The 2015 Graphic Novel Finalists

Elementary/Middle Grade

Baba Yaga’s Assistant
by Marika McCoola
Candlewick Press
Nominated by: Melissa Fox

Masha is in a bit of a rough spot. Her mother died when she was young, and her beloved grandmother has died more recently. Her father, always distant towards her, has revealed that he’s marrying a woman she hasn’t met, much less heard of… and the new wife has her own young daughter who never misses an opportunity to point out that Masha doesn’t belong. Masha agrees, and sets out to find a place where she feels competent– in the chicken hut of Baba Yaga, whose stories play a huge role in her memories of family and belonging. Masha thinks she’s equal to any challenge Baba Yaga might set for her, but when her new stepsister and friends appear to be on the dinner menu, she finds that she’s not really up for murder. Now she must come up with a solution that will allow her to keep the kids alive… and follow Baba Yaga’s directions and keep her job. Many kids dealing with unpleasant family issues might dream of running away to a fairytale world. The macabre story choice here and the need to work out troubles in both places anchor what might otherwise feel escapist. It showcases Masha’s depth and kindness, and make this a compelling read

Liz Jones, Liz Jones Books

Courtney Crumrin Volume 7: Tales of a Warlock (Courtney Crumrin Spec Ed Hc)
by Ted Naifeh
Oni Press
Nominated by: Katie Fitzgerald

In the new volume of Ted Naifeh’s Crumrin series, we get to read the back story of her Uncle Aloysius Crumrin as a young man…. err, warlock. Courtney herself has yet to be born, but the exciting tale of magical intrigue, greed, and murder features a tough heroine determined to do what’s right. Aloysius and Alice’s romance adds a lot to the telling, and though it’s not clear how things will play out in future volumes, longtime fans of the series will note Alice’s physical resemblance to Courtney. This volume works well as a standalone for readers new to the series, who will almost certainly seek out the rest of the books after reading this one.

Liz Jones, Liz Jones Books

Dragons Beware! (The Chronicles of Claudette)
by Jorge Aguirre and Rafael Rosado
First Second Books
Nominated by: Charlotte

Dragons Beware! has all the cliches of the dragon-slaying genre, but the standard elements are turned on their heads with hilarious characters and dialogue. Claudette is the daughter of warriors (and the sibling of a young chef) who is set on recovering her father’s magic sword from the belly of a ferocious dragon while surrounded by an uproarious supporting cast of princes, princesses, soldiers and servants.

The kid appeal of Dragons Beware! is strong, and the messages about negotiation, courage, and family are subtly integrated into a highly satisfying adventure.

Gary Anderson, What’s not wrong?

Roller Girl
by Victoria Jamieson
Dial Books
Nominated by: Maureen E

Astrid is twelve years old, and has just developed a love for roller derby. She is devastated to learn that her best friend, Nicole, will not be joining her at derby camp. In fact, they are drifting apart, and Astrid can’t figure out why. Astrid learns that being honest with yourself and those you love is a difficult but important journey to take. With beautiful color illustrations and excellent storytelling Roller Girl is a fun take on that awkward time of life. 

Sami Silva, Reading. Happily.

Secret Coders
by Gene Luen Yang
First Second Books
Nominated by: Maya

Fish-out-of-water, first-day-at-new-school stories are dime a dozen, but 12-year-old Hopper’s new school, Stately Academy, is something entirely different. For one thing, all the buildings have the number 9 on them, and in the trees all the birds have four eyes in varying combinations of being open and closed. But it’s the combination of discovering binary numbers and a secret robot hidden in the janitor closet that sends Hopper and her new friends on the path to opening a portal that will reveal the secrets hidden within Stately Academy… but only if they successfully can work out the code! The first book in a new series that sets out to teach readers how to code while solving a mystery, Secret Coders is an entertaining and accessible graphic introduction to the building blocks of computer programming.

David Elzey, Guyslitwire

Sunny Side Up
by Jennifer L. Holm
GRAPHIX
Nominated by: Benji Martin

In 1976, Sunny Lewin is sent to spend part of her summer is her grandfather in Florida. Sunny is upbeat about the trip, but quickly loses her optimism the more her grandfather takes her on errands and not to Disney World. Sunny knows, however, that she was sent to be with Gramps for a reason that had nothing to do with Disney World. Her older brother has started to act strangely mean and aloof, and she thinks it’s all her fault. With cute color illustrations and a story that connects with younger readers, Sunny Side Up, proves to hit a tough subject with grace and understanding.

Sami Silva, Reading. Happily.

The Marvels
by Brian Selznick
Scholastic Press
Nominated by: bevpdx

In Brian Selznick’s unique graphic hybrid style, The Marvels draws the reader into a dizzying tale of shipwreck,, theater, family, and legacy. We follow the generations of Marvels as they perform on various stages, and lead lives both admirable and dissolute… and then look again, as a modern descendant, Joseph, tries to put all the pieces together after running away to his uncle’s house in London, and discovers a truly marvelous testimony to family, and to love. As the book says –you either see it… or you don’t.

Liz Jones, Liz Jones Books

Young Adult

Honor Girl: A Graphic Memoir
by Maggie Thrash
Candlewick Press
Nominated by: Alex Baugh

In this graphic-novel memoir, 14-year old Maggie finds herself at an all-girls summer camp transitioning from a celebrity crush on Backstreet Boys singer Kevin Richardson to a very real crush on Erin, one of the camp’s counselors. Honor Girl feels authentic as Maggie struggles with figuring out what her emotions mean. And imagine doing that while surrounded 24 hours a day teenage girls! The free-form artwork is a perfect way for author Maggie Thrash to convey her story as a 14-year might doodle her way through memories. The colors are slightly muted but not somber, which also reinforces the life-like quality of Honor Girl. Thrash also gives us several catchy uses of panels, sound effects, and perspective.

Gary Anderson, What’s not wrong?

Lion of Rora
by Christos Gage/Ruth Gage/Jackie Lewis
Oni Press
Publisher/ Author Submission

Lion of Rora tells the true story of farmer-turned-military tactician, Joshua Janavel, who fought for the religious rights of his people and the Waldensian church. This novel is told using simple black and white illustrations to tell of a people fighting for their religious rights for the first time in European history against a ruler who denies them that freedom. The characters are sympathetic, the cause is just, and the story itself was new to all of our panelists, making this book a winner. 

Sami Silva, Reading. Happily.

March: Book Two
by John Lewis
IDW Publishing
Nominated by: Constance Burris

Just as powerfully as in March: Book One, Book Two continues the story of John Lewis’s involvement in America’s civil rights movement. March: Book Two, despite its title, stands alone as a distinct chapter in America’s long struggle with race, but it also emerges smoothly from its predecessor volume. The book focuses on the Freedom Riders and ends just after the August, 1963 March on Washington.. Although somewhat denser than Book One, Book Two alternates effectively between the political discussions among the movement’s leaders and the more dramatic scenes in streets and prisons. The black-and-white artwork evokes the familiar black-and-white newsreel footage of protestors being set upon with firehoses and police dogs, as well as the well-known images of George Wallace on the steps of the Alabama capitol and Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream” speech. When those iconic images show up in comic form, they are simultaneously familiar and new. March: Book Two is an important contribution to our understanding of America and its history.

Gary Anderson, What’s not wrong?

Ms. Marvel Vol. 1
by G. Willow Wison
Marvel Books
Nominated by: Melissa Fox

Kamala is 16, Pakastani-American, Muslim, and a Marvel comics fan. Then something weird happens, and she finds herself imbued with superpowers she uses for good when transformed into Ms. Marvel!

Volume 1 is engrossing as it introduces Kamala and her family, friends, and enemies. Ms. Marvel will do wonders in Jersey City … when she’s not grounded by her parents or in trouble at her mosque. This comic should have wide appeal, and its Muslim superhero is an obviously welcome positive portrayal of a demographic under-represented in literature for young readers.

Gary Anderson, What’s not wrong?

Nimona
by Noelle Stevenson
HarperTeen
Nominated by: Liviania

Heroes and sidekicks are always popular in the world of graphics, and Nimona follows in that tradition, but with some pretty big differences. Nimona, our sidekick wannabe, is trying to apprentice herself to the bad guy, who keeps trying to convince her to be less violent, and isn’t entirely sure he wants a sidekick in the first place. As he learns more about his shapeshifting assistant, he discovers that her role playing runs deeper than the physical, and her presence in his life enables him to rise from his own detested role and into his true nature. Clear and graceful art and endearing characters keep the reader riveted throughout the tale.

Liz Jones, Liz Jones Books

Oyster War
by Ben Towle
Oni Press
Publisher/ Author Submission

Pirates are rapidly depleting the oyster supply along the Eastern seaboard in the years after the Civil War. Civic leaders call in Commander Davidson Bulloch, a blustery submarine officer fond of spouting inspirational quotes although with at least one mangled word. Bulloch agrees to assemble a crew and go to war against Treacher Fink and his band of oyster pirates in Oyster War, a grand adventure that looks and feels like a throwback to the comic adventures of the 1930s.

Bulloch’s colorful sailors and Fink’s motley crew are wildly entertaining as they go to battle in a plot that is both complex and easily understood. Throw in a dash of historical accuracy and splashes of mysterious maritime legends, and you have a completely satisfying graphic novel.

Gary Anderson, What’s not wrong?

Terrorist: Gavrilo Princip, the Assassin Who Ignited World War I (Fiction – Young Adult)
by Henrik Rehr
Graphic Universe
Nominated by: Adrienne

In a time when “terrorist” conjures up nothing positive, Henrik Rehr gives us the story of Gavrilo Princip, the self-described terrorist whose assassination of the Austrian Archduke Franz Ferdinand touched off World War I. Rehr never asks readers to condone Princip’s actions or sympathize with him, nor does he require the reader to condemn them. We are simply shown how the mind of a terrorist works and allowed to draw our own conclusions. The black-and-white artwork is dramatic and although the characters are sometimes hard to distinguish, the overall visual effects are compelling. The political discussions weigh down the narrative in places, but Rehr creates a suspenseful plot as he alternates between the activities of Princip and the Archduke as they move toward the moment of the murder.

Gary Anderson, What’s not wrong?

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