Children's Corner: 'The Silver Six' among the sterling new long-form comics for children

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Are the kids looking for some fun summer reading? Have them try out one of these new long-form comics:

• The time is many years in the future, and 12-year-old Phoebe's parents have died in a mysterious accident. For the past year, she's lived on her own with her trusty eccentric robot Max, trying to make it look like her parents are still alive so she isn't sent to an orphanage. One day, however, her secret is uncovered, and Phoebe is forced to move to a "Child Welfare Services" dormitory.

There, she joins forces with five other orphans whose parents also have died under suspicious circumstances. Like Phoebe, the other five also were given copies of a perplexing "moon registry" by their parents before they died, something that seems to tie them together.

The group names itself the "Silver Six," and, together, they find a way to break out of the dormitory by stealing a spaceship, which deposits them on what appears to be an undiscovered moon. There, the group figures out a way to decode the moon registries, learning that their parents were close to uncovering a major new energy source. Before the adults could complete their research, however, their spaceship was blown up by the power-hungry head of the mining company that virtually rules Earth because it has a monopoly on the energy supply.

In "The Silver Six" (Graphix/Scholastic, $22.99, ages 8-12), author A.J. Lieberman and illustrator Darren Rawlings show how the kids, led by the inexhaustible Phoebe, fight back against the company that killed their parents. In the process, the Silver Six also discover a new energy source for Earth, thus freeing the world from the grip of the mining company.

If all of this sounds a bit grim, it's actually far from it. Mr. Lieberman's science-fiction story is filled with drama and humor and enough crazy plot twists to keep readers rapidly turning the pages. Young readers will readily bond with the characters, particularly Phoebe and Max, as the Silver Six members learn to get along with each other while battling the real villains.

Mr. Rawlings' illustrations add further energy to the story and help flesh out the characters. Readers will especially enjoy the way the artwork makes the futuristic world of the Silver Six seem quite real.

• The tagline on the cover of "Ball" (Houghton Mifflin, $12.99, ages 3 up) says it all: "Word and pictures by Mary Sullivan." Yep, there's only one word in "Ball," although it's repeated on each page of this cheerful tale of a ball-obsessed dog.

Fortunately, the dog's young mistress loves playing ball as much as her canine companion. But the young girl can't play all day; she's got to go to school, leaving the dog searching desperately for other playmates. The dog even tries to interest an infant, who bursts out bawling. Finally, it's time for school to let out, and dog and mistress can once again go into ball-playing mode.

Ms. Sullivan's simple story contrasts perfectly with her hilariously expressive illustrations.

Presented in the 32-page format of a picture book, "Ball" is a brief but great introduction to graphic novels for preschoolers. But this comical, charming book is sure to be a favorite with older kids and even adults.

• It's big news when a troupe of vaudeville players descends on the small town of Muskegon, Mich., in the summer of 1908.

Henry Harrison is particularly excited by the performers, especially the star of the show, a young boy near his own age named Buster Keaton. While Buster revels in the routine of small-town life -- so unlike his normally peripatetic existence -- the star-struck Henry longs to learn how to juggle and do pratfalls the way Buster does.

In "Bluffton" (Candlewick Press, $22.99, ages 10-14), author/illustrator Matt Phelan presents a beautifully illustrated, nuanced story of how the friendship between Henry and Buster stretches them both in unexpected and sometimes challenging ways.

Although Henry is a fictional character, Mr. Phelan explains in an author's note at the book's conclusion that Keaton actually did spend summers in Muskegon at the Actors' Colony at Bluffton, which was founded by Keaton's father. An ardent Keaton fan since boyhood, Mr. Phelan got the idea for "Bluffton" when he read Keaton's autobiography, in which the actor said that the happiest days of his life were the summers he spent in Muskegon.

While young readers may be inspired to find out more about Keaton after reading "Bluffton," they'll likely be most interested in the story that Mr. Phelan has created, especially Henry's unsuccessful efforts to follow in his friend's footsteps onstage and his quest to figure out just where his life path will lead. The evocative watercolor illustrations also are a visual treat as they underscore the impact that Buster has on Henry's life.

• A couple of other new graphic novels for kids also are worth checking out:

In "Hereville: How Mirka Met a Meteorite" (Amulet, $16.95, ages 8-12), the spunky Mirka is back with a new adventure in which she must battle an evil Doppelganger Mirka. As in Mirka's first book, "Hereville: How Mirka Got Her Sword," author/illustrator Barry Deutsch offers a fast-paced, funny fantasy that more than lives up to the cover tag: "Boldly Going Where No 11-year-old Orthodox Jewish Girl Has Gone Before."

She's got a dual role of "serving justice" and "serving lunch," and Lunch Lady really has her hands full in "Lunch Lady and the Video Game Villain" (Knopf, $6.99, ages 5-10), written and illustrated by Jarrett Krosoczka. In this latest installment in the popular series, Lunch Lady needs all her wits -- and her gadgets -- as she tries to catch a thief.

bookreviews

Karen MacPherson, the children's/teen librarian at the Takoma Park, Md., Library, can be reached at Kam.Macpherson@gmail.com.


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