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Ally’s Favorite Graphic Novels of 2020

It’s no secret that 2020 has been…a lot. But also, a lot of beautiful comics and graphic novels have come out this year. Here’s a few of my favorites middle grade and YA graphic novels from 2020, in no particular order:

Go With the Flow by Lily Williams and Karen Schneemann

Go With the Flow is a great MG graphic novel about a group of friends fighting for menstrual equality at their school: why does the football team have more funding than female health?? I loved the palette on this one–the red accents are fun and the art is great!

The Dark Matter of Mona Starr by Laura Lee Gulledge

I really liked the Dark Matter of Mona Starr, both for its art and celebration of creativity AND the very real way it portrays depression in a teenager. Our teens are dealing with mental health issues and we need to take that seriously. MAJOR bonus points for normalized on-page therapy sessions!!

Almost American Girl by Robin Ha

Almost American Girl tells the story of Robin Ha’s transition from a normal teenager in Seoul to an immigrant in Huntsville, Alabama. This graphic memoir is beautifully illustrated and also looks at how isolated and difficult it is for anyone to be dropped into a new country, a new language, a new school.

The Witches of Brooklyn by Sophie Escabasse

The Witches of Brooklyn is the cutest thing I’ve read in quite some time. I LOVED main character Sophie, who is mourning the loss of her mom, and her home. But things start to get interesting when she finds out that magic runs in her family!! (I liked this one so much I gave it to my niece for Christmas!)

Stepping Stones by Lucy Knisley

Stepping Stones is Lucy Knisley’s first middle grade graphic novel. I’ve long been a fan of Knisley’s adult titles and her social media presence so I was excited to dig into this one. Jen is upset that she’s had to move away from the city and to a farm with her mom and her mom’s boyfriend. She’s even more upset when she finds out that she’ll be spending weekends with her new stepsisters. Can they become friends or are they all too different?

Twins by Varian Johnson, illustrated by Shannon Wright

Twins is maybe the perfect middle grade graphic novel. It has everything: sibling rivalry, new friendships, starting middle school. I absolutely loved this story of twins Maureen and Francine who find themselves running against each other for student council president. The art is wonderful, and I’m really hoping this one becomes a whole series about the twins!!

Displacement by Kiku Hughes

Displacement is a gorgeous graphic novel mix of family history and magic. Kiku, a teen living today, becomes displaced in time and finds herself living in a Japanese internment camp in the 40s. She witnesses the lives of the residents of the camp, seeing how their civil liberties were violated by the American government. This is a powerful treatise on intergenerational trauma and memory.

The Magic Fish by Trung Le Nguyen

The Magic Fish is…kind of a masterpiece? The art is absolutely breathtaking. If you haven’t picked this one up, you’re in for a treat. Thirteen year old Tiến is trying to find the words to tell his Vietnamese parents that he’s gay…but he hasn’t managed it yet, in English or in Vietnamese. The story of Tiến’s life is interwoven with the fairytales that he reads with his mother. Have I mentioned the art? Because it’ll make your jaw drop. I hope we see more from this artist very soon!!

What were your favorite graphic novels of 2020?

September/October Comics Roundup

Hey, friends! It’s been quite awhile since we’ve done a comics roundup here at TLT, so here’s a few MG and YA comics and graphic novels releasing in September and October that you might be interested in!

Witches of Brooklyn by Sophie Escabasse. September 1. Random House Graphic. Effie has a new life with new family members in Brooklyn, but wait until she realizes that magic runs in the family!!

Flamer by Mike Curato. September 1. Holt Books for Young Readers. It’s the summer between middle school and high school and Aidan is away at camp. While there, he deals with bullies, friendships, and a boy he can’t stop thinking about.

Teen Titans: Beast Boy by Kami Garcia. Illustrated by Gabriel Picolo. September 1. DC Ink. Gar has spent his whole life being overlooked. When a dare catches the eye of the popular kids, his social status soars. But other things are changing too–physically. Can he get a hold on his social life and his body before his life spins out of control?

Jo: An Adaptation of Little Women (Sort of) by Kathleen Gros. September 22. Quill Tree Books.  13 year old Jo runs an anonymous blog about her family, is starting to come to terms with both 8th grade and the fact that she might have a crush on Freddie, the cute girl who edits the school paper.

Long Way Down: The Graphic Novel by Jason Reynolds, illustrated by Danica Novgorodoff. October 13. Atheneum/Caitlyn Dlouhy Books. Jason Reynolds’s acclaimed book Long Way Down, about a boy on an elevator with a mission, is back in a haunting new graphic novel adaptation.

The Magic Fish by Trung Le Nguyen. October 13. Random House Graphic. Tiến loves his family and friends, but he has a secret he’s been keeping from them. Can he find a way to tell it?

Swamp Thing: Twin Branches by Maggie Stiefvater, illustrated by Morgan Beem. October 13. DC Comics.  Twins Walker and Alec are different, but inseparable. Spending their last summer before college with family in a new town, they discover that the swamp holds something of interest to them.

I hope you find something in this roundup for your school, library, or yourself. Happy reading!

Humor in YA, a guest post by Hope Bolinger

Why We Need Humor in YA Books
I grew up in the era of really depressing YA books. That’s right. When authors hit the dystopian euphoria, I’d started middle school, and by the time they ended their worlds where the governments wore white suits and pitted teenagers against each other in arenas, I graduated.

And I totally get it.

It doesn’t take a child prodigy to recognize we live in a crazy world. And fiction often reflects the harmful practices and beliefs our society attempts to hide.

But something happens when you hit someone with depressing book after depressing book.

They stop reading.

We’ve seen it time and time again with this pandemic. Grim news story after news story took its toll. And so we turned to memes. We turned to TikTok. And we turned to anything but the news.

I’d Love to Tell You a Story
Any other theater nerds in the house? Please raise those hands, and assorted props from the props closet, high.

Back in the day my high school put on a performance of Beauty and the Beast. I hadn’t made the cast of this particular production (competition was always fierce), so I watched from the audience.

The show carried on without any hitches, until the last bit of the show.
For those unfamiliar with the stage production, past the waltz between Belle and the Beast, the show is rather tense until the end. The songs and the fight scene between the castle’s inhabitants and the villagers leaves little room for any wisecracking.

During the performance, near the end of the tension, our director decided to have the Beast and Gaston (the villain) plummet to their deaths. But at the last moment, the Beast’s arm comes into view. He managed to grab hold of the “side” of the castle (the pit that led into the orchestra).

When this happened, someone laughed in the audience. Loudly. In fact, more than one someone did.

They had experienced so much tension in their gut that they had to release it. They had to laugh. So they chose the most inopportune moment to do so.

We Need Laughter
YA should shed light on injustice. It should point out where society fails, where we don’t practice equity, and where we can improve. But it should also let us laugh.

If we don’t, our audience will find ways to do so anyway.

I’ve also found that humor has a way of helping us to open up to each other more, to open up a space to have important conversations. Humor builds trust and empathy and from those two things, we can share ideas with each other that people may not be as open to if we start guns blazing with the hard-hitting suspense, tension, and tragedy.

Don’t get me wrong, good writing needs tragedy. But the YA in my day five years ago could’ve used a lot more humor. I think if it had more of that, it could’ve done even more in starting crucial conversations.

Hope Bolinger

Hope Bolinger is a literary agent at C.Y.L.E. and a multi-published novelist. More than 800 of her works have been featured in various publications, reaching millions of readers a year. Her superhero romance she co-wrote with Alyssa Roat releases from INtense Publications in September 2020. Sequel Dear Henchman set to release in April 2021.

Cortex and V need a new nemesis.
 
Up-and-coming teen superhero Cortex is on top of the world—at least, until his villain dumps him. Meanwhile, the villainous Vortex has once again gotten a little overeager and taken out a hero prematurely.
 
So the two turn to Meta-Match, a nemesis pairing site for heroes and villains, where they match right away. But not everything in the superhero world is as it seems. Who are the real heroes and villains? And just how fine of a line is there between love and hate? When darkness from the past threatens them both, Cortex and V may need to work together to make it out alive.

Dear Hero
September 28, 2020
Intense Publications
Age range: 14-18+

Turner Syndrome and Representation, a guest post by Sarah Allen

I was born XO, which does not stand for hugs and kisses.

Lots of things became chaotic when I was born. I had something called omphalocele, which means my intestines were sticking out through a hole in my stomach where my belly button should have been. I was rushed to surgery before my mom was able to hold me. In the NICU, recovering from surgery number one, doctors discovered that there was another problem, one even more life-threatening. There was a constriction in my aortic valve, causing my heart to pump so hard it was growing way beyond safe size. This meant another surgery.

Oddly enough, it was something as simple as my uniquely puffy hands and feet that tipped one of my many incredible doctors off to the real underlying cause of all the medical drama. They ran some tests and confirmed the doctor’s suspicion. My dramatic entry into the world was the result of a genetic disorder called Turner syndrome.

An average person is born with 46 chromosomes. In girls, two of those chromosomes are XX. Not in girls with Turner syndrome. Turner syndrome means you are born with only one X instead of two. A missing X, for a total of 45 chromosomes.

XO.

There are a few core things that come with having Turner syndrome. Short stature is one, and I took growth hormone shots starting at age eight that helped me reach my happy five-foot-four. Another aspect is infertility. Many also deal with heart or kidney problems, some vision or hearing loss, and physical characteristics such as low-set ears, wide neck, and barrel-shaped ribs. It can also come accompanied by learning disabilities such as Non-verbal Learning Disorder.

Here’s the thing, though. With some support and determination, there’s nothing in this unique set of challenges to stop a Turners girl from living a normal, happy, even thrilling life of her choosing. My parents signed me up for the best school they could find, and put me in extracurriculars the same as all my other siblings. They expected self-sufficiency and hard work, and I learned from them that nothing could stop me from achieving what I wanted in my life. (Like publishing a book, maybe?)

But here’s the other thing: I never once saw myself represented in the books I read, or in any other media for that matter. I loved spunky girls like Ramona and Anne Shirley, but none of the characters ever looked quite like me, or was thinking about the uncommon challenges I was facing.

To be honest, this is not terribly surprising. Only 1 in 2500 girls is born XO. Only 1-2% of embryos with monosomy X are even carried to term, resulting in 10-20% of all miscarriages. But I knew girls like me were out there. In my gut I believed our stories mattered just like anyone else’s.

It took several other novels and help from professors in my MFA program at Brigham Young University, but I finally felt ready to tell a story about a girl with Turner syndrome.

And this is how Libby and WHAT STARS ARE MADE OF was born. I didn’t see my physical story, my body, represented in any of the books I read. Honestly, I felt like a pretty normal kid, a pretty normal person, and I would have given anything to find a book that told me, yeah, I was. I wanted to offer that to other readers.

STARS is about a girl who loves with everything she has, and never stops trying to help the most important people in her life despite her challenges. STARS is about the value inherent in every individual, no matter their circumstances or limitations, full stop. I wanted to reflect that individual worth to anyone who happened to pick up my book, no matter who they are, where they live, or what they look like.

C.S. Lewis said, “We read to know that we are not alone.” This has always been my writing mantra. I wrote this book for the girls like me, and for any kid who feels themselves on the fringes of “normal.” I wrote it as a celebration of weirdness and individuality. I want every reader who picks up this book to leave assured of one important thing: you are what stars are made of.

Sarah grew up in Utah and currently lives in the Pacific Northwest. Like Libby in WHAT STARS ARE MADE OF, she was born with Turner syndrome. She has an MFA from Brigham Young University, and in her spare time can be found writing poetry and watching David Attenborough documentaries or Pixar movies. She is a hardcore fan of golden retrievers, leather jackets, and Colin Firth.

WHAT STARS ARE MADE OF
Farrar, Straus and Giroux (BYR)
FSG Books for Young Readers
On Sale: 03/31/2020
ISBN: 9780374313197
Ages 10-14

Sarah would love it if you could support her indie, Third Place Books, which is offering signed copies of WHAT STARS ARE MADE OF.

Writing on Wheels, a guest post by Kit Rosewater

I wasn’t an athletic kid.

That’s what I said to people if they asked what I was into. I said I was a theatre geek, a book nerd, one of those kids who only worked out when lifting a stack of books or swinging around a fake plastic sword.

Those were lies, of course, though I didn’t quite realize it at the time.

As a younger kid—think elementary school age—I actually loved being athletic. I won medals at the annual “jog-a-thons” my school held in second and third grade. When I read books like Bridge to Terabithia, I related hardcore to Jesse’s dreams of winning his classmates’ unofficial morning race. I rode bikes on mountain trails with my much more experienced older cousin and had the scars from falling over and over to prove it. But more than any other activity, I loved roller skating at the YMCA with my sister every day after school in fourth and fifth grade.   

We would snap our fingers and shake our hips whenever Will Smith’s jam “Getting’ Jiggly Wit It” came over the speakers. We learned how to crouch low to gather speed, cross one skate over the other, skate backward, the whole caboodle. Those were some of the best afternoons of my childhood.

I don’t remember when the transition happened between me loving both the arts and sports to me thinking I had to choose between one or the other. I suspect it had to do with that phenomenon a lot of middle school kids face, where they feel like they need to fit into a label… or else they won’t fit in anywhere. 

In sixth grade the whole grade level had to perform two weeks’ worth of physical ability tests for our PE groups. Out of groups A (for the super sporty kids), B (the pretty sporty kids), C (the kids with nothing special going on), and D (the kids who needed serious coordination help) … I got placed in C. 

Whelp, guess I’m not an athlete, I thought. 

I tucked my skates, helmet, and knee and elbow pads away onto a high shelf in the garage. I picked up my books and busied myself with other creative, artsy activities. 

As I grew up in middle school, then high school, then college, my labels grew and solidified around me. Every time I felt breathless on a run with friends, or missed a basket when shooting hoops at the park, I hid behind my self-imposed label. 

“I’m not athletic!” I would whine. And then I’d shuffle off before someone could challenge what that kind of declaration even meant.

For years I learned how to push myself in reading and critical thinking. I grew in my craft as a writer. I found out that just because I was interested in something (like being an author), that didn’t mean I was inherently good at it. I had to work really hard at every stage, but I slowly learned that with enough practice, patience, perseverance, I could figure out how to steadily improve in anything I set my mind to. 

Fast forward to early 2017, when I had just moved to Austin, Texas and was playing host to friends from Albuquerque, New Mexico. Under an Austin page of events, I found two roller derby leagues operating with open bouts (roller derby games) outsiders could buy tickets to go see.

From the moment those derby teams hit the track, I was hooked

I had never seen such diversity in a team of players before. Suddenly it didn’t seem to matter how tall or short you were, how much you weighed, how muscular your arms were… anyone could be lacing up and rolling onto the rink. I could be lacing up! Roller derby had taken everything I thought I knew about sports and the types of people who called themselves “all-stars” and turned it all upside down. I had to know more.

Meanwhile, I was still waist-deep in my efforts to become an author. I was working on a different project that had started to lose its shiny appeal. My agent and I discussed setting that project aside and trying something new. This time as I mulled over ideas, I turned over my childhood memories and experiences like stones. I tapped on them, wondering which ones were duds and which were geodes, full of glimmering possibility. 

I remembered how much I had loved running, and biking, and most of all—skating—when I was a kid. 

I finally decided not to choose between labels anymore. I had found my next big project. 

If young readers take any one point away from The Derby Daredevils series, I hope it’s that they realize they don’t need to choose what kind of person they are. After reading Book 1, they might want to lace up their own pair of skates. Or not! Whatever they choose to be into and excited about, there’s plenty of room for them to explore lots of activities and interests and hobbies. Being good or not so good at something right away doesn’t determine how much we get to love it. We can be book nerds and runners, theatre geeks and MVPs…

…readers and daredevils. 

Meet Kit Rosewater

Kit Rosewater writes books for children. She lives in Albuquerque, New Mexico with her spouse and a border collie who takes up most of the bed. Before she was an author, Kit taught middle school theatre and high school English, then worked as a children’s bookseller. She has a master’s degree in Children’s Literature from Hollins University. Books 1 & 2 of her debut middle grade series The Derby Daredevils roll out in Spring and Fall 2020 through Abrams. Catch her online at kitrosewater.com or @kitrosewater.

About The Derby Daredevils: Kenzie Kickstarts a Team

The first in a highly-illustrated middle grade series that celebrates new friendships, first crushes, and getting out of your comfort zone. 

Best friends Kenzie “Kenzilla” Ellington and Shelly “Bomb Shell” Baum are counting down the days to their roller derby debut. It looks like their dream is coming true when Austin’s city league announces a junior league. But there’s a catch. To try out together, the Dynamic Duo will have to form a team of five players… in just one week! 

As they start convincing other girls that roller derby is the coolest thing on wheels, Kenzie has second thoughts. Why is Shelly acting like everyone’s best friend? Isn’t she supposed to be Kenzie’s best friend? And things get really awkward when Shelly recruits Kenzie’s neighbor (and secret crush!) for the team.

With lots of humor and an authentic middle grade voice, the first book of this empowering series follows Kenzie, Shelly, and the rest of the Derby Daredevils as they learn how to fall—and get back up again.

ISBN: 978-1-4197-4079-4
Illustrator: Sophie Escabasse

Publisher: Abrams Books
Publication date: 03/24/2020
Age Range: 8 – 12 Years

Kit would love if it you would support one of two independent bookstores in this tough time for everyone: Bookworks of Albuquerque or Bookpeople of Austin, TX.