Book Notes: Loving Graphic Novels

Our Girls Leadership Girl & Grown-up Book Club ended the year with two graphic novels – El Deafo by Cece Bell and Zita the Spacegirl by Ben Hatke. As a teacher, parent, and reader, I heartily recommend graphic novels for all kids, especially for girls. Here are a few reasons why:

1. Graphic novels motivate kids to read. Graphic novels are popular among young readers, which is often enough to get kids interested (kids want to read what their friends are reading!). Fortunately for kids, the stories themselves are frequently well-told, humorous, exciting, and accompanied by appealing artwork. I’ve seen even the most reluctant readers eagerly diving into graphic novels. For emerging readers, simply getting them excited about books is hugely valuable.

2. Graphic novels help kids practice real reading skills. Reading is decoding (figuring out the words) and comprehension. Beginning readers often go through a period of focusing on decoding without much comprehension. This isn’t really reading, or, at least, it’s not fully reading. That’s why picture books are so beneficial for young readers; kids use them to figure out what’s going on in the story. Graphic novels are a great option for kids who need the comprehension support, but who think picture books are too babyish.

Graphic novels support envisioning, another crucial skill. With vibrant panels across the page, kids can’t help but build a picture of the characters and the world. Their imaginations fill in what happens between the panels.

Strong readers read lots of books, make pictures in their minds, and understand the stories they read. Graphic novels helps children do all of these things; they give struggling readers the feeling of strong reading. Once kids know what strong reading feels like, they can self-monitor while they transition to chapter books without pictures.

3. Graphic novels feature amazing girl characters. Comics used to be strictly boys’ territory. Not so anymore. Girls read graphic novels, fantasy, and adventure stories, and the publishing industry is responding with more books that feature strong girl characters.

So, as our Girls Leadership Parent and Daughter Book Club wraps up for the year and summer reading looms, consider graphic novels. I’ve listed a handful of titles that you and your daughter might want to check out. Please list any further recommendations in the comments. We’d love to hear them!

• The Babymouse series by Jennifer Holm and Matthew Holm, recommended for ages 7 and up. Babymouse is a fun-loving mouse with a big personality and an active imagination. These
books have pictures and stories that will appeal the youngest readers.

Zita the Spacegirl series by Ben Hatke, recommended for ages 8 and up. If you read the first book with the Girls Leadership Book Club, go straight on to the next books – The Return of Zita the Spacegirl and Legends of Zita the Spacegirl. All three books feature the courageous Zita on a multitude of space adventures.

Phoebe and Her Unicorn by Dana Simpson, recommended for ages 8 and up. Kids will tear through this sweet and funny book about awkward Phoebe who one day meets a unicorn named Marigold Heavenly Nostrils. The two become unlikely friends, and as they spend their days together they share their unique life philosophies. There’s an episodic, meandering, Calvin and Hobbes quality to these stories, and two more volumes to read if you enjoy the first.

The Amulet series by Kazu Kibuishi, recommended for ages 8 and up. There are currently seven books about Emily and her brother Navin, who enter a mysterious and dangerous world to save their mother. Emily acquires a magical amulet, but has to learn to wield its power.

The Babysitter’s Club series by Raina Telgemeier, recommended to ages 8 and up. Telgemeier (see Smile) recreated Ann M. Martin’s classic series as graphic novels. Fun reads about a group of friends who lean on each other to get through the challenges of growing up.

Roller Girl by Victoria Jamieson, recommended for ages 9 and up. The story of a girl named Astrid who discovers the exciting world of roller derby. As she becomes closer to the fun, strong girls on her team, she wonders if her relationship with her best friend will survive.

The Princeless series by Jeremy Whitley, recommended for ages 9 and up. Whitley teams up with a variety of artists to tell high action stories with a twist. The characters – from diverse cultural backgrounds – aren’t waiting around for a prince to save them; they’re able to save themselves.

Polly and the Pirates by Ted Naifeh, recommended for ages 9 and up. One night, a gang of pirates abduct prim and proper Polly from her prim and proper boarding school. They insist that Polly become their new Pirate Queen, a job in which she has no interest… until she discovers a link between the previous Queen and her own family.

Rapunzel’s Revenge and Calamity Jack by Shannon and Dean Hale, recommended for ages 10 and up. This retelling of the Rapunzel story has heart, humor, and major excitement. Not surprising from Shannon Hale, the author of many children’s books, including Princess Academy and Book of a Thousand Days.

The Olympians series by George O’Connor, recommended for ages 10 and up. Girls might be particularly interested in the books Hera, Aphrodite, and Athena, told with all the intensity and excitement you’d expect from the Greek gods.

Smile by Raina Telgemeier, recommended for ages 10 and up. This story is based on Telgemeier’s childhood, during which she knocked out her teeth at the age of 12 and spent the next several years dealing with a variety of surgeries and orthodontia. Middle school is hard enough without headgear! But Telgemeier recounts her difficulty with school and friendships with sensitivity and humor. Companions to this graphic memoir are Sisters and Drama.

• The Lumberjanes series by Nate Stevenson and others, recommended for ages 10 and up. Stevenson teams up with a variety of writers to tell the story of five friends at summer camp who seek adventures that go beyond the usual fire-making and tent-pitching skills. Light fantasy and magical elements, but the beauty of the story is in the girls’ unique personalities. Older readers (14 and up) might also enjoy Stevenson’s hilarious graphic novel Nimona.

The Nausiccaa of the Valley of the Wind series by Hayao Miyazaki, recommended for ages 14 and up. This epic, 7-volume tale is set in a future in which mankind has polluted the Earth to the point of toxicity. Nausicaa is a princess warrior who fights to create peace and tolerance between the human empires who are vying for the dwindling resources.

Persepolis I and II by Marjane Satrapi, recommended for ages 15 and above. These two graphic memoirs tell a sensitive and humorous coming-of-age story set against the backdrop of the cultural revolution in Iran.

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  1. Nicole

    I haven’t read it yet, but Primates looks awesome!

  2. Victoria

    Big vote for Lumberjanes! It’s probably better for 10 & up, yes, but my three year old LOVES it.

    • Dorothy Ponton, Community Engagement Manager

      I just got the first Lumberjanes, and I’m loving it!


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