Pawcasso by Remy Lai

Have you ever told a little white lie that has snowballed into a huge lie? What starts off as you not correcting something false becomes a whole string of untruths that you can’t keep up with. This is the situation that Jo finds herself in in Remy Lai’s first graphic novel, Pawcasso.

Jo thinks that she’ll spend the summer bored out of her mind, until she spies a dog, with a basket in its mouth, stroll past her house. She follows the dog to the shopping circle in town and discovers that he is doing a spot of shopping. The dog visits some of the shops and buys the things on the list in its basket. When Jo follows the dog to the bookshop, called Dog Ears, she gets mistaken for the dog’s owner. She tries to correct them at first, but the thought of making new friends and getting free books tempts Jo, and she goes along with the lie. The kids from the art class at the bookshop call the dog Pawcasso, as he becomes their model, and the name sticks. Each Saturday, Pawcasso comes into town, and Jo waits for him to walk past. As the people of South Redhart fall in love with Pawcasso, Jo’s chihuahua-sized lie becomes Great Dane-sized. It becomes harder and harder to tell everyone the truth. Even when Pawcasso rolls in poo Jo can’t bear to lose him. When Pawcasso’s real owners show up in town one day, Jo’s lies unravel and she must explain the truth, even if it means losing her friends.

I love Pawcasso so much! It is the most adorable kid’s graphic novel ever and it will make you grin from ear to ear. Whether you’re a dog-lover or not, you can’t help loving Pawcasso. Sure, he loves to roll in poo, but he makes the lives of everyone he meets just a little bit brighter. Kids and adults alike can relate to Jo and her little lie getting out of control, and everyone will wish they had a Pawcasso in their life. As with her previous books, Remy captures the funny moments but also the anxiety, sadness and frustration of her characters.

I have loved each of Remy’s books, especially the comic sections of her stories, Pie in the Sky and Fly on the Wall. I was super excited when she announced she was creating a graphic novel. Pawcasso is every bit as wonderful as I hoped it would be. Remy’s artwork is outstanding! It is so colourful and vibrant, and her characters are full of emotion and personality. I love that Jo wears the same outfit throughout the story, but with different colour combinations. Remy and her colourist, Samantha Bennett, must have had a lot of fun choosing colours for Jo’s clothes. I love Jo’s character and the way that Remy shows her range of emotions throughout the story. I cracked up laughing at the illustration of her, with her face smooshed against her window, when she first sees Pawcasso. My favourite parts of the book were the wordless panels that just featured Pawcasso. These are the bits that perfectly capture Pawcasso’s personality, whether it be his head wrapped in a towel after a bath, rolling in poo at the park, or laying upside down on a beanbag, wagging his tail. Pawcasso is such a loveable goofball that people become smitten with him. I also love how, at the back of the book, Remy has drawn the people she wants to thank as dogs, cats and other creatures.

Remy has written the story and created the illustrations, but it is the whole team that has worked on the book that makes this graphic novel stand out. Samantha Bennett’s colouring makes the illustrations jump off the page, and Colleen AF Venable’s design work helps the story to flow and look good on the page. It’s great to see Allen and Unwin publishing more graphic novels from our part of the world too. Please sign Remy up for many, many more graphic novels.

Pawcasso is one of those graphic novels that will spread like wildfire between readers. I preordered multiple copies for my school library because I was that confident it would be a winner. I can’t wait for kids to meet Pawcasso. It is perfect for fans of Raina Telgemeier, Victoria Jamieson, and Kayla Miller.

Girl Haven by Lilah Sturges, Meaghan Carter and Joamette Gil

I love that there are more and more children’s graphic novels being published with LGBTQ+ characters and themes. It’s important for our kids to be able to see themselves in books, no matter what their identity. These graphic novels don’t just appeal to kids who are trans or queer though. One of my favourite graphic novels is The Prince and the Dressmaker and it is one of the most popular graphic novels with the older children at my school. The themes of discovering your identity and being the person you truly feel you are, resounds with all readers. Girl Haven is a fantastic new graphic novel from Oni Press, which deals with gender identity and sexuality in a way that older children can relate to.

Three years ago, Ash’s mom, Kristin, left home and never came back. Now, Ash lives in the house where Kristin grew up. All of her things are there. Her old room, her old clothes, and the shed where she spent her childhood creating a fantasy world called Koretris. Ash knows all about Koretris: how it’s a haven for girls, with no men or boys allowed, and filled with fanciful landscapes and creatures. When Ash’s friends decide to try going to Koretris using one of Kristin’s spell books, Ash doesn’t think anything will happen. But the spell works, and Ash discovers that the world Kristin created is actually a real place with real inhabitants and very real danger. But if Koretris is real, why is Ash there? Everyone has always called Ash a boy. Ash uses he/him pronouns. Shouldn’t the spell have kept Ash out? And what does it mean if it let Ash in?

Girl Haven is such a cool story! It is an inspiring story about being the person you want to be, wrapped up in a fantasy adventure. The story is full of fun and adventure, but Lilah and Meaghan also make you think about gender identity and how society makes you fit in to one box or another. The characters are diverse, representing cisgender, transgender and nonbinary people, and different sexual orientations. I think this is an important book that will help children who are confused about their identity. It will help them to see that they are not alone, and that it is important to have people around you who understand and support you.

The story mainly focuses on Ash’s journey to acceptance. Ash didn’t realise that the place his mum talked about and wrote about was actually a real place. He knows that Koretris is a haven for girls, so it is confusing when he is able to get in, along with his friends who are all girls. Ash has always felt like he was supposed to be a girl and has wished that something would happen to turn him into a girl. Coming to Koretris gives Ash the chance to become the person he’s always wanted to be. Junebug, Eleanor and Chloe are all great friends to Ash, and I love that they all identify differently. Anybody reading this graphic novel will be able to find someone to relate to. Something that really resonated with me was the idea of every person being a story and that ‘a boy is one kind of story, a girl another kind. And they are but two of many stories.’

Meaghan Carter’s illustrations bring the world of Koretris to life, from the Rabbits of the Reeds to the candy people of Sugar Valley, and the dreaded Scourge. Meaghan has drawn Ash in such a way that he looks androgynous, but as his friends say, he ‘looks really cute in that dress.’ Meaghan’s illustration style is similar to Molly Ostertag and Gale Galligan, so anyone who likes their style would like Girl Haven.

Girl Haven is one of my favourite children’s graphic novels this year and I will be recommending it to kids and adults alike. It is a must-have graphic novel for intermediate and high school libraries, and I know it will be incredibly popular. If you have loved The Prince and the Dressmaker, Witch Boy, Dungeon Critters or Snapdragon, you’ll love Girl Haven.

Bear by Ben Queen and Joe Todd-Stanton

I’m a huge fan of Joe Todd-Stanton. To quote the brilliant Hunt for the Wilderpeople his illustrations are ‘majestical.’ I love his Brownstone’s Mythical Collection books, a series of comics that focus on myths and legends from around the world. I was excited to find a chunky new graphic novel on the public library shelves last week, that’s illustrated by Joe Todd-Stanton and written by Ben Queen. I picked it up because Joe illustrated it but I completely fell in love with this wonderful story.

This large format graphic novel follows Bear the guide dog and his human Patrick. Bear is disappointed to not follow in the footsteps of his parents and siblings to become a K-9 police dog, but he has an equally important job as a guide dog to Patrick who is completely blind. Bear becomes unwell one day and soon finds himself far from home and lost. While Bear tries to make his way home with help from new friends, Patrick looks everywhere for him.

Bear is a gorgeous graphic novel that kids and adults alike will love. If you’re a dog lover this is an absolute must-read. Ben’s story is sweet and heart-warming and it’s perfect for a graphic novel format. It’s a story about friendship and loyalty, but also about overcoming the obstacles that life throws at you. It certainly fills a gap in the children’s graphic novel market. Joe’s illustrations are absolutely stunning. He perfectly captures the different ways that Bear and Patrick view the world, especially as they have to use different senses to adapt to life. Ben and Joe show us that even when you don’t have sight your brain can still create images of the things around you.

Kids of all ages will enjoy Bear. I’ll be buying this one for my primary school library.

The Sunken Tower by Tait Howard

The Sunken Tower is a seriously funny fantasy adventure with plenty of punching and sword swinging thrown in. It seemed like a short story that is part of a bigger fantasy world so I’d like to see more of Dig, Iana and Crina on further adventures.

Dig’s day starts off pretty bad. His bag is broken, he’s super hungry and the local law enforcement is after him. Then his day gets a whole lot worse when he’s kidnapped and thrown in a dungeon far underground. It’s in this dungeon that he meets Iana and Crina, two other prisoners who are going to help Dig escape. They tell him of the great magical kingdom and the great tower that used to be above ground which sunk below ground thanks to a young wizard messing with blood magic. The wizard was warped into a monster which is now trapped in the sunken castle. The creatures who kidnapped Dig are The Brotherhood of Blood and they want to sacrifice Dig, Iana and Crina to the monster to get its blood magic. Not if the three of them can help it! They must find their way to the top of the sunken tower and smash through to their world up top.

Tait Howard’s world is one I want to know more about. The glimpses you see when Dig is walking through the market reminded me of Ben Hatke’s Zita the Spacegirl and Kazu Kibuishi’s Amulet (if you’ve read those you’ll love this one). There are lots of different creatures, even within the Brotherhood of Blood. The main characters are all really cool, from Dig with his magic powers to Iana with her bristly legs and big muscles. Iana and Crina are in love and they have some really great banter.

I think my favourite thing about The Sunken Tower though is the humour and sarcasm. Tait’s comedic timing is spot on and the dialogue had me chuckling away. This is a kid’s graphic novel that will appeal to teens and adults as well. I’d love to hand it to some of my most reluctant readers as I’m certain the humour alone will grab them.

I really hope that Tait Howard has more adventures with Dig, Iana and Crina up his sleeves.

Donut the Destroyer by Sarah Graley and Stef Purenins

This graphic novel is so much fun! Who couldn’t like a story about a girl from a family of supervillains who just wants to be a hero.

Donut (middle name: The, last name: Destroyer) lives in a world where everyone is born with superpowers. You just have to decide how to use them – good or evil. Donut’s parents are two of the biggest supervillains ever but Donut has decided she doesn’t want to be a villain. Her best friend Ivy has been planning their supervillain careers for years so it comes as a shock that Donut wants to switch to the dark side. When Donut gets accepted to Lionheart Academy (the first step on her road to become a superhero) Ivy tries anything she can to get Donut kicked out. However, Donut’s new hero friends are by her side and will use their powers to fight evil.

I love Sarah Graley’s illustrations. One minute her characters look super cute, with their faces bursting with glee and the next they’re all angry, with scrunched up faces that are on the verge of exploding. Donut is a really cool character who stands up for herself and what she wants to do with her life, even in the face of her ex-best friend and her super-villain parents who want her to be super evil. My favourite characters are Donut’s parents. They made me laugh every time they popped up because they’re super supportive but committed to being supervillains.

Donut the Destroyer is going to fly off the shelves and be incredibly popular with kids.

Doodleville by Chad Sell

Imagine if all art was alive. Superheroes could move through the pages of a comic, a landscape painting could change depending on the time of day and Mona Lisa’s mood could change. This is a reality in Drew’s world in Chad Sell’s magical new graphic novel, Doodleville

Drew is a doodler and since she was little she has been doodling funny creatures that come alive. All art in Drew’s world is alive and when her Art Club visits the Art Institute she sees how amazing art can be. She sneaks in her own doodles though who create havoc in the paintings, including stealing a baby’s hat from one painting. Drew creates Levi, a dragon-like creature, for her art project but this cute, friendly creature turns dark and starts to hunt the other doodles. As Drew let’s her fear and uncertainty take over Levi wreaks havoc and it’s up to Drew and her friends to stop Levi.

The idea of art coming to life is so cool and Chad certainly makes it feel like his characters are alive and moving. The action of the story moves so smoothly through the illustrations and Chad doesn’t let panels limit how the story flows. I love the character designs as they’re cartoony but have really expressive faces.

My favourite thing about Chad’s stories is the diversity of his characters. In Doodleville, Ameer and Zenobia are black, and it’s possible that Beck and TJ are gender diverse. Zenobia’s doodles are the Magical Butterfly Boyfriends, two princes from warring kingdoms who are in love. It’s great for kids to not only see themselves in graphic novels but also to see other kids who are different from them.

Chad promises readers that this is just the start of Drew’s story so we’ll see more of her and the gang in the next book.

Stepping Stones by Lucy Knisley

Fans of Raina Telgemeier and Shannon Hale rejoice! Lucy Knisley, creator of graphic memoirs about her adult life, turns her pencil to her childhood. Stepping Stones is based on Lucy’s experiences as a kid, moving from the city to the country and having to get used to a new family and a new life.

Jen didn’t want to leave the city and move to a farm but, being a kid, she just has to go along for the ride. She has to get used to her mum’s new boyfriend and sort-of step-sisters. Walter doesn’t understand her and keeps calling her Jenny (which infuriates her) and the older sister is smarter than her so she feels inferior. Every weekend the sisters come to stay and her family goes to the market. Things aren’t going back to the way they used to be so Jen has to figure out how to get along with everyone.

I loved Stepping Stones and I know kids will too. The story is relatable and is perfect for anyone from age 7+. This is going to be super popular.

When Stars Are Scattered by Omar Mohamed and Victoria Jamieson

When Stars Are Scattered by Omar Mohamed and Victoria Jamieson is one of the most inspiring graphic novels I’ve ever read. It opens your eyes to what life is like for refugees and the conditions that they live in while at the same time filling you with hope.

It is the story of Omar Mohamed and his younger brother Hassan. They have spent most of their life in Dadaab, a refugee camp in Kenya, after escaping from their home in Somalia. Through Omar and Victoria’s words and pictures we learn about daily life in the refugee camp (referred to as an ‘open prison’). There’s never enough food or water, the routine is tiring and there is no access to the medical care needed for Hassan. When Omar has the chance to go to school he knows this is the only chance to break free of the refugee camp and make something of their lives. Going to school though means leaving his brother every day. Omar strives to work hard while coping with life.

This is an important story for both kids and adults to read. Omar’s life may be different to what we know and have experienced but there are also similarities. He struggles with middle school, friendships with boys and girls and with the small family that he has. Omar shows readers that no matter where you come from and how tough your life is you can rise above it and achieve your dreams.

This graphic novel is slightly different from Victoria Jamieson’s previous books but her illustrations are a perfect match for Omar’s story. I especially love her portrayal of the bond the two brothers share.

At the back of the book both Omar and Victoria tell us how their collaboration came about and we learn more about Omar’s life after the end of the story.

When Stars Are Scattered is one of the best children’s graphic novels of 2020. It’s a must-buy for all school libraries and a good companion to Eoin Colfer and Andrew Donkin’s excellent graphic novel, Illegal.