School-set graphic novels

The following graphic- and illustrated novels for middle graders and middle schoolers, set in and around school, are great for those students eager to return — and those who may need a little coaxing to get back into the swing of things. See also in this issue our Five Questions with Raina Telgemeier about Guts (Scholastic/Graphix, 9–12 years). 

Jingwen's family lands in Australia, where Jingwen doesn't know the language and isn't interested in making friends at school. All Jingwen wants to do is bake the elaborate cakes whose recipes he and his two-years-deceased father perfected (in preparation for the cake shop his father was going to open). Remy Lai's illustrated middle-grade novel Pie in the Sky delves into grief, onerous fraternal responsibilities, and adjusting to life in an "alien" world. Heartbreakingly honest; in equal parts funny and poignant. (Holt, 8–11 years) 

In her third 1970s-set graphic novel, Sunny Rolls the Dice by Jennifer L. Holm and Matthew Holm, now-seventh-grader Sunny becomes an eager initiate of Dungeons & Dragons. She tries to remain true to herself while watching her friends race ahead to hot-rollers and boys. Sunny's fans know she'll be fine, but not before an entertaining series of social gaffes and identity crises is met with her essential good sense — and the magic of D&D. (Scholastic/Graphix, 9–12 years) 

In Jerry Craft's New Kid, Jordan, an African American seventh grader from Washington Heights, confronts both covert and overt racism in his first year at a prestigious academy, but he also develops supportive relationships with classmates of different races. Artist Jordan's sketchbook is shown in interludes throughout the engaging graphic novel's main narrative; Craft's full-color comics art is dynamic and expressive. A robust, contemporary depiction of a preteen navigating sometimes hostile spaces yet staying true to himself. (HarperCollins/Harper, 9–12 years) 

Charlotte (Charlie), star of Operatic by Kyo Maclear, is more interested in classmate Emile than she is in music until her teacher plays some Maria Callas. This graphic novel, illustrated by Byron Eggenschwiler, focuses on middle-school dynamics within the rich context of Charlie's interior life and her burgeoning passion for opera. Small panels and varied colors for different story elements play well with drama supplied by full-page pictures. A revelation regarding Emile is bittersweet — like the story as a whole. (Groundwood, 11–14 years) 

From the September 2019 issue of Notes from the Horn Book.

Elissa Gershowitz

Elissa Gershowitz is executive editor of The Horn Book, Inc. She holds an MA from the Center for the Study of Children's Literature at Simmons University and a BA from Oberlin College.

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