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Updated by Jen Blair on Dec 10, 2021
Headline for Best Nonfiction/Graphic Novels 2021
Jen Blair Jen Blair
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Best Nonfiction/Graphic Novels 2021

Most of my nonfiction reading comes from graphic novels. There are very few nonfiction narratives that will compel me to devour an entire story like a novel. That said, here are my favorite nonfiction reads...with one random fiction graphic novel thrown in to see if you’re paying attention.

Bad Sister by Charise Mericle Harper

Bad Sister - Cherise Mericle Harper

Harper’s childhood was marred by the arrival of her baby brother. She doesn’t want to share, she doesn’t want to be nice and she’s not afraid to share with her readers how mean she really was. A story all older siblings can relate to. I was so thankful for her honesty.

From the publisher:
Meet Charise. She's energetic, helpful, a model pet owner, and full of inventions. But she's also a bad sister. When she goes too far and breaks little brother Daniel's tooth, can she redeem herself? Is an accident really an accident if you could have stopped it? But most importantly...What does it mean to be a good sister?

Black Birds in the Sky: The Story and Legacy of the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre by Brandy Colbert

Black Birds in the Sky: The Story and Legacy of the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre - Brandy Colbert

A meaningful look at the Tulsa Massacre written in clear and intimate prose that helps us understand not only what happened on that day, but why we never really learned about it until 100 years later.

From the publisher:
In the early morning of June 1, 1921, a white mob marched across the train tracks in Tulsa, Oklahoma, and into its predominantly Black Greenwood District--a thriving, affluent neighborhood known as America's Black Wall Street. They brought with them firearms, gasoline, and explosives. In a few short hours, they'd razed thirty-five square blocks to the ground, leaving hundreds dead. The Tulsa Race Massacre is one of the most devastating acts of racial violence in US history. But how did it come to pass? What exactly happened? And why are the events unknown to so many of us today? These are the questions that . . . author Brandy Colbert seeks to answer in this . . . nonfiction account of the Tulsa Race Massacre.

Everything You Wanted to Know About Indians But Were Afraid to Ask: Young Readers Edition by Anton Treuer

Everything You Wanted to Know About Indians But Were Afraid to Ask - Anton Treuer

The best reference work for literally any and all of the questions you have about American Native People. I learned so much reading this book.

From the publisher:
From the acclaimed Ojibwe author and professor Anton Treuer comes an essential book of questions and answers for Native and non-Native young readers alike. Ranging from "Why is there such a fuss about nonnative people wearing Indian costumes for Halloween?" to "Why is it called a 'traditional Indian fry bread taco'?" to "What's it like for natives who don't look native?" to "Why are Indians so often imagined rather than understood?", and beyond, this book does exactly what its title says for young readers, in a style consistently thoughtful, personal, and engaging.

Fallout: Spies, Superbombs, and the Ultimate Cold War Showdown by Steve Sheinkin | Goodreads

Fallout: Spies, Superbombs, and the Ultimate Cold War Showdown - Steve Sheinkin

I’m just here to tell you that I stayed up all night to find out what happened during the Cuba Missile Crisis. Which is documented, known history. That I already know. But Sheinkin’s tale of how close our world leaders came to starting WWIII is such a page-turner that you won’t be able to put it down either.

From the publisher:
As World War II comes to a close, the United States and the Soviet Union emerge as the two greatest world powers on extreme opposites of the political spectrum. After the United States showed its hand with the atomic bomb in Hiroshima, the Soviets refuse to be left behind. With communism sweeping the globe, the two nations begin a neck-and-neck competition to build even more destructive bombs and conquer the Space Race. In their battle for dominance, spy planes fly above, armed submarines swim deep below, and undercover agents meet in the dead of night. The Cold War game grows more precarious as weapons are pointed towards each other, with fingers literally on the trigger. The decades-long showdown culminates in the Cuban Missile Crisis, the world's close call with the third-and final-world war.

Friends Forever by Shannon Hale

Friends Forever - Shannon Hale

I so appreciate Hale’s transparency and honesty about how hard it is to be a 14-year-old girl. We can be mean, we can be hurtful, we can be silly...and we can all learn from Shannon’s mistakes to be better people. Thank you for sharing, Shannon.

From the publisher:
Shannon is in eighth grade, and life is more complicated than ever. Everything keeps changing, her classmates are starting to date each other (but nobody wants to date her!), and no matter how hard she tries, Shannon can never seem to just be happy. As she works through her insecurities and undiagnosed depression, she worries about disappointing all the people who care about her. Is something wrong with her? Can she be the person everyone expects her to be? And who does she actually want to be?

The Girl from the Sea by Molly Knox Ostertag

The Girl From the Sea - Molly Knox Ostertag

One of my favorite stories this year - how a girl fights for environmental protection of her small island and falls in love with a selkie. Sound hard to swallow? It’s not. It’s perfection.

From the publisher:
Fifteen-year-old Morgan has a secret: She can't wait to escape the perfect little island where she lives. Because really, Morgan's biggest secret is that she has a lot of secrets, including the one about wanting to kiss another girl. Then one night, Morgan is saved from drowning by a mysterious girl named Keltie. The two become friends and suddenly life on the island doesn't seem so stifling anymore. But Keltie has some secrets of her own.

In the Shadow of the Fallen Towers: The Seconds, Minutes, Hours, Days, Weeks, Months, and Years after the 9/11 Attack...

In the Shadow of the Fallen Towers: The Seconds, Minutes, Hours, Days, Weeks, Months, and Years after the 9/11 Attacks - Don Brown

There are so many untold stories of 9/11. Even twenty years later we are still learning about the lives directly impacted by a terror attack that stunned the world.

From the publisher:
This graphic novel chronicles the immediate aftermath of the terrorist attack on the World Trade Center in New York City through moving individual stories that bear witness to history and the ways it shaped the future.

The Other Talk: Reckoning with Our White Privilege by Brendan Kiely

The Other Talk: Reckoning with Our White Privilege - Brendan Kiely

Kiely is able to share moments of great vulnerability in regards to his own white privilege and we are all better for listening and thinking and talking about our own experiences. This is an essential read for every American.

From the publisher:
All too many kids of color get "the talk." The talk about where to keep their hands, how to wear their clothes, how to speak, how to act around police-an honest talk, a talk about survival in a racist world. The get "the talk" because they must. But white kids don't get this talk. Instead, they're barely spoken to about race at all-and that needs to change. The Other Talk begins this much-needed conversation for white kids. In an accessible, anecdotal, and honest account from his own life, Brendan Kiely introduces young readers to white privilege, unconscious bias, and allyship-because racism isn't just an issue for people of color, it's an issue white people have to deal with, too, and it's time we all start doing our part.

Run: Book One by John Lewis

Run - John Lewis; illustrated by Nate Powell

THIS is the John Lewis I remember learning about in my college Civil Rights History classes - a man who was fighting for civil rights, but also fighting to rise above the fray of his colleagues bickering over their messaging. He overcame so much to be one of our greatest statesmen in Congress.

From the publisher:
The continuation of the life story of John Lewis and the struggles seen across the United States after the Civil Rights Movement. . . Ousted from the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee due to internal disorder, Lewis went on to work on Robert F. Kennedy's campaign, to be shocked by the events of 1968. Struggling with the larger question of how to rebuild the movement, Lewis had an idea: someone should run for the 5th Congressional district seat in Georgia. Starting with the tragic death of Martin Luther King Jr., "Run" tells the story of how John Lewis entered politics, working within the community, and organizing a campaign that has taken him to one of the most important seats in Congress.

Save It for Later: Promises, Parenthood, and the Urgency of Protest by Nate Powell

Save It for Later: Promises, Protest, and Parenthood - Nate Powell

After the summer of 2020 it felt like everyone had been part of a protest or a march of some kind. In graphic novel form, Powell tells his children why it’s important to stand up for what you believe is right and keep fighting even when it looks like the other side has won.

From the publisher:
[This] is Powell's reflection on witnessing the collapse of discourse in real time while drawing the award-winning trilogy March, written by Congressman John Lewis and Andrew Aydin, this generation's preeminent historical account of nonviolent revolution in the civil rights movement. Powell highlights both the danger of normalized paramilitary presence symbols in consumer pop culture, and the roles we play individually as we interact with our communities, families, and society at large.

Shark Summer by Ira Marcks

Shark Summer - Ira Marcks

Based on the real-life events during the making of the movie Jaws on Martha’s Vineyard the summer of 1974. The nostalgia of my 1970’s childhood and trying to pick out the truth from the fiction in this story of kids making their own film and having the run of an island while the Hollywood production was in full swing, is too much to resist.

From the publisher:
Summer has begun on Martha's Vineyard, but Gayle isn't interested. Not in working at an ice cream stand. Not in softball, since she broke her arm on a bad play and hasn't seen her team since. Not even in Shark!, the big Hollywood movie being filmed on the island. All she wants to do is help her mother open their long-planned ice cream stand. But because of Gayle's hospital bills, they don't have the money to do even that.Enter Maddie and Elijah, Gayle's new friends and her ticket off this cursed island. With their help, Gayle schemes to win a youth film contest and use the prize money to get the ice cream stand up and running. But those plans quickly go awry as their movie uncovers a long-dormant island mystery and the friends' very reasons for creating the film irrevocably shift.

Why Is Everybody Yelling?: Growing Up in My Immigrant Family by Marisabina Russo

Why is Everybody Yelling? Growing Up in My Immigrant Family - Marisabina Russo

I love a good graphic memoir and this one is a stunner. The author’s experience of being a Jewish child brought up in a family of Holocaust survivors...who wants to grow up to be a nun.

From the publisher:
It's 1950s New York, and Marisabina Russo is being raised Catholic and attending a Catholic school that she loves--but when she finds out that she's Jewish by blood, and that her family members are Jewish survivors of the Holocaust, her childhood is thrown into turmoil. To make matters more complicated, her father is out of the picture, her mother is ambitious and demanding, and her older half-brothers have troubles, too. Following the author's young life into the tumultuous, liberating 1960s, this . . . graphic-novel memoir explores the childhood burdens of memory and guilt, and Marisabina's struggle and success in forming an identity entirely her own.

Himawari House by Harmony Becker

Himawari House - Harmony Becker

One of the most moving and authentic narratives about belonging that I’ve ever read - in ANY book. A story of immigrants finding home and love and friendship - laughed and cried through the whole thing.

From the publisher:
When Nao returns to Tokyo to reconnect with her Japanese heritage, she books a yearlong stay at the Himawari sharehouse. There she meets Hyejung and Tina, two other girls who came to Japan to freely forge their own paths. The trio live together, share meals, and even attend the same Japanese-language school, which results in them becoming fast friends. But will they be able to hold one another up as life tests them with new loves, old heart breaks, and the everyday challenges of being fish out of water?