When my tween daughter became interested in comic books (because Buffy the Vampire Slayer’s story continues in comic book form), I took her to our neighborhood comic book store, hoping things had changed. Oh my, have they! Female comic book readers once called themselves “unicorns,” because they were so few and hard to find. Today, females account for 46.67 percent of the 24 million U.S. comic book fans.
Comic books (or graphic novels) are not just for reluctant or beginning readers. The format demands that readers work hard to decode and understand literary devices like metaphor, symbolism, flashbacks, and point of view. Readers learn how to follow a visual narrative, in which the images convey meaning beyond the words of the text.
Here are some of the comic books we discovered with strong female protagonists appropriate for middle-grade readers:
- Princeless – A princess tires of waiting for a prince to rescue her from the tower in which her parents placed her. She escapes to do the rescuing instead and finds two female sidekicks (one of them a dragon). We both loved this book.
- Ms. Marvel – Kamala Khan is a teenage girl from New Jersey who acquires superpowers and happens to be Muslim. This series explores different notions of identity and one’s place in the world.
- Hereville: How Mirka Got Her Sword – The star of this imaginative, funny work is a spunky 11-year-old Orthodox Jewish girl. All Mirka wants is a sword so she can slay dragons. In her first adventure, she fights a fearsome pig, meets a witch, and goes head-to-head with a troll.
- Batgirl –This book has striking, moody artwork and snappy dialogue. My daughter enjoyed it, but the story may be too dark for some readers.
I bought paperback anthologies rather than individual issues to make sure we started at the beginning of the story. When selecting comic books, read a few pages or look at the rating to make sure the book is appropriate for a tween. Different companies have different rating systems, but generally, there’s a rating for everyone or all ages, a rating for 12 or older, something that is roughly equivalent to a PG-13 rating, and a mature or adult rating. If in doubt, ask a store employee.
If the tween in your life wants to read about strong women in an interesting format, then why not give comic books a try?