Graphic Novel Series Updates for Both Die-Hard Fans and New Readers

This year, we’ve seen updates to many graphic novel series aimed at middle grade and chapter book readers. Which installments will appeal only to die-hard series fans, and which can readers pick up with no knowledge of previous books? We offer some guidance.

This year, we’ve seen updates to many graphic novel series aimed at middle grade and chapter book readers. Sorting through them can be tough: Which installments will appeal only to die-hard series fans, and which can readers pick up with no knowledge of previous books? We offer some guidance—the newest “Wallace the Brave” and “Hilo” are particular standouts.

Deas, Mike & Nancy Deas. Otter Lagoon. ­ illus. by Mike Deas. 192p. (Sueño Bay Adventures: Bk. 2). Orca. Apr. 2021. pap. $14.95. ISBN 9781459819641.
Gr 2-4 –Local rumors of Ol’ Luna, a rare lunar sea serpent, start to swirl in Sueño Bay. These tales prove true one summer day when Jenna stumbles upon the sea monster’s egg cache at the bottom of Otter Lagoon. Though she and her little brother Sleeves and her friends/supernatural enthusiasts Ollie and Kay often get involved in adventures together, she decides not to show the eggs to them. In an attempt to raise funds for a rescue dog’s operation, Jenna makes questionable choices involving the eggs that could result in devastating consequences for all of Sueño Bay. This second book in the series provides a slow-building, character-focused supernatural adventure that explores personal responsibility and guilt. Gloriously rendered in earth-tone watercolors and hand-drawn inked lines, the engaging illustrations will pull in readers with cartoonish character design on realistic natural backgrounds. Jenna and Sleeves are brown-skinned, Ollie is tan-skinned, and Kay appears to be white. VERDICT Fans of the first installment will especially enjoy this continuation. Recommended purchase.

Ferry, Beth. Fox & Rabbit Celebrate. illus. by Gergely Dudás. 96p. (Fox & Rabbit: Bk. 3). Abrams/Amulet. May 2021. Tr $12.99. ISBN 9781419751837; pap. $7.99. ISBN 9781419749599.
Gr 1-3 –Five short stories emphasizing friendship, good intentions, and yummy food make up this third series installment. After the first tale, which sees Fox attempting to fix household problems for other animals, the subsequent stories involve Fox and Rabbit preparing and celebrating Sparrow’s birthday with a humongous pizza and fun party with all the animals of the woods. Along the way, the two best friends meet Dragon and encourage the sheltered creature to join the festivities. Throughout, kindness prevails as the animals prioritize helping each other and making their friends happy. Early readers exploring graphic novels will enjoy the bright colors, soft illustrations, and easy-to-follow narrative. VERDICT A pleasant read that both series fans and new readers are sure to appreciate.

Gallagher, John. Max Meow: Donuts and Danger. illus. by John Gallagher. 240p. (Max Meow: Bk. 2). Random. Apr. 2021. Tr $12.99. ISBN 9780593121085.
Gr 2-5 –Max Meow, everyone’s favorite cat vlogger and secret superhero, is back in this second series installment. While at the Kittyopolis Food Fest, Max (aka Cat Crusader) and his best friend Mindy, a young Black scientist plagued by self-doubt and perfectionism, get caught up in a ruckus when power-hungry squirrel Big Boss’s hench-penguins show up to steal Mindy’s Size-o-Tron device. To make ­matters worse, a new dastardly duo appear on the scene: Max and Mindy’s mean ­doppelgangers, Xam the Catinator and Mandy the Iron Cat. When the villains team up for a doughnut heist, Max and Mindy must yet again save the day with science and quick thinking. The prologue will give readers a solid grasp on the characters and their universe. Bold illustrations combined with varied page designs will pull in ­readers eager for a goofy, action-packed adventure, though a few pop ­culture references (like “Elvis Purrsley”) may fly over kids’ heads. VERDICT A fun take on superheroes, with a strong message about ­embracing ­imperfection.

Gaudin, Gareth. The Monster Sisters and the Mystery of the Stone Octopus. illus. by ­Gareth Gaudin. 160p. (Monster Sisters: Bk. 2). Orca. Apr. 2021. pap. $19.95. ISBN 9781459822290.
Gr 4-6 –Picking up after the events of the first book, this next series entry finds sisters Enid Jupiter and Lyra Gotham exploring their father’s basement art studio in Victoria, British Columbia. After stumbling upon a strange brick with mysterious coordinates, the girls head out on a wild scavenger hunt to locate more clues in hopes of solving the city’s current monster problem. Narrated by host Perogy Cat (a locally popular character created by Gaudin for the comic strip Magic Teeth Dailies), this quirky graphic novel about two kids ­going up against a host of creepy creatures incorporates science facts and information about places in Victoria, resulting in a thoughtful, educational adventure. Gaudin’s vibrant monsters pop against a fairly subdued palette. Though rife with amusing meta-humor, the narrative relies heavily on exposition and suffers from slow pacing at times. Familiarity with the series starter is essential for those wishing to get the most out of their reading experience. Both protagonists are white. ­VERDICT Purchase only for fans eager for the next “Monster Sisters” installment.

Green, John Patrick. InvestiGators: Off the Hook. illus. by John Patrick Green. 208p. (InvestiGators: Bk. 3). First Second. Feb. 2021. Tr $9.99. ISBN 9781250220004.
Gr 2-5 –Alligator spies Mango and Brash are back in this third volume that tackles no-win scenarios and sees the return of nemesis Crackerdile. The InvestiGators are summoned to the Science Factory to look into the continued disappearance of plumber Bill Plungerton and a lab snake. Little do they know that Plungerton and the snake are now evil—dubbing themselves Hookline and Slinker, they have teamed up with Crackerdile to start a new group of supervillains. Antics ensue after the villains rob a bank, setting themselves on an eventual crash course with Mango and Brash. Though the narrative is dialogue heavy at times, the colorful, cartoony artwork, wordplay, and comical misunderstandings will leave kids eager for more. VERDICT An enjoyable, humorous tale for new and returning series readers, especially those partial to puns.


Henry, Will. Wicked Epic Adventures: Another Wallace the Brave Collection. illus. by Will Henry. 176p. (Wallace the Brave: Bk. 3). Andrews McMeel. Mar. 2021. pap. $11.99. ISBN 9781524865078.
Gr 2-6 –Return to Snug Harbor, RI, in this third collection of comic strips featuring spirited Wallace; his slightly anxious best friend, Spud; his classmate Amelia; his little brother Sterling; and his good-natured parents. Opening as the school year ends and unfolding over summer and autumn, the volume includes random philosophical musings as well as jokes about fears, decision-making, and the ocean. Some story lines involve a Chinese finger trap that results in Wallace and Spud getting stuck together, Amelia’s successful attempts to get Wallace to eat an extremely hot pepper, a daredevil skateboard jump gone wrong, and hurricane preparedness. The hand-drawn art and dry humor are reminiscent of Calvin and Hobbes, but Wallace and his family are true originals, a loving unit who embrace one another’s quirks. Wallace, his family, and Amelia are white; Spud is tan-skinned. VERDICT An entertaining, feel-good read. Highly recommended; readers unfamiliar with the series will be delighted and eager to try out earlier installments.

Knetzger, Laura. Bug Boys: Outside and Beyond. illus. by Laura Knetzger. 272p. (Bug Boys: Bk. 2). Random/Graphic. Feb. 2021. Tr $13.99. ISBN 9781984896780.
Gr 2-5 –Tales of friendship and adventure abound in this second series installment. In Bug Village, two young beetle best friends, Rhino-B and Stag-B, go camping, participate in a role-playing game, attend a bug library conference, and roam the great outdoors with friends new and old. The stories offer up fun shenanigans with a side of introspection, exploring themes of growing up, identity, and change. Readers will enjoy the natural settings and playful character design, which is very similar to the TV show Adventure Time. VERDICT A thoughtful look at best friends and big emotions. Hand to fans of the first in the series or to anyone in need of an uplifting read.

Peirce, Lincoln. Big Nate: In Your Face! illus. by Lincoln Peirce. 176p. (Big Nate: Bk. 24). Andrews McMeel. Mar. 2021. pap. $11.99. ISBN 9781524864774.
Gr 3-6 –Everyone’s favorite middle school underachiever is back. Nate and his friends tackle classic middle school situations such as class pet duty, a relationship breakup, Secret Santa gifts, and a surprise birthday party for a teacher. Though this is the 24th entry in the series, new readers will easily pick up on character dynamics as they navigate the dialogue-focused, primarily four-panel comic strips. A broad supporting cast of friends, family, and teachers interject reason and logic throughout, balancing out Nate’s thoughtless but humorous antics. Most characters, including Nate, are white, though there are characters of color, including Nate’s friend Teddy, who is Black. VERDICT ­Purchase where “Big Nate” is popular and where fun, middle grade comic collections are needed.

Roman, Dave. Astronaut Academy: Splashdown. illus. by Dave Roman. 192p. (Astronaut Academy: Bk. 3). First Second. Apr. 2021. Tr $19.99. ISBN 9781250216854.
Gr 3-5 –Hakata Soy and his classmates at Astronaut Academy are officially on summer break and ready for adventure. Maribelle Mellonbelly decides to host an exclusive party on Beach Planet and invite everyone she knows—a bad decision, as arguments break out between friends and nemeses. Meanwhile, increasingly serious environmental issues threaten the ­inhabitants of Beach Planet, and soon it is up to the partygoers to band together and restore balance. Control and conflict resolution are important themes in this third series installment. For those who prefer steady linear narratives, the sometimes circuitous path and uneven pacing may be off-putting. However, those who stick with the narrative will find the book to be a fun, colorful read full of action. Hakata has tan skin and brown hair, Maribelle is white, and their class is a racially diverse group. VERDICT Recommended where the series is popular.

Shaskan, Stephen. Pizza and Taco: Best Party Ever! illus. by Stephen Shaskan. 72p. (Pizza and Taco: Bk. 2). Random. Jan. 2021. Tr $9.99. ISBN 9780593123348.
K-Gr 3 –Our lovable eponymous food protagonists are back for another wacky adventure. Bored one day, Pizza and Taco decide to throw a party at the water park. When they arrive at the park, only to find it closed, they try to improvise. When issues with their party sign and guests arise, they realize that they might not be able to save the day. This dialogue-driven graphic novel is short but sweet, with a solid lesson about planning. Readers will enjoy Pizza and Taco’s positive energy and tendency to emote big feelings. Photographs of food superimposed against spare cartoon ­backgrounds match the whimsy and ­humor of the text. VERDICT Hand to early readers starting to explore graphic novels and who enjoy food-themed high jinks; even those unfamiliar with the series will easily jump in.


Simpson, Dana. Ozy and Millie: Perfectly Normal. illus. by Dana Simpson. 176p. (Ozy and Millie: Bk. 2). Andrews McMeel. Mar. 2021. pap. $11.99. ISBN 9781524865092.
Gr 5-8 –Gray fox Ozy and red fox Millie spend a lot of time hanging out and thinking deeply. When not engaging in dry banter, the best friends find their way through many Millie-centric situations, like Millie’s accidental ascent to popularity, time spent reading the dictionary, and fun with haiku. Ozy’s adoptive dragon father, Llewellyn, and Millie’s mom appear throughout the comic strips, as do raccoon brothers Avery and Timulty. In this second “Ozy and Millie” collection from Phoebe and Her Unicorn creator Simpson, humor feels contemplative, with many intellectual references. The cute and colorful character design is attention-grabbing and will appeal to the intended audience. However, even with the glossary, younger readers may struggle with the sophisticated vocabulary and dialogue-heavy strips. VERDICT Will appeal most to fans of the first book, but advanced readers interested in comic strips who enjoy animals, wordplay, and light shenanigans may enjoy, too.

Simpson, Dana. Unicorn Famous: Another Phoebe and Her Unicorn Adventure. 176p. (Phoebe and Her Unicorn: Bk. 13). Andrews McMeel. Apr. 2021. pap. $11.99. ISBN 9781524864767.
Gr 3-6 –In the 13th volume of this series about the friendship between a girl named Phoebe and a unicorn called Marigold Heavenly Nostrils, Phoebe notices that unicorns are the next big fad—at least, in the human world. So Marigold decides to make humans just as trendy in the ­Unicorn Lands, with mixed results. Other story lines in the book involve Phoebe and Marigold playing superheroes, going to classmate Dakota’s Blarty Award ceremony, and preparing for a visit from the tooth fairy. Supernatural elements and modern settings blend to form delightfully amusing, colorful comics that focus on character interactions. Phoebe and ­Marigold are caring friends who often engage in thoughtful, relatable discussions about topics like frenemies, self-consciousness, worries about what others think, and the need for alone time. Marigold’s attempts to relate to Phoebe’s dilemmas by sharing her own anecdotes and unicorn lore are particularly amusing. Phoebe is brown-skinned, while Dakota is white. VERDICT Hand to fans of the series and young ­fantasy readers with an interest in unicorns.

Stilton, Geronimo & Elisabetta Dami. Slime for Dinner. adapt. & illus. by Tom ­Angleberger. 208p. (­Geronimo Stilton Graphic Novel: Bk. 2). Scholastic/Graphix. Feb. 2021. Tr $12.99. ISBN 9781338587357.
Gr 2-5 –Mystery and pranks abound in Angleberger’s second graphic novel (after The Sewer Rat Stink) that reimagines the best-selling series about rodent reporter Geronimo Stilton. Geronimo, his cousin Trap, and his sister Thea attend a mystery dinner at Creepella’s spooky castle, where guests must decipher a series of gross clues to find a missing golden coffin. Though Geronimo does not want to win the coveted trip to Transratania with Creepella, he works hard to solve the mystery in the hopes of ending the increasingly creepy dinner as soon as possible. The short chapters full of colorful, messy, free-style art keep the narrative flowing. Young readers with a taste for gross-out humor and mischief will enjoy the increasingly disgusting dishes that serve as clues, as well as the different pranks that Creepella’s nephews play on Geronimo. VERDICT An amusing read that will appeal the most to “­Geronimo Stilton” fans.

Treml, Renée. Sherlock Bones and the Sea-Creature Feature. illus. by Renée Treml. 288p. (Sherlock Bones: Bk. 2). ­HarperCollins/Etch. Mar. 2021. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9780358309338.
Gr 3-6 –Self-proclaimed “mystery-solving superstar” Sherlock Bones, stuffed inanimate parrot sidekick Watts, and chocolate-obsessed raccoon Grace are excited to see the new Reef to Shore exhibit at their home, the State Natural History Museum (where Sherlock, a frogmouth bird skeleton, comes to life when visitors leave). After overhearing schoolchildren mention a swamp monster, Sherlock and Grace decide to investigate. A late night visit to the new exhibit reveals strange sounds, mysterious puddles of water, and another mystery: a missing octopus. Luckily, Sherlock Bones is ready to crack both cases. This second series installment continues to interweave fourth wall–breaking banter and punny jokes with accessible discussions of scientific topics such as cryptozoology and octopus camouflage. Though expressive and engaging, the black-and-white illustrations may not appeal to those who prefer more colorful art styles. VERDICT An amusing, informative pick for middle grade graphic novel readers seeking mysteries; fans of the series will especially ­enjoy this one.

Winick, Judd. Hilo: Gina; The Girl Who Broke the World. illus. by Judd Winick. 224p. (Hilo: Bk. 7). Random. Feb. 2021. Tr $13.99. ISBN 9780525644095.
Gr 3-6 –In the seventh entry in the series (after All the Pieces Fit), Gina Cooper, D.J. Lim, and their alien robot friend Hilo recover from loss and face new threats on Earth. Grief over the death of their friend Izzy hits Gina hard and leads her to resist her new magical powers. When mysterious magic beings show up around town looking for “the Nestor,” Gina must work through her fears, with help from Hilo, D.J., and others, to stop a cataclysmic event. The book expertly builds tension and balances action scenes with quiet character moments, aided by Winick’s winsome, energetic cartoons. The focus on Gina allows for a meaningful exploration of identity and the message that kids should embrace all aspects of themselves. Readers will connect with the humor and camaraderie of this trio of friends. Gina and her family are Black, D.J. and his family are Asian, and Hilo is white. VERDICT An engaging, action-packed read that will resonate with new and dedicated readers of the series.

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