Mystery and Magic: Two More Great All-Ages Reads

It can be hard for parents to navigate the shelves at a comic shop, particularly if they haven't read a lot of comics themselves. The misconception that all comics are for kids is waning, but hasn't totally been extinguished yet. Luckily, most shops have a section devoted to all-ages books, and staff trained to make recommendations. Here are a couple that I've enjoyed, if you need to spark some ideas.

Goldie Vance by Hope Larson

When I was a kid, I loved Nancy Drew mysteries. I started with the old, original books my mom had also loved, and eventually moved on the newer, hipper books in my tween years. (We touch on those briefly in this podcast.) I admit, a big part of my attraction was that Nancy was, like me, a redhead, but I also genuinely enjoyed trying to put the clues together to solve the mystery and the fact that Nancy seemed like she was capable of rescuing her damn self from most of the scrapes her snooping got her into. In Goldie Vance, Hope Larson and artist Brittney Williams have created a spiritual successor to Nancy, albeit updated for modern sensibilities. (The book is set in what Larson describes as a "highly fictionalized 1960's - race, gender and sexuality reflect the most progressive ideals of the modern era, while class, context, and the general aesthetic are solidly 60's.) Like Nancy, Marigold "Goldie" Vance is 16 years old, lives with just her dad (though her Mom remains alive and a part of her life), and has a penchant for fast, beautiful cars. Unlike Nancy, Goldie is also a person of color, interested in girls, and working class. Those differences inform the mysteries she solves and how she solves them - unlike Nancy, who had the money and freedom to go where she wanted and do what she pleased, Goldie has to work for a living. And she might love fast cars, but for now, the only vehicle she personally owns is a bicycle.

This series is light-hearted fun that will please any tween mystery lover. The mysteries Goldie solves start out small and domestic, but the grow in scale and significance as the story goes on. Goldie and her friends are likeable and charming, and Williams' art suits the setting and tone of the book. Best for ages 10 and up.

Recommended for: Super sleuths and nostalgia buffs Bonus: A movie is rumored to be in the works.

The Five Worlds by Mark Siegel and Alexis Siegel

It's no secret that one of my favorite middle-grade series is Amulet. I wrote about it here. I made the Comicazi Book Club all read it. And whenever any of my friends who are parents of comics-loving children ask me to recommend a series, that's one of the first ones out of my mouth. So when Jill at Comicazi said "hey, I just got in this book that's being described as a cross between Amulet and Avatar, the Last Airbender," (another thing that I love deeply and vociferously) it was a no-brainer to give it a shot.

And luckily, that shot paid off. The Five Worlds is the story of, well, five worlds - each interconnected and each suffering from a different ecological disaster. The worlds have a legend - that if someone can light the five beacons that sit atop each of the planets, the worlds can be saved. Unfortunately, their greatest hope to do that runs away, and it's up to her sister, Oona Lee, the clumsiest student at Sand Dancer Academy, to try to complete the mission.

As you can guess from the description, this book is pure fantasy, though with some sci-fi flourishes. Sand dancing, the art of manipulating the different colored sands of the five worlds to accomplish minor and major miracles, is just the beginning. There ancient cat-gods, plant people, and remarkably life-like robots. As the protagonist, Oona fits squarely into the typical chosen one tropes. What makes the series special is that, underneath the stereotypical trappings beats the heart of something a bit more radical - ideas about environmentalism, class warfare, and race are all explored.

It also doesn't hurt that the artistic team of Xanthe Bouma, Boya Sun and Matt Rockefeller have made this a beautiful experience. The drawings are detailed and beautifully colored, truly bringing you into this strange realm.

This series is appropriate for a wide range of ages - I'd say as young as 8, though an older child would understand the social lessons a bit better.

Recommended for: Star-gazers and Sand Dancers Bonus: Book two just came out!