Spring Break Reading: New Graphic Novels for Ages 7-14!
March 14, 2023 § Leave a comment
Today, I’m kicking off a few posts to help you gear up for Spring Break. Whether you’re staycationing or jet setting, a change in routine and a lack of homework can be the perfect chance to (re)engage kids with reading. Maybe you have time for a family read aloud. (I’ll have suggestions in Thursday’s post.) Maybe, while you’re all sharing a tiny hotel room, you can mandate quiet reading time before bed, a chance for you to model your own reading as your child snuggles in beside you with their own book. (A person can dream, right?)
As always, links will take you to Old Town Books in Alexandria, VA, where I’m the kids’ buyer (thanks for supporting us!), though I’m very happy for you to support an indie closer to you if you have one you love.
First up are my favorite graphic novels released in the first three months of 2023! Your kiddos should have no problem diving straight into these, a mix of realistic fiction, superhero lore, comedic horror, inspiring stories, and nail-biting non-fiction.
Before we get started, there are a couple titles not below that will likely pique the interest of your readers. First, the third in the Batpig series (ages 7-10) comes out later this month; our family are huge fans of Rob Farrell’s wildly clever series, and I believe it to be one of the best (and most underrated!) “things to read after Dog Man.” While we’re on the subject of hooking readers with humor, you’ll thank me for mentioning that the hugely popular Investigators series (also 7-10) has a new spin-off, titled Agents of S.U.I.T., which focuses on Mango and Brash’s eccentric co-workers. Oh, and did I mention the new Hilo is out?
Without further ado, the titles below are arranged from youngest to oldest, so if you have middle schoolers, scroll to the end!
Welcome to Feral
by Mark Fearing
Technically, this book came out last fall (though too late to make it into my Gift Guide). Comedic horror remains one of the surest ways to hook a reluctant reader, and Welcome to Feral, the first in a new series by Mark Fearing (I mean, with a name like that…) is perfection. It’s quite funny—my daughter has read it three times and chuckles every time—and it delivers brilliantly on that what-would-my-parents-think-if-they-knew-what-was-in-here factor. (Wink, wink.)
Feral—population 16,000, established 1854—may seem like a happy-go-lucky town with a Main Street and City Hall, but it’s actually ripe with unsolved mysteries and unexplained disappearances. Across five spooky short stories, a local resident named Freya, who has set up base camp in the storm cellar of a decimated house, takes us through some of the creepiest occurrences in Feral’s history. A very old playground slide nicknamed the Spaghetti Death Twist, which was supposed to be torn down years ago but instead devours two children? An ice cream truck, which appears to three children lost in the woods and is operated by a man who seems to know everything about them? If you aren’t sufficiently creeped out, you haven’t been listening.
Spine-tingling macabre, with ample doses of humor, is served up by a young protagonist who might end up outsmarting them all—if he doesn’t die first.
by Megan Wagner Lloyd & Michelle Mee Nutter
You won’t find a greater endorsement than this: my daughter adored the ARC (advanced reader copy) of this graphic novel even though 1) it had yet to be colored and 2) many of the pictures weren’t even finished! I don’t have her patience and had to wait for the final. But now that I’ve read it, I can attest that Squished is every bit the delight she promised.
The creators behind the graphic novel Allergic (another favorite around here) have teamed up to tell the story of eleven-year-old Avery Lee, rising middle schooler and one of seven siblings living in Hickory Valley, Maryland. When I was a middle-grade reader, I loved reading about big families. The chaos, the alliances, the squabbles, the endless supply of built-in playmates: as an outsider, it was easy to romanticize it all. Well, Avery is feeling anything but romantic about the insanity that is her home life and the embarrassment that ensues when her family tails her around town. All she wants is to stop feeling squished by her siblings and to have some space of her own! To make matters worse, not only does she have to keep sharing a bedroom with her younger sister, who enjoys middle-of-the-night harmonica concerts, but her wild toddler brother is now moving in, too. She’ll never sleep again!
Adding fuel to fire, Avery’s longtime friendships with her two besties are changing; her relationship with her older brother is on the fritz (why are teenagers so mopey, and why does he get his own room?); and her mom just applied for a job on the other side of the country. The thought of moving throws Avery for the biggest loop of all: suddenly, when she’s at risk of losing everything, a shared room doesn’t sound so bad. Might it be that Avery relishes being a sister—and a darn good one at that—more than she realizes?
by Matt Tavares
Hoops was another instant hit with both my daughter, fresh off her own basketball season, and me, fresh off the cheering stands. Matt Tavares—you know him for his Christmas picture books, though he has done many excellent picture book biographies about athletes—makes his graphic novel debut in Hoops, capturing the joy, friendships, and competitive intensity of girls’ basketball in the wake of Title IX. Passed by Congress in 1972, Title IX may have required schools to offer equal opportunities in sports to girls, but it often meant no uniforms, rookie coaches, and make-shift venues. The book is inspired by the true story of Judi Warren and the 1976 Warsaw High School girls’ basketball team, who proved that girls’ basketball was a force to be reckoned with.
Judi has tried to be content with cheerleading for the packed games of the Wilkins, Indiana’s boys’ basketball team, but what she really loves is playing basketball in the driveway with her brother and his friends. So, when her school announces the creation of a high school girls’ team, she jumps at the opportunity, despite having to practice at the elementary school, using electrical tape to fashion numbers on white t-shirts, and keeping her involvement a secret from her best friend and cheer co-captain to avoid ridicule.
What these girls lack in resources, they make up for in skill, grit, and teamwork—not to mention entrepreneurship. How they find their way to packed arenas, championship titles, and into hearts of their community is a suspenseful, gratifying, and tween-centric ride!
Captain America: The Ghost Army
by Alan Gratz & Brent Schoonover
Alan Gratz, master of high-action historical fiction (Ground Zero, Allies), teams up with Marvel to tell the first in an original graphic novel series about Captain America and his sidekick, Bucky Barnes. Illustrated with old-fashioned charm by Brent Schoonover, Captain America: The Ghost Army strikes a balance between WW2 history, front-line action, and superhero lore.
Cap and Bucky are surrounded by Nazi forces on the Eastern Front, tasked with helping the British hold their position, though they’re rapidly losing ground. The book’s title is a reference to two “ghost armies” that come into play in the story, one real and one fictional. The first is a real-life covert deception unit of American artists, who arrive on the scene to assist the British and the superhero duo by deceiving the Nazis with speakers, inflatables, and a smoke machine, simulating the effect of an entire cavalry unit. The Nazis counter with a ghost army of their own, though theirs is one of actual specters, ghosts of fallen soldiers conjured up by a powerful sorcerer named Baron Mordo, who is holed up in a Transylvania castle with plans for world domination. Unaffected by bullets, bombs, or even Cap’s shield, the Nazis’ ghost army is only stoppable if Cap, Bucky, and their new allies—including a wily girl from the local village—can destroy the deadly magic coming from the castle.
An easy sell for history buffs and Marvel fans alike. (I’m not the superhero fanatic my husband is, but even I enjoyed this, especially the vintage-styled art!)
Bomb: The Graphic Novel
by Steve Sheinkin & Nick Bertozzi
Non-fiction comics have come a long way, with popular series like Science Comics and History Comics, but it’s rare to find one as comprehensive and gripping as Bomb: The Graphic Novel, a graphic adaptation of Steve Sheinkin’s award-winning book about the making of the atomic bomb, written for a graphics audience by Sheinkin himself and magnificently illustrated by Nick Bertozzi. My husband read the original to my son when he was still in elementary school, and they were both obsessed. My son went on to read Fallout, Sheinkin’s follow-up, while in middle school, and his enthusiasm propelled me to include it on my 2021 Gift Guide. Now, in this graphics format, Bomb seems destined to hook an even broader audience on a subject ripe with science, history, and spies.
Bomb opens in 1950 with a FBI raid on the home of Harry Gold, an American scientist turned Russian informant, before rewinding to the 1920s to tell the story of “the scientists who raced to build the deadliest weapon ever invented [a]nd the spies who stole the secrets.” It’s a story of military generals, special opps teams, professors, prestigious chemists, unknown chemists, and even teen prodigies, many of whom sequestered themselves in a remote site in Los Alamos, with only partial knowledge of the end game. It’s a story of schemes, risks, and deceit, a story delivered against the backdrop of WW2 and the dawn of the Cold War. And it’s a story about the grey space between right and wrong, a story of a man named Robert Oppenheimer who created the ultimate reminder of the dangerous intersection of intelligence, ambition, and fear—and later questioned the morality of what he had set into motion.
A story at once informative and chilling, nail-biting and provocative, with enough science to satisfy the STEM kid, enough action for the military buff, and enough intrigue to hook the rest of us.
A First Time for Everything
by Dan Santat
On a recent weekend, our entire family took turns enjoying Dan Santat’s new graphic memoir, A First Time for Everything. I read it first, then proceeded to go down the rabbit hole of my own memories traveling to a foreign country as a teen without my parents. My daughter read it next and immediately rode her bike to 7-11 to try Orange Fanta. My husband read it and nearly fell off the couch while cackling. Finally, my son was like, “What is this book you’re all so obsessed with?” And with that, he was sold.
A graphic novel that talks about the awkwardness of adolescence, stars a boy protagonist, AND hails independent travel as a means to self-discovery? I’m all in. Combine that with Santat’s hilarious anecdotes and cinematic panels, and I can’t think of a single middle schooler who won’t adore this book. (The content is definitely tailored to middle school/junior high, so if you’re going to give this to a younger child, I recommended reading it first. Dan does a brilliant job of framing some of his more questionable choices in the Author’s Note against their historical context.)
The book is set in 1989, during the summer weeks that Dan toured Europe with a small group of rising ninth graders. It’s his first time experiencing the world outside his small California town; his first time crushing on a girl; his first time seeing himself as more than a shy, skinny, awkward boy. It’s about sneaking into Wimbledon to watch John McEnroe and stealing a bicycle to escape a gang in the middle of the night. It’s about the power of humor to transcend language barriers. It’s about flashing back to mortifying moments of public speaking and botched attempts to talk to girls, so we can appreciate just how transformative the trip is.
It’s a joy to experience Paris, Lucerne, Munich, Salzburg, and London through Dan’s eyes, but it’s even more gratifying to watch him embrace new independence, friendships, artistic expression, and the kind of adult he wants to be.
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