The 2019 Nerdies: Graphic Novels, Announced by Katherine Sokolowski
Since the beginning of the Nerdy Book Club awards, I’ve been lucky enough to announce the graphic novel winners each year. Before Christmas I begin to stalk my email inbox, waiting for a message from Donalyn Miller sharing the winning titles with me. When that long-awaited list arrives, I quickly scroll through, cheering for classroom favorites and ordering the titles that are new to me.
Graphic novels are beloved in my seventh-grade classroom, just as they were in my elementary classrooms. Some students come to me as huge fans of this form of storytelling, others have never picked up a graphic novel. They quickly become converts. The eighth grade students in my building often come back to visit and ask me what new graphic novels I have, borrowing a title or two.
This year’s winners in the category of graphic novel have some classroom favorites – Real Friends, Guts, and more. But other books were new to us this year. Many showed me the work—and magic—that these books can do. For example, a student last spring read New Kid in my classroom. Pulling up next to him for a reading conference, I noticed he had just finished the book. Closing the cover, he placed his hand on it and looked at me. This giant of a seventh grader (over six foot!) said in a whisper to me, “I’ve never seen myself, my story, in a book before.” I took a deep breath and we began to discuss the book in earnest. Graphic novels are magical and these books on this list exemplify that.
*Book descriptions taken from Goodreads*
The 2019 Nerdies for Graphic Novels go to…
AMAZONS, ABOLITIONISTS, AND ACTIVISTS: A Graphic History of Women’s Fight for Their Rights
Written by Mikki Kendall, illustrated by A. D’Amico
The ongoing struggle for women’s rights has spanned human history, touched nearly every culture on Earth, and encompassed a wide range of issues, such as the right to vote, work, get an education, own property, exercise bodily autonomy, and beyond. Amazons, Abolitionists, and Activists is a fun and fascinating graphic novel-style primer that covers the key figures and events that have advanced women’s rights from antiquity to the modern era. In addition, this compelling book illuminates the stories of notable women throughout history–from queens and freedom fighters to warriors and spies–and the progressive movements led by women that have shaped history, including abolition, suffrage, labor, civil rights, LGBTQ liberation, reproductive rights, and more. Examining where we’ve been, where we are, and where we’re going, Amazons, Abolitionists, and Activists is an indispensable resource for people of all genders interested in the fight for a more liberated future.
Becoming RBG: Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s Journey to Justice
Written by Debbie Levy, illustrated by Whitney Gardner
Supreme Court justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg is a modern feminist icon—a leader in the fight for equal treatment of girls and women in society and the workplace. She blazed trails to the peaks of the male-centric worlds of education and law, where women had rarely risen before.
Ruth Bader Ginsburg has often said that true and lasting change in society and law is accomplished slowly, one step at a time. This is how she has evolved, too. Step by step, the shy little girl became a child who questioned unfairness, who became a student who persisted despite obstacles, who became an advocate who resisted injustice, who became a judge who revered the rule of law, who became…RBG.
Written by Shannon Hale, illustrated by LeUyen Pham
Sequel to Shannon Hale’s award-winning graphic novel memoir, “Real Friends”, this new graphic memoir picks up where “Real Friends” left off. As Shannon grows a little older, the rules of friendship always seem to be changing, leaving her guessing and trying her best to just keep up. “Best Friends” shares its predecessor’s frankness, compassion, and enthralling, heartfelt visual storytelling. Junior high, as it turns out, is quite the roller coaster.
Written by Kevin Panetta, illustrated by Savanna Ganucheau
Now that high school is over, Ari is dying to move to the big city with his ultra-hip band—if he can just persuade his dad to let him quit his job at their struggling family bakery. Though he loved working there as a kid, Ari cannot fathom a life wasting away over rising dough and hot ovens. But while interviewing candidates for his replacement, Ari meets Hector, an easygoing guy who loves baking as much as Ari wants to escape it. As they become closer over batches of bread, love is ready to bloom . . . that is, if Ari doesn’t ruin everything.
Writer Kevin Panetta and artist Savanna Ganucheau concoct a delicious recipe of intricately illustrated baking scenes and blushing young love, in which the choices we make can have terrible consequences, but the people who love us can help us grow.
Dog Man: Fetch 22
Written and illustrated by Dav Pilkey
Petey the Cat is out of jail, and he has a brand-new lease on life. While Petey’s reevaluated what matters most, Li’l Petey is struggling to find the good in the world. Can Petey and Dog Man stop fighting like cats and dogs long enough to put their paws together and work as a team? They need each other now more than ever — Li’l Petey (and the world) is counting on them!
Written and illustrated by Raina Telgemeier
Raina wakes up one night with a terrible upset stomach. Her mom has one, too, so it’s probably just a bug. Raina eventually returns to school, where she’s dealing with the usual highs and lows: friends, not-friends, and classmates who think the school year is just one long gross-out session. It soon becomes clear that Raina’s tummy trouble isn’t going away… and it coincides with her worries about food, school, and changing friendships. What’s going on?
Kiss Number Eight
Written by Colleen AF Venable, illustrated by Ellen T. Crenshaw
Amanda can’t figure out what’s so exciting about kissing. It’s just a lot of teeth clanking, germ swapping, closing of eyes so you can’t see that godzilla-sized zit just inches from your own hormonal monstrosity. All of her seven kisses had been horrible in different ways, but nothing compared to the awfulness that followed Kiss Number Eight. An exploration of sexuality, family, and faith, Kiss Number Eight is a coming-of-age tale filled with humor and hope.
Laura Dean Keeps Breaking Up with Me
Written by Mariko Tamaki., illustrated by Rosemary Valero-O’Connell
Laura Dean, the most popular girl in high school, was Frederica Riley’s dream girl: charming, confident, and SO cute. There’s just one problem: Laura Dean is maybe not the greatest girlfriend.
Reeling from her latest break up, Freddy’s best friend, Doodle, introduces her to the Seek-Her, a mysterious medium, who leaves Freddy some cryptic parting words: break up with her. But Laura Dean keeps coming back, and as their relationship spirals further out of her control, Freddy has to wonder if it’s really Laura Dean that’s the problem. Maybe it’s Freddy, who is rapidly losing her friends, including Doodle, who needs her now more than ever.
Fortunately for Freddy, there are new friends, and the insight of advice columnists like Anna Vice to help her through being a teenager in love.
Mighty Jack and Zita the Spacegirl
Written and illustrated by Ben Hatke
Jack and Lilly are no strangers to heroics. They’ve befriended dragons, battled giants, and even earned the loyalty of a goblin army. So when they meet Zita the Spacegirl, fresh from her interplanetary travels and seeking their help to face a new threat, they’re more than ready for another adventure.
But the danger growing just outside the door to their world is greater than anything the new friends could have imagined. An army of giants and screeds stands ready to lay siege to Earth, determined to put the age of humans to an end.
With the gate between worlds growing weaker and time running out, can the heroes come together to save their world from their greatest enemy yet?
Written and illustrated by Jerry Craft
Seventh grader Jordan Banks loves nothing more than drawing cartoons about his life. But instead of sending him to the art school of his dreams, his parents enroll him in a prestigious private school known for its academics, where Jordan is one of the few kids of color in his entire grade.
As he makes the daily trip from his Washington Heights apartment to the upscale Riverdale Academy Day School, Jordan soon finds himself torn between two worlds—and not really fitting into either one. Can Jordan learn to navigate his new school culture while keeping his neighborhood friends and staying true to himself?
Peter & Ernesto: The Lost Sloths
Written and illustrated by Graham Annable
Peter and Ernesto loved their tree.
Then a hurricane came and blew it away!
Now, Peter, Ernesto, and the rest of their sloth friends must venture into the jungle to find a new—great—tree. But the jungle is full of dangers, including angry ants, slithering snakes, and a ravenous jaguar!
Can cautious Peter and confident Ernesto work together to keep their tribe safe? They’ll have to, if they want to find the perfect tree to call home!
Written by Rainbow Rowell, illustrated by Faith Erin Hicks
Deja and Josiah are seasonal best friends.
Every autumn, all through high school, they’ve worked together at the best pumpkin patch in the whole wide world. (Not many people know that the best pumpkin patch in the whole wide world is in Omaha, Nebraska, but it definitely is.) They say good-bye every Halloween, and they’re reunited every September 1.
But this Halloween is different—Josiah and Deja are finally seniors, and this is their last season at the pumpkin patch. Their last shift together. Their last good-bye.
Josiah’s ready to spend the whole night feeling melancholy about it. Deja isn’t ready to let him. She’s got a plan: What if—instead of moping and the usual slinging lima beans down at the Succotash Hut—they went out with a bang? They could see all the sights! Taste all the snacks! And Josiah could finally talk to that cute girl he’s been mooning over for three years . . .
What if their last shift was an adventure?
Queen of the Sea
Written and illustrated by Dylan Meconis
When her sister seizes the throne, Queen Eleanor of Albion is banished to a tiny island off the coast of her kingdom, where the nuns of the convent spend their days peacefully praying, sewing, and gardening. But the island is also home to Margaret, a mysterious young orphan girl whose life is upturned when the cold, regal stranger arrives. As Margaret grows closer to Eleanor, she grapples with the revelation of the island’s sinister true purpose as well as the truth of her own past. When Eleanor’s life is threatened, Margaret is faced with a perilous choice between helping Eleanor and protecting herself.
Red Panda & Moon Bear
Written and illustrated by Jarod Roselló
Red Panda and Moon Bear are the defenders of their community! Together, these brave siblings rescue lost cats, scold bullies, and solve mysteries, all before Mamí and Papí get home. But lately… the mysteries have been EXTRA mysterious. All of RP and MB’s powers may not be enough to handle spooks, supervillains, alien invaders, and time warps! It’ll take all their imagination — and some new friends — to uncover the secret cause behind all these events before the whole world goes crazy.
Written and illustrated by Jen Wang
When Moon’s family moves in next door to Christine’s, Moon goes from unlikely friend to best friend―maybe even the perfect friend. The girls share their favorite music videos, paint their toenails when Christine’s strict parents aren’t around, and make plans to enter the school talent show together. Moon even tells Christine her deepest secret: that she sometimes has visions of celestial beings who speak to her from the stars. Who reassure her that earth isn’t where she really belongs.
But when they’re least expecting it, catastrophe strikes. After relying on Moon for everything, can Christine find it in herself to be the friend Moon needs?
Sunny Rolls the Dice
Written by Jennifer Holm, illustrated by Matthew Holm
Too cool for school . . . or the least groovy girl in the grade?
Sunny’s just made it to middle school . . . and it’s making her life very confusing. All her best friend Deb wants to talk about is fashion, boys, makeup, boys, and being cool. Sunny’s not against any of these things, but she also doesn’t understand why suddenly everything revolves around them. She’s much more comfortable when she’s in her basement, playing Dungeons & Dragons with a bunch of new friends. Because when you’re sword fighting and spider-slaying, it’s hard to worry about whether you look cool or not. Especially when it’s your turn to roll the 20-sided die.
Trying hard to be cool can make you feel really uncool . . .
Written by Kwame Alexander, illustrated by Dawud Anyabwile
“With a bolt of lightning on my kicks . . . The court is SIZZLING. My sweat is DRIZZLING. Stop all that quivering. ’Cuz tonight I’m delivering,” raps twelve-year-old Josh Bell. Thanks to their dad, he and his twin brother, Jordan, are kings on the court. But Josh has more than basketball in his blood—he’s got mad beats, too, which help him find his rhythm when it’s all on the line.
They Called Us Enemy
Written by George Takei, Justin Eisinger, Steven Scott, illustrated by Harmony Becker
Long before George Takei braved new frontiers in Star Trek, he woke up as a four-year-old boy to find his own birth country at war with his father’s — and their entire family forced from their home into an uncertain future.
In 1942, at the order of President Franklin D. Roosevelt, every person of Japanese descent on the west coast was rounded up and shipped to one of ten “relocation centers,” hundreds or thousands of miles from home, where they would be held for years under armed guard.
They Called Us Enemy is Takei’s firsthand account of those years behind barbed wire, the joys and terrors of growing up under legalized racism, his mother’s hard choices, his father’s faith in democracy, and the way those experiences planted the seeds for his astonishing future.
This Place 150 Years Retold
Written by Kateri Akiwennzie-Damm, Sonny Assu, Brandon Mitchell, Rachel Oitsualik-Tinsley, Sean Oitsualik-Tinsley, David A. Robertson, Niigaanwewidam James Sinclair, Jen Storm, Richard Van Camp, Katherena Vermette, and Chelsea Vowel. Illustrated by Tara Audibert, Kyle Charles, GMB Chomichuk, Natasha Donovan, Scott B. Henderson, Andrew Lodwick, Scott A. Ford, Donovan Yaciuk, and Ryan Howe. Forward by Alicia Elliott.
Explore the past 150 years in what is now Canada through the eyes of Indigenous creators in this groundbreaking graphic novel anthology. Beautifully illustrated, these stories are an emotional and enlightening journey through Indigenous wonderworks, psychic battles, and time travel. See how Indigenous peoples have survived a post-apocalyptic world since Contact.
This Was Our Pact
Written and illustrated by Ryan Andrews
It’s the night of the annual Autumn Equinox Festival, when the town gathers to float paper lanterns down the river. Legend has it that after drifting out of sight, they’ll soar off to the Milky Way and turn into brilliant stars, but could that actually be true? This year, Ben and his classmates are determined to find out where those lanterns really go, and to ensure success in their mission, they’ve made a pact with two simple rules: No one turns for home. No one looks back.
The plan is to follow the river on their bikes for as long as it takes to learn the truth, but it isn’t long before the pact is broken by all except for Ben and (much to Ben’s disappointment) Nathaniel, the one kid who just doesn’t seem to fit in.
Together, Nathaniel and Ben will travel farther than anyone has ever gone, down a winding road full of magic, wonder, and unexpected friendship*.
*And a talking bear.
Written and illustrated by RJ Palacio
In R. J. Palacio’s bestselling collection of stories Auggie & Me, which expands on characters in Wonder, readers were introduced to Julian’s grandmother, Grandmère. Here, Palacio makes her graphic novel debut with Grandmère’s heartrending story: how she, a young Jewish girl, was hidden by a family in a Nazi-occupied French village during World War II; how the boy she and her classmates once shunned became her savior and best friend.
Sara’s harrowing experience movingly demonstrates the power of kindness to change hearts, build bridges, and even save lives. As Grandmère tells Julian, “It always takes courage to be kind, but in those days, such kindness could cost you everything.” With poignant symbolism and gorgeous artwork that brings Sara’s story out of the past and cements it firmly in this moment in history, White Bird is sure to captivate anyone who was moved by the book Wonder or the blockbuster movie adaptation and its message.
Congratulations to all of the 2019 Nerdy Book Club award winners for best graphic novels.
Katherine Sokolowski has taught for over twenty years and currently teaches seventh 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/ and on Twitter as @katsok.