Swim Team

by Johnnie Christmas
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Content: There’s some conflict and some bullying by adults and other kids. It’s in the middle grade graphic novel section of the bookstore.

Bree and her father moved to Florida and with that came a new school and a new schedule. All the classes Bree wants to take are filled up, so she’s put in Swim 101. The problem: Bree doesn’t know how to swim, and she’s afraid of learning. She skips class until her father finds out, and then he enrolls her in swimming lessons. Hweer, she’s bullied, and so she runs away. it’s not until a near-drwoing incident when her upstairs neibero, Ms. Etta, rescues her that she realizes that she needs to learn to swim, making a deal with Ms. Etta to each her.

But no one of There is a small side lesson wno why there’s a stereotype of Black people not swimming, but the bulk of the story is Bree joining the middle school’s failing swim team, and learning how to compete and how to work as a team. There are ups and downs, but the girls learn that it’s better to support each other than compete against each other.

The thing I thought about most while reading this book was how representation matters. It will be wonderful for young Black girls to see themselves in this story. It’s a good story that centers on their experiences, and one that makes them the center of the narrative. On top of that, though, it’s a good story about teamwork and perseverance, and Christmas is a good storyteller and artist. Definitely a recommended graphic novel.

Heartstopper Volume 4

by Alice Oseman
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Others in the series: Volume 1, Volume 2, Volume 3
Content: There is a handful of swearing, including a few f-bombs. It’s in the Graphic Novel section of the bookstore.

This picks up almost immediately after Volume 3: Nick and Charlie are still in the first parts of a relationship, one where they love spending time together. It’s still summer, and Nick is going to go on vacation soon. But Charlie is anxious: he wants to tell Nick that he loves themhim, bu twonders if the timing is worng. Nick has his own concerns: he cares about Charlie, and has noticed that Charlie has issues about eating. It’s a lot to handle, and Nick isn’t sure what he should do.

This one covers a lot of time: from the initial few days and then the weeks that Nick is gone on vacation, it skips ahead: first to New Year’s Eve, where nick catches us up on the previous few months, and then to March, where Charlie takes his turn. It doesn’t have s solid resolution, but rather a very hopeful one.

I like that while this is a book full of queer people it’s not a book that dwells on its queerness, but rather its a fact of life. It was remarkably matter-of-fact about it all. Charlie and Nick have an incredibly healthy relationship, and it shows them dealing with problems and issues in a mostly healthy manner. It’s delightful andcute, and very resfresting. I adore this series, and can’t wait for volume 5!

The Aquanaut

by Dan Santat
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Content: There’s a death of a parent, and mistreatment of animals. It’s in the middle grade graphic novel section of the bookstore.

Ever since her father, an marine researcher, died in a boating accident while out on the ocean, Sophia (and her Uncle Paul, who is taking care of her) has been just trying to survive. The place Paul and his brother built, Aqualand, is being run by a team of investors who don’t care about science, and Sophia’s grades are becoming worse and worse. And then, one day, a team of underwater creatures show up in Sophia’s father’s old diving suit.

It would just be easy to say: And then all havoc breaks loose. But it’s more than that. Paul and Sophia learn they need to actually try and grieve their loss and grow together as a family. Paul stands up to his investors, and less aqua land, but gains his dignity back. And the animals work together as a crew, while Sodapop (a hermit crab, I think) faces his fears of a giant squid. It’s about growth and togetherness and grief, with an underlying message about conservation and science, and maybe amusement parks that capture wild animals to put them in cages are bad.

I adore Santat’s heartfelt storytelling, and enjoy his art as well. This one is definitely one to hand to everyone, kids and adults alike.

Nubia: Real One

by L.L. McKinney and Robyn Smith
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Content: There is some violence and an instance of sexual assault. It’s in the graphic novel section of the bookstore.

I’ll be upfront about this: I haven’t loved a superhero comic this much since Ms. Marvel. I love Nubia and everything about her, from her moms, to her desire to do the right thing, to her friends, and pretty much everything.

Nubia knows she’s different, stronger, faster, but she’s always had to hide it her entire life. But now that she’s 17, she is tired of being shut in all the tme. She’s conflicted though: kids who look like her are usually portrayed as perpetrators, not the heroes. But, when her best friend is assaulted, Nubia makes a tough decision to step towards her destiny and embrace who she knows she is.

I loved this one, effortlessly blending the injustices towards Black kids by the police, white anger (and white privilege), and a story about a girl trying to find her way together. The art was sometimes rough, but the story made up for it. I am so happy I finally read this, and I can’t wait for more!

Jukebox

by Nidhi Chanani
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Content: There are some intense moments. It’s in the middle grade graphic novel section of the bookstore.

Shaheen’s dad is always going on about musicians and records, and she just wants to tune him out. But when he goes missing, she and her cousin, Tannaz, go looking for him and discover a time-transporting jukebox in a record store that Shaheen’s dad was always frequenting.

From there, it’s traveling through time trying to figure out what the jukebox is doing and where Shaeheen’s dad is. Full of historical facts and bits of music, this is a delightful graphic novel! Shaheen starts the book out hesitant and withdrawn, but the idea of finding her dad helps give her courage. it’s fun, it’s a smartly drawn book — I loved the historical bits — and full of music facts. Perfect for anyone who enjoys music.

Salt Magic

by Hope Larson and Rebecca Mock
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Content: There is some death and it’s mostly adult problems. It’s in the middle grade section of the bookstore because it’s not quite adult either.

It’s 1919, and Vonceil’s older brother Eber has just come home from the war. She thought it would be just like before he left: they would be best buds. But he comes back changed, more serious, and marries his sweetheart right away, which makes Vonceil mad. And then Greda shows up. She’s a woman Eber met in France who has come to pick up what she thought they had When she finds out that Eber is married, she reveals that she’s a witch, and curses their family’s farm. Vonceil realizes that it’s her responsibility to fix the problem, so sets off after Greda to write the wrong.

It’s part historical fiction, Oklahoma in the early 1900s, but it’s mostly a fairy tale as Vonceil learns Greda’s story and faces down witches n her quest to support her family.

It’s a fun graphic novel, and I enjoyed the story. But, I wonder if it’s one that kids will really like? It’s a fairy tale, yes, set in America, which is unique. But it’s also about adults with very adult problems. It also lacks in the diversity department; there’s exactly one non-white character. Maybe it’ll find its audience somewhere. I didn’t dislike it but it wasn’t the best one either.

My Body in Pieces

by Marie-Noëlle Hébert, translated by Shelley Tanaka
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Content: She talks about weight and body issues. It will probably be triggering for some. It’s in the graphic novel section of the bookstore.

This is a memoir by a woman looking back on growing up overweight. She expresses her loathing of her body, the bullying by classmates (and parents), the small things that hurt to hear, and the effect they had on her and her self-perception.

It’s not an easy graphic novel to read. Done in stark black and white charcoal drawings, I sometimes lost the thread of what was supposed to be happening. But, the message came through: talking about how a person looks is damaging. The small messages that you think help actually hurt. Society puts so much pressure on women to look a certain way, and that is so very detrimental to our mental well-being.

The art style kept me from loving it as much as I wanted to, though it did have me in tears by the end. And the final panel? It’s the message we all need to hear. Repeatedly.

The Legend of Auntie Po

by Shing Yin Khor
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Content: There is a death, but nothing graphic. It’s in the middle grade graphic novel section of the bookstore.

Mei bakes the pies for the loggers and workers in a camp in the Sierra Nevadas in 1885. Her father runs the kitchen, and the two of them make a good team. She’s happy enough, even though she’s Chinese and knows that she won’t have the same opportunities as her best friend Bee, who is white. That doesn’t stop her from trying to learn more, from telling stories of the legendary Auntie Po, and from being the best person she can be.

That makes it sound trite because this was a really solid graphic novel. I enjoyed the historical context, knowing that the conflicts that existed between the white people and the Chinese workers were real. But I also enjoyed the larger-than-life feel of it, as well. Is Auntie Po real? Did he help the loggers? Did Mei see her? I also thought the adult characters were pretty great from Hels the foreman to Hao, Mei’s dad.

A really solid book from Khor. I can’t wait to see what she does next!

In the Shadow of the Fallen Towers

by Don Brown
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Content: It’s not graphic, but it is frank about the events of 9/11.

The subtitle of this book says it all: The seconds, minutes, hours, days, weeks, months, and years after the 9/11 attacks.

It’s a good anniversary book, timed to come out on the 20th anniversary of the attacks. It essentially covers the events of that day and the following days, focusing on personal stories. Probably a good introduction to someone who knows nothing about the attacks (say, young kids these days, though my kids still get remembrances in school). The art is done in grays and browns, keeping it from being too graphic, and underscoring the seriousness of the story.

But.

I am tired of 9/11. I am tired of remembering. Especially in this time of COVID, when more than the number of people who died in the attacks have died every single day. I am tired of rallying around the “remember New York” cry. I am tired of this America.

So, no, this book wasn’t the best thing for me to read. Perhaps someone else will enjoy it more.

Borders

by Thomas King, illustrations by Natasha Donovan
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Content: There are some moments that might be intense for some readers. It’s in the middle grade Graphic Novel section of the bookstore.

The premise is simple: A boy and his mother want to go visit family in Salt Lake City from Canada. However, when they get to the border, the customs agents want them to declare a country The mother says “Blackfoot” which isn’t an acceptable answer. The rest of the book is the story of them being caught in the space between border crossings and how they get out.

It’s a simple story, but a powerful one. I admire the way the mother stuck to her values: they are Blackfoot, not Canadian, and that should be an acceptable answer for border crossings. The art is clear and realistic but not overly so. It was the story that I really appreciated in this one. I appreciated the back story about their lives, even if the only person named was the sister, and I enjoyed the way this story was resolved. It may not be the most brilliant graphic novel out there, but it is an important and interesting one.