5 favorite graphic novels

When it comes to graphic novels, I definitely have a “type”.

Scout Is Not a Band Kid by Jade Armstrong

Published by Random House Graphic

And that “type” is middle school realistic fiction. If it takes place in a band room, so much the better. Scout and Merrin learn they have more in common than they thought when Merrin tutors Scout in the fine art of trombone playing.

Isla to Island by Alexis Castellanos

Published by Atheneum Books for Young Readers

A nearly wordless memoir about the author’s journey from Cuba to the US to live with foster parents as part of Operation Peter Pan.

Invisible by Christina Diaz Gonzalez, illustrated by Gabriela Epstein

Published by Graphix

Five kids are in the principal’s office when the story opens, clearly in some kind of trouble, but going back to the beginning shows how they have been unfairly labeled, both for their diverse Latinx roots and their unique personalities.

Ride On by Faith Erin Hicks

Published by First Second

Mean girls and new friendships are at the center of a rivalry between the laid-back Edgewood Stables and the elite Waverly Stables.

The Tryout by Christina Soontornvat, illustrated by Joanna Cacao

Published by Graphix

The prolific Christina Soontornvat makes her second appearance on my favorites lists with this memoir of trying out for the seventh-grade cheerleading squad at her Texas middle school.

5 favorite chapter books

The books I couldn’t put down.

The Vanquishers by Kalynn Bayron

Published by Bloomsbury Children’s Books

A nice blend of humor and creepiness made me glad I broke my vow to never read another book about vampires.

Playing Through the Turnaround by Mylisa Larson

Published by Clarion Books

I do love a good band story, and this one has an empowering message and a great cast of characters with issues that many middle schoolers will relate to. Short chapters and multiple points of view made ut a quick and enjoyable read.

You Only Live Once, David Bravo by Mark Oshiro

Published by HarperCollins

Although this story addresses some serious topics, it is also a ton of fun: a narrator with a great self-deprecating sense of humor, a wisecracking talking dog, and a plot that adeptly handles the intricacies of time travel.

The Way I Say It by Nancy Tandon

Published by Charlesbridge

Rory deals with middle school, bullying, and speech therapy in this realistic and sympathetic debut novel.

A Song Called Home by Sara Zarr

Published by Balzer + Bray

A new home with a new stepfather, an absent father, a rebellious sister…Lou is coping with a lot of upheaval, and Sara Zarr tells her story with empathy and a lot of heart.

5 favorite read-alouds

Kid-tested and approved.

The Three Billy Goats Gruff retold by Mac Barnett, illustrated by Jon Klassen

Published by Orchard Books

A gross troll who speaks in funny rhymes and a hilariously oversized billy goat who defeats him. Kids got a big kick out of this, and I think we can all look forward to the future fairy tale retellings that have been promised us from this team.

Puppy Bus by Drew Brockington

Published by Harry N. Abrams

If you’re trying to get kids over their back-to-school jitters, climb aboard the puppy bus for a riotously good time with a boy who accidentally gets on the wrong bus on his first day of school.

Knight Owl by Christopher Denise

Published by Christy Ottaviano Books

A wise little owl finds out what has been wiping out the bigger knights and uses his nocturnal skills to defeat it–and then befriend it. Don’t rule this out for a Caldecott.

Hot Dog by Doug Salati

Published by Knopf Books for Young Readers

This nearly wordless book was a close second in many of my mock Caldecott votes. The colors and details help the reader share the relief of the dog and its owner when they escape the city on a hot summer day.

Endlessly Ever After: Pick Your Path to Countless Fairy Tale Endings by Laurel Snyder, illustrated by Dan Santat

Published by Chronicle Books

This choose-your-own fairy tale adventure was one of the biggest hits of the year with both students and teachers. It’s engaging and interactive, and Dan Santat’s fabulous illustrations could win him another Caldecott.

Six Coretta Scott King Award predictions

I couldn’t narrow this list down to five, nor do I want to speculate on if they will earn recognition for the writing or the artwork. These books could also be Caldecott and/or Newbery contenders.

I have a Coretta Scott King mock awards PowerPoint for sale on TPT with ten contenders each for author and illustrator awards or honors.

Swim Team by Johnnie Christmas

Published by HarperAlley

Longlisted for the National Book Award, this graphic novel has lots of popular appeal as well as excellent craftsmanship in both the writing and art.

Ablaze with Color: A Story of Alma Thomas by Jeanne Walker Harvey, illustrated by Loveis Wise

Published by HarperCollins

Ablaze with color is right, with the brilliant illustrations that celebrate artist Alma Thomas’s work.

H Is for Harlem by Dinah Johnson, illustrated by April Harrison

Published by Christy Ottaviano Books

I was ready to hop on the train to NYC after reading this lively book with its colorful illustrations covering the history of Harlem and filled with interesting places to visit.

Choosing Brave: How Mamie Till-Mobley and Emmett Till Sparked the Civil Rights Movement by Angela Joy, illustrated by Janelle Washington

Published by Roaring Brook Press

I learned a lot about Mamie Till-Mobley’s courageous life in this stunning book that combines Angela Joy’s free verse with Janelle Washington’s unique cut-paper illustrations.

Standing in the Need of Prayer: A Modern Retelling of the Classic Spiritual by Carole Boston Weatherford, illustrated by Frank Morrison

Published by Crown Books for Young Readers

Carole Boston Weatherford’s reworking of this spiritual and Frank Morrison’s graffiti-inspired illustrations make this a great resource for teaching Black history. Morrison could also be considered for Kick Push and Uncle John’s City Garden, and Weatherford for The Faith of Elijah Cummings.

Star Child: A Biographic Constellation of Octavia Estelle Butler by Ibi Zoboi

Published by Dutton Books for Young Readers

Ibi Zoboi’s admiration for science fiction author Octavia Estelle Butler shines through in both the writing and art of this unique biography.

Five Newbery predictions

Lots of Newbery veterans on this list!

I meant to include the link to my mock Caldecott on TPT yesterday. This is a PowerPoint slideshow with 20 books that may be considered for the Caldecott, with facts about the illustrators and what to look for in the illustrations.

The Ogress and the Orphans by Kelly Barnhill

Published by Algonquin Young Readers

A timely fantasy about a kind ogress, a wicked mayor, a troubled town, and the children who figure out who’s good and who’s evil to reset their town in the right direction.

Jennifer Chan Is Not Alone by Tae Keller

Published by Random House Books for Young Readers

Everyone has a story to tell, whether that person is a bully, a target, or a bystander, in this powerful novel that explores the dynamics of middle school girls’ social lives.

.Those Kids from Fawn Creek by Erin Entrada Kelly

Published by Greenwillow Books

The sixth graders of Fawn Creek have known each other all their lives and have a well-established social structure. But when Renni moves away and a mysterious new girl takes her place, the order is upset and things start to change.

The Last Mapmaker by Christina Soontornvat

Published by Candlewick

Sai has overcome her impoverished background to become assistant to Paiyoon the mapmaker. When Paiyoon is invited by the Queen on a sea journey to explore some unknown lands, Sai goes along and is drawn into adventure and political intrigue.

Maizy Chen’s Last Chance by Lisa Yee

Published by Random House Books for Young Readers

When Maizy’s grandfather gets sick, she and her mother return to her mom’s childhood home in Last Chance, Minnesota. Maizy’s not excited at the prospect of spending an entire summer with grandparents she barely knows, but Last Chance proves to be surprisingly interesting, and what Maizy learns about her past helps her deal with a racist incident that threatens her grandparents’ restaurant.

Five Caldecott Predictions

There are some years when I choose a book on this list with a sense of obligation, but not this year. I love all five of these books for a variety of reasons and would be very happy to see any of them win.

Farmhouse by Sophie Blackall

Published by Little, Brown Books for Young Readers

Sophie Blackall already has two Caldecott Medals, so maybe the committee will decide to spread the wealth a little, but I don’t see how this book can’t be a top contender with its incredible artistry, craftsmanship, and circle-of-life story.

The Year We Learned to Fly by Jacqueline Woodson, illustrated by Rafael López

Published by Nancy Paulsen Books

The Day You Begin by this team has become a first-day-of-school favorite, and I think this one is even better, reminding us of how we get through difficult times, with oblique references to 2020, both the pandemic and Black Lives Matter movement.

Action! How Movies Began by Meghan McCarthy

Published by Simon and Schuster/Paula Wiseman Books

This may be more of a personal favorite than a top contender, but I was just wowed by the detailed renditions of movie scenes as well as the cohesive writing of many different topics in movie history.

Blue: A History of the Color as Deep as the Sea and as Wide as the Sky by Nana Ekua Brew-Hammond, ill. by Daniel Minter

Published by Knopf Books for Young Readers

Caldecott, Sibert, King…there are many awards that could go to this fascinating and gorgeous picture book that covers so many different aspects of the color blue.

Gibberish by Young Vo

Published by Levine Querido

In my mock Caldecott, second and third graders voted this as their favorite. Kids loved the illustrations and how they show a friendship blossoming on Dat’s first day in an American school.

Through the North Pole Snow by Polly Faber, illustrated by Richard Jones

Published by Candlewick

Summary:  A little fox out hunting accidentally falls through the roof of a house buried in the snow.  He’s rescued by a pair of red-clad arms belonging to an old, tired-looking man with a white beard.  After getting comfortable, the fox settles in at the end of the man’s bed, and the two enjoy a long winter’s nap.  With the arrival of warmer weather, they wake up, and the man gets to work building all kinds of things to fill his empty shelves.  As the days start to grow short again, snow arrives along with a blizzard of letters.  The man reads each one, using them as a guide to fill his bag.  On Christmas Eve, he hitches up his reindeer, and the fox accompanies Santa Claus as he rides his sleigh into the night sky.  32 pages; ages 4-8.

Pros:  This became my go-to holiday book to read to my PreK-1 students.  They enjoyed gathering clues with the fox to learn Santa’s identity and job.  The pictures at the end will certainly get everyone in the Christmas spirit.

Cons:  The fox seemed a bit slow to catch on. The clues are all there, but he doesn’t completely catch on until he’s taking off in the sleigh with Santa and the reindeer.

The Christmas Book Flood by Emily Kilgore, illustrated by Kitty Moss

Published by Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Summary:  A girl searches for a gift book for Jólabókaflóɗ, or the Christmas Book Flood.  As the nights grow longer, people all over Iceland shop in bookstores and by searching the Book Bulletin to find books that they will give as gifts on Christmas Eve.  Time is running out, but the girl finally finds the perfect book.  On Christmas Eve, she and her family exchange books, then everyone settles down with blankets, pillows, and hot chocolate to read through the long December night.  Includes an author’s note with additional information about the Christmas Book Flood.  40 pages; ages 4-8.

Pros:  The very definition of hygge, this cozy book with its colorful illustrations is the perfect Christmas Eve read, for yourself or to give as a gift.

Cons:  Preschoolers may not find book shopping to be the most exciting holiday activity to read about.

Mia in the Mix by Coco Simon, illustrated by Glass House Graphics

Published by Simon Spotlight

Summary:  The Cupcake Diaries chapter books are now a graphic novel series, beginning with Katie and the Cupcake Cure and Mia in the Mix.  Mia’s book was the first one to reach me via interlibrary loan, so I ended up reading book 2.  Mia has recently moved to town with her mom, her mom’s boyfriend, and his son, leaving behind her dad and friends in New York City.  She meets Katie, Emma, and Alexis, and the four girls form the Cupcake Club.  As the business is starting to get off the ground, Mia finds herself torn between wanting to spend time with the club and hanging out with some other girls who share her interest in fashion.  Ultimately, Mia decides the cupcake girls are her truest friends, while finding ways to make room for other people in her life.  160 pages; grades 3-6.

Pros:  This series will appeal to Baby-Sitters Club fans, with similar themes of friendship and starting a business.  The artwork is appealing, and the situations with family and friends are ones that many kids will relate to.

Cons:  It feels like a bit of a rip-off of the BSC series.

Tumble by Celia C. Pérez

Published by Kokila

Summary:  Addie’s mom is expecting a baby, leading her stepfather Alex to offer to adopt her.  While Addie loves Alex, she wants to learn about her biological father before making her decision.  Her mom has always refused to tell her anything about him, so Addie does some detective work with the help of her best friend Cy.  When she discovers that her father is the wrestler Manny Bravo, she convinces her mom to let her visit him and his family in the nearby town where her mom grew up, and where the Bravo family still lives.  The Bravos are famous Mexican American wrestlers in a community known for wrestling, and Addie is kind of starstruck when she meets them.  But soon she begins to form warm bonds with all of them…except for Manny, who frequently is late for their meetings or stands her up completely.  Eventually, Addie begins to understand why her mother left him to pursue her own dreams, and she is able to make some important decisions about her family and her future.  368 pages; grades 4-7.

Pros:  Belpré Honor winner Celia C. Pérez may be in line for another award or two with this heartwarming story of Addie and her family and friends.  There’s a lot going on with both of Addie’s families, as well as interesting subplots, particularly one about an unusual production of The Nutcracker that Cy is directing at their middle school. Pérez does an excellent job of weaving all the various parts of the story together.

Cons:  I could see the writing on the wall with Manny about halfway through the book.