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

Elem – Pawcasso

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!

Graphic Novel          Amy V. Pickett, Ridley SD

MG – Other Boys

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.

Graphic Memoir          Amy V. Pickett, Ridley SD

YA – Be More Chill: The Graphic Novel

Levithan, David. Be More Chill: The Graphic Novel. Hyperion, 2021. 978-1-368-05786-8. 138 p. $19.99. Grades 9-12.

High school is hard. Jeremy finds it especially hard being an awkward nerd who can’t seem to say the right thing to anyone. He really wants to catch the eye of Christine, a pretty girl he sees every day at play rehearsal. When Jeremy tries to talk to her, he bumbles through his words, and that’s when he realizes he will never be able to charm her… until he hears about the squip. The squip is a supercomputer, compressed into a pill-sized capsule and swallowed. After that, it takes over your brain and helps awkward teens navigate through the complex social hierarchy of high school. Don’t know what cool clothes to buy at the mall? The squip will guide you. Not sure what to say to the most popular girl in school? The squip will tell you. When Jeremy buys one on the black market, he thinks he has squashed his awkward behavior for good. But he very quickly realizes the dark consequences that can come from trying to alter his own biology.

THOUGHTS: This graphic novel, adapted from the hit Broadway musical of the same name, will resonate with any high schooler who struggles to fit in. The art, done mostly in black, white, and blue, shows the differences between dialogue and the squip’s commands, making it easy to follow. High school librarians should add this to their graphic novel collections.

Graphic Novel          Danielle Corrao, Manheim Central SD

YA – Long Way Down: The Graphic Novel

Reynolds, Jason & Novgorodoff, Danica. Long Way Down: The Graphic Novel. Atheneum, 2020. 978-1-534-44495-9. 208 p. $19.99. Grades 10-12.

The seven floors that Will travels becomes even more of a punch in the gut with Novgorodoff’s eerie images. The story is the same; Will has to decide if he is going to follow the “rules” and kill the guy who killed his brother. During the sixty seconds it takes him to get to the ground floor, he meets someone who was connected to his brother in some way. Will gains access to more pieces of the puzzle with each encounter that is perfectly depicted with raw edged watercolor paintings. The graphic novel includes traditional panels as well as full page images that draw in readers, even those who know this story well.

THOUGHTS: For any library that is looking to expand their graphic novel collection with novel adaptations or more diversity, this book is a must. If Long Way Down is constantly checked out of your library, this could be a great segue for readers to appreciate the format of graphic novels with a terrifying story. Warning: There are images of guns and gore.

Graphic Novel          Samantha Hull, Ephrata Area SD

YA – The Incredible Nellie Bly: Journalist, Investigator, Feminist, and Philanthropist

Cimino, Luciana, and Sergio Algozzino, illustrator. Laura Garofalo, translator. The Incredible Nellie Bly: Journalist, Investigator, Feminist, and Philanthropist. Abrams ComicArts, 2021. 978-1-419-75017-5. 137 p. $24.99. Gr. 8+.

The subtitle of this wonderful graphic biography of Nellie Bly lets readers know that they are about to learn the life story of a true trailblazer! Nellie Bly is maybe most famous for going undercover in 1887 at an asylum for mentally ill women, exposing the horrible treatment patients received there. Her 1889 trip around the world in just seventy-two days is also very well-documented. Within the frame of a series of conversations between a female student at Columbia University’s Journalism School and an elderly Bly, The Incredible Nellie Bly covers these and her many other impressive accomplishments. Such achievements include reporting “in disguise” from a factory and debunking stereotypes about the “immoral” women workers there, interviewing Belva Ann Lockwood (the United States’ first female presidential candidate), and reporting from Europe’s Eastern front during World War I. Her trendsetting celebrity, and the inevitable backlash, are also depicted. Sergio Algozzino’s digitally created artwork, in appealing shades of yellow and blue as represented on the cover, evokes the times in which Nellie Bly lived and worked.

THOUGHTS: This is a – yes – incredible introduction to the extraordinary life and legacy of a woman who never accepted society’s restrictions but was “forever the author of her own destiny” (from the Introduction).

Graphic Biography          Amy V. Pickett, Ridley SD

Elem. – Bunbun & Bonbon: Fancy Friends

Keating, Jess. Bunbun & Bonbon: Fancy Friends. Scholastic, 2020. 978-1-338-64684-9. $22.99. Grades K-3.

Bursting with cuteness, a lonely Bunbun hops around saying hello to sticks, flowers, clouds, and rocks until a purple candy Bonbon answers. The pair become fast friends bonding over their shared fondness for fancy things like bowties, sprinkles, and hip-hop music. Later, they decide to have a fancy party followed by donuts for lunch. Impossibly adorable illustrations brimming with hearts and flowers will introduce readers to the graphic format. Characters communicate in single-sentence speech bubbles throughout five chapters. Emergent readers are sure to get lost in the silly, friendly antics of this unlikely duo.

THOUGHTS: Fancy Friends is a fun, infectious story that is sure to make young readers laugh out loud.

Graphic Novel          Jackie Fulton, Mt. Lebanon SD

Elem./MG – Allergic: A Graphic Novel

Lloyd, Megan Wagner. Allergic: A Graphic Novel. Illustrated by Michelle Mee Nutter. Graphix, 2021. 978-1-338-56891-2. 240 p. $24.99. Grades 3-6.

With younger twin brothers and a new baby on the way, Maggie feels alone in her loving family. She’s convinced her parents, who are preoccupied with baby names and other preparations, to let her adopt a puppy that will be her own. Maggie has been looking forward to her tenth birthday for a long time, since this is the day she gets her perfect pet. At the animal shelter, however, Maggie breaks out into a severe rash, and she learns that she’s allergic to anything with fur. So much for her puppy. Devastated, but determined to find the perfect pet, Maggie begins research, as she works her way through allergy shots and makes a new friend. Told in colorful graphic panels, readers will enjoy Maggie’s attempts at finding a perfect pet and will appreciate her frustration when things go awry with her new friend.

THOUGHTS: Readers with any allergies, but especially those allergic to pets, will felt represented in this cute graphic novel. A great addition to elementary and middle grade collections.

Graphic Novel          Maryalice Bond, South Middleton SD

Maggie is feeling left out in her family. Her parents are focused on the new baby they are expecting, her twin brothers are always together and doing their own thing. She thinks a dog would be the perfect companion! But, when her family goes to pick out a dog for Maggie’s birthday, they discover that she is very allergic to anything with fur! Maggie is devastated, but her new friend that moved in next door is helping to ease the disappointment. That is until her friend talks her dad into getting her own dog. Now, Maggie feels betrayed by the one person she thought understood her. Can Maggie survive allergy shots and make things right with her best friend?

THOUGHTS: Fans of Raina Telgemeier will love Allergic! A great addition to your graphic novel section.

Graphic Novel          Krista Fitzpatrick, PSLA Member

MG – Jukebox

Chanani, Nidhi. Jukebox. First Second. 2021. 978-1-250-15636-5. 224 p. $21.99. Grades 6-9.

Twelve-year old Shaheen and her father have always been connected through music, but lately his interest in record-collecting borders on obsession. When he doesn’t come home one evening, Shahi and her teenaged cousin Tannaz sneak into his favorite music shop to look for clues. In the attic, they discover a rare jukebox that plays whole records … and transports the listener to the album’s time period, for just as long as the side plays. A Bessie Smith record sends the girls to the Savoy Ballroom in Chicago. A Nina Simone album takes Tannaz on a solo trip to a women’s march in 1960s D.C. Shahi realizes that her dad may be trapped in another era, unable to return home. But traveling back and forth in their quest to find him has serious consequences, and the girls know they are running out of time to bring everyone home safely. The girls’ slight age difference provides an interesting dynamic, incorporating their unique strengths and insecurities. The author’s depiction of each era’s color palette and fashions are especially engaging. The abundant music references and iconic album covers are complemented by a Playlist at the book’s close, perfect inspiration for budding music lovers!

THOUGHTS: Nidhi Chanani’s Pashmina was well-received, and Jukebox displays even greater depth in portraying both adventure and family relationships.

Graphic Novel          Amy V. Pickett, Ridley SD

Chanani, Nidhi. Jukebox. First Second. 2021. 978-1-250-15636-5. 224 p. $21.99. Grades 5-8.

Shaheen and her dad have a special bond through music. Her dad is an avid record collector, who is getting a little too lost in his music of late for Shahi. When her dad goes missing, Shahi and her cousin Naz go looking for her dad, starting at the last place he was seen, the record store. It is here that the cousins find a magical jukebox that transports listeners back to a concert of whatever record is playing. Musicians such as Marvin Gaye, Nina Simone, and James Brown are featured in these magical concerts. Can Shahi and Naz find her dad and bring him back to the present safely? The end includes a playlist of the music featured in the book and a section that shows an artistic exploration of the character sketches. The process of how the illustrations are colored is also shown.

THOUGHTS: This beautifully illustrated graphic novel is a must read for music lovers! This would be a great addition to any graphic novel section and includes diverse characters throughout the story.

Graphic Novel          Krista Fitzpatrick, Wissahickon Charter School

Elem./MG – Twins

Johnson, Varian, and Shannon Wright. Twins. Graphix, 2020. 978-1-338-23617-0. 249 p. $24.99. Grades 3-6.

Francine and Maureen are twins who have always been best friends, done the same activities, and had the same group of friends. But now that they are starting middle school, Francine (call her Fran, please) wants to come out from her sister’s shadow and be her own person. Unfortunately, Maureen wants the opposite. When both girls wind up running for class president, sibling rivalry steps up several notches and threatens to ruin any shred of relationship the girls have left. Once Fran confesses that the reason she wanted to create her own identity in middle school was to boost her self esteem after competing with her perfect sister for years, the girls’ relationship blossoms into a new, more mature sibling relationship.

THOUGHTS: I loved this graphic novel! Fans of Raina Telgemeier will flip over this new offering. I love that the characters are African American, but they could be any race and the story would be the exact same! Students need to see characters of other races that do not struggle because of their race.

Graphic Novel          Krista Fitzpatrick Upper Dublin SD