I’m nearly done with reading all the excellent Cybils middle grade graphic novels the panelists picked as finalists! Here are the most recent three I’ve read.
Flamingo by Guojing. Random House Studio, 2022. ISBN 9780593127315. Read from a library copy.
In this nearly wordless book, a little girl flies all on her own to visit her grandmother in what feels like Florida. At first, the story is nearly all in shades of gray, with only the little girl’s hat and backpack and her Lao Lao’s outfit in red. Then, the little girl finds a pink feather displayed in the house. After days of exploring beaches and forested swamps, Lao Lao tells her stories of another little girl – perhaps Lao Lao herself – finding and hatching a flamingo egg, and the friendship they shared. All of these stories are shown in full color. As the little girl sees a flamingo herself, she comes up with more imaginative adventures to share with her grandmother after she goes home. I especially loved that the little girl’s story included her grandmother, where many of children’s imagined adventures (at least in books) leave adults out entirely.
The story here is meant for the early chapter book audience, and it’s a great book for filling in narrative skills – being able to retell what happens in a story, whether the original has words or not, is an important element of literacy. And the art here, a mix of watercolor, colored pencils, and digital, is just stunning. My 13-year-old felt it was young for her, but I think there is a large audience that would find it perfect.
Invisible by Christina Diaz Gonzalez & Gabriela Epstein. Graphix, 2022. ISBN 9781338194555 Read from a library copy.
Over-achieving middle schooler George is shocked when he’s called in to the principal’s office – to be told he must find a place to volunteer to keep the school’s perfect 100% community service participation record. When the principal tells him he should show up first thing in the morning to meet with other students like him, George assumes he means other honors students. But no – he’s sent to meet up with four other Latine students, all with families from different countries and all in very different places in the school’s social hierarchy. They aren’t initially inclined to get along with each other either, especially as George speaks almost no Spanish, while some of the others speak almost no English. But they start to bond as they’re assigned menial clean-up jobs in the cafeteria, where the cafeteria lady thinks they’re all illegal and juvenile delinquents to boot. At the same time, they discover a single mother and her little girl living in a van by the park on the other side of the school fence. Could they find a way to help them? Like Jacqueline Woodson’s Harbor Me, this is a story of kids getting to know each other and the reader getting to know them beyond their stereotypes. The graphic novel format gives it a more cheerful, approachable vibe, though. And the dialog is mostly in Spanish with translations, making it more approachable for Spanish-first kids while still being perfectly understandable for English speakers. This is the book that won this year’s Cybil in the category, and it’s easy to see why.
Squire by Nadia Shammas and Sara Alfageeh. Quill Tree, 2022. ISBN 978-0062945846. Read from a library copy.
Aiza chafes at her life of selling fruit at the marketplace while enduring taunts and rejection from people who recognize her outsider status – tattoos on her forearm mark her as an Ornu, a minority ethnic group only grudgingly accepted into the Empire. She dreams of joining the army and becoming a Squire, and perhaps even a Knight one day, winning fame, living a life of adventure, and getting to see the whole empire. But getting her parents to agree, as hard as that is, is just the first step. And once she’s there, will the reality of empire-building be what she dreamed it would be?
This book has an appealing blend of action and adventure, friendship building, and beautiful Turkish-inspired landscapes, along with the looks at the draw and downsides of empires. The recruits we see are diverse in ethnicity and gender, from a range of social standings. Backmatter from the creators explain the cultural and historical context (though it is a fantasy world) and the need for stories starring middle eastern girls with swords, as well as a stage-by-stage progression of how a scene is built from script to final version. I’ll note that my library has this in the teen zone, but there doesn’t seem to be more violence than many middle grade fantasy graphic novels. It does seem aimed more at middle schoolers than elementary-aged kids to me, though. Regardless, highly recommended.