Best Graphic Novels I Read in 2019


by Ngozi Ukazu
"I'm not sure what's more entertaining - the story of how Ngozi Ukazu came to write Check, Please or Check, Please itself. During her senior year at Yale, Ukazu, hoping to create some, "Very Serious Art™," she ended up writing the screenplay Hardy, about a hockey player who, "tragically falls for his best friend - a dude." In her foreword, Ukazu, who has a masters in Sequential Art from the prestigious Savannah College of Art and Design, goes on to say that, being a "Texan, a woman, and a first generation Nigerian, I knew that writing about a white, Boston-born hockey bro would require weeks of anthropological study." Immersing herself in the world of college hockey had the "unintended side effect" of Ukazu becoming obsessed with hockey."

by Cathy G. Johnson
"Johnson's graphic novel is packed with characters, each one having her/his/their own complexities and challenges that overlap, interfere and intercede with the others, making it challeging to unravel this story for review. But, it is Faith, a black fifth grader being raised by her dad, who is at the center of this scrum and a good place to being talking about this unforgettable book. On her first day at a new school, Faith is recruited (tricked, really) into joining the school soccer team by an eighth grader, and in this she inherits a new, albeit prickly, group of friends who comprise the C team, the Bloodhounds, a mix of girls from all grades. Johnson does a superb, subtle job bringing diversity to this group, from Nadia, who wears a hijab, to Marie, who lives in a trailer and another who lives in a small apartment with her large family, and beyond." 

Camp by Kayla Miller
"Like the masterful Raina Telgemeier, Miller has a gift for remembering the experiences and emotions of childhood and getting them on the page. Her illustrations are fantastic and her characters diverse. In her both CLICK and CAMP, not only does she lift up the complexities of friendship for girls, but she shines a light on aspects I haven't seen on the page before now. From not feeling the need to settle into one clique to not knowing how to navigate a new environment with and old friend and feelings of responsibility and guilt when this friend struggles to cope, Miller is quickly proving herself as indispensable to the shelves as Telgemeier. And I have no doubt, that, like Telgemeier, boys will read her books as well."

Stargazing by Jen Wang
"An act of generosity moves Moon and her single mother into the granny flat behind Christine's house, her world expands and changes in challenging ways. Moon and Christine are both part of the same Chinese-American community, the children of immigrants, but their lives couldn't be more different. Christine plays violin, goes to church, takes Chinese lessons (taught by her mother) and asks to be enrolled at a tutoring center after getting a C on a math test. Moon is a Buddhist and vegetarian who paints her nails, listens to K-Pop and has a fierce sense of justice. Moon welcomes Christine into her world and, with a few tentative steps at first, Christine discovers a life outside of the firm influence and expectations of her parents."

Guts by Raina Telgemeier 
"With GUTS, Telgemeier delivers her most important graphic memoir to date, giving readers an honest, powerful look into her struggles with anxiety. Hoping that readers might recognize their own struggles in hers, wherever their anxiety is rooted, she encourages readers to talk to an adult they trust, encouraging them to talk about how they feel ending with these words:

It takes guts to admit how you feel on the inside, but chances are, others will be able to relate. You'll never know unless you try!"

by Aron Nels Steinke
"I don't usually review every new book in a series, but, because I knew I was going to read this book, knew my students were clamoring for it, and also know that I would want to talk to them about it, and because I completely adore it, I have to review it and shout about it. Aron Nels Steinke has a gift for capturing real kids, authentic kid emotions and oddities and, as a fifth grade teacher, he the slice of life in elementary school he presents is equally authentic and engaging."

Adaptation by Ari Folman, 
illustrations by David Polonsky
Commissioned by the estate of Anne Frank, this graphic adaptation has its critics. As an educator, especially of a population that will come to this book without a foundational knowledge of the Holocaust, I value it while recognizing its faults. This graphic adaptation will allow young readers, regardless of knowledge, reading abilities and life experience, to access this important work, a scaffold to the original diary.

New Kid by Jerry Craft
"Jordan Banks is starting seventh grade at a new school. But it's not the art school he wanted his parents to send him to. Instead, he has earned entrance and scholarships to the prestigious Riverdale Academy Day School. Not only will he be one of the handful of black kids at is new school, Jordan will also have to commute from his home in Inwood to the swank neighborhood of Riverdale. Jordan's parents know that sending him to this school will teach him how to "play the game" and "open up new doors, colleges, networking . . . " as his mother argues, after reminding him of the shockingly small percentage of African Americans employed by one of the world's largest publishing companies where she works. There is pressure on Jordan to succeed at home and, as the weeks pass, at school as well. Jordan makes a few friends and makes some observations while also trying cope with microagressions from teachers and students and  racism couched in "jokes" that come from a particularly obnoxious classmate. Jordan codeswitches constantly, between black and white, middle class and wealthy. Through it all, he draws comics in his sketchbook, working out his experiences through his art on the page."

by George Takei, Justin Eisinger and Steven Scott, illustrated by Harmony Becker
"A stunning graphic memoir that is also an intensive look at a time in American history that is often overshadowed. Takei, an actor, author and social activist, tells the story of his childhood years spent in internment camps, maintaining the perspective of a young child who sometimes viewed this upheaval as an adventure while also informing readers of the inhumanities, brutalities, and degradations experienced by people, two-thirds of whom were American citizens, considered incapable of loyalty. The authors weave many important heroes and events from this time, as well as historical responses to Executive Order 9066."

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