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Recommended Resources: Captivating Comic Books for English Learners

February 7, 2014

Bone

In my last post, How Comic Books Can Give Your Kids Bilingual Super Powers, I shared both anecdotal stories and hard research which point to the use of comic books as a highly effective resource for nurturing language development and a love of literacy.

If English is your minority language—or English might be in your children’s future at some point—the graphic novels (book-length comics) I recommend in this follow-up post may be of interest to you and your kids.

This list isn’t meant to be exhaustive—it’s simply a round-up of the better titles I’ve come across to date in using comic books as a key resource with my kids and students.

For many more suggestions, I highly recommend the book A Parent’s Guide to the Best Kids’ Comics; the lengthy list of graphic novels offered by the American Library Association; and the review websites No Flying No Tights and Comics Worth Reading.

I use this book and these sites for ideas, then move to amazon to study reviews and peek at the pages for a sense of the reading level.

Less-challenging books

If you browse the resources I mention above, you’ll find plenty of possibilities at this level (and lower). My suggestions here are a bit thin because I didn’t begin actively using comic books with my kids until they were already at a somewhat higher reading level.

Less-challenging books

Gabby & Gator by James Burks
A cute, funny story about a little girl and her alligator pal. Lively illustrations, and a limited amount of text, make this large-format book appealing to younger kids.

Bird & Squirrel on the Run! by James Burks
Another fun, madcap adventure from the author of Gabby & Gator, with a spirited bird and nervous squirrel heading south for the winter. (Watch out for the monstrous cat!) More text this time, but only in small chunks.

Magic Trixie by Jill Thompson
A sweet, quirky tale about a little witch and her monster-friends. Colorful, action-packed illustrations and a humorous storyline with a fun twist at the end. Two more Magic Trixie books make for a total of three.

Lunch Lady and the Cyborg Substitute by Jarret J. Krosoczka
A terrific series of short, zany mysteries featuring two lunch ladies in a school cafeteria who fight crime with crazy kitchen-inspired gadgets. A somewhat higher reading level, with more sophisticated text. There are currently nine titles in the series.

G-Man Volume 1: Learning to Fly by Chris Giarrusso
Funny adventures about a boy who becomes a super hero with his family’s magic blanket. Like Lunch Lady, the level is somewhat higher, more sophisticated. There are three books in the series.

More-challenging books

These books are roughly in the order of their level of reading difficulty and sophistication. Do glance inside them at amazon, whenever possible, to check their suitability for your own children. It’s fine, of course, if the text is a bit above their reading level—the pictures should keep things clear, for the most part—but children may skip the words entirely if they feel the book is “too hard” for them to read.

More-challenging books

Giants Beware! by Rafael Rosado and Jorge Aguirre
A spunky little girl and friends set off on a journey to slay an “evil giant” in this lively adventure. The story is rather long—and feels longer, perhaps, because of “random” twists in the plot—but it’s still a fun, colorful tale.

Sidekicks by Dan Santat
Four pets with super powers vie to become the new sidekick for their master, Captain Amazing, in this action-packed romp. The blend of super heroes and animals makes for an engaging and entertaining tale.

Zita the Spacegirl by Ben Hatke
A science fiction adventure about a girl determined to save her friend. Full of imagination and humor, though the text can be somewhat challenging. There are now two Zita books, with a third expected in May 2014.

The Secret Science Alliance and the Copycat Crook by Eleanor Davis
A terrific tale involving three junior high kids who become brainy inventors and cross paths with a criminal mastermind. Full of cool kid-inventions and incredibly detailed artwork, this is a unique and impressive book.

Amulet, Book 1: The Stonekeeper by Kazu Kibuishi
The Amulet series (currently, 5 books and the saga is still unfinished) is a sprawling story of great imagination and gorgeous artwork. Although the complex plot and array of characters can be hard to follow at times, these are rich, captivating books.

Rapunzel’s Revenge by Dean Hale, Shannon Hale, and Nathan Hale
A clever retelling of the Rapunzel story, with plenty of wit and humor. The lively tale follows Rapunzel’s adventures through the old American west, using her long, braided hair like lariats and whips.

Books by Doug TenNapel
Doug TenNapel’s work is known for its unique vision, bold imagination, and masterly storytelling and illustration. These are page-turners, with action, humor, and heart.
Cardboard
Tommysaurus Rex
Ghostopolis
Bad Island

Bone #1: Out from Boneville by Jeff Smith
Named “One of the Ten Greatest Graphic Novels of All Time” by TIME Magazine, the Bone series is an enthralling epic which follows the adventures of three “Bone” cousins. Funny and thrilling, by turns, the books are so rich, on so many levels, that they can be enjoyed by a range of ages. Be sure to get the nine separate books in the series, published in full color by Scholastic (instead of the one big black-and-white version).

Get your kids reading even more with chapter books that come in a series! For a helpful list of titles, see…

How to Get Your Child Hooked on Books

How about you? What other comic books would you recommend for children learning English?

1 S February 8, 2014 at 10:40 am

I found Amulet at our Book Off used book store a while back. Thanks for posting these suggestions.

Reply

2 Adam February 10, 2014 at 6:50 am

You’re welcome! I hope they’re helpful to you!

Reply

3 Louise February 9, 2014 at 5:13 pm

Adam, very nice post.
I’m a bit frustrated with my 7th grader, whose English reading is limited to what she has to read for her English class (native speaker teacher and mostly returnee/bicultural classmates at her Japanese junior high). She does.not.like.to.read. I’ve produced two older kids who can read in English pretty well. So I know it can be done! Any suggestions for graphic novels that are fairly easy but would appeal to a Miss 13?

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4 Adam February 10, 2014 at 6:47 am

Louise, not really knowing your daughter’s level or interests, it’s a bit difficult for me to offer the best suggestions, but maybe you could look more closely at Rapunzel’s Revenge and the Bone series. (Getting her hooked on a lengthy series would be ideal!)

I would also recommend exploring the review sites I linked to above for further titles that could be a good fit for her. (There are numerous Japanese manga now available in English versions, though I haven’t tried any of them myself.)

Best of luck! Let me know what happens!

Reply

5 Celine June 15, 2014 at 4:31 am

Adam,
Thanks for these great suggestions for comic books. We got one of the Amulet books for my 7 year old nephew and he devoured it, then went to the library to devour the whole series! Twice.
We just picked up Zita the Spacegirl as a gift for my 5 year old niece, but my 3 year old daughter won’t let it out of her sight, “reading” it over and over again, or asking to have it read to her. I think we’ll just have to get a second copy.
I can’t wait to try the other books on your list!
If you know of any good French comic books (our minority language), or if any of your readers know of any good ones, please let me know. I’m starting a foray into French kid’s books, but have mostly stuck to the classics: Asterix et Obelix, Tintin, Tom-Tom et Nana, Babar, and Barbapapa.
Thanks!

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6 Adam June 16, 2014 at 5:53 am

Celine, I’m glad to hear that these comic books were a hit! Thanks for sharing your experience!

I’m not familiar with French comic books, but maybe others would have some ideas. Anyone out there with suggestions?

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7 Paula Gouvêa July 20, 2016 at 7:05 am

Thanks for the suggestions! I ordered two for my son.
I found this website where you can find the grade level for several books.
http://www.scholastic.com/bookwizard/

Reply

8 Adam July 20, 2016 at 7:50 am

Paula, I hope your son enjoys the comic books! And thank you for adding that useful link!

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