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Catalog of Inspirations, a guest post by Zach Smith

Hey there, faithful reader. I know you’ve been eagerly awaiting to hear from me, your favorite author, America’s sweetheart, Zach Smith.  Author of the Dolphin Girl series of graphic novels. Well the wait is FRIGGIN’ OVER!

I could write something very profound, or very thoughtful (I tried, this is like the 3rd draft) about the making and meaning behind Dolphin Girl.  But instead I’ve compiled a short catalog of places and things that inspired the world of Dolphin Girl.  

So take my metaphorical hand and follow me, ON THE JOURNEY OF A LIFETIME (The author runs away into the distance and we never see or hear from him again).

Ceasarland

I have an Uncle that once told me “People were always getting in fights at Caesarland.” I don’t remember that happening but I do remember the restaurant, which was Little Caesar’s own version of Chuck E. Cheese.  It had a person dressed as the Little Caesar character, play structures, THE WORKS, but it was all very ‘low rent’ and maybe a little dirty, and I’m pretty sure it only existed in Detroit, which was where Little Caesars was headquartered.  This OBVIOUSLY very special place was the main inspiration for Pizza Paradise.

Munch’s Make Believe Band

The robotic band that used to exist within the Chuck E. Cheese restaurant pizza chain was the direct inspiration for the Funk Machines. 

Zubaz Pants

My dad wore them.  Captain Dugong wears them in the 90’s flashback scenes in the book. HECK I’m wearing them right now.  Anyway more people should be aware of these pants.  In that awareness, you should sit mindfully, let the loud patterns of the pants engulf you, engulf your spirit. 

The Uniroyal Tire

There is a very large tire that sits on the side of the I-94 highway between Detroit and Ann Arbor.  I used to work at a Michaels Arts and Crafts store near it.  I always thought it was so bizarre, it would get all covered in snow in the winter, and there was no signage or anything to let you know why the tire was there.  Upon further research I found out that it used to be a tire shaped ferris wheel from one of the World’s Fairs and now it just sits there, quietly, looming. This tire features in a few scenes of the 2nd book.

West Oaks II Plaza

I later transferred to another Michaels in a strip mall in Novi, MI.  It was called West Oaks II Plaza and it was directly across from the Twelve Oaks Mall.  This was the last job I had before moving to LA to work in animation – although they did say that I could be management material, VERY TEMPTING. It was in this space that I think I started to put together a world of endless strip malls, parking lots, municipal golf courses, and garbage hills. Sometimes I think in times of great anxiety and anticipation of what’s to come I will become nostalgic for the place I am currently rooted.  When I know that one day I will not live here, one day I may never be back here.  So I start to miss the place before it’s even gone.  I think this leaves me open, and the sense of places just permeates me.  IT STICKS!

Anyway, maybe all this information will be helpful when you’re reading the books, or maybe not. IT’S IN YOUR HANDS DEAR READER!

Meet the author

Photo credit: Sayoko Cox

Zach Smith is a cartoonist, author, illustrator, and show creator. Currently, he is creating an upcoming show for Nick Jr. and works as a storyboard artist in the animation industry. Zach lives in the suburbs of Los Angeles with his wife, two daughters, and two dogs. Before becoming a professional artist, he delivered pizza for a living. Dolphin Girl is his first graphic novel series.

Social Media: @zachsmithdraws on Instagram

Website: http://www.zachattackary.com/

About Dolphin Girl 2: Eye of the Baloney Storm

Attention fans of Lunch Lady and Steven Universe! Middle grade graphic novel superhero-in-training Dolphin Girl is back fending off cold cut storms and learning to deal with a new (super-annoying) rival in the second book in this side-splitting series.

Ever since the evil Sea Cow tried to steal Dolphin Girl and Captain Dugong’s restaurant/hideout in Trouble in Pizza Paradise!, business has been bad. Dolphin Girl attempts to rebrand the restaurant, but everyone who works there hates the new outfits and the new music. Even worse, there’s a new superhero in town—everyone loves, Wonder Friend and they seemingly can do no wrong. On the other hand, Dolphin Girl is getting everything wrong.

But when Sea Cow returns to cover Midwestern Deerburbia in a blizzard of baloney, Dolphin Girl and Otter Boy have no choice but to team up with the all-too-wonderful Wonder Friend to prevent their town from becoming a big Jimmy John’s sandwich!

With bold, bright, energetic illustration Into the Baloney Storm serves up a graphic novel that fans of Steven Universe will be eager to sink their teeth into.

ISBN-13: 9781645950202
Publisher: Holiday House
Publication date: 01/18/2022
Series: Dolphin Girl #2
Age Range: 8 – 12 Years

Book Review: Living with Viola by Rosena Fung

Publisher’s description

Heartbreakingly honest and quietly funny, this #ownvoices graphic novel from a debut creator is a refreshingly real exploration of mental health, cultural differences, and the trials of middle school.

Livy is already having trouble fitting in as the new girl at school—and then there’s Viola. Viola is Livy’s anxiety brought to life, a shadowy twin that only Livy can see or hear. Livy tries to push back against Viola’s relentless judgment, but nothing seems to work until she strikes up new friendships at school. Livy hopes that Viola’s days are numbered. But when tensions arise both at home and at school, Viola rears her head stronger than ever. Only when Livy learns how to ask for help and face her anxiety does she finally figure out living with Viola.

Rosena Fung draws on her own early experiences with anxiety and the pressures of growing up as the child of Chinese immigrant parents to craft a charming, deeply personal story that combines the poignancy of Raina Telgemeier’s Guts with the wacky humor of Lumberjanes. Exuberant, colorful art brings Livy’s rich imaginative world—filled with everything from sentient dumplings to flying unicorns—to life on the page.

Amanda’s thoughts

Hard to do better than this book. Rosena Fung makes it clear just how cruel, smothering, and omnipresent mental illness can be as Viola, Livy’s anxieties, tags along behind her all day, shouting a constant stream of lies and worst-case scenarios at her. Livy is trying to navigate her 6th grade life, but it’s hard when there is just so much to worry about. She finds solace in books and art, but it’s hard to keep Viola quiet, even if Livy is otherwise occupied. She’s at a new school and figuring out new friendships. She’s self-conscious about her parents’ jobs and what her home is like. She’s made to feel inferior to how her cousins are doing and what their goals are. Even her lunches aren’t “right”—other kids make fun of how they smell, making her even more self-conscious about everything. She doesn’t feel like she fits anywhere, and a lot of that is just typical middle school stuff that will probably get worked out as time goes on, but a lot of it is specifically Viola, or her anxiety. It has a special knack for trying to ruin absolutely everything and gripping onto the smallest thing and making Livy feel terrible as she fixates on it.

Hard as all that is, there is so much good that happens over the course of the story. Friend things get figured out, though there are some rocky moments, Livy learns to share pieces of her home life and her culture with her new friends, and, most importantly, Livy finally confesses all of her fears and stresses to her parents, who get her help. When she tells new friend Charlotte what’s been going on, she shrugs it off as perfectly normal—her sister is in therapy too—it’s no big deal. Livy learns coping mechanisms that will begin to keep the worst of her anxiety at bay and will ground her in hard moments. An author’s note explains how Livy’s experiences mirror so many of Fung’s while growing up.

I am so glad that not only are we seeing so many more middle grade stories that address mental health concerns, but that we’re seeing these stories presented in a variety of ways. The graphic novel format is well-suited for this story as readers will see the impact of what it’s like to have a mental illness tagging along beside your every move. Smart, empathetic, and hopeful. I loved this.

Review copy (finished) courtesy of the publisher

ISBN-13: 9781773215488
Publisher: Annick Press, Limited
Publication date: 11/30/2021
Age Range: 9 – 12 Years

Book Review: The Golden Hour by Niki Smith

Publisher’s description

From the author of The Deep & Dark Blue comes a tender graphic novel, perfect for our time, that gently explores themes of self-discovery, friendship, healing from tragedy, and hope for a better tomorrow.

Struggling with anxiety after witnessing a harrowing instance of gun violence, Manuel Soto copes through photography, using his cell-phone camera to find anchors that keep him grounded. His days are a lonely, latchkey monotony until he’s teamed with his classmates, Sebastian and Caysha, for a group project.

Sebastian lives on a grass-fed cattle farm outside of town, and Manuel finds solace in the open fields and in the antics of the newborn calf Sebastian is hand-raising. As Manuel aides his new friends in their preparations for the local county fair, he learns to open up, confronts his deepest fears, and even finds first love.

This title will be simultaneously available in hardcover.

Amanda’s thoughts

I’m working on an article for School Library Journal on mental health depictions in middle grade fiction. It was not all that long ago that I would have struggled to build a large list of books that accurately and compassionately address mental health. But as I worked, I found myself having to limit my book list to the past couple of years as a way to begin to pare down the long list of books I was interested in considering. What a great problem to have. I was fortunate enough to get a copy of this book for that article and wanted to talk a little about it here, too.

To say that I was moved by this beautiful and tender look at trauma, healing, and hope is an understatement. I was reading it at my desk at school and at one point looked around at all the kids sitting around reading and, knowing how much stuff has to be going on in so many of their lives, thought, I wish you these supportive and loving relationships. I wish you this kind of healing.

Manuel, who was present when his art teacher was attacked at school, is, understandably, having a really hard time clearing his mind of what he saw. Thankfully, he is in therapy and has some pretty great grounding techniques to help when he has derealization episodes. But it’s really difficult, even with help, to not feel afraid so much of the time, to not be triggered. When he makes two new friends, he finds further comfort in their steady, understanding presence. Together, they all work on projects and their friendship grows (and with Sebastian, it’s clear that there may be more than just friendship there). They help Manuel find grounding moments and make sure he knows they are there to listen whenever he may want to talk about it and are there to be supportive and steadying no matter what.

Manuel shows that healing from trauma is not quick or linear, and that’s okay. He shows the complexity of living day-to-day life riddled with moments of extreme distress. And more than anything, Manuel shows that vulnerability doesn’t have to be scary and that there is hope and joy even in the darkest and most unsettling of times. A deeply affecting read.

Review copy (finished) courtesy of the publisher

ISBN-13: 9780316540339
Publisher: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
Publication date: 11/23/2021
Age Range: 8 – 12 Years

Raiding the Junk Drawer, a guest post by Hope Larson

I’m not a writer who enjoys looking back. I can’t imagine anything more cringe-inducing than reading through my old work. Old published work is bad enough, but at least those books passed through the hands of an editor. Worst of all are old scripts and pitches for projects that never went anywhere: the junk drawer projects. When something goes into the junk drawer, it might as well be falling into a bottomless pit. Many things go into the junk drawer, but few claw their way back out.

A few years before I came up with the idea for Salt Magic, I was working on another story. It had several working titles: first Yours Radiantly, then Luna Park. Or was it the other way around? It was a painfully overly-researched piece of historical fiction about a 1920s con man and a rodeo rider-turned-aspiring actress with the stage name of Vonceil Viking, and both of them were real people. Anyone who’s fallen down a Wikipedia rabbit hole will understand how easy it is to latch onto a story and fall head over heels with every minute detail–particularly when you have a personal connection to the material. For me the whole thing began when  I ripped up some plywood flooring in my old house and found a 1927 newspaper article underneath.

“TO RIDE A HORSE across the Continent, a young woman started out from the New York City Hall. She hopes the complete the journey in 120 days in order to win a $25,000 wager.”

I included this snippet in a comic I drew for the New York Times in 2007, but I was in the middle of writing another book, so I set it aside and forgot about it.

A few years later I stumbled onto the newspaper article in my files, did a little research, and became totally freaking obsessed. I crawled through old newspaper articles. Visited colleges 2 hours away to go through their microfiche. Hunted down obscure, out-of-print books. I hired a professional genealogist to do research in the United Kingdom and even had a journalist friend pull a copy of Vonceil’s death certificate. On a trip to New Mexico, I made a point of locating and driving past the ranch where she grew up.

All of this resulted in a mountain of information and a probably-not-very-good script. I couldn’t get anyone interested in the project without substantial rewrites, and I was too invested in the “integrity” of the story to take it firmly in hand. I made the painful decision to shelve it and move on.

This project taught me many lessons about writing and researching historical fiction. For example: If you’re writing fiction, you’re in service of a great story, not great facts. Both are important, but there needs to be a balance. Step back from the work from time to time and ask yourself, “Are turn-of-the-century theme parks of interest to most people, or just to me?” “Does this story work in the context of today’s tastes and mores? Is there an audience for it?” “When I describe this story to a friend, do they start fidgeting and looking for the exit?”

Sometimes good projects go into the junk drawer–the right project at the wrong time, or a project I was working on that was superceded by a more pressing one and subsequently forgotten–but usually they end up there for good reason. More often than not, I never think about them again. Vonceil’s story was different. Maybe because she was a real person, I was never able to let her go. I wanted to pay tribute to the importance her story held in my own life, so when I began brainstorming Salt Magic I instantly knew I wanted to name the protagonist after her. Like Vonceil in Salt Magic, she had plenty of grit and courage; a newspaper article in the Roswell Daily Record described her as “not only a most proficient rifer, but according to cowboys of this section, ‘she always made a good cow hand and can rope and tie a steer as good as any of us.’” Like Vonceil in Salt Magic, she dreamed of a world beyond the ranch where she grew up and longed for glamour, bright lights, and distant shores where adventure lay in wait. She died tragically young, in a car crash when she was only 27, and paying tribute to her in Salt Magic felt like an opportunity to symbolically give her some agency and a happier ending.

It was also a way for me to close the door on a story that meant so much to me at a challenging time in my own life. It didn’t work out, but the time I spent on this book that never was helped make me the writer I am now. Without Vonceil Viking, there would be no Salt Magic. I can only hope that, if she could see the character Rebecca Mock and I created in her honor, the real-life Vonceil would be proud.

Meet the author

Hope Larson is the Eisner-winning author of numerous comics for young readers. Her most recent graphic novel, Salt Magic, was co-created by Rebecca Mock.

Social media:

@hopelarson on Twitter

@despairlarson on Instagram

http://saltmagicbook.com/

About Salt Magic

When a jealous witch curses her family’s well, it’s up to Vonceil to set things right in an epic journey that will leave her changed forever.

When Vonceil’s older brother, Elber, comes home to their family’s Oklahoma farm after serving on the front lines of World War I, things aren’t what she expects. His experiences have changed him into a serious and responsible man who doesn’t have time for Vonceil anymore. He even marries the girl he had left behind.

Then a mysterious and captivating woman shows up at the farm and confronts Elber for leaving her in France. When he refuses to leave his wife, she puts a curse on the family well, turning the entire town’s water supply into saltwater. Who is this lady dressed all in white, what has she done to the farm, and what does Vonceil’s old uncle Dell know about her? 

To find out, Vonceil will have to strike out on her own and delve deep into the world of witchcraft, confronting dangerous relatives, shapeshifting animals, a capricious Sugar Witch, and the Lady in White herself—the foreboding Salt Witch. The journey will change Vonceil, but along the way she’ll learn a lot about love and what it means to grow up.

Hope Larson is the author and illustrator of the Eisner Award nominated All Summer Long and the illustrator of the Eisner Award winning A Wrinkle in Time: The Graphic NovelSalt Magic is an utterly unique graphic fairy tale complete with striking illustrations by Rebecca Mock.

ISBN-13: 9780823450503
Publisher: Holiday House
Publication date: 10/12/2021
Age Range: 10 – 14 Years

Book Review: Piece by Piece: The Story of Nisrin’s Hijab by Priya Huq

Publisher’s description

In this middle-grade graphic novel, Nisrin will have to rely on faith, friends, and family to help her recover after she is the target of a hate crime

Nisrin is a 13-year-old Bangladeshi-American girl living in Milwaukie, Oregon, in 2002. As she nears the end of eighth grade, she gives a presentation for World Culture Day about Bangladesh while wearing a traditional cultural dress. On her way home, she is the victim of a hate crime when a man violently attacks her for wearing a headscarf.

Deeply traumatized by the experience, Nisrin spends the summer depressed and isolated. Other than weekly therapy, Nisrin doesn’t leave the house until fall arrives and it’s time for her to start freshman year at a new school. The night before class starts, Nisrin makes a decision. She tells her family she’s going to start wearing hijab, much to their dismay. Her mother and grandparent’s shocked and angry reactions confuse her—but they only strengthen her resolve.

This choice puts Nisrin on a path to not only discover more about Islam, but also her family’s complicated relationship with the religion, and the reasons they left Bangladesh in the first place. On top of everything else, she’s struggling to fit in at school—her hijab makes her a target for students and faculty alike. But with the help from old friends and new, Nisrin is starting to figure out what really makes her happy. Piece by Piece is an original graphic novel about growing up and choosing your own path, even if it leads you to a different place than you expected.

Amanda’s thoughts

As the publisher’s description indicates, this is a pretty intense read. Bangladeshi American Nisrin lives in the Portland, Oregon area in 2002. While walking home with her best friend Firuzeh (who is Iranian and Black) one day after 8th grade, an angry white supremacist guy accosts them and tears off Nisrin’s headscarf. The attack deeply scars both girls and Nisrin decides that when she returns to school for 9th grade, she will start wearing hijab. She feels safer this way, kind of hidden, and also has a growing interest in Islam, something her grandfather feels is “nonsense” and that they raised to “better than this.” But she begins to investigate Islam on her own, while standing out at school for her hijab. She faces racist teachers, is harassed and bullied, has her scarf ripped off again, and is called a terrorist. Thankfully, there are good things in Nisrin’s life, too. She makes a new friend, Veronica, and patches things up with Firuzeh, who was also deeply affected by the attack, but who feels like Nisrin never bothered to recognize or understand that. In addition to learning more about Islam and committing to wearing hijab, Nisrin learns about her mother’s childhood in Bangladesh and how it shaped her and how she has raised Nisrin. She gets lots of support from her mother and grandmother, as the story goes on, but still butts heads with her grandpa over her choices and growing beliefs.

This is a very emotional and powerful read, with the assault and resulting trauma coloring much of the story. Nisrin’s story touches on choices, pride, permission, acceptance, tolerance, trauma, friendship, and identity. Back matter gives readers a brief overview of Bangladesh in the form of a presentation Nisrin did in 8th grade. My review copy was in black and white, but showed some of the full-color artwork at the end and I’m going to have to at least flip through a finished copy at some point so I can fully enjoy the finished art. This unique graphic novel will educate and resonate with readers. A good addition to collections.

Review copy (ARC) courtesy of the publisher

ISBN-13: 9781419740190
Publisher: Amulet Paperbacks
Publication date: 09/14/2021
Age Range: 10 – 18 Years

#FactsMatter: Great Graphic Nonfiction for Students Who Love Information and Real World Stories, by Librarian Alison

Today, as part of our #FactsMatter spotlight on nonfiction, we have a guest post by a librarian in New York City named Alison. She is here today to talk with us about nonfiction presented in graphic novel format.

In elementary school libraries, the nonfiction section is just as popular, if not moreso, than the fiction section. Students love learning new information about the world and sharing those new facts with others. When they have time to browse, they’ll happily rush to the nonfiction shelves to grab books about animals, or space, or sports, or whatever topic seems interesting to them at the moment.

As students get older, I’ve noticed, that love for nonfiction isn’t as obvious in the library anymore. While this is purely anecdotal, I’ve observed that middle and high school students are far less likely to rush to the nonfiction section when looking for their next book to read. Is this because their love of facts and information has waned with age? This seems unlikely. Rather, I think it could be the result of a few different factors. First, I think sometimes librarians focus their nonfiction collection development efforts on books that will support their school’s curriculum needs, rather than books students may want to read for fun. While this is absolutely important, it can mean that students associate the nonfiction section with stuff they have to do for school instead of things they want to read about. Second, nonfiction books can be more challenging for students to read. They can have dense text and specialized vocabulary, and just generally seem more intimidating to students.

So, is there a way for our middle and high school students who have gravitated away from the nonfiction section to rediscover, or discover for the first time, their love of nonfiction? Definitely! And I think one great way to do that is through graphic nonfiction. While there are lots of great narrative nonfiction books and informational texts being written for tween and teens these days, books in graphic format are an accessible and engaging way for students to (re)discover nonfiction. Graphic nonfiction, with its reliance on pictures telling the story as much, if not more, than words, presents facts and information in a way that can be easier for students to grasp, especially visual learners, English language learners, and others who might struggle with more traditional formats of nonfiction.

Many students are already big fans of graphic novels; they love reading stories told in both words and pictures, and so this format is familiar to and beloved by many tweens and teens. These graphic novel lovers may be more interested in and willing to try a nonfiction book if it’s in a format they already enjoy, so this is another way to guide students back to the nonfiction section. Students who love graphic novels set in space, for example, may enjoy graphic nonfiction texts about astronauts, while those who enjoy historical fiction might be excited to pick up Nathan Hale’s Hazardous Tales series, and students who love realistic fiction could really get into many of the graphic memoirs available.

While graphic texts are an excellent way for tweens and teens to access nonfiction for pleasure reading, they are also a useful teaching tool. Graphic nonfiction not only uses visual storytelling and engaging writing to help students understand complex topics and take in information, but this medium can also be a good way to introduce difficult ideas or topics. Graphic nonfiction texts can help ease students into discussions and lessons on particularly challenging or distressing topics. Additionally, the use of graphic nonfiction in the classroom may serve as encouragement for students to pursue their personal interests in nonfiction as well.

So, where should you begin when it comes to graphic nonfiction? Well, I’ve created a list of some great graphic nonfiction texts full of interesting and engaging content, all of which would make great additions to many middle or high school library collections. (Note: I have chosen not to include some more well known graphic nonfiction, like Persepolis and the March Trilogy, because they are already quite popular, but please know that despite their absence from this list, they are great choices too!) So, here are some wonderful graphic nonfiction texts (all book descriptions are from the publishers):

Almost American Girl by Robin Ha (Gr. 7 & Up)-For as long as she can remember, it’s been Robin and her mom against the world. Growing up as the only child of a single mother in Seoul, Korea, wasn’t always easy, but it has bonded them fiercely together.

So when a vacation to visit friends in Huntsville, Alabama, unexpectedly becomes a permanent relocation—following her mother’s announcement that she’s getting married—Robin is devastated.

Overnight, her life changes. She is dropped into a new school where she doesn’t understand the language and struggles to keep up. She is completely cut off from her friends in Seoul and has no access to her beloved comics. At home, she doesn’t fit in with her new stepfamily, and worst of all, she is furious with the one person she is closest to—her mother.

Then one day Robin’s mother enrolls her in a local comic drawing class, which opens the window to a future Robin could never have imagined.

This nonfiction graphic novel with four starred reviews is an excellent choice for teens and also accelerated tween readers, both for independent reading and units on immigration, memoirs, and the search for identity.

Astronauts: Women on the Final Frontier by Jim Ottaviani and Maris Wicks (Gr. 5 & Up)-The U.S. may have put the first man on the moon, but it was the Soviet space program that made Valentina Tereshkova the first woman in space. It took years to catch up, but soon NASA’s first female astronauts were racing past milestones of their own. The trail-blazing women of Group 9, NASA’s first mixed gender class, had the challenging task of convincing the powers that be that a woman’s place is in space, but they discovered that NASA had plenty to learn about how to make space travel possible for everyone.

Becoming RBG: Ruth Bader Ginsberg’s Journey to Justice by Debbie Levy and Whitney Gardner (Gr. 6 & Up)-Supreme Court justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg is a modern feminist icon—a leader in the fight for equal treatment of girls and women in society and the workplace. She blazed trails to the peaks of the male-centric worlds of education and law, where women had rarely risen before.

Ruth Bader Ginsburg has often said that true and lasting change in society and law is accomplished slowly, one step at a time. This is how she has evolved, too. Step by step, the shy little girl became a child who questioned unfairness, who became a student who persisted despite obstacles, who became an advocate who resisted injustice, who became a judge who revered the rule of law, who became…RBG.

Brazen: Rebel Ladies Who Rocked the World by Penelope Bagieu (Gr. 8 & Up)-Throughout history and across the globe, one characteristic connects the daring women of Brazen: their indomitable spirit.

With her characteristic wit and dazzling drawings, celebrated graphic novelist Pénélope Bagieu profiles the lives of these feisty female role models, some world famous, some little known. From Nellie Bly to Mae Jemison or Josephine Baker to Naziq al-Abid, the stories in this comic biography are sure to inspire the next generation of rebel ladies.

Child Soldier: When Boys and Girls Are Used in War by Jessica Dee Humphreys, Michel Chikwanine, and Claudia Davila (Gr. 5 & Up)-Michel Chikwanine was five years old when he was abducted from his school-yard soccer game in the Democratic Republic of Congo and forced to become a soldier for a brutal rebel militia. Against the odds, Michel managed to escape and find his way back to his family, but he was never the same again. After immigrating to Canada, Michel was encouraged by a teacher to share what happened to him in order to raise awareness about child soldiers around the world, and this book is part of that effort.

Told in the first person and presented in a graphic novel format, the gripping story of Michel’s experience is moving and unsettling. But the humanity he exhibits in the telling, along with Claudia Dávila’s illustrations, which evoke rather than depict the violent elements of the story, makes the book accessible for this age group and, ultimately, reassuring and hopeful. The back matter contains further information, as well as suggestions for ways children can help. This is a perfect resource for engaging youngsters in social studies lessons on global awareness and social justice issues, and would easily spark classroom discussions about conflict, children’s rights and even bullying. Michel’s actions took enormous courage, but he makes clear that he was and still is an ordinary person, no different from his readers. He believes everyone can do something to make the world a better place, and so he shares what his father told him: “If you ever think you are too small to make a difference, try sleeping in a room with a mosquito.”

Dragon Hoops by Gene Luen Yang (Gr. 8 & Up)-Gene understands stories—comic book stories, in particular. Big action. Bigger thrills. And the hero always wins.

But Gene doesn’t get sports. As a kid, his friends called him “Stick” and every basketball game he played ended in pain. He lost interest in basketball long ago, but at the high school where he now teaches, it’s all anyone can talk about. The men’s varsity team, the Dragons, is having a phenomenal season that’s been decades in the making. Each victory brings them closer to their ultimate goal: the California State Championships.

Once Gene gets to know these young all-stars, he realizes that their story is just as thrilling as anything he’s seen on a comic book page. He knows he has to follow this epic to its end. What he doesn’t know yet is that this season is not only going to change the Dragons’s lives, but his own life as well.

The Faithful Spy: Dietrich Bonhoeffer and the Plot to Kill Hitler by John Hendrix (Gr. 7 & Up)-Adolf Hitler’s Nazi party is gaining strength and becoming more menacing every day. Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a pastor upset by the complacency of the German church toward the suffering around it, forms a breakaway church to speak out against the established political and religious authorities. When the Nazis outlaw the church, he escapes as a fugitive. Struggling to reconcile his faith and the teachings of the Bible with the Nazi Party’s evil agenda, Bonhoeffer decides that Hitler must be stopped by any means possible!

In his signature style of interwoven handwritten text and art, John Hendrix tells the true story of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a pastor who makes the ultimate sacrifice in order to help free the German people from oppression during World War II.

The History of the World in Comics by Jean-Baptiste de Panafieu and Adrienne Barman (Gr. 5 & Up)-A paleontologist and a storyteller take two children through the birth of our planet, the beginning of microbes, and through the heydays of protozoans, dinosaurs, and early mammals with unfailing enthusiasm.

The art accurately portrays animal species and prehistoric landscapes, includes maps and infographics, but also adds humorous touches: a google-eyed prehistoric fish looking startled to be walking on land and the children popping out of a tree top to surprise a Brachiosaurus.

The combined expertise of author Jean-Baptiste de Panafieu, a science writer and biologist, and illustrator Adriene Barman, the creator behind Creaturepedia and Plantopedia, makes for a science read you can trust.

Fans of Maris Wicks’s Human Body Theater and Nathan Hale will be pleased.

Photographic: The Life of Graciela Iturbide by Isabel Quintero and Zeke Peña (Gr. 7 & Up)-Graciela Iturbide was born in Mexico City in 1942, the oldest of 13 children. When tragedy struck Iturbide as a young mother, she turned to photography for solace and understanding. From then on Iturbide embarked on a photographic journey that has taken her throughout her native Mexico, from the Sonora Desert to Juchitán to Frida Kahlo’s bathroom, to the United States, India, and beyond. Photographic is a symbolic, poetic, and deeply personal graphic biography of this iconic photographer. Iturbide’s journey will excite readers of all ages as well as budding photographers, who will be inspired by her resolve, talent, and curiosity.

Primates: The Fearless Science of Jane Goodall, Dian Fossey, and Birute Galdikas by Jim Ottaviani and Maris Wicks (Gr. 6 & Up)-Jim Ottaviani returns with an action-packed account of the three greatest primatologists of the last century: Jane Goodall, Dian Fossey, and Biruté Galdikas. These three ground-breaking researchers were all students of the great Louis Leakey, and each made profound contributions to primatology—and to our own understanding of ourselves.

Tackling Goodall, Fossey, and Galdikas in turn, and covering the highlights of their respective careers, Primates is an accessible, entertaining, and informative look at the field of primatology and at the lives of three of the most remarkable women scientists of the twentieth century. Thanks to the charming and inviting illustrations by Maris Wicks, this is a nonfiction graphic novel with broad appeal.

A Quick & Easy Guide to Queer and Trans Identities by Mady G and J.R. Zuckerberg (Gr. 9 & Up)-In this quick and easy guide to queer and trans identities, cartoonists Mady G and JR Zuckerberg guide you through the basics of the LGBT+ world! Covering essential topics like sexuality, gender identity, coming out, and navigating relationships, this guide explains the spectrum of human experience through informative comics, interviews, worksheets, and imaginative examples. A great starting point for anyone curious about queer and trans life, and helpful for those already on their own journeys!

(Note: There are several more books in the ‘Quick & Easy Guide’ series that would also be great additions to graphic nonfiction collections: A Quick & Easy Guide to Asexuality, A Quick & Easy Guide to They/Them Pronouns, A Quick & Easy Guide to Consent, and A Quick & Easy Guide to Sex & Disability)

Smash! Exploring the Mysteries of the Universe with the Large Hadron Collider by Sara Latta and Jeff Weigel (Gr. 7 & Up)-What is the universe made of? At CERN, the European Organization for Nuclear Research, scientists have searched for answers to this question using the largest machine in the world: the Large Hadron Collider. It speeds up tiny particles, then smashes them together—and the collision gives researchers a look at the building blocks of the universe.

Nick and Sophie, two cousins, are about to visit CERN for a tour of the mysteries of the cosmos. Sophie’s a physics wiz. Nick, not so much. But by the time they’re through, Nick and Sophie will both feel the power of hidden particles, fundamental forces, dark matter, and more. It’s all a blast in this mind-blowing graphic novel!

Strange Fruit Volume 1: Uncelebrated Narratives from Black History by Joel Christian Gill (Gr. 8 & Up)-Strange Fruit Volume I is a collection of stories from early African American history that represent the oddity of success in the face of great adversity. Each of the nine illustrated chapters chronicles an uncelebrated African American hero or event. From the adventures of lawman Bass Reeves, to Henry “Box” Brown’s daring escape from slavery.

The Stuff of Life : A Graphic Guide to Genetics and DNA by Mark Schultz, Zander Cannon, and Kevin Cannon (Gr. 10 & Up)-Let’s face it: From adenines to zygotes, from cytokinesis to parthenogenesis, even the basics of genetics can sound utterly alien. So who better than an alien to explain it all? Enter Bloort 183, a scientist from an asexual alien race threatened by disease, who’s been charged with researching the fundamentals of human DNA and evolution and laying it all out in clear, simple language so that even his slow-to-grasp-the-point leader can get it. In the hands of the award-winning writer Mark Schultz, Bloort’s predicament becomes the means of giving even the most science-phobic reader a complete introduction to the history and science of genetics that’s as easy to understand as it is entertaining to read.

Tetris: The Games People Play by Box Brown (Gr. 9 & Up)-It is, perhaps, the perfect video game. Simple yet addictive, Tetris delivers an irresistible, unending puzzle that has players hooked. Play it long enough and you’ll see those brightly colored geometric shapes everywhere. You’ll see them in your dreams.

Alexey Pajitnov had big ideas about games. In 1984, he created Tetris in his spare time while developing software for the Soviet government. Once Tetris emerged from behind the Iron Curtain, it was an instant hit. Nintendo, Atari, Sega—game developers big and small all wanted Tetris. A bidding war was sparked, followed by clandestine trips to Moscow, backroom deals, innumerable miscommunications, and outright theft.

In this graphic novel,New York Times–bestselling author Box Brown untangles this complex history and delves deep into the role games play in art, culture, and commerce. For the first time and in unparalleled detail, Tetris: The Games People Play tells the true story of the world’s most popular video game.

They Called Us Enemy by George Takei, Justin Eisinger, Steven Scott, and Harmony Becker (Gr. 7 & Up)-George Takei has captured hearts and minds worldwide with his captivating stage presence and outspoken commitment to equal rights. But long before he braved new frontiers in Star Trek, he woke up as a four-year-old boy to find his own birth country at war with his father’s — and their entire family forced from their home into an uncertain future.

In 1942, at the order of President Franklin D. Roosevelt, every person of Japanese descent on the west coast was rounded up and shipped to one of ten “relocation centers,” hundreds or thousands of miles from home, where they would be held for years under armed guard.

They Called Us Enemy is Takei’s firsthand account of those years behind barbed wire, the joys and terrors of growing up under legalized racism, his mother’s hard choices, his father’s faith in democracy, and the way those experiences planted the seeds for his astonishing future.

What is American? Who gets to decide? When the world is against you, what can one person do? To answer these questions, George Takei joins co-writers Justin Eisinger & Steven Scott and artist Harmony Becker for the journey of a lifetime.

The Unwanted: Stories of the Syrian Refugees by Don Brown (Gr. 8 & Up)-In the tradition of two-time Sibert honor winner Don Brown’s critically acclaimed, full-color nonfiction graphic novels The Great American Dust Bowl and Drowned City, The Unwanted is an important, timely, and eye-opening exploration of the ongoing Syrian refugee crisis, exposing the harsh realities of living in, and trying to escape, a war zone.

Starting in 2011, refugees flood out of war-torn Syria in Exodus-like proportions. The surprising flood of victims overwhelms neighboring countries, and chaos follows. Resentment in host nations heightens as disruption and the cost of aid grows. By 2017, many want to turn their backs on the victims. The refugees are the unwanted.

Don Brown depicts moments of both heartbreaking horror and hope in the ongoing Syrian refugee crisis. Shining a light on the stories of the survivors, The Unwanted is a testament to the courage and resilience of the refugees and a call to action for all those who read.

What Does Consent Really Mean? by Pete Wallis, Thalia Wallis, and Joseph Wilkins (Gr. 8 & Up)-While seemingly straightforward, Tia and Bryony hadn’t considered this subject too seriously until it comes up in conversation with their friends and they realize just how important it is.

Following the sexual assault of a classmate, a group of teenage girls find themselves discussing the term consent, what it actually means for them in their current relationships, and how they act and make decisions with peer influence. Joined by their male friends who offer another perspective, this rich graphic novel uncovers the need for more informed conversations with young people around consent and healthy relationships. Accompanying the graphics are sexual health resources for students and teachers, which make this a perfect tool for broaching the subject with teens.

I hope this list has given you some ideas for adding graphic nonfiction to your collection. If you have a favorite graphic nonfiction text that wasn’t included, please share in the comments!

Meet Our Guest Blogger

Alison is the Middle and Upper School Librarian at an independent school in New York City. She has worked in school libraries for 8 years, with students from ages 3-18. She loves reading and learning, and helping students find the perfect book. When she’s not in the library, she enjoys baking, traveling, and spending time with her two cats, Molly and Minerva. You can find more of Alison’s musings about books and libraries on her website msginthelibrary.com, on Twitter @msginthelibrary, or on Instagram @msginthelibrary.

Tween’s Eye View on Middle Grade Graphic Novels: Twins, Allergic and Primer

Today Scout, also known as Thing 2, is here to share some brief reviews of some new graphic novels she has been reading. She’s 12 and has dyslexia, and graphic novels are her jam.

Twins by Varian Johnson

Publisher’s Book Description:

Coretta Scott King Honor author Varian Johnson teams up with rising cartoonist Shannon Wright for a delightful middle-grade graphic novel!

Maureen and Francine Carter are twins and best friends. They participate in the same clubs, enjoy the same foods, and are partners on all their school projects. But just before the girls start sixth grade, Francine becomes Fran — a girl who wants to join the chorus, run for class president, and dress in fashionable outfits that set her apart from Maureen. A girl who seems happy to share only two classes with her sister!

Maureen and Francine are growing apart and there’s nothing Maureen can do to stop it. Are sisters really forever? Or will middle school change things for good?

Scout’s Thoughts: One of the sisters makes the parents change their schedules so they aren’t in all the same classes together because they are tired of everyone mixing them up. It’s about trying to find your own place and space and identity. This book was cool and taught me not to be afraid to be myself. I read this book 3 times and really recommend it.

Allergic by Megan Wagner Lloyd

Publisher’s Book Description: A coming-of-age middle-grade graphic novel featuring a girl with severe allergies who just wants to find the perfect pet!

At home, Maggie is the odd one out. Her parents are preoccupied with getting ready for a new baby, and her younger brothers are twins and always in their own world. Maggie loves animals and thinks a new puppy to call her own is the answer, but when she goes to select one on her birthday, she breaks out in hives and rashes. She’s severely allergic to anything with fur!

Can Maggie outsmart her allergies and find the perfect pet? With illustrations by Michelle Mee Nutter, Megan Wagner Lloyd uses inspiration from her own experiences with allergies to tell a heartfelt story of family, friendship, and finding a place to belong. 

Scout’s Thoughts: This was a cute book that reminds us that everyone is different. You shouldn’t make fun of someone because they are allergic to something and you should take their allergies seriously because if you put something near them then they could have a really bad reaction. I read it twice because I liked it and it was a really good book. I am definitely going to be reading it again.

Primer by Jennifer Muro and Thomas Krajewski

Publisher’s Book Description:

Primer introduces a brand-new superhero with a colorful array of superpowers to explore.

Ashley Rayburn is an upbeat girl with a decidedly downbeat past. Her father is a known criminal who once used Ashley to help him elude justice, and in his attempt to escape, a life was taken. He now sits in federal prison, but still casts a shadow over Ashley’s life. In the meantime, Ashley has bounced from foster home to foster home and represents a real challenge to the social workers who try to help her–not because she’s inherently bad, but because trouble always seems to find her.

Ashley’s latest set of presumably short-term foster parents are Kitch and Yuka Nolan. Like Ashley, Kitch happens to be an artist. Yuka, on the other hand, is a geneticist working for a very high-level tech company, one that’s contracted out to work for the government and the military. And it’s Yuka’s latest top secret project that has her very concerned. Developed for the military, it’s a set of body paints that, when applied to the wearer, grant them a wide range of special powers. Fearful that this invention will be misused, Yuka sneaks the set of paints home, substituting a dummy suitcase with an ordinary set of paints in their place.

From here, signals get crossed. Ashley comes home from school one day with her new friend Luke and, thinking that the Nolans have purchased a surprise gift for her upcoming birthday, finds the set of paints. Being an artist, Ashley naturally assumes these are for her. It isn’t long before she realizes that she’s stumbled upon something much bigger and a lot more dangerous. Although she uses her newly discovered powers for good, it’s not long before the military becomes wise to what happened to their secret weapon. And this spells big trouble not only for Ashley, but for her newfound family and friends as well.

Scout’s Thoughts: This was a really interesting book about a young girl in foster care who uses paints to become a super hero. The paint gives her super powers like invisibility and speed. There are 38 powers all together. This book was good. It was very inspiring. I also read this one twice and will most definitely be reading it again.

Ally’s Favorite Graphic Novels of 2020

It’s no secret that 2020 has been…a lot. But also, a lot of beautiful comics and graphic novels have come out this year. Here’s a few of my favorites middle grade and YA graphic novels from 2020, in no particular order:

Go With the Flow by Lily Williams and Karen Schneemann

Go With the Flow is a great MG graphic novel about a group of friends fighting for menstrual equality at their school: why does the football team have more funding than female health?? I loved the palette on this one–the red accents are fun and the art is great!

The Dark Matter of Mona Starr by Laura Lee Gulledge

I really liked the Dark Matter of Mona Starr, both for its art and celebration of creativity AND the very real way it portrays depression in a teenager. Our teens are dealing with mental health issues and we need to take that seriously. MAJOR bonus points for normalized on-page therapy sessions!!

Almost American Girl by Robin Ha

Almost American Girl tells the story of Robin Ha’s transition from a normal teenager in Seoul to an immigrant in Huntsville, Alabama. This graphic memoir is beautifully illustrated and also looks at how isolated and difficult it is for anyone to be dropped into a new country, a new language, a new school.

The Witches of Brooklyn by Sophie Escabasse

The Witches of Brooklyn is the cutest thing I’ve read in quite some time. I LOVED main character Sophie, who is mourning the loss of her mom, and her home. But things start to get interesting when she finds out that magic runs in her family!! (I liked this one so much I gave it to my niece for Christmas!)

Stepping Stones by Lucy Knisley

Stepping Stones is Lucy Knisley’s first middle grade graphic novel. I’ve long been a fan of Knisley’s adult titles and her social media presence so I was excited to dig into this one. Jen is upset that she’s had to move away from the city and to a farm with her mom and her mom’s boyfriend. She’s even more upset when she finds out that she’ll be spending weekends with her new stepsisters. Can they become friends or are they all too different?

Twins by Varian Johnson, illustrated by Shannon Wright

Twins is maybe the perfect middle grade graphic novel. It has everything: sibling rivalry, new friendships, starting middle school. I absolutely loved this story of twins Maureen and Francine who find themselves running against each other for student council president. The art is wonderful, and I’m really hoping this one becomes a whole series about the twins!!

Displacement by Kiku Hughes

Displacement is a gorgeous graphic novel mix of family history and magic. Kiku, a teen living today, becomes displaced in time and finds herself living in a Japanese internment camp in the 40s. She witnesses the lives of the residents of the camp, seeing how their civil liberties were violated by the American government. This is a powerful treatise on intergenerational trauma and memory.

The Magic Fish by Trung Le Nguyen

The Magic Fish is…kind of a masterpiece? The art is absolutely breathtaking. If you haven’t picked this one up, you’re in for a treat. Thirteen year old Tiến is trying to find the words to tell his Vietnamese parents that he’s gay…but he hasn’t managed it yet, in English or in Vietnamese. The story of Tiến’s life is interwoven with the fairytales that he reads with his mother. Have I mentioned the art? Because it’ll make your jaw drop. I hope we see more from this artist very soon!!

What were your favorite graphic novels of 2020?

Post-It Note Reviews: Graphic novels galore!

So glad I’ve been doing routine installments of these Post-It Note Reviews for quite a while now because, WHEW! is this what my current attention span is best suited for at the moment. Here’s to being able to concentrate more in 2021, right? I really went heavy here with graphic novels, which has been my comfort reading of choice these past many weeks!

All descriptions from the publishers. Transcriptions of the post-it reviews follow.

Child Star by Brian “Box” Brown (ISBN-13: 9781250154071 Publisher: First Second Publication date: 06/30/2020, Ages 14-adult)

Child Star is a fictional documentary-style graphic novel about how growing up in the spotlight robs young actors of a true childhood.

Child star Owen Eugene had it all: a hit sitcom on prime time, a Saturday morning cartoon, and a memoir on the bestseller list. The secret to his success was his talent for improvisation . . . and his small size. On screen he made the whole world laugh, but behind the scenes his life was falling apart. Hollywood ate him alive.

Inspired by real-life child stars, bestselling author Brian “Box” Brown created Owen Eugene, a composite character whose tragic life is an amalgam of 1980s pop culture.

(POST-IT SAYS: If you don’t know Brown’s books–particularly this one on Andre the Giant—get on that! This documentary-style look at a fictional child star follows a predictable path yet always feels interesting and engaging. Can’t wait to see what he tackles next!)

Flamer by Mike Curato (ISBN-13: 9781250756145 Publisher: Henry Holt and Co. (BYR) Publication date: 09/01/2020, Ages 14-18)

Award-winning author and artist Mike Curato draws on his own experiences in Flamer, his debut graphic novel, telling a difficult story with humor, compassion, and love. 

“This book will save lives.” —Jarrett J. Krosoczka, author of National Book Award Finalist Hey, Kiddo 

I know I’m not gay. Gay boys like other boys. I hate boys. They’re mean, and scary, and they’re always destroying something or saying something dumb or both.

I hate that word. Gay. It makes me feel . . . unsafe.

It’s the summer between middle school and high school, and Aiden Navarro is away at camp. Everyone’s going through changes—but for Aiden, the stakes feel higher. As he navigates friendships, deals with bullies, and spends time with Elias (a boy he can’t stop thinking about), he finds himself on a path of self-discovery and acceptance.

(POST-IT SAYS: A brutal but ultimately hopeful read. Full of bullying, slurs, and doubt, but also full of friendship and acceptance. Masterful storytelling and deeply affecting and dynamic art. Powerful message: you are enough.)

The League of Super Feminists by Mirion Malle, Aleshia Jensen (Translator) (ISBN-13: 9781770464025 Publisher: Drawn & Quarterly Publication date: 10/13/2020, Ages 12-18)

This primer on feminism and media literacy teaches young readers why it matters

The League of Super Feminists is an energetic and fierce comic for tweens and younger teens. Cartoonist Mirion Malle guides readers through some of the central tenets of feminism and media literacy including consent, intersectionality, privilege, body image, inclusivity and more; all demystified in the form of a witty, down-to-earth dialogue that encourages questioning the stories we’re told about identity. Malle’s insightful and humorous comics transport lofty concepts from the ivory tower to the eternally safer space of open discussion. Making reference to the Bechdel test in film and Peggy McIntosh’s dissection of white privilege through the metaphor of the “invisible knapsack,” The League of Super Feminists is an asset to the classroom, library, and household alike.

Knights and princesses present problems associated with consent; superheroes reveal problematic stereotypes associated with gender; and grumpy onlookers show just how insidious cat-calling culture can be. No matter how women dress, Malle explains, there seems to always be someone ready to call it out. The League of Super Feminists articulates with both poise and clarity how unconscious biases and problematic thought processes can have tragic results.

Why does feminism matter? Are feminists man-haters? How do race and feminism intersect? Malle answers these questions for young readers, in a comic that is as playful and hilarious as it is necessary.

(POST-IT SAYS: Useful as a very basic intro to feminism, sexism, and representation. Could stand to have an intro, a conclusion, and a more intersectional approach. The title also doesn’t really fit with/indicate the content. A good overview but could have been stronger.)

Mary: The Adventures of Mary Shelley’s Great-Great-Great-Great-Great Granddaughter by Brea Grant and Yishan Li (ISBN-13: 9781644420294 Publisher: Six Foot Press Publication date: 10/06/2020 Ages 12 – 18)

Angsty teenager Mary Shelley is not interested in carrying on her family’s celebrated legacy of being a great writer, but she soon discovers that she has the not-so-celebrated and super-secret Shelley power to heal monsters, just like her famous ancestor, and those monsters are not going to let her ignore her true calling anytime soon.

The Shelley family history is filled with great writers: the original Mary Shelley, author of Frankenstein, the acclaimed mystery writer Tawny Shelley, cookbook maven Phyllis Shelley…the list goes on and on. But this Mary Shelley, named after her great-great-great-great-great grandmother, doesn’t want anything to do with that legacy. Then a strangely pale (and really cute) boy named Adam shows up and asks her to heal a wound he got under mysterious circumstances, and Mary learns something new about her family: the first Mary Shelley had the power to heal monsters, and Mary has it, too. Now the monsters won’t stop showing up, Mary can’t get her mother Tawny to leave her alone about writing something (anything!), she can’t tell her best friend Rhonda any of this, and all Mary wants is to pass biology.

(POST-IT SAYS: Fun concept with great art, especially the excellent monsters. Mary is a good main character—angsty, goth, and certain she’ll never live up to her family’s legacy. Hope there’s more to come.)

The Girl Who Wasn’t There by Penny Joelson (ISBN-13: 9781492698852 Publisher: Sourcebooks Publication date: 11/03/2020, Ages 14-18)

For fans of Karen M. McManus and Kara Thomas comes this riveting new young adult crime thriller packed with mystery and suspense, from the acclaimed author of I Have No Secrets

Nothing ever happens on Kasia’s street. And Kasia would know, because her chronic illness keeps her stuck at home, watching the outside world from her bedroom window. So when she witnesses what looks like a kidnapping, she’s not sure whether she can believe her own eyes…

There had been a girl in the window across the street who must have seen something too. But when Kasia ventures out to find her, she is told the most shocking thing of all: There is no girl.

(POST-IT SAYS: The main character has Myalgic Encephalomyelitis, which is rare to see in YA. Thriller-ish story about human trafficking—a quick read. Curious what people with ME think of the rep.)

Class Act by Jerry Craft (ISBN-13: 9780062885500 Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers Publication date: 10/06/2020, Ages 8-12)

New York Times bestselling author Jerry Craft returns with a companion book to New Kid, winner of the 2020 Newbery Medal, the Coretta Scott King Author Award, and the Kirkus Prize. This time, it’s Jordan’s friend Drew who takes center stage in another laugh-out-loud funny, powerful, and important story about being one of the few kids of color in a prestigious private school.

Eighth grader Drew Ellis is no stranger to the saying “You have to work twice as hard to be just as good.” His grandmother has reminded him his entire life. But what if he works ten times as hard and still isn’t afforded the same opportunities that his privileged classmates at the Riverdale Academy Day School take for granted?

To make matters worse, Drew begins to feel as if his good friend Liam might be one of those privileged kids. He wants to pretend like everything is fine, but it’s hard not to withdraw, and even their mutual friend Jordan doesn’t know how to keep the group together.

As the pressures mount, will Drew find a way to bridge the divide so he and his friends can truly accept each other? And most important, will he finally be able to accept himself?

New Kid, the first graphic novel to win the Newbery Medal, is now joined by Jerry Craft’s powerful Class Act.

(POST-IT SAYS: A perfect book. Truly. Tackles serious topics while still being funny and just so real. The kids address race, class, colorism, microaggressions, and friendship. As great and maybe better than New Kid.)

Displacement by Kiku Hughes (ISBN-13: 9781250193537 Publisher: First Second Publication date: 08/18/2020, Ages 12-18)

A teenager is pulled back in time to witness her grandmother’s experiences in World War II-era Japanese internment camps in Displacement, a historical graphic novel from Kiku Hughes.

Kiku is on vacation in San Francisco when suddenly she finds herself displaced to the 1940s Japanese-American internment camp that her late grandmother, Ernestina, was forcibly relocated to during World War II.

These displacements keep occurring until Kiku finds herself “stuck” back in time. Living alongside her young grandmother and other Japanese-American citizens in internment camps, Kiku gets the education she never received in history class. She witnesses the lives of Japanese-Americans who were denied their civil liberties and suffered greatly, but managed to cultivate community and commit acts of resistance in order to survive. 

Kiku Hughes weaves a riveting, bittersweet tale that highlights the intergenerational impact and power of memory.

(POST-IT SAYS: I loved the art, the powerful look at existence and resistance in the camps, and the look at modern-day parallels. A moving exploration of what it means to be displaced.)

Twins (Twins #1) by Varian Johnson, Shannon Wright (Illustrator) (ISBN-13: 9781338236132 Publisher: Scholastic, Inc. Publication date: 10/06/2020, Ages 8-12)

Coretta Scott King Honor author Varian Johnson teams up with rising cartoonist Shannon Wright for a delightful middle-grade graphic novel!

Maureen and Francine Carter are twins and best friends. They participate in the same clubs, enjoy the same foods, and are partners on all their school projects. But just before the girls start sixth grade, Francine becomes Fran — a girl who wants to join the chorus, run for class president, and dress in fashionable outfits that set her apart from Maureen. A girl who seems happy to share only two classes with her sister!

Maureen and Francine are growing apart and there’s nothing Maureen can do to stop it. Are sisters really forever? Or will middle school change things for good?

(POST-IT SAYS: Absolutely adored this. Get like 6 copies for your library—this will fly off shelves! Great art and pitch perfect story about siblings, identity, confidence, friendship, and middle school.)

Dear Justyce by Nic Stone (ISBN-13: 9781984829665 Publisher: Random House Children’s Books Publication date: 09/29/2020, Ages 14-17)

The stunning sequel to the #1 New York Times bestseller Dear Martin. Incarcerated teen Quan writes letters to Justyce about his experiences in the American juvenile justice systemPerfect for fans of Jason Reynolds and Angie Thomas.

In the highly anticipated sequel to her New York Times bestseller, Nic Stone delivers an unflinching look into the flawed practices and silenced voices in the American juvenile justice system.

Vernell LaQuan Banks and Justyce McAllister grew up a block apart in the Southwest Atlanta neighborhood of Wynwood Heights. Years later, though, Justyce walks the illustrious halls of Yale University . . . and Quan sits behind bars at the Fulton Regional Youth Detention Center.

Through a series of flashbacks, vignettes, and letters to Justyce—the protagonist of Dear Martin—Quan’s story takes form. Troubles at home and misunderstandings at school give rise to police encounters and tough decisions. But then there’s a dead cop and a weapon with Quan’s prints on it. What leads a bright kid down a road to a murder charge? Not even Quan is sure.

(POST-IT SAYS: Whew. This is another must-read of 2020. A powerful examination of why someone may get involved in a gang, the school to prison pipeline, the justice system, and the importance of support. Profound.)

Lunch Will Never Be the Same! #1 by Veera Hiranandani, Christine Almeda (Illustrator) (ISBN-13: 9780593096895 Publisher: Penguin Young Readers Group Publication date: 10/06/2020, Ages 6-8)

Written by Newbery Honor-winner Veera Hiranandani, with all-new illustrations by Christine Almeda!

Phoebe G. Green has never given much thought to food, but when a new French classmate enters the cafeteria with a lunchbox full of unusual foods, a new love is born. Spunky and likable, Phoebe is a budding foodie who’s sure to win over your heart—and stomach!

Phoebe loves her pet fish, Betty #2 (named after Betty #1, may she rest in peace), making lists, and her best friend Sage. But when Camille, a tall French girl, arrives at school with unusual lunches, Phoebe can’t seem to think about anything else, including her friendship with Sage. Thanks to Camille, Phoebe discovers goat cheese, butter lettuce, and cilantro (although she’s convinced that’s not a real word). She’s determined to get invited to her new friend’s house for dinner to see what other mysterious food Camille eats. But what about Sage? Can Phoebe make a new friend and keep an old one?

(POST-IT SAYS: I never saw this series when it was pubbed in 2014, but so glad to discover it in this reissue. Nice look at friendship and navigating making a new friend without forgetting old friends. A solid, fun read with appealing art. Easy to recommend.)

Logan Likes Mary Anne! (The Baby-Sitters Club Graphix Series #8) by Gale Galligan, Ann M. Martin (ISBN-13: 9781338304541 Publisher: Scholastic, Inc. Publication date: 09/01/2020, Ages 8-12)

Another Baby-sitters Club graphic novel adapted by New York Timesbestselling author Gale Galligan!

It’s the first day of a new school year, and while Mary Anne doesn’t know what to expect from the eighth grade, she’s looking forward to getting back into the swing of things. One thing she definitely doesn’t expect is to meet Logan Bruno, who just moved to Stoneybrook!

Logan has a dreamy southern accent, he’s awfully cute… and he might be interested in joining the BSC. But the baby-sitters aren’t sure if Logan would make a good club member, so they send him on a job with Mary Anne as a test. Logan and Mary Anne hit it off, but Mary Anne isn’t sure of where their friendship could go. Life in the Baby-sitters Club has never been this complicated — or this fun!

(POST-IT SAYS: Can I please get all 200is iterations of the BSC books as graphic novels ASAP?! Another excellent addition to the series here. Logan is adorable and I still want the BSC as my besties. Really fun.)

Something to Say by Lisa Moore Ramée (ISBN-13: 9780062836717 Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers Publication date: 07/14/2020, Ages 8-12)

From the author of A Good Kind of Trouble, a Walter Dean Myers Honor Book, comes another unforgettable story about finding your voice—and finding your people. Perfect for fans of Sharon Draper, Meg Medina, and Jason Reynolds.

Eleven-year-old Jenae doesn’t have any friends—and she’s just fine with that. She’s so good at being invisible in school, it’s almost like she has a superpower, like her idol, Astrid Dane. At home, Jenae has plenty of company, like her no-nonsense mama; her older brother, Malcolm, who is home from college after a basketball injury; and her beloved grandpa, Gee.

Then a new student shows up at school—a boy named Aubrey with fiery red hair and a smile that won’t quit. Jenae can’t figure out why he keeps popping up everywhere she goes. The more she tries to push him away, the more he seems determined to be her friend. Despite herself, Jenae starts getting used to having him around.

But when the two are paired up for a class debate about the proposed name change for their school, Jenae knows this new friendship has an expiration date. Aubrey is desperate to win and earn a coveted spot on the debate team.

There’s just one problem: Jenae would do almost anything to avoid speaking up in front of an audience—including risking the first real friendship she’s ever had.

(POST-IT SAYS: This was great! All of the characters are interesting and stand out, but introverted, anxious Jenae is wonderful. Excellent look at friendship, social anxiety, social justice, and finding your voice. Loved it.)

Book Review: The Magic Fish by Trung Le Nguyen

The Magic Fish

Publisher’s description

Tiến loves his family and his friends…but Tiến has a secret he’s been keeping from them, and it might change everything. An amazing YA graphic novel that deals with the complexity of family and how stories can bring us together.

Real life isn’t a fairytale. 

But Tiến still enjoys reading his favorite stories with his parents from the books he borrows from the local library. It’s hard enough trying to communicate with your parents as a kid, but for Tiến, he doesn’t even have the right words because his parents are struggling with their English. Is there a Vietnamese word for what he’s going through? 

Is there a way to tell them he’s gay? 

A beautifully illustrated story by Trung Le Nguyen that follows a young boy as he tries to navigate life through fairytales, an instant classic that shows us how we are all connected. The Magic Fish tackles tough subjects in a way that accessible with readers of all ages, and teaches us that no matter what—we can all have our own happy endings.

Amanda’s thoughts

I’m writing this on November 6th, in the morning, before we know the election results. Here’s why this is significant: concentrating this week has been HARD. I have accomplished a great many tasks like washing my windows, doing yard work, and whatever else keeps me in perpetual motion and makes my anxiety motor rev a little slower. But I haven’t been able to read much. And I certainly didn’t intend to try to write anything for TLT this week. And yet, here I am. Why? Because this book is lovely and wonderful and special and, apparently, magic. It held my attention (I read it in one sitting), it made me cry, and it’s just SO good that I had to share it here.

This book is beautiful in every sense of the word and in every aspect of its presentation. The art is dynamic and full of detail, the shifting color palette works so well, the writing is spectacular, and the emotional heart of the story is stunning. Is this just a list of gushing love and appreciation instead of an actual professional-sounding book review? YES.

Tiến’s story is also beautiful. He and his family (especially his mother, who gets her own emotional and powerful story) spend their time together reading fairytales as a way to connect, share, and, for his parents, to work on their English. He has two best friends, one of whom he has a crush on, and they are so supportive and loving and kind. While Tiến is worried about coming out to his parents, readers don’t have to share that worry: we see the love and the support.

This is a story about immigrants, about shared language and connection, about a life left behind, about fitting in, about family, about being yourself, and about love. Tiến learns about the power of stories, about happy endings, about stories changing when they need to. The book ended abruptly but perfectly, leaving me crying and wishing everyone had the love and support Tiến has.

Also? This book has THE BEST dance scene. My heart. You’ll see when you read it. WHEN you read it.

Beautiful and moving, this book will stick with me. I hope it gets the attention it deserves. Go add it to your library queue or order it from your local indie now.

ISBN-13: 9781984851598
Publisher: Random House Children’s Books
Publication date: 10/13/2020
Age Range: 12 – 17 Years