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Best Graphic Novels for Readers, Reluctant or Otherwise (ages 3-16)

Best Graphic Novels for Kids

I learned the stories from the bible through comic books as a child. I attended the local Presbyterian church down the street of our old house which my parents sent me to because the neighbors went there. My mother grew up Buddhist and my father didn’t have much exposure to religion growing up in pre-Communist China. Nevertheless, they think that the bible is part of American culture and encouraged us all to attend Sunday School.

I have to say that those bible comic books were what motivated me to go. They were so exciting and you needed about four of them to get the entire story. I loved the story of Ruth. Actually all of them came to life for me through these installment graphic novels thoughtfully ending each week on a cliffhanger.

I am a believer in graphic novels as a legitimate way to read and tell a rich story. This genre is new to me so I had an assist by a Mom friend with a decent library of them. Thanks Lynn!

The books are in the order of reading difficulty.

p.s. If your child has interest in creating his or her own graphic novel, these are great:

The Wimpy Kid Do-It-Yourself Book

Your Life in Comics: 100 Things for Guys to Write and Draw

Adventures in Cartooning: How to Turn Your Doodles Into Comics

———————–

Hocus Pocus by Sylvie Desrosiers and Rémy Simard

This is almost a wordless picture book but it’s set up in a comic book strip style with a cute story of a rabbit popping out of a magician’s hat much to the dismay of the magician’s grumpy dog. This would be great for kids who want to read by themselves (younger siblings!) but can’t just yet. [preschool through 2nd grade]

Binky the Space Cat (A Binky Adventure) by Ashley Spires

My first grade son loves this book. Binky is an alien space cat posing as a normal cat and in charge of guarding the space station (a.k.a. house) from invaders (a.k.a. hornets or maybe these are bees or flies?). In this book, he’s put to the test by a superior cat posing as a foster cat. [Kindergarten through 3rd grade]

The latest graphic novel, Binky Takes Charge, starts a whole new mission as Binky the Space Cat has been promoted to Lieutenant tasked with training new recruits! Only the new recruit is not what Binky expected. What is so fun about this series is that you don’t know if Binky REALLY is a space cat alien fighter or is an ordinary cat with a big imagination. It doesn’t matter either way; kids just love to be in on the farce!

Benny and Penny series by Geoffrey Hayes

For a big brother who has to look after his sometimes annoying little sister or for a little sister who really looks up to her big brother. Benny and Penny are mice siblings who remind me very much of real life human kids! I have the first one Benny and Penny. Here he tries to ditch Penny who is determined to make Benny play with her. He finally is impressed with her bravery and all is well (for now, at least!). [Preschool through 2nd grade]

Magic Pickle Graphic Novel by Scott Morse

Meet the Magic Pickle, a dilly of a superhero who’s fighting the food fight against a brotherhood of evil fruits and vegetables who are plotting to take over the world!

The full-color graphic novel version of the Magic Pickle legend! Magic Pickle, or “Weapon Kosher,” as his creator, Dr. Jekkel Formaldehyde likes to call him, is the product of a top-secret U.S. Army lab. Unfortunately, the 1950s experiments to turn vegetables into soldiers went wrong. Sure, they created Magic Pickle, the flying dill soldier, but they also let loose a bunch of rotten vegetables, like the Romaine Gladiator, Chili Chili Bang Bang, the Phantom Carrot, and Peashooter. This Brotherhood of Evil Produce is out to take over the world and they’ve started.

My 2nd grader and his friend today discussed the Magic Pickle series at the start of school.

“Did you finish yours? Mine was so gooood. I read it in three days,” his friend said. He was referring to this book. I know, because I asked him which book and he pulled it out. When I asked what age it was for, he recommended it for 3rd grade. (He’s a 2nd grader and brand new, at that!).

Cameron and His Dinosaurs by Scott Christian Salva

A mad scientist breaks every law of nature and creates four extinct dinosaurs for a terrorist group called B.U.R.P.S. When the dinosaurs revolt, it’s Cameron’s good fortune to befriend them! But the mad scientist and his employers want those dinosaurs back at any cost, and they’ll wage a war between robots and dinosaurs to get what they want!

My son loved this graphic novel that combined his love of dinosaurs with high-tech adventure.

Luz Sees the Light by Claudia Davila

I loved this vaguely Latino graphic novel  with a really strong environmental message where Luz (light in Spanish) really gets the connection between recycling and other environmentally friendly practices and her own community. [grades 2-4th]

Luz Makes a Splash has an important story to tell about water conservation, large corporate abuse, and that everyone CAN make a difference.

Max Finder Mystery Collected Casebooks series by Liam O’Donnell

My 7-year-old son and I have been reading this book recently and have been delighted to find VERY SHORT (5 pages!) graphic novel mysteries. While Max Finder is in Junior High School, I find that younger kids can definitely enjoy this book. The only issue for younger readers is that the font is very tiny. There are many things to love about this series; the mysteries are difficult to solve but doable. We definitely improved as detectives as we progressed through the book. The clues are both in the words and the pictures which is a clever use of a graphic novel format. Finally, I love the multi-cultural cast of characters. Bullies are included, as come with the Junior High territory, but not in a scary way. Max’s best friend is also a girl so I think girls would also enjoy this.

Dragonbreath series by Ursula Vernon

This is a clever chapter book/graphic novel hybrid. The graphic novel portion is diabolically clever at drawing in the reader and the short chapters of text are both funny and charming. My son bought this himself at the school book fair after seeing it across the street at the neighbor’s 3rd grader’s house. We are using it as a read together and I tend to read the text pages while he likes to read the graphic novel portion to me. [grades 2nd-4th]

Amelia series by Marissa Moss

My mom friend reminded me of the Amelia series that her oldest loved in 2nd/3rd grade. She said that the humor was slightly sarcastic but I suppose that is the appeal. [grades 2-4th]

Baby Mouse series by Jennifer and Matthew Holm

It was a mistake to get my 6th grader to test this out. While the social issues are definitely appropriate for Middle School (inclusion, Queen Bees etc.), it’s wrapped into a sweet pinky baby mouse that reads more for grades 2nd through 4th. BabyMouse Queen of the World! is grappling with friendships. True friends versus popular/mean girls. [grades 2-4th]

Missile Mouse series by Jake Parker

Thank you to Dee of The Argonne Chronicles for this suggestion that her son loves.

Missile Mouse, or MM to his friends, is an agent in the Galactic Security Agency and the kind of gruff loner ideal for deep-space adventuring. After he botches a mission and lets a valuable star compass fall into the hands of the dastardly Rogue Imperium of Planets, he partners up with a hotshot young agent, cramping his reckless-but-effective lone-wolf style. Their mission is to rescue a kidnapped scientist who holds in his outsize noggin the knowledge to construct a black hole–generating doomsday device that sure could come in handy for the baddies’ plans to rule the galaxy. The setting and overall look of this graphic novel owe much to Star Wars and the Halo video games. Parker’s fluid lines and animation-quality characters make for uncluttered action sequences, nicely kept PG with laser shots that knock weapons out of hands and more KOs than kills. MM’s fearless brashness makes for a winning hero, and the able mix of humor and urgency make for a solid space caper. Grades 3-6. –Ian Chipman from BookList

Big City Otto (Elephants Never Forget Seriesby Bill Slavin

This series is Curious George, but twisted and more grown up. Imagine Curious George taken from his jungle home, but it’s not him, it’s another chimp named Georgie. His friends, an extremely loyal and naive elephant named Otto and a wise cracking parrot, Crackers,  are distraught at his kidnapping.  It’s not the Man in the Yellow Hat who is the culprit but a nefarious fellow known only as the Man with the Wooden Nose. This is not your younger siblings’ picture book; this is a graphic novel with deception, crime bosses, and a never-ending hunt for Otto’s best friend, Georgie. It reads as a true comic strip in illustrative style and the colorful characters with huge personalities  are what will draw the reader in. [grades 3-6th]

Hardy Boys The New Case Files #1: Crawling with Zombies (Hardy Boys Graphic Novels (Papercutz Hardcover) by Gerry Conway

Frank and Joe go undercover as the Living Dead to infiltrate a “Zombie Crawl” that has acquired a notorious reputation — a teenager in Zombie makeup appears to “accidentally” die in the last Zombie Crawl through Bayport. Will the Undercover Brothers and Agents of A.T.A.C. discover what’s really going on in Zombieland or become the next accidental victims?  As if that weren’t enough– there’s something dark and sinister happening while everyone’s distracted by zombie madness! Could this possibly be linked to the eerie events also occurring in River Heights, home of Nancy Drew? This story sets up one of the most unexpected events in Hardy Boys history – but that’s the shocking story that awaits in THE HARDY BOYS: THE NEW CASE FILES Graphic Novel #2!

My rising second grader thought this series was awesome!

Lunch Lady series by Jarrett Krosoczka

My local book store was sold out of the Lunch Lady series so I suppose this attests to its popularity. There is something inherently funny about lunch ladies, I’m not sure why but it’s just one of those things. This is very popular with boys. [grades 3rd-5th]

 Warriors series by Erin Hunter

The Warriors series has both chapter books and graphic novels. My oldest was obsessed with these in 3rd and 4th grade and liked both. I also noticed that boys also like this series. [grades 2nd-5th]

Bone series by Jeff Smith

This series is appealing to boys and manages to convey an epic story line of good versus evil of The Lord of the Rings proportions via graphic novel while still managing to be clever and funny. [grades 3-6th]

The Sign of the Black Rock (Three Thieves series) by Scott Chantler

Not quite King Arthur but King Arthuresque — the period when he was fighting the Crusades and the land he ruled was corrupt — and not completely fantasy, the Three Thieves are a motley crew that screams comic book/graphic novel to me, but in a good way. The three thieves, a.k.a. heroes of the series are: a young red-headed girl, Dessa,  searching for her kidnapped twin brother, a Norker named Fisk (who looks like a behemoth; human but of the Sasquatch variety), and an Ettin named Topper with one head (perhaps related to the elves of The Lord of the Rings or thereabout). I read Book Two: The Sign of the Black Rock. Shenanigans abound at a wayside inn on a story night. The innkeeper is buying smuggled wine. The smugglers are stuck at the inn from the foul weather. The three thieves have escaped the Queen’s dungeon with her army of soldiers, The Dragons, in hot pursuit and they, too, are at the inn. The smugglers have to hide from the Dragons. The innkeeper has discovered the three thieves and the key to missing twin lies with the mute innkeeper’s wife. Interestingly, the main character, is the girl but I think this series would appeal to boys more. [grades 3-6th]


The Last Dragon by Jane Yolen and Rebecca Guay

When I think of Jane Yolen, the first thing that comes to my mind is huggy dinosaurs saying goodnight and other warm, fuzzy picture books. I had no idea she also writes epic fantasy tales. While this is a graphic novel, the art work is painterly masterpieces that are both haunting and mystical. It suits the story perfectly. The Last Dragon reads like an epic adventure from Greek mythology or King Arthur. The story begins with the last dragon emerging two hundred years later from when the dragons were thought to be destroyed in a group of islands known as Dragonfield (but remind me of Olde England) and it must be destroyed before it consumes the people of Meddlesome. A hero is required and two emerge. Lancot, a hero for hire, and Tansy, the daughter of an herbal healer. [young adult, but appropriate for grades 5 and up]

Smile by Raina Telgemeier

My 6th grader liked this graphic novel so much, she read it several times. It started off as a serial cartoon chronicling Raina’s real life teeth saga that started off in 6th grade with two front teeth knocked out. Her painful teeth odyssey includes braces, fake front teeth, teeth extraction, teeth rearranging, cross-bite and teeth bonding which sounds a little like veneers. Imbedded in her teeth story is  Raina’s middle and high school social life which also goes through painful challenges including dealing with frenemies, boy drama, and staying true to yourself.  [for grades 4-7th]

The True Story: The Lost Trail, Nine Days Alone in the Wilderness by Donn Fendler with Lynn Plourde, illustrated by Ben Bishop

Donn Fendler’s harrowing story of being lost in the Maine wilderness when he was just twelve, was made famous by the perennial best-seller, Lost on a Mountain in Maine. In Lost Trail, more than 70 years after the event, Donn tells the story of survival and rescue from his own perspective. Lost Trail is a masterfully illustrated graphic novel that tells the story of a twelve year old boyscout from a New York City suburb who climbs Maine,s mile-high Mt. Katahdin and in a sudden storm is separated from his friends and family. What follows is a nine-day adventure, in which Donn, lost and alone in the Maine wilderness with bugs, bears, and only a few berries to eat, struggles for survival.

The perfect realistic (because it’s a true story!) graphic novel for boys who liked The Hatchet or My Side of the Mountain. This is a perfect book for anyone who has been to Newport, Maine. Bonus points for knowing where Sebasticook Lake is. Donn, as a 12-year-old boy scout, spent nine days alone in the wilderness, struggling to survive with no supplies or weapons.

The Odyssey (Barron’s Graphic Classics) by Fiona Macdonald

This is a really pain-free and exciting way to experience Homer’s classic The Odyssey. [young adult so ages 11-up]

Graphic Novel Classics

Graphic novels are a really great way to introduce the classics! [grades 4-7]

American Born Chinese by Gene Luen Yang

This Young Adult graphic novel won a Prinz award. It combines the story of a boy who wants to change his stereotype “Geeky Asian” ethnic identity with the Chinese folklore tale The Monkey King. It’s very well done and will hit home for anyone who feel not quite Americanized and struggles to fit in.


To view any graphic novel more closely at Amazon, please click on image of book.

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By Mia Wenjen, PragmaticMom

12 Comments

  1. Great list! I just read SMILE and cannot wait to share it with my 11-year-old sister because I know she will love it too. She has braces and everything. If she likes that, I’m coming back here to print out this list for her. I really enjoy graphic novels and think they serve a very valuable and real purpose for reluctant readers. Thanks for the great suggestions!

    • To Genna,
      Thank you so much for your kind words. I hope your daughter likes SMILE. We are thinking of doing this book next for my daughter’s 4th grade book club. It makes braces and headgear seem easy after what Raina went through!

  2. I really need to read Smile! And, great list!

  3. Dee

    I’m thrilled to see this list! My son can definitely be classified as a reluctant reader and I’ve found graphic novels suck him into the stories so that he can’t put them down, which I love to see. He has enjoyed the first Missile Mouse book and I just got him the second one. I hope there are more to come. Thanks for some new ideas.

  4. A parent volunteer donated SMILE to our school library last year. The students LOVE it! One girl hugged the parent volunteer in gratitude.

    • To Carol,
      That is so great! It always makes me so happy when a kid really connects with a book! Note to self: donate this book to my kid’s 4th grade classroom! But will probably have to buy another copy as I really like this book too!

  5. These are great; I’ll have to print this out for my daughter. I love the idea of introducing her to classics through graphic novels- ease her into them a bit!

  6. Dee

    Based on your recommendation, I got him one of the Dragonbreath books for Christmas and he is enjoying it. I also got some of the Seeker books that are a parallel to the Warrior books, but he hasn’t gotten in to those, yet.

    Thanks for the shout out!

    • To Dee,
      I’m so glad that your son liked Dragonbreath. We are working our way through the series but it’s tough to get from the library due to high demand. My daughter received two Little Passports that we ordered from you. She loves them and has asked for the full year subscription. I need to call you to order. Thanks!

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