The Big Break by Mark Tatulli

There are some really great graphic novels for kids that focus on female friendships in middle school. Shannon Hale, Victoria Jamieson and Kristen Gudsnuk are among the best. There are few graphic novels for kids that focus on male friendships, but the best are those by Mark Tatulli. I loved his semi-autobiographical graphic novel, Short and Skinny, about his childhood years spent making a spoof movie of Star Wars. Mark is back again with The Big Break, a story about growing up, growing apart and monster hunting.

Andrew and Russ are best friends who are obsessed with finding the legendary Jersey Devil. They’ve been making a movie about it for ages but need to come up with an ending. Russ starts spending less time with Andrew and more time with a girl at their school called Tara. It seems like Russ has become a different person, someone who thinks that the things Andrew likes are too ‘babyish.’ Andrew really dislikes Tara and thinks she’s stealing his friend away. Suddenly their friendship that has always been so strong is falling apart. Then a bunch of Jersey Devil sightings are reported in their town and the boys are thrown back together again. They have to figure out how to mend their friendship if they’re to have a chance of finding the monster of their dreams.

The Big Break is a fantastic story about the ups and downs of friendship, full of humour and heart. It’s the kind of graphic novel that I wished I’d had as a kid. Friendship between boys is so different to friendship between girls but Mark shows you how complicated it can get, especially when there’s a girl involved.

There are three characters that I loved in this story – Miss Robbins the librarian, Andrew’s mum and Andrew’s action figure conscience General Dakkar. Andrew and Russ spend a lot of time in their local public library in the story and they have the coolest librarian, Miss Robbins. She really knows the kids who come into the library, so she knows what kind of books they really like. She’s also interested in local history and folklore so she comes in very handy for Andrew and Russ’ search for the Jersey Devil. Andrew’s Mum is just a really caring mum. She’s always talking with Andrew about what is going on in his life and making sure that she gets her hugs and kisses. Andrew’s conscience takes the shape of his version of a Jersey Devil and one of his action figures, General Dakkar. I love General Dakkar because he looks like this tough bad guy but he’s the voice in Andrew’s head that is freaking out and jumping to conclusions. I kind of imagined him shouting with Mr T’s voice.

I love Mark’s style of illustration, especially the way that his characters communicate non-verbally. Mark says so much just through body language or facial expressions of his characters. This makes Mark’s graphic novels especially great for neuro-diverse kids because they can pick up visual cues from the illustrations.

I can’t wait for the kids in my library to read this one because I know it’s going to be popular.

Hotel Flamingo: Fabulous Feast by Alex Milway

Anna and the team at Hotel Flamingo are back again in the latest book in the series, Fabulous Feast. This is one of my favourite series for younger readers so I always love returning to Hotel Flamingo. If you haven’t discovered this series yet here’s the gist of the series. A human girl, Anna, inherits the run-down Hotel Flamingo, and with a lot of hard work from her and her animal team, they turn it into one of the best hotels on Animal Boulevard.

In Fabulous Feast, Anna is trying to encourage more guests to come and stay at Hotel Flamingo after a long, quiet winter. Anna comes up with the idea of having a cooking contest at the hotel to find the best chef on Animal Boulevard. Anna and her team go out in search of chefs to enter the contest. Three chefs enter – Peston Crumbletart from The Fat Cat Restaurant, Toot-Toot from the Glitz Hotel and Le Pig from Hotel Flamingo. The competition is fierce but only one chef can come out on top.

Fabulous Feast is full of everything I love about the series – the chaos of a hotel, wonderful characters and animals of all sorts. As well as the busyness of preparing for the contest, Anna and her team have to deal with a crashed carrier pigeon, a couple of highland cows with a love of gourmet grass, and a coconut octopus with an urgent need for super-salty water.

Anna has a brilliant team who help the hotel to run smoothly. Lemmy the lemur manages the front desk, Stella the giraffe does the repairs and building work, T. Bear is the doorman, and Le Pig is the chef. They all go above and beyond the call of duty for the job they love and Anna can always rely on them.

One of my favourite aspects of the series is the way that Alex introduces readers to different types of animals and includes their unique characteristics. Anna and her team go out of their way to make sure the animals have what they need to make their stay comfortable. If otters come to stay the pool is specially prepared for them. If penguins come to stay ice is specially brought in. In this story the coconut octopus needs very briny water and Lemmy hunts down all the salt he can to add to the bath.

Book your stay at the 5-star Hotel Flamingo now.

Sparks! Double Dog Dare by Ian Boothby and Nina Matsumoto

Sparks! by Ian Boothby and Nina Matsumoto is one of the funniest graphic novels for kids. I recommend it to kids in my library all the time. When I saw that there was a sequel coming I was super excited and I’ve been counting down the days. When I opened a book delivery for my school library the other day it was on the top and I did a little squee of excitement. Double Dog Dare is everything I hoped it would be – silly, funny and action-packed.

Charlie and August are two cats keeping their city safe, dressed in the mechanical superhero dog suit known as Sparks. When there is a family trapped in a burning building, a twister heading for a bus full of children or a pizza truck that’s crashed into the ocean, Sparks is there to save the day. But when a second, evil Sparks shows up and starts causing trouble everyone blames the real Sparks. Who is this fake Sparks and what do they want? It’s up to Charlie and August to uncover the truth and prove that Sparks is a good boy.

Double Dog Dare is another hilarious, explosive adventure with Charlie and August. While we don’t have the alien baby overlord in this story there is a lot of action, with explosions, fire and fights. August’s inventions always make me laugh and I especially love the way he uses the most advanced laser beam in the world. Charlie loses his confidence when a new cat moves in across the road. This cat is polydactyl (meaning it has extra digits on its paws) and Charlie thinks that August wants to replace him. After all, a cat with thumbs could do some pretty awesome things in the Sparks suit. Charlie’s insecurity leads to us getting a flashback to his life before he met August.

The story and the illustrations feel bigger and bolder than the first book. I really love the action of Nina’s illustrations that flows really nicely from panel to panel. I want to give a special mention to David Dedrick, the colourist of this book. The colours are sharp and really make the illustrations jump off the page. There is a lot of action in the story and David’s colours make the action pop.

I highly recommend both Sparks books and they have the kid tick of approval too (the first book is hardly ever on the shelf in my library). I hope there will be more Spark books to look forward to.

Space Maps by Lara Albanese and Tommaso Vidus Rosin

The award for coolest nonfiction book of the year (and possibly the best book about space for kids EVER) goes to Space Maps by Lara Albanese and Tommaso Vidus Rosin. Its combination of bite-sized facts, stunning design and illustrations and sheer size make this a winning nonfiction book. It’s a book that every space fan, young or old, needs to have on their home bookshelf.

Starting with what we can see with our eyes (the stars and constellations) and moving further out to the planets we know, and then to beyond our solar system, readers journey throughout the universe. We see the planets in new ways, with maps showing us the craters, chasmas and seas and giving us interesting tidbits of information to astound our friends and family. The Selenean Summit, for instance, is the highest point on the moon and is higher than Mount Everest. Each planet has an identity card with fast facts about each one, including average temperature (-63 degrees Celsius for Mars) and number of moons (79 for Jupiter). We also learn about the observatories that help us look in to space and the things that help humans survive in space, including spacesuits and the International Space Station.

Space Maps is a book to treasure and pore over again and again. It’s a book that is beautifully produced, with strong binding, thick paper and a hard cover, meaning it will stand up to repeat reading in a home, school or public library. The large format of the book makes this a great book for sharing, spreading it out on a table or the floor to soak up the information and illustrations. Like any good nonfiction book there is a contents, glossary and a detailed index.

Tommaso Vidus Rosin’s illustrations are absolutely stunning! His maps of the planets are really detailed and the colours swirl and glow. I love how some of the pages really do seem to glow, like the map of the sun. You can tell that he has spent a lot of time studying images of the planets in order to create his images.

Get to your bookshop or library now and get a copy of this wonderful book.

S. Tinker Inc. series by James Foley

James Foley’s S. Tinker Inc. graphic novels are some of the funniest books I’ve read. I read and reviewed the first book in the series, Brobot, here on the blog when it was released in 2016 and it’s been really popular in my library. I’ve missed the last couple of books in the series but I wanted to read them before the 4th book, Chickensaurus, is released in September. I can’t believe I waited so long to read them because I’ve spent the last couple of nights laughing out loud at the misadventures of Sally, Charli, and Joe.

Sally Tinker – the world’s foremost inventor under the age of twelve – invents all sorts of devices. In Brobot, Sally creates a robot brother to take the place of her annoying, stinky baby brother, Joe.

In Dungzilla, Sally creates a Resizenator that could solve many of the world’s problems. However, a test run of the device ends in a dung beetle being embiggenated and terrorising her town with a giant dung ball. They’re going to need a giant solution to a giant problem.

Gastronauts sees Sally taking her Resizenator technology to the next level. She has created a smartCHIP that she plans to shrink and then drink so she will become the ‘smartest human who’s ever lived.’ Unfortunately, her annoying brother Joe drinks it first. Sally must shrink herself, Charli and a submarine and travel into Joe’s body to stop the smartCHIP attaching itself to Joe’s most powerful organ. If they don’t make it, the consequences could be disastrous!

These books are absolutely hilarious! James has great comedic timing and a lot of the funniest moments in the stories come from the visual gags. It’s often the characters’ facial expressions that make me laugh. Sally is always so proud of her inventions and so optimistic but you always know that something is going to go wrong. I love the way that Sally talks to the reader but none of the other characters know it’s happening (Charli keeps asking who Sally is talking to).

Joe is the funniest character in the series, even though he says nothing. Often he is just doing something in the background or wandering past with a toxic cloud coming from his nappy. In Gastronauts, Joe’s stink becomes multiplied and these scenes had me cackling with laughter. Sometimes fart jokes can get a bit over-the-top in kids books but James does it well. My other favourite character in the series is Sally’s Nan. She seems to just take everything in her stride and isn’t surprised when Sally’s inventions malfunction and she needs her help.

One of my favourite scenes from Gastronauts.

I can’t recommend the S. Tinker Inc graphic novels highly enough. They’re the same kind of format to Aaron Blabey’s The Bad Guys and Gavin Aung Than’s Super Sidekicks so they’re a great readalike for those series. Confident readers will love them but they are great to hook those kids who ‘don’t like reading.’ They will be an invaluable addition to your graphic novel collection. Check out the book trailer for Dungzilla below to tempt your readers. I can’t wait to get my hands on the fourth book, Chickensaurus.

Monty’s Island series by Emily Rodda and Lucinda Gifford

After publishing dozens of books it is safe to say that Emily Rodda knows her audience. She has written for all ages and across different genres. Her latest series, Monty’s Island, is aimed at younger readers and it is so much fun. It will have kids wishing they lived on the island with Monty and his friends.

There are two books in the series so far with more to come. Scary Mary and the Stripe Spell introduces us to Monty and the cast of characters who live on Monty’s Island. There is Tawny the lion, Bunchy the elephant who likes magic, Sir Wise the owl, Clink the pirate parrot, Marigold the human and owner of the Island Cafe, and of course Monty. Their life on the island is peaceful. Monty’s days are filled with scavenging treasures from the beach and joining his friends at the Cafe. One day The Laughing Traveller warns Monty that the terrible pirate Scary Mary is on her way to their island. Bunchy’s magic and a mysterious magic wand combine to cause some trouble so it’s up to Monty and his friends to put things right and try and trick Scary Mary.

The second book in the series, Beady Bold and the Yum-Yams, has just been released, and it’s another brilliantly funny adventure. It’s Bring-and-Buy Day, that exciting time when Monty and his friends meet Trader Jolly to get the supplies they need. However, it’s not Jolly that arrives, but Beady Bold. Beady is tricky and sneaky and suddenly Bring-and-Buy Day is no fun anymore. Beady brings the Yum-Yams, a mysterious plant that creates havoc. Luckily Monty and his friends come up with a plan to deal with the Yum-Yams and Beady Bold.

With the Monty’s Island series Emily Rodda and Lucinda Gifford have created stories that hook readers with adventure, humour and a wonderful cast of characters. They’re stories that are perfect for newly independent readers to read themselves or to read aloud to 5-8 year olds. I’ll be recommending them as a read aloud for my Year 1-3 teachers as they’ll grab the kids straight away and have them begging for the next chapter. Kids will have favourite characters (I really love Bunchy) and will want to read more of their adventures throughout the series. The stories are illustrated inside and out by Lucinda Gifford whose illustrations are the perfect match for Emily’s stories and make the characters come to life. A lot of thought has gone in to the design of the series too, with bright, fun covers that will jump off the shelves.

The Allen and Unwin website also features some cool printable activities to tie in with the book, including some colouring sheets, and there are videos of both Emily Rodda and Lucinda Gifford reading the books.

Monty’s Island is my favourite new series for younger readers and I can’t wait for more adventures with Monty and his friends.

Peter & Ernesto: Sloths in the Night by Graham Annable

Who doesn’t like sloths? Sure, they’re slow but also adorable. I love sloths, so when I came across Graham Annable’s Peter & Ernesto a couple of years ago I knew I would love it. Peter and Ernesto are best friends but they’re completely different. Peter loves their tree and never wants to leave, but Ernesto loves the sky and wants to see more of it from every place on Earth. Since their first adventure Ernesto has been dragging Peter along wherever he goes. Sloths in the Night is their latest adventure and it’s brilliant.

Peter and Ernesto are hanging out in their tree one day with their sloth friends when one of them, Bernard, goes missing. They’ve heard that there is a dragon at the old temple by the river and think that maybe Bernard has gone to check it out. They leave the safety of their tree in search of Bernard and the dragon, meeting friends and foes along the way, and doing things they never thought they would.

This series gets better and better. It’s such a fun read that’s full of laughs. I love that Peter is coming out of his shell a bit more with each new book. Sure, he still seems a bit anxious and afraid to try new things, but there are also a couple of times in this story where he’s quite brave.

Graham’s simple but expressive illustrations and sparse text make this series perfect for younger readers. Older readers will love them too though, especially for the humour. First Second (one of my favourite graphic novel publishers) has put a lot of thought into the production of these books too. They’re hardcover, with quality paper and binding, and the endpapers are very cool.

Grab Sloths in the Night and the other Peter & Ernesto graphic novels for the young reader in your life (you just might find you enjoy them just as much as they do). They are a must-buy for school libraries.

Across the Risen Sea by Bren MacDibble

A new book by Bren MacDibble is a cause for celebration. Each of her books are unique but you always know it is going to be a story that will keep you on the edge of your seat. You also know that you are going to meet kids who are trying to get by in an environment that has been dramatically altered by human neglect. Pollution has caused the bees to die off or noxious weeds have spread causing crops to die. In Bren’s latest book, Across the Risen Sea, sea levels have risen hugely, sending cities under water and humans scrambling for hills and mountains that are now islands.

Neoma and Jag live in a small community on what was once the high ground and that is now their island. They live a gentle life, taking little from the land and scavenging what they need from things that remain of the old world. The risen sea provides them with fish and tinned food can be found in the wrecks of skyscrapers. Their peaceful existence is shattered when strangers from the Valley of the Sun arrive one day, installing a strange electrical device on the hill. Soon Neoma and Jag find themselves caught up in secrets and lies and Jag gets taken away as punishment. Neoma knows that it is up to her to rescue Jag and find the truth that will save her village.

Across the Risen Sea is a captivating adventure story set in a version of our world that is scarily possible. It’s a story of survival against the odds, of justice, of friendship and family. It’s also a mystery, as you try to figure out who the Valley of the Sun are and what their technology does.

While not explicitly stating it, Bren shows us what our world could become if global warming carries on its current course. In her story, massive storms have destroyed cities and the sea levels have risen to cover them, leaving only the higher ground for people to live on. Technology still exists but on a much smaller scale, and is often scavenged from what is left of the old world. Neoma’s little corner of the world is relatively peaceful, with small communities living on the surrounding islands, but the existence of the Valley of the Sun shows us that there are other communities that exist.

One of the things I love most about Bren’s stories is that she shows how strong and resilient kids are in the face of terrible circumstances. Neoma sees injustice in what happens to her friends and family so she sets out to make it right. She has grown up on her island so knows how to survive but she is out of her depth when she sets out to rescue Jag. She faces a cranky crocodile, a massive (and very hungry) shark, an angry pirate and the Valley of the Sun. Even after she has faced huge challenges she is still determined to find the truth and save her village.

I have loved each of Bren’s stories and can’t recommend them highly enough. Across the Risen Sea would make both a great read aloud and a novel study for Years 7-9.

The Weirn Books 1: Be Wary of the Silent Woods by Svetlana Chmakova

Svetlana Chmakova’s Berrybrook Middle School graphic novel series (Awkward, Crush, and Brave) have been some of the most popular graphic novels in my school library. Her characters and the awkward situations they find themselves in at middle school are really relatable for kids. Svetlana’s latest book, Be Wary of the Silent Woods, is the first in her new series, The Weirn Books, and it’s scarily good.

Ailis and Na’ya live in a small, sleepy town called Laitham. It’s home to humans and human-passing night things – vampires, shapeshifters, mermaids and weirns. Ailis and Na’ya are weirns, witches born with a demon guardian spirit (called an astral) bound to them for life. The girls go to school at night and have classes on things like Astral Training and Alchemistry. Like any school there are bullies and detention, but also crystal caves and fireproof walls. While searching for a book in her grandma’s attic, Ailis uncovers a family secret. A shadow starts looming in the Silent Woods, a classmate starts acting weird and then Na’ya’s little brother D’esh disappears. Ailis and Na’ya realise they must face their fears and confront the secrets of the mansion in the Silent Woods.

Be Wary of the Silent Woods is an action-packed start to this awesome series that delivers frights and fun. It has the humour that I love from the Berrybrook series mixed with this cool supernatural world. Svetlana uses lots of onomatopoeia so there are some great panels that are taken over by sounds, like screaming or rain pouring down. She doesn’t let the panels limit the story either, with action and speech bubbles breaking out of their panels. Svetlana’s colour palette is muted but never dull.

One of my favourite aspects of Svetlana’s books is that her characters are so expressive and this book is no exception. Ailis and Na’ya’s go through lots of different emotions in the story but it’s always clear from their faces how they’re feeling.

Be Wary of the Silent Woods is out now and I’m already looking forward to book 2. Get this for fans of the Berrybrook Middle School trilogy or kids who like a spooky adventure story.

Stephen McCranie’s Space Boy series

If you’re looking for a great graphic novel series for Year 6 and up then look no further than Space Boy by Stephen McCranie.

Space Boy follows Amy, a teenage girl who has to get used to life on Earth after years in deep space. After her father loses his job on a mining colony in deep space, Amy and her family must be cryogenically frozen for 30 years and travel back to Earth to start a new life. When she reaches Earth her best friend is now 30 years older, gravity feels different, technology is weird and the other kids seem strange. To Amy, everyone has a flavour – her dad is hot chocolate, her mum is mint – but a quiet boy that she meets at her new school has no flavour and Amy finds herself drawn to him.

This mysterious boy and trying to figure out his story is what frames the series. In each book we learn a little more about him. Is he an alien? Is he a robot? Is he something completely different? I’ve just read Book 7 and I have my theories but I don’t know for sure quite yet. It feels like the answers are not far away though and Book 8 is due out in October. The story started out as a webcomic and I could read ahead at webtoons.com but I prefer to read the physical book.

The characters are teenagers and some of them are in relationships but the content is appropriate for Year 6 and up (ages 10+). The illustrations are simple and the text is sparse so they’re a quick read. Each book has a different character on the front cover as each one focuses a bit more on that character (like their relationships or their back story).

This is a particularly good series to add to your graphic novel collection if your readers don’t like waiting for the next one in the series. There are currently 7 volumes published with more to come.