Click here to see all of the current Great Graphic Novels nominees along with more information about the list and past years’ selections.
Black Heroes of the Wild West by James Otis Smith
Publication Date: September 15, 2020
ISBN: 9781943145515 (HB); 9781943145522 (PB)
Black Heroes of the Wild West gives brief introductions to Stagecoach Mary Fields, Bass Reeves, and Bob Lemmons. Stagecoach Mary and Bass Reeves have been the subject of books for young readers over the past fifteen years or so, but the last Bob Lemmons picture book came out in 1998. Many readers will be coming to these figures for the first time, and these introductions do not disappoint.
James Otis Smith writes engaging stories of these figures, all encompassing varying amounts of time but also hitting home how respected they were in their professions. This book contains a great introduction by 2020 Caldecott medalist Kadir Nelson as well as incredible back matter detailing the Mexican origins of the cowboy, cattle drives, Native Americans and Black Indians, mythmaking in the Wild West, and more. This book truly aims to debunk the whitewashing of the Wild West and does a great job in a mere 60 pages. Smith makes these pages count!
Don’t forget to pair this with Bad News for Outlaws: The Remarkable Live of Bass Reeves, Deputy U.S. Marshal by Vaunda Micheaux Nelson. Yes, it’s a picture book, but it is a more in-depth picture book that expands on the Bass Reeves story shared in Black Heroes of the Wild West. Novel pairings include Dread Nation by Justina Ireland and Vengeance Road by Erin Bowman.
Drawing the Vote: An Illustrated Guide to Voting in America by Tommy Jenkins and Kati Lacker
Abrams ComicArts / Abrams
Publication Date: April 21, 2020
On the precipice of the 2020 election, Tommy Jenkins chronicles the history of voting and its many shortcomings. By showing the history of how certain voting laws were enacted, Jenkins builds a foundation for modern voting issues, such as gerrymandering and voter suppression. Though not entirely told in chronological order, this graphic novel talks about everything from initial voting rights to the suffragette movement, and it does not shy away from talking about institutional racism, classism, and sexism.
This title is set right in the middle of current events, and it is a toolkit for young activists to know the history of the issues they are fighting against and the causes they are fighting for. Teens will love the accessible illustrations and the snarky tone, and teachers will find this a great supplemental guide when talking about voting rights.
Fans of Stamped by Jason Reynolds, The Unwanted by Don Brown, and the TV show Woke will not be able to put this down.
Knight of the Ice, vol. 1 by Yayoi Ogawa
Publication Date: March 10, 2020
Kokoro is a competitive figure skater who can’t seem to land his quad jumps. Luckily, his childhood friend Chitose may be able to help him out. When she recites a spell from a magical girl anime, suddenly Kokoro is landing flawless spins. Soon, romance begins to blossom as Kokoro finds himself depending on Chitose on and off the ice.
Knight of the Ice is a fun romance that will appeal to teen readers looking for lighthearted fare. The art is well done, bringing elements of competitive figure skating to life. Although Kokoro’s aggressive trainer may give pause, Kokoro and Chitose are likeable, genial characters that audiences can root for. Teens will look forward to continuing their stories in volumes 2-4, also out this year.
Readers looking for romance set amid a sports setting may also enjoy the comic book series Fence by C.S. Pacat and Johanna the Mad, classic rom-com films like The Cutting Edge and Bend It Like Beckham, and the recent YA novel Furia by Yamile Saied Méndez.