THE 2021 NERDIES: GRAPHIC NOVELS ANNOUNCED BY KATHERINE SOKOLOWSKI

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Every year I am honored to share the winning books in the graphic novel category for Nerdy Book Club. Donalyn’s email hits my inbox right around Christmas day and it’s my own gift to open it up, see what titles I know, place orders for those I don’t. I am grateful, as always, to the authors and illustrators who write in this format. Don’t get me wrong, I love all books, but graphic novels own a piece of my heart. They were important in my classroom when I taught at the elementary level, they are vital in my middle school classroom. 

See, every year I have a student, often more than one, who whispers to me that they aren’t a “good” reader. In seventh grade, that is a label they’ve given themselves and I work hard to remove. The format of these books is accessible. It allows my brave students to read and imagine, to fall in love with the power of story. It gives them confidence to reminage themselves as the readers they are.

These aren’t “easy” books, not at all. Often the content has them wrestling with big ideas, tears their hearts apart at the conflict, teaches them of our history. But these books draw them in until they find themselves devouring book, after book, after book. 

For that I am forever grateful.

Several of the titles on this list are favorites in my class. Some are new and will be joining our shelves after break. How about you? Do you see any of your favorites from this year on this list? Any that are absent, but you want to throw a little love their way? If so, head down to the comments. Wishing you all a happy reading year in 2022.

*Book descriptions taken from Goodreads*

The 2021 Nerdies for Graphic Novels go to…

A Shot in the Arm written and illustrated by Don Brown

A Shot in the Arm! explores the history of vaccinations and the struggle to protect people from infectious diseases, from smallpox—perhaps humankind’s greatest affliction to date—to the COVID-19 pandemic. Highlighting deadly diseases such as measles, polio, rabies, cholera, and influenza, Brown tackles the science behind how our immune systems work, the discovery of bacteria, the anti-vaccination movement, and major achievements from Lady Mary Wortley Montagu, who popularized inoculation in England, and from scientists like Louis Pasteur, Antonie van Leeuwenhoek, and Edward Jenner, the “father of immunology.” Timely and fascinating, A Shot in the Arm! is a reminder of vaccines’ contributions to public health so far, as well as the millions of lives they can still save.

Allergic written by Megan Wagner Lloyd, illustrated by Michelle Mee Nutter

At home, Maggie is the odd one out. Her parents are preoccupied with getting ready for a new baby, and her younger brothers are twins and always in their own world. Maggie loves animals and thinks a new puppy to call her own is the answer, but when she goes to select one on her birthday, she breaks out in hives and rashes. She’s severely allergic to anything with fur!

Can Maggie outsmart her allergies and find the perfect pet? With illustrations by Michelle Mee Nutter, Megan Wagner Lloyd uses inspiration from her own experiences with allergies to tell a heartfelt story of family, friendship, and finding a place to belong. 

A-Okay written and illustrated by Jarad Greene

When Jay starts eighth grade with a few pimples he doesn’t think much of it at first…except to wonder if the embarrassing acne will disappear as quickly as it arrived. But when his acne goes from bad to worse, Jay’s prescribed a powerful medication that comes with some serious side effects. Regardless, he’s convinced it’ll all be worth it if clear skin is on the horizon!

Meanwhile, school isn’t going exactly as planned. All of Jay’s friends are in different classes; he has no one to sit with at lunch; his best friend, Brace, is avoiding him; and–to top it off–Jay doesn’t understand why he doesn’t share the same feelings two of his fellow classmates, a boy named Mark and a girl named Amy, have for him.

Eighth grade can be tough, but Jay has to believe everything’s going to be a-okay…right?

Apple of My Pie written and illustrated by Mika Song

When local park fixture (and spy-master) Pops gets squirrel-napped, it’s up to Norma, Belly, and their friend little B to save him! This time, their adventure takes them out of the park–and into the uncharted territory of . . . the local apple orchard.

Where can Pops be? Will this adventure end in tragedy . . . or in apple pie? Or both? With these best friends on the case, you never know what’s coming next–but you can be sure there will be friends and delicious foods along the way.

Bad Sister written by Charise Mericle Harper, illustrated by Rory Lucey

Meet Charise.

She’s energetic, helpful, a model pet owner and full of inventions.

But she’s also a bad sister. When she goes too far and breaks little brother Daniel’s tooth, can she redeem herself? Is an accident really an accident if you could have stopped it? 

But most importantly… What does it mean to be a good sister?

Borders written by Thomas King, illustrated by Natasha Donovan

On a trip to visit his older sister, who has moved away from the family home on the reserve to Salt Lake City, a young boy and his mother are posed a simple question with a not-so-simple answer. Are you Canadian, the border guards ask, or American?

“Blackfoot.”

And when border guards will not accept their citizenship, mother and son wind up trapped in an all-too-real limbo between nations that do not recognize who they are.

Chunky written and illustrated by Yehudi Mercado

Hudi needs to lose weight, according to his doctors. Concerned about the serious medical issue Hudi had when he was younger, his parents push him to try out for sports. Hudi would rather do anything else, but then he meets Chunky, his imaginary friend and mascot. Together, they decide to give baseball a shot.

Hudi has found the cheerleader he never had, as Chunky cheers him on even when Hudi barely makes the team. Baseball doesn’t go well (unless getting hit by the ball counts), but the two friends have a great time drawing and making jokes. While Hudi’s parents keep trying to find the right sport for him, Chunky encourages him to pursue his true love—comedy.

But when Hudi’s dad loses his job, it gets harder for Hudi to chart his own course, even with Chunky’s guidance. Can Chunky help Hudi stay true to himself, or will this friendship strike out?

Garlic and Vampire written and illustrated by Bree Paulsen

Garlic feels as though she’s always doing something wrong. At least with her friend Carrot by her side and the kindly Witch Agnes encouraging her, Garlic is happy to just tend her garden, where it’s nice and safe.

But when her village of vegetable folk learns that a bloodthirsty vampire has moved into the nearby castle, they all agree that, in spite of her fear and self-doubt, Garlic is the obvious choice to confront him. And with everyone counting on her, Garlic reluctantly agrees to face the mysterious vampire, hoping she has what it takes.

After all, garlic drives away vampires…right?

Himawari House written and illustrated by Harmony Becker

Living in a new country is no walk in the park―Nao, Hyejung, and Tina can all attest to that. The three of them became fast friends through living together in the Himawari House in Tokyo and attending the same Japanese cram school. Nao came to Japan to reconnect with her Japanese heritage, while Hyejung and Tina came to find freedom and their own paths. Though each of them has her own motivations and challenges, they all deal with language barriers, being a fish out of water, self discovery, love, and family. 

Huda F Are You? written and illustrated by Huda Fahmy

Huda and her family just moved to Dearborn, Michigan, a small town with a big Muslim population. In her old town, Huda knew exactly who she was: She was the hijabi girl. But in Dearborn, everyone is the hijabi girl.

Huda is lost in a sea of hijabis, and she can’t rely on her hijab to define her anymore. She has to define herself. So she tries on a bunch of cliques, but she isn’t a hijabi fashionista or a hijabi athlete or a hijabi gamer. She’s not the one who knows everything about her religion or the one all the guys like. She’s miscellaneous, which makes her feel like no one at all. Until she realizes that it’ll take finding out who she isn’t to figure out who she is.

Jukebox written and illustrated by Nidhi Chanani

A mysterious jukebox, old vinyl records, and cryptic notes on music history, are Shaheen’s only clues to her father’s abrupt disappearance. She looks to her cousin, Tannaz, who seems just as perplexed, before they both turn to the jukebox which starts…glowing?

Suddenly, the girls are pulled from their era and transported to another time! Keyed to the music on the record, the jukebox sends them through decade after decade of music history, from political marches, to landmark concerts. But can they find Shaheen’s dad before the music stops? This time-bending magical mystery tour invites readers to take the ride of their lives for a coming-of-age adventure.

Katie the Catsitter written by Colleen A.F. Venable , illustrated by Stephanie Yue

Katie is dreading the boring summer ahead while her best friends are all away at camp–something that’s way out of Katie and her mom’s budget, UNLESS Katie can figure out a way earn the money for camp herself. But when Katie gets a job catsitting for her mysterious upstairs neighbor, life get interesting.

First, Madeline has 217 cats (!) and they’re not exactly . . . normal cats. Also, why is Madeline always out EXACTLY when the city’s most notorious villain commits crimes?! Is it possible that Katie’s upstairs neighbor is really a super villain?

Can Katie wrangle a whole lot of wayward cats, save a best friendship (why is Beth barely writing back? And who’s this boy she keeps talking about?!), AND crack the biggest story in the city’s history? Some heroes have capes . . . Katie has cats!

Miles Morales: Shock Waves written by  Justin A. Reynolds, illustrated by Pablo Leon

Miles Morales is a normal kid who happens to juggle school at Brooklyn Visions Academy while swinging through the streets of Brooklyn as Spider-Man. After a disastrous earthquake strikes his mother’s birthplace of Puerto Rico, Miles springs into action to help set up a fundraiser for the devastated island. But when a new student’s father goes missing, Miles begins to make connections between the disappearance and a giant corporation sponsoring Miles’ fundraiser. Who is behind the disappearance, and how does that relate to Spider-Man?

Monster Friends written and illustrated by Kaeti Vandorn

Reggie’s plan is to spend the whole summer brooding over his latest adventure gone wrong. But his friendly and curious neighbor, Emily, won’t let him sit alone and unhappy in his house forever! Despite their differences, these two monsters make the perfect pair of explorers. And with a map to make, a beach party to plan, and a sea monster to find, Reggie will have to learn to talk about his feelings and let new friends in!

Pawcasso written and illustrated by Remy Lai

Every Saturday, Pawcasso trots into town with a basket, a shopping list, and cash in paw to buy groceries for his family. One day, he passes eleven-year-old Jo, peering out the window of her house, bored and lonely. Astonished by the sight of an adorable basket-toting dog on his own, Jo follows Pawcasso, and when she’s seen alongside him by a group of kids from her school, they mistake her for Pawcasso’s owner. 

Excited to make new friends, Jo reluctantly hides the truth and agrees to let “her” dog model for an art class the kids attend. What could go wrong? But what starts as a Chihuahua-sized lie quickly grows Great Dane-sized when animal control receives complaints about a dog roaming the streets off-leash. With Pawcasso’s freedom at stake, is Jo willing to spill the truth and risk her new friendships? 

Run written by John Lewis and Andrew Aydin, illustrated by Nate Powell and L. Fury

To John Lewis, the civil rights movement came to an end with the signing of the Voting Rights Act in 1965. But that was after more than five years as one of the preeminent figures of the movement, leading sit–in protests and fighting segregation on interstate busways as an original Freedom Rider. It was after becoming chairman of SNCC (the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee) and being the youngest speaker at the March on Washington. It was after helping organize the Mississippi Freedom Summer and the ensuing delegate challenge at the 1964 Democratic National Convention. And after coleading the march from Selma to Montgomery on what became known as “Bloody Sunday.” All too often, the depiction of history ends with a great victory. But John Lewis knew that victories are just the beginning. In Run: Book One, John Lewis and longtime collaborator Andrew Aydin reteam with Nate Powell—the award–winning illustrator of the March trilogy—and are joined by L. Fury—making an astonishing graphic novel debut—to tell this often overlooked chapter of civil rights history.

The Crossroads at Midnight written and illustrated by Abby Howard

A masterful collection of tales from the faded border between our day-to-day world and the horrifying unknown on the other side of midnight.

An old woman living alone on the edge of a bog gets an unexpected — and unsettling — visitor, throwing her quiet life into a long-buried mystery. An isolated backwoods family stumbles into good fortune for a time with a monstrous discovery in the lake behind their house, but that time is running short. And a misfit little girl, struggling to make friends, meets an understanding soul one day at the beach: but why will he only play with her alone at night? All these lonely souls — and more — have reached out into the darkness, not knowing what they might find.

Around the dark edges of reality lurk unknown beings with unknowable intentions — ordinary objects can become cursed possessions, entities who seem like friends can become monstrous, and those who seem monstrous can become the truest companions. In this collection of evocative, unnerving slice-of-life horror, five stories explore what happens when one is desperate enough to seek solace in the unnatural, and what might be waiting for us at the Crossroads at Midnight.

The Girl from the Sea by Molly Knox Ostertag

Fifteen-year-old Morgan has a secret: She can’t wait to escape the perfect little island where she lives. She’s desperate to finish high school and escape her sad divorced mom, her volatile little brother, and worst of all, her great group of friends…who don’t understand Morgan at all. Because really, Morgan’s biggest secret is that she has a lot of secrets, including the one about wanting to kiss another girl.

Then one night, Morgan is saved from drowning by a mysterious girl named Keltie. The two become friends and suddenly life on the island doesn’t seem so stifling anymore.

But Keltie has some secrets of her own. And as the girls start to fall in love, everything they’re each trying to hide will find its way to the surface…whether Morgan is ready or not.

The Legend of Auntie Po written and illustrated by Shing Yin Khor

Aware of the racial tumult in the years after the passage of the Chinese Exclusion Act, Mei tries to remain blissfully focused on her job, her close friendship with the camp foreman’s daughter, and telling stories about Paul Bunyan–reinvented as Po Pan Yin (Auntie Po), an elderly Chinese matriarch.

Anchoring herself with stories of Auntie Po, Mei navigates the difficulty and politics of lumber camp work and her growing romantic feelings for her friend Bee. The Legend of Auntie Po is about who gets to own a myth, and about immigrant families and communities holding on to rituals and traditions while staking out their own place in America. 

Tidesong by Wendy Xu 

Sophie is a young witch whose mother and grandmother pressure her to attend the Royal Magic Academy–the best magic school in the realm–even though her magic is shaky at best. To train for her entrance exams, Sophie is sent to relatives she’s never met.

Cousin Sage and Great-Aunt Lan seem more interested in giving Sophie chores than in teaching her magic. Frustrated, Sophie attempts magic on her own, but the spell goes wrong, and she accidentally entangles her magic with the magic of a young water dragon named Lir.

Lir is trapped on land and can’t remember where he came from. Even so, he’s everything Sophie isn’t–beloved by Sophie’s family and skilled at magic. With his help, Sophie might just ace her entrance exams, but that means standing in the way of Lir’s attempts to regain his memories. Sophie knows what she’s doing is wrong, but without Lir’s help, can she prove herself?

Congratulations to all of the 2021 Nerdy Book Club award winners for best graphic novels.

Katherine Sokolowski has taught for over twenty years and currently teaches seventh grade in Monticello, Illinois. She is passionate about reading both in her classroom and also with her two sons. You can find her online at http://readwriteandreflect.blogspot.com/ and on Twitter as @katsok.

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