Julia’s House Moves On by Ben Hatke

Cover image for Julia’s House Moves On

Julia’s House Moves On by Ben Hatke (9781250191373)

This sequel to Julia’s House for Lost Creatures carries readers back to the marvels of the Julia’s unusual house and the creatures she shares it with. Julia’s house was getting restless and all of the different creatures who lived there could feel it and started to act out too. Luckily, Julia had a plan for moving them, she even knew just the spot in the mountains for them. But then, the turtle whose back carried the house decided to move right then, down into the ocean. Now the house was tattered and barely afloat. Julia though had a plan filled with paddling and pushing but the house sunk faster and sharks were circling. She went to her other plan, and blew on Triton’s Horn but that didn’t work out either. With her house sinking, the creatures floated off away from Julia. All was lost. Or perhaps they had their own plan!

Written just for compulsive planners like myself, this picture book is funny and full of dynamic moments. Hatke, the creator of graphic novels like Zita the Spacegirl, is just as at home in the picture book format. His pacing is brisk, never letting poor Julia linger for long in her new spot of trouble. Julia’s plans are feats in themselves, constantly figuring out what to do, and show real resilience in dire situations.

As with all of Hatke’s art, he creates characters who are fascinating, friendly and full of life. Here he gets to delve into all sorts of strange creatures too who liven up the story. His illustrations are worth lingering over, with small touches that make Julia’s house come alive (literally).

Perhaps the perfect COVID fantasy read that shows how communities can work to save one another. Appropriate for ages 4-6.

Reviewed from e-galley provided by First Second.

The Last Halloween: Children by Abby Howard

Cover image for The Last Halloween: Children

The Last Halloween: Children by Abby Howard (9781945820663)

This marvelously creepy horror graphic novel starts with a man’s death by fire where a strange dog-like demon stays to witness and then reports back to a woman. That same woman has a teenager in the back of her car, hooded and kidnapped. Later at the hospital, it is clear that the man survived after all, but is terribly burned. The doctor helping him is surprised by a strange figure with two heads and a body sewn together who demands her help. With such strange things afoot, the story moves to Mona, a 10-year-old girl who gets caught up as the world turns to chaos around her. After being left home alone on Halloween, Mona discovers a huge horned creature on her couch. Running away, she tries to reach the police station and takes a short cut through the cemetery. It is there that she meets the others who will join her in her Halloween quest: a vampire, a ghoul, and a living doll. Halloween is just getting started!

A warning first of all, this is not a graphic novel for 10-year-olds, even though the protagonist is that young. Save this one for teenagers who will revel in its grotesque creatures and gore. The panels include maiming, death and dismemberment vividly shown, and often done with a sly sense of humor. This book offers a demon horde determined to take over the world with only a handful of teens and children to try to stop them and one rather inept mummy. The plot offers a satisfying adventure and hero’s journey through a landscape of horrors with pacing that adds to the humor as well as the fright.

Drawn in black and white, the illustrations are captivatingly macabre. Even the human characters like Mona have over-large heads, tiny bodies and eyes that look right at readers. Howard leans into the gross factor, creating gore in black ink that you swear is actually blood red. With a diverse cast of characters, including Mona’s parent who uses the pronouns they/them.

Perfect for teens who enjoy blood, gore and demons mixed with lots of humor. Appropriate for ages 13-17.

Reviewed from e-galley provided by Iron Circus Comics.

Spindlefish and Stars by Christiane M. Andrews

Cover image of Spindlefish and Stars

Spindlefish and Stars by Christiane M. Andrews (9780316496018)

Clo has grown up on the road with her father. They move from village to village, taking small things every time but also repairing and fixing paintings too. When her father doesn’t return one morning, Clo puts their regular leaving plan in action, waiting for him in the woods. But her father doesn’t come, instead sending a boy with a strange ticket and a garbled written message to head to the harbor. There Clo finds she has a half passage aboard a strange ship. They take her to a strange gray island where there are no seasons, no day or night. Clo must wait there for her father to join her. She makes one friend, Cary, on the island where she can’t understand what anyone else is saying except for him. Her grandmother has taken her in, trying to force her to eat a strangely cold and fishy stew that Clo refuses to even try. Her grandmother wants Clo to work, but Clo is busy trying to watch for her father and to figure out the mysteries of the island itself. Clo steadily figures out the mysteries of the island, but it may not be enough to save herself and her father.

Based on Greek mythology, this children’s novel is a marvel of a book. It steadily reveals itself, a puzzle started by an ink-blotched note, a strange transport via ship, and then an even more odd island. One knows there is more going on, but the book holds it back, revealing it to the reader just before Clo herself begins to figure things out. The ties to mythology are dazzling, offering the Fates and Icarus as major characters, though not obvious at first. The pacing here is just right, never losing itself in the grayness of the island nor moving too quickly to resolution.

Clo is a great heroine, braver than many would be in her situation. She is opinionated and stubborn, two qualities that serve her well as she figures out the mysteries of the island and does not bow down to the pressure to conform. Her connection with others serves as a beacon for her to find a way forward, even as it threatens her own existence.

Tantalizing, puzzling and very satisfying, this Greek myth fantasy dazzles. Appropriate for ages 9-12.

Reviewed from e-galley provided by Little, Brown Books for Young Readers.

The Sisters of Straygarden Place by Hayley Chewins

The Sisters of Straygarden Place cover image

The Sisters of Straygarden Place by Hayley Chewins (9781536212273)

Mayhap lives with her two sisters in Straygarden Place, a magical mansion that caters to all of their needs. The house feeds them, tucks them into bed at night, and gives them anything they wish for. But the house can’t bring back their parents, who disappeared into the tall silver grass that surrounds the house seven years ago. Now Winnow, the oldest of the sisters, has entered the grass herself. When she returns, she is different: her eyes are turning silver and she is unable to speak. Mayhap in particular seems to upset Winnow, so Pavonine, the youngest cares for her. Meanwhile, Mayhap is determined to figure out how to save her sister. She encounters a mysterious other girl in the house, one who claims to have been there a long time and who is connected with the house. As Mayhap begins to unravel the mystery of the house, she must face the truth about herself and her sisters and what has been stolen from them all.

Chewins has created a delicious mystery here. It’s a marvelously constricted mystery, set in a house that no one dares leave, surrounded by sentient grass, and filled with strange contraptions, rules and delights. It’s the ideal book for a pandemic lockdown, sharing much of the qualities of our lives over the past few months. Chewins has created a truly eerie setting, the grass whispering at the windows and the house revealing spaces that the girls never knew existed. The clues are glimpses into their own past as well as that of the house itself.

The entire book is filled with marvelous details. There are the dogs who climb into the girls’ heads so that they can sleep. There are the carpets that thicken to provide padding or move to carry Mayhap to a new part of the house. There are delightful meals provided by the house, that can be clues as well. And a coffee-scented library that makes one want to linger with the living card catalog. Mayhap herself is a grand heroine, willing to sacrifice herself for her sisters and determined to understand what is actually happening to them all.

A genre-breaking book that is a fantasy-mystery with Victorian delights and horrors that will enter your dreams. Appropriate for ages 9-12.

Reviewed from e-galley provided by Candlewick.

Lightfall: The Girl & the Galdurian by Tim Probert

Lightfall cover image

Lightfall: The Girl & the Galdurian by Tim Probert (9780062990471)

Bea lives with her adopted grandfather, the Pig Wizard. Their life is quiet and simple with Bea entering the forest each day to gather ingredients for the potions they sell. Then one day, when Bea falls from a tall tree, she meets Cad. Cad is a Galdurian, a member of the ancient race who created the lights in the sky and rescued everyone from constant darkness. When they return to the shop, the Pig Wizard is gone, headed out on a quest that may or may not be real thanks to his faulty memory. Bea and Cad head after him, journeying across the land and encountering many strange and dangerous things. There are huge crabs that try to kill them, lizard men who try to eat them, and a pack rat who keeps stealing Bea’s Jar of Endless Flame. Meanwhile, in darkness, more creatures are stirring, creatures who are after what Bea has and who will follow her anywhere to get it.

In this debut graphic novel, Probert shows himself to be a graphic novelist of superb skill. The art and story flow together seamlessly, creating a world that shines with golden light. He creates vistas in his world so that readers can view the expanse of the continent. Then he populates this glowing world with amazing elements straight out of fantasies like the Last Airbender, Star Wars or Indiana Jones. With a sly sense of humor, he brings this world fully to life.

Cad is a marvelous hero, mowing down villains with his sword, and devoting himself to saving others. He is part frog, part giant, and full of myth and wonder. Bea is a great contrast with him. She worries a lot, the darkness spreading around her limbs and head, almost carrying her away at times. But she is also a hero, jumping in when she is needed, bravely fighting off foes and having cold feet (literally) along the way.

The first in a new graphic novel series that is sure to delight young fantasy fans. Appropriate for ages 9-12.

Reviewed from e-galley provided by HarperAlley.

Maya and the Rising Dark by Rena Barron

Maya and the Rising Dark by Rena Barron

Maya and the Rising Dark by Rena Barron (9781328635181)

Maya has started noticing strange things happening at school and around her South Side Chicago neighborhood. Cracks appear, black lightning forms, and time freezes for others near her. Her best friends try to help her figure out what is happening: one thinks it might be paranormal and ghosts which he loves, and the other believes that it can be explained by science. Maya’s father travels regularly for work, but when she follows him he doesn’t seem to be heading for the airport, instead vanishing right in front of her as if he was swallowed by the shadows. Soon Maya discovers the truth, that her father is a god-like orisha who protects the veil between their world and the Dark. That makes Maya (and her two best friends) half-orisha or godlings. When her father doesn’t return from the Dark, Maya and her friends use their budding powers to enter the Dark themselves and rescue him. But things are not that simple as the human world itself is threatened by the Lord of Shadows.

Barron blends modern American Midwestern life with African legends into one amazing world where gods walk among humans, veils obscure parallel worlds, and dangers emerge from darkness. The Chicago neighborhood is full of gods and godlings, all black and brown characters who create a real community. The world building offers explanations of the various legendary creatures that the characters encounter, woven nicely into the narrative.

Maya and her friends are a great team, offering a mix of beliefs in paranormal, African magic, and science. The three of them also always have each other’s backs, using their powers to help, their intelligence to solve the puzzles they face, and their care for one another and their community as a foundation.

A great middle-grade fantasy with African origins and strong characters. Appropriate for ages 9-12.

Reviewed from e-galley provided by HMH Books for Young Readers.

The Daughters of Ys by M. T. Anderson

Daughters of Ys by M. T. Anderson

The Daughters of Ys by M. T. Anderson, illustrated by Jo Rioux (9781626728783)

Based on a Briton folktale, this graphic novel takes us to the fantasy world of Ys. There, two sisters grow up together in a castle crafted by their mother at the edge of the sea. The two sisters each have elements of their mother’s personality, but when their mother dies the two drift apart. Rozenn, the eldest and heir, is most comfortable out on the moors with the animals. Dahut though enjoys the castle and figures out how to control the sea monster that protects their city from attacks from the sea. Dahut must make dark choices to keep her power flowing, something she resents as Rozenn spends her time away from court. When that darkness attacks Ys, secrets are revealed and battles waged.

Intriguing and fascinating, this graphic novel is marvelously dark and twisted. Anderson focuses on the two sisters, leaving the weak king to his own devices. The two are very different, one abandoning her station and the crown while the other sacrificed herself to keep Ys vibrant and safe. At the same time, Rozenn remains the pure and natural one while Dahut must do the dirty work of power. The question of who is the heroine of the book is haunting.

The art is equally unique, moving from brightness to almost murky underwater colors. The illustrations follow the story perfectly, becoming almost oppressive as the choices made come back to challenge both sisters. The two sisters on the page are depicted very differently too, showing one beautiful but plainly adorned while the other wears finery and jewels.

Rich, dramatic and wild. Appropriate for ages 13-16.

Reviewed from e-galley provided by First Second.

Elatsoe by Darcie Little Badger

Elatsoe by Darcie Little Badger

Elatsoe by Darcie Little Badger (9781646140053)

Elatsoe has the ability to raise the dead, though raising human dead is dangerous and filled with too much risk. She has though raised her dog back from the dead and he goes everywhere with her. Now Elatsoe’s cousin has been murdered. He came to her in a dream to tell her who killed him. Elatsoe and her family travel to Willowbee, a picture-perfect town where the man who killed her cousin reigns as the owner of the medical clinic and wealthy citizen. Elatsoe and her best friend begin to investigate Willowbee and this man, uncovering a sinister world of medical procedures, greed and the undead. They just have to stay alive long enough to figure out how everything fits together.

The author has created a debut fantasy novel that features a familiar American landscape that is imbued with magic of several varieties. The main character and her family use skills that come from their Lipan Apache heritage. Others use fey magic and travel via rings of mushrooms. Still others are vampires or psychics. It’s a rich tapestry of fantasy, centered on Native American culture. That tapestry is impressive on its own but adding to the appeal is a deep murder mystery as well as a facade that must fall. It’s a gripping mystery solved via sleuthing and magic.

The characters are marvelously drawn. Ellie is the main character, a girl deeply connected to her Lipan Apache heritage and who longs to explore her powers further. She is brave, determined and resilient in the face of a favorite cousin being murdered. Her best friend helps with research, showering her with texts as he learns more. The two of them together are funny and warm, just what the book needs to offset the grim mystery at times.

An incredible new voice in fantasy. Here’s hoping she writes many more! Appropriate for ages 12-15.

Reviewed from e-galley provided by Levine Querido.

The Time of Green Magic by Hilary McKay

The Time of Green Magic by Hilary McKay

The Time of Green Magic by Hilary McKay (9781534462762)

When Abi’s father starts to date and then marries Max and Louis’ mom, her entire life is upended. The best part though is that they move into a very special house together, where Abi has her own room, there is a cemetery with foxes, and Abi can have a bit of space. Still, she does have to put up with a new mother, a rather dirty little brother, and become a middle child instead of being an only child. The house the family moves into, after a long search for a home they can afford, is covered with ivy and soon strange things start to happen. When Abi, who loves to read, truly becomes engrossed in a book, she actually enters it, returning covered in salt spray or with parrots flashing across the room. Louis finds a new friend who emerges from the ivy, a cat-like thing that becomes larger as time goes by. It’s all beautiful and enchanting, until suddenly the danger becomes real and the three children must figure out how to save themselves from the magic of the house.

I have always adored McKay’s books about realistic families who tumble through life in a mash of spilled book bags, beloved stories, messy rooms, and lots of love. McKay uses that same template here, providing readers with a blended family just barely making things work with damp school uniforms, a French babysitter more interested in art, and three new siblings finding their way at school and home. Here though, she injects a burst of real magic that takes the story directly into magical realism and fantasy, something she is incredible good at as well.

As always, it is McKay’s characters who are at the center of her book and story. Here we have the quiet and deep Abi, Max who is in a desperate fight with his best friend at school, and Louis who is looking for comfort. Take their blended family and remove the mother to work for a few months and you have a teetering story full of adoration, messes and wonder.

A marvelous venture into fantasy by an acclaimed author, this is worth entering the green ivy for. Appropriate for ages 9-12.

Reviewed from e-galley provided by Margaret K. McElderry Books.