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Graphic novels that grab you

These new graphic novels — two fairy-tale retellings, a mistaken-identity high-seas adventure, and a magical-realism ghost story — will captivate intermediate and middle-school readers.

hatke_mighty-jackAt the start of Mighty Jack, young Jack, while visiting a flea market with his single mother and younger sister Maddy (who does not speak), foolishly trades the family car for a packet of seeds. Jack is thrilled when Maddy begins to thrive as she cares for the garden, but these seeds yield a strange and sinister menagerie of sentient plant creatures. Jack eventually destroys the threatening garden, but not before neighbor-girl Lilly steals some of the seeds, placing Maddy in terrible danger. Author/illustrator Ben Hatke employs a vibrant color palette, dominated by verdant greens, and a panel layout that segues seamlessly between dialogue and action. (Roaring Brook/First Second, 9–12 years)

phelan_snow whiteMatt Phelan provides a highly original and darkly beautiful take on Snow White. The book opens in 1928 New York City with a stern-looking man asking a street urchin, “What’s the story here?” as the NYPD cordons off what seems to be the dead body of a woman in a store-window holiday display. The rest of the book leads up to the answer. In a flashback to 1918, we see Samantha “Snow” White playing with her mother in Central Park. Ten years later, with Mama dead of tuberculosis, a Ziegfeld Follies showgirl easily ensnares Samantha’s older father. Our protagonist flees to a Hooverville shantytown, where she is rescued by seven street boys, and the story takes its classic course. Pencil, ink, and watercolor images (in mostly sepia tones, with occasional spots of color) and judicious use of text provide an appropriately cinematic noir sensibility. (Candlewick, 9–12 years)

larson_compass-southIn 1860 New York City, Alexander and Cleopatra Dodge’s father disappears, leaving the twelve-year-old twins alone; the children survive by stealing for the Black Hook gang. After a run-in with the police, the siblings decide to head to San Francisco for a fresh start, planning to con a wealthy man into believing they are his long-lost twin sons. On the way, Alex and “Pat” run into Silas and Edwin, another set of redheaded twins with the same idea. Alex and Silas get kidnapped onto one steamer; Pat and Edwin stow away on another; and the now mixed-up pairs are forced to rely on each other in order to reunite with their own siblings. Written by Hope Larson and illustrated by Rebecca Mock, Compass South captures all the rollicking action of a Robert Louis Stevenson–type sea adventure — with the welcome additions of a capable female protagonist and several fully realized secondary characters of color. (Farrar/Ferguson, 9–12 years)

telgemeier_ghostsRaina Telgemeier presents modern magical realism in graphic novel format in Ghosts. Almost-sixth-grader Catrina and her family move north from Southern California to the (fictional) town of Bahía de la Luna — in part to make breathing easier for Cat’s little sister Maya, who has cystic fibrosis. The sisters meet their ghost-obsessed neighbor Carlos, who teaches them about the town’s traditions (the townspeople are serious about Día de los Muertos and all things supernatural) and who sparks a renewed interest in their Mexican roots, especially their deceased abuela. The plot is paced steadily, building to moments of high emotion, often seen in enlarged panels or full-page illustrations. A muted color palette reflects the foggy, misty setting. (Scholastic/Graphix, 9–12 years)

From the September 2016 issue of Notes from the Horn Book.

Siân Gaetano About Siân Gaetano

Siân Gaetano is assistant editor for The Horn Book, Inc. Follow her on Twitter @KidLitChick.



  1. These all look great!! I especially can’t wait to read Ghosts! Raina Telgemeier is my hero!!

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