Here's your latest list of great graphic novels for kids, courtesy of the legwork I did prior to a recent appearance on WYPR's Maryland Morning. This time, host Tom Hall and I were joined by author and librarian Snow Wildsmith (my idea!) for a talk about which graphic novels, how graphic novels, and, most importantly, why graphic novels for kids. Snow and I get all smarty-sounding at a couple of points there, I totally encourage you to listen:
Parents, librarians, teachers, and even kids will enjoy A Parent's Guide to the Best Kids' Comics: Choosing Titles Your Children Will Love (reviewed earlier on Pink Me). In it, Snow Wildsmithand Scott Robins summarize the plot and characters of each of about a hundred book, suggest curriculum tie-ins, and, perhaps most helpfully, provide "if you liked this book" further reading lists.
Paging through Snow and Scott's book, one of the first things you'll notics is that graphic novels have become incredibly diverse nowadays. In addition to the familiar Marvel and DC superhero comics, which are still going strong, there are indie comics, gripping graphic novel memoirs, arty adaptations of classical literature, and even funny realistic comics.
In addition to spanning all genres, comics for kids range in age appeal from pre-readers to teens and they vary in length, sophistication, and above all artistic style. The art may be flat and cartoony, lush and mysterious, meticulously detailed or big and bold. Artists work in feathery pencil, thick paint, delicate watercolor, or on a digital tablet. In the best graphic novels, the art style will match the story - a historical fiction work like Around the World will lo0k very realistic, while a sci-fi fantasy story such as Amulet may look Japanese-inspired, with big eyes and improbable hair. An eye-popping anthology like Nursery Rhyme Comics or Flight can cover all of these bases.
Here are some books that Snow and I agree are flat-out fun and wonderful for elementary school readers:
The Owly books by Andy Runton and the Korgi books by Christian Slade are wordless or mostly-wordless books that very young children can enjoy. Wordless books like these help a pre-reader develop a sense of story and get them used to decoding events in a book for themselves. These are particularly wonderful shared - sit back and let the kid tell you the story.
Binky the Space Cat is an obese housecat who does not realize that he is an obese housecat. Binky thinks he is a spacecat, defending his spaceship (the house) against alien invaders (flies). The books in this series by Ashley Spires are great for early readers.
TOON Books publishes a whole series of Beginning Reader-level comics. They are easy to identify because of their horizontal format. Look for titles like Silly Lilly, Little Mouse Gets Ready, and Chick and Chickie Play All Day!.
Middle grade readers – kids in 2nd, 3rd, and 4th grade – have many fun series to choose from. Babymouse, by Jennifer Holm, is almost irresistible to girls, with its cute - but not cutesy - black and white and pink art. Jarrett Krosoczka’s Lunch Lady series is fun for both boys and girls. Fans of Greek myths naturally gravitate to the well-researched, action-packed Olympians series by George O’Connor.
A few stars of the kids’ graphic novel world are Raina Telgemeier, Doug TenNapel, andFaith Erin Hicks. Telgemeier’s novels, Smile and Drama, are adored and cherished by girls from 3rd grade to 8th and beyond. Faith Erin Hicks writes graphic novels that perhaps skew a little older, and feature strong, individualistic girls in unusual social situations. Sometimes involving ghosts or unicorns. Friends with Boys and The War at Ellsmere are hers. Doug TenNapel’s work appeals to both boys and girls. Bad Island and Ghostopolis are funny adventures in strange settings.
Many children’s graphic novels have actually been around for decades. Jeff Smith’s 9-volume epic, Bone, is beloved of children and adults alike. The Belgian cartoonist Herge wrote many episodes in the adventurous life of young Tintin, and all of these are still in print. Then there’s Larry Marder’s Beanworld – this weird and funny comic was originally written for adults, but its simple silly characters and easily-copied art have found a new audience with kids.
SNOW’S FAVORITE: Clan Apis by Jay Hosler. Snow doesn’t like bees at all, but she could not put down this exciting book that relates the life cycle of bees through gripping story. The detailed art brings this subject to vivid, buzzing life.
MY FAVORITE: Rapunzel's Revenge, by Shannon and Dean Hale, art by Nathan Hale. Girl power + fairy tale characters + a Wild West setting = lots of action and some unexpected laughs. Nathan Hale’s beautiful pen and ink and watercolor art is worthy of framing.
MY KIDS’ FAVORITES: The Cartoon History of the Universe by Larry Gonick, recommended previously on Maryland Morning, has never actually made it onto a bookshelf in my house. The boys pick it up, read a little, and then leave it lying around the house. They are also huge fans of the Marvel comics Genext and Runaways. Also Axe Cop.
And here are a few brand-new titles that have been published since Snow's book went to press:
Nathan Hale’s Hazardous Tales. Artist/author Nathan Hale chooses Revolutionary War spy Nathan Hale (no relation) to narrate exciting stories from American history. Ezra says, “It’s American history made hilarious.” The first two books are One Dead Spy and Big Bad Ironclad!.
Cardboard by Doug TenNapel. A funny-scary story with echoes of classic golem stories, in which an impoverished carpenter and his son create an artificial man out of cardboard. Everything is going great until…
Space Warped by Hervé Bourhis and Rudy Spiessert. This Star Wars parody from France is laugh-out-loud funny.
Giants Beware! By Jorge Aguirre, Rafael Rosado. Tomboy Claudette yearns for adventure, which she finds beyond the walls of her fortress town.
Best Shot in the West: The Adventures of Nat Love by Patricia and Frederick McKissack, illustrated by Randy DuBurke. A biography of the black cowboy Nat Love. Full of bucking broncos, flying bullets, and Western legends.
Something for everyone, am I right?