Growing Reader


10 Next Reads for Kids Who Love Raina Telgemeier

by Olugbemisola Rhuday-Perkovich

On a recent bookshop visit with a friend and her very cute niece, said niece was angling hard for an innocuous-looking illustrated novel. “Eh, this looks okay, but why don’t you get a real book?” said my friend. After a little more back and forth, her response to her niece’s request became a hard “No.” A thicker, text-only book was the only way to go — she wanted her niece to “challenge” herself.

I’ve been there. I’ve felt the fear that my child might not absorb enough SAT vocabulary words to get through life, that one comic book could lead her down a path of ruin and unemployment. I understand the embarrassment that is watching your second grader’s copy of Geronimo Stilton slip out of her backpack as her classmate’s mom tells you that her Little Genius Reader is chilling with the annotated Anna Karenina.

But here’s the thing I’ve learned: Comic books, illustrated stories, graphic novels — these are real books. Beautifully real. As complicated and nuanced and rich with narrative as any fat book with a tiny font. And as a longtime literacy instructor, I know that a graphic novels provide a wonderful tool for helping young readers learn how to make inferences from literature and extract meaning from a variety of different types of texts. “A graphic novel like The Arrival, with a narrative deepened through visual art,” says librarian and author Jesse Karp, “creates a layered experience that affords the opportunity to expand the emotional understanding of the subject and inspire empathy.” Plus, kids LOVE them. Graphic novels are a popular pleasure read, and what better way to promote literacy, engage children in reading, and boost reading skills than by encouraging reading for pleasure?

One of today’s most popular authors of illustrated novels is Raina Telgemeier. Telgemeier exploded onto the middle grade scene with the semi-autobiographical and wildly popular Smile, and released the companion graphic novel Sisters soon after. Smile won a Boston Globe-Horn Book honor, the first graphic novel to do so, and Telgemeier’s 2012 Drama was the winner of a Stonewall Book Award Honor from the American Library Association. And, as one frequent 5th grade patron of a NYC school library recently told me, “Her books are just … funny and real.”

If, like many, your Telgemeier fan has devoured her realistic, funny, and vivid tales multiple times, here are a few other titles that they might enjoy:

  • Roller Girl

    by Victoria Jamieson

    Astrid fears the loss of her best friend Nicole as divergent interests separate them for the summer. She’s also excited about the prospect of learning roller derby, but the sport, like life, is not as smooth sailing as it looks. Fans of Telgemeier’s Smile will devour this Newbery Honor-winning friendship tale that explores the pain and joys of approaching adolescence.

  • All’s Faire in Middle School

    by Victoria Jamieson

    After finishing Roller Girl, kids should also check out Jamieson’s new graphic novel starring a girl who has grown up in a Renaissance Faire-working family. When Imogene, a.k.a. “Impy,” bravely tells her parents she wants to attend a public school instead of continuing to be homeschooled, she quickly discovers that navigating the tween social scene can be tough and begins to worry that she’s changing who she is in order to blend in. Set at both the Ren Faire and Impy’s school, plus everywhere in between, All’s Faire in Middle School is a sweet, quirky, and authentic story about growing up.

  • Akissi

    by Marguerite Abouet, illustrated by Mathieu Sapin

    Akissi is feisty, mischievous, and smart — in other words, she’s a blast to be with. As Akissi battles neighborhood cats, an older brother, and adult rules, she makes this collection of stories hilarious, relatable, and infectious. Literally so — a tapeworm-themed tale is not for the faint of heart (stomach!).

    Fans of Telgemeier’s Drama might enjoy Abouet’s slightly older YA graphic novel series Aya, featuring the 19-year-old heroine of the title. Buoyed by Marguerite Abouet’s vibrant storytelling and humor, plus joyous art from Clément Oubrerie, the Aya books offer a positive and relatable portrayal of Ivory Coast in the 1970s.

  • Hilo Series

    by Judd Winick

    Described as “Calvin and Hobbes meets Big Nate,” this upbeat series pairs a boy who might not quite fit in with an alien robot who definitely doesn’t for funny and fast-paced adventures. Winick, who spent years writing superhero comic books and was inspired by Jeff Smith’s Bone series, puts a sci-fi twist on a well-loved idea, creating relatable heroes and thrill-ride plots that the whole family can enjoy. “I wanted it to feel like a Pixar movie, like the great Disney movies that don't necessarily feel like they're only for kids,” Winick told Newsarama. “I wanted them to feel like they're for everybody and not dumbed down, that have a sense of story.”

  • Lucy & Andy Neanderthal Series

    by Jeffrey Brown

    Fans of the Jedi Academy series probably won’t be surprised by how easily Brown travels back in time, taking his fans into the Stone Age. Readers meet Lucy and Andy, who are Neanderthal siblings who lived 40,000 years ago — and have some of the same escapades that today’s tweens experience, like baby siblings who won’t stay put and teens who think they’re the boss of everyone.

    Science lovers will enjoy the pre-historic facts peppered throughout the stories, and all readers will have fun as they learn quite a bit about actual Neanderthal living. (Check out the lastest installment in the series: Lucy & Andy Neanderthal: Bad to the Bones!)

  • Funny Girl: Funniest. Stories. Ever.

    edited by Betsy Bird

    With a lineup like Rita Williams-Garcia, Lenore Look, Libba Bray, Cece Bell, Mitali Perkins, Ms. Telgemeier herself, and more, you already know this anthology is golden. From the awkward moments of puberty to just the random cringe-worthiness of daily life, Funny Girl offers up all kinds of laughs with a healthy dose of respect for its readers. While not solely made up of illustrated pieces, this collection of comics, essays, short stories, poems, and jokes is a vibrant and full-bodied package of humor and heart.

  • The First Rule of Punk

    by Celia C. Pérez

    Twelve-year-old Malú knows there’s one rule of punk: be yourself. That can be a lot easier said than done, though, as she learns on her first day at a new school when she manages to break the dress code, attract the ire of the most popular girl, and seriously bum out her mom. Assembled with striking black-and-white illustrations and tactile collages, this is the perfect book for the reader who likes to go against the grain.

  • Inkling

    by Kenneth Oppel, illustrated by Sydney Smith

    In the Rylance household, things are a bit off. Mr. Rylance has writer’s block, Ethan’s stressed about a school project, and Sarah wants a puppy so much she can’t stand it. One night, Mr. Rylance’s drawings come to life in the form of Inkling, who’s just the pick-me-up they all need. Everything’s turning around — but when Inkling goes missing, the family has to reconsider what they really want out of life. Paired with vibrant illustrations, Inkling is full of heart.

  • Nightlights

    by Lorena Alvarez

    Every night when the world falls asleep, Sandy creates fantastical creatures out of the tiny stars that appear before her — and in the morning, she recaptures them in exquisite drawings. Then one day at school, a new girl arrives who somehow knows all about Sandy’s artwork. A wonderous story about creativity and self-doubt centered around a charming heroine, this oversized graphic novel is a sight to behold.

  • Fangbone! Third-Grade Barbarians

    by Michael Rex

    What happens when a barbarian warrior from another world enrolls in elementary school? Shenanigans ensue, of course. Fangbone has an important assignment: to keep a serious weapon away from Skullbania’s number one villain. But he also has third-grade burdens to triumph over (what sort of criminal invented pop quizzes?). The first in a series that will have young readers heaving with laughter, it’s a top-notch follow-up for your Telgemeier fan.