Calamity Jack by Shannon and Dean Hale

I loved Shannon and Dean Hale’s (and the incomparable Dean Hale- no-relation’s illustrations) Rapunzel’s Revenge. See my review here.
Calamity Jack is the rip-roaring sequel to the first graphic novel and is! Tweens will gobble this one up, as it appeals to boys and girls. A retelling of “Jack and the Beanstalk”, the Hales have rewritten the story with a steampunk twist. This time Jack takes the reins, and he and Rapunzel are headed back to his hometown to settle a few financial issues.  But when they get there Jack learns that a few things have changed since he ran away.  The “giant” tycoons have taken over and the city is dirty, gritty, and full of thieves.  Have no fear, though- Jack and Rapunzel are here to save the day!

Hand this one to graphic novel lovers, fairy tale retelling lovers, and adventure lovers.  The illustrations are gorgeous, the dialogue will have you laughing out loud, and the story is perfect.  Highly recommended for middle school libraries!

*review copy courtesy of the publisher

Smile by Raina Telgemeier

The book fair was held at our school during this past week. I love watching to see what my students buy, almost as much as I love booktalking the books at the fair. One very popular choice for my girls was Raina Telgemeier’s Smile, a fantastic new graphic novel. I hadn’t read the book yet but many of my students bought a copy. The next day, one of them rushed into homeroom and handed me her copy. “Do you want to read it, Miss M.? I finished it last night and it was really good!” I was so convinced by her enthusiasm that I put aside the book I was reading and read Smile during reading workshop.

What a wonderful graphic novel for middle grade girls! Based on Raina Telgemeier’s own experiences, this graphic novel is perfect for the tween set. Full-color illustrations really make the story pop and even though I am not a huge graphic novel fan. (I’m too verbal to really pay attention to the illustrations. They’re too spatial for me!) In the beginning of middle school Raina falls and knocks her two front teeth fall out. She’s not only in major pain, but she’s also scared. To make matters worse, her trip to the dentist doesn’t yield the greatest news- he can put the one tooth they found back in but the other is stuck up in her gums. Plus, there was bone damage. She wears the braces for a few years only to find that her teeth wind up embedded in her gums, leaving her feeling like she’s a freak.

What I really love about this book is how well Telgemeier captures tween angst. The accurately portrays many of the struggles tween girls are faced with, from fake friends to body image issues. I found myself laughing and nodding my head, reminded of my own middle school years.

On a completely unrelated note, I love the cover!  Why?  Because it doesn’t advertise that it is a graphic novel.  In many cases, my students are reluctant to pick up graphic novels because they don’t look like “real” books to many parents.  So kudos to Scholastic for giving this great novel a typical cover that doesn’t scream “comic book!” to adults!

*Copy courtesy of a student who lent it to me!

Jarret J. Krosoczka’s Lunch Lady Graphic Novels

I’m always on the lookout for graphic novels that appeal to boys as much as the Babymouse series appeals to girls. The Babymouse series never fails to hook a few dormant or struggling readers at the beginning of the year, but they are usually girls. Something about all that pink makes it a hard sell for 6th grade boys. But I think I found my series- Lunch Lady by Jarret K. Krosoczka!

In the first book, Lunch Lady and the Cyborg Substitute, we meet the “breakfast bunch” (Hector, Dee, and Terrence). Like most kids in the early intermediate grades, they are curious about the school lunch lady. What exactly does she do when she isn’t serving them lunch? I remember being in school and wondering about the “real life” of school workers. Well, the breakfast bunch decide to follow her one day to see what her life is like outside the cafeteria walls.

While the kids decide to follow the Lunch Lady, she and her pals begin to suspect the new substitute teacher, Mr. Pasteur, is up to good. When he refuses fresh baked cookies it only firms up their suspicions. In fact, he doesn’t eat anything. The ladies decide to follow him home – not knowing that they themselves are being followed by the breakfast bunch!

In the second book, Lunch Lady and the League of Librarians, we meet a cranky school librarian and her evil cronies bent on destroying video games! When the breakfast bunch and the Lunch Lady crew get wind of the plan, they set out to stop the League of Librarians! Can they do it, or will video games be destroyed in favor of reading?!

I have to say, I laughed out loud at both books. I enjoyed Lunch Lady and the League of Librarians the most because the librarians were hysterical. Some of the jokes might go over the heads of younger readers, like the librarian demanding to be called a media specialist instead of librarian. Regardless, it is very funny. Plus, the lunch lady comes up with a great compromise between reading and video games- everyone is a winner here.

I think this is a series that will appeal to boys who love graphic novels or need a series to really “hook” them into reading. It’s silly but the plot is fun and easy to relate to, being set in a school. The bright yellow color on each page reminds me of the pink used in the Babymouse series but more gender neutral. I think these would be a great lead-in to the Diary of a Wimpy Kid books.  I definitely plan to add these books to my library and I think they will be a big hit with boys and girls!

I imagine these books are going to blow up when the movie comes out.  Did you know Amy Poehler will be starring in the movie?  How cool is that?  I can totally picture her as the Lunch Lady!



Review copy courtesy of publisher

Rapunzel’s Revenge

Congratulations to Shannon and Dean Hale! Today, Al Roker announced that Rapunzel’s Revenge is the newest pick for Al’s Book Club for Kids! How exciting is that? It is wonderful to see a national media outlet embracing graphic novels this way. Hopefully, this will legitimize graphic novels for some of those parents who just don’t want to believe that “comic books” are legitimate novels.

I loved Rapunzel’s Revenge– check out my review of it here. More importantly, my students just ate it up. Boys and girls alike loved the book and were passing it around before school ended. They will be thrilled to hear that thanks to Al Roker, the book’s publication date has been moved up and it is on sale now!

In the Small by Michael Hague

I am not a big graphic novel reader. But I figured the Challenge was a good reason to give at least one more a shot. I chose a random ARC from my pile and it turned out to be In the Small by Michael Hague.

Bestselling illustrator Michael Hague is well-known for his fantasy illustrations. In the Small is a science-fiction/dystopian story about the end of mankind. While I appreciate the theme of environmental consequences, this was just too dark and gory for me. I think if I had read the story it would have been a bit better, but the illustrations just made the blood and gore too real for me. This is a good story, but one I would recommend for 8th grade and up.