Graphic Novels for MS and HS

Below are graphic novels that I recommend for school libraries and ELA classrooms.  Annotations are short, as most texts are currently available at Amazon.com.  Links to serious reviews are provided where available.  Titles labeled - MS are not recommended for Middle School, or at best for closely guided reading, due to subject matter and/or illustrations.

Selections fall roughly into three categories, those that interest me the most:  original stories with literary elements (not just entertainment), graphic adaptations of classical fiction, and iJournalism or historical/autobiographical story-telling (creative non-fiction).  I have omitted graphical history texts (although Zinn's A People's History of American Empire belongs in every HS history classroom), manja and anime - genre unto themselves that can be found in most school libraries - and texts in languages other than English.  Great graphic novels are available in Spanish, Portuguese, and Swahili (and other languages I am sure), but I can not evaluate the texts.  The geographical headings here group titles mainly by setting, but also by author's nationality.  At the end of the list you will find graphic versions of classics I begin with what I think are the best graphic novels (or comics) in picture book form.

Notes: 

  1. The American Library Association gives a prize to Great Graphic Novels for Teens, which includes a nonfiction category.
  2. An up-to-date source for book lists, awards, etc. can be found at the Cooperative Children's Book Center (CCBC) graphic novels site.  
  3. To gain an understanding of Comics as a genre, read Scott McCloud's Understanding Comics: The Invisible Art.  Scott also maintains Webcomics, a site on which he continues to develop his understanding.  His Inventions are explorations of even more new forms.  
  4. Also read Will Eisner's Graphic Storytelling and Visual Narrative.


Picture Books (recommended as the best way to introduce the idioms, form, properties of graphic sequential story-telling)

  • Ah-Choo - Mayer
  • Bear Despair - Doremus
  • A Boy, a Dog and a Frog - Mayer
  • The Dark - Snicket and Klassen
  • Flora and the Flamingo - Idle - award-winning tale for those wanting something uplifting
  • Good Dog, Carl - Day
  • The Hole - Toreseter
  • In the Night Kitchen - Sendak
  • I Want My Hat Back - Klassen
  • Mr. Wuffles! - Wiesner
  • Shortcut - Macaulay
  • The Snowman - Briggs
  • Stuck - Jeffers
  • Terrible Thingsan allegory of the Holocaust - Bunting - discussion starter for any age
  • This is Not My Hat - Klassen
  • Varmints - Ward - allegory of hope
  • The Wolves in the Walls - Gaiman
  • Woolves in the Sitee - Wild and Spudvilas - Apocalypse or just poverty?  Wonderful discussion starter
USA - Canada
  • Vertigo Crime series (search this on Amazon) - these are dark and stark tales for HS students - MS
  • AD: New Orleans after the deluge - Neufield) - MS - follows 6 survivors of Katrina - read the author interview on the Amazon site
  • Alan's War: The Memories of G.I. Alan Cope - Guibert - MS with oversight - perhaps useful at HS level with Onwards Toward Our Noble Deaths - biographical
  • American Born Chinese - Yang - "all-American" boys in distress - National Book Award nominee
  • American Vampire, Vol. 1 (because Stephen King was involved - but there are also a vol.2 and 3 is on the way)
  • Ampigorey - Gorey - 15 short works collected - continued in sequel volumes 
  • Anya's Ghost - Brosgol - girl protagonist for this thought-provoking ghost story
  • The Arrival - Shaun Tan - immigrant experience (early 20th Century)
  • The Artifacts - app (iTunes) - short, interactive story about a recluse teen
  • Battling Boy - Paul Pope - coming of age and child superhero, with undertones of classical mythology - perfect for middle school
  • Bayou - Jeremy Love - story of the South does not shy away from racial conflict - also folklore
  • Big Fat Little Lit - ed. Spiegelman & Mouly - includes some of the best shorts from the Little Lit series (Little Lit: Once Upon a Time, Little Lit: Strange Stories for Strange Kids, and Little Lit: It Was a Dark and Silly Night)
  • Blankets - Thompson - autobiographical coming-of-age story set in Wisconsin - MS
  • Black Hole - Burns - teens, suburbia, plague, sex  - MS
  • Bloody Sunday - This picto-essay tells the story of the massacre of the Wobblies, a Pacific Northwest labor event in 1916.  Compare the graphic essay to the Wikipedia article.  It is short and free, so it makes for a good introduction to both the historical event and the iJournalism form 
  • Boxers & Saints (2 volumes, read in title order) - Gene Luen Yang - set in China's Boxer Rebellion
  • City of Light, City of Dark - Avi - allegory of good and evil 
  • A Contract with God - Will Eisner - Centers on the Bronx/Brooklyn of Eisner's youth - McLoud believes Eisner, who called himself to be a "sequential artist," to be the greatest of the great - there are other Eisner works in print, but this is a great one - MS
  • Dawn Land - Bruchac - Native youth (Abenaki?) battles evil forces in pre-historic Northeast (brief sexuality) - MS
  • The Death-Ray - Clowes - dark adolescent tale masquerading as a superhero comic - MS
  • Elk's Run - Fialkov - post-Vietnam utopia gone wrong - for those who have grown up after The Hunger Games  - MS
  • Fleep - Shiga - for puzzle-loving readers
  • Ghost World - Clowes - girl protagonists drift apart after HS - darkly compelling - movie tie-in - MS
  • God's Man: A Novel in Woodcuts - Ward - from the 1920's, an allegorical journey (there are reprints of other titles by Ward as well)
  • Goliath - Gauld - MS - minimalist retelling of the story, from Goliath's side - high schoolers should make much of this thematically
  • Good-bye, Chunky Rice - Thompson - read as a comic, read as allegory
  • Green Monk - Dayton - short fantasy about a monk - wonderful especially as something students can emulate
  • He Done Her Wrong (also printed as Hearts of Gold) - Gross - 1930 parody of serious work of Lynd Ward (below) - probably MS
  • I Kill Giants - Kelly - another teen girl protagonist - makes for great discussion
  • Jane, the Fox, and Me - Britt - teen seeks escape from the miseries of the world - great for MS
  • Lost and Found - Shaun Tan - simply a beautiful story 
  • Lost at Sea - O'Malley - adolescent girl goes on a road trip to discover herself - more text than most - MS
  • The Magical Life of Long Tack Sam - Fleming - an i-Journalism memoir of a Chinese immigrant who led a fascinating life that reflected the culture in which he lived - one of my favorites 
  • March - Book 1 - Lewis, Aydin, Powell - 1st in a 3-part history of John Lewis and the Civil Rights Movement - reviewed
  • Meanwhile: Pick Any Path - Shiga - a sort of "choose your own adventure" - great to spur middle school groups
  • Mom's Cancer - Fies - MS - autobiographical story of mother's death
  • New School - Shaw - MS - coming of age journey
  • Pink and Say - Polacco - powerful short story of a black and a white boy in the CW South 
  • Rabbi Harvey (series) - Sheinkin - a rabbi solves problems in the American West - Jewish and American folktales intertwined
  • Robot Dreams - Varon - friendship explored by a dog and his robot friend
  • Seeds - Mackintosh - MS - autobiographical story of father's death - I purchased it within the Comics app for iPad (from comiXology.com)
  • The Sons of Liberty - Books 1 and 2 - Lagos - African-American heroes in colonial America 
  • The Stinky Cheese Man and Other Fairly Stupid Tales - Scieszka and Smith - metafictional chaos from fairy tales - middle school humor
  • Stitches - a Memoir - autobiographical story of abused childhood
  • Stop Paying Attention - an ongoing comic by Lucy Knisley that should interest MS thinkers - also check out her stand alone comics 
  • The Supernaturalist - Coifer - future dystopia where unwanted children are...  novel also
  • Syncopated: An Anthology of Nonfiction Picto-Essays - MS
  • Tantrum - Feiffer and Gaiman - MS - out of print but worth buying used
  • Terrible Things: an allegory of the Holocaust - Bunting - discussion starter for any age
  • Trickster: Native American Tales - Dembiki - written and illustrated by Natives - each tale is a different view of the trickster (largely adapted from oral tradition) - some sexuality
  • Unwritten (Mike Carey) - graphic novel series follows Tommy Taylor through time and space, the hero of a book written by his own father...
  • Yummy: the last days of a southside shorty - Neri - based on a true story of a Chicago youth's life and death, this would be a great pairing with Monster or other work by Walter Dean Myers, including his memoir Bad Boy
Europe
  • The Adventures of Tintin - HergĂ© - multiple volumes, some of which are dated in content - but an important graphic novel artist
  • The City: A Vision in Woodcuts - Masereel - German expressionist vision of world between the world wars - look for other graphic novels by Masereel as well
  • Destiny: A Novel in Pictures - Nuckel - 1930 German work of scathing social commentary - MS
  • A Game for Swallows: To Die, To Leave, To Return - Abirached - Beirut war 
  • Maus - Spiegelman - modern class holocaust novel, and one of the Ur graphic novels
  • We are on our own - Katin - another memoir, this one of escape from the Nazis, nice because it is by a woman author - obvious pairing with Once, Milkweed, Upstairs Room, Book Thief, Maus and other Holocaust titles
  • Safe Area Goradze, The Fixer and other stories, War's End - Sacco - a Bosnia trilogy, all the more powerful in light of recent war crimes trials and reportage - MS
  • 400 BC: The Story of the Ten Thousand - Helfand - the story of Sparta's warriors
  • V for Vandetta - Moore - post-apocalyptic Britain - movie tie-in - MS
Asia
  • Astro Boy (series) - Tezuka - Japanese manga classic (the only manga listed here) - review
  • Buddha - Tezuka - Japan - retelling of Buddha's story, best for HS - pair with Hesse - review
  • Burma Chronicles - Delisle - Reporter in Burma - iJournalism - MS
  • Kampung Boy - Lat - Southeast Asia (Muslim child)
  • Heroes R Us - Dhar - Indian superhero must learn to also live in the real world - Kindle download
  • Onwards Towards Our Noble Deaths - Mizuki - WWII memoir of a Japanese soldier - this reads back-to-front and is remarkable because the POV is the Japanese soldier - reviewed - reviewed
Africa
  • Aya - Abouet - almost journalistic tale follows a young woman in pre-war Ivory Coast
  • Deogratias: a tale of Rwanda - Stassen - MS (?) - the story of the Darfur genocide, which will be powerful if read, as I experienced it, with a viewing of Raindrops over Rwanda
  • Imaru - Saunders - alternate history parallels contemporary African histories
  • Shades of Memnon - Walker - mythical retelling
South America
  • Daytripper - Gabriel Ba and Fabio Moon - magical realism for HS students - perhaps to pair with If on a Winter's Night a Traveler (Italo Calvino) - MS
  • De: Tales - Ba and Moon - short stories from Brazil - MS
  • Mr. Mendoza's Painbrush - Urrea - spirit of magical realism in this Mexican story - MS
  • Pixu: The Mark of Evil - Ba - dark Brazilian tale, horror - MS
Middle East
  • Exit Wounds - Modan - Israel-Palestine conflict - iJournalism - MS
  • Habibi - Thompson - exploration of Muslim and Christian cultures and values - also a love story - MS
  • Palestine, Footnotes in Gaza - Sacco - iJournalism - MS
  • Persepolis - Satrapi - Iranian woman pre and post revolution - iJournalism
  • Waltz with Bashir: a Lebanon war story - Folman - MS (?) - Israeli - Lebanon war - this story has also been told by the author in an "animated documentary" film of the same title (Amazon), begging comparison
  • Zahra's Paradise - Amir - Iranian boy disappears after 2008 elections - also may be available serialized online - MS

From Classic and other literary texts
  • Graphic Classics - from Eureka press, a sizeable list of publications, most of which are collections from a single author, but also including African American and Native American texts
  • The Graphic Canon - Russ Kick - graphic interpretations and adaptations of classical literature in 3 volumes, from Gilgamesh to post-modernism
  • Trickster - Dembiki (ed.) - Native American storytellers and graphic artists
  • Dickens - most of the often taught novels are available in several graphic formats - classrooms should stock more than one version
  • Shakespeare - most of the often taught plays are available in several graphic formats - classrooms should stock more than one version
  • Alice in Wonderland - multiple versions - a great short unit is to read this classic in multiple formats and versions
  • Beowulf  (multiple graphic and comic versions available)
  • Best of Ray Bradbury - class short stories illustrated by master graphic and comic artists
  • Dracula - Stocker - several versions are available
  • Fahrenheit 451 - you want Bradbury's authorized version
  • Frankenstein - Shelley - several versions available - Gris Grimly's version is worth a close look
  • Gulliver's Travels - Swift - great resource for the classroom, as students need to get the allusions to this story - several versions available
  • Grimm's Fairy Tales - many tales available in graphic format for discerning middle school and higher readers - those from Graphic Spin (Quality Paper) are the most interesting - this is a great way to familiarize today's students with these classic tales
  • The Gunslinger
  • The Hunger Games (if you have to go there - great to compare to the novels and films) - and don't overlook Petrucha's The Hunger Pains
  • I Am Legend (Richard Matheson's I am Legend) - Niles
  • Journey to the Center of the Earth - Verne
  • The Jungle - Sinclair - might be a way to get this overlooked text back into the classroom
  • The Martian Chronicles - you want Bradbury's authorized version
  • Moby Dick - Melville - also for the classroom, so that students get the allusions and references - I recommend Moby Dick in Pictures (Kish)
  • The Odyssey (multiple graphic and comic versions available)
  • Something Wicked This Way Comes - be sure you find the authorized version
  • A Study in Scarlett - just one graphic version of Sherlock Holmes
  • Twilight (if you have to go there - great to compare to the novels and films)
  • A Wrinkle in Time: The Graphic Novel (Hope Larson from L'Engle)

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