The best graphic novels for young readers to encourage empathy

Why am I passionate about this?

As a graphic novel creator and art teacher with years of experience, I understand the importance of introducing serious topics for discussion in an accessible way. My art students of all ages are curious about different subjects, wondering what life is like for others and if their own feelings are normal. Graphic novels are a perfect tool for fostering these discussions. Having been interested in comics as a medium for a long time, I'm thrilled to share this with young audiences and encourage exploration of diverse perspectives.


I wrote...

Big Apple Diaries

By Alyssa Bermudez,

Book cover of Big Apple Diaries

What is my book about?

In Big Apple Diaries, a heartfelt diary-style graphic novel memoir by Alyssa Bermudez, a young New Yorker doodles her way through middle school—until the September 11, 2001, terrorist attack leaves her wondering if she can ever be a kid again.

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The books I picked & why

Book cover of When Stars Are Scattered

Alyssa Bermudez Why did I love this book?

This book deeply touched me. Through the eyes of a child, it portrays universal emotions of hope, family, and resilience amidst the refugee crisis.

It sheds light on the harsh realities of living in a refugee camp, offering valuable insights into the experiences of displaced families. It's a powerful tool for teaching children about empathy. The ending moved me to tears and prompted me to research and donate to several relevant foundations.

I believe graphic novels possess a unique power to immerse readers in the characters' experiences and emotions. When a child reads When Stars Are Scattered, they step into the world of a refugee camp and gain a new appreciation for everyday necessities.

This graphic novel, based on real people, offers a distinctive storytelling format that can convey silence, body language, and the passage of time in ways other mediums cannot.

By Omar Mohamed, Victoria Jamieson,

Why should I read it?

5 authors picked When Stars Are Scattered as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it. This book is for kids age 9, 10, 11, and 12.

What is this book about?

A National Book Award Finalist, this remarkable graphic novel is about growing up in a refugee camp, as told by a former Somali refugee to the Newbery Honor-winning creator of Roller Girl.

Omar and his younger brother, Hassan, have spent most of their lives in Dadaab, a refugee camp in Kenya. Life is hard there: never enough food, achingly dull, and without access to the medical care Omar knows his nonverbal brother needs. So when Omar has the opportunity to go to school, he knows it might be a chance to change their future . . . but it would…


Book cover of Hey, Kiddo

Alyssa Bermudez Why did I love this book?

Families come in all shapes and sizes, and it's crucial for children to see a variety of experiences in literature.

Hey, Kiddo portrays the author's upbringing with his grandparents due to his absent father and mother's substance abuse. The book offers child-friendly talking points on the challenging topic of addiction. It captures the complexities of growing up and family life amidst life-changing events.

By Jarrett J. Krosoczka,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked Hey, Kiddo as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it. This book is for kids age 14, 15, 16, and 17.

What is this book about?

An important graphic novel memoir that was a US National
Book Award Finalist.
In kindergarten, Jarrett Krosoczka's teacher asks him to draw
his family, with a mommy and a daddy.

But Jarrett's family is much more complicated
than that.

His mom is an addict, in and out of rehab, and
in and out of Jarrett's life.

His father is a mystery - Jarrett doesn't know
where to find him, or even what his name is.

Jarrett lives with his grandparents - two very
loud, very loving, very opinionated people who had thought they
were through with raising children until Jarrett…


Book cover of The Magic Fish

Alyssa Bermudez Why did I love this book?

This semi-autobiographical book is a beautiful and captivating read that touches on themes of family, coming out, immigration, and love.

The author cleverly employs color to convey different perspectives and uses fairy tales to navigate real-life challenges. The visual storytelling in this graphic novel is truly remarkable, leaving a lasting impression on readers.

By Trung Le Nguyen,

Why should I read it?

6 authors picked The Magic Fish as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Tiến loves his family and his friends…but Tiến has a secret he's been keeping from them, and it might change everything. An amazing YA graphic novel that deals with the complexity of family and how stories can bring us together.

Real life isn't a fairytale.

But Tiến still enjoys reading his favorite stories with his parents from the books he borrows from the local library. It's hard enough trying to communicate with your parents as a kid, but for Tiến, he doesn't even have the right words because his parents are struggling with their English. Is there a Vietnamese word…


Book cover of Real Friends

Alyssa Bermudez Why did I love this book?

The Real Friends series draws on the author's personal experiences of navigating friendships and finding her place in the world.

Every child can relate to the challenges of social situations, making this memoir a relatable and reflective read. The book is infused with humor and wit, making it an enjoyable and insightful read for all ages.

By Shannon Hale, LeUyen Pham (illustrator),

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked Real Friends as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it. This book is for kids age 8, 9, 10, and 11.

What is this book about?

Following little Shannon's life from kindergarten through fifth grade, Real Friends captures the emotional roller coaster ride of friendship, from navigating the tricky waters of cliques and bullies to her never-ending struggle to stay in "The Group." Shannon's honest and heartfelt story reminds us of how hard it was to learn what real friends are-and why finding them is worth the journey.


Book cover of New Kid

Alyssa Bermudez Why did I love this book?

Representation in literature matters, and Jerry Craft's book offers a unique perspective on a young boy's experience of transferring to a private middle school where he stands out due to his race and socioeconomic background.

The book thoughtfully highlights microaggressions and their impact, making it an essential read for children. It's an excellent starting point for important conversations on race, identity, and friendship.

By Jerry Craft,

Why should I read it?

6 authors picked New Kid as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it. This book is for kids age 8, 9, 10, and 11.

What is this book about?

Winner of the Newbery Medal, Coretta Scott King Author Award, and Kirkus Prize for Young Readers' Literature!

Perfect for fans of Raina Telgemeier and Gene Luen Yang, New Kid is a timely, honest graphic novel about starting over at a new school where diversity is low and the struggle to fit in is real, from award-winning author-illustrator Jerry Craft.

Seventh grader Jordan Banks loves nothing more than drawing cartoons about his life. But instead of sending him to the art school of his dreams, his parents enroll him in a prestigious private school known for its academics, where Jordan is…


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The Birthright of Sons: Stories

By Jefferey Spivey,

Book cover of The Birthright of Sons: Stories

Jefferey Spivey Author Of The Birthright of Sons: Stories

New book alert!

Why am I passionate about this?

I’m an avid reader of queer literary fiction not only because I write it but because I’m looking to see my life experience captured on the page. As a gay man, a father of two young boys, and one-half of an interracial married couple, I know the complexity of modern queer living firsthand. In recent years, I’ve been astounded by the breadth of great LGBTQ+ books that examine queerness fully and empathetically. I seek out these books, I read them feverishly, and I become a champion for the best ones. In an era of intense book banning, it’s so important to me to elevate these books and their authors.

Jefferey's book list on capturing the complexity of the queer experience

What is my book about?

The Birthright of Sons is a collection of stories centered around the experiences of marginalized people, namely Black and LGBTQ+ men. Although the stories borrow elements from various genres (horror, suspense, romance, magical realism, etc.), they are linked by an exploration of identity and the ways personhood is shaped through interactions with the people, places, and belief systems around us.

In each of these stories, the protagonists grapple with their understanding of who they are, who and how they love, and what is ultimately most important to them. In almost every case, however, the quest to know or protect oneself is challenged by an external force, resulting in violence, crisis, or confusion, among other outcomes.

The Birthright of Sons: Stories

By Jefferey Spivey,

What is this book about?

The Birthright of Sons is a collection of stories centered around the experiences of marginalized people, namely Black and LGBTQ+ men. Though the stories borrow elements from various genres (horror, suspense, romance, magical realism, etc.), they're linked by an exploration of identity and the ways personhood is shaped through interactions with the people, places, and belief systems around us.

Underpinning the project is a core belief - self-definition is fluid, but conflict arises because society often fails to keep pace with personal evolution. In each of these stories, the protagonists grapple with their understanding of who they are, who and…


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