Hoops

Judi Wilson, a senior in high school, loves basketball. It’s been her childhood dream to play on a basketball team. However, Judi doesn’t have a lot of options because it’s 1975. When her high school announces they’re creating their first-ever women’s basketball team, Judi joins seven other girls to begin their rookie season. However, Judi quickly learns that the girls’ team is very different from the boys’ team. They have no jerseys, transportation, or gym to host home games. Their school’s athletic director refuses to treat them as equals to the boys’ team unless they can fill the gym with fans. Can Judi and her teammates bring a championship to their school and prove that they are just as important as the boys’ team? 

Hoops is an exciting graphic novel based on the true story of the 1976 Warsaw High School girls’ basketball team. It focuses on the life of Judi Wilson, the story’s main protagonist, whose encouraging and kind personality brings her basketball team together despite the inequality in the sport. Many readers will admire Judi’s ability to see the positive side of her team’s circumstances. For example, when one of her teammates, Lisa Vincent, thinks about quitting, Judi tells her “We might as well play, right?” Judi’s conflict is relatable because Judi and her team struggle due to inequality. Despite this, Judi advocates for change by proving her worth on the basketball court. 

Hoops brings history to life in a delightful graphic novel format. The panels and characters feature a simple art style with lots of colors and shapes. The simplicity of the art enhances the action sequences during basketball games, where each panel recreates the intensity and skill of each player with clear, fluid transitions. Meanwhile, the text appears in a large, capitalized format, and the big quote bubbles help easily identify speakers. Easy vocabulary and short sentences allow seamless movement between panels and pages. Hoops will appeal to reluctant readers because of the format and easy vocabulary. In addition, each page only has three to ten sentences with the occasional paragraph mixed in. Several pages also feature no words and let the illustrations tell the story instead.  

The story highlights the historical aspects of women’s inequality in sports. Although the characters aren’t very complex, they experience dramatic development by learning that their advocacy for equality does create change in their community. Judi’s teammate, Lisa Vincent, epitomizes this lesson when she realizes that she’s “sick of being treated like I don’t matter just because I’m a girl,” and joins the team’s effort to create change by succeeding on the basketball court. 

The end of the book features a small two-page section that connects the fictional tale with its historical inspirations. The author explains that each character is based on real-life people and reiterates their story about “regular kids who play hard and stand up for what they believe is right.” With the combination of exciting characters, a heartwarming story, and engaging art, Hoops is the perfect story for basketball fans who appreciate young people fighting for equality. Readers looking for more basketball stories should also read The Fifth Quarter by Mike Dawson and Zayd Saleem Chasing the Dream by Hena Khan. However, if you’d like to learn more about women’s fight for equality, check out She Persisted: Claudette Colvin by Lesa Cline-Ransome. 

Sexual Content 

  • Cindy Randall, Judi Wilson’s friend on the basketball team, kisses her boyfriend, Mark, in front of the basketball team. 

Violence 

  • Judi’s friend, Lisa Vincent, tells a story about her time sledding on the neighborhood boys’ hill. She explains that she “made it about halfway down and then a bunch of boys knocked me off my sled and broke it.” Lisa wasn’t hurt. 

Drugs and Alcohol 

  • None 

Language 

  • Judi Wilson calls a customer at the hardware store a “jerk.” Judi also utters “jeez” at an obnoxious customer. 
  • Judi and her teammate, Cindy, say “holy moly” multiple times. 
  • Judi and Cindy repeatedly say, “Oh my god” when surprised or excited. 
  • Heck is used twice.  
  • A spectator watching a basketball game says darn. 

Supernatural 

  • None 

Spiritual Content 

  • None 

Mummies in the Morning: The Graphic Novel

In the pyramid, a real-life mummy is waiting. . . .The magic tree house has whisked Jack and Annie to ancient Egypt. Inside a pyramid, Jack and Annie find a long-dead queen who needs their help solving a centuries-old riddle. If only they can find their way through the pyramid’s maze!

Fans of the Magic Tree House Series will enjoy seeing the same stories in a graphic novel format. The illustrations use bright colors that help bring the adventure to life. Even though the story includes a picture of a mummy and a ghost, the story isn’t frightening. Instead, the sibling’s journey is full of adventure as it teaches about the Ancient Egyptians’ world. 

The graphic novel is accessible to even the most reluctant reader because of the easy vocabulary and the simple sentences. Some of the pages tell the story without any text, while other pages have up to nine sentences. Readers who are unfamiliar with the Magic Tree House may have difficulty following the plot because so much of the original text has been cut out. While the short word count will appeal to many readers, they will miss out on some of the joy of reading the longer version.  

If you love to read, reading the original Mummies in the Morning is definitely the way to go because it’s much more in-depth. However, struggling readers will still find the graphic novel format entertaining.  

Readers who want to travel back in time to learn more about Egypt should also read Escape from Egypt by Wendy Mass and Secret of the Prince’s Tomb by Marianne Hering. You can also learn more interesting facts by reading the nonfiction companion Magic Tree House Fact Tracker: Mummies and Pyramids 

Sexual Content 

  • None 

Violence 

  • None 

Drugs and Alcohol 

  • None 

Language 

  • None 

Supernatural 

  • Annie opens to a page of a book and says, “I wish we could go to this place.” Magically, the tree house begins to spin. “It spun faster and faster.” When the tree house stops spinning, they are in Ancient Egypt.  
  • Jack and Annie meet the ghost of Hutepi, Queen of the Nile. Hutepi asks Jack and Annie to help her find “the magic spells I need to get through the Underworld.”  
  • Hutepi has not been able to travel to the afterlife because she cannot read due to her bad eyesight. When Jack tries to give her his eyeglasses, Hutepi says, “I fear I cannot wear your glasses, Jack. I am made of air.” 

Spiritual Content 

  • None 

The End of Time

Following the epic conclusion of The Secret Society, Oliver, Mya, and Jorge find themselves at an impasse: The Protectors’ headquarters lie in ruins; the nefarious Octavian is nowhere to be found; and they have no idea how their tampering with the timeline of Poptropica might affect history.  

As our heroes band together to save the mysterious, uncharted island world and find a way home, they are reminded of crucial events from their past—including how they were transported to Poptropica in the first place. The trio suddenly finds itself in the heart of Poptropica, where the Protectors discover the nexus of all time and are offered the opportunity to see what their lives would be like if they could change just one thing from their pasts. But will they choose to go down these alternate paths? 

The End of Time jumps back and forth between the present and the past. The story quickly tells what life was like before Oliver, Mya, and Jorge went to Poptropica. Because of the difficulties the trio faced, the book takes on a more serious tone. Before Poptropica, Mya struggles to deal with her mother’s death. Oliver wonders why his father disappeared from his life. Jorge doesn’t have any friends. Through their experiences, the kids realize “We’ve all lost something along the way. But we’ve gained even more. A friend. A family. Through it all, we’ve become ourselves.” 

As the last book in the series, The End of Time, ties up the loose ends and explains the characters’ backgrounds. However, jumping from different time periods and seeing alternative realities makes the plot more complex and readers may have a difficult time understanding the significance of some of the events. The story explores the importance of overcoming grief and accepting things as they are—not as we wish they would be. The graphic novel strays away from the humor and action of the previous books, and instead, takes on a serious tone to get its message across.  

The conclusion is somewhat bittersweet. Oliver, Mya, and Jorge realize the importance of their friendships, return to their own world, and are happily reunited with their parents. Even though Octavian is portrayed as a villain throughout the story, it’s hard not to feel sorry for him. While some of his actions are not acceptable, he is trying to save his love. While this reinforces the idea of accepting a loss, many readers will not understand the message. 

Each page has brightly colored illustrations that use fun elements such as onomatopoeia—”Krash! Smash! Krak!”—as well as comical characters with oversized eyes. The illustrations clearly show the characters’ varying emotions such as annoyance, fear, and confusion. Some of the pages let the illustrations tell the story without text. Other pages contain up to nine sentences with easy-to-understand vocabulary. Most of the sentences are super short, which makes the book accessible to most readers. 

The Poptropica Series is a fast-paced graphic novel that takes an adventurous trip into the past. With plenty of humor and silly illustrations, the series will entertain readers. If you’re looking for another funny graphic novel that will leave readers smiling, check out Pets on the Loose! by Victoria Jamieson. 

Sexual Content 

  • None 

Violence 

  • Octavia goes back in time to Pompei in order to save the woman he loves. Men in space suits appear and tear Octavian away. Octavian watches the volcano erupt and he knows his love has died. 
  • Jonas, a protector of Poptropica, is injured in an explosion. The explosion was described in the previous book.  
  • In order to make friends, Jorge joins a group of mean boys. They take a child’s toy away and throw it into a mud puddle.  

Drugs and Alcohol 

  • None 

Language   

  • Dang is used twice. 
  • Heck is used three times. 
  • The characters call each other names such as cheater.  
  • In the past, two mean boys make fun of Jorge and call him a baby, a dweeb, and a dork. 
  • In an alternate reality, Oliver gets a glimpse of his father. Oliver realizes, “my dad is kind of a jerk.”

Supernatural 

  • None 

Spiritual Content 

  • None 

The Tea Dragon Tapestry

The final installment in the Tea Dragon Trilogy, The Tea Dragon Tapestry, is a soothing synthesis of characters from the previous books who come together to celebrate their culture in a charming fantasy realm. In the opening pages, readers are reunited with Greta, a teenage villager training to be a blacksmith, and her love interest Minette, a young prophetess healing from traumatic memory loss.

When Minette receives an illustrious tapestry from the monastery she used to call home, she is reimmersed in a culture she left behind. She begins to have strange dreams about the Ancestor – the sacred creature depicted on the tapestry. Meanwhile, Greta is preparing to study under Kleitos, a master blacksmith. She also fosters pet tea dragons, one of whom is grieving over a former owner.

Greta and Minette meet Rinn and Aedhan, who have traveled from a mountain village to visit Rinn’s uncle, Erik, and his partner, Hesekiel. Readers will recognize these older characters from the previous books. Greta and Minette learn important life lessons from their role models, such as how to belong in a new place and reconnect with one’s origins and identity.

Greta completes a project to demonstrate her skill to Kleitos, and Minette weaves more details onto the tapestry to contribute to her culture. The graphic novel concludes with an epilogue in the form of a letter written by Hesekiel. The letter details how his generation has passed on their legacy to the younger generation, and how the cycle of life and death gives him hope for the future.

Nonbinary readers will likely identify with Rinn and Aedhan, as well as the elusive Ancestor, all of whom use they/them pronouns. Queerness is not called into question or judged in this world. The Tea Dragon Tapestry also provides positive representation for physically disabled people, as Erik lives a fulfilling life regardless of being confined to a wheelchair.

O’Neill’s endearing artistic style continues to immerse readers in a flourishing realm that values family, traditions, nature, and following one’s heart. Their choice of colors is more vibrant and pastel than the previous books. The Tea Dragon Tapestry brings satisfying closure and momentous hope to the series. Like previous installments, this book shows an impressive capacity for storytelling, art, and positive representation.

Sexual Content

  • None

Violence

  • Erik and Kleitos playfully duel with swords in a field, but nobody is injured.

Drugs and Alcohol 

  • When brewed into tea, leaves harvested from the small household pets known as tea dragons have the power to send the drinker into a trance and allow them to glimpse their own memories or past events experienced by those around them.

Language 

  • None

Supernatural

  • The book includes multiple fantasy creatures, such as shapeshifting dragons, anthropomorphic birds, and humans with features like tails, horns, furred ears, or goat legs.

Spiritual Content 

  • Minette’s culture performs rituals and prayers to a being known as the Ancestor. Minette formerly lived at a monastery dedicated to this primordial creature.

The Okay Witch and the Hungry Shadow

During winter break, Moth Hush comes to terms with the revelation of her witch heritage and powers. Her mother, also a witch, helps Moth learn new spells and Moth gets happier with each one she picks up. Moth has a best friend in Carter, a boy from one of her classes, and Mr. Laszlo, a talking cat. Her life, friendships, and relationship with her mother couldn’t be better!

Unfortunately, Moth’s life doesn’t stay stress-free for long. At school, she runs into bullies that she wishes would leave her alone. After an incident in which she accidentally wears a similar outfit to a teacher, the bullies make Moth their latest victim and torment her for being the teacher’s “twin.” To make matters worse, Moth’s grandmother wants Moth to become a powerful witch and puts a lot of pressure on Moth to succeed in studying and practicing magic.

When Moth finds a solution to her problem — a magic charm that can bring out a confident and self-assured version of herself — things start out great. She gets praise from her grandmother and admiration from her classmates. With magic, Moth feels like she has a handle on how she presents herself to her family and classmates. But depending on magic to achieve her wildest dreams causes Moth’s life to spiral out of control.

The Okay Witch and the Hungry Shadow expands upon Moth’s school life. Many students are ruthless bullies; they stop at nothing to terrorize someone, never letting a joke or prank run dry. Moth’s tormentors mock Moth for her old-fashioned clothing, crooked teeth, and dark skin. Moth stresses over her looks and wonders if she would fit in if she changed her appearance. Readers will relate to Moth’s self-esteem issues, her struggle to accept herself for who she is, and her desire to fit in with the rest of the student body.

Moth discovers more about discrimination and exclusion from her grandmother’s stories about her witch heritage. Most witches in the Hush order (Moth’s grandmother’s previous order) believed that Moth’s grandmother was undeserving of her high-ranking position due to her skin color and class. In one conversation, Moth’s grandmother states, “They refused to see me as an equal.” Discussions such as these call attention to mistreatment towards underrepresented communities, showing prejudice is still pervasive not just in Moth’s grandmother’s time but also in the modern era.

Steinkellner’s full use of the graphic novel format lends itself to dynamic paneling and excellent pacing. Thick outlines make characters stand out while vibrant colors and pastels will keep readers engaged. Reluctant readers may like that most pages do not have words but rather tell the story through illustrations. In addition, Moth’s perspective as the narrator makes The Okay Witch and the Hungry Shadow easy to follow.

To relate to today’s readers, The Okay Witch and the Hungry Shadow incorporates modern-day technology. Familiar technology, such as smartphones and social media, brings readers closer to Moth’s world and highlights Moth’s desire to fit in. Memes, texting, and pop culture references invite the reader to become involved in the story. The inclusion of diverse characters and family dynamics adds depth and promotes diversity and representation.

Through her experiences, Moth learns an important lesson about integrity and self-trust. She doesn’t need to take shortcuts for quicker results or use magic to change herself to fit in: she can become whoever she wants by her own means without destroying herself from the inside out. Readers who want to learn more about standing up to bullies should also read Out of Place by Jennifer Blecher and Castle Hangnail by Ursula Vernon.

Sexual Content 

  • None

Violence 

  • None

Drugs and Alcohol 

  • None

Language   

  • None

Supernatural 

  • Witches perform magic spells in various ways: nonverbally, incantations, gestures, or a mix of the three. For example, Moth shrinks a bug by aiming her pinky at it, scrunching her nose, and twisting her arm to the right. Moth is surrounded by magic and magical occurrences every day. As such, not all instances are listed here. 
  • Moth finds the nyklum, a “powerful charm that may transform its wearer into a bolder, more self-assured version of themselves.” The charm requires a small item from the person the witch chooses to imitate and the following incantation: “Bring it forth that I may be the better half that waits in me.” Moth uses the nyklum to become popular. She becomes more confident in herself and gains the attention of her classmates.
  • The more a witch draws upon the nyklum, the more likely the ancient demon Shadriel Kannibalstisch will take over the witch, incapacitating her for good. As the story progresses, Moth risks being taken over by Shadriel Kannibalstisch. 
  • Shadriel Kannibalstisch, also known as the Hungry Shadow, is a demon that looks to take over a person. The demon makes the witch formidable, but it corrupts the witch at the same time. When Shadriel Kannibalstisch becomes more powerful than its host, Shadriel eclipses them, the witch dies, and Shadriel takes the witch’s body for itself. 
  • To be more confident in front of her classmates, Moth wants to use the nyklum at the Valentine’s Day school dance. Upon hearing about the consequences of using the nyklum, Moth removes the nyklum to destroy Shadriel Kannibalstisch before it eclipses her. 
  • Shadriel Kannibalstisch comes out of the nyklum to stop Moth from destroying both it and the nyklum. When Shadriel Kannibalstisch shows itself, it takes control of the other students. Shadriel Kannibalstisch’s magic doesn’t hurt the students. 
  • To repel the students that Shadriel Kannibalstisch controls, Moth’s mother and another witch use magic to throw a wall of light to shake the demon’s hold on the students. The students are unharmed. The wall of light restrains or startles the students. 
  • Moth defeats the demon by shrinking the nyklum to an imperceptibly miniscule size. In doing so, the students are freed from the demon’s control. 

Spiritual Content 

  • Professor Folks, a museum educator at the local museum, believes animals are like humans in some ways. When seeing Mr. Laszlo, Professor Folks states, “I’ve always felt that animals have a special soul inside them. Look into this cat’s eyes. So expressive. So human. Almost as if we’re old, dear friends.”

Be Prepared

Vera, a nine-year-old Russian girl, yearns for a sense of belonging. She looks to her classmates for guidance on how to fit in. In Vera’s case, this means trying to blend in with her American classmates. Despite her best efforts, she just can’t seem to get it right. Her first American-style sleepover is a disaster, leaving her feeling like she’ll never be able to connect with her peers. 

Just when she’s about to give up, her friend, Ksenya, tells her about a Russian summer camp. Vera is intrigued, but also a little hesitant. After all, the camp is in the middle of the woods in Connecticut, which is not exactly what she had in mind. Nevertheless, she decides to give it a try. 

When Vera first arrives at the camp, she is introduced to her tent-mates, Sasha and Sasha. While initially hopeful, her first interaction with the Sashas does not go well. Vera tries to make friends with them by drawing pictures and sharing her stash of hidden Skittles, but it soon becomes clear that their friendship is only superficial. Will Vera ever find a place where she belongs? 

The Russian language is heavily used throughout the text. There are even some portions written completely in Russian scripture. For example, campers sing a song that is written in Russian scripture: “БУАЬ ГОТОВ, РАЗВеДЧИК, к Делу чеСТноМУ, Трудный путь лежит перед тобоЙ . . .” In addition to direct Russian scripture, there are Russian words that utilize the English alphabet. For example, the boys at the camp are referred to as “volchata,” which means “wolf cubs.” A handful of the English-written Russian words are defined, but most of them are not given a definition and there is not a glossary, which can make some areas of the text harder to decipher. 

Be Prepared is a captivating graphic novel that partially draws on the true experience of the author, who shares an intriguing snippet of her life. The graphic novel takes the reader on a thought-provoking journey of self-discovery, narrated from the viewpoint of nine-year-old Vera. Through her eyes, readers witness not only the challenges that many preteens feel, such as finding their place in the world but also the unique challenges immigrant children face.  

One of the most striking aspects of the graphic novel is its use of green and gray illustrations. These colors add depth and dimension to the story and help to convey the complex emotions that Vera experiences throughout her journey. The adorable art style, with its round-faced characters and expressive eyes, is both charming and heartwarming, making it impossible not to root for Vera as she navigates the ups and downs of growing up. 

In the end, Vera gains a new perspective and begins to reach out to other campers who are also left out. This allows her to find a sense of purpose, make new friends, and appreciate her Russian heritage. Vera’s story is a powerful testament to the resilience and strength of the human spirit. As she learns to navigate the world around her, she discovers new friendships and a sense of belonging that she never thought possible. This graphic novel is a must-read for anyone who has ever felt like an outsider, and for anyone who wants to understand the experiences of immigrant children in a deeper and more meaningful way. 

Sexual Content  

  • Vera starts to change in front of her new tent-mates who are both fourteen. One of the girls says, “She doesn’t wear a bra? Gross!” 
  • One of Vera’s tent-mates, holds a maxi pad in front of Vera’s face and makes fun of her for not having a period.  The girl says, “It’s a maxi pad!! Do you seriously not know what those are?” 
  • Sasha and Sasha, Vera’s tent-mates, taunt her for drawing Alexei, their camp crush and an older male camper. “She wants [the picture of Alexei] so she can kiss it.” 

Violence  

  • A chipmunk bites Vera on the pointer finger.  Vera talks to herself about the possibility of what may happen. “Now I am going to die of rabies… I wonder how many people I’ll bite before they subdue me.”  
  • Vera, after being bitten by the chipmunk, chooses to stay silent since she feels there is no one she can tell at the camp. When her mother comes to visit her after the second week, Vera fills her in. “I have rabies and I’m going to die!” Vera yells to her mother upon her arrival at camp.  
  • Vera talks about the violent side of the Russian religion, particularly in relation to Saint Vera. “I never forgot, [the saints] died horrible deaths . . . [Saint Vera] was tortured and beheaded, along with her sisters, while her mother watched. If I was learning anything from the history classes, it was that Russians are bred for suffering.” 
  • Vera talks about the history that leads up to the formation of the camps that exist today. She talks about the harsh history that made many Russians lose their culture, which is why the camps were formedto help Russian heritage remember their culture and past. “During one three-year period in the seventeenth century, a third of the population starved to death. And in the twentieth century, the government sent millions of its own citizens to suffer and die in work camps (including my own great-grandmother).” “Gulag” is one of the terms used in the text. This refers to the system of labor camps run by the Soviet Union during the 1930s-50s. 
  • “Ow! Something stung me!” a male camper exclaimed when a wasp stung him on the forehead. The sting caused an allergic reaction and swelling. 
  • The camp counselors told a story about a small camper who died because a bigger camper pooped on top of him. The boy “died down there, in the dark at the bottom of the [outhouse].” 
  • A jealous camper hangs another girl’s bloody underwear on the flagpole for everyone to see.  
  • Phil, Vera’s little brother, talks about dealing with a mean individual at camp. “Yeah he takes karate at home, and he put me in a headlock. And one time he found a mouse in the woods, and he ran up and kicked it right in front of me. It died.” 

Drugs and Alcohol  

  • None 

Language  

  • Hollywood is used to refer to the outhouse that is set up for the camp. 
  • When a wasp stings a boy on the head, Vera accidentally says the bite looks like a “nipple.” Afterwards, the entire camp calls the boy “tit head.”  

Supernatural 

  • None 

Spiritual Content  

  • Vera writes to her mother about the Russian church at camp. “On Sundays we have church. It’s just like church at home except it’s outside. They keep all the icons in a little house, so they don’t get wet. I am jealous of the saints for the first time ever.” 
  • Vera explains what she likes about the church services at camp and her personal connections to the religion.  “The orthodox liturgy is a beautiful melodic chant. I understood maybe a third of it. But the icons…I loved the icons. The gilded script, the tiny piece of Saints’ bones in jewel-encrusted frames. And I never forgot those people died horrible deaths. I had a picture of my namesake, Saint Vera, over my bed at home. She was tortured and beheaded, along with her sisters, while her mother watched.”  

The Secret Society

Mya, Oliver, and Jorge are in the custody of a secret society whose mission is to protect and preserve Poptropica—a mysterious, uncharted island world. These Protectors, as they call themselves, believe that any outside interference with the islands of Poptropica could have catastrophic results on the course of history in the real world.  

As if things aren’t bad enough, Octavian has finally claimed possession of the confounding map, thwarted the society’s attempts to capture him, and is determined to alter the timeline. The trio must join forces with the Protectors and find Octavian before he can go through with his evil plot, or all of human history might be changed—or worse—destroyed! 

The Secret Society introduces new characters and explores questions associated with time travel such as, “Couldn’t you change things for the better?” While some characters believe that time should be changed, others believe no one should attempt to change time. Octavian is an example of how one self-serving person can change history for their own purposes. Octavian purposely erases some historical events in order to keep control of the timeline. Octavinm travels to Mount Vesuvius and saves a group of people from the erupting volcano; however, the story doesn’t reveal why the people are saved or why they are important to Octavian, which is frustrating.   

The book’s complicated plot is somewhat confusing, especially because it lacks information. For example, Octavian wants to destroy the aegis, but it’s unclear what the aegis is or what power the aegis contains. In addition, the conclusion shows the magical map changing and a devastated Octavian says, “You’ve. . .. You’ve undone everything. Now she’s gone forever.” While Octavian clearly cares about a woman, not knowing who she is takes away much of the impact of her being “gone forever.”  

Despite this, the book has many elements that will appeal to readers. Each page has brightly colored illustrations that use fun elements such as onomatopoeia—Krash! Smash! Krak!—as well as comical characters with oversized eyes. The illustrations clearly show the characters’ varying emotions such as annoyance, fear, and confusion. Some of the pages let the illustrations tell the story without text. Other pages contain up to nine sentences that use easy-to-understand vocabulary. However, most of the sentences are super short, which makes the book accessible to reluctant readers. 

In the end, readers who have read the previous books in the Poptropica Series will enjoy the continuing story even if it’s slightly confusing. Plus, readers will be left thinking about the possibility of changing time. Perhaps Mya says it best: “The decision to do nothing is still a decision and if we have the chance to change things for the better shouldn’t we?” 

Sexual Content 

  • None 

Violence 

  • Octavian changes the timeline and wipes out ancient Egyptian’s entire society. 
  • The kids get stuck in Mount Vesuvius when a volcano erupts. The kids get stuck on a small piece of land that is surrounded by lava. However, they escape. 
  • Octavian and the kids fight over control of the aegis.  

Drugs and Alcohol 

  • None 

Language   

  • Both the adults and kids call other people names such as goons, jerk, and runts. 
  • Jorge asks Mya, “Was Oliver always this much of a dweeb?” 
  • Heck is used twice. 
  • Dang is used once.  

Supernatural 

  • A man explains that “Poptropica is a group of islands that have come unstuck from their place in the proper timeline. Interfering with any of them can have massive implications.” 

Spiritual Content 

  • None 

The Okay Witch

Thirteen-year-old Moth loves everything witchy. She spends much of her time watching shows and reading books about witches, but she soon discovers that witches are not the stuff of spooky stories, movies, and fantasy. 

After a run-in with some eighth-grade bullies, something strange happens. Moth soon discovers she is a witch and her town, Founder’s Bluff, has a centuries-long drama with witches. If that’s not surprising enough, her family is at the center of it all. When Moth’s powers show up, things get strange. She finds a magic diary, meets a talking cat, and discovers a hidden witch world. Through these, Moth unravels more secrets from generations past, learning more about the town, her family’s history, and herself. 

The graphic novel The Okay Witch focuses on Moth, allowing the readers insight into Founder’s Bluff, the history of the witches, and how Moth acclimates to being a witch. Readers will relate to the seemingly fast and strange changes in Moth’s life. Moth is excitable, passionate, and stubborn. She butts heads with her mother occasionally. Moth’s mother doesn’t want her to get involved with “witch-stuff” because Moth’s mother thinks that “witch-stuff” is dangerous. However, by listening to her mother and her grandmother, Moth realizes her mother was trying to make her more aware of the attention her powers will bring and the weight of the responsibility in learning the history of the witches.

The drawings in this graphic novel are colorful and do an excellent job of portraying the characters’ emotions through their facial expressions. Reluctant readers may like that most pages do not have words but instead tell the story through drawings. Readers will love the switches from soft pastels to saturated colors, which not only makes the characters pop off the page but also makes it easier to tell the difference between the diary entries and the real world. 

Moth learns about her family history, her grandmother’s cohort of witches, and how Moth herself fits into it. Her grandmother and mother have figured out where they feel they belong in terms of being with or without their kind; now Moth gets to find the answer for herself. When Moth’s grandmother tells her about finding solidarity with the witches, Moth decides to watch and think about what she wants to do with her magic. Through this interaction between Moth and her grandmother, The Okay Witch shows the importance of family and legacy as well as the personal choice each person must make in order to make life fulfilling. 

Though many readers will enjoy reading the graphic novel The Okay Witch, the plot is not unique and there is too much focus on Moth’s understanding of the past and not enough focus on the present consequences of being a modern-day witch. While not unique, The Okay Witch is a good story for readers who like stories about the everyday lives of fictional witches. Readers who enjoy graphic novels about friendship should also read Stargazing by Jen Wang. Ravenous by MarcyKate Connolly tells a unique story involving a witch, and readers who want to know more about historical witches should read What Were the Salem Witch Trials by Joan Holub.

Sexual Content 

  • None

Violence 

  • Mayor Kramer kidnapped Moth’s mother. Moth goes to the Kramer residence to get her mother back. However, she badmouths Mayor Kramer’s family’s ancestors and ends up angering the ghosts living in the paintings. The ghosts are depicted grabbing Moth and holding her up against a pillar. 
  • To help her daughter, Moth’s mother distracts the ghosts and is seen whacking them with several objects, including a potted plant and a sword, to no avail. Moth and her mother use magic to eradicate the ghosts. The ghosts are seen disintegrating into tiny, green pieces that eventually disappear. This scene occurs over seven pages.
  • To attempt to defeat Moth and her mother, the ghosts try to possess Moth’s friend but fail. However, they succeed in possessing the mayor. The possessed mayor lifts Moth’s mother up to a broken window to throw her out of it, but Moth, in desperation, uses magic to get rid of the ghosts. The ghosts are seen going up in green smoke. This scene lasts for two pages. 

Drugs and Alcohol 

  • None

Language   

  • Two students call Moth “Mothball.” 
  • A bully calls Moth and her friend “mutants.”
  • A girl says “OMG.”
  • Judge Nathaniel Kramer, one of the mayor’s ancestors, calls the witches “she-devils.”

Supernatural 

  • Moth Hush is a witch, like her mother and grandmother. She spends a lot of time around her mother, who doesn’t want her to practice magic. However, Moth learns a lot of spells when her mother isn’t looking. Throughout the course of the story, she uses a lot of charms and spells. In short, she involves herself with magic whenever she can. As such, not all instances of magic will be listed here. 
  • Witches cast magic spells in many ways. The magic can be done non-verbally with intent behind the spell, incantations, gestures, or a mix of the three. For example, Moth’s grandmother levitates a few photographs by lifting her hand. 
  • There is a realm called Hecate where the witches from Moth’s grandmother’s cohort live. The witches offered a piece of themselves to Hecate, the goddess of magic, in order to seek refuge from the regular humans that were trying to hurt them. 
  • When someone dies, “their spirit may still hang around if they have unfinished business. . . Some ghosts possess bodies and objects and buildings.” For example, Mr. Laszlo is a ghost because he wanted to help Moth be the best witch she can be. He possesses a black cat and shares the body of the cat.   

Spiritual Content 

  • Moth’s grandmother tells a story about how the Sun became good. “Once the Moon was the only light in the world, and there was only night. Until the Moon was called away on business by our dear Hecate. So Moon said to her daughter Sun, ‘Keep watch over the world. Be a good girl and go around the whole thing. But forget not that you are precious, bright and fearful hot. If you get too close to the things below, you’ll burn them up in your fire.’”  

The Tea Dragon Festival

A worthy sequel to the debut graphic novel The Tea Dragon Society, The Tea Dragon Festival immerses readers in a charming fantasy realm where humans and dragons dwell in harmony. Readers may recognize cheerful bounty hunters, Hese and Erik, from the previous installment in the series, but the couple appears noticeably younger and are able-bodied, as this story takes place before Erik’s debilitating injury in battle. 

New characters include Rinn, a young chef learning to use natural ingredients in their recipes with the help of their grandmother, Gramman. While foraging in the woods outside of Silverleaf Village, Rinn stumbles upon a shapeshifting creature named Aedhan who has been asleep for eighty years. Aedhan belongs to the Shining Wing clan of dragons, whose duty it is to oversee the Tea Dragon Festival and protect Silverleaf Village. 

Soon Hese and Erik arrive from their bounty hunting escapades and reveal that they have been tracking a forest spirit that has the power to make its victims sleep for decades without aging. They follow clues to a magical glade and tell the spirit that if it wants to share memories of its flourishing species from thousands of years ago, it should make people dream for a matter of hours rather than decades. The creature bows its head and leaves peacefully. 

When it is time for the Tea Dragon Festival to begin, the village sets up decorations and shares a bounteous feast of home-cooked recipes made from foraged ingredients and tea leaves that will allow Aedhan to glimpse the memories and events during the eighty years he was asleep. Rinn and Aedhan share this meaningful meal and notice their new feelings for one another. Rinn decides that they would rather enjoy cooking as a hobby than as a vocation. Hese and Erik set out on new adventures hinting at the events of the other two books in this lovable trilogy. 

Nonbinary readers will likely identify with Rinn, as well as Aedhan, who remarks that dragons are capable of shifting between male and female forms. Queerness is not called into question or judged in their world. The Tea Dragon Festival also provides positive representation for disabled people, especially the deaf or hard-of-hearing and users of sign language. 

Like in The Tea Dragon Society, O’Neill’s endearing artistic style continues to immerse readers in a flourishing realm that values family, traditions, nature, and following one’s heart. The story is introduced with an author’s note about the depiction of sign language in italicized captions, to distinguish it from verbal dialogue without diminishing its value as a form of communication. 

The Tea Dragon Festival is an adorable companion to its precedent and fluently builds readers’ curiosity about the third installment in the trilogy. Although the premise of making peace with the forest spirit rather than slaying it is appealing, its execution is anticlimactic. The story does not explain how Hese and Erik avoid succumbing to slumber in their encounter with the creature, nor how they manage to communicate with it. Other than this oversight, this graphic novel shows an impressive capacity for storytelling, art, and positive representation. 

Sexual content 

  • None 

Violence 

  • Aedhan fights off a large griffin to protect Rinn and their little sibling, drawing blood from a painful gash. 

Drugs and Alcohol  

  • When brewed into tea, leaves harvested from the small household pets known as tea dragons have the power to send the drinker into a trance and glimpse their own memories or past events experienced by those around them. 

Language  

  • None 

Supernatural 

  • The book includes multiple fantasy creatures, such as shape-shifting dragons, anthropomorphic birds, and humans with features like tails, horns, furred ears, or goat legs. 

Spiritual Content  

  • None 

Ride On

Victoria has always loved horses. But riding in competitions is high stakes, high stress, and shockingly expensive. And even though Victoria’s best friend Taylor loves competing, Victoria has lost her taste for it.

After a heartbreaking fight with Taylor, Victoria needs a new start—at a new stable. A place where she doesn’t have to worry about anything other than riding. No competition, no drama, no friends. Just horses.

Edgewood Stables seems ideal. There are plenty of horses to ride, and Victoria is perfectly happy giving the other riders the cold shoulder. But can she truly be happy with no friends?

While Ride On will specifically appeal to horse-loving readers, the graphic novel also has a universal theme of friendship which all readers will be drawn to. Victoria’s past is murky and, although it is slowly revealed, she never explains why she has rejected all her friends including her yearbook friends. Despite the fear of rejection, Victoria slowly warms up to Norrie, Hazel, and Sam; while they all share a love of horses, it’s their love of the sci-fi television series, Beyond the Galaxy, that brings them all together. This adds both an interesting twist and some humor to the story.

Many readers will relate to Victoria’s insecurities as well as her desire to have a well-rounded life that doesn’t completely revolve around horse competitions. In a world where competitive sports are the norm, Ride On reminds readers that they do not need to let one thing consume all their time. Instead, they can love horses, cosplay, and hanging out with friends. Along the way, the story explores the importance of friendship as well as getting over fears. These lessons are wrapped up in a good story with interesting, relatable characters who often struggle with being different. Seeing the characters grow and connect is heartwarming as well as entertaining. 

The graphic novel’s artwork uses vivid colors to bring the characters to life. One of the best aspects of the illustrations is the characters’ facial expressions and body language—both of these will help readers understand the characters’ emotions. The horse pictures are wonderful as well. Some pages tell the story only through pictures, while other pages have up to seven sentences per page. This, along with the easy vocabulary, make Ride On accessible to most readers. 

Ride On highlights everyone’s need for companionship and validation. The graphic novel is a character-driven story that doesn’t have a lot of exciting conflicts. However, the characters are interesting enough to keep readers hooked. The conclusion holds several surprises that show the true meaning of friendship. Similar to Ride On, the graphic novel series Eagle Rock by Hope Larson is another coming-of-age story that explores the need to find your passion.

Sexual Content 

  • None

Violence 

  • None

Drugs and Alcohol 

  • None

Language   

  • Crap is used once.

Supernatural

  • None

Spiritual Content 

  • None

The Lost Expedition

In book two, The Lost Expedition, Oliver, Mya, and Jorge continue their search for home, with a few hilarious stops along the way. As the friends set sail for new sights, they find that Octavian is still hot on their trail, and he’s determined to get his hands on their magical map. To make matters worse, a mysterious organization is keen on expelling the three friends from Poptropica. As the pals travel, they find that each island is filled with its own unique brand of peril, and the mystery surrounding the map and Poptropica itself begins to unfold. Will our trio be able to outfox Octavian and discover the identity of this secret society? 

On this adventure, the kids meet Amazon warriors, have a brief encounter with Shakespeare, and eventually end up on a frozen island. Even though the kids meet some historical figures, the interactions are so short that there are no historical facts about the people or places. Mya, Oliver, and Jorge end up on the HMS Terror, a warship that disappeared in 1813. However, most readers will not make the connection between the shipwreck in the book and the historical warship. While there is no educational value, readers will enjoy the sense of adventure, the nonstop action, and the comical fights. The angry polar bear that reappears several times also adds some fun. 

Each page has brightly colored illustrations that use fun elements such as onomatopoeia—Krash! Smash! Krak!—as well as comical characters with oversized eyes. The illustrations clearly show the characters varying emotions such as annoyance, fear, and confusion. Some of the pages let the illustrations tell the story without text. Other pages contain up to nine sentences that use easy-to-understand vocabulary. However, most of the sentences are super short, which makes the book accessible to reluctant readers. 

The Lost Expedition is visually appealing and will entertain readers because there is never a dull moment. Unlike the first installment of the series, The Lost Expedition’s plot is more complex, and the conclusion is slightly confusing. Despite this, readers will love the interplay between Mya, Oliver, and Jorge. The suspenseful conclusion will leave readers looking forward to the next book in the series, The Secret Society. Readers who find the frozen shipwreck in The Lost Expedition interesting may also want to read Ice Wreck by Lucille Recht Penner. However, if you’re looking for some more silly shenanigans, check out the Bird & Squirrel Series by James Burks.  

Sexual Content 

  • None 

Violence 

  • Octavian gags a woman and ties her to a tree. 
  • A group of Amazon warriors throws spears at the kids. The kids safely run away. 
  • Octavian and an unnamed man get into a fight. Octavian kicks the man in the face and then throws him off a roof. The man falls in a cart full of straw. 
  • As the kids try to escape from Octavian, they fall off a building and land on Shakespeare. When the kids get to their boat, someone throws a morning star at them. The boat begins taking on water.  
  • Several times, a polar bear chases the kids.  
  • A woman tries to kill the kids by trying to shove them into the icy ocean. Mya whacks the woman in the head with an oar. The ice eventually cracks, but everyone gets out of the water alive.  

Drugs and Alcohol 

  • None 

Language   

  • Both the adults and the kids call people names such as creep, pig, cuckoo, jerk, and doof. 

Supernatural 

  • The kids have a magical map. 
  • A time machine appears and nabs the kids.  

Spiritual Content 

  • None 

The Tryout

When cheerleading tryouts are announced, Christina and her best friend, Megan, literally jump at the chance to join the squad. As two of the only kids of color in the school, they have always yearned to fit in—and the middle school cheerleaders are popular and accepted by everyone. But will the girls survive the terrifying tryouts with their whole grade watching? And will their friendship withstand the pressures of competition?

Middle school readers will relate to Christina, who must navigate the strange world of junior high. However, Christina also faces the added obstacle of racism, especially at the hands of one mean boy who makes snarky comments and calls her “rice girl.” Since Christina is the only Thai girl living in her predominately white town, no one seems to understand her feelings except for Megan, her best friend, who is also seen as different because her father is from Iran. Christina and Megan often feel like outsiders because everyone sees them as “too different, too much on the outside.” 

The Tryout gives readers an inside perspective into Christina’s struggles as well as her Thai culture. Even though Christina often gets upset at being viewed as an outsider, she clearly loves her culture, her family, and her best friend. However, Christina isn’t a perfect protagonist; instead, she says mean things that she later regrets, she worries about losing Megan as a friend, and she wants to fit in and be popular. The Tryout gives an honest look into the author’s middle school experiences and shows the importance of trying new things, even if they might be scary. 

The graphic novel’s illustrations bring Christina’s world into focus and the characters’ facial expressions will help readers understand their varying emotions. Christina’s thoughts appear in cloudlike quote bubbles, which make it easy to distinguish her thoughts from dialogue. Christina’s active imagination takes life since her musings are illustrated like a video game. With three to six sentences per page, The Tryout is accessible to most readers.

The Tryout is an entertaining graphic novel that shows the conflicting emotions of middle school students. Even though Christina and Megan do not make the cheerleading squad, Christina has a positive attitude about the tryout experience. Christina thinks, “Maybe Megan was right about life not giving you something just because you wanted it really badly. But sometimes . . . you got something better.” Not making the cheerleading squad allows Christina to find another extracurricular activity that she loves. 

Since many middle schoolers struggle with self-doubt and the desire to fit in, The Tryout will appeal to a wide range of readers. Plus, the story shows how friendships change, grow, and often stay with you into adulthood. Readers will enjoy seeing the pictures of the author in middle school that appear at the back of the book. Middle school readers can also learn more about dealing with obstacles in the graphic novel, New Kid by Jerry Craft, where the protagonist changes schools and wonders how he can fit in at the new school while still being true to himself.

Sexual Content 

  • None

Violence 

  • None

Drugs and Alcohol 

  • None

Language   

  • A boy at school calls Christina “rice girl” and “China girl.” He also says, “Why don’t you go back to where you came from?” 
  • A boy tells Christina, “Don’t be such a psycho.”  
  • Christina calls a mean boy a “dumbface jock idiot.” 
  • When some kids at school make fun of a girl’s clothes, Christina says, “Yea, Deanna did you get that out of the trash?”
  • When Christina tells Megan about a mean boy, Megan says, “He’s like a walking turd log.” 
  • A boy from school says that Megan’s dad is a “Muslim terrorist” because he’s from Iran. 

Supernatural

  • None

Spiritual Content 

  • Christina goes to the Thai temple where “the Buddha teaches us how to act and think wisely. . . how to handle sorrow. . . and how to live a good life while we are here, so you can think about those things.”
  • Christina and her mom go to the Presbyterian church when they cannot go to the temple. Christina thinks, “Buddhism and Christianity were different in many ways, but I always thought the teachings of Jesus Christ and Buddha had a lot in common. In my mind, I pictured them as good friends.” 
  • A girl at school is upset when she finds out Christina hasn’t been baptized, because she believed “if you’re not baptized, you can’t be saved, and you won’t go to heaven.” Another girl jumps into the conversation and says that Christina won’t go to “you-know-where” because “God cares what’s in your heart, that’s all.” 
  • Before cheerleading tryouts, the coach prays: “Please be with each of our girls today. They have worked hard for this moment, and they’re all good girls. Please keep them safe from injury and give them the strength to do what they need to do.”

Dragon Hoops

Gene understands stories—comic book stories, in particular. Big action. Bigger thrills. And the hero always wins.

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

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

After meeting the members of the Dragons’ team, readers will quickly get caught up in their desire to win the state championship. Yang interviews the team’s players and coaches, which allows readers to see their unique perspectives. The graphic novel has plenty of play-by-play basketball action that reads like a comic book because of the onomatopoeias which include swish, swirl, and klang. To make it easier to keep track of the book’s events, each chapter has a large illustration and a title that describes the chapter’s events. Even though the book is broken into specific events, the varying topics, number of characters, and school rivals, make Dragon Hoops best suited for strong readers. 

Throughout the graphic novel, the history of basketball is explained, including the racism that has affected basketball players. For example, “At the turn of the twentieth century,  a ‘scientist’ proclaimed that blacks simply weren’t as fit for athletics as whites.” The scientist believed that blacks “have inferior muscle strength, inferior reasoning power, small lungs, and heavy bones.” These beliefs were proven wrong thanks in part to Marques Haynes and the Harlem Globetrotters. This book also includes interesting information about how basketball was created, women in basketball, and more.  

Since Dragon Hoops is a graphic novel, readers may not expect the story to be so complex and dense. However, the story is split between the Dragons’ quest to win a state championship, basketball history, and the author’s professional and family life. Since the story is told from Yang’s point of view, readers will understand how he became a sports fan. However, Yang’s personal struggles do little to advance the plot and could have easily been deleted. In addition, Yang includes his inner conflict when it comes to including Mike Phelps, the Dragons coach, in the book. Instead of including his thoughts on Phelps, Yang could have included more information about why Phelps was a controversial person and how it affected the team. 

Dragon Hoops features many dedicated people who went on to shake up the basketball world. However, the focus on Bishop O’Dowd High School’s basketball team allows readers to get a unique perspective and gives them a new understanding of the important history behind basketball. The players had to overcome many obstacles which make their hard work and dedication admirable. In the end, the Dragons finally win the state championship game, but more importantly, because of basketball, they make connections with others. Throughout the story, Yang highlights the players’ willingness to step onto the court because “it isn’t the fewest mistakes that win. Maybe it’s having the courage to take the next step—even at the risk of making a mistake.” Readers who love sports should also read the graphic novel The Crossover by Kwame Alexander and All Thirteen by Christina Soontornvat.

Sexual Content 

  • Thirty-six years later, one of the Dragons’ coaches, “Mike Phelps was charged with molesting a student.” At the same time, information about Roman Catholic institutions “allowing and then covering up one horrific child abuse case after another” came out. Phelps’ guilt or innocence is never proven. However, this incident caused the author to wonder if Phelps should be included in the Dragons’ story. 

Violence 

  • Protests broke out over the Ferguson decision to acquit white police officers after “an unarmed young African American man was fatally shot by a white police officer.”
  • In 1947, during a game between the Syracuse Nationals and the Tri-City Blackhawks, two opponents exchanged words and a black player hit a white player. The crowd also began fighting and “the National Guard had to be called out to restore order.” The illustration has one panel that shows the black basketball player punching his opponent while another panel shows the crowd fighting.
  • When India was broken into sections for Muslims and Hindus, many Sikhs “were forced to relocate to escape persecution. In the process, hundreds of thousands of Sikhs were killed.” While Catholics study Mahatma Gandhi’s philosophy on nonviolence, Jeevin Sandh (a Dragons basketball player) views Gandhi differently because Gandhi wanted the “partition of India. . . [which was the] biggest forced migration of all times. All in all, I think between 250,000 and 500,000 Sikhs were murdered.” 

Drugs and Alcohol 

  • None

Language   

  • The book’s profanity is modified with ***. Profanity is used frequently and includes Bullsh**, f***, m*****f***ers, b****, and sh**.
  • Other profanity is used infrequently. Profanity includes hell, crap, ass, and damn. 
  • Because Jeevin Sandhu’s family is from India, people taunt Jeevin, calling him names such as “F***in’ Arab! Terrorist!” Members of the audience make comments such as “Sandhu Psh. More like San-douchebag” and “Yeah, f*** you, Indian.” 

Supernatural

  • None

Spiritual Content 

  • Before games, one of the players leads a prayer. In one prayer, the player says, “Dear Lord, thank You for this opportunity to come together as a unit. Help us do our best this Saturday.”
  • One of the boys on the Dragons team, Jeevin Sandhu, practices the Sikh faith. One page explains some basic facts about the religion such as they believe in one god, that “all humans are equal,” and they don’t cut their hair or use a wooden comb.  
  • Before a game, Jeevin Sandh says a prayer: “God is One. His name is True. He is the Creator. . . For He was True when Time Began. He has been True since the Ages. He is still True. Guru Nanak says He will forever be True.”
  • Before a game, a player prays, “Dear Lord, we thank You for putting us on the stage once again. We ask that You guide us to victory.”

Swim Team

Bree can’t wait for her first day at her new middle school, Enith Brigitha, home to the Mighty Manatees—until she’s stuck with the only elective that fits her schedule: the dreaded Swim 101. The thought of swimming makes Bree more than a little queasy, yet she’s forced to dive headfirst into one of her greatest fears. Lucky for her, Etta, an elderly occupant of her apartment building and former swim team captain, is willing to help.

With Etta’s training and a lot of hard work, Bree suddenly finds her swim-crazed community counting on her to turn the school’s failing team around. But that’s easier said than done, especially when their rival, the prestigious Holyoke Prep, has everything they need to leave the Mighty Manatees in their wake. Can Bree defy the odds and guide her team to a state championship, or have the Manatees swum their last lap—for good?

Swim Team is an entertaining graphic novel that shows the importance of perseverance, teamwork, and friendship. Told from Bree’s point of view, Swim Team focuses on Bree’s embarrassment because she doesn’t know how to swim. When Bree enrolls in a new school, Swim 101 is the only elective that she can take, but to avoid being noticed, Bree skips class. When her father finds out, he enlists the help of Etta. With Etta’s help and encouragement, Bree not only learns how to swim, but she also joins the swim team. 

With Etta’s help, Bree learns Black people’s history with swimming—this section appears in the shape of a puzzle which ties into Etta’s love of puzzles. “In America, laws were passed that limited Black people’s access to beaches, lakes, and swimming pools.” This section includes short descriptions of Black people who fought the discriminatory laws. The brevity of this section keeps the action moving and may spark readers’ interest in the people who fought for change. In kid-friendly terms, Swim Team highlights the effects of segregation and how it impacted an entire community. 

The graphic novel Swim Team will appeal to many readers because the illustrations use bright colors and are full of action. Plus, the easy-to-read vocabulary makes it accessible to all readers. Each page has three to eight simple sentences and some panels tell the story without words. When Bree is overcome by feelings of uncertainty and doubt, her negative thoughts appear in gray blobs, while conversations appear in white quote bubbles which makes it easy to distinguish the two. 

While Swim Team hits on difficult topics of discrimination, segregation, and classism, these themes are integrated into the story and never feel like a lecture. Since everything is filtered through Bree’s eyes, the information is kid friendly. While the historical information is interesting, Bree’s personal struggle is what drives the story. Bree is a relatable character readers will root for. Plus, readers will enjoy seeing Bree’s growth in and out of the water. Swim Team is a fun and educational graphic novel that will entertain readers as well as encourage them to try new activities. Even though the story focuses on Bree’s swim team experiences, the graphic novel will appeal to all readers because of the relatable conflicts and the positive lessons. 

Sexual Content 

  • None

Violence 

  • Etta explains how some people opposed allowing black people to swim in public places. “Opposition to these conditions were often met with violence. From the murder of Eugene Williams in Chicago, in 1919 to acid poured in a pool with protesters in St. Augustine Florida in 1964.” 

Drugs and Alcohol 

  • None

Language   

  • Oh my God and heck are both used once.
  • A member of the Holyoke Prep swim team calls the opponents losers. 
  • Bree says the students from Holyoke Prep seem like “a bunch of jerks.”
  • When Bree and her friends ask Humberto to help them take costumes from the theater department, he is reluctant. One of the girls says, “C’mon, Humberto, don’t be a weenie.” 

Supernatural

  • None

Spiritual Content 

  • None

Check Please!

Eric Bittle may be a former junior figure skating champion, vlogger extraordinaire, and very talented amateur pâtissier, but being a freshman on the Samwell University hockey team is a whole new challenge. It is nothing like co-ed club hockey back in Georgia! First of all, there’s checking (anything that hinders the player with possession of the puck, ranging from a stick check all the way to a physical sweep). And then, there is Jack—the very attractive but moody team captain. 

Check Please! is told from Bittle’s point of view, which allows the reader to connect with him and the other hockey players. Bittle is an extremely likable character who unapologetically loves to bake pies, make gift bags, and vlog. Bittle’s vlog helps keep the reader up to date on the events in his life as well as his emotions. As part of the hockey team, Bittle spends a lot of time on the ice. However, the figure skating champion often faints when someone is close to knocking into him. Despite this, the other hockey players encourage Bittle and reassure him that they’ve got his back. And when Bittle makes his first goal during a game, the reader will cheer right along with the other characters. 

Through Bittle’s experiences, readers will get an intimate view of a college hockey team. While there are many interesting characters, the team captain, Jack, takes center stage. As the son of a famous hockey player, Jack deals with anxiety and family expectations. When Bittle and Jack become friends, Bittle is conflicted because he has fallen for “a straight boy.” It isn’t until Bittle’s sophomore year that he tells anyone that he is gay. Even though Bittle is worried about his teammate’s reactions, they are unfazed by the revelation.   

Each page of the graphic novel has two panels with quote boxes. However, on some pages, there are so many quote boxes that it is difficult to keep track of who is speaking. The illustrations often focus on the “hockey haus,” which is where the hockey team lives and throws parties with lots of alcohol. In addition to the many parties, Check Please! Also has an abundance of profanity and frequent talk of hooking up, which takes away from the reading enjoyment. The story portrays the college experience as one big party with meaningless sex. 

Check Please! is an engaging graphic novel that focuses on Bittle’s unique perspective and gives readers a look into the hockey culture. The teammates’ acceptance of Bittle despite his untraditional behavior is refreshing. While the story’s fun tone will appeal to many readers, the unnecessary profanity is often overwhelming and will definitely turn away some readers. Readers looking for more sports-related books should check out Hazelwood High Trilogy by Sharon M. Draper and Nothing Can Possibly Go Wrong by Prudence Shen & Faith Erin Hicks. 

Sexual Content 

  • Two hockey players talk about a girl’s text message. One boy says, “Then it’s chill—emoticons always equal pussy.” 
  • When Bittle goes to the hockey frat house, one of the guys says, “The decisions you will make in this house will be regretful but glorious. The alcohol you drink will be cheap, but plentiful and the loss of virginity you may experience within these walls will range from reassuring to emotionally damaging.” 
  • Bittle goes to a frat party. While there, he asks the guys where Jack is. Someone says, “Poor guy’s probably up in his room getting sucked off by another Zimmermann puck bunny.” 
  • Some of the guys talk about hooking up with a girl. One of the guys tells Bittle, “Holster and I are very well acquainted with Samwell’s female population, if you know what I mean. I do mean sexually.” 
  • Jack kisses Bittle. The kiss is illustrated over three pages.  

Violence 

  • None 

Drugs and Alcohol 

  • When Bittle sees the frat house’s kitchen stove, he says, “I bet no one’s cooked anything but pot brownies in you.” 
  • While at a frat party, some of the hockey team play a drinking game. 
  • After a game, the guys go out to pizza and some of them drink beer. 
  • As part of a hazing ritual, the new members “will crawl onto the shore of manhood naked, blindfolded, and bitch-ass shitfaced. But not alone!” The hazing is shown over two pages, and the new members are in their boxers. 
  • The book uses a fairytale-like story to show Jack, in the past, taking too many anxiety drugs and “nearly los[ing] everything.”  

Language   

  • Profanity is used on almost every page. Profanity includes bitch, damn, dicks, hell, motherfucker, fuck, shit, pussy, and goddammit. 
  • One of the characters is nicknamed “Shitty.” 
  • A fellow hockey player says, “You know what I like about you, Bittle? You’re a dude from the south and you’re not a bigoted dickfaced cockhole!” 
  • A hockey player says that one of his teammates can “turn into a fucking hockey nazi every once in a while.”  
  • While practicing talking tough, Bittle says, “I’m gonna fuck you up like the fucking pussy midget fucker you are.” 
  • Jesus Christ is used as an exclamation once. 

Supernatural 

  • None 

Spiritual Content 

  • None 

The Fifth Quarter #1

Lori Block is dedicated to her fourth-grade basketball team, despite being relegated to an extra period before the real game starts, known as the fifth quarter, where the not-so-good kids play and the points don’t count. That doesn’t matter to Lori though, because working on her skills gives her hints of self-confidence, which is a nice break from feeling awkward and out of place in her daily life.

With athletic promise and a dogged determination to keep improving, Lori pursues her passion while navigating awkward social dynamics, her own expectations, and her first overnight away from home. Will her drive allow her to find true courage on the court, in school, and at home? 

The Fifth Quarter will appeal to a wide variety of readers because it deals with friendship drama, family disagreements, and basketball. Lori is a relatable character who works hard to improve her basketball skills, even when her friends have no interest in the sport. However, Lori is often bratty. For example, when Lori’s mom decides to run for the town council, Lori starts screaming and throwing a fit because she’s afraid of how her mother’s actions will affect her.  

On and off the basketball court, Lori has friendship difficulties. Lori’s friends are not interested in basketball and they often think that Lori’s humor is mean. In addition, Lori blames her friendship problems on others. When Lori’s friends become distant, she thinks, “Elyse always turns everyone against me.” Finally, Elyse becomes brave enough to confront Lori, who apologizes, and the two girls resolve their problems.  

When Lori’s mother loses the vote for town council, this gives her the opportunity to talk to Lori about the fact that, “You don’t always win. And when [failure] happens, the important thing is what you do after. . . I want to show you that you don’t have to be afraid. How to be brave enough to try, even if you’re scared.”  

Bright-colored illustrations are paired with short sentences that appear in quote bubbles that will grab readers’ attention. Many readers will relate to Lori, who struggles with self-confidence and often doubts herself. Through Lori’s experiences, readers will learn the importance of perseverance and practice. In the end, Lori improves her basketball skills, makes new friends, and repairs old friendships. While Lori and her siblings are often bratty, The Fifth Quarter’s positive life lessons outweigh the negative behavior and the book’s format will appeal to even the most reluctant readers. Readers who love basketball can find more inspiring basketball wisdom by reading the Zayd Saleem Chasing the Dream Series by Hena Khan 

Sexual Content 

  • None 

Violence 

  • None 

Drugs and Alcohol 

  • None 

Language   

  • At basketball practice the coach gets angry and tells the players, “You need to stop running your mouths and listen, or you won’t know what to do. . . You need to wise up and put down the dang video games!” 
  • Lori’s mom runs into the man who is running against her for the town council. After talking to him, Lori’s mom grabs Lori’s arm and starts pulling her. As Lori’s mom storms off, she says, “That horrible, smug man! So pious and pleased with himself! Who does he think he is?” 
  • Heck is used once. 

Supernatural 

  • None 

Spiritual Content 

  • None 

The Tea Dragon Society

The winner of several children’s literature awards, The Tea Dragon Society is Kay O’Neill’s debut graphic novel. The artistic style is wholesome and soothing, and the book’s harmonious color and meandering pace makes The Tea Dragon Society a meditative read. The attention to detail and choice of color schemes also contribute to immersing readers in the realm of this trilogy. The book is divided into four chapters, each titled after a season of the year, beginning with spring. 

The protagonist is a bright, young girl named Greta, the daughter and apprentice of the village blacksmith. After rescuing a stray tea dragon, she returns the hatchling to its owner and caretaker, the gentle and wise Hese. Hese has also taken a shy, young girl named Minette under his metaphorical wing. 

Greta grows increasingly curious about caring for tea dragons, so she returns to Hese’s house and meets his partner, Erik, whose days as a magical bounty hunter left him confined to a wheelchair. From Erik, Greta learns that tea dragon stewardship is a dying art. 

Hese and Erik teach Greta about the history of tea dragons and the Tea Dragon Society, of which they are the last surviving members. As the seasons pass, Greta and Minette’s friendship blooms into something more. Young readers may relate to Greta’s and Minette’s journeys of self-discovery, and queer readers may especially connect with their shy crushes on one another, as well as Hese and Erik’s companionship. Both queer relationships are depicted with healthy and supportive dynamics. Readers may also feel inspired by the author openly identifying as nonbinary. In addition to incorporating LGBTQ characters, the book also features people of color and people with disabilities. 

The Tea Dragon Society is a beautiful story about friendship and finding your place in the world. The story encourages people to honor traditions, the past, and to always remember where you come from. Those who enjoy fantasy for its escapism rather than violence or suspense will find The Tea Dragon Society a relaxing read. Although it feels beautifully brief and ends almost too soon, readers can seek solace in the rest of the trilogy, The Tea Dragon Festival, and The Tea Dragon Tapestry. 

Sexual content 

  • Hese and Erik are depicted relaxing in a hot spring, undressed from the waist up. 

Violence 

  • Erik wipes the blood off his sword after defeating a three-headed dragon that was threatening a village.  
  • Hese and Erik face a gigantic black dragon in battle and have bleeding wounds on their faces and arms. Erik is thrown into the mud and knocked unconscious. 
  • Erik has stitches across a scar on his face and two more scars on his neck from fighting magical beasts. 

Drugs and Alcohol  

  • The tea dragons grow tea on themselves and the tea allows people to experience memories of the past tea masters. For example, Greta drinks tea brewed from the leaves grown on a tea dragon and goes into a trance where she glimpses memories from Hese and Erik’s lives. 
  • Minette drinks the same tea and sees visions of her own memories. 

Language  

  • None 

Supernatural 

  • The book includes multiple fantasy creatures, such as goblins, dragons, and humans with features such as tails, horns, furred ears, or goat legs.  
  • Hese is a deerlike creature even though he walks upright, has humanlike hands, and speaks English.  
  • Tea grown from tea dragons has the magical power of giving dreamlike visions of memories.  
  • Minette has the supernatural power of seeing the future. 

Spiritual Content  

  • None 

Mystery of the Map

Oliver, Mya, and Jorge take a ride in a hot-air balloon, only to crash-land on an unknown island filled with extinct animals and a horde of angry Vikings. Welcome to Poptropica, an uncharted group of islands whose existence is hidden from the rest of the world. As the three friends embark on a perilous search for a way home, they quickly discover the shocking reason they were brought there—something that threatens the very existence of Poptropica and their ability to ever make it off the island! 

Many kids already love Poptropica, a website that shares stories via gaming literacy. Kids familiar with the website will instantly connect to Poptropica: Mystery of the Map. Written by Jack Chabert, author of Eerie Elementary (published under a pen name), Mystery of the Map uses action and humor to entertain readers. The graphic novel features three diverse kids—Oliver, Mya, and Jorge. The three are somewhat stereotypical—Oliver is a nerd, Jorge is clueless, and Mya is frustrated by the boys’ antics. Despite this, readers will love this crazy adventure where the kids get the best of the Vikings.  

Some of the humor is comically childish. For example, after falling from the sky, Jorge gets caught in a tree and a bird pulls off his belt. Jorge’s pants fall, revealing bright pink, space underwear. Then, when the kids sneak into the Viking’s fort, one Viking picks his nose and eats the booger. In addition, two of the Vikings are sitting and their butt cracks show. Oliver says, “Seriously? These guys built ships that crossed the Atlantic, but they couldn’t invent belts?” 

Each page has brightly colored illustrations that use fun elements such as onomatopoeia—”Krash! Smash! Krak!”—as well as comical characters with oversized eyes. The illustrations clearly show the characters’ varying emotions such as annoyance, fear, and confusion. Some of the pages let the illustrations tell the story without text. Other pages contain up to nine sentences with easy-to-understand vocabulary. Most of the sentences are super short, which makes the book accessible to reluctant readers. 

While on the island, the kids meet Eric the Red. Unfortunately, the book doesn’t give much information on the well-known Viking and misses the chance to add historical facts. If readers are interested in more adventurous Viking stories, they can sail into history by reading Voyage with the Vikings by Marianne Hering & Paul McCusker. 

While there is little educational value in Mystery of the Map, the graphic novel will entertain readers with the funny, fast-action romp through an island filled with Vikings. Most of the violence comes from the kids running from danger, which is portrayed in humorous ways. The simple plot has a mysterious villain, Octavian, who the kids outwit. If you’re looking for a book series that kids will devour, the Poptropica Series should be on your must-read list. The conclusion ends with the kids sailing away from the island, leaving readers eager to start the next book in the series, The Lost Expedition 

Sexual Content 

  • None 

Violence 

  • While on a balloon ride, Captain Octavian pushes Mya. To defend her, her brother Oliver pokes Octavian in the stomach. During the tussle, Jorge and Oliver fall out of the hot air balloon. Octavian then pushes Mya out. The three kids fall from the sky but are uninjured. 
  • Octavian tries to steal a Viking ship. When a Viking calls out, Octavian throws a stone at the Viking’s head, which knocks the man out. 
  • A large saber tooth cat chases the kids. When the cat jumps, Jorge ducks and the cat hits a tree and knocks itself out. 
  • When the Vikings try to put the kids into a cage, they run. There is a short fight that shows a Viking throwing a barrel at the kids. Then the Viking gets out his weapon. Before he can use it, Oliver knocks a container off a shelf. The container hits the Viking on the head and the kids are able to escape. 
  • A group of Vikings shoots arrows at the kids.  
  • A Viking chases the kids. The short chase ends when the saber tooth cat attacks the Viking and they both fall into a river. 
  • The kids find a man wearing only his underwear, tied to a tree. They free the man. 

Drugs and Alcohol 

  • The Vikings drink mead. 

Language   

  • Octavian calls a boy a brat. 
  • Because Oliver can identify a rare bird, Jorge calls him a nerd. 
  • Jorge asks if Mya is a neat freak.  
  • When Jorge hears a Viking talking to himself, Jorge says, “He’s nuts.” 

Supernatural 

  • The kids find a magical map. Oliver explains, “I can pinch and zoom and stuff! I can see all sorts of details about the island. It’s some kind of new technology.” The map answers their questions and shows them where to go. For example, when Oliver says, “Map, please find shelter,” the map shows them where to go. 

Spiritual Content 

  • None 

The Underground Abductor: An Abolitionist Tale about Harriet Tubman

Meet Underground Railroad abductor Harriet Tubman in this installment of the New York Times bestselling graphic novel series!

Araminta Ross was an enslaved woman born in Delaware. After years of backbreaking labor and the constant threat of being sold and separated from her family, she escaped and traveled north to freedom. Once there, she changed her name to Harriet Tubman. As an “abductor” on the Underground Railroad, she risked her life helping countless enslaved people escape to freedom.

Nathan Hale’s Hazardous Tales are graphic novels that tell the thrilling, shocking, gruesome, and TRUE stories of American history. Read them all—if you dare!  

The book begins on the execution block, where Nathan Hale is about to be hung for spying. The executioner and a British soldier decide to let Nathan Hale tell a story before he dies. Occasionally, the executioner and soldier break into the story to ask questions or make comments. Sometimes this adds comic relief and other times, the comments mirror what the reader is probably thinking. 

Nathan Hale begins Harriet Tubman’s story when she was six years old. When Harriet was young, a head injury caused her to repeatedly fall asleep without warning. This condition lasted for the rest of her life. Despite this, Harriet risked her life to bring her family and others to freedom. Harriet was one of the few people who was an abductor: “the first person in. Someone who ventured deep into slave territory and made first contact with these to be rescued.” Harriet’s bravery and determination helped hundreds of people escape slavery. Once the Civil War began, Harriet continued to fight for freedom. During the Civil War, Harriet built a spy ring, baked pies to sell to soldiers, and was also a nurse. 

Since Frederick Douglass appears several times, his life story is also summarized over three pages. Fredrick Douglass knew the key to freedom was being able to read, so he taught others to read. However, his master believed, “A slave should know nothing but how to obey his master! If you teach that slave to read, there will be no keeping him! He’ll become unmanageable—discontent and unhappy!” Despite being forbidden to read, Frederick Douglass learned anyways. Fredrick eventually began writing. Frederick Douglass also encouraged slaves to get a gun, so Harriet did.  

The Underground Abductor brings history to life in graphic novel format. The panels are drawn using shades of gray with purple accents. Even though the illustrations show the cruelty inflicted upon slaves, none of the illustrations are graphic. However, many of the slave owners have angry faces, and slaves are seen chained together, whipped, and hiding from slave hunters. Most of the text is in the form of conversations and the words appear in quote bubbles. The story uses easy vocabulary and short sentences that keep the action moving at a quick pace.  

The story of Harriet Tubman highlights the importance of fighting for what you believe. Harriet’s dedication and willingness to put herself in danger is admirable. Through Harriet’s experiences, readers will begin to understand the harsh conditions that slaves had to contend with during the 1800s. While the content may be upsetting, The Underground Abductor will help readers understand America’s past, and learn about the people who fought so everyone could be free. Plus, the book’s format makes it perfect for reluctant readers. Readers who would like to learn more about the Underground Railroad should also read Long Road to Freedom by Kate Messner.  

Sexual Content 

  • None  

Violence 

  • Harriet is sent to help care for a baby. When the baby starts to cry, the woman whips Harriet. The whipping occurs several times and is included in the illustrations.  
  • Someone tells a story about a “woman [who] died in prison before they could hang her.” 
  • Nat Turner received a vision from God. Nat said, “I am told to slay all the whites we encounter, without regard to age or sex.” Nat Turner and other slaves “moved from house to house, killing everyone inside. . . By the time they were stopped, Nat Turner and his followers had killed sixty people—men, women, and children.” Many of the slaves who were part of Nat’s group were executed or killed by mobs and militias.
  • When a slave tries to escape, the bossman throws a weight at him. The weight hits Harriet in the head. Her mother says, “‘Look at all this blood!’ Harriet’s skull is split open and her brains were showing. ‘There’s a hole in her scarf. . . The missin’ scrap is still in her head.’” The scene is illustrated over two pages. After the accident, Harriet would fall asleep without notice. 
  • A ship’s captain was found helping runaway slaves. The man was fined and sent to jail for a year. “They branded his hand with an ‘S.S’—for slave stealer.” 
  • During his time at a plantation, Frederick Douglass says “an overseer shot a slave.” Frederick was also “beaten and starved.” Because Frederick displeased his master, he was sent to a slave-breaker, who is “a master so cruel, he breaks a slave’s will.” 
  • Getting to the north where slaves could be free was difficult. Often runaway slaves died. “Slaves hopping trains lost limbs if they jumped wrong. Stowaways on northbound ships were smoked out or suffocated like rats. Slaves who were captured were…whipped, beaten, branded—often on the face, and in some cases, hobbled.” 
  • It was also dangerous for whites to help runaway slaves. One man was “sentenced to five years of hard labor. He died after two. . .” Another “was beaten and thrown from a train while trying to rescue a slave. . .”
  • When Harriet got a terrible tooth ache, she knew the tooth needed to come out. Someone held a rock against the tooth and “hit the rock with the pistol butt.”  
  • When a man wanted to go back to his master, Harriet held a gun to his head. She said she would shoot “anybody who puts the group at risk.” The man continued the journey with the others.  
  • A runaway slave was captured. A white man shackled his hands and lashed him to a tree. The slave was then whipped.  
  • John Brown, his sons, and other men raided a house owned by slave catchers. The slave catchers were “hacked to death with broadswords.” Then they moved on to other houses. “Five pro-slavers had been slashed to death.” 
  • During another raid, “two of John Brown’s sons died.” Other raiders “were killed” and “the rest—including John Brown—were captured and executed.” 
  • During the Civil War, soldiers from the north plundered mansions and then burned them down. They also burned a town’s mill, a bridge, and anything else that would catch fire. The scene is illustrated over three pages.   

Drugs and Alcohol 

  • When leading runaway slaves north, a baby starts to cry. The baby is given paregoric, “it’s a drug, a tincture of opium.” 

Language   

  • When Harriet was six, she was rented out to work for a weaver. The woman sent Harriet home because, she “is stupid, useless, and no good to us.”  
  • The executioner says “holy smokes” once. 

Supernatural 

  • None 

Spiritual Content 

  • Nat Turner was a religions man who received visions. He was “deeply religious. He was a Christina. His mother taught him that one day he would become a prophet.” 
  • Harriet knew how to talk to God, and she asked that her master would have a change of heart and not sell any of her siblings. 
  • Harriet prays to God about her master, Mr. Brodess. Harriet says, “Lord, if you ain’t never gonna change that man’s heart. . . kill him, Lord, take him out of the way.” The next day Mr. Brodess dies. 
  • When someone says Harriet is crazy, a man defends her. He says Harriet has “a direct line to God.” 
  • Often Harriet stops and prays to the Lord for guidance. 

 Little Red Rodent Hood

Princess Harriet Hamsterbone is a fearsome warrior. To her parents’ disappointment, Harriet takes any reason to leave her home… but this time a quest finds her. Red, a young hamster from the nearby forest, asks Harriet and Wilbur for help. The weasel-wolves have been getting rowdy, and she needs help to put an end to their antics. Harriet is more than willing to take up Red’s request, though Red is pushy.

Red tells Harriet and Wilbur not to talk to any of the weasel-wolves during their trek. Hoping to get another perspective, the two hamsters go behind Red’s back and speak to Grey, a were-hamster and the leader of the forest weasel-wolves. While Grey asks for help, Harriet and Wilbur realize that Red was not as sweet as she let them—well, Wilbur—believe.

Little Red Rodent Hood uses the story elements of Little Red Riding Hood and The Three Little Pigs, to create a humorous and fun adventure that will have readers turning the pages. Harriet goes on the quest, eager to get out of the castle but wary of Red because of the little girl’s indifference to the dangerous weasel-wolves. As Harriet and Wilbur go through the forest, they discover Red has been kidnapping the weasel-wolves for her Grandmother, who sells them to other rodents who want weasel-wolves as pets. Out of all the antagonists that Harriet has faced, Grandmother is one of the scariest, as she is rough and intimidating. However, readers will enjoy seeing how Harriet defeats Grandmother and frees the weasel-wolves.

Throughout Harriet and Wilbur’s time in the forest, there are multiple instances where recurring jokes overstay their welcome. Harriet asks Grey to bite her so she can become a were-weasel. Her request is innocent at first, but her demands get exhausting. This joke plays off Wilbur’s excessive caution and Harriet’s bravery. Still, Harriet goes to the extreme, to the point where she sticks her hand out in front of Grey’s mouth when he tries to get powdered silver out of his eyes. Harriet’s brashness adds a new dynamic to the conversations between her and her friends but distracts from the story because the humor does not add to Harriet’s character or the overall plot.

Blue and white illustrations add to the wackiness of the book. Drawings with dialogue balloons help break up the text and keep the action moving. Despite the lackluster humor, Little Red Rodent Hood shows the value of teamwork and will engage even the most reluctant readers. Little Red Rodent Hood is the sixth book in the Hamster Princess Series but can be enjoyed as a standalone book. Younger readers who enjoy Little Red Rodent Hood may also want to try Ursula Vernon’s other humorous series, Dragonbreath.

Sexual Content

  • None

Violence

  • When Grey tries to catch Red, she throws powdered silver in Grey’s face. “Grey let out a high-pitched yelp and folded up as if he’d struck a wall.” Grey gets drowsy, but the powdered silver burns and stings because were-hamsters and were-weasels are weak against silver.
  • Harriet fights Grandmother so she can take Grandmother back to the castle. “Harriet dealt Grandmother a fearsome blow that would have stopped any lesser monster. . . Harriet blocked claws and teeth with her sword, but now it was Grandmother’s turn to drive her backward, inch by inch.” Grandmother slaps Harriet’s sword out of her hands and whacks Harriet alongside the head. “Harriet crashed down next to Grey. . .” She is dazed because of the blow to the head. Grandmother lifts her clawed hands, but then Red hypnotizes Grandmother, ending the fight. Grandmother is a weasel-wolf and has invincibility, so she does not get hurt from Harriet’s attack. The fight has sections where Wilbur talks to Red or tries to wake up Grey, but the fight itself occurs over eight pages.

Drugs and Alcohol

  • None

Language

  • None

Supernatural

  • Red was born with “hypnotic eyes” which she uses to hypnotize anyone who makes eye contact with her. Red can make people fall asleep; the victim has temporary double vision if she cannot make them fall asleep.
  • Red uses her hypnotic eyes on Harriet. “Harriet tried to look away, but there was something strange going on. Red’s hypnotic eyes seemed to fill the entire world. Harriet tried to grab her sword, but it felt as if she were moving through molasses.”

Spiritual Content

  • The weasel-wolf packs gather on the first day of the new moon to perform the Howl. “The moon vanishes once a month, you know, during the dark of the moon, and when it comes back, we all howl to greet it.”

by Jemima Cooke

Vampire Hunter

Ham Helsing is the descendant of a long line of monster hunters—who often don’t live long enough to rest on their laurels. Ham has always been the odd pig out, preferring to paint or write poetry instead of inventing dangerous new ways to catch dangerous creatures.

Ham’s brother Chad was the daredevil, carrying on the family legacy of leaping before looking, but after Chad’s death, the family business is left to Ham. Reluctantly, Ham sets out on his first assignment: to hunt a vampire. But Ham soon learns that people aren’t always what they seem and that you need a good team around you to help save your bacon!  

Ham Helsing is a unique protagonist who doesn’t jump to assumptions about others. Ham’s original mission was to kill the vampire. Instead of killing him, Ham befriends the vampire and the two join up to find the real villain. Not only does the vampire forgive Ham for his original intent, he praises Ham saying, “The brave can make their own path—their own way.” Despite being from a long line of vampire hunters, Ham departs from his family’s ways and instead of slaying vampires, Ham is a kind and selfless pig who uses his head. The story reinforces the idea that fate doesn’t determine a person’s (or a pig’s) decisions. 

While the story focuses on Ham, there are many other interesting characters. There’s a boy who keeps turning into a werewolf, a warthog who has social anxiety, a huge bear who frightens easily and cries, a cute female pig who isn’t afraid to use her sword, and a rat who loves big words. These interesting characters add humor and depth to the story. In the end, the large group of characters works together to defeat an evil chicken, who will be back to rain terror in the second book of the series, Monster Hunter 

Vampire Hunter is told through full-color panels that are full of humor and action and have unexpected surprises. For example, the villain jumps out of a plane and is falling toward a hungry shark, but instead of being eaten, the villain “hugged his way out of it.” Readers will giggle as the villain clings to the shark. Each page has one to six sentences and many of them use onomatopoeia. The low word count and easy vocabulary make Vampire Hunter an easy read. Plus, readers will love the silly puns and jokes. For example, when Ham sees a group supporting vampires, a rabbit says vampires are just “immortal heartthrobs who are trapped in the bodies of lovesick teens!” 

Full of adventure, humor, visual gags, and interesting characters, Vampire Hunter is sure to entertain readers. There is plenty of sarcasm and suspense to keep readers flipping the pages. Readers looking for a fun read will come to love Ham Helsing and his friends. For another fast-paced graphic novel with an unexpected hero, grab a copy of The Boy Who Crashed to Earth by Judd Winick—but be warned, once you start reading you will want to read the entire series!  

Sexual Content 

  • When a warthog meets Ronin, a female pig, he says, “Hey there, cute thing.”  
  • When the warthog touches Ronin’s arm, she says, “I could be your undertaker. Hands off, vamp.”  

Violence 

  • Ham Helsing’s descendants all met their demise because of reckless behavior. For example, Bernard Helsing and his assistant both died when they jumped off a very tall cliff. Bernard’s plan was to “lather up our long johns with jelly from the Amazonian fling beetle. This will give us maximum zip. We’ll be like living toboggans, sledding past rock and creatures alike.” Their actual death is not illustrated, but their gravestones are shown.  
  • A large mechanical knight (controlled by a chicken) attacks Ham. The knight almost kills a female pig named Ronin who jumps in and takes the knight’s head off with her sword. The scene is illustrated over nine pages.  
  • After being defeated, the evil chicken is upset that “no one appreciates how diabolical I am.” To prove he’s evil, he kicks a squirrel.  
  • Ronin fights slices of bacon that attack her group. When Ronin cuts a piece of bacon, Ham yells, “AH! Watch it. That bacon grease burns. But it does smell good.” The bacon pieces run away.  
  • When a man ends up dead, Ham and his group are told that he was killed by, “Shadow creatures! Those spider-woman’s minions. She got Laurence. She made Laurence go bye-bye.” 
  • Ronin goes after a giant spider. Using her sword, Ronin cuts the spider in half. The spider’s green blood covers the ground. Later, the group finds Ronin cooking the spider and eating it. The attack is illustrated over three pages. 
  • In a multi-chapter battle, the spider-woman attacks Ham and his friends. The spider tries to impale Ham with her leg, but Ham slices it off with a sword. The spider-woman’s minions jump into the fight. During the fight, the warthog is tied up in spiderwebs.  
  • The spider-woman separates the group and ties up all of Ham’s friends. Someone goes into town and brings back reinforcements wearing clogs. The townspeople kill the spiders by stomping on them. The illustrations show two panels with dead spiders’ green blood.  
  • When the villain realizes that the spider-woman and her minions failed to kill Ham, he squishes one of the spiders to prove that they are “expendable.”  
  • When the villain flees, the townspeople finish stomping and squishing the spider minions. The spider killing is illustrated over a page. 
  • A doctor creates a monster. When the monster awakens, he beats up the doctor and flees.  

Drugs and Alcohol 

  • None 

Language   

  • Silly exclamations are used throughout the story like “pigeon pellets,” “horse cookies,” and “buffalo bagels.”  
  • One of Ham Helsing’s descendants’ tombstone says, “courage and stupidity—a fine line.” Another descendant’s tombstone reads, “He died as he lived. Like an idiot.” 
  • There is some name calling such as buffoon, knuckleheads, bloodsucker, and losers.  
  • Heck is used once.  

Supernatural 

  • At the story’s end, a doctor makes a Frankenstein monster. 

Spiritual Content 

  • The spider-woman says she is “like God herself. I wield the power to unseat the very hierarchy of the forest.”  

The Dark Matter of Mona Starr

Sometimes the world is too much for Mona Starr. She’s sweet, geeky, and creative, but it’s hard for her to make friends and connect with other people. So much so, that her depression seems to take on a vivid, concrete form. Mona Starr calls it her Matter.

The Matter seems to be everywhere, telling Mona she’s not good enough and that everyone around her wishes she’d go away. But with therapy, art, writing, and the persistence of a few good friends, Mona starts to understand her Matter and learns she can turn her fears into strengths.

Many readers will relate to Mona, who struggles with insecurity, indecision, and negative thoughts. Even though Mona tries to hide her dark thoughts, she realizes that she can rely on others for emotional support. As Mona tries to understand her depression, she has the help of a therapist, her parents, and her friends. While this takes away much of the shame associated with depression, the constantly shifting scenes make the story disjointed. Despite this, Mona’s personal journey allows teens to understand depression and how depression can impact people.

Throughout the graphic novel, Mona struggles with dark thoughts and wonders if “I’m doomed. . . and it’s all doomed. That I don’t matter. . . none of it matters.” Her emotions are expressed in both the text and the illustrations. For example, in one scene the picture shows her surrounded by speakers that blare comments such as, “You deserve to be alone. You’re lame. You’re a bad person.” Her dark thoughts take several different forms, such as a huge blanket, loudspeakers, and space. While the illustrations are beautiful and complex, the inconsistency may confuse some readers.

One negative aspect of the graphic novel is that some of the comments don’t connect with the story’s plot. For example, Mona tells her counselor, “I know I shouldn’t complain as a privileged white American” which may imply that Mona’s problems aren’t valid. Plus, there are several other comments that needed to be developed in more detail. For example, Mona thinks her depression caused a benign tumor to grow. However, this thought is never explained or discouraged.

The Dark Matter of Mona Starr will give readers insight into how to cope with depression. Not only does Mona go to therapy, but each chapter begins with advice that helps Mona deal with her dark thoughts. For example, “draw it out,” “turn emotion into action,” and “break your cycles.” Mona learns to lean on her friends and to be honest about her difficulties. She also learns that “I can’t erase the negative story in my head that says I’m crazy but maybe I can replace it with a story that is more accurate.”

The black-and-white illustrations are captivating because of their complexity. Instead of just relying on facial expressions, Mona’s emotions take on forms of their own. For example, at one point Mona is overwhelmed and the illustration shows her surrounded by a brick wall. In another image, Mona’s hope is highlighted by a yellow glow and when Mona’s parents support her, they have yellow hearts surrounding them.

Readers who would like to explore how other characters deal with anxiety should read Guts by Raina Telgemeier and Breath Like Water by Anna Jarzab. Page by Paige by Laura Lee Gulledge also deals with a teen’s overwhelming emotions and self-doubt, but it does a better job explaining these emotions better

Sexual Content

  • None

Violence

  • Mona’s father talks about his sister who was “mentally unwell. She ended up taking her own life.”

 Drugs and Alcohol

  • Mona overhears her parents’ conversation. Her mother says, “Maybe she needs medication? My sister is on antidepressants and says it helps.”

Language

  • None

Supernatural

  • None

Spiritual Content

  • None

The Oracle Code

After an accident renders her disabled, teenager Barbara Gordon is sent to the Arkham Center for Independence (A.C.I). She learns to cope with her newfound disability, makes new friends, and processes her trauma. However, there seems to be something more sinister occurring within the rehabilitation center; kids are disappearing, and the doctors are hiding something. Can Barbara solve the mystery behind the facility before she too falls victim to it?  

The graphic novel, The Oracle Code is told from Barbara’s point of view, which helps the reader see her character growth and understand the overarching themes of resilience, the importance of friendship, and embracing who you are. The story shows the difficulties of living with a disability, while still emphasizing that having a disability does not make your life less valuable. Barbara’s friend Issy reinforces this theme when she says, “The truth is, no matter what anyone led you to believe, life on wheels isn’t any worse or better than life on both feet, or one foot, or crutches. It’s what you make of it.”  

Barbara also learns the importance of letting others help during hard times. While she tries to be as independent as possible, eventually Barbara accepts that it is okay to rely on others and ask for assistance when needed. As she tries to solve the mysteries behind the A.C.I, Barbara calls upon her friends and family, and it is through their teamwork that the puzzle is eventually cracked.  

The secret behind the facility is incredibly dark and may be difficult and upsetting to read. The head physical therapist and head psychiatric therapist experiment on the A.C.I patients in order to find more effective treatments and cures. This is done by kidnapping the children whose parents have seemingly abandoned them and erasing any trace of their existence. The therapists then perform torturous experiments in order to “fix” them. The physical therapist even refers to the children he experiments on as “collateral damage.” In the end, Barbara and the rest of the patients within the A.C.I. prove that they don’t need to be “fixed.”  

Preitano’s illustrations highlight the emotionally powerful moments with dynamic page compositions and incredible character expressions. The color schemes also help differentiate between flashbacks and the present day. Flashback sequences are illustrated in stark reds, oranges, and yellows. This contrasts the muted colors used in the rest of the graphic novel. Preitano’s use of intense shading also helps intensify the looming dreadful atmosphere of the A.C.I. Despite the excellent illustrations, the dialogue between the characters and Barbara’s internal monologue is still central to the story and ensures each idea is conveyed clearly. In addition, the text is easy to read because it uses simple vocabulary. 

The Oracle Code is highly recommended for anyone struggling to come to terms with a disability. Barbara and her friends are excellent role models because they persevere through difficult circumstances and display selflessness by helping each other despite the dangers. In addition, their incredible vulnerability will encourage teens to be more open with their emotions. Plus, the well-written mystery and relatable characters make for an incredibly engaging read.   Overall, The Oracle Code is an excellent graphic novel and a must-read for anyone who loves DC comics or a good mystery.  Fans of DC comics should also read Wonder Woman: Tempest Tossed by Laurie Halse Anderson.  

Sexual Content  

  • None

Violence  

  • Barbara gets shot “trying to help someone.” During flashback scenes, guns and bullets are consistently present in the illustrations.  
  • The hospitalized kids retaliate against the doctor who experimented on them. The doctor is hit several times with mobility aids and then tied up with a jump rope. Onomatopoeias like “crunch” and “smack” are used during this segment. 
  • The A.C.I. experiment on a patient, who later said they were “test subjects.” 
  • One of the doctors conducting genetic experiments also threatens Barbara and her friends with a gun.  

Drugs and Alcohol  

  • None 

 Language   

  • None 

Supernatural  

  • None 

Spiritual Content  

  • None

Ratpunzel

Harriet does not like sitting around her house, so when her friend, Prince Wilbur, tells her that he needs help finding his hydra’s stolen egg, Harriet is more than willing to accept the quest. During their search, they come across a friend of Prince Wilbur’s mother, Dame Gothel, and a tower where a rat princess with a long tail lives, named Ratpunzel. While trying to find the stolen hydra egg, the two hamsters try to gain the princess’s trust and find out more about the dame, but there is more than what initially meets the eye when it comes to this quest.

Ratpunzel uses the story elements of Rapunzel to create a humorous and fun adventure that will have readers eagerly turning the pages. Harriet takes the quest, happy to help her friends and leave the castle. As Harriet and Prince Wilbur go on their adventure, they discover that Dame Gothel is an evil witch. Gothel makes Ratpunzel cry and then uses her tears to turn every visitor into a wooden statue so Ratpunzel cannot escape the tower. Ratpunzel’s tears are an important part of Gothel’s magic because they come from a magical maiden “true and fair,” so Gothel keeps the princess close. Gothel is scary yet funny, and the readers will enjoy seeing how Harriet will foil the witch’s plan and get the hydra’s egg back.

On one of the hamsters’ visits to Ratpunzel’s tower, they learn that Ratpunzel cooks food to pass the time, but she does not know that no one likes it since everyone is polite to her. On top of that, she is optimistic about becoming a good chef, despite her odd dishes consisting of “fish-flake ice cream,” “asparagus waffles,” “sugar-and-shrimp pancakes,” and more! Ratpunzel’s interjections about her peculiar cooking add hilarity to the adventure.

Blue and white illustrations add to the wackiness of the book. Drawings with dialogue balloons help break up the text and keep the action moving. Ratpunzel shows the value of teamwork and will engage even the most reluctant readers. Ratpunzel is the third book in the Hamster Princess Series but can be enjoyed as a standalone book. With an unconventional heroine and many hilarious moments, Ratpunzel is a story that delights and amuses.

Sexual Content

  • None

Violence

  • Weasel-wolves attack Harriet, Wilbur, and the battle quails. Harriet fought a weasel-wolf one on one, but “she didn’t have to do anything. She just held her sword up and the weasel-wolf’s jump carried it right into the pommel, cracking itself in the forehead.” When the weasel-wolf hit the pommel, it “fell on the ground.” The fight continues for two pages.
  • Another weasel-wolf shows up and tries to bite a battle quail, but he ends up with a mouthful of tail feathers. The battle quail spins around and kicks the weasel-wolf. The battle quail’s “legs shot out—one-two—and lifted the weasel-wolf off its feet. It [the weasel-wolf] flew through the air [and] bounced off a tree trunk.” Finally, the weasel-wolf ran away; the rest of the weasel-wolves ran away too. The fight lasts for two pages.
  • Ratpunzel hits Dame Gothel with a hydra eggshell. “WHACK! . . .And then [Dame Gothel] slumped over into the grass, knocked out cold.” Later, Dame Gothel wakes up groggy.

Drugs and Alcohol

  • None

Language

  • None

Supernatural

  • Gothel turns Wilbur into a wooden statue using Ratpunzel’s tears. “Harriet heard a sploosh! a thud! and a very loud SNAP! . . . It was unmistakably Wilbur. It looked like a perfect wooden carving, down to the individual strands of hair and nails on his hands and his alarmed expression.”
  • Gothel traps Harriet with vines. “Green bands were snaking up her legs and were holding her in place. She swatted at the vines with her hands, and they whipped out and twined around her arms.”

Spiritual Content

  • None

by Jemima Cooke

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