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A lot of familiar faces are returning to graphic novel shelves. Should readers meet them in their latest adventures, or would it be best to start at the beginning? These 12 reviews suggest which approach matches each book.
Roll call! A lot of familiar faces are returning to graphic novel shelves. Should readers meet them in their latest adventures, or would it be best to start at the beginning? Our reviews suggest which approach matches each book, with early reader titles often proving more newcomer-friendly than the expansive casts and lore of middle grade fiction.
Abdo, Dan & Jason Patterson. Blue, Barry & Pancakes: Danger on Mount Choco. illus. by Dan Abdo & Jason Patterson. 112p. (Blue, Barry & Pancakes: Bk. 3). First Second. Jan. 2022. Tr $12.99. ISBN 9781250255570.
K-Gr 3 –An ice cream sundae contest turns into a humorous quest for Blue, Barry, and Pancakes, everyone’s favorite worm, frog, and rabbit trio. To build the best sundae and help Barry finally win a coveted trophy, the three friends seek the greatest chocolate ice cream in the universe, located in a yeti’s lair on top of Mount Choco. Each protagonist helps overcome obstacles, from crossing the Sea of Sea Sickness to impressing the yeti with funky dance moves. Creative paneling and focus lend variety to the layouts—Barry’s echoing cry in his empty trophy room takes up a full page, while Blue’s underground jaunt to retrieve sunglasses results in the dynamic and fun display of character movement known as the De Luca effect. Back matter includes extra gags and a guide to making a miniature comic. VERDICT Humor carries three tight-knit friends underwater and over mountains; new and returning readers alike will be charmed.
James, Candy. Look What We Can Do!: A Competition! illus. by Candy James. 80p. (Archie & Reddie: Bk. 3). Penguin/Razorbill. Feb. 2022. Tr $10.99. ISBN 9780593350164.
PreS-Gr 2 –Archie and Freddie, two talented foxes with boundless energy, stuff their talent show act to the brim. First prize is a wagon, with which they could lug their heavy stacks of library books around. Starting with their friendship dance, they add multiple skills into one super-sized performance of skating, music, juggling, balancing, singing, and jokes that stretches them to the absolute limit. Neither friend is put upon; their collaborations are mutual, through and through. The ending reinforces the message that there’s no shame in doing what you do best. Textured yellow backgrounds and thick lines fill the couple of panels per page with bright, smiling figures. The foxes’ silly actions and infectious enthusiasm make for a tale that begs to be read and acted out loud. VERDICT Whether or not kids are familiar with the series, they’ll find this an easy reader full of escalating talents and smiles between two can-do foxes.
Ruzzier, Sergio. Up and Down: And Other Stories. illus. by Sergio Ruzzier. 56p. (Fox & Chick: Bk. 4). Chronicle. Jul. 2022. Tr $14.99. ISBN 9781452183398.
K-Gr 3 –Fox and Chick return in three new stories highlighting Chick’s humorous lack of self-awareness and Fox’s gentle encouragement. Chick panics atop a tree, seemingly unable to climb down; Chick impatiently counts each snowflake in anticipation of sledding; and Chick isn’t sure what to do with a book gifted by Fox. Ruzzier’s gentle palette, large panels, and spacious speech bubbles ensure early readers will be able to follow the text and sequence of events. The friends model good listening skills and kindness, with each animal speaking clearly and projecting warm smiles. Chick’s adorable antics will elicit giggles—for instance, building build a bookshelf for one book—but Fox makes sure Chick is never the butt of a joke. VERDICT The fuzzy pair once more exhibit behavior to emulate as they resolve minor differences, withhold judgment, and meet each other where they are. Fans of the series will be as delighted as newcomers.
Stutzman, Jonathan. Fitz and Cleo Get Creative. illus. by Heather Fox. 80p. (A Fitz and Cleo Book: Bk. 2)Holt. Feb. 2022. Tr $12.99. ISBN 9781250239457.
K-Gr 2 –Fitz and Cleo are back and in the creative spirit. The ghost siblings, restless from reading books and watching movies, decide to make their own film for a change. Some of the 10 stories in this book revolve around the making of the movie; the pair encounter writer’s block with the script and audition their friends to play parts. Other chapters depict the ghosts trying different creative pursuits, such as painting or music. Cleo is captivated by cute animals, fantasy stories, and magic, while Fitz enjoys science and math. They support and are excited for each other, making them a fun example of teamwork and good sportsmanship. The ghosts and their world’s simple designs take on a whole new angle through the ghosts’ artwork, such as Cleo’s colorful chalk illustrations and the much-foreshadowed short film. VERDICT Good humor between imaginative siblings leads to a number of artistic projects that young readers, series fans and newcomers alike, will want to emulate.
Anstee, Ashlyn. A Mountain of a Problem. illus. by Ashlyn Anstee. 96p. (Shelby & Watts: Bk. 2). Viking. Feb. 2022. Tr $12.99. ISBN 9780593205358.
Gr 1-3 –While investigating why a bear woke up too soon from hibernation, Shelby the fox and Watts the badger end up shedding light on the consequences of climate change. An earlier deduction by Shelby about the whereabouts of their mail carrier models how the bear investigation will work—through careful observation and reliance on evidence. Shelby and Watts gather clues from their surrounding environment, which are written in a notebook, and connect them all to reach the truth. Their observations include insights about animals, seasons, and whether you can fry an egg on the sidewalk. The animal characters are cute and have small mouths, though sometimes Shelby’s head rears back, like a Pez dispenser. Shelby and Watts return home and encourage everyone to reduce pollution. They suggest that readers use cars and energy less often and communicate with friends and corporations. There’s a slight plot hole—an Australian character mentions that back home in the Southern Hemisphere, it’s winter, but it’s also meant to be winter in Shelby and Watt’s home, located in the Northern Hemisphere. However, this doesn’t detract from the strong environmental message. VERDICT One warm cause has many effects for the plants and animals of the world, including a call for readers to help. A solid stand-alone tale.
Camper, Cathy. Lowriders to the Rescue. illus. by Raúl the Third. 140p. (Lowriders in Space: Bk. 3). Chronicle. May 2022. Tr $22.99. ISBN 9781452179483.
Gr 4-7 –Cultures, technologies, and families unite in this rallying cry for eco-friendly change. When a forest fire endangers a family of anthropomorphic Arabic monarch butterflies, daughter Sokar escapes to the nearby city to find help. She encounters the Latinx lowriders—an impala, a mosquito, and an octopus who all adore cars—and they take her in. They learn about each other’s culture, including food, aesthetics, and language. English translations for Spanish and Arabic words appear at the bottom of each page and in an appended glossary. The lowriders deploy a series of technological marvels to solve ecological and economic issues. Beaming faces and effortless solutions threaten to turn the book’s optimistic attitude into parody, though younger readers will appreciate seeing positive changes take place so soon, and there is much to learn about science and Latinx and Arabic culture. Rendered in ballpoint pen, the textured illustrations are vibrant and expressive. Back matter includes personal, historical, and scientific notes about the many inspirations behind the story. VERDICT This bursting medley of community and planetary mindfulness is as colorful as it is inventive. Best experienced after the earlier books.
Dunn, Georgia. Behind the Scenes with Burt: A Breaking Cat News Adventure. illus. by Georgia Dunn. 192p. (A Breaking Cat News Adventure: Bk. 4). Andrews McMeel. Mar. 2022. pap. $11.99. ISBN 9781524871277.
Gr 4-6 –The crew of Breaking Cat News, a group of house cats who report on their mischievous doings, newscaster-style, returns. The first portion of the book is a continuous narrative that involves Burt, Puck, Lupin, and Elvis watching the soap opera Our IX Lives, complete with a wedding, car chase, clairvoyance, and several other tropes of the daytime drama genre. In the second portion, consisting of individual comic strips, the cats report on activities such as sniffing a smelly spot in the floor or racing through the house at two in the morning. Dunn’s watercolors and ink lines are an ideal match for her cute, dry humor. The cats’ owners, who are white, are loving hosts to the eventful chaos. Back matter includes several paper cat dolls and outfits. VERDICT Pet owners will recognize their own four-legged friends in these humorous news reports. Though lovers of the series will be rewarded, newcomers will easily take to this one, too.
Mercado, Yehudi. Sci-Fu: Vol. 2; It Takes 2. illus. by Yehudi Mercado. 160p. Oni. Apr. 2022. pap. $12.99. ISBN 9781620107836.
Gr 4-8 –From the opening pages, readers are immersed in a blend of science fiction and hip-hop. Set in 1980s Brooklyn, the first book saw Wax, an aspiring DJ, and the residents of his building transported to the planet Discopia, where they inadvertently killed robot ruler King Chug Chug and went up against his enraged son, Choo Choo. In this sequel, Mega Hertz, girlfriend of the defeated Choo Choo, breaks out of a prison planet and swears revenge on Wax, who’s still mastering his kung fu powers. Chapter titles are rendered in a graffiti style, just one of many playful, colorful elements in Mercado’s bountiful designs. Wax punching an alien villain through a layer of ice while freestyle rapping in the middle of Shaw Bros. Supermarket is just the beginning of the spectacles to come. New readers may be caught off guard by references to preexisting character dynamics, but the family and friendships at the core of the mostly Black cast are quickly endearing. VERDICT This series is too savvy to suffer a sophomore slump and too pretty for readers to look away, but just make sure to begin with the first book.
Phillipps, J.C. Mermaids vs. Unicorns. illus. by J.C. Phillipps. 224p. (Pacey Packer, Unicorn Tracker: Bk. 3). Random. Mar. 2022. Tr $12.99. ISBN 9780593179567.
Gr 2-5 –The magical land of Rundalyn calls Pacey, little sister Mina, and their unicorn friend Slasher (Mina’s stuffed toy, who in the first book revealed he was in fact a resident of Rundalyn) back into action just in time for Pacey to escape friendship woes on Earth. The mogs, friendly troll-like creatures who are unable to swim, ask the trio to retrieve the severed horn of the evil unicorn, Arkane, from the mermaids’ domain. The story branches from Pacey’s group rafting through subterranean waters, to Arkane’s search for his horn, to the mogs attempting to assist from afar. Slasher’s sarcasm provides plenty of humor, while his bias against mermaids foreshadows dangers to come. Pacey’s hurt feelings over being unpopular are projected onto the mermaids, who have justified grievances with unicorns. Exposition delivered while traveling shows off Rundalyn, as well as Phillipps’s purple-tinted art. Pacey and Mina are light-skinned and dark-haired. VERDICT The lore and cast of Phillipps’s escapist fantasy continue to expand while delivering more laughs and adventure that fans of the previous two books will love.
Roselló, Jarod. The Curse of the Evil Eye. illus. by Jarod Roselló. 208p. (Red Panda and Moon Bear: Bk. 2). Top Shelf. Mar. 2022. pap. $14.99. ISBN 9781603095013.
Gr 3-6 –With their round heads, long arms, and curious minds, Red Panda and Moon Bear can solve anything. The titular siblings defend their neighborhood of Martí from strange threats, including a rampaging pastelito and a puddle that eats shoes. The Destroyer of Worlds and the Being of Unimaginable Horror return from the first book to help out. The siblings’ penchant for action and imaginative gadgets is usually less effective than their listening and empathy skills. Several cases are solved by hearing out the cause of mischief and sharing a kind deed or word. They address emotional issues such as jealousy, loneliness, reputation, and arguing parents. Other times, powers of freezing, shrinking, and invisibility may also be required. Large faces and abstract creature designs fill each page with visual hooks to speed readers along. Spanish vocabulary is lightly sprinkled through signs and dialogue. The siblings and the other residents of Martí are brown-skinned and Latinx. VERDICT Focusing on protagonists who combine childlike imagination with developing maturity, these thoughtful, bilingual adventures will appeal to returning readers.
Venable, Colleen AF. Best Friends for Never. illus. by Stephanie Yue. 224p. (Katie the Catsitter: Bk. 2). Random. Jan. 2022. Tr $20.99. ISBN 9780593375464.
Gr 3-7 –Katie, who pet-sits for her neighbor Madeline (who fights crime as the superhero Mousetress), can overcome anything with the help of Madeline’s army of ingenious cats, or so it seems. Madeline seems more interested in online activism and baking shows, even with a Moustress impersonator on the loose. Katie’s friend Beth is back from summer camp, but the two of them don’t quite gel, unlike Katie’s “Wheel-Las” skateboarding crew. To keep Katie safe and help her build responsibility, her mom imposes rules. Katie is constantly challenged to leave her comfort zone toward personal growth and understanding others’ feelings. There are awkward, sometimes painful interactions along the way, but Katie plows through self-doubt, even if she stumbles sometimes. The artwork complements the humorous, intuitive writing, from expertly timed pauses in conversation to expressive body language. Venable and Yue share creative samples and stories from their youth in the back. Katie and her mom are white, Beth is brown-skinned, and Madeline is Black. VERDICT The complex yet effortless mixture of tween angst with superhero subplots is a recipe for success for returning readers and those familiar with superhero tropes.
Hornig, Haiko. The Lost Daughter. illus. by Marius Pawlitza. 136p. (House Divided: Bk. 4). Graphic Universe. Apr. 2022. pap. $11.99. ISBN 9781728448657.
Gr 6 Up –Henrietta Achilles, an orphan who inherited a magical house where adventurers often come in the hopes of finding treasure, defends her home as villagers take shelter from stone invaders. The soldiers, bandits, kobolds, and magical residents seen in previous series installments return in this epic send-off, complete with emotional climaxes that reward those who have been following ongoing story arcs and relationships—a subplot concerning Cornelius’s potential as leader of the kobolds helps ground the action taking place inside and outside the magic house. Revelations about Henrietta’s heritage put her in tough positions to heal divisions of the past. An occasional one-liner balances teary-eyed moments of sacrifice. Spells never lose their luster on the page, always providing unique visual effects and advancing the story. The artwork sometimes takes on a 3D quality, with characters’ faces or hands seeming to protrude through the fourth wall. The back matter includes a pierogi recipe and Pawlitza’s process art. Henrietta is white. VERDICT Fans of Henrietta will find satisfaction in this grand finale to the epic series. Those who love Kazu Kibuishi’s “Amulet,” J.C. Phillipp’s “Pacey Packer,” and Jeff Smith’s “Bone” series will appreciate these books, though they will want to start at the beginning.
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