My 12-year-old daughter, Roxanne, is an avid reader. Actually, avid hardly describes her reading habits. She devours books. She’ll read almost anything, but her very favorite books are graphic novels.
I’m not sure we had graphic novels when I was a kid. We had comic books and they seemed to be targeted mostly at boys. Times have changed, thankfully, and today there are wonderful empowering stories told in words and pictures aimed at tweens and teenagers. These books are beautifully drawn and extremely well-written. They’re written by a diverse set of authors and their subject matter spans a broad spectrum.
Roxanne and I sat down last week and she drew up this list of graphic novels she feels are particularly empowering. These are books that feature female protagonists and kids from a variety of ethnic and religious backgrounds. They deal with issues of gender, race, class, and identity. Roxanne loves every one of these books (and she’s literally read every single graphic novel in our public library – seriously). She wrote the descriptions for each book in this post so if you have any thoughts to share about these books, or others you’d like to recommend, she’ll check in and read them.
Books are great companions for kids, and for all of us. I hope this list will be useful to you and your family. (All links in this post are Amazon affiliate links.)
Zita the Spacegirl “An earth girl pushes a mysterious button and finds herself transported to another world, where aliens roam the streets and making a mistake can mean never getting home again. Read all three books and meet Robt Randy, Piper, and the rest.”
Sunny Side Up “A little girl with a trouble maker brother is sent to stay with her Grandpa at a retirement home in Florida. Follow Sunny as she finds out about identity, staying strong through the tough stuff, and the meaning of family.”
El Deafo “A deaf girl learns to accept her identity as hearing impaired. Did I mention that everyone in the book is a bunny?!”
Smile and Sisters (Box Set) “Smile is a graphic autobiography about a girl who knocks out her font teeth and, through the orthodontic struggles that follow, discovers her identity as sh grows up. Sisters is about the road trip that the girl and her family takes during the first book. There are dead chamelians. What’s not to like?”
Roller Girl “A girl (Astrid) decides to go to Roller Derby camp instead of ballet camp like her best friend (Nicole). A very funny summer of boys, friends, blue hair, rebellion and roller derby follows.”
Lumberjanes “A group of girls at an alternative camp for girls discovers strange secrets in the woods. As the story unfolds, things get weirder and weirder. The friendships of the Lumberjanes of the Roanoke cabin are put to the test. Plus, two of the girls have huge crushes in each other which is super cute, and the art is really intriguing.”
To Dance “A girl with ballerina aspirations starts to dance to correct her flat feet. This book is a fascinating insight into the world of ballet.”
Primates “This book tells the story of Jane Goodall, Birute Elias, and Diane Fossey, three female pioneers of human anthropology. I’ve read it a million times, and every time it gets better and better!”
Honor Girl “Maggie has been going to the same overright camp for a a while, but this year is different. She falls in love with a counselor in the junior camp, Taylor, even though she knows that the straight, white, Christian world they both live in will never accept them.”
Ms. Marvel “In this book a Muslim girl in fictional Jersey City becomes a superhero after she is affected by a strange, green mist. Kamala, alias Ms. Marvel, is not only a superhero, but also has to deal with her religious upbringing, friends, boys, and all the perils that go with being a high schooler.”
In Real Life
“In this book a girl signs up for an all-girls guild on a video game similar to 먹튀검증사이트, and has to break a lot of rules to help a boy who is stuck farming online gold in China even though he is sick. It focuses on child labor and provides some interesting prospective on the darker side of online games.”
Tomboy “This graphic novel autobiography tells the story of a girl who isn’t sure is she’s gay, trans, or just a tomboy. If you’ve ever preferred climbing trees to playing dolls, or if you’re anyone who wonders about gender norms, this is the book for you. Actually, everyone should read this!”
Dare to Disappoint “This book tells the story of a girl growing up in Turkey. As she struggles on a career path she doesn’t like, she begins to question her family’s values, as well as her own.”
American Born Chinese “This book tells three stories: an immigrant boy and his friends at school, a boy with an incredibly embarrassing cousin, and the Monkey King from Chinese folklore. It focuses on immigration and Chinese heritage.”
Wandering Son “This book is the first in a series of manga about a boy who wants to be a girl and a girl who wants to be a boy. It’s a great story drawn in awesome manga style.”
Have you (or your kids) read any of these? Do you have any favorites to recommend? We’d love to hear about them!
amy dame says
this is really awesome to see, i love that more girls are getting into comics and graphic novels! the industry is improving so quickly, with so many amazing independent comics popping up.
I’m not sure if you’re aware (not to be condescending!) that several of the graphic novels you’ve listed here are actually comic books that are released serially (like the comics you remember from when you were a kid), you’re just listing the collected edition that comes in trade paperback. Lumberjanes, for instance, has a ton of issues, and has released a number of collected volumes. libraries tend to buy the trade paperbacks because they hold up better, but you can buy the individual issues at a comic store, and in addition to not having to wait for all the issues to come out to get the volume, you usually get a bit more content.
most of the comics i read are a bit too adult for a 12 year old, but i would highly recommend Jem and the Holograms for your daughter! it’s the same basic storyline of the Jem we (i) remember from the 80s, but updated to be more current, with more complex characters. the artist for the series is a trans woman named Sophie Campbell, and she does an amazing job. the characters are diverse, with a lot of body positivity, and POC characters that actually look POC (not just like white people with darker skin). Part of the new storyline is a love interest between a member of the Holograms and a member of the Misfits, and later in the series, a trans woman joins the Misfits, so it definitely touches on LGBTQ issues (which it seems like your daughter is interested in), but it’s done in an age appropriate way, totally cool for a 12 year old. And just like the original Jem, the clothing and hair are super fun, rock star awesome!
for further recommendations, i would consider trying to find a good comic book store. while a lot of comic book stores still focus on the more traditional, male-centered, superhero comics, there are feminist comic stores out there! friends of mine own a store in MA, and they are awesome about curating lists and packages according to their customer’s interests, and I’m sure they would be happy to work with you to find some new reading material for your daughter. https://www.facebook.com/comicsnmoreeast Phoebe and Christian both have fantastic personal politics, and a great knowledge of all the empowering, women/girl friendly comics that are available these days.
Hi Amy, Thank you for such a thoughtful comment. Roxanne visited a comic book store for the first time two weeks ago with a boy who is a friend of hers. He loves Magic the Gathering (she does, too, but not as much as he does) and they were playing in the basement. Roxanne wants to go back to actually explore the comics. I will tell her that Lumberjanes, etc., are available serially. She’ll be thrilled to know. And thank you for the Jem recommendation. She’ll love it. You’re correct that Roxanne has an interest in gender issues. She became fascinated by issues faced by trans teens (after befriending a trans girl at camp this summer) and has read every book (graphic novel or not) in our library about it. So her picks definitely skew a bit towards that issue.
I have a daughter with similar tastes/interests. Persepolis and its sequel fit this genre. Her gateway into graphic novels was Tintin, but your daughter may be too old now for them. Not girl-related per se, but my daughter loved the Maus books and everything by Gene Luen Yang. THe March trilogy was also recommended to her.
Did you know that there is also a graphic novel section for YA readers upstairs in the Wellesley LIbrary (in addition to the older kid room downstairs)? I think that the content of the upstairs books is meant to be more adult – but sometimes the distinction isn’t so obvious to me.
Oh yes. She’s working her way through it now!
Wendi Gratz says
This is a great list – basically all of my daughter Jo’s favorite books! She doesn’t have Dare to Disappoint, so I just ordered that. Thanks!
Here are some suggestions for Roxanne: Hereville (a series about an Orthodox Jewish monster-fighting Jewish girl by Barry Deutsch), Anya’s Ghost by Vera Brosgol, Friends with Boys by Faith Erin Hicks, This One Summer by Jillian and Mariko Tamaki, and (her current favorite to re-read obsessively) Through the Woods by Emily Carroll.
She’s read them all!
WOW! Thanks Abby & special thanks to Roxanne for this list . My daughter is 9 yrs old and she never tried comic books before. But yesterday we got her Smile and she is loving it. Her favorite book series is Dork Diaries. These books sure will add to our list. Thanks!
Snow Wildsmith says
Your list is wonderful (and I say this as a librarian and book reviewer who specializes in comics for kids and teens!) and I wholeheartedly second all the titles Wendi mentions above!
A few other favorites of mine:
Nothing Can Possibly Go Wrong by Prudence Shin
Yotsuba&! by Kiyohiko Azuma
Chi’s Sweet Home by Kanata Konami
Princeless by Jeremy Whitely
The Nameless City by Faith Erin Hicks
Babymouse by Jennifer Holm
Nathan Hale’s Hazardous Tales: The Underground Abductor by Nathan Hale
Howtoons by Nick Dragotta
Amulet by Kazu Kibuishi
The Three Thieves by Scott Chantler
Delilah Dirk and the Turkish Lieutenant by Tony Cliff
Baba Yaga’s Assistant by Marika McCoola
Nimona by Noelle Stevenson
From this list she hasn’t read Abductor, Howtoons, The Three Thieves, and Delilah Dirk. Thank you.
Wow, she is very well-read! I’m impressed! Abductor is part of a whole series about events in history, but it’s my favorite of the series. I knew Harriet Tubman was awesome, but didn’t realize she was such a superhero until I read that book!
Anne Beier says
This is a great list. ( I say this with my almost retired Public LIbrarian hat on). Graphic Novels are becoming so popular. They are wonderful for avid readers, and have a unique appeal to reluctant readers. Often they need the most help with getting interested in books, so they will become better, more confident readers.
These are two of the big appeals for all readers – picture ques, and many are in a series. So a young reader gets hooked on the first, and can’t wait to read all the others.
Thanks Abby and Roxanne for sharing this article.
Sarah Day says
Foiled by Jane Yolen is really great too. (Another librarian interjection)
Thank you Abby and Roxanne for the list!
Our eight year old has inherited a great love of comics and graphic novels from her father, so we’ve read and enjoyed both El Deafo and Nimona; other titles we’ve liked – some of which have been edited while reading by me or dad – are Moon Girl, Invincible, and Space Dumplins.
I have electronic versions of both Lumberjanes and Ms Marvel but I haven’t introduced them yet – right now, she’s just discovered Harry Potter, and wants to read nothing else… it could be a while before we go back to comics!
Deborah Boschert says
A few years ago I read an interesting YA book that I’d call a graphic novel, but was more of a story in the form of a photo collage. It was about a relationship between a boy and a girl (I think) and it was also designed to be a bit of puzzle? There seemed to be a question about who was telling the story and when. Ring any bells with Roxanne? If so, I’d love to hear what she thought of it.