Graphic Novels for Reluctant Readers: 33 Titles

Featuring Tiny Titans, Indiana Jones, Diary of a Wimpy Kid & More

There’s a wonderful story about a Latvian war orphan, bright but subliterate and an emotional trainwreck, learning to read from cookbooks when his foster mother hit on the one thing that would motivate him. (See Anna Perrott Rose’s The Gentle House, Houghton Mifflin, 1954.) Immediate feedback helps—in Tinchy’s case, something good to eat.

Graphic narratives excel at instant feedback. Much of the plot comes via the pictures, and readers need only small increments of word learning to understand the story fully. A little reading brings a lot of understanding, and so increment by increment, vocabulary and comprehension increase.

For more titles, check YALSA’s Quick Picks for Reluctant Young Adult Readers (QPRYAR), which include graphic novels. Thanks to the librarians on the GNLIB-L e-group for suggestions.

Younger Children | Tweens and Up | Teens and Up | Older Teens and Adults

Younger Children

Baltazar, Art & Franco Aureliani. Tiny Titans: Sidekickin’ It! DC. 2010. 144p. ISBN 978-1-4012-2653-4. pap. $12.99. F

Short, gag vignettes in cute art about the kids at Sidekick Elementary School: tot-size versions of DC superheroes, mostly from the “Teen Titans” series. In this volume, the gang plans a birthday party for Robin (from Batman), plus Supergirl and Kid Fl ash race each other around the world. Additional volumes are available and in press. While the jokes touching on DC Universe continuities may work better for older readers, younger ones can understand enough about the characters to get most of the humor.

Davis, Eleanor. Stinky. TOON Bks. 2009. 40p. ISBN 978-1-935179-06-1. pap. $4.99. F

Stinky the monster has his delightfully yucky swamp to himself until a neighborhood boy sets up a tree house. Stinky’s afraid of kids, so he tries to scare the interloper away, but nothing seems to work. Then he discovers this human isn’t so different—they both like toads and muck—and the two become friends. Told with humor, simple vocabulary, and ample word repetition.

Hoena, Blake A. (text) & Steve Harpster (illus.). Eek & Ack vs. the Wolfman. Capstone/Stone Arch. (Graphic Sparks). 2009. 33p. ISBN 978-1-4342-1189-7. $22.65. F

Two goofy aliens come to conquer Earth and fortunately for them, it’s Halloween, so no one suspects they’re real aliens. But a very real werewolf shows up to attack the town, and they have to think fast. Mild gross-outs, plenty of humor, and comedy monsters make this appealing without being really scary. A short resource section at the end provides a glossary, a pronunciation guide, a discussion questions, writing prompts, Internet sites, and further information on werewolves. There are several more books in the series.

Holm, Jennifer (text) & Matthew Holm (illus.). Babymouse. Vol. 12: Burns Rubber. Random. 2010. 96p. ISBN 978-0-375-85713-3. pap. $5.99. F

Sassy young Babymouse faces the usual challenges of elementary schoolers—math, friends, leisure activities—but all enhanced with wild adventure and drama through Babymouse’s hyperactive imagination. Now she and best pal Wilson the Weasel enter the school’s soapbox derby, racing against the champion Chuck E. Cheetah. Featuring cute, pink-tinged art and plenty of humor, the series has strong appeal for girls.

Tweens and Up

Azuma, Kiyohiko. Yotsuba&! Vol. 7. Yen Pr. 2009. 208p. ISBN 978-0-316-07325-7. pap. $10.99. HUMOR

Curious and delighted with everything around her, five-year-old Yotsuba creates amusing chaos in the lives of her adoptive single father, the pretty-girl neighbors, and everyone else she meets. The title, “Yotsuba and…,” references the chapter titles, which all take the form of “Yotsuba and something.” “Yotsuba” means “four leaves,” as in four-leaf clover, and the little girl has green hair tied in four short ponytails. The series is still coming out in Japan and has won several awards. A YALSA Great Graphic Novel for Teens (GGNT). (See LJ‘s original reviews of Vol. 1 and Vol. 4.)

Horowitz, Anthony & Antony Johnson (text) & Kanako Damerum & Yuzuru Takasaki (illus.). Skeleton Key: The Graphic Novel. Philomel: Penguin. 2009. 128p. ISBN 978-0-399-25418-5. pap. $14.99. F

Horowitz’s Alex Rider novels pit a highly trained 14-year-old against mega criminals in James Bond–style adventures. When Alex’s uncle and guardian is killed suddenly, Alex learns of his relative’s secret espionage career and is recruited by British intelligence to take his place. In this adaptation of one of the novels, Alex is sent to Skeleton Key, an island near Cuba, to foil what turns out to be a Russian power coup. Color manga-style art gives an anime feel to the breathless pace and cliff-hanger chapters. Several of the other novels have also been adapted, and Point Blank: The Graphic Novel was a YALSA QPRYAR.

Indiana Jones

With four films since 1981, a TV series, numerous videogames, and a slew of novels and derivative books of all kinds, the Indy cottage industry has generated hundreds of pages of Indy comics. Marvel had the license originally and adapted the first three films as well as publishing new adventures. Currently, Dark Horse handles the series, adapting the fourth film, republishing some of the Marvel comics, and creating more new stories. The two series below give convenient entry into the Indy universe and represent the range available. Good cross-overs from the films.

Evanier, Mark (text) & Ethen Beavers (illlus.). Indiana Jones Adventures. Vol. 2. Dark Horse. 2009. 88p. ISBN 978-1-59582-402-8. pap. $7.95. F

In this volume of new Indy adventures tailored for a younger audience, Indy must find a group of missing statues and a mysterious ruby before the Other Side beats him to it. Ages 9–12 and up.

Indiana Jones Omnibus: The Further Adventures. Vol. 3. Dark Horse. 2010. 368p. ISBN 978-1-59582-437-0. pap. $24.99. F

For teens and up by various contributors. See below.

Kibuishi, Kazu. Amulet. Book. 2: The Stonekeeper’s Curse. GRAPHIX: Scholastic. 2009. 224p. ISBN 978-0-439-84683-7. pap. $10.99. F

After their father’s death, Emily and Navin move with their mother into a peculiar and dangerous family house. When the trio investigates the basement, they inadvertently cross a threshold to another world, where the children must rescue their mother from sinister monsters. Emily has become the owner of a powerful Amulet, which she must learn to master. Adventurous family drama in a strange land in gorgeous, compelling color art. A YALSA pick, with a third volume in progress.

Kinney, Jeff. Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Dog Days. Amulet Bks. 2009. 224p. ISBN 978-0-8109-8391-5. $13.95. F

Greg Heffley’s just trying to get through the usual minefield of parents, school, and other kids. But he always overshoots and self-destructs, with hilarious results. This fourth volume chronicles Greg’s misadventures during summer vacation. Part handwritten text and part cartoons, supposedly by Greg, this best-selling series is noted for its appeal to preadolescent boys and includes gross-out humor. A film is being released this month.

Lemke, Donald (text) & Douglas Holgate (illus.). Zinc Alloy vs. Frankenstein. Stone Arch Bks. 2010. 40p. ISBN 978-1-4342-1391-4. pap. $4.95. F

Zack Allen gets bullied at school big-time, but he can morph into Zinc Alloy, superhero. Sounds cool—until his exploits go haywire. In this adventure, his mess-ups get him run out of town, which leads to him meeting and bonding with Frankenstein (they like the same comic books). Exaggerated action art, plus these extras: a list of characters, a glossary, discussion questions, writing prompts, background on Frankenstein, and web sites. There are several more books in the series.

Marvel Adventures Spider-Man. Vol. 14: Thwip! Marvel. 2010. 96p. ISBN 978-0-7851-3640-8. pap. $6.99. F

These simpler, more playful “Marvel Adventure” titles take the enormously popular Spidey and other Marvel heroes into exploits suitable for younger readers with minimal violence, humorous banter, and plenty of action. This collection features telepath Emma Frost, from the X-Men, plus superhero duo Cloak & Dagger and villain Tombstone.

Selznick, Brian. The Invention of Hugo Cabret. Scholastic. 2007. 533p. ISBN 978-0-439-81378-5. $24.99. F

An orphan living in the walls of a Paris train station, Hugo steals food to live while carrying on his missing uncle’s job: tending to the station’s many clocks. But Hugo’s obsession is the mysterious clockwork man poised to write a letter, owned by his late father. If the letter were actually written, could its message help Hugo survive? An artful blend of copious pictures plus text—it has been likened to a silent film on paper—this won the Caldecott Medal in 2008 for its captivating graphics married to an inventive, twisting plot. A film is reportedly in production.

Smith, Jeff. Bone. Vol. 9: Crown of Horns. GRAPHIX: Scholastic. 2009. 224p. ISBN 978-0-439-70632-2. pap. $10.99. F

No cousins could be more different than the courageous Fone Bone, fun-loving Smiley Bone, and scheming Phoney Bone. But after Phoney’s scams get them run out of Boneville, they find themselves in a strange, magical country and must help a princess regain her throne. The series is often compared with Lord of the Rings but appeals to a wider age range—and draws far more laughs—while retaining a subtext about power and evil. Bone (LJ 11/1/04) has won several dozen awards and been the toast of the comics world for over two decades. Dragons, evil locusts, racing cows, a grandma who could punch your lights out, stupid, stupid rat-creatures, and quiche. (Yes, quiche.) This volume completes the new, colorized edition.

Soo, Kean. Jellaby: Monster in the City. Hyperion. 2009. 176p. ISBN 978-1-4231-0565-7. pap. $9.99. F

Ten-year-old Portia is trying to adjust to her new school as well as life without her father, and then she meets a huge purple monster who wants to be friends. After she and schoolmate Jason try to find out where the creature’s home might be, clues turn up about Portia’s missing father. Simple, clean art, bright colors, and a very cute Barney-ish monster make this award winner appealing. This volume completes the story begun in Jellaby (2008).

Star Wars. Dark Horse. 1997–. pap. F

Thirty years on, Star Wars remains the 1000-pound multimedia gorilla of pop culture, and at least four different types of Star Wars comics exist: American-made adaptations of the seven Lucas films, multivolume Japanese manga in English translation for the first four films, adaptations of Star Wars spin-off novels, and a huge number of comics-original stories and series taking place in the Star Wars universe before, during, or after the events depicted in the films and recent animations. See Michael Pawuk’s Graphic Novels: A Genre Guide (Libraries Unlimited, 2007, p. 203–210) for descriptions and lists and Wikipedia for more lists.

Trondheim, Lewis (text) & Eric Cartier (illus.). Kaput & Zösky. First Second. 2008. 80p. ISBN 978-1-59643-132-4. pap. $13.95. F

This pair of power-crazed aliens wants to rule the universe, but they’re as incompetent as they are bloodthirsty: with every planet they attempt to conquer, something goes hilariously wrong. Trondheim is a leading figure in French comics and author of A.I.L.E.E.E.N. and Tiny Tyrant, also republished in English. An animation has been televised both in France and the United States. Humor with a caustic edge and a YALSA QPRYAR.

Van Lent, Fred (text) & Gurihiru & Colleen Coover (illus.). Power Pack: Day One. Marvel. 2008. 104p. ISBN 978-0-7851-3007-9. pap. $7.99. F

The adventures of four superkids, brothers and sisters, each with different powers left to them by a dying alien. The plots feature plenty of humor and action as well as kid-relevant themes, and other Marvel superheroes drop in as guest stars. This series reworks for younger readers the characters and concept originally set up in 1984: a child superhero team operating without adult supervision.

Teens and Up

Abadzis, Nick. Laika. First Second. 2007. 208p. bibliog. ISBN 978-1-59643-101-0. pap. $17.95. F

Triumph and tragedy comingle for the Russian space program and for Earth’s first living space traveler, the lovable mutt sent around the world in the 1957 Sputnik 2 satellite. This fictionalized history won an Eisner and was a YALSA GGNT (LJ 1/15/08).

Chmakova, Svetlana. Nightschool. Vol. 2: The Weirn Books. Yen Pr. 2009. 192p. ISBN 978-0-7595-2860-4. pap. $10.99. F

An ordinary high school during the day, Nightschool holds special classes at night for witches, vampires, and werewolves. Alex and Sarah, paranormally skilled sisters, become involved with Nightschool: Sarah with her new job as Night Keeper and teenaged Alex as a student, after Sarah—who has been homeschooling her sister—disappears mysteriously. Attractive, manga-style art and a complex cosmography about the occult make this appealing to teens fond of vampire films and TV. A YALSA GGNT and QPRYAR.

Davis, Mark & Mike Davis. Blokhedz. Vol. 1. Pocket: S. & S. 2007. 112p. ISBN 978-1-4165-4073-1. $21.95. F

In this inner-city supernatural adventure, gifted teen rapper Blak must discover his true self and his superpowers. On one side beckon shady rap-and-drug broker Bloko and the fly lifestyle; on the other, the spirit of Blak’s wiser, older brother, plus his homies, seeress Rosetta, and maybe-girlfriend Essence. This fresh, skillful take on the coming-of-age theme features vivid characters, an intense story line, and vibrant, glowing colors. One of the few mainstream graphic novels to speak to hip-hop culture, here combined with superhero plot elements. Unfortunately, no subsequent volumes have been published. A YALSA QPRYAR (LJ 7/3/07).

Kishimoto, Masashi. Naruto. Vol. 47. VIZ Media. 2010. 200p. ISBN 978-1-4215-3305-6. pap. $9.99. F

Naruto is a teen ninja in training, with dreams of becoming the Hokage (leader) of his village. But he has sealed inside him a nine-tailed demon fox, the demon that destroyed his village in the past, and he was under suspicion and mistreated while growing up. However, he gains comrades and friends in the course of his training and despite his impulsive and mischievous youthfulness gains mastery over his craft and over the secrets of power in his world. Still ongoing in Japan, this award-winning series has been the top U.S. manga for at least the last year or so and has related anime, films, novels, and videogames. A YALSA GGNT.

Lancett, Peter. Dark Man: Danger in the Dark. Saddleback. 2010. 34p. ISBN 978-1-61651-016-9. pap. $6.95. F

The “Dark Man” series presents allusive and gritty vignettes about an enigmatic adult hero who lives in the shadows, fighting the Shadow Masters who spread evil throughout the city. Designed for YA struggling readers and nonreaders, the stories are made up of short text placed opposite to full-page dusky drawings. The first six titles are written at the 1.0 to 2.0 grade level; the second six at the 2.0 to 3.0 level. Download free samples here.

Sakai, Stan. Usagi Yojimbo. Vol. 23: Bridge of Tears. Dark Horse. 2009. 248p. ISBN 978-1-59582-298-7. pap. $17.95. F

A lone samurai for hire, Miyamoto Usagi wanders the countryside of 17th-century Japan, looking for bodyguard gigs and getting involved in adventures. The types of stories and details are faithful to Japanese history and folklore in considerable detail—except that the characters are skillfully drawn anthropomorphic animals. (Usagi means rabbit.) While there’s plenty of humor, Usagi and his fellows are not “funny animals,” and the overall saga drips with treachery and revenge. Volumes 1–7 are published by Fantagraphics, and the new Yokai volume (also 2009) is an original graphic novel, unnumbered. Winner of multiple awards and a YALSA GGNT. (Note: Sakai is American.)

Shakespeare, William & Richard Appignanesi (text) & Sonia Leong (illus.). Manga Shakespeare: Romeo and Juliet. Abrams. 2007. 208p. ISBN 978-0-8109-9325-9. pap. $10.95. F

In this attractive manga-style adaptation, the Montagues and the Capulets become rival yakuza gang families in modern-day Tokyo. The dialog is from the original Shakespearean text, abridged. A blend of pop culture with classic literature and a YALSA QPRYAR.

Shan, Darren (text) & Takahiro Arai (illus.). Cirque du Freak: The Manga. Vol. 4: Vampire Mountain. Yen Pr. 2010. 192p. ISBN 978-0-7595-3039-3. pap. $10.99. F

Teenager Darren Shan loves spiders, and he makes off with a poisonous spider from a traveling freak show run by vampires. But the spider bites Darren’s friend Steve, and to save him Darren must join up with the freak circus and become a half-vampire himself. This manga-style adaptation of the popular novels was first published in Japan and runs 12 volumes. The novels have been distributed in numerous languages and countries, and the first three were made into a film. A YALSA GGNT and QPRYAR.

Older Teens and Adults

Abel, Jessica & Gabe Soria (text) & Warren Pleece (illus.). Life Sucks. First Second: Roaring Brook. 2008. 192p. ISBN 978-1-59643-107-2. pap. $19.95. F

The vampire clichés were 100 percent wrong, realizes Dave when unwillingly bitten by his unscrupulous boss. Now a wage-slave employee with a forever contract, Dave works the night shift at the Last Stop convenience store, subsists on plasma, and pines for Rosa, a human hottie who still thinks vampires live beautiful and elegant lives. A funny and poignant revisioning of the vampire myth, infused with empathetic drama about relationships and just plain coping with life. A YALSA GGNT and QPRYAR. (See LJ‘s original review.)

Carey, Percy (text) & Ronald Wimberly (illus.). Sentences: The Life of M.F. Grimm. Vertigo: DC. 2008. 128p. ISBN 978-1-4012-1047-2. pap. $14.99. AUTOBIOG

In this sobering, self-reflective autobiography, rapper Carey cuts through the bling-and-babes stereotype of the hip-hop lifestyle to describe surviving the 1994 murder attempt that left him a paraplegic and led to blacklisting by record companies, a descent into crime, a prison term, and rebirth as a penitent survivor. A Glyph Award winner and YALSA QPRYAR; perhaps the only available autobiography or biography of a living rap artist and one of the few mainstream graphic novels to speak to hip-hop culture (LJ Xpress reviews 8/2/07).

Indiana Jones Omnibus: The Further Adventures. Vol. 3. Dark Horse. 2010. 368p. ISBN 978-1-59582-437-0. pap. $24.99. F

This series reprints Marvel’s Indy comics from the 1980s, presenting new stories as well as the film plots. Volume 1 includes the full Raiders of the Lost Ark, Volume 2: The Temple of Doom, and this volume, The Last Crusade. Classic Indy, for teens and up.

Marchetto, Marisa Acocella. Cancer Vixen: A True Story. Knopf. 2009. 224p. ISBN 978-0-375-71474-0. pap. $16.95. AUTOBIOG

Living the fabulista life as a New Yorker cartoonist, 43-year-old Marchetto is about to be married for the first time when she finds a lump in her breast. “Listen, Cancer, ya sick bastard,” she exclaims, “now is not a good time!” Poignant, hilarious, and masterful use of graphics convey Marchetto’s emotional turmoil. This is the graphic novel to give to women who have never read one before. Some nudity and sexual references. (See LJ‘s original review.)

Neufeld, Josh. A.D.: New Orleans After the Deluge. Pantheon. 2009. c.208p. bibliog. ISBN 978-0-307-37814-9. $24.95. CURRENT EVENTS

Hurricane Katrina brought devastation to millions of lives, including the seven whose stories are told here, from Abbas, who stays to guard his convenience store and ends up on the roof; to Brobson, the doctor who sets up a make-shift clinic. The simple and realistic art features color wash in different tones. An effective and moving model of comics with a social consciousness, winning considerable praise and chosen for numerous best-of-2009 lists and a YALSA GGNT. (See LJ‘s original review.)

Steinberger, Aimee Major. Japan Ai: A Tall Girl’s Adventures in Japan. Go!Comi. 2007. 180p. ISBN 978-1-933617-83-1. pap. $16.99. AUTOBIOG

A charming, lightly humorous travelog from an American professional animator and lover of all things Japanese who tours Japan with two friends. This account of Aimee’s experiences as an oversized gaijin otaku (foreign fan) has been praised for its detail about Japanese culture and locales. A YALSA GGNT and QPRYAR.

Martha Cornog About Martha Cornog

Martha Cornog is a longtime reviewer for LJ and, with Timothy Perper, edited Graphic Novels Beyond the Basics: Insights and Issues for Libraries (Libraries Unlimited, 2009).