Earlier this year, we created a list of 10 great comics and graphic novels for early readers. Narrowing down that initial list was so difficult, we decided to give you 10 more. Once again, we're focusing on graphic novels that are appropriate for readers aged 5-8 (grades K-2), but we've also added a few that are great for more confident and advanced readers.
If you loved Art Baltazar and Franco Aureliani’s Tiny Titans (which was included in our first early readers list), you’ll also enjoy their more recent series which focuses on Superman and his extended family of supporting characters like Supergirl, Superboy, Jimmy Olsen, and all the super-pets (Krypto the super dog, Beppo the super-monkey, etc.). The two big superhero publishers, Marvel and DC, do not make a lot of comics for readers under 13, but this is Baltazar and Aureliani's speciality. Kids and parents alike can get into their super-cute art style and playful stories that riff on classic Superman lore.
Difficulty: Ages 6 and up. These books are pretty easy reads, though it sometimes requires a healthy knowledge of Superman's history to get all the jokes.
Content: Unlike today’s regular superhero comics, the super-heroism here is pretty harmless and fun. Superman may punch a robot or two, but that’s about as violent as it gets.
Where to Start: There are nine volumes of books in this series and you can easily start at any of them. Volume 1 is a fine place to begin, but if your kid likes animals, you may want to jump straight to the Super-pets volume.
Cartoonist James Kochalka is well-known by indie comics fans for his influential diary webcomic American Elf, and kids comic fans will know him for his SpongeBob Freestyle Funnies comics. Glorkian Warrior is a three-volume comic series based on a character he created for an iOS app game. It’s an incredibly silly story about the not-so bright Glorkian Warrior and his little companion Super Backpack. There are jokes about eyeballs, butts, and grandmas, showing that Kochalka knows exactly how to make a little kid giggle uncontrollably.
Difficulty: Ages 5 and up. This is an easy and fun read for most new readers. It may not be the most challenging book, but kids will read it again and again for its humor.
Content: A good amount of butt and fart jokes here, but it's all just silly fun.
Where to Start: There are two volumes of Glorkian Warrior available so far. My own kids seemed to get their heartiest laughs from volume 2, Glorkian Warrior Eats Adventure Pie, but the first volume, Glorkian Warrior Delivers a Pizza, is where it all starts.
Husband and wife cartoonists Eleanor Davis and Drew Weing collaborate on both the writing and art for this wonderful new edition to Toon Books’ library of graphic novels for young readers. Wanda is a young girl who is obsessed with becoming famous. One day, her selfie becomes an Internet sensation, but it is because of her droopy-faced dog, not her. Wanda ends up learning a valuable lesson about what’s really important in life.
Difficulty: Ages 5 and up. This is a nice transitional option from picture books to graphic novels thanks to the style of the artwork that makes it look like a classic Golden Book—albeit one with a plot that hinges on social media.
Content: There’s a great message here, and it features a cute dog and a hilarious concept that parents and kids will appreciate.
Where to Start: This is a single-volume graphic novel, but it’s worth checking out other books in Toon Books’ library.
4. ODD DUCK
Cecil Castelluci and Sara Varon’s charming story about a duck named Theodora and her odd neighbor Chad teaches an important lesson about appreciating your friends for their uniqueness. Varon (who has a number of other kids' graphic novels to her name) has a wonderfully pleasant drawing style that uses fun little descriptions and word balloons to lead young readers' eyes across the page much like individual comic book panels.
Difficulty: Ages 6 and up. This is another one that reads like a picture book-comic hybrid.
Content: There’s nothing anyone could object to here. Just a sweet little story about individualism.
Where to Start: This is also a single volume graphic novel.
In Rob Harrell’s Monster on the Hill, villagers treat the local monsters that terrorize them as beloved tourist attractions. One town, however, has an embarrassingly pathetic monster named Rayburn who just can’t seem to scare anyone. A young boy and an old scientist take it upon themselves to help mopey Rayburn rediscover himself and learn how to be a monster again.
Difficulty: Ages 6 and up. This is a little wordier than some of the others and clocks in at nearly 200 pages. Also, some of the characters' dialogue is written in faux-cockney with improper spelling that might throw some kids off.
Content: Although there are monsters and some of them are supposed to be scary, Harrell draws it all in a fun and colorful way.
Where to Start: This is the first volume in a proposed series, but so far it's the only one to have been released.
[The following five choices are for young readers who might be ready to explore above their age range.]
There’s a whole world of Japanese manga for young readers to explore, although finding quality, age-appropriate material can be challenging. Plus, keep in mind that manga must be read back-to-front and right-to-left, so you may want to wait until your early reader has enough confidence before you blow their minds with a whole new reading style. Most kids will get a kick out of the challenge, though.
One great manga option is the popular Yotsuba series about a 5-year-old girl and her single dad who move to a new neighborhood and befriend a trio of sisters who live next door. Everything is a brand new experience for little Yotsuba as she goes around discovering stuff like playground swings and fishing with the verve of an alien exploring a new planet.
Difficulty: Ages 6 and up. However, keep in mind the reading orientation of Japanese manga will throw off some kids.
Content: 5-year-old Yotsuba is given a lot of freedom by her hands-off dad to wander on her own, which can make helicopter parents like myself sweat. There are definitely some cultural differences to take into account for Western readers, and some American readers have been a little weirded out that this series was originally published in a Japanese men’s magazine. That said, it’s all very innocent and kids will love it.
Where to Start: There are a number of volumes in this series, but Volume 1 will give you a proper introduction to the characters.
If comics had their own Harry Potter, it would be Jeff Smith’s Bone series. This epic adventure about a little bone-shaped guy named Fone Bone and his two cousins is full of magic, strange creatures, and a lovable hero. Originally self-published in black-and-white, it became so popular when Scholastic began reprinting it in the early 2000s that they built a whole new graphic novel publishing line around it. Bone is truly one of the greatest comics ever made and it has massive all-ages appeal.
Difficulty: The reading level on this one is technically 11 and up, but younger readers should be able to enjoy the early volumes with a little effort.
Content: Like Harry Potter, this gets a little darker in the later volumes. Even though the artwork is very cartoony, the rat creatures (the bad guys of this book) can be creepy and some of the action and the stakes involved can get intense.
Where to Start: There are nine volumes to this saga as well as multiple editions that break up and package the same big story in different formats, including two separate complete editions (one in black and white and one in color). Start with Bone Vol.1: Out from Boneville, which is an affordable, 144-page book (in color).
Raina Telgemeier is the most popular graphic novelist among “tween-age” girls right now thanks to her smash hit Smile and her run adapting the Baby-Sitters Club novels. Her books are so good that younger readers like my own daughters devour them despite the fact that they're mostly about high-school drama.
Her newest book Sisters may be the most age-appropriate of her body of work for early readers. It’s a memoir about her relationship with her younger sister, focusing on an eventful road trip she took one summer with her family. Readers with siblings will see themselves in all the squabbling and will enjoy the sense of humor with which Telgemeier talks about herself and her childhood.
Difficulty: Ages 8 and up—not too far from the early reader age group, really.
Content: In addition to the realistic portrayal of sibling fighting, there is some marital tension between the parents that is mostly hinted at but made more overt at the end. Also, a number of family pets end up dying (but to comedic effect).
Where to Start: This is a single graphic novel, but it's a good gateway to Telgemeier’s work. If your young reader likes this, they will probably love Smile.
9. EL DEAFO
Cece Bell’s memoir about growing up deaf is funny, heartwarming, and remarkably relatable. Winner of 2015’s prestigious Newbery Honor, El Deafo is an informative look at what it's like to live with a disability. What makes it great is Bell’s likability and strength, and the way she turns her hearing loss into a “superpower”, making her a true role model for kids with disabilities.
Difficulty: Ages 8 and up. Once again, not too far from our target reading age. My own daughter was obsessed with this book at age 5 when she was just making her first attempts at learning how to read. However, at nearly 250 pages, it is a long book.
Content: There’s a little bit about crushing on boys but nothing that parents will find offensive.
Where to Start: This is one complete graphic novel.
10. SECRET CODERS
Gene Luen Yang and Mike Holmes have created a new graphic novel series called Secret Coders that aims to teach the basics of computer programming through an engaging story set in a Harry Potter-ish academy full of odd mysteries. Yang is the award-winning author of graphic novels like American Born Chinese and is currently the writer for DC’s Superman. He also used to teach computer science and recently wrote an article for us on how to encourage your kids to learn computer programming.
Difficulty: Ages 8 and up. The most difficult part of this may not be the reading, but grasping the binary logic.
Content: The main character, Hopper, experiences some mother-daughter tension that boils over at one point.
Where to Start: This is the first in a new multi-volume series. Volume 1 hit stores this past September.