This post was written in collaboration with media specialist Lauren Bercuson Davis, as part of my “Reading Wednesdays” series in which Lauren and I share our favorite kid lit recommendations.
Mazzy did not pick up reading as fast as some of her other class mates. And once she did learn to read, it took her a really long time before she was actually interested in reading books. It was schoolwork to her and not particularly enjoyable. That changed when she discovered graphic novels.
The first time she picked up a graphic novel was last summer. She found “Spirited Away” in a free library box in the park, while we were at a family picnic. She picked up the book, sat down on a bench and didn’t move for the next two hours. It was the first time I had ever seen her read by choice. She took the book home and finished the next day, so proud of herself for completing a book on her own.
That’s when I looked into graphic novels for young girls and discovered Raina Telgemeier’s books. Here is a page from her book, Sisters:
Mazzy was hooked.
I have to say that at first, both Mike and I were not that impressed with Mazzy’s interest in graphic novels. We thought graphic novels should be for reading in her free time and not what she picked up for her required half hour of reading homework every night. But after battling with her to read novels without pictures, I thought, maybe it’s more important that she’s enjoying reading than reading what we think constitutes an actual book. I also remembered back to my childhood, when I binged on Archie comics almost daily. Those comic books might not have taught me much (except that the nice girl always loses) but they did play a big part in teaching me that reading could be fun.
I also did a bit of research and discovered that graphic novels have evolved a lot in recent years. They often have more complex plots and characters than early reader books, which I think was one thing Mazzy was rejecting. Early reading books, while at Mazzy’s reading level, seemed boring and babyish. Mazzy craved something more sophisticated.
I also found out that in addition to motivating reluctant readers, graphic novels teach literacy skills like inference, memory, sequencing, understanding succinct language, and reading comprehension. And if you are dealing with a speed reader or skimmer, reading comics can help slow them down, because they need to look at the images in combination with the text to fully ingest what’s happening in the plot.
To anyone who asks if graphic novels are “real books,” Lauren says, “Graphic novels contain fully developed stories in comic format, complete with multi-layered plots and complex characterization. The illustrations give valuable context that help readers decode high-level vocabulary words. And, perhaps most importantly, graphic novels encourage readers to analyze the interplay between text and illustrations, which results in the enhancement of critical decoding skills. So, one-thousand percent, YES! Graphic novels are real books!”
Fast forward to this year, in third grade, and suddenly Mazzy is excelling at reading, particularly in reading comprehension. She’s gone from being one of the slower readers to performing above her grade level. She still reads mainly graphic novels at home. Except now, when I tell her that her half hour is up, she doesn’t want to put them down.
When I first started writing this series with Lauren, I asked her to give me a list of graphic novels for Mazzy, because she had already read El Deafo (her favorite) about ten times. Lauren helped fill out Mazzy’s graphic novel library and suggested a few that are still on our list. Here’s a breakdown.
11 Graphic Novels that Mazzy has Read More than Once:
1) El Deafo
By Cece Bell
This poignant Newbery Honor memoir centers around Cece, depicted as a bunny, who battled hearing loss as a young girl. Though going to school and making new friends is never easy, it becomes exponentially more challenging while wearing a bulky hearing aid strapped to your chest. Though it may allow her to hear, is the Phonic Ear worth it if it isolates her from the rest of the kids in her class? A true gem!
By Raina Telgemeier
Telgemeier has figured out the winning formula when it comes to graphic novels as every one of her books turns to gold. Her stories are contemporary, relatable, and oh so much fun, tackling issues challenging so many of our kids and students. These stand alone novels leave our shelves as quickly as they are checked back in, rendering them among the most circulated books in our library.
By Terri Libenson
Emmie is shy and artistic. Kate is popular and athletic. One day, an embarrassing note falls into the wrong hands, and the girls’ lives unexpectedly collide. Can Emmie find her way out of the shadows? Invisible Emmie is a fabulous tale of middle school, full of humor and heart, for any child who ever felt invisible.
7) Real Friends
By Shannon Hale and LeUyen Pham
Shannon has had the same best friend, Jen, since she was a little kid, but Jen suddenly is hanging out with the most popular girl in class. Soon everyone wants to be Jen’s best friend forever, even if it means bullying others to get to the top. Will Shannon find herself in the group or on the outskirts? Real Friends is a standout graphic novel in which Shannon Hale reflects on her own elementary school years with honesty and humor.
8) Roller Girl
By Victoria Jamieson
It’s tough when you realize you have distinctly different interests than your forever best friend. But when Astrid watches her first roller derby, she knows she has to participate and become a roller girl herself – even if it costs her a friendship. Roller Girl is a fabulous, multiple award winning, coming of age novel about friendship, determination and, most importantly, girl power.
9) The Baby-Sitters Club Graphix series
By Ann M. Martin
If you were in love with the Babysitters Club series as a kid, your kids can now get hooked as well! Follow Kristy, Claudia, Maryanne and Stacey as they build their club from the ground up. The first five books in the series are now in graphic novel format, and your kids will soon be dying to start their own club, just watch!
By Jennifer Holm and Matthew Holm
Based on true events from the authors’ childhood, this graphic novel focuses on Sunny Lewin, a young girl shipped off to Florida to stay with her grandfather one summer. Though she imagines life will be fun in the sun, she quickly finds that her grandfather’s community is filled with — old people. And while she’s there, she tries to uncover the real reason her family sent her away. Could it have something to do with her older brother’s erratic behavior?
9 Additional Graphic Novels/Series Recommendations:
1) Be Prepared
By Vera Brosgol
Guaranteed to be this summer’s hit, this new graphic novel from Caldecott honor winning Brosgol centers on Vera, a Russian girl from the suburbs where everyone lives in fancy houses but her. Vera’s friends all go to ritzy sleepaway camps, but the only camp Vera’s single mom can afford to send her to is Russian sleepaway camp. Though Vera believes she will finally fit in with the other girls when she gets to camp, she quickly finds she’s wrong. Summer camp is far from what she imagined, and all she wants is to get back home!
Adapted by Mariah Marsden and illustrated by Brenna Thummler
Introduce your kids to this wonderful classic in a modern, graphic novel format. Little girls will fall in love with Anne (with an “e”!) Shirley, just like you did as a child, enjoying her hilarious chatter, her dramatics, her guardians, her accidental mixup when attempting to serve a friend raspberry cordial, and, of course, her bright red hair.
By Ben Hatke
Hatke has also established himself as a master of the graphic novel format. Both of these popular series are imaginative and engaging. The Zita series tackles a young girl rescuing her friend who is abducted by aliens whereas the Might Jack series is a modern reimagining of Jack and the Beanstalk. Hatke is a comic genius!
By Madeline L’Engle and adapted and illustrated by Hope Larson
Jump on in with Meg, Charles Wallace, Murry, Calvin O’Keefe and the three Mrs — Who, Whatsit and Which— the remarkable characters who fight off darkness to save the universe. This is the first time the Newbery winner has been illustrated, and there is no debating that this imaginative format is a must read- for those who have forever loved A Wrinkle in Time as well as those who have not yet read the original.
5) Amulet Series
By Kazu Kibuishi
If your kids like fantasy, they will be hooked on Amulet within the first few pages. The series begins when Emily and Navin move with their mom into their great-grandfather’s mysterious home after tragedy strikes their family. When their mom is kidnapped, the two are determined to rescue her, and thus begins their journey into a fantastical world- one with robots, talking animals, and ships that fly.
6) Dog Man
By Dav Pilkey
If your kids haven’t heard of Dog Man, I’ll be totally surprised, because this is the series that is being checked out in our library by boys and girls from first grade through fourth like rapidfire. Pilkey, the creator of Captain Underpants, hit it out of the park with this new series about a crime-biting canine who is part-dog and, you guessed it, part-man. Your kids will race through this series and each time they finish a book, they will be begging for the next one.
By Judd Winick
Did you watch MTV’s Real World back in the nineties? If so, then you surely remember everyone’s favorite cartoonist, Judd. Judd created this awesome series about a boy who crashes to earth (yes- he literally falls out of the sky!) and has no idea where he came from or what on earth he is supposed to do… on earth. Will Hilo figure out his past- and how to survive school? Another must for your graphic novel loving kids.
8) Babymouse Series
By Jennifer Holm and Matthew Holm
Babymouse has big dreams and an even bigger imagination… and she is full of fun and sass, even when her imagination doesn’t quite fit with her reality. These graphic novels are quick and witty, and they always remind kids the importance of working hard and maintaining a positive attitude — even when doing so is awfully tough.
By Svetlana Chmakova
The first day at a new school is undoubtedly tough — but even more so when you trip in the hall, get noticed by the mean kids, and are helped up by Jamie, a shy boy at school who consistently gets teased. Though Peppi Torres quickly attempts to surround herself with new friends in the art club, she can’t shake the fact that she wasn’t so nice to Jamie. But Jamie is in the science club, and everyone knows the art club and the science club are staunch rivals. Will the two find a way to get over their awkwardness and unite for common causes?
Does your child read graphic novels? Give us your thoughts and recommendations in the comments below!