Graphic novels are great equalizers in middle grade books, since they offer so much for readers of different abilities to appreciate. A lot of reluctant readers will page through them because they think a book with a lot of pictures will automatically be easier. What they don’t consider is that graphic novels can present additional layers of challenge. The stories frequently advance through dialogue instead of narration, and often through the artwork alone. As a result, readers need to make inferences while reading graphic novels, which is easier to do when they’re engaged in the story.
The recently released 5 WORLDS: THE SAND WARRIOR, written by Mark and Alexis Siegel, and illustrated by Xanthe Bouma, Matt Rockefeller, and Boya Sun, is the first book in a new series of graphic novels that will have middle graders carrying copies and sketching the characters on the inside covers of their school notebooks.
The story is set against the backdrop of a growing conflict between worlds and cultures. Each of the three main characters comes from a very different life, with their own unique abilities and problems to overcome: Oona Lee, a Sand Dancer, is struggling to develop her skill while living in the shadow and memory of her older sister, Jessa. The young thief An Tzu is doing what he can to survive living in the city while mysterious forces bring slow and gradual changes to his life. Famous Starball athlete Jax Amboy is worshipped by a galaxy of fans, but has his own secrets to contend with. The three are brought together following a cataclysmic attack, and slowly come to realize how much they need each other as they try to save their world.
After I finished reading the book, I loaned it to one of the reluctant readers in my class. He kept it with him all the time, even hiding it in his lap to read when he didn’t think I'd notice. He finished it in two days. I asked him what he thought when he returned it. He said it reminded him of Guardians of the Galaxy. I figured his comparison had to do with the science fiction setting, but he went beyond that. “Because the characters all have their own problems, and even though they don’t get along all the time, they’re still friends and they have to work together.” I loaned it to one of my stronger readers next. She brought it home and finished it overnight. I had to endure a chorus of complaining from the other students when I said I had to keep the book myself for a few days to finish writing the review.
A lot of young readers are going to be taken in by this epic story and these characters, and will be anxiously waiting to find out what will happen throughout the rest of the series. I know I am!