Back in the days when we drank gallons of Tang and ran wild in the neighborhood like dogs without leashes, these books were called comic books. Now they’re graphic novels and have fancy covers and binding so they don’t fall apart. They’re still action-packed, with lots of sounds spelled out in capital letters and exclamation points (KLANG! OOF! SLAM! WHOOSH!). The plot usually involves the forces of good versus evil. My husband tells me graphic novels, unlike comic books, tend to involve humor.
A confession, of sorts. Yes, I had to ask my husband, who read comic books as a kid. My mother was an English teacher and in her world, comic books did not qualify as books and therefore were off-limits. I still carry a residue of that high-brow distinction, but my eight-year-old son loves them. So how did I open my front door and invite them in?
(1) As I said, my son gobbles them up. He’ll sit on the couch for a solid hour and read. He’ll even tell me not to bother him; he’s reading.
(2) My son (his name is Fynn. He gave me permission to reveal it) has even taken to writing his own comics;
(3) Graphic novels are a great way to transition from shorter books to something longer. This has to build a certain confidence in a kid;
(4) Pulitzer Prize Winning writer Michael Chabon read comic books growing up, (how else to account for The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay). Look what happened to him.
With that said, here are some graphic novels that your kids might devour:
Written and Illustrated by Dan Santat.
In Sidekicks, written and illustrated by Dan Santat, Captain Amazing is getting old and decides he needs some help. He announces to the citizens of Metro City he’s going to hold auditions for a sidekick. Captain Amazing, who’s been so busy fighting crime, hasn’t been home much, so he doesn’t realize that his pets, his dog, Roscoe, his hamster, Fluffy, and chameleon, Shifty, have developed their own superpowers. They’d all love to be Captain Amazing’s sidekick, mostly because they’d get to spend more time with him. An intense competition results—who will get to be the captain’s sidekick?
According to my son, Fynn, “The pictures are amazing. And the story is really funny.”
It’s true. The pictures are amazing, in full color, with lots of blue tones to indicate the city and night time and a brownish tone to signal a flashback. It’s great fun watching a hamster take on the evil Dr. Havoc. And yes, it’s a fast read, with lots of POW! And HURRY UP! AND STOP! filling the pages, but there is a story and a sweet ending and your kid will be able to say he/she read a 217 page book. (Publisher: Scholastic, Inc.. Ages 8-11)
Written and Illustrated by Jarrett J. Krosoczka
The Lunch Lady graphic novel series, written and illustrated by Jarrett J. Krosoczka, also uses humor, action, and unexpected superheroes. In this case, as the title suggests, the lunch lady at public school is the superhero fighting crime. Krosoczka kicked off the series in July, 2009, with Lunch Lady and the Cyborg Substitute. When Mr. Pasteur arrives at school as a substitute teacher for Mr. O’Connell, Lunch Lady is suspicious. Mr. O’Connell hasn’t been sick once in twenty years. At the same time, the Breakfast Bunch, three kids at school become suspicious of Lunch Lady: what does she do after school? The wackiness ensues, with Lunch Lady wielding chicken nugget bombs, fish stick nunchunks, and a spatu-copter, a spatula that allows her to fly.
Lunch Lady has gone on to fight evil in Lunch Lady and the League of Librarians, Lunch Lady and the Author Visit Vendetta, Lunch Lady and the Summer Camp Shakedown and Lunch Lady and the Field Trip Fiasco.
Krosoczka continues the zaniness in his most recent, Lunch Lady and the Bake Sale Bandit. The school has planned a bake sale to fund an upcoming field trip (Krosoczka manages to capture the dire financial shape of many public schools), only to have all the goodies stolen by someone. Lunch Lady and cafeteria worker, Betty, get busy. The fun comes in the many devices Lunch Lady uses to solve the mystery—a mirror broom, rubber glove suction cups to climb the walls, a cookie camera and a spork phone.
The only complaint my son has about this series—“I wish there were more and they were longer.” (Publisher: Random House Children’s Books. Ages 7-10)
Nina Schuyler‘s first novel, The Painting, (Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill/2004), was a finalist for the Northern California Book Awards. It was also selected by the San Francisco Chronicle as one of the Best Books for 2004 and a “Great Debut from 2004” by the Rocky Mountain News. She currently teaches creative writing at the University of San Francisco and is working on a third novel.