Here’s a collection of the best kids’ comics we’ve found – and to be honest, I’m an adult and I loved these too.
Disclaimer: These books feel like approximately upper elementary school and middle school to me; some skew a bit younger and some older. I sort comics into three kids’ age groups based on my library’s system, personal experience, and gut instinct, while paying attention to factors such as age of protagonists, subject matter, and scariness. But kids are unique; please don’t take my blog as an automatic approval of a comic for a particular age or kid. See 30+ Great Comics for Young Children and 50+ Graphic Novels for Older Kids & Adults for recs for other age groups. Good Superheroes for Kids and Teens is where all the supes live, organized by age level.
Moving on… The way my life is organized these days, it’s tough for me to write reviews of new books. Some of the books below may have my personal reviews, some may not, but I adore them all. Hope you find something new and fun to read here!
Before we jump in:
- All comics 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.
- Any questions, corrections, recommendations? Let me know via my contact form.
Adventures of Rabbit and Bear Paws by Christopher Meyer and Chad Solomon.
YAY FOR THIS! Every library in the country should own a set of these #ownvoices graphic novels. Not just because it’s so hard to find comics about Native American and First Nations people, but also because this whole series is really funny and enjoyable. It’s set in the 1750s and follows the adventures of two brothers named Rabbit and Bear Paws who are part of the Anishinabek Nation in what’s now known as the Great Lakes region. The French and British are moving in nearby, so all three cultures interact quite a bit. Each Rabbit and Bear Paws book focuses on First Nations teachings, values, and traditions, but in a way that feels naturally integrated with the story. The brothers get into all kinds of trouble and have to get themselves back out. Highly recommended!
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.
The Backstagers by James Tynion IV, illustrated by Ryan Sygh, with colors by Walter Baiamonte and letters by Jim Campbell
Diverse, deeply caring series about a group of boys in a private school who work backstage in the theater. It so happens that said backstage isn’t exactly normal. New kid Jory finds a world of magic there, but more importantly, a world of friendship. This series allows its boys and young men to be full people with a full range of emotions, and that is such a powerful thing in a culture of toxic masculinity. Hat off to all the creators for making this gentle, safe space for all these characters and any readers who desperately need that as well.
The Baker Street Peculiars by Roger Langridge. Art by Andy Hirsch.
A fun supernatural mystery/adventure in 1930s London with three very different junior detectives. Molly is a Jewish girl living with her strict grandparents, Humphrey is a posh white boy from a rich family who was sent off to boarding school early, and orphaned girl Rajani, of Bengali descent, has been living on the street. When giant statues in London start coming to life, the three kids get involved with a mysterious detective who’s trying to solve the case. The villain is hilarious without losing his menace, and the kids really do have to be smart to get out of some bad situations. I also loved how they don’t just automatically become friends, but have to negotiate how they each have different life experiences. For kids into weird happenings and detective stories, this is a must-try.
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!
Beetle & the Hollowbones by Aliza Lane, with colors by Natalie Riess and Kristen Acampora
“In the eerie town of ‘Allows, some people get to be magical sorceresses, while other people have their spirits trapped in the mall for all ghastly eternity.
Then there’s twelve-year-old goblin-witch Beetle, who’s caught in between. She’d rather skip being homeschooled completely and spend time with her best friend, Blob Glost. But the mall is getting boring, and B.G. is cursed to haunt it, tethered there by some unseen force. And now Beetle’s old best friend, Kat, is back in town for a sorcery apprenticeship with her Aunt Hollowbone. Kat is everything Beetle wants to be: beautiful, cool, great at magic, and kind of famous online. Beetle’s quickly being left in the dust.
But Kat’s mentor has set her own vile scheme in motion. If Blob Ghost doesn’t escape the mall soon, their afterlife might be coming to a very sticky end. Now, Beetle has less than a week to rescue her best ghost, encourage Kat to stand up for herself, and confront the magic she’s been avoiding for far too long. And hopefully ride a broom without crashing.”
Bera the One-Headed Troll by Eric Orchard
This book is spooky art + a heart of gold. Bera is a friendly little troll who tends an island pumpkin patch, just chilling, until she rescues a human baby from some nasty mermaids. Two challenges arise: (1) How do you take care of a human baby? (2) The evil witch Cloote wants the baby. So Bera sets off on a quest to find a hero who can get the baby to a safe human settlement. What she finds, though, is that heroes aren’t always what they seem. Eric Orchard is becoming one of my fave comic creators and this is a lovely little fantasy tale.
The Big Bad Fox by Benjamin Renner
Funny barnyard tale about an underachieving fox who ends up raising a trio of chicks. It was the wolf’s idea! Steal the eggs, raise the chickens, then chomp them up! Unfortunately, the chomping part is a little more difficult when the chicks in question call you Mommy. The cartooning is amazingly skilled – I love the panel-free layout – and Renner managed to delight me with the characters and storytelling even though (as an adult) I saw most of the plot beats coming. Nicely done.
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.
Bird Boy by Anne Szabla
Lush, gorgeously detailed fantasy set in a winter landscape, with possibly the cutest protagonist in comics ever. Bali, a boy from the Nuru tribe, ends up with a legendary sword while trying to prove he’s old enough to take care of himself. Unfortunately for Bali, all kinds of men and creatures want the sword. Szabla clearly put in time to nail down the mythology, culture, and world Bali lives in, giving his story an epic feel from the very first pages. The storytelling is slow, but even the pages “without plot” are these gorgeous vistas of snow and ice. She’s leaving room for the story to breathe, getting you completely grounded before things start happening.
Two volumes are out so far, and the webcomic is ongoing, so I’m looking forward to more. This is one of those “all ages” comics that’s truly all-ages, as satisfying for adults as for children.
The Bone series by Jeff Smith.
As my husband likes to explain it, this is basically Lord of the Rings in comics form, for kids. An epic tale that we started reading to my son when he was three, and which took a year to get all the way through.
Three cousins, from a race called “Bones,” mistakenly end up in a different kindgom where humans live in an uneasy post-war truce with the “rat creatures.” Unfortunately that truce is about to break down, as a powerful sorcerer is moving to unleash an ancient, dark evil. The Bones team up with Thorn, a young girl who lives with her super-tough grandmother. Thorn’s family history is intertwined with the war, and the ancient evil, so as things begin to move, the Bones are right in the middle of it and have to decide what they’re willing to do for themselves and their new land.
It’s available as one big black and white book which is possibly more affordable, or nine volumes in color which may be more appealing. Many library systems will have this, it’s very popular.
Box by Patrick Wirbeleit, illustrated by Uwe Heidschotter
“Matthew likes to build things. And invent things. So finding a box sitting in front of his house one day is a real stroke of luck. But he has to pinch himself when it suddenly starts talking. A living toolbox! Even better, Box loves to invent things too, so the two become fast friends. But where did Box come from, and how did he get to be so magical? When his secret comes out and accidentally leaves Matthew’s parents frozen, the two friends will have to race to find the answers and save the day.”
Cats, but as if they’re reporters for a feline news network, relating dramatic events within the household. Three adults and one ten year old in my household read this book, and none of us could keep from laughing out loud. Unless you despise cats and all their cat-related ways, give this a try.
Broxo by Zack Giallongo.
The title character is the only survivor of a mountain tribe. He spends his days hunting and hanging out with his sidekick, a gigantic snow beast. And avoiding deadly creatures. Everything’s going fine until Princess Zora shows up looking for a lost clan, and then suddenly it’s all zombies and witches and ghosts! What the heck! Before it’s over, a mystery will finally be solved. Solid fantasy and really good art, we all enjoyed this one.
The Cardboard Kingdom by Chad Sell with co-writers Jay Fuller, David DeMeo, Katie Schenkel, Kris Moore, Molly Muldoon, Vid Alliger, Manuel Betancourt, Michael Cole, Cloud Jacobs, and Barbara Perez Marquez.
A lovely, diverse, queer-friendly series of loosely interconnected short comic stories about kids in a neighborhood and how they meet and build friendships through imaginary play. It’s fun, it’s silly, it also tackles some serious topics with great compassion, and I was really impressed. The dress-up cover of this graphic novel fooled me into thinking it was for the younger set, maybe preschool age? I think it’s more lower/upper elementary, though as an adult reader, I found it pretty enchanting.
The cast is quite large, but introducing characters incrementally works fabulously here. I’ve never seen a collaborative project like this hang together so well, visually and tonally, and it’s wonderful. If the kiddo in your life is into imagination, especially fantasy and magic, this is a great pick.
Cleopatra in Space by Mike Maihack.
Cleopatra of Egypt. Current princess, future queen… and savior of the galaxy? That’s what the future inhabitants of Nile Galaxy believe. So they zap her into the future to help them defeat the Xerx, led by evil tyrant Xaius Octavian. Which means combat training, yay! Oh, and algebra and stuff. Not her favorite. Can Cleo pass all her classes and also save the future? Towards the end of the first book we also start to catch glimpses of tension among the Nile Galaxy’s leaders, and things get way more complex as the series continues. Action, adventure, conspiracy, prophecy, this series has it all. Four books are out so far, with the series planned to finish at six volumes.
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.)
Cow Boy: A Boy and his Horse by Nate Cosby, with art by Chris Eliopoulos.
Boyd Linney is a ten year old bounty hunter who has dedicated his life to tracking down and imprisoning his whole family. Because they’re all criminals. At first it seems like a funny comic, and it is, but there are also many levels of emotion here. Especially in brief flashbacks to Boyd’s younger childhood, where it’s clear he was abused and neglected by members of his family. It’s not a pain and angst book or presented in an upsetting way, but Boyd’s history informs his mission. It also has one of the best fictional scenes calling someone out on their ignorance of racism that I’ve ever read. I think it’s a book that kids will read differently over time, and so good and nuanced that I routinely recommend it to adults as well. We’re disappointed that a second volume never came out!
“What happens when an evil queen gets her hands on an ancient force of destruction? World domination, obviously.
The seven kingdoms of Dreamside need a legendary hero. Instead, they’ll have to settle for Cucumber, a nerdy magician who just wants to go to school. As destiny would have it, he and his way more heroic sister, Almond, must now seek the Dream Sword, the only weapon powerful enough to defeat Queen Cordelia’s Nightmare Knight. Can these bunny siblings really save the world in its darkest hour? Sure, why not?”
I have to admit, my kiddo actually found this one too over the top and I usually don’t rec comics on here that he didn’t like. But I adored it and thought it was hilarious, so I’m breaking that guideline! :)
The Deep: Here Be Dragons by Tom Taylor, illustrated by James Brouwer, and lettered by Wolfgang Bylsma
A multi-ethnic family of underwater explorers (a.k.a. science superheroes!), amazingly funny writing, an art style that looks like animation in the best way, and the best pet fish EVER. The Deep started as a comic and became a Netflix series, I think (?), before Boom re-issued the comic in November 2017. It’s one of my favorite kids’ comics in the past couple years for fun, adventure, and submarine living. If another volume appears, I’ll be pre-ordering it for sure.
Delirium’s Party: A Little Endless Storybook by Jill Thompson, based on characters created by Neil Gaiman in Sandman.
The thumbnail sketch is that it’s about seven siblings who are archetypes: Dream, Despair, Destiny, Desire, Death, Delirium, and Destruction. In Delirium’s Party, little Delirium the “technicolor Princess” decides to make her beloved sister Despair smile by throwing her a party. Unfortunately, what makes other people happy isn’t what makes Despair happy, but the siblings finally succeed and rejoice because they truly love their sister even if she is a little different. Jill Thompson’s art almost dances off the page, and is full of strange and interesting details that our kiddo really enjoyed. Kids who like to dress up may enjoy Delirium’s ever-changing hairstyles and outfits.
This is the second of two Little Endless books, but somehow we read it first. It doesn’t really matter as there isn’t a continuous storyline. The first one, The Little Endless Storybook, is good too.
Dog Night at the Story Zoo by Dan Bar-El, illustrated by Vicki Nerino
Framed as an open mic storytelling night for dogs, this graphic novel contains four stories that range from humorous to deeply touching. I was really just reading this to see if kids would like it, but I got caught up. This is a great kids’ comic when you’re looking for something that’s more quiet and thoughtful than wild and adventurous. My 10 year old generally likes more action, so I was worried he might not be down, but he loved it too.
“Plus Man is a roguish knave without equal, an antihero in his own mind. His coolheaded robot, however, knows better. This odd couple has just been given a break: a tip on a score of valuable alloy. The catch? The alloy is in a haunted castle. One really haunted castle. Like a young Indiana Jones with super science, Plus Man successfully bumbles his way through hair-raising heists and sticky situations.
Corrupt cops, hive-like henchmen, begoggled boy heroes, labyrinthine HQs, unlikely team ups, heartbreaking best friend breakups, and a liberal dose of super science, zingers and explosive action. Sound like a Double+ adventure? It is.
Plus Man and Hank have been blacklisted and have replaced treasure hunting with job-hunting, before landing a catering job at a swank hotel. But trouble doesn’t wait for hors d’oeuvres as the boys find themselves with a main course of counterfeiting crooks to crack!”
Dungeon Critters by Natalie Riess and Sara Goetter
“Quests! Plots! Evil Plants! Magic and mayhem!
Join the Dungeon Critters―a tight-knit squad of animal companions―on a wild adventure investigating a sinister botanical conspiracy among the furry nobility. As they risk their lives traveling through haunted dungeons, swamps, and high society balls―they also come closer together as friends.
Motivated by rivalries, ideals, and a lust for adventure, these critters navigate not only perils and dangers of the natural world, but also perils and dangers… of the heart!”
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.
Feathers by Jorge Corona, with colors by Jen Hickman and lettering by Deron Bennett
Solid, intriguing fantasy with celestial overtones, in a somewhat Victorian setting. I think this would be a hit with kids who groove on Amulet by Kazu Kibuishi, because it’s got the same dark vibe and some hella creepy magic. It’s the story of Poe, who was born covered in black feathers and raised by his adoptive father in a poor neighborhood called the Maze, outside of the rich walled City. It’s also the story of Bianca, who grew up in the City but dreams of adventure. A menacing figure is already stalking the children of the Maze when Poe and Bianca meet, and her presence makes things even more dangerous.
Corona draws expressive people, otherworldly beings, clothing, and uniforms so well. I love Hickman’s muted color palette in this book too! The ending felt a little shaky, but I can forgive it that. I would have eaten this up with a spoon in middle school, and my 8 year old son inhaled it.
Glister by Andi Watson
A big book of fanciful tales about Glister, a young girl living in England, who gets drawn into magical and strange adventures on a regular basis. if you’re looking for quirky, this is definitely the place to be, but it’s not without depth, particularly the story where Glister goes to Faerieland to find her long-missing mother. I love Watson’s 1-color cartooning, especially how much emotion he gets out of such simple lines for faces. If the kiddo in your life is into the kind of fantasy that involves haunted teapots, houses that rearrange their own rooms when you’re not looking, and trolls in wishing wells, give this one a whirl.
Goldie Vance by Hope Larson, illustrated by Brittney Williams, colored by Sarah Stern, and lettered by Jim Campbell
This book hasn’t gotten as much buzz as it should. Diverse cast! Smart girls! Drag racing! Mysteries and adventure! Young queer love! This book just about sparkles with energy. Williams and Stern are a fantastic pairing for the art, and the three volumes out so far have been quite entertaining. Fans of young detectives and girl power should really try this out.
My only complaint is that the character design for Goldie makes her appear younger than her contemporaries. Having seen a separate side story by a different artist in an anthology by this publisher – and seeing that artist depict her as short but looking the same age as her girlfriend – I’m now more bothered by this when I re-read.
Hereville: How Mirka Got Her Sword by Barry Deutsch.
The subtitle for this book is “yet another troll-fighting 11-year-old Orthodox Jewish girl” which gives you an idea of how unique this book is. One of the guys at my local comic shop won’t read it because it has a talking pig in it, but he’s missing out. I have told him this repeatedly. (Hi Eric!) It’s this wonderful mix of fantasy, magic, an 11 year old girl who craves adventure, her loving family’s dynamics, and a window into life in her community and culture. The followup book, How Mirka Met a Meteorite, is another winner.
The Inkberg Enigma by Jonathan King
“Miro and Zia live in Aurora, a fishing town nestled in the shadow of an ancient castle. Miro lives in his books; Zia is never without her camera. The day they meet, they uncover a secret. The fishing works, the castle, and the town council are all linked to an ill-fated 1930s Antarctic expedition. But the diary of that journey has been hidden, and the sea is stirring up unusual creatures. Something has a powerful hold over the town.
With Zia determined to find out more, Miro finds himself putting aside his books for a real adventure.”
Jellaby by Kean Soo.
This is a strange little book, and can be scary and serious at times. Ten year old Portia is the new kid in town, and she meets a monster. But can you really call it a monster when it’s purple and friendly? A local boy, Jason, ends up pulled into the secret of Jellaby’s presence. When the kids think Jellaby is trying to lead them to his home, or at least a way back there, they embark on an unsupervised journey to Toronto trying to help. The story concludes in Jellaby: Monster in the City, and you really do need to read them both to avoid the cliffhanger feeling.
Laser Moose and Rabbit Boy by Doug Savage
The perfect kind of absurd for my sense of humor!
“Do you ever get tired of watching out for danger, Laser Moose?”
“Do you think danger ever gets tired of being dangerous?”
I read this first in our household, and then desperately wished I’d read it aloud at storytime instead, so my son and I got to crack up together. But how could I have known it would be so good?! He ended up loving it as much as I did. The friendship between Laser Moose and Rabbit Boy is priceless. The Aqua-Bee-Bear is terrifying. Frank the deer carrying his leg around is macabre but hilarious. We can’t in good conscience monopolize the library copy, so we have one on order. It’s the kind of book that if you don’t think it’s funny, you’ll probably think it’s really dumb, but good people can disagree.
The second wasn’t quite as funny, in our opinions, but that’s because it’s probably impossible to strike that kind of gold twice. We will definitely buy a third book, if there is one, sight unseen.
The Legend of Auntie Po by Shing Yin Khor
“Thirteen-year-old Mei reimagines the myths of Paul Bunyan as starring a Chinese heroine while she works in a Sierra Nevada logging camp in 1885.
Aware of the racial tumult in the years after the passage of the Chinese Exclusion Act, Mei tries to remain blissfully focused on her job, her close friendship with the camp foreman’s daughter, and telling stories about Paul Bunyan–reinvented as Po Pan Yin (Auntie Po), an elderly Chinese matriarch.
Anchoring herself with stories of Auntie Po, Mei navigates the difficulty and politics of lumber camp work and her growing romantic feelings for her friend Bee. The Legend of Auntie Po is about who gets to own a myth, and about immigrant families and communities holding on to rituals and traditions while staking out their own place in America.”
Lily The Thief by Janne Kukkonen
“Lily is a young novice who dreams of being a master thief. That’s not easy when the Guildmaster of Thieves only assigns you the lowliest jobs: pick-pocketing, trespassing, and petty theft. But on one of these meager quests, Lily unearths a plot involving a mysterious cult and long-forgotten gods―a secret that could destroy the whole world.
Lily must fight to save the same people who have branded her an outcast. Can she use her cunning to put an ancient evil to rest?”
Little Dee and the Penguin by Christopher Baldwin
For such a funny book, this starts with a big emotional wrench! Now granted, it would be hard for Dee to need adopting – per the back of the book – if her parents were still around. But I didn’t realize I was going to meet her dad first! Only for three pages, granted, but dang. That was harsh. Once his FUNERAL is over, though, this settles into a zany animal adventure with lots of heart. And banter. Oh, the banter. It’s wonderful banter. I’ve never had a vulture as a favorite character before, but he gets all the best lines.
The cartooning is cute. The plot moves along at a good clip. There’s a happy ending. What more could you need from an all-ages comic? Bonus: we get another POC girl lead character to help with the lack of diversity in kids’ comics.
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!
Miss Annie by Frank Le Gall, illustrated by Flore Balthazar.
The Miss Annie books, both the first and second volumes, were a perfect match for my cat-loving oldest niece at almost middle school age. My son was interested enough to read them once, at age four, but not repeatedly. They’re quiet “slice of life” books about a cat, including dialogue from the people in the house that will sound familiar to any pet owner, and also Annie’s interactions with other cats and her new best friend, a mouse whom she names Keshia. Very sweet and thoughtful little books.
There are a couple of mentions of “the operation” Miss Annie’s going to have and some boy cats “courting” her but she doesn’t really know what it means so it’s not a big deal. One cat dies in the second book but while they honor his memory, it’s not a huge trauma for anyone.
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.
The Mouse Guard series by David Petersen, with guest stories by other creators in the Legends of the Guard anthologies.
One of the best all-ages comics ever. And by “all ages” I really do mean from 5 years old through 95 years old. And if you know any 105 year olds, I’d hand it to them too. Petersen’s art is gorgeous, and his stories impeccable in plot, character, and emotion. The mice of Mouse Guard are people, and they are also heroes and epic figures. Even if you’re not into the epic fantasy genre or talking animals, the characters are what make this series so compelling. See how all three mice above look totally different? How does he do it?! They are mice!
Petersen puts out books really slowly, though: so far since 2009, we have just Fall 1152 linked above, Winter 1152, and The Black Axe. You can supplement with the Legends of the Guard anthologies set in the same universe if you catch up and then get antsy waiting. You probably won’t love every story because that’s the nature of anthologies, and we didn’t much care for the third one overall, but there are some real gems.
The Nameless City by Faith Erin Hicks
Faith Erin Hicks has been one of my favorite comics creators for years, and I was excited to see her turn to a fantasy series. While I’m still not sure exactly how I feel about a white person writing a colonization story in an Asian-inspired historical setting, I did really like both lead characters and I found the plot compelling. Kaidu is an immigrant to the city, the son of a ranking official from the Dao ethnic group that’s the latest in a series of conquerors/rulers. Rat is a city native, quasi-homeless, and she has no love for the Dao. When a political conspiracy threatens the fragile not-fighting (is it really peace?), Kai and Rat must work together. Along the way, the story engages with militarism, war, power, culture clash, and more issues that may be familiar to adult readers, but aren’t a staple in kids’ comics. Definitely worth checking out.
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.
But my other favorite is…
Nathan Hale’s Hazardous Tales: The Underground Abductor by Nathan Hale
The story of Harriet Tubman, born enslaved, who would go on to lead numerous African-Americans to freedom – as well as serve as a spy against the Confederate Army. Hale isn’t afraid to use humor, and portray Tubman as a real person instead of an inaccessible icon. A real person who could totally kick your ass.
Hale doesn’t sugarcoat slavery for the sake of keeping the story light, which I totally respect. This was a great book in our house for building on picture books we’d read about slavery when my son was younger. I’m for any book that gets kids to joyfully celebrate heroes like Tubman.
We usually avoid wordless books for “reading” with kids because we’re lazy. But I broke my rule, and I’m glad I did. I saw Ojingogo described as a “dreamscape” somewhere and that feels about right to me. A girl and a squid have adventures with robots, walking cameras, strange creatures and animals, all rendered in delicate, detailed line drawings with some soft shading. Gorgeous book. My son comes back to it over and over, and gets more out of it every time.
May be a little bit too creepy for sensitive kids, but it’s perceived as whimsical in our house.
Operatic by Kyo Maclear
“It’s almost the end of middle school, and Charlie has to find her perfect song for a music class assignment. The class learns about a different style of music each day, from hip-hop to metal to disco, but it’s hard for Charlie to concentrate when she can’t stop noticing her classmate Emile, or wondering about Luka, who hasn’t been to school in weeks. On top of everything, she has been talked into participating in an end-of-year performance with her best friends.
Then, the class learns about opera, and Charlie discovers the music of Maria Callas. The more she learns about Maria’s life, the more Charlie admires her passion for singing and her ability to express herself fully through her music. Can Charlie follow the example of the ultimate diva, Maria Callas, when it comes to her own life?”
Over the Wall, by Peter Wartman.
A young girl lives outside a walled-up city. Boys go in as a rite of passage, but her brother didn’t come back out. She’s forgotten his name, but she’s determined not to lose him, even if it means fighting the magic inside the city with the help of a talking demon. The story is compelling, and the art is lovely. It’s amazing what Wartman can do with such a limited palette. We bought this for ourselves and really liked it, then handed it to my son and he was smitten too. I can’t wait for the sequel, which is being published first as a webcomic.
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.
Princess Princess Ever After by Katie O’Neill
Cuteness! Dragons and unicorns! Heroes with great hair! Girls falling in love! A fantasy story with diverse characters! First published online, this is a sweet little hardcover short graphic novel about two brave princesses who work together against evil and jealousy. Totally satisfying.
Princeless by Jeremy Whitley with art by M. Goodwin.
Princeless is the takedown of the sexism and racism in fantasy literature (and American culture) that you may have never known you wanted – but trust me, you need to read it! Princess Adrienne’s father locks her in a tower just like all her other sisters so that she can wait for a knight to kill the dragon outside and marry her. Unfortunately, the knights are prone to saying things like “fair maiden” which Adrienne points out loudly means WHITE maiden. Also they get flambeed and eaten. At some point it’s just too ridiculous and Adrienne takes matters into her own hands. She’s going to save herself and her sisters. (To be fair, her brother probably needs saving too, since his father berates him incessantly for not being “manly” enough.) Adrienne teams up with the dragon and the half-dwarf daughter of a blacksmith and the rest will become history.
There are six volumes of Princeless out so far, plus a collection of short stories. The separate series that spins off after the third book of Princeless, called Raven the Pirate Princess, is for a bit older crowd IMHO.
Queen of the Sea by Dylan Meconis
“When her sister seizes the throne, Queen Eleanor of Albion is banished to a tiny island off the coast of her kingdom, where the nuns of the convent spend their days peacefully praying, sewing, and gardening. But the island is also home to Margaret, a mysterious young orphan girl whose life is upturned when the cold, regal stranger arrives. As Margaret grows closer to Eleanor, she grapples with the revelation of the island’s sinister true purpose as well as the truth of her own past. When Eleanor’s life is threatened, Margaret is faced with a perilous choice between helping Eleanor and protecting herself. In a hybrid novel of fictionalized history, Dylan Meconis paints Margaret’s world in soft greens, grays, and reds, transporting readers to a quiet, windswept island at the heart of a treasonous royal plot.”
Robot City Adventures: City in Peril! by Paul Collicutt.
Giant sentient walking lighthouse defends the city against a sea monster? Sign me up! This is so warm and funny, and has such a retro feel, I had a great time reading it with my son. (My husband thought it was too cheesy, but good people can disagree.) If you’re a classic sci-fi fan or love the Transformers, this is a great pick.
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!
“Sanity Jones and Tallulah Vega are best friends on Wilnick, the dilapidated space station they call home at the end of the galaxy. So naturally, when gifted scientist Sanity uses her lab skills and energy allowance to create a definitely-illegal-but-impossibly-cute three-headed kitten, she has to show Tallulah.
But Princess, Sparkle, Destroyer of Worlds is a bit of a handful, and it isn’t long before the kitten escapes to wreak havoc on the space station. The girls will have to turn Wilnick upside down to find her, but not before causing the whole place to evacuate! Can they save their home before it’s too late?”
The Short Con by by Aleks Sennwald and Pete Toms
The setup of “kid detectives living in an orphanage” cannot begin to explain how fun this comic is. Mary Branwell, recently orphaned, is teamed up with Popowski, a hard-boiled homicide cop, to investigate the fire which killed Mary’s parents. Popowski’s dialogue is stellar. There are robot dogs. I wish, oh how I wish this was an ongoing series. But there is only one small volume, which you should buy, read, and cherish.
The Silver Six, by A.J. Lieberman and Darren Rawlings.
In a corporate-run future, six orphaned children of a group of genius scientists all find themselves in the same oppressive state-run orphanage. When they realize they all have matching documents giving them part ownership of a moon, they realize it’s time to escape and find out why their parents died.
There are a few harrowing moments in this one. The orphanage isn’t terribly scary, but there is an extremely sad scene when one of the children’s best friend, a robot, gives up his “life” so they can decode part of the mystery. Another character actually does give up his life to save them. Overall it’s a book about determination and finding friends so the sad parts don’t seem quite as bad. And it’s all okay in the end, of course!
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.
Snapdragon by Kat Leyh
“Snap’s town had a witch. At least, that’s how the rumor goes. But in reality, Jacks is just a crocks-wearing, internet-savvy old lady who sells roadkill skeletons online–after doing a little ritual to put their spirits to rest. It’s creepy, sure, but Snap thinks it’s kind of cool, too.
They make a deal: Jacks will teach Snap how to take care of the baby opossums that Snap rescued, and Snap will help Jacks with her work. But as Snap starts to get to know Jacks, she realizes that Jacks may in fact have real magic–and a connection with Snap’s family’s past.”
A variety of lovely queer rep, a fantastic girl protagonist, her mother is awesome, her dog is wonderful, and wow I JUST LOVED THIS!
The Space Battle Lunchtime duology by Natalie Riess
Fun graphic novel duology with a queer girl main character, about an intergalactic high-stakes cooking competition reality show. I’d felt lukewarm about the pitch for this because I’ve never really watched cooking shows, but I’m so glad I got over myself and gave it a shot. Peony, a baker from Earth, gets picked to compete in an elimination-style cooking program. The competition is much more brutal and backstabbing than she’d imagined, threatening not only her dreams for the prize but her budding romance with fellow chef Neptunia. Totally satisfying “underdog wins the day with help from her friends” story. My son (nine at the time) fell for this instantly. Can’t wait to see what Riess does next.
The Three Thieves series by Scott Chantler.
Super interesting fantasy adventure series with a kick-butt girl protagonist. Dessa is an acrobat in a show that travels the kingdoms. Its members make more money pickpocketing then entertaining at the castles and villages they visit. When her colleague proposes they rob the Queen’s treasure chamber, though, that takes things to a whole new level. And how is the mysterious man in uniform related to the disappearance of Dessa’s brother when she was a child? This is a darker and more powerful book than some fantasy romps, especially in the flashbacks to Dessa’s childhood. (My son is not easily scared, and we read it with him at four and five years old, no problem.) I loved the combination of adventure, political conspiracy, and friendship.
This series is complete in seven volumes.
Tom’s Midnight Garden by Philippa Pearce, adapted by Édith
Fascinating, magical graphic novel about a boy who’s sent to live with an aunt and uncle for the summer and discovers a portal to another time. Tom meets a little girl named Hatty in the garden he finds behind the old grandfather clock in the wall, and as he passes nights in her world, he starts to think he wants to stay there forever. What starts as an intriguing adventure becomes quite emotional, and this really reminded me of some favorite portal fantasy books I read in my childhood. If the kiddo in your life is sensitive to strong feelings, you might want to pre-read, but I can’t recommend this enough for its artistry and its deep respect for the emotional lives of children.
The Weirn Books by Svetlana Chmakova
“In the Night Realm, vampires, shifters, weirns, and other night things passing for human prowl the streets… but they still have to go to school! Ailis and Na’ya are pretty average students (NOT losers), but when a shadow starts looming and a classmate gets all weird, they are the first to notice. It gets personal, though, when Na’ya’s little brother D’esh disappears-It’s time to confront the secrets of the forbidden mansion in the Silent Woods!”
There seems to have been one Weirn Books series in some format, but we’re starting with the new series linked from and pictured here.
The Witch Boy by Molly Knox Ostertag, with additional color by Niki Smith, Barbara Geoghegan, and Shannon Murphy
Fairly straightforward but heartfelt tale about the toxicity of rigid gender roles, with lovely art because Molly Knox Ostertag is amazing. It’s the story of Aster, a boy growing up in a society where women do magic and men shapeshift, and that’s that. Except it isn’t, because Aster does magic and doesn’t shapeshift. What I particularly appreciated: (a) Aster’s confidence-building friendship with a girl outside his community who also doesn’t follow gender norms, (b) The diversity of skin color among the magical community, and (c) the magic system, because I would love to talk to a tree with a cool-looking symbol and have it give me an apple. The resolution with Aster’s parents was bittersweet but realistic given that they’re fundamentally good people but severely blindered by their culture. Hopefully every library in the entire country has this on the shelves, it’s both entertaining and sorely needed.
The Wizard’s Tale by Kurt Busiek and (gloriously) illustrated by David T. Wenzel.
Wonderfully whimsical fantasy tale about Bafflerog Rumplewhisker, an evil wizard who’s supposed to help maintain the darkness that blankets the land of Ever-Night. His heart’s just not in it, though. And when he’s sent on a quest for a spellbook that will cause darkness to reign forever? Is it his chance to finally live up to his evil ancestors’ famous achievements, or something more? A well-crafted blend of traditional fantasy elements with more humor and a modern spin.
Wondercat Kyuu-Chan by Sasami Nitori
“There’s more to this kitty than meets the eye! Kyuu-chan loves snacks, cuddles, and bow ties, but most of all loves Hinata, the young professional who adopted this mischievous wonder cat into his home.
As the two adjust to life together, they discover that they have a lot to learn from each other.
The ordinary and the extraordinary live side by side in this delightful slice-of-life manga!”
Witches of Brooklyn by Sophie Escabasse
“Could there really be witches in Brooklyn?!
Effie’s aunts are weird. Like, really WEIRD. Really, really, really WEIRD! The secretly-magic kind of weird and that makes Effie wonder . . . does this mean she can do magic, too?
Life in Brooklyn takes a strange twist for Effie as she learns more about her family and herself. With new friends who will do whatever they can to be there for her, a cursed pop-star, and her magically-inclined aunts–Effie’s life is about to get interesting.”
The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, adapted from Frank L. Baum’s novel by Eric Shanower and artist Skottie Young.
This is a gorgeous adaptation of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, published in 1900. There are some scary parts, or I would have put it in the Comics for Little Kids list. It has more depth and detail than the movie, and in my opinion a richer world and characters. It’s slower and talkier than many comics, so don’t bust it out when a kid’s been bouncing off the wall all day.
A Wrinkle In Time, adapted from Madeleine L’Engle’s novel by Hope Larson.
I always thought of A Wrinkle in Time as a book for older kids, since I remember reading it in junior high. Then I found out my son’s preschool teacher was reading it to the older kids in her class during afternoon quiet time, and they were digging it. They may not follow all the details, but honestly I was confused about the whole “tesseract” thing myself as a kid and I still loved the book. This adaptation by Larson is full of feeling and magic, and I totally recommend it whether you’ve read the novel or not.
And that’s the list of our favorite graphic novels and comics for kids!