Elem./MG – Living with Viola

Fung, Rosena. Living with Viola. Annick Press, 2021. 978-1-773-21548-8. 267 p. $22.95. Grades 3-7.

Many people have experienced an occasional internal voice saying: You are weird, bad things happen because of you, no one likes you … for Canadian 6th grader Olivia, this anxiety manifests as a shadowy “twin” named Viola who hovers nearby, pulling Livy out of the moment with reminders that validate her deep self-doubts. Livy worries that her lunch smells strange, that she’s “too Chinese” or not Chinese enough, and that she is a disappointment to her family (her parents are immigrants). As Viola gains strength and volume, the negative dialogue seriously affects Livy’s confidence and friendships. It also undermines her enjoyment of her hobbies, including drawing, reading, and making dumplings with her mom. Fortunately, with a solid support system, Livy learns that “sometimes, the very strongest and bravest thing you can do is to ask for help.” Debut author Rosena Fung depicts Livy’s anxiety, depression, and panic attacks through dusky, bruise-purple panels and flowing rivers of negative thoughts. Happier, lighthearted moments and school scenes occur in a warm, autumnal color scheme.

THOUGHTS: This excellent middle grade graphic novel creatively delivers the most important message of all for young readers: You are not alone! Livy always may have anxiety, but she also can thrive. Fans of Guts by Raina Telgemeier will love it!

Graphic Novel          Amy V. Pickett, Ridley SD

MG – ¡¡Manu!!

Fernandez, Kelly. ¡¡Manu!! Graphix, 2021. 978-1-338-26419-7. $24.99. 192 p. Grades 4-7.

Manu is a young girl who was given over by her family at a young age to live at a convent that is known for raising girls who have magical powers. The headmistress of the school believes Manu has very strong powers that could be used to help many, but Manu just wants to have fun with her magic. Fun often turns into mischief as Manu has trouble controlling her incredibly powerful magic. One of her pranks goes seriously wrong, and her friend, Josefina, wishes for Manu’s powers to disappear. They do disappear, and the girls attempt a dangerous spell to have Manu’s powers restored. Will Manu be able to control her magic before it destroys the people Manu loves?  

THOUGHTS: This graphic novel would be a great read for kids who love fantasy and stories about magic. There is an underlying theme of Manu figuring out who she is and if her friendship with Josephina is more than just friendship.  

Graphic Novel          Krista Fitzpatrick, Abington SD

Elem. – Katie the Catsitter

Venable, Colleen A.F. Katie the Catsitter. Random House, 2021. 978-1-984-89563-9. 229 pg. $20.99. Grades 3-5.

Katie is not looking forward to this summer because all of her friends are going away to summer camps. Katie needs to figure out a way to make some money, so she can go to a summer camp. Katie ends up cat-sitting for her upstairs neighbor, who has 217 (yes, you read that right) cats! However, these are not normal cats, and Katie doesn’t think that her neighbor is normal. Will Katie be able to handle all these cats, figure out how to keep her friends, and perhaps solve the city’s mystery? The answer to all those questions might surprise you.

THOUGHTS: This is an extremely fun graphic novel for readers who love the Warriors series. The plot is super fun and ends up going places the reader does not see coming. Highly recommend this book!

Graphic Novel        Mary McEndree, Lehigh Valley Regional Charter Academy

MG – Stealing Home

Torres, J. Stealing Home. Kids Can Press, 2021. 978-1-525-30334-0. 112 p. $17.99. Grades 4-7.

Baseball is Sandy Saito’s favorite hobby – in fact, he sees it as more of a lifestyle than anything else. His favorite team, the Asahi, are the pride of the Vancouver community. Sandy loves playing catch with his younger brother Ty and his father, a respected doctor. His life changes drastically; however, when the Japanese attack Pearl Harbor on December 7th, 1941, and suddenly anyone of Japanese descent is treated very differently than before. His father daringly breaks the curfews imposed on the Japanese to care for patients but one day, he does not return home. The Saito family is relocated to an internment camp without Dr. Saito. Sandy’s mother explains that his father is in a camp where his medical expertise is needed, but Sandy is doubtful he will ever see his father again. Eventually, Sandy realizes that, much like in baseball, he will have to figure out how to handle what is thrown his way.

THOUGHTS: Even though this is a complex historical event, baseball ties the story together and makes it relatable to young readers who may only be learning about Japanese internment camps for the first time. Back matter in the book provides more information and sources for readers eager to learn more. This graphic novel is a great fit for middle grade libraries and complements other graphic novels like George Takei’s They Called Us Enemy and Kiku Hughes’ Displacement which are on the same topic.

Graphic Novel           Danielle Corrao, Manheim Central SD

YA – Squad

Tokuda-Hall, Maggie, and Lisa Sterle. Squad. Greenwillow Books, 2021. 978-0-06-294314-9. 224 pp. $14.99. Grades 9-12.

Becca’s single mom recently moved to Piedmont, California, so Becca could graduate from an outstanding high school and enjoy a safe, upper-class community. To her own surprise, Becca is befriended by Piedmont High’s most elite “squad” of girls, led by ultra-rich Arianna. But these girls have a secret, alluded to in the graphic novel’s vibrant cover art: they are werewolves. Becca loves belonging to a tight clique, but their collective hunger has a price. On the full moon they must feed, usually on the overly aggressive boys they meet at parties. When Becca accidentally kills one of Piedmont’s own (Arianna’s unfaithful boyfriend Thatcher) the squad risks exposure, and everyone’s loyalty is put to the test. Squad features ethnically diverse characters (Becca is depicted as Asian American, fellow squad member Mandy is Black), a healthy dose of camp, and delightful snark. Arianna helpfully informs Becca, for example, “You’re way too pretty to be dressing like a Santa Monica basic.” Comparisons to Heathers, Teen Wolf, and Riverdale are all well-earned!

THOUGHTS: Beneath Lisa Sterle’s fabulous jewel-toned artwork readers will discover powerful messages about consent and the perils of following the pack.

Graphic Novel          Amy V. Pickett, Ridley SD

Elem. – Saving Animals from the Brink (Series NF)

Cooke, Tim. Saving Animals from the Brink. Bearport. 2021. Individual Book: $19.95, Set: $119.70. Grades 3-6.

A Chemical Nightmare: Bald Eagle Comeback. 978-1-636-91045-1.
Fur-tastrophe Avoided: Southern Sea Otter Comeback. 978-1-636-91048-2.
Return to Yellowstone: Gray Wolf Comeback. 978-1-636-91046-8.
Saving the Silvertip: Grizzly Bear Comeback. 978-1-636-91047-5.
A Scary Prediction: Bison Comeback. 978-1-636-91044-4.
Struggle for Survival: Florida Panther Comeback. 978-1-636-91049-9.

The reviewer read A Chemical Nightmare: Bald Eagle Comeback. This series is presented in a graphic novel format showing animals who have made a comeback from endangerment and extinction. Author Tim Cooke writes the amazing stories of some of America’s beloved creatures and the people who helped save them from extinction. Readers are able to learn the history of these animals and people in comic-book style, as well as learn more information at the end of the book with photographs of the animal. Readers will get sucked into these tales and may grow an interest in helping save some amazing animals.

THOUGHTS: A short, but interesting read about some of America’s famous animals and the people who helped save them. The graphic novel style helps pull young readers in, utilizing a favorite format of writing.

Graphic Novel          Rachel Burkhouse, Otto-Eldred SD

Elem./MG – Clash

Miller, Kayla. Clash (Click). Etch, 2021. 978-1-713-75808-2. 209 p. $22.19. Grades 3-6.

To know Olive is to be her friend, but new girl Natasha doesn’t seem to understand. Olive tries hard to befriend Natasha and introduces her to lots of kids in middle school, but Natasha seems content to push Olive away and be friends with her best pals instead. Olive can’t help but wonder…what’s she doing wrong? When Olive decides to plan a fun Halloween party, all her friends are very excited and she reluctantly invites Nat too, trying to be kind. When Nat appears and tries to steal her friends away (and egg Olive’s house), things get hairy and everyone chooses sides. Nat’s dad comes to pick her up, and Olive learns that Nat’s parents are going through a rough divorce. She realizes that Nat has a lot going on in her life…she could use a little compassion, even when she’s not being the best friend in return. Kayla Miller’s Click series expertly dives into middle school friendships and helps readers see both sides of tough situations. Miller’s signature graphic style is fun and easy to read and young readers will love Olive and her school adventures.

THOUGHTS: Another winning entry in the Click series. Suggest to fans of realistic graphic novels.  

Graphic Novel          Lindsey Long, Lower Dauphin SD

Elem./MG – Kristy and the Snobs

Chau, Chen. Kristy and the Snobs (The Baby-Sitters Club). Graphix, 2021. 978-1-713-77076-3. 158 p. $19.16. Grades 3-6. 

The tenth installment of graphic novel adaptations in Ann M. Martin’s original series sees Kristy adjusting to life across town in her new stepfather’s fancy neighborhood. Family life is going fine, but Kristy’s not thrilled with her new surroundings: the neighborhood kids are snobby, and everything about them is fancy, from their clothes to their schools to their purebred, expensive pets. Kristy and the BSC start to get baby-sitting jobs in the neighborhood, and while they work their magic on the kids, it’s harder for Kristy to make progress with Shannon Kilbourne, another eighth grader in the neighborhood. Kristy thinks Shannon is a total snob! After some baby-sitting misadventures, Kristy realizes that Shannon is jealous and misses her old baby-sitting jobs and kids. The two finally see eye to eye and the BSC invites Shannon to be an association member of the club. Meanwhile, Kristy’s trusty old dog Louie is showing his age, and his health progressively declines through the story. The family makes the tough decision to put Louie to sleep, and Kristy and her little brother David Michael have an especially tough time with the loss. Shannon and her Bernese Mountain Dog Astrid help ease the family’s sadness by giving them a new puppy to love and honor in Louie’s memory. Chen Chau’s adaptation is excellent. While pacing is a bit choppy, the art is lovely and will evoke big emotions in readers who feel Kristy’s sadness in a major way. 

THOUGHTS: Chan Chau brings the best Baby-Sitters Club since Raina Telgemeier’s four series beginners. Grab the tissues for this one! 

Graphic Novel          Lindsey Long, Lower Dauphin SD

Elem. – Uncharted: Stories of Survival (Series NF)

McGregor, Harriet. Uncharted: Stories of Survival. Bearport, 2021. $19.95 ea. $119.70 set of 6. 24 p. Grades 2-5. 

Blown Away by a Blizzard! 978-1-64747-030-2.
Destroyed by a Hurricane! 978-1-64747-031-9.
Flattened by an Earthquake! 978-1-64747-032-6.
H
eat Wave Horror! 978-1-64747-033-3.
Lightning Strike Survivor! 978-1-64747-034-0.
Tornado Terror! 978-1-64747-031-9.

These action packed graphic novel stories recount various true stories of individuals who had to survive natural disasters. This reviewer had the opportunity to review Blown Away by a Blizzard!, which recounted the story of Randy Kraxberger, a skier who was trapped in the wilderness of Olympic National Park during a blizzard. Kraxberger had to build a snow cave to survive overnight during the blizzard and stay alert with exercise sessions to ward off hypothermia. Thankfully, in the morning he was rescued by park rangers. At the conclusion of the story, a two-page informational spread (not in graphic novel format) defined a blizzard and explained the science behind how blizzards form. Safety tips were also presented.

THOUGHTS: This action-packed, non-fiction graphic novel series is sure to be a hit. Readers will be kept on the edge of their seats as they wait to see how the individual will survive their situation. A worthwhile purchase for elementary libraries looking to expand their non-fiction graphic novel collections.

Graphic Novel          Elizabeth Henry, Lampeter-Strasburg SD
363 Survival Stories

Kyle’s Little Sister

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.

Graphic Novel          Erin Faulkner, Cumberland Valley SD