2018 Best Graphic Novels!

It was a great year for graphic novels, particularly for those showing diversity in authors and content. Here are my picks for the best of 2018:

Be Prepared by Vera Brosgol Brazen by Penelope Bagieu

Be Prepared by Vera Brosgol (9781626724457)

Brosgol is such a gifted book creator, moving skillfully from picture book to graphic novel. – My Review

Brazen: Rebel Ladies Who Rocked the World by Penelope Bagieu (9781626728691)

The book is a delight to read, each chapter focused on one woman and told briefly and yet in a way that honors them and makes readers want to learn even more about them. – My Review

Cardboard Kingdom by Chad Sell Deadendia The Watcher's Test by Hamish Steele

Cardboard Kingdom by Chad Sell (9781524719371)

There is a real spark here that demands creative thinking by the reader, looks beyond the cardboard and tape and sees the magic of imagination happening. – My Review

Deadendia: The Watcher’s Test by Hamish Steele (9781910620472)

Steele has created one of the zaniest, twistiest and most demonic graphic novels around. – My Review

Fake Blood by Whitney Gardner Grace for Gus by Harry Bliss

Fake Blood by Whitney Gardner (9781481495561)

A great pick for fans and haters alike, this one would make a great graphic novel to book talk to middle-schoolers and teens. – My Review

Grace for Gus by Harry Bliss (9780062644107)

An empowering read that makes the quiet child the hero and the star. – My Review

Hey, Kiddo by Jarrett J. Krosoczka Illegal by Eoin Colfer

Hey, Kiddo by Jarrett J. Krosoczka (9780545902472)

Personal, painful and profound, this graphic novel is honest and deep. – My Review

Illegal by Eoin Colfer (9781492662143)

Smartly written, deftly drawn and plotted to perfection, this graphic novel is a powerhouse. – My Review

On a Sunbeam by Tillie Walden Peter & Ernesto by Graham Annable

On a Sunbeam by Tillie Walden (9781250178138)

An impressive graphic novel both for its content and its art. This one is unique and incredibly beautiful. – My Review

Peter & Ernesto: A Tale of Two Sloths by Graham Annable (9781626725614)

A great early graphic novel for elementary-aged readers. – My Review

Photographic by Isabel Quintero The Prince and the Dressmaker by Jen Wang

Photographic: The Life of Graciela Iturbide by Isabel Quintero and Zeke Pena (9781947440005)

One of the best biographical graphic novels I have read, this one is a stunning look at an impressive woman. – My Review

The Prince and the Dressmaker by Jen Wang (9781626723634)

Beautiful, layered and modern, this graphic novel embraces gender identity and gorgeous dresses. – My Review

Sanity & Tallulah by Molly Brooks Speak The Graphic Novel by Laurie Halse Anderson

Sanity & Tallulah by Molly Brooks (9781368008440)

The story is fast paced and a delightful mix of STEM and girl power. – My Review

Speak: The Graphic Novel by Laurie Halse Anderson, artwork by Emily Carroll (9780374300289)

It’s a groundbreaking novel made into one of the most powerful graphic novels I have read. – My Review

The Unwanted Stories of the Syrian Refugees by Don Brown

The Unwanted: Stories of the Syrian Refugees by Don Brown (9781328810151)

A strong and important look at the Syrian refugee crisis in a format that makes the content very readable. – My Review

Review: Tiger vs. Nightmare by Emily Tetri

Tiger vs. Nightmare by Emily Tetri

Tiger vs. Nightmare by Emily Tetri (9781626725355)

After dinner, Tiger takes an extra plate of food to share with her monster. Monster had been under Tiger’s bed, but they soon became friends. Now they spend time together playing games until bedtime when Monster scares Tiger’s nightmares away. All of Tiger’s family thinks she has an imaginary friend, but Monster is real. Monster fights all sorts of nightmares away until she encounters one that is too big and scary to chase off. As Tiger starts to have nightmares, she realizes that the two of them will need to work together to get rid of this huge nightmare.

Tetri, a cartoonist, has written a captivating graphic novel that is just right for the picture-book set. The pacing is brisk with a concept that shines. There is plenty of humor on the pages that sets off the more dramatic parts of the story. The art is done in watercolors, adding a wonderful traditional feel to the book. One of the more delightful parts is when Monster battles one nightmare after another. The pace slows beautifully in this part and mimics epic battle montages in comic books.

A tale of friendship and teamwork, this is a great early graphic novel. Appropriate for ages 5-7.

Reviewed from e-galley provided by First Second.

 

Review: Sanity & Tallulah by Molly Brooks

Sanity & Tallulah by Molly Brooks

Sanity & Tallulah by Molly Brooks (9781368008440)

Living on Wilnick, an outdated and aging space station at the end of the galaxy could be dull, but not for best friends Sanity and Tallulah. Sanity, who has always wanted a pet despite rules against having one, decides to create one herself. It turns out to be a very cute three-headed kitten with a taste for meat. The kitten manages to escape soon after Tallulah’s mother finds out that she exists. The girls set out to find out whether the problems that are happening across the space station are the fault of one cute kitten or maybe it’s something else. Meanwhile, there seems to be a very large monster on the loose and the coolant tank appears to have been drunk dry. As disaster looms aboard the space station, it’s up to Sanity to save the day thanks to the technology she explored when creating her illegal pet.

Brooks sets exactly the right tone in this graphic novel. The girls best friends who tend to talk one another into getting into even more trouble while trying to fix what they have already done. Add in a three-headed kitten and mayhem follows. The two girls could not be more different, which makes for an odd-couple chemistry between them. The story is fast paced and a delightful mix of STEM and girl power.

The art in the book is done in a limited color palette with pinks and deep blues. The art brings to life the space station and its size, conveying the hazards of keeping it functional while giving the girls a lot of space to run into trouble. The cast of characters is wonderfully diverse and that extends to all of the people who live aboard the space station.

A strong graphic novel with plenty of appeal. Appropriate for ages 9-12

Reviewed from library copy.

Review: The Unwanted: Stories of the Syrian Refugees by Don Brown

The Unwanted Stories of the Syrian Refugees by Don Brown

The Unwanted: Stories of the Syrian Refugees by Don Brown (9781328810151)

This graphic novel tells the stories of Syrian refugees in their own voices. Based on interviews and visits to refugee camps around the region, the book clearly tells the story of the basis of the refugee crisis in Syria. As the flood of refugees begins and then continues, the nations taking in the refugees see sentiments in their populations shift to be anti-immigrant due to the overwhelming costs and disruption. Still, the refugees need a place to live in peace, a place to make a home and a place to feel safe.

Brown returns with another gripping nonfiction graphic novel. He uses the refugees’ own stories to really create a book that is heart-wrenchingly realistic. Young readers will benefit from hearing how the crisis began and will learn a lot about refugees, the dangers they face and the risks they are willing to take for freedom. The art in the book is done in limited colors, often filled with sandy yellows and deep browns. The faces of the refugees are compellingly depicted, often with expressions of deep fear, loss and grief.

A strong and important look at the Syrian refugee crisis in a format that makes the content very readable. Appropriate for ages 13-16.

Reviewed from library copy.

Review: On a Sunbeam by Tillie Walden

On a Sunbeam by Tillie Walden

On a Sunbeam by Tillie Walden (9781250178138)

An amazing graphic novel for teens, this book offers romance, space travel, and boarding schools all in one incredible package. It is the story of Mia, a girl who doesn’t have a lot of friends at the boarding school she attends. But one girl catches her attention, Grace, a new girl who needs help figuring out how to make her way at the school. Soon the two girls are a couple, but Grace has a secret that she refuses to share with Mia until suddenly Grace is gone. Now Mia works in space repairing buildings with a small team. She gets close with the others until she finally reveals why she joined the crew.

Walden is the author of Spinning, which was an impressive graphic memoir about coming out. Here, she weaves a complex tale in a universe entirely her own. The universe she has created is populated entirely by women, something that is slowly realized by the reader rather than being specifically mentioned or explained. The result is an LGBT universe that includes a very special depiction of a transgender character as well.

The art here is simply amazing. The universe unfolds on the pages, done in a limited color palette but incorporating dreamlike moments, staggering rock formations, crumbling abandoned buildings and fish-like space craft. It is entirely Walden’s creation, unique and unlike anything else.

An impressive graphic novel both for its content and its art. This one is unique and incredibly beautiful. Appropriate for ages 13-18.

Reviewed from copy provided by First Second.

Review: Hey, Kiddo by Jarrett J. Krosoczka

Hey, Kiddo by Jarrett J. Krosoczka

Hey, Kiddo by Jarrett J. Krosoczka (9780545902472)

The author of the wildly popular Lunch Lady series has now created a graphic memoir of his childhood. Raised by his colorful grandparents, Jarrett grew up not understanding why he couldn’t see his mother more often. It turned out that she was in jail or recovery centers dealing with the consequences of her addiction. Jarrett didn’t even meet his father until his teens. Jarrett told only one friend when he found out that his mother was an addict, trying to keep the veneer of normalcy in place. He even tried to keep his grandparents from attending school events for the same reason. As Jarrett grew older and became focused on being an artist, he discovered who his father was and that he had two half-siblings. Soon his unusual family grew another branch.

The story here is personal and painful. It is a tale that so many children will relate to, that will show them how success can blossom from pain and how art can help to express that which can’t be said aloud. It is a brave book, one that tells tragic pieces of his life, and yet a hopeful one as well with the humor of his grandparents and the relationships Jarrett has and had with his extended family.

This graphic novel is quite simply gorgeous. It uses a color palette that is refined and limited, combining gray with a subtle orange. The entire feel of the art has a more clouded feel and less crisp lines than his previous work, creating a work that exudes memories and the not-so-distant past.

Personal, painful and profound, this graphic novel is honest and deep. Appropriate for ages 10-14.

Reviewed from ARC provided by Graphix.

Review: Fake Blood by Whitney Gardner

Fake Blood by Whitney Gardner

Fake Blood by Whitney Gardner (9781481495561)

AJ just doesn’t feel like he fits in with his two best friends anymore. They are always daring each other to do things and have fantastic lives where they take big risks and brag about them. In contrast, AJ feels short and dull. But then he decides to take a big risk and start talking to a girl he’s had a crush on for years. He’s just not sure how to get Nia’s attention. He knows she is way into vampire novels, so he starts to read them too. Perhaps all it will take is some fake blood around the gums to get her to notice him. However, when Nia does notice AJ, she thinks he’s a real vampire and she has dedicated her life to slaying them. What none of them can see though is that there is a real vampire in their midst! Something they might figure out too late.

This graphic novel for teens and pre-teens is just right for both Twilight fans and Twilight haters. Getting it into the hands of Buffy fans would also be a great choice. Gardner wisely plays on the tropes of vampire novels, using similar character names and book titles. Throughout there is a sense that the reader is in on the broader joke of it all, something that is entirely charming.

Readers will figure out that there is a real vampire long before the characters do and Gardner then lets that play out delightfully. There is no attempt to conceal it, either through the storyline or the art work. And the art work is excellent, offering large panels in a colorful vampire-filled world. It has a cartoon feel to it that makes it approachable and then the humor completes it nicely.

A great pick for fans and haters alike, this one would make a great graphic novel to book talk to middle-schoolers and teens. Appropriate for ages 11-15.

Reviewed from library copy.

Review: Deadendia: The Watcher’s Test by Hamish Steele

Deadendia The Watcher's Test by Hamish Steele

Deadendia: The Watcher’s Test by Hamish Steele (9781910620472)

Barney has just gotten a job as the janitor at the Dead End theme park in the haunted house. His best friend Norma works there too. But Dead End is not just a haunted house, it’s much more a portal to literal hell. There are visiting demons, some of them friendly like Courtney who serves as an ambassador and others terrifyingly evil and powerful like Temeluchus. Temeluchus is the demon that Barney and Norma defeat in the early part of the book, who ends up possessing Pugsley, Barney’s dog. Pugsley gains magical powers and the ability to speak. Soon the three of them discover the dangers of running a portal to hell but also manage to work on their love lives along the way.

Steele has created one of the zaniest, twistiest and most demonic graphic novels around. The novel is a collection of his web comics and sometimes starting a new chapter is rather like starting a new story. That’s not a complaint, because it suits the spirit of the book but those looking for a more linear tale will find themselves confused at times. Just go with it!

The diversity here is very strongly represented. Barney is a transgender character and the book deals with this in an upfront way and also allows readers to see glimpses of Barney’s past. Perhaps the best part is the love storyline for Barney and Logs, though I also appreciate his friendship with Norma who is equally enjoyable, strong and multidimensional, sometimes literally.

A graphic novel for teens that has enough demons, laughter and romance to entice anyone. Appropriate for ages 13-16.

Reviewed from library copy.

Review: Good Rosie! by Kate DiCamillo

Good Rosie! by Kate DiCamillo

Good Rosie! by Kate DiCamillo, illustrated by Harry Bliss (9780763689797)

Released on September 4, 2018.

Rosie is a dog who lives with George. She gets lonely without any other dogs to play with. Still, George takes her on walks and that makes her less lonely. When George sees a dog in the clouds in the sky one day, he is inspired to take Rosie to the dog park. There are lots of dogs there, but Rosie isn’t sure how to make friends. She doesn’t like big Maurice who is too loud. She also doesn’t like Fifi with her sparkly collar and jumping around. But when Maurice plays too roughly with Fifi, Rosie knows just what to do. Soon all three dogs are learning to make friends and play together.

As always, DiCamillo’s storytelling is skilled and warm. She introduces us to a new heroine here, a little friendly dog who is just not quite sure how to make friends yet. Children will relate to the struggles to make new friends on a playground. The two very different dogs that Rosie meets are also a pleasure. One bumbling in his enthusiasm and the other yipping around for attention. Rosie remains firmly a dog throughout the story, not becoming overly anthropomorphized along the way.

The illustrations by Bliss give the book the feel of a graphic novel. They are multi framed and yet the dialogue is not in speech bubbles, so this is a mashup of a chapter book and a graphic novel that is very successful. It is partly the illustrations that keep Rosie firmly a dog. They are realistic and lush, the sort of illustrations that make you want to reach out and pet the dogs on the page.

A dog-gone good chapter book with graphic novel appeal. Appropriate for ages 5-7.

Reviewed from copy provided by Candlewick Press.