Best Graphic Novels for Middle Schoolers

Ms. Marvel, Vol. 1: No Normal

This is the story of Kamala Khan, a Muslim teenager from Jersey City, who rebels against her parents’ wishes, to attend a party. As she struggles at the party to fit in with her classmates, a mysterious mist endows Kamala with amazing powers. This, of course, changes her life substantially, as she has to decide whether to conceal her powers from her family and friends, and whether to use them to fight crime.

Rapunzel’s Revenge

by Shannon and Dean Hale and Nathan Hale (Bloomsbury USA Childrens)

This stunning, hilarious and action-packed graphic novel re-imagines Rapunzel’s story . . . in the wild west! Rapunzel escapes her tower-prison all on her own, only to discover a world beyond what she’d ever known before. Determined to rescue her real mother and to seek revenge on her kidnapper would-be mother, Rapunzel and her very long braids team up with Jack (of Giant killing fame) and together they preform daring deeds and rescues all over the western landscape, eventually winning the justice they so well deserve.

Awards: ALA Notable Children’s Book, ALA Great Graphic Novels for Teens

Drama

by Raina Telgemeier (Scholastic Graphix)

Callie loves theater, and while she would totally try out for her middle school’s production of “Moon over Mississippi,” she’s a terrible singer. Instead she’s the set designer for the stage crew, and this year she’s determined to create a set worthy of Broadway on a middle-school budget. But how can she, when she doesn’t know much about carpentry, ticket sales are down, and the crew members are having trouble working together? Not to mention the onstage and offstage drama that occurs once the actors are chosen, and when two cute brothers enter the picture, things get even crazier! Raina Telgemeier brings us another graphic novel featuring a diverse set of characters that humorously explores friendship, crushes, and all-around drama!

Awards: 2013 Stonewall Honor Book

The Arrival

by Shaun Tan (Arthur A. Levine Books)

The Arrival is a migrant story told as a series of wordless images that might seem to come from a long forgotten time. A man leaves his wife and child in an impoverished town, seeking better prospects in an unknown country on the other side of a vast ocean. He eventually finds himself in a bewildering city of foreign customs, peculiar animals, curious floating objects and indecipherable languages. With nothing more than a suitcase and a handful of currency, the immigrant must find a place to live, food to eat and some kind of gainful employment. He is helped along the way by sympathetic strangers, each carrying their own unspoken history: stories of struggle and survival in a world of incomprehensible violence, upheaval and hope.

Awards: Children’s Book Council of Australia, Picture Book of the Year; Angoulême International Comics Festival Prize for Best Comic Book; Boston Globe-Horn Book Award, Special Citation

Primates

by Jim Ottaviani and Maris Wicks (GT Labs)

An action-packed account of the three greatest primatologists of the last century: Jane Goodall, Dian Fossey, and Biruté Galdikas. These three ground-breaking researchers were all students of the great Louis Leakey, and each made profound contributions to primatology—and to our own understanding of ourselves.  Tackling Goodall, Fossey, and Galdikas in turn, and covering the highlights of their respective careers, Primates is an accessible, entertaining, and informative look at the field of primatology and at the lives of three of the most remarkable women scientists of the twentieth century. Thanks to the charming and inviting illustrations by Maris Wicks, this is a nonfiction graphic novel with broad appeal.

Awards: Bank Street Best Children’s Book of the Year, Green Earth Book Award Winner, YALSA Popular Paperbacks for Young Adults

Lumberjanes

by Shannon Watters, Grace Ellis, Noelle Stevenson, Brooke Allen (BOOM! Studios)

At Miss Qiunzella Thiskwin Penniquiqul Thistle Crumpet’s Camp for Hardcore Lady Types, things are not what they seem. Three-eyed foxes. Secret caves. Anagrams. Luckily, Jo, April, Mal, Molly, and Ripley are five rad, butt-kicking best pals determined to have an awesome summer together…and they’re not gonna let a magical quest or an array of supernatural critters get in their way!

Awards: Two Eisner Awards, for Best New Series and Best Publication for Teens; GLAAD Media Award for Outstanding Comic Book

The Graveyard Book

by Neil Gaiman and P. Craig Russell, et al (HarperCollins)

An irresistibly brilliant graphic novel adaptation of The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman, adapted by award-winning illustrator P. Craig Russell. Nobody Owens, known as Bod, is a normal boy. He would be completely normal if he didn’t live in a graveyard, being raised by ghosts, with a guardian who belongs to neither the world of the living nor the dead. There are dangers and adventures for Bod in the graveyard. But it’s in the land of the living that the real danger lurks, for it is there that the man Jack lives, and he has already killed Bod’s family. Each chapter is illustrated by a different artist, with contributions from P. Craig Russell, Kevin Nowlan, Tony Harris and Scott Hamptom, Galen Showman, Jill Thompson and Stephen B. Scott.

A Game of Swallows: To Die, To Leave, To Return

by Zeina Abirached (Graphic Universe)

When Zeina was born, the civil war in Lebanon had been going on for six years, so it’s just a normal part of life for her and her parents and little brother. The city of Beirut is cut in two, separated by bricks and sandbags and threatened by snipers and shelling. East Beirut is for Christians, and West Beirut is for Muslims. When Zeina’s parents don’t return one afternoon from a visit to the other half of the city and the bombing grows ever closer, the neighbors in her apartment house create a world indoors for Zeina and her brother where it’s comfy and safe, where they can share cooking lessons and games and gossip. Together they try to make it through a dramatic day in the one place they hoped they would always be safe—home.
Awards: Mildred L. Batchelder Honor Book; Los Angeles Public Library Best of Teen Books; ALSC Notable Children’s Books, Older Readers; YALSA Great Graphic Novels 2013, Nonfiction; IRA Notable Books for a Global Society, Graphic Novels

Trickster: Native American Tales: A Graphic Collection

edited by Matt Dembicki (Fulcrum Publishing)

All cultures have tales of the trickster – a crafty creature or being who uses cunning to get food, steal precious possessions, or simply cause mischief. He disrupts the order of things, often humiliating others and sometimes himself. In Native American traditions, the trickster takes many forms, from coyote or rabbit to raccoon or raven. The first graphic anthology of Native American trickster tales, Trickster brings together Native American folklore and the world of comics. In Trickster, 24 Native storytellers were paired with 24 comic artists, telling cultural tales from across America. Ranging from serious and dramatic to funny and sometimes downright fiendish, these tales bring tricksters back into popular culture.
Awards: 2010 Maverick Award winner, 2011 Aesop Prize Winner – Children’s folklore section, and a 2011 Eisner Award Nominee.

Lowriders in Space

by Cathy Camper and Raul the Third (Chronicle)

Lupe Impala, El Chavo Flapjack, and Elirio Malaria love working with cars. You name it, they can fix it. But the team’s favorite cars of all are lowriders—cars that hip and hop, dip and drop, go low and slow, bajito y suavecito. The stars align when a contest for the best car around offers a prize of a trunkful of cash—just what the team needs to open their own shop! ¡Ay chihuahua! What will it take to transform a junker into the best car in the universe? Striking, unparalleled art from debut illustrator Raul the Third recalls ballpoint-pen-and-Sharpie desk-drawn doodles, while the story is sketched with Spanish, inked with science facts, and colored with true friendship. With a glossary at the back to provide definitions for Spanish and science terms, this delightful book will educate and entertain in equal measure.
Awards: Kirkus Reviews Best Books, Middle-Grade Books; ALA Notable Books for Children, Middle Readers; Ameréicas Award Commended Titles; 2015 Cybils Awards Nomination, Graphic Novels Elementary/Middle; The Washington Post Best Children’s and Young Adult Books

The Stratford Zoo Midnight Review

by Ian Lendler and Zack Giallongo (First Second)

The Stratford Zoo looks like a normal zoo… until the gates shut at night. That’s when the animals come out of their cages to stage elaborate performances of Shakespeare’s greatest works. They might not be the most accomplished thespians, but they’ve got what counts: heart. Also fangs, feathers, scales, and tails, in The Stratford Zoo Midnight Revue. Ian Lendler’s hilarious tale of after-hours animal stagecraft is perfectly paired with the adorable, accessible artwork of Zack Giallongo. There are two volumes so far: Macbeth and Romeo and Juliet.
Award: Cybils Awards Nomination, Graphic Novels Elementary/Middle

Hereville: How Mirka Got Her Sword

by Barry Deutsch (Amulet Books)

Spunky, strong-willed eleven-year-old Mirka Herschberg isn’t interested in knitting lessons from her stepmother, or how-to-find-a-husband advice from her sister, or you-better-not warnings from her brother. There’s only one thing she does want: to fight dragons! Granted, no dragons have been breathing fire around Hereville, the Orthodox Jewish community where Mirka lives, but that doesn’t stop the plucky girl from honing her skills. She fearlessly stands up to local bullies. She battles a very large, very menacing pig. And she boldly accepts a challenge from a mysterious witch, a challenge that could bring Mirka her heart’s desire: a dragon-slaying sword! All she has to do is find—and outwit—the giant troll who’s got it! A delightful mix of fantasy, adventure, cultural traditions, and preteen commotion, Hereville will captivate middle-school readers with its exciting visuals and entertaining new heroine. And don’t miss the sequels, How Mirka Caught a Fish and How Mirka Met a Meteorite.
Awards: Nebula Award Nominee; ALA Great Graphic Novels for Teens, Fiction; Kirkus Reviews Best Children’s Books

Soupy Leaves Home

by Cecil Castellucci and Jose Pimienta (Dark Horse Books)

Set in 1932, this is the story of two misfits with no place to call home, who build a relationship during a train hopping journey from the cold heartbreak of their eastern homes toward the sunny promise of California. Pearl “Soupy” Plankette ran away from her abusive father, but has nowhere to go until she stumbles upon a disguise that gives her the key to a new identity. Reborn as a boy named Soupy, she hitches her star to Remy “Ramshackle” Smith, a hobo who takes her under his wing. Ramshackle’s kindness and protection go a long way to help Soupy heal from her difficult past. But Ramshackle has his own demons to wrestle with, and he’ll need Soupy just as much as she needs him.