When graphic novels first came out, I thought they were glorified comic books and turned up my nose. Then I read one. Holy cow, was I off-base! Graphic novels have the same great elements as traditional novels—with the added bonus of illustrations. And sure, while seeing an image might make things easier in that the reader doesn’t have to create a picture in his or her mind, that reader still has to “read” the images. In this way, graphic novels help teach children to pick up clues about emotional body language and facial expressions, which is always a bonus in our tech-heavy world. Here are my top 10 favorite graphic novels for 8-12 year olds (or teenagers. Or yourself. Because really, I recommend them for everyone).
Roller Girl by Victoria Jamieson
Roller Girl centers on 12-year old Astrid, who has always done everything with her best friend Nicole. Then Astrid signs up for a roller derby camp and Nicole doesn’t, forcing Astrid not only to step into the new world of roller derby, but to do it without her best friend at her side. This story’s got lots of humor, real-life dilemmas, and great themes of friendship, perseverance, and girl power! Plus, it’s full of awesome roller derby girls with even-more-awesome names like Braidy Punch, Scream Soda, and Thrilla Godzilla. Thanks to all of that and its colorful illustrations, Roller Girl was not only awarded a Newbery Honor Award, but it’s also been on The New York Times bestseller list!
HiLo by Judd Winick
A boy named HiLo fell from the sky. He has no idea why or how he fell from the sky, nor does he understand basic human things, like why we eat food or why he can’t just wear his undies to school. Throughout his hilarious adventures, HiLo’s friends DJ and Gina help him try to fit in, all while running into lots of craziness, including machine monsters, a mutant robot ant, and other cool sci-fi elements. And bonus— this is a series, so if you love it, you’ll have more to enjoy and read!
Amulet by Kazu Kibuishi
The Amulet series follows the adventures of Emily and her brother, Navin, who move to their great-grandfather’s house after their father’s tragic death. Emily soon discovers a magical amulet in the house, and shortly thereafter, her mother is kidnapped by a monstrous arachnopod! In their attempt to save her, Emily and Navin find themselves in an underground world inhabited by demons, robots, and talking animals! There are 8 total books in the series, each with its own story arc and plenty of fantasy, suspense, and adventure— we’re talking other worlds, mysterious elves, arachnopods, a humanoid fox, curses, robots, and much more! Check it out!
New Kid by Jerry Craft
Seventh grader Jordan Banks “loves nothing more than drawing cartoons about his life.” But his parents enroll him in a prestigious private school, rather than the art school of his dreams. This forces Jordan to not only navigate the difficult world of middle school, but to do so while trying to fit into a place where he doesn’t belong. Not only that, but he’s one of the few kids of color in his entire grade! New Kid address many issues, including middle school and being the new kid, as well as deeper issues of prejudice and race. As one review states, “it is [a] heartbreakingly accurate middle-grade tale of race, class, microaggressions, and the quest for self-identity… Engrossing, humorous, and vitally important.”
Ghosts by Raina Talgemeier
When Catrina and her family move to a new town in the hopes of helping Catrina’s younger sister with cystic fibrosis, Cat isn’t thrilled. Things only get worse when Cat learns her new town’s cold weather and fog makes it a perfect place for ghosts—something the people of the town take very seriously! Ghosts has a great mix of Hispanic traditions, a glimpse into the world of cystic fibrosis, the special bond of sisterhood, and overcoming the fear of dying.
El Deafo by Cece Bell
Based on the life of the author, Cece Bell, who lost her hearing suddenly at the age of 4, this book is a graphic novel memoir of her life from the time of hearing loss through grade 5. It portrays many of her feelings and thoughts as a child growing up while feeling different from the rest of her friends and classmates. To help her cope with her struggles, Cece invents a superhero version of herself, El Deafo, strapped with her super-power hearing aids! The story is relatable, funny, and touching. It also helps to give a greater understanding of those who are different and includes great messages and themes throughout. As the author herself states, “Our differences are our superpowers.”
Nathan Hale’s Hazardous Tales: One Dead Spy by Nathan Hale
As the front page reads, this story recounts “the life, times, and last words of Nathan Hale, America’s most famous spy.” While the story is based on historical facts (meaning—your child will learn a ton!), its graphic novel format makes it fun and easy to comprehend. Somehow, narrator Nathan Hale manages to bring comic relief to even the heaviest topics discussed. The end includes “a little more biographical info about” Nathan Hale and others from the story. And once again, it’s a series! Win!
Persepolis: The Story of a Childhood by Marjane Satrapi
Persepolis: The Story of a Childhood is a memoir based on growing up in Iran during the Islamic Revolution of the 1980’s. Author Marjane Satrapoi shares various experiences of her childhood: suddenly being forced to wear a veil at age 10, watching as her parents participated in demonstrations, finding out that her playmates had been killed, bombings, and many more horrific events. Her powerful story is told in the form of words and powerful black and white images. Well-worth the read for kids and adults alike. It would also make for a great book club discussion!
Sisters by Raina Telgemeier
Speaking of memoirs, Sisters is the memoir of fourteen-year-old Raina Telgemeier and her family. While the basic story follows their adventure on a round-trip road trip from California to visit family in Colorado, it also features flashbacks that depict various moments in Raina’s life: when she begged and begged her parents for a sister, when that sister was finally born and turned out to be a crying wild animal, and lots of other hilarious stories. Sisters is funny and charming—a story that many siblings can relate to!
Real Friends by Shannon Hale
Apparently I’m a big fan of graphic novel memoir, because Real Friends is based on author Shannon Hale’s elementary school experiences. It touches on the good and bad in friendships, friends moving, cliques, feeling inadequate, childhood cruelty, and the ups and downs of family life, especially within Shannon’s dynamic relationship with her older sister. Yet despite all the challenges, the final Author’s Note is full of positive and encouraging words for anyone struggling to find their “group.” Overall, this is a very honest book, with lots of opportunities for reflection on one’s own life and how we treat each other.