It seems like every book is getting the graphic novel adaptation treatment these days. Like many others, you may have mixed feelings about this literary trend. However, as a pathway to increasing readership of stories that might not otherwise find their way into the hands of kids and teens, I'm all for it. Perhaps after reading these graphic novel adaptation of classic books your young readers will want to tackle the original!
Note: age recommendations are guidelines, not hard and fast rules! You may find some book okay for your younger child, or some books better to wait until your reader is more mature.
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For Ages 8 and up
The Wonderful Wizard of Oz by L. Frank Baum, adapted by Eric Shanower, illustrated by Skottie Young
Find it: Amazon | Comixology
I think this series is no longer being published in print form, but comic book fans who use Comixology can easily upload it to their e-readers. In any case, your library certainly has a copy. Being an Oz superfan myself, I was pleasantly surprised with Shanower's adaptation and both my boys (who have each read the entire 14 book original Oz series–my proudest achievement as a mother) read and loved it, too–even in their teens.
MORE: Fantasy and sci-fi graphic novels for kids
Anne of Green Gables by L.M. Montgomery, adapted by Mariah Marsden, illustrated by Brenna Thummler
I was sure I would loathe any graphic novel adaptation of this beloved childhood favorite. And yet... it was pretty good. Although the story is obviously abridged, perhaps only those of us who have read Montgomery's classic 24 thousand times (raises hand) will care. Marsden includes all the most important plot points, as well as a hefty dose of humor. The color palette does justice to Anne's imagination and her indomitable spirit comes through.
For those of you looking for a modern update on the Anne story, try the graphic novel, Anne of West Philly.
A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L'Engle, adapted and illustrated by Hope Larson
Larson's graphic adaptation of this classic children's science fiction fantasy is exceptional. I love the illustrations and appreciated that the story followed closely to the original. It's a fun new way to approach the tale, and (in my opinion) preferable to any film version!
The Witches by Roald Dahl, adapted by Pénélope Bagieu
When I was a kid, this classic book scared the bejeezus out of me. Other kids may not feel the same way, but that's your fair warning if you have sensitive kids. Here is all of Dahl's trademark weirdness in glorious full color and the conference of witches is definitely a sight to behold!
MORE: Books for kids who love Roald Dahl
Tom's Midnight Garden by Philippa Pearce, adapted and illustrated by Edith
This lesser known (at least to American children) classic is beautiful, eerie, moving and wondrous. Those same qualities mean it translates well to the graphic novel format. In the 1950s, Tom goes to live with his uncle and aunt where a clock strikes 13. On the grounds is a gorgeous garden but his playmate is mysteriously from the 19th century. Physically, the book is extra large, so it's easy to get sucked into the illustrations.
The Nutcracker and the Mouse King illustrated and adapted by Natalie Andrewson
I love how whimsical and dreamy this graphic novel version of Hoffmann's story is. Andrewson's style, with all of its curvy lines, makes you feel like you are moving along with the characters in their fantasy adventure. Once again, readers only familiar with the ballet will discover new plot points and new inventions and will love the refocused attention on Clara. (Ever notice how she is almost totally passive in the second half of the ballet?) Don't forget to read the author's note in which Andrewson describes her long admiration for the story!
Meg, Jo, Beth and Amy by Rey Terciero, illustrated by Bre Indigo
This modern day retelling of Lousia May Alcott's Little Women is set in New York City. The story follows the lives of four sisters in a blended, multi-racial family, and will appeal to fans of Raina Telgemeier. The sisters' father is stationed in the Middle East, their mother works double shifts and the girls take care of one another. The narrative follows the sisters as they cope with school work, chores and relationships, as well as interactions with their wealthy neighbor, Laurie.
MORE: Books for fans of Little Women
Ages 10 and up
The Hobbit by J. R. R. Tolkien, adapted by Chuck Dixon, illustrated by David Wenzel
My young teen has recently become obsessed with all things Tolkien, and so of course this graphic novel was at the top of his reading list. I did not personally read this one, since the Lord of the Rings universe is not my passion, but the fan in our house declared it to be, "Great! But still read the original and watch the movie." There you have it folks, your professional review.
The Giver by Lois Lowry, adapted and illustrated by P. Craig Russell
In contrast to Tolkien, Lowry's The Giver quartet is definitely my cup of tea and I was pleased with this faithful adaptation. I think it might suit those who have already read the novel, as the color scheme lends a new interest to the themes of the story. However, not having read the original is not an impediment to enjoyment. And if your child likes this graphic novel version, then give them all the companion books, next!
Anne Frank's Diary by Anne Frank, adapted by Ari Folman illustrated by David Polonsky
Although, there is no substitute for reading Anne's original work, this version of the famous diary was authorized by the Anne Frank Foundation. It's a unique adaptation in that it doesn't try to capture the entirety of Anne's diary. I was curious about the reception of the adaptation because somehow I missed learning of it at the time of publication. I recommend reading this review from the New York Times.
Animal Farm by George Orwell, adapted by Odyr
Orwell's classic is often assigned in middle school and this oversized illustrated version is faithful to the original. After the animals rebel against the farmers and set up their own society, the pigs take over and the dream of a free and equal society is crushed. Kids are savvy enough readers to understand the message of Orwell's tale, especially as they have certainly observed modern examples of the danger of power and its corrupting influence.
Ages 11 and up
The Iliad and The Odyssey, adapted by Gareth Hinds
Find The Iliad: Bookshop | Amazon
Find The Odyssey: Bookshop | Amazon
One summer I gave these two graphic novel adaptations of the Homeric classics to my elder teen because I wasn't sure he was going to have a chance to read the originals in school, and I was certain he wouldn't read them on his own. Hinds is a master at adapting classics into graphic novel format and these are terrific. Both of these tales are full of illustrations of gory warfare (the kind that you'd have to imagine if you read the original epic poems) so they aren't for the faint of heart. In case you're wondering, his high school class did end up reading The Odyssey.
Beowulf by Gareth Hinds
Here's a classic your teen is highly unlikely ever to read in the original. I've never read the Old English heroic epic poem, have you? But this graphic novel version is an excellent way for teens to familiarize themselves with the story without slogging through the original tale of Beowulf and his battle with Grendel. Unlike many graphic novels, there are no speech bubbles. The narrative is written alongside the illustrations, or offset into white text boxes.
The Great Gatsby F. Scott Fitzgerald, adapted by Fred Forman, illustrated by Aya Morton
Now that Fitzgerald's iconic work is in the public domain, expect all sort of adaptations. Having not read the book since high school, I really enjoyed revisiting the decadent world of Jay Gatsby in this Art Deco, pastel-colored version of the Jazz Age classic. Despite the distillation of the text, it still managed to pack an emotional punch. Fred Fordham has also adapted To Kill a Mockingbird and Brave New World, in case you are looking for more!
Manga Shakespeare Classics, adapted by Crystal S. Chan
The Manga Classics series includes more than just Shakespeare, but that is all I'm able to recommend here, having not looked at the others. The Shakespeare adaptations are pretty useful, actually. Each one includes the full, original text and while of course nothing is a substitute for seeing a live performance, these books offer young readers an accessible alternative to reading the scripts. Note: be sure to look for the full original text versions and not the "modern English" versions.
Poems to See By: A Comic Artist Interprets Great Poetry by Julian Peters
I really loved this book! While many of the poems are appropriate for younger kids, I think the book as a whole will be better appreciated by teens and adults. The volume includes a wide variety of poetry. There is everything from Carl Sandberg to Maya Angelou to W.B. Yeats. Each poem is illustrated in a distinct style, different from the others. Readers will be fascinated and will surely discover new insights into familiar poems as well as enjoying new-to-them poems. Following each graphic take on the poem, is the original text.
Thank you, thank you for this list! My daughter is reading the classics but loves to read graphic novels in her spare time. I really appreciate the reviews you give.
Thank you for this great list! My boys (ages 11 and 13) have both read the Odyssey and Iliad adaptations, and I'm looking forward to sharing some of the others on this list.
I, myself, have read a few Jane Austen graphic novels and quite enjoyed them. Perhaps those would make it on a list like this as well. 🙂
Hi Kaly, Thanks for your comment. I haven't read any Austen graphic novels, yet, but I do have a list of YA adaptations of Austen!