This Best & Brightest list was created by Denver Public Library librarians to celebrate our favorite recently published children's graphic novels. Enjoy!
3rd - 6th grade. Vibrant colors burst forth from the pages of this beautiful, yet creepy graphic novel. Sandy is a loner at her Catholic school, preferring to draw over making friends or paying attention to her studies. Then she meets the mysterious and alluring Morfi. Sandy is lured in by Morfi’s promises to do all her homework, so that Sandy can do nothing but draw all day long. Sandy thinks this sounds great, until domineering Morfi begins taking over her dreams. Colombian-born Alvarez’s visually stunning two-page spreads jump off the large trim pages. The all-dialogue text is minimal and well-placed to augment the visual storytelling. With many parallels to Neil Gaiman’s Coraline, this short, eerie story will delight many young horror and scary story fans.
Super Narwhal And Jelly Jolt
Kindergarten - 4th grade. Best friends Narwhal and Jelly are back for another book of episodic, undersea fun. This time they’ve been “super-fied!” Narwhal is super excited to become a superhero (aka Super Narwhal), but Jelly’s worried because Narwhal isn’t quite sure what his superpower is. After many “podtastic” adventures, Jelly (aka Jelly Jolt) realizes that Narwhal’s superpower isn’t invisibility, super strength, or breathing fire, it’s the power to bring out the super in others! Episodic adventures, fun nonfiction facts about marine animals, and a super positive friendship come together in this book that functions beautifully as an independent read or an elementary age read aloud. The inclusive, well-timed humor contributes to the friendly atmosphere created by the soft underwater colors and bold, thick outlines of the illustrations. A solid recommendation for Elephant and Piggie fans who want a humorous friendship story at a slightly higher reading level.
One Trick Pony
3rd - 7th grade. Strata, her brother Augur, and their slacker friend Inby scavenge for technology that they can bring back to their caravan and preserve--before it is consumed by the Pipers, alien monsters whose giant bubbles absorb their targets. When Strata finds a beautifully preserved, functional robot horse, the kids are pursued by Pipers, meet a “feral” girl, are nearly hanged for cattle rustling and learn the story of the Pied Piper of Hamelin. It is Kleidi and Strata who infiltrate the Pipers and discover the true nefariousness of their plot. The muted gray and yellow color palette lends a suitably dusty feel to this post-apocalyptic tale. The menace of the aliens and the outlaws is relieved with touches of humor. The main characters appear to be children of color. This exciting tale may appeal to fans of hardcore sci-fi but may also have crossover appeal for kids who like horse stories.
Earth Before Us. 1, Dinosaur Empire!
3rd - 6th grade. Ronnie has 24 hours to learn about dinosaurs so she can retake a quiz that she failed. Luckily, she meets Miss Lernin, a former paleontologist, who invites her on a trip through time to the Mesozoic Era to meet dinosaurs in the flesh. Through their travels Ronnie sees firsthand how biology evolves over time. Using visual and textual humor, Howard (a former paleontology major) introduces and reinforces scientific concepts, such as convergent evolution and plate tectonics. Full color illustrations are brimming with prehistoric life, all clearly labeled with helpful pronunciation guides. Backmatter includes a glossary and phylogentic tree. After reading this first installment readers will be eager for more Earth Before Us series titles.
All's Faire In Middle School
4th - 7th grade. Fitting in in middle school is always a challenge, but even more so for Imogene. She has been home-schooled until now and spends her weekends with her parents working at the Renaissance Faire. This year she’s been promoted to “squire,” but her desire to please her new “popular” friends leads her into some dishonorable choices. Lovely full-color illustrations engage readers and emphasize a diverse cast of characters. The tension between being proud of your family and embarrassed at the same time is familiar, but the addition of the Renaissance Faire setting makes this story fresh. It may appeal to Raina Telgemeier fans (the artwork style is similar), as well as kids who like historical fiction or the Middle Ages.
Kindergarten - 4th grade. In this graphic novel/picture book hybrid, siblings Noona and Joon arrive at their halmoni’s (grandmother’s) house only to find her missing and a trail of mysterious paw prints leading to a door in a wall. Once through the door, the children find themselves in a magical world filled with Korean folktale characters, including the humorously melodramatic Moon Rabbit, mischevious and brightly colored Dokkebi, the powerful Tige, and the nine-tailed fox known as Gumiho. The cinematic storytelling alternates between paneled sequences and full-page illustrations. Watercolor illustrations combine soft washes with intricate details to create an enchanting and whimsical world. Noona and Joon communicate in English, but the folktale characters speak Korean. Backmatter includes translations for Korean dialogue, information about the Korean folktale characters, and insight into the author’s cultural connections. The picture book trim size of this book makes it great for sharing with a group, as well as independent reading.
Suee And The Shadow
4th - 7th grade. It’s hard to be Suee these days. First, her single, disengaged dad uproots her to Outskirtsville, where she attracts the attention of mean girls, and then her shadow starts talking to her. And it isn’t a very nice shadow. Meanwhile, other kids have no shadows at all. With the help of her reluctantly accepted new friends Hauen and Hyunwoo, she’ll try to figure out what’s going on in the “exhibit room.” The author and illustrator, both OwnVoices authors, avoid stereotypes as they depict their South Korean characters. The limited color palate is crisp and appealing and emphasizes the shadows (or lack thereof). The “new kid misfit” plot is made fresh by Suee’s enchanting combination of empathy and self-protective standoffishness as well as the mystery, which is intriguing but not impenetrable. This book may appeal to fans of Coraline by Neil Gaiman and other spooky titles.
The Tea Dragon Society
4th - 7th grade. Blacksmith’s daughter Greta rescues a little tea dragon and finds a new calling. When she returns the dragon to the tea shop, she meets Hesekiel and his partner, Erik, a former adventurer who now uses a wheelchair, as well as Minette, a young girl in need of psychological healing. Caring for the fragile but rewarding tea dragons draws them all together as Greta learns to value things that take a long time. Pastel artwork depicts a lovely fantasy world inhabited by a variety of sentient beings (humans, goblins etc.), with diversity of skin color, ability, and sexual orientation. The devoted relationship between Erik and Hesekiel and Greta’s patient overtures of friendship toward Minette set this book apart. It may appeal to fans of whimsical, leisurely paced fantasy as well as to lovers of pet and friendship stories.
The Witch Boy
3rd - 7th grade. In Aster’s tribe, all the boys are raised to be shapeshifters and all the girls are raised to be witches. But Aster is a boy who’s pretty sure he’s a witch. He keeps getting in trouble for listening in on the girls and the other boys pick on him for not having found his form yet. But when his tribe is threatened by a malevolent force, a witch boy may be the only one who can save the day. This gripping but not over-complicated mystery offers plenty of diversity of appearance as well as LGBTQA+--Aster’s struggles can be an allegory for being transgender and the friend outside his community who accepts him has two dads. Ultimately, what’s dangerous isn’t a boy who’s a witch-it is the suppression of people’s true natures. This book may appeal to any fans of graphic novels featuring magic. Note that Ostertag has chosen to include the use of face paint and the term “animal spirits” in her fictional fantasy world. Although these traditions are found in many cultures, they are particularly associated with Native American culture.
5 Worlds. 1, The Sand Warrior
4th grade & up. Oona Lee is often regarded as the clumsiest student of sand dancing. With a little help from her friends she begins to understand her special powers as they try to save the world. Vibrant, busy panels accurately reflect the crowded, energetic world in which this story takes place. This engaging story with its unique characters and settings is bolstered by subplots that could merit their own books.
My Kite Is Stuck! And Other Stories
Kindergarten - 2nd grade. Big Duck, Porcupine and Little Duck, the quiet straight man, are back in three zany episodic tales that will appeal to the youngest graphic novel readers. Bold primary color drawings and an uncluttered layout keep distraction to a minimum, and young readers will enjoy feeling smarter than Big Duck and Porcupine as they throw a stepstool at a tree to get their kite down, befriend bugs, and have a lemonade stand with no lemonade. This book could function as a bridge between beginning readers--it will look familiar and feel approachable to fans of Elephant and Piggie or Ballet Cat--and more advanced graphic novels.