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Graphic Novels for Middle and High School Students

by Miriam Downey 12. May 2013 12:28

The graphic novel is a genre that has evolved over the last 20 years. Although they have some aspects of a comic book, they are very different from comic books in topic and style. The graphic novel combines a story line that is a complete plot with a lot of illustrations. Some of the dialogue appears in bubbles; other dialogue appears in text. Some parents might be concerned that graphic novels are either not appropriate for students or are not "good" literature, but they have evolved to the point that many graphic books are receiving awards from the major book awards. Even classic children's series like The Babysitter's Club and Nancy Drew (and even Jane Eyre) are now appearing as graphic novels.

Here are some ways that graphic books promote reading and literacy:

  • They can motivate reluctant readers to read. Educators report great success getting reluctant readers to read graphic novels.
  • They are great for struggling readers, special needs students, and English-language learners. In the same way picture books work for younger children, graphic novels work for middle school and high school students.
  • They are highly accepted by librarians and educators.
  • They foster the acquisition of critical reading skills.
  • They have many of the same literary themes as classic literature.

Frankly, I love graphic books. I was first exposed to them when my book club read the graphic memoir Persepolis by Marjane Santrapi. It is such an intensely written and illustrated book that I was completely enthralled. It is the story of the Iranian Revolution of the 1970s told through the eyes of a little Iranian girl. It was made into a movie which was nominated for an Oscar. It is appropriate for high school students.

Another of my favorites is The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-time Indian by Sherman Alexie. This novel is based on the author's experiences as a Native American who left the reservation to attend another high school where the only other Indian is the school mascot. Alexie won the National Book Award for this memoir.

For middle school students, of course there are the books in the Diary of a Wimpy Kid series by Jeff Kinney. These are widely popular books that reflect all the anxieties of middle school age kids, and they are very funny too. There are several movies, and Kinney has a series of cartoon classes where he teaches kids to draw cartoons like he does. You can find the videos here.

Here are some other graphic novels that your teenager will enjoy.

Bone by Jeff Smith. Hilarious and action packed. 10 volumes in all. (middle school)

Smile by Raina Telgemeier. A memoir of the author in her middle school years.

Amulet series by Kazu Kibuishi. There are 5 books in this fantastical series. (middle school)

The Arrival by Shaun Tan. A remarkable wordless graphic novel about immigration. (high school)

The Good Neighbors series by Holly Black. Three books in the series about a mysterious, darkly beautiful world. (middle School)

Maus: A Survivors Tale by Art Spiegelman. An incredible portrayal of the Holocaust through the eyes of Spiegelman's father. (high school)

If your teenager is truly interested in graphic novels, he/she will want to look at this website. It is an excellent resource.

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