TO GET TO THE OTHER SIDE: Tom Angleberger
Despite selling millions of books, Tom Angleberger’s latest, the middle grade graphic novel Two-Headed Chicken—out
September 2022 from Walker Books—marks the first time the bestselling author has both written and illustrated a book. And that book—which kicks off a new series for Angleberger, the creator of the popular Origami Yoda books—follows an escaped chicken looking to avoid death by fryer at the hands of a moose named Kernel Antlers. Things only get sillier and even more delightful from there.
According to Angleberger, the graphic novel was inspired, at least in part, by nostalgia. “Two-Headed Chicken is my love let- ter to those glorious gag books of the 1970s,” Angleberger tells PW. “Like 101 Outer Space Jokes and Star Jaws. It’s just cheap laughs about the stuff we all love: movies, monsters, multiverses, and mer-mooses.”
And despite the warm prepublication reception to the book—children’s and YA author Daniel Pinkwater says in a blurb,
“You cannot go wrong with a book that has a chicken in it. This book has a two-headed chicken, so it is better. The only thing that could possibly improve such a book would be if it had a moose. This one has a moose. There is other stuff too, but I am not going to tell you the whole thing.”—Angleberger isn’t letting success go to his head.
“Somewhere in the multitiverse there’s a universe where Kate DiCamillo wrote Two-Headed Chicken and it has wonderful characters, emotional depth, and profound insight into the human condition,” Angleberger says. “Un- fortunately, in this universe, I wrote the book and it has a bunch of dumb jokes, a crudely drawn maze, and a pickle. His name is Misty.”
DON'T FEAR FAILURE: Mark Leiknes
What do you get when you combine a fantastic world full of dragons, rock creatures, and golden lounge-wear? The latest book from author and illustrator Mark Leiknes: Quest Kids and the Dragon Pants of Gold, out September 2022 from Union Square Kids.
The book follows the adventures of the titular kids: a wizard in training named Gil, a 700-year-old elf kid named Terra, a rock troll named Boulder, a pig-dog-maybe-lizard hybrid known as Ash, and their leader, Ned, who is also looking for his missing parents. The Quest Kids are ready to embark on their first real quest—now all they have to do is find the Golden-Fleeced Rage Beast, shave it, and make a golden tracksuit to appease a furious dragon. What could go wrong?
Leiknes, who produced the nationally syndicated comic strip Cow & Boy for eight years, says Quest Kids and the Dragon Pants of Gold allowed him to bring together two of his favorite things. “My two greatest joys are making my kids laugh and drawing comics,” he tells PW. “With Quest Kids and the Dragon Pants of Gold, I get to do both.”
And although Quest Kids and the Dragon Pants of Gold is laugh-out-loud funny, Leiknes, who honed his comedic chops studying improv and sketch comedy at the Groundlings School, notes that the book also has an important message. “If there’s one thing I’d like readers to get from this book, besides uncontrollable bouts of laughter, it would be this message: Don’t fear failure,” he says. “The Quest Kids fail all the time, they make mistakes, but that’s the only way they get better. Failing is super normal and very necessary for getting good at the things you want to do in life.”
DISCOVERING YOURSELF: Jonathan Schnapp
Making friends can be hard—especially if you’re a highly nervous bear named Frank attending summer camp deep in a forest full of mystery. That’s the setup of author and artist Jonathan Schnapp’s debut, the middle grade graphic novel Order of the Night Jay: The Forest Beckons, a series starter publishing in July 2022 from Top Shelf Productions.
And while Frank—the only bear at Camp Jay Bird—is trying to make friends, he has his hands full dealing with pesky bugs, getting picked on by his fellow campers, and failing to earn a single merit badge. But things aren’t all bad. He meets Ricky, an excitable raccoon with a shared love of Mega Bunny comics. And soon, Frank finds himself breaking all the camp rules, getting lost in the woods, discovering a mystery—what are the ancient secrets of the long-forgotten Order of the Night Jay?—and just maybe saving the day.
Schnapp, who has an MFA in imaging arts from the Rochester Institute of Technology, says the graphic novel, which has a fun and twisty plot middle grade readers will love, contains an important lesson for readers of all ages. “At the core of Order of the Night Jay is discovery,” he tells PW. “On one level, there’s history and the magic of nature as Ricky and Frank delve into the woods to learn about the Order. But, more importantly, it’s about discovering yourself, following your heart, and breaking free from the expectations of others.”