The 2020 Nerdies: Graphic Novels Announced by Katherine Sokolowski
Every year I am filled with gratitude when I find this list of winners in my email inbox from Donalyn Miller. It gives me a chance to sit in my living room over our holiday break, pouring over titles. I see classroom favorites as well as books I’m unfamiliar with. It often finds me placing an order for some books to pick up and bring into my classroom in the new year. This year, this list also filled me with gratitude. Several of the books on this list saved my readers.
As many of us found last March, a pandemic can wreak havoc on our reading lives. Last spring my students and I messaged and Zoomed our way through a quarter of school at home. I did what I could to get them books, but they were struggling to focus, to read. Often they turned to old favorites they had at home, finding comfort and safety in the stories they knew.
This fall, we returned into the classroom in a strange hybrid schedule that now seems bizarrely familiar. I waited, wondering how my new class would connect to books. For so many of my seventh graders, the books they found first were graphic novels. Watching my big seventh graders curl up with old favorites like Victoria Jamieson’s Roller Girl, Kazu Kibuishi’s Amulet, Ben Hatke’s Zita, or Jenni and Matt Holm’s Sunny Side Up, I knew they were finding comforts in old favorites. However, several titles on this list have been off the shelves in the hands of students far more than they’ve sat on them. Dragon Hoops, Go With the Flow, Long Way Down: The Graphic Novel, Class Act, When Stars Are Scattered, and Snapdragon are favorites in my class. Several other ones I’ve read, but they’re either too old or young for my crew. Some I can’t wait to dive into.
How about you? Do you see any of your favorites from this year on this list? Any that are absent, but you want to throw a little love their way? If so, head down to the comments. Wishing you all a happy reading year in 2021.
*Book descriptions taken from Goodreads*
The 2020 Nerdies for Graphic Novels go to…
A Cat Story by Ursula Murray Husted
Cilla and Betto are two friends who need a place to call home. The docks in Valletta are too wet, and the scraps of food too scarce. The city’s streets are too busy, and the humans too unreliable.
But what about the quiet garden from old kitten tales—a place where all cats are welcome, and the humans are always kind? Could the stories really be true?
As Cilla and Betto embark on a grand adventure to find out, they begin to spin a tale of their own—one that will take them through the art and stories of many journeyers who came before, and that will bring them to a surprising destination.
Almost American Girl by Robin Ha
For as long as she can remember, it’s been Robin and her mom against the world. Growing up in the 1990s as the only child of a single mother in Seoul, Korea, wasn’t always easy, but it has bonded them fiercely together.
So when a vacation to visit friends in Huntsville, Alabama, unexpectedly becomes a permanent relocation—following her mother’s announcement that she’s getting married—Robin is devastated. Overnight, her life changes. She is dropped into a new school where she doesn’t understand the language and struggles to keep up. She is completely cut off from her friends at home and has no access to her beloved comics. At home, she doesn’t fit in with her new stepfamily. And worst of all, she is furious with the one person she is closest to—her mother.
Then one day Robin’s mother enrolls her in a local comic drawing class, which opens the window to a future Robin could never have imagined.
Astronauts: Women on the Final Frontier by Jim Ottaviani and Maris Wicks
The U.S. may have put the first man on the moon, but it was the Soviet space program that made Valentina Tereshkova the first woman in space. It took years to catch up, but soon NASA’s first female astronauts were racing past milestones of their own. The trail-blazing women of Group 9, NASA’s first mixed gender class, had the challenging task of convincing the powers that be that a woman’s place is in space, but they discovered that NASA had plenty to learn about how to make space travel possible for everyone.
Cat Kid Comic Club by Dav Pilkey
In Cat Kid Comic Club, Li’l Petey, Flippy, and Molly introduce twenty-one rambunctious, funny, and talented baby frogs to the art of comic making. As the story unwinds with mishaps and hilarity, readers get to see the progress, mistakes, and improvements that come with practice and persistence.
Squid Kid and Katydid, Baby Frog Squad, Monster Cheese Sandwich, and Birds Flowers Trees: A Haiku Photo Comic are just some of the mini-comics that are included as stories-within-the-story, each done in a different style, utilizing humor and drama, prose and poetry, illustrated in different media including acrylics, pastels, colored pencils, felt-tip markers, clay, hand-made cardboard sculptures, photographs, pipe cleaners, construction paper collages, and cookies.
Readers of all ages will be inspired to dream up their own stories and unleash their own creativity as they dive into this new graphic novel adventure from Dav Pilkey and his heartfelt, humorous, and amazing cast of characters in the Cat Kid Comic Club.
Check, Please Book 2: Sticks & Scones by Ngozi Ukazu
I’m a junior on the Samwell men’s hockey team now, and not only do I have new teammates and new responsibilities and new pies to bake… I’ve got a new beau. ( Remember me ) Believe me: Dating a professional hockey player wasn’t anything I expected to do in college. My parents don’t know; my teammates have no clue…
And Jack and I aren’t sure that we want to keep it a secret.
Class Act by Jerry Craft
Eighth grader Drew Ellis is no stranger to the saying “You have to work twice as hard to be just as good.” His grandmother has reminded him his entire life. But what if he works ten times as hard and still isn’t afforded the same opportunities that his privileged classmates at the Riverdale Academy Day School take for granted?
To make matters worse, Drew begins to feel as if his good friend Liam might be one of those privileged kids. He wants to pretend like everything is fine, but it’s hard not to withdraw, and even their mutual friend Jordan doesn’t know how to keep the group together.
As the pressures mount, will Drew find a way to bridge the divide so he and his friends can truly accept each other? And most important, will he finally be able to accept himself?
Consent (for Kids!): Boundaries, Respect, and Being in Charge of YOU
by Rachel Brian
This is a smart, playful guide to consent and bodily autonomy, packed with bright and energetic illustrations. Readers will learn about boundaries and how to set them; ways to respect themselves and others; what to do if someone makes them feel uncomfortable or unsafe; and much more. Along the way, they’ll be encouraged to reflect on (and improve!) their own behavior and to practice consent in their daily lives.
Whether you’re looking for a consent primer to share with a friend or searching for a way to talk to your child about what it means to be in control of their own body and respect others’, look no further! This humorous and insightful book from the co-creator of the viral “Tea Consent” video is the perfect teaching tool, conversation starter, and insightful, empowering resource for educators, kids, and families everywhere.
Dancing at the Pity Party by Tyler Feder
Part poignant cancer memoir and part humorous reflection on a motherless life, this debut graphic novel is extraordinarily comforting and engaging.
From before her mother’s first oncology appointment through the stages of her cancer to the funeral, sitting shiva, and afterward, when she must try to make sense of her life as a motherless daughter, Tyler Feder tells her story in this graphic novel that is full of piercing–but also often funny–details. She shares the important post-death firsts, such as celebrating holidays without her mom, the utter despair of cleaning out her mom’s closet, ending old traditions and starting new ones, and the sting of having the “I’ve got to tell Mom about this” instinct and not being able to act on it. This memoir, bracingly candid and sweetly humorous, is for anyone struggling with loss who just wants someone to get it.
Donut Feed the Squirrels by Mika Song
Norma and Belly plan to start the day with some pancakes, but when Norma accidentally burns them, these two best friends set out to find a new treat. Chestnuts might be nice . . . but what is that delicious smell in the distance? A new food truck has parked near their tree, and these two squirrels are going to figure out how to get their hands on these “donuts” that it seems to be selling.
Mika Song gives readers something to laugh at as these squirrels try their hardest to get some donuts while just about everything goes wrong. A fun “donut caper” graphic novel that focuses on madcap action, problem-solving, and the power of working together.
Dragon Hoops by Gene Luen Yang
Gene understands stories—comic book stories, in particular. Big action. Bigger thrills. And the hero always wins.
But Gene doesn’t get sports. As a kid, his friends called him “Stick” and every basketball game he played ended in pain. He lost interest in basketball long ago, but at the high school where he now teaches, it’s all anyone can talk about. The men’s varsity team, the Dragons, is having a phenomenal season that’s been decades in the making. Each victory brings them closer to their ultimate goal: the California State Championships.
Once Gene gets to know these young all-stars, he realizes that their story is just as thrilling as anything he’s seen on a comic book page. He knows he has to follow this epic to its end. What he doesn’t know yet is that this season is not only going to change the Dragons’s lives, but his own life as well.
Flamer by Mike Curato
I know I’m not gay. Gay boys like other boys. I hate boys. They’re mean, and scary, and they’re always destroying something or saying something dumb or both.
I hate that word. Gay. It makes me feel . . . unsafe.
It’s the summer between middle school and high school, and Aiden Navarro is away at camp. Everyone’s going through changes—but for Aiden, the stakes feel higher. As he navigates friendships, deals with bullies, and spends time with Elias (a boy he can’t stop thinking about), he finds himself on a path of self-discovery and acceptance.
Go With the Flow written by Lily Williams and Karen Schneemann; illustrated by Lily Williams
Sophomores Abby, Brit, Christine, and Sasha are fed up. Hazelton High never has enough tampons. Or pads. Or adults who will listen.
Sick of an administration that puts football before female health, the girls confront a world that shrugs―or worse, squirms―at the thought of a menstruation revolution. They band together to make a change. It’s no easy task, especially while grappling with everything from crushes to trig to JV track but they have each other’s backs. That is, until one of the girls goes rogue, testing the limits of their friendship and pushing the friends to question the power of their own voices.
Now they must learn to work together to raise each other up. But how to you stand your ground while raising bloody hell?
Green Lantern: Legacy by Minh Lê, illustrated by Andie Tong
Thirteen-year-old Tai Pham lives in the apartment above his grandmother’s store, where his bedroom is crammed with sketchpads and comic books. But not even his most imaginative drawings could compare to the colorful adventure he’s about to embark on.
When Tai inherits his grandmother’s jade ring, he soon finds out it’s more than it appears. Suddenly he’s being inducted into a group of space cops known as the Green Lanterns, his neighborhood is being overrun by some racist bullies, and every time he puts pen to paper, he’s forced to confront that he might not be creative enough or strong enough to uphold his ba’s legacy.
Now Tai must decide what kind of hero he wants to be: will he learn to soar above his insecurities or will the past keep him grounded?
Lightfall: The Girl & the Galdurian by Tim Probert
For fans of Amulet and middle grade readers who love sweeping worlds like Star Wars, the first book of the Lightfall series introduces Bea and Cad, two unlikely friends who get swept up in an epic quest to save their world from falling into eternal darkness.
Deep in the heart of the planet Irpa stands the Salty Pig’s House of Tonics & Tinctures, home of the wise Pig Wizard and his adopted granddaughter, Bea. As keepers of the Endless Flame, they live a quiet and peaceful life, crafting medicines and potions for the people of their once-prosperous world.
All that changes one day when, while walking through the woods, Bea meets Cad, a member of the Galdurians, an ancient race thought to be long-extinct. Cad believes that if anyone can help him find his missing people, it’s the Pig Wizard.
But when the two arrive home, the Pig Wizard is nowhere to be found—all that’s left is the Jar of Endless Flame and a mysterious note. Fearing for the Pig Wizard’s safety, Bea and Cad set out across Irpa to find him, while danger fights its way out of the shadows and into the light.
Long Way Down: The Graphic Novel by Jason Reynolds, illustrated by Danica Novgorodoff
Will’s older brother, Shawn, has been shot.
Will feels a sadness so great, he can’t explain it. But in his neighborhood, there are THE RULES:
No. 1: Crying.
No matter what.
No. 2: Snitching
No matter what.
No. 3: Revenge
No matter what.
But bullets miss. You can get the wrong guy. And there’s always someone else who knows to follow the rules…
Pea, Bee, and Jay: Stuck Together by Brian “Smitty” Smith
Like all peas, Pea loves to roll. So when a no-good strawberry dares him to roll all the way off the farm, he swears he can do it—eazy me-zee!
But along the way, a powerful thunderstorm strikes and bounces Pea off course…and right into two unlikely new buds: a bee named Bee who thinks she knows it all, and a bird named Jay who can’t figure out how to fly.
On their own they may not look like much, but if this trio can stick together, they just might help Pea find his way back home!
Snapdragon by Kat Leyh
Snap’s town had a witch.
At least, that’s how the rumor goes. But in reality, Jacks is just a Crocs-wearing, internet-savvy old lady who sells roadkill skeletons online. It’s creepy, sure, but Snap thinks it’s kind of cool, too.
Snap needs a favor from this old woman, though, so she begins helping Jacks with her strange work. Snap gets to know her and realizes that Jacks may in fact have real magic–and an unlikely connection to Snap’s family’s past.
Stepping Stones by Lucy Knisley
Jen did not want to leave the city. She did not want to move to a farm with her mom and her mom’s new boyfriend, Walter. She did not want to leave her friends and her dad.
Most of all, Jen did not want to get new “sisters,” Andy and Reese.
If learning new chores on Peapod Farm wasn’t hard enough, then having to deal with perfect-at-everything Andy might be the last straw for Jen. Besides cleaning the chicken coop, trying to keep up with the customers at the local farmers’ market, and missing her old life, Jen has to deal with her own insecurities about this new family . . . and where she fits in.
Superman Smashes the Klan by Gene Luen Yang
Tommy adjusts quickly to the fast pace of their new neighborhood, befriending Jimmy Olsen and joining the club baseball team, while his younger sister Roberta feels out of place when she fails to fit in with the neighborhood kids. She’s awkward, quiet, and self-conscious of how she looks different from the kids around her, so she sticks to watching people instead of talking to them.
While the Lees try to adjust to their new lives, an evil is stirring in Metropolis: the Ku Klux Klan. The Klan targets the Lee family, beginning a string of terrorist attacks. They kidnap Tommy, attack the Daily Planet, and even threaten the local YMCA. But with the help of Roberta’s keen skills of observation, Superman is able to fight the Klan’s terror, while exposing those in power who support them–and Roberta and Superman learn to embrace their own unique features that set them apart.
From multi-award-winning and New York Times bestselling author Gene Luen Yang comes an exciting middle grade tale featuring Superman.
The Magic Fish by Trung Le Nguyen
Real life isn’t a fairytale.
But Tiến still enjoys reading his favorite stories with his parents from the books he borrows from the local library. It’s hard enough trying to communicate with your parents as a kid, but for Tiến, he doesn’t even have the right words because his parents are struggling with their English. Is there a Vietnamese word for what he’s going through?
Is there a way to tell them he’s gay?
A beautifully illustrated story by Trung Le Nguyen that follows a young boy as he tries to navigate life through fairytales, an instant classic that shows us how we are all connected. The Magic Fish tackles tough subjects in a way that accessible with readers of all ages, and teaches us that no matter what—we can all have our own happy endings.
Twins by Varian Johnson, illustrated by Shannon Wright
Maureen and Francine Carter are twins and best friends. They participate in the same clubs, enjoy the same foods, and are partners on all their school projects. But just before the girls start sixth grade, Francine becomes Fran — a girl who wants to join the chorus, run for class president, and dress in fashionable outfits that set her apart from Maureen. A girl who seems happy to share only two classes with her sister!
Maureen and Francine are growing apart and there’s nothing Maureen can do to stop it. Are sisters really forever? Or will middle school change things for good?
When Stars Are Scattered by Victoria Jamieson and Omar Mohamed
Omar and his younger brother, Hassan, have spent most of their lives in Dadaab, a refugee camp in Kenya. Life is hard there: never enough food, achingly dull, and without access to the medical care Omar knows his nonverbal brother needs. So when Omar has the opportunity to go to school, he knows it might be a chance to change their future . . . but it would also mean leaving his brother, the only family member he has left, every day.
Heartbreak, hope, and gentle humor exist together in this graphic novel about a childhood spent waiting, and a young man who is able to create a sense of family and home in the most difficult of settings. It’s an intimate, important, unforgettable look at the day-to-day life of a refugee, as told to New York Times Bestselling author/artist Victoria Jamieson by Omar Mohamed, the Somali man who lived the story.
Congratulations to all of the 2020 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.
Wow! Great list, will definitely include this to my reading list <3.