Graphic Novel Recommendations

Today we have Nancy McKay from Ella Johnson Memorial Library talking about graphic novels.

Graphic novels have been growing in popularity but it seems at times that a prejudice against them remains, with a lingering doubt about their literary merit. But as a former elementary teacher, and now a current teen librarian, I can say confidently that graphic novels are a magnificent way to bring a story to life.  And other educators agree, as teachers and librarians on the 2014 New York Comic Con panel Super Girls: Using Comics to Engage Female Students in the High School Classroom listed these benefits and skills that are strengthened by graphic novels: “motivating reluctant readers, inference, memory, sequencing, understanding succinct language, and reading comprehension.” To find out more about how graphic novels can be used in education go to the website CBLDF (Comic Book Legal Defense Fund for they have featured articles that are designed to lessen confusion around the content of graphic novels and to help parents and educators raise readers.

There is great variety within graphic novels, with many genres available beyond the stereotypical superhero stories (although those can be great too!). No matter your interest, there is a graphic novel for you, so I have pulled together some of my favorites to highlight.

Diversity is key in literature and even stronger when an #ownvoices author can share their experiences with the reader. As such, here are a few Diverse Reads:

Roughneck by Jeff Lemire is a beautifully told standalone tale of a brother and sister’s quest to reconnect with one another and their cultural identity written and illustrated by the talented Jeff Lemire. Lemire handles the storyline of Derek and Beth’s Cree heritage with grace and respect and shows the reality of native families becoming disenfranchised from their cultural heritage. The ending is open to interpretation, and while I at first looked at it one way, re-reading it I saw a more melancholy but poignant way of concluding the story.

The graphic novel adaptation of Octavia E. Butler’s story, Kindred, was extremely well done. Butler’s original novel, published in 1979, was a groundbreaking story that liberally dipped into historical fiction, science fiction and fantasy within a time traveling framework. The author herself called the story “a kind of grim fantasy”, and this adaptation shows just that. This was a heartbreaking story, and through the juxtaposition of main character Dana’s experiences in two different centuries, this fantasy novel actually gives a highly realistic view of the slavery era.

The Outside Circle, written by Patti LaBoucane-Benson and illustrated by Kelly Mellings, tells the fictional tale of a Canadian First Nations man that comes to terms with his heritage and who begins to take responsibility for his life. The story is based on the reality that many Native people face (in Canada and the US), for the government took away thousands of children from their families over the years, breaking the circles of community and fragmenting generations of people with no connection to their tribe anymore.

Strange Fruit by JG Jones and Mark Waid has an interesting premise: what if a black Superman landed in the segregated South during the 1920’s? This magical realism tale is based off the historical 1927 flooding that affected many towns in the South along rivers.  As the threat of disaster looms in this story, and racial tensions are mounting, an explosion occurs nearby. An alien ship has crash landed and out climbs a naked black man, whose ship disappears into the river muck. This novel raised more questions than it answered, but was certainly thought-provoking.


For those of you that like horror stories, here are some Dark & Disturbing books:

Locke & Key is truly one of the best graphic novels I have ever read, hands down.  It just dominates. Joe Hill and Gabriel Rodriguez are superb storytellers, and the six volume series is strong from beginning to end. The story starts with a family tragedy as the Locke family is terrorized by two students who have an ax to grind with the father, Rendell. After the father’s murder, the shattered family leaves California and heads to Massachusetts to start over at the Locke family estate but malevolent horrors await them there.

Beautiful Darkness by Fabien Vehlmann and Kerascoët was macabre, unsettling and gruesome. I loved it. This seemingly sweet graphic novel starts out with a lovely young woman having tea with a prince, and it is going splendidly well, that is until great globs of red stuff starts falling on them. As everyone runs for safety, the view shifts away for a long shot, and you see little creatures pouring out of the orifices of a dead girl. And the story continues to go sideways from there.

Another series that I found outstanding was Revival, written by Tim Seeley and illustrated by Mike Norton.  It was an atypical living dead story, in which a handful of dead suddenly came back to life. They quietly rejoin their former lives, not even realizing or remembering their deaths. Their new existence sets the town on edge, with media scrutiny, a government quarantine and religious fanatics taking over the region. I loved this series even before I won a contest run by Seeley and Norton, in which I was drawn in as a cameo character in the eighth and last volume. I will talk about this honor until my dying day.



Sometimes real life is stranger than fiction and these non-fiction stories or based on fact stories are a great example of Real & Gritty:

The March trilogy is a perfect example of how graphic novels can bring educational content alive. This non-fiction series is a vivid account by Congressman John Lewis, Andrew Aydin and Nate Powell about Lewis’ human rights struggle and the greater Civil Rights movement. Students can learn so much from these three novels as they bring history to life and supplements what text books only briefly touch on.

Briggs Land by Brian Wood and Mack Chater is an absolutely riveting series about “an American family under siege” by both the government and their own hand. Set in rural upstate New York, Briggs Land is a hundred square mile oasis for people who want to live off the grid. Established in the Civil War era, the Briggs family would give sanctuary to those who wanted to live a simple life, but this anti-government colony has taken a dark turn in recent times. The village that grew within its fences has morphed into a breeding ground for white supremacy, domestic terrorism and money laundering.

Rebels: A Well Regulated Militia is “a historical epic of America’s founding” and is very accurate in describing this exceptionally good graphic novel by Brian Wood (again!) and Andrea Mutti . It gives a window into the Revolutionary War era based in the NE corner of our new nation in the late 1700’s. Divided into six chapters, Wood first gives us a lengthy portrait of the fictional character Seth Abbott and his journey from farm boy to one of the well respected leaders of the Green Mountain Boys. Then we are given shorter non-linear vignettes of other loyalists and patriots and their contributions to the war.


Now that I’ve covered other genres in graphic novels, I want to share some Classic Superhero stories that go deeper than most:

Although Superman: American Alien by Max Landis has Superman in the title, it is really focused on Clark Kent stories. Each of the seven stories features a different artist and are put in chronological order to fill in the gaps in the Superman canon. We start with Clark as a boy learning how to fly, move through his adolescence, and finally settle in his early years in Metropolis. Every story is strong, and fits in seamlessly with what we already know about Superman. I highly recommend this book, for it humanizes him. All seven stories are excellent, and they flow and connect into one another to form the larger picture of who Clark Kent is and who he will be. A must buy for Superman aficionados!

Kingdom Come, written by Mark Waid and illustrated by Alex Ross, was praised by IGN with the statement, “One of the greatest comic book stories of all time”, and they were not far off the mark. I am typically more a Marvel fan, but this DC story was fantastic for the moralistic debate featured in the story line. The artwork is top notch, with a distinctive photo-realism look and holds up 20 years after first being published. This book stays true to each character’s back story, so kudos to the team’s familiarity with the history of all the superheroes!  As such, the Epilogue was a perfect ending.

Vision- Little Worse Than A Man by Tom King and illustrated by Gabriel Hernandez Walta is as far from a superhero story as possible. While grounded in the Marvel universe, with cameos by other Avengers and villains, this book is about our definition of humanity. This quietly ominous story had such power, and felt especially moving to me to read at this time when I worry about our nation’s future. Its sequel Little Better Than A Beast was equally strong.

Marvel 1602, written by the esteemed Neil Gaiman and Andy Kubert, was marvelous! The story was a perfect way to freshen up the franchise and reboot some of the hero’s storylines. The story takes place in 1602, and is an alternate world in which Europe and colonial America’s history is jumbled and out of order due to a rift in the timeline, with America’s first child of European descent, Virginia Dare, surviving and traveling overseas to London with her bodyguard Rojhaz. Court intrigue during the reign of Queen Elizabeth I abounds, and there are several betrayals, with many of the mutants needing to travel far to escape persecution for being “witchbreed”. Eventually, America becomes a sanctuary for these people with magical abilities, and an answer as to why they are in 1602 is made clear.


While I could wax poetic about many other books, I hope those featured encourage you to pick up a graphic novel for the first time or introduces you to new titles if you already are a fan.

Nancy McKay, Teen Librarian at Ella Johnson Library in Hampshire, Illinois.

What to do when your Book Discussion fails

When I started at my new library I was excited to be leading a monthly book discussion. My previous library only did book discussions in the summer and my thought was to be doing it monthly must mean high interest, right?

Wrong! I have lead three discussions as of this post and I wouldn’t exactly call them a success.

My first discussion in October, I had two boys attend. One of which did not read the book and the second only read the first two chapters. Since we couldn’t discuss the book, I just forgot about it and instead I let them take control and share what they have read and enjoyed with me.

In November, I had one girl who only read about ⅓ of the book.

For December’s, I had one girl (who was not from the month before) who signed up late and only read about ¼ of the book. Both months, I talked about what I could with each girl. It was hard because the second was a mystery but she was definitely intrigued to finish the book.

It was disappointing month after month to not be able to fully discuss the books I carefully chose to discuss with teens. The important thing to remember if this happens to you is to not let it get you down. Discuss what you can of the book with who shows, and/or discuss what they just like to read.

What I discovered though, is that something different needs to be done. The book discussions for January, February and March were planned before I discovered what low attendance I was having and I am willing to keep consistency for the Spring but I am definitely looking to revamp after summer.

How may you ask?

Step 1: Reduce – Yes, we are libraries and books are our thing but a monthly discussion can be to much for teens. Between school, homework, school sports and clubs and other extracurricular activities, teens reading time is limited and would likely prefer to read what they really want to.  Instead, make discussions either bi-monthly or once a season. You can always add more for summer if you like.

Step 2: Best time to schedule – Like I said, teens are busy. Schedule book discussions either the week of or week after a school break or long weekend. Time off from school allows more time for teens to get in reading and therefore more likely to complete and attend the book discussion.

Step 3: Audio books – Try selecting a book that is available in audio format from your library. This allow teens who walk to & from school or can’t read on the bus to take in the story you selected. They can also listen while doing other things such as getting ready for school and cleaning their rooms.

Step 4: Snacks – If you don’t already supply snacks you should. Teens are always more likely to come if free food is offered. Offers first dibs to those who finished the book.

Step 5: Get the teens who come involved in the planning – Chose a selection (no more than 3 or 4) and let the teens who are attending the current meeting vote for the next book or the one after depending on your library. At my library we put the titles in the newsletter so I may have to have them vote for the one after. Having teens select a book they are interested in means they are more likely attend.

Another Option: Instead of choosing a book, choose a genre or theme. Let’s say you pick Fantasy or Road Trip Novels. Have the teens select a book that meets the genre or theme for the discussion (have recommendations available) and then let them book talk what they read. With this teens are more likely to read a book they are interested in and may even walk away with some titles to add to their TBR list. 

Just remember what works for one library may not work for another. Maybe you will want to alternate between everybody reading one book and everybody reading the game genre or theme. You may also need to revamp every couple of years as teens age out and new teens age in.

Whatever you do, don’t give up on your book discussions!

How to Have a Successful Volunteer Program without a TAB/TAG/etc. Group

Sometimes what works for other libraries won’t work for yours. When I took over the YA position at my library there was a TAB group started. I had a few kids that would show up sporadically to meetings. I tried revamping it a few times to make it easier for them to attend, from making it drop-in, to shortening it to three month periods of time instead of a year, and changing up some of what they did. I always had some kids attend, but even though they would be excited about things we talked about at the meeting, they wouldn’t show up or wouldn’t volunteer. I also didn’t like that they were always volunteering at the programs that I was designing for them, instead of being able to participate in them. I was struggling to find a way for them to get hours that worked for them, especially with their busy schedules. Most of my high schoolers are super involved between AP classes, after school activities, family, and other extracurriculars, getting them to be able to consistently come to a meeting wasn’t working.

In the Youth Services department at my library we had recently started asking for YA volunteers to help with the younger kids programs. It struck me that we could turn this into something much more and it could take the place of TAB. It. WORKED. We now have over 20 regular volunteers and keep getting applications regularly. I went from struggling to find anyone to help with programs to having at least 3 people sign up to help with registered programs, and 6 sign up for large scale drop-in programs. We also give various other opportunities if programming isn’t their thing or doesn’t fit in their schedule.

How did I do this?

I told all of my TAB members what we were doing and if they were interested to fill out our regular volunteer form, versus the TAB one. They were all excited to have a bit more freedom in the schedule and not having to always attending meetings so they could work their volunteering out around school and activities. We started off with the group of them, but immediately started getting other applications once they told their friends, I went and visited the schools, and it was posted online.

Once they apply my colleague that does it with me and I reach out to them in regards to an “interview.” We want to give them experience in interviewing, especially if they haven’t had a job before. This also gives us the chance to really explain the program, because sometimes things can be confusing over email.

We have two slightly different options for middle schoolers (7th & 8th grade) and high schoolers (9th to 12th grade). Middle schoolers are able to volunteer at our large scale drop-in programs. We tell them they’ll get anyone at these from 0 to 99. At these programs they help set up, work a station, run and get supplies, help patrons, help clean up, and whatever might be needed. We only allow them to do the drop-ins because our youth programs go up through 6th grade and we have discovered sometimes the 5th and 6th graders struggle listening to someone they just went to school with. A little separation helps. The high schoolers are able to help with the drop-ins too, but they also can assist at our registered programs for youth services. These are mostly kindergarten through 6th grade programs. My colleague and I send out an email asking our coworkers who needs volunteers. From there we create a schedule of all the programs and send it out to our volunteers. The middle schoolers only get a listing of drop-ins, while high schoolers get everything. It is filled on a first come first serve basis, and so far has worked out quite well.

The other options we have for them are “office” support. It’s not quite what it used to be since everything is on the computer now, but they can come in and cut paper, find news articles in the newspaper, help input our programs into the local paper’s website, or anything else that might be needed at that time.

I also give them the opportunity to read ARCs and review them for me. I just started this and it has been very successful. My first review was so much more than I anticipated! It made me feel like I read the book and I could accurately book talk it and feel comfortable saying what I said. I love that I can give a recommendation from a patron. How they earn hours for this is they get an hour per 100 pages.

I still see the kids all the time when they come in for programs, as well as communicate with them regularly, and we have a volunteer appreciation dinner. I am still able to get their opinion on programs, talk to them, and they are still able to interact with each other, but in a slightly less rigid schedule.

Overall this has been amazingly successful and something I don’t think I would have if I hadn’t considered getting rid of my TAB program and changing it up to something that worked better for them.

Middle/Grade Tween Read-Alikes – Mental Illness and LGBTQ+

     Middle grade and tween read-alikes? Now you might be thinking “Hey wait! This is TEEN services underground!” And you are correct! However, teen services can span a large range of ages and encompass readers at all different levels.

     One library that I work at, has the Teen age range set from 10-17 years old. 10 year olds are still in elementary school and are likely not going to be reading any YA yet. Therefore, to really be able to serve them and their needs, we need to reach into our middle grade and juvenile fiction sections. Not only do you have teen patrons that will still be in elementary school, you may have older readers who might be reading on a lower level, or may not be comfortable with the content presented in a YA book.

     Recently, I have had several parents seeking out books about LGBTQ+ and Mental Health topics. These are not common themes in middle grade fiction like they often are in our young adult section. So to make lives a bit easier, I have put together a list for each of these topics that covers a variety of things within it.

     For the mental illness list, I have put the book and the author with the mental illness bullet pointed below it, that way it’s easier to skim through. For the LGBTQ+ list, it is just the books and their author. I have uploaded them below as PDFs. As always, if you would like the editable publisher file, please let us know and I’d be happy to send it along!

     If you have lists like these, or know of great books to be added to the lists, please share with us in the comments!

LGBTQ – Juvenile

Mental Illness – Juvenile

Accepting Applications for New Agents/Bloggers

Now that the holidays are over, we wanted to repost our call-out for a new blogger(s). The blogger requirements are pretty easy.  Here is what we’re looking for

  • A teen services librarian or someone who has teen services experience.
  • Ability to post 1-2 posts a month
  • Be able to do a variety of posts (RA, programming, pep talks, etc)

We are trying to diversify our writers and would love to find people who are any (or all!) of the following

  • located in the south or west coast
  • who are POC
  • who are a school librarian

Pretty easy right? If you’re interested, please send an email to [email protected] and answer the following questions by January 25th.

  1. Why do you want to be an agent?
  2. Tell us a bit about yourself. What can you bring to the group?
  3. Can you commit to 1-2 blog posts a month?
  4. Give us some sample of things you’d talk about! If you have sample posts, even better.