Fostering curiosity in kids (and their parents) since 2011

The Caterpickles Middle Grade Gift Book Guide: Part 1 – Ten Great Graphic Novels

“Do you have any book recommendations for middle schoolers?”

My favorite thing about December is that people start contacting me out of the blue asking for book recommendations. This year, I’ve gotten a larger than usual number of requests specifically aimed at buying books to give to middle schoolers, so I thought I’d post some recommendations here on Caterpickles. 

Before I get to that though, let’s talk about the structure of the Caterpickles Middle School Book Gift Guide. In the interest of getting as many book titles as possible on this list without obliterating my ability to work on anything else between now and the new year, I’m going to simply copy and paste the book description from Goodreads, and limit my comments about any given book to a quick explanation of how it made the list.

I’m also going to break the list up over multiple weeks. This week, I’ll talk about graphic novels, next week I’ll provide some fiction recommendations, and in week three, I’ll list a few nonfiction picks.

The Caterpickles Middle Grade Gift Book Guide Criteria

In some cases, a book will be on this list because I read it and love it without reservation. In other cases, I put books on the list because:

  • The kids keep checking it out at the library
  • I keep having to repair the library’s copy because the kids are reading it so enthusiastically
  • I overheard one of the librarians recommend it to a student who then checked it out

I’ll let you know for each book which criteria snagged them a place on the list.

Why start with graphic novels?

Every day I walk into the library, I know that I’m going to need to spend at least part of my shift cleaning up the graphic novel section. A good chunk of the kids who come into the library at break and at lunch head straight there. Their daily prowls through the graphic novel stacks inevitably leave this section in cheerful disarray.

When you’re giving a book to a middle schooler, you want your gift to be greeted with this sort of enthusiasm.

OK? Let’s begin.

The Caterpickles Middle Grade Gift Book Guide:
Part 1 – Ten Great Graphic Novels

Here are ten of the graphic novels I keep having to check out, reshelve, and repair at our local middle school library. All books are fiction, unless otherwise noted. Books are listed in alphabetical order by the author’s last name.

#1 El Deafo by Cece Bell (Memoir)

From the book description on Goodreads…

“Starting at a new school is scary, even more so with a giant hearing aid strapped to your chest! At her old school, everyone in Cece’s class was deaf. Here she is different. She is sure the kids are staring at the Phonic Ear, the powerful aid that will help her hear her teacher. Too bad it also seems certain to repel potential friends.

“Then Cece makes a startling discovery. With the Phonic Ear she can hear her teacher not just in the classroom, but anywhere her teacher is in school — in the hallway… in the teacher’s lounge… in the bathroom! This is power. Maybe even superpower! Cece is on her way to becoming El Deafo, Listener for All. But the funny thing about being a superhero is that it’s just another way of feeling different… and lonely. Can Cece channel her powers into finding the thing she wants most, a true friend?

“This funny perceptive graphic novel memoir about growing up hearing impaired is also an unforgettable book about growing up, and all the super and super embarrassing moments along the way.”

Why El Deafo made the list: I keep having to reshelve it.

#2 Awkward by Svetlana Chmakova

From the book description on Goodreads…

“Cardinal rule #1 for surviving school: Don’t get noticed by the mean kids.

“Cardinal rule #2 for surviving school: Seek out groups with similar interests and join them.

“On her first day at her new school, Penelope–Peppi–Torres reminds herself of these basics. But when she trips into a quiet boy in the hall, Jaime Thompson, she’s already broken the first rule, and the mean kids start calling her the ‘nerder girlfriend.’ How does she handle this crisis? By shoving poor Jaime and running away!

“Falling back on rule two and surrounding herself with new friends in the art club, Peppi still can’t help feeling ashamed about the way she treated Jaime. Things are already awkward enough between the two, but to make matters worse, he’s a member of her own club’s archrivals–the science club! And when the two clubs go to war, Peppi realizes that sometimes you have to break the rules to survive middle school!”

Why Awkward made the list: The librarian keeps recommending it to kids.

#3 Brave by Svetlana Chmakova

From the book description on Goodreads…

“In his daydreams, Jensen is the biggest hero that ever was, saving the world and his friends on a daily basis. But his middle school reality is VERY different – math is hard, getting along with friends is hard…Even finding a partner for the class project is a big problem when you always get picked last. And the pressure’s on even more once the school newspaper’s dynamic duo, Jenny and Akilah, draw Jensen into the whirlwind of school news, social experiment projects, and behind-the-scenes club drama. Jensen’s always played the middle school game one level at a time, but suddenly, someone’s cranked up the difficulty setting. Will those daring daydreams of his finally work in his favor, or will he have to find real solutions to his real life problems?”

Why Brave made the list: The librarian keeps recommending it to kids.

#4 Real Friends by Shannon Hale (Memoir)

From the book description on Goodreads…

When best friends are not forever . . .

“Shannon and Adrienne have been best friends ever since they were little. But one day, Adrienne starts hanging out with Jen, the most popular girl in class and the leader of a circle of friends called The Group. Everyone in The Group wants to be Jen’s #1, and some girls would do anything to stay on top . . . even if it means bullying others.

“Now every day is like a roller coaster for Shannon. Will she and Adrienne stay friends? Can she stand up for herself? And is she in The Group—or out?

“Newbery Honor author Shannon Hale and New York Times bestselling illustrator LeUyen Pham join forces in this graphic memoir about how hard it is to find your real friends—and why it’s worth the journey.”

Why Real Friends made the list: I keep having to reshelve it.

#5 Zita the Space Girl by Ben Hatke

From the book description on Goodreads…

“Zita’s life took a cosmic left turn in the blink of an eye.

“When her best friend is abducted by an alien doomsday cult, Zita leaps to the rescue and finds herself a stranger on a strange planet. Humanoid chickens and neurotic robots are shocking enough as new experiences go, but Zita is even more surprised to find herself taking on the role of intergalactic hero. Before long, aliens in all shapes and sizes don’t even phase her. Neither do ancient prophecies, doomed planets, or even a friendly con man who takes a mysterious interest in Zita’s quest.

“Zita the Spacegirl is a fun, captivating tale of friendship and redemption from Flight veteran Ben Hatke. It also has more whimsical, eye-catching, Miyazaki-esque monsters than you can shake a stick at.” 

Why Zita the Space Girl made the list: I keep having to reshelve it. Oh, and my daughter liked it.

#6 The Nameless City by Faith Erin Hicks

From the book description on Goodreads…

The City has many names… and no name.

“Built on an ancient mountain pass, the City is forever being invaded by one nation or another, and every new master gives it a new name. But for the natives, their home is the Nameless City, and those who try to name it are forever outsiders.

“Dreamy, sheltered Kaidu is one such outsider. He’s a Dao born and bred — a son of the latest nation to occupy the Nameless City. Cynical, street-smart Rat is a native, and at first she hates Kai for everything he stands for. But Kai’s love of his new home may be the one thing that can unite these two unlikely friends. And they will need to stand together at all costs…

…because the fate of the Nameless City rests in their hands.

Why The Nameless City made the list: I keep having to reshelve it.

#7 The Stonekeeper (Amulet #1) by Kazu Kibuishi

From the book description on Goodreads:

“Graphic novel star Kazu Kibuishi creates a world of terrible, man-eating demons, a mechanical rabbit, a giant robot—and two ordinary children on a life-or-death mission.”

“After the tragic death of their father, Emily and Navin move with their mother to the home of her deceased great-grandfather, but the strange house proves to be dangerous. Before long, a sinister creature lures the kids’ mom through a door in the basement. Em and Navin, desperate not to lose her, follow her into an underground world inhabited by demons, robots, and talking animals.”

“Eventually, they enlist the help of a small mechanical rabbit named Miskit. Together with Miskit, they face the most terrifying monster of all, and Em finally has the chance to save someone she loves.”

Why Amulet made the list: Kids are constantly checking it out to read at home

#8 March: Book One by John Lewis (Nonfiction)

From the book description on Goodreads…

“Congressman John Lewis (GA-5) is an American icon, 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.

“Now, to share his remarkable story with new generations, Lewis presents March, a graphic novel trilogy, in collaboration with co-writer Andrew Aydin and New York Times best-selling artist Nate Powell (winner of the Eisner Award and LA Times Book Prize finalist for Swallow Me Whole).

“March is a vivid first-hand account of John Lewis’ lifelong struggle for civil and human rights, meditating in the modern age on the distance traveled since the days of Jim Crow and segregation. Rooted in Lewis’ personal story, it also reflects on the highs and lows of the broader civil rights movement.

“Book One spans John Lewis’ youth in rural Alabama, his life-changing meeting with Martin Luther King, Jr., the birth of the Nashville Student Movement, and their battle to tear down segregation through nonviolent lunch counter sit-ins, building to a stunning climax on the steps of City Hall.

“Many years ago, John Lewis and other student activists drew inspiration from the 1950s comic book “Martin Luther King and the Montgomery Story.” Now, his own comics bring those days to life for a new audience, testifying to a movement whose echoes will be heard for generations.”

Why March made the list: I read and love it whole-heartedly. I learned a lot from it too. Be sure to read Books 2 and 3 as well.

#9 Smile by Raina Telgemeier

From the book description on Goodreads…

“Raina just wants to be a normal sixth grader. But one night after Girl Scouts she trips and falls, severely injuring her two front teeth, and what follows is a long and frustrating journey with on-again, off-again braces, surgery, embarrassing headgear, and even a retainer with fake teeth attached. And on top of all that, there’s still more to deal with: a major earthquake, boy confusion, and friends who turn out to be not so friendly. This coming-of-age true story is sure to resonate with anyone who has ever been in middle school, and especially those who have ever had a bit of their own dental drama.”

Why Smile made the list: I keep having to reshelve it. Repaired it a couple of times too.

Note: This list is getting pretty long, so I didn’t make separate entries for them, but based on the kids’ reading habits at our school, you pretty much can’t go wrong with Raina Telgemeier. Sisters, Drama, and Ghosts are being read on constant rotation too.

#10 The Prince and the Dressmaker by Jen Wang

From the book description on Goodreads…

“Paris, at the dawn of the modern age:

“Prince Sebastian is looking for a bride―or rather, his parents are looking for one for him. Sebastian is too busy hiding his secret life from everyone. At night he puts on daring dresses and takes Paris by storm as the fabulous Lady Crystallia―the hottest fashion icon in the world capital of fashion!

“Sebastian’s secret weapon (and best friend) is the brilliant dressmaker Frances―one of only two people who know the truth: sometimes this boy wears dresses. But Frances dreams of greatness, and being someone’s secret weapon means being a secret. Forever. How long can Frances defer her dreams to protect a friend? Jen Wang weaves an exuberantly romantic tale of identity, young love, art, and family. A fairy tale for any age, The Prince and the Dressmaker will steal your heart.” 

Why The Prince and the Dressmaker made the list: This book met all three criteria. I keep having to reshelve it, repair it, and check it out to kids eager to read it at home.

A final note

Obviously, not every book on this list will appeal to every reader. This list is only intended to help you start your search.

Also, I am certain I’ve missed some great graphic novels. The Twelve-Year-Old and I would love it if you’d leave a comment and tell us about great graphic novels we’ve missed.

Related Links:

3 Responses to “The Caterpickles Middle Grade Gift Book Guide: Part 1 – Ten Great Graphic Novels”

  1. Shala Howell

    A couple of additions have come in via Facebook, so I thought I’d add them as comments to this post.

    1) Nathan Hale’s Hazardous Tales graphic novel series (historical fiction)
    2) Star-Crossed by Barbara Dee (a middle school love story about a girl with a crush on a girl.)

    Keep the graphic novel recommendations coming!



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