In a TV- and video game-filled world, today's children are increasingly drawn to the visual, and to tales filled with the zap-pow-bam excitement of superheroes, both real and fictional. Graphic novels don't all have superheroes, but those that do often tell a different side of the story. Regardless of the hero, the pictures draw children in, while the complex and unique stories keep them reading.
Even voracious readers of traditional novels enjoy taking a break from words, words, words to take in a more visual landscape of storytelling. Here's your guide to this hot genre.
Why They're Worthwhile
Graphic novels encourage reading for pleasure and are a superb way to get reluctant readers interested in books. If your child watches cartoons or loves superheroes, these books hold a natural appeal. At the same time, graphic novels introduce complex themes, plots, and structures, making them interesting for advanced readers as well. Finally, the graphical nature of the narratives helps introduce vocabulary through contextual clues and fosters independent reading and learning.
These novels can also be a wonderful way to open discussion on difficult topics, without being heavy-handed or overly serious. Many touch on everyday issues such as friendship, difficulty in school, and not fitting in. To spark a revealing conversation, try asking your child questions about what he thinks the characters are feeling or thinking, or what he would do in a similar situation (and why).
It's terrific, too, to talk about the artwork itself and how it contributes to the stories and characters, and discover what styles of art your child is drawn to. You can also find great opportunities to discuss words and vocabulary and how they're drawn, as many graphic novels use different fonts for different characters, emphasis, or situation. If your child has trouble following traditional novels, show him how the illustrations can guide him through the story by offering contextual clues.
Beyond the Books
To inspire your reader, try these activities:
- Go to a comic book store or, even better, attend a comic convention, and talk with other people passionate about the form. At conventions, many authors and illustrators are available to answer questions, plus there's the fun of the costumed characters walking around among us mortal folk.
- Have your child create a graphic novel of her own, using a computer graphics or drawing program or by hand. If she has trouble coming up with an original idea, have her imagine what happens after the final frame of her favorite title, or what might happen if two different characters from different books met.
- Encourage him to take on the identity of his favorite character for a day, including clothes, mannerisms, and speech. This will push him to use his imagination as well as get a deeper understanding of the character . . . and have fun!
Top Titles to Try
Start building your graphic novel bookshelf with these standouts — there's a little something for everyone from kids and tweens to teens.
For younger readers:
- Binky the Space Cat by Ashley Spires. In Binky's wild and quirky imagination, he is not a house cat - he is a space cat with a mission. Kids and adults alike will delight as Binky prepares to battle an alien invasion and blast off into space.
- Little Mouse Gets Ready by Jeff Smith. This cute and simple story follows Little Mouse as he tries to get successfully dressed and get all the buttons and snaps right before he can go visit the barn.
- Benny and Penny in the Big No-No! by Geoffrey Hayes. Siblings Benny and Penny are curious about their new neighbor, and decide to sneak into their backyard to see if their neighbor is a monster in this enchanting tale about friendship.
- Giants Beware! by Jorge Augusto Aguirre. Claudette is a self-proclaimed giant slayer - but what's a giant slayer to do in a safe and peaceful village where there are no giants?
- Copper by Kazu Kibuishi. This collection of vignettes follows a boy and his dog, who make a rather odd couple, as they travel together and get into all sorts of strange situations.
For older readers:
- The Invention of Hugo Cabret by Brian Selznick. This captivating mystery tells the story of an orphaned boy who lives inside the walls of a bustling Paris train station, where he tries his best to keep his secrets.
- Rapunzel's Revenge by Shannon Hale. A fun, swashbuckling take on the classic fairytale with a heroic Rapunzel going on adventures with Jack of Jack and the Beanstalk.
- Adventure Time with Finn and Jake Vol. 1 by Ryan North. The graphic novel adaptation of the award-winning Cartoon Network animated series, it's always adventure time for Finn the Human, Jake the Dog and Princess Bubblegum in their crazy, colorful world.
- Diary of a Wimpy Kid series by Jeff Kinney. This satirical comedy captures the joys and pains of middle school life and growing up through Greg, who records every misadventure in his diary.
- Dragonbreath by Ursula Vernon. Laugh along with Danny Dragonbreath as he goes on an underwater adventure with his sea-serpent cousin for his school research project - because that's better than simply using textbooks.
For younger readers:
- Luke on the Loose by Harry Bliss. Luke gets bored and breaks away from his father to soar through New York City all on his own.
- Silly Lilly and the Four Seasons by Agnès Rosenstiehl. In this charming book, Lilly explores nature and the outdoors, introducing little ones to the changing of seasons.
- Otto's Orange Day by Frank Cammuso. Otto is an orange cat who meets a genie and makes a wish for the whole world to be his favorite color - orange!
- Magic Pickle by Scott Morse. This pun-filled story follows Weapon Kosher, a pickle with superhero powers.
For older readers:
- Amelia's Notebook by Marissa Moss. Amelia gets a journal for her 9th birthday, which turns out to be just what she needs - a place to share all her feelings.
- Sunny Side Up by Jennifer L. Holm. Sunny is shipped off to Florida to live with her grandparents: something she isn't too keen on until family secrets start to unravel in this lovely but important story for tweens.
- Ghostopolis by Doug TenNapel. This fun adventure follows Garth as he winds up in the spirit world and must find his way back home before the evil ruler can use him to take over the ghost kingdom.
- The Knights of the Lunch Table series by Frank Cammuso. Middle school life isn't so easy for Artie when he has to deal with the scary principal and the bullies who rule the hallways.
- Mal and Chad: The Biggest, Bestest Time Ever! by Stephen McCranie. Mal, a kid genius, and Chad, a talking dog, are best friends who are always ready for their next adventure.