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Graphic Novels

By Barbara A. Ward
 | Apr 30, 2018

Covering a wide variety of genres, topics, and narrative styles, the graphic novel offers a highly visual format for engaging all types of readers and for making cross-curricular connections. This week’s column highlights some recently published graphic texts that are strong choices for inclusion in classroom and library collections.

Ages 4–8

Monsters Beware! (Chronicles of Claudette #3). Jorge Aguirre. Ill. Rafael Rosado. 2018. First Second/Roaring Brook.

Monsters Beware!Claudette marches to her own beat—a quality that goes unappreciated by many in her town. When Mont Petit Pierre hosts the Warrior Games, she's eager to use her sword-fighting skills to bring glory to her hometown. But after her brother, Gaston, and friend, Marie, join her team, the marquis softens the competition events because his wife doesn’t want to endanger their daughter. To Claudette's dismay, the teams compete in fierce bouts of butter churning, table-setting, and weaving. Claudette’s team does not fare well, and just when she is close to victory in one event, she must make a hard choice.

New Shoes. Sara Varon. 2018. First Second/Roaring Brook.

New ShoesFrancis the donkey is thrilled to make shoes for Miss Manatee, a talented calypso singer popular in Guyana, where the story is set. There's just one problem: He needs more tiger grass, an important material for his custom-made shoes. When he realizes that Nigel, his usual supplier, has disappeared, Francis must travel through the jungle himself to find what he needs. Along the way, Francis, accompanied by Rhoda, a friendly parrot, faces several challenges, including unfamiliar terrain and a river crossing, and meets several helpful animals. The back matter includes photographs of the places and animals taken by Varon in Guyana to use as references as she was creating the book.

Ages 9–11

Bad Kitty Camp Daze (Bad Kitty #11). Nick Bruel. 2018. Neal Porter/Roaring Brook.

Bad KittyWhen a head injury causes Kitty to think she's a dog, Puppy is so traumatized by her strange behavior that he is sent to a camp to recover from his trauma. Uncle Murray's Camp for Stressed-Out Dogs provides an idyllic setting for canines to recuperate and get back their canine confidence. But this canine kingdom is in trouble when Kitty smuggles herself into camp. Kitty struggles with learning basic dog skills, such as fetching and swimming, but she enjoys the campfire stories. After sniffing some catnip, she channels her inner cat goddess and returns to her cat self, darting into the woods. But the woods are no place for a feline, even one like Bad Kitty, and she and Uncle Murray, her would-be rescuer, come face to face with a bear. Nick Bruel doesn't show readers what happens to the bear, but it's quite clear that it wasn't pretty, judged by how proudly Kitty leaves the battleground with her head and tail held high.

Sparks! Ian Boothby. Ill. Nina Matsumoto. 2018. Graphix/Scholastic.

Sparks!An intelligent, talking litter box narrates this humorous yet inspiring story. After two cats, August and Charlie, escape from an animal testing lab, they decide to fight local crime. Disguised in a mechanical dog suit, the partners leap to the rescue when someone is in peril. Meanwhile, a strange couple with an adorable baby appears at the most surprising places and times. Alert readers will realize right away that they can't be trusted, and won't be surprised when Charlie is lured into their home. The villains even persuade the cats’ squirrel friend, Steve, to betray them. While the friendships depicted here aren't perfect, August proves that he will do anything for Charlie.

Ages 12–14

The Dragonet Prophecy (Wings of Fire Graphic Novel #1). Tui T. Sutherland. Adapt. Barry Deutsch. Ill. Mike Holmes. 2018. Graphix/Scholastic.

Wings of FireThis graphic novel version of the first book in Sutherland’s popular fantasy series provides insight into the dragons' personalities and how desperately the five dragonets, who are destined to change the world, want to escape from their underground prison. Had one of them not been threatened by their minders, they still might have remained hidden beneath that mountain. In this book, readers watch Clay, the mudwing dragon, develop and resist some of his darker urges. Vibrant artwork depicts the brave but perilous escape of Clay and Tsunami and dramatic battle scenes.

Hermes: Tales of the Trickster (Olympians #10). George O’Connor. 2018. Neal Porter/First Second/Roaring Brook.

HermesOnce again, George O'Connor brings the classic myths of Greek gods and goddesses in all their glorious imperfection to life, focusing on trickster Hermes in this latest book. Knowledgeable readers will know to question anything they see or hear from Hermes. The son of Zeus, Hermes is able to slip from the cave where his mother is hiding him to avoid Hera’s wrath, and steal Apollo's cows on his first day of life. From there, he wreaks havoc in Olympus and on Earth. Complemented by lavish, detailed artwork, sometimes relying on panels sliced into interesting strips and sometimes featuring a double-page spread of an important scene, the storytelling is engaging with subtle character development hinting at the human frailties of some of the gods and goddesses.

Robots and Drones: Past, Present and Future (Science Comics). Mairghread Scott. Ill. Jacob Chabot. 2018. First Second/Roaring Brook.

Robots & DronesAlmost as irresistible as a potato chip from a newly opened bag, each book in the Science Comics series deep dives into a specific topic—in this case, robots and drones. Depicted visually with vivid colors and in panels of different shapes and sizes, the science concepts are easy to understand. From Pouli, a mechanized bird invented in 350 BCE in Italy, and on to the karakuri ningyo in the 1600s in Japan, and all the way to modern times when rovers travel across the terrain of planets and virtual assistants such as Alexa and Siri respond to the voices of their owners, it's clear that robots have been part of our lives longer than we realized. While readers learn a lot about the usefulness of robots and drones, which may have an even greater impact on the future, the book challenges some assumptions about them. The book also explores fears associated with robots and raises ethical questions about artificial intelligence. Back matter includes snippets about 25 interesting and noteworthy robots.

Ages 15+

Brazen: Rebel Ladies Who Rocked the World. Pénélope Bagieu. Trans. Montana Kane. 2018. First Second/Roaring Brook.

BrazenThis collective biography in graphic novel format highlights 29 “rebel ladies” who brazenly took risks and changed their little corners of the world. The characters include familiar names, such as Nellie Bly, Mae Jemison, and Peggy Guggenheim, as well as unspoken heroes, such as Agnodice, Giorgina Reid, and Sonita Alizadeh. Bagieu devotes several multi-paneled pages to detail each subject's life from birth to death with milestones along the way, represented through meaningful colors and symbols. The individual panels rely on intricate drawings and carefully chosen colors to bring the subjects—women whose activities made them forces to reckon with—to life. The artwork is so detailed that readers can see facial wrinkles clearly present and eyes filled with intelligence, awareness, and determination.

The Prince and the Dressmaker. Jen Wang. 2018. First Second/Roaring Brook.

The Prince and the DressmakerMuch to his dismay, Prince Sebastian's parents have decided that it's time for him to take a bride. The prince is troubled because he worries that his penchant for wearing dresses will be revealed. His secret has been guarded by two trustworthy individuals, one of whom is Frances, his dressmaker, who has designed several exquisite gowns he has worn on public outings under the guise of Lady Crystallia. But Sebastian’s insistence on secrecy threatens his relationship with Frances and her ambitions as a designer, since no one can associate her with the prince’s hidden life. In a sense, she, too, is kept in a closet because of this. But Sebastian’s fondness for women’s couture is revealed in a very public and humiliating way. Pushing firmly against boundaries about gender, appearance, and expectations, this graphic novel is also highly entertaining. Read it for the love story. Read it for the secrets. Read it for the gowns. But above all, read it to open your heart.

Speak: The Graphic Novel. Laurie Halse Anderson. Ill. Emily Carroll. 2018. Farrar, Straus and Giroux.

SpeakGiven its pitch-perfect metaphors and descriptions of nature as well as it current relevance, this ground-breaking story of a sexual assault translates powerfully into a graphic format. Readers observe Melinda's first fumbling attempts at creative expression, and then her work as it transforms, revealing much about what she has endured over the school year. Readers will cheer as Melinda finally finds her voice, holds a shard of glass to the throat of her once- and would-be rapist, and urges the other girls to call the police. Even though the graphic novel version of the story has been updated so that there are references to cell phones and technology, those additions aren't intrusive. This story will resonate with teen readers, who will feel connected to Melinda through the powerful, stark black-and-white illustrations. 

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 degree in English education from the University of Tennessee and a PhD in Curriculum and Instruction from the University of New Orleans.

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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