Katie the Catsitter by Colleen AF Venable and Stephanie Yue

Cats and comics is a winning combination. Cat & Cat, The Kitten Construction Company, the Cat Kid Comic Club, and even that craziest of cats, Looshkin, are some of my favourite graphic novels and they’re adored by the kids at my school. Now there is Katie the Catsitter by Colleen AF Venable and Stephanie Yue to bring some kitty joy to your life.

Katie’s friends are excited about summer camp but Katie can’t afford to go so she’ll be stuck at home all summer while her friends have fun. Katie decides to try and save up for camp by doing jobs for people in her building. After a couple of unsuccessful jobs she gets offered the job of looking after Ms. Lang’s cats for a few hours every night. It’s not just one or two cats though, but 217, and these are no ordinary cats. They use the toilet like humans, order stuff online and steal couches from the lady downstairs. Katie becomes suspicious of Ms. Lang and believes that she might be the supervillain, The Mousetress. The more Katie learns about her crimes though, the more she wonders whether The Mousetress might just be a superhero instead. When The Mousetress is captured by the superhero, The Eastern Screech, Ms. Lang’s cats put a plan into action to save her. But they’re going to need Katie’s help.

Katie the Catsitter is a super fun, adorable and hilarious graphic novel that I totally love. When you meet all of Ms. Lang’s cats you’ll wish your cats were this cool. You’ll also wish you had a team of cats, with skills like this, to help you every day and give you snuggles. Life certainly wouldn’t be dull with them around.

Katie is a super relatable character that kids will love. She’s the kid who can’t afford to do everything her friends are doing but works hard to try and achieve her goal. She feels her friend slipping away and becoming a different person, but she makes lots of new feline friends. I love the relationships that Katie has with the adults around her, whether it’s with her mum, Ms. Lang or Mr B. Katie has a positive relationship with each of them. Each of the cats has its own name and personality, as well as a particular set of skills. There’s Miles (laser expert), Jollie (computer hacking), Seamus (Math Genius), DJ Bootie Butler (Mad Beats), and so many more. I love the last few pages of the book where Colleen and Stephanie show us all of the cats, with their name, skill and a little picture of each one. They all look distinctly different which is so cool.

The story flows really naturally and the artwork is fun and full of character. I love the panels of the cats clearing up the apartment after they’ve gone crazy. They are just calmly mending furniture and walls, bringing in groceries to put in the fridge and then freaking out when they turn the vacuum on. I particularly enjoyed the matching panels, near the start of the book, about the last day of school. The kids are jumping for joy and high-fiving in the corridor, while the teachers are doing the same in the teachers’ lounge.

Katie the Catsitter is going to be a huge hit with the kids at my school, especially with fans of Raina Telgemeier, Victoria Jamieson and Shannon Hale. A fun fact I learnt at the end of the book is that the illustrator, Stephanie Yue, was the colourist of Raina Telgemeier’s Smile. Thankfully this is just the first book in the series, with book 2 due in 2022.

I purchased Katie the Catsitter for my school library from Wheelers. It was released in the US earlier this year but is due for release here in NZ with Penguin Books on 30 March 2021.

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.

Max Meow: Cat Crusader by John Gallagher

Do you know a kid that’s read all of the Dog Man books multiple times? Do you want to keep that reading spark alive by giving them something similar? You need to get your hands on John Gallagher’s meow-tastic new graphic novel series, Max Meow: Cat Crusader.

Max was just an ordinary cat, with a pretty average internet show, until the day that he accidentally eats a piece of space meatball and gets superpowers. His scientist friend Mindy discovered the meatball on her travels in space and brought it back to earth to investigate. Now Max can fly and has super strength, so he becomes the Cat Crusader and protects Kittyopolis. Agent M, Reggie and their boss, Big Boss, want to get their hands on Mindy and her space meatball so it’s up to Max to figure out this superhero thing and save the day. Oh, and stop the giant mini-golf monsters while he’s at it!

Meow-za! Max Meow: Cat Crusader is a super fun, action-packed read that will have kids and adults begging for more. There’s something in this book for everyone – superpowers, cats, villains, a robot with daddy issues, monsters, cliff-hanger endings and laughs galore. I had to read this over just two nights to my 5 year old daughter because she couldn’t stand waiting to know what happened in the next chapter. John Gallagher sets that up perfectly by ending each chapter with questions, like ‘WHAT will Mindy show Max? WHY is there a floating whale in Mindy’s lab?’ It’s one of the first graphic novels I’ve read aloud and it works so well. We giggled along together and each picked up different things in the illustrations.

John’s illustrations have heaps of kid appeal. They’re bright, colourful, and full of action and expression. John hasn’t let himself be constricted by the panels, as the action and characters often flow through or burst into other panels, and even right off the page.

The humour works on lots of different levels too. John uses puns in the text and there are plenty of visual gags. There are jokes for the kids and jokes for the adults. I especially enjoyed the character of Cody the dog, who doesn’t say anything but always gives a thumbs up. I also really like Reggie the robot who can’t seem to stop referring to Agent M as Daddy.

Max Meow: Cat Crusader is a must-have graphic novel for all primary and intermediate school libraries. It will be snapped up straight away and it’s popularity will spread like wildfire. Kids will be begging for the next book in the series, which is due out here in NZ in July. My daughter and I can’t wait for Max Meow: Donuts and Danger!

Black Sand Beach: Are You Afraid of the Light? by Richard Fairgray

If you like your graphic novels a little on the creepy or weird side then you need to grab the first book in Richard Fairgray’s Black Sand Beach series, Are You Afraid of the Light?

Dash and his family are off to their holiday house at Black Sand Beach, along with Dash’s friend Lily. Dash tries to explain to Lily that it’s not like any other holiday destination – ‘there’s no ice-cream stand or stores, there’s just giant mosquitoes, scary woods, weird animals and a shaky old house that my dad built himself.’ You think Dash is exaggerating, but then you turn the page to see giant mosquitoes flying past the car. When they get to the house they’re greeted by Dash’s Aunt Lynne riding what looks like a green ram, and things just get weirder from there. Dash’s cousin Andy tries to capture bees to make him fly, Uncle Trevor looks grey and creepy, the sand on the beach is magnetic, and the abandoned lighthouse is suddenly shining its light. As Dash, Lily and Andy investigate the mysterious lighthouse they are attacked by ghosts and there are signs that something really strange is going on at Black Sand Beach. Then Dash’s family get given a heap of purple potatoes from the neighbours, which everyone but Lily eats, and things get really bizarre. Scary, green creatures, with mouths in their stomachs appear but only Lily can see their natural form. It’s up to Lily to save Dash and his family.

Are You Afraid of the Light? is one of the weirdest, creepiest graphic novels for kids that I’ve read but it left me intrigued. When I finished the book I felt like I was waking from a bad dream, but one that I wanted to go back to. I was unsettled but I want to know more about what is going on at Black Sand Beach. There are plenty of weird things going on that Richard Fairgray will hopefully elaborate on in future books. I want to know why Dash doesn’t remember coming to Black Sand Beach last summer. Who or what is the ghostly presence calling out to Dash? Why is Uncle Trevor so creepy? Most of the adults are pretty weird actually, like Dash’s mum, who hardly says anything and spends most of the time looking bored.

Richard Fairgray’s illustrations certainly match the tone of the story, with lots of dark green and purple being used to give it a creepy vibe. I like the way that the eerie light from the lighthouse shines on the characters too. My favourite aspect of the illustrations are the pages that mark the next part of the story, where Richard has used a negative exposure kind of effect.

I’m eagerly awaiting the next part of the story, which is due this year. Hopefully we’ll get some answers to some of the weirdness in Black Sand Beach. This is definitely a graphic novel for those kids who like a bit of creepy or weird in their stories. I’m sure this will be gobbled up by the older kids at my primary school.

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 Odds by Matt Stanton

I used to be a huge fan of Aaron Blabey’s The Bad Guys. The first 5 or 6 books were perfection but have since gotten a bit weird and the series has gone on a bit long. It is one of those series though that has hooked kids who didn’t think they were readers. For some kids it has been the first books that they have read by themselves and they have got hooked on reading. I’m always on the lookout for something else to recommend to those kids who have loved The Bad Guys. Something that is similar in the look and feel of it and with bits that make you laugh-out-loud. Matt Stanton’s new book (and the start of a series – YAY!), The Odds, is the perfect read-alike and I can’t wait to shout about this book to kids.

The Odds introduces us to Kip, an ordinary girl who lives in the city with her dad. One morning she wakes up to something extraordinary – a bunch of fictional characters standing at the foot of her bed. Neither Kip nor the characters know why or how they got there but they seem to be stuck. There’s Lance (the bunny from the graphic novel her dad creates), the Greatest of All Time (or G.O.A.T. from Kip’s soccer books), Theo the Builder (from a picture book that Kip’s grandfather gave her) and others. The Odds explore Kip’s apartment, and Kip and her Dad try to keep them contained but they escape into the outside world. Kip and the Odds try everything they can to try and get them back to their worlds. Will their crazy ideas work or will they be stuck in the real world forever?

The Odds is awesome! It is absolutely hilarious but it also has a lot of heart. It’s about the fictional characters discovering who they are and where they come from, but also about Kip finding out about herself and accepting who she is. I love the different characters and how they are from different kinds of media. There is Theo from a picture book, Booster the rooster from a farming game app, and Racer, an avatar from a racing game. Matt made me wish that I had my own group of fictional characters who could follow me around. I’m just not sure who I would choose.

The book is similar in format to The Bad Guys with Matt’s simple but emotive black and whitecomic illustrations throughout. You may be familiar with Matt’s distinctive style from his picture books with Beck Stanton (This is a Ball, The Red Book). A lot of the laughs in the story come from visual gags, making the book great for kids who struggle with reading. I love visual gags in comics so The Odds is right up my alley.

Matt has got me hooked on The Odds and I want more. I know kids are going to love this series too. It’s perfect for fans of The Bad Guys but would also be great for fans of Dog Man, John Patrick Green’s InvestiGators and James Foley’s S.Tinker Inc. series.

You can download a chapter sampler of The Odds here and you can also download an Odds activity pack with characters cards and a colouring sheet.

Chickensaurus by James Foley

I know when I read a new S.Tinker Inc. book that something is going to go horribly wrong with one of Sally Tinker’s inventions. In James Foley’s latest book, Chickensaurus, though it is not Sally’s (or even Joe’s) fault. In this adventure you’ll meet dinosaurs unlike any you’ve seen before.

Sally, Charli and Joe get invited to Maelstrom Manor, the home of Sally’s arch-enemy, Dexter Maelstrom. Dexter has invited them to a demonstration of his new invention. He has invented a De-Evolving Ray that can zap any living thing and it will morph into one of its primitive ancestors. To prove to his visitors that it works he transforms a chick into a little dinosaur. Dexter then introduces them to his collection of chickensaurs, who are kept under control using special collars. Something causes the chickensaurs to attack and Sally, Charli and Joe must run for their lives. As if things weren’t already bad enough, Charli and Joe get dino-napped, leaving Sally with no choice but to team up with her nemesis and rescue her brother and her friend. Their rescue mission reveals the shocking truth about Dexter’s experiments.

Chickensaurus is an egg-citing adventure, filled with prehistoric poultry and funny situations that will crack you up. The different chickensaurs are hilarious! There’s a Trifeathertops, an Eggosaurus, a Chickensaurus Rex and a Pteroducktyl (they were out of chickens that day). It’s pretty funny seeing someone else’s invention going badly wrong and Sally needing to save the day.

Like the other books in the series it’s James’s illustrations that make me laugh the most. Joe has some great bits that made me laugh, like when he just wanders in to the room wearing a tiny suit of armour and clapping his hands. You see him clanking into the picture with everyone looking awkward or exasperated. I also love the look of joy on Joe’s face towards the end when he’s riding on the Chickensaurus.

Grab a copy of Chickensaurus from your bawk-shop or library now and check out the other wonderful S.Tinker Inc. books. The black and white graphic novel format makes them perfect for fans of The Bad Guys, Super Sidekicks and Sherlock Bones.

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.

One Year at Ellsmere by Faith Erin Hicks

I absolutely love Faith Erin Hicks’ art so I will read anything that she has illustrated. When Faith writes the story as well as illustrating it I know that it will be an absolute winner. Her Nameless City Trilogy are some of my favourite children’s graphic novels. One Year at Ellsmere is Faith’s latest graphic novel but also one of her earliest. She has redrawn all of her original illustrations and they look amazing! Open the covers and step inside this boarding school that is hiding a dark past.

Juniper is the first scholarship student to attend the prestigious Ellsmere Academy, a boarding school for girls. As the only student who doesn’t come from a wealthy family Juniper is already on the outside. It’s not long before she finds herself the target of queen bee, Emily. Juniper becomes friends with her roommate, Cassie, who helps her navigate life at Ellsmere. While working on their assignment near the forest they see a strange creature moving through the trees. Cassie tells Juniper the story of the family who originally lived at Ellsmere and the mysterious disappearance of the two brothers. Cassie explains that there is something in the forest ‘that hates bad people.’ Emily continues to harass and intimidate Juniper and when Cassie attempts to help her friend, Emily corners her in the forest and threatens her. However, the creature in the forest is watching.

I absolutely loved One Year at Ellsmere! It’s a story about family, friends, bullies, anger and a mystical creature watching over it all. Told over the course of twelve chapters (or months) we experience the ups and downs of Juniper’s year at Ellsmere. As well as the confrontations with Emily that see Juniper almost expelled there are funny moments, like building a snowman or Juniper trying to paint a self-portrait.

Faith’s artwork is so amazing in this book! The colour palette is dark, with lots of brown and green (their uniforms and the style of the old building) but her characters jump off the page. Faith’s style is so distinctive (it’s changed quite a lot over the years, looking back at the original comic). I especially love the way that Cassie’s big doe eyes shine and sparkle. My favourite spreads in the book are those where Cassie is telling the story of Lord Ellsmere and his family. I love the way that the images are framed and give different perspectives of characters on one spread. Shelli Paroline has done a stellar job of colouring the book too (especially when you consider how many school skirts she’s had to colour!). It was also fascinating to see Faith’s illustration process at the back of the book.

I know my senior kids are going to devour One Year at Ellsmere. It’s a great addition to any intermediate and high school graphic novel collection (but also suitable for keen Year 5/6 readers).