Illustrated tales of nonstop fun: Playful illustrations make super stories even better, and these three action-packed novels for young readers are chock full of them.
Fans of Lincoln Peirce's Big Nate series will adore the author and cartoonist's Max & the Midknights (Crown, $13.99, 288 pages, 9781101931080, ages 8 to 12), a superb hybrid of chapter book and graphic novel that's packed with nonstop adventure, dragons, wizards and flying rats. The daring, wise-cracking Max (who discovers she's actually a girl) is stuck in the Middle Ages, longing to become a knight but acting as an apprentice to bumbling Uncle Budrick, a troubadour who's anything but tuneful. This down-on-their luck pair courts catastrophe when they enter the Kingdom of Byjovia, where the evil King Gastley carts Uncle Budrick off to be his jester. While Max and her merry band of misfits bear a noticeable resemblance to Charlie Brown and his buddies (Charles Schulz is one of Peirce's inspirations), these characters have a modern Wimpy Kid vibe.
In the second adventure of his Mac B., Kid Spy series, Caldecott Medal-winning author Mac Barnett recounts his supposed youthful adventures in 1989 as an espionage agent in Mac B., Kid Spy: The Impossible Crime (Orchard, $12.99, 160 pages, 9781338143683, ages 7 to 10). One moment, young Mac B. is playing mini golf in Castro Valley, California, and the next the queen of England is summoning him via pay phone to help her protect the crown jewels. Three hundred years ago, Colonel Thomas Blood stole them, and the queen believes one of his heirs will try to steal them again on the anniversary of this real-life 17th-century crime. The action never stops in this light-hearted adventure that's fueled by Barnett's jaunty narration, jokes galore and Mike Lowery's entertaining, full-color cartoon illustrations. The plot may be preposterous, but it's hard not to enjoy the ride.
Family dynamics are decidedly tricky for Happy Conklin Jr., a 10-year-old who has to shave three times a day after being experimented on by his inventor father. In 2018's How to Sell Your Family to Aliens, Hap battled his authoritarian grandma, and in How to Properly Dispose of Planet Earth (Bloomsbury, $13.99, 192 pages, 9781681196596, ages 8 to 12), he longs to be lab partners with Nevada Everly, the new girl in his science class. Hap manages to befriend her, but he also opens up a black hole that threatens to swallow his school--and the solar system. In this rollicking sci-fi adventure by New Yorker cartoonist Paul Noth, Hap and his super-powered sisters endure extraordinary exploits reminiscent of Netflix's "Stranger Things," with appearances by Genghis Khan, magical lizards and a gigantic robot. There's never a dull moment in this outlandish romp.