— This post was double-checked and freshened up in September of 2018. Happy reading! —
I’ve recommended good comics for kids before, and even good superhero comics for kids, but I just keep finding more good ones! So here’s another collection of the best we’ve found, all appropriate for early elementary school and up (our opinion! your mileage may vary.) So grab that library card, get to the bookstore, whatever works!
Before we jump in:
- All comics listed here can be bought as graphic novels/collections, not only as single issues. Your library may own many of these!
- Amazon links are affiliate links.
- Need more recs? All my kids’ comics recommendations are here.
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- Any questions, corrections, recommendations? Let me know via the comments or my contact form.
Alabaster Shadows by Matt Gardner, illustrated by Rashad Doucet, with lettering by Ryan Ferrier.
When Carter and Polly Normandy move into the Alabaster Shadows development, they’re not optimistic. They don’t know anyone. All the houses look the same. The head of the Community Council clearly despises children. Then Mr. Randolph, who works in the development’s office, asks them to watch for anything strange. What a weirdo, thinks Carter… until he finds something in their new basement that should not be there. Carter discovers that other kids at school have had strange experiences. They never would have guessed what their investigation uncovers. Doucet’s art is a little messier than I usually prefer, but it gets the job done. Gardner paces out the action and danger well, giving the reader points to breathe. This was a hit with both mom and kiddo, and we’re looking forward to a second volume if and when it occurs!
For team #WeNeedDiverseBooks, of which I am an enthusiastic member, note that Polly and Carter are biracial, with a white dad and a black mom. I’m definitely pleased to have a children’s graphic novel with a POC lead character. But all the other major speaking roles are white characters, which seemed a little strange. My favorite character is Polly, and I’m hoping she gets a bigger role in the second volume, which would help balance that out.
Bandette, by Paul Tobin and illustrated by Colleen Coover.
I’ve always been a fan of Coover’s fun art style, and Tobin is a good storyteller. Bandette is an irrepressible Parisian teenage master thief with the proverbial heart of gold… and an affinity for first editions of good books. The police love to hate her but sometimes need her help. Her rival “Monsieur” wants to save her life, even though she’s after his reputation as the world’s greatest thief. The ballerinas and street urchins just want to help. And poor Daniel! Will his heart belong to the mysterious Bandette forever? Plus, female matador!
This series has a retro, French/Belgian adventure comics feel, like Tintin, but completely fresh. Three volumes are out so far, and this is one that we store in the “grownups” bookshelf but it gets taken out by my son routinely. Good clean fun for the whole family!
Bink and Gollie by Kate DiCamillo and Alison McGhee, illustrated by Tony Fucile.
Three vignettes about two friends. Bink is short, wild, and irrepressible. Gollie is tall, sophisticated, and orderly. Does this make their friendship smooth? Not always. Do they always figure it out? Yes, absolutely. And they have plenty of adventures: Gollie climbs a mountaintop in the Andes, and Bink brings her pet fish to the movies. This is one of the best children’s comics I’ve ever read, so good that I’d have read the other two Bink and Gollie books myself even if my son hadn’t been interested. But we ended up reading them together, and they were also fantastic. DiCamillo and McGhee choose their spare words with exquisite care, and Fucile’s cartoons are a delight.
The Courageous Princess trilogy by Rod Espinosa.
As happens to young female royalty, Princess Mabelrose gets kidnapped by a dragon. Being unwilling to stay kidnapped, and quite worried about how her parents feel with her missing, she sets about rescuing herself. What follows, across the three volumes, is a grand adventure full of magic, danger, and friendship. Adults may find Mabelrose suspiciously perfect, but I couldn’t resist loving her anyway. Espinosa’s art is lovely, and his world-building and plot design are incredibly strong. If you’re looking for epic fantasy, this is a great series. Bonus for those of us who crave diversity: Mabelrose is biracial/bicultural. Her mother is from a kingdom that appears to be based on Western European culture. Her father is from a kingdom that appears to be based on Middle Eastern culture. People from both sides of her family appear in the story.
My son’s thoughts: “It’s a very adventurous story, and also Mabelrose herself is very adventurous. It’s funny in parts, and it’s a tiny bit scary in parts. There are a lot of cliffhangers, which leave you wanting to read the next volume or the next chapter.” (He’s not wrong. Waiting between the second and third books was painful.)
El Deafo by Cece Bell.
Bell does a stellar job showing the emotional process she went through as a kid trying to fit in and find friendship. It can be tough when you have a giant hearing aid strapped to your chest during the school day! Anyone who felt out of place while growing up will appreciate kid Cece’s struggles. My husband was afraid this would be an after-school special about a Very Important Topic but after only a few pages, he was hooked. The book is both funny and emotionally real, and universal despite being “about” a specific topic. Also, the people are drawn as bunnies, which is a plus in my book. Don’t miss the author’s note at the end for more of Bell’s adult perspective.
I might recommend it for even younger elementary kids if they’re okay with what my son calls “crush stuff” (i.e. schoolyard romance.) I saw a girl of about 8-10 in the library with it the other day, and her dad said she’d read it three times already.
Each Explorer book is a collection of comic short stories on a theme. Any lover of fantasy, magic, action-adventure, or high-quality art in comics should at least borrow these from their library. They’d make especially good gifts for young comics lovers, or kids new to comics, because they can find their own favorites out of the tales in each book. Kibuishi is a master storyteller whose work has emotional depth while remaining very accessible, and he worked with writers and artists with similar skills for these books. Across the stories, there is quite a bit of diversity in characters. I’m also a sucker for gorgeous covers, and these books rock on that aspect. I even love the title font.
Little Robot by Ben Hatke. Ben Hatke is just amazing. We loved his graphic novel series Zita the Spacegirl (see Good Superhero Comics for Kids) and his picture book Julia’s House for Lost Creatures (see Spooky and Monster Books for Kids.) And now we’ve fallen in love with Little Robot.
It begins with a box falling out of a truck as it goes across a bridge. The box floats away down the river. A girl who’s skipping school drags it out and opens it, only to find a small (nearly) operational robot. Its disappearance does not go unnoticed at the warehouse, though, and a large, aggressive tracking robot is sent to recover the little one. For a book with two such bitty, cute protagonists, there’s a fair amount of danger in this one, so I don’t recommend it for very young children. The growing friendship between the girl and the robot isn’t without its conflicts, and there’s depth of emotion in both characters’ reactions to their situations.
It particularly moved me that Hatke created the girl as a person of color, with natural-looking hair, from a not-middle-class household (she lives in a trailer park) and made her a tinkerer, a maker! To me, that felt fresh and new. However, please take to heart that some people of color wished Hatke hadn’t made the girl poor, as they felt it reproduced a stereotype.
Lumberjanes, written by Noelle Stevenson and Grace Ellis, illustrated by Brooke Allen, colors by Maarta Laiho, and letters by Aubrey Aiese.
I don’t want to call Lumberjanes a cult hit, because its appeal is wider than that. Indie smash? Darling of all who love strong girls in comics? Whatever you want to call it, it’s great, and you should read it. It’s about five friends who go to summer camp, their counselor, and their many supernatural and mystical adventures. My favorite thing about this comic is the complete lack of drama among the friends. They are just good friends. The story focuses on what they do instead of rivalries, confusions, or romantic jealousy over boys. So rare in stories about girls!
I read the first volume with my son when he was seven, hoping he wouldn’t be in over his head. He wasn’t, and he loved it, so we got the second book when it came out. That’s the volume that sold me. I felt like they’d taken all the good parts of the first book and built on those quite well. Bonus: diversity of race, sexual orientation, and gender identity, yay!
Update: There are now eight volumes of Lumberjanes, a collection of “Bonus Tracks,” and two illustrated novels. Still going strong!
Maddy Kettle: The Adventure of the Thimblewitch by Eric Orchard.
A strange little graphic novel about a girl whose parents were turned into kangaroo rats by the Thimblewitch. Maddy wishes her Mom and Dad could be human again. But things go from bad to worse when the Thimblewitch’s spider-goblins kidnap her parents. Maddy, of course, sets out to save them. The plot moves along quite briskly – almost racing from one point to the next without time for the story to breathe – but the unique art, the magic, and Maddy’s strength make up for it. There are definitely scary and spooky elements in this, but everything works out in the end without anyone having to be defeated. Really liked this!
Monster Motors by Brian Lynch, with art by Nick Roche, colors by Leonard O’Grady, and letters by Tom B. Long.
Arrogant auto mechanic genius Vic Frankenstein moves to Transylvania, Kentucky to open his auto shop in an abandoned junkyard. Little does he know, it has a dark secret! Before you know it, the town is covered with vampire and zombie cars, and Vic must work with a team of auto-monster hunters to save Transylvania AND THE WORLD! There’s a lot to enjoy here. The artists have lovingly filled the backgrounds with cars, gadgets, and debris of all kinds, which will delight any young tinkerer. The action is clear even in gloomy scenes. There are plenty of jokes for kids, and some for adults, especially those who are more familiar with the monster movie genre. I appreciated the competent female character who doesn’t become a love interest. And I can’t get over Vic’s ridiculous hair! Worth checking out around Halloween, or any time really.
Nathan Hale’s Hazardous Tales: Big Bad Ironclad by Nathan Hale.
First, a note about the names. Nathan Hale was a soldier and spy during the U.S. Revolutionary War who was executed by the British in 1776. Nathan Hale is (also) an author and cartoonist who was born in 1976, and who wrote and illustrated this book. The story begins on September 22, 1976, as the spy Hale is about to be executed by hanging. However, it’s revealed that he was (at some point) swallowed by a giant history book and has mystical powers of telling the future. Like you do. So he’s granted a stay of execution to tell his captors a story about the Civil War.
I know it sounds completely bizarre. And honestly I find the whole impending execution part somewhat distressing. If he’d been hanged at the end, I wouldn’t be recommending this for children! Instead, he’s asked for another story, allowing the reader the fiction that he could keep going forever. And the stories he tells are hilarious. The personalities Hale depicts for so many of these historical figures are probably way over the top, but it makes the stories entertaining and compelling. Even if you have no interest in Civil War history, give this a whirl. After we read this, we read One Dead Spy, which is the first book from this series, and we really enjoyed it too. I guess it would have helped if we’re read them in order, but it’s not necessary. As I’m writing this, my son just finished another book in the series, The Underground Abductor about Harriet Tubman and says it’s SO GOOD.
Penny Dora and the Wishing Box by Michael Stock, with art by Sina Grace.
Nice girl meets creepy magic in this graphic novel. It all starts when a mysterious package arrives at Penny’s house on Christmas Day. She and her mother assume it’s a gift from her father. That day turns out to be the best Christmas ever, as quite a few things happen just the way Penny wishes they would. That night, she starts to hear whispers… coming from the box. Which knows her name. And her father doesn’t know anything about it. Penny and her best friend Elizabeth discover what the box can do, and must decide whether it’s a good or bad thing.
The subtlety with which the box begins to shape Penny’s life, and the transition from bland suburban life to fantastical danger, builds tension *very* effectively.
The only downsides: the letting is fairly small (my husband had trouble with it) and the back cover has what I consider significant spoilers.
Phoebe and Her Unicorn by Dana Simpson.
I am SO glad that my son is fine with pink and “girly” things, because I might have missed this book if he didn’t agree we should order it. And it’s so funny! When Phoebe accidentally hit the unicorn Marigold Heavenly Nostrils in the face with a rock, who knew it would be the beginning of a beautiful friendship? This online cartoon makes the transition to book form beautifully. This was one of my son’s favorite books in 2014. He even announced one day that he was VERY cross he hadn’t managed to read it again lately, which he had been PLANNING to, and all this OTHER stuff had gotten in the way! Both Phoebe and Marigold are so quirky, and the humor is so well-done, my husband and I were cracking up just as much as the kid was.
Update: Now there are seven volumes of this series, and we’ve enjoyed every one.
Roller Girl by Victoria Jamieson.
When Astrid decides to sign up for roller derby summer camp, she assumes her best friend Nicole will do it too. Astrid’s mom agrees – in part because the girls will be together. So what happens when Nicole doesn’t want to? Let’s just say that Astrid isn’t the kind of girl to give up… which may or may not be a good thing. I love this book because it depicts pre-teens as people, even though they’re young and sometimes annoying. Astrid isn’t perfect. She’s fairly self-absorbed, occasionally mean, and even at the end of the book she isn’t handling social situations as thoughtfully as one might aspire to. But she makes progress.
The art is cute without being cutesy, and there’s plenty of derby action in addition to some good lessons. Astrid and her mom and Puerto Rican, so yay for more Latina girl characters in comics.
Rutabaga the Adventure Chef by Eric Colossal.
This book is so silly, and perfect for any fantasy fan. Chef Rutabaga grew tired of normal food, and now travels far and wide seeking magical and rare ingredients to use in his cooking. He carries a complete kitchen in a backpack twice his size, and will risk almost any danger for the next perfect dish! Hopefully he’ll survive long enough to open the restaurant he’s compiling recipes for… The four chapters in this book are each their own stories, and they’re all great. You also get illustrated recipes for the cooks out there. A+ for action, humor, and cute little people running around with swords. I appreciated that there are major black characters, and that town scenes are a mix of people instead of the lily-white villages that you too often find in fantasy worlds. The sequel was just as satisfying!
Sky High by Germano Zullo, illustrated by Albertine.
What happens when rich next-door neighbors decide to out-do each other with their remodeling? About what you’d expect. Agenor-Agobar Poirier des Chapelles and Willigis Kittycly Jr. clearly have more money than sense, and the book is a series of side-by-side depictions of their houses as they get bigger and grander, with captions for various elements that demonstrate the excess. (Watch for the highest paid architects.) I don’t know how long it took Albertine to do these meticulous, crisp line drawings but they are amazing to behold. Though the fate of one of the houses is predictable, you won’t expect the fate of the pizza. I guarantee it. Superbly enjoyable for adult and child alike.
Valor, an anthology edited by by Isabelle Melançon and Megan Lavey-Heaton.
Valor is a collection of 23 short stories – most comics, a few prose – that “pays homage to the strength, resourcefulness, and cunning of female heroines in fairy tales.” Some of the stories are re-creations of existing fairy tales, while some are new. It’s an extremely diverse collection that includes both comics and short stories, women and girls of color, queer and trans characters, and stories rooted in a variety of cultures. The editors did a great job including a mix of atmospheres as well, from cute to scary to sad. I’d recommend this to anyone who loves fantasy, strong female characters, illustration, or just plain good comics. You can order it as an ebook or in print, and it’s well worth the purchase price.
And that’s the list of good comics for kids we’ve enjoyed lately!! If you’ve read and enjoyed any of these, please leave me a comment! It’s always fun to hear from someone else who’s enjoyed something we’ve read. If you have any suggestions, please leave them in the comments – and thanks for sharing on social media or with friends!