Story-heavy graphic novels for kids:

The Great Chicago Fire: Rising from the Ashes | Kate Hannigan & Alex Graudins

Summary: A fictionalized account of what happened before, during, and after the Chicago Fire (which burned for 30 hours before it was done), this story follows the movements of a couple of kids as they try to reunite their lost puppy with family. Of course, their concerns turn graver as they realize they are cut off from home and family themselves. Watching all the city be affected by the 1871 disaster, there are simple enough discussions about class differences and immigration for kids to get. Readers will celebrate with Franny and J.P. at each victory, even those as small as finding water or an apple. At nearly 120 pages, there are extra author’s notes and fast facts to enjoy as well.

Recommendation: Thick with captions and extra information, the story unfolds with a variety of points of view to be overheard in passing by our main characters. This way, they experience the bigotry and disregard that many felt at the time about the Irish immigrants. Noting how price-gouging wasn’t a fair practice, they also understood the concept of supply and demand. Rumor mongering, starvation, and homelessness were met with charity, faith, and generosity from afar. There’s a great explanation for the start of the Chicago free library system included.

Urban Legendz | Paul Downs

Summary: Caught up with the job change and location for his policeman dad, D moves into Brooklyn with his family. Making new friends is always a chore, but avoiding some groups on the street seems more imperative. He finally falls in with some good kids who seem to know more than the adults about what’s going on in their neighborhood. Alligators in the sewers, giant gargoyles, rampaging insect monsters – is any of it true? Making strange allies along the way, D and the Urban Legendz gang will risk fighting off the incursion to their neighborhood.

Recommendation: At 108 heavily-filled pages long, this full color and well shaded graphic novel is meant to be enjoyed over several reading periods. Don’t give yourself a headache with the whole thing, cover-to-cover, in just one sitting. It’s got a lot of characters and action to follow – you’ll want a bookmark. The underlying theme about family, loyalty, and neighborhood pride are handled in a satisfying manner, especially as you discover who the ‘real enemy’ is.

Stargazing | Jen Wang

Summary: This is a great slice of life story that’s presented in graphic novel form. From first meeting to best friend status, these girls go through a lot together. Noting their differences, each has a unique way of adjusting to the changes around them. Christine and Moon react to school, their families, their shared culture, pop icon entertainments, food, religious belief, boys, and natural jealousies of each other. Christine makes a decision that she later regrets, but the timing is awful – she can’t approach Moon to say she’s sorry yet.

Recommendation: Over 200 pages long, the scenes can be dense but more often are given the freedom to break panel borders. Wang does a beautiful job making you slow down for serious moments or read in a faster pace for the action scenes. The hints along the narrative about something being ‘wrong’ are best seen through Christine’s reactions and expressions. Moon doesn’t have any idea there’s something to be concerned about. Obliquely, this is a soft comment upon homelessness and the kindness of community.

About the author

Smithton Public Library

The Smithton Public Library District is located in southern Illinois, near St. Louis, MO. The library serves nearly 5,000 residents. We hope you visit us soon!