Graphic novels were once synonymous with superheroes, but these days, the biggest hits in the illustrative medium are aimed at young readers. Stories about kids, and written (and drawn!) for kids, are fast becoming some of the most popular titles in the bookstore. Graphic novels are great for reluctant readers, but will also please voracious ones. If you’re hoping to raise a graphic novel reader (or keep your existing one happy), we’d suggest starting with a book from the list below, representing Barnes & Noble booksellers’ 2019 favorites. (Explore all of our booksellers’ 2019 favorites.)
Guts, by Raina Telgemeier
Raina Telgemeier is at the forefront of the recent boom in graphic novels for kids thanks to hits like Smile and Sisters, not to mention her work on the graphic novel relaunch of The Baby-Sitters Club. Children love the frank, funny take on sibling squabbles and adolescent struggles, and her bright, clear drawings bring Raina’s everykid world to life. In Guts, Telgemeier tells the story of the devastating anxiety that struck her when she was in elementary school, causing terrible stomach aches that kept her home from school. As Raina faces her best friend moving away, the terrifying prospect of a class presentation, an overcrowded house, and a mean girl’s ire, kids will be riveted—and just might find a way to speak up about their own troubles.
Stargazing, by Jen Wang
This moving, funny, and beautiful graphic novel plunges the reader into the Chinese-American community alongside two girls, Christine Hong and Moon Lin. Christine is a disciplined striver, aiming to keep up with the top violin player in the orchestra. When Christine’s parents learn that a family from their church community is having money trouble, they rent out their extra apartment to Mrs. Lin and her daughter Moon, who has a reputation as a “weird kid” and a troublemaker. But Christine soon finds that Moon enjoys a freedom she longs for: Moon loves K-Pop, doesn’t speak Chinese, and paints her toenails blue. The girls become fast friends before a medical scare (inspired by the author’s own experience of having a brain tumor removed when she was six) threatens to derail their plans to perform at the school talent show. Sweet and atmospheric, Stargazing captures the genuine inspiration we derive from our friends.
The Okay Witch, by Emma Steinkellner
Steinkellner’s debut graphic novel captures both typical adolescent social anxiety and an extraordinary magical world. Moth is growing up in Founder’s Bluff, Massachusetts, where her single mom runs a thrift store. She is constantly harassed at school for being different, and has no friends—until a new boy moves to town. Meanwhile, in history class, the kids learn about a witch hunt in their town in the 1600s, and that the current mayor is a descendent of the town’s founder, who hated witches. The problem is, Moth is beginning to have unexplainable experiences that suggest she might be a witch herself. Steinkellner captures the atmosphere of an old New England town, and in the midst of a rollicking fantasy adventure, makes the vital point that history often only tells one side of the story.
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The Lost Heir, by Tui Sutherland and Mike Holmes
A bestselling novel series returns in illustrated form, and retains all of the magic and adventure of the original. Years ago, when she was just a dragon egg, Tsunami and four other dragonets were captured and held hostage. Known as the dragonets of destiny, they were the chosen ones, selected to finally end a war between the various dragon tribes. But the dragonets had other plans. Having now escaped, they are headed to the SeaWing Kingdom, where Tsunami will be reunited with her mother, Queen Coral, and begin her new destiny as heir to the throne. But Tsunami soon discovers their new home may not be the safe haven she imagined.
New Kid, by Jerry Craft
Seventh grader Jordan Banks dreams of going to art school. But his parents have other plans and enroll him in the ultra-fancy Riverdale Academy Day School, a private school known for its focus on academics. Not only does Jordan feel like the social outcast, making the trip across town from his less-than-prestigious Washington Heights neighborhood, but he’s one of only a handful of kids of color in his entire grade. Now, he doesn’t fit in at home…and he doesn’t fit in at school. Where exactly does Jordan belong? And how can he remain loyal to his art?
The Crossover, by Kwame Alexander and Dawud Anyabwile
Kwame Alexander’s 2015 Newberry Medal–winning book gets the graphic novel treatment, with stunning art by Dawud Anyabwile enhancing the thrills of the sports-centric coming-of-age drama. Written in verse, The Crossover tells the story of twelve-year-old Josh Bell and his twin brother, who together rule the basketball court—thanks in no small part to their father, a former Euroleague champion. But when a crisis strikes the Bell family, basketball takes a backseat in this lively and emotional page-turner. Anyabwile’s dynamic and powerful illustrations shed new light on Alexander’s incredible characters as they navigate life on and off the court.
Meg, Jo, Beth, Amy: A Modern Retelling of Little Women, by Ray Terciero and Bre Indigo
Louisa May Alcott’s classic story is given the graphic treatment, as creators Ray Terciero and Bre Indigo reimagine the March family for today’s kids. The sisters are now part of a blended family living in Brooklyn—Meg is black, Jo is white, and Beth and Amy are biracial. While their father fights overseas in the war on terror and their mother is preoccupied with the worries of being a single parent, the girls face their own struggles, their stories retaining the flavor of their original characterizations while feeling wholly modern: Amy faces racist bullying at school, Meg contemplates her future path in life, Jo hides her queer identity, and budding musician Beth faces a health crisis. Indigo’s clear and engaging art places the characters front and center, and their coming-of-age journeys truly resonate, retaining all the charm, humor, and drama of the beloved original.
Click, by Kayla Miller
The perils of navigating the elementary school social scene are at the forefront of this winning graphic novel starring Olivia, a social butterfly who has never had a problem making friends but still struggles to find her flock. With the big school talent show coming up, the rest of the class forms acts, leaving Olivia without a partner and with the realization that she doesn’t really have a best friend. She sinks into a funk—until she realizes (with a little help from her funky Aunt Molly) that she doesn’t need to join a clique to be the star of the show. Miller’s bright, accessible art makes this story of self-discovery a winner for experienced graphic novel readers and newcomers alike.
These are the young reader books our booksellers recommend for budding graphic novel fans. What are your favorites?