Finding reading material for kids in the middle grades can be tough, especially when those kids are resistant to reading in the first place. Luckily graphic novels can be a wonderful bridge from picture books to chapter books, and there are a multitude of high-quality offerings for kids in the third through sixth grades. Below are some of our favorites; the humor and outside-the-box style of these gems should entice suspicious youngsters to keep turning pages under the covers long after lights-out!
The Adventures of Tintin series by Hergé – grades 3 and up
These classic books are beloved around the world. Kids will love reading about reporter Tintin’s madcap adventures, which are infused with elements of humor, mystery, fantasy, science fiction, and political intrigue. There are quite a few to choose from, too, so get your student hooked and you won’t have to worry about what she should read next for months. Don’t forget that there is a Tintin movie as well, which would work well as incentive for reading a Tintin book or as a way to whet kids’ appetites before they crack open the paper version.
Akiko series by Mark Crilley – grades 3 and up
Students with an interest in manga will enjoy this series, which is reminiscent of the wildly popular Japanese genre. The books tell about the adventures of ten-year-old Akiko, who dashes around this world and other worlds in a series of adventure stories.
Meanwhile by Jason Shiga – grades 3 and up
Remember Choose Your Own Adventure books? This graphic novel is like that, only better. On the first page, our hero Jimmy must make the seemingly simple decision of whether to have chocolate or vanilla ice cream, kicking off a series of further decisions with different outcomes. How many? The book claims to contain 3,856 possible plotlines! Meanwhile is non-traditional even by graphic novel standards, and may be unique enough to tempt even the most reluctant of readers.
Smile by Raina Telgemeier – grades 3 and up
Unlike many graphic novels, this one is geared toward girls. Sixth grader Raina thinks the prospect of getting braces is bad enough, but when she trips and injures her two front teeth, the series of unpleasant medical treatments, painful surgeries, and embarrassing orthodontia that follows makes plain old braces seem downright appealing. In the background of Raina’s medical drama are crushes, complications with friends, and a major earthquake, making for a fast-paced, rich story. This book serves up a lot of realistic issues in a light-hearted, often humorous format and will be enormously appealing to girls. Smile is not part of a series, but fans will want to check out author Telgemeier’s other, similar offerings.
Wonderstruck by Brian Selznick – grades 4 and up
If you’ve heard of Selznick, it’s probably because of his sensational first book The Invention of Hugo Cabret, an enormous tome filled with complex, mesmerizing art that helps to tell a rich story. Wonderstruck follows the same format, this time chronicling the adventures of friends Ben and Rose as they set out to find the pieces they feel are missing from their lives. Artistic children in particular will be spellbound by Wonderstruck.
Calvin and Hobbes series by Bill Watterson – grades 5 and up
OK, these books aren’t exactly graphic novels, but to call them “comic books” is to sell the series short. Calvin and Hobbes is chock full of sophisticated vocabulary and philosophical quandaries, blended so seamlessly with space adventures, snowball fights, and schoolroom shenanigans that kids won’t know they’re learning. Some of the humor in these strips may be a bit much for younger kids (how many fifth graders are going to double over laughing when Calvin polls “household six-year-olds” to present his father with approval ratings?) but they’ll appreciate a lot of Calvin’s antics.