YA – Scurry

Smith, Mac. Scurry. Skybound Comet. 2023. 978-1-534-32436-7. 333 p. $14.99. Grades 7-12.

Scurry is a tale of tiny critters and high stakes with jaw-dropping artwork by author and illustrator Mac Smith. In a world without humans, a colony of mice led by an Elder Council must learn to survive despite scarce food and seemingly endless winter. Wix is a skilled and savvy scavenger, while Pict has been raised by her father Orim to one day lead the colony. Meanwhile a duplicitous mouse named Resher has concocted a scheme to eliminate his rivals and seize power. Threats outside the colony also abound: vengeful cats, vigilant hawks, and mysterious wolves. When Wix and a team of mice venture out to scout a new location for the colony, Resher sets his plan in motion with disastrous consequences. Wix and Pict are swept up in an epic journey to return home and reunite the colony as new friendships and alliances are forged with creatures both large and small. Debut graphic novelist Mac Smith excels at illustrating motion, which adds drama to Scurry’s many close calls. Mice escape extended cat claws by a fraction of an inch, a hawk swoops down with deadly talons, and a thumbtack doubles as a deadly weapon in page after exciting page.

THOUGHTS: Mac Smith’s webcomic has transitioned beautifully to the graphic novel format. Readers will be overjoyed to see “to be continued” on the final page of this fantastic volume!

Graphic Novel

MG – Picture Day

Sax, Sarah. Picture Day. Alfred A. Knopf. 2023. 978-0-593-30687-1. 283 p. $13.99. Grades 3-7.

It’s picture day at Brinkley Middle School! Olivia “Viv” Sullivan is determined not to fade into the background in the hand knitted cardigan and boring braid that her mother wants her to wear. She wants a look that’s cool, bold, and true to herself – while also setting her apart from the many other Olivias in her grade. After all, that’s what Viv’s favorite influencer, Quinn Sparks, would recommend! To that end, Viv chops off her braid in the school bathroom. She’s finally ready for her close up (and quite pleased with her new look), but her mom is apoplectic and whisks her off to the salon for a stylist to repair the DIY chop. With newfound confidence, Viv realizes that she has a knack for helping other students stand out from the crowd, from a new Conservation Club promotion to a Halloween Dance proposal. Along the way, though, she neglects her two best friends and their preparations for the upcoming Tengu Con. In helping others to solve their problems, Viv creates some of her own, and must figure out her true priorities to move forward. Sarah Sax’s energetic, digitally created artwork in a variety of panel layouts keeps the pace rolling briskly along, and a wonderfully diverse group of characters is represented.

THOUGHTS: With elements of influencer culture, individuality, and friendship, Picture Day has something for almost everyone!

Graphic Novel

YA – The Princess and the Grilled Cheese Sandwich

Muniz, Deya. The Princess and the Grilled Cheese Sandwich. Little, Brown and Company. 2023. 978-0-316-53872-5. 312 p. $17.99. Grades 9-12.

In the Kingdom of Fromage, a woman must be married in order to claim an inheritance. Camembert has no interest in marrying a man, so her dying father proposes that she “become” one instead. After his death, she disguises herself as a young man named Count Camembert and moves to the capital city of Fondue with her loyal servant, Feta, in tow. There she meets the beautiful and charming Princess Brie at a No Furs Ball where Cam wears a luxurious faux fur wrap. Sparks fly as the two team up to produce an event featuring cruelty-free fashion designers, but Cam can’t risk revealing her true identity … or can she? After all, as the crown princess, maybe Brie can defy both expectations and gender/sexuality norms. Deya Muniz’s artwork is rendered in lovely pastels and rich jewel tones. Muniz conveys emotion through the characters’ dramatic facial expressions and body language. This graphic novel is a romance, so a happily ever after is all but guaranteed; the fun is in the cheese puns (“vintage Cheddior”), the mouthwatering grilled cheese sandwiches, and the genuine affection that readers will feel for the characters.

THOUGHTS: Great fun from start to finish, with a sweet romance wrapped up in fabulous fashions, this will delight fans of Jen Wang’s The Prince and the Dressmaker.

Graphic Novel

YA – Belle of the Ball

Costa, Mari. Belle of the Ball. First Second. 2023. 978-1-250-78412-4. 312 p. $17.99. Grades 9-12.

Fans of the Barbie aesthetic will delight in the color palette of Mari Costa’s graphic novel, Belle of the Ball! Ultra-shy mascot Hawkins has finally worked up the courage to ask Regina Moreno to the Winter Dance, but Regina is back together with her on-again, off-again girlfriend Chloe Kitagawa. Regina, head cheerleader and stellar student, has a ten-year plan for her future with Chloe: college, medical school, and marriage. Chloe is an all-star soccer player, but her poor grades in English threaten Regina’s plans. Taking advantage of Hawkins’ crush, Regina recruits her to tutor Chloe for free. Regina doesn’t realize that “Belle Hawkins” and Chloe share an almost-forgotten history of childhood friendship. An uncommon love triangle soon develops between these wonderfully unique main characters. Readers could have great fun debating which one is truly the Belle of the Ball!

THOUGHTS: A fresh, funny, and romantic graphic novel for teens! Author and illustrator Mari Costa employs her all-pink palette to impressively wide-ranging effect.

Graphic Novel

YA – America Redux: Visual Stories from Our Dynamic History

Aberg-Riger, Ariel. America Redux: Visual Stories from Our Dynamic History. Balzer + Bray, 2023. 978-0-063-05753-1. 392 p. $24.99. Grades 9-12.

In her Preface, author Ariel Aberg-Riger notes that her relationship with history developed not through memorizing dates, but through images, and specifically the stories behind the people in pictures. America Redux reflects this sensibility, and the subtitle really says it all: visual stories from our dynamic history. The author and illustrator places “movements and events and people from across time in conversation with one another in a way that […] offers some insight into who we are as a country.” Chapters titles are phrases that might be used in a traditional history textbook, e.g. The Good Old Days, Home of the Brave, and Down on the Farm. Brief and highly visual chapters then subvert expectations by connecting these phrases to the experiences of folks who have too often been marginalized, silenced, or even erased from American history. For example, Spreading Democracy focuses on the efforts of Native American, Black, immigrant, and disabled women (not only the “traditional” suffragists) to secure the right to vote. The Home of the Brave centers people living with AIDS who joined forces to fight for more equitable drug trials and expanded access to treatments. The Old Ballgame explores forced segregation in America’s national pastime. Every page includes handwritten text and collage art (created with public domain images using Photoshop and Procreate); striking images complement and expand upon the text. 

THOUGHTS: Like Stamped: Racism, Antiracism, and You by Jason Reynolds and Ibram X. Kendi, America Redux is not unbiased and may be considered controversial. However, Aberg-Riger fully succeeds in creating a stunning visual depiction of American history and inviting the reader to engage with a potentially new perspective. 

Graphic Novel
973 American History

Elem./MG – Squished

Lloyd, Magan Wagner. Squished. Illustrated by Michelle Mee Nutter. Graphix, 2023. 978-1-338-56894-3. 246 p. $24.99. Grades 2-5.

Welcome to Hickory Valley, Maryland. Home to Avery Lee, her SIX siblings, and their parents. All Avery wishes for is her own room where she can spread out her art supplies and have some alone time before she starts middle school. This wish doesn’t look like it’s in cards though. When her parents announce they are moving to Oregon, Avery is angry. She doesn’t want to move away from the house, school, and town she has grown up in, and most importantly she doesn’t want to move away from the only friends she has ever known. Her brother Theo feels differently. Having been bullied by Avery’s best friend’s brother, Theo is excited to start over. Will Avery make peace with her family moving across the country?

THOUGHTS: This book by the author/illustrator duo who wrote Allergic, is a must for any school library. It’s everything fans of Raina Telgemeier are looking for in a graphic novel.

Graphic Novel 

The team that brought us the middle grade graphic novel Allergic in 2021 is back with Squished! Eleven-year old Avery Lee lives with her Korean American family in beautiful Hickory Valley, Maryland, where she luxuriates in having her very own, totally amazing room … at least, that’s the dream. In reality, she and her large family are squished into their house, and Avery shares her room with one of her six siblings … make that two of her siblings when two-year old Max moves in. Avery dotes on her brothers and sisters, but she also longs for privacy, space for her artwork, and a good night’s sleep. She devises a plan to earn enough money to renovate the basement into a bedroom, but one stumbling block after another foils her efforts. Along the way, friendships and Avery’s love/hate relationship with 13-year old brother Theo evolve as a potential family move to Oregon looms large. One quibble: the print in some of the panels is tiny, even for the young eyes of the intended audience. If only it weren’t so squished!

THOUGHTS: With an endearing main character and engaging illustrations, this book’s heart is bigger than the Lee family!

Graphic Novel

Fifth grader, Avery Lee, is one of seven children in a large Korean American family. Avery loves her neighborhood, has two best friends, and can’t wait for the upcoming summer fair. But life at home is chaotic and Avery is sometimes embarrassed by her large family. Not to mention, Avery has to share a bedroom while Theo, Avery’s big brother, gets a room all to himself. It’s so unfair! Resilient as ever, Avery comes up with a plan to make money to renovate her family’s basement so she can at least have her own bedroom. But nothing ever goes as planned in the busy Lee household, especially when Avery has to take care of her younger siblings. Then Avery finds out her parents are thinking about a move across the country, her best friend finds someone else to hang out with, and she’s struggling to find time for her art entry for the summer fair. Avery expresses difficult emotions after the loss of an important friendship and several missed opportunities, but in the end, she navigates these major life changes with grace and humor.

THOUGHTS: This story addresses strong feelings, family dynamics, and the importance of belonging. Fans of Raina Telgemeier will enjoy Avery’s story; however, the challenges and responsibilities Avery faces may feel unrealistic to readers that are not from a large family. In addition, the unusually large number of siblings make this story a bit of an outlier. I prefer Lloyd and Nutter’s earlier collaboration, Allergic (Graphix, 2021).

Graphic Novel

MG – Lo and Behold

Mass, Wendy. Lo and Behold. Illustrated by Gabi Mendez. Random House, 2023. 978-0-593-17963-5. 205 p. $20.99. Grades 4-7.

Addie Brecker’s life is full of wonder and imagination until her mother breaks her leg in a bicycling accident. Unable to cope with the pain of leg surgery, her mother becomes addicted to painkillers and even begins to sell them. While her mother is incarcerated for her crime, Addie and her father temporarily move to a college campus where her dad has gotten a job mentoring students working on virtual reality projects. Addie keeps to herself despite the efforts of Mateo, her neighbor across the hall. Even though he wants to be friends, Addie is not interested in sharing anything about herself. She assumes he has enough company with his mother and little brother. To fill the long hours while her father is at work, she straps on her virtual reality headset and tries out the students’ VR gaming prototypes. Mateo eventually leaves her alone, frustrated that his efforts to make a friend have been met with resistance. After she finds out what happened to Mateo’s family, she realizes she has to apologize. She stops by the hospital where Mateo volunteers in his free time. During her visit, Addie interacts with chemotherapy patients and  discovers a way to make a difference in their lives while also starting a healing process of her own.

THOUGHTS: Wendy Mass has been fascinated with technology since she was a child, and her knowledge of virtual and augmented reality clearly comes across in the story. The events in the story are timely and touching, especially when paired with Gabi Mendez’s eye-catching illustrations. Lo & Behold is a touching story about coping with grief and using technology to improve the life of others.

Graphic Novel

Elem. – Figgy & Boone: The Big Cheese

Transler, Janee. Figgy & Boone: The Big Cheese. Simon Spotlight. 2023. 978-1-665-91452-9. $17.99. Grades PreK-1.

Figgy and Boone are at it again! First, they ran out of cheese, which they love! Thankfully, they found a big wheel of cheese for them to eat. The only problem is the wheel is too big for them to move. Boone thinks of several ways to move the cheese, but all of his plans fail. Figgy figures out a way to move the cheese and, with lots of sharing, everyone is happy.

THOUGHTS: Another great Figgy & Boone beginner graphic novel! As with the previous story, the beginning of the book informs young readers how to read graphic novels, which is incredibly helpful for someone who may not know the correct way to read this specific genre. Add in some fun rodent characters, and this book is a delight!

Graphic Novel

Elem. – Otis & Peanut

Hrab, Naseem. Otis & Peanut. Owlkids Books. 2023. 978-1-771-47496-2. $18.95. Grades 2-4.

Otis and Peanut may seem like a strange pair of friends, with one being a long-haired guinea pig and the other being a naked mole rat, but that is one of the many things that make this duo great! Together, Otis and Peanut discuss the fear of change, loss, friendship, and what makes a home a home. This quirky pair tackle some of life’s hardest challenges, both knowing they have a friend to help along the way.

THOUGHTS: This graphic novel discussed some challenging topics in a great way for young readers to understand. The friendship shown can bring a smile and comfort to the reader as topics of fear, loss, and belonging are brought up and worked through.

Graphic Novel

Elem. – Tig and Lily: Tiger Trouble

Thompson, Dan. Tig and Lily: Tiger Trouble. RH Graphics: Random House Children’s Books. 2023. 978-0-593-48628-3. $10.99. Grades K-3.

Lily, the fiercest animal at the zoo, is a tiger. She knows that she is a tiger until she meets Tig who… is a tiger? But why does she look like a house cat?! No matter how many times Lily tells her that she is not a tiger, Tig informs her that she is a tiger and that maybe one day Lily can be a tiger too! An unusual friendship is born between these two cats as they learn about what it means to be a tiger and a friend.

THOUGHTS: A fun graphic novel about a unique friendship! Readers will enjoy reading the fun bantering back and forth about whether Tig is a tiger or not!

Graphic Novel