Last year, the “Good Comics for Kids” bloggers had no trouble coming up with our list of the top 10 graphic novels of the year. This year, putting together a top 15 list was easy, but winnowing it down to 10 took some time. There were a lot of strong offerings this year, and each of us were advocating for a favorite.
Our final choices exemplify many of the trends we saw in the past year. Manga has come roaring back from its turn-of-the-decade slump, and our favorite new series, “Ultraman,” made the cut. Svetlana Chmakova, author of Awkward, is one of a generation of creators who started out reading manga and making manga-style comics and have now transitioned into their own unique styles. And Lumberjanes… Lumberjanes is a phenomenon unto itself, a comic that has attracted a lively and very visible group of fans, especially online.
There was one title that everyone agreed on: Sunny Side Up was our unanimous choice. And there was one book we spent a lot of time discussing: Nimona. While we had different opinions, librarian and reviewer Eva Volin summed up the importance of this selection perfectly: “The concepts that are covered in this story are so important for kids, girls in particular, to be exposed to: what makes someone good vs. evil, who is allowed to be a hero, the necessity [of asking] questions about gender and gender equality, body image, and what makes someone ‘disabled.’ What makes someone family…. Nimona serves as a mirror for girls who are not feminine, rule-following, excuse-accepting, Seventeen-reading, traditional mothers-in-training…. This book is their touchstone.”
Hopefully each of these selections will be a touchstone for readers. All are well worth a look.
Awkward by Svetlana Chmakova. illus. by author. Hachette/Yen Pr. Gr 5 Up.
Peppi’s first day at her new middle school becomes a disaster when she trips in the hallway in front of everyone. Shy Jaime helps her up, and the school bullies are quick to tease them both. Embarrassed, Peppi pushes Jaime away. Weeks later, the girl is still haunted by her cruel actions and wants to apologize, but she can’t figure out how to do it. Then a fierce competition arises between her Art Club and Jaime’s Science Club for a lone spot at the School Club Fair. As the rivalry heats up, Peppi has to decide whether to sacrifice her new friendship with Jaime or her loyalty to her club. A loving and humorous look at middle school life for the introverts inside all of us.
Lumberjanes, Vol. 1: Beware the Kitten Holy by Grace Ellis, Noelle Stevenson, & Shannon Watters. illus. by Brooke Allen. BOOM! Studios. Gr 5 Up.
Lumberjanes is an adventure tale about five girls spending the summer together at a scout camp unlike any other. They keep running into strange creatures such as three-eyed foxes, river monsters, and hipster yetis, and when the girls are not fighting (or outwitting) the creatures, they are solving riddles and trying to decipher a mysterious message. Winner of two Eisner Awards (for Best New Series and Best Publication for Teens), Lumberjanes is filled with fun and adventure and smart, capable girls tackling anything that comes their way.
Sunny Side Up by Jennifer Holm. illus. by Matthew Holm. Scholastic/Graphix. Gr 3-7.
When 10-year-old Sunny is sent to Florida to spend the summer with her grandfather, she expects trips to Disney World and lots of fun in the sun. Instead, she’s stuck at her grandfather’s retirement complex with only one friend her age to keep her company. In flashbacks, readers learn about the family problem that’s the real reason for Sunny’s visit, and a series of events allow Sunny to open up to her grandfather about the difficult situation back home. Though the topics are heavy, there is much humor in the depiction of Sunny’s grandfather and his friends. The soft colors that reflect the mood of the story round out the artwork.
Lunch Witch by Deb Lucke. illus. by author. Papercutz. Gr 3-7.
Grunhilda can no longer make a living as a witch, so she becomes a lunch lady. She thinks her secret is safe, until Madison, a student who is going through some challenges of her own, discovers Grunhilda’s true identity. Madison blackmails the woman into creating a spell that would make the student smarter—but, of course, things go awry. What’s more, Grunhilda can’t resist the temptation to break the cardinal rule of witches: they must never be nice. Lucke’s superb artwork uses exaggerated features to lend humor to the story and subdued colors to set the mood.
We Dig Worms! by Kevin McCloskey. illus. by author. TOON Books. Gr K-2.
Young readers who are fascinated with the world around them will love this charming comic about worms and their role in the environment. The book begins with a description of the different types of worms and then details their anatomy and how they help the earth, as a bluebird lurks in the background, just dying to eat the creatures for lunch. The text is informative and entertaining, and the illustrations, which are painted on recycled brown paper bags, are lively and bright.
Baba Yaga’s Assistant by Marika McCoola. illus. by Emily Carroll. Candlewick. Gr 5 Up.
Masha’s grandmother used to tell her tales of Baba Yaga, the evil witch of Russian folklore who captures and eats naughty children. Now her grandmother and her mother are gone, and when her father brings home his future wife and stepdaughter, Masha takes a bold step and answers an ad to be Baba Yaga’s assistant. Her apprenticeship includes a series of tests from the cunning and evil witch, but clever Masha remembers the stories her grandmother told her, and she reaches into her past to meet the challenges of the present—and the future.
Unbeatable Squirrel Girl, Vol. 1: Squirrel Power by Ryan North. illus. by Erica Henderson. Marvel. Gr 7 Up.
Doreen Green is a mutant with squirrel powers. Not only does she have the speed and tree-climbing ability of the rodent but she can also talk to them (including her special friend Tippy-Toe) and summon a squirrel army in a pinch. In this funny and irreverent first volume, Doreen starts college and deals with her prickly roommate as well as the supervillains Kraven the Hunter and Galactus, devourer of worlds. This cheeky story riffs on superhero tropes with the help of a funny, self-confident heroine. And squirrels. Lots of squirrels.
Ultraman by Eiichi Shimizu. illus. by Tomohiro Shimoguchi. Viz Media. Gr 7 Up.
Shinjiro Hayata grew up thinking that he was an ordinary kid with an ordinary father. However, his dad was once part of the Science Patrol, the group who helped the alien hero Ultraman fight evil aliens intent on taking over the world. Now a teenager, Shinjiro learns that his father was more than just a scientist: he was the human host for Ultraman—and Shinjiro has inherited incredible powers. And just in time too, as the aliens return for another round. This work introduces a superhero for a new generation, mixing a sense of wonder and discovery of new powers with action-packed battles with giant monsters.
Nimona by Noelle Stevenson. illus. by author. HarperCollins/HarperTeen. Gr 7 Up.
A shape-shifting young woman teams up with a not-so-terrible villain in this adventure story set in a fantasy world populated by knights, dragons—and computers. Lord Ballister Blackheart had a promising future until he lost an arm in a duel with his ex–best friend, Sir Ambrosius Goldenloin. Now he is plotting to uncover the nefarious doings of the Institute that runs the kingdom, but the arrival of the powerful but impulsive Nimona throws a wrench into his plans. The two form a prickly friendship as they pursue their mission, but it slowly becomes clear that there is a dark side to Nimona’s powers. This title was a finalist for the 2015 National Book Award.
Human Body Theater: A Nonfiction Revue by Maris Wicks. illus. by author. First Second. Gr 4-8.
Told as a one-skeleton stage show, this whimsical but factually accurate book explains how each body system works, what can go wrong with it, and how to care for it. The artwork is detailed and comical, with plenty of humor (including some scatological humor) that makes an ordinarily dry subject amusing.