Dec 16, 2020

Best Graphic Novels of 2020

Time for another yearly roundup! Below is a list of some of the most colorful, diverse graphic novels we enjoyed in 2020. I must admit, I didn’t read any graphic novels up until a couple years ago when I reached my late twenties. I assumed that they were just like superhero comic books and considering that I really don’t have any knowledge or interest in superheroes, assumed that graphic novels just weren’t for me. I cracked open The Prince and the Dressmaker by Jen Wang for a library school class and was completely surprised at how much I enjoyed reading it! The characters were witty, the artwork was a glorious confection of pastels, and the whole story turned the traditional fairytale narrative on its head. Graphic novels are incredibly useful tools for young readers; they not only serve as a way to get reluctant readers interested in stories, but also they also serve as books that can help children transition from picture books and early readers to chapter books and beyond. The same nuances that we see in picture books can also be found in graphic novels; facial expressions, settings, and more illustrated details add such dimension to stories. Can we also gush for a moment about diversity? Graphic novels are at the forefront when it comes to showing differences in race, gender, and ability. Furthermore, from fantasy to immigrant stories, to historical adventures to even Dungeons and Dragons, there are graphic novels for every reader. Don’t wait like I did to discover these gems. Check out the list below! 

AstroNuts Mission Two: The Water Planet by Jon Scieszka
Consisting of AstroWolf, LaserShark, SmartHawk, and StinkBug, the AstroNuts are back for round two of their challenge: Find the perfect Goldilocks planet, fit for human life, since humans have destroyed planet Earth beyond repair. Can the aquatic, splashy Water Planet be the one? The clams on Planet Water certainly seem eager to trade! While the pages of this graphic novel are full of collage illustrations, there’s a clear environmental message and young readers will be exposed to plenty of science facts. I recently gave the AstroNuts series to a reluctant reader and she was hooked. This series is perfect for readers who enjoy the CatStronauts series, Geronimo Stilton series, and the Sanity & Tallulah series.  

Measuring Up by Lily LaMotte
Cici has just moved from Taiwan to Seattle. She’s quickly made new friends, but she misses her grandmother, A-ma, something fierce and wants to celebrate her seventieth birthday together. That’s when Cici decides to secretly enter a Chopped, Top Chief-style competition for children. If she wins, she’ll use the prize money to purchase her grandmother a plane ticket to Seattle! The problem? Cici only knows how to cook Taiwanese food! How will she measure up to the other competitors? This book is a true standout. The illustrations are clean, the contest recipes are creative and mouthwatering, and young readers will get a taste of Cici’s immigrant experience. Perfect for readers who like Front Desk by Kelly Yang, Pie in the Sky by Remy Lai, and The Year of the Dog by Grace Lin.   

Séance Tea Party by Reimena Yee
Lora’s friends have discovered boy bands and makeup, and are beginning to drift away. A lover of all things spooky and weird, Lora decides to have a séance days before Halloween and summon a new friend. Alexa, a spirit who haunts Lora’s home and who has watched countless children grow up and pass her by, quickly becomes Lora’s new friend. Through plenty of adventures, Lora helps Alexa piece together her past and Alexa encourages Lora to step outside her comfort zone and entertain the thought that growing up might not be so bad, especially if you stay true to yourself. Young readers will find plenty of things in common with the quirky Lora. This is a tender and heartfelt coming-of-age story worth reading. Perfect for readers that enjoy The Witch Boy by Molly Ostertag, The Lumberjanes series by Noelle Stevenson, and 11 Birthdays by Wendy Mass. 

Class Act by Jerry Craft
Jerry Craft returns with this sequel to his award-winning book New Kid. Class Act follows Jordan’s best friend Drew Ellis at Riverdale Academy Day School. Drew is no stranger to the saying: “You have to work twice as hard to be just as good.” Drew is one of the few black students at the Academy, he lives in a poor area of New York City with his grandmother, and he has a scholarship for his eighth grade year. Drew can’t get past how different he is from his friends: Jordan has a lighter skin tone, Liam is so wealthy, and both seem to fit in better at school than he does. While not as successful as his first graphic novel, Craft offers a complex look at racial and class issues and the beauty of friendship in this work. It’s a great conversation starter about privilege and how we perceive one another. Perfect for readers that like Ghost by Jason Reynolds, Clean Getaway by Nic Stone, and any of Alexander Kwame's books.  

Blades of Freedom: A Tale of Haiti, Napoleon, and the Louisiana Purchase by Nathan Hale 
Whenever someone is discussing their dislike of history, my heart breaks a little. Learning history does not have to be put in the same category as watching paint dry! Nathan Hale’s Hazardous Tales series makes history come alive for young readers by breaking down historical complexities, infusing history with humor, and highlighting the relevance of historical events. The latest in Hale’s series deals with the Louisiana Purchase. Who doesn’t love a bargain? Why would Napoleon give up his dream of creating a French empire in the Americas and sell such a massive chunk of territory to Thomas Jefferson and James Madison? Read and find out all the answers when the book comes out the week of Thanksgiving! Perfect for readers that enjoy the I Survived series by Lauren Tarshis, the Who Was? Series, the Magic Tree House series by Mary Pope Osborne, and anything by Alan Gratz. 

When Stars are Scattered by Victoria Jamieson
Jamieson’s latest book is a dramatic departure from Roller Girl, but boy is it the most beautiful book you could ever read. Jamieson tells the true story of Omar Mohamed’s childhood as a refugee. Omar lives in a Dadaab Refugee Camp in Kenya with his brother Hassan, who has a seizure disorder and can only speak one word, and Fatuma, the elderly woman assigned to foster them. Omar and Hassan’s father was killed in Somalia’s Civil War and their mother is missing. Omar struggles with many decisions while living in the refugee camp, like whether or not he should attend school or care for his brother. It is a timely book that will stick with you long after you finish reading. Make sure to check out an interview with Victoria Jamieson and Omar Mohamed here. Perfect for readers who like Free Lunch by Rex Ogle, The Red Pencil by Andrea Davis Pinkney, The Boy at the Back of the Class by Onjali Q. Rauf, and anything by Alan Gratz.  

Dungeon Critters by Natalie Riess and Sara Goetter
Quests! Plots! Evil Plants! Magic and mayhem! This action-packed graphic novel takes its inspiration from Dungeons and Dragons, but stands on its own as a wild adventure story. Creators Riess and Goetter actually played the main characters in their own tabletop games before creating a zine of their quests and eventually this graphic novel. June, Rose, Goro, and Chirp (a botanist dog, arson-obsessed cat, gentle snake, and feisty, genderbending frog, respectively) crash a fancy party to figure out a sinister botanical conspiracy taking place among the furry nobility. More drama ensues as their quest takes them to even more fancy balls, haunted dungeons, perilous swamps, and more. Perfect for readers that like Beetle & the Hollowbones by Aliza Layne, Phoebe and Her Unicorn by Dana Simpson, and the Amulet series by Kazu Kibuishi.