Book List

Best Middle-Grade Graphic Novels of 2019

Flashy and engaging with emotional depth—a slam-dunk thrill.

THE CROSSOVER

This graphic-novel adaptation of Alexander’s 2015 Newbery Medal winner offers powerful visuals to an already-cherished narrative of teenage black boys navigating the game of life.

The tale follows a year in the life of the Bell family, with Chuck “Da Man” Bell at the helm as he teaches his twin sons, Josh and Jordan, how to follow in his star-studded footsteps. Josh “Filthy McNasty” Bell takes the lead in narration, providing readers with in-depth court play-by-play as he deals with the growing pains of adolescence, balancing brotherhood and his own becoming. Myriad poetic forms appear throughout. A portion embrace rhyme, with a hint of old-school flow recalling hip-hop’s golden era. Veteran comics illustrator Anyabwile brings an expansive range of black-boy emotional expressiveness to the page, accompanied by a striking attention to detail and pop-cultural reference. Just check the fresh barber lines on display or the true-to-life illustrations of beloved athletes and musicians such as LeBron James, Kevin Durant, Lil Wayne, 2 Chainz, and more. Eschewing the traditional paneled look of the graphic-novel form creates a dynamic flow between the scenes. These are sectioned out into basketball-appropriate quarters and dotted with Chuck’s inspirational Basketball Rules, such as this excerpt of No. 3: “The sky is your limit, sons. Always shoot for the sun and you will SHINE.” These messages grow ever more resonant as readers approach the climax of this heartwarming story.

Flashy and engaging with emotional depth—a slam-dunk thrill. (Graphic fiction. 10-12)

Pub Date: Sept. 24, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-328-96001-6

Page Count: 224

Publisher: HMH Books

Review Posted Online: June 16, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2019

Brilliantly enchanting.

THIS WAS OUR PACT

Two reluctant friends—and a talking bear—journey deep into the night in search of answers.

The night of the annual Autumn Equinox Festival unfolds as the villagers cast hundreds of lanterns down the river in honor of a local folk legend. For Ben, this year will be different from the rest. He and his friends make a pact to follow the lanterns until the unknown end of their voyage. One by one Ben’s friends give up and return home, all except for Nathaniel, whose love for the cosmos and nerdy ways ostracize him from the group. In spite of his misgivings, Ben decides to uphold the pact with Nathaniel. A third, unexpected member joins the adventure when the boys come across a talking fisherbear who’s on a quest to fish as his ancestors did. The trio eventually loses track of the path, and an unplanned encounter with the feisty Madam Majestic leads to even greater escapades. To shed more light on the story risks spoiling Andrews’ marvelously melancholic, earnest graphic novel, at its core an exercise in whimsical self-reflection. This story’s a quiet one in which danger flickers and hope flares at odd but fruitful moments. The core relationship between Ben (a dark-haired, light-skinned, bespectacled boy) and Nathaniel (a dark-skinned boy with puffs of hair) never veers into pure mawkishness. Likewise, the primarily blue and red mixed-media pictures underscore how nighttime sometimes promises transformation.

Brilliantly enchanting. (Graphic fabulism. 10-14)

Pub Date: June 11, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-250-19695-8

Page Count: 336

Publisher: First Second

Review Posted Online: March 31, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2019

A frank, often funny appreciation of our space program’s high-water mark.

ROCKET TO THE MOON!

From the Big Ideas That Changed the World series , Vol. 1

Brown launches the Big Ideas That Changed the World series with a graphic commemoration of the program that put boots on the moon.

Brown assumes the narrative voice of Rodman Law, a wisecracking professional daredevil who attempted to ride a rocket in 1913 (“Yeah, this oughta work”) and beat the odds by surviving the explosion. He opens with a capsule history of rocketry from ancient China to the Mercury and Gemini programs before recapping the Apollo missions. Keeping the tone light and offering nods as he goes to historical figures including Johann Schmidlap (“rhymes with ‘Fmidlap’ ”), “cranky loner” Robert Goddard, and mathematician Katherine Johnson, he focuses on technological advances that made space travel possible and on the awesome, sustained effort that brought President John F. Kennedy’s “Big Idea” to fruition, ending the narrative with our last visit to the moon. Aside from the numerous huge, raw explosions that punctuate his easy-to-follow sequential panels, the author uses restrained colors and loose, fluid modeling to give his mildly cartoonish depictions of figures and (then) cutting-edge technology an engagingly informal air. He doesn’t gloss over Laika’s sad fate or the ugly fact that Wernher von Braun built rockets for the Nazis with “concentration-camp prisoners.” Occasional interjections and a closing author’s note also signal Brown’s awareness that for this story, at least, his cast had to be almost exclusively white and male.

A frank, often funny appreciation of our space program’s high-water mark. (index, endnotes, resource lists) (Graphic nonfiction. 8-11)

Pub Date: March 5, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-4197-3404-5

Page Count: 136

Publisher: Amulet/Abrams

Review Posted Online: Nov. 21, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2018

An engrossing, humorous, and vitally important graphic novel that should be required reading in every middle school in...

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NEW KID

Jordan Banks takes readers down the rabbit hole and into his mostly white prep school in this heartbreakingly accurate middle-grade tale of race, class, microaggressions, and the quest for self-identity.

He may be the new kid, but as an African-American boy from Washington Heights, that stigma entails so much more than getting lost on the way to homeroom. Riverdale Academy Day School, located at the opposite end of Manhattan, is a world away, and Jordan finds himself a stranger in a foreign land, where pink clothing is called salmon, white administrators mistake a veteran African-American teacher for the football coach, and white classmates ape African-American Vernacular English to make themselves sound cool. Jordan’s a gifted artist, and his drawings blend with the narrative to give readers a full sense of his two worlds and his methods of coping with existing in between. Craft skillfully employs the graphic-novel format to its full advantage, giving his readers a delightful and authentic cast of characters who, along with New York itself, pop off the page with vibrancy and nuance. Shrinking Jordan to ant-sized proportions upon his entering the school cafeteria, for instance, transforms the lunchroom into a grotesque Wonderland in which his lack of social standing becomes visually arresting and viscerally uncomfortable.

An engrossing, humorous, and vitally important graphic novel that should be required reading in every middle school in America. (Graphic fiction. 10-14)

Pub Date: Feb. 5, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-06-269120-0

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Harper/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: Oct. 15, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 2018

With its compelling, complex characters and intrigue-laden plot, this will have readers hoping it’s only the first of many...

QUEEN OF THE SEA

A young orphan’s and an exiled queen’s fates intertwine on a remote island.

Loosely based on the childhood of Elizabeth I, Meconis’ rich historical fantasy centers on young Margaret, an orphan taken while a baby to live on a nearly forgotten island in the kingdom of Albion. Its only inhabitants are a small order of nuns dedicated to helping anyone “whose life or love is at the mercy of the sea,” a hapless priest, a couple servants, some farm animals, and a cat. Margaret, who’s been on the island for six years, thrives in the simplicity of her idyllic existence. Nevertheless, she eagerly anticipates the semiannual visits of the lone ship that docks on the island’s shores and finds her prayers for companionship answered when a young boy and his mother are sent to the island for opposing the king. Margaret then slowly learns the true nature of the convent’s existence and begins to question her own lineage when a mysterious visitor named Eleanor is banished to the island by her sister, the queen, and kept under constant watch. Meconis’ humor and storytelling gifts here wed seamlessly with her evocative pen-and-ink and gouache illustrations, which are rendered in warm earth and sea tones and brim with movement, expressively capturing even Margaret’s interior monologues.

With its compelling, complex characters and intrigue-laden plot, this will have readers hoping it’s only the first of many adventures for Meconis’ savvy heroine. (Graphic fantasy. 10-adult)

Pub Date: June 25, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-5362-0498-8

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Walker US/Candlewick

Review Posted Online: April 10, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 2019

Heartfelt and heartwarming, highlighting the power of story to both conceal and reveal

SINCERELY, HARRIET

Searle writes and illustrates her first graphic novel for middle-grade readers.

Whiling away the long summer days alone in a new apartment in a new city, Harriet “Harry” Flores begins to spin stories. Perhaps the nice mail carrier has nefarious intentions for the neighborhood dogs. Maybe the house is haunted. The old woman who lives downstairs? Probably a murderer. Though her tales frustrate her parents, the escapism this storytelling offers seems to comfort Harry as she faces an uncertain future with a chronic illness. Begrudgingly, Harry begins to spend time with Pearl, the mysterious old woman from downstairs. Through that budding relationship, and the memories and books they share, Harry finds the courage to be honest with her parents and to face what lies ahead. The subtle absence of cellphones and computers as well as pop-culture references place the story in the 1990s, yet it feels incredibly current. The pacing is masterful as the truth behind Harry’s many fears is slowly and poignantly revealed, maintaining the tension and mystery of each story thread until the tapestry is complete. Searle tackles Harry’s anxiety about her illness as well as common adolescent concerns about friendships, school, and family with an honesty and tenderness that will resonate with readers. Harriet’s biracial: Her mother is white while her father is Mexican; Pearl is black.

Heartfelt and heartwarming, highlighting the power of story to both conceal and reveal . (Graphic historical fiction. 8-12)

Pub Date: May 7, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-5415-4529-8

Page Count: 180

Publisher: Graphic Universe

Review Posted Online: March 3, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2019

A shining gem of a book.

STARGAZING

Friendships can be complicated—sometimes in the best way possible.

Following The Prince and the Dressmaker (2018), Wang takes bits of inspiration from her own life in her new graphic novel. Christine is a Chinese American girl living in an Asian suburb who’s focused on her music and grade school work. Change comes when her parents offer the in-law apartment her grandpa used to live in to a struggling Chinese American mother and child from church, encouraging Christine to befriend Moon, the daughter. The only thing is, they are complete opposites. Moon is vegetarian, rumored not afraid to use her fists, does not attend Chinese class, and certainly is “not Asian” according to Christine’s standards. Despite all that, the two become fast friends, stretching each other’s interests with K-pop, art, and the like. Moon later shares a deep secret with Christine: She receives visions from celestial beings that tell her she belongs with them. Trouble soon follows, with struggles with jealousy, social expectations, and devastating medical news for Moon. Wang is a master storyteller, knowing when to quietly place panels between each moment to sharpen the emotional impact or to fill it with life. It is so very rare and refreshing to see diversity within the Asian American community authentically portrayed; Wang allows each character complete ownership of their identity, freeing their truths and, in the process, allowing readers to do the same.

A shining gem of a book. (author’s note) (Graphic novel. 8-12)

Pub Date: Sept. 10, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-250-18387-3

Page Count: 224

Publisher: First Second

Review Posted Online: June 23, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2019

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