December 16, 2017

The Advocate's Toolbox

Top 10 Graphic Novels 2017

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As the range of children’s graphic novels expands, authors are treading new ground and tackling different topics in imaginative ways. This year, our top 10 list includes Svetlana Chmakova’s Brave, a genuinely fresh take on bullying, and Melissa Jane Osborne and Veronica Fish’s The Wendy Project, in which a traumatic accident blurs the line between reality and fantasy for a teenage girl. Katie O’Neill’s The Tea Dragon Society has a traditional feel to it, but her tale of dragons who produce magical tea is totally original. On the other end of the emotional scale, Louis Undercover is a story of parental love, alcoholism, and divorce, which may help many children realize they are not alone. From fantasy to reality, traditional to modern, this year’s list spans many types of stories, all told by talented creators.

Brave by Svetlana Chmakova. illus. by author. Yen. Gr 5 Up.
The follow-up to Awkward, set in the same middle school, follows Jensen, a nerdy loner who doesn’t realize how badly he’s being bullied until he participates in a journalism club project. He loves art, and a comic is the ideal format for Jensen’s story, since he has an active fantasy life that readers get to see on the page. This is a subtle, well-observed treatment of a kid who doesn’t fit in. The various threads of friendship and belonging are woven masterfully and ring true, with a conclusion that brings everything together.

Mega Princess by Kelly Thompson. illus. by Brianne Drouhard. Coloring by M. Victoria Robado. Boom! Studios. Gr 2-5.
Although Max is a princess gifted with the same powers of all the other princesses, she really wants to be a detective. Accompanied by her talking pony, she gets to use her abilities, both granted and hard-won through experience, when her younger brother is kidnapped. The journey to find Prince Bobs takes her to other kingdoms, including Atlantis and one with tiny people. The settings and characters are imaginatively portrayed with a fluid, animation-influenced style and a fresh voice. This is an updated take on fairy-tale conventions with some valuable modern-day lessons.

The Time Museum by Matthew Loux. illus. by author. First Second. Gr 5-9.
A new twist on the “summer visit to an unusual uncle” tale makes for a fast-moving time-travel adventure. Delia is naturally curious about the biology around her. When she chases an out-of-place kiwi bird, she finds the Earth Time Museum, where she becomes a summer intern. She’s in competition with kids from other eras, although they wind up having fun together. Loux’s style is streamlined and active, well suited to this story, which is full of imagination, excitement, and a love of learning and investigation.

Real Friends by Shannon Hale. illus. by LeUyen Pham. First Second. Gr 4-6.
Hale’s childhood comes alive in this graphic memoir, which captures the turbulent relationships between sisters and friends from kindergarten days to fifth grade. From forging bonds to feeling left out, these familiar situations will capture readers, as everyone will find something to relate to in this story. Pham’s vivid artwork brings the story together for an appealing and engrossing journey.

Louis Undercover by Fanny Britt. illus. by Isabelle Arsenault. Groundwood. Gr 5-9.
After his family is split apart by his father’s alcohol problem, Louis tries to adjust to his new life of being shuffled back and forth between his parents, all the while searching for the courage to speak to his crush, a girl named Billie. Beautifully illustrated by Arsenault, this graphic novel poignantly deals with topics such as divorce and alcohol abuse in an age-appropriate manner perfect for middle grade readers and portrays a young male character with sensitivity—a welcome take on masculinity.

The Wendy Project by Melissa Jane Osborne. illus. by Veronica Fish. Papercutz. Gr 7 Up.
After Wendy’s brother is killed in a car accident in which she was driving, the teen cannot come to terms with his death and insists that he is alive. Urged by a therapist to write and draw in a journal to cope with her sorrow, Wendy draws images of a flying man and Neverland. The story will leave readers wondering if Wendy is still wallowing in grief or if her brother really is alive. Osborne and Fish weave in quotes and other elements from J.M. Barrie’s Peter Pan. Black-and-white drawings with splashes of color effortlessly stir up a feeling of loss.

Spill Zone by Scott Westerfeld. illus. by Alex Puvilland. First Second. Gr 10 Up.
Addison lives in what used to be Poughkeepsie, NY—until a mysterious event killed her parents, left her sister unable to speak, and turned the city into a surrealistic landscape where ordinary objects arrange themselves in curious patterns, a strange substance makes things flatten into the ground, and zombies float in midair. The Spill Zone is strictly off limits, but Addison ventures in at night to take photographs to sell to collectors. Things get even weirder, though, when she wanders out of her comfort zone to fulfill a strange request. This is the first part of a two-volume series.

The Tea Dragon Society by Katie O’Neill. illus. by author. Oni. Gr 4-7.
Tea dragons are delicate creatures who are difficult to care for, but if they are tended properly, they release tea leaves that evoke the memories of all the people who have raised them over the years. Greta is an apprentice in her mother’s blacksmith shop, but when she rescues a tea dragon from two snarling dogs, she enters the world of tea dragon breeders, finds a new surrogate family, and discovers her calling as she helps preserve a dying art.

Dogs: From Predator to Protector by Andy Hirsch. illus. by author. (Science Comics). First Second. Gr 3-7.
Follow Rudy, a ball-loving pup, as he travels back in time to explain not just how dogs first became domesticated but also how genetics changed the gray wolf into the many breeds of dogs we see today. Through brightly colored and easy-to-follow images, Rudy shows how and why dogs’ senses make them great companions for humans. Hirsch adeptly disguises the science of genetics behind whimsical art and even a Dad joke.

Where’s Halmoni? by Julie Kim. illus. by author. Little Bigfoot. K-Gr 4.
When Joon and Noona step through a closet door in search of their missing grandmother, what they find is nothing like Narnia. Entering a vibrant, orange-infused world full of characters from classic Korean folktales, the brother and sister squabble their way past the Moon Rabbit, hungry dokkebi, and a fox with nine tails before returning home, where their halmoni is waiting for them with a nice hot pot of red bean soup. Gloriously illustrated, full of wit and whimsy, and always staying true to the traditional tales being referenced, this book deserves to be on every shelf.

This article was published in School Library Journal's December 2017 issue. Subscribe today and save up to 35% off the regular subscription rate.

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