Comic books and graphic novels fill every room in my house. No matter how often I walk through the house and pick up a stack of books and reshelve them, another instantly reappears. If it’s not a stack of comics on the table, it’s a pile of drawings and homemade comics or a printout of questions to ask oneself when creating characters.
The reality is that comics have not always been very diverse. Though not all, the majority are mostly filled with white men, and sexism abounds. I can’t even estimate the number of times I read a page where a guy called his *secretary* sweetheart and I had to choose between once again discussing misogyny with my wide-eyed child or do a quick mental rewrite. My approach varied, depending on how many similar conversations we already had in the course of a particular book. Sometimes I simply declared I could no longer read a particular comic book because of the way that women were depicted, treated and written about within the book. Or because of the way they spoke to the very rarely featured person of color on the page. Or the way they depicted men, though to be honest, that conversation was the most rare. These days my oldest son can read to himself so I actually see and witness so much less of the things that I object to now. I have to hope that we’ve said enough and talked enough with him that he sees and recognizes these things too. I mean, that’s basically parenting right, giving new humans tools to move through the world on their own, with continued support as needed.
My son had developed a pattern over the last few years where anytime he finds a comic or graphic novel where a girl or woman is the hero and also kicks major butt he will, no matter where we are (home, library, book store), call out loudly “look mom, this book has girl power” or sometimes “girl power alert, girl power alert.” He knows that I’m going to be super excited when we find books that have powerful female heroines, or super smart girls, diversity (I’ve noticed a tendency for female leads and character diversity to go hand in hand) or even just girls being an equal part of the story (in both numbers and consequence). I often find myself talking to other parents and sending them lists of our favorite girl power graphic novels and comics. A few months ago I decided to take a it a bit further and actually go talk to an expert, Kate from the store Books With Pictures and ask her to show me around the store and show me her favorite picks for female empowered comics. I came with the list my boys and I put together of some of our favorites for comparison. Kate showed me around the amazing store (a family favorite) and gave me a synopsis of a bunch of great comics and graphic novels.
The following list includes what I learned from Kate at Books With Pictures as well as the input of my kids. The age ranges are based on what the publishers say. I say as with most things we share with our kids, use your discretion. Many (maybe most of these) we’ve read though my kids are just now 7 and 9.
The Cold Caper! (DC Super Friends): Girls and boys ages 4 to 6 will leap into this action-packed adventure featuring Batgirl and Wonder Woman–the most iconic female superhero of all time! This exciting full-color storybook features over 30 stickers!
The Princess and the Pony: Princess Pinecone wants to be a great warrior. For her birthday, she asks for a great horse fit for a champion. What she gets is a small, round pony. Things don’t look good for the upcoming battle (a warrior’s favorite pastime) but Pinecone is set on achieving her dreams, and there might be something of a champion in the doughy little pony after all.
– This is a picture book, but Kate was over the moon for this book so I think it bears including — especially since it’s about a young viking girl who always gets cute sweaters and wants to fight.
DC SUPER HEROES: MY FIRST BOOK OF GIRL POWER: A celebration of girl power for budding super heroines featuring beloved DC characters from Wonder Woman to Batgirl. Exploring attributes from physical strength to intuition, this introduction to DC’s super heroines is also a catalog of role models for little girls. From Wonder Woman’s ability to find the truth to Black Canary’s powerful voice to Batgirl’s keen mind, readers will find much to admire. Cool, classic art makes for a fun, colorful package.
The Big Book of Girl Power (DC Super Heroes): DC’s awesome super heroes are terrific role models for young girls. This colorful picture book, illustrated with DC Comics classic art, details the inspiring qualities that make Wonder Woman, Batgirl, Supergirl and their friends so powerful. Young readers will enjoy learning the characters’ compelling origin stories. Girls will see that being different, overcoming fears, exploring new places–and banding together with other strong women–can be pretty powerful.
Early Reader (5-8)
Hilda and the Troll (Hildafolk) :Hilda can never sit still for long without setting off on another adventure. She can’t resist exploring her enchanting world—a place where trolls walk, crows speak, and mountains move. The magic and folklore of the wild, windswept North come alive in this book about an adventurous little girl and her habit of befriending anything, no matter how curious it might seem.
– These books are gorgeous, honestly. I’m in love with the style of them and with Hilda, who is fearless and full of imagination. I might like them more than my kids at this point but when we seem them at the library they always point it out fondly and are always happy to read through them again.
LITTLE ROBOT: When a little girl finds an adorable robot in the woods, she presses a button and accidentally activates him for the first time. Now, she finally has a friend. But the big, bad robots are coming to collect the little guy for nefarious purposes, and it’s all up to a five-year-old armed only with a wrench and a fierce loyalty to her mechanical friend to save the day!
DC Super Hero Girls: Class is in session! Welcome to DC Super Hero High! Saving the world from the plans of super-villains isn’t easy! Good thing there’s a Super Hero High where students learn how to control and master their powers, work together as a team and learn the importance of being comfortable in their own skin.
Magic Trixie: Magic Trixie doesn’t understand why no one will take her seriously! First, she’s not allowed to do anything fun, while her baby sister gets away with everything, and then she needs to come up with a trick that’s really special to impress her friends. Luckily Trixie has the best plan ever. . . .
Middle Reader (8-12+)
Cleopatra in Space: Zapped away as a teenager from her home era of 52 BC, Cleopatra VII found herself in the middle of a centuries’ long war in the far, far, really far, far future. Now she fights alongside P.Y.R.A.M.I.D. (Pharaoh Yasiro’s Research And Military Initiative of Defense), both human and alien kind’s only hope against the evil Xaius Octavian. So far their are 4 books in the series.
– We love this series in my house (talking cats!!!!). I would say it is appropriate for early readers too. There are battles, sad family back stories and mean aliens so take that into consideration. The art is really bright and Cleo is definitely a powerful hero.
Zita the Spacegirl: When her best friend gets abducted by an evil alien cult, Zita’s life takes a turn for the cosmic and she finds herself on a strange planet inhabited by humanoid chickens and neurotic robots. Zita’s determination to find her way back home to earth has her assuming the role of intergalactic hero in this delightful, action-packed science fiction series, Zita and the Spacegirl, perfect for middle grade readers.
Lilith Dark: One Little Girl…One BIG Adventure! Lilith Dark has no time for tea parties and princess stuff – she’s far too busy fighting off wicked creatures and fantastic beasts… or at least that’s how she imagines things. One day, Lilith follows a mysterious kitten into an old tree and discovers an entire world of real beasties that has been living right under her nose! With her big sister held captive, Lilith must face her fears, rescue her sister from the evil beasties, and save the day before bedtime!
Moon Girl and Devil Dinosaur Vol. 1: BFF LUNELLA LAFAYETTE is a preteen super genius who wants to change the world-but learned the hard way that it takes MORE than just big brains. Fearful of the monstrous INHUMAN genes inside her, life is turned upside down when a savage, red-scaled tyrant is teleported from prehistoric past to a far-flung future we call TODAY.
– Smartest person in the world is a 9 year old girl living on the lower east side whose best friend is a dinosaur. Yes please.
Supergirl: Cosmic Adventures in the 8th Grade: Meet Linda Lee! She’s the newest kid on the block – and the planet, too! Find out how an ordinary girl from Krypton became the most extraordinary girl on Earth in the pages of this brand new monthly series. And if you think life is tough as a hero, try being in the eighth grade.
The Unstoppable Wasp: Nadia spent the entire first half of her life a captive of the Red Room, but now this teenage super scientist is spreading her wings! Hank Pym’s daughter has a lot of time to make up for, and she’s determined to change the world. With Jarvis at her side, she’s on a mission to bring together the brightest girl geniuses of the Marvel Universe. But Nadia didn’t count on evil scientists, man-eating giant rats or Devil Dinosaur – or the lethal lady wrestlers known as the Grapplers! And even as Nadia’s recruiting drive continues, the Red Room is on her trail – and they’ll pull out all the stops to get her back! Can the geniuses of G.I.R.L. find a way to save Nadia from being dragged back to the bunker?
– I tell everyone about this serious, whether they want to know or not. It is so good. Teen girls that are super smart scientist banding together to rewrite the narrative of what genius looks like. At the back of each issue female scientists from around the world are profiled. It’s just so good. We can’t get enough of this serious in my house.
The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl: Wolverine, Deadpool, Doctor Doom, Thanos: There’s one hero that’s beaten them all-and now she’s got her own ongoing series! (Not that she’s bragging.) That’s right, you asked for it, you got it, it’s SQUIRREL GIRL! (She’s also starting college this semester.) It’s the start of a brand-new set of adventures starring the nuttiest and most upbeat super hero in the world!
– We love this series in our house. Squirrel Girl is funny (sometimes silly), upbeat and best of all, unbeatable. No one can beat her. And she’s a college student studying computer science. What could be better? She banters with Tony Stark via twitter, crosses paths and defeats the toughest villains and talks to squirrels. My boys both love the series and love squirrel girl.
Power Up: Eons ago, it was prophesied…four distinguished champions would be chosen to lead the universe into a new age of strength and peace. They were expecting warriors; what they got was a little bit…different. Join Amie, an art student, Sandy, a single mom, Kevin, aging athlete and Silas...a goldfish?…as they learn to navigate Earth and each other as the most unanticipated powerful beings in the universe!
– We just got this from the library and it is great. Great. A seemingly random group of people plus a goldfish become superheroes – of course I want to read this! My 7 year old was super into it.
Princeless: Follow the adventures of Princess Adrienne, a princess who’s tired of waiting to be rescued. Along with her guardian dragon, Sparky, they begin their own quest in an all-ages action adventure designed specifically for those who are tired of waiting to be rescued — and who are ready to save themselves.
The Adventures of Superhero Girl: What if you can leap tall buildings and defeat alien monsters with your bare hands, but you buy your capes at secondhand stores and have a weakness for kittens? Cartoonist Faith Erin Hicks brings charming humor to the trials and tribulations of a young, female superhero, battling monsters both supernatural and mundane in an all-too-ordinary world.
Lumberjanes: At Miss Qiunzella Thiskwin Penniquiqul Thistle Crumpet’s Camp for Hardcore Lady Types, things are not what they seem. Three-eyed foxes. Secret caves. Anagrams. Luckily, Jo, April, Mal, Molly, and Ripley are five rad, butt-kicking best pals determined to have an awesome summer together…and they’re not gonna let a magical quest or an array of supernatural critters get in their way! Recommended grade 5 and up.
Space Battle Lunchtime: Collecting the first four issues of Natalie Riess’s delectable series, SPACE BATTLE LUNCHTIME! Earth baker Peony gets the deal of a lifetime when she agrees to be a contestant on the Universe’s hottest reality TV show, Space Battle Lunchtime! But that was before she knew that it shoots on location… on a spaceship… and her alien competitors don’t play nice! Does Peony really have what it takes to be the best cook in the Galaxy? Tune in and find out!
Teen (12 +)
Ms MARVEL (KAMALA KHAN): Marvel Comics presents the all-new Ms. Marvel, the groundbreaking heroine that has become an international sensation! Kamala Khan is an ordinary girl from Jersey City – until she is suddenly empowered with extraordinary gifts. But who truly is the all-new Ms. Marvel? Teenager? Muslim? Inhuman? Find out as she takes the Marvel Universe by storm! As Kamala discovers the dangers of her newfound powers, she unlocks a secret behind them as well. Is Kamala ready to wield these immense new gifts? Or will the weight of the legacy before her be too much to handle? Kamala has no idea either. But she’s comin’ for you, New York!
BANDETTE: The world’s greatest thief is a costumed teen burglar in swinging Paris by the nome d’arte of Bandette! Gleefully plying her skills on either side of the law, Bandette is a thorn in the sides of both police inspector Belgique and the criminal underworld. But it’s not all breaking hearts and purloining masterpieces when a rival thief discovers that an international criminal organization wants Bandette dead!
Zodiac Starforce: By the Power of Astra: An elite group of teenage girls with magical powers have sworn to protect our planet against dark creatures . . . as long as they can get out of class! Known as the Zodiac Starforce, these high-school girls aren’t just combating math tests. They’re also battling monsters! But when an evil force infects leader Emma, she must work with her team to save herself and the world from the evil Diana and her mean-girl minions!
– We’ve not read this series yet but Kate described it as Sailor Moon meets Jem and as super fun girl power. What’s to argue with there?
Patsy Walker, A.K.A. Hellcat! Patsy Walker has managed to escape her past, her enemies and Hell itself (literally) — butnothing compares to job hunting in New York City! Between trying to make rent and dodging bullets, she barely has time to deal with her mother’s exploitative romance comics about Patsy’s past resurfacing, much less how they start to interfere with her work and dating life.
– We really like this series, it sounds more adult in this description that it is in actuality. This series is so postiive, Patsy helps people with super powers who don’t want to be heroes find work using their powers.
Jonesy: A sarcastic teenager with the powers of cupid unleashes her preternatural matchmaking abilities on her school with hilarious and charming results. Jonesy is a self-described “cool dork” who spends her time making zines nobody reads, watching anime, and listening to riot grrrl bands and 1D simultaneously. But she has a secret nobody knows. She has the power to make people fall in love! Anyone. With anything. She’s a cupid in plaid. With a Tumblr. There’s only one catch—it doesn’t work on herself. She’s gonna have to find love the old-fashioned way, and in the meantime, figure out how to distract herself from the real emotions she inevitably has to face when her powers go wrong…
There are also some series we really love as a family. In fact, my oldest son was adamant that he would never learn to read until we picked up the Bone series by Jeff Smith. There is also the Amulet series, another epic adventure series with a young, strong heroine thrust into a new world that she becomes the key to saving. A lot of great books have been made into graphic novels too, including one of my all time favorites, A Wrinkle in Time. The graphic novel is a great way to introduce the story and maybe prep your kids for the movie coming out (I’m am so excited!!!!). If your kids are into Adventure Time, there are some great books in the series that feature Princess Bubblegum and all the other female characters. There are even new Powerpuff Girls, a graphic novel version of Buffy the Vampire Slayer and more.
The overall point is there are so many options now-a-days. There is no good reason to not mix some of these titles into your book shelves. The more diverse the stories we introduce into our homes, theoretically, the more open and accepting homes we will have and the more open our children can grow up being.
Also, soooo many good comics out there, I’m not kidding about how many there are …. Let us know your favorites.
Special thanks to Books With Pictures. If you are ready to start building a collection or want to add, it’s a great place to start. In fact, there a ton of great comic book stores throughout the Portland-Metro area.