Has this happened to you? You’re in the library or (worse) the bookstore, and your child approaches full of enthusiasm for a book that turns out to be a graphic novel. As a parent of an 8-year-old, I know I’ve been there, and I’ve talked to quite a few parents who seem gun-shy about spending money for something their son or daughter will read in less than an hour. Or which might contain inappropriate material.
But the great news is that over the past few years, children’s publishers have put out quite a few excellent graphic novels for readers in the 6-9 age range. Especially during the holidays, when parents face the age-old choice between Educational Gifts and Gifts the Kid Will Actually Like, many of these titles offer the best of both worlds. With a little bit of homework, parents can find graphic novels that offer engaging (and long-lasting) entertainment, activate the imagination and turn a child on to books in general. And the best graphic novels for younger readers offer as much, or more, literary value than many text-heavy titles aimed at this age group.
Here are five graphic novels worth checking out. Based on my experience with my own 8-year-old son, each of them have an entertainment value right up there with a $13 DVD (or a “free” app that somehow requires a constant injection of money). But they make a lot less noise, they’re on a par with many other children’s classics in terms of literary merit (one of them is a children’s classic), and they can help ignite a life-long love of reading.
Amulet, Book 1: The Stonekeeper, by Kazu Kibuishi (Scholastic, $12.99) — Readers may recognize Kibuishi’s art from the new covers for the Harry Potter series, but before Kibuishi was tapped for that project he had built a rich world on a par with J.K. Rowling’s. This fascinating amalgam of steampunk, science fiction and fantasy is definitely worth a look, but with its dark situations — and some violent scenes — it’s a better bet for readers approaching their middle school years.
The Adventures of Tom Sawyer (Classics Illustrated Deluxe #4), adapted by David Morvan, Frederique Voulyze, and Severine LeFebvre (Papercutz, $13.95) — One of the best graphic-novel adaptations of a literary classic available for younger readers. The writing preserves the best of Twain’s original, and the fine artwork fleshes out a setting that some readers might otherwise find impossibly alien. My son has gotten this title out of the library several times, made it the subject of a book report, and now ranks Mark Twain on a par with Wimpy Kid’s Jeff Kinney among his favorite authors.
Zita the Spacegirl, by Ben Hatke (First Second, $10.99) — This rollicking science-fiction adventure is great for younger readers, and perfect for reading aloud with kids. And while the first volume starts a three-book series, my son found it a complete and satisfying story in itself.
Bone, Book 1: Out from Boneville, by Jeff Smith (Scholastic, $12.99) — One of the earliest middle grade graphic novels, the Bone series presents three cousins who stumble into a valley on the brink of a supernatural and potentially world-ending war. Smith has packed his universe with irresistibly charming characters, but the series does include some violence and scary situations that not all parents will find appropriate for younger readers.
The Secret Science Alliance and the Coypcat Crook by Eleanor Davis (Bloomsbury, $11.99) — In this one-off title, a nerd, a jock and a girl rebel form an unlikely trio of inventors: each member of the team struggles with self-doubt, but together they’re unstoppable. A fun book for budding scientists of all ages.
Finally, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the fine middle grade and young adult titles by former local author Hope Larson. I have a first-the-book-then-the-graphic novel rule, but Larson’s Eisner Award-winning adaptation of Madeleine L’Engle’s A Wrinkle in Time is worth looking out for, as are her other titles, including Chiggers and Mercury.