15 Diverse Graphic Novels for Middle Grade or Teen Readers

Illustration from March by by John Lewis, Andrew Aydin and Nate Powell

This list was created by The Conscious Kid, in partnership with LINE4LINE. The Conscious Kid is a critical literacy organization that promotes access to children’s books by and about underrepresented groups. LINE4LINE is a Baton Rouge-based barbershop program that strengthens literacy skills and attitudes around reading for young men of color by providing free haircuts to boys in exchange for reading books. They will be available to read at the LINE4LINE barbershop program during the month of November.

The Best We Could Do by Thi Bui: This beautifully illustrated and emotional story is an evocative memoir about the search for a better future and a longing for the past. Exploring the anguish of immigration and the lasting effects that displacement has on a child and her family, Bui documents the story of her family’s daring escape after the fall of South Vietnam in the 1970s, and the difficulties they faced building new lives for themselves. At the heart of Bui’s story is a universal struggle: While adjusting to life as a first-time mother, she ultimately discovers what it means to be a parent — the endless sacrifices, the unnoticed gestures, and the depths of unspoken love. Despite how impossible it seems to take on the simultaneous roles of both parent and child, Bui pushes through. With haunting, poetic writing and breathtaking art, she examines the strength of family, the importance of identity, and the meaning of home. In what Pulitzer Prize–winning novelist Viet Thanh Nguyen calls “a book to break your heart and heal it,” The Best We Could Do brings to life Thi Bui’s journey of understanding, and provides inspiration to all of those who search for a better future while longing for a simpler past.

Voces Sin Fronteras/ Our Stories Our Truth: True Comics From the Latin American Youth Center: During a time of heated immigration debate and unrest, this book is an opportunity to hear directly from youth who are often in the headlines but whose stories don’t get told in full. Sixteen young people from the Latin American Youth Center (LAYC) in Washington, D.C. came together to tell their own stories of immigration and transformation in comics form. The result is this side-by-side bilingual collection of graphic memoirs that not only builds connections across language, but also breaks down barriers and expands hope. // En tiempos de inquietud y acalorados debates sobre la inmigración, este libro representa una oportunidad para escuchar directamente a los jóvenes quienes suelen ocupar los titulares en la prensa, pero cuyas historias no se alcanzan a narrar por completo. Dieciséis jóvenes del Latin American Youth Center (LAYC) en Washington, D.C. se unieron para contar sus propias historias de inmigración y de transformación en formato de cómic. El resultado es esta colección de memorias gráficas bilingüe, que no sólo construye conexiones entre los idiomas, sino que también elimina barreras y abre un espacio a la esperanza.

The Race to Incarcerate: A Graphic Retelling by Sabrina Jones and Marc Mauer: More than 2 million people are now imprisoned in the United States, producing the highest rate of incarceration in the world. How did this happen? As the director of The Sentencing Project, Marc Mauer has long been one of the country’s foremost experts on sentencing policy, race, and the criminal justice system. His book Race to Incarcerate has become the essential text for understanding the exponential growth of the U.S. prison system; Michelle Alexander, author of the bestselling The New Jim Crow, calls it “utterly indispensable.” Now, Sabrina Jones, a member of the World War 3 Illustrated collective and an acclaimed author of politically engaged comics, has collaborated with Mauer to adapt and update the original book into a vivid and compelling comics narrative. Jones’s dramatic artwork adds passion and compassion to the complex story of the penal system’s shift from rehabilitation to punishment and the ensuing four decades of prison expansion, its interplay with the devastating “War on Drugs,” and its corrosive effect on generations of Americans. With a preface by Mauer and a foreword by Alexander, Race to Incarcerate: A Graphic Retelling presents a compelling argument about mass incarceration’s tragic impact on communities of color — if current trends continue, one of every three Black males and one of every six Latino males born today can expect to do time in prison. The race to incarcerate is not only a failed social policy, but also one that prevents a just, diverse society from flourishing.

American Born Chinese by Gene Luen Yang: Jin Wang starts at a new school where he’s the only Chinese-American student. When a boy from Taiwan joins his class, Jin doesn’t want to be associated with an FOB like him. Jin just wants to be an all-American boy, because he’s in love with an all-American girl. Danny is an all-American boy: great at basketball, popular with the girls. But his obnoxious Chinese cousin Chin-Kee’s annual visit is such a disaster that it ruins Danny’s reputation at school, leaving him with no choice but to transfer somewhere he can start all over again. The Monkey King has lived for thousands of years and mastered the arts of kung fu and the heavenly disciplines. He’s ready to join the ranks of the immortal gods in heaven. But there’s no place in heaven for a monkey. Each of these characters cannot help himself alone, but how can they possibly help each other? They’re going to have to find a way―if they want fix the disasters their lives have become.

Pashmina by Nidhi Chanani: Priyanka Das has so many unanswered questions: Why did her mother abandon her home in India years ago? What was it like there? And most importantly, who is her father, and why did her mom leave him behind? But Pri’s mom avoids these questions―the topic of India is permanently closed. For Pri, her mother’s homeland can only exist in her imagination. That is, until she find a mysterious pashmina tucked away in a forgotten suitcase. When she wraps herself in it, she is transported to a place more vivid and colorful than any guidebook or Bollywood film. But is this the real India? And what is that shadow lurking in the background? To learn the truth, Pri must travel farther than she’s ever dared and find the family she never knew. In this heartwarming graphic novel debut, Nidhi Chanani weaves a tale about the hardship and self-discovery that is born from juggling two cultures and two worlds.

I Am Alfonso Jones by Tony Medina, Stacey Robinson, and John Jennings: Alfonso Jones can’t wait to play the role of Hamlet in his school’s hip-hop rendition of the classic Shakespearean play. He also wants to let his best friend, Danetta, know how he really feels about her. But as he is buying his first suit, an off-duty police officer mistakes a clothes hanger for a gun, and he shoots Alfonso. When Alfonso wakes up in the afterlife, he’s on a ghost train guided by well-known victims of police shootings, who teach him what he needs to know about the spiritual world. Meanwhile, Alfonso’s family and friends struggle with their grief and seek justice for Alfonso in the streets. As they confront their new realities, both Alfonso and those he loves realize the work that lies ahead in the fight for justice. In the first graphic novel for young readers to focus on police brutality and the Black Lives Matter movement, as in Hamlet, the dead shall speak — and the living yield even more surprises. Foreword by Bryan Stevenson, Executive Director of the Equal Justice Initiative and author of Just Mercy.

Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi: Wise, funny, and heartbreaking, Persepolis is Marjane Satrapi’s graphic memoir of growing up in Iran during the Islamic Revolution. In powerful black-and-white comic strip images, Satrapi tells the story of her life in Tehran from ages six to fourteen, years that saw the overthrow of the Shah’s regime, the triumph of the Islamic Revolution, and the devastating effects of war with Iraq. The intelligent and outspoken only child of committed Marxists and the great-granddaughter of one of Iran’s last emperors, Marjane bears witness to a childhood uniquely entwined with the history of her country. Persepolis paints an unforgettable portrait of daily life in Iran and of the bewildering contradictions between home life and public life. Marjane’s child’s-eye view of dethroned emperors, state-sanctioned whippings, and heroes of the revolution allows us to learn as she does the history of this fascinating country and of her own extraordinary family. Intensely personal, profoundly political, and wholly original, Persepolis is at once a story of growing up and a reminder of the human cost of war and political repression. It shows how we carry on, with laughter and tears, in the face of absurdity. And, finally, it introduces us to an irresistible little girl with whom we cannot help but fall in love.

Aya by Marguerite Abouet and Clément Oubrerie: “That’s what I wanted to show in Aya: an Africa without the . . . war and famine, an Africa that endures despite everything because, as we say back home, life goes on.” — Marguerite Abouet. Ivory Coast, 1978. Family and friends gather at Aya’s house every evening to watch the country’s first television ad campaign promoting the fortifying effects of Solibra, “the strong man’s beer.” It’s a golden time, and the nation, too — an oasis of affluence and stability in West Africa — seems fueled by something wondrous. Who’s to know that the Ivorian miracle is nearing its end? In the sun-warmed streets of working-class Yopougon, aka Yop City, holidays are around the corner, the open-air bars and discos are starting to fill up, and trouble of a different kind is about to raise eyebrows. At night, an empty table in the market square under the stars is all the privacy young lovers can hope for, and what happens there is soon everybody’s business. Aya tells the story of its nineteen-year-old heroine, the studious and clear-sighted Aya, her easygoing friends Adjoua and Bintou, and their meddling relatives and neighbors. It’s a breezy and wryly funny account of the desire for joy and freedom, and of the simple pleasures and private troubles of everyday life in Yop City. An unpretentious and gently humorous story of an Africa we rarely see-spirited, hopeful, and resilient — Aya won the 2006 award for Best First Album at the Angoulême International Comics Festival. Clément Oubrerie’s warm colors and energetic, playful lines connect expressively with Marguerite Abouet’s vibrant writing.

El Deafo by Cece Bell: Going to school and making new friends can be tough. But going to school and making new friends while wearing a bulky hearing aid strapped to your chest? That requires superpowers! In this funny, poignant graphic novel memoir, author/illustrator Cece Bell chronicles her hearing loss at a young age and her subsequent experiences with the Phonic Ear, a very powerful — and very awkward — hearing aid. The Phonic Ear gives Cece the ability to hear — sometimes things she shouldn’t — but also isolates her from her classmates. She really just wants to fit in and find a true friend, someone who appreciates her as she is. After some trouble, she is finally able to harness the power of the Phonic Ear and become “El Deafo, Listener for All.” And more importantly, declare a place for herself in the world and find the friend she’s longed for.

Monster: A Graphic Novel by Walter Dean Myers, Guy A. Sims, and Dawud Anyabwile: A stunning black-and-white graphic novel adaptation of Walter Dean Myers’s Monster, adapted by Guy Sims and illustrated by Dawud Anyabwile. Monster is a multi-award-winning, provocative coming-of-age story about Steve Harmon, a teenager awaiting trial for a murder and robbery. As Steve acclimates to juvenile detention and goes to trial, he envisions how his ordeal would play out on the big screen. Monster was the first-ever Michael L. Printz Award recipient, an ALA Best Book, a Coretta Scott King Honor selection, and a National Book Award finalist. Now Monster has been adapted into a graphic novel by Guy Sims, with stunning black-and-white art from Dawud Anyabwile.

A People’s History of American Empire by Howard Zinn, Mike Konopacki, and Paul Buhle: Since its landmark publication in 1980, A People’s History of the United States has had six new editions, sold more than 1.7 million copies, become required classroom reading throughout the country, and been turned into an acclaimed play. More than a successful book, A People’s History triggered a revolution in the way history is told, displacing the official versions with their emphasis on great men in high places to chronicle events as they were lived, from the bottom up. Now Howard Zinn, historian Paul Buhle, and cartoonist Mike Konopacki have collaborated to retell, in vibrant comics form, a most immediate and relevant chapter of A People’s History: the centuries-long story of America’s actions in the world. Narrated by Zinn, this version opens with the events of 9/11 and then jumps back to explore the cycles of U.S. expansionism from Wounded Knee to Iraq, stopping along the way at World War I, Central America, Vietnam, and the Iranian revolution. The book also follows the story of Zinn, the son of poor Jewish immigrants, from his childhood in the Brooklyn slums to his role as one of America’s leading historians. Shifting from world-shattering events to one family’s small revolutions, A People’s History of American Empire presents the classic ground-level history of America in a dazzling new form.

Kindred: A Graphic Novel Adaptation by Damian Duffy and John Jennings: More than 35 years after its release, Kindred continues to draw in new readers with its deep exploration of the violence and loss of humanity caused by slavery in the United States, and its complex and lasting impact on the present day. Adapted by celebrated academics and comics artists Damian Duffy and John Jennings, this graphic novel powerfully renders Butler’s mysterious and moving story, which spans racial and gender divides in the antebellum South through the 20th century. Butler’s most celebrated, critically acclaimed work tells the story of Dana, a young Black woman who is suddenly and inexplicably transported from her home in 1970s California to the pre–Civil War South. As she time-travels between worlds, one in which she is a free woman and one where she is part of her own complicated familial history on a southern plantation, she becomes frighteningly entangled in the lives of Rufus, a conflicted white slaveholder and one of Dana’s own ancestors, and the many people who are enslaved by him. Held up as an essential work in feminist, science-fiction, and fantasy genres, and a cornerstone of the Afrofuturism movement, there are over 500,000 copies of Kindred in print. The intersectionality of race, history, and the treatment of women addressed within the original work remain critical topics in contemporary dialogue, both in the classroom and in the public sphere. Frightening, compelling, and richly imagined, Kindred offers an unflinching look at our complicated social history, transformed by the graphic novel format into a visually stunning work for a new generation of readers.

March (Trilogy) by John Lewis, Andrew Aydin and Nate Powell: Discover the inside story of the Civil Rights Movement through the eyes of one of its most iconic figures, Congressman John Lewis. March is the award-winning, #1 bestselling graphic novel trilogy recounting his life in the movement, co-written with Andrew Aydin and drawn by Nate Powell.


The Conscious Kid is an education, research, and critical literacy organization dedicated to cultivating equity, uplifting counter-narratives, and promoting positive identity development in youth. The Conscious Kid works with schools, organizations and families nationally and internationally to promote access to children’s books that center underrepresented groups. www.theconsciouskid.org

LINE4LINE strengthens literacy skills and attitudes around reading for young men of color in a creative way by providing free haircuts to boys in exchange for reading books. Within the African American Community barbershops have historically served as social hubs. By bringing reading into this culturally significant space, youth not only build self-esteem with a fresh new haircut but also strengthen reading skills in a familiar environment. Using relatable role model mentors, LINE4LINE builds community from within. Founded in 2014 by O’Neil Curtis, LINE4LINE takes place at his Baton Rouge barbershop the first Monday of each month from 4–7pm. During this time LINE4LINE has given 1500 haircuts; placed over 3000 books into homes; created an onsite 24/7 Free Little Library; built a Barbershop Library of multi-cultural books; started a program with the East Baton Rouge Parish Public schools; participated in community outreach events, and established a back-to-school giveaway, serving an additional 3000 youth and families. In 2016, LINE4LINE received its 501c3 status and kicked off the 449 Book Club giving new books to boys which are read and discussed at the following month’s program. In 2017 LINE4LINE began seeking funds through grants and private donations and entered a partnership with The Conscious Kid to further diversify its Barbershop Library. Looking to the future, LINE4LINE plans to create an on-site space for youth to gather during out of school time with a lending library, support services and programs that seek to develop life passions. https://www.facebook.com/Line4LineBR/