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Graphic Novels

By Barbara A. Ward and Carolyn Angus
 | May 06, 2019

As temperatures start to rise and classrooms move into their last month of school before summer vacation, many educators will be looking for engaging books to keep students reading and learning all summer long. With their appealing visual format, graphic novels often seem to be just the right choice for enjoyable independent reading. Here are some of our recent favorites.

Ages 4–8

Captain Barbosa and the Pirate Hat Chase. Jorge González. 2019. Graphic Universe/Lerner.

Captain BarbosaWhen a seagull flies on board Captain Barbosa’s sailboat and steals his black hat, the pirate and his crew of an elephant, mosquito, and crocodile set out to recover his favorite hat. After battling stormy seas and surviving an encounter with a green, one-eyed sea monster (who fortunately is friendly and deposits their ship on the very island that is home to the seagull), Captain Barbosa spies his hat. Scaling a tall cliff to retrieve it, Captain Barbosa is in for a surprise. His hat is being used as a nursery for seagull chicks. Softly colored pencil drawings make this humorous, wordless picture book (an import from Spain) a great introduction to graphic novels for young children.
—CA

¡Vamos!: Let’s Go to the Market. Raúl the Third. Color by Elaine Bay. 2019. Versify/Houghton Mifflin.

VamosLittle Lobo (an anthropomorphized wolf) and his dog, Bernabé, deliver supplies to shops and booths in the Mercado and visit with the friendly vendors selling food, sombreros, puppets, hand-carved masks, piñatas, and other items. When he delivers some clothespins needed by Señor Duende to display the magazines and comic books he sells in his stall, Little Lobo is given a Lucha Comix featuring his favorite wrestler, El Toro. On the last delivery of the day, he unexpectedly meets El Toro, who autographs his comic, and Little Lobo gives his hero a ride home in his wagon. A humorous narrative, which smoothly mixes English and Spanish and paneled and full-page cartoon artwork, invites young children to read ¡Vamos! again and again. A Spanish–English glossary is appended.
—CA

The Wolf in Underpants. Wilfrid Lupano. Trans. Nathan Sacks. Ill. Mayana Itoïz & Paul Cauuet. 2019. Graphic Universe/Lerner.

The Wolf in UnderpantsA community of woodland animals lives in fear of the wolf. Even the anti-wolf brigade shakes with fear as the here-comes-the-wolf alarm is sounded. But when the wolf arrives, no one can believe he’s the wolf with crazy eyes and fangs like ice picks that they fear. The wolf is wearing red-and-white striped underpants that have, he explains, changed his life by taking care of his “cold butt problem.” No longer having the fear of the wolf central to their lives leaves everyone confused until someone points out a missing-person poster. “If it wasn’t the wolf, what happened to those Little Pigs who disappeared?” The final page provides a clue—and something new to fear. The colorful cartoon artwork of this funny and slightly scary graphic novel/picture book hybrid, originally published in France, will delight young children.
—CA

Ages 9–11

The Mutts Summer Diaries (Mutts Kids #5). Patrick McDonnell. 2019. Andrews McMeel.

The Mutts Summer DiariesThis amusing collection of comic strips featuring best friends, canine Earl and feline Mooch, enjoying summertime is as refreshing as a glass of lemonade on a hot summer day. Like many of us, Mooch and Earl laze the days away as they savor the slower pace of life and deal with the hot weather. When their human companions head to the beach for their family vacation, Mooch and Earl go along, snacking on ice cream while pondering the mysteries of life, watching whales, and getting to know the other creatures on the beach. An appended “More to Explore” section offers brief information on dolphins, squids, blue whales, seagulls, mussels, and other sea life the two friends encounter during their summer adventures. Readers of all ages can continue enjoying the clever humor of Patrick McDonnell’s syndicated cartoons about Mooch and Earl in the earlier books in the Mutt series.
—BW

Polar Bears: Survival on the Ice (Get to Know Your Universe!). Jason Viola. Ill. Zack Giallongo. 2019. First Second/Roaring Brook.

Survival on the IceThis entry in the informative and entertaining Science Comic series takes readers to the Arctic, the home of polar bear cubs Anik and Ila, where they will learn about the biology of polar bears as the mother of these two playful cubs teaches them everything they need to know about polar bear life and survival on the ice. The lessons, delivered in colorful illustrations, include learning about the characteristics of the polar bear (Ursus maritimus), its environment, and the essentials of polar bear behavior. The cubs must master skills and strategies related to hunting and eating seals, establishing a home range and protecting it, the “dos and don’ts” of mating, and awareness of threats to the survival of polar bears. Back matter includes a glossary, ice terminology, notes, and further reading.
—CA

Rocket to the Moon! (Big Ideas That Changed the World #1). Don Brown. 2019. Amulet/Abrams.

Rocket to the MoonIn this first book in his new informational graphic novel series, Rodman Law, career parachutist, building climber, and movie stuntman, narrates this history of rocket-building and spaceflights (both successes and failures) that led to NASA’s Apollo 11 landing of the first humans on the moon on July 20, 1969. Rocket to the Moon! ends with Rodman Law’s reminder that “one bright idea followed another, until the big idea to fly to the moon changed the world forever.” Brown’s graphic artwork adds visual humor to the accessible and well-researched account of key events. Back matter includes a timeline (from the publication of Jules Verne’s From the Earth to the Moon in 1865 to NASA’s launch of the Parker Solar Probe on August 12, 2018), a brief biography of Rodman Law (18851919), source notes on quotations, a bibliography, an author’s note, and an index.
—CA

Ages 12–14

Hephaistos: God of Fire (Olympians #11). George O’Connor. 2019. First Second/Roaring Brook.

HephaistosAs George O’Connor’s popular graphic novel series about Greek gods and goddesses comes to an end, readers will be delighted to see several of the immortals living on Mount Olympus finally get their comeuppance. Hephaistos highlights just how messed up the family dynamics of the Olympians are as Zeus pursues woman after woman and his long-suffering wife, Hera, berates him in a pointless attempt to change his ways, and Hephaistos, the god of fire, is duped by his beautiful wife, Aphrodite, who dallies with Ares while he is distracted with a task Ares has given him. When the cuckolded god finds out what’s going on right under his nose, he exacts revenge in a fitting way. O'Connor has brought these ancient stories of the Olympians to life in graphic format, making them easier for modern audiences to understand. Although the setting may be Mount Olympus and ancient Greece, these stories have much to teach readers about human nature.
—BW

The Iliad. Homer. Adapt. Gareth Hinds. 2019. Candlewick.

The IliadGareth Hinds retells Homer’s epic poem The Iliad,set during the tenth year of the Trojan War, in which the Acheans (Greeks) lay siege to Troy to return Helen (the daughter of Zeus and wife of Menelaus), who was seduced by Paris, Prince of Troy, and seek revenge and treasure by conquering Troy. With stunning, paneled artwork (done in pencil, watercolor, and digital media) and accessible prose, Hind’s well-researched and beautifully crafted adaptation of The Iliad will be enjoyed by those familiar with Homer’s epic of war as well as newcomers. Front matter includes a chart with portraits, names, and identifications of Achaeans, Trojans, and Gods who play important roles in the tale and a prologue. Back matter includes an extensive author’s note, a map of the armies that gathered at Troy, page-by-page notes, and a bibliography. Readers will also be interested in Hind’s graphic novel companion volume Odyssey (2010).
—CA

Ages 15+

Kid Gloves: Nine Months of Careful Chaos. Lucy Knisley. 2019. First Second Books/Roaring Brook.

Kid GlovesAs she has in previous books, authorillustrator Lucy Knisley shares her own journey, this time focusing on the ups and downs in her education on sexual health as a teen, contraception, fertility problems, and miscarriages before she finally successfully gives birth to a son following a difficult pregnancy. Along with her personal story, Knisley provides information on the science and history of reproductive health and debunks myths and old wives' tales about it. Kid Gloves is not only informative but also filled with love, heart, and warm humor. The book’s graphic novel format makes it an appealing and accessible choice for teens.  
—BW

Kiss Number 8. Colleen AF Venable. Ill. Ellen T. Crenshaw. 2019. First Second/Roaring Brook.

Kiss Number 8It’s 2004, and life is good for Amanda (Mads), a senior at a Catholic high school who enjoys spending time with her good friends, Laura, Adam, and fun-loving Cat, and her best friend, her father, with whom she loves attending minor league baseball games and watching TV. Overhearing a phone conversation that upsets her father and the behavior of her parents that follows lead Mads to believe they are hiding a secret from her. Mads is also beginning to realize that she has a crush on Cat. The results are a messy and confusing tangle of relationship with her family and friends. How can she confront her parents about this family secret? Is she really more interested in kissing girls than in kissing boys? Panels of expressive black-and-white artwork and realistic dialogue, with a balance of angst and humor, make Kiss Number 8 an engaging and thought-provoking story for teen readers.
—CA

Barbara A. Ward teaches graduate and undergraduate courses in literacy at Washington State University, Pullman. She spent 25 years teaching in the public schools of New Orleans, where she worked with students at every grade level, from kindergarten through high school as well as several ability levels. She is certified in elementary education, English education, and gifted education. She holds a bachelor's degree in communications, a master's in English education from the University of Tennessee and a PhD in curriculum and instruction from the University of New Orleans. Carolyn Angus is former director of the George G. Stone Center for Children's Books, Claremont Graduate University, in Claremont, California.

These reviews are submitted by members of the International Literacy Association's Children's Literature and Reading Special Interest Group (CL/R SIG) and are published weekly on Literacy Daily.

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