Whitney Gardner’s Five Essential Illustrated Novels

Whitney Gardner’s Five Essential Illustrated Novels

They say a picture’s worth a thousand words, but here at Bookish, we don’t think you have to choose between them. Illustrated books, from graphic memoirs to middle grade novels, have something special about them because of their marriage of words and images on the page. Whitney Gardner knows and exemplifies this in her new YA novel You’re Welcome, Universe, which has its own unique illustrations (in the form of graffiti!). Here, Gardner gives us the scoop on her five essential illustrated novels.

I’ve always been drawn to books with pictures. Not only picture books, but novels and comic books as well. I hate the notion that novels with illustrations are presumed to be more juvenile and less worthy. Those are the books that kept me interested in reading when I found myself bored with the assigned classics. Remembering how much I loved discovering illustrations in a novel was one of the main reasons I included illustrations in my upcoming debut, You’re Welcome, Universe. These are some of my favorite illustrated novels both from my own childhood and more recent times. 


Where the Sidewalk Ends

This is the book that started it all for me. As a 7-year-old, I wasn’t skilled at reading, but each poem on its own was short enough for me to get through undeterred. And I felt proud carrying around a novel-sized book with me. I liked that the poems were cheeky and light, and that the drawings were imperfect and scribbly. The whole book felt terribly mischievous to me, and that made my little rebel heart soar.


Amelia’s Notebook

These books have the perfect blend of words and pictures for a 10-year-old. They turned me into an avid journaler and a more voracious reader. It almost felt like I wasn’t reading at all, but getting a glimpse into another girl’s mind.



The entire story of Chopsticks is told through photographs and artwork. It’s so heavy on the art I’d almost call it an experimental novel. But it’s so much more than that. The author and illustrator use the art to push the narrative and make you question what is true to the reality of the story and what isn’t.

Why We Broke Up

Teen-Whitney would have devoured this story of a breakup told powerfully through images, letters, and vignettes. After closing the cover, it felt like I had gone through my very own breakup. It’s quiet and moving. The illustrations mixed with the prose made this book an immersive experience for me.

Scary Stories to Tell In the Dark

I don’t think there is a book out there with more terrifying illustrations. I’m not sure what was scarier, the stories or the pictures, and I love that it’s a neck and neck race. This book got secretly passed around my class in middle school and I remember hiding it under my bed when it was my turn to read it. I’d pull it out late at night and terrify myself by flipping through the pages.

Whitney Gardner is the author of You’re Welcome, Universe (March 7, 2017; Knopf), an illustrated YA novel about a Deaf teen artist who must decide between being painted into obscurity or risking getting caught after she finds herself locked in a graffiti war with an opponent who takes it a step too far. Visit her at heywhitney.com.


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