Let’s Get Graphic

Graphic novels for all ages are booming! For at least a decade, the number of graphic novels for youth has been growing, with increasingly diverse topics, characters, and storylines.

Until recently, though, graphic novels for youth with QUILTBAG characters and themes were few and far between. Despite all the awesome comics for kids and teens, graphic novels seemed to be lagging behind traditional novels in the QUILTBAG arena.

Thankfully that’s changing, and graphic novels for and about QUILTBAG youth are becoming more plentiful. In QUILTBAG #6 I talked about Drama by Raina Telgemeier, a groundbreaking middle grade graphic novel that’s been a massive hit ever since its release in 2012. In just the past year or two, a flood of other graphic novels for teens, tweens, and younger kids have joined Drama in the QUILTBAG graphic novel landscape.

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Check, Please! #Hockey by Ngozi Ukazu tells the sweet and funny tale of Eric “Bitty” Bittle, a former high school figure skater who applies his skating skills to hockey once he’s in college. Bitty loves baking for his friends, social networking (his tweets are compiled in the back of the book), and the camaraderie of his hockey team. The cute, cartoony art in this Morris Award finalist will appeal to younger readers, but this one is for older teens — the characters are all in college and the storylines are authentic to that. Some of Bitty’s teammates express themselves in the colorful ways you might expect from college hockey players, so fair warning. I loved this book and can’t wait for the next volume.

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In Bloom by Kevin Panetta and Savanna Ganucheau, Ari is eager to move to the big city with his bandmates, but his parents need his help running the family bakery in their sleepy beach town. Ari thinks if he can find someone to take his place, maybe his father will let him go. Enter Hector, an easy-going guy who loves to bake and answers the Help Wanted call. Ari and Hector become co-workers, then friends. This charming, slow-burn romance features older teens but will appeal to younger teens as well; it’s published by First Second, who can always be counted on to provide some of the very best graphic novels for youth.

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The Prince and the Dressmaker by Jen Wang, also from First Second, showed up on the 2019 Rainbow List (see QUILTBAG #2) and is also a Teens’ Top Ten 2019 nominee. After seamstress Frances is fired for creating a dress her boss finds too edgy, she’s hired by a mysterious client who is intrigued by her daring designs. Her new admirer turns out to be the Prince, who secretly likes wearing beautiful dresses. Together, the two of them are unstoppable. Using a lush color palette and clean, sweeping lines, Wang beautifully tells this charming tale of fashion and finding one’s identity. This is a sweet story suitable for tweens and older.

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A collection of connected short stories, The Cardboard Kingdom by Chad Sell tracks a neighborhood-full of kids who, over the course of one summer, create an increasingly elaborate fantasy world using cardboard boxes and their imaginations. Several characters display some sort of gender non-conformity in ordinary, childlike ways — the boy who wants to play the Empress; the girl who wants to be a mustache-wearing scientist; the boy who’d rather be rescued by the prince than slay the dragon. The art is colorful and energetic, and the text is spare and easy to read. This book is perfectly appealing for all ages.

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Kiss Number 8 by Colleen AF Venable and Ellen T. Crenshaw is a recent release from First Second for more mature teens. Mads attends Catholic high school where her friend group includes wild child Cat, goody-goody Laura, and Laura’s brother Adam, who has a crush on Mads. Venable has crafted a story rich with friend drama, family mystery and strife, and a main character who compellingly struggles to make sense of her family, friends, and feelings. Crenshaw’s drawings are lively; expressive body language and facial expressions help tell the story in tandem with the text.

There are plenty of other comics and graphic novels for youth with QUILTBAG characters, and also several with QUILTBAG vibes or appeal. Nimona, Fence, Witch Boy, Lumberjanes, Backstagers, Roller Girl, This One Summer, and Tomboy are just a few worth recommending.

What are your favorite graphic novels and comics for youth that have QUILTBAG characters or storylines? I’d love to hear your suggestions!

PS: I know some of you are educators, and if you’re still reluctant to read graphic novels or use them in your classroom, I recommend this essay-in-comic-form by Gene Yang, the author of the Printz-winning American Born Chinese and a huge advocate for comics for kids. A recent Edweek article weighs in, as well, on why graphic novels belong in your English classroom. And finally, Publishers Weekly explains why the graphic novel is a perfectly teachable format.