Astronaut Academy: Zero Gravity, by Dave Roman (FirstSecond, 2011, 176 pages), is a wild and wacky sci fi graphic novel for kids, that has much charm, wit, and even poignancy.
Astronaut Academy, a boarding school in space, is very strange. The Spanish teacher, for instance, is a panda, another teacher an elf, and another a bunny, and the curriculum includes dinosaur-driving lessons.
To this school comes Hakata Soy, a boy with a heroic past and attractive/messy hair (depending on who you ask). One of the downsides of having a heroic past (in this case, joining up with your pals to assume the form of Metador, a big robot transformer-like thing so as to more effectively defeat bad guys) is that the bad guys might want revenge...and so Hakata Soy all unwittingly is followed to Astronaut Academy by trouble.
The story jumps between the points of view of multiple students--the ultra rich bratty girl, the jock, the loner, and (my favorite character) Miyumi San, who's the girl I would want to be friends with--the outsider girl picked on by the rich brat and her sidekick. It took me a while to get in the swing of things, what with all the cast members (who seemed at first like a collection of stereotypes, but grew rapidly more interesting) and the strangeness of the set-up (which never became less strange), but it was well worth it.
The story qua story is diverting, and the characters (rich brat Maribelle excepted) engaging and more multifaceted than one might expect (even the rich brat), and (this is what made me enjoy the book most of all) the language Roman uses tickled my fancy considerably. He uses emphasis to great effect, and his characters have a tendency to use exaggeratedly performative speech, which was nicely mixed with more relaxed dialogue.
(pause while I comb the book looking for an example that makes clear what I was talking about and conveys why I find this very pleasing)
I wasn't able to find a perfect example, but maybe this will do:
Mirabelle: "Holy smokes! How come that laser didn't fry us into scattered ashes?"
Hikato: "My 3-in-1 jacket is CUSTOMIZED with a damage resistant nylon shell."
Hikato: "Like the rocket books, compliments of my best pal, Gadget Thompson (who I wish would return my phone calls and distress signals)."
Maribelle: I was gonna use Miyumi as a human shield, but I guess this works well enough. Oooh! And pretty soft too." (page 133)
Bother. I'm not sure that works to convey how charmingly stilted I found much of the prose. Would it convince you to try this book if I mentioned that the bad guys attack a planet of bunnies while wearing robotic bird costumes and saying "chirp chirp?" If I told you the dinosaur race scene was a masterpiece of absurd charm? Or how about if I told you that there were characters who really touched my heart with their uncertainty and loneliness (hugs one lonely boy in particular)? And they are a beautifully diverse lot of kids too, for those who want to read, as it were, in color.
I am not, in general, good at reading graphic novels, because I have a hard time pulling my eyes away from the words. My first try at this book, I did, in fact, put it down because I was getting confused. The second time, though, having some familiarity with the story, I loved it! And what is, perhaps, more to the point, so did my personal representative of the target audience. I brought this one home from Book Expo America, and within two days my 10-year-old had read it four times.