Best Graphic Novels 2019 | SLJ Best Books

Fourteen outstanding titles made SLJ's list of the best graphic novels for children and teens published in 2019. 


Graphic Novels

This Place: 150 Years Retold

by Kateri Akiwenzie-Damm & others. illus. by various. Highwater Pr. ISBN 9781553797586.
Gr 9 Up –History isn’t written by the victors, argue the creators of this compelling anthology. Despite the Canadian government’s attempts to wipe out Indigenous cultures, First Nations people still have a keen sense of their own history, as these 10 pieces make clear. With a blend of fiction and nonfiction, and with styles ranging from graceful watercolors to scratchy minimalism, this is both a profound meditation on Native history and a joyful look toward the future.


This Was Our Pact

by Ryan Andrews. illus. by author. First Second. ISBN 9781250196958.
Gr 4-7 –An agreement to follow the journey of the lanterns released on the day of the Autumn Equinox Festival results in indescribable adventures for the two bravest boys who don’t turn back to the safety of home. Andrews’s enchanting flights of fancy, coupled with the ethereal warmth of the inky blue art, create a wondrous escapist fantasy.


Peter and Ernesto: The Lost Sloths

by Graham Annable. illus. by author. First Second. ISBN 9781626725720.
Gr 1-4 –When a hurricane destroys their tree, a group of sloths led by anxiety-ridden Peter and adventurous Ernesto journey through the jungle in search of a new home. Though this story is simple enough for the youngest graphic novel fans, Annable’s exaggerated, pop-eyed cartoons brim with emotion, heightening the stakes and making the happy ending all the more satisfying.


New Kid

by Jerry Craft. illus. by author. HarperCollins/Harper. ISBN 9780062691200.
Gr 4-7 –At his prestigious new middle school, Jordan is learning plenty: to put up with white teachers who confuse him with other black students, to avoid the patronizing librarian who hands African American students gritty tales of inner-city woe, and, finally, to take a stand against ignorance and injustice. Craft’s inspired visual metaphors and gentle cartoons render this exploration of racism and microaggressions deeply relatable to a young audience.


I Was Their American Dream

by Malaka Gharib. illus. by author. Clarkson Potter. ISBN 9780525575115.
Gr 7 Up –Gharib, the U.S.-born child of divorced Egyptian and Filipina immigrants, loved both her cultures but grew up deeply confused about her place in the world. Full of chaotic doodles, lists, and asides, this intimate graphic memoir mirrors Gharib’s uncertainty—about her complex relationship with whiteness, her attempts to belong in high school and in college—and her joy at her rich cultural identity.


Best Friends

by Shannon Hale. illus. by LeUyen Pham. First Second. ISBN 9781250317452.
Gr 4-7 –Hale’s sequel to her first graphic memoir, Real Friends, is a nuanced, realistic glimpse at the author’s middle school years: first experiences with boys, the challenges of keeping a circle of friends, and the anxiety of standing up to bullies. Pham’s rounded character designs set an upbeat tone while Hale’s narrative explores how she discovered her love of writing and found her place in the world.


Gender Queer

by Maia Kobabe. illus. by author. Lion Forge. ISBN 9781549304002.
Gr 9 Up –An art class assignment about confronting demons drove Kobabe, who now uses the pronouns e/em/eir, to grapple with eir horror at breasts, periods, and other symbols of femininity—and to realize e identified as genderqueer. Featuring realistic, earth-toned cartoons, this forthright memoir earnestly examines everything from pap smears gone wrong to experiments with sex toys. Kobabe is the reassuring older sibling that many LGBTQ teens will wish they’d had.


Queen of the Sea

by Dylan Meconis. illus. by author. Candlewick/Walker. ISBN 9781536204988.
Gr 5-9 –The fates of a deposed queen and a lowly orphan raised by nuns intertwine in this lush tale loosely inspired by Tudor England and the life of Elizabeth I. Meconis’s illustrations are delicate and sumptuous, and her blend of political intrigue and quotidian details makes for a vivid reimagining of 16th-century British history.


The Okay Witch

by Emma Steinkellner. illus. by author. S. & S./Aladdin. ISBN 9781534431461.
Gr 4-8 –Awkward outcast Moth Hush feels less alone when she discovers she is descended from a long line of witches who were persecuted generations ago. But the prejudice against witches still lingers. Rich dialogue, deeply saturated artwork, and achingly heartfelt characterizations combine for a spellbinding testament to the power of community—and a warning against allowing bigotry to take hold.


They Called Us Enemy

by George Takei, Justin Eisinger, & Steven Scott. illus. by Harmony Becker. Top Shelf. ISBN 9781603094504.
Gr 7 Up –In this evocative memoir, actor and activist Takei revisits his childhood, when he, his family, and thousands of other Japanese Americans were imprisoned in internment camps by the U.S. government during World War II. Becker’s clean-lined, grayscale art pulls back the curtains on our dark history and shines a light on recent events—Trump’s “travel ban” and the separation of parents and children at the U.S.-Mexico border—that have chilling parallels with Takei’s experiences.


Harley Quinn: Breaking Glass

by Mariko Tamaki. illus. by Steve Pugh. DC Ink. ISBN 9781401283292.
Gr 9 Up –This mesmerizing supervillain origin story reimagines the Joker’s hell-raising sidekick as a wayward 15-year-old determined to protect her newfound community from encroaching gentrification. Tamaki’s pitch-perfect narration and Pugh’s chaotic, superrealistic illustrations bring to life a Harley Quinn who’s a volatile mix of vulnerability and impulsivity, tempered by her growing social consciousness.


Laura Dean Keeps Breaking Up with Me

by Mariko Tamaki. illus. by Rosemary Valero-O’Connell. First Second. ISBN 9781626722590.
Gr 9 Up –Francesca “Freddy” Riley flakes on her friends to chase after her dream girl, flighty Laura Dean, who sends mixed signal after mixed signal. Spot-on dialogue; stunning, fluid art; and a panel structure that captures the awkwardness of adolescence create a tender portrait of first love, set in a world where LGBTQ relationships are refreshingly normalized.



by Raina Telgemeier. illus. by author. Scholastic Graphix. ISBN 9780545852517.
Gr 3-6 –Following meditations on braces and sisterhood, Telgemeier contemplates her childhood anxiety, which took hold after a bout with stomach flu led to fears of vomiting in public. Her comedic timing is top-notch, balancing Simpsons-style asides and punch lines with more juvenile humor, and her younger self’s exaggerated, anime-esque reactions adeptly capture her turmoil and uncertainty. Few children’s books explore the mind-body connection, making Telgemeier’s sensitive work all the more necessary.



by Jen Wang. illus. by author. First Second. ISBN 9781250183880.
Gr 3-6 –Friendship blossoms between scholarly, diligent Christine and quirky but troubled Moon, two vastly different girls living in a suburban Chinese American community. With a subdued palette and minimalist art, Wang deftly captures the rich emotional lives of characters attempting to reconcile their sense of identity with how others see them.

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Emily Schneider

I would like to point out that several of these books are not novels. It would be better to just use the term "graphic books" when you are including other genres.

Posted : Nov 21, 2019 05:24

Liliana Ramirez

I loved the book Guts by Raina Telgemier!

Posted : Nov 21, 2019 07:17



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