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A Fuse #8 Production
Inside A Fuse #8 Production

31 Days, 31 Lists: 2021 Comics and Graphic Novels for Kids

We don’t go halfsies on the comics around here. In my household, bedtime consists of half an hour of fiction/nonfiction and half an hour of a graphic novel (I’ll be using the terms “comic” and “graphic novel” interchangeably in this post, by the way). As such, my kids have a voracious appetite for all the sequential images you can throw their way. That means I keep a very close eye on what’s published in a given year, just so that I can keep us stocked up. I know I missed stuff in 2021. Some stuff just came out too late in the season for me to see (apologies to you, Tidesong) but mostly I did all right.

Here then is what may well be called an epic post of comics published for kids in the year 2021. And may God have mercy on our souls . . .

2021 Comics and Graphic Novels for Kids

Agent 9: Flood-a-Geddon! by James Burks

On probation for continually destroying property on missions, when King Crab comes a-calling, there’s only one secret agent with the guts to save the day. Hooray, for Agent 9! Though I’ve never been as taken with Burks’ Bird & Squirrel books, I’m rather charmed by Agent 9. It’s a good old-fashioned spy thriller but with a hero that has a lot of learning to do. Aside from the well-crafted action sequences (I never had trouble figuring out what was happening from panel to panel) I loved that Agent 9 is gender neutral throughout. Even the flap copy avoids gendering the cat. SLJ decided it was female, which I thought was unnecessary, so ignore their review. Feel free to allow this cat to scratch and claw its way into your top picks.

Amethyst: Princess of Gemworld by Shannon Hale and Dean Hale, ill. Asiah Fulmore

[Previously Seen on the Older Funny Books List]

I’m always a little baffled when a property gets remade, but this new book appears to be desperately hiding that fact from its reading public. When Shannon and Dean did a young Wonder Woman story last year, we weren’t all that surprised. Now the DC Graphic Novels for Kids line (which, when it isn’t being penned by the Hales, gets a little wonky) has redone Amethyst: Princess of Gemworld. One would be forgiven for thinking it an original tale. Certainly when I hear “Amethyst” I think of Steven Universe’s character first. In this case, however, the Hales have a bit of a challenge. They have a svelte 156 pages with which to establish character development and change, world building, a bad guy, and fancy ballroom gowns. What can I say? These guys know what they’re doing. My daughter in particular appreciated the jokes which come fast and tight on an inside curve. Hard not to like this book. She may be a recycled property, but this Amethyst will make loads of new fans.

Another Kind by Cait May, ill. Trevor Bream

[Previously Seen on the Science Fiction List]

Currently in the running as my that aforementioned daughter’s favorite graphic novel… heck, favorite BOOK, of the year. I’m not even kidding about this. At lunchtime at school she and her friends take on different characters and parts and play their roles. My daughter tends to play Sophie because, according to her, she has the best Irish accent out of the lot of them. The plot is indeed (as some reviewers have pointed out) not entirely dissimilar from X-Men. A group of “irregularities” including a were-bear, a selkie, a yeti, an alien, a will-o-the-wisp, and a gorgon/Cthulu type kid are on the run. A “collector” of irregularities wants to own them all, and it’ll take all their smarts to keep their makeshift family, such as it is, together. There’s a truly lovely section in here that explains different pronouns, which I enjoyed, and the whole book really moves at a marvelous clip. May and Bream are experts at exposition. Unlike some comics, this doesn’t saddle you with an info dump at the start, but introduces the characters’ backstories a bit at a time when they can fit into to the overall patchwork of the storytelling. Altogether a class act through and through, and awfully nice on the eyes.

Artie and the Wolf Moon by Olivia Stephens

[Previously Seen on the Fantasy List]

What do you do when you’re a werewolf that can’t shift? When Olivia discovers that she and her mom come from a long line of werewolves, she also finds a family she never knew she had. But what’s hunting Artemis and that family? And will they be strong enough to survive? An excellent vampires vs. werewolves story set entirely within the Black community. I found this one surprisingly gripping, particularly when it spoke about our heroine, Artemis, and her dad. Also, am I reading too much into this book or is the metaphor about killing vampires only creating more vampires a metaphor for the state of racism today? Maybe I’m seeing things that aren’t there, but I’m not so sure. What I am sure of is how confident creator Olivia Stephens is of her storytelling. This book works. A true graphic winner.

Bad Sister by Charise Mericle Harper, ill. Rory Lucey

[Previously Seen on the Autobiography List]

I have two children. An older girl and a younger boy. This pairing is fairly ideal. They don’t always get along, but they do pretty well. I am an older sister to a brother myself. So was my mother. So too, I believe, was my grandmother. I mention this because in each generation, I truly believe that the mother will look to the older sister and at some point say, “You are much nicer to your little brother than I ever was.” And the older sister will squirm, knowing that out of the watchful eyes of the parent, this is not true. Charise Mericle Harper is an artist in her own right, but she chose to allow Rory Lucey to illustrate this book, and I think that was the right choice. Could Harper’s art have so perfectly brought to life the grimy glory of the late 70s, early 80s? A time when parents let their kids play in dumpsters as long it was local dumpsters and not one down the street. A time when you played until there was an injury and then tried to gaslight the victim into believing their cuts and scrapes weren’t so bad. It’s a miracle any of us are still alive today! Harper and Lucey perfectly capture not just that time but the guilt and self-righteous anger and cruelty that comes with sisterhood. I was a “bad sister” too, absolutely. This book is strangely cathartic for all the bad sisters of the world.

Borders by Thomas King, ill. Natasha Donovan

A boy and his mother end up caught between the American and Canadian border when they refuse to deny their Blackfoot citizenship. A powerful story of identity and standing up for yourself. I’m a little bit in awe of this book. It goes in an unexpected direction and leaves the reader completely floored. There’s no front or backmatter. No Author’s Note or explanation. You just have to read through the book and then sit and think about it for a while. Can I nominate this for a kids graphic novel discussion group? There’s loads to discuss on these pages. Now Thomas King once wrote, what I would contest, is one of the best satirical Indigenous picture books of all time, A Coyote Columbus Story. This book is much gentler, but no less thought provoking. I just keep going back to it. Deserving of many more reads. 

Cardboardia: The Other Side of the Box by Richard Fairgray and Lucy Campagnolo, ill. Richard Fairgray

[Previously Seen on the Unconventional List]

Okay, one of these days I’m just gonna have to meet Richard Fairgray once and for all. The man has such a keenly skewed sense of humor. It’s the kind of humor we need to see more of in our children’s literature. Now I know that when you look at this book you might, like me, wonder how similar it is to Cardboard by Doug TenNapel (a comic creator that could give Fairgray a run for his money in the weirdness department). There are some similarities in the logistics of a cardboard world, but I’d say this book has an entirely different feel and take. I also adored the hidden jokes. Fairgray cannot physically draw a sign on a wall in a school without making it funny. Some personal favorites: “Make Every Day Spaghetti Wednesday”, “Name Calling Is for Dweebs”, “Viva La Evolution”, and a personal favorite of Comedy = Tragedy + Time made into a pyramid. Wherever this crazy train is going, I wanna ride it to the end.

Chunky by Yehudi Mercado

[Previously Seen on the Autobiography List]

What do you do when your parents push you to try out for sports? If you’re Yehudi, the only Jewish Mexican kid in your neighborhood, you create Chunky: A personalized mascot. But what happens when Yehudi stops listening to Chunky’s advice? Now here we have some fine intersectional comic art at work. Finding Latinx comics is ridiculously hard sometimes. And fictionalized autobiographies almost always go to girls and a couple white boys. Yehudi is Mexican-Jewish and is told constantly to lose weight. His response is to create Chunky, his own personal mascot. And yes, this isn’t what we’d call a strict autobiography but if you look at it in terms of metaphor, it works. This had so many fun elements to it too. The fact that the coaches were all identical. His love of Saturday Night Live. And, of course, the fact that his low point is when he becomes exactly what his dad wanted him to be… and it breaks his dad’s heart. Definitely give this a read!!

The Dire Days of Willowweep Manor by Shaenon K. Garrity, ill. Christopher Baldwin

[Previously Seen on the Funny and Fantasy Lists]

Marketed as YA, I say bah to all of that. I’ve got a 5th grader in my home that loves anything with even a hint of romance, and this graphic novel is so perfectly mild that it more than suits the bill. Certainly someone who has read gothic romances will get more out of it, but I’m hoping that it proves to be a gateway drug to Jane Eyre and all the others. In this story, a girl with a deep and abiding love of all things gothic is accidentally transported to a small dimension straight out of one of her books. There’s a haunted mansion, a surly housekeeper, three brothers, and The Bile. The Bile, for the record, is the part that doesn’t fit. Suddenly she must aid the brothers in defeating The Bile, all while vacillating between Maiden and Heroine. The jokes in this book land with a solid frequency that I truly enjoyed. Loved the art style, the writing, and the weirdness. Just an all around good egg.

Dog Man: Mothering Heights by Dav Pilkey

[Previously Seen on the Funny List]

Okay, we all know Dog Man, so there’s not much point even really putting it on a list. I acknowledge that freely. Also, the poop jokes get really cranked up in this book. I’m talking European poop joke levels here (though, unlike the Europeans, while you do see a plentiful amount of pee, you’re only getting poop-related jokes and not any visuals of the real thing). So why even mention it? Because the whole reason to even read Dog Man, as far as I’m concerned, is to find that moment when Pilkey breaks out of the silly jokes and includes something meaningful. And nine times out of ten you’ll find that moment if you follow Petey. Not L’il Petey. Petey Senior. The formerly evil cat. In this book we discover that after a mishap in his youth, Petey served his time and tried to go straight. Trouble was, because of his prison record he couldn’t get a job or a place to live. There’s a part where he’s being booted out of the 2nd Chance Diner where a sign in the window reads, “No Recidivists”. So yeah. Petey’s my guy. And doggone it (no pun intended), I’m including this book here. Popularity is no crime.

Earth Boy by Paul Tobin, ill. Ron Chan

[Previously Seen on the Science Fiction List]

Benson Chow has always dreamed of leaving Earth to join the Galactic Rangers, but no one on Earth has ever qualified. When Benson becomes the first, he meets with strong anti-Earth sentiments, faithful friends, and opportunities that make him use his smarts like never before. Now THAT is how you do a graphic novel, folks! It’s a smart takedown of prejudice in an otherworldly setting, but it doesn’t feel any less real. Meticulously rendered, cleverly written, and wonderfully imagined, this futuristic tale completely sucks you in. I absolutely loved the solution to Benson’s problems at the end, and everything that happens get set up neatly well in advance. It’s just a really smart book. My sole objection is that with all this story to cram in, the text ends up being pretty small. Otherwise, it’s good to go.

Evil Thing by Serena Valentino, ill. Arielle Jovellanos

I’ve always suspected that if you took a good author and handed them a corporate product with minimal restraints you might end up with something great. Folks try, but it can be hard to wrap your head around a creation that you yourself did not make. Maybe Ms. Valentino had an advantage in the fact that the character of Cruella De Vil originated in a book. Now I’ve never read the original 101 Dalmations by Dodie Smith, but I’ve always been curious as to what it was about that book that so intrigued Disney. Seems to me an enterprising publisher could reprint that original book cleverly, though maybe Disney is holding the reins. Valentino seems to have found a very nice angle to take with Cruella and, might I add, it’s a lot more believable than the one they conjured up for this year’s film Cruella (a.k.a. I-hate-dalmatians-because-they-mauled-my-fake-mom). This book really sets up the structure for what it would take to turn a fairly nice girl into a potential puppy murderess. Along the way there’s a lot of legal backing and forthing with wills, inheritances, clauses, and bad investments. Not, in other words, the kind of thing you’d expect from Disney. This appears to be a book that actually respects kids enough to give them something as elaborate as it is heartbreaking. A success all around.

The Fifth Quarter by Mike Dawson

Fourth grader Lori loves her travel basketball team more than anything else, but will her passion squash her friends and family along the way? As with every year, I always have a hard time finding enough sports books to fill my lists. This one grew on me, the more and more I thought about it. It’s difficult to write a character that initially comes off as unsympathetic, but Dawson’s willing to take that chance. He also has to simultaneously make you root for Lori and disapprove of her choices, which is tricky. I really enjoyed the aspect of being dragged to boring events to support your mom’s campaign run, and I thought it did a nice job of showing Lori’s growth. I do think her friends forgave her a little too quickly, but all told it’s a strong piece of work.

Garlic and the Vampire by Bree Paulsen

[Previously Seen on the Fantasy List]

In Witch Agnes’s village of vegetable people, there’s little to fear. So when a vampire moves into a nearby castle, will timid Garlic have the guts to face him alone? Oh, what a sweetie. This is one cute comic, and no question. Garlic reminded me so much of my daughter (particularly when she’s in the middle of a freak out) and I loved how much backstory Paulsen was able to work in without having to load the book down with text and exposition. It’s exceedingly simple, beautifully illustrated (and colored), and well written. Plus, it’s got a non-binary carrot and who doesn’t like a good non-binary carrot?

The Girl From the Sea by Molly Knox Ostertag

[Previously Seen on the Fantasy List]

Morgan Kwon should never have kissed that girl. Now she has a lovestruck selkie hanging around when all she wants to do is disappear. But maybe stepping out of her comfort zone is exactly what Morgan needs. You know what’s kind of strange? They always catalog Molly Knox Ostertag’s graphic novel titles as YA when, honestly, I think they only do it because there’s romance in them. But as the mother of a 9-year-old girl, I know for a fact that some kids are REALLY into romance. Ostertag’s Witch Boy books are totally fine for older kids and I’d argue the same for this one. Yes, technically, the main character kisses a naked girl in the sea at the beginning but that girl is pretty darn covered up as far as I can tell. Plus it’s just a sweet story. LGBTQIA+ friendly and fun.

The Golden Hour by Niki Smith

My sole objection to this book is actually its cover. Hot pokers wouldn’t have been able to get my kids to pick it up themselves, and why? Because they took one glance at that book jacket and summarily decided that it was depressing. And sure, the book deals with a lot of heavy issues, but I found Niki Smith’s tale about a kid handling his own PTSD to be delightful. To be fair, I adore books where you find “your people” and folks are just nice and decent. There’s not a single bully in this tale, which makes it a unicorn in a sea of stories that go for the easy villain. Here you have Manuel Soto, who has some major anxiety issues after he witnessed an attack in his school on a teacher. By accident he stumbles into the lives of Sebastian and Caysha, and finds himself in the countryside, on a farm, helping to tend to animals. With the camera on his phone as one of the few ways he can “anchor” himself when he starts to feel anxious, this is a book about the very natural ways we can handle and deal with a variety of different problems. In a way, it pairs very nicely with the fellow graphic novel The Secret Garden on 81st Street (see below). The kids who reads comics, by the way, are the kids that gets these nuanced windows into the struggles of other children. Books like this one are amazing.

Katie the Catsitter by Colleen AF Venable, ill. Stephanie Yue

I mean, I was always a fan of the Guinea P.I. books that Venable and Yue used to create together so I knew this latest creation would be a lot of fun as well. In this story our titluar heroine Katie is in desperate need of funds. Various odd jobs have not worked out for her, so when her neighbor suggests that she come over and take care of her cats, it sounds perfect. Katie just didn’t know how many cats there might be. It’s a fun romp with plenty of jokes that land. The economic realities of living in NYC are particularly well identified as well. I loved that you see actual dollar amounts on the page. And who can dislike a book that contains a cat named Mr. Aaron Purr Sir?  

Kyle’s Little Sister by BonHyung Jeong

What’s worse than entering middle school and getting labeled as “Kyle’s little sister” to everyone there? Losing all your friends in a terrible fight. Now Grace has both problems to deal with, and she has no idea that one might be the solution to the other. Kyle’s Little Sister comes to you straight from the JY imprint, which is to say from Yen Press, so you know the manga influence in this one is strong. Honestly, though, I was mostly getting big Svetlana Chmakova vibes from the whole story. This is middle school angst with some sibling tensions tossed in there for spice. The book does a good job of of ratcheting up the tensions and relationships. Even if you’ve never had an older brother or sister, you just feel the frustrations of Grace leaking through the page. Excellent middle school fare.

The Leak by Kate Reed Petty, ill. Andrea Bell 

Something’s rotten in Ruth’s town and this young reporter is bound to get to the bottom of it. A rollicking kid-friendly examination of corruption and freedom of the press. Also: A love letter to the free press. I found this one greatly enjoyable. We often see kids in books go above and beyond what’s strictly legal in the pursuit of truth. The point of this book is that reporters have a responsibility to get their information without imposing their personalities on the stories they write. I loved the depiction of the compromised adults that try to win Ruth over to their side without being obvious about their intentions. Some descriptions are calling this a mystery, and there is a bit to that, but you’re not actually given enough facts at the beginning, so in that respect it’s not playing completely fair. Instead, it’s just a great, rollicking kid-friendly examination of corruption and freedom of the press.

My Own World by Mike Holmes

[Previously Seen on the Fantasy List]

When Nathan finds a magical land where he can invent whatever he wants, he must make a decision. Stay in the real world with all its problems, or in his own world where he can control everything? Once in a while you need a comic that doesn’t feel like anything else out there. There are definitely some dark undertones to this story of a boy that finds his own magical world yet it’s so beautifully rendered by Mike Holmes. The more I go back to it and reread it, the more I see. There’s a lot of sadness to this title, but I think the ending contains a good hearty helping of joy as well. My daughter wasn’t keen on the art, but she’s more used to the Raina Telgemeier style of drawing anyway. My son liked it a lot. Just be prepared to have a long conversation about what cancer is.

No One Returns from the Enchanted Forest by Robin Robinson

[Previously Seen on the Fantasy List]

Big sister Bix is scared of everything. Little sister Pella fears nothing. So when Pella runs straight into the Enchanted Forest (where no one ever returns) it’s up to Bix to put her fears aside, and save not just her sibling but the whole island as well. While on the one hand I don’t want to be all rah-rah-everything-First-Second-does-is-good, on the other hand, it’s almost true. This is a comic on the younger end of the scale (though not as young as some of the titles we’ve seen this year). With that in mind, it’s nice to see something gentle and lovely, with only the barest number of scary elements. Mostly, this is a book for the older siblings of the world. You know how your little brothers and sisters would essentially get away with murder while you were held accountable for every tiny thing? Robin Robinson has synthesized that feeling and turned it into a book. Light fantasy for folks who don’t mind a bit of knitting on their pages.

Other Boys by Damian Alexander

[Previously Seen on the Autobiography List]

Why would a kid take a vow of silence upon entering his new school? For Damian, nothing in 7th grade is easy. Can he take a risk and start talking again? This is a tough one. It reminded me in a lot of ways of Jarrett Krosoczka’s Hey, Kiddo, particularly in how it discussed a kid living with their grandparents. Of course, the slow reveal of what actually happened to Damian’s mom is horrifying. You definitely just want to give this kid a hug. I know I complain about the sheer number of books with bullying in them this year, but this one works better than most. By the end, things aren’t perfect but they have improved a little, and you get this glimpse into a better future. It’s rough but worth a read.

Otto: A Palindrama by Jon Agee

[Previously Seen on the Funny List]

I have a proposal. Years from now, when Jon Agee has left us, and the world has turned around the sun for a while, I propose that someone write a retrospective biography of him called something like FEARLESS: THE LIFE AND CHOICES OF JON AGEE. I say this because I can think of few people working in the field of children’s literature that try, so consistently, to do their own thing, regardless of the trends of the world. That may sound like a backhanded compliment, but part of what I love about Agee’s books is their strange timelessness. Nobody does what he does or produces books that look like his. And now, as if answering a prayer we didn’t even know we could have prepared, he has given us a graphic novel. A comic! A big long comic predicated on a premise so ludicrous that were it any other author/illustrator I would have said it couldn’t be done. He’s written a comic book entirely in palindromes. A “palindrama” if you will. Now that sounds like a joke that could get old fast, but you’re only saying that because you haven’t read it. With hints of Alice in Wonderland to it, we follow Otto. He’s trying to find his dog Pip and he runs into an array of wild adventures searching the world. The kicker is how funny the book is. I kept guffawing loudly in my workroom lunchroom when I came across the page of characters like Evil Cara Clive or Regan Amy Trapp, Party Manager. But he really shines when it comes to advertisements. Feeble Tom’s Motel Beef. Lonely Tylenol. Feilert: Safe Fast Relief. In his Acknowledgments, Agee pays full tribute to each and every person or source he used to find some of these. Many, however, are his own creation like “No one made killer apparel like Dame Noon” or my personal favorite “Oozy rat in a sanitary zoo.” Not sure if I should dock him half a point for his cheat on “Museseum” but it seems petty. This book is a joy to go through with kids. My 7-year-old can attest to that.

Pawcasso by Remy Lai

When lonely Jo meets a shopping dog all on its own she is mistaken for its owner and begins to live the lie. But what happens when people find out the truth? Remy Lai has finally created a full comicy-comic at last. It’s a funny little story too. Lai based Pawcasso on her own dog (the unfortunately/accurately named Poop Roller). But what I really enjoyed about this title was its nuanced understanding of the good and the bad when it comes to dogs. You think it’s going to be all in favor of Pawcasso going leashless, but soon it’s clear that there are other issues at work. And as someone who likes dog but loathes them off-leash (I have my reasons) I was really impressed with dog-lover Lai showing all sides. A great new entry into the Lai oeuvre. 

Power Up by Sam Nisson, ill. Darnell Johnson

It’s tricky incorporating video games into graphic novels in a convincing way. Miles and Rhys are best friends that have never met. Well… not officially anyway. They tend to meet up online in a game called Mecha Melee where they’re an unstoppable duo. When Rhys moves to the school where Miles attends, their online and real lives begin to intersect in unpredictable ways. Interestingly, Nisson and Johnson are able to get as much emotional tension out of the gaming sequences as they are in the IRL ones. The plot builds nicely and you can see why the sequel, Squad Up, is already on the menu for August 2022.

Salt Magic by Hope Larson, ill. Rebecca Mock

[Previously Seen on the Fantasy List]

Sticks in your brain, this one. Vonceil, twelve, is thrilled that her brother Elber came back in one piece from the war. Or did he? The effects of WWI have made him grow old before his time, and all he wants to do is settle in with his new wife. Vonceil had hoped that he’d find and marry an exotic French nurse, and when a fancy French woman arrives on the farm it looks like that dream was a reality. But the woman, Greda, is much more than simply a nurse. She’s a salt witch, and Elber’s betrayal and abandonment drive her to salt the only working well for miles. Now Vonceil is on a quest to stop the witch and reverse the curse. This is a western in a lot of ways, set in Oklahoma (but making no mention of the displaced Native American populations that had been living there). There’s a mystery at the heart of the comic as well, concerning the fate of a former lover of Greda’s. All told, the writing is a clever mix of post-war trauma, magic, and some smart thoughts about our expectations of others and ourselves. I think Mock really outdoes herself with the massive party sequences too. Worthy of Labyrinth (my highest praise). Just be ready for a bittersweet ending that may have some kids pondering its implications more than they’d expect.

Saving Sorya: Chang and the Sun Bear by Trang Nguyen, ill. Jeet Zdung

Nature and comics meet in a neat amalgamation. I think I’ve only ever heard of the concept of the extraction of bear bile through my children’s literature. More specifically, it was probably first brought to my attention by Sy Montgomery in her 2004 title Search for the Golden Moon Bear. That was (checks watch) a good 17 years ago, so it’s probably safe to say that another book bringing the plight of bears to the attention of kids is long needed. Saving Sorya follows the fictional biography of a girl named Chang. Determined, in spite of all obstacles, to become a rescue center volunteer, she takes on the job of reintroducing baby sun bear Sorya into the wild. The job is not easy. Danger is constant, particularly the danger of the humans that would capture Sorya and extract bile from her in terrible ways. The book makes no bones about how torturous the process is, but also offers a lot of hope. But while you connect to the characters and story, it’s the art of Jeet Zdung that really blows you away. Lush, atmospheric art really puts the reader in the heart of Vietnam (where this book was originally published). The story was inspired by the author’s own experiences as a conservationist, and that firsthand knowledge really shows. All told, this may be a book that turns loads of kids into conservationists. Watch out! It’s got their number.

The Secret Garden on 81st Street by Ivy Noelle Weir, ill. Amber Padilla

Mary Lenox is sent to live with her uncle in NYC after her parents die, but secrets haunt his massive brownstone. A clever adaptation of the classic book.  I’ve read my fair share of Secret Garden modernizations in my day and I can tell you that the bar is pretty low there. So imagine my surprise when I discovered that this book may be the single best title to explain to kids about panic attacks that I’ve ever seen. Unexpected, no? There are a lot of cute ideas going on from the start beyond that, of course. Mary’s parents are distant Silicon Valley types before they kick it (the book really struggles with the fact that she’s so blase about their death in the original book). She moves to NYC and spends her days in Central Park. And the secret garden is a secret rooftop garden, which was a twist I didn’t see coming. Add in the fact that it’s got a really nice consideration of a strong gay parenting relationship (and the different ways that people process grief). A book that is far more than its origins.

Shark Summer by Ira Marcks

It’s summer on Martha’s Island and a big Hollywood film crew has come to shoot a blockbuster movie. Meanwhile Gayle and her friends investigate rumors of a creepy cult leader from a century ago, even though some secrets should definitely stay buried. This is pretty cool. Cartoonist Ira Marcks must have a deep and abiding connection to Martha’s Vineyard because this book is a lightly fictionalized retelling of the summer that Steven Spielburg filmed Jaws there. In this book, of course, the film is named Shark! but a lot of the details remain the same. The book initially starts out realistic and then gets this nicely creepy vibe going. I think the “villain” of the piece gets off scott free from repercussions but there is a lot to enjoy in Marcks’ storytelling. It’s a little loose and a little freewheeling (a tighter edit would have worked wonders) but all told this is an ideal summer read. Definitely needs more eyes on it.

A Shot in the Arm! by Don Brown

[Previously Seen on the Science & Nature and Older Nonfiction List]

From smallpox to measles, from polio to COVID-19, we owe vaccines a lot. Take a trip back in time to see where they came from, how they work, and why we need them right now more than ever. A couple years ago I read Brown’s book on the 1918 flu pandemic, and when COVID-19 hit I kept thinking about that book. It’s all the more fitting that he should create his next book in the “Big Ideas That Changed the World” series on vaccines. I know we don’t do much with series titles, but Brown’s books all stand on their own. This one is hugely timely, and though the information at the end feels a bit dated (he wasn’t able to include any information about COVID after November of last year) it’s also fascinating to see such recent events rendered on the page. Oh, and the book’s super gross. Like super super gross. So that’s a good selling point with the kids, don’t you think?

Simon and Chester: Super Detectives by Cale Atkinson

Simon’s a ghost, Chester’s a human, and they’re both seriously bored. When Simon decides they should open a detective agency, they never expect to encounter a real mystery involving a rather cute pug. I’m always on the lookout for younger graphic novels, but too often those books can come across as just “meh”. This book is a lot of fun, definitely on the young side of the equation, and the art is strong. I also appreciate any title where the jokes land, and the sequence in which Simon “walks” with his “legs” down the street was fantastic. It may also have the best literary pug in a book that I’ve seen in a long time, and it’s a legit mystery! Checks off a lot of boxes while remaining cute to boot.

The Sprite and the Gardener by Rii Abrego and Joe Whitte, ill. Rii Abrego, lettered by Crank!

[Previously Seen on the Fantasy List]

Definitely a book for the Tea Dragon Society fans out there. I dunno, I just found myself rather charmed by this book. It’s not a particularly complex story and the only true conflict appears to be internal (doubts, fears, worries, etc.). In it, a little garden sprite named Wisteria has just joined a crew of others like herself. In the old days they would have been the caretakers of nature, but since humans arrived they’ve done less and less of that. Curious, Wisteria discovers a neglected little garden and decides to help it along. In doing so she sparks something old and important, not just in herself, but in everyone around her. The art is incredibly stylized and interesting. There’s definitely a manga influence, but there’s a lot of other stuff going on as well. If you’re looking for something gentle to read to your kids, but you want something visually splendid as well, this is a good safe choice.

Sylvie by Sylvie Kantorovitz

[Previously Seen on the Autobiography List]

School, friends, art, love, and writing all influence young Sylvie as she tries to figure out what she wants to do with the rest of her life. All told, a delight of a book! I didn’t know what to expect but I was encouraged by the Dylan Meconis blurb on the cover. My 9-year-old daughter was very into this story since she herself likes to plan out her life 15 years on down the road. The art is particularly simple but effective. It’s a cool slice of life from an average Jewish family living in France, without much unpleasantness at all (aside from the mom who has some serious issues that she is just not working on).

A Tale As Tall As Jacob: Misadventures With My Brother by Samantha Edwards

[Previously Seen on the Autobiography List]

Joey Pigza? Meet your match. Being the older sister of a kid that pretty much sucks all the energy out of a room and pulls it into himself isn’t easy. Many might say that one of the purposes of children’s literature is to provide empathy for others. Since ADD and ADHD kids were identified, they’ve had their stories told in children’s books for a while. Edwards takes a slightly different tactic by providing a story of growing up with an ADHD little brother. It’s a raucous ride, and not without its perils and pitfalls. Reading this book, it reminded me so much of Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing, right down to the fate of the pet in a bowl. In fact, it convinced me that in those early Judy Blume books, Fudge was probably undiagnosed. You feel for Samantha, Jacob’s sister, of course but there’s a nice moment when you actually get to see a day in school from his point of view too and it isn’t fun for him. I know Ritalin and other mood altering drugs are highly controversial, but it sure sounds like it was the saving of Jacob, at least for a while. A complicated story from a kid’s eye view. The good, a lot of the bad, and a nice sweet ending. 

Tell No Tales: Pirates of the Southern Seas by Sam Maggs, ill. Kendra Wells

[Previously Seen on the Informational Fiction List]

Join Captain Anne Bonny and her swashbuckling crew as they duke it out with the terrible Woodes Rogers who’s almost more ghost than man. Foof! You can always tell when a comic is written by a history buff. Sam Maggs (who has a name worth of piracy right there) packs this puppy chock full of more pirate facts than you would imagine, and has the backmatter to combat any queries. A very LGBTQIA+ positive retelling of the adventures of Anne Bonny and Mary Read. And yes, I admit it. I learned a lot. The info about Queen Nanny and the Windward Maroons of Jamaica should inspire a wholly different book right there. Swashbuckling, fun, plenty of jokes, and BIPOC historical representation. What’s not to love?

Trubble Town: Squirrel Do Bad by Stephan Pastis

[Previously Seen on the Funny List]

Little actions have big consequences when Wendy the Wanderer feeds sugar to a squirrel and ultimately ends up with her whole town in shambles. It’s very difficult for me not to recommend a new Stephan Pastis book. Even better than the Timmy Failure series, this is a book that pushes the envelope on absurdity. It’s as if Pastis wants to consistently see how far he can push his jokes. Remarkable in its ridiculousness, it’s also one of the few comics that consistently made me laugh out loud. I completely understand if it’s not your cup of tea, but I cannot in good conscience keep it out of contention. It’s just too much fun. 

The Unfinished Corner by Dani Colman, illustrated by Rachel “Tuna” Petrovicz, colored by Whitney Cogar, lettered by Jim Campbell, designed by Bones Leopard, and edited by Rebecca Taylor

[Previously Seen on the Fantasy List]

Not since Barry Deutsch’s “Hereville” series (Hereville: How Mirka Got Her Sword, etc.) have I encountered a graphic novel with such a singular Jewish focus. But where Hereville limits itself to an Orthodox community, The Unfinished Corner takes a wider view. I admire big wide swings. It means that the creators are trying for something beyond the boring. And while I don’t think every aspect of this book necessarily works (I’m still a bit confused about why the makeover challenge ends the way that it does) this book manages to work in Lilith, the Golem, the Holocaust, ishim, demons, and blooming Creation itself (howsoever you choose to define it). It is PACKED with definitions, but doesn’t dwell on anything that might be unfamiliar to some readers. Honestly, I was shocked there wasn’t any backmatter, until I realized that the footnotes in the book (and the explanations in the text itself) did all the heavy lifting. It’s definitely one of those stories that leap from place to place, plotline to plotline, and are never dull. Nothing here sags. There’s even a bit of character development for spice, if that’s your bag. And in an era when we’re starting to get so many comics that some of them just run together, this book’s a notable and noteworthy exception. Welcome on any graphic novel shelf.

The Way of the Hive by Jay Hosler

Nyuki has emerged as a full-grown honeybee but there’s so much about the world she wants to know. Filled with bee facts and delightful dialogue, follow the adventures of this inquisitive and never boring little bee. I’ll admit right off the bat that my 9-year-old did attempt this one on her own but put it down when she determined that there was “too much science”. For my part, I bought the original self-published book this was based on, Clan Apis, for New York Public Library, lo these many years ago. It was funny to see the book reappear again my life like this. A co-worker of mine said it was cluttered, but I suspect they felt that way because the original was 10 X 7 inches. It was a big old book! Now it’s tiny, but I still like it. It actually makes for a nice companion to last year’s Honeybee. And don’t worry about my daughter’s reaction. For the science-minded, this book’s a treat.

When Pigs Fly by Rob Harrell

[Previously Seen on the Fantasy List]

So, I’m the kind of Rob Harrell fan that gets all pissy when I see trailers for Rumble, because it’s too loosely based on his book Monster On the Hill and has changed ALL the things. Except the monster part. That’s there. I also, like the rest of the world, enjoyed his middle grade novelWink when it came out. So it pretty much stands to reason that I would probably enjoy this Batpig outing. Is it silly? Yes. Is it really silly? Oh yes. And there are great jokes and Harrell’s magnificent style and a true love of delicious biscuits. I don’t know that there’s a whole lot that I can say about it that you can’t already get from the cover (pig in cape = flying pig with superpowers). All I’ll say is that if you’re looking for a comic that just fun with a low gross-out index and plenty of gags that actually land, here’s your winner winner piggie dinner.

Can’t get enough comics? I can’t blame ya. Here are the round-ups I’ve done in previous years:

And here’s what else we have happening this month:

December 1 – Great Board Books

December 2 – Board Book Reprints & Adaptations

December 3 – Transcendent Holiday Picture Books

December 4 – Picture Book Readalouds

December 5 – Rhyming Picture Books

December 6 – Funny Picture Books

December 7 – CaldeNotts

December 8 – Picture Book Reprints

December 9 – Math Books for Kids

December 10 – Books with a Message

December 11 – Fabulous Photography

December 12 – Wordless Picture Books

December 13 – Translated Titles

December 14 – Fairy Tales / Folktales / Religious Tales

December 15 – Unconventional Children’s Books

December 16 – Middle Grade Novels

December 17 – Poetry Books

December 18 – Easy Books & Early Chapter Books

December 19 – Older Funny Books

December 20 – Science Fiction Books

December 21 – Fantasy Books

December 22 – Informational Fiction

December 23 – American History

December 24 – Science & Nature Books

December 25 – Autobiographies *NEW TOPIC!*

December 26 – Biographies

December 27 – Nonfiction Books for Older Readers

December 28 – Nonfiction Picture Books

December 29 – Best Audiobooks for Kids

December 30 – Comics & Graphic Novels

December 31 – Picture Books

About Elizabeth Bird

Elizabeth Bird is currently the Collection Development Manager of the Evanston Public Library system and a former Materials Specialist for New York Public Library. She has served on Newbery, written for Horn Book, and has done other lovely little things that she'd love to tell you about but that she's sure you'd find more interesting to hear of in person. Her opinions are her own and do not reflect those of EPL, SLJ, or any of the other acronyms you might be able to name. Follow her on Twitter: @fuseeight.


  1. Betsy, I’d like to recommend one more: Marisabina Russo’s “Why Is Everybody Yelling? Growing Up in My Immigrant Family.” Thank you for this list.

  2. Erin Yablonsky says

    I love Simon and Chester! It is a great story, and he puts in a ton of Easter eggs that kids may not get but are fun for the adults, and also I am a sucker for ghost butt…

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