The best middle grade books to inspire you to draw comics

Who am I?

I started drawing comics in the first grade and have never stopped. My syndicated comic strip, Cow & Boy, ran for eight years, and now I write and draw the middle-grade fantasy series Quest Kids. I am so fortunate to have cobbled together my love of comics into a career and to have been inspired by so many talented people along the way. Below is a collection of some of the best.


I wrote...

Quest Kids and the Dark Prophecy of Doug

By Mark Leiknes,

Book cover of Quest Kids and the Dark Prophecy of Doug

What is my book about?

After saving Bristolburg from a vengeful golden-trousered dragon, the Quest Kids—Ned, Terra, Gil, Boulder, and Ash—can finally turn their questing efforts toward finding Ned’s missing parents. This points them in the direction of Doug, a failed bard whose Dark Prophecy is spreading doom and gloom across the Seven Kingdoms.

The Quest Kids sail through stormy seas, vacation at the newly rebranded Contentment Island, and venture into the Forsaken Lands to find Doug, whose wicked tunes and even wickeder plans are in full force. Can the Quest Kids get it together to foil Doug’s plans and find Ned’s parents—or must they watch a triumphant Doug as he fulfills his terrible prophecy and surfs a wave of fire?

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The books I picked & why

Book cover of Diary of a Wimpy Kid

Mark Leiknes Why did I love this book?

My newspaper comic strip had just finished its run, and I was looking for my next big thing. That’s when I came across Diary of a Wimpy Kid.

The drawings were simple and hilarious, and the clever writing didn’t seem to be just for kids. Greg Heffley has this flawed prickly everyman edge which makes him easy to identify with. But as good as this book and series are, I was more impressed with the new way Jeff Kinney had found to sneak comics into chapter books. 

By Jeff Kinney,

Why should I read it?

7 authors picked Diary of a Wimpy Kid as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it. This book is for kids age 7, 8, 9, and 10.

What is this book about?

Boys don't keep diaries-or do they?

The launch of an exciting and innovatively illustrated new series narrated by an unforgettable kid every family can relate to

It's a new school year, and Greg Heffley finds himself thrust into middle school, where undersized weaklings share the hallways with kids who are taller, meaner, and already shaving. The hazards of growing up before you're ready are uniquely revealed through words and drawings as Greg records them in his diary.

In book one of this debut series, Greg is happy to have Rowley, his sidekick, along for the ride. But when Rowley's star…


Book cover of Dog Man

Mark Leiknes Why did I love this book?

In a word: Irreverent. With Dav Pilkey, humor is king and just about anything goes. A dog’s head fused to a policeman’s body? Makes perfect sense to a child, and to me for that matter.

I love that Dav created these characters when he was in grade school, which is probably why it connects with kids so well. But Pilkey’s kitchen sink sensibility wouldn’t work if he wasn’t such a great storyteller too.

By Dav Pilkey,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked Dog Man as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it. This book is for kids age 6, 7, 8, and 9.

What is this book about?

Howl with laughter with the FIRST book in the hilarious
full-colour illustrated series, Dog Man, from
the creator of Captain Underpants!
George and Harold (the co-stars of the enormously popular Captain
Underpants series) are in big trouble again!

George and Harold have created a new breed of justice -- one that
is part dog, part man, and ALL HERO!

With the head of a dog and the body of a human, this heroic hound
digs into deception, claws after crooks, rolls over robbers,
and scampers after squirrels.

Will he be able to resist the call of the wild to answer…


Book cover of Smile

Mark Leiknes Why did I love this book?

Telling a personal story with comics. Raina wasn’t the first person to do it, but with Smile she finds a way to put herself out there that really resonates with children. Her endearing art style pairs perfectly with this honest storytelling.

Thanks to Raina, comics can do more than just entertain kids, they can comfort them.

By Raina Telgemeier,

Why should I read it?

3 authors picked Smile 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?

Raina just wanted to be a normal girl, but one night after Girl Scouts
she trips and falls severely injuring her two front teeth.
What follows is a long and frustrating journey with on-again, off-again
braces, surgery, embarrassing headgear and even a retainer
with fake teeth attached. And on top of all that, there's still
more to deal with: a major earthquake, boy confusion and friends
who turn out to not be so friendly.


Book cover of Calvin and Hobbes: Sunday Pages 1985-1995

Mark Leiknes Why did I love this book?

I had aspirations of making comics for Marvel or DC, but could never get a handle on drawing realistically. So I found inspiration in newspaper comics, one in particular.

Calvin & Hobbes is a work of art, and the perfect representation of childhood creativity. But Calvin’s imaginary tiger is only the tip of the iceberg here. Between his life-sized dioramas of snowmen acting out, to cardboard transmogrifiers, Calvin’s wicked imagination just spoke to me. And Bill Watterson helped jet-propel me down my own artistic path.

By Bill Watterson,

Why should I read it?

3 authors picked Calvin and Hobbes as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it. This book is for kids age 12, 13, 14, and 15.

What is this book about?

Celebrating an exhibit of ten years of Sunday comics featuring the beloved boy and his tiger, Calvin and Hobbes: Sunday Pages 1985-1995 is sure to bring back memories.

New York Times best-seller!

Everyone misses Calvin and Hobbes.

It reinvented the newspaper comic strip at a time when many had all but buried the funnies as a vehicle for fresh, creative work. Then Bill Watterson came along and reminded a new generation of what older readers and comic strip aficionados knew: A well-written and beautifully drawn strip is an intricate, powerful form of communication. And with Calvin and Hobbes, we had…


Book cover of Zita the Spacegirl

Mark Leiknes Why did I love this book?

Ben Hatke can build worlds, and then some. Zita’s character design is amazingly detailed, yet also spontaneous and never out of reach for any kid looking to create operatic space comics of their very own.

I read this with my own children and I couldn’t say which one of us had more fun.

By Ben Hatke,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked Zita the Spacegirl 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?

A NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER Zita's life took a cosmic left turn in the blink of an eye. When her best friend is abducted by an alien doomsday cult, Zita leaps to the rescue and finds herself a stranger on a strange planet. Humanoid chickens and neurotic robots are shocking enough as new experiences go, but Zita is even more surprised to find herself taking on the role of intergalactic hero. Before long, aliens in all shapes and sizes don't even phase her. Neither do ancient prophecies, doomed planets, or even a friendly con man who takes a mysterious interest…


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Virginia Wouldn't Slow Down!: The Unstoppable Dr. Apgar and Her Life-Saving Invention

By Carrie A. Pearson, Nancy Carpenter (illustrator),

Book cover of Virginia Wouldn't Slow Down!: The Unstoppable Dr. Apgar and Her Life-Saving Invention

Carrie A. Pearson

New book alert!

What is my book about?

A delightful and distinctive picture book biography about Dr. Virginia Apgar, who invented the standard, eponymous test for evaluating newborn health used worldwide thousands of times every day.

You might know about the Apgar Score. But do you know the brilliant, pioneering woman who invented it? Born at the turn of the twentieth century, Virginia Apgar soared above what girls were expected to do―or not do. Ginny adored science, hated cooking, drove fast, made her own violins, earned a pilot’s license, and traveled the world. Here, Carrie Pearson’s jaunty storytelling and Nancy Carpenter’s playful illustrations capture the energy and independence of a woman who didn’t slow down for anything―and changed newborn care forever.

Virginia Wouldn't Slow Down!: The Unstoppable Dr. Apgar and Her Life-Saving Invention

By Carrie A. Pearson, Nancy Carpenter (illustrator),

What is this book about?

The Apgar Score is known the world over: a test given to babies to determine their health moments after they are born. Less well-known is the story of the brilliant, pioneering woman who invented it.

Born at the turn of the twentieth century, Virginia "Ginny" Apgar soared above what girls were expected to do-or not do. She wasn't quiet, she wore all sorts of outfits, she played the sports she wanted to-and she pursued the career she chose, graduating near the top of her class at Columbia University and becoming only the second board-certified female anaesthesiologist in the United States.…


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