Start 2021 with a Cozy Graphic Novel!

by Claudia J.

As we approach the quiet season of winter and start 2021, cozy reads will definitely be on the top of my list to recover from such an unprecedented year. You may recognize the typical books that are categorized as cozy from our adult fiction collection: fun mysteries filled with humor and intrigue, romances that capture the hearts of fans around the world, and hopeful, literary tales that keep readers optimistic. But did you know that you can find some of the best cozy reads in our graphic novel collection? 

Yes, you read right! Graphic novels, which include Japanese manga and traditional comic books, are as diverse as our fiction and nonfiction collections. While their beginnings stem from comic strips in newspapers and classic superhero tales, graphic novels have expanded to include a plethora of plots that readers of all ages can enjoy. In fact, while I will always enjoy a traditional novel, I happen to be a long-time graphic novel fan.

I am excited to share some of my favorite cozy choices that will leave you smiling well after the last page: 

Note: In regards to all of my series picks, my reviews are for Volume 1 only. 

Pumpkinheads by Rainbow Rowell, Illustrated by Faith Erin Hicks 

Illustration of two teenagers in overalls standing with

I find myself always missing autumn and Halloween right after they have ended! If you feel the same, then you will revel in the crisp, fall nights depicted in Pumpkinheads. You may recognize Rainbow Rowell of young adult fame with novels like Eleanor & Park and Fangirl, and I can see why she is one of the most critically acclaimed authors. Two teenagers have seasonal jobs at one of the best pumpkin patches in the country, and every Halloween they come together to revel in the best of the season. Yet, this year is different: they’re seniors in high school and getting ready to go to college next fall. What if they make their last shift an adventure they’ll never forget? With gorgeous illustrations by Faith Erin Hicks, Pumpkinheads is a nostalgic trip down memory lane for every reader who loves pumpkin patches, hayrides, apples and, of course, the crisp air of Halloween. 

Flying Witch (series) by Chihiro Ishizuka

Illustration of a young girl dressed in a sweater and shorts sitting next to a black cat, holding a broom. With the eaves of a house and a stand of trees

Keeping with the Halloween theme, I had to choose Flying Witch to be on this list. Unlike the fantastical nature of Harry Potter or the ghoulish vibes of the Sanderson Sisters from Hocus Pocus, Flying Witch evisions witches as….well, normal people, with some exceptions. Makoto Kowata is a witch-in-training who travels to Aomori, Japan to stay with her cousin and his family. A bit forgetful but also amazingly kind, Makoto navigates the new town, a relaxed lifestyle, as well as learns how to be an independent witch in the most comedic ways possible. Despite my earlier mention of Halloween, Flying Witch can be read at any time of the year since all four seasons are featured in the story. Be prepared for a fun, gentle read with a dose of magic thrown in. 

Am I There Yet: The Loop-de-Loop, Zigzagging Journey to Adulthood by Mari Andrew

Like much of the media I discover, I happened to learn of Mari Andrew and her beautiful work on Instagram. Her combination of reflections, color, and unique calligraphy drew me in immediately. When she released Am I There Yet, her work effortlessly transferred from my screen to the page. Her majestic use of words and illustrations provided me with a sense of calm and were immensely relatable to my current stage of life. While her words are very uplifting, Mari also tackles harsh realities while softening the blow with poignant moments of humor and happiness.

Emma (series) by Kaoru Mori

Traditionally, manga is characterized by magical beings, action-packed fights, and occasional monsters. However, Emma is uniquely placed in Victorian England. Kaoru takes readers on an intricate journey of forbidden romance between an intelligent but quiet maid and an up-and-coming aristocrat. While many stories begin in a similar fashion, what I enjoyed about Emma was the fascinating use of manga art to tell the story, along with the slow burn of the budding romance. If you have ever wanted to read a manga series but you are unsure of where to start, Emma would be an excellent choice for you! 

Otherworldly Izakaya Nobu (series) by Natsuya Semikawa 

In the medieval town of Eiteriach, its citizens have grown weary of the continual, basic menu. While fulfilling, it leaves something to be desired. Enter Nobu, a mysterious pub that appears almost magically one day. It becomes the talk of the town, known for its unique cuisine and the warmth of its staff. But can it persuade even the toughest customers? This was one of my favorite reads of the year. Natsuya does an excellent job drawing out the flavors of the cuisine with her art. Coupled with its low-key, heartwarming story, Otherworldly Izakaya Nobu will leave you hungry for the meals but also for the rest of the series. 

Stargazing by Jen Wang

The cover depicts the two protagonists seated side by side, with a book open in the lap of the child seated on the left.

A story of an unlikely childhood friendship takes plenty of unexpected turns in Jen Wang’s Stargazing. I was fully engaged with the story of Christine and Moon, two girls on the verge of becoming teenagers with different backgrounds and personalities. Heartwarming and beautiful, this graphic novel has just the right amount of topics that can relate to all ages: cultural differences, friendship, health, and even small crushes. The best part of Stargazing is that it is a perfect book for adults to read with their children and discuss afterwards. The blossoming friendship alone is enough to cozy up to this colorful read. 

Snow White with the Red Hair (series)  by Sorata Akiduki 

I tend to lean towards slice-of-life graphic novels as opposed to fantasy, but Snow White with the Red Hair is a welcome exception to my rule. For fans of the Disney classic Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, this series is nothing like the princess we have come to know in our childhood. Shirayuki (“Snow White” in Japanese) is a cheerful, red-haired girl living in the countryside of Tanbarun. Her red hair is so unique in the land that the prince of Tanbarun, Prince Raji, tries to force her to become his concubine. Refusing a life of serving a prince, she cuts her hair and runs away to the forest in search of a new, independent life. With many more twists and turns, this series is a treat for readers who enjoy light fantasy with a touch of female empowerment. 

Carry this Book by Abbi Jacobson

We could all use a little comedy every now and then, especially during these turbulent times. Abbi Jacobson of Broad City fame brings the weird, hilarious view of our bags in Carry this Book. Part faux exposé, part examination of our everyday objects, this book contains the real and imagined objects inside the bags and storage of our icons. Ever wondered what’s in Michelle Obama’s clutch or Harry Potter’s duffel bag? Well, here you go. I struggled with putting this book on the list since it is technically an art book, not a graphic novel. However, I thought it was so creatively put together, and provides stories on fictional characters as well. Abbi does a fantastic job at creating a book that gives such an intimate view of imagination, and how the things we carry everyday may share a deeper look into our personalities than we thought. 

The Life-Changing Manga of Tidying Up: A Magical Story by Marie Kondo

Marie Kondo has taken the world by storm with her organization tips and tricks from her published books on the KonMari method as well as her Netflix series Tidying Up with Marie Kondo. So it would seem natural that she would take her methods to a narrative level with her manga book. Chiaki, a young woman in Tokyo, struggles with a lack of direction with her clutter and personal life. Through a series of lessons, Marie Kondo takes her on a magical journey of cleaning up her home and getting her life in order. I absolutely loved that this book was not only an engaging read for readers who love manga, but it also provided some major organization pointers and tricks and offered a quick introduction to the KonMari method. Double points for an engaging story and organization assistance! 

Blank Canvas: My So-Called Artist’s Journey (series) by Akiko Higashimura 

Illustration of a girl dressed in red and white with an arti

To round out the list of cozy graphic novel reads, I want to end on a hopeful note. Journeys begin with hard work and that is how Akiko Higashimura’s story began in high school. Writer and artist of Princess Jellyfish and Tokyo Tarareba Girls, Akiko provides a look into her teenage beginnings of becoming a popular mangaka. So when she signs up for an art class expecting an easy path to stardom, she is rudely surprised by her militant art instructor who expects perfection out of his students. Nevertheless, this art instructor’s weird style of motivation may be the key to Akiko’s art dreams. While this series is meant for teens, I think adults would enjoy this trip down Akiko’s memory lane. Too often, we reach adulthood and forget the dreams and goals we had in our childhood and teenage years. Blank Canvas explores the feelings of invincibility we have as teens while also providing a dose of realism towards reaching goals that seem insurmountable. 

Readers of all ages can find some cozy joy with these picks from our graphic novel collection! All titles are available here at Howard County Library System, so request one today and try something new to start this new year! 

Claudia J. is an instructor and research specialist and has worked for Howard County Library System for almost five years. She enjoys writing on rainy days and drinking iced coffee on sunny days.

Manga Chat: Basketball & Cannibals

The cover depicts a redheaded basketball player, brown furrowed and mouth angry and open as if yelling, wearing his jersey and a jacket.

By Khaleel G.

As winter rears its cold head, I’ve found myself returning to manga – Japanese comics –  more often. Partly for the comfort it brings this aging nerd, and partly for the way you can read one volume, then pick up another, like eating bunches of caramel popcorn. 

But mostly, I return to manga because the stories are always so different. I’d like to recommend two series we have at HCLS that I’ve been reading side by side, one about basketball and one about supernatural cannibals…different, indeed.

Slam Dunk by Takehiko Inoue is a sports manga published between 1990 and 1996, focusing on a high school boys’ basketball team. Hanamichi Sakuragi is a punk, a loser, and desperate for a girlfriend. After fifty rejections of his declarations of love, he finds himself drawn to Haruko Akagi, the one girl who doesn’t think he’s a total dweeb. And she introduces him to basketball, a sport he previously hated (mostly because his most recent crush turned him down to date a basketball player). 

So, he joins the team, acts like a total fool, but along the way Sakuragi discovers his talent for the sport, for aggressive play that impresses his teammates. Like other sports manga, he discovers more about himself and his team, the sport, and what it means to grow up. This all occurs in early 90s Japan, at the height of basketball’s popularity across the globe, so there’s a certain nostalgic glow to the story and art.

Speaking of the art, it’s clean, expressive, and veers between comedic scenes and heart-pounding sports action. Inoue’s skill as an artist shows through, but his ability as a storyteller, bringing us along Sakuragi’s journey of becoming a proper adult and baller, is what keeps me reading. Slam Dunk is 31 volumes, so it can be a bit of a time investment, but I’ve been enjoying it thoroughly, both as a sports story and as a nostalgia piece for the 1990s. 

The cover depicts a young man seated, with a book in hand, leaning on his hand. One eye is brown but the other is bright red.


On a completely separate note, Tokyo Ghoul by Sui Ishida takes place in a modern Tokyo, which seems fairly ordinary. Ah, except for the ghouls – supernatural creatures who look exactly like humans but for their need to consume human flesh. Ken Kaneki is a college student who loves literature and coffee, until a first date turns into a fight for survival when his crush reveals herself as a ghoul. The night ends in an accident, and in the hospital her ghoul’s organs are transplanted into Kaneki. He becomes a hybrid ghoul, torn between the human and ghoul worlds, trying to fit into both.

The art is grim, dark, and bloody (this is absolutely a read for mature audiences), and as Kaneki falls deeper into the ghoul world, monstrous cruelties emerge from the shadow beneath Tokyo. However, unlike other horror titles in the genre, Tokyo Ghoul has something more – a heart. Sure, ghouls can be horrifying monsters capable of unthinkable violence, but at the same time, Kaneki discovers that they’re not born that way. Indeed, a ghoul is just another kind of person (who eats human flesh), and the story is full of moments where the reader questions, “Who’s the real monster?” 

Of course, there are super-cool fights between the ghouls and the anti-ghoul investigators, drawn expertly. But again, Ishida’s writing doesn’t let this series slip into a fight-of-the-week style, like many other action manga series. Kaneki’s transformation is fraught with moments of questioning: what it means to live, what it means to love, and how does anyone survive in a world like this. 

I was surprised at the depth of this series, and while it is violent and action-packed, there’s way more to it than that. The original series is 14 volumes, followed by Tokyo Ghoul: RE, a sequel series – I’ve only read the first half, but can’t wait to dive into the second, which should keep me occupied for a bit more of this long, long winter.

Slam Dunk and Tokyo Ghoul are available in print from HCLS branches.

Khaleel has worked at the Miller Branch since 2015, though he’s been back and forth between HCLS and high school, college, and graduate school since 2003.

Dancing at the Pity Party: A Dead Mom Graphic Memoir by Tyler Feder

The book cover depicts an illustration of a woman in pink sweater and blue jeans dancing with the translucent, ghostly image of her mother, who is represented by a gravestone at their feet which reads "Mom, 1961-2009."

by Carmen J.

I hate to state the obvious, but an unfortunate fact of life is that we will gradually lose the ones we love. In this year alone, I’ve had the reality check of all reality checks as I said goodbye to my sister-in-law, my daughter’s great grandmother, my best friend from high school’s parents, my best friend from my first job out of college, a former colleague (RIP Joe McHugh), and two icons: Kobe Bryant and Chadwick Boseman. Yes, 2020, I’m going to have to ask you to leave, please?

In Dancing at the Pity Party: A Dead Mom Graphic Memoir, the author writes about her experience losing her mother when she was 19 and dealing with the 10-year aftermath of grief. The writing and illustrations are insightful, poignant, and humorous at the same time. The author’s mother died of cancer and the author vividly describes the myriad of emotions caregivers endure, so readers can connect to her story on many levels.

Like the author, I lost both my father and sister to cancer, and I found myself nodding in heartfelt agreement at many of Feder’s descriptions of losing a parent and enduring the magnified heartache of cancer. In particular, she captured the reality of the endless trips to the hospital for treatments and cancer’s physical and emotional tolls on the ill and their families.

As a reader, I connected with Feder’s reflections on how death can be so difficult to talk about for some. No one really knows the exact right thing to say when you hear that someone has died. It’s awkward and uncomfortable and unexpected, much like death itself. I laughed at the author’s inflections of humor and her ability to find humor even in her darkest days.

I’m lucky I still have a living mother. As we celebrated her 80th birthday this year, my thoughts trickled to the thought of what life may look like some day without her. I hate that image. As Feder highlights in the book, I, too, consider my mom to be a rock star and an undeniable force in my life. More time is always what we want with those we love and, selfishly, it’s never enough.

Put this book in the hands of someone who is hurting from recent loss, has someone succumbing to illness, or anyone in need of finding the right words of comfort.

Carmen J is a teen instructor at HCLS East Columbia. Among her favorite things are great books, all things 80s, fall weather, Halloween, and pumpkin spice everything.

October 12th is Indigenous Peoples’ Day!

The photograph shows an indigenous person in native dress at an outdoor gathering.

By Claudia J.

Mark your calendars on October 12th! Beginning this year, Howard County will celebrate Indigenous Peoples’ Day. On WJZ-13 CBS, County Executive Calvin Ball released a statement on the decision. “Celebrating Indigenous Peoples’ Day does not absolve us from our history, but we hope that it sets a tone and opens up discussions on the importance of restorative practices throughout our government and our community.”

Indigenous Peoples’ Day is an exciting opportunity to explore the incredible history and culture of Indigenous communities that have often been underrepresented in our celebrations.  Of course, what better way to observe this holiday than to curl up with a new book? I know I will! Here are ten books for you and your family to read and learn about Indigenous culture by authors of Indigenous descent: 

For the Little Ones: 

The book cover depicts a mother holding a child who is eating fry bread from the bowl the mother holds in her other hand.

Fry Bread: a Native American Family Story by Kevin Noble Maillard; Illustrated by Juana Martinez-Neal

Do you know what fry bread is? This colorful and touching picture book by Maillard answers this question and provides a kinship to the Native tradition of communal food preparation. In addition, Maillard provides a personal background to the narrative as he is an enrolled citizen of the Seminole Nation of Oklahoma. Coupled with the illuminating illustrations by Martinez-Neal, children and adults will enjoy reading Fry Bread together. 

The book cover depicts a young woman holding a feather, with blue-green water swirling around her.  In the background are people on a hill, hands joined together, in front of a starry night sky with a moon.

We Are Water Protectors by Carole Lindstrom; Illustrated by Michaela Goade

“Water is the first medicine, It affects and connects us all…” Earth is made up of 71% of water and it provides its inhabitants with nourishment and hydration. What would you do to protect it? Inspired by the Dakota Access Pipeline protests at the Standing Rock Indian Reservation, We Are Water Protectors is an incredibly accessible picture book for children to learn more about water and its importance to the health of the Earth. Lindstrom provides readers with a piece of her culture, as she is Anishinabe/Metis and is tribally enrolled with the Turtle Mountain Band of Ojibwe. She also calls Maryland her home!

For the Big Kids:

The book cover depicts a young woman holding a letter along the shore of a lake at sunrise.  There are mountains in the distance and a dog with a stick is approaching her.

I Can Make this Promise by Christine Day

With her debut middle grade novel, Day tells the semi-autobiographical story of a 12-year-old girl’s search for her true identity. Adopted at a young age by a white couple, Edie has always been curious about her Native American heritage. When she and her friends find a box of letters and photos of a woman who shares her name, Edie begins to question her parents and the secrets they kept from her. Powerful and important, Day weaves a storyline together that draws from her own Native heritage as an enrolled citizen of the Upper Skagit tribe. I am very excited about this novel and will be adding it to my reading list. 

The book cover depicts a young woman in front of a landscape background that progresses from rural, with animals, trees, and a log cabin, to urban, with a car, palm trees, and a cityscape in silhouette.

Indian No More by Charlene Willing McManus with Traci Sorell

Straight from our 2020 Summer Reading list, Indian No More tells the heartbreaking story of 8-year-old Regina and the erasure of her Native American identity. It’s 1954 and her family is told all tribes in their state of Oregon no longer exist. Much like the other selections on the list so far, this novel is based on McManus’s own experiences when her tribe, the Umpqua, was terminated in 1954. Sadly, McManus passed away in 2018, unable to complete the revisions to her novel. Her friend and fellow author, Traci Sorell, completed the revisions as she wished. 

For the Teens: 

The book cover depicts a young woman wearing a white shirt and black pants, with a black and white checkered shirt tied around her waist.

#NotYourPrincess: Voices of Native American Women edited by Lisa Charleyboy and Mary Beth Leatherdale

Told from the perspective of young Native American/Indigenous women, #NotYourPrincess weaves together a traditional narrative with artwork, poetry, photography, and interviews to present a well-rounded depiction of issues affect Indigenous communities. While parts of the stories can be tough to read, this anthology is a great conversation starter for teens, especially young women, who could relate to the issues depicted in these stories. 

The book cover depicts half the face of a young woman, with a stripe of white makeup on her cheek.  There are also several stickers indicating awards the book was won.

The Marrow Thieves by Cherie Dimaline

Imagine a dystopian world where a majority of the world’s inhabitants have lost the ability to dream. Set in the future, The Marrow Thieves tells of a world such as this and how the lack of dreams has caused intense madness among society. The only people still able to dream are North America’s Indigenous communities. Their bone marrow is the cure for all mankind for the world to return to prosperity, but this means the certain death of the marrow holders. This sets the stage for Frenchie – a 15-year-old Indigenous teen, trying his best to survive, protect his companions, and flee from “recruiters” who hope to steal his marrow.  Written by Canadian writer Cherie Dimaline, who is a member of the Georgian Bay Metis Community, The Marrow Thieves is an action-packed novel for fans of dystopian societies. It also packs a moral punch as to how we, as a society, view Indigenous communities and resources. 

For the Graphic Novel Fans: 

The book cover depicts three young women and one senior woman against the background of an immense cityscape that rises behind them.

Surviving the City by Tasha Spillett, Illustrations by Natasha Donovan

As if to speak entirely from its title, Surviving the City is based in an urban environment in Canada, where readers are introduced to Miikwan and Dez. Miikwan is Anishinaabe; Dez is Inniew. They are best friends trying their best to navigate the normal struggles that come with being teens as well as being faced with the challenges of being a part of a small, Indigenous minority in an urban landscape. When Dez’s grandmother falls ill and is unable to take care of Dez anymore, Dez is faced with the possibility of going into a group home. Unable to deal with that solution, Dez leaves home and disappears. Will Dez’s community find her before it’s too late? Tasha Spillett’s debut graphic novel series at first seems simple in telling Dez’s mysterious disappearance, but it also sets the tone for providing information about murdered and missing Indigenous women and girls in Canada. 

The book cover depicts a young woman i profile, wearing a jacket with patches on the shoulder, putting earbuds into her ears.

A Girl Called Echo by Katherena Vermette, Illustrations by Scott B. Henderson, colored by Donovan Yaciuk

Time travel fans will enjoy the story of Echo Desjardins, a 13-year-old Metis girl adjusting to a new home and school, separated from her mother. During one of her first lectures with a new teacher, Echo transports to the past in several different environments: a fur-trade route, the Pemmican Wars, and a bison hunt, to name a few. Selected for our 2020 Summer Reading list, teens and adults alike will enjoy this refreshing take on Indigenous history, written by Katherena Vermette, a Metis Canadian author. 

For the Adults: 

The book cover depicts two feathers facing in opposite directions, against a background of orange with the title in yellow lettering.

There There by Tommy Orange 

An instant hit upon its release, Cheyenne and Arapaho author Tommy Orange provides readers with an intense narrative of the urban Native American. This novel follows the journeys of 12 characters from Native communities, all en route to the Big Oakland Powwow. Each character has endured their own unique struggles, and the interwoven narratives provide a larger, deeper story of the contemporary Native American struggle while grappling with a painful history. A very popular book club choice, There There will definitely provide some complex conversation and will pique your interest in Indigenous history. 

The book cover depicts the title and author in white against colorful background stripes in blues, mauves, and greens.

The Night Watchman by Louise Erdrich

I thought I would end with a recent release from this year. Highly acclaimed author Louise Erdrich writes a fictionalized version of her grandfather’s life as a night watchman in the 1950’s. Set on her family’s home reservation (in what is now North Dakota), night watchman Thomas Wazhashk is a Chippewa Council member who is grappling with the new “emancipation” bill proposed by U.S. Congress. Despite “emancipation” as a synonym for freedom in previous events, this bill presents the term more like a “termination” of Native American culture, land, and identity. His story is coupled with that of Patrice Paranteau, a young adult who makes jewel barrings at the plant and is saving to search for her sister, Vera. Poverty, violence, exploitation: Louise Erdrich combines these intense themes and crafts a novel based on her Ojibwe roots and current Anishinaabe membership. I am definitely adding The Night Watchman to my to-read list. 

No matter what age, we can all celebrate Indigenous voices this year and for many years to come on Indigenous Peoples Day. I hope there are some selections you will explore this fall, and all are available at HCLS! Add these books to your holds queue and enjoy these amazing stories. 

Claudia J. is an instructor and research specialist and has worked for Howard County Library System for a little over four years. She enjoys writing on rainy days and drinking iced coffee on sunny days.