Graphic novels are my secret weapon to get any kid reading. My recent discovery is that there are also multicultural, diversity and inclusive graphic novels that bring kids into different perspectives like what it’s like to have hearing loss or go through a civil war. Graphic novels also let us experience new worlds, both present, past and future. And it’s the illustrations that tell part of the story with a low word count. It’s actually this inferencing … getting the story from both the words and the pictures that make graphic novels a valuable reading comprehension tool for learning.
So there you have it. Kids love to read graphic novels. It’s fun for them. They don’t realize how much they are learning by reading the story from both the images and words, especially the reluctant readers. And they can get a wealth of experiences by reading multicultural/diversity/inclusive stories.
I’m not telling kids about the educational benefits. You shouldn’t either. Shh!!! Let’s just keep them in front of our kids!
Azzi In Between by Sarah Garland
Azzi In Between can be paired with wordless picture book Here I Am by Patty Kim. Both tell the story of a family’s immigration to a new country. Azzi In Between is a particularly gentle version of family escaping as war refugees. Azzi’s new home takes some getting used to. She needs to learn a new language; her father must wait for work papers; and her beloved grandmother stays behind which worries Azzi greatly. In the end, bean seeds — not of a magic kind but they do have a magic of their own — help Azzi and her family make the tradition to this new life where a wonderful surprise also awaits her at home. I especially like how the kids in her new class are kind to her and she, in turn, is welcoming to a new boy from a new country who joins their class. This is a must-read for anyone who has kids in their class who are learning English as a second language. [graphic novel, ages 6 and up]
Dragons Beware by Rafael Rosado and Jorge Aguirre
The protagonist is not a person of color, in fact it took me a while to figure out that Claudette is a girl because she is quite tomboy. My 10-year-old son and I love this series of spunky Claudette who wants to be a warrior (as a hobby). Rosado and Aguirre combine humor with adventure in this graphic novel series with the unstoppable and indomitable Claudette and friends. (Once you figure out that little kid with orange hair is Claudette and she’s a girl, it all makes sense). [graphic novel, ages 6 and up]
Luz Makes a Splash by Claudia Davila
The Luz graphic novel series has an environmental message, and a diversity cast of characters with a can-do attitude. Together, they tackle the water crisis stemming from a drought and from a nearby factory that threatens Luz’s two favorite places: the local swimming pool and Friendship Park. [graphic novel, ages 6 and up]
Princeless, Volume 1: Save Yourself by Jeremy Whitley
The Princeless series is my kind of princess … the kind that doesn’t need rescuing, in fact, she does the rescuing herself! A royal family with a plethora of princesses are locked up in a nod to fractured fairy tales in need of a rescue by a prince. This is all a set up for the father, the king, to find a suitable heir. But he misjudged his daughters severely and will learn that they are not the helpless types.
This series weaves several stories into cliff hangers as well as gives you several “comic book” style stories in one book. This is a series for all mighty girls, not just those of color! [graphic novel, ages 8 and up]
Little White Duck: A Childhood in China by Na Liu and Andrés Vera Martínez
Set right after the end of the Cultural Revolution, Little White Duck is author Na Liu’s personal story of what life was like during the years China pushes forward with initiatives to modernize. Other significant events in China include the death of Mao ZeDong but this graphic novel is really about small moments seen through eyes of a young girl. And life in China during this period was neither really horrific for her (though many countryman suffered from the famine the Four Moderations caused), it was filled with love, family celebrations while living on the cusp of great change. This is a great way for kids to learn about what it was like to live in Wuhan, China in 1976. [graphic novel, ages 8 and up]
Lowriders in Space by Cathy Camper, illustrated by Raul the Third
I grew up in Southern California where lowriders originated. I love how the mechanic, Lupe Impala, is female and can make or repair parts that she needs. El Chavo Flapjack is an octopus that can make any car shine and Elirio Malaria is a (non-biting) mosquito who is the best detailer artist in town. Together, they turn a run down car — with help from a cosmic ride into outer space — into a low and slow lowrider that might just have a chance at winning the big competition! With Spanish slang interspersed throughout, this graphic novel celebrates Chicano culture (and outer space). It’s a unique concept but a fun one! [graphic novel, ages 9 and up]
El Deafo by Cece Bell
What is it like to lose your hearing? Cece Bell shares her own story of hearing loss and struggle with her very large but powerful hearing aid, that allows her to hear but also makes her look different. In learning to accept her hearing aid, Cece Bell also discovers that it’s our differences that are also our superpowers. [graphic novel, ages 9 and up]
John Henry: The Steam Age Original Graphic Novel by Dwayne Harris
The legend of John Henry is one of African-American folk hero and tall tale in which John Henry races as a hammer-weilding steel-driver against a steam-powered hammer. He wins a Pyrrhic victory as he dies with his hammer in his hand as his heart gave out from stress.
This graphic novel takes liberty with the John Henry folktale and reimagines it in a steam punk fantasy; that is to say, John Henry wakes from a coma after winning his competition only to find the world run by robots. Try this one with young fans of the Amulet series or Terminator movies! [graphic novel, ages 9 and up]
March: Book One by John Lewis, Andrew Aydin and Nate Powell
John Lewis was a Civil Rights hero who worked side by side with Dr. Martin Luther King, Junior. This graphic novel trilogy brings to life his story, as told by him, on what it was like to march on Washington for Civil Rights. [graphic novel, ages 9 and up]
A Game for Swallows: To Die, to Leave, to Return by Zeina Abirached
The Civil War in Lebanon lasted fifteen long years, from 1975 until 1990 and A Game of Swallows tells of life from the point of view of two children waiting for their parents to return from a visit to their grandmother a few blocks away. But during the war, travel is a complicated and dangerous endeavor. Despite the ever-present danger, life goes on in their apartment building where unlikely neighbors have ended up living and they become a kind of family, working together and sharing what they have to get through this difficult period. It’s hard to imagine living amidst a Civil War that claims lives of their loved ones on a regular basis, where snipers shoot civilians and daily requirements are hard to come by. Despite this, the best comes out of people as well and that’s the story Zeina Abirached wants the reader to learn about as well. This graphic novel works well with Persepolis and Azzi In Between. [graphic novel, ages 10 and up]
The Zabime Sisters by Aristophane
On the Caribbean island of Guadeloupe, three sisters begin their summer vacation free of school and wander down to the riverbank! There’s a rumor of fight between the school bully and a smaller kid named Manuel. The sisters run into two brothers hunting beetles. The girls’ shenanigans will get them in trouble with their mother if they get caught: stealing mangos from an orchard, smoke a pipe and trying rum. Life in the French Caribbean is never dull and full of slow adventures. [young adult graphic novel, ages 12 and up]
American Born Chinese by Gene Luen Yang
Winner of the winner of the 2007 Eisner Award for Best Graphic Album and a finalist for National Book Award Finalist for Young People’s Literature in 2006, Gene Luen Yang takes the Chinese mythology story of The Monkey King and turns it on its head, setting it in modern-day and also in the past. What’s it like to be an American Born Chinese boy? It that destined for nerdom and social pariah? Or can The Monkey King help a FOB (Fresh Off the Boat) Chinese kid become socially acceptable … even popular? For those watching the new TV show Fresh Off the Boat, this is an easy sell to those tweens and teens watching it! [young adult graphic novel, ages 12 and up]
War Brothers: The Graphic Novel by Sharon McKay and Daniel Lafrance
This was a difficult graphic novel for me to read but I had to read it because it was the year I was judging this category for the Cybils. Set in Uganda, it tells the true story of a young boy forced into violence as a child soldier, and it’s an important story to tell. [young adult graphic novel, ages 14 and up]
War Brothers is a novel that very accurately portrays the criminality of adults who abduct kids to carry out crimes against humanity… This engrossing book is a vivid look at the hideous crimes committed by such groups and should be read by anyone wanting to know about Kony’s LRA.
— Lieutenant-General Romeo Dallaire (Retired), international child soldier advocate
The life of a child soldier is full of unthinkable violence … But the human capacity to connect with others and for survival is remarkable.
Persepolis: The Story of a Childhood by Marjane Satrapi
As Americans, it’s easy to think of the Middle East as a region peopled by religious fundamental extremist but Marjane Satrapi challenges readers to a more complicated and nuanced history; one that is also deeply personal. This is her story growing up in Iran from ages six through fourteen, as the great-granddaughter of one of Iran’s last emperors and during a period of tumult that includes the overthrow of the Shah’s empire, the Islamic Revolution and the war with Iraq. Warning: there are graphic descriptions of violence and torture in this book. [young graphic novel, ages 14 and up]
Yummy: The Last Days of a Southside Shorty by G. Neri
G. Neri’s cautionary tale of a young boy who grew up in a tough inner city environment and ended up paying for poor decisions with his life. How did Yummy, a kid really, end up in so much trouble? This graphic novel helps readers understand what life in a tough area is like and will perhaps build empathy for those less fortunate. [young adult graphic novel, ages 14 and up]
Boxer and Saint by Gene Luen Yang
I never knew much about the Boxer Rebellion in China but Gene Luen Yang filled that gap in a genius way by telling both sides of the story from the perspective of two people whose worlds collide during the war. And, in seeing both sides, it’s easy to see how a bloody war would result from Imperialist expansion and religious zealots determined to convert the “heathens” versus the Chinese people trying to preserve their way of life and overthrow their foreign oppressors. Chinese history has never been more riveting. [young adult graphic novel, ages 14 and up]
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