A Non-Fiction Graphic Novel: Picks for the TPL Reading Challenge 2023

October 20, 2023 | Radha

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It's taken me a very long time to get used to reading graphic novels. Truth be told, I’m still not totally comfortable with them. There are so many visuals demanding my attention — thought bubbles  panels and bright colours. Reading graphic novels definitely tests my traditional linear reading brain! And I decided to take on this category to continue pushing myself.  The recommendations below are are a visual treat, and I hope you'll check them out.

These are my recommendations for a non-fiction graphic novel:

Index (1)

Frida Kahlo Her Life, Her Work, Her Home by Francisco De La Mora 

Chronicling the life of artist and advocate Frida Kahlo, this novel documents the landscapes and environments that inspired her, the dreams that fueled her and the people who loved her. In vivid colour, creator Francisco De La Mora depicts two Fridas — the public charismatic artist and the private physically-wounded woman. This graphic biography was endorsed and supported by the Frida Kahlo Museum in Mexico City.

Other categories:

  • A book about survival
  • A book you would recommend to your younger self


Notes from a Sickbed by Tessa Brunton

This book is funny, imaginative, painful and real. It follows the author's diagnosis with myalgic encephalomyelitis (also known as as chronic fatigue syndrome), the coping strategies she adopts and her determination to live life to the fullest by managing her illness. The book is a visual feast with extremely detailed black-and-white cartoons. 

Other categories:

  • A book by a person living with a non-apparent disability
  • A book about survival
  • A book you would recommend to your younger self

Staff recommendations 

David Bowie

David Bowie in Comics by Thierry Lamy et al

This beautiful graphic book tells the story of David Bowie and his many identities throughout his life and career. Each page is designed by a different artist, who depict him in their own unique style. The text covers his childhood, family relationships and personal challenges. As a lifelong fan, I thought I knew everything about Bowie, but I learned a lot more!

Other categories:

  • A book about friendship

—Debra, Librarian


Hakim's Odyssey by Fabien Toulmé

Book 1: From Syria to Turkey

Book 2: From Turkey to Greece

Book 3: From Macedonia to France

French national Fabien Toulmé was bothered by the apathy and hostility his compatriots had towards Syrian refugees. Disturbed by the difference in news coverage between the crash of Germanwings Flight 9525 and the hundreds of migrants who drowned when their ships capsized, Toulmé was inspired to write a book to engage readers with the plight of refugees. He recounts the story of one man's journey from Syria to France in three excellent novels. Hakim flees Syria for his own safety, travelling to Lebanon, Turkey and Jordan in search of work, before eventually making his way through Europe.

Other categories:

  • A book about survival

—Emily P, Branch Head


Hyperbole and a Half: Unfortunate Situations, Flawed Coping Mechanisms, Mayhem and Other Things that Happened by Allie Brosh

Both the illustration style and content left me in absolute stitches. Brosh's first laugh-out-loud compilation is for fans of Jenny Lawson's Let's Pretend This Never Happened: (A Mostly True Memoir). Capturing priceless childhood moments, lamenting the foibles of battery-powered talking toys and exploring the difficulties of training dogs, Brosh's hilarity shines through.

—Mallory, Librarian

Let's Make

Let's Make Dumplings: A Comic Book Cookbook by Hugh Amano and Sarah Becan

This beautifully illustrated graphic novel covers the history different type of Asian dumplings. It also includes recipes, so you can make some for yourself. Since it's a graphic novel, it actually illustrates every step in the recipe, making it easy for beginners. It definitely made me hungry!

Other categories:

  • A book that makes you happy
  • A book with a food item in the title
  • A book about a historical event that you are unfamiliar with

—Elisa, Librarian

Funhome bechdel

Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic by Alison Bechdel

This is a beautiful reflection upon the way our parents impact us and the complex relationships we have with them. If you want to read a coming of age story packed with emotion, I highly recommend Fun Home. However, it does come with content warnings: death, homophobia, lesbophobia, parental mistreatment, pedophilia and suicide.

Other categories:

  • A book about survival

—Francis, Public Service Assistant

The Times

The Times I knew I was Gay by Eleanor Crewes

No one ever comes out just once (even to themselves), and queer cartoonist Eleanor Crewes uses her debut graphic memoir to take us through how she came to the understand she was gay. Through awkward dates with boyfriends and Buffy the Vampire slayer obsessions, Eleanor comes to understand herself and her sexuality — not by falling in love but by accepting who she is.

Other categories:

  • A book by a 2SLGBTQ+ author who is also part of another marginalized group
  • A book about survival

Movements and Moments

Movements and Moments edited by Sonja Weissman, compiled by Ingo Schöningh and Maya

I encourage everyone to read this compilation of different stories of Indigenous resistance led by women all around the world. While we're fairly familiar with Indigenous struggles within Canada, these stories shine a spotlight on the feminist movement and advocacies in other places. The stories were selected from an open call across 42 countries, so it provides a peek into interesting cultures and backgrounds.

Other categories:

  • A book with an alliterative title
  • A book about survival

—Emily P, Branch Head


The Complete Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi

This book is an autobiography of the author's childhood growing up in Tehran during the Islamic Revolution. The country is plagued by political upheavals and mired in stark contradictions between private and public life. Satrapi tells an emotionally evocative and deeply personal story of the struggles of war and the changing regime. Her art style is very clear and expressive.

Originally published in North America in two volumes: Persepolis and Persepolis 2: The Story of a Return, The Complete Persepolis combines the two. You can also opt to read the volumes separately.

Other categories:

  • A book about a historical event you are unfamiliar with

—Kieran, Librarian

Rave jessica campbell

Rave by Jessica Campbell

Fellow feminists, use this non-fiction graphic novel to fuel your ragey, female fire! There is nothing quite like a unique, millennial coming-of-age story to fuel the fire — especially when you throw in 2SLGTBQ+ self discovery and Bible-thumping parents. Oh, and did I mention it's a graphic novel with amazing illustrations? Borrow the physical, pint-size copy or enjoy it as an eBook.

—Reagan, Librarian

Pride of

Pride of Baghdad by Brian K. Vaughan

This is really an interesting book filled with symbolism and allegory. It depicts the bombing of the Baghdad zoo in 2003 from the perspective of a family of escaped lions. The real meaning of freedom is examined in a unique way.

Other categories:

  • A book about survival

—Mallory, Librarian

These are just some of the suggested titles from our Facebook TPL Reading Challenge 2023 discussion group. You can read all of the responses in the original post. You do not need a Facebook account to read the suggestions.

French recommendations

If you like to read in French, check out the list of recommended books for "Bandes dessinées documentaires."  There's a mix of books, ebooks and digital audiobooks to try.

What did you read for "a non-fiction graphic novel"? Do you have other recommendations? Share in the comments below!