March 12



Graphic nonfiction can present an interesting conundrum to librarians, as we tend to like our nonfiction meticulously cited, with no dialog unless it’s a primary source. Yet most graphic nonfiction is full of dialog, as dictated by its form! What I suggest to students is that they view graphic nonfiction as a jumping off point from which to do more research, and the best graphic nonfiction offers resources for that in its backmatter.

(In the interest of highlighting lesser known works, I did not include two excellent graphic nonfiction series: Raina Telegemeier’s best-selling, Eisner award-winning graphic memoirs; and March, John Lewis’s multiple-award-winning series about his life as a Civil Rights activist.)

Black Heroes of the Wild West by James Otis Smith, introduction by Kadir Nelson

This slim volume packs in a lot of information. Three biographical adventure stories are the centerpiece, each about a person who was born enslaved: Stagecoach Mary, the second woman and the first Black person in U.S. history to drive a coveted stagecoach route; Bass Reeves, the first Black U.S. marshal west of the Mississippi; and Bob Lemmons, a “mustanger” who developed a surefire method to tame wild mustangs. The front and end pages are filled with further information including historical photographs, short articles, a timeline, and further reading and resources. My only suggestion for improvement: make this a series, please!

Becoming RBG: Ruther Bader Ginsburg’s Journey to Justice

by Debbie Levy and Whitney Gardner

A comprehensive story of RBG’s life, from childhood to the Supreme Court, published just a year before she died. The page layouts are as clear and methodical as Ruth herself, making it easy to see how each of Ruth’s life experiences logically lead to the next phase in her life. She approached the huge task of changing laws that affect the women’s rights in the same way: step by step, each case building on the previous. Includes footnotes with straightforward explanations of legal and government terms and meticulously cited sources.

Consent (for Kids!): Boundaries, Respect, and Being in Charge of You

by Rachel Brian

The friendly, matter-of-fact tone and gender-neutral, stick-figure-like drawings make the message of this book easy to absorb: you are in charge of your body! It proceeds to define consent and outlines how to set boundaries and how to support friends. With many concrete examples of what consent is and isn’t, kids of all ages will be able to relate to the scenarios. The drawings include lots of funny asides, but the book never backs down from the core empowering message, with an emphasis on the importance of clear communication and supportive relationships.

Astronauts: Women on the Final Frontier by Jim Ottaviani and Maris Wicks

Astronauts covers the history of women in space, from Russia’s Valentina Tereshkova in 1963 to NASA’s campaign 20 years later to finally recruit women and people of color to the U.S. space program. Former astronaut Mary Cleave is a primary source and serves as narrator, making the complex history digestible and fascinating. Backmatter includes an author’s note explaining which parts were made up for readability (not much of it!), an extensive bibliography, script and art page samples, and photos of many of the astronauts featured in the comic.

They Called Us Enemy

by George Takei, Justin Eisinger, Steven Scott; art by Harmony Becker

In clear, easy-to-follow black and white panels, Takei starts by sharing a little bit of family history and then delves into his memories of the events following the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. At the age of four, he and his family were forcibly evicted from their Los Angeles home and spent the remainder of the war in a series of concentration camps. Takei captures the confusion he felt at the time while also giving historical context. The book concludes with modern-day events, from Takei’s acting career to Reagan’s apology for the Japanese internment camps to the present-day discrimination and injustices being visited on immigrants.

Science Comics (series) by various authors/artists

With over thirty titles so far, Science Comics is amazingly consistent at covering each of its topics in such an engaging manner, even with its variety of creators. In densely packed panels, a fictional frame of some sort explains its topic, and the series ventures into just about every area of science, from biology to technology to meteorology and more.

Human Body Theater by Maris Wicks

Narrated by a “bone-ified” skeleton (and full of similar puns), this comic brings the human body to life, so to speak. With a chapter for each of the ten major body systems plus one for the five senses, the clean lines of the drawings and uncluttered panels make the many details easy to absorb. Backmatter includes an illustrated glossary plus a bibliography/recommended reading.

Nathan Hale’s Hazardous Tales (series) by Nathan Hale

Each of the books in this series follows the premise that Revolutionary War spy Nathan Hale is about to be hanged but, Shahrazad-style, prolongs his life by telling the hangman and a British officer historical stories to put off the inevitable moment. This framing allows the officer and hangman to ask questions that might be on the reader’s mind. The exciting tales are mostly about individuals such as Harriet Tubman but also cover events such as the Alamo. Backmatter includes bibliography and photos, plus snarky commentary by the book’s narrators.

When Stars Are Scattered by Victoria Jamieson and Omar Mohamed

Somali-born Omar Mohamed’s graphic memoir details his often painful memories of growing up in a Kenyan refugee camp after he and his brother left their homeland because of war. Mahamed chronicles his daily life, a mix of boredom, hunger, and worry, offset by the love and friendship he finds while waiting for his life to take a more positive turn. The charming illustrations by Victoria Jamieson, author of Roller Girl, bring the story to life; backmatter includes photos and an epilogue.

Drowned City: Hurricane Katrina and New Orleans by Don Brown

Brown documents Hurricane Katrina and the tragic events that followed New Orleans’s devastating flood of 2005. This one is great for reluctant readers, as the text is clear and never overwhelms the page and spacious panels with pen-and-ink drawings bring the events to life. Brown’s riveting narration covers the lack of government response as well as the many acts of heroism. A huge list of source notes and bibliography is included.

Sally Engelfried is a children’s librarian at Oakland Public Library. Her debut middle grade novel, Learning to Fall, will be out with Little, Brown Books for Young Readers on September 6, 2022. You can find her at