Graphic novels are big in this house. We have been big fans for quite some time. It is actually the format that my younger daughter prefers to read. There have been arguments that graphic novels are “less than” the standard book format or that the shouldn’t count as quality reading. All reading is quality reading. Your kid likes to read Sports Illustrated? Great! Dogman? Join the club. The Harry Potter series? You get the picture. All reading is good. Finding that you enjoy and comprehend written text is hugely important. Additionally, we often forget the generational aspect of it. Our kids today are accustomed to images with everything. They are used to being multi-modal when it comes to media. It isn’t surprising that many have found graphic novels to be relaxing and fun. Graphic novels have an extra layer of decoding and are great for visual learners. Regardless of your opinion, graphic novels are here to stay and they are going to start being utilized in school.
The thing about graphic novels is that they come in many different varieties. It is a format, not a genre. Non-fiction graphic novels are a wonderful way to understand facts on a deeper level. Today, I have another list of middle grade graphic novels that are all fiction, but some deal with social-emotional issues, some are simply silly, some are fantasy, some realistic, and some historical fiction. These are all great books to add to your collection.
I wasn’t sure what to expect from BonHyung Jeong’s new book Kyle’s Little Sister, but I am always up for review copies of graphic novels. From the title, you would think that it is about the relationship and experiences of Grace who is starting a new school under her brother’s shadow. This does play into the story, but it is more of a background setting to Grace’s experiences in middle school. Middle school is tough. Kyle’s Little Sister focuses on the realities of middle school – how friendships can be challenging, how they are all changing so much, the unfortunate reality of bullying and peer pressure, and being used by other students. Middle school is definitely a difficult time and it impacts everyone differently. Jeong captures all of this. This book comes from the same publishing house that brought us Awkward and any fans of that series will devour this one as well.
For the kids that want their books a bit on the silly side but still want a full story, the new graphic novel Oh My Gods! fits the bill. When I first read this as a review copy I wasn’t sure how I felt about it. Then my 10 year old read the printed version and loved it. That’s a darn good recommendation to me. The concept is that Karen is your average 13 year old who lives with her single mother and loves video games. She has to go live with her dad for a year and after a long period of being completely clueless, she discovers that her father is Zeus. When students at her school get turned to stone, Karen and her new mythological friends try to figure it out. The whole story is a rather tongue in cheek way of looking at mythology, but new takes on these classic stories are needed and the intended audience of 8-12 year olds will thoroughly enjoy this.
So I finally got around to reading Allergic: The Graphic Novel. This is a quality addition to the realistic fiction graphic novel category. All Maggie has ever wanted was a dog. On her 10th birthday she goes to get one only to find out that she is highly allergic to all pet dander and feathers. Great birthday present. She can’t even be in the room with a new class pet. Maggie deals with a variety of issues that face 10 year olds – her mom is pregnant, her younger twin brothers don’t seem to need her anymore, and this allergy business is messing with her life. Megan Wagner Lloyd and Michelle Mee Nutter do a great job bringing Maggie’s story to life as she learns some lessons about friendship, communication, and the joy of allergy shots. A solid 5 star for the 8-12 crowd.
Chad Sells’ Cardboard Kingdom has been a fan favorite among 2nd and 3rd graders. Each child inhabits their own character, whether knight, sorceress, or monster. The Cardboard Kingdom #2: Roar of the Beast brings back all of those characters on a deeper level as one of the children has started to get bullied by the neighborhood teens. They are all getting ready to celebrate Halloween when Vijay, aka the Beast, gets bullied by neighborhood “monsters.” He gives up his alter-ego and sinks into a funk. We all do that from time to time and need our friends to help pull us up out of it. So it is for the CK crew. This is a great sequel that really shows how deep the Cardboard Kingdom books are.
Sometimes I find books challenging to review. Living with Viola (October 26, 2021) by Rosena Fung is that kind of book. It is a story about fitting in, mental health, cultural differences, and middle school in general. Olivia is a middle school student with some severe anxiety issues. She is also the “new girl” at her school. Her anxiety is played out by her inner demon, Viola. Olivia comes from a strict Chinese family with high expectations. Her biggest passion is drawing, but she feels an expectation looming over her head that she attend medical school. The focus of the book is on Viola, her constant inner voice that is always belittling her and saying how wrong and alone she is. The representation is spot on, but painful to read. For the teenager going through similar issues, and there are many, this book might be a great way to see that they are not alone, that depression and anxiety are not things to be ashamed of, and that talking about things and hiding less can help you. Living with Viola is a powerful read that isn’t necessarily fun, but it is important.
At some point in the last number of months I had heard positive rumblings about Witches of Brooklyn by Sophie Escabasse. I finally picked it up and it is a great story! After losing her mother, Effie is dropped on the doorstep of her step-aunt who is old enough to be her grandmother and is not thrilled to be the next of kin. Selimene and Carlota are definitely strange and work as herbalists and acupuncturists. Turns out that they are also witches and Effie has latent powers that start to come to the surface, especially when she is angry. Effie also starts school and makes a few friends when she is partnered with them for a project. When a famous star winds up at their house desperately needing their help, it turns out that what she needs is to be true to herself. There is a very clear message that it is important for us to follow our own paths, not to get caught up in “names” and social media, and to do what makes you happy. There is also a very interesting conversation about the fact that artists and celebrities can let us down. If their art is what moves us, we have to make a decision on whether we can separate something we know about their personal life and/or opinions from what they create. This is a great book for middle graders.
Another book that I am super excited about came out earlier this week – the graphic novel adaptation of the first Magic Treehouse book, Dinosaurs Before Dark. These books hold a special place in my heart for a variety of reasons and the graphic novel adaptation is absolutely fabulous. It holds true to the original story but helps bring it alive in a new way. While I still think that kids should read the standard Magic Treehouse books, this is a great way to get them enticed into the series and to meet Jack and Annie.
Another classic favorite series that has introduced a graphic novel format is I Survived by Lauren Tarshis. The first title published is I Survived the Nazi Invasion, 1944. These books on their own are superb and well-loved by tons of kids. The graphic novel, with art by Alvaro Sarraseca, stays true to the feeling of the chapter book and brings the story to life. The color choices mirror the emotions of the story and help move things along. This series lends itself well to graphic novel adaptations, although I don’t want to see kids stop reading the originals which are an amazing introduction into historical fiction.
When I started my final internship at a local elementary school, one of the series that I noticed on the graphic novel shelves was Secret Coders by the great storyteller Gen Luen Yang and drawn by Mike Holmes. It wasn’t checked out that much during the K-3 classes that I saw, but the 4th and 5th graders seemed to enjoy it as they were often checked out. The first book introduces the characters, clues the reader into what binary numbers are, and sets the stage for future adventures. This is the type of book that would be great for those who like to solve puzzles and also have adventures.