A guide to great slice-of-life graphic novels for young readers
Kids these days hear a lot about superheroes, but what really moves them are comics about their everyday lives. Here is a guide to six of our favorites, from Raina Telgemeier to Svetlana Chmakova.
Even now, when most people hear about "comic books," they probably picture superheroes. After U.S. congressional hearings in the '50s crippled horror publishers like EC Comics, superheroes came to dominate the medium, and these days they're everywhere. Wherever you look in pop culture you see movies, live-action TV shows, cartoons, and video games based on superhero comics, not to mention plenty of actual books getting published every month by Marvel, DC, and others.
But there's more to the medium than capes and tights, and lately young readers have especially been responding to comics and graphic novels about everyday life. We've assembled a list of six of our favorites here. Whether you're a parent looking for age-friendly books your kids could respond to, or a young reader yourself on the lookout for relatable art, these graphic novels make for great reads.
Smile by Raina Telgemeier
Raina Telgemeier is one of the masters of slice-of-life comics; she often occupies multiple spots on the New York Times graphic novel bestseller list. Smile, about her own childhood experience with braces, is a standout example of the form, as are her other books Guts and Sisters.
Stepping Stones by Lucy Knisley
Making new friends is one thing, but getting used to new family members can be even harder. Lucy Knisley's Stepping Stones, published just last year, can help kids learn to deal with parents divorcing and embarking on new relationships that bring in step-siblings.
The Magic Fish by Trung Le Nguyen
Trung Le Nguyen's beautiful debut graphic novel invokes fairy tales, yes, but it's in service of a realistic story. The protagonist, Tiến, is a first-generation Vietnamese-American who mostly speaks English, while his immigrant mother still mostly speaks Vietnamese. The way they communicate to each other is through reading fairy tales. She uses the stories to tell him about her experience as a refugee and how much she misses her own parents, while he uses them to communicate the truth about his burgeoning sexuality.
New Kid by Jerry Craft
It's never easy being the new kid at school, but at least New Kid protagonist Jordan Banks has his art skills to help him navigate his prestigious private school and the many rich kids who surround him now. Author Jerry Craft is particularly inventive with making Jordan's doodles a key part of the storytelling.
Brave by Svetlana Chmakova
Svetlana Chmakova's whole Berrybrook Middle School trilogy (which also encompasses the graphic novels Awkward and Crush) is a great illustration of modern school life, but Brave in particular is a standout story about how to get along when you don't make friends easily.
Twins by Varian Johnson & Shannon Wright
As the title suggests, Twins is about a pair of nearly-identical sisters. But its story about learning how to maintain a healthy relationship with siblings as you grow older and pursue different interests should be relevant to anyone who has experienced that.
This story originally appeared in the April 2020 issue of Entertainment Weekly. It looked a little different there, though. Below, you can see artist Sam Island's version of this story as a slice-of-life comic in and of itself, featuring a cartoonified version of your trusty EW writer here: