Patrick in a Teddy Bear's Picnic and Other Stories
Geoffrey Hayes. Candlewick/Toon Books, $12.95 (32p) ISBN 978-1-935179-09-2

This emerging reader graphic novel by the Geisel Award–winning Hayes follows a young anthropomorphic bear named Patrick Brown and his gentle, laugh-filled adventures with his loving mother and father. In the first story, Patrick and his mother go on a picnic, and Patrick makes various discoveries regarding blowing up balloons and bugs, and sailing a toy boat. In the second story, Patrick confronts the Big Bear bully with wits rather than violence. These two tales are interspersed with one-pagers depicting such topics as Patrick's disdain for nap time. Very young readers will have no trouble following Hayes's gorgeous artwork, and the eager-to-please Patrick sets a good example. Readers will find the most humor in the expressions, as when the mama bear is less than thrilled with Patrick's decision to jump in puddles. Ages 5–7. (Apr.)

Squish #1: Super Amoeba

Jennifer L. Holm and Matthew Holm. Random House, $6.99 trade paper (96p) ISBN 978-0-375-84389-1

For a single-celled organism, Squish the amoeba leads an awfully complicated existence. His two best friends--Pod, a bowtie-wearing amoeba nerd, and Peggy, a pathologically cheerful paramecium--are a constant thorn in his side; he just can't seem to make it to school in time; and Lynwood the school bully wants to swallow him whole. When yet another bout of tardiness lands the whole group in detention, Squish is faced with a full-blown moral dilemma: in order to save Peggy from becoming Lynwood's next between-meal snack, he has to let the big bully copy his next science test. Can even our precocious protozoan hero get himself out of this one? The Holms strike a breezy, goofy tone right out of the gate, and Squish is a likably put-upon lead character, but beyond him the book doesn't offer much; his pals are annoying and the villain has as many dimensions as he has cells (that is, one). Add to that a disappointing two-color palette, and the whole undertaking seems flatter than a microscope slide. Squish may be an amorphous blob, but he needs to whip his supporting cast into shape for issue two. Ages 7–10. (May)

Astronaut Academy: Zero Gravity

Dave Roman. Roaring Brook/First Second, $9.99 trade paper (176p) ISBN 978-1-59643-620-6

Roman previously adapted the X-men as a shojo manga, so he certainly knows his way around the "special academy" story. This time out, it's the story of mech-riding superhero/ordinary school kid Hakata Soy, and his attempt to make a fresh start at a new orbital school filled with a bunch of colorful, aspirational classmates. Hakata struggles with the typical social drama of middle school, as well as the occasional evil twin robot assassin. It's a zany setup designed more for random fight scenes and one-liners, and the book contains a mix of short stories and one-page gag strips. The dialogue reflects this, with the kind of manic every-line-has-to-be-a-joke dialogue that reflects contemporary kids' cartoons like The Fairly OddParents. The artwork is very cartoony and cute, and uses free-floating layouts to add to the whimsy. Ages 10–14. (June)

Excalibur: The Legend of King Arthur

Tony Lee and Sam Hart. Candlewick, $21.99 (144p) ISBN 978-0-7636-4644-8 Veteran comic writer Lee takes on the task of crafting a fresh take on the Arthurian legends by letting the character tell his story. Arthur Pendragon begins his tale as the son of a betrayed king, forced to grow up in obscurity until pulling a magic sword from a stone and reclaiming his title. Yet this is only where his challenges begin, as the king must deal with the wrath of his vengeful sorceress sister, Morgana; the machinations of the barbarian Ulric; and the betrayal of his closest friend. Lee's work is faithful to the original legend without being inaccessible or boring. The effectiveness of the work stems from its character-driven plot, which propels the story without the sort of plot contrivances myths often employ. Hart's artwork also focuses more on character than spectacle. Ages 10–up. (Mar.)

My Boyfriend Is a Monster, #1: I Love Him to Pieces

Evonne Tsang and Janina Görrissen. Lerner/Graphic Universe, $9.95 trade paper (128p) ISBN 978-0-7613-7079-6

Though it starts out feeling like a lighthearted realistic fiction story, this graphic novel turns into a zombie story partway through. Nerdy Jack Chen and athletic Dicey Bell become more than friends when their high school gives them a parenting assignment to watch over an egg as if it's their baby. The two continue to draw closer, despite their differences. While on a date, word comes through that an infection is causing people to more or less turn into zombies, and the area is supposed to be evacuated. Jack gets bitten by one of the zombies and is fed a special pill in hopes it can stop the infection from overtaking him. But he isn't actually a zombie, which makes the title somewhat misleading. The zombie story comes in abruptly after the cute first half of the book, and it almost feels as if this consists of two different stories only linked together because it has the same characters. The ending also happens too quickly. Görrissen's artwork is slick and attractive, and she clearly has a skill for facial expressions. Ages 11–up. (Apr.)