• Book Reviews

Book Reviews: We Love Graphic Novels!

by the CL/R SIG
August 11, 2014

Is it a comic book? Is it a history book? Wasn’t that a “regular” novel just a few years ago? Isn’t that a true story? Is THAT a graphic novel?

This genre is getting hard to define as it is a genre containing other genres. From picture book to novel or from fiction to nonfiction, graphic novels are an increasingly popular visual literary art form that tells a story. Reaching the youngest of emerging readers to the historical/political savvy of YA and adult readers, graphic novels offer a way of looking at story that is becoming extremely popular. In addition to original fiction, the graphic novel can bring history alive through pictures as well as in areas of science. Recently, the adaptation of popular award winners is moving to the graphic novel format. Check out The Graveyard Book (Newbery Award, 2009), the Twilight Saga books, or Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children. Readers can also enjoy Shakespeare, Dracula, or Greek myths as the reach graphic novel expands. This week the Children’s Literature and Reading Special Interest Group reviews some of the 2014 titles that add to the growing body of graphic novels.

Grades K-2

Cammuso, Frank. (2014). The Misadventures of Salem Hyde. Book Two: Big Birthday Bash. New York: Amulet Books/Abrams.

Young readers met Salem Hyde, young witch-in-training, in the first book Spelling Trouble where she created problems for the school spelling bee. Now she is back with her guardian cat cohort, Whammy, with an invitation to Edgar’s birthday party and new troubles begin. She wants to bring the best birthday present ever and there is a calamitous shopping trip. Always acting before thinking, Salem turns herself into a giant. At the birthday party, thinking she has turned the presents into gigantic offerings, she has actually turned all the children into very small creatures and when squirrels and birds show up and attempt to carry off the children, Salem has to perform some magic and fast. Fearing she has ruined the party for her host, Edgar is thrilled at the turn of events from the ordinary and boring. From the comical artwork to the puns and childlike humor, young readers will laugh out loud at the zany antics of Salem. The publisher also offers a teacher’s guide to teaching graphic novels at their website.

—Karen Hildebrand, Ohio Library and Reading Consultant

Holm, Jennifer K. (2014). Babymouse #18: Happy Birthday, Babymouse. New York: Random House.

Welcome back Babymouse for volume 18 in the series. Though Babymouse has had a few disastrous birthdays in the past, she is determined that this year will be the biggest and best birthday party ever! She begins her big plan only to discover that Felicia Furrypaws’ birthday party is on the very same day as hers and has already invited all of Babymouse’s friends. Babymouse learns that Felicia is going to have a band and a circus entertain her party. How can she top that? As Babymouse has another unforgettable birthday, she learns the meaning of true friendships. The popular pink, black and white illustrations readers have come to love in Babymouse continue to enchant readers as they bring this new slice of life and reality to the world of Babymouse. Teachers will find the extra classroom resources available at the publisher’s website to use for extension activities or any classroom birthday party.

—Karen Hildebrand, Ohio Library and Reading Consultant

Kochalka, James. (2104). The Glorkian Warrior Delivers a Pizza. New York: First Second.

For young readers looking for the zany and silly outrageous acts of strange-looking aliens, this is the book. When a call from a mysterious and apparently wrong number orders a pizza, the Glorkian Warrior and his faithful sidekick yellow Super Backpack, set out to deliver the leftover peanut butter and clam pizza from his fridge just to embark on an adventure. The dialog between GW and his backpack is fun to read or listen to and the humor of the book is complemented by the extraterrestrial beings encountered. The Glorkian Warrior has his own website with book trailer included.

—Karen Hildebrand, Ohio Library and Reading Consultant

Rowe, Thereza. (2014). Hearts. New York: Candlewick.

From the beautiful end papers to the sparse text inside, this surreal story of a broken heart is told through pictures and the slight use of text. When Penelope the fox watches her friend rocket off to other worlds, her heart is broken. When her broken heart drops into the sea, a chase begins taking Penelope into the ocean and other unusual places with unusual images. When a new friendship begins, another sacrifice is placed in front of Penelope. From the Brazilian British author/illustrator Thereza Rowe this haunting story will reach many age levels as the almost wordless picture book presents a story of loss and newfound hope. An author note at the end adds to the meaning of the story. This book is from the publisher’s Toon series designed for early readers. Enjoy an animated book trailer at the author’s website. Teachers could also make use of the educator guide with CCSS/ELA connections at the Toon website.

—Karen Hildebrand, Ohio Library and Reading Consultant

Sanna, Alessandro. (2014). The River. Translated by Michael Reynolds. Brooklyn, NY:
Enchanted Lion Books.

The debut of Italian author/illustrator Alessandro Sanna opens with this beautiful book, The River featuring a four-season year along the Italian river, Po. A nearly wordless picture book painted with watercolor landscapes, the seasons flow along this river depicting floods in autumn to carnivals in spring. The visual riches in this book beg for comments from readers young and old. Follow the young man on his bicycle as the seasons change and as the weather becomes dangerous and observe how help arrives in the form of rescuers. Watch the light change as the book draws to a close and the cycle of life and nature continue to flow via the river. Take a special look at the internal art of this book at the Brainpickings website.

—Karen Hildebrand, Ohio Library and Reading Consultant

Grades 3-5

Bell, Cece. (Sept. 2014). El Deafo. Colorist: David Lasky. New York: Amulet Books/Abrams.

After childhood meningitis leaves 4-year-old Cece deaf, this graphic memoir tells her story of living in a silent world and trying to fit in. Her parents find a new kind of hearing aid called the Phonic Ear, which is a contraption that slips on the front of her body like a backpack. It is huge. It is designed to help her at school and includes a microphone that her teacher wears. Though at first she is embarrassed to wear this strange equipment, she soon learns it gives her an advantage that she turns into a super power. She can hear EVERYTHING her teacher says, in and out of the classroom and Cece becomes the envy of her classmates. Characters in the book are portrayed as rabbits and the character that she becomes (her alter ego) is El Deafo complete with wafting cape flowing behind her like Superman. Read more about this book at the author’s website or hear about the background on this graphic memoir at YouTube.

—Karen Hildebrand, Ohio Library and Reading Consultant

Dauvillier, Loïc. (2014). Hidden: A Child’s Story of the Holocaust. Illus. by Marc Lizano. Translated by Alexis Siegel. New York: First Second.

Young Elsa wakes up one night to discover her grandmother sitting in the dark and feeling very sad. When she asks her grandmother why, the story of Grandmother’s childhood growing up in Nazi-occupied France unfolds. Grandmother has never even told her son this story, like many World War II Holocaust survivors, revealing what happened during the 1940’s is an emotionally difficult story to tell. Through flackbacks, Grandmother shares the night the soldiers came for her parents and her childhood took a dramatic turn. With the help of kind neighbors followed by the network of resistance workers, Grandmother’s name is changed from Dounia to Simone and she takes on a French Catholic identity. As the war ends, Dounia is reunited with her near-starved mother, but she never sees her father again. This graphic novel with panels, light and dark tones, dialog and thought rectangles, presents a picture of the Holocaust of WWII that begins to explain this dark historical period for older elementary school readers.

—Karen Hildebrand, Ohio Library and Reading Consultant


Hatke, Ben. (2014). The Return of Zita the Spacegirl. New York: First Second.

Zita has returned to complete Ben Hatke’s popular spacegirl trilogy. After many interplanetary adventures and missing her super power tools, Zita finds herself punished and sentenced to the mines at Dungeon World. As seems to be Hatke’s signature for finding unusual friends and helpmates, Zita encounters two new strange friends at the dungeon, a pile of rags and a rotten skeleton. While plotting her escape, Zita meets other creatures who need to be set free as well. With lots of humorous dialog and wordplay, action-packed scenes told at a lightning-fast pace, Zita proves herself yet again to be one of the greatest heroines and intergalactic crime fighters in comic literature. Though this concludes the trilogy, the author leaves a hint at the end that more galactic adventures may be ahead.
Teachers who might like to try comic novels with their students will enjoy viewing the video at YouTube where Ben demonstrates using the web tool, PowToon. Teachers and students will enjoy this two-minute book trailer. Enjoy more background information at the author’s website/blog.

Karen Hildebrand, Ohio Library and Reading Consultant

Krosoczka, Jarrett. (2014). Lunch Lady and the Schoolwide Scuffle. New York: Alfred A. Knopf.

The final volume in the popular Lunch Lady series opens when Lunch Lady and Betty have been fired from the cafeteria due to supposed budget cuts. The evil new superintendent, Dr. Van Grindheimer has not only plastered her portrait all over the school (including the boys’ restroom), but she has put together a whole new lunchroom staff. The new staff members may look familiar to readers of this series as Krosoczka has brought back all the villains from the previous nine Lunch Lady books. The discipline measures are extreme as the Breakfast Bunch face expulsion. On a tip from the janitor, the kids head over to Grease Burger to discuss how to handle their situation. When they arrive, they discover Betty is working there and together they decide upon a plan of action. With Kosozaka’s famed graphic novel/comic style, the humorous yet simplistic cartoon illustrations provide the grand finale for the Lunch Lady series. For a very special treat, listen to author Jarrett Krosoczka as he presents his life story at the TEDx talk from October 2012. Visit the author’s website for more Lunch Lady information, book trailers, and classroom resources or check out the Lunch Lady website.

—Karen Hildebrand, Ohio Library and Reading Consultant

Maihack, Mike. (2014). Cleopatra in Space #1: Target Practice. New York: Graphix/Scholastic.

Author/artist Mike Maihack first showcased Cleopatra as a web comic. His character now debuts as a graphic novel in Cleopatra in Space. While examining a strange tablet, Cleopatra is snagged away when she was 15 years old in ancient Egypt and rocketed into the Nile galaxy thousands of years into the future only to find that she is still in algebra class. She is destined to save the galaxy yet is a little disappointed to see that she is still in school. Granted she now has some pretty cool tools, ray guns and all and actually has target practice built into her schedule. Maihack’s artwork enhances all the action that Cleo participates in as ray guns, talking cats and a flying sphinx become part of the backdrop for the story. Cleo and Zita (from review mentioned earlier) could be great friends and colleagues. The age of female intergalactic heroes has arrived. Watch for Cleopatra in Space #2, The Thief and the Sword, coming in Spring 2015.

—Karen Hildebrand, Ohio Library and Reading Consultant

Grades 6-8

Faulkner, Matt. (2014). Gaijin: American Prisoner of War. New York: Disney/Hyperion.

Based on the experience of the author’s great-aunt, Faulkner relates the story of biracial Koji Miyamoto during the Japanese internment camps of World War II. Koji’s father has returned to Japan to attend to an ailing relative just prior to the December 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor. Now as Koji walks the streets of San Francisco he comes under suspicion as being a spy. He is deported to Alameda Downs Assembly Center where his white mother chooses to stay with him and go to the detention center as well. Their life in the internment camp is not easy and once again, Koji faces racial tensions as he is labeled “gaijin,” the Japanese name for foreigners. He can identify with no one. Koji’s behavior in the camps is to lash out, be disrespectful including toward his mother and even get involved in stealing. The strength of the book lies in Faulkner’s colorful pictures to enhance the short text boxes. An author’s note at the end explains his family’s experience during this time. Use this narrated book trailer to introduce the book.

—Karen Hildebrand, Ohio Library and Reading Consultant

Gownley, Jimmy. (2014). The Dumbest Idea Ever. New York: Graphix/Scholastic.

From the creator and Eisner-nominee author/illustrator of Amelia Rules!, Jimmy Gownley has written a graphic memoir that will appeal to middle readers. When Jimmy was 13 he became ill with chicken pox followed by pneumonia. This was a real blow to his school career because missed a huge number of school days. At the top of his class academically and one of the stars of the basketball team, this debilitating time in his life was a tremendous setback to his top-of-the-heap life. As a way to pass the time he turned to drawing, which he always enjoyed. With encouragement from family and friends—and a few criticisms and setbacks along the way—Jimmy published his first online comic at age 15. It was an instant success foreshadowing his professional career entry into the graphic novel world. The author’s note at the end is a must-read for teachers. Gownley explains his reading beginnings with his mother, flash cards, and Peanuts cartoon strips. Enjoy the book trailer to use with the book and follow Jimmy on Tumblr to keep up with his current projects and gain a little insight to his career.

—Karen Hildebrand, Ohio Library and Reading Consultant

Hale, Nathan. (2014). Treaties, Trenches, Mud and Blood: A World War I Tale. New York: Amulet Books/Abrams.

Author Nathan Hale brings another moment of history into the Hazardous Tales series, this time taking readers to the front of World War I starting with the endpapers of 1914-1918 map of Europe. As in the earlier volumes, the narrator, Hale, is warding off the hangman by talking about future events in American history. Told with the help of two assistants asking questions (the hangman and provost), the war unfolds with animal-head characters; bunnies play the part of Americans. Though most of the narration describes the Western Front, major causes and battles of the war are told in graphic-novel format. For kids who don’t enjoy the textbook style of reading history, this presentation of World War I creates an intriguing introduction to the war that launched the 20th century. Visit the Hazardous Tales website.

—Karen Hildebrand, Ohio Library and Reading Consultant

McLachlan, Brian. (2013). Draw Out the Story: Ten Secrets to Creating Your Own Comics. Toronto, CA: Owlkids Books, Inc.

With all of these graphic novel and comic reviews, it seems appropriate we offer some advice to kids who are interested in creating their own. Most of the author/illustrators mentioned in these reviews admit to their love of drawing from an early age, but often were not encouraged or did not really know what to do with their talent. This book offers suggestions to budding artists and discusses how their drawings might lead to a career. The book reveals how comics show and tell, shows ways of presenting a comic, explains that stories aren’t always simple just because they are comics, emphasizes that details make a difference, and more. Teachers might like to read through this book to develop a better background and appreciation of using the comic format for classroom use.

—Karen Hildebrand, Ohio Library and Reading Consultant

Quinn, Jason. (2013). Gandhi: My Life Is My Message. Illus. by Sachin Nagar. Campfire/Kalyani Navyug Media PVT, Ltd./Random House.

This fictionalized graphic memoir presents the life of Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi, a quiet lawyer turned political leader spearheading India’s quest for freedom from the British Empire. In beautifully bold illustrations the book spans Gandhi’s life from his birth in Porbandar, India, in 1869 to his assassination in 1948. Written in first person, the author often uses thought bubbles and dialogue to replay the timeline of Gandhi’s life events. From arguments with his wife to his travels in South Africa to the development of his nonviolent philosophies, his life unfolds with eye-catching watercolor panels. Readers will see many sides of Gandhi from the man who often left his family to the man who was martyred for his vehement stand and philosophies of freedom. Additional resources at the end of the book include books, films, websites, quotes, and a chronology of his life.

—Karen Hildebrand, Ohio Library and Reading Consultant

Grades 9-12

Bertozzi, Nick. (2014). Shackleton: Antarctic Odyssey. New York: First Second.

From the creator of Lewis and Clark (2011), this factually based graphic novel comes out this year in time to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the Imperial Trans-Antarctic Expedition of 1914-17, better known as the Shackleton Expedition. Bertozzi’s text and white, black, and gray fine-line pen illustrations begin with the preparations for the adventure. Bertozzi includes labeled sketches of the crew, the ship’s cat Mrs. Chippy, and the entire named team of 34 dogs. Opposite of this page is a drawing of the ship, The Endurance, with separate drawings of the four lifeboats. Throughout the book, he includes maps and diagrams of the odyssey. The Shackleton Expedition was successful in that everyone survived. The leadership of Ernest Shackleton and the esprit de corps that he maintained throughout this hazardous ordeal is threaded through the story. Read how author Nick Bertozzi got interested in and then researched the Shackleton expedition.

—Karen Hildebrand, Ohio Library and Reading Consultant

Brooks, Max. (2014). The Harlem Hellfighters. Illus. by Caanan White. Broadway Books.

The centennial observation of World War I is upon us and many books are being published to remember this global war. This new graphic novel commemorates the 369th Infantry Regiment that was the first African American regiment called to fight in the war to end all wars, World War I. Exploding bombs in the trenches open the book to the horrors of war and the colorful panels continue to visually present this war through the unit that became known as the Harlem Hellfighters. Interestingly, the Harlem Hellfighters, was named by the Germans as they observed the courage and determination of this fighting unit. This fictionalized account describes the enlistment and training of these men and then on through to their battlefield confrontations, facing racial discrimination and prejudicial treatment at every turn.
Watch the in-depth presentation by author Max Brooks book discussion on the Harlem Hellfighters on Book TV on C-SPAN2 and/or listen to the NPR dialog about the book.

—Karen Hildebrand, Ohio Library and Reading Consultant

Tamaki, Mariko. (2014). This One Summer. Illus. by Jillian Tamaki. New York: First Second.

The writing team of cousins, Jillian and Mariko Tamaki (Skim, 2008), brings another realistic teen novel to the graphic novel venue. Every summer Rose and her family spend a few weeks at a cottage on Awago Beach where Rose enjoys a summer friendship with Windy who stays in a nearby cottage with her family. However, this summer is turning a different direction. Rose’s parents are constantly doing battle with each other and Rose often escapes the yelling. She is also finding she no longer enjoys the “little kid” activities on the beach with Windy because her interested in boys, horror movies, and teen girl experiences is growing. Tones of blue are the perfect backdrop for a beach setting even as the mood changes from idyllic to angst. Receiving starred reviews from many sources, this new graphic novel will appeal to young teens as they start to move toward more grown-up interests yet nervously leave childhood behind. Listen to an interview from the CBC with author and illustrator.

—Karen Hildebrand, Ohio Library and Reading Consultant

Professional Reading

Elder, Josh. (2014). Reading With Pictures: Comics That Make Kids Smarter.  Kansas City, MO: Andrews McMeel Publishing.

Starting with his delightful introduction, Gene Luen Yang (author, teacher, and award-winning graphic artist), sets the tone for this book with a bit of history and an opening for teachers to use of graphic novels and comics in the classroom via Common Core State Standards. “Analyze how visual and multimedia elements contribute to the meaning, tone or beauty of a text (e.g. graphic novel, multimedia presentation of fiction, folktale …” This book is divided into Language Arts, Science, Mathematics and Social Studies. Short passages both fiction and nonfiction are given as examples of incorporating the comic format into the content areas. Thirty-two difference artists, writers, and editors have contributed to this book that is certainly not overly academic for teachers. This serves as an introduction to educators who would like more background on the use of comics in the classroom. For more resources, visit the complementing website and download the educator’s resource guide.

Karen Hildebrand, Ohio Library and Reading Consultant

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



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