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Review: Earthling!

Bud and his dad have just moved to New Mexico and Bud is not looking forward to being the new kid in school. But he ends up being newer than he expects when he accidentally gets on board the wrong school bus. Instead of heading to Abraham Lincoln Elementary School, Bud is now the only human being heading to Cosmos Academy, the galaxy’s best school. The biggest problem, though, is that Bud can’t tell anyone he’s from Earth, since Earthlings are the most feared beings in the whole galaxy. Now he has to pretend to be a Tenarian exchange student until he and his new friend Gort can figure how to get him home to Earth without anyone finding out what he really is. If only their plan didn’t hinge on winning the ZeroBall Tournament…

Written and illustrated by Mark Fearing
Age: 8-12; Grades 3-6
Chronicle Books, July 2012, 248 pages
Hardcover ISBN 978-0-8118-7106-8, $22.99
Paperback ISBN 978-1-4521-0906-0, $12.99

Fearing’s first graphic novel may be long, but it is so well constructed that readers won’t care. This is a typical “nerdy kid overcoming the odds” story, but it rests solidly within that category, cheerfully embracing all of the elements that go into such a storyline. This results in a tale that is fun and satisfying to read. Bud is an endearingly ordinary kid: bad at sports, missing his late mother, and trying to make friends, but not always succeeding. His willingness to adapt to a strange new environment is heartening and the funny situations he and Gort get into will inspire laughter. The friends — and enemies — that Bud makes are the usual sort of kids you find in most school stories, but the alien twist is amusing. I particularly loved the alien kids thinking that Bud was a tough character because of his enjoyment of a meal that they all found repulsive, but which tasted like grilled cheese to Bud. Bud’s attempts to out-think sports and gym class were also fun.

The art is bright and eye-catching, full of color and detail. Fearing’s art style is cartoonish, but never becomes too babyish. Instead the short, slightly squishy characters have a comic strip feel which helps keep the title appealing even up through late elementary school and early middle school, despite Bud’s young age. I had a feeling that the artwork would be strong right from the beginning. One of the measures of a good graphic novel artist is the ability to tell a story just through the pictures. The title page features several panels of Bud waving his hand through the air, overlapped over a long shot of a truck puttering through the desert. Those simple images tell readers, right from the get-go, just how Bud feels about his new move and his new life. Fearing’s story starts strong and, even though the ending turns one character around too quickly, Earthling! ends strong as well. It’s a great first work and a wonderful addition to children’s graphic novel collections.

This review is based on a complimentary copy supplied by the publisher. All images copyright © Chronicle Books.

Snow Wildsmith About Snow Wildsmith

Snow Wildsmith is a writer and former teen librarian. She has served on several committees for the American Library Association/Young Adult Library Services Association, including the 2010 Michael L. Printz Award Committee. She reviews graphic novels for Booklist, ICv2's Guide, No Flying No Tights, and Good Comics for Kids and also writes booktalks and creates recommended reading lists for Ebsco's NoveList database. Currently she is working on her first books, a nonfiction series for teens.

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