Jeong, BonHyung. Kyle’s Little Sister. JY, 2021. 978-1-975-33589-2. $24.00. 207 p. Grades 4-7.
6th grader Grace and 8th grader Kyle just started a new year of middle school. Grace, an avid gamer who often feels awkward in social situations, has always struggled in her role as Kyle’s younger sister, since he is one of the most popular and athletic kids at school. Grace’s best friends, Amy and Jay, try to help her forget about living in her big brother’s shadow by organizing game nights and sleepovers, but soon boy-crazy Amy devises a match-making scheme that breaks up the three girls’ friendship in a devastating way. As Grace and her friends struggle to navigate school gossip, popularity contests, and the difficulties of growing up, Kyle begins to reach out to his sister and repair their tumultuous sibling relationship in a way that is realistic and heartwarming. A brief autobiographical sketch at the end of the book also introduces readers to the author/illustrator of the book and to her artistic writing process.
THOUGHTS: This graphic novel is perfect for fans of Reina Telgemar and Svetlana Chmakova. Middle schoolers, especially kids that are dealing with all the struggles of young adult friendships, will have no difficulty relating to Grace’s feelings and eagerly will devour this book to find out if the story’s characters find resolutions to their problems.
Bunn, Cullen. The Ghoul Next Door. Harper Alley, 2021. 978-0-062-89610-0. 192 p. $21.99. Grades 4-8.
In Ander’s Landing, eleven year old Grey is excited to bring his scale model of the local cemetery to school for a project. Grey and his friend Marshall head off when Grey has the idea to take a shortcut through the cemetery. Marshall disagrees, and when Grey heads out by himself, he trips and his model drops into a giant hole where a creepy hand snatches it. Given a second chance by his teacher, Grey stays up to make a new model when a scratching at his window distracts him and causes him to stay up all night. The next day when Grey displays his model, his teacher finds real bones inside the coffins and mausoleums. Then night after night “gifts from the dead” appear in Grey’s room – a doll, a brush made out of bones, and more. When Grey takes the gifts back to the cemetery, he meets the gifter, a ghoul named Lavinia. Lavinia visits Grey and takes him on a tour of the haunted places of Ander’s Landing to teach him history and make him more aware of the dangers that lurk in the cemetery. However, when his friend Marshall is taken to the underworld as punishment for seeing Lavinia, the pair must work together to rescue him from the other ghouls, also known as the “eaters of the dead.’.
THOUGHTS: The perfect amount of creepy and spooky for middle level readers. The panels are easy to follow and beautifully drawn – even for ghouls! The story flows from page to page and will leave readers on the edge of their seat.
Epstein, Gabriela. The Baby-Sitters Club: Claudia and the New Girl. Graphix, 2021. 978-1-338-30458-9. 165p. $24.99. Grades 5-8.
In the ninth volume of the Baby-Sitters Club, Claudia and the crew are back to setting up babysitting jobs and meeting at Claudia’s house. When a new student named Ashley arrives, Claudia is instantly intrigued with her blue hair, eclectic style, piercings, and outstanding art. Ashley is an amazing artist, even better than Claudia! But when Ashley starts paying attention to Claudia and complimenting her artistic abilities, Claudia starts spending more time with Ashley than with her friends. Claudia starts to forget her responsibilities to the club and ends up turning into someone even she hardly recognizes. As with other titles in the series, the Baby-Sitters Club comes together to support one another and help Claudia realize that you can balance art and the club while making new friends.
THOUGHTS: The 9th volume in the graphic novel of the Baby-Sitters Club does not disappoint! The story is relatable to anyone who has wanted to befriend a new student at school. Another hit!
Graphic NovelJillian Gasper, Northwestern Lehigh Middle School
Greenberg, Imogen, and Isabel Greenberg. Tales of Great Goddesses. Amulet Books, 2021, $14.99 ea. $26. set of 26.78 91 p. Grades 3-6.
Athena: Goddess of War and Wisdom. 978-1-419-74859-2. Gaia. 978-1-419-74861-5. (July 2022)
From the time Athena emerges from a split in her father’s skull, the goddess is always creating drama on Mount Olympus, whether she tries to or not. Although she is strong and wise, some of the other gods and goddesses on Olympus do not like her, especially her uncle Poseidon. Athena does not much care for him either, especially when he roots against her in a weaving contest against the mortal Arachne and prevents Odysseus, Athena’s favorite hero, from returning home to his wife and child after a long journey at sea. Although he loves his youngest daughter, Zeus becomes frustrated with Athena from time to time. He becomes especially angry when she tries to meddle in mortal business even when they do not ask for her help. Athena must learn to balance helping mortals with the wishes of her father.
THOUGHTS: Although there are countless books on Greek gods and goddesses, this graphic novel about Athena proves even stories that have been told over and over can be fresh again. The Greenberg sisters write and illustrate Athena’s greatest adventures in a way that ties all of her stories together and proves that even goddesses have a lot to learn. Back matter in the book includes a glossary and further reading. While Greek Mythology can sometimes be a bit problematic for younger grades (violence, nudity, etc.), the authors handle the content and illustrations with care. This is a perfect addition to upper elementary and middle grade libraries.
292.2 MythologyDanielle Corrao, Manheim Central SD
Khor, Shing Yin. The Legend of Auntie Po. Kokila, 2021. 978-0-525-55489-9. 290 p. $12.99. Grades 5-8.
The Legend of Auntie Po is a story about stories, specifically the legend of Po Pan Yin and her trusty blue water buffalo, Pei Pei, as told by 13-year old Mei. Mei lives in a Sierra Nevada logging camp with her father, Hao, who is the camp’s head cook. At night she gathers the little ones around the campfire and shares tales of Auntie Po, the matriarch of all loggers who “stood taller than the tallest white pine.” While gathering kindling in the forest, Mei bumps into Auntie Po and Pei Pei, and wonders if she can actually conjure the stories she tells. This magical revelation collides with the all-too-real anti-Chinese violence of 1885. When the camp manager is forced to fire all of his Chinese workers, Hao must move into town and leave Mei behind at camp. In the midst of this upheaval, stories about Auntie Po allow Mei to express her emotions, which include anger, frustration, fear, jealousy, and also wonder. In her Author’s Note, Shing Yin Khor writes that this graphic novel is, among other things, “about who gets to own a myth.” Some readers will recognize a reclaiming of the Paul Bunyan legend, while others will simply appreciate the stories and accompanying rustic pencil-and-watercolor illustrations.
THOUGHTS: This remarkable blend of history, legend, and art has multiple layers to explore and enjoy!
Gardner, Whitney. Long Distance. Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, 2021. 978-1-534-45566-5. 315 p. $21.99. Grades 5-8.
Author and illustrator Whitney Gardner’s latest, Long Distance, is a charming middle grade graphic novel with something for almost every reader to love. When 10-year old Vega’s family relocates from Portland to Seattle, she has to leave her best (and only) friend Halley behind. To help her make new friends, Vega’s dads send her to a remote camp in the Washington woods called Very Best Friend. Vega is skeptical; she has Halley, after all, although her bestie hasn’t returned her last few texts. And the camp itself is unusual, with nonstop overcast skies, zero cell reception, and awkward counselors. Vega and her fellow campers discover surveillance gear hidden inside a pinecone, fake rocks scattered in the forest, and other clues that something is amiss. Vega, twins Gemma and Isaac, and chatty Qwerty join forces to gather more information in some of the book’s most entertaining sequences. Whitney Gardner’s illustrations are digitally rendered, with camp scenes depicting the natural world in earthy tones of green, rust, and slate blue. Bright, otherworldly colors cue the graphic novel’s big reveals.
THOUGHTS: This fish-out-of-water story blossoms into a science fiction-infused mystery, all while delivering some heartfelt lessons about how to make (and be) a real friend, no matter the distance.
Ostertag, Molly Knox. The Girl from the Sea. Graphix / Scholastic, 2021. 978-1-338-54058-1. 256 p. $24.99. Grades 7-10.
Morgan Kwon likes to keep her life tucked neatly into boxes: family, school, and friends. She also has a secret box, full of her plans for the future: moving to a city, going to college, and coming out. One night, seeking refuge on the cliffs of her family’s tiny island home, Morgan falls into the ocean. Just as the contents of her boxes seem to intermingle and slip away, she is rescued by a girl with large, expressive eyes. Believing she’s experiencing a near-death hallucination, Morgan decides it might as well be a romantic one and she kisses Keltie in the moonlight. The next morning, Keltie reappears. She’s a selkie, and a kiss from her true love has allowed her to transform from a seal into a human. Morgan requires some convincing, though she’s undeniably charmed by her freckle-faced new girlfriend. Meanwhile, Keltie is frustrated by Morgan’s unwillingness to reveal her true self to her family and friends. An environmental threat adds urgency and drama to this magical, fantastic first love story. The beautifully sunny artwork perfectly captures a fleeting but unforgettable season.
THOUGHTS: The Girl from the Sea, the latest graphic novel from Molly Knox Ostertag (author of the Witch Boy trilogy), is enjoyable on so many levels: as a queer romance, a story of transformation, and a version of selkie lore. The full-cast audiobook production, complete with scene-setting sound effects, complements and illuminates the source material.
Garrity, Shaenon K., and Christopher Baldwin. The Dire Days of Willowweep Manor. Margaret K. McElderry Books, 2021. 978-1-534-46086-7. unpaged. $14.99. Grades 7-10.
Haley loves Gothic romances so much that her English teacher insists she choose a new genre for her latest book report. While walking home with a fresh stack of library books, Haley sees a young man struggling to swim in the river. She scrambles in to save him, and upon exiting the water she finds herself at Willowweep Manor. The estate (complete with three brooding brothers and a ghost) has a lot in common with the settings of Haley’s beloved Gothic novels, but something is a little off. The manse and its surroundings rearrange themselves, seemingly at random, due to a crucial device going “out of alignment.” The stakes are high and the brothers (especially Montague, the dreamy middle brother whose escape plans Haley foiled with her rescue efforts) need the help of an outsider with a particular set of skills. Lucky for them, Haley, a girl of color, is plucky, confident, and a genuine heroine-in-waiting.
THOUGHTS: This graphic novel succeeds as both a fantastical science fiction story and a lovingly satirical nod to Wuthering Heights, Jane Eyre, and the like.
Marcks, Ira. Shark Summer. Little, Brown, and Company, 2021. 978-0-316-46138-2. $24.99. 281 p. Grades 5-8.
Gayle, an ace pitcher for the local softball team and new to Martha’s Vineyard, hurts her wrist badly in a game. Her summer plans and hopes shattered, she teams up with a visiting son of a journalist, Elijah, and local girl Madison to make a film about a local legend. With a big budget film crew on the island filming a blockbuster hit (similar to Jaws), the kids decide to focus their no budget film on the Atwood Terror legend, a story of a fishing-club owner who fed victims to a shark. Will there be some truth to this storied legend that the kids uncover?
THOUGHTS: Fans of Jaws and shark movies will enjoy this graphic novel.
Graphic Novel Krista Fitzpatrick, Wissahickon Charter School
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.