Graphic novels are the perfect bait to hook the most reluctant reader. They provide the visual meal that 21st century students crave, while offering a less intimidating textual platform. However, even though graphic novels are primarily “graphics,” they contain the same literary elements as a traditional story in a high interest delivery. What I’m saying is that they’re more than just pictures.
My good friend and colleague, Jamie Schwantes, shares my passion for graphic novels. We believe in the power of the genre and have seen it transform reluctant, unmotivated readers into literature addicts. Our classroom observations, lessons, and lots of reading led us to create a workshop for teachers on using graphic novels in the classroom. We’ve presented our ideas and book lists at the 2015 Keystone State Reading Association’s (http://ksrapa.org) yearly conference in the fall and will be presenting again in June at the Penn State (York, PA) literacy institute.
Here are ten graphic novels for your summer reading pleasure. These are not only kid favorites within our classrooms, but adult favorites as well.
The Amulet Series (7 books) by Kazu Kabuishi (ages 8-12)
After the tragic death of their father, Emily and Navin move with their mother into the house of their deceased great-grandfather. She inherits a stone of power (by accident of course), which enlists her in the great order of the Stonekeepers. Her mother is taken by a giant creature, which forces Emily and Navin to begin a great journey of danger and heartache. On the way, Emily, with the help of many allies, has to learn how to control the power of the stone or IT will control her. The book is fast paced, action packed, and has a female lead character. The art is vivid and pulls you into the Amulet world like a kraken pulling down a pirate ship.
Fangbone (3 books) by Michael Rex (ages 7-9)
Even though his tribe thinks he’s not a real barbarian for the usual stuff (runty/no back hair), Fangbone, the main character, is entrusted with the Big Toe of Drool. Yes, he needs to protect a crusty old toe from a former foe. While the army of Drool attacks (they want the toe back), he rushes to a sorcerer who quickly sends him to another world. Fangbone ends up in a third grade classroom on Earth (ouch). Now he has even more problems. He thinks modern plumbing (the toilet), is evil sorcery and is also breaking school policy because of his shirtless culture. Gruesome, gross, rude, and hilarious humor just leak from this book “like a puss-filled pimple on the belly of a slop hog.”
The Flying Beaver Brothers (6 books) by Maxwell Eaton III (ages 6-9)
Two beavers named Ace and Bub… need I say more? Well, here’s the description just in case two beavers named Ace and Bub didn’t grab your attention. Ace and Bub love surfing, sailing, and always seem to be on vacation. They also love their home, Beaver Island, and defend it with masterful, yet humorous, determination. Penguins, birds, fish, baboons–– you name it-they want it from Beaver Island. But Ace and Bub are always up for the challenge of defending their island way of life (Cue the Bob Marley). It’s not easy defending a magical Don’t Worry, Be Happy sanctuary, especially with fellow beaver, Bruce, who is easily two times their size and always throwing a monkey wrench into their plans. Add two snarky penguins, who deliver a pile of one-liners that would make Will Ferrell proud, and you’ve got a homerun of a graphic novel series.
El Deafo by CeCe Bell (ages 8-12)
I had the pleasure of meeting CeCe Bell at NCTE in 2014. She’s funny, articulate, and a downright entertainer. She’s also deaf, which blew my mind. El Deafo is her story. And what a story it is. I had no shot at putting down the book. The narrative pulled me through a buffet of emotions and anguish. Every word and illustration masterfully penned the story of her challenges, failures, and successes as a deaf child. It’s a one of a kind personal narrative in graphic novel form. All the feels, brothers and sisters. All the feels.
Ghostopolis by Doug TenNapel (ages 10-14)
Well, this one is dark. It’s about a kid who has an incurable disease who is accidently sent to the afterlife by a ghost hunter. The ghost hunter feels terrible about his mistake and wants to retrieve the boy because he doesn’t belong there (yet). This dude named Vaugner, who is clearly based on the morbid rocker, Marilyn Manson, rules the afterlife. He realizes that the boy has special powers and can threaten his leadership, so he sends his bug army to get him. Meanwhile, the ghost hunter hooks his old girlfriend, who is a ghost living among the living, into helping him get to the afterlife and save the boy before Vaugner gets him. So, there’s a bunch of conflict and to make sure everyone stays on their toes, the ghost of Benedict Arnold is running around betraying everyone (jerk).
Sunny Side Up by Jennifer and Matthew Holm (ages 8-12)
Sunny is spending the summer with her grandpa, who lives in the sunshine state, the same sunshine state that is home to Disney World, and of course home to Pine Palms Retirement Community. And as a visitor to Pine Palms, Sunny takes part in Grandpa’s big plans–– running errands. Lucky for Sunny, she meets Buzz, and together they work together to solve some missing cat mysteries, tangle with crocodiles, and read comics.
Sunny takes readers on a journey of many discoveries––friendship, family, and secrets, secrets that have been weighing Sunny down for too long. It is an ideal read for middle grade readers searching their “inner” super powers.
Smile and Sisters by Raina Telgmeier (ages 9-12)
Sisters and Smile represent a unique view of the memoir genre. Smile tells the story of Raina, as she handles the many stresses of being an adolescent like fitting in, friendships, middle school, younger sisters, and just being you. School can be tough enough, but when an accidental fall leaves Raina with a “metal mouth,” Raina’s adventure begins. Spend time with our young hero, as she navigates her many challenges (false-friends, boys, growing up), and learns to trust herself and just smile.
In Sisters, young Raina’s wish to have a sister is finally realized, but this is only the beginning of another heartfelt and humorous tale. A road trip to a family reunion provides the backdrop to a story about the complicated relationships within a family. Families fight, annoy, and embarrass each other daily, but the umbrella that covers all families is unconditional love.
Tommysaurus Rex by Doug TenNapel (ages 8-12)
When Ely’s beloved dog, Tommy, dies after being hit by a car, his parents suggest that he spends the summer working on his grandpa’s farm. As Ely is recovering from his loss, new relationships form. One: a discovery of a prehistoric pet. Two: a bully determined to make Ely’s life miserable. Emotions run high in this novel, but so does the wisdom for handling these emotions. And as Grandpa tells us, “I understand why it’s easy to hate mean people. But what would happen if we all just gave in to our anger and stood against (fight) one another?” Both the young and the old will benefit from taking the time to think about Grandpa’s question.
Bean Dog and Nugget: The Ball by Charise Maricle (ages 5-8)
Younger audiences (and older ones, they just don’t admit it) will love this tale of true friendship. Friendships can often be difficult to manage and solving problems is hard. These themes can be difficult to understand (yes, even for us bigger kids :). Here’s a suggested formula in graphic novel form. First, you need two best friends: Bean Dog and Nugget. Next, throw in a special shiny, smooth ball, and a big, green something. Then, add a splash of problem solving and some underwear. Put all this together, and you have an adventure that shows us how listening, collaborating, and understanding each other can fill our hearts with hope.
Let's grow this list! What are your favorite graphic novels?
This piece was originally submitted to our community forums by a reader. Due to audience interest, we’ve preserved it. The opinions expressed here are the writer’s own.