by Jen Moyers (@jen.loves.books)
This year has been a great one for me to dive into some wonderful graphic novels, graphic memoirs, and comic books. I read differently with these, using a different type of interpretation than when I'm looking solely at text. My boys, who are 10 and 13, love graphic novels, and I can always count on them to pass on the ones they love. Here are some recommendations from my reading this year:
Molly Knox Ostertag's The Witch Boy trilogy (The Witch Boy, The Hidden Witch, The Midwinter Witch) - One of my friends from childhood, a former art teacher and current elementary school librarian) recommended this trilogy to me, and he was so right. Both of my boys have devoured them. They focus on a magical society in which boys become shape shifters and girls become witches. When one boy wants to break the rules, the ensuing backlash unearths some buried secrets, and he seeks comfort with a new, human friend who also yearns to bypass expectations. This is a beautiful, sweet story with amazing characters.
Rainbow Rowell's Fangirl, Volume 1: The Manga, adapted by Sam Maggs and illustrated by Gabi Nam, and Jason Reynolds's Long Way Down: The Graphic Novel, illustrated by Danica Novgorodoff - I'm a huge fan of this trend of graphic novel adaptations of popular contemporary (and classic!) works. I think it opens these books to a new audience. I'm on record as being a total Fangirl fangirl, and we all love Reynolds's novel in verse Long Way Down, so to see these receive gorgeous adaptations makes my heart happy.
Jerry Craft's New Kid and Class Act - After my boys both loved the award-winning New Kid, I pre-ordered Class Act. This companion novel keeps up with favorite characters from New Kid, including protagonist Jordan, while focusing on his best friend Drew. The book follows the boys, now in eighth grade, at an exclusive school where they are two of the few students of color. It has fun chapter spreads alluding to other graphic novels and a great shout-out to popular YA authors. These books deal with important issues in a way that appeals to middle graders and adults alike.
Doug TenNapel's Cardboard - I read this one after my younger son told me I would love it. (He's been following TenNapel since reading his book Ghostopolis.) Anyway, he was right. I appreciated this tribute to the power of imagination and ingenuity so much: it's the story of a father who, desperate to buy a birthday present for his son, gives his last money to a mysterious man for some cardboard that he promises will be the perfect gift. What seems to be a simple purchase turns into much more as father and son build a world together . . . and then lose control. This one has hints of fairytales—someone makes a bargain and then doesn't follow the parameters—with a gorgeous twist.
Thi Bui's The Best We Could Do - This beautiful graphic memoir details the immigration of the author's family from Vietnam in the 1970s and how the aftermath of that experience affects Bui as a daughter and a mother. While it has moments of great sadness, the memoir ultimately focuses on love, connection, and forgiveness. And the art is truly stunning.
Joe Hill's Locke and Key series, illustrated by Gabriel Rodriguez - I found this series because of the Amazon adaptation, but I've enjoyed reading these despite knowing the general arc of the story. (There are some pretty significant departures in plot.) The books are grittier, and while the show is beautifully done, with amazing special effects, nothing can match the power of art to build new realities and to convey the wild possibilities of imaginary worlds.
Victoria Jamieson and Omar Mohamed's When Stars Are Scattered - My final recommendation is this beautiful, heart-wrenching account of Mohamed's time in a refugee camp in Kenya. Omar and his brother Hassan were separated from their mother and have to survive with the help of a kind stranger. When they begin dreaming of immigrating to the United States, it's up to Omar to demonstrate why they deserve the opportunity for which so many yearn.
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