Wednesday, October 5, 2016

Great Graphic Novels for Middle School, part 1: realistic fiction

Graphic novels are an incredibly popular format and many tell stories of richness and depth that appeal to middle school readers. A graphic novel even recently received a Newbery Honor Award, the highest honor in children's literature. The first post in this series will focus on graphic novels that fall within the genres of realistic fiction and memoir.

Realistic Fiction and Memoir

Roller Girl (2015) by Victoria Jamieson [Newbery Honor Book]. This graphic novel might have sparked more conversations as an "unusual" Newbery choice had picture book Last Stop on Market Street not won the award last year, but it is a great book and a great story in its own right. Roller Girl is the story of twelve-year old Astrid, who discovered roller derby over the summer, as she struggles with growing apart from her best friend, Nicole. I love how the book both a) refused to make easy solutions to the friendship issues and b) even included some meta-asides about perfect endings. This is a book that will appeal to readers across a wide age range.


Smile (2010) by Raina Telgemeier and with color by Stephanie Yue and Sisters (2014) by Raina Telgemeier and with color by Braden Lamb. These two autobiographical-graphic novels detail different episodes in the author's childhood. Smile covers the years of middle school and high school when Raina struggled with her dental-related adventures, while Sisters focuses in on a family road trip and reunion that revolves around Raina's relationship with her younger sister, Amara.

Drama (2012) by Raina Telgemeier. This realistic-fiction graphic novel focuses on seventh-grader Cassie, and the drama of the title refers both to her interests in theater set design as well as the kinds of drama one expects in middle school - issues with friends and relationships. Drama has made the ALA's 2014 list of the Top 10 Most-Challenged Books in the US because of its inclusion of gay characters and relationships. (You can read more about how I celebrated Banned Books Week in my classroom here.) I am delighted to have a signed copy of this book to add to my classroom library (thank you, #nErDcampMI!).

Let's finish the Raina-admiration party with The Baby-Sitters Club: Kristy's Great Idea (2006) by Ann M. Martin and reimagined as a graphic novel by Raina Telgemeier. Despite having read dozens upon dozens of these books as kid, it was interesting how little of the series stuck with me. It was entertaining to see the series reimagined and to see how the issues and concerns still speak to modern middle school readers.

Sunny Side Up (2015) by Jennifer and Matthew Holm. Sunny is sent to spend the summer with her grandfather at his retirement community in the summer of 1976 and is a thrilled about it as you can image. Only as the story continues, do flashbacks start to suggest that there is more going on here than a simple vacation. This deals with some difficult family issues and is based on the real-life experiences of the authors. The Yarn podcast did an entire first season of interviews all around the creation of this book. It makes for an incredible listen.

El Deafo by Cece Bell. This sensitive autobiographical graphic novel focuses on the author's experience growing up and losing her hearing at age 4, as well as her later trials and tribulations with her gigantic Phonic Ear. I think the graphic novel format (and rabbits for characters) makes this book accessible to a wide-range of readers. A great book for talking about differences and how to treat others.

For Mature Readers

This One Summer (2014) by Jillian and Mariko Tamaki, winner of a Caldecott Honor Award. This graphic novel was shelved in the teen section of my public library and is definitely geared towards high school or later middle school students, so I can see why it was a contentious choice for the Caldecott (aimed at readers 0-14 years old). What seems like a fairly straightforward "How I Spent My Summer Vacation" story becomes much more complex and darker as the book unfolds.

Did I miss any of your favorite realistic fiction graphic novels for middle school? Please share in the comments below!


  1. So, I pretty much love and regularly promote each and every one of these graphic novels. I love that graphic novels are finally starting to get the respect and recognition they so rightly deserve!

  2. Graphic Novel babysitters club! I need to read that. Adding to my list now.

  3. Love that these are available for kids!

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