Discovering graphic novels felt a little bit like uncovering the Caramilk secret or finally understanding why my kids refuse to flush the toilet (spoiler alert: because they’re lazy).
Letting go of the belief that my daughters needed to read “real” books with paragraphs and chapters and stuff was a major a-ha moment. You mean they will get excited to pick out their own books and actually read them? Parenting nirvana.
Both my kids like to read but it’s a struggle for my oldest. So naturally she’s the one most drawn to books and self-conscious about her challenges. She’s also the one most intrigued by silly, fantastical concepts that usually involve animals, space, magic and championing the underdog.
Enter the graphic novel where cats in space, canine policemen and uptight, narcissistic unicorns are the norm. Whether it’s the story itself, the creative illustrations or the fact that there aren’t hundreds of words on a page, graphic novels can be a great gateway to reading for kids who don’t love it. And most of the best-selling titles are series so your little reader can stay engaged with his or her favourite stories over and over again.
If you're wondering what the difference is between graphic novels and comics, graphic novels follow a longer story line and are more complex, so even though they have a heavily visual format, they still promote literacy for early or reluctant readers.
Here are some of my favourite graphic novel titles for elementary school-aged kids:
The Adventures of Captain Underpants (series), by Dav Pilkey (Grades 1 to 5)
After they accidentally poison the ill-tempered school principal, Mr. Krupp, fourth-grade best friends and class clowns Harold and George must navigate a whole series of middle school challenges. Not surprisingly, hilarity ensues.
Babymouse (series) by Jennifer L. Holm and Matthew Holm (Grades 1 to 5)
With more than two million books sold and multiple awards behind it, the 20-volume Babymouse series targets young readers (ages 7-10) with touching, comical lessons about growing up and staying positive in the face of adversity.
The Babysitters Club, by Raina Telgemeier (Grades 3 to 8)
Based on the series of the same name (originally written by Ann M. Martin), the new graphic novel version features all the warmth and appeal of the original as it follows the adventures of four friends trying to navigate life and a babysitting business.
Big Nate (series) by Lincoln Peirce (Grades 3 to 8)
Nate knows he’s awesome (a fortune cookie told him so) but he still has to convince everyone else, (especially his nemesis, Social Studies teacher Mrs. Godfrey) without getting expelled first!
CatStronauts (series) by Drew Brockington (Grades 1 to 5)
Kids will love following the hilarious antics of Major Meowser, Waffle and the rest of the gang as they learn about science and space history, boldly meowing where no cat has meowed before.
Diary of a Wimpy Kid (series), by Jeff Kinney (Grades 3 to 8)
Skip the movie (trust us) and instead pick up a few installments of this all-too relatable series featuring middle schooler Greg Heffley as he records all of life’s growing pains (school, sports, friends, family) in his beloved diary.
Dog Man (series), by Dav Pilkey (Grades 1 to 5)
What started as a spin-off of Pilkey’s Captain Underpants series has become a stand-alone success in its own right. After Greg the police dog and his human companion are injured and surgery goes awry, the surprisingly result is Dog Man: part man, part dog, all crime-fighter.
El Deafo by Cece Bell (Grades 5 to 10)
Growing up is hard enough but growing up hearing impaired is even worse. Unless of course you have a supersonic ear that lets you hear what the teachers are saying from anywhere in the school! Based loosely on the author’s own experience with hearing impairment and hearing aids, El Deafo is a delightful story of empowerment for anyone who doesn’t feel “normal.”
Hamster Princess (series) by Ursula Vernon (Grades 3 to 5)
Harriet Hamsterbone is not your typical princess, preferring to spend her days cliff-diving and solving fractions. Series installments like Little Red Rodent Hood and Ratpunzel are brimming with adventure, sass and humour, making them perfect for readers who like a little (or a lot) of girl power in their princess stories.
Olga (series) by Elise Gravel (Grades 3 to 8)
Olga is the coolest girl scientist around and both of her stories (a third is coming in 2019) are packed with humour, fun illustrations, word bubbles and “olgamus” facts. Olga is so quirky and cool she’s only partially upstaged by the antics of meh, her smelly, not-quite furry companion.
Phoebe and Her Unicorn (series) by Dana Simpson (Grades 3 to 8)
What started as a comic strip has grown into a successful, hilarious and touching series featuring precocious Phoebe and a (real?) unicorn named Marigold Heavenly Nostrils. This one is a must-read for fans of Calvin and Hobbes.
Smile by Raina Telgemeier (Grades 3 to 8)
Who among us can’t identify with a little dental drama? Broken teeth, braces and other middle school catastrophes are all explored in this delightful best-seller featuring sixth-grade Raina, an autobiographical heroine who’s a perfect muse for anyone who feels like it’s all going wrong.
Sparks! By Ian Boothby and Nina Matsumoto (Grades 1 to 5)
It’s the classic cat meets cat then operates mechanical dog to stop the alien / adorable human baby from taking over the world story. You know the type, but this one features feline heroes Charlie and August who will stop at nothing to save the day … and planet Earth.
Star Wars Jedi Academy (Series) by multiple authors (Grades 3 to 8)
Fans of Star Wars movies will love the simple illustrations and dry humour that populate the Jedi Academy series. Set in a middle school galaxy far, far away series installments include The Phantom Bully, The Principal Strikes Back and The Force Oversleeps, all layered over classic Star Wars tropes like droids, evil commanders and security breaches.
Sunny Side Up (Series) by Jennifer L. Holm and Matthew Holm (Grades 6 to 8)
From the sibling writing team behind Babymouse comes a touching new series about Sunny, her siblings, middle-school life and all the challenges (badly behaved big brothers, anyone?) that make it difficult, but not impossible, to always stay Sunny side up.