Once again, kids comics had a banner year. Graphix dominated the best-seller list, with the Dog Man, Baby-Sitters Club, and Wings of Fire books, but plenty of other great graphic novels for middle-grade and younger readers also came out this year. Here's a roundup of ten of the best.

Andy Warner’s Oddball Histories: Pests and Pets, by Andy Warner (Little, Brown Books for Young Readers)
Warner is also the author of Brief Histories of Everyday Objects, and this book is very much in the same vein, packed with fascinating trivia about the animal kingdom. Warner profiles 18 different animals, approaching his topic in a very human-centric way by dividing them into three groups: “Creatures We Find Cute,” “Creatures We Find Useful,” and “Creatures That Find Us Useful,” although there is obviously some overlap. Although he packs a lot of information into his short comics, he also uses a lot of humor, and each chapter is a satisfying chunk of story for the reader. Two more volumes are in the works. (Ages 8-12)  

Borders, by Thomas King and Natasha Donovan (Little, Brown Books for Young Readers)
The unnamed main character of this story is a boy who is traveling with his mother from their home in Blackfoot territory in Canada to the U.S. to visit his older sister. When she reaches U.S. Customs, the mother gives her citizenship as Blackfoot. When she refuses to state any other citizenship, the customs guards turn her away, but she can’t return to Canada either, for the same reason. For several days she and her son stay in the no-man’s-land between customs officers, until the situation blows up and is finally resolved. It’s a thoughtful, quiet book that raises intriguing questions about history and identity. (Ages 8-12)

Chef Yasmina and the Potato Panic, by Wauter Mannaert (First Second)
Yasmina loves to cook, and she fixes an awesome lunch for her single father every day, so he doesn’t have to eat the French fries he makes at work. She gets her vegetables from two neighbors who have competing gardens; one is totally organic while the other believes in better living through chemistry. Then an entrepreneur bulldozes their gardens and builds a junk-food factory that churns out very addictive snack foods. When the townspeople start acting weird, Jasmina has to figure out what’s going on, while still keeping everyone fed. With her friends’ gardens gone, she has to swipe vegetables from her upstairs neighbor’s roof garden, and that opens up another whole can of worms. (Ages 8-12)

Chunky, by Yehudi Mercado (Katherine Tegen Books)
Mercado takes on a serious subject with warmth and humor in this memoir of growing up overweight but very funny. Hudi (his childhood nickname) has a serious health issue, and his doctor wants him to lose weight. His father encourages him to take up a sport, but Hudi would rather draw cartoons and make jokes. Things get a little easier after he creates an imaginary friend, Chunky, who cheers him on and points out when he starts to go off the rails, as when he finds a sport he’s good at and gets too competitive about it. It’s a well told story that makes important points about body image and acceptance but keeps the tone light and never bogs down the reader with moralizing. A second volume is slated for 2022. (Ages 8-12)

Earth Boy, by Paul Tobin and Ron Chan (Dark Horse)
Tobin and Chan have worked together for years on Dark Horse’s Plants vs. Zombies comics, but this time they have turned their talents toward an original story (although it does have a whiff of Star Wars to it). It’s the year 3115, and Benson lives on a farm on Earth, which is regarded by the rest of the universe as a hopeless backwater. He dreams of someday becoming a Galactic Ranger, but it’s almost impossible for someone from Earth to get into the elite academy. When he does get in, Benson is faced by a wave of prejudice and disdain from the other students, but he still manages to make some friends, and when the inevitable challenge comes, they work together to save the day. One of the delights of this story is the world the authors have created, which is not only visually rich but offers some thought-provoking perspectives. (Ages 8-12) 

Katie the Catsitter, by Colleen A.F. Venable and Stephanie Yue (Random House Books for Young Readers)
Katie wants to join her friends at summer camp, so she takes a job as a catsitter for her neighbor. Sounds normal enough, except that her neighbor doesn’t have one or two cats, she has 217, and they are very capable, too. Every evening they run riot through the apartment, reducing it to a shambles, and then set everything to rights in the blink of an eye (one running joke has them stealing a sofa from the landlady every night, despite her increasingly desperate attempts to lock it down). While she copes with all this, Katie nurtures a growing suspicion that her neighbor is a supervillain, The Moustress, who is causing havoc in the city. There’s plenty of wit and slapstick humor as well as a bit of heartfelt drama in this charming graphic novel by the creators of the Pet Shop Private Eye series. A second volume of Katie the Catsitter is scheduled for February 2022. (Ages 8-12)

Kraken Me Up, by Jeffrey Ebbeler (Holiday House/I Like to Read Comics)
This year saw a wave of graphic novels for early readers (see “Kids Graphic Novels: What to Watch Out for in 2021”), and some book publishers got into the act by introducing graphic novels into their leveled-reader programs. Although the storytelling is reminiscent of picture books, with lots of repeated phrases, Kraken Me Up delivers plenty of pure comics pleasure. Ebbeler brings a lively retro style to this story about a girl who takes her kraken to the pet show at a local fair. The other kids react with fear and disgust, even after she explains how they met, but then the kraken steals the show by drawing funny designs on himself with his own ink, then hacking up an entire pirate ship, complete with crew. The rubbery characters and over-the-top humor make this a fun story that’s filled with surprises . (Ages 4-8) 

The Mystery of the Meanest Teacher: A Johnny Constantine Graphic Novel, by Ryan North and Derek Charm (DC Comics)
Yes, you read that right: This is a middle-grade graphic novel about one of the most adult characters in comics, John Constantine. It takes talent like North and Charm to cut Constantine down to size, and they do it brilliantly. After a chocolate theft gets him in trouble with the local spirits in London, Johnny lights out for America and gets himself into a boarding school in Salem, Massachusetts. He doesn’t fit in well to begin with (his habit of calling all females “love” does not help), but there’s one teacher in particular who really seems to have it in for him. On the other hand, he does make one friend, and she also has magical powers. Together they unravel the teacher’s secret, with help from a demon who speaks only in rhyme. The story unfolds with snappy dialogue and plenty of action, as well as some Easter eggs for those familiar with the original character. (Ages 7-12)

Secrets of Camp Whatever, by Chris Grine (Oni Press)
Willow doesn’t want to go to summer camp, and she makes her displeasure known as only a tweenage girl can, but her parents are relentless. Her father went to the same camp many years ago, although he has only vague memories of it. Once she gets there, Willow makes friends (and a few enemies) but she also encounters a whole series of hazards and supernatural creatures on what turns out to be an island that’s sort of a refuge for cryptids. The usual summer-camp hijinks take on a new meaning when it’s Bigfoot stealing your snacks! Unfortunately, the new camp director has evil intentions, and Willow and her new friends have to stop him before he ruins everything. Willow is deaf and uses both sign language and hearing aids, and Grine integrates this into the story in a very natural way. (Ages 9-12)

Yummy: A History of Desserts, by Victoria Grace Elliott (Random House Graphics)
Super-cute sprites guide the reader through the origins of everything from ice cream to churros in this colorful graphic novel. Each chapter depicts the evolution a different dessert, with Peri, a dark-skinned sprite, doing most of the narration and several others chiming in with bits of science and interviews with historical figures to round out the story. The candy-colored palette and cheery characters make this book a delight for the eye, and since each chapter is self-contained, it’s easy to pick up and put down. Recipes are included! (Ages 8-12)