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This list of graphic nonfiction for middle grade readers was originally published in our kid lit newsletter, The Kids Are All Right. Sign up for it here to get kid lit news, reviews, deals, and more!
Hi Kid Lit Friends!
We are living in a golden age of graphic novels, and one of my favorite sub-genres is nonfiction graphic novels. I have loved reading these books and think they are such an invaluable way to reach readers and instill a love of nonfiction in them. Here are some of my favorites; what are yours?
For Middle Grade Readers (Recommended for Ages 8+):
When Stars Are Scattered by Victoria Jamieson and Omar Mohamed
Fans of Roller Girl and All’s Faire in Middle School will recognize Victoria Jamieson’s beautiful illustrations and clever writing. In this graphic novel collaboration, Victoria tells the story of Syrian refugee Omar Mohamed. As a child, Omar and his brother were separated from their family and grew up alone in a refugee camp in Syria. This book joins the many wonderful books written about refugees (the middle grade book A Long Walk to Water and the picture book Lubna and Pebble are two of my favorites) yet adds something new to the conversation by chronicling Omar’s day-to-day life in the camp and his determination to take care of his brother and get an education. A must read!
Becoming RGB: Ruth Bader Ginsberg’s Journey to Justice by Debbie Levy and Whitney Gardner
Not many Supreme Court justices can say that they have a nickname, but Ruth Bader Ginsberg is not just any Supreme Court Justice. Books have been written about her life, her childhood, and her work out routine. Now she has a graphic novel that chronicles her childhood as a shy little girl who later became someone who questioned unfairness, who became a student who persisted despite obstacles, who became an advocate who resisted injustice, who became a judge who revered the rule of law, who became…RBG.
Silent Days, Silent Dreams by Allen Say
While this book is the size of a typical picture book, the interior pages are formatted much like a comic and readers that are used to a graphic format will find this book easy to engage with. This book is a biography of James Castle, who was born two months premature on September 25, 1899, on a farm in Garden Valley, Idaho. He was deaf, mute, autistic, and probably dyslexic. He didn’t walk until he was four; he would never learn to speak, write, read, or use sign language. Yet, today Castle’s artwork hangs in major museums throughout the world. I loved all of the details in this book, especially the way James uses discarded materials to create his beautiful artwork.
For Older Middle Grade Readers (Recommended for Ages 10+, But Please Use Your Discretion!)
March Trilogy by John Lewis, Andrew Aydin, and Nate Powell
Most of you will be familiar with this collection of graphic memoirs which won the National Book Award a few years ago. My 10-year-old read it and loved it, but there is violence in here so it might be good to read in a group so various parts of the book can be discussed while reading. This memoir follows Congressman John Lewis, one of the key figures of the civil rights movement. His commitment to justice and nonviolence has taken him from an Alabama sharecropper’s farm to the halls of Congress, from a segregated schoolroom to the 1963 March on Washington, and from receiving beatings from state troopers to receiving the Medal of Freedom from the first African American president.
Drawing From Memory by Allen Say
Like the other book mentioned above by Allen Say, this one is the size of typical picture book but the interior pages are formatted in a graphic format. This is Caldecott Medalist’s Allen Say’s memoir and the story of his path to becoming the renowned artist he is today. Shunned by his father, who didn’t understand his son’s artistic leanings, Allen was embraced by Noro Shinpei, Japan’s leading cartoonist and the man he came to love as his “spiritual father.” As WWII raged, Allen was further inspired to consider questions of his own heritage and the motivations of those around him.
Astronauts: Women on the Final Frontier by Jim Ottaviani and Maris Wicks
This is a new graphic nonfiction book by the collaborators who brought us Primates: The Fearless Science of Jane Goodall, Dian Fossey, and Biruté Galdikas. Women on the Final Frontier chronicles the significant contributions of female astronauts, beginning with Valentina Tereshkova, a Soviet who was the first woman in space. It took years for the United States to catch up, but soon NASA’s first female astronauts were racing past milestones of their own. The trail-blazing women of Group 9, NASA’s first mixed gender class, had the challenging task of convincing the powers that be that a woman’s place is in space, but they discovered that NASA had plenty to learn about how to make space travel possible for everyone.
They Called Us Enemy by George Takei, Justin Elsinger, Steven Scott, and Harmony Becker
Fans of Star Trek will recognize George Takei, but long before he braved new frontiers, he woke up as a 4-year-old boy to find his own birth country at war with his father’s — and their entire family forced from their home into an uncertain future. In 1942, at the order of President Franklin D. Roosevelt, every person of Japanese descent on the west coast was rounded up and shipped to one of ten “relocation centers,” hundreds or thousands of miles from home, where they would be held for years under armed guard. They Called Us Enemy is Takei’s firsthand account of those years behind barbed wire, the joys and terrors of growing up under legalized racism, his mother’s hard choices, his father’s faith in democracy, and the way those experiences planted the seeds for his astonishing future. There are difficult parts of this book, so be mindful of that!
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