31 Days, 31 Lists: 2023 Graphic Novels (Comics!) for Kids
In 2023 Jerry Craft was making the media rounds. New Kid had horribly an inevitably been banned from a number of places. People in the media discovered that Jerry was an excellent proponent not simply of his own books but of “banned” comics for kids as well. It was on one of these talk shows that he mentioned something that has stuck in my mind ever since. Jerry said that sometimes when he spoke to people, they thought that the “graphic” in the term “graphic novels” was akin to “graphic sex” or “graphic violence”. They thought that the mere inclusion of the word “graphic” was problematic in some way. Indeed, there’s been a push for a number of years for comics to distance themselves from a moniker that was originally conceived to lend credence to the legitimacy of reading sequential art. These days, kids say “comics” and “graphic novels” interchangeably and maybe it’s time for adult to do the same.
Today, we look at those comics and gns that stood out this year. That said, this may be the first year where I can say with certainty that I missed a large swath of the comics being produced. Some of that is my fault, and some is the fault of an industry that has finally FINALLY started producing as many comics as our young readers require. As such, this is a list of great books. It just may not be a list of “best” books. If there’s a comic you loved in 2023, mention it in the comments here.
If you’d like a PDF of today’s list, you can find one here.
Still can’t get enough comics? I can’t blame ya. Here are the round-ups I’ve done in previous years:
2023 Graphic Novels for Kids
Adventure Game Comics: The Beyond by Jason Shiga
Okay, so my son and I need some help. We figured out a LOT of this book, but we got kind of stumped on the ending. As a result, I am abusing my 31 Days, 31 Lists format to get help in the most public way possible. If you’re unfamiliar with the Adventure Game Comics then boy howdy are you in luck. They look, at the outset, like your everyday pick-a-path/Choose Your Own Adventure types of stories. However, they read like video games and they worm their way into your brain like the most cleverly subversive children’s books being sold to kids today. I am serious about this. From these books you literally have to break the rules to make the books do what they’re supposed to do. Now I’ve loved Shiga’s books for kids ever since I first saw his little masterpiece Meanwhile back in 2010. Then I Ioved his sicko Demon comic series (NOT for kids). And now he’s created this incredible series that no one is paying proper attention to. I understand. It looks basic. That’s why it’s been flying under the radar so well, but trust me when I tell you that this book will rearrange young minds like nothing else. You ever read that short story All Mimsy Were the Borogroves? Yeah. Like that. In any case, my son and I read this together and we got pretty far. We even figured out a trick involving a number on this actual book’s spine (trust me, it makes sense). But even then we never quite figured out how to pull a Being John Malcovich and inhabit the body of another character the way we wanted to. Bummer, right? So, tips are welcome but, even more importantly, check out this series. I can’t be the only one out there beating my head against a wall trying to figure it out. Previously Seen On: The Science Fiction list
The Bawk-Ness Monster (Cryptid Kids) by Sara Goetter and Natalie Riess
A slam bang start to a silly new series. First off, I want to give Goetter and Riess credit for coming up with the idea of creating new cryptids. Oh sure, they could have made this book about your standard mothman, Jersey devil, bigfoot, etc. Instead, they went weird and they went weird HARD. Right from the start, instead of Nessie you have Bessie, the Bawk-Ness monster. Storywise, Goetter and Riess aren’t afraid to just push young readers into the deep end of the plot. Penny is moving to a new town with her mom and before she goes she has just one wish. You see, when Penny was little she was saved from drowning by Bessie, the aforementioned half-chicken/half-sea monster. Now she wants to return to the lake where it all happened and say thank you alongside her two good friends Luc and K. K is a budding cryptozoologist and Luc is a former mean kid who is grappling a little with identity. No sooner do they arrive then they’re face to face with goons, an evil villain, and a whole host of amusing cryptids. Just gotta tell you right now that Bigtaur is my favorite and I want to have Bigtaur t-shirts that I can wear in the future. The only way that’s gonna happen, though, is if you folks discover this series. Aside from the fun plotting, it’s also seriously funny. We’re talking Looney Tunes-worthy sight gags, dramatic pauses, and a nice use of some mild manga elements as well. Hard to pick a funniest moment but if I had to I’d say that the moment the kids dress up as adult inspectors inside a trenchcoat was the moment I officially fell in love with the book. Hope we see more! Previously Seen On: The Older Funny Books List
Bea Wolf by Zach Weinersmith, ill. Boulet
“Listen! Hear a tale of mallow-munchers and warriors who answer candy’s clarion call!” The legend of Beowulf is retold, pitting wild kids against dull adults in a story that can only be called epic. Welp, this is brilliant. And I don’t use such terms lightly. So now we have a choice before us. What is the purpose of this list? Is it to give kids the best books, the books they would love, or a combination of both? This book would work best with those kids that are (A) smart and (B) extreme graphic novel readers. I say this because it’s in black and white, and as we all know, some kids won’t touch that stuff with a ten-foot-pole. But this really is the smartest thing I’ve seen in so very long and I don’t want to write it off because of one stupid detail. It’s not simply the art (which is so good that I’ve started following Boulet on Threads), but also Weinersmith’s incredible use of language. Here are my favorite lines from the book, which I shall replicate here with impunity:
“Toys were forbidden, fun unfound, no noise past five p.m.
The closest cousin of candy was “cake” crafted of carob.
Lies! Fruit in cake’s clothing! Fibs enfleshed in flour!”
Resist if you dare.
Previously Seen On: The Fantasy List
Beaky Barnes: Egg On the Loose by David Ezra Stein
What’s a chicken to do? When Inspector Cobb wants an egg for lunch, hijinks ensue as Beaky Barnes uses all her pluck (and cluck) to keep her eggy safe. High energy silliness. After much hemming and hawing, my 4th grader deigned to allow me to read him this book at bedtime. Before you know it, he’s guffawing all the way through. I’ve always enjoyed Stein’s books, though his Little Chicken series didn’t quite do it for me the way it did for other people. I thought this might be more of the same, but what Stein’s really doing here is tapping into some serious Jon Scieszka-type energy. This is a wonderful chaotic mess! It’s using all different kinds of humor from slapstick to irony to breaking down the fourth wall. I suppose you could say its true ancestors are the Merrie Melody cartoons. Bugs Bunny would fit right in here. Love its wackadoodle internal logic. Plus, it’s a great comic for younger readers, and we’re always on the lookout for those!
Bomb: Graphic Novel by Steve Sheinkin, ill. Nick Bertozzi
The adaptation of Sheinkin’s multi-award winning history of the race to create the atomic bomb during WWII gets a visual makeover in this graphic novel adaptation. Already a pretty gripping book, there are places where this book will fill a definite need. For any kid (or adult, let’s face it) still struggling to understand how an atom bomb even works, Bertozzi’s clear-cut illustrations help a lot. I read Bomb back in the day and I actually thought that the explanation about heavy water here was superior to that in the original. The action sequences work fairly well, and I was reminded that Sheinkin is no stranger to comics. After all, he published The Adventures of Rabbi Harvey back in the day (look it up sometime) as well as the Walking and Talking series here on Fuse 8 where he would interview famous children’s book creators. I did have a couple moments of confusion once in a while when reading the book. For example, the moment when Dr. Oppenheimer meets his new secretary at Los Alamos and has to be introduced by a new name, I pretty much had to read the exchange several times to figure out what was going on. For the most part, though, it’s a rip-roaring bit of history. Hand it to the Nathan Hale’s Hazardous Tales fans who are hungry for more. And be sure to check out this interview with Steve and illustrator Nick Bertozzi for more background information into this title.
Bunny & Tree by Balint Zsako
So wordless that its title doesn’t even appear on its cover! When a little white bunny befriends a stately tree, the two set off on a wild adventure to find other bunnies in the world in this dreamy wordless work of storytelling. I can already tell that we’re going to have to have a whole discussion about whether or not this constitutes a “picture book” or not when, technically, it’s clocking in at a mighty 184 pages. I just consider this a particularly long picture book, though. Granted, there’s a certain level of sophistication at work here that requires not simply a basic working knowledge of sequential art, but also the understanding to make the leap between what seems possible and what seems utterly impossible. The watercolors are completely lovely and dreamy and I suspect you could have some interesting conversations with a kid about what precisely is happening in one scene or another (are those the same bunnies at the end as those at the beginning of the story?). Very cool. Previously Seen On: The Wordless List
Burt the Beetle Lives Here by Ashley Spires
Burt! He’s back! He’s back and he’s by Ashley Spires, so you’d do well to sit up and take notice. Good old Burt. If you saw Burt’s previous outing in Burt the Beetle Doesn’t Bite then you’ll be familiar with this general format. Essentially, Burt is a june beetle and exists around a lot of other bugs. His antagonist is the informational nonfiction narrator that makes his life difficult and gives him a reality check that is the last thing that he wants. In this particular book, Burt is on the lookout for a home, and he’s soliciting ideas from the other insects. Trouble is, what works for, say, a termite or a bee does not work for a june beetle. The jokes? They land. And the comic book format and panels make for a rather lovely way of getting some factual information into kids’ brains. Add in the “Awesome Insect Builder Facts” and you have yourself a highly enjoyable science info conveyance system.
Duel by Jessixa Bagley, ill. Aaron Bagley
Oo! Neat! I haven’t seen a fencing graphic novel out since Jane Yolen’s Foiled, way back in the day. Here, Bagley utilizes some autobiographical details to pepper a story of two sisters with serious issues with one another. Think Sisters by Raina Telgemeier except SO much more so. Since their dad died, Gigi and Lucy have been at one another’s throats. Gigi is the eighth grader, a fencing expert, and the bane of Lucy’s life. Lucy, meanwhile, is just starting sixth grade at the same middle school as Gigi and it doesn’t take even half a day for Gigi to trip her sister in the cafeteria, setting off results she never could have foreseen. Lucy immediately challenges her older sister to a duel and the two have three weeks before it’s on. Throughout the story you get both girls’ point of view, to explain why they loathe one another so much. Jessixa does an admirable job of weaving together the flashbacks, and you even sympathize a little with Gigi (Lucy’s little sister annoyance tactics are of a superior quality). At the same time, you also get fencing instructions on precisely how the sport works. Having never watched it during the Olympics, I was rather enthralled by the fact that electronics are involved in the process. In an interesting twist, Jessixa’s story (which has some sister-related elements that reflect her life, but none of the fencing stuff, interestingly) is illustrated by her husband Aaron. I kind of love that. The idea of having your spouse draw your life? It’s enticing. And he does a great job, making every flashback and scene change clear as crystal on the page. Definitely a must read for any kid into the comic memoirs so popular right now.
Eerie Tales from the School of Screams by Graham Annable
Davis and Emily’s teacher asks her students to tell her the creepiest stories they know. Buckle up as you read through this array of scary, gross, and occasionally terrifying tales! Truth be told, this feels like a Treehouse of Horror episode of The Simpsons. Hard to believe that this is the same guy that gave us that adorable sloth-fixated GN series Peter & Ernesto. Annable has a real talent for just the right amounts of creepy and disturbing (please check out his Instagram account if you don’t believe me). And the array of types of creepy in this book are great. Space creep and folktale creep and contemporary creep. It helps too that the book features a kid listening to all this in a classroom, pointing out the inconsistencies. I thoroughly enjoyed this and I’ve no doubt your kid readers will too! Previously Seen On: The Gross List
Enlighten Me by Minh Lê, ill. Chan Chau
After getting in trouble for fighting with a bully at school, the last thing Binh wants is to go to a silent meditation retreat with his family. No talking! But what sounds dull turns out to be way more interesting than Binh ever expected. Personally, I found the storyline incredibly interesting and a great way to convey some marvelous Buddhist topics within fun storytelling tropes. Incorporating the Jataka tales into a contemporary setting struck me as a very smart choice. Admittedly, I don’t know that our hero’s central problem is necessarily solved by the end of the book, but that’s just an honest way of looking at life, isn’t it? I tell you, between this book and Soontornvat’s Legends of Lotus Island series, we could have some serious Buddhist representation on the lists this year!
A First Time for Everything by Dan Santat
What happens when a group of middle schoolers are given free reign to explore Europe in 1989? Dan Santat takes a page out of his own life to tell a story of first love, uncertainty, and a LOT of Fanta. The middle school graphic novel is rapidly turning into its own particular kind of beastie. It straddles juv and YA completely, not wholly belonging to either. Dan Santat must have had some kind of sense of this. His autobiographical comic memoir of his time taking a trip to Europe before starting high school is a time capsule of an era that kids are bound to look upon wistfully. Set in 1989, it documents the awfulness of middle school while also doing a splendid job of showing how an experience like Dan’s can burst someone from out of their protective shell. My daughter, now starting middle school herself, always insists that her comics must now contain some element of romance. She will be VERY pleased to get her hands on this book, I know. Adults reading it may experience some nostalgia of their own but because the bulk of the references here are European, I think grown-ups and kids alike will have a very similar experience with this title. Which is to say, they’ll greatly enjoy it. When Dan Santat puts his heart and soul into a project, you can tell. And by gum, this one was clearly something he cared about.
Global by Eoin Colfer & Andrew Donkin, ill. Giovanni Rigano
Two kids in two completely different countries do battle with nature. Sami’s fishing village is dealing with rising tides and less fish. Yuki is trying to help a grolar bear, but finds its hungry belly a threat. A book of environmental activism and our connected world. Boy, that Eoin Colfer knows how to write action sequences, doesn’t he? I actually found this a lot more easy to get into and interesting than his previous collaboration with Andrew Donkin on Illegal. This tells interesting stories while also skillfully working environmental themes naturally into the narrative. The endings aren’t perfect happy endings, but that’s why they work in the context of the book. All told, my environmentally focused children’s librarians found this book very interesting indeed. A clever take on bringing home different environmental disasters in two very different biomes.
Gnome and Rat by Lauren Stohler
Join best friends Gnome and Rat as they engage in small adventures all involving hats in some way. Easy reading comics with a chapeau theme! Doggone charming books with their doggone charming characters. Early, easier-to-read graphic novels are sort of their own little world, and boy has Lauren Stohler just planted her flag there. Cozy without being twee, if you know what I mean, but also legitimately funny. A lot of that has to do with Stohler’s ability to create great faces. I had a co-worker ask me, quite seriously, whether or not I just liked this book simply because it was for younger readers. NO, sez I! This is a younger comic for kids, sure, but the jokes are definitely funny to all ages, no matter what. These are great. Three little stories about two friends written with a rather ridiculous conceit. Previously Seen On: Older Funny Books
Grace Needs Space! by Benjamin A. Wilgus, ill. Rii Abrego
Grace cannot wait to space travel to Titan where her mom works hard on a ship, but things don’t go as planned once there. No excitement! Just mom working! So Grace decides to choose her own adventure…with dangerous results. Aww. I feel bad that I waited so long to read this one. But better late than never! Since I’ve a penchant for science fiction-related books, and space book specifically, this title certainly scratches that itch. But what really makes it work is the nature of the relationships going on. Interestingly I was a little confused by Evelyn and Kendra’s relationship. Are they divorced? They sure don’t show a lot of physical affection to one another after their time apart. Still, I found it so incredibly satisfying to see the “boring” mom saving the day. This book feels so real that you’d be convinced that we’d already colonized Titan years ago. Two thumbs way way up! Previously Seen On: The Science Fiction List
Nathan Hale’s Hazardous Tales: Above the Trenches by Nathan Hale
Nobody is doing anything even slightly close to what Nathan Hale is doing these days. Let’s say you’re a children’s librarian sitting at a reference desk. Kid comes up to you and asks for a book that shows battles in war. Now regardless of your own pacifism instincts, you want to give that kid what they want. Trouble is, if your library is anything like mine, the books you have for kids on the subject are going to be old. We just don’t have a lot of books on historical wars for children these days. And the best possible exception to this? Nathan Hale’s Hazardous Tales. Now they’re not all about war, but the ones that are have no equal. I went into his latest installment thinking it would be about The Red Baron. I mean, it’s fighter pilots in WWI, right? But since our narrator, Nathan Hale, was eaten by a big book of Americanhistory in the first book of this series, the focus of this book is the Americans who volunteered to fly for France long before America entered the war. It is also playing with fire, this book. Right from the start Nathan Hale warns the reader that the pilots in this book will be drinking alcohol and smoking. We then get a glorious shot of the Hangman and Provost doing precisely that (much to the alarm and fury of Hale). But even better, EVEN BETTER, is the fact that the planes flown at a certain point of the war were, and this is true, called Fokkers. Oh. Oh. The jokes, my friends, the jokes. Absolutely one of his finest. If you’re searching for enormously well-researched deep dive into WWI planes that’s also the funniest stuff being written today in comics, you can find no better book than this. Previously Seen On: The Funny List
I Am a Dinosaur by Jarod Roselló
I dunno. I mean, I tend to be on board with the whole stream of consciousness thing in books for kids, and we don’t tend to see a ton of those in a given year. Now for a second there I was having some difficulty figuring out where precisely to place old Super Magic Boy here. The size and reading level made me start to incline towards placing it in the Early Chapter Book section, but c’mon. This is actually something a lot more interesting. It’s the rare younger graphic novel. And as any librarian will tell you, we are often desperate for these exact books. They’re ideal for relatively new readers who adore comics but don’t want to be seen with anything “babyish”. And what could be less babyish than a kid that is essentially that child from the Twilight Zone episode “It’s a Good Life” about the boy with superpowers. Hugo is our hero here and he can be whatever he wants. After turning his stuffed dino into a full-sized living, breathing companion, the two set out on an adventure of their own. Their goal? To find the Skeleton King’s treasure, but that quest turns out to be just the beginning. My general rule is that no book is so good that it can’t be improved by the inclusion of a snarky Skeleton King. I think kids would agree.
Lo and Behold by Wendy Mass, ill. Gabi Mendez
I don’t think I’d ever considered what would happen if you combined grief (of a sort) alongside virtual reality AND then worked in the moon seeds (seeds of trees that circled the moon and then were planted on Earth later) as well. And yet, it works! Ostensibly the story is about Addie, who lives with her dad. With her mom gone, Addie’s been drifting, so her dad takes her along to his summer job on virtual reality. There, she begins to come out of her shell, making friends (almost against her will) with a kid named Mateo and discovering for herself how useful VR is for taking you out of your own life. What makes the comic work (aside from the two twists near the end, one I called and one I didn’t) is how it cleverly ties in Addie’s own discovery of VR and what it can do to help other kids in the hospital. I found the writing particularly tight, and the emotional ups and downs believable. Is Mateo just a little bit too good to be true? Maybe, but he’s not really a manic pixie dream boy. He has his own story and his own tragedy to deal with, and that helps keep him a bit more three-dimensional. The VR is just a bit too advanced for our world today, hence it’s inclusion on the Science Fiction list. All told, a smartly written bit of comic. Previously Seen On: The Science Fiction List
Lost Time by Tas Mukanik
I hosted a guest post from Tas Mukanik earlier this year, and I’m so glad that I did. In preparation, I decided to read her graphic novel debut Lost Time (because there is not a lot of time to read all the comics coming out in a given year anymore!). Had I not read this book, it would have been a lesser year, I can tell you that. Tas brings to her book a true, unbridled love of pterosaurs (though, ironically, the pterosaur in this book is, in fact, bridled). Our hero is Evie. Through a terrible accident she’s been sent back in time 65 million years. It takes a long time to find out how this happened (my 9-year-old son was definitely yelling at the book at periodic moments, “WHAT HAPPENED?!?”) and in the meantime Evie has to figure out how to survive in a prehistoric wilderness. She finds an egg early on that hatches into a baby pterosaur that she names Ada. Now she and Ada need to find a way to send a message to Evie’s present or she’ll be stuck in the past for all time. In a very real way this is a survival story in the vein of Hatchet and books like that (suggestion: Someone rewrite Hatchet so that he’s sent 65 million years into the past). You grow quite fond of both Evie and Ada (particularly if you notice how close their names are to Eve and Adam). But best of all? Pterosaurs, baby! They are so freakin’ weird and this book leans into that weirdness with all that it has. Great for your dino fans (even though pterosaurs were not actually dinos), survival tale lovers, and graphic novel fans in general. More like this, please! Previously Seen On: The Science Fiction List
The Magicians by Blexbolex
When three magicians appear in the land they are immediately tracked by a relentless pursuer. But who’s the good guy and who’s the bad guy in this story? Apparently I am cursed to spend my days reading the weirdest of the new graphic novels in order to recommend them. And they don’t get much weirder than whatever it is Blexbolex tends to spit out. Yet I would argue that this is his most normal book to date. Truthfully, that’s not really saying much. It works on its own internal logic, and once you get in the groove, everything makes a fair amount of sense. It’s also, I would say, his most exciting book. At times it reads like a warrior woman epic straight out of Xena, Warrior Princess. Or maybe a children’s version of The Fugitive. Whatever the case, it’s mighty peculiar but also a touch amazing, and I think it’s well worth your time giving it a read. That goes double for your kids. Previously Seen On: The Fantasy List
Mexikid: A Graphic Memoir by Pedro Martín
Meet Pedro, the seventh of nine kids, as he and his family take an epic trip to Mexico to fetch his Mexican Revolution-era Abuelito back to America. A hilarious graphic memoir full of raw milk, snotty Pop Rocks, family and heart. I’ve got four words for you: “Snot meets Pop Rocks”. You know, I see a lot of memoirs in a given year, and some of them stick while others fade. This book? I think it just branded a book-sized hole in my brain and I’ll never quite be the same again. I’ve been reading this to my 9-year-old and it literally has everything. Pathos. Humor. Heart. Family. Raw milk!! Where the heck has this cartoonist been all this time? He’s just come out of the gate swinging with a book so excellent that I may have to consider the possibility for the first time of TWO GN memoirs having Newbery potential in the same year. You folks have GOTTA read this!!! Previously Seen On: The Funny List
The Moth Keeper by K.O’Neill
Every night Anya has a special job: to protect the moths. Still, she wishes just once to see the sun and feel its warmth. What would happen if she pursued that dream? With the increase in the number of comics in a given year I, by association, increasingly look for comics that unapologetically do their own thing. I was rather fascinated too by the fact that while reading The Moth Keeper I just could not figure out where it might go. Anya’s motivations were so opaque to me for so long, and even when they were explained I was still a little out to sea. Yet the mood and the feel of the book, with its utterly original setting and world-building, is like nothing else out there. It’s a title unafraid to be quiet, which is a rare thing in such a visual medium. In many ways, being contemplative in the world of children’s literature can be seen as taking a risk. In this book, that risk pays off. Previously Seen On: The Fantasy List
Mulysses by Oyvind Torseter, translated by Kari Dickson
Another graphic novel! One with a particularly adult bent (though its readership is definitely young). In this story, Mulysses must find $5,000 and fast, so he joins a rich man’s quest to find an enormous magical eye. Essentially, this is the story of Ulysses, told with quirky humor and a touch of weirdness. Ahhh. Nothing like a little Norwegian GN to make you go, “What did I just read?!?” But I love this stuff. This is a grand example of weird books for kids that like weird stuff. Ostensibly it’s the story of Ulysses meeting the cyclopes, but this couches the encounter in with a bunch of other stuff. Like other European comics, it’s unafraid to show the world as needlessly ridiculous and cruel. I like our hero, though, and I like the resolution at the end. In a year of samey samey comics, this is one of the ones that stand out. Previously Seen On: The Unconventional List
Otis & Peanut by Naseem Hrab, ill. Kelly Collier
Meet Otis and Peanut, two best friends in three small adventures. From haircuts to swings to making a house feel like a home, they’re always there for one another. Time for everyone’s favorite game: Into What Category Do We Place This Book? So with its length and word complexity and size, it would seem to make a lot of sense to put it into the easy books/early chapter books section (which, yes, I know I just said about I Am a Dinosaur). BUT it’s also a comic at heart, and we are always desperately searching for younger graphic novels. I love the tone of this book, by the way. Naseem Hrab is capable of some SERIOUS range. None of her picture books ever look the same and now she’s branching out a bit older. Meanwhile, I love the expressions and heartfelt yearnings of these characters. The eyes! Kelly Collier can do more with a pair of eyebrows that some folks can do with entire bodies. And while I never thought I’d love a book soaked in this much chartreuse, in the end I’m a fan.
Parachute Kids by Betty C. Tang
When Feng-Li gets to go to Disneyland for the first time she’s thrilled! But when her parents reveal that America is their new home now AND mom and dad have to go back to Taiwan, how will she and her siblings survive without them? Some of my librarians argued that the older brother needed an “it gets better” ending to this story. My argument was that he’s living in 1980s America, which was a pretty crappy time for anyone gay, and that he’s doing pretty darn well at the end, all things considered. I was also so impressed with the contrast between the content and the look of this book. You think you’re going to get a Raina Telgemeier knock-off and instead you get a surprisingly dark take on the difficulties of navigating America as a child in a country that is incredibly narrow-minded about immigration, no matter what the form. I’ve never read any narrative like this, and it was eye-opening. Makes sense that it was shortlisted for the National Book Award.
Pearl of the Sea by Anthony Silverston, Raffaella Delle Donne, and Willem Samuel
When Pearl discovers an injured sea monster residing near the sea beds where she likes to fish, she promptly tends to his wounds and names him Otto. But what happens when nasty poachers want him for their own? Release the Otto! After all, a nice-sized sea monster is just the ticket for big time adventure. My 9-year-old son is always on the lookout for comics and graphic novels with epic storylines. Generally you get that mostly with the science fiction and fantasy comics. I’d categorize this one as a bit more on the realistic side, but no less exciting. Weird? Just a bit. It’s got a fair amount of poaching, giant octopuses (octopi?), and skirting your dad’s rules. Additionally, it takes some time to deal with absent parents, grief, and economic hardship. A book that takes big swings.
School Trip by Jerry Craft
It seems that 2023 is the year for graphic novels about boys traipsing around Europe. We saw it in Dan Santat’s A First Time for Everything and we’re seeing it in this third installment in Jerry Craft’s New Kid series. As I mentioned in my opening, this Newbery Award winner got hit a couple times this and last year by the wave of book bannings happening all over the country. With that in mind, it’s so great to see Jerry coming out with yet another book in this series, traveling around the country, and getting it into more and more and more hands. Reading this book, it wouldn’t be the worst idea if you’d read the first few in the series beforehand. There are a lot of callbacks and references in it that you’re going to want to have in your back pocket. Still, I suspect plenty of folks could read it on its own and get the gist of what’s happening. In this book, Jordan is weighing his options for high school, trying to figure out if an art school is right for him. Meanwhile, his school is going to be taking a series of trips, and he’s slated to head to France with his friends. A mix-up with the teachers means heading out with folks without working credit cards, but that’s okay. A lot of grievances are aired and new friendships made. I particularly enjoyed Craft pointing out that with these kinds of stories, you almost never seen books with Black kids going around Europe. Well, here’s at least one corrective!
Shakti by S.J. Sindu, ill. Nabi H. Ali
Shakti and her family have just moved to a new town where something’s definitely amiss. Will her new magic and a connection to the goddesses Durga Ma and Kali Ma save or destroy everyone she loves? Shoot. I really enjoyed this one. 2023 has been rather remarkable in terms of bringing us graphic novels with Buddhism, Islam, and now Hinduism as well. What stuck out for me, aside from the accomplished art and storytelling, I really appreciated this particular take on Kali Ma. Too often it’s easy to portray Kali as a villain, so to see her here as an antagonist but not a bad guy necessarily is fascinating. I liked its take on magic and bullies as well. Surprisingly nuanced and enjoyable with a marvelously creepy opening. Previously Seen On: The Fantasy List
Squire & Knight by Scott Chantler
A knight and squire are headed off to defeat a deadly dragon. But when the knight disappears it’s up to the squire to determine who the true culprit is, and how to solve a couple mysteries along the way. It’s so nice that we get to be picky about our graphic novels for kids, these days. In the past we had so few to choose from that we pretty much had to be satisfied with whatever it was we ended up with. Today, there may actually be too many in a given year! Fortunately, some publications can be relied upon for quality. Two that come to mind: Graphix (from Scholastic) and First Second (from Macmillan). This book is a First Second product but it’s timed well. I’ve never seen the whole Dungeons & Dragons world blown up as beautifully as it has in 2023. This comic is perfectly timed, then, to tap into that genre and feel. It has the creatures. It has the quest. And even better, it has a squire acting as a kind of detective throughout. In his Author’s Note at the back, Chantler says that he was influenced by the 1988 film Without a Clue wherein Watson is the genius and Holmes the credit-sapping stooge. This book reflects that feel beautifully. Really well done. Previously Seen On: The Fantasy List
Stories of the Islands by Clar Angkasa
Three classic Indonesian folktales are reinterpreted through a feminist lens into beautifully rendered comics. From “Keong Mas” and “Bawang Merah Bawang Putih” to “Timun Mas”, old stories are given new life. Angkasa does a neat thing with this book where she presents each of the stories as a comic, then at the end tells the original folktale. In two cases there are some key differences, but honestly I didn’t think she took many liberties at all with the third tale. That one (Timun Mas) was always a strong mother/daughter story anyway. Angkasa has chosen some great tales, and I think her storytelling instincts and illustration style are highly appealing. Even kids that would normally eschew fairy and folktales are going to enjoy this. If I’m going to nitpick, I would have love to have seen a Bibliography of recommended Indonesian folktales at the back of the book, but beyond that I’ve no notes. Previously Seen On: The Folktale List
Survival Scout: Lost in the Mountains by Maxwell Eaton III
Scout’s ended up abandoned in the wilderness all alone except for a snarky skunk. What to do? Find out how to find shelter, make a fire, signal for help, and more with this fun and funny guide to survival. I’m here to state right now that turning his focus to nonfiction comics and picture books was the #1 best move Maxwell Eaton III ever made. Granted, he makes life hard for catalogers that don’t know how to deal with his fine melding of fact and fiction, but who cares? You end up liking his books so much that you can overlook such complications. This book is like an updated version of Hatchet, only packed with even more fantastic information than you might expect. The humor will get the kids that wouldn’t naturally gravitate to discussions of how to use a topographic map invested, and the facts about finding your position with a compass? *chef’s kiss* And yes, don’t worry. There is a funny bear as well. Previously Seen On: The Funny List
Things in the Basement by Ben Hatke
Dive, down, deep deep down, into the basement with Milo. He’s on a quest to get his baby sister’s sock, but what he finds instead is the adventure of a lifetime. Ben Hatke’s back, baby! I don’t know that he ever really left us, but this book is everything I like about the man when he really puts his back into a book. It’s weird. It’s a little creepy. It’s full of strange and incredibly interesting details. This reminds me a lot of Aaron Becker’s picture books, actually. Like Becker, Hatke hides entire civilizations and their histories in the margins of his landscapes. Reading this book is like poring through your grandparents’ basement, finding ancient treasure no one’s seen for years. Besides, who wouldn’t want a sweet tentacled eyeball for a bud? Absolutely the most fun to read. Previously Seen On: The Fantasy List
Zooni Tales: Keep It Up, Plucky Pup by Vikram Madan
Join furry little hero Zoonie in three stories and two mini comics. Lost shoes, adventures at sea, and more abound in this sweet graphic novel for younger readers. The hunt for younger graphic novels never ceases, and they don’t get much younger than this! Vikram Madan did that clever poetry collection A Hatful of Dragons a couple years ago, so wordplay is the name of his game. Here he goes real young with several stories about a little pup named Zoonie. Some of the stories rhyme entirely, which is an awfully difficult thing to write. Extra points for fun lines like “Could it be true? The shoe the shrews have is my shoe?”
Hope you enjoyed these! Here are the lists you can expect for the rest of this month:
December 1 – Great Board Books
December 2 – Picture Book Readaloud
December 3 – Simple Picture Book Texts
December 4 – Transcendent Holiday Picture Books
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 – Gross 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 – Older Funny Books
December 20 – Science Fiction Books
December 21 – Fantasy Books
December 22 – Comics & Graphic Novels
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 – Audiobooks for Kids
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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