7 Graphic Novels to Boost Your Learning (Even If You Don’t Love Reading)

With many schools already back in session around the country, and others gearing up for the first day, much stands in our way of truly embracing the new year: old patterns of thinking and feeling about school, numerous climate disasters unfolding across North America and the world, an unending stream of draconian changes being made to local and state schools, a crisis of student mental health, and an exhaustive focus on Covid learning loss and state achievement gaps. When one looks, one doesn’t see a lot of excitement out there in the media to help inspire students and parents about the new year. How can a student boost their enthusiasm to make and maintain positive changes in their learning journey?

Fortunately, we are sharing a series on Back to School Tips, Tricks, and Shifts that you can employ this year to boost your excitement for learning. These posts will also help you build, support, and maintain your progress through academic adventures and challenges ahead. 

Photo by Philip Canterbury

What better way to start this series than by sharing a hand-picked list of graphic novels to get your hands on immediately, especially if you are not a huge fan of reading! Graphic novels are essentially comic books that may have a more literary feel to them. Indeed, many on this list are titles that were adapted from previously published books. Whether you are an adult or a young learner, with these 7 books in your day pack you’ll become a more curious and engaged learner in no time at all.

Learning to love stories is a huge part of academic success and is sure to help your overall mood toward learning and the classroom. By opening yourself to the themes in these books—trusting yourself, developing empathy, acting strategically, and reconciling your past to make a brighter future—you will recharge your excitement to learn and make an impact in this amazing world, even against the greatest challenges. Additionally, many of these books are available for free download on the Hoopla mobile and web app through your local library!

So, find a cozy spot to unwind and enjoy your journeys!

nubian pyramids on a desert in sudan
Photo by mohamed Zekry on Pexels.com
  1. Paulo Coelho’s The Alchemist: A Graphic Novel

Age Range: emerging readers to adults

This is not only a classic of modern literature, but also one of my first favorite books, and one that I loved to read with middle school students. Coelho’s book is a fable about a young boy who is inspired by a powerful dream to seek out a hidden treasure. As with many of Coelho’s books, the young boy soon realizes that, in order to find his fortune, he must first master his own emotions, thoughts, and intuitions. The Alchemist reads like a grand adventure both through the world and also the inner self. Coelho has a particular gift for illustrating basic human universal truths, ancient character archetypes, and common story structures, so it feels as if one is reading every story ever told when one delves into a Coelhoan world. This beautiful graphic novel finally brings the world of The Alchemist to colorful life in all its detailed glory, and it may even become your newest favorite read. Grab the free Hoopla download here!

firefighter reaching in the fire
Photo by Константин on Pexels.com
  1. Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451: The Authorized Adaptation by Tim Hamilton

Age Range: young adults to adults

There are certain books that could be put on a list of ‘Books that Intimidate Readers’, but someone might also compile a list of ‘Books that Intimidate New Readers (But Aren’t Actually That Tough, Really)’. I’d argue this might include popular and often-read-in-school titles such as Lord of the Flies [a group of school kids survives on an island], Animal Farm [a group of animals takes over a farm], The Catcher in the Rye [a prep school teen has an adventurous weekend in the big city], To Kill a Mockingbird [a lawyer defends an innocent man in a racially-charged small-town trial], The Great Gatsby [a man reflects about a local rich guy he knew for a short time], and even Ray Bradbury’s dystopian sci-fi novella Fahrenheit 451 [a book-burner in the future realizes burning books might be foolish]. What I find fascinating about this book is that Bradbury wrote the original draft, titled The Fireman, in only 9 days on a typewriter he rented from a UCLA library for 10 cents an hour. Beautifully horrifying and perpetually engaging new audiences, reading this might just help you start your own ‘Up Next’ reading list. Hoopla offers the audiobook of the original text here.

photo of mountains
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  1. Sun Tzu’s The Art of War: A Graphic Novel illustrated by Pete Katz

Age Range: emerging readers to adults

While adults and even high school readers might find the lens through which this adaptation is told—that of a young student learning about the strategies of war—a bit childish at times, the lessons of this influential and ancient book of philosophy extend beyond combat to instruct the reader in truths about humanity and everyday life. There is never a bad time to read or reread The Art of War, and this beautifully crafted and bound graphic novel makes the profound truths of the original text fresh to readers of any age. Hoopla offers the original text here.

people on street during anti racism demonstrations in evening
Photo by Kelly on Pexels.com
  1. March Series developed by Congressman John Lewis, Andrew Ayden, and Nate Powell

Age Range: emerging readers to adults

A graphic novel trilogy that makes the sweeping intricacies of American civil rights history understandable to any reader, this series is sure to impact even the most book-averse among us. This series is for readers who want to discover more about the civil rights movement of the ’60s beyond the rote factoids of MLK’s dream and Rosa Parks’ bus ride. This tale of Congressman John Lewis and the life he lived weaves decades of American history together, dynamically connecting the long-distant past to our nation’s current social tensions and struggles with democratic principles. Grab the free Hoopla downloads here!

Carol M. Highsmith’s California
Carol M. Highsmith’s California by Carol M Highsmith is licensed under CC-CC0 1.0
  1. They Called Us Enemy by George Takei, Justin Eisinger, Steven Scott, and Harmony Becker

Age Range: emerging readers to adults

This graphic memoir conveys actor George Takei’s childhood experiences as his family was forcibly interned in an American “relocation center” for citizens of Japanese descent during World War 2. Juggling themes of patriotism and intolerance, racism and justice, optimism and loss of faith, George Takei’s graphic memoir deepens the conversation begun by the classic memoir Farewell to Manzanar, and helps us further examine a period of American history often minimized and little understood. Grab the free Hoopla download here, including a new expanded edition or a Spanish language edition. 

close up photo of vintage typewriter
Photo by Min An on Pexels.com
  1. & 7. Octavia E. Butler’s Kindred: A Graphic Novel Adaptation and Parable of the Sower: A Graphic Novel Adaptation

Age Range: young adults to adults

Damian Duffy and illustrator John Jennings have brought together these two adaptations that are impressively devoted to the original texts of Octavia E. Butler’s classics of modern science fiction. While Kindred explores America’s past connections to the evils of slavery and enslavement, Parable of the Sower imagines America’s darkest future as destitute masses struggle to cope with increasing militant fascism, crippling poverty, and unending climate crisis. As no one else can, Octavia E. Butler gracefully employs a spirit of undying optimism as she tackles these explosively charged tales of struggle and transformation. Grab the Kindred free Hoopla download here, and the Parable of the Sower free Hoopla download here.

Photo by Philip Canterbury

Now that you’ve got a short list of powerful and exciting graphic novels to sink your teeth into between classes and study sessions, it’s worth (honorably) mentioning that H.G. Wells’ War of the Worlds: The Graphic Novel, Frank Herbert’s Dune: The Graphic Novel series, and BOOM! Studio’s flawless adaptation of Kurt Vonnegut Jr.’s Slaughterhouse-Five did not make our list, though we enthusiastically endorse these titles, as well. Browse for these and plenty more outstanding graphic novels on Hoopla or by visiting your local library or independent bookstore. 

As always, be sure to preview titles before deciding what to read next, but challenge yourself to step a little beyond your comfort zone to fully explore something new with presence and purpose. And have fun!

What titles would you add to a comprehensive list of ‘Graphic Novels to Boost Your Love of Learning’, especially titles that appeal to a wide age range and even to avowed ‘non-readers’? Take a moment to leave your thoughts and suggestions in the comments. 

Come back for more Back to School Tips, Tricks, and Shifts to increase your academic success this semester.

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