10 Diverse Graphic Novels for Middle Schoolers

El Deafo by Cece Bell

El Deafo

Cece worries how the kids at her new school will react to her hearing aid. Will she be able to make any friends at all? But then she discovers that, with the Phonic Ear, she can hear her teacher anywhere in the school–even the bathroom! Does this mean she has superpowers? A lovable story featuring a smart and fearless heroine.

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Catherine’s War by Julia Billet, Claire Fauvel

Rachel Cohen is Jewish. As the Nazis occupy France, she must take on a new name and a new identity to survive. Now Catherine Colin, she travels across the country, always trying to stay one step ahead of those who would deport her. She takes with her a camera, hoping to create a chronicle of her journey for when the war ends. An intimate reflection on the desire to find safety, the feel at home, to make sense of an upside-down world.

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New Kid by Jerry Craft

Jordan Banks wants to attend art school, not the fancy prep school his mom is in love with. And he’s a little worried about the lack of diversity. It’s difficult to be the new kid in general, but Jordan also has to deal with stuff like the teacher never getting his name right and always looking at him when financial aid is discussed. He’s not sure he’ll ever fit in. Or that he can keep his old friends if he does. A compelling story about trying to navigate middle school that also teaches kids about microaggressions.

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When Stars Are Scattered by Victoria Jamieson and Omar Mohamed

Five years ago, Omar and his younger brother Hassan fled from Somalia to the refugee camp of Dadaab in Kenya. Now eleven, Omar has the chance to attend school. He could even learn English in anticipation of getting a visa for himself and Hassan to leave the camp and find a new home in another country. But can Omar leave his younger brother every day? And how do you hold onto hope when it seems no hope is left? When Stars Are Scattered draws attention to an important human rights issue while inspiring readers to take action and make a difference.

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The Tea Dragon Festival by Katie O’Neill

Tea Dragon Festival cover

Rinn dreams of becoming an apprentice cook but, for now, she is a gatherer.  Gathering is how she stumbles upon Aedhan, a dragon who was supposed to protect her village, but who fell asleep decades ago instead. Now Rinn must help Aedhan find his place in the community, while her uncle Erik and his partner Hesekiel search for the beast who caused Aedhan’s enchanted slumber.  A companion book to The Tea Dragon Society that features a same-sex couple as well as characters who use sign language.

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The Witch Boy by Molly Knox Ostertag

In Aster’s family, girls grow up to be witches and boys grow up to be shapeshifters. But Aster wants to be a witch, too, even if he has to keep spying on the girls’ lessons. Then the boys starts disappearing. Can Aster help find them with his witch powers? A fast-paced graphic novel with a sympathetic protagonist and a topical message. Readers who enjoy books on witches or books about finding one’s place in one’s family will enjoy this story.

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The Cardboard Kingdom by Chad Sell, et al.

Over the summer, sixteen kids will create a kingdom–and costumes–out of cardboard, making friends, dealing with family issues, and confronting their fears. In the Cardboard Kingdom, your imagination, and your friends, give you strength.

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The Okay Witch by Emma Steinkellner

The Okay Witch

When thirteen-year-old Moth Hush discovers that she comes from a line of witches, she is ecstatic. But her mom fears the town’s tradition of witch hunting and refuses to teach Moth how to use her powers. Can Moth prove that things have changed? Or is she better off hiding her magic from the world? Inspired by the Salem Witch Trials.

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Meg, Jo, Beth, and Amy: A Modern Retelling of Little Women by Rey Terciero (Author) and Bre Indigo (Illustrator)

Meg, Jo, Beth, and Amy is a Little Women updated for a modern audience.  This means not only setting the story in modern-day New York City and featuring the Marches as a blended family, but also espousing contemporary values.  Where Louisa May Alcott’s original novel may be said to have promoted virtues such as humility, hard work, and cheerfulness, Rey Terciero’s re-imagining promotes values of inclusion, diversity, and feminism.  In many ways, this feels like the Little Women many readers have wanted all along.

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Stargazing by Jen Wang

Stargazing cover

Christine is not so sure about the new girl, Moon, when she first moves in next door. But Moon turns out to be undeniably cool, and just a little bit of a rebel–at least as far as Christine’s family is concerned. Moon reveals that she sometimes has visions of celestial beings, who assure her that her real home is far from Earth. But Moon’s erratic behavior begins to scare Christine. And when Moon needs her most, Christine might not be around. A sensitive reflection on finding one’s place in the world, not just by growing up, but also by discovering what it means to share a cultural identity as Chinese Americans.

11 thoughts on “10 Diverse Graphic Novels for Middle Schoolers

  1. Never Not Reading says:

    Great list! I *love* El Deafo in particular, just the right blend of humor and seriousness. I would add to this list “Pashmina”, which is about a girl from an Indian-immigrant family who finds her mom’s magical Pashmina scarf that transports her to India when she wears it. It’s more YA, but I think it would be accessible to middle schoolers.


    • Krysta says:

      The Tea Dragon books are so inclusive and adorable and generally amazing! I can’t wait for the latest! Also, I really, really want to try the card game one day!

      I haven’t seen anyone else mention Catherine’s War, but it is a translation and I think non-U.S. books sometimes get overlooked. 😦


  2. Jackie B @ Death by Tsundoku says:

    Thank you for sharing this list! I love MG graphic novels — they have grown so much in the last decade. I find them one of the most diverse spaces in literature right now, as well. Almost all of these are on my TBR. The only new one to me is Cardboard Kingdom. The art doesn’t particularly appeal to me… but that doesn’t mean I shouldn’t give it a try.

    I’m super excited to see Catherine’s War here. I have a TBR of Jewish graphic novels including this. I find most children’s books with Jewish characters are published internationally. I’d also add Hereville: How Mirka Got Her Sword about an Orthodox Jewish girl who has fantasy adventures. It’s a really good look at how Orthodoxy works in a respectful, open way. I find a lot about Orthodoxy, regardless of religious denomination, is often negative. It’s not all bad!


    • Krysta says:

      Yes! MG graphic novels have seen such a renaissance in the past decade or so! It’s wonderful and amazing! They’re definitely some of my favorite books to read.

      I don’t recall The Cardboard Kingdom very well since I read it awhile ago, but I think part of its appeal was supposed to be multiple authors, meaning different art styles throughout the book.

      I hadn’t heard of Hereville! I will have to see if the library has a copy!

      Liked by 1 person

      • Jackie B @ Death by Tsundoku says:

        The exchange of different art styles is something hit or miss with me. You think I’d be used to it as a comic book reader, but I think it’s one of the reasons I stopped reading comics in individual issues. I now struggle when the same characters look different issue after issue… But, still. If I know what to expect going into this story, I’ll probably still enjoy it. Thanks for the heads up!


        • Krysta says:

          Yes, I often am disappointed when I am used to a certain artist and then the style changes and the character looks different! For instance, I loved the original iteration of Squirrel Girl with Erica Henderson as artist. Other artists tend to make Squirrel Girl thinner and “sexier.” Ugh.

          Liked by 1 person

          • Jackie B @ Death by Tsundoku says:

            Ugh indeed. Can’t we have average looking female superheros? Why do they all have to be sex and skinny? Plus, Squirrel Girl is just that — a *girl*. I don’t like it when we sexualize under age kids like that… It… creeps me out.


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