Comics and graphic novels often get bad press. Deemed ‘too easy’ or too ‘silly’, they’re often seen as flimsy material, unworthy of much attention. If you find yourself in the category of parents who can’t wait to see their young comic lover finally ‘graduate’ to ‘proper’ books, do read on: you’re in for a surprise. If you’re already a fan, you’re in for a treat with our selection of some great titles for young readers.
There is nothing ‘easy’ about graphic novels or comics, when you think about it. Reading them requires mastering a lot of skills and techniques on top of the mechanics of reading words and sentences. First off, you have to figure out the relationship between text and pictures, between panels, between strips. There may or may not be a narrator, but there is no one to tell you who is speaking or what those extra words on the page are for (‘Bong!’ ‘Pow!’ ‘Zzzz’…). And that’s not to mention mangas published in the Japanese style, where everything happens from right to left! Any kid who reads this kind of literature has figured out and mastered these codes, usually without any help. That deserves a round of applause rather than a plea to move on to ‘real’ books.
You’ll find comics for all ages in all genres. Very young kids will love meeting Meg the witch and her cat Mog in the series by Helen Nicoll and Jan Pieńkowski (3+), where each story works as a clever combo between traditional picturebook and simple comics, so that prereaders can figure out a lot of the action by themselves. Pippa Goodhart and Rebecca Crane’s My Very Own Space integrates elements of comics, too, to tell its story of sharing and personal space in a way that is very accessible to kids aged 2+. The wonderful Elephant and Piggie books by Mo Willems (4+) only use pictures and speech bubbles to deliver hilarious stories that are perfect for kids learning to read. Fox and Chick by Sergio Ruzzier is another perfect comic to put in the hands of Junior and Senior Infants: the very short stories are excellently pitched and they’re tons of fun!
Many readers aged 6+ have already discovered the joys of Dog Man by Dav Pilkey. Next, they could have a look at the ridiculous InvestiGators (by John Patrick Green) or the laugh-out-loud barmy Terrible Tales of the Teenytinysaurs by Gary Northfield (7+). Ben Clanton’s wonderfully funny Narwhal and Jellyfish books are full of puns and jokes that will also delight readers, who might even be inspired to draw their own underwater duo. And for anyone with a cheeky streak, have a look at Akissi by Marguerite Abouet and Mathieu Sapin and discover the crazy shenanigans that make up the life of a young kid in 1980’s Ivory Coast.
For older readers, while the superhero and supervillain types (published by Marvel or DC for instance) tend to dominate, magazines are a great place to look for something different. Try The Phoenix, The Weekly Story Comic for a mix of short and long stories, epic tales and silly capers. Many of the Phoenix heroes also have their own books or series, such as the brilliant, futuristic Mega Robo Bros (by Neill Cameron, 9+) or the exciting, swashbuckling Georgia and the Edge of the World (by Robin Boyden, 8+). For a quieter take on fantasy, have a look at The Witches of Brooklyn by Sophie Escabasse (8+). Readers of a more realistic sensibility will love exploring friendship, growing up and roller derby in the fantastic Roller Girl (by Victoria Jamieson, 9+) or they could tag along with the improbable duo formed by Shirley and Jamila and indulge in a bit of sleuthing (Shirley and Jamila Save Their Summer by Gillian Goerz, 8+).
Written by Juliette Saumande (@juliettesaumande), a children’s book writer and professional bookworm whose new title, My Little Album of Ireland (illustrated by Tarsila Krüse and published by The O’Brien Press) is out in October 2021.
My Very Own Space, by Pippa Goodhart and Rebecca Crane, Flying Eye Books, 32 pages, ISBN 9781911171126
Jack is a little rabbit with a hankering for some peace and quiet. All he wants is time and space to read his book, but there is so much going on around him that he needs to physically mark a boundary between his personal space and the rest of the world. And when he does, things are not what he expected… Not strictly a comic, this great picturebook about boundaries, relationships and sharing does a great job of using words and pictures together to tell the story, with images interrupting the text for greater effect or whole sequences told in strips. It’s a brilliant way to draw attention to print and to allow very young readers to be in charge of the storytelling. (Age 2-5)
Elephant and Piggie: My Friend is Sad, by Mo Willems, Walker Books, 64 pages, ISBN 9781406338478
Gerald the elephant and Piggie the pig are best friends, but today, Gerald is sad. What can Piggie do to cheer him up? As it happens, Piggie has tons of hilarious ideas to help her friend find his smile again, but none of them succeeds… until the unexpected final twist! This book (and the whole series) needs the reader to keep an eye on both the pictures and the pared-down text (all speech bubbles) to know what is going on, as both carry the story forward. Kids learning to read will love that they can work their way through 60 pages pretty much by themselves and they will have a hoot as they go! (Age 4-8)
Akissi: Tales of Mischief, by Marguerite Abouet and Matthieu Sapin, translated by Marie Bédrune and Judith Taboy, Flying Eye Books, 142 pages, ISBN 9781911171478
Akissi is a girl, she’s young and small, and she doesn’t let anything stop her! She has a lot on her plate between her bossy big brother, her bully of a teacher and all these grownups who don’t want her playing the brilliant games she comes up with, like feeding a neighbour’s baby with market leftovers, minding a pet monkey or catching her friend’s nits on purpose to avoid a hairstyling session! This series is loads of fun with its short, snappy stories and readers will love getting a taste of the freedom Akissi enjoys while growing up in 1980’s Ivory Coast. (Age 7-10)
Shirley and Jamila Save Their Summer by Gillian Goerz, Dial Books, 224 pages, ISBN 9780525552864
This graphic novel chronicles the sweltering-hot summer where oddball Shirley and basketball-mad Jamila meet, become unlikely allies and eventually friends. At first, hanging out together is only a case of rescuing their summer from dire prospects (for Jamila, it’s a way to avoid the dreaded science camp; for Shirley, having a buddy means being allowed to wander the area). Soon, though, Shirley’s bewildering aptitude at noticing things and figuring them out brings the kids on a great sleuthing caper. The reader is won over by the brilliant diversity pictured in the Canadian setting and the warmth emanating from all the great characters that make this summer one to remember. Bring on the sequel, Shirley and Jamila’s Big Fall! (Age 8-12)