I’ve been reading a loooooooot of graphic novels lately, and I’ve found some gems! So in case you’re on a quest for new graphic novels for your classroom – whether for a whole class read, book clubs, your First Chapter Friday program, or your choice reading shelves – here are a few of my favorites.
I hope they’ll save you time honing in on the ones that best suit your needs to pre-read. As always, keep in mind that the unique needs of every community are different, so I do recommend you read any text you’re going to use in your classroom.
It seems to me that the graphic novel genre is particularly exploding in the middle grade category. There are SO MANY wonderful ones to choose from!
These are five of my favorites that take on some bigger issues, though I also hear amazing things about the fun and readability of the new crossover graphic novel versions of The Percy Jackson, Babysitter’s Club, and Wings of Fire series sets.
Overall, my top pick is New Kid, by Jerry Craft. In this stellar book, an art-loving middle school student ends up at a private school his parents chose instead of the art school he hoped for. While dealing with the transition to a new school in a new neighborhood, he makes some wonderful new friends, and also discovers there are some different norms and expectations at his new school, where he is one of only a few students of color, versus in his neighborhood. He navigates code switching, confronts microagressions, and makes his way through his transition to this new community while still being part of his old one.
Muhammed Najem, War Reporter, Illegal, and When Stars are Scattered are all different takes on the experience of young people affected by war, migration, and the refugee experience. Of the three, I liked Muhammed, Najem, War Reporter the best because of the way it spotlights writing and reporting as an empowering route to changing the world. But all three could play a strong part in a book club unit on the experiences of refugees or on the effect of war on young people.
Swim Team is compelling in the way it tells a fun story about a girl who goes from being afraid of the water to being a strong part of her school’s swim team (Mighty Ducks and Rudy vibes), while also weaving in the history of color barriers in American pools and waterfronts. There is a powerful parallel story as the protagonist’s swim coach is able to find reconciliation with her former teammates after a painful experience with racism back when they were teens.
I’m giving you five VERY different options here for high school students, and they are all amazing in their own ways!
I shared a lot about Gareth Hinds’ masterfully done adaptations last week, but I still wanted to include one of them here. The Odyssey is probably his most popular classroom work, and it is SO well done!
I know Gene Luen Yang is most famous for American Born Chinese, but I really liked Dragon Hoops. This would be a fantastic book to give kids who love sports. It follows the story of a powerful high school basketball program through a highly successful season, while zooming in on the life and personality of each player, the coaching staff, and the former coaching staff. Along the way, Gene shares surprising snippets of basketball history that weave easily into the story. He also includes himself as a character, showing the way he grows as an artist and a risk-taker by interacting with the basketball program. It’s a really unusual book, and I think many students will respond. Heads up, there is some mature language.
Jason Reynolds continues to be one of my favorite authors ever, and while I ALREADY think Long Way Down is a super high-interest read for kids in the text version, the graphic novel version only makes it more accessible. The art is powerful, the story is powerful, the author is powerful. If you haven’t run into this book before, then know that it is about a boy whose brother was shot, trying to figure out whether he has to follow the “rules” of the neighborhood and try to find the person who murdered his brother and kill him. The long way down is the elevator ride he takes down from his apartment with a gun, and at each floor a person he lost to gun violence steps onto the elevator to talk to him.
Heartstopper is a fun read about a close friendship between two teen boys that might become something more. Charley knows he has a crush on his friend Nick, but everyone thinks Nick is straight, including Nick. But Nick likes Charley so much more than any of his other friends, and he starts to wonder what that means. This is a feel-good super-easy read that kids can get through in less than an hour. Plus, it’s the start of a longer series. Teachers on Insta have told me they can’t keep it on their shelves! Again heads up, some mature language.
Last but not least, The Dark Matter of Mona Starr stood out for me because of its art. While I liked the art in all of these graphic novels, this one really felt different, special. The main character is an artist and a deep thinker who sets out to understand her own struggles with mental health. She calls her waves of depression her “matter” because people always ask her “What’s the matter?” The way this “matter” is represented in the book is so imaginative. I think kids who have felt the weight of depression will relate to it, and kids who haven’t will find a lens to understand it better. I like the way the story confronts the true difficulties of depression but leaves lots of room for hope. Mona studies her difficult patterns and ultimately finds connection and support in dealing with them – from her friends, her therapist, her family.
OK, my friend, I hope you found a new book (or ten) you’re excited to check out for your students! More to come on graphic novels in the coming weeks.