Books bring history to life in a way that dates and dry facts can't. These exciting historical graphic novels will entice even the most reluctant reader to dive into historical time periods and places like the Old West, World War II, the Civil Rights Era, and sixteenth century Ireland.
Historical graphic novels use a combination of illustration and text bring significant historical events and personalities to life for young readers, ages 7- 14. They shed light on nearly-forgotten history, and bring new perspectives add context to even the most widely taught events, turning every tween and teen into an enthusiastic history buff!
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The Legend of Auntie Po by Shing Yin Khor
Mei is a Chinese-American girl living in the 19th century Sierra Nevadas, where her father is a cook at a logging camp. She tells tales of Auntie Po, a Paul Bunyon-like folk tale figure. Anti-Chinese sentiment and disgruntlement among the loggers leads to conflict and although Mei's father's white boss is well-meaning and supportive, his words are less effective than action. Although the story addresses serious subject matter, the overall tone if hopeful. Ages 9 and up.
Queen of the Sea (series) by Dylan Meconis
This is a really fun graphic novel inspired by the life and times of Elizabeth I. Margaret, an orphan lives on an island in a convent. But her world is upended when the banished Queen Eleanor comes to the island and she learns the truth about her own identity. This is a fun, fast-paced story which still manages to convey a lot of detail about medieval life. Queen of the Sea is the first graphic novel in a planned series. Ages 10 and up.
Catherine's War by Julia Billet, illustrated by Claire Fauvel
Catherine's War is a historical fiction graphic novel based on the real life experiences of the author's mother in France during World War II. In 1942, Rachel Cohen attends the Sèvres Children's Home. When the Nazis arrive they force the Jewish population to register and wear the yellow star, but the school resists. Instead they issue false papers and identities to their students and Rachel becomes Catherine Colin. Eventually Catherine must leave the school and go into hiding elsewhere, but she takes her camera and documents her experience. Excellent. Ages 8 and up.
Stealing Home by J. Torres, illustrated by David Namisato
Sandy Saito's family lives in Vancouver, British Columbia. Sandy loves baseball, and especially going to games with his dad to watch the Vancouver Asahi team play. In 1941, the Canadian government places restrictions on Japanese Canadians, including forcing families like Sandy's into internment camps. Life in the camp is hard, and Sandy uses baseball as a way to help him manage his new reality. Ages 9 and up.
Hidden: A Child's Story of the Holocaust by Loïc Dauvillier, Greg Salsedo, and Marc Lizano
This is an extraordinarily touching book, and a very child-appropriate tale of the Holocaust. Dounia tells her granddaughter her experience of being hidden during WWII in France when her parents were taken to concentration camps. The brilliance of this book is we hear and see the story from the viewpoint of both child and grandparent, with key points told through illustrations that compel the reader to ask more questions and analyze for themselves what is happening. Ages 9 and up.
Nathan Hale's Hazardous Tales (Series) by Nathan Hale
Both my children love the Nathan Hale's historical graphic novels. The topics range from the Revolutionary War to the Donner Party, the Alamo to WWI and more. As a narrator, Hale makes history fascinating and funny. If your kids say they aren't "into history" sneak a few of these books into their reading stash. Ages 8 and up.
Around the World by Matt Phelan
Phelan takes the stories of three adventurers and mashes them into one epic circumnavigational extravaganza. Phelan's artwork is almost sketch-like. His narration requires a bit more reading between the lines, and Phelan addresses the perils of traveling around the world as well as the romance. Ages 9 and up.
Black Heroes of the Wild West by James Otis Smith
Yes, indeed, there were many Black heroes in the Wild West and they led fascinating lives, as this graphic novel will show you. Smith shares the tales of Mary Fields, aka “Stagecoach Mary,” Bass Reeves, the first black Deputy U.S. Marshal west of the Mississippi, and Bob Lemmons, a talented horseman. The stories are fascinating, and Smith shares interesting historical facts and background in extensive endnotes. Ages 7 and up.
The Great Chicago Fire (History Comics Series) by Kate Hannigan, illustrated by Alexandra Graudins
Graphic novels are a great way to make history come alive for kids who may be a little–shall we say–"history reluctant." Boring date memorization can't hold a candle to exciting illustrations and witty asides housed in speech bubbles. Hannigan tells the story of the Chicago fire of 1871 through the eyes of a brother and sister trying to escape the flames. The duo then reappear at the World's Fair in 1893, showing the recovery of the city. I especially appreciated the way Hannigan weaves insightful commentary into the narrative. Ages 8 and up.
There are 8 books in the History Comics series (so far) covering the following topics: the Roanoke Colony, the Challenger Disaster, the Wild Mustang, the American Bison, Stonewall, National Parks, the Transcontinental Railway.
Tales of the Talented Tenth: Robert Smalls by Joel Christian Gill
This is the fascinating story of how Robert Smalls, an enslaved man, escaped South Carolina during the Civil War. While forced to work on a ship, the CSS Planter, Smalls planned and executed an escape to freedom along with other Black sailors, and his family. They were able to sail the ship far enough north to surrender "as contraband" to the North. After the Civil War, Smalls continued to be a leader in politics and education reform. Be sure to check out other books in The Talented Tenth series, including the stories of Bessie Small and Bass Reeves. Ages 10 and up.
March (series) by John Lewis and Andrew Aydin, illustrated by Nate Powell
Lewis, a congressman from Georgia is one of our greatest heroes of the Civil Rights Era. This graphic novel trilogy is Lewis' first hand account of his experiences during the civil rights movement. Lewis provides many personal details and focuses on the non-violent philosophy of the movement. Superb. Ages 10 and up.
Pirate Queen: The Legend of Grace O'Malley by Tony Lee, illustrated by Sam Hart
Here's a fun, rousing tale of a 16th century heroine who wanted to keep the English from invading Ireland. Better than an action movie by far, this book takes readers on a high-stakes adventure in which Grace skillfully wields a sword and sails the high seas in battles against the enemy. Ages 10 and up.
Satchel Paige: Striking Out Jim Crow by James Sturm, illustrated by Rich Tommaso
Fans of baseball and history will enjoy this short graphic novel account of Satchel Paige's time as a Negro League ball player in an era when Black players weren't allowed to play on teams with white players. It's not a traditional biography, but gives an intriguing account of life in the Negro League. The novel's narrator, Emmet, is an 18 year old father and rookie player who describes watching Satchel play. Emmet has to return to his home and work as laborer in Alabama, where the harsh realities of living in the Jim Crow South are ever present. When his son is older, Emmet is able to take his son to watch Satchel play. Ages 11 and up
Superman Smashes the Klan by Gene Luen Yang, illustrated by Gurihiru
I mean, the title of this book makes you want to shout, "Hurray! Hurray!" Right? This graphic novel is an adaptation of a 1940s radio show, “The Clan of the Fiery Cross.” It's 1946 and Jimmy Olsen has just befriended, Roberta and Tommy Lee, who have recently moved to the neighborhood from Chinatown. Unfortunately, the family endures racial prejudice and is terrorized by the Klan. This is an excellent graphic novel that not only appeals to superhero fans, but explores complex issues of identity, immigration and prejudice. Ages 10 and up
Best Shot in the West: The Adventures of Nat Love by Frederick L. McKissack Jr. and Patricia C. McKissack, illustrated by Randy DuBurke
I love the way graphic novels can be thrilling and educational at the same time. Case it point! Nat Love, aka "Deadwood Dick," was born into slavery and went on to become a cowboy in the old Wild West. The authors explain in an endnote about how they melded fictional elements into their biography of this interesting figure. If used in the classroom, this will make the book a great tool for teaching the writing of memoirs as well as the teaching of history. Ages 10 and up.
I Survived series by Lauren Tarshis, illustrators vary
The I Survived series probably does not need an introduction. The extremely popular historical fiction series in which readers are taken on a thrilling and dangerous journey through a variety of historical events such as the sinking of the Titanic, Hurricane Katrina and the American Revolution has been adapted into graphic novel format. As of this writing there are eight I Survived graphic novels. Ages 8 and up.
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