Book List

Best Middle-Grade Graphic Novels of 2018

An unforgettable, boundary-busting, falling-over-funny collection that defies the narrow representations English-language...

AKISSI

TALES OF MISCHIEF

Compiled from a bestselling comics franchise in France, this import captures the hilarious misadventures of a township girl as she rewrites the bounds of African girlhood one comical short story at a time.

“Akissi, do you want to look beautiful?” her mother says as Akissi suffers the pain of getting her hair twisted. How does young Akissi respond? “No Mum! I want to be ugly and bald!” This is how the over-the-top story “Lice Games” begins as Akissi searches for a way out of these excruciating hairdo sessions by self-initiating her own head-lice infestation. Such mortifying premises can be found throughout this extended English compilation (containing the same seven stories as the 2013 volume of the same name, plus many more), taken to their unpredictable and uproarious conclusions. The rivalry between Akissi and her older brother, Fofana, takes the spotlight as the source of much ribbing and many pranks. In “Tattle Tattle, Toil and Trouble,” Fofana squeaks out a win (possibly just until their parents find out…), while in “Midnight Pee,” Akissi is able to get one over on him, leaving Fofana with surprise soiled laundry (yeah, it goes there) on an overnight camping trip with their grandparents. French artist Sapin provides the loose, colorful illustrations that accompany Abouet’s tales, which take inspiration from her childhood growing up in the Yopougon neighborhood of Abidjian, Ivory Coast.

An unforgettable, boundary-busting, falling-over-funny collection that defies the narrow representations English-language readers receive of growing African girls—we stand desperately in need of more Akissi and more Abouet. (recipes) (Graphic short stories. 8-14)

Pub Date: May 8, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-911171-47-8

Page Count: 188

Publisher: Flying Eye Books

Review Posted Online: March 4, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2018

Interlaced with spot-on dialogue that is full of humor, this page-turner delivers.

SANITY & TALLULAH

Hijinks ensue when a clandestine “carnivorous bioengineering experiment” escapes on a space station.

This effervescent tale begins as Sanity Jones, a budding scientist, gets a tongue-lashing from her best friend’s mom—and Wilnick Station’s senior scientist—Dr. Vega, after the discovery of her completely unauthorized experiment, which involved a modified stasis chamber and other illicitly procured materials. Best friends Sanity and Tallulah have tried to keep the experiment, Sanity’s brainchild, under wraps: a white, three-headed kitten they’ve named Princess Sparkle, Destroyer of Worlds. Although she’s been grounded for aiding and abetting, after this bioengineered kitty escapes, Tallulah helps Sanity search the space station for Princess Sparkle, Destroyer of Worlds. (The repetition of the cat’s three names—one for each head—is just one of the many funny jokes that run through this graphic novel.) Meanwhile, the space station is experiencing technical problems that seem to point to the escaped kitty—but Sanity and Tallulah discover a much bigger vermin problem that has the potential to destroy the entire station. Sanity Jones, who is black, and Tallulah Vega-Davisson, who is biracial (Latinx/white), headline a thoroughly diverse supporting cast (Sanity’s dad, who’s also black, is station director; Tallulah’s has a leg prosthesis), creating a fresh, realistic representation of future space exploration.

Interlaced with spot-on dialogue that is full of humor, this page-turner delivers. (Graphic science fiction. 8-12)

Pub Date: Oct. 23, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-368-00844-0

Page Count: 240

Publisher: Disney-Hyperion

Review Posted Online: Aug. 1, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2018

Action-filled and engaging but considerate of both topic and audience, Ebo’s story effectively paints a picture of a child...

ILLEGAL

Ebo is known across his village for his beautiful singing voice, but will his voice keep him safe in his journey to the shores of Europe?

Readers follow the flight of Ebo, a Ghanaian refugee child, to Europe to find the siblings who fled before him. Ebo’s journey takes him across the scorching heat of the Sahara and through the streets of Tripoli, where he works to raise funds for passage across the Mediterranean. All the while, Ebo and the companions he meets along the way must elude the watchful eyes of the authorities who are constantly on alert for refugees. But after Ebo finally saves enough money and secures a seat on a boat crossing to Greece, he finds himself on the brink of death. Like all the others, it is too crowded; the engine is broken; and the fuel is slowly running out. Authors and illustrator take readers back and forth through time, building suspense as Ebo’s story of survival unfolds. The format allows sensitive and difficult topics such as murder, death, and horrific, traumatizing conditions to unfold for children, Ebo’s reactions speaking volumes and dramatic perspectives giving a sense of scope. A creators’ note provides factual context, and an appendix offers an Eritrean refugee’s minimemoir in graphic form.

Action-filled and engaging but considerate of both topic and audience, Ebo’s story effectively paints a picture of a child refugee’s struggle in a world crisscrossed by hostile borders. (Graphic fiction. 10-15)

Pub Date: Aug. 7, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-4926-6214-3

Page Count: 144

Publisher: Sourcebooks Jabberwocky

Review Posted Online: May 14, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 2018

Graphic storytelling at its most powerful.

ZENOBIA

A young Syrian refugee tries to flee the horrors of war in this Danish import.

In this nearly wordless graphic novel, Amina is a young Syrian girl living in the midst of violent conflict. Instructed by her parents to wait as they venture out for help, she remains home for days when they don’t come back, as the tanks and fighter planes thunder around her small home. An uncle arrives to inform her that her parents will not be returning and she must leave immediately. With only enough money for a single passage, Amina finds herself alone on an overcrowded boat. In one heart-stopping moment, the congested vessel capsizes, throwing her overboard. While descending into the waves, she recalls happy memories of her parents, playing hide-and-seek and making sarmas with her mother. She also remembers their stories of Zenobia, an ancient Syrian queen who defeated the Romans, and the strength that she signifies. Amina’s journey is tragic and will leave readers with much to reflect upon and discuss. Horneman’s large, compelling, and evocative panels brilliantly portray Amina’s struggles, infusing recollections of joy into moments of terror. Panels alternate between past and present, with the past rendered in a two-color earth-toned scheme and the present depicted in vivid full color. Deceptively spare, this timely and important offering is a must-read, helping bring greater understanding and empathy to a situation that for many feels far away.

Graphic storytelling at its most powerful. (Graphic fiction. 8-14)

Pub Date: Oct. 16, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-60980-873-0

Page Count: 96

Publisher: Triangle Square Books for Young Readers

Review Posted Online: Aug. 1, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2018

A dazzling debut from a new author to watch.

FAKE BLOOD

Think vampires have had their day? Gardner’s debut graphic novel proves the vein is not completely tapped.

Eleven-year-old AJ feels utterly unremarkable. He spent the summer before sixth grade reading and at the library, while his ultracompetitive besties, Ivy and Hunter, spent theirs scaling volcanoes and bungee jumping. AJ harbors an adorable middle school crush on Nia, a fellow bookworm obsessed with vampires. Trying to catch Nia’s eye, AJ decides to impersonate a bloodsucker, sprinkling himself with glitter, painting dark circles under his eyes, and slathering his gums with fake blood. However, things do not go as planned when Nia does suspect him as the undead. When AJ’s deception is revealed, he and Nia discover an actual vampire in their midst believed his ruse—and that more than one person in his life has secrets of their own. While many might say the vampire genre bled out years ago, Gardner has imbued it with new life, poking fun at well-known tropes—especially Twilight—in a manner sure to inspire hearty belly laughs. Her full-color illustrations are eye-catching, and her plotting is tightly wrought; think Raina Telgemeier with a Noelle Stevenson slant. At a hefty but highly enjoyable 336 pages, Gardner’s middle school romp is a magnum opus; here’s hoping all her work is as wonderful. Main character AJ is white, as is Ivy, but Hunter and Nia have brown skin, and Nia wears her hair in cornrows.

A dazzling debut from a new author to watch. (Graphic fantasy. 8-12)

Pub Date: Sept. 4, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-4814-9556-1

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: July 30, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2018

Rousing tales, spirited artwork, and rich backmatter ensure that this slim graphic novel for kids becomes a rich resource...

THE DRAGON SLAYER

FOLKTALES FROM LATIN AMERICA

A trio of Latin American folktales are given a makeover in the children’s-book debut of one of the brothers behind famed graphic-novel series Love and Rockets.

In the three stories, a young girl proves her smarts and bravery, not to mention her skills as a dragon slayer; a woman named Martina Martínez marries a mouse, which leads to an unexpected tragedy; and a boy named Tup considered lazy by his family finds a way to feed them all. In his six-panel pages, Hernandez flexes his considerable storytelling skills, his deceptively simple art conveying all the detail, nuance, and expression of character each story needs. The protagonist of the first tale is unnamed, which becomes ironic given how much agency she employs to get to the future her selfless acts should earn her. In the second piece, an older woman turns out to be the hero by simply practicing common sense that everyone else has forgotten. And in the final story, it’s cleverness that saves the day. In addition to the tales themselves, the book opens with an on-point essay by author F. Isabel Campoy putting the mix of Spanish and Native American influences in context. It closes with brief histories and art influences for each story as well as English- and Spanish-language phrases to help readers start telling their own. María E. Santana’s simultaneously publishing Spanish-language translation is identical in look but far from dry, flawlessly employing its own language quirks.

Rousing tales, spirited artwork, and rich backmatter ensure that this slim graphic novel for kids becomes a rich resource for all caregivers, not just those of Latinx children. (bibliography) (Graphic folktales. 4-10)

Pub Date: April 3, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-943145-28-7

Page Count: 48

Publisher: TOON Books & Graphics

Review Posted Online: March 4, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2018

A coming-of-age story as tender and sweet as a summer evening breeze

ALL SUMMER LONG

From the Eagle Rock series , Vol. 1

Summer adventures begin when Bina accidentally locks herself out of her house in Larson’s newest middle-grade graphic novel.

The summer before eighth grade is a season of self-discovery for many 13-year-olds, including Bina, when her best friend heads off to soccer camp and leaves her alone to navigate a SoCal summer. Without athletic Austin around to steer the ship, Bina must pursue her own passions, such as discovering new bands and rocking out on her electric guitar. Unexpected friendships bloom, and new members are welcomed into her family. Though her sphere grows over the summer, friendship with Austin is strained when he returns, and Bina must learn to embrace the proverb to make new friends but keep the old. As her mother wisely observes, “you’re more you every day,” and by the end of summer Bina is more comfortable in her own skin and ready to rock eighth grade. Larson’s panels are superb at revealing emotional conflict, subtext, and humor within the deceptively simple third-person limited plot, allowing characters to grow and develop emotionally over only a few spreads. She also does a laudable job of depicting a diverse community for Bina to call home. Though Bina’s ethnicity is never overtly identified, her racial ambiguity lends greater universality to her story. (In the two-toned apricot, black, and white panels, Bina and her mother have the same black hair and gold skin, while her dad is white, as is Austin.)

A coming-of-age story as tender and sweet as a summer evening breeze . (Graphic fiction. 10-14)

Pub Date: May 1, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-374-30485-0

Page Count: 176

Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: March 4, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2018

A breath of fresh air, this tender and dynamic collection is a must-have for any graphic-novel collection.

THE CARDBOARD KINGDOM

Comics creator and illustrator Sell teams up with 10 different authors to create an extraordinary linked anthology, seamlessly interweaving stories of unabashed joy and friendship.

In a suburban neighborhood, an ebulliently diverse group of children gathers with glee to create a vibrant world of pretend play, find themselves, and support one another. In the story written by Katie Schenkel, Sophie feels terrible that people say she’s too loud until she crafts a Hulk-like play identity known as “The Big Banshee.” Manuel Betancourt’s Miguel loves fairy tales and is thrilled when Nate asks him to play in “The Prince”—only to discover he’s actually been cast as the “magical pea” and not the romantic role he’d been dreaming of. Seth pretends to be a superhero to try to protect himself from his dad in Michael Cole’s “The Gargoyle,” while in Sell’s sole authored tale, “The Army of Evil,” Jack identifies as the Sorceress because “She’s what I want to be… / Magical. And powerful. And amazing.” Some neighborhood kids prefer STEM to fantasy while others build businesses; some have trouble making friends while others choose roles on the sidelines. Sell’s cheerful, friendly artistic style, with bold borders and bright colors that unite all the stories, will appeal to fans of Victoria Jamieson. Thoughtful representation provides a true diversity of body shapes and sizes, races and ethnicities (the majority of the cast is kids of color), gender identities and expressions, sexualities, and family structures. Bios of all 11 contributors conclude the book.

A breath of fresh air, this tender and dynamic collection is a must-have for any graphic-novel collection. (Graphic fantasy. 9-13)

Pub Date: June 5, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-5247-1937-1

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: March 18, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2018

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