31 Days, 31 Lists: 2020 Comics & Graphic Novels for Kids
Well, you’re in for it now. I do pretty well reading all the picture books in a given year, but I know I missed a good chunk of them in 2020. I did even worse with middle grade fiction. Did I even read half the books that got stars from profession review journals? Probably not. Nonfiction was okay, but not perfect. The ONLY category of children’s book where I feel relatively confident that I saw 90% of the good stuff is comics. I read whole swaths of the things. Imports and realistic fiction and historical works and books that melded fact and fiction together. Every year the number of comic imprints at major publishers increases. Every year we see more and more graphic novels hit our shelves. And so I hereby swear, as you are my witness, I will do whatever it takes to find the best and deliver it to you. And 2020 turned out to be a doozy of a year for the best:
2020 Comics & Graphic Novels for Kids
Anti/Hero by Kate Karyus Quinn and Demitria Lunetta, ill. Maca Gil
I have two kids, ages 6 and 9. That means I read them a lot of comics. A. Lot. And sometimes it can be a little difficult finding them enough. It also means that when bedtime comes I often end up reading the same books twice. This can be annoying if the books are mediocre. But if the books are as amusing as Anti/Hero it ain’t so bad. Who doesn’t like villains and heroes switching bodies? Or the occasional Batman cameo? Or bears in kilts? In kilts, by god, in kilts!!
Aster and the Accidental Magic by Thom Pico, ill. Karensac, translated by Dupuis
If you’re going to write an epic comic then by gum you need to go big. And this little Belgian import (which I didn’t even know WAS an import, so perfectly was it translated) is not afraid to go as big as possible. It tracks the heroine, Aster, in two different stories after she and her family have moved to the great outdoors. Naturally you hear all of this and you probably imagine it’s something like Hilda. That’s not a terrible comparison, actually. Of course, the most obvious difference is that Hilda is ALL about nature and Aster has to be persuaded to come around to it. There is also, along the way, an old lady with magic powers, a talking dog, chestnuts that are also knights, and an evil fox. All good things in a great big good book.
Beetle and the Hollowbones by Aliza Layne
After all these years, Kat Hollowbones, former best friend of Beetle the goblin-witch, is back. But is she a good witch or a bad witch? Though my daughter and I would agree that the tacked on romance is entirely superfluous (you can save people without having to be in love with them) I thought Layne did a stand up and cheer job at her world building. This felt entirely original and entirely relatable. And cute! So so cute! Love the art, love the style, and really love that grandma goblin.
Billy Johnson and His Duck Are Explorers by Mathew New
This fast-paced, high-action, thoroughly enjoyable romp has everything from elegant thieves and possible aliens to lost cities and mummy butlers. I spy with my little eye an artist that loves his Tintin. Rip-roaring adventures occur for a boy and his trusty duck companion. Never mind that the boy inevitably fails in almost every case, or that the duck is clearly the smarter of the two. You’ll have no trouble following the action, and though we’ve seen similar types of stories for kids, this is the first comic to do it well. What’s not to love?
Black Heroes of the Wild West by James Otis Smith
Fighting off wild wolves, taming mustangs, catching crooks. Meet three real life heroes like you’ve never seen them before. Pretty much the more Bass Reeves and Stagecoach Mary we can get into the collection the better. And I hadn’t even heard of Bob Lemmons before this book, but now I may need to know more. This little history collection is short, sweet, and to the point. Smith’s art didn’t grab me right off the bat, but when it did I was hooked. Extra points for completely eschewing that wild rumor that Mary had a trained pet eagle. I also love Kadir Nelson’s intro, which states that a third of the settler population in the Old West was black.
Black Sand Beach: Are You Afraid of the Light? by Richard Fairgray
The Twilight Zone meets Twin Peaks . . . for kids! When Dash and his friend Lily set out to spend the summer at Black Sand Beach, they have no idea how many ghosts, changelings, and malevolent forces they’ll have to encounter there. I have a bad habit of reading books to my kids before I’ve read them myself. Most of the time this isn’t a problem, but once in a while I come across something that’s particularly creepy. That’s what happened with this book. You want a bit of psychedelic insanity? I’m taking horse people with giant toothy mouths on their bellies? Got your number. Of course both my kids ADORED the book, and the only reason they’re upset with it is that they won’t be able to read the sequel until the summer of 2021. I loved the humor and weirdness of it. As I mentioned, this is sort Twin Peaks-y, but the characters are so confident in this world that you take comfort in how they saunter through it. Oh, and my favorite character is Andy. You’ll soon see why.
Blades of Freedom (Nathan Hale’s Hazardous Tales) by Nathan Hale
No shade on the “History Comics” series coming out this year, but have you noticed how many books out there are macking off of Nathan Hale’s success? It’s not as if the “Hazardous Tales” series (in which the historical Revolutionary era spy Nathan Hale delays his own hanging by telling a Provost and a Hangman stories about American History) hadn’t covered slavery before. Heck, his Underground Abductor may have been his finest work (it’s my favorite children’s book about Harriet Tubman). And he’s never been intimidated by big stories. But slavery gets the FULL ON treatment in this story of Haiti, Napoleon, and the Louisiana Purchase. Is it necessary? A little story. This year, my family received as an early Christmas present a board game called “Archipelago”. As I read through the instructions, I came to the slow, horrified realization that the entire game was one big justification for European colonization (though apparently the game “Puerto Rico” is even worse?). I decided to look online to see if anyone had ever expressed any thoughts about this and found myself sinking deep into a 2012 rabbit hole where grown arse adults were saying that colonization could not possibly be equated to genocide and other equally inane statements. I came away from that experience realizing how much work is yet to be done. This book, this painful and insightful and horrifying book, is precisely what we need to do it. You will find ZERO smiling slaves inside. Instead you’ll find the most gruesome book in the series to date (and I include Donner Dinner Party in that statement). The kooky thing? Kids are going to read it over and over again. I don’t know how he does it, but I pray he never ever stops.
A Cat Story by Ursula Murray Husted
Could there really be a hidden garden out there where a kitty could find a home? Sumptuous art accompanies this tale of two cats on a search for the perfect place to live. Luscious. Honestly, it kind of feels like Husted is showing off for us with this debut. From the moment I opened the book to the publication page I was just floored by the sheer amount of work she’s put into these backgrounds. And then when I started to recognize the art that the cats saunter through… well, it didn’t really have much to do with the plot itself, but by that point I didn’t even care. The writing, thank goodness, is strong, if slight. There’s not a ton at stake here, and that’s okay. It’s just two cats exploring Malta and we get to come along for the ride. Pretty darn sweet.
The Challenger Disaster: Tragedy in the Skies by Pranas T. Naujokaitis
Watching the wide variety of “History Comics” from First Second this year has been fascinating. The “Science Comics” series has always been so touch-and-go. Some books in the series are deft and agile, while other are distinctly clunky. It appears that something similar has happened with the “History Comics”. Overall, they’ve varied in quality, but in a general sense I’ve been impressed. Perhaps most impressive in some ways is this creative look at the Challenger Disaster. This is a historical event that happened during my lifetime but that I have no memory of at all. Using a framing sequence of a class of space kids learning about the disaster on “Challenger Day”, we get to meet each crew member, learn about why this program was important in the first place, see the tragedy, and then do a deep dive into the investigation of what happened. Naujokaitis cleverly keeps the revelations coming. I mean, who knew that Sally Ride was the anonymous tipster that led Feynmann to the O-rings? Smartly handled with very little extra weight, this is fiction and nonfiction mixing together at their best.
Class Act by Jerry Craft
Look, any book that makes a direct reference to books like Hereville and This Was Our Pact, of all things, is going to earn my love anyway. It doesn’t have to be a sequel to New Kid (though, that probably doesn’t hurt). Now usually when an author has a sequel to their Newbery winner come out, you expect that it’ll be a good try but not really hit the same notes as the previous book. But darned if this actually might even be better than its predecessor. If the first book brought up ideas I’d never seen discussed in a children’s book before, its companion novel doubles down. In my favorite moment, the kids have been forced to watch an adaptation of the (not #ownvoices) cinematic adaptation of “The Mean Streets of South Uptown” (I mean, the name alone). Afterwards a bunch of white people experiencing white guilt just start giving stuff to Drew while Jordan gets nothing. After they’ve left Jordan yells in a fit of pique, “How come I didn’t get any reparations?” This book honestly had laugh-out-loud funny moments and characters you care about. It also has some of the best examples of poorly done equity work I’ve ever seen, period. My god. Should be required reading.
Cub by Cynthia L. Copeland, ill. By Ronda Pattison
If you look at the cover, the print on the dress (with that magnificent white collar) and old-school camera are a clear indication that we’re in graphic novel memoir territory. Copeland reflects back on the 70s, at a time when as a kid she got to follow a female news reporter about town. With the Nixon hearings in the background, young Cynthia is also navigating shifting friendships, her first boyfriend, and mean girls. It’s the kind of low-level conflict I’m completely okay with. Nothing overly cruel. Lots of smart stuff to say about how friends change and finding your voice. I particularly loved how Cynthia’s relationship with her father morphed over time. Good strong stuff.
Donut Feed the Squirrels by Mika Song
Each year my library puts together a list of the 101 Great Books for Kids we’ve read over the past year. This year, in 2020, we had some difficulty locating comics for younger readers. They’re out there, but it’s so much easier to praise something like Lightfall, with its epic sweeping vistas and heroic storyline than, say, something written with a five-year-old in mind. So instead of bold, muscled heroes plunging into the unknown, let’s look at tiny, furry heroes, plunging (quite literally) into donut batter. In Donut Feed the Squirrels, Belly and Norma (female squirrels who, I am relieved to report, aren’t rendered with big eyelashes and bows and all that nonsense) are making do with hazelnuts. When a donut food truck pulls into their vicinity, they concoct a plan worthy of Mission Impossible to infiltrate the vehicle and “purchase” (with nuts, of course) the tasty baked goods. Will they succeed or fail beyond measure? Beyond making one hungry for donuts, Song taps into the younger reader mindset beautifully. Watercolors and warm charm combine.
Dungeon Critters by Natalie Riess and Sara Goetter, edited by Calista Brill and Mariah Huehner
I heard the praise surrounding these critters and their dungeons (and there are a LOT of dungeons) long before I actually got my hands on the book. Note: Do NOT do what I did and skip around before you do a read. That is a terrible way to encounter this storyline. Be good and begin at the beginning and work your way through, because this thing is jam packed with plot, character development and color color color! LGBTQIA+ friendly? Oh yes indeed! Essentially, this the tale of four animal warriors that work to investigate and defeat a vast conspiracy. Nerd that I am, I was particularly fond of a section in the back called “How We Make Comics” that shows precisely how Natalie and Sara divvy up the work of something like Dungeon Critters. Anything that shines a light on that process puts my soul to rest. Hand this to your lovers of Bone and Amulet. So far it’s a standalone, but it’s epic-worthy.
Fox & Rabbit by Beth Ferry, ill. Gergely Dudás
In five little stories, fearless fox and cautious rabbit play, bicker, explore, and generally have a wonderful time. 2020 is apparently the year for younger graphic novels. Who knew? Ferry’s as American as they come but there’s an international feel to this little collection of small stories. Maybe that has something to do with the mouthless art of Mr. Dudás, who seems to be invoking the best of Sylvia Van Ommen. Whatever the case, this is a book that revels in callbacks, tiny moments, and, on occasion, stepping back to take in the bigger picture. It is very hard to be charming on demand. This book manages it.
Fun Fun Fun World by Yehudi Mercado
Minky is desperate to prove that he can succeed where no other alien has and defeat the planet Earth. Then the invasion turns into helping a boy named Javi get an amusement park up and running. Fun fun fun and filled with delicious churros! In the case of Mercado, he’s one of the few Latinx graphic novel author/illustrators out there. This is your basic aliens-come-to-earth story but those aforementioned churros play a BIG part in the narrative (you can even make out one on the cover). I think this works really well and who doesn’t love a deranged Walt Disney-esque character? One of my top picks.
Go With the Flow by Lily Williams, ill. Karen Schneemann
How do you battle injustice when you’re young? When Abby discovers that the tampon/tampax machines in her school are always empty, she and her friends band together to fight for what’s right. Period Equity: The Book! Are you ready for a title that’s all about menstruation? The final taboo topic of children’s literature is breached in every possible way. From the economic inequity of schools never stocking their tampon/tampax machines, to the pain some girls suffer from their periods, to just the casual embarrassment of wearing white on the wrong day, it’s an issue book, sure, but the friendships and character development stand out. So too does the art. Some may suggest that it’s too old for our group, but girls get their periods as young as 9 these days and they desperately need this information. These girls are in high school but I think there is a definite reason they’re marketing this younger. The only scene I saw as slightly on the edge of YA was a strategically placed pillow in one scene. Otherwise, this is great for our older readers.
Green Lantern: Legacy by Minh Lê, ill. Andie Tong
When his grandmother dies, Tai Pham is left with more than just his sadness. He’s left with her jade ring and legacy as the last Green Lantern. But can Tai get a hold on his emotions long enough to learn how the ring truly works? Let me tell you how much I trust the pen of Minh Lê. This book is a product of DC Kids, a kind of imprint of DC Comics that is attempting to jump into libraries by any means necessary. And last year they produced one of the worst superhero comics I have ever had the misfortune to see. Ridley Pearson’s Super Sons was disjointed, poorly executed, and lacking in any and all care. In sharp contrast is Green Lantern: Legacy. The fact that I even picked this up is due to its author, and I was not disappointed. No doubt Minh was given a word and page limit, so he has to keep his storytelling short, sweet, and to the point. Even so, you have this clear cut sense of the history of the Vietnamese in America, a message about embracing immigrants, top notch art and coloring, characters you care about, jokes that land, the whole enchilada. This book plays fair and if DC Comics is smart they’ll see to it that we get many more sequels to this in the future.
King of the Birds by Elise Gravel
Meet the crow, king of the feathered world (according to him). A natural show-off, nothing’s going to stand in his way between him and the shiny things he desires. It’s not a good year for children’s literature unless we have at least one Elise Gravel title to discuss. As is her wont, this book is chock full of sneaky science facts. I may be a bit biased since I love crows, and the storyline covers them in all their glorious shiny-loving weirdness. It’s a short one too, so perfect for those younger readers (which I know we’re always on the lookout for). Simple. Funny. Factual-ish.
The League of Super Feminists by Mirion Malle
“You can read this to me,” my 9-year-old informed me seriously, “just so you know that I hate the art and I’m not going to stop hating it.” Deal. Life’s too short to convince an American child that French contemporary cartoons are more than initially meets the eye. Malle’s book is best described as a HIGHLY informative encapsulation of a variety of feminist topics of conversation. Consent and intersectionality and representation and privilege and inclusive language and much much more all get their day in the sun. It’s a one stop shopping book of contemporary issues (and explanations). But there’s also some really good explanations of rudimentary feminism. Princess narratives? Not bad! But if that’s all you’re watching then there could be consequences down the road. I should note that for the first part of the book my daughter would occasionally moan about the art. By the end? No moans at all. Not so much as a peep, and plenty of appreciative laughter for the funny parts. This is the book we all need right now.
Lightfall: The Girl and the Galdurian by Tim Probert
What would you do if your grandfather (a pig wizard) went missing one day? If you’re Bea you team up with a cheery Galdurian warrior and find him in this sweeping adventurous tale. Clearly a labor of love, to say the least. It’s little wonder that Kazu Kibuishi is the one blurbing this book. The first in a series, it’s going all in on being epic. Beautiful, highly-detailed art and likable characters. I like how Bea’s anxieties take physical form too. Plus I just really like Cad. That guy’s got a good heart in him.
Measuring Up by Lily Lamotte, ill. Ann Xu
Is it not strange that with the proliferation of cooking shows on television, and the marked increase in kids’ interest in said cooking shows, we still don’t see a lot of graphic novels centered around kid cooks? Middle grade novels positively ABOUND with cooking and baking, but comics hold off. I have no idea why. As Lamotte and Xu showcase so perfectly, cooking competitions were made for the comic page. In this story, Cici has just moved with her family from Taiwan to America. She adjusts and makes friends but misses her grandmother desperately. When the opportunity to win a cooking competition arises, Cici leaps at the chance to win the money and bring A-Má to the States for a visit. But does she have what it takes? The tension of food competitions translates perfectly to the page and you are truly rooting for Cici every step of the way. But, as the Kirkus review warned, do NOT read this book while hungry.
Mister Invincible: Local Hero by Pascal Jousselin with Laurence Croix, translated by David Bryon and Ivanka T. Hahnenberger
Evildoers, beware! Mister Invincible is here! With the power of playing with panels and sequential pacing, consider this French import to be one of the funniest and cleverest books of the year. A more inventive comic you will not read this year. This book is AMAZING!! Mr. Invincible’s power is that he can use comic panels to his advantage. Along the way the book plays with time, perspective, and the very nature of comics themselves. It doesn’t read like a translation and it is so much fun! Please look at it. It may be my favorite comic of 2020.
My Video Game Ate My Homework by Dustin Hansen
What do you do when a virtual reality game eats the science fair project that was going to save you from summer school? This accessible adventure has the answer. What do I mean by “accessible”? Well, it makes sure not to include any black on white text (whole thing is brown on cream), there’s a hidden message for dyslexic kids who use overlays, and there’s sparser text where there is more happening visually. All of this is helpful to dyslexic readers. Plus I found the solution to the science fair project conundrum clever. Certainly worth keeping in the mix.
Nori by Rumi Hara
Meet Nori, a 4-year-old girl living with her parents and grandma in 1986 suburban Osaka. Small vignettes follow the low-key adventures of her day-to-day life. This is a book that reads like a translation, but isn’t (and that’s not an insult). There’s something oddly comforting about Hara’s book since it’s just a series of connected stories about Nori’s life with her grandmother. I found that it took three or four of them to really get it going, so stick with it. My kids were fond of it, in spite of its black and white pages. It kind of reminded me of Little White Duck by Na Liu in how it chooses to depict history through the eyes of a child. A safe book where nothing too terrible ever happens. Not the worst idea for a comic.
Once Upon a Space-Time! by Jeffrey Brown
Aliens have landed! Thanks to a kindly invasion, two kids are tapped to explore outer space with a cadre of friends from other planets. But will the grown-ups sabotage their plans in the end? I’ve always like Brown’s series with the Neanderthals, but the jokes didn’t always land as strongly as I could have hoped. That is not an issue with his newest series. Like the Neanderthal stories, this one is full of facts (this time about space), but it’s also deeply funny. If fault be found, it may lay with the ending, which sort of pulls together a last minute crisis that’s hard to get invested in. Still, gotta love that Toby.
Pea, Bee, & Jay: Stuck Together by Brian “Smitty” Smith
It was just supposed to be an easy dare, but when a hotheaded pea rolls too far from his patch, it takes the friendship of a clever bee and ground bound bird to help him get home. The book may have been written solely so that the title could make sense, but it is really hard to resist what “Smitty” Smith is laying down here. If we’re looking for comics on the younger side of the spectrum, I humbly submit to you this little charmer. Clocking in at a mere 62 pages, it’s a great little story about a pea, bee, and blue jay that become buds. Bees are kind of having a moment right now and this one with her spectacles and hidden backstory is my new favorite. Though, come to think of it, I also love the mean acorns. Can’t go wrong with a mean acorn.
The Postman From Space by Guillaume Perreault, translated by Françoise Bui
Bob’s a simple space postman who loves his regular routine. So what’s he supposed to do when the Boss gives him a wacky new route with strange planets and kooky inhabitants? This book may clock in at 142 pages or so, but it’s essentially a short story for younger readers. It all boils down to getting out of your comfort zone and how that often isn’t a fun experience at first, but can grow on you. It’s gentle, this one. A lovely tone to it, fun peppy art, and how can you not love a book that makes fun of Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s Little Prince? I loved the tiny hidden fox on the planet and the fact that the Prince (called Mr. Small here) is kind of a jerk.
Primer by Jennifer Muro and Thomas Krajewski, ill. Gretel Lusky
Ooo! Fast-paced but with a core story you can really care about. There are a lot of different elements all working in tandem with one another to make you like this book. For example, you cannot help but love this foster dad. This has a lot of the same fun you’d find in something like Ben 10. Which is to say, our heroine has at her fingertips an almost endless array of superhero possibilities depending on which paints she chooses to combine. Consider including on your list if you want something that’s pretty much pure fun.
The Runaway Princess by Johan Troïanowski, translated by Anne Collins Smith and Owen M. Smith
Princess Robin just can’t stay put! In three lushly illustrated stories she helps new friends find their way, outwits a witch, and defeats a crew of nasty pirates. Three little books about a princess and her friends are collected into one and translated for American audiences. This is definitely a comic that’s on the younger end of the spectrum. I love verbal sophistication and wit, but there’s a lot to be said for dreamlike imagery and simple storytelling. Troïanowski definitely belongs to the same camp as your Johann Sfars or Lewis Trondheims, but it’s the colors that set him apart. He manages to be detailed and pack the pictures with images without being overwhelming. The book has lots of little interactive elements where the fourth wall falls to pieces and readers are invited to help the characters. I appreciated that the book sometimes says to put a piece of paper down to trace, rather than drawing in the book. Nice touch.
School for Extraterrestrial Girls: Girl on Fire by Jeremy Whitley, ill. Jamie Noguchi
Think you’ve been embarrassed at school? Try catching on fire. When Tara discovers she’s a combusting lizard alien, she is promptly whisked away to a special school for aliens. Will she find friends or remain the weird loner? Black girls may star in any number of middle grade books, but find me a good graphic novel or comic where they get to be cool sci-fi aliens. I can name just about one – this one. It’s fun, and I had to prise it from the clutching fingers of my children to bring my library copy back to work. I like any story where the protagonist finds out they’re special in some way. Spontaneous human combustion also makes for great writing! Love the plot (and I loved reading the cat sisters with their Russian accents to my kids). My one concern is its off-handed treatment of gender binary. Whitley plays super fast and loose with the fact that this is a school of “girls”, tossing off the fact that one conservative planet has seven genders, and then not addressing the issue at all. Considering how many science fiction books I’ve read that contain a multitude of pronouns, this feels like a cop out. Otherwise, the book is strong.
Séance Tea Party by Reimena Yee
Okay, bear with me on this one. First off, it’s called Séance Tea Party, which is just about as adorable as you can get. And the titular séance in question pretty much happens right at the start. No waiting. So I didn’t hold out a lot of hope for this one when I began reading it. Yet as it moved onward, I was impressed with how it tackled large issues like moving on, people who can’t let go of their childhoods and people who shouldn’t let go. I found myself surprisingly choked up by the time everything was said and done and though my 9-year-old daughter would deny it when questioned, I heard her sniffling a bit at the end too. It just a smart, kind look at evolving friendships, feeling weird, and figuring out what parts of being a kid you take with you and what parts you let go.
7 Good Reasons Not to Grow Up by Jimmy Gownley
Scholastic, honey, you know I love you to pieces, but how the heck did you drop the ball this badly on the latest Jimmy Gownley? I swear, you could have redirected some of those marketing dollars you aimed at the new Dog Man and thrown them behind some of your other products too. I’ve been a fan of Mr. Gownley’s since his “Amelia Rules series”, and it’s been fascinating watching him grow and change since those books. His last standalone, The Dumbest Idea Ever, was a bit of a memoir more than anything else. This latest has apparently taken him three and a half years to complete, so I was curious. And it has a bumpy beginning, that’s for sure. My resident reviewer guide (the 9-year-old) was a bit thrown by it, but she stuck with the text and ultimately ended up bugging me incessantly to finish it too. It has Gownley’s signature design, with a marvelous breaking apart of panels and speech balloons. He’s such a vibrant artist, and while the text can’t always keep up with him, this book’s a keeper. Do yourself a favor and try not to miss it.
Shirley & Jamila Save Their Summer by Gillian Goerz
Basketball loving Jamila and super sleuth Shirley team up to escape unwanted summer camps and attempt to solve a mystery involving a pool and a missing gecko. I should probably spare myself the embarrassment of confessing how long it took for me to realize that Shirley Bones is Sherlock Holmes. Sherlock fans will get a kick out of her, right down to the violin playing and lack of knowledge about the cosmos. Most Sherlock riffs tend to just replicate A Study in Scarlet, but Goerz has opted to create a new, and very fun, type of mystery. We don’t actually see that many great mystery books in a given year. I’m delighted, then, to introduce you to this one. Deserving of an Edgar Award someday
Snapdragon by Kat Leyh
When she stumbles on the local witch in the woods, Snapdragon discovers a whole wide world where being the odd one is a blessing, not a curse. Personally, I liked it a lot. That creepy opening really hides how sweet a book it is. A second readthrough and you discover how so many of the book’s themes are hidden early on (did you notice the quick glimpse of violets at the start when Jacks realizes who Snapdragon is?). The art is so incredibly stylized that I don’t know how it’s going to be received widely, but it’s dead on in its LGBTQIA+ themes.
Stepping Stones by Lucy Knisley, colored by Whitney Cogar
A strong showing from Knisley here with this semi-autobiographical tale. She’s really amped up her art, making this even more sophisticated than some of her adult GNs. I’ll be the first to admit that it’s not exactly high drama, but there’s something really nice and comforting about this slice of life tale. Extra points to that Whitney Cogar person because the coloring in this book is fantastic. Subtly strong.
Student Ambassador: The Missing Dragon by Ryan Estrada, ill. Axur Eneas, lettered by Chas! Pangburn
Joseph prides himself on being a great student ambassador. Nang rules the country of West Rhutar with an iron fist. They’re both kids, and when they’re kidnapped it’s going to take the both of them to get back home. There are EXTENSIVE explanations of how to read Korean, done in such a kid-friendly way that, heck, I want to learn now. Peek at this (written and illustrated by two Latinx creators) you won’t regret it.
Twins by Varian Johnson, ill. Shannon Wright
Shy Maureen can’t understand why her twin sister Francine keeps pulling away from her. Hurt and betrayed, their split culminates in each girl running against the other for class president. May the best twin win! Is this the first realistic comic we’ve seen about what it means to be a twin? To heck with that, is this the first #ownvoices realistic comic starring black girls we’ve seen? I think the answer to both of those questions is yes and yes. Johnson (a twin himself) presents a really nice look at what it means when your twin wants to establish their own separate personality before you do. There’s some nice twists in this book, where you change loyalties behind which twin you’re rooting for.
When Stars Are Scattered by Victoria Jamieson and Omar Mohamed, color by Iman Geddy
Though it will end up in the Fiction part of your graphic novel collection, this is the true story of Omar Mohamed and his life as a Somalian refugee from the ages of 4 to 15. Written closely with Omar, together he and Ms. Jamieson have worked as hard as possible to tell his story truthfully. It’s never easy to turn a real life into a comprehensive (comprehensible) story, but this does an excellent job. One librarian I know said that the book does feel Americanized, to a certain degree, for young audiences and I don’t think that’s wrong. That said, it’s pretty darn accessible too. Pairs well with the far darker Eoin Colfer book Illegal from 2017.
When You Look Up by Decur, translated by Chloe Garcia Roberts
Behind a secret door in an old desk, Lorenzo finds a notebook filled with strange and fantastical stories. A story of a life and the joy of being found. Okay, I gotta warn you guys that I am just goofy over this Argentinian import. You know how some imported books work on their own internal logic and can be a bit difficult for American audiences to parse? Not this. Punctuated by dreamlike imagery I found the whole story incredibly moving. I loved how the art styles change between the real world and the one in the found notebooks. I loved the lesson about being found. I loved how all the elements in the book, even the broken light in the chandelier, appear at the end and have their own significance. This may be one of the loveliest comics I’ve read in a long long time. Beautiful on every level. Oh, and there’s a Spanish edition out there too!
The Witches of Brooklyn by Sophie Escabasse
Orphan adopted by two kindly old witches. What could be better? When Effie is unceremoniously dumped on the doorstep of her Aunt Selimene in Ditmas Park, Brooklyn, the crusty old lady doesn’t want a thing to do with her. However, it soon becomes clear that she and Effie are kindred spirits (though it takes fellow witch Carlota to get them to that point). When a Taylor Swift-esque pop star shows up soon thereafter with a vermillion face and no way to remove the redness, Effie discovers her aunt’s true occupation and her own calling. Escabasse spins a good yarn and the storytelling matches the art panel-for-panel. A witch title for those folks in the mood for something a little more realistic than Beetle and the Hollow Bones and a little less fraught than Snapdragon.
Want to see other lists? Check out what happened this month!
December 1 – Great Board Books
December 2 – Board Book Reprints & Adaptations
December 3 – Transcendent Holiday Picture Books
December 4 – Picture Book Readalouds
December 5 – Rhyming Picture Books
December 6 – Funny Picture Books
December 7 – CaldeNotts
December 8 – Picture Book Reprints
December 9 – Math Books for Kids
December 10 – Bilingual Books
December 11 – Books with a Message
December 12 – Fabulous Photography
December 13 – Translated Picture Books
December 14 – Fairy Tales / Folktales / Religious Tales
December 15 – Wordless Picture Books
December 16 – Poetry Books
December 17 – Unconventional Children’s Books
December 18 – Easy Books & Early Chapter Books
December 19 – Comics & Graphic Novels
December 20 – Older Funny Books
December 21 – Science Fiction Books
December 22 – Fantasy Books
December 23 – Informational Fiction
December 24 – American History
December 25 – Science & Nature Books
December 26 – Unique Biographies
December 27 – Nonfiction Picture Books
December 28 – Nonfiction Books for Older Readers
December 29 – Best Audiobooks for Kids
December 30 – Middle Grade Novels
December 31 – Picture Books
Filed under: 31 Days 31 Lists, Best Books, Best Books of 2020
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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