by Michele Gorman
"Comics—they’re not just for kids anymore." Used by editor Art Spiegelman to promote RAW (the underground comics anthology popular in the late 1980s), this adage has resurfaced with a vengeance in the past few years, moving from a quippy selling point to an accepted truth. The majority of graphic novels on the market today are more appropriate for teenagers and adults than for children. For those of you working with teens, this has been great news; the windfall of graphic novels now available has provided you with abundant opportunities to purchase high-interest titles for your (often reluctant) teen readers.
The good news for those of you who happen to be working with elementary-age children is that there are many graphic novels currently available for this audience that are not only age-appropriate but also praiseworthy for their imaginative story lines, interesting characters, and captivating illustrations. Although these titles have not received as much coverage in professional journals or in reviewresources as graphic novels for teens and adults, they do exist and are likely to become more visible as educators begin to demand reviews of and recommendations for kid-friendly comics in book form.
To get started, the following list of graphic novels is a substantial beginning collection for upper-elementary-age readers, with an assortment of titles from various genres, including superhero, humor, fantasy, science fiction, nonfiction, and manga, or Japanese comics. Note that the list below does not include the more traditional picture books that incorporate comic-style illustrations (such as dialogue balloons or split frames) in addition to full-page illustrations, but focuses instead on the more conventional examples of the format that use sequential panels containing both art and text to tell the story.
General Graphic Novels
Amelia Earhart Free in the Skies. Illus. by Robert Wylie. 2003. 48p. Harcourt/Silver Whistle, $16 (0-15-202498-0); paper, $5.95 (0-15-216810-9).
Gr. 2–5. The second title in the American Heroes series, this comic-style biography offers the young reader an overview of the life of adventurer and pioneering aviator Ameila Earhart.
Into the Air: The Story of the Wright Brothers’ First Flight. Illus. by Robert Wylie. 2002. 48p. Harcourt/Silver Whistle, $16 (0-15-202492-1); paper, $6 (0-15-216803-6).
Gr. 4–up. The first book published in the series mentioned above, this graphic novel is a great introduction to the historic first flight of the Wright brothers.
Akiko, v.1 (The Menace of Alia Rellapor, Book One). 1997. 160p. Sirius, paper, $14.95 (1-57989-009-1).
Gr. 2–5. Fourth-grader Akiko’s summer is off to a bang when she finds herself transported to the distant galaxy of Smoo, where a dangerous mission awaits her. Look for a "pocket-sized" version of this title, scheduled for publication in the late spring or early summer from Sirius, for a reduced price of $11.95.
Age of Reptiles: Tribal Warfare. 1996. 128p. Dark Horse, paper, $14.95 (1-56971-101-1).
Gr. 3–6. As beautiful as it is exciting, this graphic novel takes the reader along on a journey through the Mesozoic era, getting up close and personal with some feuding dinosaur families.
Tellos: Reluctant Heroes. Illus. by Mike Wieringo. 2001. 160p. Image Comics, paper, $17.95 (1-58240-186-1).
Gr. 4–up. Fun fantasy for young readers, Tellos is an imaginative mix of myth and legend, bringing together unique characters, like the pirate princess and the talking tiger warrior, in this exciting adventure that is sure to pull in the most reluctant of readers.
The Last Knight: An Introduction to Don Quixote. 2001. 32p. NBM, $15.95 (1-56163-251-1); paper, $7.95 (1-56163-253-8).
Gr. 1–5. From classic to comic, Eisner’s retelling of Miguel de Cervantes’ Spanish-language tome is entertaining, if not wholly true to the original, making up for its lack of authenticity with amusing drawings, slapstick humor, and enough silliness to make it a fun read for a young reader.
Moby Dick. 2003. 32p.
NBM, $15.95 (1-56163-293-7); paper, $7.95 (1-56163-294-5).
Gr. 1–5. While this adaptation of Herman Melville’s sprawling novel is no work of literary genius, it is visually appealing and highly likely to interest young readers who are not quite ready for the entire saga of Captain Ahab and Ishmael.
The Princess and the Frog. 2003. 32p. NBM, $15.95 (1-56163-244-9); paper, $7.95 (1-56163-346-1).
Gr. 1–3. Eisner’s illustrations and comic timing make this adaptation of the Grimm brothers’ fairy tale an excellent example of a combination picture book/comic book that is sure to be a hit with young fans.
Courageous Princess. 2003. 240p. Antarctic, $24.95
Gr. 3–6. Young Princess Mablerose may not be your classic princess, but what she lacks in beauty and grace, she more than makes up for in intellect and resourcefulness. A fairy tale like no other, this is a classic story with a modern twist, in which the young princess rescues herself from the dragon and finds her own way home.
Shrek. Illus. by Ramon Bachs and Raul Fernandez. 2003. 96p. Dark Horse, paper, $12.95 (1-56971-982-9).
Gr. 2–5. Kids who loved the movie based on the picture book by William Steig will adore this three-issue collection about the lovable ogre Shrek, donkey, and the rest of the gang, as they set out to rescue Princess Fiona from a life with King Farquaad.
Fisher, Jane Smith.
WJHC on the Air! Illus. by Kirsten Petersen. 2003. 96p. Wilson Place, paper, $11.95 (0-974-42350-5).
Gr. 3–6. Take a group of mismatched teens and throw them together to run a high-school radio station and you get WJHC on the Air!, a new graphic novel, illustrated in full color. This rag-tag group of teens turns the station from hokey to hip, with only a few mishaps along the way.
Amelia Rules! The Whole World’s Crazy. 2003. 176p. iBooks, paper, $14.95 (0-74347-503-8).
Gr. 3–6. Amelia rocks! Nine years old and new in town, Amelia is trying to adjust to life in small-town America, which is a far cry from Manhattan, where she spent the first eight years of her life. Both the colorful drawings and the hysterical dialogue make this book a winner. The scenes in school (and in gym class) are guaranteed to make readers laugh out loud.
The Wind in the Willows: The Wild Wood. Adapted and illus. by Michel Plessix. 2003. 32p. NBM, $15.95 (1-56163-196-5).
Gr. 2–5. Mole, Rat, and Toad of Toad Hall are back, and in this version Plessix’s drawings do Grahame’s prose justice, enhancing a classic that is already a favorite for many young readers. Also see volumes two through four in this series.
Decoy. Illus. by Don Jensen and others. 2000. 112p. Penny Farthing, paper, $15.95 (0-9673683-2-4).
Gr. 2–5. Nothing will ever be the same for rookie Police Officer Bobby Luck once Decoy, a little, green, shape-shifting alien, appears in his life. Together, this improbable pair will set out to do a little crime fighting in order to rid the world of those pesky bad guys that seem to be around every corner.
It Was a Dark and Silly Night
. Edited by Art Spiegelman and Françoise Mouly. 2003. 48p. HarperCollins/Joanna Cotler, $19.99 (0-06-028628-8).
Gr. 2–5. Edited by Pulitzer Prize–winning author Spiegelman and wife Mouly, the Little Lit series, heralded as "comics for kids," sets out to pull in a new generation of comic book readers with a collection of unique stories written and illustrated by some of the biggest names in the literary world and in children’s publishing. This volume, number 3 in the series, includes stories and artwork by Lemony Snicket, William Joyce, Basil Wolverton, Neil Gaiman, and more.
Herobear and the Kid: The Inheritance, v.1. 2003. 224p.
Astonish Comics, $50 (0-9721259-0-6); paper, $19.95 (0-9721259-1-4).
Gr. 2–up. A timeless tale of friendship, childhood, and heroism, this is the story of a young boy, a magical pocket watch, and a stuffed bear who comes alive to be part of an unlikely yet loveable crime-fighting duo.
Magic Pickle. 2002. 112p. Oni, paper, $11.95 (1-929998-33-3).
Gr. 2–5. A superhero pickle? Oh yes, and the evil produce who are out to do injustice in the world at large take center stage in this amusing tale of vegetables gone wrong! This book is also filled with some hilarious puns.
Peter and the Wolf. 2003. 32p. NBM, $15.95 (1-56163-200-7).
Gr. 1–3. This adaptation of the folktale made famous by Sergei Prokofiev combines beautiful illustrations with rather simple prose. Although this book is similar in format to a picture book, the art and text are contained within individual frames.
Leave It to Chance: Shaman’s Rain, v.1. Illus. by Paul Smith. 1999. 112p. Image Comics, $14.95 (1-58240-253-1); DC Comics, paper, $9.95 (1-563-89586-2).
Gr. 3–up. Move over, Nancy Drew. Fourteen-year-old Chance Falconer has arrived and is ready to solve a new set of mysteries for a new generation of thriller fans. Born into a family of paranormal investigators, Chance knows she was meant to be part of the family trade. However, her father has different ideas and wants his daughter to live a less dangerous life. But don’t worry—this feisty female is too headstrong to take no for an answer.
Justice League Adventures. Illus. by John Delaney and others. 2003. 160p. DC Comics, paper, $9.95 (1-563-89954-X).
Gr. 3–6. This is the first volumein a series of graphic novels that was created in response to the Justice League Adventures television show on Cartoon Network. Although this book is not a literary work of art, it is a great crossover that is highly likely to pull in reluctant readers.
Bone: Out from Boneville, v.1. 1991; reissued 1996, 2003. 144p. Cartoon Books, $19.95 (1-9636609-9-3); paper, $12.95 (1-9636609-4-2).
Gr. 3–up. Fone Bone, Phoney Bone, and Smiley Bone have been run out of Boneville, but the real adventure begins when the three cousins accidentally get separated and must find each other. A combination of appealing story line, endearing characters, smart dialogue, and solid artwork all contribute to the success of the Bone comic series, which has not only received critical acclaim but amassed a loyal fan following since its inception in 1991.
Scary Godmother, v.1. 2001. 112p. Sirius, paper, $19.95 (1-57989-015-6).
K–Gr. 2. If it’s Halloween and you’re in the middle of dealing with a no-good baby-sitter who wants to keep you scared and at home, the only thing better than a fairy godmother is a scary godmother, and that’s exactly what young Hannah gets when she wishes for some out-of-this-world help to keep her baby-sitting cousin Jimmy from ruining her first time trick-or-treating.
Alison Dare: Little Miss Adventures. Illus. by J. Bone. 2002. 112p. Oni, paper, $8.95 (1-929-99820-1).
Gr. 3–6. For Alison Dare, being the daughter of a superhero is not easy, especially when her heroic father insists on sending her away to an all-girls school to keep her out of danger. What Alison craves is an adventure, and that’s exactly what she gets when she defies her parents and sets out with her sidekicks to find a little trouble outside the school walls.
Mobile Suit Gundam 0079, v.1. 2002. 208p. Viz, $9.95 (1-56931-716-X).
Gr. 5–up. This series is based on the classic anime story about a group of young civilians who get entangled in a vicious war between the Earth Federation and the Principality of Zeon. A futuristic tale about wartime and heroism, this first volume of the ongoing manga series contains issues one through seven in their entirety.
Miyazaki’s Spirited Away, v.1. 2002. 176p. Viz, paper, $9.95 (1-56931-791-7).
Gr. 3–up. In this story, 10-year-old Chihiro finds herself alone when her parents are mysteriously turned into pigs by some unseen force that guides the strange and unnatural place where she has been abandoned. Chihiro must find a way out if she is going to rescue her parents from a life of captivity. This five volume series is a full-color adaptation of Miyazaki’s award-winning animated film by the same title, and it is sure to be a hit with fans of both anime and manga.
Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind Perfect Collection One. 1995. 144p. Viz, paper, $17.95 (1-56931-096-3).
Gr. 4–up. Humans have destroyed the world with their careless ways, and industrial civilizations have taken over and poisoned Earth. Now it’s up to young princess Nausicaä to negotiate peace between those battling for what’s left of the precious ecosystem. Billed by the publisher as an "epic environmental cautionary tale," this title collects the first two volumes in the series.
Sailor Moon, v.1. 1998. 192p. Tokyopop, paper, $9.99 (1-892213-01-X).
Gr. 3–6. When Bunny is transformed into Sailor Moon (everyone’s favorite "soldier of love and justice") by a magical cat named Luna, her life will never be the same. The first of 11 volumes, this book will captivate young female readers.
Gon. 2000. 224p. DC Comics, paper, $9.95 (1-563-89749-0).
Gr. 1–5. Similar to Little Foot in the movie The Land before Time, Gon is a lively and determined little dinosaur who has made it his quest to look out for some of his less adventurous, more easily alarmed friends. Although this story is told entirely without words, it’s a joy to "read."
Astro Boy, v.1. 2002. 224p. Dark Horse, paper, $9.95 (1-56971-676-5).
Gr. 4–up. Astro Boy is no ordinary boy—he’s a super strong, jet-powered kid who happens to fight evil robots and aliens in his spare time. A modern classic, and one of the most well known and well loved manga series of all time, Astro Boy is the creation of the late Tezuka, one of the most revered artists in Japan.
Michele Gorman is the author of Getting Graphic! Using Graphic Novels to Promote Literacy with Preteens and Teens (Linworth, 2003).