Graphic novels for middle graders

Graphic novels reach beyond superhero-style comics to hook all types of readers. From historical fiction and memoir to wacky fantasy, the following examples offer middle graders and middle schoolers plenty of laughs—and lots to think about.

Nathan Hale's Hazardous TalesThe first two books in the Nathan Hale’s Hazardous Tales series introduce the Revolutionary War hero as a time-traveling, history-teaching storyteller. In One Dead Spy, Hale stalls his execution by thrillingly recounting his adventures to the hangman and a jailor. Big Bad Ironclad! finds Hale narrating a Civil War naval battle. Author/illustrator Nathan Hale (no relation) employs comic panels of varying sizes, a you-are-there style, and over-the-top humor to relate real-life historical events. (9–14 years, Amulet/Abrams)

Little White DuckIn Little White Duck: A Childhood in China, wife-and-husband team Na Liu and Andrés Vera Martínez bring Liu’s childhood in 1970s Wuhan, China, to life for contemporary children. In eight vignettes ranging from poignant (Liu’s tears at Chairman Mao’s death) to hilarious (Liu and her younger sister’s elaborate rat-trapping schemes), author and illustrator together give readers an unvarnished and intimate account of a real childhood: plain-speaking, rough-hewn, and very much down-to-earth. (9–14 years Graphic Universe/Lerner)

Seventh-grader Callie, star of Drama, loves musical theater but isn’t much of a singer. She fulfills her passion by working as a set designer for the school drama club—but romantic drama in the cast and crew threatens to upstage the love story musical they’re producing. Raina Telgemeier handles the many crushes with aplomb and gets her middle school characters just right. Like her previous graphic novel, Smile (a 2010 Boston Globe–Horn Book Honor Book), Drama will appeal to a wide range of readers. (9–14 years, Graphix/Scholastic)

Hereville: How Mirka Met a MeteoriteIrrepressible Mirka (Hereville: How Mirka Got Her Sword), an eleven-year-old Orthodox Jewish wannabe warrior with a magical weapon, races to stop a meteor strike in Hereville: How Mirka Met a Meteorite. A witch transforms the meteorite into a Mirka-clone—who soon becomes determined to take Mirka’s place. Author/illustrator Barry Deutsch melds fantasy, realism, and a whopping dose of imagination in this quirky graphic novel incorporating both the particularities of traditional Judaism and the universal foibles of a girl who dreams big but forgets to plan ahead. (9–14 years, Amulet/Abrams)

From the November 2012 issue of Notes from the Horn Book.

Katie Bircher

Katie Bircher, formerly editor of The Horn Book Guide, is a former bookseller and holds an MA in children's literature from Simmons University. She served as chair of the 2018 Boston Globe-Horn Book Award committee. Follow Katie on Twitter @lyraelle.

Be the first reader to comment.

Comment Policy:
  • Be respectful, and do not attack the author, people mentioned in the article, or other commenters. Take on the idea, not the messenger.
  • Don't use obscene, profane, or vulgar language.
  • Stay on point. Comments that stray from the topic at hand may be deleted.
  • Comments may be republished in print, online, or other forms of media.
  • If you see something objectionable, please let us know. Once a comment has been flagged, a staff member will investigate.


Community matters. Stay up to date on breaking news, trends, reviews, and more.

Get access to reviews of books, ebooks, and more