The 2015 Nerdies: Graphic Novel Winners Announced by Katherine Sokolowski
Graphic novels are the single most circulated section in our classroom library. My students cannot get enough of them. When we made our stacks to take home for break, kids were taking the entire series of Lunch Lady, Amulet, Bone, or Babymouse. Students shouted across the room to other students to make sure they grabbed another Doug TenNapel book or made plans to meet up over break so they could pass off a graphic novel to a friend. Graphic novels have made more dormant readers become lifelong readers than any other type of book in my classroom. As a result, I am a huge fan.
Last year when I announced the Nerdy Award Winners in the category of graphic novels, I made a case for why these books should be celebrated in our classrooms. I’m not going to do that again this year. The time for debating the merit of this format of books is over. Graphic novels have won the Pulitzer Prize, a Caldecott Honor, and a Newbery Honor, just to name a few awards. If you haven’t read any of the amazing books on the list below, please remedy immediately. More importantly, even if they aren’t your favorite type of book, please don’t stand in the way of your students reading them. The list below contains some of the best books I’ve read this year – across all formats. These are some books to celebrate with your students.
The 2015 Nerdy Book Club Award Winners for Best Graphic Novels
Don Brown is becoming a go-to author for me in the world of graphic novels. His 2013 book, The Great American Dust Bowl was an unflinching look at a desolate time in our past. In Drowned City: Hurricane Katrina & New Orleans, he does it again. Brown takes a horrible event and breaks it down so that our students can comprehend the scope of the loss our country experienced. Hurricane Katrina is fresh in my mind, but most of my students were just born at that time and have no frame of reference. Brown’s book gives them the background they need when moving on to fiction novels where the characters are in the midst of that horrible storm. It is a must read.
Hilo: The Boy Who Crashed the Earth by Judd Winick
This fall I purchased a graphic novel because I thought it looked like a fun read and one my students would enjoy. I hadn’t heard anything about it, but upon reading it, knew I would need more than the one copy I had. I book talked it to my three classes and immediately had a waiting list thirty kids deep. In Hilo, we meet the character of D.J. He doesn’t think he’s good at most things except for being Gina’s friend. Well, at least he was before she moved away. Then along comes this kid named Hilo who has no memory of how he arrived here, although D.J. saw him crash to earth. There is so much humor in this novel, so many inside jokes my students and I have after reading in. We all give this our highest recommendation and cannot wait until the sequel arrives this May.
Little Robot by Ben Hatke
Ben Hatke can do no wrong in my students’ eyes, or in mine. His Zita the Spacegirl graphic novel series is a favorite in our classroom. I’ve had to repurchase the series multiple times. It tends to walk off or fall apart from so many kids reading, and rereading, the book. I was beyond excited to see what Little Robot was going to be about. Here we have the story of a little girl who befriends a lost robot. When he wants to find more beings like him, she helps him – even to the point of protecting him from the evil robots who come looking for him. Kids love this beautiful story.
Lost in NYC: A Subway Adventure by Nadja Spiegelman and Sergio García Sánchez
My students live amongst corn and soybean fields in a town of 5,000 people. We are three hours from Chicago. Many of them have never been on an airplane and the sights and sounds of New York City might as well be on another planet. For that reason alone, I would have loved Lost in NYC, but there is so much more. Here you follow the story of Pablo, new to school and on a field trip with his class in NYC. He quickly gets separated from his class, but with the help of a friend, he not only finds his group, but learns a lot about his new home. I loved the use of maps and facts about New York that are scattered through the book.
Lumberjanes Volume 1: Beware the Kitten Holy by Noelle Stevenson
Lumberjanes is a crazy fun graphic novel to try and summarize. The way I described it to my students was to image a Girl Scout-like camp with zombies, monsters, kick-butt girls, and more. A waiting list immediately formed. My fifth grade girls AND boys are addicted to this book, so much so that one boy came up to me with an iPad a few months ago and pointed out that Lumberjanes volume 2 was now out and could I please order it. Happily done.
March Book Two by by John Lewis, Andrew Aydin, and Nate Powell
I think this series should be required reading in all middle schools, or really, for us all. March Book Two picks up after March Book One left off. In book two, Lewis – one of the original “Big Six” – gives us a firsthand account of the Freedom Rides and the brutality he and others faced as part of the Civil Rights movement. While aimed at an audience a bit older than my fifth graders, I have had some students read this when they want to move deeper in their understanding of our country’s history. An important read.
Nathan Hale’s Hazardous Tales: The Underground Abductor by Nathan Hale
Hale’s Hazardous Tales series is a sure fire hit with my fifth graders. There have been books on the topics of the American Revolution, the Civil War, Westward Expansion, and World War I. In his fifth book in the series he focuses on Harriet Tubman and her role in the Underground Railroad. Considering I still have students who think that this is truly a train underground, this book is not only great reading, but is improving their knowledge of our country’s history at the same time. Even for students well versed in this time period, there is still something to learn. Don’t miss the next volume due out this March, Alamo All-Stars.
Nimona by Noelle Stevenson
Nimona is a graphic novel I read just for myself. The audience for this one is older than my fifth graders, but after reading Lumberjanes, I had to see what other stories were by this author. Here we meet Nimona, a young girl who happens to be a shapeshifter. She joins forces with the evil villain Lord Blackheart and wants to help him destroy his nemesis, Sir Ambrose Goldenloin, who used to be Blackheart’s best friend. Of course, on all fronts, things aren’t exactly what they seem. I have high hopes that we will see more of Nimona, it was a story I didn’t want to finish.
Roller Girl by Victoria Jamieson
Roller Girl is a book my students need. Here we see Astrid and her best friend growing apart. Neither one of them is evil; neither has done anything horrible, although there are hurt feelings at times. They are simply growing in other directions. This is something that happens to us regularly as we grow, but it can be a confusing time. It’s nice to come upon a similar situation in a book and realize you aren’t alone. Astrid has a new obsession in this book, the sport of roller derby. There she is determined to become a star. I loved seeing this character learning to be comfortable in her own skin. This is a hugely popular book in our classroom.
Sunny Side Up by Jennifer and Matthew Holm
My students know Jennifer and Matthew from their work in Babymouse and Squish. Here they meet Sunny, a kid that’s summer plans changed when she found out that she had to spend her summer vacation with her grandpa and his retirement community in Florida. What follows is a funny, yet heart-wrenching, look at family. In flashbacks you will see what events with Sunny’s brother caused the change in summer plans and what weight of responsibility she is still carrying in regard to him. I appreciated the nods to the 70’s in the panels, but also the thoughtful way the Holm’s dealt with the topic of drug abuse and the impact it has on the entire family. This book has been on constant check out in my classroom this year, passed from student to student rather than returning to our shelves.
What a year in the world of graphic novels and children’s literature! I hope you find some favorites on our list and also some books you cannot wait to explore. Congrats to all of the Nerdy winners. Thanks for creating books our students cannot wait to devour.
Katherine Sokolowski has taught for sixteen years and currently teaches fifth grade in Monticello, Illinois. She is passionate about reading both in her classroom and also with her two sons. You can find her online at http://readwriteandreflect.blogspot.com/