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.