Page by Paige

New city. New friends. New Paige?

When Paige’s parents move her family from Virginia to New York City, Paige doesn’t know where she fits in anymore. At first, the only thing keeping her company is her notebook, where she pours her worries and observations, and experiments with her secret identity: ARTIST. With the confidence the book brings her, she starts to make friends and shake up her family’s expectations. But is she ready to become the person she draws in her notebook?

Paige tells her own story, which allows readers to understand her insecurities and struggles. Paige is an extremely likable and relatable main character who worries about many typical teenage problems such as making friends, having a boyfriend, and becoming more independent. As Paige matures, she learns to be comfortable in her own skin and she becomes more confident in sharing her artwork.

Throughout the story, Paige’s doubts and insecurities are shown in thought bubbles. When it comes to her art, she questions herself and thinks, “You’re going to fail, so why even try? What if I have nothing to say? No good at all?” Paige’s self-doubts continue when she begins to make friends. Paige thinks, “I’ve always been scared of revealing too much, saying the wrong thing, screwing up. . .” Paige is tired of always feeling “awkward, behind, sheltered,” so she begins a journey of self-growth and starts to stretch herself and be more open.

One of the best parts of Page by Paige is the black and white illustrations which are beautiful and interesting. Instead of just relying on facial expressions, Paige’s emotions come through her own artwork. For instance, when Paige is afraid of expressing herself, the illustration shows Paige’s mouth sewn shut. The imaginative artwork gives Paige’s emotions a life of their own and the pictures will help the reader understand Paige’s inner conflicts.

Readers can learn a lot about self-acceptance from Paige. At the beginning of each chapter, Paige writes a rule she wants to live by. For example, “Figure out what scares you and DO IT and let yourself FAIL. Don’t take it all so personally.” When Paige allows these rules to guide her behavior, she learns more about herself and begins to overcome her fears. As Paige matures, she realizes, “Bad experiences are like bad drawings. They stay in our sketchbooks. They stay a part of us. You can’t erase your past or who you are. You have to deal with it, I suppose.”

Page by Paige’s format will appeal to even the most reluctant readers. The story includes list and thought bubbles that use simple but expressive vocabulary. Some pages have no words, but allow the illustrations to express Paige’s complex emotions instead. While a few pages are text heavy, most pages have one to eight short sentences. Even though Paige’s struggles are typical, her illustrations elevate the graphic novel’s ability to express emotions.

Page by Paige will appeal to a wide variety of readers because it focuses on issues that most teens face. While the story gives readers a lot of good advice, the story never feels like a lecture. Instead, the graphic novel focuses on Paige’s personal growth. If you’re looking for an engaging graphic novel with interesting artwork, then Page by Paige is the perfect book for you.

Sexual Content

  • When meeting kids at her new school, someone asks Paige, “Are you Irish?” Then the kids tell Paige what their diverse heritage is. Paige says, “Me, I’m just like if all the pale countries got together and had a big orgy.”
  • A boy teasingly tells Paige, “I’ll try not to pop your cherry.”
  • The illustrations show Paige kissing her boyfriend twice. This is her first kiss.

Violence

  • None

 Drugs and Alcohol

  • None

Language

  • Crap is used four times.
  • Damn is used twice.

Supernatural

  • None

Spiritual Content

  • None

 

Just Roll With It

As long as Maggie rolls the right number, nothing can go wrong…right?

Maggie just wants to get through her first year of middle school. But between finding the best after-school clubs, trying to make friends, and avoiding the rumored monster on school grounds, she’s having a tough time . . . so she might need a little help from her twenty-sided dice. But what happens if Maggie rolls the wrong number?

Maggie struggles with OCD and feels compelled to roll a dice before she makes any decisions. Soon, Maggie is rolling dice to decide if she should have lunch with a friend, if she should let a friend borrow a book, and other everyday decisions. Maggie’s OCD begins to interfere with her daily life. At the beginning of the story, the reader sees Maggie rolling the dice, but a lack of explanation makes the dice rolling confusing. However, later in the book, OCD is explained in kid-friendly terms that are relatable.

In English class, the students are reading The Crucible, which ties into Maggie’s life. For example, Maggie’s friend, Clara, says, “I think it must be really hard for Sara. She knows she’s not a witch, but when everyone is saying that kind of stuff to you, sometimes it’s hard to remember they are wrong.” Likewise, Maggie wonders if others think she is crazy, because of her OCD.

Maggie’s story unfolds with quick looks at different aspects of her life. While this allows Maggie to be well-developed, the constant change of scene may be confusing for some readers. In addition, part of Maggie’s emotions are shown when she talks to an imaginary dragon. The dragon doesn’t hesitate in making Maggie question her abilities. At one point the dragon tells her, “Every time you forget your homework, or are afraid to ask a question, and even when you’re not sure if you want seconds at dinner? That’s me, reminding you that you’re weak. You’re shy. You’re nothing.”

Just Roll With It has several positive aspects, including Maggie’s relationship with her family and her friend, Clara. Maggie’s sister encourages Maggie that “fear and pain can’t be avoided, no matter how much we try. Coming out to mom and dad was really scary for me. But I’m glad I did it. A lot of the worries I made up in my head ended up not coming true. So I put myself through a lot of heartache for nothing.” With her family’s reassurance, Maggie agrees to see a therapist in order to deal with anxiety. Middle grade readers will relate to Maggie who worries about what other people say about her, forgets to do her homework, and struggles with figuring out what clubs she wants to join.

Maggie’s story comes to life in brightly colored panels. When Maggie is feeling stressed, the pictures use a darker hue to illustrate her anxiety. The illustrations mostly focus on Maggie, her friends, and her family. When Maggie is at school, the students are a diverse group including a girl in a wheelchair and a Muslim. The story also includes Clara’s two moms and Maggie’s sister’s girlfriend. Reluctant readers will enjoy Just Roll With It because it uses easy vocabulary and has a fast pace. Each page has one to seven simple sentences, which make Just Roll With a quick book to read. Readers interested in exploring the theme of anxiety should also read the graphic novel, Guts by Raina Telgemeie.

Sexual Content

  • None

Violence

  • A boy shoves Maggie’s friend Clara twice, knocking her to the ground.
  • When a boy goes to hit Clara, Maggie steps in and hits him across the face with a fat book.

 Drugs and Alcohol

  • None

Language

  • Heck, darn, and OMG are used several times.
  • Crap is used once.
  • There is some name-calling including jerk, snake bait, and babies.

Supernatural

  • None

Spiritual Content

  • None

El Deafo

Starting at a new school is scary, especially with a giant hearing aid strapped to your chest! At her old school, everyone in Cece’s class was deaf. Here, she’s different. She’s sure the kids are staring at the Phonic Ear, the powerful aid that will help her hear her teacher. Too bad it also seems certain to repel potential friends.

Then, Cece makes a startling discovery. With the Phonic Ear she can hear her teacher not just in the classroom but anywhere her teacher is in the school—in the hallway . . . in the teacher’s lounge . . . in the bathroom! This is power. Maybe even a superpower! Cece is on her way to becoming El Deafo, Listener for All. But the funny thing about being a superhero is that it’s just another way of feeling different . . . and lonely. Can Cece channel her powers into finding the thing she wants most… a true friend?

Through Cece’s experiences, readers will come to understand how Cece uses visual clues, context clues and gestural clues to understand what others are saying. Often, Cece can’t understand what someone is saying; this is indicated through text boxes that have gibberish inside of them. Cece is also frustrated by others who don’t understand her disability. For example, while at a sleepover, one of the girls asks, “Can people who wear hearing aids also wear makeup?” Once the girls turn off the lights and start talking and laughing, Cece can’t read their lips and she worries that they are talking about her, so she decides to go home.

Some people who are trying to be helpful make Cece feel worse. Sometimes, people would try to talk to her in sign language, but “some people put on a real show when they start signing—almost like mimes.” Events like this make Cece feel worse because she doesn’t want others to focus on her. One of Cece’s coping mechanisms is to daydream about being El Deafo. Pretending to be El Deafo allows her to process her feelings and voice opinions that could not be said aloud.

El Deafo is based on Bell’s own childhood and her complex emotions about her hearing impairment. While Cece’s emotions shine, readers may have a difficult time relating to the Phonic Ear because of advancements in technology which doesn’t require wires that lead from the device to the ear. However, Cece’s struggles will be relatable. She worries about being different, making friends, having people stare at her, and having a crush. One downside of the story is that Cece’s peers do not embrace her until they realize that Cece can use the Phonic Ear to warn them when the teacher is coming back into the room.

In the author’s note, Bell explains the different ways people become deaf or hearing impaired as well as the different ways people cope with their disability. She also explains that she learned to view her deafness as a gift. “And being different? That turned out to be the best part of all. I found that with a little creativity, and a lot of dedication, any difference can be turned into something amazing. Our differences are our superpowers.”

The graphic novel’s format and rabbit characters will appeal to readers. Each page is divided into panels and has 5 to 11 sentences. While the characters’ words appear in text bubbles, the narration appears in yellow boxes at the top of a frame. When Cece takes on the personality of El Deafo, the frames are surrounded by green which makes it easy to distinguish between fact and fantasy. El Deafo will help readers understand what if feels like to be hearing impaired, which makes it an excellent book to add to your child’s reading list.

Sexual Content

  • At a slumber party, one of the girls talks about “Mary kissing that boy from Ms. Huffman’s class. All this mwah mwah mwah.”
  • Cece has a crush on a boy, and she thinks about kissing him.

Violence

  • Cece gets angry at her mother and kicks her.

 Drugs and Alcohol

  • None

Language

  • Heck is used twice.
  • Dang is used once.

Supernatural

  • None

Spiritual Content

  • None

Almost American Girl

In her graphic novel memoir, Robin Ha shares the story of her experiences leaving her home in Korea for America, and her journey trying to navigate a new world and form a new identity. Despite living with her single mother (something considered taboo in Korea), Chuna (who later chose the name Robin in America), found her place with her Korean friends. After school, Robin would eat snacks from food stands, shop for comic books, and attend after school classes. Robin was happy and content in Korea until one day, her mother told her they would be taking a trip to Alabama.

Curious by this mysterious location, Robin assumed it was just another vacation her mother had planned. However, in Alabama, Robin was introduced to Mr. Kim and his daughter, Lena. Robin also met Mr. Kim’s sister and her children, Grace, Ashley, and Daniel. Finding herself bored and lonely in Alabama, Robin was excited to return to Korea. However, her life was severely shaken when she received the news that her mother and Mr. Kim were getting married, and they would be staying in Alabama indefinitely.

Robin resented her mother for making this decision without her, but she was unable to change her fate. Soon, Robin selected her English name and was sent to a new middle school with Grace and Ashley. Initially, Robin found life in Alabama utterly miserable; she could not understand why her mother believed life in America was better than life in Korea. Robin knew little English and could not communicate with her peers well enough to make friends. In addition, Robin was the only Asian student at her school and suffered racist comments from school bullies who taunted her and made her say rude things in English.

Despite what Robin believed, her mother was not blind to her daughter’s suffering. One day, Robin’s mother took Robin to a comic-book store and enrolled her in a comic drawing class. There, Robin found herself surrounded by people who shared her love for comic books. She also met Jessica, who instantly became her best friend.

Just as Robin began to grow comfortable in Alabama, things between her mother and Mr. Kim grew rocky. Robin’s mother, who always valued her independence, refused to move to Los Angeles with Mr. Kim because she feared it was too unsafe. Her refusal to move sparked tension between her and Mr. Kim’s mother who believed she was being a bad wife to her son. Making a desperate attempt to preserve her freedom, Robin’s mother made plans to move with Robin to Virginia.

Despite her fears of moving again, Robin adjusted well because her new school was more diverse, and Robin grew very close to a group of Korean girls. In Virginia, Robin finally began to see America as her home. After graduation, Robin and her friends visited Korea, and while Robin still enjoyed certain aspects of Korean culture, her visit allowed her to appreciate American culture even more. These feelings were compounded upon witnessing Korea’s harsh treatment of single women and unmarried mothers. In the end, Robin identifies herself as neither Korean nor American, but a combination of both.

Staying true to her love of comics, Robin’s memoir is a graphic novel. For most of Robin’s story, the comic panels consist of simple and colorful drawings. Each image has a one to two sentence caption, explaining the actions or emotions of the scene. Many images also include dialogue or thought bubbles that provide a good balance of words to pictures. However, some powerful images fill the whole page with just a small amount of text to convey an emotion rather than reality. For example, an image of Robin lying in a dark forest with the caption, “cast out in a strange and hostile land,” conveys the loneliness and isolation Robin feels in her first few months in America. The images become more vibrant and colorful when Robin starts to feel more confident and comfortable. While some Korean words are used, a glossary is provided in the back of the book for an explanation. In addition, the blue-colored text is used to imply characters are speaking in Korean, while black text signifies English.

Robin’s story speaks to the experience of many immigrants trying to find their cultural identity in a new country. Through her vibrant memoir, Robin Ha shares the beauty of her home country while still being able to look back on the negative aspects through a more mature lens. Through visual flashbacks, characterized by a more neutral color palette, Robin explores how her mother endured shame and insults because she was unmarried, with a young daughter. Despite prejudices against single mothers, Robin’s mother did all she could to give Robin a better life. Robin begins to truly realize all the sacrifices her mother made for her, and she learned to appreciate the opportunities America provided.

Overall, Almost American Girl is about embracing change and learning how to value different cultures and appreciate differences. The memoir also reveals how finding your identity is not always an easy process, but it’s okay to just be authentic to yourself. Robin’s story is inspiring and heartwarming to read. It’s fast paced and engages readers by teaching about the cultural differences between Korea and America.

Sexual Content

  • Robin is surprised by American traditions during her first Halloween. When she saw her friend in a rather revealing costume she thought, “Wow, I can see the top of her boobs.”
  • Later in life, Robin becomes aware of the prejudice against single mothers in Korea. An image shows a teenage Robin watching a T.V in Korea that says, “I didn’t raise a slut! You are no child of mine . . . ” The show is referring to an unwed mother.

Violence

  • In her first week of school, Robin is shoved against a locker by two bullies. Robin is not hurt, but she is confused as to why they were being mean.
  • In a flashback sequence, Robin recalls a time her third-grade teacher called her up to the front of the class and beat Robin’s hands with a ruler because she made a slight mistake.

Drugs and Alcohol

  • When Robin was a baby, Robin’s dad would frequently come home late and drunk. Robin’s mother said, “You reek of alcohol. Don’t come closer!”

Language

  • A bully at school gets Robin to say, “I eat shit.” She is unaware of what she is saying.
  • When Robin shares that Ashley [her step-cousin] has not been helpful at school her mother cries, “What a little bitch!”
  • Frustrated with her new life in America, Robin screams she “was happy living in Korea. I had friends and I didn’t have to deal with this stepfamily bullshit!”

Supernatural

  • None

Spiritual

  • None

by Elena Brown

 

Twilight: The Graphic Novel, Volume 1

When Bella’s mother gets remarried, Bella leaves her home in sunny Phoenix and goes to live with her father in the perpetually rainy town of Forks, Washington. Forks is a tiny, gloomy town and Bella is fully prepared to be miserable for her final two years of high school. She doesn’t expect anything interesting to happen in Forks. That is, of course, until she meets Edward Cullen.

Something is different about Edward. Breathtakingly beautiful and from a wealthy family, he baffles Bella with wild mood swings. When they first meet, he instantly despises her to the point of frightening her. Then—after disappearing for a week—he appears perfectly cordial. But it’s not until Edward saves her life in a feat of superhuman strength that Bella realizes the Cullen family is guarding a dangerous secret.

It would be smarter to walk away. Edward is unsure if he will be able to resist his thirst for Bella’s blood. But by the time she realizes the danger she is in, it’s too late. Live or die, Bella has fallen in love with Edward. She can’t walk away, even if her relationship with Edward costs her entire life.

Twilight is an epic story of love overcoming all challenges. In this graphic novel, Kim does a wonderful job bringing the characters and the storyline to life. By breaking the first book into segments, Kim ensures none of the essential story points are missing. For those who have not read Twilight and for avid fans alike, this graphic novel is an enjoyable escape into the Twilight universe.

Twilight, The Graphic Novel, Volume I uses soft shades of grey to bring its beautiful illustrations to life. The characters are all drawn to be beautiful, which is aesthetically pleasing if not the most accurate. Occasional splashes of color emphasize important moments and the characters’ expressions are easy to understand, which adds depth to the story. The graphic novel format manages to capture the essence of the original Twilight book without losing any of the essential aspects of the original story, an impressive feat that makes this a wonderful choice for reluctant readers.

Bella is not an overpowering heroine; she is quiet and clumsy to a fault, but she is fiercely loyal and brave. Bella risks everything for love, a choice that not all adults will agree with, but that most readers will understand as they follow Bella’s journey. Twilight is a wonderful story that swept through a generation of young readers like wildfire. Now in graphic novel form, it will continue to be picked up by even the most reluctant readers in years to come.

Sexual Content

  • When Bella and Edward kiss for the first time, Bella describes, “Blood boiled under my skin, burned in my lips.”

Violence

  • A van skids on ice in a parking lot and almost hits Bella. Edward pulls her out of the way. She is not injured, though the driver of the van is later shown in the hospital with bandages on his head.
  • Bella researches vampire legends online, including the Slovakian Nelapsi, “a creature so strong and fast it could massacre an entire village in the single hour after midnight.”

Drugs and Alcohol

  • None

Language

  • None

Supernatural

  • A legend of the indigenous Quileute people, “claims that [they] descended from wolves – and that the wolves are our brothers still.”
  • Edward and his family are vampires. They have super speed, strength, eyesight, etc. Unlike most vampires, Edward and his family survive off the blood of animals, so they do not have to murder people.
  • Some vampires have special abilities. Edward can read minds.

Spiritual Content

  • At first, Edward tries to stay away from Bella because he thinks it would be safer for her. Then he decides “as long as I was going to hell, I might as well do it thoroughly.”

by Morgan Lynn

Mac Saves the World

The Queen of England calls on her trusty spy, Mac B., once again. This time, Mac must navigate secret tunnels beneath the Berlin Wall to retrieve cheat codes from a Soviet scientist. Floppy disk in hand, our hero finds himself trapped in East Germany, stuck between the wall and the Stasi. How will he escape? Well, it is 1989, and walls do fall down.

Before he leaves for his mission, the Queen of England gives Mac a short lesson on the Cold War and the Iron Curtain. However, the information is surface level and doesn’t show how the Berlin Wall affected the people of Germany. Even though Mac sneaks into East Germany, the story has little suspense, and the plot is not well developed.

The sixth installment of the Mac B. Series lacks the puns and wordplay that make the other books so much fun. Some of the story’s humor comes from jokes about floppy disks; unfortunately, younger readers who have never seen a floppy disk may not find the floppy disk scenes funny.

Despite the lack of humor, readers will enjoy the large pink, gold, and black illustration that appear on every page. The short chapters—many are just one page—use simple vocabulary and lots of dialogue. Any words that may be confusing are defined within the text, making the story easy to read. Mac Saves the World will appeal to reluctant readers as it helps readers build confidence. Although Mac Saves the World can be read as a stand-alone book, for maximum enjoyment the books should be read in order.

The Queen of England, her corgi, and the KGB man all make an appearance in all the Mac B. books; these characters add plenty of silly moments that will leave readers giggling. While Mac B isn’t successful in his mission, he doesn’t lack courage. Throughout the story, Mac gives historical facts that sound outlandish, but he reminds readers, “But it’s true. You can look it up.” And if you look it up, you will find it is true. Readers who love humorous mysteries should also read the Investigators Series by John Patrick Green.

Sexual Content

  • None

Violence

  • East Germany and the Soviets wanted to keep people from leaving the country. “They rolled out barbed wire, right in the middle of the streets. People panicked! They crawled under the wire and tore their clothes and cut their skin! West Berliners held out blankets for East Berliners who jumped out of windows into West Berlin.”

 Drugs and Alcohol

  • None

Language

  • None

Supernatural

  • None

Spiritual Content

  • None

 

Ants in Our P.A.N.T.S.

The Special Undercover Investigator Team has a new plan. “Once we get wind of an evildoer’s schemes to form a team, the Anti-Crime Unit will go undercover as fellow evildoers and follow this simple procedure: pinpoint the possible perpetrator’s position; avoid blowing your cover; neutralize any superweapons; thwart their villainous plan, and stop them from getting away.”

However, the procedure does not go according to plan. When Cilantro (a chameleon) isn’t promoted to an agent, he considers teaming up with other evildoers. When he goes to the New old opera house looking for other evildoers, he feels guilty, but he also discovers important information that will help solve a crime. In the end, Cilantro must decide if he will fight for good or evil.

The mission is made more difficult because Brash is in the hospital, unconscious, and MegaRoboBrash cannot access all Brash’s memories. With the help of a medium, Mango can enter Brash’s mind. While there, Mango discovers that Brash has “regressed into a child as some sort of coping mechanism!” Can Mango discover what is keeping Brash from waking up? Will Mango, Cilantro, and RoboBrash thwart the evil villain?

Ants in Our P.A.N.T.S brings back a host of old characters as well as a sprinkle of new characters. While much of the conflict was established in previous books, the addition of giant ants adds humor and interest. Even though Brash is unconscious, he still appears frequently. Brash appears as a small child (which is adorably cute) and later as an adult. The large cast of characters may be confusing, but they help keep the story fresh and interesting.

Even though Ants in Our P.A.N.T.S is laugh-out-loud funny, it still has a positive message. Brash refuses to wake up because he is battling fear. With Mango’s help, Brash decides, “This is my mind. I decide how much space I’ll let my fears take up.” He learns that he must forgive himself and let go of the fear and guilt. The story also highlights the importance of believing in yourself.

Ants in Our P.A.N.T.S has many positive aspects. The combination of human and animal characters blend to create a ridiculous story that uses wordplay to add humor. The imaginative story comes alive in brightly colored artwork that shows the characters’ wide range of emotions. The text is large and uses different font sizes, which helps emphasize the characters’ emotions and important aspects of the story.

The illustrations and the unique storyline of Brash and Mango will appeal to even the most reluctant readers. Each page has 3 to 11 sentences. The sentences range from one word to more complex sentences. The story does an excellent job of giving enough background information so readers who are new to the series will understand the plot. However, for maximum enjoyment, the series should be read in order.

The Investigators Series is immensely enjoyable to read because of the ridiculously silly scenes, the unique characters, and the fun puns. Each story contains plenty of surprises that will keep readers flipping the pages. No matter your age, you will find something in the series to love.

Sexual Content

  • None

Violence

  • An evil villain uses the Embiggerner to supersize ants. The ants then attack the city. People run from the ants, but no one is injured. The “savage beasts” are put to sleep with music. The scene is illustrated over six pages.
  • Two villains team up and use the ants to attack the city, destroying many buildings. They also use the Embiggerner to make “ginormous gemstones,” “jumbo shrimp,” and “big money.” The attack is humorous instead of scary.
  • Brash and Mango trick the evil triceratops into charging a red cape. Chameleon trips him and the triceratops ends up with his horns stuck in a sidewalk.
  • Ants attack MegaRoboBrash, who hits them. Then he ties their antennas together and throws them into space. The scene is described over seven pages.
  • A chameleon and a group of ants attack the triceratops so he can be sent back to jail. They use trickery, knitting, and balls of yarn to retain the villainous triceratops. The scene is described over four pages.

 Drugs and Alcohol

  • None

Language

  • People who follow the law are referred to as “Idiot Law-doers.”
  • Darn and dang are both used once.
  • A construction worker is called a dummy.

Supernatural

  • Most of the characters are animals such as an octopus, a chameleon, a skunk, etc. There is also a character that is a squash.
  • Mango needs help to find out why RoboBrash cannot access all of Brash’s memories. Dr. Hardbones tells Mango to go to the Séance Factory. Dr. Hardbones says, “the medium there may have some ideas about how to see into Brash’s unconscious mind.”
  • The medium at the Séance Factory is a tick.
  • In a previous book, an agent was “turned into a radioactive saltine cracker.”
  • Hardbones is a skilled brain surgeon who turns into the Action News helicopter.

Spiritual Content

  • None

 

I Am Alfonso Jones

Fifteen-year-old Alfonso Jones has had an interesting life. His class plans to put on a hip-hop rendition of Shakespeare’s Hamlet with Alfonso starring as King Claudius and his crush, Danetta, as Queen Gertrude. Danetta is also Alfonso’s best friend, and he wants to let her know how he really feels about her.

To complicate matters, Alfonso’s father is in prison after being wrongfully accused of murdering and raping a white woman. But now his father is finally being released from prison after being proven innocent! Alfonso’s mother sends him to buy a suit for his father’s return.

While shopping and changing jackets, a police officer fatally shoots Alfonso, thinking the coat hanger was a gun, despite the two objects having no similarity in appearance. Alfonso is transported onto a ghost train where he meets victims of police brutality. In the world of the living, Alfonso’s friends, family, and classmates struggle to come to terms with his death, and his death sparks massive protests throughout the world.

I Am Alfonso Jones is a touching novel about the Black Lives Matter movement and why the movement matters. The graphic novel uses a striking art style and simple, but effective prose, that allows the point to come across well; black lives do matter, and the loss of black life is a human rights issue. The novel also shows the different realities black people, especially boys and men, face. A mundane activity, such as buying a suit for a special event, can instantly turn into another death plastered all over news media outlets.

In America, there are unwritten rules for black people to follow. This is depicted in a scene where Alfonso’s grandfather, Velasco, gives his grandson “the Talk”—a conversation about race. Velasco tells Alfonso, “Son, this ‘talk’ is not what you think it would be. This is not about birds—or bees—flowers or any of that mess! This is about what it means to be black in America. You have to learn how to conduct—I mean, protect—yourself, especially in the presence of police officers. This is not a country that values black boys, men—women or girls, for that matter. Too many of our people are getting vacuumed into the prison industry or killed for no rational reason whatsoever but the skin they’re living in….”

I Am Alfonso Jones is told from the perspective of Alfonso and readers follow his daily life up to his death and beyond into the afterlife. The reader will experience the stories of other victims of police brutality from their point of view. The reader also sees the world of the living through the perspectives of Alfonso’s friends and family, most notably Danetta and his mother, as they struggle to get justice for Alfonso in a system that is rigged against them. They become organizers for Black Lives Matter, showing that the foundation of BLM is BIPOC women.

Because the story is told from the perspective of the BIPOC characters, the reader gets to see firsthand how the justice system fails marginalized groups. The plot even showcases the demonization of BIPOC for the system’s own failings and its ways of upholding white supremacy.

The graphic novel’s art uses black and white. The lack of color minimizes the violence committed by the police to prevent readers from seeing any real blood or injuries. The lack of color, however, centers the narrative and the violence toward black people. The character’s faces are expressive. The prose and emotional dialogue are easy to understand because it appears in speech bubbles, while the character’s thoughts are in air bubbles. The pages are heavy with words, averaging about 300 words per page.

I Am Alfonso Jones is a quick read that holds a lot of emotional weight. It encompasses why the Black Lives Matter movement is extremely important, especially in America, where massive injustices have been carried out to victims of color. If readers are confused as to why Black Lives Matter is an important movement, then I Am Alfonso Jones will answer that question.

Sexual Content

  • Alfonso and Danetta almost kiss once. Danetta wants Alfonso to make a move, while Alfonso is worried about getting rejected. Eventually, he thinks, “Oh, forget it! I’m just gonna do it —” before he’s interrupted. He doesn’t kiss Danetta because of being interrupted.

Violence

  • The book displays multiple events of police brutality, which usually end with the deaths of black people. Alfonso is shot and there are multiple flashbacks dedicated to what happened to him. One ghost was also shot by the police, and another was beaten to death. These scenes don’t last for more than four pages. The book opens with a page showing Alfonso running away from the bullet and the bullet eventually hitting him in the back. He shows a strong expression of intense pain. Unlike the other scenes, this is the most brutal because it was done to Alfonso, who is 15 years old.
  • Alfonso’s dad, Ishmael, returns home from work and is beaten by a police officer because he’s the main suspect for the rape and murder of a white woman. The scene lasts for a page. The officer slams Ishmael to the ground after Ismael saves his wife, Cynthia, from a fire in their apartment complex. After being slammed onto the concrete, Ishmael cries out, “Wait a minute! Wait! That’s my wife! That’s my wife! And my baby! My baby!”
  • During a peaceful protest, police throw tear gas into the crowd and the tear gas affects Alfonso’s classmates and Danetta. The scene lasts for two pages and shows police in full body armor, throwing the canister of tear gas. Panels show shots of Alfonso’s friends, who are teenagers, being hurt by the tear gas and punched by police. Danetta yells out, “My eyes are burning! I can’t breathe!” The police are attempting to take in some of Alfonso’s friends amidst the chaos.
  • An arsonist sets the store Alfonso was shot at on fire with a molotov cocktail. The scene lasts for a page and shows the lit bottle in midair before progressing into a panel with an explosion. A reporter recounts the incident, saying, “Markman’s department store, where African American teen Alfonso Jones was shot and killed, was the scene of a fire. Fire department officials suspect arson.”

Drugs and Alcohol

  • When he was a child, Alfonso smoked a cigarette which quickly caused an asthma attack.

Language

  • Danetta calls the character of Gertrude from Hamlet “a skank” twice.

Supernatural

  • Alfonso is turned into a ghost who rides on a train with other ghosts – all victims of police brutality. A few times he travels to the world of the living to check on his family and friends.

Spiritual

  • Alfonso’s grandfather, Velasco, is a reverend.

by Emma Hua

Castle Hangnail

When twelve-year-old Molly appears on their doorstep claiming to be the new Master of the castle, every minion in Castle Hangnail is doubtful. Molly’s short height and politeness are different from the tall, intimidating Masters of the past. However, the castle needs a Master or else the Board of Magic will decommission the castle, leaving the minions without a home. Molly assures the minions that she is a bona-fide Wicked Witch and begins completing the Tasks required by the Board of Magic, leaving everyone with hope. But Molly has a few secrets—the biggest one being that she is not who she claims to be.

Castle Hangnail uses tropes of old-school baddies to create a humorous story that will leave readers laughing. Molly hides her secrets as she is learning magic, casting magic, and imitating the wickedness of the previous Masters. Majordomo, the head of the minions, finds out that Molly was not the intended Master and confronts her about her claim to Castle Hangnail. When the intended Master, a Sorceress named Eudaimonia, arrives to take the castle by force, Molly and the minions work together to defeat her.

At Castle Hangnail, Molly interacts with many magical creatures, all of which are based on the supernatural and fantastic. To add to the zaniness, stories about the former Masters are sprinkled throughout the book. At one point, Majordomo talks about the previous Vampire Lord, who “liked to keep the hearts in jars in the basement, but he was rather old-fashioned.” Stories about the former Masters and snippets about the magical creatures add levity and humor to the story. Readers will enjoy the humor of the story as well as how Molly finishes the Tasks and defeats Eudaimonia.

Fun black and white illustrations of the characters and scenery add to the hilarity of the book, alongside two-page spreads so readers can visualize the happenings in Castle Hangnail. The blend of text and pictures help to keep younger readers engaged with the story. The beginning is slow because of the initial worldbuilding, but the interactions between Molly, the minions, and the villagers keep the action going. Castle Hangnail shows the value of standing up against bullies and will engage even the most reluctant readers. Although Castle Hangnail is a stand-alone title, readers will be asking for a continuation of Molly’s adventures. Readers who enjoy Castle Hangnail may also want to try Ursula Vernon’s series Dragonbreath.

Sexual Content

  • Lord Edward, an enchanted suit of armor, remarks that Miss Handlebram, the gardener, is a “fine figure of a woman.”

Violence

  • Angus, the son of the cook at Castle Hangnail, suggests that Molly should cause a ruckus for Old Man Harrow because Old Man Harrow “beats his donkey.”
  • After Miss Handlebram stood up for Molly, Eudaimonia “froze Miss Handlebram in ice.” Later, Molly and the rest of the minions defrost Miss Handlebram, so Eudaimonia “zapped Majordomo” because he was the head of the minions and betrayed Eudaimonia’s trust.
  • After seeing Old Man Harrow punch his donkey “between the eyes,” Molly turns the donkey into a dragon by saying, “Accreus Illusus Equine Accomplicia Margle Fandango” while holding a sprig of moonwort. Molly expected the spell to last for a minute, but it lasted for “seven minutes and forty-three seconds.” The dragon “tore at the stack of firewood with its claws” while Old Man Harrow hid in one of the animals’ stalls. Then, the dragon smashed its tail “through an old water trough” and scorched the roof when it learned it could “breathe fire.” Molly grabbed the dragon’s attention, calmed it down by scratching it “behind its ears,” and takes the donkey off “[Old Man Harrow’s] hands.” The scuffle between Old Man Harrow and the dragon lasts for four pages.
  • Freddy Wisteria, a real estate developer, tried to throw a rock into a window but “dropped the rock on his own foot.” He ran away when Molly threatened to turn him to the police for questioning.
  • When comparing the different Masters of Castle Hangnail, a minion comments that “the old Vampire Lord used to drain the blood of villagers.”
  • Gordon, one of Eudaimonia’s minions, knocked over Lord Edward, leaving the suit of armor in “multiple pieces.”
  • To gain the title of Master of Castle Hangnail, Eudaimonia and Molly fight in “a formal challenge.” Throughout the fight, Molly uses the many spells she learned from the Little Gray Book and Eudaimonia shoots bolts “of ice” from her wand, which freezes her targets. First, Molly turns the stone under Eudaimonia’s feet into cheese by yelling, “Grappa Electroi Caseus Formatus” while holding mint leaves. The minions help as well; she transforms Bugbane into a small dragon by reciting, “Accreus Illusus Chiropteran Accomplicia Margle Fandango” as she holds a piece of his fur. Bugbane sets “the bodyguard’s hair on fire” and breathes fire everywhere, but Eudaimonia shoots at the dragon-bat. Molly notices Eudaimonia “keeps using [Molly’s] magic against [her]” and she stops Eudaimonia from taking her magic by picturing “a silver cord coming out of her chest and sliced her hand down across it” while the Clockwork Bees distracted Eudaimonia. Angus “dove between Molly and the blast of ice” but was cold and took a shot. The other minions handle “[Eudaimonia’s] minions”. Finally, Molly uses the shadow spell. The shadow breaks Eudaimonia’s wand and drags Eudaimonia into a large pool of shadows called the “Kingdom of Shadows.” Molly stops the shadow by jabbing a forefinger with a pin. “She held out her hand. A single drop of blood fell onto the mint leaves” and offered the bloodied herbs to the shadow, ending the fight.  The fight lasts for 11 pages.

Drugs and Alcohol

  • Majordomo gives a cup of hot milk and “brown flecks” to Gordon, one of Eudaimonia’s minions, to sedate him.

Language

  • When Majordomo admits to the rest of the minions that Molly lied to her parents about where she was going to camp for the summer, Majordomo exclaims, “For the love of Hecate . . .”
  • When Molly’s sister arrives at Castle Hangnail, she remarks, “Hecate’s ghost! She is the good twin, isn’t she?”
  • The Cursed Beastlord, one of the previous Masters of Castle Hangnail, gave Majordomo the name “Wretch.”
  • Miss Handlebram calls Eudaimonia, the intended Master of the Castle, a “nasty girl.” In return. Eudaimonia calls Miss Handlebram an “interfering old Majordomo biddy.”
  • Freddy Wisteria tries to force the townsfolk into selling their homes to him and attempts to buy Castle Hangnail, so Molly calls him a creep.
  • When hearing a noise from downstairs, Majordomo says, “Blast.”
  • Eudaimonia calls Angus “stupid” when he asked about the food for her cockatrices.
  • Eudaimonia refers to Castle Hangnail as a “pathetic run-down little backwater.”

Supernatural

  • To prove herself to the Board of Magic, the association that gives the Masters places to own, Molly must “smite” or use magic to punish people, and “blight” or use magic to harm objects or plants.
  • Molly uses the spells she learned from spell books and from Eudaimonia. She can make a ward by pinning a sprig of rosemary near a door and saying “Zizzible zazzible…watch-and-report.” The smell of rosemary fills her nose when someone steps through the door. In addition, she “could start a fire with her thumbnail…get tangles out of the worst tangled hair…turn a leaf into a teacup, and a teacup into a leaf.”
  • Molly can turn invisible by holding her breath, and the only side effect is light-headedness.
  • Molly casts a spell to allow her to talk to the bats in “the belfry.” To cast the spell, she holds the fur or feather of an animal and says, “Avack! Auilriuan! Arwiggle!” She uses the spell again to speak to the moles. There are no ill effects with this spell.
  • Molly gives some of her magic to Stonebreaker, a mole shaman, so the moles can summon Wormrise, a “great spirit,” for luck and fortune.
  • Eudaimonia and Molly use rosemary in “an alarm spell” to alert them to intruders in Castle Hangnail.
  • Molly gives the power of speech to a statue who “muttered insults. . .in Latin, so they sounded very grand and impressive.”
  • During Eudaimonia and Molly’s formal challenge for Castle Hangnail, Molly turns the goldfish into a “sea serpent.”
  • Molly animates her shadow with a shadow spell by reciting, “Shanks and shadows—up and down—inner and outer and magic unbound!” She can command her shadow to dance; she uses the animated shadow once to intimidate Freddy Wisteria when he is caught breaking and entering and attempting arson on her barn, and once against Eudaimonia during their “formal challenge”.

Spiritual Content

  • Molly’s sister “sings in the church choir.”

by Jemima Cooke

I Am Not Starfire

Mandy Anders is the daughter of Koriand’r/Kory Anders, otherwise known as the superheroine Starfire from Teen Titans. For most of her life, Mandy has lived in the shadow of her mother’s fame as a superheroine, and Mandy’s lack of superpowers only enhances her stress. Kids at school constantly pester her for information on her mom. They look for Mandy’s superpowers. They even theorize about her online. Combine that with high school and it’s easy to say Mandy’s life is a bit of a disaster.

Mandy’s only real friend is a boy named Lincoln, she has a crush on popular girl Claire, and she walked out on her S.A.T which her mother is completely unaware of. After walking out on the test, Mandy has become more distant with her mom. What appears to be a normal, yet rocky mother-daughter relationship devolves into a massive fight over Mandy’s future and her life.

I Am Not Starfire is told from the perspective of Mandy and follows her life at a normal high school in Metropolis until it is upended by the arrival of Blackfire, Starfire’s sister. Readers get to follow Mandy’s emotions as the story progresses, as well as experience her relationship with her mother from her point of view. Mandy’s story centers on learning to not take her mother for granted, understanding the importance of her connection with her mother regardless of her being Starfire the superhero, and taking risks in all manners of life.

Some readers may relate to Mandy’s struggles with school, college, being unsure of what she wants to do in the future, as well as her rocky relationship with her mother. Queer readers will especially relate to Mandy as she has a crush on a female peer, Claire, and her attraction and eventual relationship to Claire is presented as normal– not something that requires a grand “coming out of the closet” moment. However, some may find Mandy’s dialogue and thought process too edgy and sometimes misogynistic. For example, Mandy makes a comment about her mother’s outfits: “She wears less than a yard of fabric to work every day, yet somehow, I’m the one who’s dressing weird.”

I Am Not Starfire has beautiful art that readers will find attractive. The character’s faces are expressive, and the color composition of certain scenes highlights the emotions Mandy feels in that particular moment. Readers may also appreciate the outfits in I Am Not Starfire. Starfire and Blackfire’s outfits are modern, the kind that the targeted audience would recognize, but they are presented in a way that will make them timeless.

I Am Not Starfire is a quick read with simple vocabulary and pretty pictures. Each page has about fifty or fewer words, all of them either in speech bubbles for dialogue, boxes for the characters’ thoughts, or rounded rectangles for text messages. However, I Am Not Starfire doesn’t have a good plot or good character development. While the graphic novel provides a good entrance to the DC universe, it falls flat on its message: the people around you don’t define who you are, and you can be whoever you want to be.

Anyone who is looking to get into its massive and ever-expanding universe will find I Am Not Starfire entertaining. New fans will be incentivized to investigate DC as a whole and learn more about Starfire and the Teen Titans. However, readers who are already fans of DC comics will find this graphic novel very disappointing as it has inaccurate information on Starfire’s powers, goes against DC’s established lore, and overall is written poorly. If you’re looking for a fun, well-written graphic novel with a positive message and an LGBTQ character, Pumpkin Heads by Rainbow Rowell & Faith Erin Hicks would be a good choice.

Sexual Content

  • A guy at school yells from the background, “Hey Mandy! Like your mom’s tits.”
  • Mandy recalls a summer camp romance experience where she kissed a girl. “I did have this girl who kissed me at camp one summer.”
  • In a two-page spread, Mandy and her crush, Claire, kiss for the first time.

 Violence

  • When Starfire tells Mandy about her past on Tamaran, she brings up that her sister killed their parents. Their death is not shown. “Our parents…were killed by The Citadel.”
  • Blackfire and Starfire battle against each other to determine Mandy’s fate. However, Starfire loses to her sister which causes Mandy’s powers to awaken. Mandy fights Blackfire in her mother’s place and wins. The fight lasts for about 16 pages. The illustrations are kid-friendly, and the characters end up with a few scratches and cuts with a little bit of blood.

 Drugs and Alcohol

  • None

Language

  • Lincoln calls a group of Teen Titans fans assholes for not respecting Mandy’s boundaries.
  • Multiple characters often use the word “shit” and other variations of the word. For example, Lincoln says Claire’s friends “are shitty but [Claire] seems okay.”
  • When Mandy’s mom wants to talk about Mandy’s college plans, Mandy says, “Fuck.”
  • After Blackfire has knocked out Starfire, Mandy says, “Why don’t you just fuck off and die?!”

Supernatural

  • While not exactly supernatural, the story features aliens; Starfire is an alien from the planet Tamaran and thus, Mandy herself is an alien. Starfire’s sister, Blackfire, also appears in the book.
  • The Teen Titans make brief appearances in the book. Beast Boy is a green metahuman (human with powers) who can turn into any kind of animal and Raven is a superheroine who is a Cambion (half human and half demon).

Spiritual Content

  • None

by Emma Hua

I am Sonia Sotomayor  

Sonia Sotomayor’s life will inspire children to reach for their dreams. The biography begins when Sonia was a small child, who often got into mischief. Living in the Bronx was not always easy, but Sonia found comfort in reading and learning. Sonia was inspired by Nancy Drew, who “was a master at doing puzzles, and no matter what got in her way, she could figure things out.” Sonia wanted to help others by becoming a police officer. However, because of her diabetes, she couldn’t pursue her dream of joining the force. Instead of giving up, Sonia found new inspiration by watching Perry Mason, a lawyer. After watching the show, she decided she wanted to be a judge.

Instead of focusing on the hardships of life, Sonia’s biography describes all the people who helped her along the way. She does acknowledge the fact that “there were a lot of Puerto Rican workers, but few managers or owners, and even fewer lawyers and detectives. It wasn’t that my Puerto Rican neighbors didn’t work hard. People aren’t poor because they’re lazy. . . But sometimes where you live affects the kind of opportunities you have.” But with words of encouragement from her mother, her teachers, and her friends, Sonia was able to become the first Latina Supreme Court Justice. Sonia’s story proves there is no limit to what someone can accomplish.

Colorful, full-page illustrations, show important aspects of Sonia Sotomayor’s life beginning when she was a little girl. The book’s text includes speech bubbles as well as short paragraphs. Because Sonia is Latino, some of the speech bubbles are in both Spanish and English. Throughout the book, Sonia and some of the other people are cartoonish. When groups of people appear, the people are diverse and include both male and female. The end of the book has a timeline of Sonia’s life, and four pictures of her. In the last line, Sonia says, “Remember that no one succeeds alone.”

Younger readers will enjoy I am Sonia Sotomayor’s fun format, conversational text, and positive message. The book reinforces the importance of learning, reading, and listening to those who encourage you. Sotomayor says, “The more you learn, the further you’ll go. Education is a rocket ship. It can take you anywhere. But no matter how high you fly, never forget where you started.” For more inspirational stories about successful women, read She Persisted in Sports by Chelsea Clinton.

Sexual Content

  • None

Violence

  • One day Sonia found “my little brother surrounded by bullies, so I walked over to protect him.”

 Drugs and Alcohol

  • None

Language

  • None

Supernatural

  • None

Spiritual Content

  • None

 

Chunky

According to the doctors, Hudi needs to lose weight. His parents have him try out for various sports, much to Hudi’s chagrin. At least Hudi’s imaginary friend, Chunky, is the best hype-man any kid could ask for. While trying out different sports and striking out each time, Chunky pushes Hudi towards comedy and encourages Hudi to embrace his unconventionality.

Written and illustrated as a graphic memoir by Yehudi Mercado, Chunky gives a refreshing look into the world of youth sports. Hudi is not good at any of the sports that he tries, (except for maybe football), but Chunky and his sense of humor keep his spirits high, even when he gets injured or when things go terribly wrong. The book emphasizes themes about following what you love, having a good attitude, and the importance of having someone looking out for you.

Hudi’s father loses his job, which is when Hudi’s spirits drop and he temporarily loses his love for comedy. Hudi instead commits to football, where he excels because he’s bigger than all the other kids. However, Chunky has a harder time reaching Hudi during these scenes, as Hudi is concerned with winning and has lost his individuality. Hudi and Chunky do reconcile and Hudi returns to his jokester self, even though it means that he won’t play football anymore. This is fine with Hudi, as he gets his friend back and he can be himself—and pursue comedy!

Much like Hudi himself, the illustrations are playful and fun, with lots of warm reds and yellows. Chunky is a red, imaginary creature, and his design is goofy and sweet. The use of illustrations really shines when Hudi and Chunky make jokes about the various sports that Hudi attempts. At the end of each section, Chunky and Hudi sit at a table in what looks to be a mock-press conference. This hopping back and forth in Hudi’s reality creates a fun and interesting atmosphere that helps bring Hudi’s story and comedy to life.

Mercado also touches on being Mexican and Jewish, and sometimes Spanish is used within the story. This doesn’t make the story difficult to understand, but instead, it highlights more of Hudi and his family’s background. In general, there is also a strong sense of family throughout, and Hudi’s father losing his job hits the family hard. Overall, Chunky has an innate love and passion surging through the pages—a love for comedy, family, and oneself. Kids of all ages will enjoy Mercado’s comedy and colorful illustrations. Chunky shows us that we don’t have to be good at everything, but that we can do anything with enthusiasm and a good sense of humor.

Sexual Content

  • None

Violence

  • At baseball tryouts, Hudi gets hit in the face with the ball. The panel depicts him with a swollen, bruised eye as he’s lying on the mound. This happens several times, as Hudi is horribly unlucky.
  • Another baseball player named Sunny yells at Hudi, “If you ever ask me stupid questions again, I’m gonna throw a bat at you.”
  • Hudi’s father tells Hudi, “If the guys make fun of you, you have to kick them back.”
  • One of the swimmers, Burt, invites some of the other boys and Hudi over for a sleepover. Hudi notices that the boys all have toy guns, and when Hudi goes home and asks his mom if he can have one, she adamantly tells him no.
  • Hudi accidentally slices off the top part of his finger with a saw while trying to make a toy gun. The panel shows a bit of blood and the top part of Hudi’s index finger separated from the rest of the finger. The next panel shows Hudi at the emergency room.
  • Hudi’s sister, Wynnie, smacks Hudi with her drink at her bat mitzvah because Hudi is goofing around.
  • Hudi plays football and discovers that he’s bigger than all the other boys, which helps with making tackles. Football-esque violence during the game is depicted.

Drugs and Alcohol

  • None

Language

  • Hudi’s doctors are concerned about Hudi’s weight, and discussions about weight happen throughout the book. Terms like “fat” and “overweight” are frequently used, both by medical professionals and by other people, including Hudi’s parents and other sports players. Some players call Hudi “Hudi Big Booty” in a derogatory way.
  • One opponent says about Hudi, “How am I supposed to find the strike zone? [Hudi’s] so fat, he’s covering the entire plate.”
  • Light language is used somewhat frequently. Language includes: stupid, suckers, loser, and fatso.
  • Hudi’s family sometimes affectionately refers to him as Majecito, which in Spanish means, “Little Dummy.” The sportscasters who narrate some of the book explain this translation. Hudi explains to Chunky that he doesn’t want to tell the other boys because Hudi thinks the nickname is “so . . . Mexican and weird.”
  • During a football game, Hudi takes out the quarterback of the opposing team. People in the crowd can be seen in the panels chanting, “kill him.” Instead, Hudi helps the other player up.

Supernatural

  • Chunky is a red monster-esque figure and Hudi’s imaginary friend. Chunky is extremely kind and supportive of Hudi in all his endeavors.

Spiritual Content

  • Hudi is Jewish. Hudi’s sister Wynnie has her bat mitzva during the novel.
  • Hudi envisions his future on the big screen. One of the potential movies is called “Hudi and Chunky in Hanukkah Cops: 8 Nights of Danger.”

by Alli Kestler

Illegal

One day Ebo finds that his older brother, Kwame, has left their village in Libya to make the journey to Europe. Soon afterward, Ebo decides he must go after him. Ebo clings to the hope of finding a better life and reuniting with his family.

Ebo’s journey to find his brother is fraught with danger. He faces the possibility of death at every turn.  He often turns to the gift of song to provide comfort for himself and those he meets. He is told by a bus driver, “Ebo, you can’t solve everything with a song.” However, his lullaby calms a baby on the bus and, as a thank you from the driver, earns him passage to Agadez, the next stop on his journey. In fact, it is his song that guides Kwame back to him. When a woman needs a last-minute replacement wedding singer, Ebo steps in. When Kwame hears the voice, he follows it, leading him to Ebo. Ebo’s refusal to stop singing, even in the face of difficulty, and his willingness to help those around him emphasizes the message of perseverance and hope despite all odds being against him.

Throughout his journey to Italy, Ebo encounters many people who offer him aid which develops the theme of kindness and respect for others. After their raft capsizes, Ebo and his friends are saved. Ebo tells readers, “People are so kind . . . Although they hardly have anything, people give us blankets.” For every person who mistreats Ebo, there is another who helps him. These moments show that although not everyone is welcoming and kind, there are still those who help. As Ebo says, “They must help us. We are people.”

Family and friendship are driving forces in Ebo’s story. Even when his “new life” is bleak, Ebo maintains hope that his hard work, kindness, and strength of conviction will result in a better life. His commitment to his family and his new friends gives Ebo purpose. The brothers are finally reunited and in the end, Kwame even urges rescuers to save Ebo before helping himself, which ultimately leads to his death. Kwame sacrifices himself for his brother’s well-being.

Accompanying the powerful storytelling, Giovanni Rigano’s illustrations strikingly capture the characters’ emotions. Some pages of the story are told only through his illustrations, such as when Ebo is alone and not speaking. For example, in the refugee camp, the images show Ebo who is haunted by the death of his brother. The full-color illustrations are occasionally grim. One such picture is of a decomposed dead man. Other images of death are less graphic, and many deaths occur off-page. Many die from drownings and they’re shown disappearing into the water.

Some pages feature word boxes and speech bubbles to distinguish between narration and dialogue. Ebo’s narration is provided in pale yellow word boxes, while speech amongst characters uses white bubbles. Differentiation between past and present, as well as certain contextual details and unpictured dialogue, takes the form of light blue boxes. Each page has 9 to 16 short sentences. The text along with Rigano’s illustration makes the graphic novel easy to follow.

Twelve-year-old Ebo’s youthful spirit makes him a convicting narrator. His story is both tragic and hopeful. However, Ebo’s story shows moments of hope and how familial love can help ease the pain of loss and grief. Older children can learn a lot from hearing an immigration story from the voice of a peer. Readers will gain compassion for refugees when they are shown what children their age have faced. Despite the suggested age range of 10+, younger readers may find the deaths along the journey disturbing. Readers who would like to explore the topic of refugees further should read Refugee 87 by Ele Fountain and the graphic novel When Stars Are Scattered by Victoria Jamieson & Omar Mohamed.

Sexual Content

  • A peer of Ebo’s means to degrade Sisi. The boy says, “I wonder what brothel she’s working in now.”
  • A woman’s wedding singer cannot perform because he “kissed the bridesmaid and upset her fiancé.”

Violence

  • The immigrants could face death at any point. They often voice their concerns to their friends and family.
  • While the immigrants are waiting to go off to sea, a man says, “Move or there’s a bullet in your back.” The illustration shows the men firing large guns into the air.
  • A child in Ebo’s village taunts him about Kwame leaving. The child says, “He’ll be swallowed by the desert sands just like your sister before.”
  • After a boy talks poorly about Sisi, Ebo hits him. The picture shows just after the punch’s impact and the speech bubble reads “Oomph.”
  • Ebo sinks under the water, beginning to drown before someone pulls him out.
  • The wedding singer is shown in a picture holding his nose which is bleeding, presumably after being punched.
  • Razak, a friend Ebo met along the way, tells a story. A group who was going to Europe “died of starvation, and no water, slowly, slowly . . . and their boat became a floating coffin.” He says at least their own deaths will be quicker.
  • A man falls off the back of the truck, but the truck does not stop. Ebo realizes the drivers do not care.
  • A man is told to get out of the jeep. When he does not listen, he is shot. The accompanying images show a gun being pulled from the driver’s waistband, the gun being pointed to the man’s chest along with his speech bubble which reads “Please . . . no!” And finally, the jeep is shown from a distance with the sound bubble “Bdam.”
  • A woman explains her reason for leaving home: “The war came.”
  • Cammo, one of Ebo’s new friends, dies overnight, either from the cold or exhaustion. The image shows him limp, being pulled from under the jeep where he was sleeping. Razak wants to bury him, but they cannot because they’re tired and “the desert ground is too hard.” Instead, they cover Cammo with a cloth. That is the last image of Cammo before they leave him.
  • A woman’s baby flies from her arms when the ship is nearly tipping. Ebo catches him, though, before any harm can come to him.
  • Railing snaps and many people fall overboard. The water is “hard as stone.” The images show people sinking below, though their fates are unclear. Later, Ebo realizes that some screams are coming from inside the sinking ship and that those people have no way out.
  • Ebo is shown working in a well. A dead animal, potentially a sheep, is shown limp in the water, attached to a string.
  • In Tripoli, Razak says they must “steer clear of the street gangs,” not drink the drain water, watch their money, be careful about rabid dogs, and “watch out for the army” and “the police.” Pictures depict each rule. For example, the rabid dog has his teeth bared and is spit flies from his mouth. The gangs do not have weapons, but their fists are balled.
  • While ill and sleeping, Kwame must bat a swarm of rats off of Ebo’s body.
  • In the chaos of the sinking ship, a baby is handed to Ebo. When Ebo and Kwame try to find the mother, she is “gone” and likely drowned.
  • While Ebo and the baby are rescued, Kwame goes under the surface. He emerges only once more before being lost to the sea. The images show him from Ebo’s perspective as well as Kwame’s own view under the water.
  • IN Ebo’s imagination, both Kwame and Razak’s bodies are shown under the water. They float, Kwame with empty eyes, while fish prod them.

Drugs and Alcohol

  • Uncle Patrick, according to Ebo is always either “his bed, his chair, or a bar.” One time, Ebo finds him drunk with blood on his shirt.
  • Ebo finds a pack of antiseptic wipes and trades them for food and other goods. He is shown treating people’s injuries by wrapping them in a wipe.
  • Some cartons of cigarettes are pictured in the cargo of a jeep.
  • Ebo gets very sick with a fever. He must be carried by his family. He says he feels freezing but is told he is too hot. An observer says, “without medicine, that kid won’t last long,”
  • Ebo’s friends find someone who has medicine for Ebo, but they are all aware that “the wrong pills can kill.” However, Ebo is given the medicine and he gets better.
  • It is rumored that one week, none of the ships that left returned. Razak says, “Last month they lost all their boats.” Kwame supports the rumor, saying, “I heard no one got a phone call. Not one family!”
  • In the book’s epilogue, Helen, a refugee, tells her story. This provides a woman’s perspective of the journey to immigrate. Helen gives readers a brief history of her life, from childhood to the present day. She faced the death of her mother and that of her friends during her journey. Helen says that they tried to bury them, but “the sand will not cover them long.
  • During Helen’s journey, a boat of over 400 people capsizes. Helen, who is pregnant, is starved and dehydrated. Helen hides under the floorboards of a truck. The police walk on the floorboards, which results in the loss of her baby. Helen’s story is told over the course of five pages.

Language

  • One man calls another an idiot.
  • The driver calls the jeep a “stupid machine.”

Supernatural

  • None

Spiritual Content

  • Luck is often mentioned. For instance, a man tells Ebo, “I hope you bring this ship luck.”
  • A friend of Ebo, Cammo, does not like that Ebo took the water from a dead men’s jeep. He says, “You cannot disturb the dead.” Later, after they drink the water, Cammo says, “I’m too tired to fight off evil spirits; You rest with the bone men.”
  • When discussing their odds of surviving the journey a friend, says, “We must rely on luck and many prayers.”

by Jennaly Nolan

Gina: The Girl Who Broke the World

Hundreds of years ago, magic disappeared from Earth. At least…UNTIL NOW. Because suddenly, giant magical beings are appearing and only Gina can see them. Not to mention, Gina can somehow do magic herself. Magic is powerful. But it can also be dangerous. With D.J. and Hilo’s help, can Gina figure out how to protect the magical beings from the creatures who are after them? And can she learn how to use her magic to become who she was always meant to be?

Throughout most of the story, Gina does not want to use magic because she is afraid of the consequences. But when an alien shows up wanting to destroy the Nestors, Gina feels the need to protect the Nestors (even though she knows nothing about them). The story focuses on Gina’s attempt to keep the Nestors safe from other aliens. One of the aliens tells Gina, “You are meddling with forces far beyond your understanding. You will do more damage than good.” Despite this, Gina never questions the aliens to find why they want to destroy the Nestors. Instead, Gina fights the aliens, which allows the Nestors to change Earth’s timeline.

The relationship between Hilo, D.J., and Gina was one of the best aspects of the first six books of the series. Unfortunately, in Gina: The Girl Who Broke the World, Gina is left to fight the aliens alone. Instead of helping Gina, Hilo is trying to figure out his human body. Hilo’s struggle adds some bathroom humor. At one point, Hilo tells D.J., “Holy Mackerel! I just went to the bathroom! Pooping is outstanding.” However, this is not the only bathroom humor. Later, Gina meets another alien and she says, “Wow. . . smells like a possum’s butt.” While the juvenile humor may make younger readers smile, it adds nothing to the plotline.

The graphic novel’s panels are illustrated with bright colors that will capture readers’ attention. The graphic novel’s panels have 1 to 7 sentences which mostly use simple sentences with easy vocabulary. The many fight scenes give the story a fast pace and the many onomatopoeia words add interest because they appear in large, colorful text. Readers must first read the other books in the series or they will be confused, as Gina: The Girl Who Broke the World jumps right into the action and doesn’t explain the relationships between the characters

Gina: The Girl Who Broke the World is a confusing sequel that doesn’t have the same appeal as the first six books in the series. Instead of trying to help Gina fight the aliens, Hilo is more interested in food and his body functions. To make matters worse, the battle scenes are confusing not only because of the many aliens but also because the Nestors are shapeshifters. While Gina’s desire to help the Nestors is admirable, it’s unrealistic that no one tries to find out why the Nestors have come to earth.

While Gina: The Girl Who Broke the World is a disappointing sequel, the book may be worth reading because it sets up what could be an interesting conflict to be explored in the next book. If you’re looking for another humorous and fast-paced graphic novel, check out the Bird & Squirrel Series by James Burks.

Sexual Content

  • None

Violence

  • A strange blue alien shoots a laser at Gina. The alien puts Gina in a bubble, but she escapes. Gina jumps on the creature’s back. The creature hits a tree and knocks himself out. The fight is illustrated over nine pages.
  • Two alien creatures that look like “furballs” chase Gina. They snap their teeth at her and then throw up an orange substance that covers Gina. Gina finally lassos the creatures and then they disappear. The scene is illustrated over six pages.
  • A strange snapping bird creature chases two small alien rabbits. Gina saves the alien rabbits. The snapping bird creature ties Gina up. The scene is illustrated over 15 pages.
  • The blue alien appears and starts shooting lasers at Gina, who is trying to protect the Nestors. The alien blows up a house. Gina uses her power to chase the alien, who flees.
  • A giant robot-like alien appears wielding a large sword. The alien tries to kill Gina in order to get to the Nestors. Both Gina and the alien use magical powers during the battle. The fighting is illustrated over ten pages.

 Drugs and Alcohol

  • None

Language

  • Hilo uses the phrase “holy mackerel” several times.
  • Dang it is used one time.
  • Crud is used four times. This includes when Gina uses the phrase “crud and scrambled eggs.”
  • J.’s brother, Dexter, calls his siblings dork and dorkus.

Supernatural

  • At first, Gina is the only person who can see the alien creatures. Gina discovers that she is an enchanter, who “draws magic from the planet itself.”
  • Alien creatures appear on Earth. Hilo explains who the creatures are. “Baba Yaga clan members—or, as I like to call them, Bab Yags!—aren’t natural shape-shifters. They need a magic totem or an amulet that enables them to transmogrify!”
  • Nestors have “the ability to enhance magic. To make spells or powers increase a hundredfold,” which is why they have been held captive on another planet. When the Nestors consume food of this planet, it makes them visible.
  • An alien uses magic to turn Gina into a huge otter.
  • The Nestors change Earth’s timeline. “The Nestors went back in time. They went back to the time before magic left earth. They changed the Earth’s history.” However, Gina was able to “shield” herself and three others from the change. Gina and her friends are the only people who know what the Earth used to be like.

Spiritual Content

  • None

A Bridge Too Fur

Marmalade and her crew of construction kittens are in high demand!

Their latest assignment (and biggest job yet) is to build the new Mewburg bridge. But with the bridge comes the one thing cats hate most of all—water! As the team struggles to face their fears and do their jobs, they are forced to get help from some unlikely allies. . . slobbery, car-chasing DOGS.

A Bridge Too Fur has even more puns and wordplay than the first installment in the series, Meet the House Kittens. Both books show the importance of not judging others based on their appearance. While the theme is repeated several times, the examples are integrated into the story so the message doesn’t sound like a lecture. For example, when Bubbles says, “Sometimes our eyes see what we want to see, Marmalade. Like how people used to see us only as adorable little kittens.”

Another positive aspect of the story is when Marmalade realizes he had “been refusing to give these dogs a fair chance.” Instead of trying to deny his actions, Marmalade apologizes and makes changes. When Marmalade does this, the dog accepts the apology and says, “Cats and dogs are different. We’ve had to prove ourselves to people in different ways. You are more than just cute and adorable. And I am more than just a slobber factory that chases cars.”

The bright, comic-like illustrations are displayed in 1 to 3 large panels. Each page has 0 to 6 sentences that appear in quote boxes. The illustrations and text boxes make it easy to understand the plot. However, younger readers may need help with some of the more difficult words, such as demolished, coordinate, and landlubbers.

With adorable animals, puns, and humorous illustrations, A Bridge Too Fur will appeal to a wide variety of readers. A Bridge Too Fur is fun to read and will encourage readers not to make assumptions about others. If you’re looking for more graphic-novel, animal fun THEN check out the Bird & Squirrel Series by James Burks.

Sexual Content

  • None

Violence

  • None

 Drugs and Alcohol

  • None

Language

  • When a Marmalade is confused, he says, “What the–?!”

Supernatural

  • None

Spiritual Content

  • None

All Together Now

Bina and her friend Darcy love shredding the guitar and belting high notes together in their new band. All they need now is a drummer. When their classmate Enzo, volunteers, Bina is thrilled. That is until she realizes that sometimes two’s company and three’s a crowd.

To make matters worse, Bina’s best friend Austin has been acting strange ever since he and his girlfriend broke up. Is he interested in someone new? And is it. . . Bina?

Bina always thought she wanted a band, not a boyfriend. But now romance seems to swirl around her whether she likes it or not. Can she navigate its twists and turns before the lights come on and the music starts playing?

Anyone who is more interested in music than romance will relate to Bina, who isn’t ready to date. When Bina’s best friend decides that they should add a little romance to their relationship, Bina isn’t sure what to do. She doesn’t want to lose her best friend, but she’s not ready to start smooching him either. To add to her worries, Darcy and Enzo kick Bina out of the band that Bina started, and then they steal her songs!

All Together Now is told from Bina’s point of view, which allows her conflicting emotions to take center stage. Bina’s story highlights the importance of understanding yourself. When Bina is given an opportunity to play in front of a large audience, her mom says, “I know it’s scary to walk away from something you really want, but you have to ask yourself, ‘Is the timing right?’” In the end, Bina realizes that she’s not ready to date or perform. The book ends on a hopeful note that hints that one day, Bina will be ready for both.

All Together Now uses pink hues to illustrate the graphic novel panels. The easy-to-read story uses simple vocabulary and has eleven or fewer words on each page. The characters’ words appear in quote boxes, and the characters’ thoughts appear in arrows, which makes it easy to distinguish the two. The graphic novel format makes All Together Now a good choice for reluctant readers. Even though the book is the second installment of the Eagle Rock Series, each book can be read independently.

Readers will relate to the friendship conflict that dominates All Together Now. Even though Bina’s mother only makes a small appearance, her positive advice and encouragement helps Bina. In the end, Bina is able to make a mature decision based on her own needs. All Together Now explores the complicated nature of friendships in a teen-friendly way that shows that it is okay to go at your own pace.

Sexual Content

  • Bina and her friend see the neighbor’s daughter kissing her boyfriend.
  • Bina and her neighbor, Charlie, have a talk about boys. Charlie says, “Maybe I should date girls for a while.” When Charlie asks Bina if she likes girls, Bina says, “Sometimes I think I’ve got a crush on someone—girl, guy, whatever—but then I wonder, what’s the difference between liking someone and liking them?”
  • Darcy tells Bina that Enzo kissed her. She adds, “He’s a good kisser. I guess he’s my boyfriend now.” Bina gets upset and asks Darcy if she went to Enzo’s house “because you were hoping to hook up?”
  • When Bina gets to band practice, she sees Darcy sitting on Enzo’s lap and kissing him.
  • Enzo, Darcy, and Bina go shopping. Bina gets upset when Enzo and Darcy go into a dressing room so they can make out.
  • While at a concert, a boy kisses Bina. She gets upset and runs off.

Violence

  • None

 Drugs and Alcohol

  • Bina goes camping with her older brother and mother. Her brother says, “There’s a reason so many musicians come out here to record albums. And do drugs.” Bina’s mother says, “And die from heroin overdoses, like Gram Parson did, which is what will happen if you do drugs.”

 Language

  • “Oh my God” and “OMG” are used as exclamations thirteen times.
  • Crap and freaking are both used once.

Supernatural

  • None

Spiritual Content

  • None

Meet the House Kittens

All Marmalade wants to do is build things. She is, after all, a trained architect. She’s also a distractingly adorable kitten.

Fed up with not being taken seriously because she’s so cute, Marmalade bands together with a handful of other aspiring builders—all of them kittens. But in a world where humans call the shots, can the Kitten Construction Company prove their worth . . . without giving up the very things that make them kittens?

Meet the House Kittens has instant appeal because of the adorable cats on the cover. Many readers will be able to relate to Marmalade, who just wants to be taken seriously. Everyone assumes that an adorable cat’s only job is to be cute so humans will stare at him. Readers will laugh as Marmalade meets other kittens who are also underappreciated. In the end, the kittens find an unlikely ally, who helps the Kitten Construction Company get the recognition they deserve.

The bright, comic-like illustrations are displayed in 1 to 3 large panels. While the illustrations mostly focus on the kittens, the adults have a variety of skin tones. Each page has 0 to 6 sentences that appear in quote boxes. Even though the story is a graphic novel, younger readers may need help with some of the more difficult words, such as irresistibly, version, and construction. In addition, readers may not understand all of the construction terms. For example, Professor von Wigglebottom says, “I am licensed and bonded to work masonry and lumber!”

Readers will enjoy seeing two sides of kittens—the fun, playful side and the more serious, professional side. The adults who are awed by the kittens’ cuteness also add some humor. Even though Meet the House Kittens is packed full of humor and kitten cuteness, the story shows the danger of making assumptions based on names or appearances. Green builds a graphic novel that is the perfect blend of humor and teaching. Parents may want to use Meet the House Kittens to start a discussion on how we judge others and why that is wrong. If you’re looking for another humorous graphic novel, check out the Pets on the Loose Series by Victoria Jamieson.

Sexual Content

  • None

Violence

  • A man chases Bubbles with a broom.

 Drugs and Alcohol

Marmalade goes to a café to “drown my sorrows.” He orders, “One saucer of milk! And keep ‘em coming!”

Language

  • None

Supernatural

  • None

Spiritual Content

  • None

Off the Hook

Investigators Mango and Brash are on the hunt for Crackerdile, who has been turned into a bucket of dough. With the help of the plumber who has been combined with a snake, Crackerdile plans to find the perfect secret lair and recruit more villains. But first, Crackerdile must find a way to change forms because “no one’s going to want to join a team led by a soft pile of mush.”

Before Mango and Brash start their investigation, they are given new V.E.S.T.s. However, once outside the science lab, the new V.E.S.T.s cause problems of their own. For instance, Mango and Brash are mistaken for investment bankers and must attend a board meeting, which is a complete bore.

As Brash and Mango are stuck in the meeting, Crackerdile figures out a way to make himself into Waffledile. Then, Waffledile kidnaps a scientist. With the scientist’s help, Waffledile grows to a huge size. But then Waffledile eats Brash. Is there any way to stop Waffledile? And how can Mango free Brash from Waffledile’s stomach?

Off the Hook is a graphic novel that is laugh-out-loud funny. The combination of human and animal characters blends to create a ridiculous story that uses wordplay to add humor. While readers will enjoy all the wordplay, parents might not like the references to butts.

The imaginative story comes alive in brightly colored artwork that shows the characters’ wide range of emotions. The text is large and uses different font sizes, which help emphasize the characters’ emotions and important aspects of the story. Another positive aspect is that the human scientists are a diverse group of characters with a wide range of skin tones. The end of the book shows how to draw Waffledile and includes a few riddles.

The illustrations and the unique storyline of Brash and Mango will appeal to even the most reluctant readers. Each page has 3 to 11 sentences. The sentences range from one word to more complex sentences. The story does an excellent job of giving enough background information so readers who are new to the series will understand the plot. However, for maximum enjoyment, the series should be read in order.

Off the Hook will appeal to even the most reluctant readers because the plot is more silly than serious. Readers may not understand all of the humor regarding investment bankers, but they will still enjoy the silly antics of Brash and Mango. Parents who want their children to read a graphic novel with a more positive message should add the Hilo Series by Judd Winick to their reading list.

Sexual Content

  • None

Violence

  • Crackerdile prods Brash with an electric shocker. Then Crackerdile ties up Brash and drops him off a train. Crackerdile blows up the bridge and the train crashes in a puff of smoke. Later, the reader finds out that this five-page scene was a simulation.
  • The plumber tries to hit Brash and Mango, but instead, he breaks a window. The plumber’s snake arm whacks Mango over the head with a stop sign, “Wham Wham Wham.”
  • Waffledile puts an electrical cord around a huge chicken’s neck. He threatens the scientist’s chicken, “You’re going to make me as big as you! Giddy up! Ha Ha! I feel like a cowboy.”
  • The plumber’s snake arm ties Brash and Mango to a pole.
  • Waffledile grows so big that he destroys a roof. The construction workers begin throwing tools and bricks at Waffledile.
  • Waffledile eats Brash. Mango dumps concrete on Waffledile. Then the plumber crashes into the statue of Waffledile and pulls Brash out of its stomach.

Drugs and Alcohol

  • None.

Language

  • There is some humor about butts. For example, as a scientist is flushing Brash and Mango down a toilet, she says, “Hold on to your butts.”
  • After Waffledile eats Brash, Waffledile says, “You can’t dump concrete on me and save your partner. But let me go, and I’ll barf Brash back up! Or you know, he could come out the other way.” A reporter on the scene says, “Inquiring minds want to know. Do waffles have butts?”
  • Darn, drat, dang, and dagnabbit are occasionally used as exclamations.
  • The characters sometimes call other people idiots. For example, Crackerdile says his team’s mission would be “the total annihilation of idiot law-doers!”

Supernatural

  • Crackerdile is “a former-agent-turned-radioactive-saltine-cracker.” In this installment of the series, Crackerdile is a bucket of dough.
  • One of the villains is a “plumber whose arm was combined with a snake, giving him grappling hook powers.”
  • Crackerdile is cooked in a waffle iron. He says, “I, Crackerdile, have been reborn as . . . Waffledile!”
  • Dr. Jack Hardbones is a “news helicopter but also a skilled surgeon.” He can change back and forth from a human to a helicopter.

Spiritual Content

  • None

 

 

When Stars Are Scattered

Omar and his younger brother Hassan have spent most of their childhood inside the A2 block of the Kenyan refugee camp Dadaab. After fleeing from his family farm in Somalia and becoming separated from his mother, Omar’s main concern is always protecting his only remaining family member, his nonverbal brother Hassan. Not only does Omar shield Hassan from the grueling chores of finding water and cleaning the tent, but he also cares for his brother when Hassan suffers seizures, or when he is teased by the other kids for only saying one word: Hooyo—“Mamma.” Omar also hopes one day his mother will find him and Hassan, and so he keeps all days the same. So, when Omar has the opportunity to go to school, he knows it might be a chance to change their future…but it would also mean leaving his brother, his only remaining family member, every day.

When Stars are Scattered is an easy-to-read, beautifully illustrated graphic novel. Omar Mohamed’s story comes to life in this graphic novel about his childhood in a refugee camp. The story shows the heartbreaking events that lead to Omar going to a refugee camp when he was only four. Omar’s story chronicles the hunger, heartbreak, and harsh conditions he endured. The story also sheds light on other issues including women’s access to education, starvation, family loss, and the constantly looming struggle to get on the UN list that invites refugees to interview for resettlement. Despite difficulties, Omar is still able to create a sense of family and home in the midst of difficult situations.

Like all people, Omar is a complex character who struggles to make the right decisions. He also often has conflicting emotions. For example, Omar wonders if his mother is dead or alive. He thinks, “I love my mom, but sometimes I hate her for leaving us. It’s like these two feelings are tearing me apart.”

At one point, Omar wonders if school is a waste of time; however, his foster mom tells him, “Prepare yourself and educate yourself. So you can be ready when God reveals his plan to you.” Eventually,

Omar falls in love with the power of learning and the potential of resettlement. Omar begins to learn what it feels like to build a new life by focusing on what he is given, rather than remaining torn by what he has lost. It is in this way that Omar moves from searching the stars for his mother to actually feeling that, “Many years ago, we lost our mother. But maybe she is not gone. She is in the love that surrounds us and the people who care for us.”

The story teaches several important life lessons including not to judge others and to make the most of your life. Appreciating what you have is the overarching theme of When Stars Are Scattered. Omar’s best friend tells him, “I didn’t ask for this limp. But I didn’t ask to live in a refugee camp either. . . I guess you just have to appreciate the good parts and make the most of what you’ve got.” Despite his struggles, Omar makes the most of what he has been given and thanks God for the love of others.

Based upon the real-life story of Omar Mohamed, When Stars Are Scattered navigates themes of familial loss, grief, struggle, and finally, hope, all while addressing the permanent feeling of a temporary refugee camp and the heartbreak of a war-torn home country. Omar shares his story because he wants to encourage others to never give up on home. Omar says, “Things may seem impossible, but if you keep working hard and believing in yourself, you can overcome anything in your path.”

When Stars Are Scattered not only encourages others to remain persistent, but also sheds light on the conditions of the refugee camps without getting into a political debate on immigration. Instead, the graphic novel focuses on Omar’s story—his hardships, his hopes, his despair, and his desire to help others like him.

The narrative is occasionally intense and heavy in its consideration of grief and the lifestyle of a refugee, which may upset younger readers. However, the serious and very important subjects that When Stars are Scattered covers are overall presented in a digestible way for young readers. The graphics that illustrate the story are absolutely captivating for all, while the humor and uplifting optimism that perseveres throughout this novel can fill the hearts of any audience.

Sexual Content

  • Maryam’s family needs the money, so they allow Maryam to get married despite the fact that she is only in middle school. “Maryam’s husband is old, but he’s not too strict.”

Violence

  • When Hassan hugs a boy, the boy pushes him away. The boy tells Omar, “I don’t know why you bother taking care of this moron. He’s a waste of space. You should let him wander off into the bush to get eaten by lions.” Omar punches the boy, and they get into a fight. An older woman breaks up the fight.
  • While Omar is at school, Hassan wanders off and some kids “[take] his clothes, and… He’s pretty badly hurt.”
  • When Omar’s best friend says he’s going to America, Omar thinks about the resettlement process. He thinks, “I heard about one guy… His case was rejected by the UN and he couldn’t handle it. He… He killed himself.”
  • During an interview with the United Nations, Omar talks about the village he came from. Omar was playing under a tree when he heard men yelling at his father. Then, “Bang! Bang! Bang!” Omar ran to his mother, who told Omar to take his brother and run to the neighbor. The neighbor hides them inside, but “then I heard gunshots and screaming, and soon the whole village was running. There were angry men everywhere.” Omar and his brother run and stay with the people from the village, but they never see their mother again. The event is described over three pages.
  • When Fatuma describes her sons, she notes that “they were killed in Somalia” but there is not any explicit description as to how they were killed.
  • When Hassan tries to help Omar with collecting water one day, Omar gets frustrated and shoves Hassan, yelling “leave me alone!”

Drugs and Alcohol

  • Some of the men in the refugee camp chew khat leaves. Omar explains that “a lot of men in camp chew Khat. They say it kind of helps you . . . forget things.”

Language

  • There are multiple times where some of the children are called by names based upon their physical appearance. For example, one child is called “Limpy” based upon a physical disability. Omar is also called “Dantey” for being quiet.
  • The story has some mild name-calling, such as idiot, jerk, and dodo head. For example, Omar thinks that one of the boys his age is “kind of a jerk.”
  • While walking to school, someone yells at two girls, “Hey it’s the mouse and the shrimp.” In reply, someone says, “Tall Ali… You’re like… A towering tree of an idiot.”
  • In class among the girls, A boy says, “You’re just jealous because you’re, what, number seventeen? I didn’t know we had seventeen girls in class. My goat could’ve done better than you.”
  • When Tall Ali becomes frustrated at Hassan for not understanding a game, he says to Omar, “ I don’t know why you bother taking care of this moron! He’s a waste of space. You should let him wander off into the bush to get eaten by lions!” Then he says to both Omar and Hassan, “Now I know why you’re orphans. That’s probably why your mom left you.”
  • When Jeri gives a presentation in school about how much he wants to be a teacher when he grows up, another classmate exclaims, “what a kiss-up.”
  • When Omar learns that all the teachers speak in English, he thinks, “Oh crud.”

Supernatural

  • None

Spiritual Content

  • When community leader Tall Salan tries to convince Omar to go to school, he says, “Omar, only God knows what will happen in the future.” Omar’s foster mom Fatuma also says, “I think you should look deep inside yourself and see what God is telling you to do. If this is God’s will, then He will make everything okay.”
  • Omar and his brother practice Islam. Because of this, Omar recognizes that “Like every morning, I hear the call to morning prayers over the loudspeakers. It’s early, but today I was already awake.” There is also a chapter dedicated to discussing the Holy Month of Ramadan. This chapter shows Omar and his friends celebrating Eid Al-Fitr, which is the holiday at the end of this month. It is also recognized that Omar’s camp, and others near it, have a “loudspeaker that, five times a day, called everyone to prayer.”
  • When Omar decides to go to school, he prays “that [he’s] making the right decision.”
  • Omar’s foster mom tells him that God has given Hassan gifts. “Hassan is considerate, helpful, and friendly.”
  • When the community comes together to help Hassan, Omar thinks, “We may be refugees and orphans, but we are not alone. God has given us the gift of love.”
  • During Ramadan, the Muslim holy month, Muslims are supposed to fast from sunrise to sunset. Even though many in the refugee camp are always hungry, “people in the camp fast anyway… Just because we’re poor and hungry doesn’t mean we can’t observe the holy month.”
  • During Eid, Omar prays “for me and Hassan. That we’ll find a way out of this refugee camp—that someday we will find a home.”
  • When a social worker brings Omar a school uniform, he thinks, “you just try your best, and God will find a way to help you when you need it.”
  • Even though life has dark moments, Omar believes that “God will deliver an answer, and you’ll find a faith out of the darkness. The kindness of strangers. The promise of new friends.”
  • When Omar is waiting to see if he will be resettled in America, he thinks, “We’ve done all we can. It’s in God’s hands now.”

by Hannah Olsson

 

Becoming RBG: Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s Journey to Justice

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.

Growing up during World War II and living during the McCarthy era made a huge impact on Ruth. Because she witnessed discrimination, she was determined to help others. However, Ruth’s main focus was helping those who faced gender discrimination. While most of her cases focused on “girls who were held back by unequal treatment,” she also defended men who received unfair treatment because of their gender. Ruth’s goal was “identifying and removing the barriers that restricted what women could do, and that also restricted what men could do.” Ruth knew that as a judge she must listen to others and engage with opposing ideas in order to overcome discrimination.

As a woman, Ruth had to face many obstacles. While society thought that a girl’s greatest goal was to “find a husband who could take care of his wife and family,” Ruth’s mother encouraged her to be independent. Ruth’s mother wanted Ruth to chase her dreams as well as act like a lady. Her mother said, “A lady reacts calmly to upsetting things and without anger. A lady has nothing to do with jealousy.” Throughout her life, Ruth often based her behavior on her mother’s advice.

Eleanor Roosevelt was another positive influence in Ruth’s life. Eleanor Roosevelt spoke against intolerance and cruelty. She said, “Don’t be prejudiced. Be open to refugees who come to our country. Don’t be cruel, even to enemies.” Ruth’s story includes many examples of how both Ruth’s mother and Eleanor Roosevelt affected Ruth’s behavior in a positive manner.

Readers who aren’t interested in the law may find Becoming RGB’s focus on the legal cases that Ruth fought overwhelmingly. The graphic novel has different shaped text boxes which often make it difficult for readers to know which order the text should be read in. However, the text includes explanations of terms that readers may not be familiar with. Even though Becoming RGB is a graphic novel, some of the pages are text-heavy and have advanced vocabulary.

Readers will enjoy the graphic novel’s illustrations that are white with shades of blue. Some pages have pops of red that highlight important aspects of the story. Each short chapter has a title that helps readers know the topic of the chapter. Even though some parts of the biography are dominated by legal cases, Becoming RBG is worth reading. Ruth’s story of perseverance is packed full of life lessons and shows how one woman helped change the world for the better.

Sexual Content

  • None

Violence

  • Ruth lived during World War II when the Nazis were “creating a nation of all those they considered true Germans and repressing—even killing—people they considered inferior.”
  • During World War II, Japan surrendered after America “dropped an atomic bomb over Hiroshima. . . Three days later, the US military dropped a second atom bomb on another Japanese city, Nagasaki.”

 Drugs and Alcohol

  • None

Language

  • None

Supernatural

  • None

Spiritual Content

  • During World War II, some thought “Jews were Christ Killers.”
  • One of the Supreme Court justices “suggested that divine law ordained that women shouldn’t be lawyers. He wrote, ‘The paramount density and mission of women are to fulfill the noble and benign offices of wife and mother. This is the law of the Creator.’”

 

 

 

All Summer Long

Thirteen-year-old Bina has a long summer ahead of her. She and her best friend, Austin, usually do everything together, but he’s off to soccer camp for a month, and he’s been acting kind of weird lately anyway. So it’s up to Bina to see how much fun she can have on her own.

At first it’s a lot of guitar playing, boredom, and bad TV, but things start to look up when she finds an unlikely companion in Austin’s older sister, Charlie. They like the same music, and Charlie actually seems to think Bina is cool. But then Austin comes home from camp, and he’s acting even weirder than when he left. Can Bina and Austin get back to the way things used to be? Or does growing up mean growing apart?

When Bina starts spending time with Charlie, she is excited that a cool high school student wants to hang out together. But it often feels like Charlie is using her. For example, Charlie needs help putting boxes in the attic, but leaves Bina to do the work alone. At first, Bina is afraid to tell Charlie how she feels, but when Charlie skips out on Bina while babysitting, Bina finally speaks up.

Middle school readers will relate to Bina, who wants to appear cool but is also insecure. Even though none of her friends appreciate music, Bina doesn’t let that stop her from playing her guitar. While much of the plot revolves around Bina’s summer, the story has glimpses of her family life. One aspect of the plot is Bina’s older brother and his husband adopting a baby. While this plotline isn’t well developed, Bina is looking forward to being an aunt.

Readers will enjoy the graphic novel’s panels, which are black with orange highlights. Each page has eleven or fewer sentences and the story uses simple vocabulary. However, the text is small, which makes some of the words difficult to read. Despite this, the format of All Summer Long will appeal to many readers.

All Summer Long deals with themes of friendship, family, and coming of age. However, the story’s plot is not well developed and is not very memorable. Despite this, Mila’s experiences will encourage readers to find their own passions.

Sexual Content

  • Austin runs into a boy from soccer camp. Austin introduces Mila as “my friend.” The boy asks “with benefits?”
  • Austin’s teen sister has a boy come over to her house. Austin tells Bina, “That skater guy’s been in Charlie’s room all afternoon, so maybe I’ll get to be a fourteen-year-old uncle.”
  • Austin tells Bina about a girl he met at soccer camp. He says, “Her name’s Rosemary. Ro. We met at camp. She’s a striker. . . It means she scores a lot.” Bina makes a funny face and asks, “Did she score with you?”

Violence

  • After an argument, Austin and Bina shove each other.

 Drugs and Alcohol

  • None

Language

  • Someone is called a jerk three times. When Bina is upset with her best friend, she thinks he is a jerk.
  • When Mila loses her house key, she thinks, “Crud! Where’d it go?!”
  • Freakin’ is used once.

Supernatural

  • None

Spiritual Content

  • None

The Mystery of the Moon Tower

Kyle is a new kid in town who likes to draw. Vic is a cool cheerleader who’s secretly a math whiz. Quiet Beth is a history buff, while goofball Harry likes performing magic tricks with the help of his patient wingman, Nate. These five kids are unlikely to form a team, for sure.

But then they’re thrown together at summer camp, where they watch a grainy old movie about the history of their town (Windrose) and one of its illustrious citizens of a bygone era: the intrepid explorer-inventor Henry Merriweather. He is the one who established their camp. And what is Merriweather’s Camp Pathfinders’ motto? Plus Ultra: more beyond!

The five kids soon find there is indeed “more beyond” in their pokey town with its weird weather and sudden geysers of smelly air. Deciphering a route of historical markers leads them to Merriweather’s old castle, which is lined with ornate, beautiful tiles in hallways that lead to secret rooms full of odd objects—and where time itself is warped!

Kyle, Vic, Beth, Harry, and Nate witness scenes from Merriweather’s past and realize his experiments and eccentricities are pointing toward a path that could lead to the rumored lost treasure of Windrose. The path takes them on a journey through time, through woods, and finally to the looming Moon tower. Will the kids be able to solve the mystery and find the treasure?

Readers who love Scooby Doo mysteries will love the spooky setting that shows the kids lost in a forest, an old castle, and a moon tower. However, unlike Scooby Doo, The Mystery of the Moon Tower’s plot is disjointed and there are a lot of plot holes. The kids hunt for tiles—many of them are attached to plaques detailing historical information—that will lead them to the treasure. However, the historical information is illegible and the characters do not discuss the information on the plaques. In addition, even though the tiles are important in solving the mystery, the reader is still left wondering why they are significant.

The graphic novels’ illustrations will appeal to many readers. The Windrose castle and the woods have wonderful details and the glowing blue light gives the setting a magical feel. The kids are a diverse group both in looks and personalities. Each page has 1 to 6 sentences of dialogue which appear in quote bubbles. The easy-to-read vocabulary makes the story accessible to even the most reluctant readers. Another positive aspect is that the five kids are all introduced at the beginning of the story, which helps the readers understand some of the character’s comments.

Even though The Mystery of the Moon Tower’s plot is underdeveloped, the story sets up what could potentially be an engaging sequel. In addition, the story may spark readers’ curiosity and have them researching Henry Mercer and the Mercer Museum of Doylestown, Pennsylvania. The Mystery of the Moon Tower will entertain mystery fans who like a spooky setting that delves into the past.

 Sexual Content

  • None

Violence

  • None

 Drugs and Alcohol

  • None

Language

  • When he finds a hidden tile, Kyle says, “What the heck?”

Supernatural

  • The five kids see visions from the past.

Spiritual Content

  • None

 

 

Komi Can’t Communicate Volume 2

Socially anxious high school student Shoko Komi’s greatest dream is to make some friends, but everyone at school mistakes her crippling social anxiety for cool reserve. Luckily, she meets Tadano, a timid wallflower who decides to step out of his comfort zone in order to help her achieve her goal of making 100 friends.

It’s time for the national health exam at Itan High, and the excitement of eye exams and height measurements has fanned the flames of competition in the heart of Makeru Yadano. She’s determined to beat the class idol, Komi, in the health test. Komi’s total obliviousness to their impassioned duel just feeds Makeru’s determination. As the epic battle heats up, how will Komi handle her first rival when she’s barely made her first friends?

Much of the time Komi seems to be in her own world and doesn’t notice those around her. For example, at the beginning of the story, one classmate wants to compete with Komi on the physical fitness test. However, Komi doesn’t even realize the classmate is trying to beat her during the races and other activities. Even though Komi has social anxieties and doesn’t talk to anyone, many of Komi’s classmates idolize her and consider her a “goddess.”

Several of the characters are odd. For example, one classmate, Agari, acts as if she is Komi’s dog. Another classmate, Yamai, desperately wants to meet Komi, so she threatens Komi’s friend, Osana. After Osana agrees to introduce Komi to Yamai, the situation becomes even stranger. Yamai kidnaps Tadano, binds him to a chair, and puts tape over his mouth. Later that day, Osana and Komi go to Yamai’s house where they discover Tadano trapped in a closet. Despite this, Komi still wants to be friends with Yamai.

Komi Can’t Communicate Volume 2 shows Komi’s growth from a girl with no friends, to one who is beginning to communicate and has two friends. Even though Komi communicates by writing on a piece of paper, she does stand up for Tadano. Tadano is a bright spot in the story because he truly wants Komi to form friendships, and he pushes her to try new things. However, one drawback of Komi’s friends is that they all focus on her beauty.

The black and white illustrations are adorable and portray the socially awkward girl and her interactions with others with humor. Each page has 1 to 11 simple sentences which appear in quote boxes. Square boxes are also used to show characters and general information. The illustrations help show Komi’s nervousness by showing her tremble.

Even though Komi Can’t Communicate Volume 2 has some strange events, the story will resonate with high school students who are insecure. As Komi begins to communicate, she also begins to act like a normal teenager by going to the mall and eating at a restaurant with her friends. Komi Can’t Communicate Volume 2 will entertain readers, even though it lacks the depth of Volume One. Readers will be curious to find out what happens with Komi’s new friend Yamai in Volume Three.

 Sexual Content

  • Yamai has a crush on Komi and is obsessed with Komi’s smell.

Violence

  • Yamai kidnaps Tadano, threatens him with a knife, and binds him to a chair. Yamai thinks, “It’s utterly bizarre for a loser like him to hang around a divinity like you, Komi.” Yamai justifies her actions by saying Komi is “glorious, so it’s psycho for a bottle-feeder like Tadano to hang around you!”
  • Komi doesn’t talk to Yamai, so Yamai threatens to kill herself with a knife. She says, “I have no reason to keep living!”

 Drugs and Alcohol

  • None

Language

  • One of the students says, “F*** you!”

Supernatural

  • None

Spiritual Content

  • None

Class Act

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 told him that his entire life. But, lately, he’s been wondering: even if he works ten times as hard, will he ever have the same opportunities that his privileged classmates at the prestigious Riverdal 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, and he starts to feel more isolated than ever, will Drew find a way to bridge the divide so he and his friends can truly see and accept each other? And most important, will he finally be able to accept himself.

While the first installment focused on Jordan, Class Act focuses on Drew. Middle school readers will relate to Drew as he tries to navigate junior high and all of the pressure that comes with growing older. Going to Riverdal Academy is difficult because most of the students are white and the teachers have a difficult time discussing race. To make matters worse, the neighborhood kids tease Drew for acting as if he is better than them. In addition, Drew isn’t sure where he fits in. When discussing his confusion with a classmate, Drew’s friend asks him, “What good is having people like you if you don’t like you?”

In addition to regular middle school drama, Class Act gives many examples of classism. After Drew sees his friend Liam’s huge mansion, Drew is angry and begins avoiding Liam. Drew says, “People like him are never friends with people like us. We won’t live in the same neighborhood. We won’t eat the same food. Our kids won’t go to the same schools. So what’s the point?” In the end, Drew shows Liam his neighborhood, which helps the two understand and accept each other.

Class Act is an entertaining graphic novel that has brightly colored illustrations that are at times heartwarming and hilarious. Craft does an excellent job making the characters’ feelings clear by focusing on the character’s facial expressions. Even though the story focuses on Drew, Jordan’s artwork is still included as black and white illustrations. In the end, Class Act will entertain the reader as it touches on the difficult topics of classism and race. Readers who would like to read more about racial inequality and the Black Lives Matter movement should also read Blended by Sharon M. Draper.

Sexual Content

  • None

Violence

  • Some of the neighborhood kids tease Drew. When Drew gets upset, Wendell says, “You better take your bougie butt home to your grandma.” Wendell tries to fight Drew, but the other boys hold him back. Wendell leaves and Drew starts a snowball fight. After the fight, the guys talk about their issues.

 Drugs and Alcohol

  • None

Language

  • None

Supernatural

  • None

Spiritual Content

  • When Drew worried about the first day of school, his grandma says, “I’ll say a prayer for you.”

 

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