Five favorite graphic novels

Graphic novels continue to be popular with kids from the time they start to read all the way into high school.  Here are some that I particularly enjoyed this year.

Raid of No Return by Nathan Hale.  Published by Amulet Books

There’s no better way to learn history than with Nathan Hale’s Hazardous Tales; add this World War II one to the collection.  Link to Amazon.


The Amazing Crafty Cat by Cherise Mericle Harper.  Published by First Second.

At first, the premise of a girl who dons a cat costume and does crafts seemed a bit odd, but Birdie, a.k.a. Crafty Cat, is a resourceful and funny narrator, and her crafting abilities often save the day.  Link to Amazon.


All’s Faire in Middle School by Victoria Jamieson.  Published by Dial Books.

I’m a Raina fan, but I’m an even bigger Victoria Jamieson fan, and this book is in a dead heat with Roller Girl for my affections.  Her heroines are likeable, fallible, and believable.  I also enjoyed The Great Art Caper for younger readers this year.  Link to Amazon.


Invisible Emmie by Terri Libenson.  Published by Balzer + Bray.

A hybrid between a regular novel and a graphic, this introduced a sympathetic character, shy Emmie, and her graphic alter-ego Katie, who seems to be a different character until the end of the book.  Introverts everywhere will root for Emmie.  Link to Amazon.


The Witch Boy by Molly Ostertag.  Published by Scholastic Graphix.

The “be yourself” message and questions about gender roles are strongly stated without overwhelming the engaging story about a community of magicians, and Aster, the boy who doesn’t conform to expectations.  Link to Amazon.


Raid of No Return: A World War II Tale of the Doolittle Raid by Nathan Hale

Published by Amulet Books

Summary:  In 1942, at a time when the Japanese empire seemed invulnerable, the U.S. government came up with a plan to bomb Tokyo.  Famed aviator James “Jimmy” Doolittle was chosen to lead the raid.  The men who were chosen to join him prepared without knowing anything about the top-secret mission they would be going on.  On April 18, 1942, sixteen bombers, each with a five-man crew, flew off an aircraft carrier, dropped bombs on their targets, then attempted to fly to China.  Fifteen made it, but crashed short of their destinations; the sixteenth landed in Russia.  Most of the men survived, although some were taken prisoner by the Japanese, and three of them were executed.  Although the mission didn’t do much damage, it was an important morale-booster for the United States that led to more military successes in the Pacific.  128 pages; grades 4-8.

Pros:  It’s difficult for me to find superlatives to express how much I love Nathan Hale’s Hazardous Tales.  For those who dismiss graphic works as “trash”, I would invite them to peruse this book and see how the graphics enhance the information.  Pages 20-24 show an aerial view of Pearl Harbor before and after Japan’s attack, demonstrating how devastating that was to America in a way words alone couldn’t do.  I love all the books; this particular one tells an exciting adventure story placed in the context of the early days of World War II.  There is plenty of humor without any disrespect to the heroic men whose stories are told.

Cons:  There were a lot of characters and planes (80 men and 16 bombers) to keep track of.

If you would like to buy this book through Amazon, click here.

The Witch Boy by Molly Knox Ostertag

Published by Scholastic

Summary:  Aster lives in a magical community where boys are expected to become shapeshifters, and girls, witches.  He is fascinated with witchcraft and has no interest or ability in shapeshifting, much to his family’s chagrin.  Spying on the witches’ classes, he learns as much as he can, practicing spells on Charlie, a non-magical girl who lives nearby.  When a monster begins stealing kids from Aster’s community, he realizes he is the only one who can help rescue them.  Assisted by Charlie, he makes a daring journey, and is able to reveal to his community the monster’s true–and surprising–identity.  This revelation uncovers some family secrets about some who have also not always conformed to the gender roles of magic, and gives Aster the permission to be himself and explore the magical powers he possesses. 224 pages; grades 4-7.

Pros:  This highly engaging graphic novel creates a magical world that will draw readers in immediately, and conveys messages about gender roles and being yourself that will resonate with kids.

Cons:  The messages about gender were a little heavy-handed.

If you would like to buy this book through Amazon, click here.

Pele: The King of Soccer by Eddy Simon, illustrated by Vincent Bascaglia

Published by First Second

Summary:  Edson Arantes de Nascimento grew up poor in Brazil, tutored in soccer by his father who had missed out on a professional career because of a knee injury.  From a young age, Edson adopted the nickname Pele, and that was how he was known to millions of fans as he rose to the top in the soccer world.  As a member of the Santos team, he became unstoppable, becoming the only player to ever win three World Cups.  He retired from Brazilian soccer in 1974, but financial difficulties led him to sign with the New York Cosmos two years later, causing a brief rise in the popularity of the game in the U.S.  Since his final retirement, he has traveled the world as a goodwill ambassador and worked with the Brazilian government to improve sports in his own country.  144 pages; grades 4-8.

Pros:  A fast-paced graphic novel that will grab the attention of sports fans.  There’s plenty of soccer action, as well as biographical information that doesn’t shy away from some of Pele’s less admirable traits, including adultery, but ultimately portrays him as a positive role model.

Cons:  The font for some of the footnotes is so tiny as to be almost invisible to the naked eye.

If you would like to buy this book on Amazon, click here.

Anne of Green Gables: A Graphic Novel adapted by Mariah Marsden, illustrated by Brenna Thummler

Published by Andrews McMeel

Summary:  The classic story of Anne Shirley has been adapted into a graphic novel, beginning with Rachel Lynde’s huffy visit to Mirella, with her dire predictions of what will happen when Mirella and her brother Matthew adopt an orphan.  Of course, everyone thinks the orphan will be a boy.  When Matthew arrives at the train station, he learns that a mistake has been made and their orphan is a girl.  Anne quickly wins their hearts, and goes on to win many more, including Diana Barry’s, Great-Aunt Josephine’s, and of course, Gilbert Blythe’s.  Their legendary feud continues for years, but by the last few pages, Anne has seen that Gilbert is a worthy suitor, and a romance seems to be blossoming.  232 pages; grades 3-7.

Pros:  I confess I am more familiar with the Megan Follows movie than the book, but I was happy to see most of my favorite episodes from the story included here.  The pastel artwork is lovely, perfectly capturing the beauty of Prince Edward Island.

Cons:  Diehard fans of the original novel will undoubtedly miss parts that have been excluded in this retelling.

If you’d like to buy this book on Amazon, click here.

Pashmina by Nidhi Chanani

Published by First Second

Summary:  Priyanka is struggling at school, where some mean girls make fun of her drawing, and at home, where her single mom refuses to tell her about her father or the family she left behind in India.  Pri discovers a pashmina, a scarf her mother brought from home, that transports her to a magical India (shown in color).  She’s guided by an elephant and peacock, who show her the beauty of the country, but won’t let her speak with a mysterious shadow who follows them.  When Priyanka wins $500 in a comics contest, she convinces her mom to let her visit India, where she stays with her long-lost aunt.  In India, the pashmina no longer has magical powers for Pri, but it does for her aunt.  The two of them set off on a journey to find out the origins of the magical scarf, and in the process, learn about themselves and their heritage.  Priyanka turns her discoveries into a comic book…entitled Pashmina.  Includes a glossary of the Indian words used in the story. 176 pages; grades 5-8.

Pros:  An enchanting story about finding your voice, with lots of female empowerment woven in.   Although the female characters struggle with inequality, they are all optimistic about change.  Chanani embraces both the romantic beauty and gritty poverty of India.

Cons:  The story unfolded at a somewhat dizzying pace, covering a lot of ground in 176 pages.

If you’d like to buy this book on Amazon, click here.


Graveyard Shakes by Laura Terry

Published by Scholastic Graphix

Summary:  Katia and Victoria are two sisters struggling to fit in at their snooty new boarding school.  Little Ghost is a playful young ghost who is scared of other ghosts.  Modie is a boy who should have died in an accident, but whose father, Nikola, has found a way of keeping him alive by taking the life of a child every thirteen years.  The characters’ lives in this graphic novel all converge in the graveyard, where Katia and Victoria find refuge from school.  Nikola has his eye on Katia for his latest victim.  Modie no longer wants to be part of his father’s evil schemes, and is ready to be allowed to die in peace.  It’s up to Victoria and Little Ghost to rescue Katia, and bring about a hauntingly happy ending.  208 pages; grades 3-7.

Pros:  Beautiful artwork conveys the darkness of a ghost story that also contains plenty of light, happy moments.  Katia, Victoria, Little Ghost, and Modie all learn the lesson of being true to yourself, and find some unusual forms of happiness and friendship in the end.  Fun Halloween reading.

Cons:  Pardon the expression, but the storyline and characters weren’t as fleshed out as they could have been.

If you would like to buy this book on Amazon, click here.