Thinking Outside the Picture Book Box: Graphic Novels for Reading Aloud

By Jamie H.

There are so many fantastic picture books being published every year that it might seem like overkill to want to talk about finding readalouds (for storytime or just to send home with a customer) in other sections of the library. But having some go-to titles from the graphic novel section can shake up your storytime, improve your little-kid reader’s advisory, and help get the right book into a pair of small hands.

The graphic novel format actually has some built-in advantages for little learners. Graphic novels tend to have strong sequential narration emphasized by their panels, which helps children understand the parts of a story. Ample visual context clues may benefit preschoolers who are starting to learn that the marks on the page stand for words they speak. And some kids just seem to prefer them.

So what should you look for in a graphic novel to read out loud? To start with, it’s best if there are only a few characters. With no “he said, she said” to identify the speaker, the reader will probably be relying on voices. And unless you, or the caregiver you’re suggesting it to, are a professional voice actor, you may find that two or three voices is enough of a challenge. (Beginning readers may enjoy reading one part themselves while their caregivers read another part.) Fewer panels, if any, on a page is also helpful–as in the page below from Little Mouse Gets Ready, it will make it easier for the child to follow the flow and for the adult and the child to stay on the same panel, and larger graphics are easier for sharing than smaller ones.

There are many, many graphic novels for children, and frankly most of them are not well suited to readaloud. The children at my house have often brought me comic-type graphic novels and asked me to read them out loud, and wading through panel after tiny panel is a frustrating experience. With that in mind, here are some titles to get you started, whether for storytime or reader’s advisory.

Little Mouse Gets Ready by Jeff Smith

cartoon panels of mouse getting dressed; as he puts on his shoes words "right foot, done; left foot done!"; as he puts on his shirt: "the shirt is last... Sometimes it's hard to get my arm in the sleeve. Now I line the buttons up to the holes..."

Even the youngest toddlers will identify with Little Mouse’s struggle to get dressed, and preschoolers and up will love the punch line.

Nursery Rhyme Comics/Fable Comics/Fairy Tale Comics, edited by Chris Duffy, various authors and illustrators

Classic nursery rhymes and stories illustrated by well-known cartoonists. Early literacy people talk a lot about the advantages of nursery rhymes for toddlers–enjoy them in an updated format!

My Kite Is Stuck! (Duck, Duck, Porcupine) by Salina Yoon

book cover My Kite is Stuck and Other Stories, by Salina Yoon shows yellow duck, white bird, and purple hedgehog with ball and hoola-hoop looking at red kite stuck up in a tree

Preschoolers through beginning readers can enjoy feeling smart alongside Little Duck, the silent straight man.

Noodleheads See the Future by Todd Arnold

Older preschoolers will laugh when Mac and Mac saw off the branch they’re sitting on, while the wordplay creates a new challenge.

Bolivar by Sean Rubin

What if your neighbor was a dinosaur… but you were the only one who noticed? And if you were a dinosaur looking to lay low, what better place than Manhattan? Preschoolers who are developing some reading patience can enjoy this chapter graphic novel over several nights.

Narwhal: Unicorn of the Sea/Super Narwhal and Jelly Jolt by Ben Clanton

Try reading just the first chapter to a smaller group of preschoolers for storytime, or send it home for readaloud!

Where’s Halmoni? by Julie Kim

book cover Where's Halmoni? by Julie Kim shows painting of tiger peering around wall

This #ownvoices graphic novel works so well as a picture book, it got some mock Caldecott buzz (though it didn’t make the final list). Accessible on the first reading, it repays re-reading with Easter eggs from Korean mythology (see the author’s note at the back).