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A Parent’s Guide to Graphic Novels

What are graphic novels and why should your children read them? A graphic novel is a book-length comic book; it uses words and sequential artwork to tell a story. (Manga is simply the Japanese word for “comic” and describes a style of art that originated in Japan.)

I promise you that children and teens reading graphic novels is a good thing. First, reading graphic novels involves reading. Reading develops language skills, which lead to improved English ability, which leads to better school performance.

Second, reading graphic novels can help improve social interactions. By layering the text and the graphics together, the reader understands the emotion the character is displaying through his or her verbal discourse, body language, facial expression and position in relation to the other characters. Understanding how the body and face display emotion and then recognizing that in others is the foundation of successful interpersonal communication. So, graphic novels are good for both academic and social growth.

Last, graphic novels are an excellent way to entice reluctant and challenged readers to pick up a book. Vocabulary can be inferred from the illustrations, and passages that might be thick with descriptions and settings are easily understood through the combined use of prose and art.

So now the question is how to determine which graphic novels are the right ones. Depending on your child’s age and your family’s background, you may feel that certain content would be unsuitable. There are three things that I recommend:

If you are concerned, read it first. I recommend this to any parent who is concerned about what their children read. This way you can evaluate for yourself if your child will understand or enjoy the content. Reading reviews of material is not always helpful since the reviewers may hold completely different values and beliefs.

Skip ahead. Since graphic novels contain a lot of graphics, it is pretty easy to determine the type and nature of the book simply by flipping through the pages and glancing at the pictures.

Ask your local school or public librarian. They manage these collections and can give you a few titles to start with based on your criteria.

Since I am a librarian, I will give you a few titles to help you and your child get started with reading graphic novels. I am not listing the more popular superhero novels (like Spider-Man and Superman) simply because there are so many different series and each one is targeted to a different demographic. It would take a few pages to cover it well.



series by Ashley Spires. In this series, Binky is a cat with a dream: to become a space cat, blast into space and fight aliens.

Luke on the Loose by Harry Bliss. A young boy’s fascination with pigeons soon erupts into a full-blown chase around Central Park, across the Brooklyn Bridge, through a fancy restaurant, and into the sky.

series by Andy Runton. In this series Owly, a kind and lonely owl, helps and then befriends a worm and then a pair of hummingbirds in nearly wordless stories.



by Jennifer L. Holm and Matthew Holm. Babymouse is a series about a sassy young mouse who dreams of glamour, excitement, adventure, straight whiskers, being queen of the world, and, of course, being invited to Felicia Furrypaws’ oh-so-exclusive party.


Dragon Ball Z by Akira Toriyama. This manga series is about a character named Goku who trains in martial arts while searching for the seven mystical orbs known as Dragon Balls.


Lunch Lady series by Jarrett J. Krosoczka. In this series, Lunch Lady and her assistant, Betty, right wrongs and investigate mysteries.

does a few great graphic novel series for children including Lego Ninjago and Lego Star Wars.


Zita the Spacegirl by Ben Hatke. Zita finds a small package in a meteoroid crater and is suddenly catapulted into another world. When she dons her superhero cape, she becomes a heroine in this strange land.






A Wrinkle in Time the Graphic Novel by Madeleine L’Engle and Hope Larsen. This is an excellent adaptation of the classic novel into a graphic novel format.


Bone series by Jeff Smith. The adventure starts when cousins Fone Bone, Phoney Bone and Smiley Bone are run out of Boneville and later get separated in the wilderness, meeting monsters and making friends as they attempt to return home.


Sailor Moon by Naoko Takeuchi. This popular manga series is about teenage girls who magically transform into heroines named for the Moon and planets. They are the reborn defenders of a kingdom that once spanned the solar system.

Drama by Raina Telgemeier. Drama abounds on and off stage in this hilarious take on school theater productions. Also recommended by this author: Smile.

by Doug TenNapel. A simple birthday gift of a cardboard box turns into something more when a boy and his father discover that whatever they make out of the cardboard is capable of coming to life!

by Masashi Kishimoto. This is a very popular manga series. The village is at peace and a troublemaking kid named Naruto is struggling to graduate from Ninja Academy. His goal may be to become the next Hokage, but his true destiny will be much more complicated.

series by George O’Connor. Each volume of this series highlights the myths and legends of an individual Olympian god or goddess.


Margaret Portier, director of innovative family services at the Fayetteville Free Library, runs Creation Club, a digital group for middle school students, is a certified First Lego League coach, and lives in Fayetteville with her two cats.


© Family Times: The Parenting Guide of Central New York