What it’s about: A young boy who wishes to be a mermaid like the performers he sees at the pool.
What made me pick it up: I’d seen it well reviewed online.
My favorite parts: Obviously the entirely accepting and incredibly sweet abuela is my favorite. Instead of yelling at the child for taking the curtains down to make a tail and using the fern as a headdress while she’s in the bath, she gets him a necklace to compliment his outfit. Then she takes him to a parade to see other mermaids like him. The acceptance is almost too beautiful to read without tearing up.
Who it’s great for: Everyone. Littles who do their own thing.
What’s it about: 17-year-old Kiko Himura spends her days struggling with her social anxiety and feeling like her half-Japanese identity means she’ll never fit in anywhere – especially not with her mother. She lives for the day she’ll escape to art school, but first, she has to get in.
What made me pick it up: It was a finalist for the Morris Award given to the best YA debut novel.
My favorite things: Bowman includes the most magical descriptions of Kiko’s art. They make her paintings and drawings come to life and reflect and inspire real emotion. There’s a strong romantic element to the story that is perfectly complicated.
Who it’s great for: Teens interested in a complicated romance with lots of family drama.
Originally published in: 2017 (English translation in 2018)
What’s it about: A collection of brief biographies of a variety of extraordinary women whose lives have left lasting impact on history – all in graphic novel form.
What made me pick it up: I couldn’t not pick it up.
My favorite things: Bagieu profiles a wide variety of women from artists to activists, doctors to astronauts. Each woman gets several pages for her story to paint a more full picture of her life and impact
Originally published in: 2015 (here in the States)
What it’s about: A man who has been grieving (or not so much) his lost love for 20 years by shutting down part of himself and trying to forget, and his path back to life.
What made me pick it up: I had tried to read it once before but was expecting a bit of fluff centered around a female protagonist (for no particular reason) and when I encountered a male one I set it back down. Just couldn’t get into it. Then I got it as a gift for Christmas and gave myself a six-month deadline. Five months in, when I finally picked it up and gave it a try I was quite engaged and it went very quickly.
My favorite things: I absolutely didn’t expect this to fall near my category of grumpy old man books, but it really wasn’t far from it. In that sense it fit my bill. We follow Paris’s Literary Apothecary as he prescribes books for all of life’s ailments, except his own. But once he is force to confront his past loss he…. well, he runs away. Expect to fall wildly in love with the lush description of France’s cities and countryside. You’ll want to throw everything away and rush across the pond to also amble through. Along the way he meets fellow travelers hiding from their own lives and it becomes a tale of becoming, and friendship, and healing. Grief isn’t neat and tidy and its timeline is fluid. I adored how the author presented characters who were decades into their half lives and still solidly grieving. And of course, there are love stories, and tiny surprises, and a lot of forgiveness and compassion and new beginnings. This story will give you hope and do so with stories of the gentlest absurdity that is life. You’ll be thinking of this story long after you finish it.
Who it’s great for: Adults, especially those who feel like they got off track somewhere and are struggling to find the way back.
What it’s about: A group of kids have to prove their library benefactor, Luigi Lemoncello, hasn’t stolen intellectual property in a high-stakes trivia scavenger hunt.
What made me pick it up: It was recommended to me by a young reader from the library.
My favorite parts: This book is incredibly fun! Not only does Grabenstein weave in details from other children’s books but he makes his characters continuously profess their admiration for libraries and librarians. I’ll read any book that is essentially a love letter to my profession. But more than that, this book is wildly entertaining. Outlandish? Sure, but we’re dealing with a fictional bazillionaire here. I really liked how even though I expected things to turn out ok in the end, I wasn’t really sure they would and remained on the edge of my seat down to the final pages. It also has a nicely done information literacy storyline that emphasizes over and over to the characters the need to search for reliable sources and consider alternative explanations before jumping to conclusions. Since this is book #3, I’ll head back to the beginning and work my way through the other two books.
Who it’s great for: Upper elementary readers on up.
What it’s about: Being kind in the face of bullying.
What made me pick it up: I can’t quite remember. I think I saw it on Twitter. Wherever it was, the person was raving about it.
My favorite parts: This sweet and brief picture book contains no words. And it doesn’t need to. The story is told perfectly through the illustrations. When a young child is antagonized by a bully she finds an ally in another child who witnessed the bullying. And they walk to school together. Then another child joins, until everyone chooses to support the bullied child. It’s powerful and lovely and all kids and adults alike should read it.
What’s it about: A former hockey player struggling to keep it together find his life interrupted when his younger sister comes home years after disappearing. The siblings wrestle with violence and addiction, family and identity, and a constant sense of alienation.
What made me pick it up: I love Jeff Lemire.
My favorite things: I can’t remember where I read it, but someone described this as Fargo but in Canada and I can’t think of a better way to describe the cold, bleak tone. As always, Lemire’s art is stunning and perfectly fits the mood of the dark story and complex characters.
Who it’s great for: Fans of Lemire’s other work, particularly Essex County. Graphic novel readers looking for a family drama.
What it’s about: The last living dinosaur and the little girl who lives next door and is trying to prove he exists.
What made me pick it up: A coworker gave this five stars on Goodreads so I had to see what all the fuss was about.
My favorite parts: No one has ever really noticed a dinosaur living nearby. Why not? Because they are too busy! It was a gentle reminder to look up once in a while and really notice what’s going on around you. You might see a dinosaur! I also like the tenacity of the little girl. No one believes the dinosaur she keeps talking about exists but she doesn’t give up. Parts of this are hysterical and I won’t ruin the dinosaur’s best joke for you. It’s more illustration heavy than text heavy, which is perfect for beginning or struggling readers. And for avid or older readers, it goes very quickly. I finished it in like 20 minutes tops. Then I immediately checked it out to Abby. It’s so good it must be shared.
Who it’s great for: All ages, but especially curious, imaginative, and/or literacy-challenged young readers.
What’s it about: A quick guide to avoiding implicating yourself in criminal activity while talking to the police. Tl;dr don’t talk to the police. No really, don’t.
What made me pick it up: It is very short and the title intrigued me.
My favorite things: Duane tries to balance every critique of police interrogation techniques with positive words about their work. He doesn’t identify the police as a problem, but rather insists that they are very good at finding evidence – even when it implicates innocent people. Duane also offers very specific advice on what you do have to tell the police and when and how to effectively demand to speak with a lawyer.
Who it’s great for: Anyone curious about what you actually have to tell the police. A good primer for anyone worried about dealing with the police
What’s it about: In a near-future dystopian United States, Hannah has been subjected to chroming – her skin genetically altered to bright red – to publicly indicate her guilt as a violent felon in a society that has moved quickly toward a theocracy.
What made me pick it up: I’d heard that this was a modern-day Scarlet Letter with a strong Handmaid’s Tale feel, which was impossible to resist.
My favorite things: While the latter part of the book didn’t wow me, the opening and the premise are nearly perfect. Jordan creates a complex main character who wrestles with her own values as she moves away from a total acceptance of the righteous and utterly restrictive laws that rule much of the country. Though she is in a world where religious moralism reigns supreme and bodily autonomy doesn’t exist, her struggle to find peace with herself and her actions gives hope in a time of what feels like insurmountable tension and divisiveness.
Who it’s great for: Fans of The Handmaid’s Tale, Naomi Alderman’s The Power, and other dystopian stories with a strong feminist bent.