Ghosts! Robots! Sharks! Wizards! Monsters Beware! (That’s actually one of the titles.) Yup, lots of excitement out there for the elementary age set. Desmond Cole, Ghost Patrol; Monsters Beware!; and Amulet are fiction, while Sharks, and Robots and Drones are nonfiction. With strong literary and visual storytelling, these are all winners.
Desmond Cole, Ghost Patrol: The Haunted House Next Door and Ghosts Don’t Ride Bikes, Do They? by Andres Miedoso and Victor Riva
Desmond Cole, Ghost Patrol is the beginning of a sure to be a hit early-reader series of chapter books. Reading for fun can be a hard sell for many kids, and ghosts are a hard sell for any age. The main character, a young boy named Andres Miedoso, has to deal with ghosts throughout the series. With the author having the same name, it’s a grab for both kind of skeptics.
So who is Desmond Cole? That’s Andres’ next door neighbor, a boy who not only believes in ghosts, but helps out the rest of the kids in the community with their spectral issues. In the first book, The Haunted House Next Door, Andres and his family just moved to the town of Kersville and their house is definitely haunted. At first, Andres is freaked out by both Desmond’s strange behavior, and the stranger things happening in his home. But with Desmond’s help and friendship, they are able to find and befriend the ghost.
Although the topic may sound frightening to a young reader, Miedoso keeps the storytelling light and funny. No harm is ever done, and the illustrations of the ghost are spooky without being scary. The expressions on the character’s faces are often hilarious. Kudos for ethnically diverse main characters.
The second book is Ghosts Don’t Ride Bikes, Do They? and is about a ghost that affects all the neighborhood kids. Our hero, Andres, adores his bike and he’s a good rider too. Lucky for him, Kersville has a bike park with a sweet track, including a big jump at the end called The Kicker. Andres watches as the kids are able to land all the jumps except that ending one, no matter how good they seem. Andres tries, and right at The Kicker he feels his bike being pulled out from under him. With the experience of the ghost in his house, Andres knows a spirit when he senses one.
He enlists the help of his friend Desmond and the two boys are able to confront the ghost of the bike track and figure out how to make everyone happy. Another tale with spooky fun and friendship. I look forward to reading more about Andres and how he finds his place in a new town solving haunted happenings along the way. Recommended for young readers.
Rosado and Aguirre created a delightful conclusion to their Beware! series. We first met our heroine Claudette in Giants Beware! Read a full review here. Claudette is a little girl with an epic amount of courage and unhealthy appetite for danger. With her little brother, the gourmet chef Gaston, and best friend, the impeccable diplomat Princess Marie, by her side, Claudette is ready for anything. They have epic adventures in the first, and second book, Dragons Beware!
Monsters Beware! brings the story back home, but there is still enough danger to satisfy our tiny fighter. The whole story takes place during medieval/Renaissance times. Although the previous books had Claudette and her posse out in the wilds, in this book the fight stays in the town of Mont Petit Pierre. The Warrior Games, an elite competition for young adventurers, are being held in their town this year and Claudette, Gaston, and Marie are representing their people. We see their neighboring competitors arrive amidst much pomp. It’s hilarious.
I love all the wide shots and group scenes in these books because there are jokes happening in every corner. The humor of these books is a big reason why I recommend them all the time. (And strong female characters!) The fact that Gaston not only makes instant gelato with magic, but that he has a rival, made me giggle. Because the leader of the town wants his daughter to win the Warrior Games, he adjusts the challenges to be domestic. This is not the glorious battle Claudette envisioned. When the first challenge is butter churning, she exclaims, “What weapon does the cow get?”
Happily, there are monsters masquerading as competitors. The Sea Queen and her evil children start gobbling up the competition, and don’t stop there. Claudette and her friends have to save everyone. The ending was sweeter than I imagined and wrapped up the trilogy perfectly. Kudos for making an action/comedy tale with a variety of female characters. Highly recommended for elementary age and up.
“Understanding sharks and the world they inhabit is the first step in preserving their legacy.” Although the amount of information in this short book is immense, the exciting visuals will keep any curious kid going till the end. As both the author and illustrator, his passion for these creatures and the need to save them from extinction swim right off the page. Ah-hem.
Most kids go through a “big” phase, could be animals like dinosaurs or environmental like outer space. Something that is so huge or vast entrances our smallest humans. My son was into deep ocean and large sea creatures. We took out EVERY book at the library in the kids section over the course of a few years. Frustrated at the same information being repeated, and it didn’t seem like much when it came to sharks, we turned to adult books. But found that sharks are really mysterious creatures. I wish Science Comics: Sharks was around for my son. I don’t know if the knowledge of sharks has grown in the fifteen years since my son was obsessed by the huge jaws, or no one bothered to create a book like this until now. Either way, this is a good one.
Flood (also the author of Dinosaurs) first explains, in graphic detail, the anatomy of a shark and why it is distinct and super cool. From their sleek design (hammerheads use their body shape to create lift like an airplane!) to the incredible sensory organs that create the ultimate predator (like electroreception!) Their teeth are their most famous aspect and the pictures are descriptive and informative about them. (As a fun aside, we call my dad a shark because he has a third set of teeth. No kidding.)
The book also gives more detailed descriptions on a handful of the well-known sharks, including, of course, the Great White. Flood is very particular in presenting the true facts about these endangered creatures, the reality of their danger to humans (very little), and why sharks are so important to the ecosystem of the entire ocean.
Flood also has a good sense of humor. I love the spread that shows how sharks have been around since before the dinosaurs in a side by side comic showing how different creatures throughout earth’s history are afraid to go into the water. The are clear infographics about the biodiversity including Superorder Selachimorpha (you’ll have to read the book to get it!)
Sharks ends with a short history of human interaction and fascination with sharks from the Polynesians to modern day movies. Sadly most of the interaction today is devastating the population of sharks due to killing them for their fins. Sharks have much more to fear from humans that we have from sharks. Hopefully, by reading this book, kids will have the knowledge and passion to save these amazing creatures through the next era of Earth’s history.
I know I said this list is for Middle Schoolers, but everyone should read this book. This is science literacy on a practical level because robots are already a part of our lives and will continue to be, and drones aren’t a fad. Think you know the difference between a computer and a robot? And why you should?
Scott really knows how to write a comic (and her credits prove it) because the seamless artistry between showing and telling is masterful. There is a lot of ground to cover with this book on the history, technology, and even ethics behind robots, yet the eye is constantly moving along the pages. I was completely entertained and learned a ton.
Chabot (another biggie in comics) takes all that information and conveys it though delightful and clear illustrations. I don’t know how much the two discussed diversity, but what a colorful cast of characters Chabot brought in to guide us through the story of robot science! The female/male ratio is fantastic, too. I love fair representation in science and books. Double kudos!
The main concept in this book is that robots can detect something in their environment and make autonomous decisions. The is shown over and over again as we travel through history and across the globe meeting inventors and enthusiasts along the way. Robots and drones are becoming an integral part of our society, and its never too early (or late) to learn about them. Highly recommend for people of all ages.
Amulet Series by Kazu Kibuishi
Awhile back, the first book in this series, The Stonekeeper, made my list of Heroines for Boys. Since then, this series has continued to be an exciting story about a young girl learning to harness untold power while trying not to be corrupted. The artwork is colorful and gorgeously detailed in a unique fantasy setting. The characters are complex, and the plotline moves fast.
In the first book we meet Emily, (around 12) who witnessed her father’s death in a car accident. Although her mother tries to keep life normal for her daughter and younger son, Navin (around 10), it is hard. They end up in an old relative’s house where Emily finds an odd amulet necklace. Soon after, their mother is sucked into another world by a monster, and the two children rush in to save her, ending up in the strange land of Alledia with evil elves, helpful robots, and talking animals. Emily finds out she is the heir to the amulet she wears and is necessary to save this land, naming her Stonekeeper. But she just wants to get her mother and brother back home.
The second book, The Stonekeeper’s Curse, gives us more insight into the elves, especially Prince Trellis, and how they are trying to take over all of Alledia. Meanwhile, Emily is trying to find the antidote to the poison killing her mother with the help of the pink bunny robot, Miskit, and the warrior fox, Leon Redbeard. Leon teaches her about the world she is in, and how to control her power. Meanwhile her brother, Navin, is meeting the underground resistance against the elves, who name him Commander as foretold by a prophetic tree.
The third book, The Cloud Searchers, takes our heroes into the skies on an airship called the Luna Moth with animal-cursed Captain Enzo and First Mate Rico. Navin, having just started to enjoy his new status on Alledia, gets a severe reversal:
“This young man is the Commander of the Resistance!”
“Is that so? Well, on this ship, you will be Commander of the Broom.”
They are on a quest for the lost city of Cielis and the Guardian Council, who they hope will help them. An elf assassin named Gabilan is after them with a device that can take away memories. Leon tells more of the history of Alledia to Emily so she can understand what’s at stake and why they need her help. He continues to train her with the magic of the Amulet, but she needs to learn control. “It is likely that it will not be your ability to attack, but to defend, that will be the key to victory.
Trust is a major theme. A former adversary becomes a tentative alley. “If you want me to trust you, then you need to start trusting me.” But the main problem is the doubts she has in herself. The voice of the Amulet comes to her in a dream and reveals her weaknesses. But loved ones believe in her, “If you can find the confidence to trust yourself, you can make it through any situation, no matter how bad things may seem.”
I enjoyed this installment as Kibuishi takes time to reveal a complex world and evolving characters. The art is always impressive, especially the large spreads of the cities they encounter. Prince Leskit reminds me of Prince Zukko, a favorite character of mine from The Last Airbender (complete with scar!) We’ll see how his arc develops.
The Last Council is the fourth book, where everyone has to figure out friends from foes. The city of Cielis is not what it once was and the party is split up, each finding out that something is greatly amiss. Emily is completely alone for the trials set up by the Guardians of the city. Max, her guide and fellow competitor is friendly enough, but she will have to use everything she’s learned so far to stay alive. The trials do not go as planned and Emily has to learn from failure.
Meanwhile, Cogsley and Miskit find two unexpected allies, one who explains even more about the history of the Stonekeepers, Council, and Silas (Emily’s great-grandfather). I especially liked Vigo’s priorities:
“We don’t have time for this!”
“There is always time for tea.”
At this point in the series I started to be suspicious about the male/female ratio. I get frustrated when an author makes a female main character and then populates the rest of the tale with men. So I counted. Kibuishi has made a good effort. There are 27% speaking female characters in this volume. Considering most children’s literature doesn’t have female characters AT ALL, let alone ones who have something to say, I’ll applaud our author. Keep it up!
Prince of Elves is the fifth installment and my favorite because there are major plot and character developments. Stonekeepers have the power to go in a place called the Void, which may or may not let them change the past. Max’s past and motivation is revealed. Trellis is given insight into the past of his ancestors and how to help in the present. (Can I visit Uncle Virgil? The library? The adorable sheep?) Navin has a new partner, Alyson, who passes on her father’s advice: “…imagine the kind of person I thought of as a hero – and be that person.” And Emily finally has to face the true enemy.
Kibuishi has some amazing artistic spreads here with the mountain giant and colossus. I wish I could see the art full size. He also makes all his characters have a reason for making evil decisions, so although we don’t agree with everyone, we can feel compassion.
“Sometimes, personal desires and ambitions can cloud the judgment of even our brightest minds.”
My niece is an avid fan of this series (she’s the one who encouraged me to catch up after reading the first book years ago). She COULD NOT WAIT for me to read the sixth book, her favorite, Escape From Lucien. I can see why; Kibuishi keeps the action and drama bursting through every page.
Navin and Emily have equally important trials, the brother with outward fights in flying fighting robots, and exploring secret cities plagued with demonic shadows that take over their victims, while the sister has more of an internal struggle going into the void with Max, who tests her with a new bargain. Both have allies who are becoming friends they learn from, work with, and protect. As we get to know more of these characters, we realize how damaging one person can be, in this case, the Elf King. Once he declared war on the other races, peaceful, coexistence on Alledria was impossible, with good elves being punished as much as the “enemy.”
I finally noticed in this book that Kibuishi changes the speech bubbles to reflect the speaker: smooth lines for most of the characters, boxier ones when they are speaking through a communicator, glowing waves for the Amulet, and jagged edges for the Elf King as a few examples. Other comics I’ve seen change the font to show different voices, but this runs the risk of making it harder to read. I like this artistic decision very much.
There is so much that happens in this installment; both Emily and Navin have to deal with being a leader and what that means. Often it’s learning from failure and making difficult decisions since, “…not making decisions can prove to be the worst decision of all.” Trellis’ arc finally makes a big turning point with him taking his place as a rightful leader as well. There is a amazing image of Max and his mountain giant on page 63 with simple colors and lines that tells his whole personality. And the underground city of Lucien spread is glowing.
But the adventure continues in book seven, Firelight. Finishing this book is so frustrating because I have to wait for the eighth one! (Fall 2018). This is by far the most exciting and heart-shaking story yet with an intense cliffhanger ending.
The arc of who are the bad guys continues to twist and turn. Yes, the Elf King is bad, but is he truly in control? The nation of elves and their history evolves throughout the series, and the ultimate purpose of the Stonekeepers does as well. In Firelight, the new Guardian Council finally learns their origin and Emily wonders if they were “chosen not for our strengths, but for our weaknesses.”
Navin has to improvise and earns his place as Commander, doing whatever it takes to get the job done, even becoming a waiter! He continues to meet new friends who are dedicated to saving the world of Alledia. Then an old enemy resurfaces, but is he truly the enemy?
Trellis finally is able to recall his stolen memories to give them the information they need, and in the end he becomes Emily’s only hope as she is lost. “Everything we have done seems to work to his advantage. At what point have we ever been in control?” Will remembering more of his past give him the advantage to save Emily as she once saved him?
I cannot imagine a better format to tell this story than a graphic novel. The expressions, mood, and action sequences are the best of visual storytelling. The submarine descent is ethereal. Till the next book comes out, my niece and I will be wondering what happens to all the characters in Amulet.