The Tea Dragon Festival

by Katie O’Neill
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Content: There’s really nothing objectionable. It’s a bit long for beginning readers. It’s in the Middle Grade Graphic Novel section of the bookstore.

From what I understand, this world is introduced in The Tea Dragon Society, so I kind of feel like I’m coming into this a little blind.

There is this world where dragons are shapeshifters (I think?) and they protect villages. There are also talking animals (I think?) and the tea dragons are kind of like little goats that you can harvest leaves from to make tea (I think?).

This book has to deal with a small village (in the mountains, so they only eat what they can forage) and a dragon that was supposed to be protecting it but had fallen asleep for 80 years. And with figuring out what you’re good at and doing that and not what People Expect you to do.

Or something like that

It’s just a weird little book. The art is gorgeous, though. I’d love to have some of O’Neill’s paintings; she does such lush landscapes. And I did admire that she has a deaf character that does sign language, though that was a bit challenging to depict in a graphic novel format. I do appreciate, too, that this is a tame little inclusive fantasy without any violence or conflict. Though that kind of means there’s not much meat to it either.

Good for those who want pretty pictures and a light story.

Tiger vs. Nighmare

by Emily Tetri
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Content: It’s pretty simple text-wise and lots of illustrations, though one nightmare is pretty scary. It’s in the middle grade graphic novel section of the bookstore, but it almost works as a beginning chapter book.

This is a super simple picture book: Tiger is friends with the monster under her bed, mostly because Monster keeps Tiger’s nightmares away. That is, until one night when Monster meets a nightmare that it can’t scare away. Then it’s up to Tiger to help Monster get rid of the nightmare.

This is so stinking cute! I adored Tiger and Monster’s friendship, and this would work as an overlong picture book for kids who are struggling with things that go bump in the night. The illustrations are adorable and it’s just a delight to read.

A great new (to me, at least) comic artist!

Meg, Jo, Beth, and Amy

by Rey Terciero and Bre Indigo
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Content: There are some situations with bullying. It’s in the middle grade graphic novel section of the bookstore.

If you can’t tell from the title, this is a modern adaptation of Alcott’s Little Women. It’s a blended family: Meg’s dad married Jo’s mom and they had Beth and Amy together. That doesn’t stop the sisters from being incredibly close. Their dad is deployed in the Middle East and their mom is working hard to make ends meet. As we follow the March sisters over the course of a year — from one Christmas to the next — anyone familiar with the original will catch all the highlights: there’s Laurie and his grandfather across the street. There’s crotchety old Aunt Cath that Jo works for. There’s Brooks that has a relationship with Meg, as well as Meg’s aspirations to be part of the rich social set. Beth shy and quiet and Amy loud and obnoxious. t

There are differences from the original, but mostly because it’s modernized. Meg and Jo are making decisions that diverge from the original, reflecting today’s society, but I felt Terciere and Indigo stayed true to the spirit of the original work.

I did feel like this one fell short a bit, but mostly because I felt it wasn’t really it’s own thing. It’s an excellent adaption of Little Women, but I’m not sure it’s much else.

That said, I really enjoyed reading it.

The Boy, the Mole, the Fox, and the Horse

by Charlie Mackesy
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Content: It’s a short book, and there’s nothing objectionable. The cursive writing might be difficult for young children to read, though. It’s in the graphic novel section of the bookstore.

This was the “it” book at Christmas; everyone was calling and ordering it; we were actually surprised that the publisher managed to get copies out before the holiday. And since then, every time we get copies in they sell out. I’ve also had a handful of people tell me I MUST read it, so I picked myself up a copy.

And… well, let’s just say it reminded me of Winnie the Pooh, but without the plot. It’s a series of musings about life and friendship and belonging starring a boy and three charming animals, all accompanied by some amazingly beautiful art. (I do want some of the spreads as pictures to hang on my wall!) It’s one of those books that makes a perfect gift (it will be perfect for graduations!) because there’s nothing offensive. It’s sweet and sometimes poignant and sometimes funny.

But that’s really all there is to it. I’m not sure I will reread this many times, but I am not sorry I have a copy to keep.

To Dance

by Siena Cherson Siegel and Mark Siegel
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Review copy provided by the author.
Content: It’s pretty basic, text-wise, even if the print is small. It is in the middle grade graphic novel section of the bookstore.

This is Siena’s story of how she went from a child in Puerto Rico to being a ballerina a the School of American Ballet in New York. While she never really worked with Balanchine and Baryshnikov and Suzanne Farrell, she saw them and watched them dance from the wings. She worked incredibly hard, devoting her life to ballet, but eventually had to give it up because of an ankle injury at age 18. (Which is tragic, if you think about it.) It’s a really fascinating look into what it takes to be a prima ballerina. (Stick around for the back matter: it was full of pictures and clippings from Siena’s childhood.)

I really liked Mark’s art as well. It’s different from the 5 Worlds series, but he really did capture both the work and the grace and elegance in ballet. They didn’t brush over the pain; there were depictions of aches and pains and bloody toes. It made me remember a time in my life when I adored ballet and wished I could be a ballerina (but was never willing to put in the work).

I’m glad I read this.

Kiss Number 8

by Colleen AF Venable and Ellen T. Crenshaw
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Content: There’s swearing, including multiple f-bombs, plus depictions of teenage drinking and smoking. It’s in the graphic novel section of the bookstore.

Mandy has been best friends with Cat for forever; through all of Cat’s ups and downs, and dates, both good and bad. Though Cat hasn’t had much luck in the dating arena. Most of her kisses happened when she was younger, and most of them were really kind of lame. Though, as they are in their junior year at Catholic school, things are beginning to change. Not the least a mysterious phone call that makes her dad angry, and sets off a chain of events that reveals a deep family secret.

This was an interesting graphic novel. I don’t want to spoil everything (though the tag kind of gives things away), but it’s dealing with the LGBT community and religion, or at the very least, religious people. But the story was a bit of a mess. As were Mandy and Cat (and I felt really bad for the third wheel, Laura). I kind of get why Venable and Crenshaw were framing this story through kisses, but I’m not entirely sure it worked really well. I did enjoy it when Crenshaw’s art told more than the words, bringing more depth to the story, the way graphic novels should.

It wasn’t my favorite I’ve read, but it was an interesting story.

Guts

by Raina Telgemeier
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Content: There is a lot of talk about bodily functions — throw up, diarrhea, puberty, among others. It’s in the middle grade graphic novel section of the bookstore.

My first reaction to finishing this book? My gosh, Raina had a childhood. All of these books (Smile and Sisters as well) are loosely based on her childhood. And if that’s the case (and I don’t know why it wouldn’t be), then wow, Raina’s childhood was something.

This one deals with her issues with stomach aches and throwing up and anxiety and the reactions of her classmates and family surrounding it. In fourth grade, Raina developed a fear of throwing up, which made her want to throw up, and so she developed a phobia around food and being sick because of that. There’s anxiety wrapped up in there as well: when she was nervous, it manifested physically. And there’s a subplot with a girl in her class who made fun of Raina because of her issues. It all turns out happily in the end.

Telgemeier is a fantastic artist; there are a few spreads where I think she nails what anxiety feels like in images. And one where she depicted the passing of time in a single image that is just amazing. And I appreciate that she’s telling these sorts of stories. There has to be kids out there who experience the same feelings — or just the ones with anxieties! — who need this book to feel seen and understood.

It may not be my favorite graphic novel this year, but it’s another solid entry from Telgemeier.