Though debates abound about whether graphic novel adaptations can live up to their source material, readers don’t need to choose; these titles, aimed at a variety of readers, can be read alongside the original works for enhanced understanding.
Debates about whether graphic novels qualify as real literature still abound, with many doubting that a book adapted into comics form can ever live up to its source material. But readers don’t need to choose; graphic adaptations can easily be read alongside the titles that inspired them. Below is a list of superb titles aimed at a variety of readers. Some, like the “Manga Classics” books, faithfully adapt works from the canon and may aid students attempting to plow through unfamiliar prose, while others, such as Jo and The Jungle, offer more fanciful takes. Others introduce classic works of kid lit, such as The Giver or Tom’s Midnight Garden, to a new generation. And still others take on more recent works, including adaptations of the video game Five Nights at Freddy’s and Tui T. Sutherland’s “Wings of Fire” series.
Joe Quinn’s Poltergeist by David Almond. illus. by Dave McKean. Candlewick. ISBN 9781536201604.
Gr 6 Up–Based on a previously published story by Almond and set in a small English village, this work follows two teens questioning whether one really has a poltergeist living at his house. McKean’s mixed-media illustrations evoke the kinetic energy of supernatural activity and teenage angst, resulting in a witty approach to those adolescent moments that push past the boundaries of the rational world.
Speak: The Graphic Novel by Laurie Halse Anderson. illus. by Emily Carroll. Farrar. ISBN 9780374300289.
Gr 7 Up–This potent retelling of a modern classic blends words and images to create magic: a new representation of a teen whose voice is ripped from her, the battles she must wage to find it again, and the triumph of finally being able to speak out. Gripping and powerful, and bound to introduce Speak to a brand-new audience and enthrall fans.
The Handmaid’s Tale: The Graphic Novel by Margaret Atwood. illus. & adapt. by Renée Nault. Doubleday/Nan A. Talese Bks. ISBN 9780385539241.
Gr 9 Up–This worthy adaptation of a legendary and award-winning novel describes a world where a tyrannical religious regime has taken power, forcing many women to carry and birth children to combat widespread infertility. At times, following the narrative word for word, and other times expanding the plot to portray deeper themes of fear, determined resistance, and the complicity of the public, each frame melds with the text until neither can exist without the other.
Long Story Short: 100 Classic Books in Three Panels by Lisa Brown. illus. by author. Algonquin. ISBN 9781616205034.
Gr 9 Up–Like a snarky SparkNotes, this mischievous, charming collection turns 100 classics into brief comic strips, from Charlotte’s Web to Beloved to Oedipus Rex. Brown is an observant reader, and her comedic timing is impeccable, whether she’s poking fun at Henry David Thoreau’s hypocrisy or transforming the Ingalls family into “pioneers with a sense of entitlement.” Literature students bored with their required reading will delight at this off-kilter look at the canon.
Kindred by Octavia E. Butler. adapt. by Damian Duffy. illus. by John Jennings. Abrams ComicArts. ISBN 9781419709470.
Gr 9 Up–Exploring oppression, racism, sexism, and survival, this searing, painful, but necessary graphic novel adaptation of Butler’s classic sci-fi work follows Dana, a Black woman living in the 1970s who is periodically ripped from the present and forced back to antebellum Maryland, where she comes to the aid of her white ancestor Rufus. A compelling work that belongs in all libraries serving teens.
The Silver Eyes by Scott Cawthon & Kira Breed-Wrisley. adapt. & illus. by Claudia Schröder. Scholastic/Graphix. (Five Nights at Freddy’s: The Graphic Novel: Bk. 1). ISBN 9781338298482.
Gr 7 Up–Old friends’ nostalgic reminiscing about an old pizza place is interrupted by lingering trauma from a series of unresolved murders in this comics version of the novel adaptation of the jump-scare video game series. Schröder’s illustrations escalate the horror, establishing with wide, clear angles the decrepit mall that’s been built around the abandoned pizza place. Worth a night staying up reading by flashlight, whether you know the games or this is your first time at Freddy’s.
The Mortal Instruments: The Graphic Novel by Cassandra Clare. adapt. & illus. by Cassandra Jean. Yen. ISBN 9780316465816.
Gr 7 Up–This graphic novel version of the first volume in Clare’s “Mortal Instruments” series remains true to the spirit of the original story about a teenage girl who discovers a fantastic world that’s invisible to most humans. Jean’s artistic style makes the characters look angular and ethereal, like manga with a touch of the TV series Æon Flux, and will entice devotees and newcomers alike.
The Great Gatsby: A Graphic Novel Adaptation by F. Scott Fitzgerald. adapt. & illus. by K. Woodman-Maynard. Candlewick. ISBN 9781536213010.
Gr 9 Up–Timed to coincide with the public domain debut of The Great Gatsby, this atmospheric adaptation translates the high school staple to graphic novel format. Though Woodman-Maynard makes a few changes to pacing and omits anti-Semitic overtones, she captures the mood and Roaring Twenties setting with mellifulous watercolors informed by period ephemera and pure imagination.
Anne Frank’s Diary: The Graphic Adaptation by Anne Frank. adapt. by Ari Folman. illus. by David Polonsky. Pantheon. ISBN 9781101871799.
Gr 8 Up–Authorized by the Anne Frank Foundation, this volume beautifully brings to life the inhabitants of the Secret Annex. The visuals capture the heartbreak of families in prolonged hiding and Anne’s intense daydreaming. The original work has long been an important work for children and adults alike; this graphic adaptation adds even more meaning for newer generations’ introduction to Holocaust literature.
Jo: An Adaptation of Little Women (Sort of) by Kathleen Gros. illus. by author. HarperCollins/Quill Tree. ISBN 9780062875976.
Gr 5-8–This middle grade graphic novelization imagines Jo March as an eighth grade blogger and writer for the school paper, coping with best friend Laurie’s confession of love and with her own feelings for Freddie Baher, the paper’s female editor. Jo leads a life that’s at once conventional and convoluted, but the March women always get by with a little effort and a whole lot of love. A super-cute, heartstring-strumming, accessible rendition.
The Giver Graphic Novel by Lois Lowry. adapt. & illus. by P. Craig Russell. HMH. ISBN 9780544157880.
Gr 6 Up–Russell blends words and images to create a brilliant new representation of Lowry’s dystopian conflict between the ideals of free will and security. This stunning adaptation will introduce the Newbery-winning novel to a new audience and delight longtime fans.
Karen’s Witch by Ann M. Martin. adapt. & illus. by Katy Farina. Scholastic/Graphix. (Baby-sitter’s Little Sister Graphic Novel: Bk. 1). ISBN 9781338356113.
Gr 2-5–This graphic novel adaptation of the first installment in the “Baby Sitters Little Sister” series centers on the exploits of Karen Brewer, the imaginative younger stepsister of Babysitter’s Club founder Kristy Thomas. Following closely in the vein of the comics remakes of the “Babysitters Club,” it’s sure to be popular among newcomers and fans of the original series. Be sure to check out the ongoing graphic novel adaptations of the “Babysitter’s Club” series, such as Kristy’s Big Idea, Claudia and the Phantom Phone Calls, and Dawn and the Impossible Three; with the new Netflix series, the books are seeing a resurgence.
Poems To See By: A Comic Artist Interprets Great Poetry. illus. by Julian Peters. Plough. ISBN 9780874863185.
Gr 7 Up–Peters gives 24 classic poems from the 19th and 20th centuries the graphic novel treatment, from a manga-style version of William Butler Yeats’s “When You Are Old” to a quilt-inspired take on Maya Angelou’s “Caged Bird.” Though transitions can be abrupt, contextual information about the entries will aid in understanding. For classroom use or for libraries where new takes on classic poetry are in high demand.
Tom’s Midnight Garden by Philippa Pearce. adapt. & illus. by Edith. tr. from French by Liz Cross. HarperCollins/Greenwillow. ISBN 9780062696588.
Gr 4-7–This excellent graphic novel adaptation centers on a boy who, while visiting his aunt and uncle, discovers a magnificent garden, where he returns each night to enjoy its wonders and the friendship of a girl named Hatty. Edith adeptly brings to life Pearce’s descriptive language, using a minimum of carefully chosen text and flawlessly capturing the characters. A superb way to introduce this classic to a new generation of readers.
Long Way Down: The Graphic Novel by Jason Reynolds. adapt. & illus. by Danica Novgorodoff. S. & S./Atheneum. ISBN 9781534444959.
Gr 9 Up–Novgorodoff adapts Reynolds’s tale of a Black teenager on a fateful elevator ride as he weighs whether to take the life of his brother’s killer, with ghosts from the past offering guidance. Reynolds’s words paint pictures of their own in this tragic yet poignant illustrated tale that offers no answers to the seemingly impossible choices some communities face.
Hamlet by William Shakespeare. adapt. by Crystal S. Chan. illus. by Julien Choy. Udon Entertainment. ISBN 9781947808119.
Gr 7 Up–Chan and Choy’s manga adaptation is a dramatic, striking version of Shakespeare’s tale of murder and madness. The expressive artwork conveys the fear, resentment, and madness that are central to this play. This vividly violent tale will appeal to ambitious manga readers and can serve as supplemental material for the study of Hamlet; check out other “Manga Classics,” such as Pride and Prejudice, Emma, and The Scarlet Letter.
The Jungle by Upton Sinclair. adapt. & illus. by Kristina Gehrmann. Crown/Ten Speed. ISBN 9781984856487.
Gr 9 Up–Gehrmann’s adaptation of Sinclair’s muckraking classic offers a simplified, character-driven version of the original’s horrors and is a humanizing supplement to the at-times tiresome source material. Though this work substantially differs from its inspiration, the central message—anticapitalist, pro-socialist, and morally outraged—still rings loud and clear.
The Dragonet Prophecy: The Graphic Novel by Tui T. Sutherland. adapt. & illus. by Mike Holmes. (Wings of Fire: Bk. 1). Scholastic/Graphix. ISBN 9780545942164.
Gr 4-7–This graphic novel adaptation of the first “Wings of Fire” installment centers on five young “dragonets” who are being trained to save the dragon world from war and destruction as they rebel against their handlers and strike out to discover their own destiny. Fans of the series will be drawn to this visual representation of their favorite characters, as will those who enjoy epic, animal-based fantasies.