Some of the Best Graphic Novels for Kids of 2022 (so far)
It’s fair to say that I have never encountered a year as full of truly high quality graphic novels and comics as I have in 2022. If I cast my mind back to about 15 years ago, I can remember when I ran a children’s book group at NYPL and we’d occasionally do comics. We met weekly, and each week one of the kids would run up to me and ask eagerly, “What are the new comics this week!” These days she might actually get a happy answer. Back then? I had to regularly break it to her that new comics were few and far between.
This is NOT an exhaustive list of 2022 comics AT ALL. These are just the ones I’ve had a chance to read cover to cover that I’ve found particularly choice. Please believe me when I say that there is a pile on my desk that needs to be read through and it’s only growing.
But that said, here’s what I’ve really and truly liked so far:
Anne of West Philly by Ivy Noelle Weir, Illustrated by Myisha Haynes, edited by Rachel Poloski
A classic gets an update with remarkable results. Join foster kid Anne Shirley as she navigates the highs and lows of living in West Philly in typical Anne fashion. And yeah, these adaptations and modernizations are so hit and miss. This one? A hit. A bullseye of a hit. Though I liked it from the start it completely had me when it exchanged Matthew buying Anne a dress with puffed sleeves for Matthew buying Anne an ugly second-hand Christmas sweater. I just kinda adored it after that. I should note that my 10-year-old romance-obsessed daughter didn’t like how the book telegraphed one romance with Gilbert with blushing, but then pulls a switcheroo with her liking Diana. She didn’t mind Anne being with Diana. She just felt that the art was purposefully trying to fool the reader and that that was unfair. I don’t disagree. Even so, this is a slick updating that doesn’t just mimic the original but adds and deepens it.
Apple Crush by Lucy Knisley
What could be more fun than working on a haunted hayride? This fall Jen is thrilled to be helping out during her favorite fall season. Trouble is, everyone around her is getting crushes! Could anything be more annoying? What you have right here is a particularly strong autumnal title. A real paean to the season. I mean, I read it in the Spring and found myself yearning for cider and the smell of fallen leaves. I read this with my 10-year-old daughter who requests, nay, demands that all books I bring to her now include romance in some fashion (see: Anne of West Philly). This one was an interesting test since Jen, the heroine of the story, really isn’t getting crushes the way her stepsister is. Happily, my daughter didn’t mind. I think she’s just happy as long as someone is having a crush. A gentle story with a gentle realistic arc.
Bug Scouts: Out in the Wild! by Mike Lowery
“I promise to fly, I promise to crawl, or make a cool web, or roll into a ball.” The Bug Scouts are here! They’re on a mission and nothing, not even a hungry frog, will stand in their way! While I freely admit that I’m a #1 Mike Lowery fan over here to begin with, not all of his books are created equal. But this one? It’s lovely. Nature loving bugs, a grumpy spider, a not-so-sneaky frog? This is a case where tone is key. I’ll even ignore the fact that while the frog is seen as a threat the spider is just one of the crew. A rather good pairing with Sir Ladybug (see below), come to think of it! Best of all, it’s great on the younger end of the reading spectrum, and that’s something we can always use more of.
The First Cat in Space Ate Pizza by Mac Barnett, ill. Shawn Harris
Egads! The moon is rapidly disappearing down the gullets of hungry moon rats! First cat in space to the rescue! WILL he save the day? WILL the rats be defeated? WILL he ever get to eat delicious pizza? Find out! So this is shaggy. Definitely very shaggy. As far as I can determine, this is a pandemic book that was cobbled together by kids’ actual suggestions throughout the early days of COVID-19. That may account for the sheer wackadoodle nature of the endeavor, but boy is it a lot of fun. This is just pure silly, heightened a bit by Harris’s art, which occasionally becomes rather lovely. But make no mistake, this is a ridiculous book. One thing I really enjoyed while reading it to my 7-year-old was how you could look up the Spotify playlist with this book’s songs and then play them at key moments during the read. A book that’s kind of going for the DogMan crowd, and kind of creating its own entirely different fans as well.
Little Monarchs by Jonathan Case
In a future where very few mammals have survived, a girl and her guardian fight to find the vaccine that will save the human race. The secret ingredient? Monarch butterfly scales! Just watch out for the very people you’re trying to save… This book isn’t messing around. It’s got such a goofy premise for a post-apocalyptic tale that you just sort of go along with it, no matter how strange it is. I worry a bit that the opening might scare some kids off since it looks awfully wordy. Even so, this is one of the most book-talkable titles I’ve encountered in a while. Please note that this is definitely for your older readers (12-14), no question. I got so tense reading it that I had to skip ahead just to make sure everything ends up okay. Hand this to the kids that love them some end of the world storytelling. End of the world slash pretty pretty butterflies.
Miss Quinces by Kat Fajardo
Sue’s dream is to go camping with her friends for the first time ever. Instead, she’s being packed off to Honduras with her family where she’ll endure mad turkeys, fire, waterlogged manga, and (worst of all) a quinceañera party she never wanted. How can she make it her own? And does she even want to? Oo! This is a good one. I read this aloud to my daughter who, while completely flummoxed as to why anyone wouldn’t want to wear a pink frilly dress and have a huge party, nonetheless really enjoyed this story of one girl trying to establish her own personality in the midst of major family drama. I thought the relationship between Sue and her mom really worked, and its ups and downs were completely understandable. I probably identified a little too much with the mom (who has, like, 500 things all going on at once), but Sue’s p.o.v. was perfect. Great book. And since I read the galley I can’t wait to see it in color.
Muhammad Najem, War Reporter: How One Boy Put the Spotlight on Syria by Muhammad Najem and Nora Neus, ill. Julie Robine
What can one boy do in the face of a nation at war? When Muhammad Najem started reporting live from Syria, his bravery brought attention to his country like never before. A harsh, hopeful story. Ever read a work of recent historical events that makes you regretful that you paid them insufficient attention when they happened? This is, by far, not the first autobiographical graphic novel I’ve seen, but it may be the best written/best illustrated. The sheer levels of care and attention that have gone into it just shine through. Publishers are getting increasingly comfortable creating children’s books on tough topics, and living through Syria’s civil war falls squarely in that category. What really impressed me about this wasn’t just how the facts were laid out, but the sheer clarity of the storytelling. I never had any doubts of what was happening from one panel to another. And then there’s Julie Robine’s art. The meticulousness at work here is remarkable. This must have taken years and years to make! A stunner and a fantastic inclusion on any list. Don’t miss it!
Paws: Gabby Gets It Together by Michele Assarasakorn, ill. Nathan Fairbairn
Three girls. Zero dogs. Gabby, Priya, and Mindy are all desperate to pet and play with dogs of their own, but their families are strict about not having them in the home. Enter PAWS! Think, The Baby-Sitter’s Club but for pets. But who knew a dog walking service could be this much work? Oh, I really like this one! Definitely bound to be a favorite of those kids desperately waiting for the next Baby-Sitter’s Club graphic novel installment. A lot of what I liked about it, though, was that subtle dynamic that you get when kids of different ages are friends. The fact that Gabby is one year younger than Pirya and Mindy really hit home and hit home hard. That casual dismissive attitude they show her is so horrendously realistic. I also loved the way in which the book works in questions of economic privilege and what happens when you bottle up your issues. Bound to be a hit with more than just the dog fans out there.
The Prisoner of Shiverstone by Linette Moore
11-year-old Helga has suddenly appeared on the mysterious Utley Island. She claims to have been separated from her parents, but is there more to her story? What is it she’s really looking for? As I often say, I admire comics that take big swings and tell their stories in unique ways. This book most certainly fit the bill. I like how long it takes for you to figure out what our heroine, Helga, is up to. You don’t even know if she’s a good guy or bad guy for much of the book. It also slowly introduces information about this world (a world where all the mad scientists were rounded up and put on one island and now anyone who shows any aptitude or love for science is viewed with suspicion) but in a comprehensible way. One thing I’m increasingly impressed with is how well certain comic authors are at making panel by panel moments logical and something you can follow. Another plus: Cool things go boom! There’s something to be said for that.
Red Scare by Liam Francis Walsh
What if the solution to all your problems just magically presented itself? It’s 1953 and Peggy is still recovering from polio. And when she finds an unearthly substance that even the government wants, she’ll do anything to keep it safe. Gorgeous. Walsh has really leaned into some of the more noir aspects of the 1950s. Since the creator lives in Switzerland, it’s not surprising that this book would have as many Tin-Tin influences as it does. And boy does it lean into those sweet 50s tropes. Polio, Commies, nasty American agents, and even some science fiction (though I was mighty surprised when that element came up in what I thought was a straightforward bit of historical fiction). What this really reminded me of a lot was Eugene Yelchin’s Spy Runner. This is definitely for older readers since kids get punched, kicked, and shot in the course of things, but it all turns out all right in the end. A fascinating action piece.
Scout Is Not a Band Kid by Jade Armstrong
Scout’s mission is clear. To get to see her favorite author she must join . . . band! But can this trombone faker convince her new uptight seat leader that she’s worthy enough to stay? I honestly cannot believe that this is Jade Armstrong’s first published graphic novel. This is so funny, so true, and so beautifully put together that I swooned. My daughter liked this book so much that she didn’t even notice that it’s 100% romance free! Loved the translations of all things Canadian in the sidelines. There’s also a really nice manga influence at work here, particularly with some of the character’s small asides. And did I mention it’s funny? Laugh out loud funny, no less. Fantastic from start to finish, I am a HUGE fan of this title. Hoping to see more of Armstrong’s work in the future too.
Sir Ladybug by Corey R. Tabor
Evildoers and hungry chickadees beware! Whenever there’s trouble, he’s there on the double. He’s… Sir Ladybug! I’m always talking about how I’d like to see younger comics on my comic book lists. Corey R. Tabor to the rescue! You might remember him from last year’s Mel Fell or from the delightful Snail Crossing. I’m happy to report that a snail does indeed make it into this book (maybe the same one?). And I adore the idea of a sinister chickadee as they are, undeniably, the cutest of the tiny birds. This book just works, man. Tabor’s a master. Extra points for making me really hungry for cake and Sterling’s poem (“so much depends / upon / a slice of / cake / glazed with thick / frosting / beside the video game / console”). The sole flaw? No recipe for lemon layer cake in the back. Tut tut.
Wingbearer by Marjorie Liu, ill. Teny Issakhanian
A quick word of warning, this book is very much the first in a series and it ends on a cliffhanger. I know some folks like to know about that beforehand. By this point you understand that each book on this list, if my daughter sees it, gets a romance rating. And while this book does not really have any romantic impulses in it, at the very least “the boy is cute” (quoth she) so take that under advisement. I like a book that comes up with a wackadoodle new idea and gives its world building some proper time and attention. Liu delivers on that point. Our heroine, Zuli, has been raised in a magical tree by mystical birds. At this safe haven, birds, when they die in our world, go there to be reborn. Got that? Trouble is, the birds are now dying but their souls are not being reborn again. What gives? Zuli sets out on an epic quest, meets friends along the way, suffers betrayals, comes to understand her own powers, and then there’s a wonderful bad guy twist right at the end. The art is skillfully done and everything that happens is crystal clear from start to finish. Definitely one for your shelves.
Your Pal Fred by Michael Rex
Post-apocalyptic adorableness! Meet Fred. He wants to be your friend, even if you happen to be a killer robot, a warlord, or entirely covered in spikes. Resist his charm if you dare! Kind of what you’d get if you drop a lovable schmuck in the middle of Mad Max: Fury Road. Fred’s just sweet and there isn’t a drop of real violence in this whole book. Put another way, Fred’s like a little android Ted Lasso, merrily skipping through a hellscape, trying to stop war and violence, and handing out cheery stickers along the way. Niceness is seeing a real uptick in adult programming (how else to explain Our Flag Means Death?) so it makes sense that we’d see a little of that on the children’s side as well. Color me a Fred fan.
What are some of the titles you’re crazy for this year? Let me know! Clearly my To Be Read pile isn’t big enough yet . . .
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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