Posted in Graphic Novels, Realistic Fiction, Teen, Young Adult/New Adult

YA graphic novel roundup

These three graphic novels, all sent to me by Drawn & Quarterly for review, are smart additions to your young adult bookshelves. One of the biggest challenges in my graphic novels section in the YA area is making sure to strike a balance between the Marvel/DC/Image/superhero trades that circulate like wildfire, and building a strong graphic novel collection in the same fashion as I would build a middle grade or college fiction collection. There’s great literary fiction out there, and while middle grade is certainly experiencing a renaissance of graphic novel material these days, there is great stuff for your teens and young adults, too. Also not to be missed is the growing trend toward graphic autobiographies and memoirs – Mira Jacob’s Good Talk made a splash when it pubbed in 2018 – which makes for layered storytelling and allows readers to see subtlety in facial expressions, lighting, and details that may miss emphasis with merely written words.

Drawn and Quarterly and Fantagraphics are two houses I turn to, time and again, for graphic novels for my T/YA/Adult shelves. of I hope you will, too.

Perfect Example, by John Porcellino, (Feb. 2021, Drawn and Quarterly), $19.95, ISBN: 9781770464681

Ages 16+

Perfect Example is the author John Porcellino’s look back at the time between the end of high school and beginning of college. John P, as he’s known through the book – seriously, there are at least 3 guys named John in this – moves through house parties, hanging out with friends, a kinda-sorta girlfriend, and depression. It’s not something he can easily shake, and it rides on his shoulder through the book. Mr. Porcellino expertly captures the malaise and going-through-the-motions feel of depression fog of depression in his story, and the back matter, where he recounts his “resume and relevant information”; a biographical sketch. Black and white illustrations throughout are unfussy. Add Perfect Example to your shelves for its realistic look at lingering depression. John Porcellino’s a zinester whose website includes links to his Patreon, his books – most notably, King Cat, and his social media.


Okay, Universe: Chronicles of a Woman in Politics, by Valérie Plante/Illustrated by Delphie Côté-Lacroix, Translated by Helge Dascher, (Dec. 2020, Drawn and Quarterly), $21.95, ISBN: 9781770464117

Ages 13+

Valérie Plante’s fictional memoir of taking on the male-dominated political scene to become the first woman elected Mayor of Montreal, Okay, Universe introduces us to Simone Simoneau, a wife and mother who decides that she’s “hit a plateau” at her job; when her community volunteering leads to the chance to run for municipal office. The story follows her through the relentless door-knocking, hand-shaking, and life juggling she undertakes on her path to the election. The story calls out gender inequality, from graffiti on her campaign posters to her mother praising Simone’s partner, Hugo, for “helping” rather than “doing his share”. The book focuses on Simone’s dedication to community service and the betterment of the quality of life for everyone, as well as her dedication to her family, and how hard that balancing act can be. The artwork is colorful, and readers will love reading this birds-eye view of entering the political arena.


The Contradictions, by Sophie Yanow, (Sept. 2020, Drawn and Quarterly), $24.95, ISBN: 9781770464070

Ages 16+

A fictionalized account of author Sophie Yanow’s life as a student abroad in Paris, The Contradictions introduces us to Sophie, a queer student studying art in Paris because she liked Paris’s comics. Lonely and looking for connection, she meets two New York students, one of whom is Zena, an anarchist-activist-vegan who shoplifts for her basic needs. The two decide to head out on a hitchhiking trip to Amsterdam and Berlin, where they dabble in couch surfing, drugs, and exploring. The book captures the time in college when an individual is still figuring themself out, trying on new ideas, and exploring the world around them. The black and white artwork is simple and uncluttered, with dialogue being the main point. This won’t be everyone’s book, but those who like road tripping memoirs should give this a look. The Contradictions was a webcomic from 2018-2020, and is an Eisner award winner. It also has a starred review from Publisher’s Weekly.

Posted in Graphic Novels, Middle Grade, Non-fiction, Teen, Tween Reads, Young Adult/New Adult

Graphic Novels for Tweens and Teens

I’m back with more graphic novels! It’s an all-consuming joy of mine; I love them all. I’ve got some newer and up-and-coming books, and some backlist that shouldn’t be missed. I’ve got books for middle grade/middle school, and I’ve got teen/YA, so let’s see what’s good!

Sylvie, by Sylvie Kantorovitz, (Jan. 2021, Walker Books US), $24.99, ISBN: 9781536207620

Ages 9-13

An autobiographical graphic novel that really hits the sweet spot for middle schoolers but will also appeal to upper elementary and high schoolers, Sylvie is the story of the author and illustrator’s life, quirks and all. She grows up in a school where her father was principal. She loves art from an early age, but her mother is focused on her pursuing a career in math or science. The book follows her family as they add more children to the family and Sylvie’s mother doggedly pushes her academically. As she grows in confidence, and seeks her father’s council, Sylvie takes control of her own future. Artwork is cartoony and friendly, and easy-to-read, first-person narration makes Sylvie readers feel like they’re talking with a friend. Discussions about racism and anti-Semitism in ’60s and ’70s France sets the stage for discussion.

Candlewick/Walker Books US has a sample chapter available for a preview.


Tell No Tales: Pirates of the Southern Seas, by Sam Maggs/Illustrated by Kendra Wells, (Feb. 2021, Amulet), $21.99, ISBN: 9781419739668

Ages 10-14

Another middle school-geared book, Tell No Tales is a fictionalized account of pirate Anne Bonny, pirate Mary Read, and their female and non-binary pirate crew. They have a growing reputation, but a privateer is on their heels: Woodes Rogers, a failed pirate turned pirate hunter for the Crown, has sworn to wipe the stain of piracy from the seas. There are strong positive female and non-binary characters, based on characters from history, but the overall story falters, leaving readers to look for the thread in between the individual stories of Bonny’s crew, all of which are fascinating. The artwork is colorful, manga-inspired, and will grab viewers. Back matter includes a word on the real-life exploits of Anne Bonny and Mary Read, notes, and a bibliography.

Publishers Weekly has an interview with Sam Magga and Kendra Wells. 

Fantastic Tales of Nothing, by Alejandra Green & Fanny Rodriguez, (Nov. 2020, Katherine Tegen Books), $12.99, ISBN: 9780062839473

Ages 8-13

One of the most beautifully illustrated graphic novels I’ve ever seen, Fantastic Tales of Nothing is one of heck an epic fantasy for middle graders and tweens, and early teens. Nathan is a human living what he considers a pretty ordinary life until that fateful day when he wakes up in the middle of nowhere and meets a being named Haven and a race of shape shifters called the Volken. As the unlikely group find themselves on a quest, Nathan also learns that he isn’t that ordinary – he has mysterious power in side of him, and the fate of Nothing lies in his hands. Vivid color, breathtaking fantasy spreads, and solidly constructed worldbuilding lays the foundation for what could be a groundbreaking new fantasy series for middle graders, with nonbinary and Latinx representation to boot. Where are the starred reviews for this book?

Tales of Nothing received IndieNext Honors. The website has more information about the characters, authors, and upcoming projects.


Poems to See By: A Comic Artist Interprets Great Poetry, by Julian Peters, (March 2020, Plough Publishing House), $24, ISBN: 9780874863185

Ages 12+

Illustrator Julian Peters has taken 24 poems by some of the most recognizable names in the art form, and brought them to life using different art forms, from manga to watercolor to stark expressionist black and white.  Organized into six areas of introspection: Seeing Yourself; Seeing Others; Seeing Art; Seeing Nature; Seeing Time, and Seeing Death, Peters illustrates such master works as “Caged Bird” by Maya Angelou, “Annabel Lee”, by Edgar Allan Poe, and “Juke Box Love Song” by Langston Hughes. It’s a great way to invite middle school, high school, and college students to deep dive into some of the greatest works of poetry.

Marvin: Based on The Way I Was, by Marvin Hamlisch with Gerald Gardner/Adapted and Illustrated by Ian David Marsden, (Feb. 2020, Schiffer Kids), $12.99, ISBN: 9780764359040

Ages 9-13

This graphic adaptation of PEGOT (Pulitzer, Emmy, Grammy, Oscar, Tony) winner Marvin Hamlisch’s biography is one I did not see coming! The legendary musician, composer, and conductor discusses his family’s flight from Hitler’s Austria and settling in America, Hamlisch’s admittance to Julliard at the age of 6, and the intense anxiety that plagued him before every performance. He tells readers about attending high school with Christopher Walken and Liza Minelli, and playing the piano for Judy Garland as a teen; about composing pop radio hits and learning to compose music for a motion picture as he went along. By the time he was 30, he’d won his first major award. Hamlisch’s voice is funny, warm, and conversational throughot, and Marsden’s realistic art has touching moments, particularly between Hamlisch and his father. A great read for theatre and music fans – this one is going to be my not-so-secret weapon.

Posted in Fiction, Historical Fiction, Intermediate, Realistic Fiction

Rescuers play a Hiding Game with the Nazis

The Hiding Game, by hiding-game-coverGwen Strauss/Illustrated by Herb Leonhard, (Feb. 2017, Pelican Publishing), $17.99, ISBN: 9781455622658

Recommended for ages 7-10

A young girl and her family settle into a new home in the Villa Air-Bel in France. They’re used to hiding things: the radio, a cow, anything of value that the Nazis could seize. Aube Breton – the daughter Dada pioneer Andre Breton – even learns to hide herself in case of a raid. You see, Villa Air-Bel was a safe place for refugees during World War II, a place where those on the run could await passage to safety. Aude spends her days with luminaries like artists Marc Chagall and Max Ernst; helping hold art sales to raise money for transport out of occupied France, and playing, as a child should.

A very different experience from Anne Frank and the families ensconced in the Secret Annex, Aude’s story is no less powerful. She witnesses a Nazi raid and hides while her father and other men are rounded up and taken in for questioning, and she faces her situation with love and laughter. The stories of the Villa Air-Bel refugees is a lesser-known part of World War II France, and The Hiding Game is a strong introduction to younger readers. Its message is as strong today as ever.

Herb Leonhard’s illustrations and subdued color palette are gentle on the eyes in some spreads, more powerful in others, enhancing the story with strong images that will lead to deep discussions with school-age readers.


A historical note and further resources round out this story, and the author explains that her uncle was one of the men who risked his life to bring refugees to safety.

hiding-game-layout-lowres-17-1A recommended addition to history collections.

Posted in Early Reader, Fiction, Historical Fiction

The Artist and Me looks at bullying in a new way.

ARTIST_1The Artist and Me, by Shane Peacock/Illustrated by Sophie Casson (April 2016, Owl Kids), $16.95, ISBN: 9781771471381

Recommended for ages 5-10

Did you know that Vincent Van Gogh, one of the greatest artist of all time, was bullied? Not as a child, either – as an adult. When the Dutch artist moved to Arles, France, he was taunted and bullied by the townspeople, including the children, who mocked his bright red hair and his unusual artistic style. It’s even a recent theory that Van Gogh did not commit suicide, but was shot by two teenage boys that he knew.

The Artist and Me is told through the eyes of a childhood bully, one of Van Gogh’s tormentors, looking back at his life. Written as a journal entry, or possibly a letter to a son or grandson, the unnamed narrator begins by writing, “I used to do an ugly thing…” and tells the story of how he laughed at and ridiculed a “crazy man with wild red hair and a short red beard and a dream.” While he’s secretly intrigued by Van Gogh and his paintings, he falls into bully mode, “in crowds, of course, since that is what cowards do.” One day, he follows Van Gogh into a field and sees, just for a moment, the landscape as the artist does, and this transforms him – but when Van Gogh tries to connect with him, he runs away. As an older man, he sees the paintings in a museum and sadly writes, “I don’t laugh at him anymore”.

The Artist and Me is a message to both the bullied and the bullies. Anyone can be a target, but you can also rise above it. Van Gogh never gave up on his dream of telling the truth with his art. Bullies are redeemable – and you don’t have to wait for years to pass before realization. Seeing the world through someone else’s eyes can be the great equalizer, if one is brave enough to let it happen. The acknowledgement that bullying is a team sport for cowards delivers a strong message that I hope reaches children and adults.

Sophie Casson’s beautiful art is created in Van Gogh’s signature style, looking very much like he illustrated this story. She uses bold colors and lines, creating landscapes and people alike.

This is the kind of book you read to all of your grade levels to talk about the consequences of bullying. Putting Van Gogh’s story out there for people to hear and see opens up the chance to have some deep conversations about mob rules, crowd behavior, and most importantly, the effects that bullying has on both the bully and the bullied.

Take a look at some of the beautiful artwork from this powerful book.




Posted in Adventure, Fiction, Middle School, Tween Reads

Young Sherlock and Irene Adler Face Off in Sherlock, Lupin, and Me: The Dark Lady

sherlock lupin meSherlock, Lupin and Me: The Dark Lady, by Irene Adler. Capstone Young Readers (2014), $12.95, ISBN: 9781623700409

Recommended for ages 9-14

Written by Irene Adler herself, this middle-grade novel details the first time Irene Adler, a young American girl living abroad and vacationing with her mother in a French coastal town, meets Sherlock Holmes and his friend, Lupin. The three become quick friends; when a dead body washes up on the beach one morning, they decide to solve the mysteries surrounding the dead man: who was he? Was this a suicide or a murder, and why?

Woven into the story’s fabric is background information on Holmes and Adler, offering glimpses into life events that led to the adults they become. Adler lives with her mother and her butler, Horatio Nelson, who seems to double as a chaperone/bodyguard. Young Irene is headstrong and willful, seemingly at endless odds with her mother. Sherlock is a quiet, somewhat surly, brilliant boy who’s reticent to discuss his home life; he has an older brother and a younger sister that annoy him. Arsene Lupin, the son of an acrobat, is a reckless young man who has an eye for Irene, but may eventually find himself at odds with the great Sherlock Holmes.

I really enjoyed this story. Middle graders who have already begun studying Sherlock Holmes will enjoy seeing the character development written into this young, teenage Sherlock, and those unfamiliar with Holmes will doubtless enjoy this introduction, easing them into the great sleuth’s world. The writing is fun and accessible to younger readers, and the sets itself up for a potentially exciting continuing series. For starters, will we find out more about Lupin, who ends up being one of the most famous thieves in literature? Will we meet a young Moriarty? A young Lestrade or Watson? And will we find out more about Irene Adler’s parents, who seem very secretive about something to do with Irene?

Jacopo Bruno’s Victorian-type illustrations add a Holmesian feel to each chapter, setting a mood for the reader.

I love the pairing of the world’s greatest detective with the world’s best gentleman thief as teenagers – I can’t wait to see where this series is going to go.

The Capstone Kids site should be getting a minisite up soon, but I didn’t see anything on Sherlock, Lupin and Me at the moment.

Posted in Graphic Novels, History, Tween Reads

Hidden: A Child’s Story of the Holocaust tells a powerful tale, gently for younger readers.

Hidden: A Child’s Story of the Holocaust, by Loic Dauvillier (First Second, 2014), ISBN: 978-1-59643-873-6, $16.99

Pub Date: April 1, 2014

hiddenRecommended for ages 8-12

Hidden is a graphic novel, tells the story of the Holocaust as it stormed through Vichy France, from a child’s eyes.

Elsa is a little girl who discovers her grandmother deep in thought one night. She curls up on her lap, and her grandmother tells her why she’s been feeling sad. Doumia, Elsa’s grandmother, has had a nightmare, and proceeds to tell Elsa about her life as a little girl.

Doumia was a happy child, living in France, going to school, and had friends and a loving family. One day, her father tells Doumia that they are to become “a sheriff’s family”, as her mother sews yellow stars on their clothing. She later learns, when her friends and her own teacher ignore her, that the yellow star is not a sheriff’s star, but the mark of being a Jew. Nazi soldiers harass people in the streets; Doumia’s father loses his job, and, fearing for her safety, Doumia leaves school to be homeschooled by her parents.

Doumia’s parents scramble to hide her when the Nazis come for them. She is discovered by a neighbor, who, with a network of the French Resistance, change her name and send her, along with her neighbor, to a farm to wait out the danger. When the War ends, we wait, as Doumia does, to learn her parent’s fate.

This is a powerful, emotional, story of the Holocaust because it is told through a survivor’s eyes, but the eyes of a child. We hear this story, as Elsa does, in the safe, warm embrace of a  grandparent, with Marc Lizano’s and Greg Salsedo’s gentle cartoon art, with subdued colors, easing younger readers into history. Where is difficult in parts, there are bright spots to keep younger readers interested and happy – Doumia living safely in the French countryside with women who care for her; the farm animals she helps care for, reunions with lost family members. It’s a safe place to talk about a horrific event.

An afterword by Hellen Kaufmann, the President of AJPN – an organization dedicated to telling the stories of rescue and solidarity during World War II – gives us an overview of Vichy France during World War II.

This is a fantastic pick for younger readers, particularly with the difficult task of finding interesting, captivating, non-fiction to fit with the Common Core Learning Standards. The book is a valuable teaching tool for parents and educators alike.