Wondering what graphic novels for teens that you should have on your bookshelf?
Graphic novels can be a great way to introduce topics or concepts to your students.
Plus, they are engaging. Even the most reluctant readers will be drawn into the story. They are great additions to your independent reading program.
Here are some popular choices for graphic novels you can use in your classroom!
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Maus by Art Spiegelman
This is a graphic novel that I personally think everyone should read at least once.
Maus tells the story of a Jewish survivor, Vladek Spiegelman, in Nazi Germany through the lens of animals: the Nazis are depicted as cats, and the Jews as mice. It also tells the story of his son, Art Spiegelman, and his difficult relationship with his father.
What makes this novel great:
- It works as a fantastic introduction to Holocaust literature.
- It has extremely powerful imagery that your students will be able to immediately understand.
- Great way to build background knowledge.
Content warning: While this is intended for younger audiences, it is still a Holocaust story. Some students may find it disturbing, so I suggest reading it with them to make sure they have proper context.
March by John Lewis
This is an autobiographical story of the Civil Rights movement, from the perspective of Congressman John Lewis. It follows his story from childhood, highlighting moments such as the Selma to Montgomery marches, protests at Tennessee State University, and hearing Martin Luther King Jr. speak multiple times.
Why you should teach this novel:
- Is a way to introduce the Civil Rights movement to your students
- Is the first part of a three-book series, spanning Lewis’ entire memoir of the Civil Rights movement
- Uses black and white art to highlight the conflict between races
March also has a sequel, titled Run. It details Lewis’ life after the Civil Rights movement was passed, including the Vietnam War and the rise of the Black Power movement.
Bone by Jeff Smith
After being run out of their hometown, cousins Phoney, Smiley, and Fone Bone find themselves lost in a mysterious, fantastical valley. They’re soon caught up in a quest to save the valley from an ancient evil that is starting to awaken.
What to love about this series:
- is a great choice for teaching the hero’s journey
- will draw your students in with its intricate fantasy world and lighthearted comedy
An advantage of Bone is also its length– the series is nine novels long. If you just read the first novel or two with your students, I guarantee that they’ll want to finish the series on their own.
El Deafo by Cece Bell
Cece is a young girl who starts to go deaf. But when she begins at a new school, she realizes that her hearing aid lets here hear far more than she should be able to. As she tries to find a way to fit in with her classmates with her disability, she starts calling herself “El Deafo” because of her hearing aid’s ability.
What’s to love about this novel:
- it is partly autobiographical, so is great to discuss the differences between fiction and non-fiction writing.
- utilizes dialogue in a unique way, due to Cece’s deafness
- involves issues of fitting in that middle schoolers can relate to
- provides a perfect launching pad for discussions on disabilities, inclusion, and compassion
Amulet by Kazu Kibuishi
Emily is a normal girl, until her family moves into her great-grandfather’s old house.
After she finds a strange, sentient amulet among her great-grandfather’s things, Emily’s mom is kidnapped by a monster and taken to another world. To save her, Emily and her brother follow, and are soon lost in a mysterious world of science fantasy.
This novel is a fun read because:
- it has a fascinating, alien world of blended magic and science.
- it explores themes of good and the corruptive nature of evil.
- the diverse cast of characters are all endearing and lovable!
- the series is nine books long–perfect for getting your students invested!
New Kid by Jerry Craft
When Jordan Banks starts school, he struggles with fitting in as one of the only black students at his new private school. Over time, he learns to deal with the drama of middle school, and he begins to make connections with students and teachers at his new school.
This graphic novel is worth sharing because:
- it addresses the effects of microaggressions and the importance of identity.
- Jordan’s struggle to belong at his new school is one that many students can empathize with.
- it depicts the experience of the modern African American experience in a unique light.
Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind by Hayao Miyazaki
This is where I introduce a bit of bias, as this is probably my personal favorite graphic novel.
In a post apocalyptic future, the world has been mostly overtaken by the Sea of Corruption, a giant toxic forest protected by huge mutant insects. When one of the great empires of humanity releases a biological weapon that destroys much of the remaining land, it falls on Nausicaa, the princess of a small kingdom, to find a way for humans to live alongside the nature that they are at war with.
I recommend this because:
- has beautiful themes of environmentalism and the dangers of rampant warfare.
- is great introduction for your students to the dystopian genre.
- is originally from Japan, and can be a way to introduce foreign literature to your students.
- has a film adaptation that you can use to compare book v. movie with your students.
This is another story that is pretty long. The whole story is 7 volumes. But even if you aren’t able to go through the whole thing with your students, I guarantee they’ll be racing to the end of the story.
Laika by Nick Abadzis
Laika is another historical graphic novel. It recounts a partly fictionalized story of the Space Race, and of Laika, the dog sent into space by the USSR. It covers her life on the streets of Moscow, her time with the team constructing Sputnik 2, and her ultimate death in orbit.
Why you’ll want to share this novel:
- acts as a good introduction to the Space Race and the Cold War.
- gives great examples of non-verbal communication through Laika without making her feel human.
Content warning: Like so many other books involving dogs, this story ends with Laika dying in orbit. The last pages of the novel follow her caretakers coping with her loss, and struggling in vain to justify their actions. This novel doesn’t pull its punches with the tragedy of Laika’s life and death, and students may find this upsetting.
The Moth Keeper by K. O’Neill
Anya is a Moth Keeper, protector of the moths that allow the plants in her desert village to bloom. Spending night after night in the desert is lonely, but it’s essential for the well-being of her people. But balancing that isolation with her own desires is harder than Anya first thought.
What you’ll love about this graphic novel:
- is a great coming of age story that your students will resonate with
- addresses themes of community and identity within a community
- has long passages of time with no text, perfect for reinforcing inference skills
Bonus: Understanding Comics by Scott McCloud
If you want to teach graphic novels in your classroom, I can’t recommend this book enough. Understanding Comics is a fantastic primer for learning how to read and analyze comics and graphic novels–strengthening both your ability to teach them, and your students’ ability to interpret them.
Whether you want to get deep into what makes a comic work, or if you just want to be able to explain the medium to your class, this is the single best book to start understanding comics.
Ready to start adding graphic novel selections to your classroom library?