Dungeon Critters by Natalie Riess and Sara Goetter

I’m a huge fan of First Second, as they publish some of the best graphic novels for kids. My favourite kids graphic novel, Jen Wang’s The Prince and the Dressmaker, is published by them, as well as Best Friends and Real Friends by Shannon Hale and LeUyen Pham. I ordered Dungeon Critters, by Natalie Riess and Sara Goetter, for my school library just because it sounded fun and the cover looked cool. After reading it though, I can say it’s so much more than that. In fact, it almost knocks The Prince and the Dressmaker off its top spot, it’s that great.

The Dungeon Critters are a tight-knit gang of animals who go on adventures together. There’s Juniper (or June) the dog, Rose the cat, Prince Chirp the frog and Goro the snake. Between them they have magic, brute strength and cunning to help them fight for what’s right. After defeating a necromancer, an invitation discovered in his belongings leads the Dungeon Critters to The Baron’s ball. The Baron is Prince Chirp’s life-long arch nemesis and Chirp knows that he is up to no good. The gang decide to crash the party and look for clues. With their fancy disguises and fake identities they go to the ball, but Juniper gets mistaken for royalty. She keeps The Baron distracted while the rest of the gang search The Baron’s mansion. With proof in hand that The Baron is up to something, and The Baron’s mansion in flames, the gang head off in search of answers. Just as they start to get some answers, Prince Chirp is summoned back to the palace for ‘The Event’ that his parents are hosting. While at the palace disaster strikes and Juniper is arrested and put on trial. Friendships are tested as members of the Dungeon Critters find themselves on opposite sides of the trial. It is then up to their friends to uncover the truth and help their friends when they need it the most.

I absolutely adore Dungeon Critters! Everything about it is wonderful, from the story and the characters to the humour and the artwork. Everything gels together perfectly to make a graphic novel that is hilarious, action-packed, super-sweet and full of diverse characters. You can tell, even before reading about their process at the back of the book, that Natalie and Sara worked closely together to combine their storytelling talents to create this book. The story flows really nicely throughout the book, as does the artwork. I laughed so hard while reading this book! Natalie and Sara’s comedic timing is spot-on and there are puns galore.

I loved every one of the characters, whether they were the heroes or the villains. They all have a lot of depth to them and history that is revealed throughout the story. Rose and Juniper obviously have some history together (as you can see from the first part of the story) and you discover more about their relationship as the story progresses. There is a fierce rivalry between Prince Chirp and The Baron and its fun to watch this play out. The standout character for me is Goro. He is a gentle giant who is always there when the gang need him, but he’s sensitive too. I loved learning more about him and his boyfriend, Horseboy. I laughed so hard though when the gang’s stuff gets stolen and Goro has to borrow a teeny, tiny shirt.

The artwork is completely stunning, from the character designs and the colouring, to the way that the story flows on the page. Every character, from the main ones to the minor ones (who might appear just once) has its own personality. They’re all really expressive too, so it’s easy to tell their emotions and intentions. The colouring also helps to set the tone and highlight emotions. I like the way that the colours used help to draw your eye in a particular direction, especially when there is a lot happening on a page. Another thing I really like about the colouring is the way that light has been used to throw shadows on faces, whether that is to show villainous intent or determination.

It is the layout of the artwork and the flow from one panel to the next that really makes this graphic novel stand out for me. Natalie and Sara use lots of different layouts throughout the book and your eye is drawn to different parts of the page each time you turn the page. Some spreads have a background image, with lots of smaller panels layered over the top. Another spread might have one thread of the story happening in the background of the page, with another thread of the story playing out in panels down the side. One of my favourite sections of artwork is when Rose and Chirp are setting off the booby traps under The Baron’s mansion. Chirp effortlessly jumps and dives through the lasers, while Rose (being a cat) sees the lasers and tries to pounce on them.

I seriously love Dungeon Critters! I hope Natalie and Sara have more ideas up their sleeves because I need more of the Dungeon Critters in my life. I think I would probably read anything that Natalie and Sara create together.

Dungeon Critters is great for ages 9+ and would be a great addition to a primary, intermediate or high school library. It’s also a must read for any adult who enjoys a graphic novel with magical adventures and a whole lot of laughs.

Crater Lake: Evolution by Jennifer Killick

I love a good sci-fi book for kids and Jennifer Killick’s Crater Lake is one of the best. I read it during lockdown here in NZ last year and it was the perfect book to get lost in during that time. It was a book that gripped me right from the start and I didn’t notice time passing around me while I read it. If you haven’t read it already you absolutely should and you can read about it here in my review. It is such a great book that I was super excited to hear there was going to be a sequel. Crater Lake: Evolution is coming in May and I was lucky enough to read it early through NetGalley, thanks to Firefly Books. You need to add this book to your TBR pile (along with the first book) because you’re not going to want to miss it!

Crater Lake: Evolution follows on several months after the events of the first book. Lance and his friends have started at different high schools and they have drifted apart. Lance has become friends with Karim and Chets is jealous of their friendship. Karim’s mum works at the university for XGen, which is giving their town renewable energy and super-fast Wi-Fi. Their town is the first SMARTtown in the country. Just when Lance thinks that life is back to normal, an explosion at the university sees the forces from Crater Lake taking hold in his town. These aren’t the same forces as before though. They have evolved into something more dangerous. Lance has to try and get the gang back together again, to work through their differences and save their families themselves. If they don’t stop the evil force’s plans in their town, the rest of the world will be next.

Crater Lake: Evolution is a thrilling, nail-biting sequel that I devoured. I thought Crater Lake was an amazing story but Evolution is even better! The action is fast-paced and there were times I found myself holding my breath as I wasn’t sure how the characters were going to get through. Chapter 13 is one of the most terrifying scenes I’ve read in a children’s book! I can’t spoil what happens but it sent chills down my spine. It is incredibly creepy but such fantastic writing, and it keeps you on the edge of your seat. It’s the sort of book that I guarantee would capture a whole class of Year 7/8 students because it’s so gripping.

Many of the characters from the first book are back in this book but there is a completely different dynamic. The characters have made new friends but some have also felt the pressure to be a different person at high school. I really liked the way that Jennifer developed the characters but also how she threw them together so that they had to deal with their issues and talk about their emotions. The interactions between the characters adds some comic relief into the story, with some good jokes at the expense of some of the least likeable characters.

The ending is particularly satisfying and it feels like things are wrapped up nicely. But are they? If I know anything from reading Crater Lake it’s that there is always the possibility that there are loose ends that haven’t been completely dealt with. I would certainly like more adventures with the Crater Lake Crew.

If you’re looking for a perfect read aloud to start the school year for Years 6-8, I highly recommend the first book in the series, Crater Lake. It’s a nice alternative to Holes but with a similar sense of mystery and great character development.

The InvestiGators series by John Patrick Green

A question that I get almost every day in my school library is ‘Are there any Dog Man books here?’ 95% of the time the answer to that question is no because they’re always on loan. When I get this question I like to have another book or two up my sleeve to recommend and my go-to books now are the InvestiGators series by John Patrick Green. They’re the same format, about the same length, with appealing illustrations and laughs galore.

The InvestiGators are Mango and Brash, two wise-cracking alligators who work for S.U.I.T. (Special Undercover Investigation Teams). Armed with their V.E.S.T. (Very Important Spy Technology) they fight crime and protect their city from evil-doers. In their first case together they must solve the case of the missing chef, Mustachio, and find out who caused the explosion at the Science Factory. In their second mission, Take the Plunge, Mango and Brash stop a rocket from causing destruction but unwittingly transmit a code that will create havoc all over town. Mango and Brash get sent into the sewers, undercover, to retrieve another S.U.I.T. agent and capture Crackerdile. When things don’t go to plan though, Mango and Brash are relieved of their duty and replaced by the B Team. They must prove that the A team is the best and solve the case of the Robot Genie before it’s too late.

This series is absolutely hilarious and I can’t get enough of Mango and Brash! With their bright illustrations, action-packed story, silly antics and laughs galore these books are perfect for young readers, but also equally entertaining for older kids and adults. The story is bursting with puns that had me laughing out loud and there are some jokes just for the adults (like the reference to the Aisle of Dr Morrow in Take the Plunge).

Kids will love the characters, especially Mango and Brash, and will be desperate to get their hands on their next adventure. As well as Mango and Brash there are other characters who keep popping up in each book, like their nemesis (and former S.U.I.T. agent) Crackerdile. My favourite character though is Doctor Copter. Dr. Jake Hardbones, a mild-mannered brain surgeon, was bitten by a rabid helicopter and now, whenever he sees something newsworthy he transforms into the Action News Now helicopter in the sky. It cracks me up every time I see him!

There’s a fun cameo in Take the Plunge too. If you’ve read John Patrick Green’s Kitten Construction Company (brilliant series!) you’ll spot Marmalade and her crew in the illustrations.

InvestiGators and InvestiGators: Take the Plunge are must-haves for all primary and intermediate school libraries. They are perfect for fans of Dog Man and Bad Guys or kids who just want a really funny book. Book 3 is out early in 2021 and I can’t wait to see what Mango and Brash get up to next.

Nico Bravo and the Cellar Dwellers by Mike Cavallaro

Mike Cavallaro’s Nico Bravo and the Hound of Hades was one of my favourite children’s graphic novels of 2019 and I constantly recommend it to kids. It’s the perfect blend of action, mythology and laughs that makes it one of the most entertaining graphic novels (for both kids and adults). Mike has just unleashed Nico’s second adventure, Nico Bravo and the Cellar Dwellers, and it is just as great as the first book.

Nico lives with his adopted father, Vulcan, the god of fire and the forge, who runs Vulcan’s Celestial Supply Shop. Nico works in the shop with his friends and colleagues, a sphinx named Lula, and a unicorn named Buck. They supply gods and monsters with anything they might need, from potions to weapons. Nico is dreading the annual visit of Abonsam (or Sam for short), the West African God of Misfortune and Pestilence. Sam carries his afflictions around with him in a “pouch of miseries.” Nico’s enemy, Ahriman, God of Evil, is sick of Nico thwarting his plans, so he sends a shapeshifter named Orcus to Vulcan’s Celestial Supply Shop on a mission to take down his enemies. Orcus mistakenly unleashes a Misery from Sam’s pouch and sets a case of nightmares loose. The situation quickly goes from bad to worse and Ahriman unleashes his forces on the island, threatening to destroy the Supply Shop. Nico and his friends will travel through dimensions and to the centre of the earth before their final showdown with Ahriman.

Nico Bravo and the Cellar Dwellers is a hilarious, action-packed adventure, chock-full with mythical creatures and gods. There is alot of story packed into just under 200 pages and different threads of the story to follow that all come crashing together at the end. Nico, Buck, Lula and Eowolf are back again, along with some other familiar characters, but also plenty of new ones. I especially liked the juxtaposition of Sam, being the God of Misfortune and Pestilence but wearing a bright Hawaiian shirt.

One of my favourite things about this series is the humour. There were lots of parts that made me laugh out loud. Mike has got great comedic timing and is really good at visual gags. Ahriman lasering anyone he isn’t pleased with is a running gag that I really enjoyed. Eowolf’s sword, Roger, is one of my favourite characters and has some of the best lines.

Mike’s illustrations are brilliant and the story really gives him a chance to showcase his talent for illustrating all sorts of fantastical creatures and landscapes. The colours are vibrant and really burst off the page. One of the little features of the illustrations in these books that I love is the ‘Vulcan’s Deck of Deities’ profile cards that Mike includes for new and important characters. They give you background information about the gods, with fun facts. I’d love to have these as actual playing cards that you could use for a game.

The Nico Bravo series is perfect for any kids who want a graphic novel with action, adventure or just a really funny story. They’re great to recommend to kids who like stories like Percy Jackson or who are mad on mythology. It’s great to see that there is more Nico Bravo to look forward to.

Charlie Tangaroa and the Creature from the Sea by Tania Roxborogh

Kids love reading about myths and legends. Greek myths and legends are always popular with kids and authors like Rick Riordan have hooked kids on mythology. Tamariki in Aotearoa grow up reading and hearing stories of Māori mythology, but you’ve never seen them like this before. T. K. Roxborogh has just released her latest book with Huia, Charlie Tangaroa and the Creature from the Sea, that brings the Māori gods to life. I’m certain that this book will do the same for Māori mythology as Percy Jackson did for Greek mythology. You’ll want to clear a few hours though because once you start Charlie Tangaroa you won’t want to stop.

Charlie has grown up not knowing much about his father who disappeared at sea when he was younger. He does know that he feels at home in water though. He lives with his mum, his brother and his grandfather in Tolaga Bay. While exploring the beach one day Charlie and Robbie find what they believe is a mermaid. They rescue her and take her home, and Charlie discovers that he can communicate with her. Pō-nuia is a ponaturi, a sea goblin, who is trying to flee from Tangaroa’s domain, the sea. Pō-nuia tells Charlie that he is special and that his missing leg is a sign. Tangaroa doesn’t care about this though. He just wants revenge on Tāne for the careless actions of humans who pollute his domain. He will send Rūaumoko with earthquakes and Tāwhirimātea with winds, rain and hail to punish Tāne and his people. It’s up to Charlie, with the help of Robbie and Jenny, to make the gods see sense and end their squabble before it’s too late.

Charlie Tangaroa and the Creature from the Sea is an action-packed adventure story that had me hooked from the first page. This is quite simply one of the best Kiwi children’s stories set in New Zealand. Personally, this is now my favourite New Zealand fiction book for kids. It is such a fantastic read that I read the whole thing in a day and was reluctant to put it down to spend time with my family.

Tania’s writing is superb and she sweeps you up in the story straight away. You can feel the tension in the air and the sense of impending doom, so you just need to keep reading to find out what happens. Charlie’s voice is so authentic. He feels like your best friend talking to you and telling you the story. Charlie has a disability but he doesn’t let this rule his life. He is thrown into the middle of this fight between the gods but is determined to make things right. All of the characters are nicely developed, from Charlie’s brother, Robbie, to their new friend Jenny, and their grandfather. Tania has also woven an environmental theme through the story, with Tangaroa being angry because of the way humans pollute his domain. Charlie and Robbie regularly try to clean up the beach but there’s also mention of whales being washed up and dying because of the plastic inside them. Jenny’s father is over from America checking up on the new port that is being built and the characters talk about the affect on the oceans being just as much from logging and transporting the logs as an oil spill.

The book has a real New Zealand feel to it, from the landscape of Tolaga Bay that Tania conjures up in your head, to the wildlife that inhabit the domains of Tāne and Tangaroa, and the Te Reo Māori and Te Ao Māori that is an integral part of the story. Te Reo Māori is used throughout the story in such a way that those with a basic knowledge of the language will recognise some words but also learn new words. Waiata play an important role in the story and Charlie’s grandfather has taught them to him since he was very young. Māori gods wreak havoc in the story, with Tāne, Tangaroa and Tāwhirimātea going head to head. I really liked the way that the gods manifest in the story, using the aspects of their domains (birds or the ocean) to show their physical form.

Phoebe Morris’ cover is stunning and really draws you in. I’m a huge fan of Phoebe’s illustrations and they are such a perfect fit with the story. I have to admit to not even noticing Charlie’s leg until it was mentioned part way into the story.

I implore everyone to read this book! I will be recommending it to everyone and encouraging both kids and teachers to read it. It would be a perfect read aloud for Years 6-8 because it would hook every kid. Thank you Tania for writing this story and to Huia for publishing it. We need more stories like this for our tamariki.

Red Edge by Des Hunt

I’ve only read a handful of books set in my home town of Christchurch. James Norcliffe’s Under the Rotunda was read to me at primary school and it stuck with me because I recognised the places that the characters went to. Recent kids books set here have focused on our earthquakes, including the wonderful Canterbury Quake by my good friend and fellow school librarian, Desna Wallace. Des Hunt’s latest book, Red Edge, has just been released and this story is set in Christchurch in the present day, a decade since the earthquakes. Red Edge really resonated with me and it feels like one of Des’ best books yet.

Cassi Whelan has just moved to a new house, close to the Red Zone in Christchurch, the area of cleared land that was once full of houses and streets. Cassi has moved houses eight times since the September 2010 earthquakes but she’s hoping this will be the last time. She lives next door to an abandoned house that is known as the Haunted House. However, with the help of her new friend and neighbour, Quinn, they discover that it’s not ghosts they should be worried about. Dodgy people are visiting the garage next door, there are wetas crawling around in there and large amounts of money appear in the letterbox. Cassi and Quinn know that something illegal is going on and they’re going to find out the truth. When they do discover what is happening they know it is up to them to stop it and bring the criminals to justice.

Red Edge had me on the edge of my seat the whole way through and I couldn’t stop until I knew how it all ended. Des Hunt really knows how to tell a story that draws you in immediately and keeps you furiously turning the pages. It’s fast-paced and some parts are quite nail-biting, especially in the second half of the book. Des makes you worry for his characters and hope that they can bring the bad guys down.

As someone who has lived in Christchurch my whole life I thought Des really knew my city. He doesn’t live here but it feels like he has driven the streets and knows the layout. He has clearly done his research. He has captured what it is like to live in this city and how years of earthquakes have affected us all. I’ve lived in the area where much of the story is set so I could picture everything so clearly.

The characters felt very real, from Cassi and Quinn to Lou and Raven. Cassi and Quinn are kids who were quite young at the time of the first earthquakes but it’s clear to see how they have affected their lives. Both Quinn and Cassi share their experiences of the September and February earthquakes and this part of the story made me choke up because their stories felt so real. Cassi prefers to be out in the open, running through the Red Zone because she knows that nothing can really fall on her if there is another big quake. She also sleepwalks which Quinn thinks might be tied to her cat running away during the earthquakes. Quinn is the target of vicious cyber bullying and the affect of this shows in his character. He is initially untrusting of Cassi, especially when it comes to her needing to text or call him. One of the girls at school has previously sent horrible texts to him and this starts up again after an incident at school. The adult characters in the story are wonderful too, especially Jim Maclean the ex-reporter, and Matiu the tow-trucker driver, who made me laugh every time. Des Hunt writes great villains and Lou and Raven are no exception. They’re nasty and sneaky and prepared to do anything to get their way.

Red Edge would make a fantastic read aloud for Years 7-9. It is a story that hooks readers straight away and keeps the tension high. This is New Zealand fiction for kids at its very best!

Canyon’s Edge by Dusti Bowling

Dusti Bowling just gets better and better. Each of her books have been totally different but they’re all completely gripping. 24 Hours in Nowhere used to be my favourite of hers but Dusti’s new book, The Canyon’s Edge, has blown the others out of the water. You will need to have a spare few hours to read this in one go because you won’t want to put it down!

Eleanor and her father are emotionally scarred from a shooting that occurred a year ago, taking her mother’s life. Eleanor and her father have been hiding away from the world and have not been able to move on. As a family they spent a lot of time in the desert and were experienced climbers. A year after the incident Eleanor and her father leave civilisation to trek a canyon in the middle of the desert. Things start fine but a flash flood in the canyon leaves Eleanor scrambling to escape the waters and her father washed away. Scraped, bruised and with no supplies Eleanor must brave the heat, the plants and wildlife of the canyon to try and find her father and get out alive.

I read an early copy of Canyon’s Edge back in lockdown (thanks to Edelweiss+) but it’s a story that I keep coming back to. I know this will be one of my top books of 2020. This is Dusti’s first novel in verse (although it does start and finish as a traditional novel) and she absolutely nails it. I love verse novels because of the emotional power of this storytelling and Dusti’s story is perfectly suited for verse. The story is raw, gut-wrenching but ultimately full of hope. I devoured this book because I needed to know that Eleanor was going to be alright. Like Eleanor dying for water I was dying to get back to the story when I had to put it down. It is the kind of story that will grab all kids and I know it will make a fantastic read aloud for Years 7-9 (11-13 year olds). Eleanor faces so many challenges, and just when you think things can’t get any worse they do.

If you haven’t discovered Dusti Bowling you need to read all of her other books before this releases in September.

The Rise of the Remarkables: Brasswitch and Bot by Gareth Ward

This book is AMAZING! There is something for everyone – mystery, adventure, action, magic, ingenious machines, powers being used for good and evil, witty dialogue and curious characters. The fantastic cover (illustrated by Bex Bloomfield) alone is enough to draw you in and from the first page I was hooked on Brasswitch and Bot. Gareth drops you straight in to the action and gives you a taste of his world. Once you get a taste you just want more. This is a world of clockwork, machines and science but also a world tainted by power from another dimension. There are those with powers and abilities who live in the shadows and those who hunt them down.

When The Rupture occurred, monsters tore through into the world from another dimension, leaving many people with altered physical features and strange powers. Wrench is a Brasswitch, an ‘abberation’ who can control machines with her mind. After her parents died in a train crash when she was younger she tried to keep her abilities hidden away. Her abilities are discovered and she is taken by the ruthless Regulator, Flemington. When the mechanoid, Bot, rescues her, Wrench finds herself helping the Regulators to stop the rise of the abberations and the end of the world as they know it.

Brasswitch and Bot has shades of Hellboy and Skulduggery Pleasant. The abberations are being hunted down with the help of abberations, much like Hellboy, Abe Sapien and the B.P.R.D. The relationship between Wrench and Bot reminds me of Skulduggery and Stephanie’s relationship in the early Skulduggery books. The relationship and the banter between Wrench and Bot was one of my favourite aspects of this book. I really want to see more of these two taking on the bad guys together. I would also highly recommend this series for fans of Jessica Townsend’s Nevermoor series. Like Jessica, Gareth’s world-building and characters draw you in and you don’t want the story to end.

There is so much depth to the characters and you know there is more to discover about them. Bot is quite mysterious and secretive. You learn a little about him in this book but I want to know more about him and his history. Likewise, you get to know Wrench but she has more to learn about her powers and her past.

Gareth’s world-building is masterful. He gives us little details about this steampunk version of York throughout the story and gives us the details of the history of the Rupture. I really loved some of the little details of the world, like the Scotch dog (a mechanical creature that is made up of a giant set of bagpipes on legs) and G-mail (mail that is delivered by greyhounds).

Gareth’s dialogue is witty and there were lots of moments that made me chuckle. There are lots of TLAs (Three Letter Abbreviations) used by the Regulators but my favourite is BBG (the Bloody Big Guns that come out when the situation gets serious).

I need book 2 right now! This is a series that will have me eagerly awaiting the next instalment and lining up like a Harry Potter fan to get my hands on it. Get to your bookstore or library and get The Rise of the Remarkables: Brasswitch and Bot now.

Pizazz by Sophy Henn

If you could have a superpower what would you choose? Laser eyes? Invisibility? Ice breath? Pizazz wishes she had a superpower that exciting but hers is just rubbish (or so she thinks). Sophy Henn introduces us to Pizazz and her super family in the first book in her new series.

Pizazz is a superhero in a family of superheroes. You would think that her life would be pretty awesome but, most of the time, Pizazz thinks it is super annoying. She has to wear the same outfit all the time and she has to keep dashing off to save the world, even if she’s in the middle of something important. Her friends used to understand how chaotic her life is but Pizazz has just moved house and schools. Being a superhero and trying to fit in really don’t go together. When she gets assigned as an eco monitor at school Pizazz thinks it is a bit lame until she realises this is her chance to save the world in a different way. If only horrible supervillains would stop trying to take over the world!

Pizazz is the hilarious, action-packed debut of the next superhero franchise you’ll get obsessed with. Pizazz has to deal with normal kid stuff like an annoying family, mean kids and making friends, but she also has to save the world from super-powered lasers and high-tech tank prams.

The book is jam-packed with Sophy’s fantastic black and white illustrations. There are plenty of super stares, super poses and super costumes. The thing I loved most about the illustrations are the parts where Pizazz and her family have to fight a villain. These parts look like a classic superhero comic.

I love Pizazz and all of her crazy family! They all have different superpowers, including Pizazz (although she doesn’t want us to know what it is). Her dog, Wanda, isn’t a normal dog either. She receives and transmits messages and keeps an eye on the family. My favourite character is Gramps, because he farts fireballs if he laughs too much. Sophy’s supervillains are brilliant too. There’s a giant baby called Googoo who fires toys from his tank shaped like a pram, Twerknado who uses his twerk power for destructive purposes, and pukey villain Megavom.

Pizazz is perfect for ages 7+. It’s a guaranteed great read for all kids. If you haven’t read Sophy’s previous series, Bad Nana, I highly recommend this too.

Great Graphic Novels for Primary and Intermediate

I absolutely love graphic novels for kids!  I can’t get enough of them and neither can the kids at my school (especially the girls).  There are more and more great graphic novels being written and produced for kids and there really is something for every sort of kid.  These are a selection of recent reads that have stood out for me.  If you’re looking for some great new reads for your graphic novel collection I highly recommend these ones.

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Sparks! by Ian Boothby and Nina Matsumoto

This is a hilarious story about two cats who do good deeds dressed in a dog suit.  August is a brilliant inventor who is afraid of the outdoors and Charlie is the pilot of the suit and isn’t afraid of anything.  Together they are a sort-of robo-Lassie (along with their sentient litter-box), rescuing a baby from a well and saving people from a burning building.  In to the story comes a strange family with an evil baby whose aim is to control every animal on earth.  It’s up to Sparks to save the day and stop their dastardly plan.

I smiled the whole way through this graphic novel because the humour is spot on.  I could hand this to any kid from Year 4-Year 8 and I’m sure they would love it too.

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The Adventures of Jack Scratch: The Quest for the Hiss-paniola by Craig Phillips.

This action-packed tale of cats on the high-seas started life as a Kick-Starter campaign and I was super excited when it went ahead and I got my copy.  It’s a swash-buckling adventure full of brave, fearsome and some down-right nasty cats.  Like the Tintin graphic novels I grew up with its got plenty of action to keep kids interested and illustrations that they will pore over.  One of the things I love most about graphic novels is that they are perfect for reading again and again and this one will certainly be read to bits.  Perfect for ages 7+

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Cucumber Quest #1: The Donut Kingdom by Gigi D.G.

I can only do this book justice by using the Goodreads blurb so here it is:

What happens when an evil queen gets her hands on an ancient force of destruction?

World domination, obviously.

The seven kingdoms of Dreamside need a legendary hero. Instead, they’ll have to settle for Cucumber, a nerdy magician who just wants to go to school. As destiny would have it, he and his way more heroic sister, Almond, must now seek the Dream Sword, the only weapon powerful enough to defeat Queen Cordelia’s Nightmare Knight.

Can these bunny siblings really save the world in its darkest hour?

Sure, why not?

This is the first book in a new series (that started out as a web comic).  It’s another hilarious story with fantastic characters.  The BLT Trio had me laughing out loud and I hope to see more of them as the series progresses.  The world that the story takes place in reminded me of Adventure Time so any kids who love that will love Cucumber Quest. The kids that I’ve passed this on to have loved it just as much as I did and we all can’t wait for #2 to be available in NZ.  Perfect for ages 10+.

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Anne of Green Gables: a graphic novel, adapted by Mariah Marsden and Brenna Thummler

This is a wonderful new graphic novel adaptation by Mariah Marsden and Brenna Thummler.  It perfectly captures the essence of the story and will hopefully open up the story to a new generation of readers.

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The Witch Boy by Molly Ostertag

The Witch Boy is about 13-year-old Aster who is expected to grow up to be a shapeshifter when he really wants to become a witch.  In his family all the females are witches while all the males are shapeshifters, but Aster has always found witchcraft more exciting.  When some of the males start disappearing and an evil force threatens his family Aster knows that he can help – as a witch.  With the help of his non-magical new friend Charlie, he sets out to help his family using his witchcraft skills.

It is a fantastic story about being different and being who you want to be.  This is another graphic novel that the girls at my school have been gobbling up.  Molly’s illustration style is quite similar to Raina Telgemeier which lots of the kids love.

23594349Clem Hetherington and the Ironwood Race by Jen Breach & Douglas Holgate

A dangerous rally race + archaeology = a whole lot of fun!

Clementine Hetherington and her robot brother, Digory, have run away from the orphanage they’ve been living in since their parents died. Clem and Dig want to follow in their famous archaeologist mother’s footsteps, but no one will take them seriously. Their chance arrives when a man from their past saves Digory’s life, and to repay the debt they enter a multiday rally race… to recover stolen artifacts! Clem and Dig hope to win so they can give them to a museum, but their opponents want to sell them on the black market. The Ironwood Race has no rules, and Clem and Dig might be in over their heads!

This is an ingenious mash-up that I couldn’t get enough of.  Before I knew it I had finished the book and I’m dying for more!  This story is sure to keep even the biggest non-reader engaged.  Those kids who love action-packed movies with great baddies and lots of explosions will love this book too.