The Okay Witch by Emma Steinkellner (9781534431454)
Moth has always loved everything to do with magic and witches. So when Halloween comes, she dresses up as a witch. That does nothing but encourage some school bullies who tease her in the hall in front of the new kid in town. But something strange happens and Moth’s hands start to glow. It turns out that Moth comes from a family of witches, something her mother had never shared with her. Now it all makes sense why Moth has felt so different from everyone else and struggled to make friends. As Moth learns more about her family and the secret separate magic land her grandmother helped create and still lives in, Moth’s powers grow. She meets a talking cat, makes her first real friend, and then discovers that while witches are real so are those who hunt them!
Steinkellner’s debut graphic novel for youth is a delightful mix of diversity and magic. While comparisons can be made with other teen witches, this book stands entirely on its own. Part of that distinction comes from the unique world that the town’s witch elders created for safety. It is a world of floating islands, crystalline colors and flowing robes. It contrasts dynamically with the world of middle school. Moth is the one who brings both worlds together as her magic begins to take form.
The characters in this graphic novel really make the book special. Moth moves far beyond middle-school misfit and is a friendly, funny protagonist with a talking cat who is brave and conflicted. Her mother too is complicated in all the best ways.
A great middle-grade graphic novel that is full of magic. Appropriate for ages 9-12.
Reviewed from copy provided by Aladdin.
Joe Quinn’s Poltergeist by David Almond, illustrated by Dave McKean (9781536201604)
At first Davie doesn’t believe that Joe Quinn has a poltergeist in his home. After all, Joe has told lies before about his family. But when Davie and his best friend head over to Joe’s house to witness it themselves, they see bread and butter fly through the air, chips hit the wall, and dishes break. Davie himself lost a sister when she was very little, and he longs to know if ghosts are real because if so, she might still be there. But could it just be Joe playing a prank? Perhaps bringing the village priest in will help make things more clear and perhaps it will cloud things even more.
Almond and McKean have created several of the most inventive and incredible graphic novels in the last few years, including The Savage, Slog’s Dad, and Mouse Bird Snake Wolf. It is great to see another of their weird collaborations. This book is not about answering questions about whether ghosts exist. It’s about grief and loss, violence and families, and being willing to live with questions unanswered. It is a book that takes a short story by Almond and turns it into something visceral and pointed, a book for Halloween yes, but also for everyday darkness and wonder as well.
The illustrations by McKean are filled with sharp edges, fractured panes. They have characters who writhe on the page, almost beyond human and filled with amazing flaws. There are times of amazing green grass and sunshine, others of the sun breaking through blood-red clouds, others of filled with shadows of prison bars. The images are stunning in their stretched-out haunting nature.
A graphic novel that is not for everyone, but fans of dark corners will love what they find here. Appropriate for ages 12-15.
Reviewed from library copy.
Stargazing by Jen Wang (9781250183880)
Moon and Christine could not be more different even though they both have grown up in the same Chinese-American neighborhood. Christine has strict parents who don’t let her wear nail polish, much less makeup. Moon’s single-parent mother is accepting and gentle. Christine tends to be more concerned with fitting in than Moon who is rather dreamy and loves dancing and music. The two girls decide to enter the school’s talent contest as a dance team, bringing out Christine’s performing side that she never knew existed. Just as the girls start to gel as friends though, Moon reveals that she has visions sometimes. When the true cause of the visions turns out to be seizures, Christine must figure out what sort of friend she really is.
Award-winning graphic novelist Wang invites readers into a personal story about growing up Chinese-American. She draws from her own medical past with seizures and brain surgery to create a graphic novel that is wrenching and real. She entirely leaves her heart on the pages, giving us two girls who are different from one another but clearly meant to be friends. The books’ premise may be personal, but the result is a book that is universal. Wang’s art is accessible and friendly, inviting readers to explore and learn along the way. There are wonderful moments that are distinctly Chinese-American that resonate across cultures.
A warm and rich graphic novel about friendship and so much more. Appropriate for ages 9-12.
Reviewed from library copy.
Stage Dreams by Melanie Gillman (9781512440003)
The author of As the Crow Flies returns with a queer western story that tells a different tale from the traditional male-focused guns-blazing westerns. This is the story of Flor, also known as the Ghost Hawk, a Latinx woman who steals from stagecoaches with the help of her trained hawk. On one of her heists, she takes a woman hostage looking for a ransom payout. But it turns out that Grace is not wealthy and many don’t understand that she is transgender. The two of them start talking and realize that Grace may be the key to one of Ghost Hawk’s biggest treasures, stealing some crucial documents from some rich confederates. Grace has a perfect Georgia accent, so all they need are some great dresses and plenty of courage.
I fell so hard for this thin graphic novel. I want to have the second book immediately so that I can continue to explore the West with these two amazing women. Gillman’s story is rich and masterful. She offers such empathy to her queer characters, many who are also secondary characters in the story and also pays homage to people of color in the West too. Her notes at the end of the book offer historical details for what she shows on the page, giving context to her characters.
Quite a ride! Appropriate for ages 13-17.
Reviewed from library copy.
Pumpkinheads by Rainbow Rowell and Faith Erin Hicks (9781250312853)
Deja and Josie are completing their last night working at the Pumpkin Patch before they leave for college. The two have worked at the Succotash Hut together, perfecting the stirring technique. Josie has won most valuable employee every year but one and is definitely in the running again. He’s also had a huge crush on a girl who works at the pie stand, so it’s Deja’s mission on their last night to get him to actually speak to her for the first time. So the two of them leave the Succotash Hut and head out to find his crush. But it won’t be easy to find her and their quest takes them on a full tour of the Pumpkin Patch complete with delicious snacks like Freeto Pie, S’mores and candy apples.
These two very talented teen book creators have designed an amazing graphic novel together. They take the Midwestern pumpkin patch experience of corn mazes, picking pumpkins, and treats and turn it into a quest for love that is charming and enticing. It’s very rare to find a teen book that is this seasonal. When you read this one though, you can almost smell the cinnamon autumnal scents on a breeze.
The two main characters are wonderful. They have a clear chemistry on the page. Deja is bisexual, having dated several of the other workers at the Patch over the years. Josie is marvelously shy except with Deja with whom he really shows his personality. The entire book is a delight of a read thanks to these two characters who are such a joy to spend time with.
A tremendous graphic novel that I dare you not to “fall” for. Appropriate for ages 14-18.
Reviewed from copy provided by First Second.
Guts by Raina Telgemeier (9780545852517)
This is the third book in Telgemeier’s autobiographical series that started with Smile and Sisters. Raina has an upset stomach one night and throws up, but her mother has the same problem, so it’s most likely a stomach bug. But with Raina, the stomach ache doesn’t go away. She is a quiet, self-conscious and shy girl dealing with the ins and outs of school and friendships. As Raina starts to grow anxious about vomiting, eating the wrong foods, and general things in life, her stomach gets worse. Once she starts seeing a therapist, she learns techniques to help her cope with her panic and help her face her fears.
It’s great to see Telgemeier return to stories of her own life. Her storytelling is strong and vivid with a story arc that reveals the impact of anxiety on a child’s life but also offers an empowering view of how to move forward and regain control. Her sense of humor is also on display here even about her own anxieties. As always, her art is approachable and inviting.
Expect even more Raina fans after this third book in the series! Appropriate for ages 8-12.
Reviewed from ARC provided by Scholastic.
The Harvey Awards have announced their nominees for the 2019 awards. Voted on by comic book professionals, the awards celebrate individual works. There is one category specifically for books for youth:
BEST CHILDREN’S OR YOUNG ADULT BOOK NOMINEES
Hey Kiddo by Jarrett J. Krosoczka (Also nominated for Book of the Year)
Laura Dean Keeps Breaking Up With Me by Mariko Tamaki and Rosemary Valero-O’Connell (Also nominated for Book of the Year)
Mr. Wolf’s Class #2: Mystery Club by Aron Nels Steinke
New Kid by Jerry Craft
On a Sunbeam by Tillie Walden
Queen of the Sea by Dylan Meconis (9781536204988)
Based loosely on the story of Queen Elizabeth I and Queen Mary, this graphic novel is remarkable. Margaret has been on the island since she was a baby, cared for by the nuns that live there, not knowing who her parents are. The island has only a few residents, including goats and chickens. The nuns help those whose ships sink or crash making their way around the island, and they take in political prisoners as well. In fact, when Margaret is old enough to be curious, she discovers that the nuns are all political prisoners on the island who became nuns after being sent there. Things change when William arrives, the first person Margaret has ever known who is about her own age. But their friendship is short lived and he is taken back to Albion. The next person to arrive is Eleanor, the deposed Queen of Albion, sent to the island by her sister who is now queen. Margaret struggles to connect with the aloof Eleanor, even after her own origins are revealed as being entwined with Eleanor’s. As Margaret learns more about politics and royalty, she is caught up in a web of power that she has to find her way through or lose everything she holds dear.
This is not a slim graphic novel, but more of a tome. Meconis tells a sturdy tale, a graphic novel that reads fully as a novel with well-developed characters whose motivations are cleverly concealed but are always understandable when all is revealed. Margaret has a bucolic upbringing on the island, filled with the care of the nuns, their strict rules, and helping with the animals. As she learns the truth, the book changes around the reader, the beauty of the island becoming more like the prison it is.
The pairing of an imaginative world with roots in real history makes for an incredible read. Those who know the English history will love the parallels between the stories, glimpsing that history often enough to keep it well-rooted. Margaret is a great lens to view the history through, providing context to the world around her as she learns things alongside the reader.
A stellar graphic novel for middle grades. Appropriate for ages 10-13.
Reviewed from library copy.
Gender Queer: A Memoir by Maia Kobabe (9781549304002)
This memoir is done in a comic or graphic format. It’s the autobiography of Maia, who uses the pronouns e/em/eir. It tells the story of eir childhood growing up being assigned as a female gender at birth. From loving snakes to peeing outside to taking off eir shirt to go swimming along with the boys, Maia never conformed to gender stereotypes. Eir parents didn’t either, but Maia’s need to not be identified as female ran far deeper. Growing older, Maia had crushes on both boys and girls, and wondered if e was bisexual. Still, Maia had to continue to explore what dating, crushes, love, and sex meant to em until e realized what it meant to be nonbinary and asexual.
Kobabe shares so deeply in eir memoir. It is such a personal journey, filled with moments of deep connection and joy, the agony of pap smears, the constant questioning of identity, and then ending with incredible hope. This memoir was at first written to help eir family understand em, and it will work that way for those wanting to understand being gender nonbinary. It also aids in understanding asexuality and how that impacts relationships. Sex is handled with a refreshing frankness on the pages.
Kobabe’s art is very effective. E does full-page pieces that feature family members and other parts that read as fluid story telling in a more traditional way. These different approaches blend together into a dynamic format that invites readers into Kobabe’s life.
Vital and important, this memoir is tender and impactful. Appropriate for ages 16-adult.
Reviewed from library copy.