Graphic novels are great. I love diving into a new graphic novel and losing myself in the art and story — which is why I’m always dismayed to hear of teachers or classes not allowing graphic novels to count toward a child’s reading total, or only “allowing” one to count. Each time I read a friend’s social media post bemoaning this, I have to ask myself whether teachers like this have read any middle grade graphic novels lately, because these books are amazing.
The myth that graphic novels aren’t “real” reading is anything but true. Graphic novels are chock-full of text, readers still have to follow plot and character development, and the combination of text and pictures keeps kids reading, especially reluctant readers. In fact, there is research that says that graphic novels actually add complexity to reading because readers analyze images and use both the images and text to synthesize information.
Not bad, right?
But besides all of that, it’s really fun to read a graphic novel and have the story visually come to life on the page with the art: the colors, the character details, the little things you might not have thought about but are suddenly, definitely, part of the story. With a good graphic novel, you’re drawn in and lose yourself in the panels and the text. Especially on a bad day or when the world feels like it’s completely on fire, it’s nice to lose yourself within a graphic novel for a bit.
The books on this list have that mix of engaging art, immersive storylines, and that indescribable quality of when a book just brings you in. They’re funny, touching, whimsical, and memorable stories. This isn’t an exhaustive list, of course — just a taste to get you started.
Hereville: How Mirka Got Her Sword by Barry Deutsch
This is the first book of a trilogy, and after I devoured the library’s copy, I went back and got the next two. Eleven-year-old Mirka is an Orthodox Jewish girl who lives in Hereville, a tight-knit Orthodox community. She has no interest in her stepmother’s knitting lessons; she just wants to fight dragons! In the meantime, she fights bullies and menacing pigs, but then she meets a witch…who might be the answer to her dreams of slaying dragons.
Piece by Piece: The Story of Nisrin’s Hijab by Priya Huq
Nisrin in a Bangladeshi American girl living in Oregon in 2002. For World Culture Day at school, she gives a presentation on Bangladesh, wearing traditional dress, including a headscarf — but on the way home, she is violently attacked for it in a hate crime. She doesn’t leave her house except for therapy until fall, when she starts high school at a new school. Nisrin decides to wear her hijab, to the dismay of her family — which only makes her more determined. What follows is a journey to understand Islam and her family’s relationship to it, as well as adjusting to her new school.
Manu by Kelly Fernández
Manu lives at a magical school for girls with her best friend, Josefina. Manu always gets in trouble because she likes to have fun and be mischievous. After a prank gone wrong, Josefina wishes that Manu’s magic would disappear — and it does! When Manu does a dangerous spell to get her magic back, things get a little out of control. The story sounds simple, but it’s a beautiful tale with really lovely art and endearing characters.
Witches of Brooklyn by Sophie Escabasse
After her mom died and Effie wound up at her aunt’s house, she knew her aunt and her partner were weird. Not just weird, but strange things were happening all around that couldn’t be chalked up to being an herbalist or acupuncturist…right? When she learns more about her family and how magic runs through it, she starts to wonder if she has magic, too. This is a really cute story about magic, but it’s also a good, funny story about family, loss, and finding your way. If you like this one, this is just the start of the series!
Long Distance by Whitney Gardner
Vega and her parents just moved from Portland, Oregon to Seattle, Washington, and she had to leave her best friend behind. Her parents decide to send her to summer camp to help smooth the transition and make new friends, but Vega just wants her old life back. But when her cell phone stops working and things keep getting weirder and weirder, she realizes she’s going to have to work with her bunkmates and fellow campers to get to the bottom of this.
City of Dragons: The Awakening Storm by Jaimal Yogis & Vivian Truong
Grace just moved to Hong Kong with her mom and stepdad, and she’s nervous about making friends at her new boarding school. There are a lot of changes going on. On a field trip, a strange old woman gives her a dragon egg, and she realizes that the stories she heard growing up about dragons might just…be real, especially when the egg hatches overnight! The dragon is powerful, more so than Grace knows — and now she, her friends, and the dragon are caught up in a plot that could destroy everything. Will they be able to save the city in time?
Primer: A Superhero Graphic Novel by Thomas Krajewski, Jennifer Muro, Gretel Lasky
Ashley has been going from foster home to foster home, somehow always running into trouble. When she finally gets settled in with a good family, she discovers body paints that give the wearer superpowers! But the government agency who made the paints wants them back, and suddenly Ashley is faced with some tough choices and protecting the family she’s grown to love.
Wingbearer by Marjorie Liu, Teny Issakhanian
Zuli is a girl who’s been raised by mystical bird spirits in the Great Tree. When the magic of the tree is threatened, Zuli and her guardian owl, Frowly, need to solve the problem — and so an adventure begins. The adventure takes Zuli out of her tree for the first time, fosters new friendships, and might just bring her face to face with finding out who she really is.