We saw a lot of good old-fashioned storytelling in 2016’s graphic novels: Hope Larson and Rebecca Mock’s Compass South, an adventure about plucky children at sea; John Patrick Green’s Hippopotamister, a genial tale of a hippo and a red panda trying to get a job; and Ben Hatke’s Mighty Jack, a modern take on a classic fairy tale. But our Top 10 also includes one serious and very important nonfiction book: March: Book Three, the conclusion of Rep. John Lewis’s compelling memoir of the civil rights movement.
Compass South: Four Points by Hope Larson. illus. by Rebecca Mock. Farrar. Gr 5-7.
Twins Alex and Cleo, left to fend for themselves in 19th-century New York, devise a plot to pose as twin boys and seek their fortune. Things go awry when they encounter another set of twins who are working the same scam. After a misadventure with the law, the twins are separated, and they each board a ship with their rival to travel to San Francisco—with a gang of thieves in hot pursuit. This fast-moving adventure with rich, historically accurate artwork will keep readers hooked till the last page.
Ghosts by Raina Telgemeier. illus. by author. Coloring by Braden Lamb. Scholastic. Gr 3-7.
The theme of Ghosts is coming to terms with fear. Catrina’s sister, Maya, has cystic fibrosis, and the family moves to a small coastal town for her health. Cat fears for Maya, but Maya is bold and full of life. When they learn that the town is filled with ghosts, Cat is unnerved—but Maya is overjoyed. The climax of the book is a fictionalized Día de los Muertos celebration in which humans cavort joyfully with ghosts—and Cat learns to let go of her fear.
Hilda and the Stone Forest by Luke Pearson. illus. by author. Nobrow. Gr 1-5.
Pearson’s tale of a young girl in a world of magical, often menacing creatures is really one big chase scene. But what a chase scene! Hilda starts out rescuing a tiny house from a running tuft of grass, and then she and her mother get lost in the land of the trolls. Pearson’s art has a kinetic, cartoony feeling, and his world is full of imaginative creatures, but at its heart, this is a story of the tension between trust and the desire for independence that underlies the relationship of Hilda and her mother.
Hippopotamister by John Patrick Green. illus. by author. First Second. Gr K-3.
Miserable living in a run-down zoo, Red Panda convinces his buddy Hippo to run away with him and get jobs in the outside world. Jumping from occupation to occupation, Hippo—renamed Hippopotamister in order to fit in better—triumphs at everything he tries, while Red Panda fails spectacularly. The story ends with a funny twist when they return to the zoo and put their newfound skills to use. A joyous tale of friendship and loyalty, this graphic novel has delightful spreads that will appeal to picture book fans.
March: Book Three by John Lewis & Andrew Aydin. illus. by Nate Powell. Top Shelf. Gr 8 Up.
In the conclusion of this three-part memoir, Lewis, Aydin, and Powell pull out all the stops to bring readers back around to the opening scene of Book One, the march on Selma. Book Three covers a lot of ground, including the bombing of the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, AL; the Freedom Summer in Mississippi; and the 1964 Democratic Convention. Powell’s cinematic black-and-white artwork breathes new life into the story with expert pacing. As the civil rights movement fades from memory to history, this book documents not only the triumphs but the struggles along the way.
Mighty Jack by Ben Hatke. illus. by author. First Second. Gr 5-9.
Mighty Jack is a modern riff on “Jack and the Beanstalk.” Jack’s mother works two jobs, leaving Jack to care for his sister, Maddy, who doesn’t speak. At a flea market, Jack trades his mother’s car to a stranger for a packet of beans. Maddy insists on planting the seeds—but her garden grows magical fruits and vegetables, and some cause trouble for Jack, Maddy, and their new friend Lily. Hatke’s vivid artwork brings this action-packed tale to life, with colors that change to reflect the mood of the story.
Narwhal: Unicorn of the Sea by Ben Clanton. illus. by author. Tundra. Gr 1-4.
A silly and cheerful narwhal befriends a jellyfish, and they share fascinating facts about their species and their love of waffles. Narwhal longs to be part of a pod, and he recruits other sea creatures (none of them narwhals) to join him. Jelly is jealous because he is not invited to join the pod, but he doesn’t realize that he’s already part of the mixed family. Later, Narwhal and Jelly use their imagination to complete a story. This is a funny, charming book about having a diverse family and friends—as well as the power of waffles.
The Nameless City by Faith Erin Hicks. illus. by author. Coloring by Jordie Bellaire. First Second. Gr 4-8.
The nameless city has been ruled by the Dao clan, one of a series of conquerors, for so long that no one can remember its true name. Kaidu is a young Dao soldier, but he’s no warrior in training—he’s more interested in books than in blades. Rat, a native of the city, is considered less than human by the Dao, but she helps Kaidu see the city and the role his people have played there in a whole new light. The first of a planned trilogy, this is a fascinating adventure fantasy story that’s full of heart.
Science Comics: Dinosaurs by MK Reed. illus. by Joe Flood. First Second. Gr 4-8.
There are many books about dinosaurs, but the “Science Comics” team has a refreshing new look at the many species of dinosaurs as well as the pioneering paleontologists who have tried to make sense of their fossilized remains. Reed and Flood depict not only what we know about dinosaurs but also the history of paleontology, including some strong personalities and feuds, making this book as much about science itself as about dinosaurs; their illustrations of our changing concepts of how dinosaurs looked and lived emphasize the point perfectly.
Snow White by Matt Phelan. illus. by author. Candlewick. Gr 5 Up.
Phelan’s Snow White is a clever retelling of the classic fairy tale. This nearly wordless book is set during the vaudeville era. The evil stepmother is a famous actress, the mirror is a stock market ticker tape, and the seven dwarfs are street urchins. The artwork, mostly in black-and-white or sepia tones with a splash of color every so often, evokes the time period. The story goes fast, but readers will want to reread it to study the illustrations and revel in their beauty.