From The Guide: Comics for Middle Graders

colossal_rutabega the adventure chefThis year’s ALA honorees El Deafo and This One Summer show that graphic novels and comics continue to soar in popularity and critical acclaim. In their article “Comics Are Picture Books: A (Graphic) Novel Idea," Elisa and Patrick Gall urge audiences to look at the form with fresh (and less intimidated) eyes; and on our Writer’s Page, Matt Phelan provides a glimpse into his creative process. Below are some more recommended graphic novels from the fall 2015 Horn Book Guide.

—Katrina Hedeen
Associate Editor, The Horn Book Guide

Colossal, Eric Rutabaga the Adventure Chef
128 pp.     Abrams/Amulet     2015     ISBN 978-1-4197-1380-4
Paperback ISBN 978-1-4197-1597-6

Gr. 4–6 Chef Rutabaga’s portable kitchen; his anthropomorphic sidekick, Pot; and his love of foraging for unique ingredients (e.g., “sweetened blood berries” and “pop-shrooms”) may encourage readers to be more adventurous with their own culinary pursuits. The quirky series-starting graphic novel includes easy-to-make recipes and uses comic vignettes to concisely introduce such entertaining characters as sword-slinging Winn and comrades Manny and Beef.

Fred The Wild Piano: A Philemon Adventure
45 pp.    TOON    2015     ISBN 978-1-935179-83-2

Gr. 4–6 Toon Graphic series. To save his friend the well-digger, Phil returns to the parallel world of alphabet-named islands in the Atlantic Ocean. Landing on the letter N causes him to inadvertently break the law, and he’s sentenced to battle a wild piano, matador-style. This vibrant graphic novel first published in France in 1973 brims with Little-Nemo-meets-Alice-in-Wonderland whimsy. Back matter explains some of the story’s references.

Hugo, Victor Les Misérables
60 pp.      Candlewick     2015     ISBN 978-0-7636-7476-2

Gr. 4–6 Retold and illustrated by Marcia Williams. Colorful detail and an adroit comic-book layout make this retelling especially charming and eminently humane. Along the borders of each page, cats chase mice and rats frolic in sewer sludge in echo of Valjean’s long journey to escape Javert and provide a home for his beloved Cosette. As it condenses an immensely complicated novel, brevity is both this volume’s greatest feature and its limitation.

Liniers Macanudo #2
96 pp.     Enchanted Lion     2014     ISBN 978-1-59270-169-8

Gr. 4–6 Translated by Mara Faye Lethem. This collection of comics is by turns contemplative and slapstick. Characters such as a girl and her cat, Fellini; Oliverio the Olive; and Z-25, the Sensitive Robot, float in and out of the pages, putting on performances that range from Godot-like to foolish and seemingly pointless. The cartoonist uses a light touch in rendering his drawings, which make observations about life that are worth savoring.

Maihack, Mike Cleopatra in Space: The Thief and the Sword
190 pp.     Scholastic/Graphix     2015     ISBN 978-0-545-52844-3
Paperback ISBN 978-0-545-52845-0

Gr. 4–6 Five months after being zapped from ancient Egypt to the distant future in book one, Cleo, the hotheaded “savior of the galaxy,” tries to nab a thief, discover more about the prophecy she’s fulfilling, and navigate new friendships — all while attending school (and, ugh, the winter dance). Panels of crisp, jewel-toned art showcase the graphic novel’s blend of action and humor.

Proimos, James III Apocalypse Bow Wow
215 pp.     Bloomsbury     2015     ISBN 978-1-61963-442-8
Ebook ISBN 978-1-61963-443-5

Gr. 4–6 Illustrated by James Proimos Jr. Spouting hysterically funny dialogue, two dogs await their people’s return. Eventually desperate, they break out of the house, discover that all humans have disappeared, and make a grocery store their home. Challenged by some tough animals, they win because of a tick who dispenses military advice. Black-and-white comic panels add quirky humor, although it can be difficult to tell the characters apart.

Smith, Jeff Bone: Out from Boneville: Tribute Edition
175 pp.      Scholastic/Graphix     2015     ISBN 978-0-545-80070-9

Gr. 4–6 New ed. (2005). Color by Steve Hamaker. Greedy Phoney Bone is run out of town, and his cousins, Fone and Smiley, join him. This tenth-anniversary edition of the comics collection includes Smith’s “An Ode to Quiche,” nine pages of “Pinup Art” from the book, and a “Tribute Gallery” by sixteen comics artists, including Dav Pilkey, Dan Santat, and Raina Telgemeier.

TenNapel, Doug Nnewts: Escape from the Lizzarks
186 pp.     Scholastic/Graphix     2015     ISBN 978-0-545-67647-2
Paperback ISBN 978-0-545-67646-5

Gr. 4–6 Color by Katherine Garner. Herk, a Nnewt, is separated from his family during a covert mission to rout the Lizzarks, scaly reptilian bipeds, who have been spying on Nnewtown. Though “just a little fry,” willful Herk learns the true meaning of hope when an ancestor helps him. The spunky Nnewt’s journey is characterized by offbeat humor and portrayed through dark panel illustrations.

From the November/December 2015 issue of The Horn Book Magazine. These reviews are from The Horn Book Guide and The Horn Book Guide Online. For information about subscribing to the Guide and the Guide Online, please click here.
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