Graphic Novels

Graphic Novels Welcome Everyone Into the Reading Conversation

By Kyle Redford, YCDC Education Editor

Every teacher and librarian has witnessed the universal appeal of the graphic novel. They are the books with the tattered covers crowding the “hold” shelf and the books that generate the longest wait lists. Recently, the popularity of graphic novels has noticeably grown, and publishers have responded with a profusion of options for readers of all ages.

In our fifth grade class library, graphic novels are the grand equalizers. They invite all levels of readers into reading conversations. Since everyone can read graphic novels, everyone can talk about them. And talk they do. I love to witness how graphic novels allow everyone in the class to develop a passionate reading identity.

The brilliant thing about the graphic novel is the way they offer dyslexic readers several different cues to the story.  If a reader gets snagged on the vocabulary or storyline of a graphic novel, illustrated pages offer contextual cues to help decipher meaning. But don’t be fooled; strong readers love the graphic novel as well. The attraction can be likely be explained by the enjoyable format.

My students seem to enjoy all varieties, from the improbable stories about superhero animals to stories that explore Greek Mythology or Shakespeare. It’s always exciting to witness the way that the elitism usually associated with reading sophisticated titles seems to fall away when it comes to sharing love for a graphic novel. Additionally, in class discussions, the graphic novel’s easy-to-read accessible format allows struggling readers into the world of classic literary references that would otherwise be accessible only to stronger readers. Graphic novels are a wonderful way to help dyslexic readers strengthen their vocabulary, build their reading confidence, and foster a love of story. Who can argue with that?


Percy Jackson & Olympians Series: Graphic Novel Version
by Rick Riordan

With a dyslexic hero and accessible graphic format, this version of the Percy Jackson series is a sure hit among middle graders. Grades 5-9

From School Library Journal:

“Riordan’s highly popular “Olympians” series (Hyperion/Disney) is now a graphic novel. Half-Blood Percy Jackson is the son of a mortal mother and the Greek god Poseidon, which explains why he has always felt out of place among his schoolmates. After learning of his paternity, he is charged with the dangerous mission of locating his Uncle Zeus’s missing lightning bolt and returning this symbol of power to its rightful owner. Expert editing keeps the salient parts of the story intact while showcasing the additional storytelling capabilities that the graphic format allows. Excellent panel layout makes the story line easy to follow. The use of angled panels in highly dramatic action scenes is particularly effective. As readers follow Percy’s adventures, they are also keenly aware of his personal struggles, as facial expressions help readers to relate to this boy “who doesn’t fit in.” Illustrations brilliantly illuminate the story, portraying seamless world-blending, from typical school drama and well-known U.S. landmarks to mythological elements. A man seated in one panel casually stands to reveal his true identity as a centaur, the eerie woman seated in the attic is an Oracle, and the Nereid of the undersea kingdom seems a natural part of Percy’s world. This blend of mythology and magic with realistic action and adventure brings an added dimension and delightful nuances to this adaptation of the well-known novel. Both ardent followers of Riordan’s books and those new to the series will not be disappointed.”


El Deafo
by Cece Bell

“This autobiographical graphic novel has been a huge hit in my 5th grade class. It passed through a dozen hands in its first week. El Deafo is a story about a girl with hearing loss who has to navigate middle school with a hearing aid which gives her new ability to hear…lots of things.” -Kyle Redford

This 2015 Newbery Honor Book is best for students in grades 2-6.

From the publisher:

“Going to school and making new friends can be tough. But going to school and making new friends while wearing a bulky hearing aid strapped to your chest? That requires superpowers! In this funny, poignant graphic novel memoir, author/illustrator Cece Bell chronicles her hearing loss at a young age and her subsequent experiences with the Phonic Ear, a very powerful—and very awkward—hearing aid.”

The Phonic Ear gives Cece the ability to hear—sometimes things she shouldn’t—but also isolates her from her classmates. She really just wants to fit in and find a true friend, someone who appreciates her as she is. After some trouble, she is finally able to harness the power of the Phonic Ear and become “El Deafo, Listener for All.” And more importantly, declare a place for herself in the world and find the friend she’s longed for.


Fangbone series
Michael Rex

This comic series is a perfect choice for 2-4th graders who like stories with lots of humor.

From the publisher:

“Eastwood Elementary has a new student, and he’s nothing like the other kids in 3G. Fangbone is a barbarian warrior from another world! And he’s been charged with the task of keeping a deadly weapon from Skullbania’s vilest villain, Venomous Drool.”


Comics Squad: Recess! a graphic novel anthology
Edited by Jennifer Holm & Matthew Holm

Comics Squad: Recess! is a graphic-novel anthology with contributions by many of the favorite authors of that genre, including Dav Pilkey, Jennifer and Matthew Holm, and Raina Telgemeir. This collection of stories are all about most kids favorite part of the school day–recess. Ages 7-10


Jane, the Fox & Me
by Fanny Britt, illustrated by Isabelle Arsenault.

A gorgeous, poetic graphic novel about a young girl who is cruelly teased and finds refuge in Charlotte Bronte’s, Jane Eyre. Grades 5 and up.

From the Publisher:

“This emotionally honest and visually stunning graphic novel reveals the casual brutality of which children are capable, but also assures readers that redemption can be found through connecting with another, whether the other is a friend, a fictional character or even, amazingly, a fox.”

Translated from the French by Christelle Morelli and Susan Ourioiu


by Raina Telgemeier

From the author who brought us Smile and Drama comes the companion book to Raina Telgemeier’s popular book, Smile.

From the publisher:

“Raina can’t wait to be a big sister. But once Amara is born, things aren’t quite how she expected them to be. Amara is cute, but she’s also a cranky, grouchy baby, and mostly prefers to play by herself. Their relationship doesn’t improve much over the years, but when a baby brother enters the picture and later, something doesn’t seem right between their parents, they realize they must figure out how to get along. They are sisters, after all.”

Raina uses her signature humor and charm in both present-day narrative and perfectly placed flashbacks to tell the story of her relationship with her sister, which unfolds during the course of a road trip from their home in San Francisco to a family reunion in Colorado.


Raina Telgemeier

Smile is a graphic novel geared for young people in grades 3 to 7.

From the publisher:

“Raina just wants to be a normal sixth grader. But one night after Girl Scouts she trips and falls, severely injuring her two front teeth, and what follows is a long and frustrating journey with on-again, off-again braces, surgery, embarrassing headgear, and even a retainer with fake teeth attached. And on top of all that, there’s still more to deal with….”


“An utterly charming graphic memoir of tooth trauma, first crushes and fickle friends, sweetly reminiscent of Judy Blume’s work….Irresistible, funny and touching – a must read for all teenage girls, whether en-braced or not.” — KIRKUS Reviews

“A charming addition to the body of young adult literature that focuses on the trials and tribulations of the slightly nerdy girl….This book should appeal to tweens looking for a story that reflects their fears and experiences and gives them hope that things get easier.” — Publishers Weekly

“Telgemeier’s book is an excellent addition to middle school literature.” — School Library Journal


Raina Telgemeier

Drama is from the same author as Smile, but this graphic novel is geared for a slightly older audience—grades 59.

From the publisher:

“Callie loves theater. And while she would totally try out for her middle school’s production of Moon over Mississippi, she’s a terrible singer. Instead she’s the set designer for the stage crew, and this year she’s determined to create a set worthy of Broadway on a middle-school budget. But how can she, when she doesn’t know much about carpentry, ticket sales are down, and the crew members are having trouble working together?”


“Hilarious. . . . Telgemeier’s graphic artist skills make this novel a pleasure to read and re-read.”  – Horn Book

With the clear, stylish art, the strongly appealing characters and just the right pinch of drama, this book will undoubtedly make readers stand up and cheer. Brava! –Kirkus, starred review


The Odyssey
by Gareth Hinds

This well-worn book is in constant circulation in our class. The graphic novel format offers the entire class equal access to this classic Greek Myth, yeilding the question: “I’ve read the Odyssey, have you?”.  My fifth graders love this book, but the recommended grades are 7th-12th.

Praise for Hinds’ graphic novel interpretation of a Homer classic:

“Gareth Hinds brings THE ODYSSEY to life in a masterful blend of art and storytelling. Vivid and exciting, this graphic novel is a worthy new interpretation of Homer’s epic.”
—Rick Riordan, author of the Percy Jackson & the Olympians series

A timeless long-ago past comes alive in these images of gods and heroes, monsters and enchantresses; of mayhem, lovemaking, and touching reunions-all arrayed in frames whose shape, number, and palette expertly pace and propel the story. As introduction, outline, illustration, and visual translation, a worthy companion to its great predecessors. –The Horn Book (Starred Review)


Romeo & Juliet
Gareth Hinds

This YA graphic novel by Gareth Hinds will be enjoyed by young people in grades 7 and up.

From the author’s website:

“Perhaps the greatest tragic love story of all time, Shakespeare’s tour de force of emotional and literary power, this play needs no introduction. My graphic novel adaptation underscores the universality of the drama by bringing a multiracial cast to the setting of historical Verona. The art is strongly influenced by classic European comics, with intense manga-style action scenes, as reckless young love plays out in the exquisite rhymed verse of the Bard at his best.


Amulet series
by Kazu Kibuishi (grades 3–7)

This graphic novel series about the adventures of a brother and sister duo–Emily and Navin–as they travel to new, strange worlds to save those they love.

Praise for the series:

“Five—no, three pages into Amulet and you’ll be hooked.” — Jeff Smith, creator of BONE

“The story hooks the reader; it is filled with adventure, suspense, great characters, and has above all an ending that leaves the reader wanting more. This book is written in graphic format that is a favorite of mine. The format is perfect for reluctant readers who never seem to finish a book on their own. Young adults who want to read anything they can get their hands on will also enjoy the graphics and fast paced text. The graphics make an enormous impact on the story.” — Kathie M. Josephs, “Children’s Literature”


Babymouse Series Graphic Novels
by Jennifer L. Holm and Matthew Holm

Even though their covers are pink, and the protagonist female, boys fall for Babymouse also.

From the publisher:

“Meet Babymouse, a sassy young mouse who dreams of glamor, excitement, adventure, straight whiskers, being queen of the world….Readers will love Babymouse’s vivid imagination….and the clever illustrations and hilarious storyline of brother-sister team Matthew and Jennifer Holm.”


Jennifer Holm & Matthew Holm

“He’s a comic book-loving, twinkie-eating grade school AMOEBA trying to find his place in the world (or at least trying to make it through a school day).”

Squish comes to us from the creators of the Baby Mouse series and is geared to young people in grades 3 to 7. This time, they’ve created lots of humor out of high school and science in this graphic novel series.

Reviews for Squish:

“A perfect mix of writing that is simple enough for early readers but still remarkably snarky, clever, and entertaining. Kids will soak up the humor, tidbits of science instruction, and adventure.”
—The Bulletin 


Bone (series)
by Jeff Smith

The Bone series is geard toward grades 3 and up. These stories follow the adventures of the Bone cousins that ensue after Fone Bone, Phoney Bone and Smiley Bone are run out of Boneville. They get separated and lost in a vast uncharted desert and eventually find their way into a forested valley where they encounter many magical creatures. Creator Jeff Smith was inspired to learn to read by the Peanuts comic strip, and now does the same for many young readers of today with his own books.


Lunch Lady
by Jarrett J. Krosoczka

A humorous graphic novel series for young people in grades 3–7.

Praise for Lunch Lady:

“The Lunch Lady books are fun, quick reads for kids, with lots of zany and culinary-inspired humor.”  —The Graphic Novel Reporter

“With its appealing mix of action and humor, this clever, entertaining addition to the series should have wide appeal.”—School Library Journal

“…a delightfully fun escapist read. Be sure to recommend this to fans of Captain Underpants.” — Kirkus Reviews

“Krosoczka’s inventive visual details, spot-on characterizations, and grade-school humor make this a standout graphic-novel series.” —Booklist


Olympians (series)
by George O’Connor

This graphic novel series is great for young people in grades 4-9. Each book in this ultra-popular graphic novel series features a different Greek god or goddess, and will become an obsession for the Greek Mythology fans in every classroom. And maybe even make some new ones…


Rapunzel’s Revenge
by Shannon Hale, Dean Hale, Nathan Hale

A funny retelling of the classic tale done in graphic-novel format. Boys do like it, even though they resist it at first.


Young Adult Books

Both of these powerful coming of age stories are assigned reading in our Middle School and no one is complaining.  Grades 7th and up.

American Born Chinese
by Gene Luen Yang

This graphic novel captures the new-kid-in-school perspective from the eyes of Jin Wang, the only Chinese-American student in school.

From Booklist:

“With vibrant colors and visual panache, indie writer-illustrator Yang (Rosary Comic Book) focuses on three characters in tales that touch on facets of Chinese American life. Jin is a boy faced with the casual racism of fellow students and the pressure of his crush on a Caucasian girl; the Monkey King, a character from Chinese folklore, has attained great power but feels he is being held back because of what the gods perceive as his lowly status; and Danny, a popular high-school student, suffers through an annual visit from his cousin Chin-Kee, a walking, talking compendium of exaggerated Chinese stereotypes. Each of the characters is flawed but familiar, and, in a clever postmodern twist, all share a deep, unforeseen connection. Yang helps the humor shine by using his art to exaggerate or contradict the words, creating a synthesis that marks an accomplished graphic storyteller. The stories have a simple, engaging sweep to them, but their weighty subjects–shame, racism, and friendship–receive thoughtful, powerful examination. Jesse Karp. Copyright © American Library Association.”


The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian
by Sherman Alexie

Simple cartoons help tell the story of Arnold Spirit, a 14-year-old Indian, who has not had an easy life.  Using his humor and sharp observation, Arnold grapples with his own ambitions, his Indian identity and the world around him.

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