To celebrate Schools Pride Week and Out on the Shelves I wanted to highlight some of my favourite rainbow graphic novels for primary and intermediate students. I have each of these graphic novels in my primary school library collection and they are hugely popular. I personally feel that graphic novels are the perfect medium for stories featuring rainbow characters, as kids can really see themselves in the characters. From my experience, kids that love graphic novels will pretty much read any graphic novels I have in the library, and they just might discover a rainbow character that they identify with.
Although these graphic novels are mainly aimed at 9-12 year olds, they all have crossover appeal to teens. I have also included Mike Curato’s amazing graphic novel, Flamer, which is definitely aimed at older teens (not appropriate for primary and intermediate schools).
Girl Haven by Lilah Sturges, Meaghan Carter and Joamette Gil
Three years ago, Ash’s mom, Kristin, left home and never came back. Now, Ash lives in the house where Kristin grew up. All of her things are there. Her old room, her old clothes, and the shed where she spent her childhood creating a fantasy world called Koretris. Ash knows all about Koretris: how it’s a haven for girls, with no men or boys allowed, and filled with fanciful landscapes and creatures. When Ash’s friends decide to try going to Koretris using one of Kristin’s spell books, Ash doesn’t think anything will happen. But the spell works, and Ash discovers that the world Kristin created is actually a real place with real inhabitants and very real danger. But if Koretris is real, why is Ash there? Everyone has always called Ash a boy. Ash uses he/him pronouns. Shouldn’t the spell have kept Ash out? And what does it mean if it let Ash in?
Girl Haven is such a cool story! It is an inspiring story about being the person you want to be, wrapped up in a fantasy adventure. The story is full of fun and adventure, but Lilah and Meaghan also make you think about gender identity and how society makes you fit in to one box or another. The characters are diverse, representing cisgender, transgender and nonbinary people, and different sexual orientations. I think this is an important book that will help children who are confused about their identity. It will help them to see that they are not alone, and that it is important to have people around you who understand and support you.
Dungeon Critters by Natalie Riess and Sara Goetter
The Dungeon Critters are a tight-knit gang of animals who go on adventures together. There’s Juniper (or June) the dog, Rose the cat, Prince Chirp the frog and Goro the snake. Between them they have magic, brute strength and cunning to help them fight for what’s right. After defeating a necromancer, an invitation discovered in his belongings leads the Dungeon Critters to The Baron’s ball. The Baron is Prince Chirp’s life-long arch nemesis and Chirp knows that he is up to no good. The gang decide to crash the party and look for clues. With their fancy disguises and fake identities they go to the ball, but Juniper gets mistaken for royalty. She keeps The Baron distracted while the rest of the gang search The Baron’s mansion. With proof in hand that The Baron is up to something, and The Baron’s mansion in flames, the gang head off in search of answers. Just as they start to get some answers, Prince Chirp is summoned back to the palace for ‘The Event’ that his parents are hosting. While at the palace disaster strikes and Juniper is arrested and put on trial. Friendships are tested as members of the Dungeon Critters find themselves on opposite sides of the trial. It is then up to their friends to uncover the truth and help their friends when they need it the most.
I absolutely adore Dungeon Critters! Everything about it is wonderful, from the story and the characters to the humour and the artwork. Everything gels together perfectly to make a graphic novel that is hilarious, action-packed, super-sweet and full of diverse characters. I loved every one of the characters, whether they were the heroes or the villains. They all have a lot of depth to them and history that is revealed throughout the story. Rose and Juniper obviously have some history together (as you can see from the first part of the story) and you discover more about their relationship as the story progresses. There is a fierce rivalry between Prince Chirp and The Baron and its fun to watch this play out. The standout character for me is Goro. He is a gentle giant who is always there when the gang need him, but he’s sensitive too. I loved learning more about him and his boyfriend, Horseboy.
Cardboard Kingdom, illustrated by Chad Sell, with stories by various authors
Welcome to a neighborhood of kids who transform ordinary boxes into colorful costumes, and their ordinary block into cardboard kingdom. This is the summer when sixteen kids encounter knights and rogues, robots and monsters—and their own inner demons—on one last quest before school starts again.
Cardboard Kingdom is bursting with a diverse cast of kids. Through their imaginations these kids can be whoever they want to be and they’re accepted by the other members of the cardboard kingdom. They may have had to hide their true selves before, but their imagination sets them free. Each story focuses on a different kid but the stories interconnect. This graphic novel has been read so many times in my library, since it was released in 2018. The sequel, Cardboard Kingdom: Roar of the Beast, has just been released in the US and I’m really looking forward to joining these kids again, and meeting some new characters.
The Prince and the Dressmaker by Jen Wang
Prince Sebastian is looking for a bride―or rather, his parents are looking for one for him. Sebastian is too busy hiding his secret life from everyone. At night he puts on daring dresses and takes Paris by storm as the fabulous Lady Crystallia―the hottest fashion icon in the world capital of fashion!
Sebastian’s secret weapon (and best friend) is the brilliant dressmaker Frances―one of only two people who know the truth: sometimes this boy wears dresses. But Frances dreams of greatness, and being someone’s secret weapon means being a secret. Forever. How long can Frances defer her dreams to protect a friend?
The Prince and the Dressmaker is one of my absolute favourite graphic novels. I love the friendship between Frances and Prince Sebastian and the way that Sebastian’s true personality shines as Lady Crystallia. I love, love, LOVE the ending because it is so unexpected but superb. Jen Wang’s illustrations are reminiscent of early Disney films and I love all the details in each of the panels. The essence of this book is about being your true self and the joy of this shines bright.
Anything by Kay O’Neill (also published as Katie O’Neill)
Kay O’Neill is an award-winning graphic novel writer and artist from Christchurch. Kay has won some of the biggest awards in the comic world, including Eisner, Harvey, and Dwayne McDuffie awards for children’s comics. The first book of Kay’s that I read was Princess Princess Ever After, about two princesses who rescue each other and fall for one another. This was followed by The Tea Dragon Society, The Tea Dragon Festival, Aquacorn Cove, Dewdrop, and Kay’s latest book, The Tea Dragon Tapestry. All of Kay’s work, with the exception of Dewdrop, feature LGBT+ characters and their illustrations are gorgeous.
Kay is underappreciated here in NZ but has a huge fan base in the US. I can’t recommend their books highly enough.
You can read a fantastic interview with Kay O’Neill on the Christchurch City Libraries website.
Flamer by Mike Curato
Aiden is away at Scout camp in the summer between middle school and high school. Everyone is changing around him and he’s terrified of going to high school. He is bullied at school and camp and he knows that it will just get worse at high school. His dad is physically and verbally abusive, so camp is a reprieve from home life. As he navigates friendships, Aiden also tries to figure out feelings he is having for one of his fellow Scouts, Elias. Aiden knows that he’s not gay because he hates boys and how they behave, but he can’t seem to stop thinking about Elias. Aiden starts to feel like everything is going wrong and makes a decision that affect those around him.
Flamer is an extremely powerful graphic novel that all teenage boys should read. It’s incredibly authentic, especially the language the characters use. It deals with bullying, body image, sexual identity, homophobia, and male friendships. As Jarrett Krosoczka says in the front cover ‘This book will save lives.’ It’s a book that tells readers that no matter how bad things may seem there is always someone who loves you and cares about you.