Graphic novels are my secret weapon to get any kid reading. My recent discovery is that there are also multicultural, diverse, 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 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!
16+ Great Diversity Graphic Novels for Kids and Teens
Azzi In Between by Sarah Garland
Azzi In Between can be paired with the 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 a 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 a 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 diverse cast of characters with a can-do attitude. Together, they tackle the water crisis stemming from 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]
Pawcasso by Remy Lai
Review by Ms. Yingling Reads:
“Jo’s world is an idyllic one few of us get to experience– shops within walking distance that include a grocery, ice cream store, and book store; children allowed to roam freely and run their father’s dog grooming business in an emergency; public transportation; and lots of children hanging about having adventures. Seeing the community tussle over leashes vs. no leashes was compelling, and it was easy to believe that people thought Pawcasso belonged to Jo. The family problems add an additional layer of interest. Brightly colored illustrations in an appealing style will appeal to fans of Telgemeier, Jamieson, and Scrivan.” [middle grade, ages 8 and up]
That Can Be Arranged: A Muslim Love Story by Huda Fahmy
I’m obsessed with the Netflix show, Indian Matchmaking, so this was a natural fit for me and Huday Fahmy does not disappoint! I didn’t realize that women are expected to get married by the age of 21 in Islam culture or they are considered past their prime. In Japan, girls past the age of 25 are considered “Christmas Cake” (and I thought that was young to be considered past their prime for marriage). This is a charming graphic novel of Huda’s love-at-first-sight story. Arranged marriages, like in Asian cultures, are not forced marriages. They are more like a personal dating app. I hope Huda continues her graphic novel about being a newlywed because now I am fully invested in her relationship.
I think this is a perfect read to learn more about the Muslim religion. It has the perfect balance of humor and tension. The large font and limited text on the page also make this appealing to reluctant readers. [graphic novel, ages 8 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 is locked up in a nod to fractured fairy tales in need of a rescue by a prince. This is all a setup 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 cliffhangers 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]
Shirley and Jamila Save Their Summer by Gillian Goerz
Review by Ms. Yingling Reads:
“In this full-color graphic novel, Jamila Waheed has moved to a new neighborhood with her family, including two older, and very busy brothers. Her mother is working from home and not content to have Jamila lounge around the house all summer, but she also doesn’t want her to walk alone to the basketball court five blocks away, so she wants to sign her up for a science camp. When Jamila is at a garage sale, she meets the quirky Shirley Bones, who has an uncanny, Sherlock Holmes-style knack for knowing things about those around her. Shirley is trying to avoid going to ballet camp and manages to get the mothers together to agree that the girls can stay home, and go to each other’s houses and the basketball court if they follow the rules and check-in. This freedom encourages the girls to get along even though they don’t have a lot in common. When Shirley is approached by Oliver and Vee, who have relied on Shirley’s detecting skills before. They want her to help find a backpack that they took to the pool with their gecko in it that has been stolen. Even though the pool is out of the boundary the girls are allowed, they try to solve the mystery. At first, they think a girl named Kumi might have taken it, but she leads them to someone else. There is a shadowy figure in the neighborhood who is stealing things, but how can Shirley use her knowledge to help this person, retrieve the stolen goods, and perhaps make some more friends?” [middle grade graphic novel, ages 8 and up]
The Awakening Storm by Jamal Yogis, illustrated by Vivan Truoung
Review by Ms. Yingling Reads:
“This was a fun fantasy romp with dragons, which my students adore. I enjoyed the fact that Grace, while she missed her father, was okay with her stepfather and with the move to Hong Kong, and she managed to make friends right away. There was a lot of adventure (flying on the back of a dragon!), and some decently evil villains for the kids to fight. There was a bit of science with the father’s position, and the integration of the folklore into Grace’s life made sense. The pictures were in full color and were very appealing.” [graphic novel, ages 8 and up]
Nori by Rumi Hara
Nori is a spirited preschooler who lives in suburban Osaka in a multigenerational family. Her grandmother takes care of her when her parents are at work. Her grandmother also shares folklore that figures into their adventures. This graphic novel is a series of short stories. [middle grade 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 the eyes of a young girl. And life in China during this period was neither really horrific for her (though many countrymen 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 struggles with her very large but powerful hearing aid, which 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]
Black Heroes of the Wild West: Featuring Stagecoach Mary, Bass Reeves, and Bob Lemmons by James Otis Smith
Review by Ms. Yingling Reads:
“In this graphic novel, we get stories of three Black Americans who were involved in the history of the West in the late 1800s. While Bass Reeves, a Deputy U.S. marshall, has had several books written about him (including Paulsen’s 2006 The Legend of Bass Reeves: Being the True and Fictional Account of the Most Valiant Marshal in the West, readers might not have met horse trainer Bob Lemmons or stagecoach driver Mary Fields. This graphic novel offers brief overviews of their lives and careers, with the longest and most interesting being about Fields and her many careers and unique lifestyle for a woman at the time. Reeves is fascinating, but just the highlights of his career are addressed, and Lemmons has a very short entry. The graphics are nicely done, and the text to picture ratio is a comfortable one that will please my students. The book is not large (7.8″ x 10″), but a little larger than Nathan Hale’s Hazardous Tales (5.5 x 7.5″); Black Heroes definitely will appeal to the demographics of Hale’s books. I very much appreciated the photographs, notes, and timelines at the end of the book.” [graphic novel, ages 8 and up]
John Henry: The Steam Age Original Graphic Novel by Dwayne Harris
The legend of John Henry is one of the African-American folk heroes and a tall tale in which John Henry races as a hammer-wielding 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 steampunk 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]
The Legend of Auntie Po by Shing Yin Khor
Review by Ms. Yingling Reads:
“This was a great historical story with a unique spin on the Paul Bunyan tales. Reimagining them with a Chinese Auntie makes perfect sense since folklore is always adapted to fit different cultures. The information about logging camps is well researched and informative. Mei does not have a lot of hope for her future at the beginning of the story, but it is good to see that by the end, there are other options for her. The LGBTQIA+ representation is not a large part of the story, but it’s nice to see it represented in a historical context. Certainly, there were “Boston marriages” (a term in use around this time) even on the west coast! Mr. Andersen’s portrayal as someone who thought he was progressive for the time but who still didn’t treat his employees equally is interestingly done. The story moves along quickly.” [graphic novel, ages 10 and up]
The Deep & Dark Blue by Niki Smith
After a terrible political coup usurps their noble house, Hawke and Grayson flee to stay alive and assume new identities, Hanna and Grayce. Desperation and chance lead them to the Communion of Blue, an order of magical women who spin the threads of reality to their will.
As the twins learn more about the Communion, and themselves, they begin to hatch a plan to avenge their family and retake their royal home. While Hawke wants to return to his old life, Grayce struggles to keep the threads of her new life from unraveling and realizes she wants to stay in the one place that will allow her to finally live as a girl. [middle grade graphic novel, ages 8 and up]
Measuring Up by Lily LaMotte, illustrated by Ann Xu
“She’s eating rotten worms!
They’re pickled cucumbers.
Leave her alone!
I do not eat worms – not even fresh ones.”
There a lot of delightful moments in this graphic novel about Cici and her family who have just moved from Taiwan to Seattle. She makes new friends easily, and they become allies though they inadvertently commit microaggressions against her. Cici decides to enter a cooking competition to earn the money to fly her beloved grandmother to the U.S. in time for her 70th birthday. This is a journey that shows Cici a different path from her parents’ study-hard-to-succeed plan for her:
“Cici, they are American. They don’t have to try as hard. When people see us, no matter how American we become, they always see someone who’s not like them. We always have to prove ourselves first.”
Another delightful connection is on page 98 when Gene Luen Yang’s graphic novel, American Born Chinese, gets pulled off her new friend’s bookshelf as a gift. Lily LaMotte gently describes a new immigrant’s experience that shows how food is a valuable bridge to cross cultures. [middle grade graphic novel, ages 8 and up]
Kyle’s Little Sister by BonHyung Jeong
Review from Randomly Reading:
“Sixth-grader Grace Bailey is very excited to finally be a middle grader. Well, except for one thing – older brother Kyle is an eighth grader in the same school. Grace and Kyle may be siblings, but they couldn’t be more different. Kyle is outgoing, good-looking, and popular, especially among the girls, and likes to game with his two best friends, Liam and Andrew. Grace is a quiet, shy girl who prefers staying home and gaming with her two best friends, Jay, who is Black and has a big crush on Kyle, and Amy, Andrew’s younger sister.
Kyle’s Little Sister is a debut graphic novel for BonHyung Jeong and she has really hit it out of the park, capturing all the big and small happenings and nuances that can only happen in middle school. Her characters are so spot on and so very today even if the story is as old as…middle school. Jeong’s has managed to take a handful of characters and give them all distinct personalities. There is nothing ambiguous in the storyline, and motives are clear and uncomplicated, and there is even a nod to the very popular K-Pop phenomena.” [graphic novel, ages 8 and up]
Cardboardia: The Other Side of the Box by Richard Fairgray and Lucy Campagnolo
Review by Ms. Yingling Reads:
“Pokey is a very enthusiastic six-year-old living with her grandparents, older brother Mac, and imaginary friend, Colombo. On her birthday, she finds an odd amulet in her cereal. Mac’s friend Maisie does as well. When Maisie is escorting Pokey back to her classroom after she delivers Mac’s lunch to him (which she has grabbed by mistake), the two get sucked into a cardboard box that is a portal to a magical world where everything is made of cardboard. Mac’s friend Bird also finds an amulet, right before Maisie reports that she has lost Pokey. Mac has an encounter with a creepy cardboard woman in his attic but doesn’t get many answers. The boxes only serve as portals if they are kept in good shape, but it’s not long before Birdie is sucked into another one (that is cleverly being used as a paper recycling bin!). Finally, Mac, Maisie, and Birdie all travel together, only to find themselves on a “Wanted” poster. Things are not okay in the kingdom, but will the three be able to both find Pokey and help the magical world right itself?” [graphic novel, ages 8 and up]
The Curie Society by Janet Harvey and Heather Einhorn, illustrated by Sonia Liao
Review by Ms. Yingling Reads:
Twins by Varian Johnson and Shannon Wright
Review by Ms. Yingling Reads:
“This is a graphic novel with twins that has bright, exuberant illustrations and has Black main characters. This will be automatically popular in my library. It also has great parents and a fun older half-brother (who is a first-grade teacher!), lots of friend drama, and a little bit of possible romance. I’m not normally a fan of election stories (my school has never had elections in my 20+ years there), but twins running against each other is certainly a great twist. This is also definitely #ownvoice– not only is Mr. Johnson a twin, but he has twin daughters!” [middle grade graphic novel, ages 9 and up]
We Hereby Refuse: Japanese American Resistance to Wartime Incarceration by Frank Abe and Tamiko Nimura, illustrated by Ross Ishikawa and Matt Sasaki
Review from Discover Nikkei:
“What I really hope we can remember is that the choices were deliberately created, enforced, and made out to be binary: “good/bad,” “either/or.” In my research I found that more often, there were shared values which expressed themselves differently. An intense devotion to acting for the good of the family. An intense and youthful idealism. A faith in democracy. A loyalty to the United States Constitution.
Though it will take some work, I believe that we who inherit this history can treat the decisions and stories of our elders with a broad sense of compassion and understanding. More recent graphic novels have acknowledged resisters and veterans, including George Takei’s graphic memoir They Called Us Enemy, and Kiku Hughes’s excellent graphic novel Displacement. It’s important to remember that the government (and yes, circles within our own community) originated and then deepened the chasms which persist to this day.” [graphic novel, ages 13 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 the 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 a 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]
Flamer by Mike Curato
This is an intense coming-of-age story of Aiden Navarro who is about to enter high school. He’s been the victim of bullies most of his life and his home life is also troubled. There are hints of domestic violence against his mother by his father, but it’s the part of the story that never goes into more detail. Boy Scout camp is Aiden’s safe place, though there are still bullies there who pick on him. Still, Aiden has friends here and his best friend Violet writes him every week. It’s a confusing time for Aiden. He admires Elias, a camp friend, who seems to be successfully navigating being himself and being accepted by others. Will he be able to come to terms with his sexual identity and still find a place for himself amongst his peers? [young adult graphic novel, ages 12 and up]
American Born Chinese by Gene Luen Yang
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]
His other graphic novels:
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 extremists but Marjane Satrapi challenges readers to a more complicated and nuanced history; one that is also deeply personal. This is her story of 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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p.s. Related posts:
Book Lists of Graphic Novels for Kids and Teens
ABCs of Graphic Novels (A-E)/Preschool
ABCs of Graphic Novels (F-J)
ABCs of Graphic Novels (K-O)
ABCs of Graphic Novels (P-T)
ABCs of Graphic Novels (U-Z), Young Adult
BEST #OWNVOICES CHILDREN’S BOOKS: My Favorite Diversity Books for Kids Ages 1-12 is a book that I created to highlight books written by authors who share the same marginalized identity as the characters in their books.