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Uncommon graphic novels for beginners

Difficult to classify — and entertaining to read. Here are four new graphic novels for beginning readers and middle graders. See also “Five Questions for Sergio Ruzzier” about his Fox + Chick series (in this issue), “New for New Readers: An Easy Reader Renaissance,” and Brian Selznick and David Serlin’s Talks with Roger interview about Baby Monkey, Private Eye.

At the start of LeUyen Pham’s The Itchy Book (an Elephant & Piggie Like Reading! early-reader series entry), a turtle snoozes in front of a rock that reads, “Dinosaurs Do Not Scratch.” With instant, uncompromising absorption of that message, and self-justification regarding the virtues of “toughness,” a passing dinosaur kid spreads the word. A twist ending clarifies the message (somewhat). All-dialogue text and bubbly cartoon–style illustrations have lots of kid appeal, and the implicit issues surrounding individuality and questioning authority are broached at a child-comprehending level. (Hyperion, 5–8 years)

In New Shoes by Sara Varon, Francis the shoe-making donkey is thrilled when his favorite calypso singer, Miss Manatee, places a special order. When Francis and his bird friend Rhoda go into the jungle in search of wild tiger grass to complete the order, they make a surprising discovery. This silly and delightfully odd early-reader graphic novel, in six chapters, is also filled with information about South American jungles. (Roaring Brook/First Second, 5–8 years)

Three amusing and enlightening folktales are presented in a lively comic-book format (simultaneously published in Spanish) in The Dragon Slayer: Folktales from Latin America by Jaime Hernandez. The (mostly) six-panel pages feature expressive characters and colorful tones that add to the playfulness of the stories. An introduction by F. Isabel Campoy places the tales in the context of the folktale traditions of the Americas; comprehensive back matter provides primary sources and contextual facts. (TOON, 7–10 years)

Eisner-winning cartoonist Aron Nels Steinke’s graphic novel Mr. Wolf’s Class portrays the first day of fourth grade in a woodland town inhabited by anthropomorphized animals. The cheerful plot depicts each character with care and depth. Internal dialogue and visual gags extend the story and provide levity. Soft-hued colors and loose, unpretentious lines focus attention on characters’ expressions. Solid fills of background color emphasize moments of classroom action and child-friendly humor. (Scholastic/Graphix, 7–10 years)

From the August 2018 issue of Notes from the Horn Book.

Elissa Gershowitz About Elissa Gershowitz

Elissa Gershowitz is executive editor of The Horn Book, Inc. She is a current member of the Sydney Taylor Book Award Committee.

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