BLACK PANTHER: THE YOUNG PRINCE by Ronald L. Smith
(Okay, I might be a little excited about the Black Panther movie. But this is an excellent readaloud even if you have somehow managed not to become obsessed with the trailers for the film.)
T’Challa is destined to the be the Black Panther, but right now he’s just a 12-year-old prince happily growing up in the hidden, technologically advanced kingdom of Wakanda. He’d be perfectly happy playing all day (and getting into trouble every now and then) with his best friend M’Baku, but his father, the King of Wakanda, has other ideas. Almost before he knows what’s happening, T’Challa has been shipped off — along with M’Baku — to school in the United States. But T’Challa’s in for more surprises: His new public middle school on Chicago’s south side is about as far from the peaceful, sophisticated world of Wakanda as he can imagine. It’s hard enough figuring out to navigate the social world of his new middle school while maintaining his secret identity, but when strange things start happening at school and T’Challah — a.k.a. T. Charles — decides to investigate with his new friends, he may be in over his head.
This isn’t a graphic novel, but it definitely feels like a comic book read. It’s funny — we had just recently watched Coming to America together when we read it, and we kept comparing the two texts — but it also feels like a meaningful middle grades origin story for the superhero we know is coming. I love that in his T. Charles persona, T’Challa is able to embrace his nerdy side and make friends based on who he really is and not on the fact that he’s the prince of a powerful kingdom, and it feels like T’Challa likes that, too. There are definitely middle grades themes running though this story that you probably wouldn't see in a more adult Black Panther tale — a lot of time is spent on issues of friendship and bullying at T’Challa’s new school — but these feel like reasonable challenges for a kid who finds himself suddenly thrust into the world of middle school. Similarly, the book’s big evil is much smaller and simpler than the evil we’re expecting in the big screen version, but again, the story feels right for its middle grades audience. It’s a fun, action-packed story with great characters who develop through their experiences. Recommended.