Star Wars: Jedi Academy is a great new graphic novel by Jeffrey Brown. Roan Novachez has dreamed of being a starfighter pilot like his father. His brother attends Pilot Academy Middle School, so Roan feels certain that he will go there too. When his friends receive their acceptance letters, he begins to worry. Roan is crushed when a rejection letter arrives with the recommendation that he attend Tatooine Agriculture Academy. What could be worse than going to plant school?
All is not lost. Master Yoda has sensed Roan’s potential. “Strong in you, the Force is – Jedi, you may be.” Even though most students begin their training as toddlers, Roan packs up and leaves Tatooine to attend Jedi Academy on the distant planet of Coruscant. He will face all kinds of new challenges, from learning how to lift objects with the Force to deciphering what Master Yoda is saying. There are also the usual issues that every middle school student will encounter, like dealing with the class bully to that first crush.
Fluctuating between prose and comic book style, this book will appeal to the upper-elementary age children who liked The Strange Case of Origami Yoda, or the Diary of a Wimpy Kid and Big Nate series. But you don’t have to be a kid to enjoy this book. Star Wars fans of all ages will get a kick out Star Wars: Jedi Academy.
Best-known for her teen books, Cecil Castellucci teams up with noted graphic novelist Sara Varon to create Odd Duck, an amusing tale of belonging and acceptance. A sort of graphic novel without panels, it tells the story of Theodora, a very proper duck who has her daily routine down pat. It includes wingspan exercises, quacking in a perfect tone, and swimming across the pond in back of her immaculately clean home with a cup of rose hip tea on her head (in order to maintain perfect posture). Then one day her world is turned upside-down with the arrival of Chad, a very different kind of duck, who moves into the vacant house next door to Theodora. Chad is an artist, a musician, a layabout with dyed feathers! Will Theodora be able to endure a neighbor like Chad?
Varon's accessible, anthropomorphic pen-and-ink pastel illustrations of the ducks and their surroundings match the loose, casual style of the text. Fun vocabulary is introduced to young readers throughout the pages, which include a few speech balloons and a lot of side commentary (with arrows) by an omniniscent narrator. Odd Duck is a wonderful introduction for kids who are bridging the picture book, beginning reader, and graphic novel formats. Readers will enjoy making their own determinations as to whether Theodora or Chad is the odd duck, and what differences between friends really matter .
There are few things more pleasing to a librarian - or to a parent - than spotting a kid giggling over a book. Imagine how satisfying it would be to see a kid laughing and engrossed in a nonfiction book about the Revolutionary War. No exaggeration: children have walked into walls while reading Nathan Hale's Hazardous Tales, a series of historical graphic novels.
Nathan Hale (1755-1776) was this country's first spy, traveling behind enemy lines to find information about British troop strength prior to the invasion of Manhattan. He was not a very good spy, and so One Dead Spy: The Life, Times, and Last Words of Nathan Hale, America’s Most Famous Spy begins as he is about to be hanged. Like Scheherazade, he manages to delay his appointment with the noose by telling the story of the war to his executioners, a goofy hangman and a supercilious British officer.
Nathan Hale (1976- ) is best known as the acclaimed illustrator of the graphic novels Rapunzel's Revenge and Calamity Jack. Here he takes writing credit as well. His art is lively and meticulous, rigorously researched and clearly drawn. Sieges, daring raids, and night crossings may seem like perfect material for the graphic novel treatment, but Hale manages to make even panels describing troop movements exciting. One Dead Spy is the first book in the series, and Big Bad Ironclad!: A Civil War Steamship Showdown, chronicling history of the Monitor and Merrimac, is also available. Look for two new Hazardous Tales to be published this summer.
Bird & Squirrel on the Run! is the funny new graphic novel from James Burks. Squirrel accidentally loses his winter supply of nuts while trying to rescue Bird from the Cat. Limited by an injured wing, Bird talks Squirrel into walking south with him to survive the winter. Thus begins a wonderful buddy adventure for the younger reader. While Bird is fun-loving and adventurous, Squirrel is very cautious and nervous. As Bird learns a little bit about responsibility and Squirrel learns a little bit about fun, the two new friends contend with angry bees, scary snakes, waterfalls, dire predictions (from a fortune-telling mole!) and one determined cat on their way to warmer lands. Displaying loyalty and fortitude, the pair faces down one last fearsome, flying foe. Will the friends survive their journey?
Burks’ bright colorful illustrations are easy to follow. Using such details as an acorn helmet for the cautious Squirrel and aviator goggles for the adventurous Bird, Burks’ artwork complements the story well. His lesson of a happy medium between being overly-cautious and carelessly adventurous is subtly conveyed. While the text is simple and very manageable, the story is delightfully detailed. This book could serve as a wonderful transition to chapter books for the newly independent reader… and it’s a fun read!
Here are a few tips for surviving life with Mark Tatulli’s cartoon character Lio, who returns to library shelves in Lio: There’s a Monster In My Socks:
If there's a KEEP OUT sign on his door, don't try to vacuum in there.
You maybe should just concede the Science Fair to him.
And for goodness sake, don't give Lio a turn at Show and Tell.
Lio's decidedly unorthodox (and frequently disproportionate) responses to familiar school-age situations and pursuits are depicted in a scratchy black and white style with a distinct Gahan Wilson flavor. When flying kites with the other kids, Lio brings a dragon. When it's time to play football, Lio brews a Mr. Hyde potion that turns him into the ultimate linebacker. Some strips take a little effort to decode, which makes their punchline that much funnier.
Despite hearty helpings of grotesque slapstick violence, Lio is a goodhearted character with an active sense of justice, frequently victimizing bullies, sticking up for other kids, and championing the voiceless -such as prey animals, aliens, and monsters. Like Big Nate, Lio lives along with his patient, long-suffering schlub of a dad. Lio steals his garbage can to make a robot, the steaks from the fridge to feed the monsters under the floor, and routinely uses him as a test subject. Overjoyed at breakfast time to find a giant egg in the kitchen, he ends up with an alien stuck to his face. Lio's near-wordless, anarchic humor will appeal to teens and adults, not to mention a wide variety of kids - smart kids, kids who think they are weird, pranksters, and kids who sometimes get in trouble.
Mr. Big: a Tale of Pond Life, the cover reads. But when one delves into it, the reader finds this graphic novel by Carol Dembicki and Matt Dembicki is so much more. It begins innocently in springtime as the pond comes to life. The authors show the inhabitants of the pond in a natural light, reminding the reader that life and death are regular parts of the pond ecology. Nighttime in the pond is illustrated using stunning artwork to describe the nocturnal inhabitants’ hierarchy. This simple lesson about life in a pond suddenly twists into a dark tale of revenge when Mr. Big, the resident snapping turtle, quite naturally eats two curious young fish that swim too close. Just another example of the cycle of life in the pond? Not this time. The mother of the young fish refuses to take this one lying down. She pulls together some other pond dwellers – the frogs, other turtles, even the ladybugs – and puts a hit out on Mr. Big. A murder of crows is up for the job, but do they have an ulterior motive? Soon there are ominous sightings of a monstrous fish that can walk on land and fly through the air!
Throughout the story, the authors weave together layers of drama and intrigue. The hypocrisy of the frogs as they blithely swallow insect after insect while condemning Mr. Big for eating other creatures; the danger a little mosquito can pose; and the damage done by the introduction of non-native animals to an ecosystem are all subtly imparted to the reader. The rebelling animals remain nameless, yet their thoughts and fears are imparted to the reader via thought bubbles and dialogue. Mr. Big, the only named character, is silent, yet the reader is left with the impression that for Mr. Big "It’s not personal, it’s business." Adults and older children alike will find something to enjoy in this nuanced graphic novel about the perils of messing with Mother Nature.
Poor Claudette. In Jorge Aguirre's Giants Beware!, her peaceful life within the fortress of Mont Petit Pierre is just not nearly exciting enough. Being a tomboy, the daughter of the town blacksmith, she is rambunctious and loudmouthed and yearns for action. Like killing the giant rumored to live on the mountain outside of town. With her timid brother Gaston and her ladylike friend Marie, she blusters her way out of the fortress gate and into the Forest of Death, beyond which lies the Mad River, and then Giant’s Peak.
Can these three kids, armed with a wooden sword, Marie’s intelligence, Gaston’s fortitude, Claudette’s stinky feet, and a pug dog named Valiant, survive in the wilderness and defeat the giant? Of course they can, but not in the ways they might have expected. The adults in the story are distinguished by exaggerated or even buffoonish characteristics, but their actions are driven by realistic, largely generous motives.
The story strikes a fine balance between being action- and friendship-driven. The art is similarly well-balanced: Rafael Rosado’s ink drawings are strong and lively, with expressive characters and well-drawn landscapes. Digitally applied color is natural, bright, and nonintrusive. Fans of Jimmy Gownley’s Amelia Rules books and Jeff Smith’s Bone series will snap this title up.
Eastwood Elementary has a new third grade student, a young warrior who hails from the faraway land of Skullbania. Clad in raggedy homemade boots, a cape, horned helmet and what the other students interpret as “fur underwear,” Fangbone tumbles though a portal into a garbage dump on the hillside overlooking the school. He’s been entrusted with protecting the big toe of Drool, which will keep evil from his land. But strange new challenges (like the concept of toilets) lie ahead for Fangbone! Third-Grade Barbarian, the engaging hero of Michael Rex’s silly new graphic novel series for elementary school readers.
The first book introduces Fangbone as he attempts to assimilate into class 3G. Soon he’s made a new best friend, Bill, while gathering the whole class as his army of minions. His clueless principal thinks it’s all an exercise in appreciating other cultures. Soon Fangbone leads the losing 3G Extreme Attack Unicorns through a victory in the beanball games, and his classmates come through for him when evil strikes from his homeland. Rendered in simple comic book style line drawings, Fangbone! holds special appeal for young boys who appreciate an abundance of goofy, mildly gross humor and plenty of battle action.
The adventures continue in Fangbone! Third-Grade Barbarian: The Egg of Misery, as a strange oversized egg appears, sent from Skullbania by the warrior’s clan. The class works hard to hatch this bizarre, spotted egg, believing it contains a baby dragon. Meanwhile, they must all work together to present their assigned animal, the dodo, for the third grade’s Extinction Pageant. Craziness and danger ensue, as Fangbone wields his sword against Skullbanian evil and the trials of a group project.
Known for his popular parodies of classic children’s picture books such as Goodnight Goon and Furious George Goes Bananas, Michael Rex has found a new niche in graphic novels. Young fans of Dav Pilkey’s Ricky Ricotta and Captain Underpants series will quickly devour these adventures. Look for a third Fangbone! title, The Birthday Party of Dread, to debut in August.
What young reader can resist a book that answers the question: can cow poop help two friends patch up their friendship?
In Zig and Wikki in The Cow, by Nadja Spiegelman and Trade Loeffler, Zig (an alien) and Wikki (his computer friend) are going about their day when Zig notices his pet fly looks sick. An already jealous Wikki is happy to take the fly back to Earth where they promptly lose their spaceship. Hilarious adventures through a farm’s ecosystem ensue. Will Zig and Wikki find their spaceship? Will their friendship be saved? Will the fly be okay? Interspersed with scientific facts about an ecosystem, the story is a fun read (and just a little bit gross). Zig and Wikki in The Cow is a great book to read with your beginning reader. The pictures are charming, the story is funny and (after a few “ewwws”) your reader will be proud of the science lessons learned. If you enjoy this one, be sure to check out their first adventure Zig and Wikki in Something Ate My Homework.
It's no secret that many of Hollywood's most successful blockbusters are adaptations of popular books. The recent Academy Award nominees refect this, especially when it comes to family films. Here are some of the children's titles that brought magic to the movies this year:
The Invention of Hugo Cabret by Brian Selznick became the visually stunning film Hugo directed by Martin Scorsese. This tale of an orphaned boy living in a Paris train station was the surprise winner of the Caldecott Medal for the most distinguished picture book in 2008. Selznick’s creative style mixes pages of text with wordless pages that opens the reader’s imagination and invites them to create parts of the story for themselves. Selznick’s newest title Wonderstruck is similarly illustrated.
The Adventures of Tintin is adapted from the classic graphic novel series of the same name written by Belgian writer/artist Herge. Tintin is a young reporter who gets caught up in dangerous adventures as he completes his story assignments. Modeled after the boy scout values, Tintin always knows what is right and acts in the most upstanding manner. He is a role model for children (and perhaps adults everywhere.
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part II marks the end of the film journey into J.K. Rowling’s magical world. The books are now over 14 years old and a whole new generation of readers are jumping on the Hogwarts express and following Harry as he learns to be a wizard and discovers both good and evil along the way. The Harry Potter books have spawned movies, video games, board games, toys, websites, and even a theme park. The audiobooks are magnificently narrated by the Grammy award-winning Jim Dale. A fun fact—Jim Dale holds the Guinness World Record for creating 146 different character voices for the audiobook version of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows!