Swing It, Sunny

Wonderful second book featuring Sunny and her family! I couldn’t put it down!

Graphic novel, fiction
Interest level: grades 3-6
4 out of 5 stars

This is a strong follow-up to Sunny Side Up. I would recommend reading Sunny Side Up before reading Swing It, Sunny. The story carries on where the first novel ended and readers need the back story for this book to make complete sense.
Sunny’s brother, Dale, has been sent to a boarding school where his family is hoping he can overcome his drug problems. Sunny struggles to deal with Dale’s feelings of being abandoned.

Grandpa visits and it is wonderful to see the multigenerational relationship that he has with Sunny. A new neighbor also provides friendship and gives Sunny some guidance and purpose.
The book is set in the 1970s, which is a historical period that many children today are not familiar with. Sunny and her friends and family are almost obsessed with the television shows of the time, which are prominently featured in the book. The Holmses incorporate the old TV shows into the story in a fun way.

In the end, Sunny discovers that persistence and love can pay off. I really enjoyed reading this second book and had a hard time putting it down. I hope a Book 3 is forthcoming because I am really rooting for Dale!

Harriet the Invincible 

A fun retelling of Sleeping Beauty where the princess doesn’t sit around waiting for the curse to happen to her, but instead goes out and kicks some butt! Oh, and she’s a hamster…

Hybrid novel/graphic novel, fiction, fantasy
Interest level: grades 2-4; Reading level: 4.9
2017-2018 YHBA Intermediate nominee
4 out of 5 stars

Harriet Hamsterbone is a spirited hamster princess who decides that she isn’t going to sit around and wait for a hamster wheel to appear on her twelfth birthday so she can prick her finger, fall into a deep sleep, and then have some prince come to her rescue. Quite frankly, she’s a little skeptical that princes are capable of being heros, and she reasons that “the curse needs me alive until I’m twelve, or it can’t operate! I’m invincible!”

So Harriet sets out on her faithful riding quail, Mumfrey and spends the “next two years cliff-diving, dragon-slaying, and jousting on the professional circuit.” Harriet turns the usual fairytale hero/damsel in distress stereotype on its head. She empowers herself and determines that she won’t let anyone dictate how princesses should act.
Ursula Vernon injects a ton of humor into Harriet’s story. The format of the book contains paragraphs of text interspersed with graphic novel style panels. The illustrations are single color in the style of Dragonbreath (also by Vernon), Babymouse, and Lunch Lady. All these features combine to make a book that is perfect for readers who may not want to read traditional, text-only novels.

Harriet the Invincible
by Ursula Vernon
Scholastic, 2015
ISBN 978-0-545-91343-0

Mighty Jack and the Goblin King

Mighty Jack and the Goblin King finds Jack, Lilly, and Maddy in a fantastical world with giants and goblins in this retelling of Jack and the Beanstalk.

Graphic novel, fiction, fantasy, adventure
Interest Level: 5-8; Reading Level: 2.8
5 out of 5 stars

This sequel to Mighty Jack picks up right where the story ended — Jack’s sister Maddy has been carried away by a strange creature and Jack and Lilly have set out to rescue her. Hatke has indeed created a very fantastical world that features giant beanstalks holding up castles and sprouting sewer pipes. We learn that this place is a crossroad between worlds, but this once green and thriving world is falling into disrepair.
Lilly and Jack get separated and encounter goblins, giants, and mutant rat-like creatures as they fight to rescue Maddy and return home. While Jack might seem like the main character, Hatke lets Lilly shine on her own and display her own strength and cunning. This is not a story where the female character is left waiting for the male to save her!
Hatke’s style of illustration really keeps the focus on the characters. While the creatures and world of plants is very detailed, the background is mostly plain and monochrome so that the reader isn’t overwhelmed.

Snappy dialog and bits of humor make this a really fun story to read. There are also unexpected details like a Magic 8 Ball and a Shelby Mustang that somehow work in this strange alternate world.
While this book cleanly wraps up the story of Jack, Lilly and Maddy, be prepared for a fun and exciting twist at the end. Hatke sure knows how to keep readers coming back for more!

Mighty Jack and the Goblin King
by Ben Hatke
First Second, 2017
ISBN 978-1-62672-267-5

Narwhal and Jelly books

Narwhal and Jelly is a new series that focuses on two unusual friends and the fun they have together. Fans of Elephant & Piggie or Bob Shea’s Ballet Cat will enjoy these beginning-level graphic novels.

Graphic novel, fiction
Interest Level: K-3; Reading Level: 2.4
5 out of 5 stars

Narwhal and Jelly are two of the cutest characters in children’s literature. Each time I read Narwhal: unicorn of the sea! I find myself grinning from ear to ear.

Untitled Narwhal certainly doesn’t lack self-confidence. He considers himself to be “really awesome,” and quite frankly, who doesn’t think narwhals are awesome! Narwhal is rather clueless about things other than himself though, so when he meets Jelly, the jellyfish, they have a funny conversation about whether or not each other are real. Jelly has never seen a narwhal before, and Narwhal thinks that Jelly certainly looks like jelly, but not so much like a fish, so he’s not sure jellyfish are real either. In the end, Narwhal suggest they become imaginary friends and they both discover a love for waffles. Ben Clanton’s illustrations are relatively simple, but they still manage to portray emotion and action. The book is formatted almost like a cross between a graphic novel, with some pages containing sequential panel illustrations, and a picture book, with full page scenes. Narwhal and Jelly will be a series of books. Each book contains five different short story chapters. Overall, these are great books for readers who are graduating from Elephant & Piggie picture books and have the stamina for a longer graphic novel story. Untitled
The different stories in each book focus on friendship and fun. Narwhal seems mostly concerned with himself, but we learn that he is also a little clueless about relationships, so it is good that Jelly is around to balance out his harmless airhead personality.

Certain threads run throughout the books in the series. The two characters share a love for waffles and invent stories that feature a kung fu waffle and his strawberry sidekick. Each book also contains a chapter that presents interesting facts about sea creatures. The themes of friendship and inclusion make the Narwhal and Jelly stories truly special.

I highly recommend Narwhal and Jelly — they make readers smile and leave you feeling warm and happy.

Narwhal: unicorn of the sea!
by Ben Clanton
Tundra Books, 2016
ISBN 978-1-101-91871-5

Super Narwhal and Jelly Jolt
by Ben Clanton
Tundra Books, 2017

Snow White: a graphic novel

Matt Phelan has created a beautiful and intriguing graphic novel retelling of the classic fairy tale of Snow White.

Snow White: a graphic novel
by Matt Phelan
Candlewick Press, 2016
ISBN 978-0-7636-7233-1
235 pages : chiefly illustrations (some color) ; 21 cm
Graphic novel
Dewey: 741.5; Int Lvl: 4-8; Rd Lvl: 4.0
5 out of 5 stars

The story of Snow White is well-known, so most readers will approach this story with a feeling of familiarity. Matt Phelan has given Snow White a truly brilliant twist by setting it in 1928 New York City.

In Phelan’s update, the Wicked Witch is the star of Ziegfeld’s Follies. After Snow’s mother dies, her wealthy father becomes enchanted by the Queen of the Follies and marries her. Snow is sent to away to boarding school. Instead of an enchanted mirror, a stock market ticker shows what motivates the evil Queen. She is obsessed with money, wealth, and beauty. With her insecurities fed by the words on the ticker tape, the Queen kills the father and attempts to kill Snow when she returns for the funeral.

The seven dwarfs are seven homeless boys who have banded together to survive the cold streets. The boys save Snow from muggers, and take her in, where she becomes a mother-type figure to them. Snow’s relationship to the boys is truly a highlight of the story. The boys at first do not trust adults and refuse to reveal their names to Snow. The moment where she finds out their names is a real tear-jerker.

Prince Charming is Detective Prince, who is called to the scene when Snow’s poisoned body is discovered in the window of Macy’s department store. She was placed there by the seven boys after
she took them to see the magic that can be found in the beautiful holiday window scenes. It is easy for the reader to believe the magic of those windows can save Snow White.

As well as an unique setting and time period, Phelan’s art work adds intrigue to the traditional story. Mostly done in detailed black and white, color is used to add mood and intensity. Splashes of red really pop and are effective in highlighting evil and blood/death. Shades of cool blue are used on the Macy’s window scenes, and finally, the happily-ever-after ending is done in color.

Phelan has managed to craft a unique Snow White story that will stick in your mind. He has done this by sticking to the traditionally known plot, but incredible visuals combined with the new setting and time frame make the story feel new and updated. Middle grade and older readers will enjoy this fresh version.

Mighty Jack by @BenHatke; 5 out of 5 stars #bookaday

This is an extremely well-done graphic novel that will appeal to a wide variety of readers.

Mighty Jack
by Ben Hatke
First Second, 2016
ISBN 978-1-62672-265-1
203 pages : chiefly color illustrations ; 23 cm
Graphic novel, fairy tale adaptation
Interest level: grades 3-8; reading level: 2.8
Lexile measure: 200
5 out of 5 stars

Jack and his sister Maddy are beginning summer vacation by going with their mom to the flea market. Through illustrations of past due bills, and mom talking about working two jobs, readers will understand that Jack’s family is facing some economic hardships. We also learn that Maddy doesn’t speak. Hatke combines visual clues with the right level of language to handle these sensitive issues in a realistic and heartfelt way.

While at the flea market, Jack and Maddy encounter a mysterious man who wants to trade some seeds for their mom’s car. Maddy speaks for the first time, telling Jack to do it, and this modern retelling of “Jack and the Beanstalk” starts to take shape for readers.

Maddy and Jack are joined by Lilly, an adventurous girl who lives nearby, and together these three form a bond as they work on the mysterious and strange garden that begins to take over. The mysterious plants that grow, and the evil changes that the garden takes on, will engage readers. While the story is based on the fairytale, Hatke has given it a fresh, evil take that will keep older readers enthralled.

This is an extremely well-done graphic novel that will appeal to a wide variety of readers. Younger readers who like spooky stories, will enjoy this, as will older readers who might read below grade level. Word of warning! The book ends on a cliffhanger that will make you antsy for the next book. The second book should be out around September 2017.

For people who had read Hatke’s Little Robot, there is a fun cameo in this story to keep your eye out for.

Human Body Theater: a non-fiction revue; 5 out of 5 stars #bookaday

by Maris Wicks
First Second, 2015
ISBN 978-1-62672-277-4
Graphic novel, nonfiction, informational
Interest level: 6-8
Reading level: 5.7
5 out of 5 stars

I absolutely loved reading Human Body Theater: a nonfiction revue by Maris Wicks. The text and illustrations are engaging and fun, while at the same time packing a huge amount of facts and interesting information into a very accessible graphic novel. Formatted as if the reader is watching a stage production, the skeleton emcee tackles 10 systems of the body, as well as the 5 senses. The descriptions and illustrations provide just enough detail to inform, yet are simple enough to be grasped by middle school readers without being offensive or disturbing. I especially love the positive message that Wicks conveys when she repeatedly assures the reader that body functions that we consider embarrassing are actually perfectly natural and that everyone does or has them, such as farts. She also provides related information, such as a sign language alphabet when discussing hearing impairment, or ways to relieve a headache when discussing the brain.

I definitely feel this book should be a part of every middle school and high school library collection. While primarily targeting middle school, this book is great for high school hi/lo reading needs, as well as providing a straightforward explanation that is understandable in ways that textbooks sometimes are not.

I was reading the book with an eye for its inclusion in an elementary school library. There is so much in this book that I can see being a benefit to readers in an elementary school. Our fifth grade does a study on the human body and I believe a text like this would make a great supplemental reading to help students understand the different systems. My only concern is Act 8: the reproductive system.

Wicks provides information on male and female reproductive organs and does an amazing job walking the line between detailing the parts of both organs while also keeping the illustrations abstract enough that they might not have meaning for younger children. Human Body Theater is definitely a book intended for a middle school audience, but I saw discussions on Twitter that indicated reviewers of the book had children as young as six and seven who love the book.

The following journals have reviewed the book and recommend it for different audience levels:

Booklist: grades 5-8
Kirkus Reviews: ages 12-14
Publisher Weekly: ages 10-14
School Library Journal: grades 4-8

I have often recommended books for elementary library collections when reviewers recommend them for grades 5-8. The fact that School Library Journal even lowers the grade to 4th is another factor that would make me feel this book would be appropriate in elementary school.

However, I also searched my school district, as well as two neighboring school districts and found that no elementary schools have Human Body Theater in their collections. Until I can do further research and talk to some teachers in my school, I would have to say that I would highly recommend this book for middle and high school libraries.