Graphic Novels Overview, Part One: Format Guide

What is a Graphic Novel

The graphic novel is a distinct literary format that employs sequential art in the form of comic-strip-style illustrations throughout a book-length work to tell a complete narrative. Unlike traditional written books, graphic novels use shorter sentences and rely heavily on images to communicate the story. The sequential art in graphic novels is not just a complement to the written text; it is the driving force behind the story. The artwork is essential to the graphic novel format, much like the importance of visuals in a children’s picture book. The artwork in graphic novels collaborates with the text to create a cohesive storytelling experience. Unlike illustrated children’s picture books that often embellish the written text, the artwork in graphic novels collaborates with the text to create a cohesive storytelling experience. Graphic novels are longer than comic books and provide a cohesive storyline within a single volume.

Graphic novels, like comics and manga, use panels to organize the narratives. These panels are often presented as boxed segments that contain scenes or parts of scenes in the story and are divided by blank space known as the “gutter.” Graphic novels also use speech and thought bubbles, emanata, and captions to tell a story to readers. Unlike most comic books and manga series, graphic novels are usually published as regular bound books. They are more likely to be standalone works, but like other novels, they can be turned into a series.

Definitions by The Graphic Library

Comic books: are serialized stories featuring comic drawings, generally following the adventures of superheroes, villains, etc. These are usually presented in a single-issue, paperback format.

Graphic Novel: A story told with sequential, illustrated panels.

Original Graphic Novel (OGN): a story published in a full-length graphic novel without being published as single-issue floppies first.

Online Resources

Books to Learn More


-Stephanie Mahar

Stephanie’s Favorites

  • Huda F Are You?
  • by Huda Fahmy
  • Publisher: Dial Books
  • Release Date: November 23, 2021
  • Reading Level: Gr. 7-9
  • ISBN: 9780593324318
  • The Legend of Auntie Po
  • by Shing Yin Khor
  • Publisher: Kokila
  • Release Date: June 15, 2021
  • Reading Level: Gr. 5-9
  • ISBN: 978-0525554899
  • Squad
  • By Maggie Tokuda-Hall & Lisa Sterle
  • Publisher: Greenwillow Books
  • Release Date: October 5, 2021
  • Reading Level: Gr. 9-12
  • ISBN: 978-0062943149
  • Other Ever Afters: New Queer Fairy Tales
  • by Melanie Gillman
  • Publisher: Random House Graphic
  • Release Date: September 20, 2022
  • Reading Level: Gr. 7-9
  • ISBN: 978-0593303184
  • Almost American Girl 
  • By Robin Ha
  • Publisher: Balzer + Bray
  • Release Date: January 28, 2020
  • Reading Level: Gr. 8-12
  • ISBN: 978-0062685094
  • The Magic Fish 
  • By Trung Le Nguyen
  • Publisher: Random House Graphic
  • Release Date: October 13, 2020
  • Reading Level: Gr. 7-12
  • ISBN: 978-1984851598
  • Laura Dean Keeps Breaking Up with Me
  • By Mariko Tamaki & Rosemary Valero-O’Connell
  • Publisher: First Second
  • Release Date: May 7, 2019
  • Reading Level: Gr. 8-12
  • ISBN: 978-1626722590
  • Mooncakes
  • By Suzanne Walker & Wendy Xu
  • Publisher: Oni Press
  • Release Date: October 15, 2019
  • Reading Level: Gr. 8-12
  • ISBN: 978-1549303043
  • Check, Please! Book 1: # Hockey 
  • By Ngozi Ukazu 
  • Publisher: First Second
  • Release Date: September 18, 2018
  • Reading Level: Gr. 8-12
  • ISBN: 978-1250177964
  • The Prince and the Dressmaker
  • By Jen Wang
  • Publisher: First Second
  • Release Date: February 13, 2018
  • Reading Level: Gr. 7-12
  • ISBN: 978-1626723634
  • Quiet Girl in a Noisy World: An Introvert’s Story 
  • By Debbie Tung
  • Publisher: Andrews McMeel Publishing
  • Release Date: November 7, 2017
  • Reading Level: Gr. 7-12
  • ISBN: 978-1449486068
  • Nimona 
  • By N.D. Stevenson
  • Publisher: Quill Tree Books
  • Release Date: May 12, 2015
  • Reading Level: Gr. 7-12
  • ISBN: 978-0062278227

Genre Spotlight: Horror for Teens

photography of cat at full moon
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Fall is an excellent time to get into some spooky, haunty, ghoulish titles, and there are a variety of new books to tantalize teens. Horror isn’t so much a genre with a specific set of rules, but a mood that comes into a variety of other genres whether it is fantasy, paranormal, mystery, historical, or realistic and can contain elements of slasher, body horror, gothic, dark fantasy, or folk horror just to name a few. There are a variety of short story collections and novels for teens, and some adult crossovers to suggest that will be sure to give teens thrills and chills in whatever their genre inclinations are.

Continue reading Genre Spotlight: Horror for Teens

Genre Guide: Paranormal Romances for Teens



Paranormal Romance is a sub-genre of Romance. For a novel to be a Paranormal Romance, a simple thing must occur: love must begin between a human and a supernatural being (whether wholly supernatural or partially, just as long as there are supernatural elements present). However, this can be a broad interpretation. Usually, the protagonist (often the human) in these novels is put in some kind of danger, where they come to realize they can overcome this danger either on their own or with the help of the supernatural love interest.

Authors to Know

Main characters include both humans and supernatural beings. The supernatural being can be wholly supernatural or partly, and include but are not limited by the following “types”: vampire, werewolf, fairy, magician, mermaid, zombie, psychic, ghost, demon hunter, demon, angel, shapeshifter, dragon, and gods or goddesses.  Additionally, the human in Paranormal Romances can have a touch of the paranormal as well.  An example is the teen psychic that can see the ghost. Quite often, when it comes to paranormal romances written for teens, a love triangle is involved.  There could be more than one human, or more than one supernatural being in the triangle. Continue reading Genre Guide: Paranormal Romances for Teens

Beyond The History Books: Genre Guide to ‘Off The Beaten Path’ Historical Fiction



Historical fiction can be a deceptively complex genre to define.  It would seem initially that any fiction set in the past might be considered historical fiction but as we examine this basic distinction, it becomes significantly less simple.  After all, how far into the past does a novel need to be set to be considered historical rather than contemporary realistic fiction?  Do we use a specific range of years? Do we consider the likely cultural memory and lived experiences of the intended audience?  For the purposes of this guide, I’ve decided to define historical fiction as a novel set in the past in which the particular realities of that time and place play a significant role in the narrative.


The genre of historical fiction is vast and varied.  The idea of compiling a definitive genre guide is fairly daunting  so I chose a focus: “off the beaten path” historical fiction–novels set in the past that feature perspectives, places, time periods, or events frequently unexplored in both the average history class curriculum and historical fiction.


These novels expand the genre beyond the ‘white people in interesting clothing’  approach that can dominate the historical fiction shelves. In the process of creating history, many voices have been silenced, forgotten, or shoved aside. Good historical fiction–like all good fiction–weaves an absorbing story with complex characters, providing us with an opportunity to counteract simplified or biased versions of history.  Through fiction, readers can look at well-known events from a new perspective, immerse themselves in unfamiliar cultures, or see an exploration of their heritage.

Continue reading Beyond The History Books: Genre Guide to ‘Off The Beaten Path’ Historical Fiction