Graphic novels and comic books for kids are great for encouraging interest in reading!
Not very long ago at all, if someone had mentioned comics to me, my first thought would have been, “Like… Batman or Superman?” Something more for a teenager than a little boy like my son, who still likes stories about animals that talk and draw smiles on his pictures of cars.
But when my son showed interest in comic books, after reading Tintin with his dad, I dutifully checked the library and bookstores for something age-appropriate. I prided myself in being quite familiar with the world of children’s books. Haven’t I filled four bookcases with them in the last six year? And haven’t we been bringing a dozen a week from the library all this time?
But I was surprised. Tucked in the corners of of libraries and bookstores, there was a world of comic books for kids. Unfamiliar books – what could be more exciting for a book lover? It was like Christmas and my birthday at once!
There is indeed a great selection of comic books and graphic novels for kids these days, even early reader comic books! What are they like? Graphic novels for kids don’t have any violent content, but focus instead on the topics that kids can relate to – exploring their world, making friends, and learning about themselves.
What Is the Difference Between Comic Books and Graphic Novels?
If you ask me personally, I’d say that the difference is rather subjective and insubstantial. Both tell a story through a series of strips with illustrations and dialogues. Both can be coloured or black-and-white, and the subject can vary greatly! If you like one, you will usually like another.
Some people put emphasis on the difference between comic books and graphic novels, but for the purpose of this article, we have included both, and the important thing is, they are all great books!
Why Should You Read Comic Books?
Many children, especially the ones who have recently learned to read, find long pages of text daunting. Early reader books, on the other hand, do not provide them with enough engagement. That’s when comic books come in handy.
Comic books provide children with stories that they can connect to – they have complex plots, interesting characters, witty dialogues, and amusing noises! At the same time, they give children all the opportunities to be able to read the story without struggling – a reasonable amount of text per page, lots of visual cues, and since most of the text comes in the form of dialogues, shorter and simpler sentences.
But don’t underestimate comic books or graphic novels for kids! There is really no topic that they can’t tackle, as you will be sure to see from the list below.
The Tea Dragon Society, by Katie O'Neill
Greta, a young girl and a blacksmithing apprentice working at her mother's shop, sometimes wonders whether there is any sense in learning blacksmithing since hardly anyone uses swords these days. Then one day, she learns about a form of craftsmanship even more obscure and forgotten - tea dragon tea!
This is a gentle and heart-warming fantasy about the meaning of friendship and finding your place in the world, as well as a story about honouring the past and traditions. There is something of a delicate sketch to it. It opens a window into a vibrant magical world, gives you a quick introduction to its people and traditions, then leaves you - some may complain "hanging and wishing for more", but I thought "dreaming and making up your own fantasies".
There is also a sequel coming, so who knows what new things we will learn about tea dragons!
Best features: Beautiful world that invites readers to dream on!
Hilda and the Troll, by Luke Pearson
The world that Hilda lives in is populated with trolls, giants, nisse and elves - the latter, by the way, are terrible bureaucrats and stay invisible to anyone who hasn’t done the proper paperwork! Hilda, a young girl with a fondness for drawing and nature, spends her days exploring her surroundings, and while her adventures are not devoid of danger, it is hard for readers not to wish that they could join her.
If you have ever enjoyed the animated movies of Hayao Miyazaki, the stories about Hilda have a similar feel - full of everyday magic, attention to detail and strange creatures.
Hilda and the Troll is the first book in the series. In addition to that, there are four sequels and a new TV series, which is also great. It would make a good choice for a family movie night.
Best features: Atmospheric world, full of magic and mythology.
Lucy & Andy Neanderthal, by Jeffrey Brown
What would life be like if you lived in a Stone Age? This comic book provides children with a very detailed answer that features some insight into stone tool making, mammoth hunting and cave wall painting!
Knowing the author by the series of funny Star Wars comics for kids, I wasn’t sure what to expect - will it be a complete prehistoric fantasy or will there be some truth in it? I was delighted to discover that it was definitely the latter, with a long bibliography to boot. It turned out to be quite a gem. Neither me nor my son knew (or cared to know) anything about Neanderthals before, yet we simply devoured the stories and learned a lot about day-to-day life in the Stone Age. Better yet, it was fun to read, and we grew to quite like the characters - the brother and sister Andy and Lucy, their family and neighbours,
Best features: Gives children an idea that history can be surprisingly entertaining!
Fairy Tale Comics: Classic Tales Told by Extraordinary Cartoonists
Everyone knows the stories of Cinderella or Little Red Riding Hood! But what about The Boy Who Drew Cats from Japanese folklore? Or Baba Yaga from Russian folk stories? With this book, not only will children get to know some new characters from around the world, but also get a chance to look at the old stories from a new perspective, through comic books!
Seventeen different cartoonists, each with a style of their own, got together and adapted seventeen fairy-tales into a comic book format! The result is a delight, no matter what your interest may be - fairy tales, stories from around the world, or comic books.
Best features: A unique adaptation of fairy-tales from around the world with very different comic styles.
Age: 4+ (or whenever your children are ready for fairy-tales)
Cici's Journal: The Adventures of a Writer-in-Training, by Joris Chamblain and Aurélie Neyret
Cici dreams of being a novelist. Her favorite subject: people, especially adults. She likes watching people on the streets and taking notes, and once in a while, she notices something suspicious about one of them. On the first glance, this is one of those young detective's novels, like Famous Five or Nancy Drew. But the truth is, Cici's secrets lead to touching discoveries rather than criminal activity, and the biggest mystery that she needs to solve is how to open up to her friends and family.
The graphic aspect of the book is amazing! A graphic novel interwoven with journal notes, scrapbook pieces, newspaper clippings, letters, and doodles pull the readers right into Cici's world. It's worth checking the book out just for them alone, however the stories are also quite touching and should resonate well with children on the verge of teenagehood.
Best features: Great illustrations that combine comics with letters, clipping, doodles, etc.
Bink and Gollie, by Kate DiCamillo, Alison McGhee and Tony Fucile
Bink is short, wild and falls in love with things heads over heels. Gollie is tall, stoic and tends to question opinions. The two of them are best friends! In these stories they explore the flea markets and state fairs, attempt to set a world record, and just relax with some pancakes and peanut butter. They also live in a marvellous tree house, and I doubt that anyone could help but long for one like theirs after reading these comic books.
As you can see from the title, three people participated in creating Bink and Gollie, and the result turned out to be irresistible! Witty, imaginative, philosophical, with stylish illustrations, the stories about these two girls are not easy to forget.
It’s also worth mentioning that Bink and Gollie is somewhat of a cross between a comic book and a picture book - it features comic book panelling, but no bubbles. For that reason, it may be a good choice for the first comic book to try.
Best features: Witty and creative cross between a picture book and a comic book.
Zita the Spacegirl, by Ben Hatke
When her best friend is abducted by aliens, Zita tries to rescue him and finds herself on a strange planet, where she is confronted by aliens of all shapes and sizes - humanoid chickens, neurotic robots, and suchlike.
With a premise such as this, I was worried that the book will end up being too action-based. Indeed, there is a lot happening between the beginning and the end, but through all the interplanetary adventures the real focus stays on imaginative storytelling. In the end, it was a delight to read - fun, unpredictable and very creative!
If you get drawn into the story, there are currently two sequels as well.
Best features: Imaginative space world, populated with a wide array of aliens.
The Complete Calvin and Hobbes, by Bill Watterson
Considered by some to be the most brilliant comic ever created, the story of a six-year-old boy, Calvin, and his stuffed tiger and partner-in-crime, Hobbes, is a timeless tale of childhood and imagination. There is hardly a topic that was not explored in the ten years that these comics were being published - from more general topics such as friendship, love, growing up, art, philosophy, meaning of life, and self-identification to more specific ones such as how to persuade a child to eat stuffed peppers for dinner. The solution to the latter problem, as suggested by Calvin's mom, is above.
In my opinion, Calvin and Hobbes is an ultimate family read! Everyone will find something in it - six-year-old kids will delight in Calvin's antics, teenagers will appreciate the mixture of humour and sarcasm, and the adults will find the story, oh, so relatable on many levels!
Best features: Funny, smart, and creative!
El Deafo, by Cece Bell
Navigating a new school is scary, even more so if you have a gigantic hearing aid strapped to your chest! Based on events from the author’s childhood, this graphic novel follows the life of a girl growing up with a hearing impairment. It’s a great book for offering children an insight into what it may feel like to be treated different from everyone else, and the subject of disabilities is tackled with a lot of humour and tact.
With that being said, it is a very positive book, and there is a happy ending. No, Cece doesn’t get her hearing back, but she gains confidence and makes friends all the same!
Best features: Insightful and humorous.
Chi's Sweet Home, by Konami Kanata
A heartwarming story of a kitten and how she became a part of an average Japanese family.
Most animal books can be roughly divided into two categories - books where animals act and feel like humans and books where animals are presented with naturalistic objectivity, usually as observed by a human. In that regard, the book about Chi is unique. Chi most definitely has a voice. Her human family usually hears it as "meow" (be ready to perfect your meowing while reading this book!), but the reader is fortunate enough to get a translation. That causes quite a few ironic situations! Yet, the story about Chi is undeniably a story about a real cat. While reading it, children will learn in detail about the peculiarities of cat potty training, trips to a vet, and moving houses.
There are a few good reasons to try Chi's Sweet Home with children! It will definitely be a success with animal lovers. It is also an interesting multicultural read, introducing children to everyday life in a Japanese family.
Best features: Cat lover paradise!
Yotsuba and!, by Kiyohiko Azuma
Remember how the world felt when you were a child? So new and exciting! Yotsuba is five, and every day is full of discoveries for her. Swings, puddles, global warming, cakes. air conditioning, constellations - each chapter tackles Yotsuba's interractions with something new... or someone.
The results are fascinating - sometimes outright hilarious, sometimes rather philosophical. Yotsuba is certainly one-of-a-kind!
It's a good family comic book that could appeal to multi-generational readers, since it features a wide variety of characters - a five-year-old girl, teenage neighbours, and young adults, such as Yotsuba's dad and his friends. As the comic book is created to appeal to a wide variety of readers, there are some jokes that are aimed at adults rather than at children, but, overall, it is a very family-friendly read.
Best features: Introduction to Japanese comic books and a good slice-of-life comic series.
Oz: the Wonderful Wizard of Oz, by L.F. Baum, Eric Shanover, and Scottie Young
The story of the Kansas girl being carried away to the magical land of Oz has become a classic of the last century. The charm of the original has been well preserved in this comic adaptation. New readers may find it an appealing introduction to the series, but I believe that it is devoted fans who would love to go through the books and compare the lusciously detailed illustrations with their imaginations.
At least, my son, having already listened to the whole series of the Oz stories as audiobooks at least ten times, was delighted to discover these books! Besides the first one, five more from the Oz series have been adapted into graphic novels, two of my childhood favourites among them - The Marvelous Land of Oz, and Ozma of Oz. The Oz books I had as a child had no illustrations, so it was a special treat for my inner child to finally see a picture of Ozma.
Best for: Giving a modern and vibrant look to a classic book.
Stinky, by Eleanor Davis
Who would think that a comic book about stereotype and acceptance could take the perspective of a monster? His name is Stinky, he loves pickled onions and mud puddles, and he is deadly afraid of kids. The story is clever and fun to read, and this book has become a fast favourite with our kids who delighted in Stinky’s lovable and completely innocent grossness.
It's also a great early reader comic book for those who are just learning to read!
Best features: Funny, clever, and just right for this age group!
Narwhal: Unicorn of the Sea, by Ben Clanton
Narwhal is a happy-go-lucky narwhal. Jelly is a no-nonsense jellyfish. The two are destined to become friends (at least, after Narwhal manages to persuade Jelly that he isn’t just imagining “the strange creature with a horn on his head").
This is a perfect introduction to comic books for children. The stories are fun, short and full of puns to send six-year-olds into a giggling frenzy. I had almost put this book together with early reader comic books, but decided that the language is just a little too advanced for beginners. While the dialogues between the two friends are fairly simple, the three stories include scientific facts about sea life.
Best features: Light and fun introduction to comic books for the youngest that also includes some scientific information.
Anne of Green Gables: A Graphic Novel, by Mariah Marsden and Brenna Thummler
Kindred spirits, school rivalries, baking disasters, and, of course, puffed sleeves. All the things that have become dear to fans of the imaginative red-haired girl come alive in this graphic novel adaptation, filled with dreamy illustrations of the rolling hills and enchanted forests that Anne and her friends explore.
While an adaptation cannot replace a book, it can be a good introduction to the story for some readers, but more than anything - a gorgeous gift for everyone who read and loved Anne of Green Gables. I couldn’t pass up the book when I saw it, and I’m very happy that I’ve got it in my collection.
Best for: Dreamy landscapes and getting to know Anne (with an "e").
The Adventures of Tintin, by Hergé
This comic series follows the adventures of a young reporter, Tintin. His journalistic investigations take Tintin all over the world - to Europe, Asia, Africa, North America and South America. He even goes to the moon! The time span of the comics is interesting as well: even though Tintin stays young, the time frame of the series is set between 1920s and 1970s, based on when each particular book was written. Packed with action and humour, these books can nevertheless broaden children’s horizons about topics such as Incan culture, scuba diving, or Tibetan monasteries.
Don’t start the series from the beginning though, at least until you have a hardcore Tintin fan on your hands - the earliest instalments can be socially insensitive, reflecting the ideas of the time. My six-year-old Tintin fan recommends to start with The Crab with the Golden Claws or The Secret of the Unicorn!
Best features: A classic action-packed comic book that still reads well!
More for Book Lovers
Do you know that there is a whole series of early reader comic books? They also work well as comic books for toddlers and preschoolers!
Play a free printable game of guessing the picture book by the first line!
Thanks for reading!