dash of early-twenties angst, it’s just, yes, chef’s kiss.

Graphic Novel (Crossover)          Amy V. Pickett, Ridley SD

Elem. – Star the Elephant

Lai, Remy. Star the Elephant. Henry Holt and Co., 2022. 978-1-250-78499-5. 112 p. $13.99. Grades 2-5.

Author/illustrator Remy Lai opens a new series, Surviving the Wild, with the tale of Star the Elephant. Five-year old Star is growing up under the watchful eyes of his mother, aunt (the matriarch), and extended herd. When food becomes scarce, Star’s mom and auntie decide to search for a new home. After a long swim they reach an island with plenty to eat but also the troubling presence of humans. While attempting to escape from two men, Star becomes separated from his family. Fortunately for Star, these humans are working diligently to make the world safer for elephants, and the story ends on a hopeful note. “The True Story Behind Star’s Adventure,” which closes out this early reader graphic novel, includes tips to help protect elephants’ habitat from deforestation. Remy Lai fills every page with colored pencil lines depicting equatorial foliage, a handful of people, and (of course) the incredible elephants!

THOUGHTS: The Surviving the Wild series continues with Rainbow the Koala and Sunny the Shark (both 2022). Between the adorable animals and their sometimes fraught adventures, readers will tear through these!

Graphic Novel          Amy V. Pickett, Ridley SD

Elem./MG – Miss Quinces

Fajardo, Kat. Miss Quinces. Graphix, 2022. 978-1-338-53559-4. 256 p. $12.99. Grades 4-7.

Suyapa (Sue) would love to spend all summer creating comics and attending sleepaway camp with her friends. They’re even introducing LARPing to the activities this year and she’s going to miss it, because instead Sue’s family is taking a trip to Honduras to visit her mom’s relatives. With no texting, Internet, or cable to distract her, she hopes to spend her days reading and avoiding family drama (particularly with her older sister, Carmen). But despite Sue’s specific and repeated request NOT to have a quinceañera, her Mami has already sent out a hundred invitations behind her back. With the guidance of her doting abuela, Sue compromises with Mami: if she participates in the celebration without complaint, she can attend sleepaway camp with her friends in August! Can a soon-to-be “Miss Quinces” who hates the spotlight, frilly dresses, and dancing in public, possibly survive this festive family tradition … maybe even enjoy it? This incredibly appealing graphic novel debut features bright, digitally rendered artwork and a loving, boisterous extended family. Text in the speech bubbles is blue when the characters are speaking Spanish, and black when they are speaking English, which visually reflects Sue’s experiences of existing in two cultures.

THOUGHTS: This graphic novel checks all the boxes: authentic, endearing, and funny! Follow it up with Frizzy by Claribel A. Ortega for another perspective on feeling like an outsider in one’s own family.

Graphic Novel          Amy V. Pickett, Ridley SD

MG – Isla to Island

Castellanos, Alexis. Isla to Island. Atheneum Books for Young Readers, 2022. 978-1-534-46923-5. 192 p. $12.99. Gr. 4-7.

Until Fidel Castro’s rise to power in 1959, Marisol enjoyed an idyllic childhood in Cuba with her devoted parents, delighting in the sights, lush surroundings, and delicacies of her beloved island home. But to protect her amidst food shortages and increasing violence, her parents make the heart wrenching decision to send their daughter to Brooklyn with “Operation Peter Pan” in 1961. The transition from “isla to island” is not an easy one for Marisol. She faces a language barrier, bullies, and her first taste of winter. Author/illustrator Alexis Castellanos depicts early scenes in Habana in bright, appealing colors, but Marisol’s world becomes a dismal black and white when she arrives in New York City. Spots of color (a blossom here, a book there) emerge as she acclimates to her new surroundings, but adjusting takes time and plenty of tears. Luckily she is cared for by an older couple who, though they cannot replace Marisol’s family, are very kind. For example, the woman shows Marisol how to use Kotex pads when she gets her first period, and they take her to the Brooklyn Botanic Gardens greenhouse to support her love for nature. A hopeful ending hints at Marisol’s bright future.

THOUGHTS: This exceptionally lovely, mostly wordless graphic novel, which turns on a too-little-known historical event, is not to be missed!

Graphic Novel          Amy V. Pickett, Ridley SD

YA – Over My Dead Body

Boo, Sweeney. Over My Dead Body. HarperAlley, 2022. 978-0-063-05631-2. 240 p. $24.99. Grades 7-10.

It’s not easy being a foundling, as Abigail Younwity knows all too well. On top of having no family of her own and being named after the Younwity Hidden Institute of Magic where she’s a student, Abigail knows that foundlings are especially vulnerable to the ghosts that haunt the untamed woods surrounding the school grounds. When Abigail’s friend Noreen disappears, Abigail knows that the forest holds the answers. On a hunt for information, she discovers a journal hidden in the hollow of a tree; it belonged to another student who vanished without a trace almost a century ago. The school administrators demand that Abigail leave the search to the Coven, but she can’t give up on finding the closest thing she has to a sister. Meanwhile, the Institute is preparing for the Samhain festival, when “the veil between the world of the dead and the living is at its thinnest,” and evil spirits are apt to strike. Time to find Noreen clearly is running out. Assisted by a handful of trusted friends and armed with some helpful spells, Abigail will risk expulsion, or worse, to solve this mystery.

THOUGHTS: Written and illustrated by Sweeney Boo, this vibrant graphic novel is pure witchy fun from start to finish, while also incorporating some weightier issues such as possessive friendship. Fans of Sabrina (in all its incarnations) and Squad by Maggie Tokuda-Hall and Lisa Srerle will love it!

Graphic Novel          Amy V. Pickett, Ridley SD

Elem. – Thunder and Cluck: The Brave Friend Leads the Way

Esbaum, Jill. Thunder and Cluck: The Brave Friend Leads the Way. Simon & Schuster, 2021. 978-1-534-48655-3. 64 p. $17.99. Grades K-2. 

Meet Thunder and Cluck, two unlikely friends that are prehistoric dinosaurs. The Brave Friend Leads the Way is the second book in the Ready to Read Graphics Thunder and Cluck series written by Jill Esbaum. In this graphic novel, it is a hot miserable day. Thunder and Cluck find a dark and cool cave that could provide relief from the heat. The question is, which friend will be brave enough to lead the way inside the cool, yet mysterious cave? Thunder and Cluck are goofy and lovable and make the perfect friends to adventure together. This beginner graphic novel is vibrant, attractive, and fun to read!

THOUGHTS: This graphic novel series is perfect for early readers. Each book has an introduction message for the readers that teaches and explains how to read a graphic novel. The easy-to-follow panels, the speech bubbles, and the accessible vocabulary is genuinely spot-on with a relatable storyline. Love this collection! I hope there are more in the series in the future! 

Graphic Novel          Marie Mengel, Reading SD

Elem./MG – Frizzy

Ortega, Claribel A., and Rose Bousamra, illustrator. Frizzy. First Second, 2022. 978-1-250-25962-2. 224 p. $21.99. Grades 3-6.

Marlene’s cousin Diana is having her quinceañera, which means Marlene is at the salon with her Mami to get her thick, natural curls straightened. It’s painful and time-consuming, but necessary to make Marlene “presentable” – even beautiful? – for the festive gathering. Marlene both admires Diana’s “good hair” and longs to flaunt her natural curls like her Tía Ruby. Her best friend, Camilla, suggests looking up a beauty tutorial on YouTube, but debuting her new style goes terribly wrong thanks to some bullies and a cruel reminder about the death of her Papi when she was five. Marlene wants people to see her true self, occasionally frizzy hair and all, but her Mami warns that she must try and fit in to get by in the world. Why, she wonders, isn’t she good enough to be accepted the way that she is? A weekend with Tía Ruby may be just what Marlene needs to embrace her curl power, recognize and reject inter-generational racial bias within her family, and realize that there really is no such thing as good hair or bad hair. Artist Rose Bousamra uses bright, appealing artwork to depict Marlene’s Dominican culture (the salon scene, a lavish quinceañera, and tight-knit extended family) and urban neighborhood. Marlene’s facial expressions are wonderfully emotive, though her fabulous curls definitely are the star of the show!

THOUGHTS: Readers will appreciate this big-hearted (and, yes, big-haired) middle grade graphic novel for both the engaging storytelling and the underlying theme of self-acceptance.

Graphic Novel          Amy V. Pickett, Ridley SD