Emma Steinkellner’s debut middle grade graphic novel celebrates the weirdness of growing up. The Okay Witch follows the adventures of 13-year-old Moth Hush, a half-witch just coming into her powers. While trying to juggle her new abilities, Moth also finds herself standing up to bullies and uncovering family secrets. Here, Steinkellner shares some of her favorite supernatural coming-of-age graphic novels.
Growing up is incredibly and inescapably weird. It is weird in its own unique way for every single kid. So graphic novels for middle grade readers might as well be weird too, right? In The Okay Witch, Moth Hush’s anxiousness and uncertainty about growing up parallel the weird magic that suddenly enters her life. But witchcraft is just one of the perfect supernatural happenings to put in a coming-of-age story. Ghosts, supernatural powers and events, and creepy mysteries should be considered as legitimate middle grade subjects as much as self-doubt, bullying, personal responsibility, and dealing with fear. Because that’s what all these supernatural and magic themes boil down to. Humans have been making up monster horrors and fairy stories since the beginning of time to reflect real things we’re anxious about, scared of, and hopeful for.
Anya is a frank, chronically embarrassed, sometimes fed up teenager who feels both invisible and way too visible at her school and home. Her whole life changes when she falls down a well and meets Emily, the ghost of a girl who died many years before. I won’t spoil it, but the mystery made me gasp out loud. The genuinely scary bits are paid off by the way Anya ultimately summons a lot of personal courage to fight for what’s right.
Dying to Meet You by Kate Klise, illustrated by M. Sarah Klise
The first author I ever had to read the next book by was Kate Klise. I borrowed our classroom copy Letters from Camp so often my third grade teacher let me keep it like the bookseller in the first 15 minutes of Beauty and the Beast. On a whim this year, I decided to see what they’ve written since I was in sixth grade. Much to my delight, they’ve since come out with the 43 Old Cemetery Road series and it is exactly as much fun as their other books. It is not a full sequential art graphic novel, but it is an intricate and fun-as-heck epistolary composed of illustrated photographs, drawings, letters, articles, and other such snippets. If you are a comics reader who gets joy out of visuals and text being essential to one another, you will love this book. I know I did. Haunted victorian mansion? Check. Old curmudgeon changing his ways via ghostly intervention like Ebenezer Scrooge? Check. Spooky wordplay? Check, check, and check.
I do really love a “have kids taken science TOO FAR this time??” story and this scratched that itch. It’s a seriously adorable romp through space with two devoted friends and a three-headed kitten that starts causing major havoc on the girls’ space station. This book is packed with some super-fun action and I loved the limited color scheme and the rapport Sanity and Tallulah have with each other.
Super teens! Super teens! Gotta love super teens! Three friends (Kira, Harriet, and Sue) are gamma-radiated and each endowed with their own fabulous power. Kira becomes super strong, Harriet becomes super stretchy, and Sue can harness electricity and fly using the force of the wind. Their adventures both mirror and examine a lot of the standards of superhero-dom. All that good “great power = great responsibility” stuff we’ve all come to know and love. These girls figure it out together, which is really nice to see: friends working through something strange and unfamiliar with each other’s support.
Suee and the Shadow by Ginger Ly, illustrated by Molly Park
This one is energetic, spooky, and great. I love when the way that magic functions in the story is essential to the way the character comes of age. That certainly applies here, because Suee is a young girl who feels isolated. She uses her biting wit as a defense mechanism and has a tendency to shut people out, especially at her new school in her new town. But when things start getting weird at school… like your own shadow coming to life and dead-eyed, creepy Zero zombies weird, Suee has to learn how to trust in others. I get such Twilight Zone tingles from this book. Pick it up!