The Cardboard Kingdom: Roar of the Beast by Chad Sell

The Cardboard Kingdom is one of my favourite kid’s graphic novels because it’s all about kids being their true selves. They build costumes and props out of cardboard and let their imaginations go wild. They can be a beast, a scientist or a sorceress. They are stories about acceptance but also having a whole lot of fun. I’ve been eagerly awaiting the second Cardboard Kingdom book and it has just been released. I loved returning to these characters that Chad Sell brought to life and seeing what they got up to next.

Halloween is approaching and the gang are planning their costumes. Vijay is excited to make The Beast bigger, better and scarier, but when the local teenagers crush his costume, they also crush his confidence. Nate is sure he’s seen a monster in his backyard, and when he tries to rescue his stepbrother, he falls down the stairs. No one believes him though, even his stepbrother. Nate is determined to prove that the monster is real. The monster shows up again and again, all over the kingdom, but no one knows why it is there or what it wants. They only know that it is super quick and super scary. Nate gathers the best scientists, heroes and villains from across the kingdom to track the monster and crack the case.

The Cardboard Kingdom: Roar of the Beast is the best kind of sequel. It reunites us with our favourite characters, builds on their stories, and has a mystery that brings them all together. Where the first book was more stand-alone stories that introduced each character, Roar of the Beast has a story arc that is woven through each of the characters’ chapters. Each chapter is written by a different author and focuses on a particular character or characters, with Chad Sell bringing the characters to life in his terrific illustrations.

I love everything that Chad Sell illustrates. I really like his style of illustration, as the kids are realistic and have great expressions. I particularly like how Chad draws the kids as their characters. You see how the kids see themselves in character. Elijah’s costume is pretty basic but he looks completely different as the character of the Blob, and Jack lets his true self shine as the Sorceress.

Although they aren’t named on the front cover, each of the authors have created wonderful characters that all kids will be able to relate to. The cast of characters is diverse in ethnicity and sexuality, which is one of the aspects I really love about the Cardboard Kingdom books. Thanks to Vid Alliger, Manuel Betancourt, Michael Cole, David DeMeo, Jay Fuller, Cloud Jacobs, Barbara Perez Marquez, Molly Muldoon and Katie Schenkel for giving us your characters.

If you haven’t discovered this series you need to hunt both books down. The first book has been a firm favourite in my school library since it was released, and I know kids who will be super excited when they see Roar of the Beast on the shelf. If you want to add some diversity to your graphic novel collection you need to have the Cardboard Kingdom series.

Graphic novels to celebrate Pride Week

To celebrate Schools Pride Week and Out on the Shelves I wanted to highlight some of my favourite rainbow graphic novels for primary and intermediate students. I have each of these graphic novels in my primary school library collection and they are hugely popular. I personally feel that graphic novels are the perfect medium for stories featuring rainbow characters, as kids can really see themselves in the characters. From my experience, kids that love graphic novels will pretty much read any graphic novels I have in the library, and they just might discover a rainbow character that they identify with.

Although these graphic novels are mainly aimed at 9-12 year olds, they all have crossover appeal to teens. I have also included Mike Curato’s amazing graphic novel, Flamer, which is definitely aimed at older teens (not appropriate for primary and intermediate schools).

Girl Haven by Lilah Sturges, Meaghan Carter and Joamette Gil

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.

Dungeon Critters by Natalie Riess and Sara Goetter

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. 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.

Cardboard Kingdom, illustrated by Chad Sell, with stories by various authors

Welcome to a neighborhood of kids who transform ordinary boxes into colorful costumes, and their ordinary block into cardboard kingdom. This is the summer when sixteen kids encounter knights and rogues, robots and monsters—and their own inner demons—on one last quest before school starts again.

Cardboard Kingdom is bursting with a diverse cast of kids. Through their imaginations these kids can be whoever they want to be and they’re accepted by the other members of the cardboard kingdom. They may have had to hide their true selves before, but their imagination sets them free. Each story focuses on a different kid but the stories interconnect. This graphic novel has been read so many times in my library, since it was released in 2018. The sequel, Cardboard Kingdom: Roar of the Beast, has just been released in the US and I’m really looking forward to joining these kids again, and meeting some new characters.

The Prince and the Dressmaker by Jen Wang

Prince Sebastian is looking for a bride―or rather, his parents are looking for one for him. Sebastian is too busy hiding his secret life from everyone. At night he puts on daring dresses and takes Paris by storm as the fabulous Lady Crystallia―the hottest fashion icon in the world capital of fashion!

Sebastian’s secret weapon (and best friend) is the brilliant dressmaker Frances―one of only two people who know the truth: sometimes this boy wears dresses. But Frances dreams of greatness, and being someone’s secret weapon means being a secret. Forever. How long can Frances defer her dreams to protect a friend?

The Prince and the Dressmaker is one of my absolute favourite graphic novels. I love the friendship between Frances and Prince Sebastian and the way that Sebastian’s true personality shines as Lady Crystallia. I love, love, LOVE the ending because it is so unexpected but superb. Jen Wang’s illustrations are reminiscent of early Disney films and I love all the details in each of the panels. The essence of this book is about being your true self and the joy of this shines bright.

Anything by Kay O’Neill (also published as Katie O’Neill)

Kay O’Neill is an award-winning graphic novel writer and artist from Christchurch. Kay has won some of the biggest awards in the comic world, including Eisner, Harvey, and Dwayne McDuffie awards for children’s comics. The first book of Kay’s that I read was Princess Princess Ever After, about two princesses who rescue each other and fall for one another. This was followed by The Tea Dragon Society, The Tea Dragon Festival, Aquacorn Cove, Dewdrop, and Kay’s latest book, The Tea Dragon Tapestry. All of Kay’s work, with the exception of Dewdrop, feature LGBT+ characters and their illustrations are gorgeous.

Kay is underappreciated here in NZ but has a huge fan base in the US. I can’t recommend their books highly enough.

You can read a fantastic interview with Kay O’Neill on the Christchurch City Libraries website.

Flamer by Mike Curato

Aiden is away at Scout camp in the summer between middle school and high school. Everyone is changing around him and he’s terrified of going to high school. He is bullied at school and camp and he knows that it will just get worse at high school. His dad is physically and verbally abusive, so camp is a reprieve from home life. As he navigates friendships, Aiden also tries to figure out feelings he is having for one of his fellow Scouts, Elias. Aiden knows that he’s not gay because he hates boys and how they behave, but  he can’t seem to stop thinking about Elias. Aiden starts to feel like everything is going wrong and makes a decision that affect those around him.

Flamer is an extremely powerful graphic novel that all teenage boys should read. It’s incredibly authentic, especially the language the characters use. It deals with bullying, body image, sexual identity, homophobia, and male friendships. As Jarrett Krosoczka says in the front cover ‘This book will save lives.’ It’s a book that tells readers that no matter how bad things may seem there is always someone who loves you and cares about you.

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.

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.

The Theory of Hummingbirds by Michelle Kadarusman

The Theory of Hummingbirds is an uplifting story of a girl who just wants to be normal. Alba is born with a club foot, which she calls Cleo. She has had surgeries to correct Cleo and has had a cast for most of her life. At the start of the story the day that she gets her cast removed permanently is within sight and Alba really wants to be able to run in the school cross country. Her friend Levi is obsessed with space and he comes up with a theory that there is a wormhole in the school librarian’s office. She disappears from a locked room and Levi believes this is the explanation. Alba and Levi have been best friends forever but an argument pushes them apart. At a time when Alba needs her friend the most Levi won’t talk to her. When the day of the cross country arrives Alba is determined to prove that she can complete the course.

I loved Alba’s story. She wants to be ‘normal’ and she’s determined to prove that she can walk properly without crutches. I love her friendship with Levi and their shared love of hummingbirds. I also really love the school librarian character of Ms Sharma. This would make a great read aloud for Years 5-8, especially as it’s a short, engaging read. It’s perfect as a Wonder read-alike too.