Paulsen, Bree. Garlic and the Vampire. Quill Tree Books, 2021. 978-0-062-99509-4. 160 p. $22.99. Grades 2-5.
Garlic has overslept again, and she’s late for her shift at Witch Agnes’s Market Day, where all of the local fruits and vegetables sell their harvest. Meanwhile, smoke drifts from the chimney of a distant castle, alerting the garden helpers that the spooky house isn’t vacant anymore. Witch Agnes reluctantly admits that the castle’s new resident is very likely a vampire. Pointing out that garlic wards off vampires, Celery nominates timid Garlic to visit the castle, and even Carrot (her father figure) agrees that she’s the best one for the job. Hoping to prove her bravery – especially to herself – Garlic agrees to confront the vampire, and in the process discovers the beauty of an unexpected friendship. Author/illustrator Bree Paulsen’s digital artwork is rendered in earthy, woodsy tones that match the story’s setting. Each garden helper’s characteristics are delightfully distinctive: smug Celery, paternal Carrot, and endearingly nervous Garlic.
THOUGHTS: This is a fun graphic novel for young readers who like their spooky stories with plenty of depth and heart.
Frasier, Crystal, and Val Wise, illustrator. Cheer Up: Love and Pompoms. Oni Press, 2021. 978-1-620-10955-7. 128 p. $14.99. Grades 7-10.
Annie Ginter is a stand-out student, but her “lopsided” transcript lacks clubs, sports, and other extracurriculars. In an effort to improve Annie’s teamwork skills, her mom encourages her to go out for cheerleading. Beatrice (“Bebe”) is a very popular, people-pleasing trans girl. Her parents only will allow her to continue her transition if she maintains excellent grades. The two girls, who were close friends as children, become reluctant allies as they realize that they can help each other with their respective problems. Annie tutors Bebe in history, while Bebe assists with Annie’s physical conditioning and interpersonal skills. As they spend more time together, a romance blossoms. This impressive graphic novel delivers a fresh spin on an opposites-attract story arc, and illustrator Val Wise depicts each character in the diverse ensemble cast with unique details and a distinct personality. Cheer Up also addresses issues such as consent, boundaries, agency, and microaggressions organically within the storyline
THOUGHTS: A sports angle, a very Gen Z romance, and a Homecoming Day to remember make this a widely appealing graphic novel!
De Campi, Alex, et al. The Backups: A Summer of Stardom. Imprint, 2021. 978-1-250-21259-7. 206 pp. $17.99. Gr. 7-10.
In this charming graphic novel, three rising seniors at the Brooklyn Performing Arts High School land the ultimate summer job: singing back-up on tour with pop superstar Nika Nitro. Jenni is a fierce vocalist, Lauren is a dedicated classical cellist, and Maggie is a tough-as-nails drummer. With their very different backgrounds and musical interests, the girls don’t exactly gel as a squad. But life on tour is tough when you’re twenty feet and a world away from fame, and they quickly learn to depend on each other for support and friendship. Add in an accidental beef with an underground punk band, a blossoming (but strictly forbidden) crush on Nika’s supporting act, and a secret that could end the star’s career, and you have all the backstage / onstage drama you need for summer!
THOUGHTS: The different body types represented on the cover of The Backups hint at the delightfully diverse story within, in which characters cope with anxiety, crushes, coming out, lip-syncing disasters, and so much more.
The Great Pyramid. 2021. 978-1-545-80633-3.
The Great Wall of China. 2021. 978-1-545-80634-0. Hidden Oil. 2021. 978-1-545-80690-6. The Crusades. 2021. 978-1-545-80714-9. The Plague. 2021. 978-1-545-80772-9.
In this series, Annie and Nico travel throughout the span of time learning about important places and moments in history. Traveling to Egypt to learn about the Great Pyramid, traveling along the Great Wall of China, finding hidden oil, and learning about the crusades and the plague are just the beginning of their magical historical adventure! This book presents fun factual information through comic-book style illustrations, incorporating maps, timelines, and other important characteristics that define and explain some of the greatest moments of our world history.
THOUGHTS: I received the first book, The Great Pyramid, and cannot wait to purchase the rest of the series! The historical information is presented in a fun way for readers to learn and enjoy moments and places in history.
Spires, Ashley. Burt the Beetle Doesn’t Bite! Kids Can Press. 2021. 978-1-525-30146-9. $12.99. Grades K-2.
Burt is a Ten-Lined June Beetle, also known as a Watermelon Beetle! Burt has amazing superhero powers. Well, at least that is what Burt believes! He discovered that he can’t lift something that is fifty times his weight like ant can, he doesn’t have ultrasonic blasts like hawk moths, he does not have a the ability to spray paralyzing venom like some termites can, and he also cannot release a bad smell to repel predators like stink bugs. In fact, Burt can’t climb up walls, fly very well, or even run fast! Is there something that makes Burt special?
THOUGHTS: This is a cute graphic novel-style informational book about insects! A cute story for young readers to learn about the super things specific bugs can do, including June bugs!
What do you do when you find a stray dog that is friendly, smart, but has no collar? While keeping the dog may be what you want, is it the best choice to make? Maddie makes this discovery when she finds a lost dog she calls Boyd. While she wants to keep Boyd, her mother has her take Boyd to Animal Rescue Friends, an animal sanctuary. There, Maddie will find a place for Boyd, a new job for her helping animals, and even may make a friend or two!
THOUGHTS: This Epic! Original book follows several kids who all help or rescue animals in some way! This book is for the pet lovers of the world, with relatable situations, all presented in a fun comic-book style format.
In this graphic novel, Artist Sylvie Kantoritz shares her life growing up in France, living in an envied apartment that was part of the small teaching college her father directed. She shows the personalities of her father (easy-going), her mother (never satisfied), and her younger brothers and sister. She strives to make everything work: to be the perfect student, daughter, sister, and friend, while feeling uncertain of where she is headed. As the years pass, she changes friends, finds a boyfriend, and always tries to find her own place. Her fascination with art continues to grow throughout her life, and her father encourages her to seek a future in teaching and art. Finally, Sylvie feels that she’s found her own way to a life of her choosing. She ends the memoir with this thought: “Finding out who we are, and not who others think we are or want us to be, is the most important search in life.” The characters’ expressions are endearing and revealing, through anger and surprise to dismay and joy.
THOUGHTS: Readers will enjoy following Sylvie’s life and growth in this quiet homage to the ups and downs of family life.
Larson, Hope. Salt Magic. Margaret Ferguson Books, 2021. 978-0-823-44620-9. 240 p. $21.99. Grades 4-6.
Salt Magic follows our main character Vonceil whose older brother Elber is just home from World War I, and life is not going the way Vonceil pictured it. Elber comes home and marries the girl next door, which seems normal to the rest of his family but not Vonceil. Things get even odder when a woman shows up and claims Elber left her in France. When he denies her, and tells her that he is already married she reveals herself to be a witch who curses his family’s water supply and turns it into salt water. Vonceil then decides to take things into her own hands and solve everything. The illustrations of this graphic novel are wonderful and add to the overall feeling of the book. The story is beautifully woven using the illustrations as well as the language that Hope Larson uses.
THOUGHTS: This is a must own for any middle school library collection.
Graphic Novel Mary Hyson, Lehigh Valley Regional Charter Academy
Lai, Remy. Pawcasso. Henry Holt & Co., 2021. 978-1-250-77448-4. 240 p. $21.99. Grades 3-6.
Joanna Lin is at loose ends over summer break, until an affectionate, spirited dog enters the picture. Every Saturday, “Pawcasso” journeys into town to do his unknown owner’s shopping with the help of a basket and a shopping list. Some of the neighborhood kids mistakenly get the idea that the dog belongs to Jo, and suddenly they are both the center of attention, especially during art class at the Dog Ears bookstore. She wants to clear up the confusion, but doesn’t want to risk losing her newfound friends. A division between pro-Pawcasso and pro-leash townspeople further raises the temperature, and the pressure on Jo to keep up the ruse. A diverse cast of characters and one exceptionally charismatic spaniel offer something for readers to connect with on just about every page.
THOUGHTS: Pawcasso is a heartfelt, sometimes wistful graphic novel complimented by sunny, charming artwork. As a special treat, the author includes a canine-friendly ice cream recipe at the end of the book!
Alexander, Damian. Other Boys. First Second, 978-1-250-22282-4. 208 p. $21.99. Grades 5-8.
Damian always has felt different from other boys, preferring activities like playing with dolls, reading fairy tales, and sewing to GI Joes and superhero movies. He was teased and bullied relentlessly for being “gay” and a “homo” long before he knew what those words meant. Although it’s not discussed in detail, the reader learns that Damian’s mother was murdered by his father when Damian was a small child. Now, he lives with his brother and grandmother in a small apartment. Tired of being the “dead mom” kid and a target for bullies, Damian stops talking on the first day of 7th grade, after moving to a new town and entering a new school. After months of silence and loneliness, Damian finally shares his feelings with a kind therapist, who helps normalize his crushes on boys. Friendly peers, including a couple of cute boys, begin to draw him out of his protective shell, lending a hopeful note to an often heartbreaking graphic memoir. Inspired by colorful cartoons, funky arcade decor, and VHS tape boxes, Damian Alexander’s artwork is both firmly rooted in his childhood era and as timeless as a child’s secret pain.
THOUGHTS: Other Boys is a heartfelt graphic memoir about the loss of a parent, coming out, bullying, and self-acceptance. It’s an excellent addition to shelves that already include options for slightly older readers, such as Hey, Kiddo by Jarrett J. Krosoczka and Brave Face by Shaun David Hutchinson.