The Best Graphic Novels for Early Readers

By sara / February 14, 2017

Why Graphic Novels? 

Graphic novels have long been beloved by teen and adult readers the world over. From Japanese manga to well-known American comics, this literary format has millions of fans and its popularity has only continued to grow. Academic libraries report that graphic novels are among their most-requested materials, and in 2015 the sale of graphic novels in the United States topped $1 billion, confirming their steadily rising popularity among teen and adult consumers. But few realize that graphic novels can also provide a wonderful entry point to very young beginning readers. Because they're pictorial in nature, they're a suitable alternative to more traditional "easy reader" series, ideal for small children as well as older kids for whom reading is a struggle.

Why  these  graphic novels? 

The following list of recommendations has been curated for age-appropriateness and tailored to readers in kindergarten through second grade. Many of these books have been endorsed by the American Library association or the Association for Library Service to Children.

Each title combines simple, fast-paced plotting with sequential illustrations to make them easily navigable to even the most reluctant readers, as well as children who struggle with reading comprehension. They're attention-grabbing, straightforward, and most importantly fun!

20. Little Robot by Ben Hatke

Ben Hatke created his reputation as a celebrated children's graphic novelist with the beloved sci-fi book Zita the Spacegirl, and he lives up to that reputation with the nearly wordless Little Robot. In this charming story, a five-year-old girl discovers a small robot in the woods and accidentally activates him. They become fast friends, but some bigger, nastier robots come along with a plan to steal him for their own questionable purposes. It's up to the little girl to protect her robotic companion with only a wrench and her sense of loyalty. This is a delightful book about the importance of friendship and overcoming your fear.

  • Target Age: Kindergarten & Up 

19. Hamster and Cheese by Colleen AF Venable

This book is the first installment in the Guinea Pig, Pet Shop Private Eye series. In this colorfully illustrated volume, guinea pig private investigator Sasspants is hired by Hamisher the hamster to track down pet shop owner Mr. Venezi's missing sandwiches. There are two informational pages about the pet shop's inhabitants, and page after page of full-color cartoons.

  • Target Age: Kindergarten & Up 

18. Little Mouse Gets Ready by Jeff Toon

The hero of this story, Little Mouse, is perfecting a skill most beginning readers will have only recently mastered: getting dressed! Before he goes to the barn, Little Mouse selects underwear, socks, pants, shoes, and a shirt to wear, and he must find his way around zippers, Velcro, and buttons to finish the job. Finally, in a surprise twist, Little Mouse's mother reminds him that mice don't wear clothes.

  • Target Age: Kindergarten & Up 

17. Benny & Penny in the Big No-No! by Geoffrey Hayes

This is the second installment in Geoffrey Hayes Benny & Penny series, following the adventures of a brother and sister mouse. In this follow-up to the first book, Benny's pail goes missing, and he and Penny suspect their new neighbor, a hedgehog, is the culprit. Even though they know it's a "big no-no," they sneak into their neighbor's yard in search of the pail. What happens next teaches them about friendship, misunderstandings, and the importance of saying sorry when you make a mistake.

  • Target Age: Kindergarten & Up 

16. A Day at the Fire Station by Richard Scarry

A Day at the Fire Station is just one installment in Richard Scarry's now-classic My Community series, teaching young readers all about the world they inhabit and the people in it. In this book, house-painters Drippy and Sticky visit the Busytown Fire Station and learn about the day-to-day lives of the firefighters who work there, as well as the actions the take when they answer a call. There's even a glossary and a bibliography defining terms and pointing readers to supplemental books and websites.

  • Target Age: Kindergarten & Up 

15. Airplane Adventure by Cari Meister

Airplane Adventure is part of the My First Graphic Novel series, which includes helpful illustrated instructions for first-time readers about how to read a graphic novel. In this story, brother and sister Juan and Anna step on an airplane for the very first time to fly to Mexico and visit their grandmother. Young readers will learn all about air travel, and a discussion guide and writings prompt offer parents and teachers talking points for additional learning.

  • Target Age: Kindergarten & Up 

14. Hilda and the Troll by Luke Pearson

The adventurous, blue-haired Hilda is the subject of Luke Pearson's Hildafolk book series. Set against a magical Scandinavian backdrop, this story follows Hilda as she sets out to explore the mountains surrounding her home and draw some of the fantastical creatures to be found there. When she spies a mountain troll, she sits down to sketch him and soon falls asleep, waking up to find herself lost in a snowstorm. On her way home, she encounters even more unusual creatures.

  • Target Age: Kindergarten & Up 

13. Binky the Space Cat by Ashley Spires

Binky the cat is a space explorer -- at least in his own mind. In reality, he's a house cat with a BIG imagination. Through the power of make-believe, Binky transforms a trip outside into the backyard to chase bugs into an exploration of outer space, complete with battles with alien attackers who threaten Binky's human family. After drafting blueprints and building a spaceship, Binky is ready to blast off with his favorite stuffed mouse/copilot Ted when he realizes he's left behind something important.

  • Target Age: Kindergarten & Up 

12. The Shark King by R. Kikuo Johnson

This is another book in the popular TOON series of graphic novels for young readers. This beautifully illustrated story about a young boy named Nanaue will introduce kids to Hawaiian culture, and especially resonate with boys who aspire to be just like Dad. Nanaue, a young adventurer born to a shark father and a human mother, must learn to balance his desire for his father's guidance with his need for his mother's warmth and nurturing.

  • Target Age: First Grade & Up 

11. Tippy and the Night Parade by Lili Carre

This magical story is also part of the TOON series with gorgeous illustrations in a nocturnal blue color palette. All Tippy remembers is going to sleep, but when she wakes up she finds her bedroom full of plants, animals, and shells. Where did they all come from? We discover the answer as Tippy sleepwalks outside, gathering an entourage of animal friends who follow her on her nighttime adventures.

  • Target Age: First Grade & Up 

10. NINA in That Makes Me Mad by Hilary Knight

Little ones who are still learning to tolerate frustration will be able to relate to this story about Nina, a young girl who often loses her temper and throws tantrums. By learning to express her anger in words instead of through fits, Nina soon learns that she can deal with her feelings and come up with solutions to what makes her mad with some help from the adults in her life.

  • Target Age: First Grade & Up 

9. Written and Drawn by Henrietta by Ricardo Siri Liniers

This book is available in both English and Spanish, making it ideal for non-native English-speaking children as well as young bilingual readers. The heroine, Henrietta, not only loves to read books, she also enjoys making her own! With a fistful of colored pencils, Henrietta creates her own quirky world inhabited by a brave little girl, a three-headed monster, and no shortage of adventure. Young readers will be delighted and inspired by her creativity.

  • Target Age: First Grade & Up 

8. Otto's Orange Day by Jay Lynch

Otto is an orange cat who is given a magic lamp by his aunt. When he releases a genie who agrees to grant him one wish, Otto wishes to turn his whole world orange. At first his newly colored world seems like a lot of fun, but pretty soon Otto realizes that living in a totally orange world isn't everything it's cracked up to be. When his mom serves him an orange lamb chop (yuck!) and an orange traffic light causes an accident, he reconsiders his wish.

  • Target Age: First Grade & Up 

7. Dinosaurs in Space by Pranas T. Naujokaitis

Author Pranas T. Naujokaitis combines two subjects favored by kids since time immemorial: dinosaurs and space travel! In this hilariously illustrated graphic novel, space-dwelling dinosaurs from Planet Lettuce and Planet Meatball bicker over who's better: dinosaurs who eat salads, or dinosaurs who eat hamburgers. Readers of all ages will love the silly story and the comical cartoons alike.

  • Target Age: First Grade & Up 

6. Where's Leopold? Your Pajamas Are Showing! By Michael-Yves Schmitt

Translated from the original French, the story of Leopold and his big sister Celine will make you laugh out loud. When he wakes up one morning, Leopold is shocked to discover that he can turn invisible at will. Unfortunately, he can't make his clothes invisible, too, so he spends most of the book running around in only some underpants, tormenting his sister, and getting up to all sorts of other antics. Due to some "potty humor," this story is probably better suited to slightly older readers.

  • Target Age: Second Grade  & Up 

5. You Can't Take a Balloon into the Museum of Fine Arts by Jacqueline Preiss Weitzmann

This book is a little wordier than some of the others on our list, and for that reason it's a better choice for slightly older kids (second grade and up). This story takes the reader on a fun journey through Boston, where a little girl's balloon gets away from her in the Museum of Fine Arts. Her chase after it takes her to all sorts of historical landmarks, including Fenway Park, Trinity Church, Paul Revere House, and other noteworthy locations. Kids and adults will enjoy searching for the many famous Bostonians hidden in the illustrations, like Louisa May Alcott and Ted Williams.

  • Target Age: Second Grade & Up 

4. Patrick in a Teddy Bear's Picnic and Other Stories by Geoffrey Hayes

This is another wonderful graphic novel by the award-winning children's author Geoffrey Hayes, who has penned over forty picture books for kids. This one is about Patrick Brown, a lovable teddy bear who loves his mom and dad, life, and exploring the world he lives in. In this book, Patrick goes on a picnic with his mother, takes a nap, and stands up to a bully called Big Bear. Young readers will be able to relate to the challenges he faces and feel inspired when he comes out on top.

  • Target Age: Second Grade & Up 

3. Silly Lilly and the Four Seasons by Agnes Rosenthiel

Reader who are new to the world of Agnes Rosenthiel will soon understand why she's one of France's favorite children's authors. Protagonist Lilly loves the four seasons and the many pleasures they offer, from eating apples in fall to gathering seashells in summer. In this story, she learns all about the great outdoors and introduces beginning readers to the different colors, shapes, and words that show up in nature. The dialogue is minimal, with only one-word balloon per panel and only one sentence per word balloon, making it a highly accessible read.

  • Target Age: Second Grade & Up 

2. Johnny Boo: The Best Little Ghost in the World by James Kochalka

Ghost aren't always scary. In fact, this one is downright endearing. Johnny Boo is an adorable ghost with the special gift of "boo power" (the ability to go "BOO!" very loudly). His pet ghost Squiggle has "squiggle power," enabling him to fly super fast and make loop-de-loops. In this book they come up against the intimidating Ice Cream Monster, who they soon learn isn't very scary at all.

  • Target Age: Second Grade & Up 

1. Luke on the Loose by Harry Bliss

When Luke's dad takes him to Central Park, he soon gets absorbed in boring "daddy talk" while look is fascinated by the pigeons who live in the park. They lead him on a thrilling chase through Manhattan and across the Brooklyn Bridge before eventually settling on a rooftop. This book is especially memorable for its colorful cast of characters and its racial diversity.

  • Target Age: Second Grade & Up