31 Days, 31 Lists: Day Twenty – 2017 Comics for Kids
I’d be lying to you if I said that I wasn’t desperately reading graphic novels until lunchtime yesterday, in an effort to make darn certain that no comic went unconsidered for today’s list. Comics are my love and delight. Did you know that there’s a new comic award out there, by the way? The Excellence in Graphic Literature Awards celebrate the great titles that get published each year. With four primary categories for fiction and nonfiction titles (Children, Middle Grade, Young Adult, and Adult) there will also be titles nominated for Book of the Year and the Mosaic Award. The awards encourage artists, authors, editors, and publishers to submit titles for the awards, hoping to broaden the scope of books for the juries to consider. This will give even the smallest of publishers a solid shot at landing a book on the nominations list. Here’s the link for submitting titles that were published this year (2017).
And now, a little list of the comics that I particularly liked this year:
2017 Comics for Kids
The Adventures of Kung Fu Robot: How to Make a Peanut Butter, Jelly & Kung Fu Sandwich by Jason Bays
It’s not going to win any big fancy awards. Heck, I don’t think I’ve seen it show up on a single Best Of list this year. But this little charmer has a couple things going for it. 1 – It’s honestly one of the funniest books I’ve read all year. 2- There are evil ninjas. Add in the fact that I’m very partial to this drawing style (that robot’s jaw is NOWHERE near the rest of his head!) and you’ve got yourself a winner. I’ll go all out for the books that make me laugh out loud.
All’s Faire in Middle School by Victoria Jamieson
The book that has done its darndest to convince me that Ren Faire kids were less popular than kids obsessed by musicals (guilty) in middle school. I gotta say, Jamieson makes a strong case. Middle school (and I don’t want to spoil it for you or anything) sucks. Big time. But the book basically says that right at the start so if there’s learning and growing to be done, it won’t be on account of that particular lesson.
Bats: Learning to Fly by Falynn Koch
In a given year there are a lot of Science Comics titles to choose between. Why would I choose to concentrate all my time, love, and attention on this particular book? Well, as with any series done by multiple creators, the Science Comics vary widely in terms of quality. This particular book was a favorite of mine this year. It’s hugely informative in terms of bats, but more importantly the storyline that ties those facts together is good and strong. Plus, because of this book I was able to act like I had superior knowledge when fox headed fruit bat videos surfaced on Facebook recently:
The Big Bad Fox by Benjamin Renner
My co-worker Brian says that every page of this book is hilarious and I’m inclined to agree. It’s French in nature and delightful every step of the way. A fox raises three baby chicks with the clear intent of eating them when they’re big enough. Trouble is, he gets attached to the little buggers. If you need a book that makes you laugh, this is the one to get.
Bolivar by Sean Rubin
Since I reviewed it this little book has just taken off like wildfire. I’m so pleased. Partly because it’s the most authentic children’s book set in NYC that I’ve read in a long long time. And the cross-hatching. The cross-hatching!!! Gosh it’s good.
Brave by Svetlana Chmakova
I need to thank Alison Morris of First Book for turning me onto this one. Without her clear direction I might have missed what I consider to be perhaps the finest graphic novel for kids of the year. I only wish I’d reviewed it when I had the chance, but I found it too late. You see that boy on the cover? That’s Jensen. You know him. He’s the kid that’s sort of good at one thing (drawing) but he’s no superstar. He doesn’t pay attention in class and he’s not particularly brilliant, but he’s a good guy. Doesn’t matter. That is precisely the kind of kid that carries the brunt of bullying. Only the bullying he’s enduring isn’t the shove you into a locker type. It’s sly and subtle and comes from “friends” as easily as his enemies. I’ve never seen a book break down bullying culture for kids as well as this one does. Highly recommended.
Castle In the Stars: The Space Race of 1869 – Book One by Alex Alice
Funny that this book should come out the same year as Pigs Might Fly (discussed below). Both are obsessed with the power of flight and harnessing new energies. This book, as you might be able to tell from the cover, owes as much to Tintin as it does to Miyazaki. It’s ambitious too, which is always a plus for me. I love the large format (very Little Nemo), the colors, and the art itself. Definitely just the first in a series, but a series worth exploring further.
Catstronauts: Mission Moon by Drew Brockington
I suppose these cuddly kitties are also space-obsessed. Gosh, what is it about 2017 that suddenly we’re all hell-bent on getting off this planet as quickly as possible? Oh. Wait. I just answered my own question. Well Brockington’s book is far more than cute kittens. There’s actually quite a bit of real life science wrapped up in this tale of cats in a space race. And yes, there are Russians competing against them, but you need to see the sequel to get the full story on that front.
Cosmic Commandos by Christopher Eliopoulos
If Eliopoulos and his art seem familiar, that may have something to do with the fact that he’s been illustrating that picture book biography series for Brad Meltzer for the last few years. In this book he’s sort of allowing his influences to come to the forefront of his art. There’s more than a whiff of Spaceman Spiff about this puppy, if you get what I’m saying. Exciting comics are great, of course, but without a story to go along with them they’re a whole lotta nothing. What keeps this book from being forgettable is the relationship between two very different twins. You know what this book really reminded me of? Sisters by Raina Telgemeier. Remember her relationship with her sister? Yep, it pairs well with this book. Feel free to hand this to Telgemeier fans. Definitely has more boom booms, but worth it.
The Dam Keeper by Robert Kondo, ill. Dice Tsutsumi
It’s almost too pretty, isn’t it? A dark comic, verging on middle school / high school inclusion, if only because of that hanged/not hanged frog image. But I like the character development at work here and the epic storyline. But why tell you when I can show you? It was also a short film, but happily the art in the book stands on its own and not as sequential storyboards. Here’s the gist:
Fish Girl by David Wiesner and Donna Jo Napoli
I will confess that I wasn’t sure if I was going to include this book on today’s list. Not that it’s bad or anything, but I think with a cover like that, and the pedigree of its creators, people come to it expecting more. As it stands, the book is actually very claustrophobic. A mermaid is kept ignorant of her situation by a shyster with very small ambitions. Yet the farther I get from this book, the better I remember it. Something about it has stayed in my brain. I think that’s worth something, don’t you?
The Great Big Boom: Hilo Book 3 by Judd Winick
I’m including almost no sequels on today’s list, save this one. Why? Because I think it’s fair to say that I have read the first 20 pages of this book to my 3-year-old son approximately 150 times. And crazy as that may sound, what’s even crazier is that I still absolutely love the book, the series, the whole kerschmozzle. This may well be my favorite serial being produced today. I say with all seriousness that I cannot WAIT for book 4 to come out in January. Outstanding.
Louis Undercover by Fanny Britt, ill. Isabelle Arsenault
If you loved Jane, the Fox & Me but weren’t sure where to put it in your library, you’re going to have the exact same problem with this book. In this particular case we meet Louis and his parents, divorced due in large part this his self-pitying father’s alcoholism. There’s a light at the end of this tunnel but it’s a dim one. Definitely a book for thoughtful kids on the upper end of the comic book spectrum.
Mega Princess by Kelly Thompson, ill. Brianne Drouhard, colored by M. Victoria Robado, lettered by Warren Montgomery
Oh, I came so close to missing this one! I don’t remember where I saw it mentioned, but I found the cover appealing. Or maybe just the disgruntled pony’s expression. Whatever the case, this book tells the tale of Max, who dreams of being the next Sam Spade. Instead, she’s a princess, with all the trappings therein. Upon her tenth birthday Max is endowed with all the powers of all the princesses that have ever been. No instruction booklet is on hand to help her figure out what those powers are, and that’s too bad because her baby brother has just been kidnapped. The story moves at a right, quick clip. This is one of those books made of comics put together into one big volume. Doesn’t matter. Any kid who reads this will be a fan. Loved it.
One Trick Pony by Nathan Hale
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: Misty of Chincoteague meets Road Warrior. Do you honestly need more information than that?
Pigs Might Fly by Nick Abadzis, ill. Jerel Dye
I swear we haven’t seen Nick Abadzis do something for kids since the glory days of his incredible Laika. Now he’s back, but only with the writing. Not so much the art, which is fine because that Jerel Dye character is tops with a pen. In this book the heroine, Lily Leanchops, has solved the mystery of manned (pigged?) flight. And not a minute too soon either, since an unknown enemy is threatening her kingdom. If you’re willing to wade through a little technical rigamarole once in a while, you’ll be rewarded with a highly satisfying storyline with hints that there’s more to come. A book that’s willing to shoot for the moon.
Raid of No Return: A World War II Tale (Nathan Hale’s Hazardous Tales) by Nathan Hale
I will confess that Nathan Hale could probably write a Hazardous Tale that consisted entirely of Daniel Ellsberg photocopying the Pentagon Papers and nothing else and I’d still include it on this list. That said, this is a fascinating glimpse of a part of WWII history that kids don’t usually get to see.
Real Friends: A True Story About Cool Kids and Crybabies by Shannon Hale, ill. LeUyen Pham
I’ve been joking with folks that 2017 was the Year of the Awkward Lunch Table Sequence. Not so in this particular memoir. Hale digs deep and goes personal with this recounting of her life in Utah growing up and and trying to make (and, harder still, retain) friends over the years. This is the book that a lot of girls and boys alike are going to identify with.
The Sand Warrior (5 Worlds 1) by Mark Siegel, Alexis Siegel, Xanthe Bouma, Matt Rockefeller, and Boya Sun
I’ve mentioned a couple books on this list that are ambitious in their scope, but none of them hold a candle to this nifty little series. I’m not entirely certain why it has so many creators. Whatever the reason, I’m happy to report that the book doesn’t feel like it was created by a committee. At the same time, this is a book you will have to hand only to those kids that are willing to dive deep into strange new worlds with strange new rules. The Sand Warrior isn’t going to hold your hand as you read this. Get on board and follow along or risk being left behind.
The Tea Dragon Society by Katie O’Neill
I was unprepared to believe how much I was going to love this book. I’d read O’Neill’s Princess Princess Ever After before and wasn’t particularly blown away by it. This book is different. It does its world building from the ground up but moves at a slow and leisurely pace, allowing the reader as much time as they like to indulge. The basic premise is that there are “tea dragons” in this world that produce flowers that make delicious tea. Not a lot happens. Not a lot needs to. There is comfort embedded in these pages.
Thornhill by Pam Smy
Funny that this should fall alphabetically after The Tea Dragon Society since the two books could hardly be more different. Thornhill isn’t strictly a graphic novel, but is more in the Hugo Cabret vein of writing and art. Even so, the art is integral to the storytelling. This is the book that you hand to the kid that doesn’t always need happy endings. It’s dark and a bit depressing but it also utterly sucks you in and doesn’t let go. Delightfully disturbing.
Where’s Halmoni? by Julie Kim
This was so good! I’m relieved that I listened to all the early buzz and got a chance to read it. Filled with Korean words, the storyline follows a brother and sister as they cross over into a magical world in search of their grandmother. Along the way they find friends and foes. Often the art is breathtakingly beautiful, even as our heroes never abandon their search. A book that you can read to your young children over and over again. I should know. I do.
The Witch Boy by Molly Ostertag
While Ostertag’s book does run the risk of pushing its metaphor too far, I really enjoyed the pacing of this story. I’m sure you could make a sequel to this title, but the creator has taken pains to wrap everything up neatly at the end, not a dangling plotline or thread to be found. In this story, 13-year-old Aster knows that since he’s a boy he needs to learn to shapeshift, but his heart isn’t in it. What he really wants is to learn magic like the witches do. Trouble is, boys aren’t allowed to do this and now a new threat has started kidnapping all the boys. A book that draws strength from its own storytelling.
Interested in the other lists of the month? Here’s the schedule so that you can keep checking back:
December 1 – Board Books
December 2 – Board Book Reprints & Adaptations
December 3 – Wordless Picture Books
December 4 – Picture Book Readalouds
December 5 – Rhyming Picture Books
December 6 – Alphabet Books
December 7 – Funny Picture Books
December 8 – CaldeNotts
December 9 – Picture Book Reprints
December 10 – Math Picture Books
December 11 – Bilingual Books
December 12 – Translated Picture Books
December 13 – Books with a Message
December 14 – Fabulous Photography
December 15 – Fairy Tales / Folktales
December 16 – Oddest Books of the Year
December 17 – Poetry Books
December 18 – Easy Books
December 19 – Early Chapter Books
December 20 – Comics for Kids
December 21 – Older Funny Books
December 22 – Fictionalized Nonfiction
December 23 – American History
December 24 – Science & Nature Books
December 25 – Transcendent Holiday Picture Books
December 26 – Unique Biographies
December 27 – Nonfiction Picture Books
December 28 – Nonfiction Chapter Books
December 29 – Fiction Reprints
December 30 – Middle Grade Novels
December 31 – Picture Books
About Betsy Bird
Betsy Bird is currently the Collection Development Manager of the Evanston Public Library system and a former Materials Specialist for New York Public Library. She has served on Newbery, written for Horn Book, and has done other lovely little things that she'd love to tell you about but that she's sure you'd find more interesting to hear of in person. Her opinions are her own and do not reflect those of EPL, SLJ, or any of the other acronyms you might be able to name. Follow her on Twitter: @fuseeight.
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