SLJ’s Top 10 Graphic Novels of 2013

The “Good Comics for Kids” ( bloggers were burning the midnight oil this year, with a batch of top-notch fall releases that kept us reading—and debating—right up to our deadline. The top trend this year: kids’ books with adult appeal.

The “Good Comics for Kids” bloggers were burning the midnight oil this year, with a batch of top-notch fall releases that kept us reading—and debating—right up to our deadline.

The top trend this year: kids’ books with adult appeal, such as Paul Pope’s Battling Boy (Macmillan), a strong contender for the top 10 list that will be read by plenty of Pope fans, and Luke Pearson’s Hilda and the Bird Parade (Nobrow). These graphic novels use sophisticated storytelling techniques and explore surprising emotional depths to create stories that speak to both older and younger readers.

We also saw more historical fiction and nonfiction. Rep. John Lewis remembers the struggle for civil rights in March: Book One (Top Shelf), while in The Donner Dinner Party (Abrams), Nathan Hale deploys a variety of storytelling tools to depict the struggles of the hapless band of pioneers. Matt Phelan’s Bluffton (Candlewick) evokes memories of a simpler time and the joys of vaudeville, while Sheila Keenan and Nathan Fox’s Dogs of War (Scholastic) tells tales of action and derring-do—by dogs—in three different wars.

Here are our picks for 2013.

Fairy Tale Comics (Macmillan), edited by Chris Duffy. Gr. 1-7 Forget the staid princesses and tired moral tales of yore. These short comics by a stellar array of writers and artists retell the old stories with humor and pizzazz. Contributors include Jaime and Gilbert Hernandez, Raina Telgemeier, and Craig Thompson, among others. Duffy, who edited the earlier anthology Nursery Rhyme Comics (Macmillan, 2011), has once again done a superb job of matching creators to stories: Vanessa Davis’s retelling of “Puss in Boots” crackles with humor, while Luke Pearson’s rendition of the Japanese story “The Boy Who Drew Cats” is creepy without being too scary. This beautiful volume will make fun bedtime reading for kids, but it won’t put adult readers to sleep.

Odd Duck (Macmillan), by Cecil Castellucci and Sara Varon. Gr. 1-5 Told in a deceptively simple style, this story about a duck who likes things just so and her equally quirky friend is a funny and surprisingly insightful little tale. Theodora and Chad are both different from the other ducks, but neither of them thinks much of it until the moment each realizes that the other one thinks they are odd. This is a great story about accepting differences and enjoying being in your own skin—or feathers, as the case may be.

Nothing Can Possibly Go Wrong (Macmillan), by Prudence Shen and Faith Erin Hicks. Gr. 7-12 When the robot club and the cheerleaders go head-to-head to secure funding for their pet projects, things quickly get out of hand and both lose the opportunity for the money. In a desperate move, the robot club signs up for a battle-bot competition on Thanksgiving Day—and finds unlikely allies in the cheerleaders. Nothing can possibly go right when the teens ditch their families for the day in order to go to the competition. Hicks’s simple black-and-white drawings balance the hilarious and tender moments of this story.

Nathan Hale’s Hazardous Tales: The Donner Dinner Party (Abrams), by Nathan Hale. Gr. 3-6 The author tells the grim story of the Donner Party with surprising humor and grace, using some sophisticated visuals to illustrate key points like the distance they traveled, the wrong turns they took, and the make-up of the party at different times. He softens the hard edges of the story with humor—the buffoonish executioner provides a counterpoint to the more solemn aspects of the story—and shows the small, personal moments such as the children’s pranks that bring the historical figures to life.

Monster on the Hill: Book One (Top Shelf), by Rob Harrell. Gr. 4-7 Every town has its own monster in Harrell’s delightful version of Victorian England, and the townspeople enjoy the thrill of being scared—except in Stoker-on-Avon, where the local monster just mopes around and isn’t scary at all. An eccentric doctor and a street urchin set out to get the monster to start terrifying people again, but along the way, they have to defend their town from a real threat.

Dogs of War (Scholastic), by Sheila Keenan and Nathan Fox. Gr. 3-7 In three different stories set in three different wars—World War I, World War II, and the Vietnam War—Keenan and Fox tell of dogs who risk the dangers of battle to aid their human companions—and even save their lives. The stories are fiction, but meticulously researched and rich in detail, and Fox’s illustrations have a rugged realism.

Bluffton: My Summers with Buster Keaton (Candlewick), by Matt Phelan. Gr. 4-7 Henry Harrison, a young boy who lives in a sleepy Michigan suburb, finds that his summer vacations get a lot more interesting when a vaudeville troupe comes to town and he strikes up a friendship with a young Buster Keaton. While Henry is enchanted by the glamorous strangers, Phelan hints that Keaton sees something that he longs for in his friend’s more settled life. Phelan’s beautiful watercolors evoke the time and place while letting the characters take center stage.

March: Book One (Top Shelf), by Rep. John Lewis, Andrew Aydin, and Nate Powell. Gr. 6-10 As Congressman John Lewis prepares for the inauguration of President Barack Obama, he reflects on the struggles of black men and women during the 1950s, recounting his childhood and how he became involved in the student nonviolent movement in Nashville, Tennessee. Fittingly, one of the inspirations for the movement was a comic book about Martin Luther King, Jr., and the Montgomery Bus Boycott. Moving black-and-white illustrations add rich layers and meaning to the story.

Hilda and the Bird Parade (Nobrow), by Luke Pearson. Gr. 1 and up Newly arrived in a big city, young Hilda goes off to play with her new school friends, but they ditch her after she rescues a raven they wounded. Lost in the city with only the amnesiac raven to help her, Hilda frantically tries to get home—as her mother frantically tries to find her. The story culminates in a dramatic finish at the city’s Bird Parade, with a few revelations about society and belief that may surprise readers.

The Misadventures of Salem Hyde, Book One: Spelling Trouble (Abrams), by Frank Cammuso. Gr. 1-3 The creator of The Knights of the Lunch Table (Scholastic, 2011) brings his kinetic storytelling style to the story of a bumbling witch who can’t quite get her spells right—and the haughty companion cat who is assigned to help her. This is slapstick humor in the vein of the “Lunch Lady” books, and its snappy pace and cartoony illustrations should appeal to the same age group. (

The “Good Comics for Kids” bloggers are: Brigid Alverson, Robin Brenner, Lori Henderson, Esther Keller, Mike Pawuk, Scott Robins, and Eva Volin.

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