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21 Children's Graphic Novels to Love from 2021

Updated: Oct 31, 2022

When I was growing up way back when in the 1990s, comics for kids were primarily collections of newspaper comic strips.

(Goodness, that sentence made me feel old!)

I adored those books, but the selection was very limited. Now so many incredible titles come out every year and in every genre imaginable. Maybe you didn't know it, but you're living in the golden age of graphic novels for readers of all ages.

Without further ado...


1. TRULY TYLER (Emmie & Friends series)

Premise: Tyler and Emmie team up on an art project, but each worries how others will view their friendship.

Why you'll love it: On the surface, the premise seems like a classic middle grade story. What makes Truly Tyler so special is how each chapter is written from either Tyler or Emmie's perspective. The artwork even shifts from chapter to chapter to mirror their differing drawing styles. As a writer, I thought the book was extremely clever. As a reader, I was riveted.

Reading age: 8-12

2. The Legend of Auntie Po

Premise: In this historical fiction graphic novel, thirteen-year-old Mei replaces the myth of Paul Bunyan with a heroine she can relate to better. At first, Auntie Po is a figment of Mei's imagination. But soon she is as real as the setting: a logging camp in 1885 where Mei and her father face prejudice for being Chinese.

Why you'll love it: This book's warm watercolor texture welcomes you into a world whose prejudice is no match for Mei's optimism.

Reading age: 8-12 and older

3. Turtle in Paradise

Premise: Set in 1935, Turtle moves to Florida to live with relatives. While there, she befriends a rough-and-ready crew of six year olds who babysit for the neighborhood.

This graphic novel is an adaptation of the novel of the same name.

Why you'll love it: Rarely does a graphic novel feel like a novel. This one does. The artwork is as textured as any description. I'd argue that the dialogue is even richer, with all its dialect, thanks to the art.

Reading age: 8-12 and older

4. Jukebox

Premise: When Shaheen's father goes missing, the only clues to find him are a few vinyl records and a mysterious jukebox that may just be...a time machine.

Why you'll love it: Jukebox does a beautiful job of blending historical fiction with magical realism. Music buffs will enjoy the historical Easter eggs. I also highly recommend the author's debut graphic novel Pashmina.

Reading age: 10-14

5. I Survived the Attacks of September 11th, 2021

Premise: I Survived is a novel series by Lauren Tarshis that explores historical tragedies from children's perspectives.

A note: Unfortunately, 2021 marked the twentieth anniversary of the 9/11 attacks.

Why you'll love it: The series does a great job of making difficult historical events relatable for children. This book, in particular, balances the tragedy of 9/11 with a storyline that is as joyful and heartfelt as it is tragic.

Reading age: 8-12

6. In the Shadow of the Fallen Towers

Premise: In the Shadow of the Fallen Towers encourages its reader to step back and see a more global perspective of what happened on September 11th. The book jumps from location to location as it recounts what happened on the day of and during the ensuing aftermath.

Why you'll love it: This book is geared more for adults than children, but it felt important to me to include it on this list. For mature readers, it is both a fascinating and cathartic read. It is one of the best graphic novels of the year.

Reading age: 12 and older

7. Shark Summer

Premise: When a Hollywood film crew arrives on Martha's Vineyard with a mechanical shark, Gayle and Elijah see a chance to make a movie of their own.

Why you'll love it: This book has a great mystery and is a fun adventure! Fans of Jaws will also enjoy the subtle references to the unnamed Hollywood movie alluded to in the plot.

Reading age: 8-12

8. Treasure in the Lake

Premise: Iris feels stuck in her boring town until she discovers an unusually dry river that leads to the ruins of an abandoned city.

Why you'll love it: This is a magical coming-of-age story that will leave you wanting more. How it uncovers history reminded me of The Invention of Hugo Cabret. In comparison, Treasure of the Lake feels smaller in scope, but no less magical.

Reading age: 8-12

9. Thirsty Mermaids

Premise: Three mermaids venture onto land in search of that golden elixir called alcohol.

Why you'll love it: Okay...maybe this isn't a book for children. But I had to include it on this list! I try not to pick favorites, but this is my favorite graphic novel of the year. It is hilarious and has a heartwarming queer narrative that high school readers and older will adore. The author Kat Leyh also cowrote Lumberjanes and the middle grade graphic novel Snapdragon, which is phenomenal.

Reading age: The publisher doesn't provide an age. My instinct is 14 and older. Parents, use your own discretion. The characters drink, and one mermaid repeatedly forgets to wear a top while on land. Besides that, it's a pretty heartwarming, seafaring tale.

10. The Girl from the Sea

Premise: When mysterious Keltie saves Morgan from drowning, both girls fall for each other. But each has a secret that they're afraid will rise to the surface.

Why you'll love it: This is a magical story of first-love with themes of acceptance. It comes from the author of The Witch Boy trilogy, which is equally magical.

Reading age: 12 and older

11. Garlic and the Vampire

Premise: Garlic and her vegetable friends help Witch Agnes garden for the local villagers. When a vampire moves next door, only anxious Garlic has what it takes to confront their blood-sucking neighbor.

Why you'll love it: This might just be the cutest graphic novel of the year. It is a joyful read.

Reading age: 8-12

12. Chef Yasmina and the Potato Panic

Premise: Yasmina's father depends on her nutritious meals to get through the day. When an evil corporation takes over the local gardens, the whole city begins to behave very strangely. Can Chef Yasmina save the day (and the vegetables)?

Why you'll love it: This is a silly, thought-provoking, action-packed, sci-fi graphic novel with environmental themes. Also, it has a great sense of humor.

Reading age: 8-12

13. The Leak

Premise: When Ruth discovers a strange black slime in the local lake, she makes it her mission to investigate the pollution and expose the truth.

Why you'll love it: Young activists will be inspired by Ruth's determination. The mystery behind the leak makes for an intriguing read.

Reading age: 8-12

14. Saving Sorya

Premise: A passionate conservationist rescues a bear and returns her to the wild.

Why you'll love it: The art in Saving Sorya is exquisite with its lush, watercolor palette. The art will make you feel like you're in a jungle. Nature lovers will be inspired to help animals world-wide.

Reading age: 8-12

15. The Way of the Hive

Premise: The Way of the Hive mythologizes the life of a honey bee named Nyuki. Join her and her sisters as they protect the hive.

Why you'll love it: There are very few graphic novels that use the comics art form to its fullest capabilities, with page and panel designs that feel cinematic and even museum-worthy. This is one of those books.

Originally published in 1998, the latest edition sports a Neil Gaiman review that feels fitting. This book is Gaimanesque. It blends magic, philosophy, and humor with characters that will have you laughing and in tears.

Reading age: 8-12 and older

16. Pawcasso

Premise: When Jo lies about being the owner of a pawticularly cute pup, Jo's fib becomes more than she can manage when animal control enters the picture.

Why you'll love it: This is an adorable story with endearing characters and a great plot. Dog lovers will bark for joy.

Reading age: 8-12

17. Allergic

Premise: When Maggie learns that she has severe allergies to animals, she makes it her mission to find a pet that she can keep.

Why you'll love it: This is a heartwarming story of friendship and family, with plenty of cute animals. Fans of Raina Telgemeier will love Allergic.

Reading age: 8-12

18. The Fifth Quarter

Premise: Lori is not-so-great at basketball. But she is determined. Not even being relegated to "the fifth quarter" when the less talented kids play, can stop her from working on her skills and working past her insecurities to make friends.

Why you'll love it: This is a great book about wanting to fit in. Perfect for middle schoolers who love sports.

Reading age: 8-12

19. Bad Sister

Premise: Bad Sister is a memoir about a girl who thinks she is a terrible sister.

Why you'll love it: Relationships are complex, and this memoir is honest, authentic, and deliciously malicious while heartwarming. Anyone who wishes they were a better sibling and person will enjoy Bad Sister.

Reading age: 8-12 and older

20. The Secret Garden of 81st Street

Premise: This is a modern retelling of the acclaimed novel The Secret Garden.

When Mary moves to New York to live with her uncle, she discovers an abandoned rooftop garden with a secret that needs tending.

Why you'll love it: This is a well-thought-out adaptation with complex characters that live rich, emotional lives. It's a joy to get to know the characters and see them and the garden grow.

Reading age: 8-12

21. I Am Not Starfire

Premise: Mandy insists that she is nothing like her mother, the famed superhero Starfire. But when you're trying not to be like someone, how do you actually discover who you are?

Why you'll love it: Teen Titan fans will enjoy this spunky coming-of-age spin-off. This DC property has a heart-warming queer narrative, lots of humor, and just enough cinematic, fast-flying action to make you hope — fingers crossed — that we'll be seeing this onscreen soon.

Reading age: 13-17

22. Do You Speak Tree?

One extra rec to celebrate 2022 :)

At Oak Tree Comics, 2021 was our first full year as a publisher. So, I couldn't help but add our first book to the list!

Do You Speak Tree? follows Oakie the good-natured oak tree on a journey to find someone who will speak up for the forests.

Reading age: 5-8 and older

I'm still making my way through my 2021 reading list — just too many great books to read! So if you have a favorite graphic novel from this year that I didn't highlight, let me and the Oak Tree Comics team know, so I can add it.

I also know that this list is geared more to a middle grade audience. In the future, I'll try to find and feature more content for young readers.

Can't wait to share more great graphic novels with you in 2022!

— Josh Oaktree

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