Apr 252014

He is Adorable!

Our kids love to read. I have to admit that I was a little worried there for a while. I thought they showed too great a fondness for audiobooks and I was concerned that they might try to forego the printed page in favor of sprawling upside down in a chair and listening to a story. Merran, on the other hand, had brief anxiety over the fact that I had introduced them to comic books and this would be too much of a distraction from proper reading. They have proven both our worries unfounded and if anything have benefitted from their early experience listening and looking at narrative before starting to properly read. I don’t have any scientific evidence to advocate these benefits aside from the reports of their teachers who assure us that they both have strong verbal skills and are reading above grade level. Yay!

So how did I compile this list? Well, the other day I was cleaning out around the kids’ beds, which required shoveling out piles and piles of books, and I noticed that there are certain titles that always show up on those piles. Perennial favorites that don’t have to live on their already overstuffed bookshelves because they’re constantly in use and often in need of repair or replacement. They have literally been loved to bits.

In most cases I can also vouch for their popularity based on sales figures so you don’t have to take my word for it – the market has spoken!

5. Amulet by Kazu Kibuishi

Recommended for ages 8 and up

I’ve already reviewed this one in some detail. It’s generally darker in tone than most of the other titles on this list but if you think your kids can handle it there are some great fantasy elements and strong characters.

4. Smile by Raina Telgemeier

Recommended for ages 10 and up

Modern graphic novels have a great tradition of autobiography and Smile is an excellent example. While I’ve found many graphic autobiographies to be darker and more adult in tone (check out Stitches by David Small if you’re interested in exploring the genre) Smile is personal, emotional, and yet very accessible for elementary and middle school kids.

3. The Adventures of Tintin by Hergé

Recommended for ages 8 and up


What’s that Snowy? I should get my gun?!

The stories of Tintin were produced from 1929 to 1976 and have never been out of print. Their enduring popularity is a testament to the engaging stories – typically involving Tintin and the Captain travelling the world unraveling mysteries. However, because they are stories produced primarily in the first half of the 20th century they often contain questionable elements that parents should be aware of. Those elements include the Captain’s continual drunkenness, plenty of gunplay, and occasional stereotypes that could potentially offend any number of ethnic groups. At the very least you’ll want to be prepared to talk with your kids about what they’ll find in these books and how to interpret what they find appropriately.

2. Diary of a Wimpy Kid by Jeff Kinney

Recommended for ages 9 and up

I’m going to go out on a limb and guess that many of you have already heard of this series and in some cases may not be able to escape it. However, its appeal to kids is undeniable. Even though the main character is in middle school, in my experience, younger kids don’t have any trouble getting into the story. It’s also worth noting that the format of the book really crosses the line to heavily illustrated novel as opposed to full-blown graphic novel but considering its popularity I couldn’t say no.

1. Bone by Jeff Smith

Recommended for ages 8 and up

While I would love to take all the credit for exposing our kids to comics Merran gets credit for finding Bone. Until something better comes along I am always going to put Bone at the top of my best graphic novels for kids list. It’s an epic story often compared to Tolkien – but with funny animals. The artwork and the story are all top-notch and Jeff Smith is particularly skilled at comic timing in the comics. This might seem redundant but as you read these books and watch him land joke after joke you come to realize that it takes a special talent to seamlessly meld text and image and be so consistently funny. If you only get your kids one graphic novel (series) this is it.

I intentionally kept this list short because there are so many worthy books this article could have gone on for days. However, I feel compelled to point out a few other notable titles that my kids love.

Rapunzel’s Revenge by Shannon Hale

The Rapunzel story retold in a kind of fantasy old west complete with lasso hair.

Babymouse by Jennifer L. Holm

My daughter never tires of checking these out of the library. I’m convinced that she’s going to tire of them from frequent rereading or the fact they’re for younger kids but, no, that argument doesn’t hold water with her.

Zita the Spacegirl by Ben Hatke

This is a relatively new discovery for us but valuable for its strong female protagonist – we need as many strong female protagonists as we can get.

The Invention of Hugo Cabret by Brian Selznick

There are those of you who probably feel that this should have been number one on the list but I think there’s a distinction that can be made between books that parents think kids should love and books that kids actually love. For me Hugo falls in the former category.

Do you agree or disagree with my assessment or have something to add?

Scroll down just a little…the comments are Right There!

Let me know what you think.

  5 Responses to “Top 5 Graphic Novels for Kids”

  1. Loved Bone. Read the whole series in a month when my son was five. He’s in first grade reading at a 3-4grade level and I credit Bone. I’d find him late night with his light on, flipping through pages, discerning the words, then drawing rat creatures. Great stuff. Based on our shared appreciation for 1-3, I’m a check out the rest–my son thanks you in advance.

  2. Can’t agree about Tintin. I think they’re great adventure stories and all three of my kids have loved them — we have the entire set — and have understood that cartoon characters in a graphic novel are not necessarily representative of ethnic groups. No warnings needed, no worries about how to “interpret what they see”. Sounds like you might be trying to be rather PC here. :-)

    • We’re great fans of Tintin but I just didn’t feel right recommending it without providing some caveats for parents. I wouldn’t censor the books but I think we should take every opportunity to talk with our kids about how other people see the world, the context of different times in history, and understanding different points of view.

  3. Thank god you don’t have Captain Underpants. My kids love those books (not age appropriate) and force me to read the books to them each night. Diary of a Wimpy Kid is great. My second grader can read them pretty well and loves the movies as well.

    • I considered Captain Underpants knowing how popular the series is but my kids never got into it and I’ve had discussions with other parents who can’t stand it. Hopefully there are other recommendations here that might get your kids interested in something else. If they’re keen on superheroes I did get a recommendation for Supergirl: Cosmic Adventures in the 8th Grade which I think will be appropriate for younger kids. I’m also interested in checking out Giants Beware. Hopefully they are a tonic for Captain Underpants.

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