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Spoiler Alert: The popularity of graphic novels for tweens and teens is sky-rocketing! And it’s no wonder – graphic novels are so much more than comic books. For most kids aged 10 years to age 12 years, reading becomes more complex. This is such a critical age for developing a love of reading. Discover the top five reasons that graphic novels are an amazing choice for your tween. Even if your child already loves to read, there’s a terrific graphic novel out there with a great story that you both just may fall in love with!

close up image of young boy wearing glasses reading graphic novel

What Is A Graphic Novel?

Graphic novels contain both illustrations and text. Graphic novels provide a complete narrative arc in one book. Comics differ because they tell stories in installments, think of them as chapters of a larger book or story arc.

A graphic novel contains a beginning, middle, and end. A graphic novel will offer the type of resolution that one expects from a novel, even if it is part of a series. Effectively, this makes a graphic novel longer and more substantive than a comic book, which is a serialized excerpt from a larger narrative.
collage of images of various graphic novels for tweens

Are Graphic Novels Real Books?

Yes! Definitely, yes! And they are perfect for tweens!

Literary fiction is not a rigidly defined term, but most works of literary fiction include one or more of these facets:

Character-focused narratives

Ample symbolism, metaphor, and allegory

Advanced vocabulary infused with imagery

Ambiguous plot points, including even the work’s conclusion

Exploration of larger philosophical themes regarding the human condition and the will of nature

Exploration of larger trends in history and culture

Lack of adherence to a fixed plot formula

Graphic novels contain many, if not most of these elements.

Just like traditional novels, graphic novels have exciting and complex plots, characters, and conflicts. The plots have twists and turns. Dynamic and well developed characters take center stage in many graphic novels. Conflicts are presented, unwound, and resolved like they are in other texts. The only difference is that graphic novels have more images to support the development.

I was also surprised to learn that the genres of stories we know and love – realistic fiction, sci-fi, fantasy, biographies, historical fiction – they all also exist in the world of graphic novels. There are even graphic novel versions of The Constitution and President Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address if you homeschool!

image of young tween boy reading graphic novel

Why Read Graphic Novels?

One of my boys began reading very early and has loved reading ever since. I can barely keep up with all that he reads. And then, around fifth grade, I began to notice that he was only reading graphic novels and I became concerned. They were “just comic books” or so I thought.

If you’ve been here long – you know that I am utterly enamored with story-telling. As far as we know, it is a uniquely human activity and has been going on in various forms since the beginning of humanity. We have oral storytelling, cave drawings, art in all it’s forms, movies, theater, “old wives’ tales,” comic books, many forms of music – it goes on and on.

So why, as parents, would we feel the need to prohibit our kids from falling in love with any given form of story-telling?

Well, I certainly did. Until I did some research. Graphic novels are an amazing choice for many reasons. Here are my top five:

Graphic Novels Create New Readers

Very often, graphic novels for tweens and teens can entice more reluctant readers. Children are or can become reluctant readers for many reasons – dyslexia or other struggles with reading; poor comprehension; ADHD; a child who is generally difficult to engage; boys more frequently turn away from reading as a pass time than girls; or even gifted students who are bored with their assigned reading.

The visual context provided by the images helps to convert standalone words to concepts. And concepts require that the reader engages in critical thinking in order to understand those concepts, and to make reasoned inferences – thereby increasing overall literacy, comprehension, and knowledge of the material.

There is an ease of reading that comes from large blocks of text being broken up by either white space (called gutters in graphic novels) or images. Next time you’re reading your favorite blog (hopefully mine ;-), notice how we break long stretches of text up with images or paragraph breaks. It just makes things easier to read!

The unique format is sometimes more interesting to a child who is hard-to-engage or easily bored.

I’ve also noticed that around middle school, many boys begin to perceive reading as “uncool” and many of them pull back from something that they have enjoyed thus far. Graphic novels are cool. Just cool. And this isn’t just my experience – it’s completely backed by science!

…boys may feel that learning and liking to read are somehow not masculine. In fact, multiple studies suggest that many boys see reading as an essentially feminine activity, in part perhaps because so many early elementary teachers are female. Combined with the fact that fathers are less likely to read themselves and also less likely to read to their sons, the result is that young boys are left with few models of masculine readers. Older boys’ peers are also less likely to value reading, while girls are more likely to report reading with friends or talking with friends about what they are reading.
collage of images of various graphic novels for tweens

Graphic Novels Require Synthesis of Images And Text

Graphic novels for tweens require that they make inferences and synthesize information. These are both abstract and challenging skills for readers to practice. Graphic novels, through the use of both text and images, strengthen these skills because neither the text nor the images are complete without the other.

So they must be synthesized into the reader’s understanding – both directly and through inferences. (Research Behind Graphic Novels and Young Learners)

Graphic Novels Lend Themselves to Important Themes

Graphic novels for tweens seem to have an abundance of character driven narratives, that focus on issues such as diversity, social justice, global concerns.

Readers of graphic novels know, however, that despite seeming simple, the medium can elicit complex and moving stories, only bolstered by their ability to take advantage of two forms of expression rather than one: images and words. Rather than ease a reader’s contemplation of a storyline, images in graphic novels challenge readers to think beyond the page. When the imagination does not have to work to produce a visualization of the action in the novel, it is freed to look deeper into the meaning behind those actions and the themes surrounding them. As a result, graphic novels’ thematic focus on political and social movements is all the more effective due to the forms in which their creators have chosen to tell their stories.

So, exposing our kids to graphic novels for tweens and teens, as it becomes age appropriate, can open the door for many conversations that might otherwise be difficult to have.

Reading Literary Fiction Increases Empathy

Reading fiction increases empathy. And while this is true, regardless of format, many reluctant tween readers are enticed by graphic novels for various reasons. Other readers find it helpful to have longer sections of text broken up with images.

Fiction has the capacity to transport you into another character’s mind, allowing you to see and feel what they do. This can expose us to life circumstances that are very different from our own. Through fiction, we can experience the world as another gender, ethnicity, culture, sexuality, profession or age. Words on a page can introduce us to what it’s like to lose a child, be swept up in a war, be born into poverty, or leave home and immigrate to a new country. And taken together, this can influence how we relate to others in the real world.

Vocabulary, Vocabulary, Vocabulary!

“Comic books average 53.5 rare words per thousand,” surpassing the averages of children’s books (30.9), adult books (52.7), expert witness testimony averages (28.4), and the conversations of college graduates with friends (17.3) (University of Oregon, 2013). Furthermore, Stephen D. Krashen and Joanne Ujiie (1996), authors of “Comic Book Reading, Reading Enjoyment, and Pleasure reading Among Middle Class and Middle School Students,” attest that “…those who read more comic books did more pleasure reading, like to read more, and tended to read more books” (p.5). The results of this study confirmed, “that comic book reading certainly does not inhibit other kinds of reading and is consistent with the hypothesis that comic book reading facilitates heavier reading” (p. 5).

Wow! What’s not to love?

The middle-grade graphic novels I’ve selected here are perfect for later elementary school kids up to early middle school. But please take into account the maturity level of your child. I have even chosen many of these graphic novels for tweens that reflect their peers persevering, even through great obstacles. This can help them develop a growth mindset.

  1. White Bird: A Wonder Story (A Graphic Novel)

    In R. J. Palacio's bestselling collection of stories Auggie & Me, which expands on characters in Wonder, readers were introduced to Julian's grandmother, Grandmère. Here, Palacio makes her graphic novel debut with Grandmère's heartrending story: how she, a young Jewish girl, was hidden by a family in a Nazi-occupied French village during World War II; how the boy she and her classmates once shunned became her savior and best friend.

    Sara's harrowing experience movingly demonstrates the power of kindness to change hearts, build bridges, and even save lives. As Grandmère tells Julian, "It always takes courage to be kind, but in those days, such kindness could cost you everything." With poignant symbolism and gorgeous artwork that brings Sara's story out of the past and cements it firmly in this moment in history, White Bird is sure to captivate anyone who was moved by the book Wonder or the blockbuster movie adaptation and its message.

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    02/24/2024 05:30 pm GMT
  2. Trickster: Native American Tales, A Graphic Collection, 10th Anniversary Edition

    All cultures have tales of the trickster—a crafty creature or being who uses cunning to get food, steal precious possessions, or simply cause mischief. He disrupts the order of things, often humiliating others and sometimes himself. In Native American traditions, the trickster takes many forms, from coyote or rabbit to raccoon or raven. The first graphic anthology of Native American trickster tales, Trickster brings together Native American folklore and the world of comics. In Trickster, 24 Native storytellers were paired with 24 comic artists, telling cultural tales from across America. Ranging from serious and dramatic to funny and sometimes downright fiendish, these tales bring tricksters back into popular culture.

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    02/24/2024 04:03 pm GMT
  3. Hereville: How Mirka Got Her Sword (NONE)

    Spunky, strong-willed eleven-year-old Mirka Herschberg isn’t interested in knitting lessons from her stepmother, or how-to-find-a-husband advice from her sister, or you-better-not warnings from her brother. There’s only one thing she does want: to fight dragons!

    Granted, no dragons have been breathing fire around Hereville, the Orthodox Jewish community where Mirka lives, but that doesn’t stop the plucky girl from honing her skills. She fearlessly stands up to local bullies. She battles a very large, very menacing pig. And she boldly accepts a challenge from a mysterious witch, a challenge that could bring Mirka her heart’s desire: a dragon-slaying sword! All she has to do is find—and outwit—the giant troll who’s got it!

    A delightful mix of fantasy, adventure, cultural traditions, and preteen commotion, Hereville will captivate middle-school readers with its exciting visuals and entertaining new heroine.

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    02/24/2024 10:33 am GMT
  4. Kin (The Good Neighbors, Book 1)

    From the amazing imagination of bestselling author Holly Black, a mysterious and wonderful teen graphic novel masterpiece.Rue Silver's mother has disappeared . . . and her father has been arrested, suspected of killing her. But it's not as straightforward as that. Because Rue is a faerie, like her mother was. And her father didn't kill her mother -- instead, he broke a promise to Rue's faerie king grandfather, which caused Rue's mother to be flung back to the faerie world. Now Rue must go to save her -- and must also defeat a dark faerie that threatens our very mortal world.

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    02/24/2024 12:16 pm GMT
  5. The Awakening Storm: A Graphic Novel (City of Dragons #1)

    Grace and her friends must protect a newly hatched dragon from mysterious evildoers.When Grace moves to Hong Kong with her mom and new stepdad, her biggest concern is making friends at her fancy new boarding school. But when a mysterious old woman gifts her a dragon egg during a field trip, Grace discovers that the wonderful stories of dragons she heard when she was a young girl might actually be real--especially when the egg hatches overnight.

    The dragon has immense powers that Grace has yet to understand. And that puts them both in danger from mysterious forces intent on abusing the dragon's power. And now it's up to Grace and her school friends to uncover the sinister plot threatening the entire city!

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    02/24/2024 11:57 pm GMT
  6. Ghostopolis

    A page-turning adventure of a boy's journey to the land of ghosts and back.Imagine Garth Hale's surprise when he's accidentally zapped to the spirit world by Frank Gallows, a washed-out ghost wrangler. Suddenly Garth finds he has powers the ghosts don't have, and he's stuck in a world run by the evil ruler of Ghostopolis, who would use Garth's newfound abilities to rule the ghostly kingdom. When Garth meets Cecil, his grandfather's ghost, the two search for a way to get Garth back home, and nearly lose hope until Frank Gallows shows up to fix his mistake.

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    02/24/2024 07:15 pm GMT
  7. Smile: A Graphic Novel

    Raina just wants to be a normal sixth grader. But one night after Girl Scouts she trips and falls, severely injuring her two front teeth. What follows is a long and frustrating journey with on-again, off-again braces, surgery, embarrassing headgear, and even a retainer with fake teeth attached. And on top of all that, there's still more to deal with: a major earthquake, boy confusion, and friends who turn out to be not so friendly.

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    02/24/2024 10:48 am GMT
  8. Akissi: Tales of Mischief: Akissi Book 1

    Poor Akissi! The neighborhood cats are trying to steal her fish, her little monkey Boubou almost ends up in a frying pan, and she's nothing but a pest to her older brother Fofana. But Akissi is a true adventurer, and nothing scares her away from hilarious escapades in her modern African city.

    Jump into the laugh-out-loud misadadventures of Akissi in these girls-will-be-girls comics, based on author Margeurite Abouet's childhood on the Ivory Coast.

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    02/24/2024 11:38 am GMT
  9. El Deafo

    Starting at a new school is scary, especially with a giant hearing aid strapped to your chest! At her old school, everyone in Cece’s class was deaf. Here, she’s different. She’s sure the kids are staring at the Phonic Ear, the powerful aid that will help her hear her teacher. Too bad it also seems certain to repel potential friends.


    Then Cece makes a startling discovery. With the Phonic Ear she can hear her teacher not just in the classroom but anywhere her teacher is in the school—in the hallway . . . in the teacher’s lounge . . . in the bathroom! This is power. Maybe even superpower! Cece is on her way to becoming El Deafo, Listener for All. But the funny thing about being a superhero is that it’s just another way of feeling different . . . and lonely. Can Cece channel her powers into finding the thing she wants most, a true friend?

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    02/24/2024 04:54 pm GMT
  10. When Stars Are Scattered

    Omar and his younger brother, Hassan, have spent most of their lives in Dadaab, a refugee camp in Kenya. Life is hard there: never enough food, achingly dull, and without access to the medical care Omar knows his nonverbal brother needs. So when Omar has the opportunity to go to school, he knows it might be a chance to change their future . . . but it would also mean leaving his brother, the only family member he has left, every day.

    Heartbreak, hope, and gentle humor exist together in this graphic novel about a childhood spent waiting, and a young man who is able to create a sense of family and home in the most difficult of settings. It's an intimate, important, unforgettable look at the day-to-day life of a refugee, as told to New York Times Bestselling author/artist Victoria Jamieson by Omar Mohamed, the Somali man who lived the story.

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    02/24/2024 01:48 pm GMT
  11. New Kid

    Seventh grader Jordan Banks loves nothing more than drawing cartoons about his life. But instead of sending him to the art school of his dreams, his parents enroll him in a prestigious private school known for its academics, where Jordan is one of the few kids of color in his entire grade.

    As he makes the daily trip from his Washington Heights apartment to the upscale Riverdale Academy Day School, Jordan soon finds himself torn between two worlds—and not really fitting into either one. Can Jordan learn to navigate his new school culture while keeping his neighborhood friends and staying true to himself?

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    02/24/2024 06:03 pm GMT
  12. Class Act

    Eighth grader Drew Ellis is no stranger to the saying “You have to work twice as hard to be just as good.” His grandmother has reminded him his entire life. But what if he works ten times as hard and still isn’t afforded the same opportunities that his privileged classmates at the Riverdale Academy Day School take for granted?

    To make matters worse, Drew begins to feel as if his good friend Liam might be one of those privileged kids. He wants to pretend like everything is fine, but it's hard not to withdraw, and even their mutual friend Jordan doesn't know how to keep the group together.

    As the pressures mount, will Drew find a way to bridge the divide so he and his friends can truly accept each other? And most important, will he finally be able to accept himself?

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    02/25/2024 12:33 am GMT
  13. Stepping Stones: (A Graphic Novel) (Peapod Farm)

    Jen did not want to leave the city. She did not want to move to a farm with her mom and her mom's new boyfriend, Walter. She did not want to leave her friends and her dad.

    Most of all, Jen did not want to get new "sisters," Andy and Reese.

    As if learning new chores on Peapod Farm wasn't hard enough, having to deal with perfect-at-everything Andy might be the last straw for Jen. Besides cleaning the chicken coop, trying to keep up with the customers at the local farmers' market, and missing her old life, Jen has to deal with her own insecurities about this new family . . . and where she fits in.

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    02/24/2024 02:43 pm GMT
  14. Katie the Catsitter

    Katie is dreading the boring summer ahead while her best friends are all away at camp--something that's way out of Katie and her mom's budget, UNLESS Katie can figure out a way to earn the money for camp herself. But when Katie gets a job catsitting for her mysterious upstairs neighbor, life get interesting. First, Madeline has 217 cats (!) and they're not exactly . . . normal cats. Also, why is Madeline always out EXACTLY when the city's most notorious villain commits crimes?! Is it possible that Katie's upstairs neighbor is really a super villain? Can Katie wrangle a whole lot of wayward cats, save a best friendship (why is Beth barely writing back? And who's this boy she keeps talking about?!), AND crack the biggest story in the city's history? Some heroes have capes . . . Katie has cats!

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    02/24/2024 03:39 pm GMT
  15. Cold War Correspondent (Nathan Hale’s Hazardous Tales #11): A Korean War Tale

    In 1950, Marguerite Higgins (1920–1966) was made bureau chief of the Far East Asia desk for the New York Herald Tribune. Tensions were high on the Korean peninsula, where a border drawn after WWII split the country into North and South. When the North Korean army crossed the border with Soviet tanks, it was war. Marguerite was there when the Communists captured Seoul. She fled with the refugees heading south, but when the bridges were blown over the Han River, she was trapped in enemy territory. Her eyewitness account of the invasion was a newspaper smash hit. She risked her life in one dangerous situation after another––all for the sake of good story. Then she was told that women didn’t belong on the frontlines. The United States Army officially ordered her out of Korea. She appealed to General Douglas MacArthur, and he personally lifted the ban on female war correspondents, which allowed her the chance to report on many of the major events of the Korean War. 

    Nathan Hale’s Hazardous Tales are graphic novels that tell the thrilling, shocking, gruesome, and TRUE stories of American history.

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    02/24/2024 04:13 pm GMT
  16. Explorer (The Mystery Boxes #1)

    Seven clever stories answer one simple question: what’s in the box?Funny, fantastic, spooky, and suspenseful, each of these unique and beautifully illustrated short graphic works revolves around a central theme: a mysterious box and the marvels—or mayhem—inside. Artists include middle school favorites Kazu Kibuishi, Raina Telgemeier (Smile), and Dave Roman (Astronaut Academy), as well as Jason Caffoe, Stuart Livingston, Johane Matte, Rad Sechrist (all contributors to the groundbreaking comics anthology series Flight), and upcoming artist Emily Carroll.

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    02/24/2024 06:38 pm GMT
  17. This Was Our Pact

    It's the night of the annual Autumn Equinox Festival, when the town gathers to float paper lanterns down the river. Legend has it that after drifting out of sight, they'll soar off to the Milky Way and turn into brilliant stars, but could that actually be true? This year, Ben and his classmates are determined to find out where those lanterns really go, and to ensure success in their mission, they've made a pact with two simple rules: No one turns for home. No one looks back.

    The plan is to follow the river on their bikes for as long as it takes to learn the truth, but it isn't long before the pact is broken by all except for Ben, and (much to Ben's disappointment) Nathaniel, the one kid who just doesn't seem to fit in.

    Together, Nathaniel and Ben will travel farther than anyone has ever gone, down a winding road full of magic, wonder, and unexpected friendship*.

    *And a talking bear.

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    02/24/2024 07:28 pm GMT
  18. Amulet #1-8 Box Set

    After tragedy strikes their family, Emily and Navin move with their mother into the old, mysterious home of their great-grandfather. On their first night in the strange house, Emily and Navin's mom is kidnapped by a tentacled creature. Determined to rescue her, Emily and Navin are led into a world of robots, talking animals, flying ships, new friends... and enemies. Emily learns that she is a Stonekeeper and essential to the survival of this world, and that her incredible story is only just beginning.

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    02/24/2024 10:53 am GMT
  19. The Witch Boy

    In thirteen-year-old Aster's family, all the girls are raised to be witches, while boys grow up to be shapeshifters. Anyone who dares cross those lines is exiled. Unfortunately for Aster, he still hasn't shifted . . . and he's still fascinated by witchery, no matter how forbidden it might be.When a mysterious danger threatens the other boys, Aster knows he can help -- as a witch. It will take the encouragement of a new friend, the non-magical and non-conforming Charlie, to convince Aster to try practicing his skills. And it will require even more courage to save his family . . . and be truly himself.

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    02/24/2024 05:11 pm GMT
  20. Pashmina

    Priyanka Das has so many unanswered questions: Why did her mother abandon her home in India years ago? What was it like there? And most importantly, who is her father, and why did her mom leave him behind? But Pri’s mom avoids these questions―the topic of India is permanently closed.

    For Pri, her mother's homeland can only exist in her imagination. That is, until she find a mysterious pashmina tucked away in a forgotten suitcase. When she wraps herself in it, she is transported to a place more vivid and colorful than any guidebook or Bollywood film. But is this the real India? And what is that shadow lurking in the background? To learn the truth, Pri must travel farther than she’s ever dared and find the family she never knew.

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    02/25/2024 12:15 am GMT

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young boy reading graphic novel on turquoise sofa