Graphic Novel Round Up: Witches and Ghosts and Vampires (Oh My!)

October 14, 2021 § 4 Comments

2021 has seen many trends in children’s literature (body positivity and consent will make an appearance in next week’s blog post), but most fun is the onslaught of witches, ghosts and vampires, particularly in graphic novels. I’m not sure how to account for this uptake in supernatural activity on the page, except that maybe the last two years already have us feeling like we’re suspended between real life and an alternate universe. Magic has always been irresistible to kids—long before Harry Potter arrived on the scene, I can recall my own childhood obsession with The Blue-Nosed Witch—but perhaps at no time more than now do we share a collective desire to wield spells that could change the course of things. Of course, as the stories below caution us, magic is infinitely more messy than it seems.

All the graphic novels I recommend here—age ranges are provided in the headers—have come out in the past few months, just ahead of Spooky Season. That said, not a single one of these has anything to do with Halloween itself, so I have no doubt they will be read again and again, regardless of the season. But, with fire pit weather upon us and talk of spooky costumes in the air, I can’t think of a better time to drop a few new witchy reads into your child’s lap. (Amazon affiliate links below, though all of these titles are currently in stock at Old Town Books!)

Witches of Brooklyn: What the Hex?!
by Sophie Escabasse
Ages 8-12

One of the books our family was most anticipating this fall is the sequel to Sophie Escabasse’s Witches of Brooklyn, our favorite graphic novel series debut from last year (the hair styles! the knight librarian! that perfected tween eye roll!). Well, What the Hex?! (Ages 8-12) is here, and it’s every bit as delightful.

Effie’s got bigger problems than learning to harness her magic (what she’s supposed to be doing when not in school). Real world problems! Her BFF, Berrit, hasn’t been returning her calls all summer, and now that school has started, it’s clear why: she seems to have found herself a new bestie in Garance, a girl new to the area from France, a girl with a worldly aura and mad drawing abilities. Effie is more content to stew in her jealousy than talk out her feelings with Berrit, despite her aunts’ wise words: “Talking about a problem is like opening the window of a stinky room. You bring in some fresh air! You diffuse the stinkiness.” Better yet, maybe she’ll look for a new school, because she is NOT making friends with the girl who stole her friend.

But Garance has her own challenges…and, as it turns out, they’re of the magical sort. The story reveals that Brooklyn is full of bona fide witches—of the kind and helpful sort that Effie’s aunts are—and they just happen to be masquerading as choreographers, librarians, yoga teachers, midwives, psychologists, computer programmers, hackers…and bonsai trees(!). But that doesn’t mean these seasoned witches don’t occasionally need some youthful creative ingenuity to solve a tricky case. And that’s where Effie and Garance might have more in common than they realize.

Simon and Chester: Super Sleepover!
by Cale Atkinson
Ages 6-9

We were smitten with Cale Atkinson’s first title in the Simon and Chester graphic novel series for newly independent readers, Super Detectives!, but the second title has us head-over-heels in love. Super Sleepover! is as sweet as it is funny, with terrific depth infused into both protagonists.

Simon, the ghost, has just received word from headquarters that his “haunting inspection” is imminent, and he’s not confident he can pass any of it, from light flickering to object flotation to invisibility. If he doesn’t pass, he could be reassigned far away from his best buddy, Chester (he could end up demoted to haunting tuna cans!). Chester, on the other hand, has just received an invitation to his first (human) sleepover birthday party, and he feels equally out of his element. The two make a pact: they’ll help each other build the skills they need to succeed (it’s easy to be an expert on something that doesn’t affect you directly). Even if they don’t entirely succeed, at least they won’t die from embarrassment.

Boasting brilliant banter between two friends—this is a book that begs to be read on repeat—the story has all the marks of a best friendship: curiosity, encouragement, loyalty, fun, and the ability to laugh and laugh.

The Okay Witch and the Hungry Shadow
by Emma Steinkellner
Ages 8-12

If your kiddo hasn’t discovered Emma Steinkellner’s The Okay Witchset in the fictional town of Founder’s Bluff, Massachusetts, with a Salem-like history of witch drama—they’re in for a treat. Think Buffy the Vampire Slayer with all the middle-school friendship angst of a Raina Telgemeier novel. And the best news is that the sequel, The Okay Witch and the Hungry Shadow, is every bit as endearing.

Now that she knows about her family’s magical lineage, thirteen-year-old Moth Hush, with her frizzy hair and secondhand sweaters, is excited to hone her own spell-casting skills. Unfortunately, her mom is adamant that she keeps her witchy-ness a secret at school. With the exception of her best pal Charlie, school is as awful as ever, her attempts at fitting in or being invisible providing zilch relief from the school bully. (It doesn’t help that Moth’s mom is dating the dorkiest teacher at the school.) Surely, no one will notice if Moth employs the use of an enchanted charm to infuse her with overnight popularity?

The charm works brilliantly: Moth is suddenly funny, sassy, and bursting with confidence (not to mention rad singing skills). But the charm also unleashes a dangerous demon, bent on eclipsing Moth’s real personality until there’s nothing left. With the help of true friendship and a loving family, Moth ultimately learns to shift her focus off what she isn’t and embrace the unique person she is. In life, “it’s not what you have—it’s how you use it.”  

Garlic and the Vampire
by Bree Paulsen
Ages 7-10

If a book could win for adorableness, Garlic and the Vampire would crush it. Is there anything cuter than an anthropomorphized garlic head? Maybe a suspender-ed carrot? Even the bibliophile vampire, with his bushy eyebrows and desire to take up gardening, stole my heart. Debut creator Bree Paulsen has created the heck out of this cottage-cozy world, where a village of vegetables and their doting witch are trying to live out their days peacefully (and with a little income from their farm stand), until a vampire moves into the abandoned castle in the nearby mountains. No doubt the vampire is bloodthirsty, determined to suck the life out of every last vegetable (Bunnicula style, perhaps?).

It’s Celery who comes up with the idea of sending Garlic to defeat the vampire in his castle, since everyone knows that garlic fends off vampires. (If that doesn’t work, Garlic can always drop a bag of seeds and grain on the castle floor, and the vampire will be “compelled to count every single one,” while Garlic escapes.) But Garlic has always been timid, clumsy, and forgetful…how can she ever defeat a bloodsucking monster?

A sweet, gentle story about silencing self-doubt and summoning the courage to try hard things. And a reminder—perfect for every season—that strangers are not always as scary as they seem, and sometimes an open mind is the best gift to take a new neighbor. Did I mention this book is so, so pretty?

Ham Helsing: Vampire Hunter
by Rich Moyer
Ages 7-10

Allow me to introduce the funniest book on this list. If your child’s thing is hip-slapping hijinks, snarky asides, punny wordplay, and occasional raunchy humor, Rich Moyer’s Ham Helsing: Vampire Hunter, the first title in a new series, has them covered. Throw in a sweet porcine, an evil chicken, and a pair of gold-digger rats and consider me slain me, too.

Ham Helsing—favorite porcine wonder since Mercy Watson—comes from a long line of failed vampire hunters, all of them heavy on boldness and short on brains. (In the story’s opening pages, there are three funerals alone.) Now, Ham is all that’s left, so when a nearby town advertises a Vampire Problem, Ham steps in to do his family proud. Never mind that he doesn’t know the first thing about battling vampires and hardly looks the part. What he lacks in muscle he makes up for in heart.

So begins an epic quest to track down a vampire who may or may not be bent on world domination. As always, the fun is in the journey, as Ham assembles a rag-tag team of helpers he meets along the way. Teamwork is the name of the game here, especially when family honor is on the line. But what happens when you’re looking for the wrong baddie? Another rollicking reminder of the pitfalls of assumptions made on appearances alone.

by Míriam Bonastre Tur
Ages 8-12

The next time a parent complains that their child goes through graphic novels too quickly, I’m going to give them Míriam Bonastre Tur’s Hooky. Coming in at 384 jam-packed pages (and this is just the first volume!), this is a story to make your head swim—in the best of ways. The book is actually the print version of a hugely popular Webtoon comic, with manga-style art and a large ensemble of highly entertaining and intricately developed characters. As an adult, I struggled to follow it at times, but watching my daughter move seamlessly through it has once again convinced me that today’s tweens are miles ahead of us grown-ups in visual literacy.

Dani and Dorian are twin tween witches, born into a prestigious witch family. When they miss the bus to witch school, they scramble to find a tutor before their parents find out. But then a series of mishaps marks them as traitors to their own kind, and before they know it, they’re wanted criminals on the lam. Now, bent on clearing their name and caught in the middle of a war between powerful magic families seeking the prophesied King of Witches and powerful royalty bent on destroying all witches, the twins begin to question everything they’ve been taught about good and evil—and who’s on which side.

Don’t let the cover fool you: the story is darker than it looks, including nighttime terrors and witches burned at the stake. But it’s also immensely fun (and funny), owing to the cast of oddballs that join Dani and Dorian, including an escaped princess testing out her agency, a scrappy street kid looking to make a buck, and a soothsayer who might be the twins’ best chance at mastering their unique breed of magic.

The Cardboard Kingdom: Roar of the Beast
by Chad Sell
Ages 9-13

To say that Chad Sell’s first graphic novel, The Cardboard Kingdom, co-written as part of a team of ten comics collaborators and starring a group of neighbor kids who bond together one summer over their imagined alter egos, was a massive hit with my kids three years ago would be a gross understatement. My kids came for the kooky superhero costumes, made from cardboard boxes, but they stayed for the affirming array of gender identities and presentations, races, ethnicities, and body shapes. A true “melting pot” of a literary universe.

Now, Sell and his team are back with a sequel, Roar of the Beast, which follows the same group of kids as they try to solve the mystery of a monster, allegedly lurking in the nighttime shadows of the neighborhood. Nothing goes smoothly—there’s bullying, broken legs, and lots of destroyed cardboard—but as with the first novel, friendship and self-expression reign supreme.

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Books published by Random House (Witches of Brookyn, gifted), Tundra (Simon and Chester, gifted), Simon & Schuster (Okay Witch, gifted), HarperCollins (Garlic and Vampire, gifted), Random House (Ham Helsing, gifted), Houghton Mifflin Harcourt (Hooky, purchased), Random House (Cardboard Kingdom, purchased). All opinions are my own. As an Amazon Associate I earn a small kickback from qualifying purchases through the links above, although I prefer we shop local and support our communities when we can. If you’re in the Alexandria area, please consider shopping at the beautiful Old Town Books, where I assist with the kids’ buying!

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