Ham Helsing: Vampire Hunter by Rich Moyer

Some books just speak to me. As soon as I see the cover or read the blurb I know that I’m going to love it. Ham Helsing: Vampire Hunter had me at the title. I knew this was going to be hilarious, but I underestimated how much I would be laughing my ass off!

Ham Helsing has always been the odd one out in his family. The other males in his family have been daring and adventurous, hunting down monsters, but Ham doesn’t fit the mold. They may have had the brawn but not the brains, and they have all died in stupid situations. Now, the only one left is Ham, and it’s down to him to carry on the family legacy. Reluctantly, he sets out on his first quest. Mud Canyon has a vampire problem and they need a hero to save the day. With the help of a couple of enterprising rodents, a werewolf and a ninja, Ham sets off to hunt down the vampire. When they eventually confront the vampire, they discover he isn’t quite what they were expecting. There are other forces at work, and Ham and his friends must work together to defeat them.

Ham Helsing is an epically funny graphic novel that kids will be clamouring to get their hands on. Rich Moyer infuses humour into every aspect of the story, from the events of the story and the illustrations to the characters and the dialogue. The montage at the start of the book, of Ham’s family members dying in stupid situations, sets the tone for the story and gets you laughing straight away. Rich’s comedic timing had me laughing out loud. At the same time, Rich makes you feel for his hero, who didn’t really want to be a hero. There is plenty of action too, that keeps the story moving.

The characters are all endearing, especially Ham. I love his smiling face on the front cover because he looks like nothing would faze him. He’s very loyal and is always trying to do the right thing. Many of the characters are not who they appear to be, which adds to the humour of the story. The werewolf seems scary when Ham first meets him but he’s actually quite tame. I cracked up every time he transformed back into a human! The vampire in the story isn’t as terrifying as he’s made out to be either, especially with a name like Malcolm and bacon for minions.

Rich’s illustrations are bursting with humour and his characters are really expressive. There are lots of visual gags and Rich regularly uses chunks of wordless panels to tell the story. I especially like the parts where the werewolf transforms. I love what Josh Lewis has done with the colours too. The cover alone is brilliant! Much of the story takes place at night and Josh has done a great job of capturing moonlight and torchlight on the characters’ faces.

I desperately need more Ham Helsing adventures, and Rich leaves the ending hanging, so here’s hoping for more books! This is a must-have for school libraries, especially for those kids that love a good laugh.

Magnificent Mabel and the Egg and Spoon Race by Ruth Quayle and Julia Christians

Whether I’m looking for new and interesting books for the newly independent readers at my school or for books to read aloud to my 6-year-old daughter, I want a book that is going to be engaging. It’s got to have relatable characters, fun illustrations, and an eye-catching cover. Ruth Quayle and Julia Christians’ series, Magnificent Mabel, has all of these things and more. I read the first book in the series, just called Magnificent Mabel, to my daughter and we both immediately loved it. Mabel is a funny character who she really liked and I easily found the character’s voice. My daughter wanted me to get more Mabel stories, so thankfully they are being released pretty quickly. Magnificent Mabel and the Egg and Spoon Race is the latest in the series to be released here in NZ.

Like the other books in the series, Magnificent Mabel and the Egg and Spoon Race contains three short stories – the title story, Magnificent Mabel and the Class Play and Magnificent Mabel and the Dog Show.

Mabel is not a fan of sports day and things get even worse when she gets partnered with Edward Silitoe, a boy in her class who is always in a rush. Edward thinks that Mabel will ruin his chances of winning, but then comes the egg and spoon race, and Mabel is determined that no unhatched chicks will die because of her.

Mabel’s teacher is mad about acting so her class does a different play each term. Mabel loves acting, but she doesn’t like that some people (not her) get all the good parts. This term her class is doing a play about William Shakespeare and Mabel is very keen to be Shakespeare, especially because she would get to wear an interesting beard. Mabel is upset when she doesn’t get the part but she still finds a way to wear the beard.

Mabel thinks that dog shows are more fun than going on holiday. Her friend Lottie Clark goes to dog shows all the time, but Mabel has never been to one. Instead, her family drags her on holiday in the countryside. When Mabel discovers a dog show happening just down the road, her dad agrees to take her along. Mabel trains hard with her toy dog, Dermot, and when the day of the dog show arrives, she takes Dermot with her. Mabel and Dermot enter the dog agility competition, with surprising results.

I absolutely love the Magnificent Mabel series! Ruth Quayle has perfectly captured the voice of a 5 or 6 year old. Mabel is full of personality and has a view of the world that so many young readers will relate to. She gets fixated on certain things, like the Shakespeare beard, and can’t stop thinking about them. The humour is spot on, and both my daughter and I were chuckling our way through each of the stories. We couldn’t stop laughing reading the part where Mabel wears the beard everywhere!

Julia Christians has brought to life Mabel’s personality in her illustrations. She highlights how happy Mabel is and how much she likes to have fun. She also captures Mabel’s frustrations, especially when she has to do something that she doesn’t want to (like go on a boring holiday) or she doesn’t get what she wants (like a real dog of her own).

The Magnificent Mabel series is perfect for newly independent readers, as the stories are short but engaging and very relatable. They are also great to read aloud, either to a Year 1/2 class or to snuggle up and enjoy with your 5-7 year old. Magnificent Mabel and the Egg and Spoon Race is out now in NZ.

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.

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.

Mr. Wolf’s Class: Field Trip by Aron Nels Steinke

Aron Nels Steinke’s Mr Wolf’s Class series of graphic novels have been hugely popular with the kids at my school. With their quirky cast of characters, relatable storylines and awesome art, it’s not hard to see why kids love them. I always look forward to another story of loveable Mr. Wolf and the antics of his class. The latest book in the series, Field Trip, has just been released by Scholastic’s Graphix imprint and I think this is the best book yet.

Mr. Wolf’s class are going on an overnight field trip in the mountains. They get to sleep in log cabins, come up with camp names, build huts and see things they’ve never seen before. Before they even get to camp though, Randy and Aziza have a falling out, which leads to some awkward moments on camp. Competition with another class staying at the camp leads to new friends, but Randy and Aziza must learn to work through their argument too. There is so much to do, see and learn outside the classroom.

In Field Trip, Aron throws his characters into a completely different environment and we see them thriving in the outdoors. There is plenty for both kids and adults to enjoy in this story. Kids will bring their own experiences of field trips to the story and relate to the good and bad that happens. There are plenty of laughs too, like the kids staying up late talking and farting just when everything is quiet. As an adult I really love seeing how Mr Wolf copes with everything that comes his way. His thought bubbles are especially hilarious as he’s often thinking something different than what he’s saying to the kids.

I really like the way that Aron uses lots of visual storytelling. There are several parts of the story where there is little or no text, letting the reader interpret what is happening in the story through the illustrations. I especially like the parts where Aron shows the kids all doing different camp activities, almost like a little montage.

There are a few cool references dotted through the story for readers to pick up too. Randy and Aziza are obsessed with Hazelton the Musical (a nod to Hamilton). The other reference I really liked was Fawn reading the Sky World series, a series of books that she says are all being adapted into graphic novels (a nod to Tui T. Sutherland’s Wings of Fire series).

If you’re new to Mr. Wolf’s Class this is a great introduction to the series. You’ll want to go back and read all of the others in the series.

Pea, Bee and Jay series by Brian “Smitty” Smith

Three unlikely friends become besties in Brian “Smitty” Smith’s new graphic novel series for younger readers, Pea, Bee and Jay.

The first two books in the series have been released simultaneously (I love it when publishers do this, so thanks Harper Alley!) so we get a double dose of this funny team. In Pea, Bee and Jay: Stuck Together these three first meet. Pea lives on his farm and he loves to roll. When a mean strawberry dares him to roll all the way to the big tree, Pea knows that he can do it. Unfortunately it’s a lot further away than he thought and then a storm strikes, bouncing him off course. He bounces right into a bee named Bee, who is hiding from her responsibilities, and a bird called Jay, who doesn’t know how to fly. These three unlikely friends band together to help Pea find his way home.

In the second book, Pea, Bee and Jay: Wannabees, Bee would rather play with her new friends than perform her queenly duties. When she leaves the hive to see her friends a coup takes place and Lenny declares himself Queen of the hive. Pea and Jay must disguise themselves as bees and help Bee infiltrate the hive and get back what is rightly hers. Add in some daring acrobatics and a vegetable dispute and you have a seriously funny adventure.

Pea, Bee and Jay is a series that constantly cracks me up. Each book is full of laughs and super-silly puns. The argument between the corn and the potatoes in Wannabees had me cackling with laughter (it’s a graphic novel that adults will appreciate as much as the kids). Coming in at just over 60 pages each, they’re short and snappy, and I just know that kids (especially boys) are going to read them over and over again. I’m sure it won’t be long until I’ll be hearing fruit and vegetable puns in my school library. The illustrations are super cute and not highly detailed which makes them especially great for younger readers.

These first two books are the start of a series that is just going to keep getting better and better. I know my kids will be begging me to get the next ones as soon as they’re released. These are a must-buy for school library collections as I guarantee they will fly off the shelves. They’re a great read-alike for James Burke’s Bird and Squirrel series.

Squidding Around: Fish Feud! by Kevin Sherry

If you’re looking for a super-fun, pun-tastic graphic novel for younger readers then look no further than Kevin Sherry’s latest, Squidding Around: Fish Feud!

Squizzard and Toothy have been best friends since they were teeny tiny. A squid and a Great White Shark at first seems like an odd friendship but Toothy is a vegetarian so it works. They do everything together but Toothy is getting sick of being pushed around by Squizzard. Toothy finally snaps and says he doesn’t want to be friends anymore. Squizzard has to figure out how to put others first and learn how to be a good friend. If he can do that maybe Toothy will want to be his friend again.

Fish Feud is one of the coolest graphic novels for young readers! It’s colourful, full of jokes and puns, packed with facts and totally hilarious. Kids will be laughing out loud while they read and sharing the jokes with their friends. Jokes like ‘What happened to the shark that ate a set of keys? He got lockjaw!’ It’s a story about friendship too and the importance of compromise. Squizzard is a clown who loves to be the centre of attention. Squizzard always thinks about himself and the games that he wants to play and Toothy feels like he doesn’t get heard. When Toothy snaps Squizzard has to change.

Kevin’s illustrations are bright and bold and his characters are simple but expressive. I love some of the little details of the illustrations, like the pages when the class are doing their oral reports. Each of the kids have brought something to talk about, from their video game to a priceless necklace.

The thing I love most about Fish Feud is the way that Kevin has incorporated facts about the sea creatures into the story. At the same time as laughing your head off you also learn about barracudas, hammerhead sharks, and squid. Sometimes facts are just dropped into the story and other times Kevin will change his illustration style to show you it’s a fact.

Fish Feud is the first book in what will hopefully be a big series. Readers are going to begging for more after reading this one.

Pacey Packer Unicorn Tracker by J.C. Phillipps

Most books and movies would have us believe that unicorns are cute and colourful but not J.C. Phillipps’ new graphic novel. Dive into Pacey Packer Unicorn Tracker and discover what unicorns are really like.

Pacey Packer is a girl with a big imagination but she could never have imagined she would find herself in Rundalyn, the secret land of the unicorns. Pacey’s little sister Mina gets sick of waiting for Pacey to play with her. When Pacey goes looking for Mina she finds her about to leap out of her window on the back of a unicorn. Pacey thinks Mina is being kidnapped and tries to grab the unicorn. Pacey, and Mina’s plushie unicorn, Slasher, fall from the sky and find themselves lost in Rundalyn. Pacey and Slasher set off to find Mina but also discover what unicorns are really like. Pacey will have to become the brave hero from her imagination in order to save her sister.

This is a super cool graphic novel for kids! It’s a story full of nasty unicorns, weird plants, magical seeds and sassy characters. J.C. Phillipps’ illustration style is unique and will certainly appeal to kids. She has used a limited colour palette, with just black, white and purple. I really like how J.C. uses different perspectives throughout the story (like Pacey being up in a tree) and the movement between panels, like the example below:

J.C. has even made chapter headings cool by incorporating them into the illustrations.

Pacey herself is a great character but my favourite is Slasher. He’s full of attitude but looks super cute. He’s a soft toy but he’s clearly not happy about it. He’s always cursing his lousy plushie grip. I’m sure most kids won’t see this but Slasher reminds me of Brian, the dog from Family Guy.

Thank goodness this is just the start of the Pacey Packer series! Kids are going to love Pacey and Slasher and, like me, will eagerly await their next adventure.

Sherlock Bones and the Sea-Creature Feature by Renée Treml

Everyone has wondered what happens in a museum at night. There have been books written and movies made about it. In Sherlock Bones and the Natural History Mystery, Renée Treml introduced us to the great detective known as Sherlock Bones. The always sharp and super-observant tawny frogmouth skeleton is back on the case again in his latest mystery, Sherlock Bones and the Sea-Creature Feature.

Sherlock Bones lives in the State Natural History Museum with his pals Grace the raccoon and Watts the stuffed parrot. When the sun goes down and the humans leave, Sherlock and his friends come alive. A new wing of the museum has just opened, with new exhibits, but Sherlock has heard of a swamp monster that is scaring the visitors and the octopus is missing. Where there is a mystery Sherlock Bones isn’t far away.

Sherlock Bones and the Sea-Creature Feature is a pun-tastic read that is both laugh-out-loud funny and chock-full of facts. Sherlock not only thinks he is an amazing detective (he’s really not), he also thinks he’s the funniest bird around (he just ends up making himself laugh). He has plenty of bad puns up his sleeve that will make readers young and old crack up. Unlike Sherlock and Grace, Watts never says anything out loud but he still communicates with Sherlock and his wings can be extended to help Sherlock fly around the museum. Sherlock and his pals are always on the lookout for clues but the reader sees things that they completely miss. Grace spends a good part of the story distracted with a Rubix cube and isn’t aware of what is going on around her.

The story is told in a graphic novel format, with black and white illustrations. Sherlock is a skeleton but Renée has given him so much personality. I think the star of the show has to be Nivlac though, as he is able to turn invisible and disguise himself. You can tell that Renée has had a lot of fun hiding Nivlac in the illustrations.

The thing I love the most about this book is the way that Renée incorporates information into the story. There are facts about the exhibits in the illustrations that help to explain what is happening in the story. The exhibit about the octopus says that octopus do not have a skeleton which means they can squeeze into tight spaces. This explains why the octopus goes missing. It’s one of those books that is really entertaining but you don’t realise you’re learning something at the same time.

I highly recommend both Sherlock Bones books, especially for kids who struggle to find something to read. They’ll be hooked straight away. They’re also great for kids who have read all of the Bad Guys books by Aaron Blabey as they’re a similar format and sense of humour.