Thank you to my Twitter, Instagram and Facebook friends for helping me with this strong girl characters graphic novel list. With graphic novels skewing for a male audience, it’s nice to find girl characters that inspire and entertain, and with a range of personalities.
Some of these mighty girls seem to have superhero powers; other are just plain fearless. But there are also those everyday heroines who struggle with life’s ups and downs and must discover who them are, their true friends and their inner strength. Whether their conflict is with bad guys, monsters, dragons or mean girls, all these books help to get girls reading, especially reluctant readers. I hope there are many more like books these coming out soon!
What great graphic novels with strong girl characters did I leave out? Please help me add to this list! Thank you!
Phoebe and Her Unicorn series by Dana Simpson
Anyone who has loved the comedic humor of Calvin and Hobbes but wished it skewed younger will delight in Phoebe and Her Unicorn. Phoebe is Calvin … a kid going through the trials of everyday life that includes girl bullies at school. Marigold Heavenly Nostrils is her unicorn with magical powers and the same dry observational wit of Hobbes. Together, Phoebe and Marigold traverse the perils of school, piano lessons without having practiced and awkward birthday parties. [graphic novel, ages 8 and up]
The first two books in this series—Phoebe and Her Unicorn and Unicorn on a Roll—are available now. Look for book three in the series coming in February 2016!
Dragons Beware! (The Chronicles of Claudette) by Jorge Aguirre
Claudette is not afraid of anything. Giants or dragons don’t faze her, in fact, she’s ready to take them on, especially the dragon that ate her father’s legs and his legendary sword. With her best friend Marie and her little brother Gaston at her side, she sets off on another hilarious adventure. [graphic novel, ages 6 and up]
Hilda lives in a valley full of mostly benign but bizarre creatures that she tends to befriend. In Hilda and The Midnight Giant, Norse Mythology is referenced in Jorgen the midnight giant who has been protecting the world for thousands of years from meteorites and other threats from above. His work completed, he is looking for his female friend night after night. Hilda is also battling with invisible little people who want to evict her and her mother from their home. Hilda manages to befriend them too but, in a twist of fate, finds that she and her mother may have to move after all. This is a gentle fantasy graphic novel series that would appeal to boys and girls. [graphic novel, ages 6 and up]
Luz Sees the Light (The Future According to Luz) by Claudia Davila
Luz’s mom won’t drive her to the mall when the price of gas goes through the roof. And her barrio keeps losing power. Now that the energy crisis affects her personally, 12-year-old Luz wants to do something about it. But what exactly can she do to live a more sustainable life? It turns out there is plenty and Luz is exactly the right person to lead the way. [graphic novel, ages 7 and up]
Dragon Girl: The Secret Valley by Jeff Weigel
Eleven-year-old Alanna and her older brother Hamel are orphans, fending for themselves. Hamel has taken over his father’s job as a blacksmith but longs to do something else. When Alanna stumbles into a nest of dragon eggs, a hatchling imprints on her and she’s willingly taking on the role of their mother. But when Hamel repairs a knight’s armor — damage done from battling and killing a dragon — he reveals Alanna’s dragon lair. Now, Alanna must find a way to save the dragon eggs and babies from the knight bent on destroying them. [graphic novel, ages 7 and up]
Zita the Spacegirl series by Ben Hatke
Zita the Spacegirl hits the mighty girl note perfectly. She’s an “every girl” but with a kind heart making friends in unlikely places, and her adventures usually result from her trying to help someone in need. With a giant mouse for a friend (and transport) and traveling in new worlds that are not too scary against foes that have a cuteness to their destructive powers, her adventures are perfect for little girls’ bedtime reading. [graphic novel, ages 7 and up]
The Secret Science Alliance and the Copycat Crook by Eleanor Davis
A nerd, a jock and a troublemaker team up as a secret science invention club. Meet Greta Hughes, a notorious prankster who is perpetually in a bike helmet to protect her brain. Her father is the museum director of their local history museum which becomes the center for a heist of a rare and valuable artifact by an evil scientist. Kids who like to invent and those who like to prank will equally be delighted with this caper of three kids who save the day using their own cool inventions. [graphic novel, ages 8 and up]
Roller Girl by Victoria Jamieson
If you like Raina Telgemeir’s Smile series, this is as close as it gets. Roller Girl has the same coming-of-age friendship issues that most middle school girls seem to have when extracurricular interests and interest boys demarcate friendships. For Astrid, her best friend Nicole who likes dance and boys doesn’t want to join her in roller derby camp. It only makes it worse that Astrid’s arch-enemy Rachel seems to be replacing her as Nicole’s new best friend. Roller derby camp is a lot tougher than Astrid predicted but she sticks with it and, in the process, makes a new best and discovers her inner beast. [graphic novel, ages 10 and up]
El Deafo by Cece Bell
Cece Bell’s hearing loss as a small child made going to school and making friends that much tougher. Her Phonic Ear helped her hearing — in fact, it can even give her super hearing — but its bulkiness makes her feel different. Is there a way to turn her disability into a superpower? [graphic novel, ages 8 and up]
Days Like This by J. Torres, illustrated by Scott Chantler
Did you ever wonder how girl bands from the Doo Wop days got their start? Days Like This is a fictionalized account of how Tina & the Tiaras rose from a school talent show to the top of the charts in the late 50’s and 60’s. [graphic novel, ages 8 and up]
Target Practice (Cleopatra in Space) by Mike Maihack
For fans of Zita the Space Girl, young Cleo (Cleopatra of Ancient Egypt) could be Zita’s literary sister. Both are stranded through time travel into the future where the fate of the world rests in their hands. Cleo finds school boring both in Ancient Egypt and in the future, but her weapons get a serious upgrade from slingshot to laser gun! References to Ancient Egypt are abundant in Cleo’s time travel future, with talking cats giving the orders. The future has been expecting Cleo as an ancient oracle has predicted her arrival as their hero that can turn darkness into light. Perfectly paced action will interest boys, and girls will appreciate Cleo’s fighting skills combined with her social conundrums. [graphic novel, ages 8 and up]
Space Dumplins by Craig Thompson
Violet Marlocke lives on the wrong side of the asteroid belt. Because of the galaxy-wide energy crisis, her father has taken a dangerous mission and he’s now missing. Violet and her misfit friends are off to rescue him in an adventure that includes baby space whales, top secret energy research, and a garbage filled galaxy. [graphic novel, ages 8 and up]
Rapunzel’s Revenge by Shannon Hale and Dean Hale, illustrated by Nathan Hale
For those who like fractured fairy tales, this rollicking graphic novel combines Rapunzel with Jack and the Beanstalk in a kind of dystopian Western setting. Rapunzel is no damsel in distress; she’s figured out how to braid her tresses for use as a weapon. Jack is a renegade on the run and their blossoming romance takes this story from fairy tale to middle grade territory. This graphic novel is the perfect blend of humor and action! [graphic novel, ages 10 and up]
Princeless series by Jeremy Whitley
Fractured fairy tales are upended in this graphic novel with princesses of color and indomitable spirit. Princess Adrienne’s sixteenth birthday present by her parents is being locked in a tower, awaiting rescue from a prince. She’s not willing to play such a passive role. Not only can she rescue herself, but she’s off to find her older sisters to release them from their imprisonment. Surprises abound, both for Adrienne and her parents. It turns out that she’s not the only princess with a backbone. [graphic novel, ages 7 and up]
Foiled by Jane Yolen, illustrated by Mike Cavallaro
I’m so glad that Jane Yolen’s grandkids fence because there aren’t many books about fencing and it’s fairly popular where I live. My doctor’s son fences and competes against PickyKidPix‘s good friend Griffin through they train at two different fencing clubs.
In Foiled, Aliera’s single-minded focus on fencing might pay off by taking her to the nationals, but it also makes her feel isolated from her peers. She’s ok with that … until a new boy comes to her school. Avery Castle is too beautiful to ignore and he seems to be very interested in her or is it just her fencing skills? Her best friend is her wheelchair-bound cousin and their role-playing games end up more real than she could possibly imagine.
Aliera’s first date with Avery ends up in an adventure that makes her realize that there’s more to her jewel-encrusted fencing foil that her mom bought her at a yard sale. [graphic novel, ages 10 and up]
Lumberjanes: Beware the Kitten Holy Volume 1 by Noelle Stevenson & Grace Ellis, illustrated by Brooke Allen
The Lumberjanes are a kind of “Girl Scout” group at sleepaway camp in the woods. This particular cabin is made up of intrepid girls who like to explore at night though it is against the rules of their camp counselor Jen. There are strange creatures at night including a three eyed fox and a bear woman who warns them about the kitten holy. The creatures only get weirder as our campers set to work acquiring badges. There’s a cliffhanger but don’t worry. This is a series! [graphic novel, ages 9 and up]
Smile series by Raina Telgemeir
Raina’s real life stories make for great drama as coming-of-age graphic novels that all middle school girls can relate to, even if they don’t require extensive dental work, participate in high school drama productions or have a sister. Middle school girls will recognize these same issues that Raina faces: shifting friendships, those small moments of discovering who you are, and boy/girl confusion. Raina’s graphic novels are my secret weapon to get reluctant middle school girls reading! [graphic novel, ages 12 and up]
Be Prepared by Vera Brosgol
This semi-autobiographical graphic novel chronicles Vera’s childhood as she seeks to fit in and make friends as a socially awkward kid. We don’t really understand why she’s having trouble socially. Vera thinks her failed slumber party is because her family is too Russian and poor but it’s more likely something else since her younger brother has no issues socially. Vera’s friends all go to sleepaway camp, a luxury denied her because her single mother is in college getting her accounting degree. When she discovers that her Russian Orthodox church has a church camp and gives financial aid, she persuades her mother to send her and her brother. Vera struggles socially at Russian camp also, but it’s because of the age differences between herself and the mostly much older girls. Vera uses her artistic skills to win over her roommates but that backfires. Vera is determined to make her camping experience successful and we root for her as she makes her first friend and becomes her camp’s heroine by beating the boys at Capture The Flag. I hope that Vera’s adventures continue with a sequel as she and her family head to England for her mother’s new job.
Graphic novels have never been honored with a Newbery but I hope this year is different. Fans of Smile, Drama, and Roller Girl will enjoy this tween girl journey of finding yourself and fitting in. [graphic novel, ages 8 and up]
Amulet series by Kazu Kibuishi
My husband likes this series as much as our 10-year-old son so we own all six books. When the latest one came out, my son received a flurry of requests to borrow it and the other books from both boys and girls in his fourth grade class so I can vouch for this series popularity.
Emily is the young stonekeeper and along with her mother and brother, are in a “Lord of the Rings” type of mystical world fighting elves in a good versus evil epic battle. Controlling the stone as a weapon requires both mental strength and physical agility. It’s hard to describe this series to do it justice — I tried with both my husband and son — so just give it a try if you like The Hobbit or Lord of the Rings fantasy adventure. [graphic novel, ages 8 and up]
Delilah Dirk series by Tony Cliff
If Indiana Jones and Wonder Woman had a baby girl, she would be Delilah Dirk. Anyone who saw her fight would say that she’s even better at hand-to-hand combat than her mother, given that she doesn’t have a lasso of truth, indestructible bracelets or a projectile tiara. She doesn’t need these gadgets for her adventures that include rescuing others, usually men. Delilah may not have superhero powers but, even better, she’s a strong and fearless role model for girls! [graphic novel, ages 12 and up]
The Last Dragon by Jane Yolen and Rebecca Guay
If you took a Tolkien novel with a dragon terrorizing the land and made it a graphic novel that sounded like it was from days of yore but with a strong female character, you’d get The Last Dragon. Written in lyrical prose as only Jane Yolen can do, this is an epic tale of the last dragon emerging after all human eating dragons were thought dead. Tansy, the daughter of an herbal healer, is the heroine of the day. Her courage and plan make an unlikely hero successful in vanquishing the last dragon from the land. [graphic novel, ages 9 and up]
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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.