I’m old enough to remember a time when “comics” were frowned upon as a cheap, inferior form of literature that kids shouldn’t be wasting their time on. Most kids (including me) ignored those frowns, spending hours at the local drug store pawing through the comics rack for Little Lulu and Denis the Menace. These days, after a decades-long struggle for respectability, “graphic novels” are an accepted, even highly-regarded art form. Graphic novels for kids have long outgrown superheroes, Scrooge McDuck and Richie Rich; now they breathe new life into classic stories, explain science concepts, illustrate history, and serve as a gateway into literary fiction like The Giver and A Wrinkle in Time. The list below is by no means exhaustive, but it will give you an idea of the variety of work out there. And while graphic novels and nonfiction will never replace words on paper, they may provide new avenues into imagination for young readers.
- Kingstone Media Bible stories. Illustrated in classic American-comics style, these 24+ page books depict Bible stories and heroes in dramatic style.
- Kingstone Bible, Vol. 1-12. The Kingstone “Bible” pulls together all the separate stories and adds material to present a complete look at the entire content.
- The Book of God by Ben Avery. Amazingly complete and readable graphic version of Bible overview, key Bible doctrines, and how the Bible was preserved and translated thorough the ages.
Folk Tales, Fairy Tales, and Classic Re-tellings
- The Dragon Slayer and other Tales from Latin America by Jaime Hernandez. Traditional stories with a fairy-tale flair.
- Fairy-Tale Comics, edited by Chris Duffy. Classic tales re-told in a variety of styles by a variety of artists.
- Fable Comics, edited by Chris Duffy.
- Snow White by Matt Phelan. An updated version set during the Great Depression.
- Romeo and Juliet by Gareth Hinds. Shakespeare, anyone? (Hinds has also done adaptations of King Lear and Macbeth.)
- Poe: Stories and Poems by Gareth Hinds
- Beowulf by Gareth Hinds
- The Illiad by Gareth Hinds. New this month! We haven’t seen it yet, but we love his work.
- Tales from Shakespeare and More Tales from Shakespeare by Marcia Williams. Williams’ crowded, madcap style will keep kids poring over the pages as they soak up some of greatest stories ever told. Also,
- Charles Dickens and Friends: Four Lively Retellings by Marcia Williams.
- Dorothy and the Wizard in Oz by L. Frank Baum, adapted by Eric Shanower. The fourth, and “darkest,” of the Oz tales.
- Cardboard by Doug TenNapel. A tale of a cardboard-box man coming to life raises interesting questions about humanity and personhood.
- Tommysaurus Rex by Doug TenNapel. A friendless boy makes friends with a dinosaur.
- Ghostopolis by Doug TenNapel. A desperately-ill boy is sent prematurely to the afterlife, where he has the opportunity to mend some fences.
- Hereville: How Mirka Got Her Sword and How Mirka Met a Meteorite by Barry Deutsch. Everybody’s favorite Orthodox-Jewish action hero!
- Boxers and Saints by Gene Luan Yang. The bloody Boxer Rebellion of the 1800s, with a particular slant on religious beliefs. Recommended for older teens.
- Bluffton by Matt Phelan. Summers spent with young Buster Keaton
- The Faithful Spy by John Hendrix. Not your traditional graphic novel, but highly recommended.
- Drowned City by Don Brown. Hour-by-hour recount of the disaster now known simply as “Katrina.”
- The Great American Dust Bowl by Don Brown. The events that led to the great midwestern migration during the early years of the Great Depression.
- Astrix series by Rene Goscinny and Albert Uderzo. Beginning with Astrix the Gaul, this series explores Julius Caesar’s empire with goofy anachronism, slapstick, some wit, and a lot of historical fact.
- Tintin series by Herge. Not exactly historical, but as the series began in the 1930s they offer an interesting historical perspective as we follow the intrepid boy reporter all over the globe–and even into space!
- Real Friends by Shannon Hale. A thoughtful look at the struggles of those tweener years, and trying to fit in with the in crowd.
- El Deafo by CeCe Bell. A humorous and poignant look at growing up deaf.
- Hey, Kiddo by Jarrett Krosoczka. A popular middle-grade series author looks back at his troubled relationship with his addicted mother. For older teens.
- American Born Chinese by Gene Luan Yang. We haven’t reviewed it (yet!), but it’s a modern-classic exploration of culture clash. For teens.
Contemporary realistic fiction
- Roller Girl by Victoria Jamieson
- All’s Faire in Middle School by Victoria Jamieson. The challenges of switching from homeschool to middle school–but at least there’s Renaissance Faire on the weekends.
- New Kid by Jerry Craft. Jordan’s first year as a 6th-grade scholarship student in an upper-class prep school.
- Jane, the Fox, and Me by Ioabelle Arsenault. A 12-year-old girl struggles with self-image.
- Illegal by Eoin Colfer
For younger readers (ages 6-10)
- Akissi: Tales of Mischief by Marguerite Abouet (growing up in West Africa)
- Zita the Space Girl Series by Ben Haatke
- Hilo: the Boy Fell to Earth and Saving the Whole Wide World by Judd Winnick
Also see Emily’s Whitten’s reflections on why “comics” appeal so much to boys, in “To the Avengers–and Beyond!” And don’t miss her interview with Marvel comics artist (and Christian) Sergio Cariello. Finally, if you have an aspiring graphic novel in your house, or would like to get a handle on the medium for yourself, don’t miss Scot McCloud’s Understanding Comics.