Nao grew up not fitting in in the United States, hoping to find a place that felt more like home in Japan. She had visited as a child, but now was going to be attending Japanese cram school. She moved into Himawari House, a house shared with several other students, all attending the school but at different levels. Nao discovers that fitting in isn’t as simple as a shared language, especially when she doesn’t speak it as well as she thought. Two of the girls who also live in the house have left their own countries to study in Japan. They all learn to find a way to connect with both Japanese culture and their own. Whether it is through shared food, watching shows together around a laptop, or reconnecting with family they left behind.
This graphic novel is wonderful. There is so much tangled in the stories of the three girls. Each of the teens is a unique person with specific experiences that led them to come to Japan, whether it was well-planned or almost a whim. They all face difficulties and handle them in their own ways, which tell the reader even more about who they are. Add in a touch of romance and their search for a place to belong becomes painfully personal and amazingly universal at the same time.
The art is phenomenal. From silly nods to manga style to serious moments that shine with a play of light and shadow to character studies that reveal so much in a single image of one of the characters, the illustrations run a full gamut of styles and tones. The language in the book is also fascinating, sharing the English mixed with other languages, changes in linguistic formats and the blank moments that happen when learning a language. It’s all so cleverly done.
A great graphic novel that explores finding a place in the world to belong. Appropriate for ages 13-18.
Borders by Thomas King, illustrated by Natasha Donovan (9780316593069)
When his older sister decides to move to Salt Lake City, a boy and his mother take her to the border between Canada and the U.S. His mother decided one day to make the trip to Utah to visit. They got dressed up and ready to leave the Blackfoot reserve. When they reached the border though, his mother refused to say that she was Canadian, giving her citizenship as Blackfoot. Caught between two countries, refusing to deny her true citizenship, the boy is caught with her as they demonstrate the power of their identity and family.
Written by an award-winning author of Cherokee and Greek descent, the graphic novel is illustrated by a well-known Métis illustrator. The book insists that readers see Native identity and recognize it as valid in a way that neither country is willing to. The story is immensely uncomfortable as readers wait for a resolution to come along with the boy and his mother. There is a brilliance to this discomfort, allowing readers to sit with it and learn.
The illustrations honest and simple, portraying the love among the family, even when his sister leaves for the United States. The focus on the people allows the illustrations to move beyond the desolate border and into the people being impacted.
An important middle-grade graphic novel that will inspire thought and discussion. Appropriate for ages 9-12.
Garlic works at the farm market with the other living vegetables brought to life by the witch. Garlic tends to stressed and anxious, and is even more so when she accidentally sleeps in again on market day. The next day, the witch encourages Garlic to try using some magic to get her garlic to grow, encouraging Garlic to look beyond helping her in the garden too. But Garlic doesn’t want adventures at all, she’s much happier staying on the farm. So when a vampire moves into the abandoned castle nearby, it seems that Garlic is exactly the right one to send to get rid of him. After all, vampires can’t abide garlic.
This debut graphic novel for children is a look at anxiety and stress, all in one garlicky wrapper. With one bully on the farm to contend with, Garlic can’t seem to see the kindness of the others around her, instead getting fretful, sleeping too much, and doubting her own abilities. When she is sent on her mission, she finds her footing and eventually takes care of it in her own special way, making the ending satisfying on multiple levels.
The art style is unique and is something that will draw readers into the story. It has a great vintage feel to it from the classic vampire to the vegetables themselves. The humanoid veggies are marvelous characters, their emotions clear on both their faces and in their body language. The book plays characters that one might be afraid of against their tropes, showing dimensions to them in inventive ways both in the storyline and in the images.
A cozy graphic novel full of witches and vampires. Appropriate for ages 9-12.
Reviewed from e-galley provided by Quill Tree Books.
Iris loves to pick up the treasures she discovers near the river and under rocks. Usually it’s bent forks and spoons, but Iris sees them as special. After all, there’s not much to do in their tiny town of Bugden and nothing special ever happens there. Then one day, the river dries up, exposing new treasures for Iris and her friend Sam to discover. The two follow the dry river bed and make the discovery of a lifetime. There is an entire town that is usually underwater! Sam is reluctant to explore the forgotten city, but Iris refuses to leave. When Sam get lost on his way back, he is saved by an old man who has ties to the forgotten town. Meanwhile, Iris is making discoveries and meeting an unusual girl who lives in the normally underwater city.
In this graphic novel, Pamment shows the amazing way that hidden cities can be discovered. He shares at the end of the book facts about real underwater towns. In his novel, he shares his excitement and wonder at these lost towns through Iris, a girl who is brave and resourceful, determined to see all of the treasures before her. Sam, on the other hand, is content in their small town, eager to see the new statue in the town square unveiled, and also a true friend to Iris, who often pushes him away. Their friendship is complex and marvelous to see in a graphic novel format.
The art in this graphic novel is full of wonder and connection. When Iris finds a strange object, it is echoed later in the town she discovers. The town is falling apart from being underwater. This is captured in small and big details in the illustrations, that show the beauty of the elements of the town and all that was lost when water covered it over.
Based in real drowned towns, this graphic novel is a treasure worth seeking. Appropriate for ages 9-12.
Bad Sister by Charise Mericle Harper, illustrated by Rory Lucey (9781250219060)
Released September 14, 2021.
This graphic novel memoir explores what happens when you are an older sister with far too many creative ideas. Charise and Daniel love spending time together, even though Daniel often gets hurt. Charise has a lot of powers, like the power of the trick where Daniel ended up eating cat food. She used the power of games to get her way a lot, though Daniel could also use them to bother her. There is also the power of lying, when Charise let Daniel take the blame, at least at first. When Daniel ends up breaking his tooth though, Charise decides she has to do better as a big sister. Luckily, she has a younger brother willing to forgive her and let her try to be a good sister. Though that may be more complicated than she realizes.
It is so refreshing to see a complex and layered depiction of being siblings. Here, there is clearly a lot of love between the two siblings. That foundation is what lets them take a lot of risky behaviors together, making their bond even tighter with the secrets they keep from their parents. When Daniel ends up getting bashed, banged, thrown and more, the two continue to spend time together, showing how much they actually enjoy one another. Through her memoir, Charise shows that change is possible, even if it still means that Daniel might still get hurt. It’s her intentions and responses that mature along the way.
Lucey’s illustrations are perfect. They unflinchingly show the build up towards near disasters and true disasters that we will all recognize from our own childhoods whether egged on by a big sister or not. The illustrations also show the huge grins as the siblings plot together about what to attempt next and the changing dynamic between them as Charise learns to be less of a bad sister.
Full of laughter, gasps and accidents, this is a great graphic novel memoir. Appropriate for ages 9-12.
When Shaheen can’t find her father anywhere, she and her cousin Tannaz try to figure out where he might have gone. They check out the vintage record store he loves, but it’s closed and the owner is nowhere to be found either. The two girls decide to break into the store and discover an unplugged jukebox. When they play one of her father’s favorite records, the jukebox takes them back in time to when the songs were being performed at a concert. At the end of the record, they are taken back to their regular lives. As the girls work to figure out why Shaheen’s father hasn’t returned, they also learn that there is a cost to time travel and one that they may have to risk to save him from the past where he is trapped.
This graphic novel for middle grades is a wonderful mixture of music and time travel. The various songs that they time travel with feature well-known musicians and then are artfully combined with social justice moments in history. The story centers on the two Indian-American protagonists who are different from one another but willing work together to solve the mystery. With a look at race and civil rights, the two girls traverse time learning a lot along the way.
The art is fresh and colorful. Using a time travel visual as well as record covers, it has a clear distinction between the modern part of the story and the historical events the girls witness.
A groovy graphic novel worth a spin. Appropriate for ages 9-12.
Haley loves Gothic romances and has turned in four English papers on Wuthering Heights. So when she sees someone drowning in the river, she knows just what to do. After rescuing the drowning man, Haley awakens to find herself in Willowweep, a manor filled with characters who are Gothic novel tropes. There is the housekeeper who looms and lurks, the three brooding brothers, and even a ghost who haunts the manor. But there is more happening in Willowweep. The external features of the manor hide the fact that this is a pocket universe, created to keep two larger universes from colliding: a universe full of evil and Earth. Willowweep’s defenses are beginning to crack and crumble, allowing the evil to enter the Gothic world. It is up to Haley to figure out how to use her deep knowledge of Gothic novels to stop the evil invasion.
This uproariously funny graphic novel plays beautifully upon Gothic tropes. Haley serves as the voice of the reader, exclaiming as each new trope becomes apparent. The twist of being in a decaying pocket universe works really well with the Gothic overlay. The clockwork style of the universe’s inner workings are a delight as is the solution worked out in the ending. Add in that all beings must stay in the Gothic style, and the evil monk who arrives is perfection. It’s all a very funny yet great adventure with a well-read smart heroine at its center.
The illustrations are a delight as well, leaning into the Gothic elements like the looming housekeeper, the ghost only Haley can see, and the three brothers. The green glowing eyes of those taken in by the evil add to the marvelous joy of the book.
A delight of a graphic novel that mixes Gothic and science fiction into something new and wonderful. Appropriate for ages 12-16.
The 2021 Will Eisner Comic Industry Awards were announced this week at Comic-Con. The awards have several categories specifically for comics for youth. Here are the winners and nominees in those categories:
Dragoslava is a kid and also a vampire. Born in 1460, Drago has seen a lot of Halloweens and history. They live with their two best friends Eztli and Quintus who are also vampires. Long ago, Drago made a witch angry and now has been cursed to be her servant. When she calls on them to retrieve her grimoire, Drago has to set off on the quest to Baneberry Falls. As the three little vampires reach the Midwest, it’s Halloween, a holiday that they excel at since they don’t need costumes. Plus they get to scare some of the older bullies who are out stealing candy. The three friends reach a creepy mansion, perfect for the local witch to live in. But it turns out that she lives with a vampire too. Now they just have to figure out who took the grimoire, who to trust, and who is out to get them.
This graphic novel is full of humor and just enough blood to be spooky but not frightening. The dynamic mix of witches and vampires adds to the fun with magical and undead powers on display. The characters are all interesting with full backstories, some of which is shared with the readers. The book offers a fully realized world where the characters feel like they have been living for some time and you have just popped into their lives. The characters are interesting and not stereotypical. There are lovely LGBT moments in the book too with lesbian couples and Drago themselves using they/them/their pronouns.
The illustrations are a marvelous mix of homey mundane and fang-filled spookiness. Drago pops on the page with their bald head and black cloak. The colors are rich, including poisonous greens, autumnal oranges, and dark blues and purples.
A spooky and funny graphic novel full of friendship and fiends. Appropriate for ages 9-12.
Reviewed from e-galley provided by Quill Tree Books.