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The Librarians Recommend...Graphic Novels

by Cindy Dobrez and Lynn Rutan
 | Aug 14, 2013
As part of our We ♥ Graphic Novels Week, we asked some of our favorite librarians to recommend time-tested titles, fan favorites, and new releases you won’t want to miss.

Co-authors of Bookends: A Booklist Blog

The graphic novel shelves in middle school libraries may be the most popular section in the library. And, happily, with the recent surge of wonderful graphic novels written for elementary students, collections there are getting just as much traffic.

Like books in any format, graphic novels vary in quality but most offerings from the major publishers offer a complex and challenging reading experience and have the added attraction of being highly appealing. Initially boys were the primary fans but that has changed lately with more books appearing that feature girls as major characters.

Most graphic novels are published in paperback at a reasonable price, making it possible to include them in classroom libraries. With so many outstanding offerings, the hardest choice is not whether to include them but which ones to add!

Here are a few of our recommendations. Check out our blog, Bookends, for longer reviews and other great graphic novel suggestions.

Graphic Novel Every Classroom Library Should Have

For middle school classrooms, our choice is SMILE by Raina Telgemeier (Scholastic, 2010). Popular with both boys and girls, this may be the most consistently checked out book in our libraries. The basic story is of an accident that results in the loss of front teeth leading to years of dental work and braces but along the way Telgemeier examines entering adolescence, friendship, bullying, a first crush and standing up for one’s self.

For high school, our choice is the Michael L. Printz Award winning AMERICAN BORN CHINESE by Gene Yang (First Second, 2006). Here Yang brilliantly examines racism, stereotypes, identity, and coming of age through three interconnected stories all laced with Chinese mythology and the American immigrant experience.

Graphic Novel(s) Our Students Go Crazy For

With long waiting lists for all five volumes (so far), the Amulet series by Kazu Kibuishi is popular with both middle school boys and girls. Beginning with AMULET: THE STONEKEEPERS (Scholastic, 2008) the story features a brother and sister. After the shocking death of the children’s father, they move to the old family home where Emily and Navin’s mother is kidnapped by a horrible tentacled monster and the first of many mysteries begins.

The Amulet series is prized by Lynn’s three grandsons, too, but another huge favorite with them and their classmates is ZITA THE SPACEGIRL (First Second, 2010) and ZITA THE SPACEGIRL: LEGENDS (First Second, 2012) by Ben Hatke. Whimsical robots and monsters abound in this wonderful funny series about a young girl who becomes an intergalactic heroine after she rushes to rescue a friend captured by aliens.

New Graphic Novel You Won’t Want to Miss

For high school this is a NO brainer! Gene Yang’s new interconnected set BOXERS and SAINTS (First Second, 2013) publishes in September and is not to be missed. Yang portrays the Boxer Rebellion from two opposing but connected viewpoints: a young boy who becomes a member of the uprising and a girl from his village who converts to Christianity. The dual books offer penetrating insight into a tragic conflict little known here.

For elementary and middle school: Comic-world legend Paul Pope challenged himself to write a superhero graphic novel appropriate for kids. BATTLING BOY (First Second, Oct. 2013) is the start of what is sure to be a wildly popular series. If you want to wow your students, read this one soon as possible as kids are going to love this. Lots of humor, terrific art and a 12-year-old hero we can all cheer for in a fun hats-off to the superhero genre. Battling Boy is a VERY recognizable 12-year-old, demigod or not.

Cindy Dobrez is a middle school librarian in Holland, MI. Lynn Rutan is a former middle school librarian and current book reviewer and blogger from the same town. Together, the longtime pals and colleagues write Bookends: A Booklist Blog.

K–5 School Library Director

Graphic Novel Every Classroom Library Should Have

Few things make me happier than giving away books. I wish I could call Anderson’s Bookshop and perform this random act of kindness.

Bookseller: Thank you for calling Anderson’s Bookshop. This is Jan speaking. How may I help you?

Me: Hi, Jan! It is John.

Bookseller Jan: Hi, John!

Me: Can you please place an order for me? I have the ISBN. It is 978-0375832291.

Bookseller Jan: Is it Jennifer L. Holm and Matthew Holm’s BABYMOUSE: QUEEN OF THE WORLD (Random House Books for Young Readers, 2005)?

Me: Yes.

Bookseller Jan: How many copies would you like to order?

Me: 68,000 copies.

Bookseller Jan: Wowzers! Let me see what I can do.

Wow! Wouldn’t that be amazing? I would have enough copies to mail one to almost every public elementary school in the United States.

Graphic Novel(s) My Students Go Crazy For

I chose three graphic novels that I think every elementary school library should embrace and promote. I know my students would agree with me.

Kazu Kibuishi’s Amulet series (Scholastic, 2008–present)

I love telling a third grader about THE STONEKEEPER (Amulet Book #1) when books two through five are also available. I always insist she checks out all of them. It is likely she’ll return the next day to thank me and to find out when book six will be released.

SIDEKICKS by Dan Santat (Arthur A. Levine Books, 2011)

I can name at least a dozen kids who have read Dan Santat’s SIDEKICKS three times. It is one of those books that I never find on the shelf. [Side note: Dan Santat participated in the July Sharp-Schu Book Club.]

Jarrett J. Krosoczka’s Lunch Lady series (Knopf Books for Young Readers, 2009–present)

The Lunch Lady series is a total smile fest. Lunch Lady, Betty, and the Breakfast Bunch capture the hearts of readers young and old.

New Graphic Novel You Won’t Want to Miss

I spend the summer adding to a list entitled “Books I’ll Tell My Kids about in August.” Book #15 on the list is Matt Phelan’s recently released graphic novel, BLUFFTON: MY SUMMERS WITH BUSTER KEATON (Candlewick, 2013). Listen to Matt talk about BLUFFTON here.

John Schumacher is a K-5 School Library Director in Oak Brook, Illinois. Read his popular blogs, and for even more book suggestions.


Graphic Novel Every Classroom Library Should Have

No eighth through twelfth grade classroom should be without a copy of Gene Luen Yang’s AMERICAN BORN CHINESE. Told with deep intelligence, compassion, and a subtle yet compelling sense of visual irony, no finer piece of literature is available for teens on racial identity, the obligations of friendship, and ancient Chinese monkey Gods.

Graphic Novel(s) My Students Go Crazy For

While AMERICAN BORN CHINESE has an aesthetic that proves extremely inviting to teens, looking down the grade levels a bit, one cannot ignore the perennially and deservedly popular Babymouse series by Jennifer L. Holm and Matthew Holm. However, if you’re interested in another mouse with some appeal to first through fourth grade boys, have a look at the Missile Mouse series by Jake Parker. My students can’t get enough of the energetic visuals, the clever plotting, the fast-paced action, and the never-say-die protagonist.

New Graphic Novel You Won’t Want to Miss

Meanwhile, due out in August is Paul Pope’s much-anticipated BATTLING BOY, a blistering, pulp re-invention of superheroes, manga, mythology, and, incidentally, a compelling look at our social responsibilities and the obligations we have to our family legacies. Reserve this one for any fifth through twelfth graders who are interested in an hour of nonstop enjoyment.

Jesse Karp is a librarian at LREI, an independent school in New York City. He is the author of the YA novels THOSE THAT WAKE and WHAT WE BECOME, as well as the nonfiction book GRAPHIC NOVELS IN YOUR SCHOOL LIBRARY. He served on the 2012 Eisner Committee and teaches a course on comic books in education at Pratt Institute. Visit him online at

© 2013 International Reading Association. Please do not reproduce in any form, electronic or otherwise.

Anita's Picks: Children Love Graphic Novels!


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