Review: Amazons, Abolitionists, and Activists by Mikki Kendall and A. D’Amico 

Amazons, Abolitionists, and Activists by Mikki Kendall and A. D’Amico 

Amazons, Abolitionists, and Activists: A Graphic HIstory of Women’s Fight for Their Rights by Mikki Kendall and A. D’Amico (9780399581793)

Take a trip back through women’s history to discover queens, warriors, suffragettes, and much more! This graphic novel is set in the future and has a computer instructor who takes a group of girls back in time to understand the basis of women’s rights around the world. The book starts by looking deep into human history with the Assyrians, Mesopotamians, Eqyptians, Greeks and much more. The book then shows how the rise of the patriarchy eclipsed early women’s rights and replaced it with much more like what we see still today. The book moves forward in time, taking female rulers and warriors from around the world. There is also an exploration of civil rights as well as LGBTQ rights in the book that increases the representation of diverse experiences even farther. 

Kendall’s writing could have simply become a lengthy list of women from history, but she weaves a deeper narrative throughout. It also helps that she includes history as far back as she does. The supportive nature of those early societies is likely to surprise modern readers. Kendall works with intentionality to offer as diverse a cross-section of women as she can. They come from all over the world and represent many different countries, continents and races. Even more impressive is the way that Kendall is frank about the shortcomings of many of the women, acknowledging openly their open racism or unwillingness to challenge the status quo for others besides themselves. 

The art is great. The number of portraits in the book is daunting in its scope. Those women who are familiar visually are recognizable immediately. The additional information on each woman also offers vibrant images of their lives. The more tragic events are documented in more subtle tones, offering a visual cue that something dire has happened. 

A stellar graphic piece of nonfiction. Appropriate for ages 12-15.

Reviewed from library copy.

Best Graphic Novels 2019

Bloom by Kevin Panetta

Bloom by Kevin Panetta, illustrated by Savanna Ganucheau

The baking scenes as they two work together are the epitome of romantic scenes, showing their connection to one another long before it fully emerges in the story.

Cicada by Shaun Tan

Cicada by Shaun Tan

An incredible book for teens, this one is sad, surprising and uplifting.

I Was Their American Dream by Malaka Gharib

I Was Their American Dream by Malaka Gharib

A diverse and funny look at families, race and America.

Kiss Number 8 by Colleen AF Venable and Ellen T. Crenshaw

Kiss Number 8 by Colleen AF Venable and Ellen T. Crenshaw

A stellar graphic novel for teens that is filled with LGBTQ pride.

Laura Dean Keep Breaking Up with Me by Mariko Tamaki

Laura Dean Keep Breaking Up with Me by Mariko Tamaki, illustrated by Rosemary Valero-O’Connell 

This graphic novel beautifully captures a captivating but toxic romantic and sexual relationship.

Mooncakes by Wendy Xu

Mooncakes by Wendy Xu and Suzanne Walker

A fantasy romance graphic novel worth falling for.

New Kid by Jerry Craft

New Kid by Jerry Craft

This is one of the best books for middle school age that deals with microaggressions, bias, privilege, and racism. Given that it is a graphic novel too, that makes it all the more appealing as a source for discussion.

The Okay Witch by Emma Steinkellner

The Okay Witch by Emma Steinkellner

Steinkellner’s debut graphic novel for youth is a delightful mix of diversity and magic. While comparisons can be made with other teen witches, this book stands entirely on its own.

Operatic by Kyo Maclear

Operatic by Kyo Maclear, illustrated by Byron Eggenschwiler

A middle grade graphic novel that focuses on the power of music and opera? Yes please!

Pumpkinheads by Rainbow Rowell and Faith Erin Hicks

Pumpkinheads by Rainbow Rowell and Faith Erin Hicks

These two very talented teen book creators have designed an amazing graphic novel together.

Queen of the Sea by Dylan Meconis

Queen of the Sea by Dylan Meconis

The pairing of an imaginative world with roots in real history makes for an incredible read.

Stargazing by Jen Wang

Stargazing by Jen Wang

Award-winning graphic novelist Wang invites readers into a personal story about growing up Chinese-American.

This Was Our Pact by Ryan Andrews

This Was Our Pact by Ryan Andrews

This graphic novel is amazing. It has a sense of wonder throughout from the very moment the lanterns are set afloat to the final pages of the book.

Your Turn, Adrian by Helena Oberg

Your Turn, Adrian by Helena Oberg, illustrated by Kristin Lidstrom, translated by Eva Apelqvist 

An incredibly moving graphic novel that invites readers to see beyond a person’s surface.

Review: Cub by Cynthia Copeland 

Cub by Cynthia Copeland

Cub by Cynthia Copeland (9781616208486)

This graphic novel looks at life in middle school during the 1970’s, a time filled with bullies, bell bottoms, and possibilities. Cindy is in seventh grade and dealing with being one of the prey in a school with plenty of predators, particularly mean girls. Cindy plays dead and doesn’t react to the comments of people like Evie Exley, so they leave her alone. Cindy loves reading and creating art, so when her favorite English teacher suggests that she become a writer, Cindy jumps at the chance. Soon she is working as a cub reporter for the local paper, accompanying a real reporter to meetings and events around the community. She starts taking photographs and learns to edit her writing to be appropriate for a newspaper. She also finds her voice and a group of friends who are just as unique as she is.

Middle school can be painful but this graphic novel is a breath of fresh air. While it does address the larger issues of middle school bullying, it is truly about simply being yourself in the midst of it all and finding other kids who are doing the same thing. There is a touch of romance here, but only a touch that is just right for the seventh grade setting. The focus on self-esteem and following your dreams is a call for all young girls to find their own paths and then work hard to reach their goals. Cindy is an example of someone who makes mistakes, learns from them, improves and reaches goals that she may not have realized she even had in the beginning. 

The art in this graphic novel is immensely approachable, embracing the seventies setting with fashion, hair styles, and the cars being driven. The time period is a large part of the story as Watergate is breaking just as Cindy starts being a cub reporter. Journalism is an inspiring profession both in the seventies and today, something that is worth commenting on in today’s world.

A graphic novel with a strong female protagonist who follows her own dreams. Appropriate for ages 9-12.

Reviewed from ARC provided by Algonquin Young Readers.

2020 Great Graphic Novels for Teens

YALSA has announced their official 2020 Great Graphic Novels for Teens list. The list has 103 titles included from 178 nominations. The books are for ages 12-18 and are both high quality and have teen appeal. A top ten list is also chosen. Here are the books in the Top Ten:

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Bloom by Kevin Panetta, art by Savanna Ganucheau

Cosmoknights: Book One by Hanna Templer

I Was Their American Dream: A Graphic Memoir Kiss Number 8

I Was Their American Dream by Malaka Gharib

Kiss Number 8 by Colleen AF Venable, art by Ellen T. Crenshaw

Laura Dean Keeps Breaking Up with Me The Life of Frederick Douglass: A Graphic Narrative of an Extraordinary Life

Laura Dean Keeps Breaking Up with Me by Mariko Tamaki, art by Rosemary Valero-O’Connell

The Life of Frederick Douglass: A Graphic Narrative of a Slave’s Journey from Bondage to Freedom by David F. Walker, art by Damon Smyth and Marissa Louise

Pumpkinheads Simon & Louise

Pumpkinheads by Rainbow Rowell, art by Faith Erin Hicks

Simon & Louise by Max de Radigues

They Called Us Enemy Witch Hat Atelier, Vol. 1

They Called Us Enemy by George Takei and Justin Eisinger, art by Harmony Becker

Witch Hat Atalier by Kamome Shirahama

Review: Mooncakes by Wendy Xu

Mooncakes by Wendy Xu

Mooncakes by Wendy Xu and Suzanne Walker (9781549303043)

Nova lives with her grandmothers and helps out in their magical bookshop where they serve witches in the community with potion ingredients as well as spell books. One night, she discovers someone from her childhood in the woods, a werewolf named Tam. Tam has been battling a horse demon in the woods. Nova’s grandmothers head into the woods to capture the demon and discover something with far more power than they expected. Something is out to get Tam and merge werewolf magic with the demon. As Nova and Tam try to figure out the key to accessing Tam’s werewolf powers, they steadily fall for one another too. When the villain targeting Tam is revealed it will take everything they have to defeat them.

This graphic novel is an intoxicating mix of fantasy and romance with strong LGBTQ elements. The characters are layered and complex, something that is more difficult to achieve in a graphic novel format. The childhood connection between Tam and Nova gives them a place to build from in their relationship. The romance is lovely and sweet, progressing naturally as the two become closer. Family elements are also vital to the story from the grandmothers to ghost parents who also have opinions about how Nova is being raised.

Tam uses the pronouns they/them/theirs which is great to see in a graphic novel for teens. The grandmothers are a lesbian couple as well. These elements offered in a matter-of-fact way create a harmonious world full of queer love. The book offers this in a way that makes it simply part of the fabric of life, which is very refreshing.

A fantasy romance graphic novel worth falling for. Appropriate for ages 13-17.

Reviewed from library copy.

Review: Sunny Rolls the Dice by Jennifer L. Holm

Sunny Rolls the Dice by Jennifer L. Holm

Sunny Rolls the Dice by Jennifer L. Holm & Matthew Holm (9781338233155)

This third in the Sunny series of graphic novels continues the story of Sunny, who is growing up in the 1970s. Sunny is starting middle school and things with her friends are becoming more and more confusing. There is the mystery of hair rollers, the unspoken rules of being a girl like when a boy bumps you he’s showing he likes you and that even if girls talk about boys all the time, it’s not OK to be friends with them. But there are things that make perfect sense to Sunny, like playing Dungeons & Dragons with her group of friends, who are mostly boys. When that too ends up being forbidden in middle school, Sunny must decide if she wants to be groovy or wants to be herself.

As someone of almost the exact same age as Sunny in the 1970s, one of the most charming parts of this series is how much of the seventies is captured in the stories without it becoming unnecessarily retro. I also love the inclusion of Dungeons & Dragons. Sunny is a girl after my own heart as I played a paladin always. The fact that D&D bridges from the seventies to today is impressive. The tone is just right as well, offering moments of real humor and empathy in the middle school years. As always, the art is right on, with the failures of Sunny to curl her hair, the beauty of tight Gloria Vanderbilt jeans, and the quiet loveliness of a paneled basement for gaming.

Bright and funny, this is another great book in the series. Appropriate for ages 9-12.

Reviewed from ARC provided by Scholastic.

Review: The Okay Witch by Emma Steinkellner

The Okay Witch by Emma Steinkellner

The Okay Witch by Emma Steinkellner (9781534431454)

Moth has always loved everything to do with magic and witches. So when Halloween comes, she dresses up as a witch. That does nothing but encourage some school bullies who tease her in the hall in front of the new kid in town. But something strange happens and Moth’s hands start to glow. It turns out that Moth comes from a family of witches, something her mother had never shared with her. Now it all makes sense why Moth has felt so different from everyone else and struggled to make friends. As Moth learns more about her family and the secret separate magic land her grandmother helped create and still lives in, Moth’s powers grow. She meets a talking cat, makes her first real friend, and then discovers that while witches are real so are those who hunt them!

Steinkellner’s debut graphic novel for youth is a delightful mix of diversity and magic. While comparisons can be made with other teen witches, this book stands entirely on its own. Part of that distinction comes from the unique world that the town’s witch elders created for safety. It is a world of floating islands, crystalline colors and flowing robes. It contrasts dynamically with the world of middle school. Moth is the one who brings both worlds together as her magic begins to take form.

The characters in this graphic novel really make the book special. Moth moves far beyond middle-school misfit and is a friendly, funny protagonist with a talking cat who is brave and conflicted. Her mother too is complicated in all the best ways.

A great middle-grade graphic novel that is full of magic. Appropriate for ages 9-12.

Reviewed from copy provided by Aladdin.

Review: Joe Quinn’s Poltergeist by David Almond

Joe Quinn's Poltergeist by David Almond

Joe Quinn’s Poltergeist by David Almond, illustrated by Dave McKean (9781536201604)

At first Davie doesn’t believe that Joe Quinn has a poltergeist in his home. After all, Joe has told lies before about his family. But when Davie and his best friend head over to Joe’s house to witness it themselves, they see bread and butter fly through the air, chips hit the wall, and dishes break. Davie himself lost a sister when she was very little, and he longs to know if ghosts are real because if so, she might still be there. But could it just be Joe playing a prank? Perhaps bringing the village priest in will help make things more clear and perhaps it will cloud things even more.

Almond and McKean have created several of the most inventive and incredible graphic novels in the last few years, including The Savage, Slog’s Dad, and Mouse Bird Snake Wolf. It is great to see another of their weird collaborations. This book is not about answering questions about whether ghosts exist. It’s about grief and loss, violence and families, and being willing to live with questions unanswered. It is a book that takes a short story by Almond and turns it into something visceral and pointed, a book for Halloween yes, but also for everyday darkness and wonder as well.

The illustrations by McKean are filled with sharp edges, fractured panes. They have characters who writhe on the page, almost beyond human and filled with amazing flaws. There are times of amazing green grass and sunshine, others of the sun breaking through blood-red clouds, others of filled with shadows of prison bars. The images are stunning in their stretched-out haunting nature.

A graphic novel that is not for everyone, but fans of dark corners will love what they find here. Appropriate for ages 12-15.

Reviewed from library copy.

Review: Stargazing by Jen Wang

Stargazing by Jen Wang

Stargazing by Jen Wang (9781250183880)

Moon and Christine could not be more different even though they both have grown up in the same Chinese-American neighborhood. Christine has strict parents who don’t let her wear nail polish, much less makeup. Moon’s single-parent mother is accepting and gentle. Christine tends to be more concerned with fitting in than Moon who is rather dreamy and loves dancing and music. The two girls decide to enter the school’s talent contest as a dance team, bringing out Christine’s performing side that she never knew existed. Just as the girls start to gel as friends though, Moon reveals that she has visions sometimes. When the true cause of the visions turns out to be seizures, Christine must figure out what sort of friend she really is.

Award-winning graphic novelist Wang invites readers into a personal story about growing up Chinese-American. She draws from her own medical past with seizures and brain surgery to create a graphic novel that is wrenching and real. She entirely leaves her heart on the pages, giving us two girls who are different from one another but clearly meant to be friends. The books’ premise may be personal, but the result is a book that is universal. Wang’s art is accessible and friendly, inviting readers to explore and learn along the way. There are wonderful moments that are distinctly Chinese-American that resonate across cultures.

A warm and rich graphic novel about friendship and so much more. Appropriate for ages 9-12.

Reviewed from library copy.