Bok review: InvestiGators, by John Patrick Green

Green, John Patrick. InvestiGators. (InvestiGators series). First Second, 2020. $9.99. 196p. ISBN 978-1-250-21995-4. Ages 8-11. P9Q9

Meet the new goofy detectives on the graphic novel scene, alligators and agents Mango and Brash of Special Undercover Investigation (S.U.I.T.) as they search for a missing baker, Gustavo Mustachio, in a world of verbal and visual puns and gags. With Very Exciting Spy Technology (V.E.S.T.), undercover Mango believes he has convinced Mustachio’s assistant baker by wearing a classic mustache like that of Gustavo—although the mustache sometimes switches over to Brash. Compounding the mystery of Gustavo’s kidnapping is the explosion at a science factory and the return of villainous dinosaur Houdino who invents a machine to steal money by copying it through brick walls. Somehow the intrepid, but frequently clueless S.U.I.T. agents stop the criminal acts—except for the promised return of Mango’s former partner Crackerdile, thought to be dead and now a villain after he fell into radioactive dough, who forced Gustavo to make him a new body out of “a super dough, a hybrid of cracker, cake, cookie, and bread.”

Verdict: The brightly colored, laugh-out-loud (even for an adult) silly adventures begin on the first page and don’t let up in this hysterically funny debut to the graphic novel series genre. Peripheral characters are as funny as the protagonists; for example, a doctor became a “were-copter” who changes from human to helicopter and a curse was transferred to him. Green said, “Of all the comics I’ve created in my professional career, making InvestiGators has come closest to recapturing that feeling of being 11 years old, drawing comics in my bedroom, with the sole intention of making my friends and classmates laugh.” He succeeded. Highly recommended as a change from intense disasters in world-building visual fantasies.

May 2020 review by Nel Ward.

Book review: Wolfie Monster and the Big Bad Pizza Battle, by Joey Ellis

Ellis, Joey. Wolfie Monster and the Big Bad Pizza Battle. Graphix/Scholastic, 2019. $12.99. 125p. ISBN 978-1-338-18603-1. Ages 8-12. P8Q8

Wolfie, Roy, and Jackson, three very different brothers who have inherited the Magic Cheez Pizza place from their uncle, also have different approaches toward the business. Jackson is the practical one while Roy wants to spend all his time gaming in his apartment. It’s Wolfie who loves the business with an enthusiasm that drives Jackson crazy. These differences come into play when evil Lord Mudpants, who decides to control the world with his zombie-making Happy Leaf drink, wants to buy the pizza place, and Wolfie opposes the sale. The villain’s method of forcing the sale by replacing Wolfie with a robot throws the entire town into chaos, but the three brothers, with the help of new sensible friend Bea, foil the plan by fighting back with their secret pizza recipe.

Verdict: The panels are filled with purple and orange primary characters combatting the green townspeople both before and after drinking the Happy Leaf potion. The silliness of the plot creates fun, and the zany, sometimes cluttered, panels add to the past-paced adventure.

May 2020 review by Nel Ward.

Book review: Island Book, by Evan Dahm

Dahm, Evan. Island Book. First Second, 2019. $22.99. 278p. ISBN 978-1-62672-950-6. Ages 8-12. P8Q9

When the Monster comes to the island, Sola, alone, stands against it. Shunned by the people of the island for her fearlessness, she sets out in a small boat for answers. She finds other islands where she is joined by misfits Hunder from Fortress Island and Wick from the Isle of Wind also seeking the Monster. Much of the graphic novel is wordless with the adventure image-driven throughout battles and shipwrecks. Large-feeling panels with digitally-colored pen-and-ink drawings change colors with the different environments, beginning with initial strong blues for the first ocean voyage. Sola stays green like her island.

Verdict: In the allegory is the message, as poet Wick states, that people don’t want to know the truth. He says of his people, “They don’t want to find the monster.” Dahm provides many themes throughout his tale about a small girl—calm defiance to authority, determination, separating from herd behavior, acceptance, teamwork, and friendship. The open ending may be frustrating to readers, or it may leave the graphic novel open to a sequel.

May 2020 review by Nel Ward.

Book review: The Lost City, by Frank Cammuso

Cammuso, Frank. The Lost City. (Edison Beaker Creature Seeker series). Viking, 2019. $17.99. 176p. ISBN 978-0-42529195-5. Ages 8-11. P8Q7

The author/illustrator of Knights of the Lunch Table series brings brother and sister back from The Night Door to make another dangerous journey. This time they go with alien friend Knox to restore light to the city of Pharos, that is sinking into darkness because the Underlings have destroyed the balance of power between light and dark when they took over the mythical country. The siblings’ uncle, responsible for them after their parents’ death, is against Edison being a Creature Seeker, but Grandma Gigi warns them they must travel to Underwhere to light the torch. Edison’s younger sister, Tesla, befriends Smudge, an Underling who is able to help the intrepid trio because he isn’t under the control of evil Baron Umbra.

Verdict: The character-driven book relies more on the humans and aliens than settings, causing the excitement rating to be ramped down. An unanswered question is what happens to Tesla’s beloved hamster after she permits Alexander, a large flying cat, to babysit her pet, Scuttlebutt. Alexander disappears after he promises to help them defeat the Underlings. The hardback’s cardboard cover of the city in dark on the front and the city in light on the back is far better than the garish paper cover.

May 2020 review by Nel Ward.

Book review: This Was Our Pact, by Ryan Andrews

Andrews, Ryan. This Was Our Pact. First Second, 2019. $14.99. 330p. ISBN 978-1-62672-053-4. Ages 10-13. P8Q9

On the night of the annual Autumn Equinox Festival, Ben and his four friends take their bikes to follow the paper lanterns sent on the river to become stars in the Milky Way. Their rules—nobody goes back home and nobody turns around. Ben’s friends all break the pact to turn back, but nerdy Nathaniel, who tagged along, stays with Ben, and they continue the journey, sometimes helped through their adventures by a talking polar bear, who is on his own quest.

Verdict: The color tones of the panels—blue for night, gray for danger, and oranges for the underground—clarify the setting, and the satisfying ending shows the power of unlikely friendships. The oddities of the visuals such as flying fish and dogs walking on water strength the magic in which the road never ends. The adventure is more thoughtful than many other graphic novels for this age group, lacking the heart-pounding race through the plot in exchange for a picaresque exploration of the danger and hope.

May 2020 review by Nel Ward.

Book review: Joe Quinn’s Poltergeist, by David Almond, illustrated by Dave McKean

Almond, David. Joe Quinn’s Poltergeist. Il. Dave McKean. Candlewick, 2019. $17.99. unp. ISBN 978-1-5362-0160-4. Ages 12-15. P7Q10

Almond’s 2014 story is creatively illustrated with panels, boxes, and full-page mixed media including drawings, scribbles, watercolors, and collages in this psychological “graphic storybook” set in a small British town. Joe invites friends David, the narrator, and Geordie to his house so they can see how a ghostly being wreaks havoc in his house by smashing dishes, breaking windows, and doing other damage. Although reluctant to go, Davie joins Geordie, Joe, and Mrs. Quinn for a meal where they hear crashing upstairs and food flies through the air over them. Davie is thoroughly convinced and believes in the presence of his dead sister, but Geordie thinks that Joe has set them up. Also convinced that she feels the poltergeist, Mrs. Quinn sends Joe for the Irish priest, Father Kelly, to exorcise the being, and the father helps Davie find peace: “There is not Heaven to go to. And no Hell…. There’s only us.” Almond’s two-page introduction tells about his close connection to the plot from the death of his baby sister when he was seven and his family’s belief in the supernatural.

Verdict: Almond’s two-page introduction tells about his close connection to the plot from the death of his baby sister when he was seven and his family’s belief in the supernatural. The eerie graphic novel resolves with the possibility of hope in spite of the prevailing sense of horror. Davie resolves his feelings by believing “…the poltergeist is all of us, raging and wanting to scream and to fight and to start flinging stuff; to smash and to break. It is all of us wanting to be still, to be quiet, to be in love, to be at peace.”

May 2020 review by Nel Ward.

Book review: If I Was the Sunshine, by Julie Fogliano, illustrated by Loren Long

Fogliano, Julie. If I was the sunshine. Illustrated by Loren Long.  Atheneum Books for Young Readers, 2019. $17.99 ISBN 978-1-48147-243-2. Unpaged. Ages 4-8. P7Q9

The illustrations and poetry of if I was the sunshine are well-matched.  The award-winning author and  illustrator have created a flow between the words and the acrylic paintings.  There is an ebb and flow; a give and take that parents and young children will find rhythmic and soothing.  When I first saw this book, I felt put off by the lack of capitalization in the title and within the book text.  I also felt strange about the lack of punctuation.  But, when I read this book out loud, it felt like I had slipped into the middle of a conversational song between two people who cared about each other.  The poetry makes it feel private and personal.  Without saying “I love you,” the reader is expressing great feeling.  Overall, I was very impressed.  However, this book must be read out loud, and probably in a setting like bedtime. It is a great book for a library or as a beloved bedtime book; but maybe not so much for a classroom.  However, I could be wrong . . . maybe it is just what a classroom needs.

[Editor’s note: If you happen to be a grammar nerd, please consider skipping this one.  The author is fairly consistent in mixing up the uses of the verbs “was” and “were” to the point that reading this as a bedtime book to small children will make the nonstandard usage sound familiar to them. Loren Long’s colorful illustrations are well balanced, though I am taken aback by details such as serrated ears on deer.]

June 2020 review by Sharon McCrum.

Book review: Sea Sheep, by Eric Seltzer, illustrated by Tom Disbury

Seltzer, Eric. Sea Sheep. (Ready-to-Read, Pre-Level One). Illustrated by Tom Disbury. Simon Spotlight, 2020. $17.99 ISBN 978-1-53446-134-5 (hardcover). Unpaged. Ages K-1. P7Q8

Sea Sheep is a leveled reader for early readers and makes good use of sight words, word families, rhythm, and repetition.  The strengths of this book include the easy flow of the words, and the humorous, active characters called “Sea Sheep.”  One of the first animals a toddler recognizes is a sheep from songs like Old MacDonald and Mary Had a Little Lamb. So, for a very young reader, the absurdity of sheep swimming fast through the sea with other sea animals is sure to make young readers laugh and want to read more.   For me, the downside of this book is the lack of contrast between the characters and the background.  The watercolor illustrations are well done, and show plenty of action, but I would prefer to see brighter colors on the characters, with a clearer outline on the cartoonish sheep. The other drawback for a family purchasing this book, is its relatively high price, though a paperback edition is available. For libraries and classrooms, this price is not bad because it is a very well-made, hardcover leveled reader.

June 2020 review by Sharon McCrum.

Book review: Nick and Nack Fly a Kite, by Brandon Budzi, art by Adam Record

Budzi, Brandon. Nick and Nack Fly a Kite. (Highlights Puzzle Readers, Level 1). Illustrated by Adam Record. Highlights Press, 2020. $4.99 ISBN 9781644721124. Ages 4-7. P7Q7

Highlights Puzzle Readers are dubbed “A new, interactive reading experience.”  As an early education teacher, working in family outreach at a library, I am very excited about the Highlights leveled readers.  Nick and Nack are great characters that like to make and find things.  They work together as a team. And, you still get to solve hidden pictures puzzles throughout the book. Learning to read is so much better when it is fun and rewarding.  These little books are definitely fun and rewarding.  At the end of this book, families can use step-by-step directions to make a kite.  Learning to follow printed instructions is a great reading skill addition to the Nick and Nack book. I am very impressed to see this element included.  I just wish the books were put together in a way that would give me more confidence in how long they will last. This Nick and Nack book is Guided Reading Level: H with a Lexile measure: 250L.

June 2020 review by Sharon McCrum.

Book review: Nick and Nack Build a Birdhouse, Brandon Budzi, art by Adam Record

Budzi, Brandon. Nick and Nack Build a Birdhouse. (Highlights Puzzle Readers, Level 1). Art by Adam Record. Highlights Press, 2020. $4.99 ISBN 978-1-68437-932-3. 32 pgs. P8Q8

In this Highlights’ leveled reader, its level is for sounding out letters and familiar syllables, reading simple sight words and sounding out decodable text, starting to read with expression, and being able to solve visual puzzles that support concentration and persistence. This great little book introduces parents to puzzle readers that help foster shape and letter recognition, letter-sound relationships, visual discrimination, beginning logic, flexible thinking, and sequencing.  It also includes Nick and his robot friend Nack.  Parents will enjoy the play on words the names represent with Knick Knack.  Maybe the best part of this well illustrated, colorful, puzzle book is the step-by-step craft instructions for making a birdhouse at the end.  Highlights has been engaging readers with a multiple-reinforcement approach that I have found appealing since I was a very young reader.  I am super excited to share the Highlight Readers with families at the library. This book has a Fuided Reading Level: G and Lexile measure: 260L.

June 2020 review by Sharon McCrum.