Here is another batch of recent graphic novels to consider adding to your classroom and library collections.
March: Book One by John Robert Lewis
March: Book One is a memoir of how John Lewis became involved in the civil rights movement. Beginning with his life on the farm tending chickens and working its way through the beginning of the nonviolent protests led by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., March: Book One is a masterful example of how the graphic novel form can be used compellingly to convey important stories. Although it never stops being a comic, March: Book One also never stops being a gripping human story wrapped in historical significance. I highly recommend this for all classrooms and libraries.
March: Book Two by John Robert Lewis
Just as powerfully as in March: Book One, Book Two continues the story of John Lewis’s involvement in America’s civil rights movement. March: Book Two, despite its title, stands alone as a distinct chapter in America’s long struggle with race, but it also emerges smoothly from its predecessor volume. The book focuses on the Freedom Riders and ends just after the August, 1963 March on Washington. Although somewhat denser than Book One, Book Two alternates effectively between political discussions among the movement’s leaders and the more dramatic scenes in streets and prisons. The black-and-white artwork evokes the familiar black-and-white newsreel footage of protestors being set upon with fire hoses and police dogs, as well as the well-known images of George Wallace on the steps of the Alabama capitol and Martin Luther King giving his “I Have a Dream” speech. When those iconic images show up in comic form, they are simultaneously familiar and new. March: Book Two is an important contribution to our understanding of America and its history.
Orpheus in the Underworld by Yvan Pommaux
Myths lend themselves well to the comic form, and this version of Orpheus in the Underworld does a fine job of rendering the intricate tale of Orpheus and Eurydice into an engaging visual experience. The characters’ faces though, for the most part, lack expression, and the drawings of most of the dramatic settings are gray and muted. So, while the myth itself makes this worthwhile, I hope future installments of the Toon Graphic Mythology series take more risks.
Awkward by Svetlana Chmakova
It’s the Science Club versus the Art Club in Awkward. The school’s Darth Vader-ish principal pits the kids against each other as they vie for a table at their school’s club fair. Although that premise is far-fetched, it allows for Svetlana Chmakova’s characters to be mean to their enemies, support their friends, and eventually find some satisfying common ground in ways that resonate authentically. Although the plot of Awkward contains few surprises, its messages are important. Meanwhile, I’m waiting for a graphic novel that presents a principal as something less than a monster …
Dragons Beware! by Jorge Aguirre
Dragons Beware! has all the cliches of the dragon-slaying genre, but the standard elements are turned on their heads with hilarious characters and dialogue. Claudette is the daughter of warriors (and the sibling of a young chef) who is set on recovering her father’s magic sword from the belly of a ferocious dragon while surrounded by an uproarious supporting cast of princes, princesses, soldiers and servants. The kid appeal of Dragons Beware! is strong, and the messages about negotiation, courage, and family are subtly integrated into a highly satisfying adventure.
A Year Without Mom by Dasha Tolstikova
At first I was thinking, “Except for how it’s set in Russia, I’ve read this storyline many times. And the artwork is too drab.” Then it hit me. Yes, A Year Without Mom has a familiar plot–adolescent girl is separated from parents and has to navigate school, friends, and the future more or less on her own–but that Russian setting is what makes it so relevant. Young people all over the world have similar issues and problems like those experienced by young Dasha. Set the story in Russia, and all that changes are the details, and those details are rendered here in washed-out colors with occasional splashes of brightness. This is how I imagine Dasha’s world feels to her.
I can’t speak for all teachers, but when I have students in class who come from foreign lands, I tend to focus on their language. A Year Without Mom reminds me to do a better job of also considering their stories and backgrounds.
Princess Decomposia and Count Spatula by Andi Watson
Princess Decomposia is running the royal household while her father, the king … molders, I guess. When the castle needs a new chef, Count Spatula arrives with a full array of recipes, although the king doesn’t want to try anything new. Despite the king’s reservations about Spatula, the princess and the count hit it off, working around obstacles presented by various ghouls and zombies. This book has an Addams Family flavor with appealing major characters and a fascinating, creepy, sardonic cast of supporting characters. The artwork is spare, letting readers fill in details to whatever level of scariness or silliness their imaginations will allow. I like how Decomposia and Spatula have their priorities straight and keep their wits when those around them–both above ground and below–make decisions according to their baser instincts. I also admire how this graphic novel is actually a novel, complete with character development, a plot with some complexity, and a satisfying resolution. Princess Decomposia and Count Spatula can be a part of any Halloween-themed display or promotion but will also be popular all year long.
All You Need Is Kill by Hiroshi Sakurazaka
This self-contained epic manga masterpiece contains an interesting stuck-in-a-time-loop storyline, two appealing lead characters, and excellent artwork with battle scenes that the pages can hardly contain. If comics are your thing, you will probably enjoy All You Need Is Kill.
Nnewts: Escape from the Lizzarks by Doug TenNapel
The world of Nnewts is super-complex in the colorful “Book One: Escape from the Lizzarks.” The art is the strongest feature of Nnewts. The story is one we’ve seen before: A youngster finds himself battling invaders with the help of an assortment of supporters, including a elderly master who dispenses wisdom. This adventure with touches of humor will likely satisfy young comics fans who like fantasy series.
Cleopatra in Space #2: The Thief and the Sword by Mike Maihack
Cleopatra in Space is an action comics series with the Egyptian icon transported far into the future. I like how it integrates so many Egyptian mythological and historical allusions without seeming overly pedagogical about it. This second volume–“The Thief and the Sword”–does not stand alone at all. It offers very little back-story and ends with a cliffhanger that sets up the next installment. “The Thief and the Sword” reads fairly quickly because so many of the pages are action sequences with sound effects (“Zwaack,” “Wump,” “Brrummm”) but no dialogue or other text.
Hello Kitty: It’s About Time by Jacob Chabot
I’ll admit that before looking at Hello Kitty: It’s About Time, I only knew Hello Kitty as a face on stickers, lunch boxes, and other products for kids. So, I came at my first Hello Kitty book with very few expectations. This 61-page collection has eleven mostly wordless Hello Kitty adventures, all with the concept of time embedded somewhere. Some of the little episodes are more interesting than others, but I can easily see how these quick stories can appeal to the youngest readers and give them imaginative material to enjoy and interpret.
Baba Yaga’s Assistant by Marika McCoola
Baba Yaga’s Assistant is a colorful blending of a contemporary situation with family folklore. Although visually appealing, this tale never quite drew me in on any level. The contemporary frame story seemed too melodramatic, and the folklore elements were predictable. The scary parts might have some appeal for the right young readers.
Roller Girl by Victoria Jamieson
Astrid is trying to figure out where she fits into her junior high’s pantheon of identities. She knows she’s not this, and she’s not that, but she doesn’t quite know who or what she is. And then she discovers roller derby. Although Astrid isn’t exactly a natural at the sport, she loves the action, and being on a team, and the way players adopt clever, scrappy names like The Blast Unicorn and Roarshock Tess. As she works to get better, Astrid navigates some tricky friendship situations and learns the value of how practice and more practice turns into dedication, which eventually becomes something resembling that identity she was searching for in the first place.
I don’t know exactly how to explain it, but Roller Girl feels like both an authentic story with real characters and a comic. Maybe it’s because roller derby is a little on the comic-ish side of the sporting world. More likely, it’s due to author Victoria Jamieson’s understanding of both junior-high life and the world of roller derby. This is a book that can help readers of all ages better understand themselves and one of the central dilemmas of adolescence. Every kid who has ever wondered where she or he fits into the complex world of shifting identities will probably relate to Astrid and Roller Girl.
Your comments and opinions are welcome below. As always, thanks for reading!