Graphic novels are an excellent alternative to the standard easy reader books. Please don’t shy away from graphic novels for beginning readers. Kids who are learning to read need to have as many opportunities as possible to find books they can connect with—and which will consequently turn them into voracious readers. These aren’t just your standard “comic books,” they are wonderful easy readers, too.
I find it challenging to make lists for this age group because there can be a huge range of reading levels as kids are learning to read. I experienced this myself. One of my sons was reading chapter books at the age of 4, the other was just becoming a fluent reader around his 7th birthday. Because of this, what I have done is gathered graphic novels that cover a range of levels for this age group, but made sure that the content is age appropriate even for a 5 year old who is already a fluent reader. (Note: book covers and titles are affiliate links.)
A Trip to the Bottom of the World by Frank Viva. Viva’s own experience traveling to the Antarctic inspired the story of a mouse and his owner. Dialogue is told in comic bubbles, with the mouse repeating the familiar refrain, “Can we go home now?” On the journey the duo meet penguins, swim in a warm water lake (yes, it really exists!), spot an orca… in other words they have such a good time, that when it’s time to go, mouse inquires, “Can we go back there soon?”
You really can’t go wrong with any of the TOON books. They are labelled with different reading and interest levels. If graphic novels motivate your beginning readers, you will do well to bring home stacks of TOON books for your child. I’ve never read one I didn’t like and some of my personal favorites include the following:
- Tippy and the Night Parade
- Benjamin Bear
- Otto and the Orange Day
- Written and Drawn by Henrietta
- Flop to the Top!
- Nina in That Makes Me Mad
- The Shark King
Little Robot by Ben Hatke. Hatke wrote the popular Zita in Space series, and this nearly wordless graphic novel is equally wonderful. A young girl finds a robot and when she activates him, he becomes her friend. When some bigger robots come to bully them and take away her new friend, the girl rises to the occasion and through her own perseverance protects her friend. Utterly wonderful and a book worth taking time with.
NOTE: Little Robot and Owly (see below) may be nearly wordless, but there are great benefits to beginning readers to reading wordless books. I’ve discussed this in previous posts, “By reading [wordless books], kids synthesize text, story, illustrations and understand that words convey pathos, climax, and dénouement. This is crucial for reading comprehension.”
Owly (series) by Andy Runton. I first learned of Owly a few years ago on Free Comic Book Day. Then I discovered a few books in the library and brought them home. Owly is pretty cute, actually. Owly is a sweet, kind owl and all of the stories I have read focus on friendship and helping others.
Sleepless Knight by James Sturm, Alexis Frederick-Frost, and Andrew Arnold. A quirky knight and his trusty steed, Edward go on a camping trip. The knight needs his teddy bear to go to sleep but trouble starts when he can’t find his teddy bear, that he is sure he packed! I found this to be a wonderfully charming story. It is part of a series “Adventures in Cartooning,” which includes several graphic novels for beginning readers.
Hilda and the Troll (Hildafolk series) by Luke Pearson. I love Hilda and her folklore-ish world, but then I have a penchant for anything remotely Scandinavian, and Hilda inhabits a decidedly magical Northern landscape. Hilda is a curious, practical and spunky blue-haired girl. In this first book, Hilda sets off to do some drawing and comes across a mountain troll, but that is just the beginning of her adventure.
Hamster and Cheese (series) by Colleen AF Venable, and Stephanie Yue is a graphic novel series about the “world’s fluffiest detective”. In the first book, Sasspants, PI(G) is determined to solve the mystery of the missing sandwich, going so far as to set a trap by disguising a turtle as a sandwich in order to smoke out the thief. The cast of characters in the pet shop are highly entertaining and quite hilarious.
Binky the Space Cat (series) by Ashley Spires. Binky is a house cat who dreams of rocketing into space and battling aliens. Of course, to Binky, this means going outside, battling bugs and other antics. One day he finds and application to Felines of the Universe Ready for Space Travel and his journey begins. I love the deadpan humor of this book.
The Flying Beaver Brothers (series) by Maxwell Eaton III. This is a quirky graphic novel for beginning readers, as you might have figured out by the title. Ace and Bub and the Flying Beaver Brothers but they are also quite different, which makes for some funny situations. Ace is adventurous, Bub prefers to nap. But they both agree that saving their island via a surfing competition is of the utmost importance.
Mr. Pants (series) by Scott Mccormick and R. H. Lazzell. My 7 year old adores Mr. Pants. I frequently hear him giggling while reading it and he awaiting the next book in the series. Mr. Pants is an odd cat who engages in some standard hijinks and the humor is not exactly highbrow, but there is nothing inappropriate about the text and heh, my kid is reading – so get these from the library.
Beep and Bah (series) by James Burks. Burks also wrote Bird and Squirrel, which I have previously and heartily recommended. This is listed by the publisher as a picture book, but I think the format will make it appealing for kids who like graphic novels. Beep the robot and Bah the goat are friends, but they have quite different agendas. Bah doesn’t like the trouble that Beep inevitably leads him into. This time, Beep finds a sock and is determined to find its match. The search takes them on a whirlwind adventure. I won’t give away the ending but it is quite delightful.
Bean Dog and Nugget (series) by Charise Mericle Harper. This is a great series of beginning graphic novles for early readers. Bean Dog and his friend, Nugget, lose a ball in a bush. They spend some time discussing how they will retrieve it. There are lots of silly jokes and they whole thing is rather goofy but still great fun for kids who are starting to read.
Sticky Burr (series) by John Lechner. I never thought I’d find myself recommending a book about a taking burr. Yet, here I am. Sticky Burr lives in the forest with friends like Mossy Burr and a nemesis named Scurvy Burr. Sticky Burr becomes an unlikely hero, rescuing dragon-fly princesses and saving his village from dogs. Weird but fun.
The Great Pet Escape by Victoria Jamieson. Jamieson is the author of the popular Roller Girl. This is the first book in a new series, Pets on the Loose. A class pet, GW the hamster, has collected enough classroom debris to create a machine to allow him to escape his cage. He sets out to free the other class pets where chaos and hijinks ensue. My 3rd grader loved this one!
Kung Pow Chicken (series) straddles the line between graphic novel and chapter book. My then-6 year old LOVED this series and demanded I check all of them out of the library. A young chicken gains superpowers when he accidentally falls into a mysterious vat in his uncle’s lab in their home town of Fowladelphia. In this first adventure, he and his sidekick must figure out what is causing the local population to lose their feathers. Silly and fun.
Graphic novel book lists:
- Graphic novels for beginning readers (you’re reading it!)
- Graphic novels for kids grades 3-5 (and up)
- Graphic novels, grades 4-8
More books for early readers:
- Easy reader books that are actually easy
- Easy readers that won’t make you want to poke your eyes out
- Diverse easy readers
- Classic easy reader books