Every January, the American Library Association winter conference (now LibLearnX) hosts the announcements of the Youth Media Awards, featuring the selections of the many hard-working committees of the best titles for young readers from babies on up through teens.

For those of you who may not closely follow the awards and what they recognize, here are the awards announced that included comics and graphic novels:

  • Alex Awards | Three graphic novels recognized!
    Ten books written for adults that have special appeal to young adults.
  • Asian/Pacific American Award for Literature | One graphic novel recognized!
    Honor and recognize individual work about Asian/Pacific Americans and their heritage, based on literary and artistic merit.
  • Coretta Scott King Awards | Two graphic novels recognized!
    Given annually to outstanding African American authors and illustrators of books for children and young adults that demonstrate an appreciation of African American culture and universal human values.
  • Margaret A. Edwards Award | One graphic novel recognized!
    Honors an author, as well as a specific body of his or her work, for significant and lasting contribution to young adult literature.
  • Odyssey Award | Four graphic novels recognized!
    Given to the producer of the best audiobook produced for children and/or young adults.
  • Pura Belpré Awards | Two graphic novel recognized!
    Presented annually to a Latino/Latina writer and illustrator whose work best portrays, affirms, and celebrates the Latino cultural experience in an outstanding work of literature for children and youth.
  • Robert F. Sibert Informational Book Medal | One graphic novel recognized!
    Awarded annually to the author(s) and illustrator(s) of the most distinguished informational book for children published in the United States in English during the preceding year.
  • Stonewall Book Award
    Mike Morgan & Larry Romans Children’s & Young Adult Literature Award
    | One graphic novel recognized!
    Given annually to English-language works of exceptional merit for children or teens relating to the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender experience.
  • Theodor Seuss Geisel Award | Three graphic novels recognized!
    Given annually to the author(s) and illustrator(s) of the most distinguished American book for beginning readers published in English in the United States during the preceding year.
  • YALSA Award for Excellence in Nonfiction for Young Adults | One graphic novel recognized!
    Honors the best nonfiction book published for young adults.

Alongside these annoucements, the selection lists that also included comics titles this year include:

Was there a title or creator you were especially excited to see included in this year’s Youth Media Awards?

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Kacy

I was particularly thrilled to see Himawari House as the APALA Teen Award winner. I read it in 2021 and it has yet to be unseated in my brain as the best graphic novel I’ve ever read. I was also very surprised to see it because I didn’t realize it was eligible for this year’s awards, but APALA was considering books from September 1, 2021 to August 31, 2022 for their awards. It just made it extra exciting that it got more very deserved recognition.

I was part of the committee (the Stonewall Book Awards Committee) that recognized The Real Riley Mayes with an honor and I’m incredibly proud of all of our books and especially that one. It was so funny and really used the medium so well. It wouldn’t have been the same in prose or even as a hybrid illustrated novel. 

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Shira

I was also very happy about Himawari House, and I was excited to see how many distinct awards and honors Victory. Stand! received.

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Shannan

I was delighted to see Frizzy (Pura Belpré Children’s Author Award) and Wash Day Diaries (Alex Award) on the lists! Frizzy because it’s one of the only stories I’ve encountered that’s not a picture book centered around hair and perceptions of ‘goodness’ that’s uplifting for people with different hair textures and also educating for those who don’t know or hold some of those toxic beliefs. 

Wash Day Diaries makes me happy because the creator is a big manga fan and telling josei style stories (thus the name Black Josei Press), I think she’s doing great work and love her style. 

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Thomas

Seeing Victory. Stand! win for YALSA Excellence in Nonfiction makes me happy, not least of all because Dawud Anyabwile has been on a roll, between that and the graphic novel adaptations of Kwame Alexander’s Booked and Walter Dean Myers’s Monster, plus illustrating for Becoming Muhammad Ali... he’s really become a go-to illustrator and deserves the work and accolades.
Inheritance and Ain’t Burned All The Bright excite me for continuing to show off multimedia approaches to storytelling in verse. Keep it up, artists! Show us all different kinds of engagement with books.
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Jennifer

I really like the jump in diversity in the Raina Telgemeier-style comics – Frizzy, Swim Team (Coretta Scott King Illustrator Award), and Srta. Quinces (Pura Belpré Youth Illustration Award) have all been very popular in my library. I personally loved The Real Riley Mayes, but it hasn’t circulated as much as graphic novels usually do for us – I think kids see the cover as more childish.

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Maddi

I was really really excited to see Swim Team on this list! It feels like an underrated book that I wish got checked out more/talked about more, and I’m very pleased to see it recognized. While I can only speak to this from a white reader’s perspective, to me I think it does a lot to help fight the long-standing cultural stereotype that Black people can’t swim, while also highlighting the racist barriers that led to that assumption (and in some cases, reality) in the first place. It also is a wonderful depiction of an in-person, intergenerational connection that proves incredibly meaningful for both people involved. 

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Robin

I was personally excited and intrigued to see all of the comics appearing on the Odyssey list! It was great to see Stuntboy win the award, and I’ve been a fan of narrator Nile Bullock for a while now. I served on the Odyssey Awards Committee when Hey, Kiddo won the Award in 2020, so I am very intrigued to see the trend continue in recognizing the complexity in adapting comics to audiobooks well. I admit I was a bit surprised to see Demon in the Wood in the honors, as I hadn’t heard much about it as an adaptation, but it can’t hurt to have Ben Barnes himself leading a full cast.

 

more comics titles WERE awarded this year than any previous year, across all of the awards announced. Are we at a point when comics are at a level with other formats when considered for awards?

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Kacy

Even though graphic novels have been consistently awarded for the past few years, I’m still never expecting them so it’s delightful every year. I was there in person with my committee and it’s all a blur now, but I do remember that I was sitting near one of my committee members who is also a big graphic novel advocate and we just kept going, ‘yes! comics!’ when another one was announced. 

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Shira

Kacy is totally talking about me as the other committee member who kept going “yes, comics!”

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Shannan

We’re not quite there yet for comics to be on equal footing, but this is a promising sign that we’re getting there! 

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Thomas

Young readers have been feasting on each new wave of middle-grade graphic novels, webcomics, and manga, and publishers and storytellers can only ignore them at their peril. Beyond the legitimization and recognition from the awards themselves, I love the chain reaction of responses from people who read and loved these titles over the past year and get to cheer for them all over again. Comics are a big tent and there’s room for all kinds of stories.

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Robin

I think we’re closer than we’ve ever been to having graphic novels no longer feel like they’re fighting to be recognized in awards (instead of, however unintentionally, being limited to comics-format specific awards and lists. It’s very exciting to consider the last twenty years I’ve been working with comics and libraries and seeing how far comics have come.

 

Any notable gaps where you were hoping to see comics titles make an appearance?

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Shira

One comic I was sad didn’t receive any awards or honors was Messy Roots by Laura Gao. (Though it was on both the Rainbow Book List and Great Graphic Novels, thankfully). It was such a wonderful and timely comic and was definitely one of my favorites of the last few years.

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Shannan

I do wish we’d see more fantasy, sci-fi, and horror comics get highlighted; it feels like more often than not it’s stories centered in reality that get recognized. I understand it to a certain degree as these are often powerful stories, but there are some really great works in those genres that deserve time to shine outside of genre awards.

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Thomas

Can I give a shout out to the 2023 Great Graphic Novels For Teens list? They successfully captured a wide cross section of quality and popular titles representing so many different gateways into comics. The only gap there is any reader just now learning about those notable titles!

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Jennifer

It was nice to see some graphic nonfiction recognized, but, as often happens, with the Sibert going almost exclusively to history/narrative nonfiction, I wonder how long it will be before we see something like Science Comics recognized (or even just more science writing…).

I wasn’t super impressed with the three comic titles in the Geisel Awards – I thought the best was actually the non-comic title, Gigi and Ojiji. I’d like to have seen some recognition for some of the really excellent beginning chapter book comics being produced now. I’ve noticed that the graphic titles that win in this category, like a lot of other categories, tend to be more on the “artistic” side, especially leaning towards more washed out, pastel colors inside of the clean, sharp lines and more cartoon style of Jonathan Fenske or Jason Tharp. It seems that when there are more options, the committees go for the more abstract and less humorous every time. While I find I Like to Read Comics fun, and they do circulate, they often have the same problem that beset Toon books, especially the later offerings, going for artistry over readability.

This, I feel, is an issue with an award that is specifically meant for easy readers, which are focused on building fluency and vocabulary (in my library we call them early readers, thanks to one small patron who indignantly informed me “they’re not easy for ME!”). There’s also the issue of the major issues right now with how most schools teach reading and the use of sight words/leveled readers at all, so I can see how they might just go for artistry. Anyway, when I’m picking early readers for the kids, especially comics, I generally lean towards Ready to Read and I Can Read comics as they have instructions for how to read a comic and I pick the titles with bright, bold colors and lines, simple text, and attractive, humorous stories.

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Robin

I was very happy to see that the Rainbow List has multiple graphic novel sections within each age range, and I hope more selection lists (that aren’t expressly dedicated to one format) will add a similar formatting to help readers find titles by format as well as audience.

 

  • Robin B.

    | She/Her Teen Librarian, Public Library of Brookline

    Editor in Chief

    Robin E. Brenner is Teen Librarian at the Brookline Public Library in Massachusetts. She has chaired the American Library Association Great Graphic Novels for Teens Selection List Committee, the Margaret A. Edwards Award Committee, and served on the Michael L. Printz Award Committee. She is currently the President of the Graphic Novels and Comics Round Table for ALA. She was a judge for the 2007 Eisner awards, helped judge the Boston Globe Horn Book Awards in 2011, and contributes to the Good Comics for Kids blog at School Library Journal. She regularly gives lectures and workshops on graphic novels, manga, and anime at comics conventions including New York and San Diego Comic-Con and at the American Library Association’s conferences. Her guide, Understanding Manga and Anime (Libraries Unlimited, 2007), was nominated for a 2008 Eisner Award.

  • Kacy

    | She/Her Youth Collection Development Librarian, New Orleans Public Library

    Editor

    Kacy Helwick loves her day job where she gets to buy all the books and AV for kids and teens as the Youth Collection Development Librarian at the New Orleans Public Library. She received her MLIS from LSU, and is an active member of ALA's ALSC & YALSA Divisions, and the Rainbow and Graphic Novels & Comics Roundtables. She has served on YALSA's Great Graphic Novels for Teens list and the Children's & YA Stonewall Book Awards committee.

  • Shira

    | They/Them Youth Services Librarian, Northville District Library

    Shira is from the DC area and is currently a Youth Services Librarian in Northville, Michigan. They have been involved in ALA in an Association for Library Service to Children committee, a Graphic Novels and Comics Round Table committee, and as an elected member of the Executive Board of the Rainbow Round Table. When Shira is not putting comics and queer books into the hands of excited children and teens, they can be found snuggling all the cats, playing drums in rock bands, or testing out recently-purchased board games. Shira also writes professional reviews for School Library Journal and AudioFile Magazine, plus not-so-professional reviews of Baby-Sitters Club books in exhaustive detail for their Goodreads profile (username Shiramario).

  • Shannan

    | She/They Teen Services Librarian, San Antonio Public Library

    Features Writer

    Shannan waffled between English professor and librarian as career choices for all of college; eventually librarian won. She is a Teen Services Librarian with the San Antonio Public Library. When not running TTPRG games for their teens or teaching them how to bake, she's doing what she can to promote comics to anyone who will listen. At home they're likely deep in the middle of their latest cosplay project or watching B movies with her husband, while generally pushing the cats out of the way.

  • Thomas

    | He/Him Teen Services Librarian, Richland Library

    Features Writer

    Thomas is a teen services librarian at Richland Library in Columbia, South Carolina. While studying for his MLIS at the University of South Carolina, he won an award from Thomas Cooper Library for his curation of the works of “God of Manga” Osamu Tezuka. He has spoken about manga, graphic novels, teen programming, and podcasting at NashiCon, DragonCon, ColaCon, New York Comic Con, and American Library Association conferences. He has been on on YALSA’s Great Graphic Novels For Teens selection committee, written articles for Public Libraries, The Hub, Book Riot, and Library Trends, and reviews for School Library Journal and Kirkus.

  • Jennifer

    | She/Her Youth Services Librarian, Matheson Memorial Library

    Reviewer

    Jennifer Wharton is the Youth Services Librarian at Matheson Memorial Library in Elkhorn, Wisconsin where she maintains the juvenile and young adult graphic novel collections and was responsible for creating the library’s adult graphic novel collection. She is constantly looking for great new comics for kids and teens and new ways to incorporate graphic storytelling in programming. Jennifer blogs for preschool through middle grade at JeanLittleLibrary and has an MLS from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

  • Maddi

    | she/her Youth Services Librarian

    Reviewer

    Maddi is a Youth Services Librarian at the Charlotte & William Bloomberg Medford Public Library in Massachusetts, where she runs the library’s GSA for teens in grades 6-9, two graphic novel book clubs (one for teens and one for 4th and 5th graders), drawing classes for kids and teens, storytimes, and more. She is also responsible for collection development for the teen graphic novel collection, where (in alignment with the rest of the coworkers in her department) she makes it her mission to amplify queer, BIPOC, neurodivergent, and disabled voices. When she’s not at the library, you’ll likely find her: singing in two queer choirs, drawing or hand lettering something, curled up with a book, or spending time with her girlfriend and friends. Maddi runs the MPL GSA Tumblr at mplchameleon, and tweets bookish things at @littlebrarian.

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