2020 Finalists: Graphic Novels

Elementary/Middle Grade Graphic Novels:

Black Heroes of the Wild West (Amazon, IndieBound
by James Otis Smith, Introduction by Kadir Nelson
TOON Graphics
Publisher/ Author Submission

Bold and action-packed, this graphic novel features three short vignettes about important black heroes from the Old West. With broad appeal for young and old readers alike, Smith paints a different picture than we often see in the whitewashed versions of the Wild West found in many movies and tv shows. The three short comics are enriched further with fantastic back matter. Full of information that adds context to western United States history, it further explains why black heroes are often left out of the retellings of the western frontier. Black and white photographs throughout give a richness that helps bring this era fully to life.

Becky Herzog, Sloth Reads

Class Act (Amazon, IndieBound)  
by Jerry Craft
Quill Tree Books
Nominated by: Lucy K

Since when is a sequel better than the original? Okay, we’re not talking Star Wars; we’re talking Jerry Craft’s companion graphic novel to his multiple-award-winning New Kid. Somehow he has managed to make Drew, Liam, and Jordan’s eighth-grade year at Riverdale Academy even more honest and endearing. Craft’s frequent visual idioms and pop-cultural references don’t detract from the strength of his storytelling, and his frank handling of topics like class difference, consent, and colorism never feel didactic. Friendship, life choices, and coming of age make this another must-read.

Maggi Rohde, Books for Squids

Donut Feed the Squirrels (Norma and Belly) (Amazon, IndieBound
by Mika Song
Random House Graphic
Nominated by: Terry Doherty

Mika Song’s Donut Feed the Squirrels is a sugar-sweet delight. Norma and Belly, two energetic-to-the-max squirrels, are on a mission: to try delicious donuts from the neighborhood food truck. Their adventures, illustrated in a loose watercolor style, are pun-filled fun with jokes, twists, and just the right amount of getting away with mischief for a satisfying ending. Donut Feed the Squirrels is perfect for early readers (ages 6+), with tons of kid appeal, action scenes, and lovingly rendered illustrations to go with!

Cecelia Larson, Adventures of Cecelia Bedelia

Go with the Flow (AmazonIndieBound
by Karen Schneemann and Lily Williams
First Second Books
Nominated by: Jenna @ Falling Letters

This period-positive, coming-of-age story chronicles a year in the life of four best friends as they deal with all of the ups and downs that come with menstruation, from getting your period for the first time to painful cramps, and fighting for period equity. It’s not often you find a story that talks about menstruation so openly and honestly and Go With the Flow handles the complex topic with detail and care. As the friends take it upon themselves to fight for period equity in their school, the comic empowers readers and gives them concrete examples of actions they can take themselves when they see injustice in the real world.

Christa Seeley, Women Write About Comics (group)

Snapdragon (Amazon, IndieBound
by Kat Leyh
First Second Books
Nominated by: Laura Gardner

Snap’s encounter with the town “witch” leads to unexpected discoveries both mystical and mundane in this funny, complex middle-grade story of magical realism. Bright, brash characters, touching family drama, and hilarious friendship moments are beautifully brought to light by Leyh’s characteristic energetic, jaunty art. Leyh seamlessly interweaves the stories of this diverse cast, and Snap is the pinnacle of a strong female heroine. Energetic, surprising, and moving, this is a winner.

Maggi Rohde, Books for Squids

The Runaway Princess (Amazon, IndieBound
by Johan Troïanowski
Random House Graphic
Nominated by: Vidya Tiru

Princesses are often portrayed as rule-following, quiet, content girls; but not Robin. This princess is ready for action and she is not afraid to go looking for it. Amazing adventures await her as she encounters swamps, wolves, kidnapping, and even pirates. With the help of YOU, the reader, she is able to navigate the wild world and return home to the castle like her parents insist. A vibrant and interactive book, The Runaway Princess will have you solving riddles, shaking pages, and looking for ways out of problems right along with Robin. Such an engaging and fun middle grade read.

Aimee Smith, @keepabookout

When Stars Are Scattered (Amazon, IndieBound

by Victoria Jamieson and Omar Mohamed, illustrated by Victoria Jamieson and Iman Geddy
Dial Books
Nominated by: Sandy Brehl

Omar and his younger brother, Hassan, arrived at a Kenyan refugee camp when their village was attacked. The two boys were barely toddlers and given into the care of a woman who’d lost her own family to violence. Seven years later, Omar dreams of finding their mother and getting out of the camp, but when the chance to attend school arises, he’s caught between the desire to learn and become either a teacher or work with refugees, or stay home and look after his special-needs brother. When Stars Are Scattered is beautifully devastating in its look at life in a refugee camp. Newbery Medalist Victoria Jamieson collaborates with advocate and refugee Omar Mohamed to bring his story to young readers.

Rosemary Kiladitis, MomReadIt


YA Graphic Novels:

Almost American Girl (AmazonIndieBound
by Robin Ha
Balzer + Bray
Nominated by: Sandy Brehl

This is the story of a young girl transitioning from life in Korea to life in Alabama in America. Chuna gives herself the American name Robin as an effort to fit in. Still, she struggles with the change and figuring out where she fits. 14-year-old Chuna, who thought she was just going on another mother-daughter trip, struggles with culture shock, bullying, and integrating into a new family. Yet, her mother is still her hero, and she recognizes the sacrifices she has made in order for both of them to survive. It isn’t until her mother reminds her of her love of comics and drawing that Robin begins to thrive. This coming of age story of Chuna will tug at your heartstrings. Robin’s struggles feel all too real. However, readers will realize that these struggles are what will ultimately shape her. This is a marvelous Graphic memoir for ages 12+.

Josephine Sorrell, Goodreads

Dancing at the Pity Party (AmazonIndieBound
by Tyler Feder
Dial Books
Nominated by: Anne@HeadFullofBooks

A bittersweet and poignant memoir about her mother’s battle with cancer and death, Dancing at the Pity Party is a witty yet realistic look at living with grief. From dealing with a cancer diagnosis to navigating treatments to coping with death to life moving on after the loss of a loved one, readers will find solace and understanding in these pages. Tyler Feder somehow gracefully navigates the nightmare of loss with wit and humor in all the right places so that you laugh and cry along with her. It delivers a wonderful message of resilience in the face of grief.

Aimee Smith, @keepabookout

Displacement (Amazon, IndieBound
by Kiku Hughes
First Second Books
Nominated by: Aimee Smith

On vacation with her mother in San Francisco, Kiku finds herself displaced to the 1940’s Japanese Internment camps from World War ll. These displacements keep occurring until she is stuck in the past, living in a camp alongside her teenage grandmother. Kiku learns first hand what she was not taught in history class and that was too painful for her grandmother to speak of. She sees the lives of Japanese-Americans who were denied their civil liberties and suffered greatly, but also how they joined together to cultivate community and rise up in order to survive. Powerful parallels are drawn between past and present and Kiku can see the connection between injustices of the past and today and how they may affect our future. This book is a potent example of how ignoring the past and the lives lived by others does not change the way that past affects us in our lives today. By listening and learning from others’ experiences, we can make positive differences in the world around us and its future.

Aimee Smith, @keepabookout

Flamer (AmazonIndieBound
by Mike Curato
Henry Holt
Nominated by: Kelly Jensen

A raw and unfiltered story about the effects of bullying on someone discovering who they truly are. In the summer before high school, Aiden Navarro, a chubby, effeminate, biracial teen navigates his abusive home life, conservative upbringing, and his own sexuality at Boy Scout camp. The unrelenting bullying that he must face at the hands of those who are supposed to be his friends is jarring and sheds light on a reality that is all too true for many teens today. Curato’s use of black and white illustrations mixed with fiery reds, oranges, and yellows masterfully showcases the highs and lows of the story. Flamer is an important book that shows that we are never alone with our struggles.

Becky Herzog, Sloth Reads

Superman Smashes the Clan (AmazonIndieBound
by Gene Luen Yang, illustrated by Gurihiru
DC Zoom
Nominated by: Alex Baugh

Inspired by a 1940 radio serial, award-winning author, artist, and former National Ambassador for Children’s Literature Gene Luen Yang takes on white supremacy and hate, with a little help from Superman. It’s 1946, and the Lee family move to suburban Metropolis from Chinatown into the Metropolis suburbs. While younger brother Tommy and his father, Dr. Lee, are excited about the move, Roberta and her mom miss the familiarity of Chinatown. Shortly after the Lees move in, the Clan of the Fiery Cross begins a reign of terror in the neighborhood, burning a cross on the Lee’s property. The local police get involved, as do ace reporter Lois Lane… and Superman. Strong subplots contribute to the main storyline of a white supremacist gang attacking a family and a town: Superman’s growing awareness of his power and the fact that he, too, is “not from here”, but “passes” because he’s a white male; Roberta, Lois Lane, and Superman working together to uncover the Clan before tragedy strikes; generational racism at work, and a sinister plot afoot.

Rosemary Kiladitis, MomReadIt

That Can Be Arranged: A Muslim Love Story (Amazon, IndieBound
by Huda Fahmy
Andrews McMeel Publishing
Nominated by: Beth Mitcham

Author and illustrator Huda Fahmy knows how to tell a story and make the reader laugh. In her book That Can Be Arranged: A Muslim Love Story, she details her own young adult and early adult years, with hilarious details, commentary, and, of course, a love story. This book offers an ebullient, brief, and yet substantive engagement with cultural and religious norms some YA readers will never have had access to, and others will see themselves in. That Can Be Arranged is really fun, engaging, and a worthy addition to a popular graphic novel subgenre: the illustrated memoir.

Cecelia Larson, Adventures of Cecelia Bedelia

You Brought Me The Ocean (AmazonIndieBound
by Alex Sanchez, illustrated by Julie Maroh
DC Comics
Nominated by: ChristaS

In the middle of the desert, Jake Hyde dreams of the ocean. His overprotective mother and best friend, Maria don’t understand but he plans to one day leave the town behind and attend college on the coast. But then he falls for Kenny Liu, who encourages him to be bold and take chances, which ends up bringing a number of secrets to the surface, like who his father is and where the strange blue markings on his skin came from. In the larger DC comics universe Jake Hyde is known as Aqualad, but You Brought Me the Ocean doesn’t spend a lot of time exploring that history, which gives this story a more accessible and universal feel. Instead of a standard superhero tale, this is a thoughtful and intimate story of one boy coming to terms with his sexuality and figuring out who he is and what his place is in the world.

Christa Seeley, Women Write About Comics (group)