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, 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!