If I seem to be reading a lot of graphic novels, it’s because I am! I am on the Cybils Graphic Novels panel for the second year, and I’ve got 102 graphic novels to mark as read by the end of the year. Queen of the Sea is one of the best I’ve read this year. I book talked it this past week in class, and I realized as I was in the middle of talking about it that this is a book talk you should prep in advance because it’s actually difficult to capture what it’s about in a way that makes it sound like a book others would want to pick up.
It’s inspired by the battle for the throne between Elizabeth I and Mary, Queen of Scots, told from the perspective of Margaret, a young girl who has been raised on an island by nuns. The island is a kind of paradise home for Margaret, but she comes to realize that for others, including the nuns, it’s actually a prison.
See? If I had prepped a little, I could have conveyed the plot in two sentences instead of nattering on for five minutes and saying nothing….
The art is absolutely gorgeous. I think Betsy Bird described it as “sumptuous,” and that is a good word for it. Exceptionally strong writing and storytelling, rich world-building, and then that art…. so far, probably my favorite graphic novel of the year.
I have yet to meet a Don Brown graphic novel that I don’t love, and the first volume in his new series, Big Ideas That Changed the World, is no exception. Brown tells the story of the moon landing, starting with the early twentieth-century scientists who worked out the math and began experimenting with rockets. It’s informative and occasionally really funny and packed with information with also being quite spare. How does Don Brown pull that off??
I was a wee bit obsessed with Katie O’Neill’s Tea Dragon Society last year, and I was so excited to discover ANOTHER tea dragon book. This one has appearances by some familiar characters but is mostly about a new character, Rinn, who discovers a dragon who’s been under a sleeping spell for eighty years and wakes to find himself in a new world. The art is eye-poppingly beautiful, of course, and this sequel is just as gentle and inclusive as the first book.
Another of my favorites of the year, They Called Us Enemy is a memoir of Takei’s childhood during World War II when his family spent four years living in Japanese internment camps. Perhaps inspired by March, the story of his childhood is interspersed with scenes of his adulthood activism. The double lens allows a rich exploration of his journey to understanding this painful and infuriating period of U.S. history.
I wanted to like Emiline: Knight in Training, because it’s about a dyslexic girl knight and reading struggles are part of the plot. But the story line is incredibly underdeveloped. The book reads more like an outline for a book than an actual book. The pastel illustrations are charming but a bit too sweet for my taste. And the climax, where Emiline reads a door panel and saves the day, works against the message of the book, which is that kids still have value and can contribute even if they struggle to read. My son is dyslexic, and you can bet I won’t be reading him a book where the main character discovers her self-worth only when she is finally able to read. Boo!
Mighty Jack and Zita the Spacegirl features Ben Hatke’s two popular protagonists meeting up in one book to save the day. The art is strong, but I haven’t kept up with either series, and I found myself a bit lost and confused. I enjoyed this book, but a week after finishing it, I have no memory of it whatsoever.
The covers of Science Comics never appeal to me, so I’ve avoided them, but that was a mistake, because Polar Bears: Survival on the Ice was so good! Baby polar bears teach us all about polar bears as they learn important polar bear lessons from their mom. Funny, informative, and not shying away from the polar bear’s current hard reality with climate change, this is a book that will inspire readers to learn more and perhaps even to take action. And now I want to read all of the Science Comics. Only I’m going to have to wait until Cybils season is over.
Click and Camp, Kayla Miller’s graphic novels about Olive, are both nominated for Cybils. I liked them both but give the edge to Camp. It’s a story about friendship, as Olive and Willow discover that their very different friend styles and being away from home styles strain their relationship once they’re at camp. Of course it all works out in the end with life lessons for all.