What it’s about: A young boy is forced to spend time with his grandfather, who only speaks Vietnamese, so they cannot communicate and how they find a way around that to build a bond.
What made me pick it up: It was well reviewed.
My favorite parts: It has fantastic illustrations that blend a young child’s imaginative drawings with the work of more classically trained artist. They really show how even if you speak a different drawing “language” you can work together to make interesting worlds. I loved the message that you can always find common ground with someone who seems wildly different from you.
Who it’s great for: Littles who might have a disconnect from their older relatives for one reason or another.
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.
What it’s about: A little girl has to draw a picture of where she is from but she left her homeland when she was only a baby so she can’t remember. She turns to neighbors and family members to help her create her picture.
What made me pick it up: I’m a huge fan of Díaz and was delighted when I found out he was turning his talents to picture books.
My favorite parts: I loved the beautiful descriptions of her place of birth, and the way the illustrations show how a young child might literally interpret them. I also like the use of a general “monster” to simplify the explanation of conflicts that caused many people to flee their nation. The colors are lively and it will make you want to book a trip to hear the music, and revel in the pardisio. (I also listened to this on audio, which is read by the author so it is excellent for that reason and includes vibrant music which only adds to the story.)
Who it’s great for: Díaz fans. Littles who can’t quite remember their birthplace. Anyone missing the island where they used to live. Readers looking for diverse books.
What it’s about: Why you should follow your passion one tiny step at a time.
What made me pick it up: It was mentioned in When To Jump, which I read recently.
My favorite parts: This is colorful and short and full of inspirational quotes and the tiny push you might need to begin following your calling. You don’t have to quit your job or go on an intense spiritual journey or backpack around Asia for any period of time, unless you feel you really need to. Just get up a few minutes early to paint or write or do whatever it is you feel you need to do. See where it leads. I do appreciate reminders now and then that you can listen to your inner voice and see what it’s telling you without disrupting your entire world. Or maybe it will and that will also be a fun adventure.
Who it’s great for: Anyone wondering if this is it.
What it’s about: An African-American football player turned painter. Or, I guess, a painter who intermittently played football.
What made me pick it up: I can’t remember now. It must’ve been mentioned somewhere and sounded interesting so I placed a hold.
My favorite parts: The illustrations are lovely, as are the examples of artwork included. I really enjoyed learning about an artist I’d never heard of before and a bit of African American history that is not widely known. It was such an inspiring story and a nice reminder to follow your dreams, even if it doesn’t pay or you get sidetracked for a while on your journey.
Who it’s great for: Art lovers of all ages. Readers looking for less well known African American history stories.
What’s it about: Brooklyn teen Sierra Santiago’s summer vacation is interrupted by weeping street murals, family secrets, and a kind of magic that links the world of the living with that of the dead.
What made me pick it up: I remember seeing good buzz about this when it came out a couple of years ago, so I checked it out when I saw that the audiobook was available.
My favorite things: Once I started this book I didn’t want to stop. The story is engaging and moves quickly with a sense of urgency that will make it hard to put down after “one more chapter.” Woven throughout the story are critiques of a sort of neocolonialist anthropology, gentrification, and erasure of cultural traditions – all of which come together to create a complex portrait of a changing Brooklyn.
Who it’s great for: Teens interested in urban fantasy.
What’s it about: The story of two friends, partners in art and life, creating animated works that bring them a sort of fame while also forcing them to confront difficult truths and traumas in their lives that other people would like to leave in the past.
What made me pick it up: I needed an audiobook to listen to and this one was available, has gotten a lot of good press, and has a cover that makes me want to read it.
My favorite things: Whitaker treats characters suffering addictions almost without judgment in a way that is refreshingly humane. She takes the time to develop every character’s layers and the complexity of their relationships.
Who it’s great for: Readers looking for complex relationships between characters or an exploration of identity.
What it’s about: A graphic memoir exploring love, art, loss, memory, and mortality.
What made me pick it up: I can’t seem to pass up a graphic memoir.
My favorite things: Radtke’s art is done in a simple grayscale that perfectly complements her story. I loved the way she tied together her own restlessness with an examination of mortality. The way she chronicles her own loss and grief through a growing fascination with deserted towns is honest and compelling.
Who it’s great for: Readers looking for an engaging exploration of mortality and meaning. Fan’s of artists’ memoirs.
Originally published in: original 2007, in translation 2017
What it’s about: A graphic memoir chronicling relationships and family dysfunction, love and heartache.
What made me pick it up: I gravitated toward it the moment it showed up on our cart of new books – the bleak cover art was immediately compelling to me.
My favorite things: The art, the art! Written over the course of twelve years, the art varies in style and medium and still somehow fits together to paint a portrait of a life through time. Complexities and heartaches of real life, honest about flaws, weaknesses, and mistakes. I love the use of handwriting rather than a font for an even more expressive read.
Who it’s great for: Readers looking for an emotionally engaging exploration of family and relationships.