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Graphic Novels

Nancy Brashear and Carolyn Angus
 | Dec 04, 2017

National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature Gene Luen Yang’s Reading Without Walls Challenge encourages readers to go outside their comfort zone and “explore the world through books.” For us, that meant reading books in a format we don’t normally read—graphic novels. As we have been reading graphic novels throughout the fall, we continue to be delighted by the amazing diversity of books in graphic novel format for readers of all ages.

Ages 4–8

Anne of Green Gables: A Graphic Novel. L. M. Montgomery. Adapt. Mariah Marsden. Ill. Brenna Thummler. 2017. Andrews McMeel.

Anne of Green GablesMarsden and Thummler give L. M. Montgomery’s classic story of the imaginative and feisty redheaded orphan Anne Shirley, who charms her way into the lives and hearts of brother and sister Matthew and Marilla Cuthbert of Green Gables farm, a fresh reimagining in graphic novel format. The cast of characters and episodes from the original novel, as well as the charm of its Avonlea setting, are preserved in this abridgment.

Betty’s Burgled Bakery: An Alliteration Adventure. Travis Nichols. 2017. Chronicle.

Betty's Burgled BakeryThe Gumshoe Zoo Detectives are on the job solving panda Betty’s mystery: “A bread bandit burgled my bakery before breakfast!” The adventure unfolds in brightly colored comic panels as different animal sleuths uncover details about the “heinous heist” in clever alliterative narrative that runs through the alphabet, ending with a surprise identification of the culprit. “We zipped this zany zigzagging zinger with zeal!” Back matter includes information about alliteration and a bonus “Hungry Animals” section on the eating habits of five different animals.

Good Night, Planet. Liniers. 2017. Toon/Raw Junior.

Good Night, PlanetThe nighttime adventure of a young girl’s beloved stuffed toy, a fawn named Planet, unfolds in comic/picture book format. Many of the panels are wordless, but Liniers’ gift for storytelling through his imaginative and engaging artwork, rendered in ink and watercolor, makes this an easy-to-read comic. After the girl falls asleep, Planet heads downstairs, shares cookies stolen from the kitchen with Elliot, the family’s dog, and at the urging of a mouse ventures outdoors and attempts to reach for the moon—“The BIGGEST cookie ever!” Planet, Elliot, and their new mouse-pal, Bradley, return to the kitchen to eat some little cookies before calling it a night. A Spanish edition, Buenas Noches, Planeta, is available.

The Great Art Caper. (Pets on the Loose! #2). Victoria Jamieson. 2017. Henry Holt.

The Great Art CaperDevious Harriet, the fourth grade’s pet mouse, and her minions plan to ruin the Juried Art Show and frame second grade’s pet hamster, George Washington (GW), for the disaster. It is up to the Furry Friends (GW, guinea pig Sunflower, and bunny Barry) to save the night for GW’s best friend, Carina, who has entered a drawing of her father, the school custodian, in the contest. Vibrant pen-and-ink, digitally colored illustrations capture the hilarity of the action, which ends with an unexpected and satisfying twist.

Ages 9–11

Dinosaur Empire!: Journey Through the Mesozoic Era  (Earth Before Us #1). Abby Howard. 2017. Amulet/Abrams.

Dinosaur EmpireWhen fifth-grader Ronnie needs to retake a failed quiz on dinosaurs, she seeks studying help from her neighbor, Miss Lernin, a retired paleontologist, who gives her an immersive learning experience. Readers take a journey through the Time Tunnel in Miss Lernin’s recycling bin, visiting the Mesozoic Era, where they learn about continent formation, climate changes, and the evolution of flora and fauna during the Triassic, Jurassic, and Cretaceous Periods. Returning home, Miss Lernin tells Ronnie that the portal in the recycling bin will be available for another adventure when she needs to “unravel the mysteries of the past,” a promise of more informative graphic fantasy adventures to come in the Earth Before Us series. The next day, Ronnie gets 100% on the quiz and begins sharing her knowledge of the Mesozoic Era with classmates. Back matter includes a “Cool Animals from Other Times” section, an animal family tree, and a glossary.

Evil Emperor Penguin (Evil Emperor Penguin #1). Laura Ellen Anderson. 2017. David Fickling/Scholastic.

Evil Emperor PenguinFrom his underground headquarters in Antarctica, Evil Emperor Penguin (EEP) is busy at work in his Invention Room of Evil Proportions. Abetted by his sidekick Number 8, a purple octopus, and his top minion Eugene, a super cute and cuddly abominable snowman clone, EEP plans to take over the world. In sixteen ridiculously funny episodes, deployment of evil inventions (the Evil Emperor-Bot of Icy Doom, the Fearsomitron, and the Spider-Bot 4000) goes awry and EEP must deal with his  arch nemesis, Evil Cat. The bumbling team of evil will return in Evil Emperor Penguin Strikes Back! (2018).

Mighty Jack the Goblin King (Mighty Jack #2). Ben Hatke. 2017. First Second/Roaring Brook.

Mighty JackIn this graphic novel sequel to Mighty Jack (2016), a reimagined version of Jack and the Beanstalk, Jack and his friend Lilly follow his autistic sister Maddy, who has been kidnapped by an ogre. They travel through a portal to another realm, only to realize that they can’t rescue her if they can’t find her. In nonstop action, represented well in lively comic panels with expressive dialogue, Jack and Lilly, with help from a goblin king, fight to save themselves and Maddy, bringing the fantasy adventure to an exciting ending.

Older Than Dirt: A Wild but True History of Earth. Don Brown & Dr. Mike Perfit. Ill. Don Brown. 2017. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.

Older Than DirtThis “kinda-sorta biography of earth,” told in graphic novel format, begins with the Big Bang and follows the earth’s history through its geologic transformations up to, and including, current concerns about climate change. Readers experience the content of almost 14.5 billion years of history through colorful information-packed cartoon panels with dialogue between a groundhog and an inquisitive worm, mini-bios of scientists, diagrams, and maps. The back matter of this nonfiction graphic novel includes source notes, an extensive bibliography, and a thought-provoking “Is Climate Change a Real Thing?” section.

Ages 12–14

Plagues: The Microscopic Battlefield (Science Comics). Falynn Koch. 2017. First Second/Roaring Brook.

Science ComicsIn this latest addition to the Science Comics series, Elena, a scientist, takes readers into a futuristic Chamber, where researchers communicate with anthropomorphized pathogens and observe their interactions with the human body’s immune system. The focus is on two plague germs: Yellow, a yellow fever virus, and Bubonic (Bu), a bubonic plague bacterium. As Elena tries to convince Yellow and Bu to participate in research designed to use them in developing vaccines to fight other disease-causing germs, the book covers information about germs and the immune system, which combats them. Back matter includes an extensive glossary of terms, diagrams (bacteria, viruses, protozoans, and fungi), a time line of the history of learning about and fighting pandemic plague germs, and a bibliography.

The Road to Epoli (Rickety Stitch and the Gelatinous Goo #1). Ben Costa & James Parks. Ill.  Ben Costa. 2017. Alfred A. Knopf/Random House.

Rickety StitchAmnesiac Rickety Stitch is on a quest to discover his past, one musical line at a time, with his best friend—the mostly-silent Gelatinous Goo—by his side. They encounter new friends and enemies as they travel along the road to Epoli, searching for Stitch’s life story. Bold, expressive artwork in vivid jewel tones accompanied by clever repartee and unfolding song lyrics, along with dream sequences in black-and-white, create a creepy and humorous graphic fantasy, which will be continued in The Middle-Route Run (2018). Back matter includes lyrics to “The Road to Epoli” and “Excerpts from The Extraordinarily Exhaustive Encyclopedia of Eem.”

The Space Race of 1869
(Castle in the Stars #1). Alex Alice. 2017. First Second/Roaring Brook. 

Castle in the StarsThis historical steampunk graphic novel opens in 1869 France with young Seraphim mourning the death of his mother, Claire, who disappeared in her air balloon searching for the aether barrier the year before. When Seraphim and his father, a genius engineer, receive a mysterious letter promising them Claire’s lost logbook if they help King Ludwig of Bavaria with a special task, they hustle off to his castle. Seraphim and two new friends privately form “The Knights of Aether” to defend the king and his secret aethership against spies and political intrigue, throwing them into a cliffhanger for the next volume in the series. Alice creates a memorable visual story through his exquisitely detailed manga-inspired watercolor panels, maps, and diagrams.

Ages 15+

I Am Alfonso Jones. Tony Medina. Ill. Stacey Robinson & John Jennings. 2017. Tu/Lee & Low.

I Am Alfonso JonesAlfonso Jones, a 15-year-old African American student, is looking forward to performing in his school’s hip-hop rendition of Hamlet.  But as he is buying his first suit, Alfonso is killed by an off-duty cop, who mistakes the clothes hanger he is holding for a gun. As Alfonso takes a never-ending trip on a train with other ghosts of victims of police violence, readers experience the disturbing, painful reality of class and race discrimination in this timely graphic novel with a focus on police brutality and the origins of the Black Lives Matter Movement. Extensive back matter provides a context for the book and will aid discussion.

Spinning. Tillie Walden. 2017. First Second/Roaring Brook.

SpinningTillie Walden tells her coming-of-age story in this graphic memoir that is structured around her life as a competitive figure and synchronized skater for twelve years. Divided into sections by definitions of technical skating techniques, the storyline, presented in full- and multiple-paneled pages with pen-and-ink illustrations with spare narration, follows Tillie’s life as a skater, her dysfunctional relationship with her mother, interactions with bullies, and her eventual coming out to her family, as well as school and skating friends.

Nancy Brashear is Professor Emeritus of English from Azusa Pacific University, in Azusa, California. Carolyn Angus is former Director of the George G. Stone Center for Children's Books, Claremont Graduate University, in Claremont, California.

These reviews are submitted by members of the International Literacy Association's Children's Literature and Reading Special Interest Group (CL/R SIG) and are published weekly on Literacy Daily.

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