Graphic novels are great for reluctant readers and are helpful for those struggling to read. Many people dismiss graphic novels as comic books, but graphic novels are different from comics and offer much more.

What’s the difference? A graphic novel is longer than a comic book and contains complete narratives, meaning many graphic novels continue the story over a series of books, such as in March by Congressman John Lewis. Comic books, on the other hand, have excerpts of narratives usually appearing in intervals. Because of graphic novels longer format, this style has been a great way to illustrate many misunderstood classic literature. This form of writing and illustration can help tell stories in a whole new way, providing visual clues and expressions that many readers may miss reading text alone. The expansion of graphic novels in current years has introduced new stories and illustration styles that have pushed the format forward and into the hearts of once reluctant readers. Here Northern Onondaga Public Library’s North Syracuse Children’s Librarian talks about her most recommended graphic novels for all ages.


By Sarah Heukrath

For one thing, a lot of classics have been getting the graphic novel treatment. I love and appreciate the classics now, but as a kid and teen, I hated them. I was forced to read them in school and barely understood what was going on! (I hope my high school English teacher isn’t reading this!) Today, with the help of the graphic novel format, many can bridge the gap and understand.

Hamlet Cover Illustration of Hamlet holding up a sword to his face. It divides his face, on one side its a dark, gray, and blue with a skull shadow on the other bright orange as in the hell's flames.

For example, let us look at William Shakespeare. Many (if not all) of Shakespeare’s books have been remade into graphic novels. There is one excellent graphic novel version of Hamlet that I particularly enjoyed; it was adapted by Malini Roy and illustrated by Naresh Kumar. Roy and Kumar do an excellent job making Hamlet more interesting but keep true to Shakespeare’s original tragedy. Seeing the character’s facial expressions helps make the story more understandable. This version is available at the Cicero and North Syracuse branches, or you can request a hold via the catalog.

Another classic graphic novel I love is Frankenstein adapted and illustrated by Junji Ito. Ito’s illustrations of the monster are horrifying, and I love them! The black and white illustrations offer the perfect atmosphere for any horror fan. Ito does an amazing job, just trust me on this. I will note since this is Manga-style it is meant to be read backward, which can be a little confusing. This version is available at all three NOPL branches.


A book I struggled with in English class and hated was The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde. There are not enough words in the English language to describe how I loathed this book. I had no idea what the book was about until I recently read the graphic novel, and it cleared things up for me. I wish I had this book when I was in school! The version I read was adapted by Daniel Connor and illustrated by Chris Allen. When reading the graphic novel, I discovered this book was a creepy tale about vanity, murder, and a mysterious, seemingly magical portrait. The illustrations of the portrait are super creepy as the character Dorian Gray became more and more corrupted. This book is available on Hoopla.

Graphic novels aren’t just about the classics or just about superheroes; there are so many hidden gems! Although I do love superhero graphic novels. I want to give a special shout out to the Squirrel Girl graphic novels by Ryan North. If you have not yet read the Squirrel Girl graphic novels, you should check them out! She is an underrated superhero, and during these trying times, people could use some of her humor. The series never fails to make me laugh.

Raina Telgemeier is probably one of the most popular graphic novel authors we have. Her books are full of humor and real-life situations. Many of the scenarios are based on her childhood, which I think, is why the books are so excellent.

When I was reading Sisters many moments made me think of my big sister, like the Punch Bug scene! And who could forget the McDonald’s/Taco Bell/Burger King fights. (For my sister and me it was McDonald’s vs. Taco Bell.  My mom, the diplomat, would get me McDonald’s at the drive-thru, and then we would take it into Taco Bell. My sister was always mortified.) Anyone with a sibling can relate to this book. Or anyone who has had fast food drama and fought over which place to go would love this book! All of Telgemeier’s books are available at all three NOPL branches and within Overdrive; this includes her amazing illustrations for the graphic novel versions of The Baby-Sitters Club.

I love El Deafo by Cece Bell. This book is a graphic novel based on Bell’s childhood with a bit of a twist. It starts with young Cece having trouble hearing. She goes to the doctor to get a hearing aid- a giant hearing aid that straps to her chest. When she starts a new school, this makes her nervous, but then she makes a discovery, her hearing aid gives her the power to hear more than the teacher in the classroom abut the teachers in the hallway, the lounge, etc.! What will Cece do with her newfound powers? Will she make friends at her new school? Borrow it from the library, Hoopla, or Overdrive today and find out!

The New Kid by Jerry Craft is the first graphic novel to win the Newberry Award. The Newberry Award is an annual award given to “the author of the most distinguished contribution to American literature for children.” New Kid is an amazing and realistic book. Jordan is attending a prestigious private school where he is one of the few POC. Growing up white, being a minority, is something I never thought of. I think books like this are important because they show how your language and actions could hurt others and be racist. New Kid is available at all NOPL libraries and on Hoopla and Overdrive.

Finally, I would like to mention March (Book 1, 2, and 3) by Congressman John Lewis. The books are about the Civil Rights movement. These moving graphic novels are great for teens and adults who want to learn about this critical moment in history that is still going on today. March books 1-3 are available at the Cicero and North Syracuse branches. They can also be borrowed from Hoopla and Overdrive.

Graphic novels are books too, and many of them are quite amazing. At any age give them a chance. You just may discover your most disliked high school read was just misunderstood, or you may see a reluctant reader become engaged. Just as one book isn’t made for everyone neither is one way to tell a story on paper.


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