Stepping Stones by Lucy Knisley

I am hot and cold on Lucy Knisley’s stuff, to be honest. However, I was pretty excited about this middle grade realistic fiction graphic novel, which I knew would be a hit with my students. I really liked this, though I felt upset knowing (from reading ahead of time and then from her afterward) that it was very much a true memoir. Her mom’s boyfriend is a dick who puts her down and her mom doesn’t stand up for her. Her mom and mom’s boyfriend seem pretty demanding (we’ve moved to the country but you have all the chores and are soley responsible for caring for chickens you didn’t even want.) as well as uncaring of her feelings (taking the boyfriend’s children’s side without seeing what’s really happening.) I felt so so outraged on her behalf and upset that none of the adults really acknowledged how wrong that all was.  I do think a lot of kids will relate to the “adults in my life make decisions that affect me but I just have to go along with it because I’m a kid” aspect.  I’m curious how kids will react to this.

Twins by Varian Johnson and Shannon Wright

This is a good realistic fiction graphic novel that I will definitely be recommending to all my avid realistic fiction gn readers (of which there are many.) The premise is that twins are starting a new school for 6th grade and there are big changes which one twin is super anxious about and the other is more excited about. The big difference is that they are in different classes. Different classes! New friends! New experiences! Pretty standard. But what was really interesting to me and actually super fascinating was that this middle school had an ROTC like program that the shyer twin is enrolled in. In 6th grade! And not only that but in 5th grade they all had academic rankings that they were all aware of. I literally cannot imagine this for 5th graders (the grade I teach.) I was very interested in the family dynamics (pretty strict but loving parents). They all felt much older than 6th grade to me.

Seance Tea Party by Reimena Yee

The title and picture on the cover 100% is why I picked up this book. And what a charming graphic novel it was! It focused on that age old theme of friends in your group seeming to move on or grow up faster than you and feeling left behind. What I especially liked about this was the idea that as that’s happening to Lora she’s portrayed as not babyish-just someone who still has a great imagination and loves to play and delight in the world. I could relate. Lora is thrilled when she meets a lovely ghost who is happy to play with her (and totally accepting of Alexa’s ghostliness.)
As the year progresses things do inevitably change for the Lora and Alexa and the story is very neatly woven together and wrapped up-explaining Alexa’s story and why she is there to play with Lora.
A very sweet story with a bittersweet tinge that is satisfying.

Witches of Brooklyn by Sophie Escabasse

This was just wonderful! A really nice graphic novel that makes me look forward to more installments. In this first book Effie comes to live with two older (elderly?) aunts (?) after her mother has (died?) Why do I have so many question marks here? Although Effie does seem to be a bit sad and her arrival is quite sudden, that really isn’t gone into. The two ladies welcome her in though and are kind. Apparently they are successful herbalists. But when a famous pop star is secretly ushered into the house for an emergency consultation Effie discovers that they are actually witches. And of course, it turns out that Effie has some magic in her too! So many surprises for Effie to adjust to, all while starting a new school and making new friends. Of course her new friends make a neat little group that I assume will be the core of all future installments in this series. I especially liked that her friends have their own stories that are hinted at.
I enjoyed the art style as well.

Oh My Gods by Stephanie Cooke

Oh I loved this! Premise: Karen has to go live with her dad for a while, who she rarely sees. He lives on Mt. Olympus. She gets there and seems blind to the fact that clearly her dad is Zeus and the people she meets are THE Apollo and Aphrodite, etc. Zeus’s portrayal is adorable-he so wants to connect with his daughter. The whole thing was just very sweet and funny and clever. The gang of teens (we’re immortal but like to be reborn) felt like Archie and Jughead and the gang. Very charming and I can’t wait to read more. (Also, I loved the picture style.)

Dragon Hoops by Gene Luen Yang

I’ve really liked all of Yang’s books but wasn’t super eager to read this one because, well, sports. But I saw it just sitting there on the shelf at the library this week, so it seemed a good opportunity to grab it and read it. And I read it in one day because dang, this book was good. I was truly sucked in and marveled at his skill as an author. The construction of this book is so, so good. How did he figure out how to tell a true story of a basketball season while also telling his own personal story of feeling ready to make a big career change? While also telling individual stories of real people, but in such a way that you just think they are good characters in a story? (could we all be good characters??) While also throwing in some really cool history about basketball, catholic schools (I had no idea), Chinese sports culture, Indian history, Sikhs, and more? I mean, there’s a reason this guy wins awards.
As a non sports fan really everything was news to me. High school teams actually travel on planes to other states to play? High school students are on ESPN?
I was also super impressed by his ability to draw and write a basketball game in such a way that you are watching the clock count down and feeling as excited as if you were watching it in person

This was just a terrific story, really engrossing, and wonderfully told.

Snapdragon by Kat Leyh

I found the cover of this offputting, thinking that the main character was some kind of demon animal human hybrid with antlers? I guess I didn’t read the reviews carefully enough? But enough to think it was something I might want to read. Tabby read it first and really liked it, so I gave it a go and guess what? I LOVED it. As mentioned before I didn’t pay close enough attention to the reviews so honestly didn’t know which way the book was going. Was it realistic fiction? Magical fiction? Fantasy? Misunderstandings? I didn’t know! And that was kind of refreshing because I ended up being surprised by basically every single thing in the story.
I really liked the family history romance in the story. I think it’s important for kids to know that same sex relationships have always been around. I loved how comfortable Snap was with her friend’s gender identity, and I loved the conversation she had with her mom about it. I just thought this was a really neat and unique story. It was entertaining, plus it was downright heartwarming.

Class Act by Jerry Craft

I liked New Kid so I was definitely interested to read this follow up. Plus, I figured it had to be interesting to see where one goes after winning the Newbery! While I liked this and thought it was good, I can’t say I fully enjoyed it as much as, say, Snapdragon. Fair enough, it’s just not that “fun” of a story. It’s very realistic and I expect extremely relatable for a lot of people. Drew and Jordon continue to have conflict with a kid they don’t like at school, they continue to experience casual racism, and they have their own circumstances to deal with and feelings of being different. I had a really hard time remembering everything that happened in New Kid, so I wasn’t too sure which relationships had been established, and which were new. A solid read.

Measuring Up by Lily LaMotte

Terrific new graphic novel! I ordered it for the library and took the liberty of quickly reading it before putting it out. CiCi moves to Seattle from Taiwan and experiences the usual adjustments, with the added worries of really missing her grandmother, with whom she is very close. They keep in touch with video chats, but it just isn’t the same. CiCi really wants her grandmother to visit and is determined to win prize $$$ that she can use to help pay for a visit. She enters a cooking contest that is kind of like Masterchef Junior. There was so much in here to like–the cooking competition, the contestants recipes, Cici experiencing microaggressions, Cici trying to keep her “Taiwanese life” separate from her new American friends, and finding out the ways they are the same. I think this will be highly appealing to lots of kids. Would gladly read more about Cici and/or more kids learning about Julia Child!

Shirley and Jamila Save Their Summer by Gillian Goerz

What a super graphic novel! I think my students are going to love this one. Jamila has an overprotective mom who won’t let her go to to the nearby basketball court to play ball. Instead she wants her to go to camp so that is “enriched” and also fully supervised. Jamila’s family is still pretty new in the neighborhood and we get a good picture of the busy family. Jamila meets Shirley at a yard sale, the moms talk, the girls talk, and a mutually beneficial plan is agreed upon–the girls may go to the basketball court together each day. But! Turns out Shirley is a pretty unique character. Like a junior Sherlock Holmes she is a master of observation and deduction. She is..pretty off putting to most people. But these skills put her in demand, like a modern day Encyclopedia Brown. Soon the girls are pursuing a case in the neighborhood and suddenly the boring summer is shaping up to be quite exciting.
I love all the Sherlock Holmes-iness about this, as well as weaving in all these threads about friendship, family, independence, change, and observations. This was just a really cool, fun book. I hope we can see Shirley and Jamila in another adventure.