Nnewts: Escape from the Lizzarks

illus. by Doug TenNapel Katherine Garner. 192p. (Nnewts: Bk. 1). Scholastic/Graphix. Jan. 2015. Tr $19.99. ISBN 9780545676472; pap. $10.99. ISBN 9780545676465; ebk. ISBN 9780545778701.
Gr 4–8—In the quiet village of Nnewtown, live the Nnewts, a happy community of amphibians. Herk is a young Nnewt confined to his home's spawning pool because his legs are not strong enough to support his body. When Nnewtown is attacked by the evil Lizzarks, Herk's parents are killed and he is forced to flee. Alone on this journey and pursued by the Lizzarks, he encounters several characters who help him grow and confront the Snake Lord, the villain who replaced his original strong legs with weaker ones while Herk was still an egg. The first volume of a new graphic novel series by the creator of Bad Island (2011) and Cardboard (2012, both Scholastic), this originally appeared online as a web-comic. While Tennapel creates a generally uplifting story, there are several inexplicably strange turns and occurrences. Most notable among these is in Herk's victory over the Snake Lord when the constellation Orion, which the book does establish as a focus of worship for Nnewt culture, suddenly takes an active role in the story's events, deus ex machina-style. There's also a potential tone-deafness toward students with disabilities, presenting Herk's originally weak legs, described at one point as "withered," as an obstacle that must be fixed in order to achieve completeness. Tennapel's cartoonish illustrations are the work's strength, and its intended audience will find them exciting and humorous. It may be best to wait and see how the story progresses in the next installment before adding this to a graphic novel collection.—Ryan F. Paulsen, New Rochelle High School, NY
Color by Katherine Garner. Herk, a "Nnewt," is separated from his family during a covert mission to rout the Lizzarks, scaly reptilian bipeds, who have been spying on Nnewtown. Though "just a little fry," willful Herk learns the true meaning of hope when an ancestor helps him. The spunky Nnewt's journey is characterized by offbeat humor and portrayed through dark panel illustrations.
Doug TenNapel's inventive and lushly rendered amphibian world is full of surprise and will excite readers' imaginations. Herk's courage and curiosity are admirable. He escapes one danger after another, undeterred by his initial inability to walk, but still is open enough to trust those who offer help. Chase and battle scenes are vividly illustrated, underscoring the characters' intense emotions. There is also a spiritual element to the Nnewts' worldview, which is beguilingly introduced. The loss of Herk's family in the Lizzarks' invasion is movingly presented. Enticing questions are left for future installments: will Herk be reunited with his sister? And who is Zerk, a long-lost Nnewt who looks so much like Herk?

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