15 Nonfiction Graphic Novel Recommendations

I took awhile to get on the graphic novel train. Like many teachers, I saw them as candy reading or just easy, cop out reading. I changed my mind!

Here are my realizations:

  1. So what if it’s candy reading? I love fun books. Adults read tons of beachy reads or cozy mysteries without shame that are intended to be easy reads. So what? Let’s focus on building a love of reading not forcing every reading experience to an academically rigorous task.
  2. The body of work has increased. There are MANY quality graphic novels out there now. I’m going to list below some of the nonfiction graphic novels I had NO IDEA existed until a few years ago. The amount of available graphic novels has really grown and the cream of the crop has risen. When I started teaching, I assumed all graphic novels were still like Captain Underpants which didn’t thrill me when I was a kid, so I figured everything was the same (side note: I actually love Dav Pilkey as an author and have tons of his books in my classroom library, but 4th grade me was not interested in that series).
  3. Graphic novel adaptations are not bad. Some graphic novels have been created from other novels. Now, usually I personally love the original novel better, but I have enjoyed several novels that were rewritten as graphic novels. For a struggling reader, being able to read both versions would greatly enhance their comprehension and overall experience. If a kid loves a book, the fact that 2 versions of the same story exist means they’ll read more! Yay!
  4. Struggling readers need accessible, mature texts. While on grade level readers can enjoy a graphic novel as an easier read, often that graphic novel is a “just right” text for the struggling middle school reader. Graphic novels are a way for readers to have access to more mature content, developmentally appropriate texts, and books their peers are reading without feeling like a struggling reader. They need these books at their fingertips.
  5. Graphic novels can be challenging reads. On the flipside, graphic novels do not need to ONLY be for struggling readers. Don’t prevent your strong readers from reading graphic novels or you defeat the purpose of connecting struggling and strong readers to the same text and destroy the benefit I just mentioned. Graphic novels can offer more scaffolding to struggling readers, but they are not all easy books.

I can recommend fiction graphic novels, too, but for today’s post, I want to share some nonfiction graphic novels because I truly did not know these even existed. I created a whole unit around this for my 6th graders to replace our old biography unit, and they loved it. It put everyone on a much more level playing field to start out the year and was a lot of fun. Since nonfiction is a broad category, I’ve separated my recommendations between the historical/fact driven nonfiction and memoirs & biographies.

Informational/Historical Nonfiction

The Great American Dust Bowl by Don Brown

The Dust Bowl is overshadowed by other huge events of 20th century. This book shares the facts and makes you wonder how it’s still relatively unknown. It would be a great pairing with the novel in verse, Out of the Dust by Karen Hesse.

Drowned City: Hurricane Katrina and New Orleans by Don Brown

I appreciate the statistics and factual details in this book. It really shows how devastating of an event this was in a way that promotes empathy, not despair (coming from someone who personally has difficulty with horrible true events).

T-Minus: The Race to the Moon by Jim Ottaviani

This is not a full color graphic novel so it feels like an old school comic book. The history of the space race is a great topic and there’s a lot of tension in the backstory there.

The Unwanted: Stories of Syrian Refugees by Don Brown

This is darker and more mature so it’s definitely for middle and high school readers. Powerful storytelling, though.

Tetris: The Games People Play by Box Brown

This gives a ton of history behind video games in general. It is not about contemporary video game systems, so don’t mislead a kid into thinking it will teach them about their Xbox. If they’re interested in video games in general, though, this could be a good fit.

Jerusalem: Chronicles from the Holy City by Guy Delisle

I ended up not getting this for my 6th graders due to content, but I think this is a powerful, interesting book for older readers. It dives into the history of the conflict in Jerusalem so for anyone interested in history and politics, this would be a cool read for them.

Brief Histories of Everyday Objects by Andy Warner

This is a really fun book. Every couple of pages dives into a different object. I loved learning so many random facts. I will note that it has a page on condoms so I did not end up assigning this book to groups; I just kept it in my library. You might have a different level of freedom or that might mean you can’t have it at school at all – just a heads up.

Biographies or Memoirs

Annie Sullivan and The Trial of Helen Keller by Joseph Lambert

I loved this book! This was actually what sold me on nonfiction graphic novels. I appreciate the use of different fonts to denote Annie Sullivan’s journal entries vs. dialogue. There is a mini story inside of this book that is based on a story Helen wrote. This also highlighted part of Helen Keller’s childhood that I didn’t really know about. I can’t recommend this one enough.

March: Book One by John Lewis

Yes, this book is by that John Lewis, congressman and civil rights leader. There is also Book Two and Book Three. These books take you through the civil rights movement and are well done.

Primates: The Fearless Science of Jane Goodall, Dian Fossey, and Birute Galdikas by Jim Ottaviani and Maris Wicks

This book flips between the 3 different women’s lives. I prefaced this book with students to make sure they recognized who was who so they wouldn’t get confused as they read. Such interesting women!

Anne Frank: The Anne Frank house authorized graphic biography by Sid Jacobson and Ernie Colon

This book is not Anne Frank’s diary (the one below is). This one takes more of a bird’s eye view and gives more background. I enjoyed this book immensely.

Anne Frank’s Diary: The Graphic Adaptation by Ari Folman

The Diary of Anne Frank was something I read when I was older, and I was shocked by how funny she was and how much her age even in the midst of scary circumstances shines through. This book does a great job capturing her diary.

Satchel Paige: Striking Out Jim Crow by James Sturm

I had heard so much about Jackie Robinson growing up but had no idea who Satchel Paige was. This book is really well done and just an enjoyable read (even for me who doesn’t care about sports).

Little White Duck: A Childhood in China by Na Liu, Andrés Vera Martínez

I really enjoyed this memoir. It was interesting and a little sad, but it kept me engaged. I can appreciate books that serve as windows for me into another world.

Survivors of the Holocaust: True Stories of Six Extraordinary Children by Kath Shackleton

This is a pretty recent publication showing that these books are continuing to come out all the time!

Truly, there are MANY more graphic novels that are coming out and often they have extremely mature, deep themes. These are not the comic books you might have grown up with. Definitely glance through it before you suggest it to a kid, and don’t be afraid to use them with older readers. I worked with my librarian to gather as many as possible, and then I sorted out what would be appropriate from there. There are some fantastic reads out there waiting for your classroom!

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