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Best & Brightest Graphic Novels of 2019


This Best & Brightest list was created by Denver Public Library librarians to celebrate our favorite recently published children's graphic novels. Enjoy!

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Chick And Brain: Smell My Foot!
Bell, Cece, author, artist.
Preschool-3rd grade. Humor. Chick, a chicken, is convinced Brain, a white-presenting human-like character, has really put their foot in it, but asking everyone to “Smell my foot!” may not be quite the social taboo that know-it-all Chick believes. The visually-driven humor of this graphic novel will provide ample motivation for developing readers to hotfoot it through this book, and the goofy duo of odd-couple characters will inspire laughter from cover to cover. The book is broken into four chapters, allowing for breaks while reading, and a small controlled vocabulary, paired with strong repetition and easy to navigate graphic panels, makes this an excellent, entertaining and supportive text for young readers.
New Kid
Craft, Jerry, author, illustrator.
4th grade & up. Realistic Fiction. Reserved and artistic, middle schooler Jordan Banks finds himself split between two worlds--his familiar home in Washington Heights and his new school in unfamiliar Riverdale. Jordan, one of a very small number of kids of color attending Riverdale, uses his art to cope as he learns to navigate social and cultural challenges at his new school. Craft’s expressive artwork incorporates visual gags that convey emotional depth, while at the same time incorporating relatable humor, adding a lighter tone to this poignant story. Jordan’s sketchy black and white art is differentiated from the rest of the book’s colorful artwork, allowing readers to easily navigate between the two. This semi-autobiographical graphic novel debut by Jerry Craft, author of newspaper comic strip Mama’s Boyz, is an engaging, accessible read that tackles the experience of facing racism and microaggressions with frank honesty.
Graley, Sarah, author, artist.
4th-8th grade.Fantasy. Who can resist playing a long-awaited video game? Even if she’s promised her best friend she would wait and play together for the first time, Izzy’s will power doesn’t last long, and almost immediately she gets sucked into the world of “Dungeon City.” Transported inside the game, Izzy raids dungeons and builds her experience points along with her in-game pal Rae, who uses the pronouns they and them. But when Rae reveals an evil in-game code that threatens Izzy IRL as well as in-game, things turn ugly. This fast-paced adventure explores interpersonal relationships as Izzy struggles to balance her real-world and in-game friendships in a healthy way. The book’s playful tone is reflected in vibrant, cartoony, energetic illustrations that borrow heavily from the expressive elements associated with manga. A variety of layouts are used in a savvy manner, providing structure for easy navigation and adding spice to the visual storytelling.
Apocalypse Taco
Hale, Nathan, 1976- author, illustrator.
4th grade & up. Horror/Scary. All twins Axl and Ivan wanted were some tacos. What should have been a simple, late-night pass through the Taco Bear drive-thru literally melts into a parallel dimension created by replicator bees. The boys find themselves in one horrific situation after another until they reach the shocking, frenetic climax. Ivan’s intense focus on problem-solving is balanced by Axl’s on-the-fly satirical observations. Hale’s illustrations are fever-dream scary, using a limited color palette of muted tones, paired with highly detailed line work to convey the horrors of this disorienting, tentacle-laden world. This plot-driven story is well-paced; introduction and explanation of elements provide a counterpoint to the horror. Fans of creature-based science fiction stories will find a fascinating world to explore in this uncompromising and welcome addition to the genre.
Best Friends
Hale, Shannon, author.
5th grade & up. Realistic Fiction. Shannon can’t wait to start middle school, but she gradually realizes that it’s more confusing than elementary school by far. Readers follow Shannon’s sixth-grade year as she works through friendships at school and at home. From feeling left out of the cliques to experiencing awkward first crushes, Best Friends picks up where the author’s previous book, Real Friends, leaves off. Critical lessons are learned about following the crowd and self-acceptance while friendships evolve. Pham’s detailed artwork, employing a variety of colors within a muted color palette, uses perspective and movement to draw focus in each composition. A touching endnote from the author informs the reader that the book is based on Hale’s own experiences in middle school.
The Singing Rock & Other Brand-New Fairy Tales
Lachenmeyer, Nathaniel, 1969- author.
3rd-6th grade. Fantasy, Humor. This book’s four original fairy tales feature a frog, a singing rock, a spell-repeating parrot and an art-loving ogre in their own humorous scenarios. Lachenmeyer offers a modern twist on traditional fairy tales that is sure to thrill genre fans, with each tale featuring a different magical encounter. In one tale, we meet a witch that turns everything that sings into an animal, another features a meeting between a genie and a frog who wishes to be left alone, a third centers on an over-ambitious magician learning patience from a parrot, and the final tale spotlights a weary artist who rediscovers a love for their trade via an art appreciating ogre. Blocker’s whimsical artwork brings each story to life with a vivid palette, energetic paneling and characters’ excellent facial expressions.
Sincerely, Harriet
Searle, Sarah Winifred, author, illustrator.
4th-8th grade. Realistic Fiction. Shy yet curious teenager Harriet and her parents are new to Chicago. To keep busy and avoid her summer reading, Harriet writes to her camp friends and visits her neighbor Pearl, a retired librarian also seeking companionship. Together the two unlikely friends work on Pearl’s family album. Upon discovering Pearl has a son who had polio as a teenager, Harriet finds herself examining their shared experience of overcoming the isolation of a chronic illness. Ultimately, Harriet and her parents find coping mechanisms for her newly diagnosed multiple sclerosis, as Harriet learns that creativity can be empowering and lead to new friendships. Seale’s understated artwork uses a muted palette and strong linework, adding visual complexity to the story. Resources on chronic illnesses are available at the end of the book.
The Okay Witch
Steinkellner, Emma, author, artist.
5th grade & up. Magical Realism. 13-year-old Mothke is not your average teenager. She comes from a line of witches who are only now revealing truths after Moth’s magical accident. Confused about her mother’s refusal to talk about her past, Moth and her deceased-neighbor-turned-cat, Mr. Laszlo, borrow her mother’s diary and magically go back in time. Balancing danger and humor, this is a compelling paranormal adventure. This tale of intergenerational relationships, rebellion and growth is told in detailed text that is nevertheless accessible and well-paced. Steinkellner’s detailed illustrations provide a strong sense of setting, and her excellent use of exaggerated facial expressions ground this emotionally rich graphic novel debut. Moth and her family are depicted with brown skin and hair, and the supporting characters are depicted with a range of skin tones.
Wang, Jen, 1984- author, artist.
4th grade & up. Realistic Fiction. When the two kids first meet, Christine is sure that she and Moon have nothing in common. While Christine plays the violin, attends Chinese school and eats traditional Asian dishes, Moon draws, watches music videos and paints her nails. Sometimes, however, opposites attract, and the two girls begin working together on a showstopping K-pop dance for the school talent show. But will their friendship survive the sea of school popularity and jealousy? And how will their friendship fare when Moon is suddenly hospitalized? Soft-hued and polished, Wang’s artwork is detailed and eye-catching. Panel layout and pacing is intentionally designed, encouraging readers to pause at emotionally impactful moments. Characters are developed visually as well as through dialogue and narration. In the afterword, Wang comments that writing this semi-autobiographical allowed her to revisit her childhood and come to terms with personal and societal expectations.
Ghost Hog
Weiser, Joey, 1983- author, illustrator.
3rd-5th grade. Fantasy. An illustrious tale by the Eisner Award-nominated author of Mermin, Ghost Hog takes readers on a fast-paced adventure filled with humor and heart. Truff, short for Truffle, is the ghost of a young boar who lives in the forest along with spirit friends, Claude and Stanley. Seething with blinding anger, Truff seeks revenge on the hunter who killed them, while also despairing over the kidnapping of her parents by the mountain demon Mava. Truff’s ability to overcome internal struggles to defeat external foes elevates this comical story. Bold linework and vibrant colors direct focus to characters, while at the same time conveying a strong, visually appealing sense of place. This adventurous, high energy fantasy filled with chases and entertaining dialogue is a commendable choice for young readers’ first introduction to graphic novels.