Here are two middle-grade graphics that have been nominated for a Cybils award, for my Armchair Cybils reading.
Mal and Chad. Vol 3: Belly Flop! by Stephen McCranie. Philomel Books, 2012.
Mal is a child inventor who goes around with his talking dog sidekick, Chad. Although he’s constantly late for his bus because of working on his inventions, at school, Mal has a different focus: winning the affections of the beautiful Megan. Megan, though, has been adopted by the cool girls, who let Mal know in no uncertain terms that he’s not cool enough for her. Several episodes detail his efforts in this regard, from finding the perfect birthday present for her (after her father invited him) to trying out for the school talent show. That last is also an attempt to get rid of the nickname he earned at the birthday party, and his inventions also provide a nice thread to tie the stories together. His weather cube and his inventions for his magic act are both key in multiple chapters.
Although this is the third book in the series, I thought it was the first until I looked it up – everything is so clearly laid out that we were able to jump right in without feeling that we were missing anything. There’s just as much focus on the characters and on friendship as there is on the inventions, though, both between Mal and Chad and Mal and Megan. The art shows the kids as cute, rounded characters, still too young for the girls to be developing figures, despite Mal’s crush. Even the cool girls have little wayward clumps of hair sticking out from the crowns of their heads, which I found an endearing detail. With lots of humor and a great pair of main characters, this is one with lots of appeal for both boys and girls. The biggest flaw that I found was the binding: the book was less than a year old and already falling apart. This did not stop my son from reading it all the way through, though he’s less interested in finishing books these days. Pair this with Secret Science Alliance and a Nick and Tesla book for more kid inventor fun.
Extreme Babymouse! Babymouse Vol 17. by Jennifer and Matthew Holm. Random House, 2013.
I’ve been hearing about the Babymouse books for years now, but never brought them home. Maybe I thought that the pink covers would make them too girly for my son, but not so. He sat down and read it all the way through to himself, pink cover and hearts notwithstanding. The cover was very appealing to my daughter, though: she refused to let me take it back to the library, even though it’s already been renewed once. Babymouse is especially good for newly independent readers.
In this volume, all the cool kids at Babymouse’s school are going snowboarding, and Babymouse wants to go, too. But even when her parents take her to the slopes, nothing Babymouse can do is enough to make her cool in the eyes of the cool kids. Her cabin isn’t as cool and she’s not brave enough to tackle the big slopes. Finally, Babymouse is able to make peace with herself. Though the message is serious, the storytelling method is hilarious. Babymouse literally turns into a balloon when her mother tells her they can go snowboarding, only to pop when the cool cats (yes, they are actually cats) tell her that her cabin isn’t one of the cool ones. And at this point, the narrator, who sometimes talks to Babymouse in the line at the top of the frame, says, “Deflated much, Babymouse?” I loved this turning the convention of the narrator around and having the narrator make asides to Babymouse, rather than the reader. There are also gags that feel like they’ve been continued across the series, like Babymouse’s school locker literally eating her possessions. This may have been our first Babymouse, but I’m sure it won’t be the last.