By Katherine Handcock, A Mighty Girl Communications Specialist
While many people think of graphic novels as "just comic books", the truth is that a good graphic novel doesn't simplify a story: instead, it amplifies it, drawing out details and adding emotional weight. For young or reluctant readers, in particular, a graphic novel format makes it easier to understand more complex stories. In fact, we'd argue that high-quality graphic novels are a key part of any library!
With that in mind, we're showcasing a selection of high quality graphic novels starring Mighty Girls — and since there are so many good titles out there, we are sharing them in a series, not a single post! In this blog post, we're featuring graphic novels for children that are grounded in real life. While some of these titles are non-fiction and explore moments in history or role models of the past, others are fictional stories that capture what it's like to be a girl growing up in today's world. No matter which one you choose, young readers will see that there are plenty of amazing stories within the everyday world.
And stay tuned for future blog posts, where we'll share graphic novels for young readers that are set in fantasy worlds, as well as more challenging graphic novel titles suitable for teens! In the meantime, you can browse our entire collection of over 100 graphic novels starring girls and women in our special feature on the Top Graphic Novels Starring Mighty Girls.
In this gentle historical fiction graphic novel, Dounia, now a grandmother, tells her granddaughter about her life in Paris during the Nazi occupation. The story begins with seemingly little hurts, like being ostracized by former friends and being forced to wear the yellow star. But when police break into her home, her parents hide her behind a secret panel to keep her from being arrested along with them. Thus began her hidden life, as friends and neighbors risked their lives to keep her safe from the concentration camps. This tender story teaches young readers Holocaust history in an age-appropriate way, and celebrates the role that a grandparent can play in opening a child’s mind to the wider world.
9-year-old Amelia is adjusting to life in a small town after she moves out of New York City following her parents' divorce. She’s dealing with gym class, her first kiss, bullies, and more, but there are a lot of people in her corner, including her mom, her aunt the ex-rock star, and her friends. They don’t make the world any less crazy, but at least they make sure she’s got a soft spot to land! This Eisner Award-nominated series is sure to be relatable to any young reader who feels like life doesn’t always make sense. Fans of Amelia can follow her continuing adventures in the sequels, including Amelia Rules: What Makes You Happy? and Amelia Rules: Superheroes.
As the battles of the 2003 war in Iraq draw near, librarian Alia Muhammad Baker fears for the irreplaceable books and documents of the Basra Library, which represent the history and culture of her country. The library is being used as a shield by city and military officials, putting the country at risk of losing its recorded memory. So Alia begins bringing home a few books at a time – stuffed in her purse, hidden under her shawl, wherever she can fit them. First her home, then the homes of her neighbors and friends, become repositories for her precious rescued books – all in hopes of rebuilding the library when peace finally comes. This stunning graphic novel hails a little-known heroine of Iraq’s modern history, and also provides an excellent starting point for a discussion about history and the need to protect it.
When Bessie’s dreams of flight were grounded by US flight schools that wouldn’t admit a black woman, she wouldn’t let that stop her! She taught herself French and, in 1920, traveled to France to get her international pilot’s license, then returned to America to wow the crowds with her stunt flying. This graphic biography is a great way to introduce kids to Coleman’s story, and the graphic format makes it more accessible to reluctant readers. Readers can also check out books featuring other women of history from the Graphic Library series, including Harriet Tubman, the famous Underground Railroad conductor; Rosa Parks, the Civil Rights hero; Hedy Lamarr, the actress and inventor; and Madam C.J. Walker, entrepreneur and first self-made female millionaire.
Siena was six when she first started dreaming of being a dancer – a real dancer, like the ones on stage. This beautiful graphic novel follows Siena from her first dance lessons in Puerto Rico, to New York and the School of American Ballet, and finally to her choices about a dance career. Along the way, she also has to deal with her parents’ separation and divorce, the inevitable foot pain and leg injuries that come with intense training, and questions about whether dance will really fulfill her forever, but she also experiences incredible joys: dancing with the New York City Ballet, and working with her idol, ballet master George Balanchine. For any lover of the arts, this graphic novel provides a remarkable window into a ballerina’s world.
Emmie is quiet, artistic, shy, and self-conscious — and feels practically invisible in the halls of her middle school. Katie, on the other hand, is outgoing, athletic, and confident. When the sappy love note Emmie wrote to a crush as a joke is made public by a bully, she's humiliated; but to Emmie's surprise, Katie comes to her defense. Soon Katie is urging Emmie to finally make her voice be heard — and a surprising twist reveals that the two girls have more in common than anyone imagined. This empowering graphic novel carries a powerful message about facing down embarrassment and standing up for yourself. You can find companion graphic novels featuring some of Emmie's friends and classmates in the best-selling Emmie and Friends series; the first two books from the series are collected in the Adventures in Middle School set.
After a childhood illness, young CeCe experiences hearing loss that leaves her dependent on hearing aids and lip reading to understand the people around her. At first, fitting in with her peers is challenging as she has to wear a bulky hearing apparatus – the "Phonic Ear" – to understand her teachers and her fellow students don't quite know how to interact with her. Everything changes, however, when she discovers that the Phonic Ear gives her a superpower of – she can hear the teachers talking all the way in the teachers' lounge! As CeCe begins to embrace her alter ego, "El Deafo, Listener for All," she comes to realize that what makes her different might just be what she needs to find her place and a much longed-for friend. Based on Bell’s real-life experiences as a hard of hearing child, this 2015 Newbery Honor and Eisner Award-winning graphic novel is a great way to encourage empathy with those who perceive the world in different ways.
Fans of Ann M. Martin’s long-running series will love these graphic novel editions which have recently been republished in full color. When Kristy has the idea to create a club of baby-sitters to get more baby-sitting jobs, she enlists her two friends Mary Anne and Claudia, and new arrival Stacey. No new business goes smoothly, but with friendship to see them through, the baby-sitters will create something extra-special! Telgemeier’s dynamic illustrations bring Martin’s characters to life brilliantly. Fans of this volume can also get full-color editions of the other books in this new illustrated series: The Truth About Stacey, Mary Anne Saves The Day, and Claudia and Mean Janine.
When Astrid discovers a new passion, she suddenly realizes that her best friend Nicole may not be willing to follow her everywhere: instead of joining Astrid at roller derby camp, Nicole signs up for dance camp instead! The summer is hard enough without her friend by her side, and gets harder when Astrid discovers that roller derby is hard work. The older girls aren’t inclined to go easy on the newbies, and Astrid feels like everything is going wrong. But her first bout might just turn things around – and not just in the roller derby rink. This fun and heartfelt graphic novel, written by a real-life derby girl, is sure to delight kids who have discovered new interests as they grow older.
It’s 1976, and instead of spending the summer with her friends, 10-year-old Sunny has been banished to her grandfather’s retirement community in Florida while her parents struggle to get her brother’s drug and alcohol problems under control. Sunny isn’t thrilled to be spending months in Pine Palms, but as time goes on, she develops a closer relationship with her grandfather, meets a new friend, and discovers a new art form: comic books! This funny but heartfelt graphic novel tackles the issue of addiction and how it affects a family with sensitivity, and anyone who’s found refuge in a good comic will recognize the power of Sunny’s discovery.
Helene is struggling after being suddenly ostracized by her former friends, who now murmur insults and lies behind her back. To escape, Helene plunges into Jane Eyre — but a fictional character is no help when she finds herself humiliated and alone on a school trip. The sighting of a beautiful fox lifts Helene’s spirits temporarily, until another girl chases it away. Then a new girl, Geraldine, arrives in the outcasts’ circle, seemingly unconcerned about the social danger. Soon, Helene realizes that the less time she spends worrying about what the other girls think of her, the more she is able to see that there’s nothing wrong with her at all. This honest and stunning graphic novel reminds kids that connecting with someone — human, fox, or fictional character — can give you the strength to make it through anything.
Before Helen Keller could become a role model for the capabilities of people with disabilities, she needed a remarkable and determined teacher. When Annie meets Helen, she is six years old and nearly uncontrollable, trapped in a world of silence and darkness. Despite the frustration of both teacher and student, Annie finally breaks through the barriers separating Helen from the world. This graphic novel captures the intense emotional bond between this remarkable pair, giving new depth to this inspiring story.
In this coming-of-age graphic novel from Hope Larson, 13-year-old Bina has one more summer before eighth grade, and it's going to be a tough one: her best friend Austin usually sets their course but he's away at soccer camp (and he hasn't been acting himself anyway.) Without Austin, Bina discovers a passion for the guitar and makes some new friends — including Austin's older sister, who loves music too. But when Austin comes home, Bina will need to find a way to establish her own identity but reconcile their differences so their friendship can survive. In a summer where Bina's mom observes she's "becoming more you every day," a lot can change, but that makes old friendships all the sweeter.
Vera is desperate to fit in with her suburbian friends — but for a Russian immigrant with a single mother, that's not easy. The other girls in the neighborhood all go to summer camp, so when she finds out that her family's church will help pay for a Russian Orthodox camp, she convinces her mother to let her go. The reality of camp, though — complete with Russian history lessons, stinky outhouses, and peer drama — isn't quite what she imagined! Fortunately, with time, Vera achieves some real triumphs. Author / illustrator Vera Brosgol deftly combines emotional honesty and belly laughs in this autobiographical graphic novel.
Peppi Torres knows that the two cardinal rules of school are 1) don’t get noticed by the mean kids and 2) seek out groups with similar interests and join them. But on her first day, she trips into quiet Jaime, and immediately starts getting teased as the “nerder girlfriend”! Peppi doesn’t handle the moment well, and even as she finds friends in the art club, she’s ashamed about how she treated Jaime. But then she learns that the art club’s archrivals, the science club, are ready to battle it out — and that Jaime is one of them! At its core, this newly released graphic novel teaches an important lesson about the value of kindness, while chronicling some of the challenges encountered by middle school students in their world of rapidly changing social relations.
This exhaustive, illustrated biography tells the whole story of inspirational Mighty Girl Anne Frank, from the lives of her parents, to her childhood in Frankfurt and then in Amsterdam, and finally to occupation and Anne’s years in the Secret Annex. The biography also covers Otto Frank’s return to Amsterdam and the story of the publication – and remarkable public reception – of Anne’s diary. This unique look at Anne and her writing makes this piece of history come to life for middle readers.
Lily Renee Wilhelm was 14 years old when the Nazis marched into Austria, and her life was changed forever. Terrified of what Nazi rule means, Lily Renee’s parents send her to England alone, to wait until they can join her. Lily struggles to learn a new language and takes what work she can find until she receives words from her parents, who have made their way to America, and overcomes unexpected obstacles in order to join them. After responding to a newspaper ad, Lily finds an unexpected career as a comic illustrator – and becomes a pioneer for women in the comic industry. Kids will be fascinated by this true tale, which proves that truth – complete with daring escapes and false accusations of spying – is stranger than fiction.
Additional Recommended Resources
- For more Mighty Girl graphic novels for children and teens, check out our entire collection of the Top Graphic Novels Starring Mighty Girls.
- For more books exploring the near or distant past, visit our History & Biography section.
- For novels set in a real-world environment, visit our Realistic Fiction section .