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16 Graphic Novels That Teach

From history to science to different cultures, these graphic novels teach kids about a variety of topics.

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Your student isn’t reading books that are at or above his reading level. These were the words printed on my son’s report card last year, based on what the teacher gathered from his test scores. Though I continue to encourage him to select more challenging books that I know he is capable of reading, he loves graphic novels. Librarians have told me that graphic novels are a gateway to reading like nothing else, and can be a great teaching tool on a variety of topics, from history to science to different cultures. For kids who love complex stories and learning but balk at black-and-white pages of text, check out these books.

Human Body Theater

by Maris Wicks (First Second/Macmillan, 2015)

A favorite of librarians at the Denver Public Library, Human Body Theater features a skeleton that puts on a layer of her “costume” with each act, until she is a complete human body by the end of the play. Readers will learn about every biological system of the human body in a goofy, entertaining style. The author, who has a background as a science educator, describes the body in a way that is sure to spark a passion for science in many young students.

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Where’s Halmoni?

by Julie Kim (Little Bigfoot, 2017)

Young readers will learn about Korean culture and folklore in this combination picture book/graphic novel, named one of the Denver Public Library’s Best and Brightest Graphic Novels of 2017. Siblings Noona and Joon arrive at their grandmother’s house to find her missing, with a trail of paw prints leading to a door in the wall. The children soon find themselves in a world filled with Korean folktale characters. The book includes translations for Korean dialogue, information about the Korean folktale characters, and insight into the author’s cultural connections.

The Faithful Spy

by John Hendrix (Amulet Books, September 18, 2018)

Based on the true story of the German Lutheran pastor and theologian, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, this graphic novel offers a lesson to children about a little-known historical figure who stayed true to his beliefs. During a time when Adolf Hitler’s Nazi Party was gaining popularity and the church embraced Hitler’s agenda, Bonhoeffer resisted, based on the teachings of his faith. He was convinced that the Nazi Party needed to be stopped—even if he had to kill Hitler himself.

Action Presidents: George Washington

by Fred Van Lente; illustrated by Ryan Dunlavey (Harper Collins, 2018)

Many kids know that George Washington was the first president and an American Revolution hero, but do they know he didn’t want to be president? And that he hated to smile, because he had bad teeth? The first in the series, Action Presidents: George Washington intersperses historical facts with lesser-known details about the presidents, as well as jokes, in a format that will hold the attention of many reluctant readers. Look for Action Presidents: Abraham Lincoln, too.

Dinosaur Empire!

by Abby Howard (Amulet Books, 2017)

Ronnie needs to learn about dinosaurs—and fast—to retake a failed quiz. She meets a former paleontologist who invites her on a trip through time to the Mesozoic Era to meet dinosaurs face-to-face. The first in a series and recommended by librarians at the Denver Public Library, the book introduces and reinforces scientific concepts, complete with pronunciation guides, and a glossary. Readers can also check out book two in the series, Ocean Renegades! (August 14, 2018), in which Ronnie explores the oceans of the Paleozoic Era.

I Am Gandhi

by Brad Meltzer (Penguin Young Readers, 2018)

As a young man in India, Gandhi saw how people were treated unfairly, and decided to fight back through peaceful protest. His methods led a nonviolent revolution that freed his country from British rule and inspired civil rights movements all over the world. Author Brad Meltzer asked his friends in the comic book world to help him tell Gandhi’s true story in graphic novel form, and 25 illustrators helped with the project. They agreed to donate their work so their royalties can benefit Seeds of Peace, a nonprofit organization that inspires new generations of leaders.

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