Tag Archives: comic books

Another Comics Round Up

Hey, it’s time for another round up of comics and graphic novels here in the rowhouse.  Our co-op has just finished studying comics and it’s been fun to see the kids all hard at work on their own comics, sharing them with each other.  As well, it’s been neat to see what the other parents have done with the topic, helping kids learn to understand panels, facial expressions, and how to make a character identifiable from panel to panel.

First up, both kids picked up The Stone Frog at the library for a quick read.  This is the first TOON Books “chapter book.”  It was an odd story with old-fashioned artwork reminiscent of Little Nemo.  In other words, it took you way back to the start of comics.  It had a sort of fairy tale dreamy quality to it about siblings who find themselves in a bizarre fantasy world.  It’s a nice follow up to the rest of the titles from TOON Books and is a very easy read by chapter book standards.  I hope they’ll be releasing more to keep it company on the shelf because right now I’m not sure what I would pair it with.  With detailed black and white illustrations and such a throwback feel, I can’t think of anything quite like it for this age group.  However, both of my kids’ love of TOON Books as a brand led them to want to try it and they both liked it.

Next, BalletBoy tried out the great Mouse Guard series by David Peterson, which I’ve known about for awhile but haven’t brought home for the kids until now.  He didn’t end up loving it, but I have to warn readers by pointing out that I think this is partially because he also didn’t love Redwall.  And Mouse Guard is, if it is anything at all, a graphic novel homage to Redwall.  Medieval mice and lush, colorful artwork make this an appealing series for fantasy lovers, especially animal fantasy lovers, to try out.  There are currently two volumes widely available with a third coming out in a few months.

Finally, I am not usually a huge fan of graphic novel retellings of books.  I can appreciate that some people like them and get something out of various condensed versions of classics, but unless a version is especially good, then I’d rather wait until the child is ready for the real thing.  However, when I saw the artwork for the Oz series, I fell in love and knew it would be an exception for me.  Mushroom got the first three volumes for Christmas and is really enjoying them.  The art contributes a lot to the story and helps break free of either the original Denslow illustrations or the imagery of the film to create an Oz with a different feel.  The series is published by Marvel, so kids used to the slick graphic novels Scholastic is producing may find them to have a different feel.  However, these are definitely a good option if you have comics-lovers like mine.


For Avatar Fans…

The Promise Part 2How did I not know this existed before?  There is a series of Avatar graphic novels currently being released that cover the period after the series ended, including the infamous “what’s the deal with Zuko’s mother?” question.

Actually, I know why I didn’t know they existed.  It’s because I tend to be dismissive toward book tie ins of TV shows, products, and movies.  For example, it’s all very well and good that the kids love Lego Ninjago, but I think I’d die if they thought the Ninjago early readers were quality literature.  Plus, Avatar doesn’t exactly have a great track record.  The Avatar Lost Scrolls chapter book series, which we have seen at the library many times, has some of the worst graphic design of any book for children I’ve ever seen.  The entire book is set in a difficult to read small type.  I suppose that makes it lucky that it’s not really worth reading.

But take heart, because this series, called The Promise, is written by Gene Luen Yang.  Yang is better known for his National Book Award winning graphic novels for young adults.  And while this series probably isn’t quite on par with American Born Chinese, it is solid storytelling and quality art.  Avatar fans should not be disappointed.  Yang has the voices of the characters down but carries the story forward with new twists and developments.  My kids were so delighted to get these that they devoured the first one immediately.  There are currently two volumes available with a third one due in early October.

Graphic Novels Again

They really need to do their math there, but I don’t want to interrupt the nearly half hour stretch of quiet they’ve had together!

We were inundated by graphic novels for Christmas gifts and the boys have been making their way through them, along with the other books they got.

 The Flying Beaver Brothers And The Evil Penguin Plan Salt Water Taffy: Caldera's Revenge! Bone: V. 1: Out Of Boneville

Both the boys quickly read Squish: Brave New Pond by Jennifer Holm, which they enjoyed.  I don’t quite “get” these books, but the boys find the story of Squish, a small amoeba, and his school friends, to be funny.  They’re a little bit on the gross out side of humor, so just a parental warning for you there.

I got Mushroom the very easy to read book The Flying Beaver Brothers and the Evil Penguin Plan by Maxwell Eaton.  There’s a sequel as well.  It was really funny, with a lot of what passes as dry humor for the elementary school set, which is exactly Mushroom’s kind of jokes.

BalletBoy got the next entries in the Salt Water Taffy series by Matthew Loux, Caldera’s Revenge.  This is a set of graphic novels about two boys on summer vacation in Maine.  I admit that I didn’t like these much at first, but I guess there’s something funny about grizzled old seamen?  The dialogue is a bit amusing, I suppose.

Finally, both Mushroom and BalletBoy have embarked on reading the great graphic novel series Bone by Jeff Smith and have already gone through the first two volumes and are asking for the third.  This series is silly at times, with slapsticky gags and jokey dialogue.  It follows some bones who leave their home for the wide world.  The rest of the characters are human.  However, it also quickly begins to tell an epic tale full of dragons and quests.  This is an older series (I read the first bit of it years before I had kids) but Scholastic got hold of it several years ago making it clearly a series for children.  It is, by far, the title on this list that I recommend the highest.  The rest are just for fun, but this one is graphic novel art.

Graphic Novels Roundup Again

A quick graphic novel round up for you.  We continue to dig through the library offerings.

First up, I read the book The Storm in the Barn by Matt Phelan.  This graphic novel is aimed at older middle grade readers.  It was unique, to say the least.  It takes place in Dust Bowl era Kansas, about a young boy whose mother is ill and who is beset by bullies.  The style is sketchy and brown toned, to show how dusty and dry everything is.  The art has an ethereal feel to it, which suits the tone of the story.  This is one of those children’s literature selections that I enjoy, but wonder who the intended audience really is because it does seem so unique.  Regardless, the book weaves together complicated themes and has an ending that is open to different interpretations.  It was very different, but I liked it.

Next is a series BalletBoy read.  Salt Water Taffy by Matthew Loux is a chapter book level graphic novel series about two boys on their summer vacation in Maine.  They meet a friendly caricature of an old fisherman who guides them on some bizarre adventures.  In the first volume, they meet a giant lobster monster called “Old Salty.”  The art in the series is bold and straightforward.  I pulled it off the shelf as a possibility for BalletBoy, but I have to say I don’t think much of the books.  They’re more of a conglomeration of random nonsense than a solid story.  But BalletBoy gives them two thumbs up.  Thanks to a timely library trip, he read all four in less than a week.

Next, Mushroom read the book Monkey vs. Robot by James Kolchalka.  I wasn’t much of a fan of Kolchalka’s weird Johnny Boo series for young readers.  This almost wordless graphic novel is intended for older readers, but Mushroom seemed to think the whole thing was hilarious, even without being able to read what little text there was.  Kolchalka’s style is purposefully rough and this story is absurd, but amusing.  Essentially, some monkeys and a robot fight it out in a jungle.  That’s pretty much it.  It’s certainly not a deep selection, but I found it fun as well.

I also read the book Zita the Spacegirl by Ben Hatke.  It tells the story of a girl who gets sucked through some sort of portal onto an alien planet and much find her courage and go on adventures to save her friend.  The art is colorful and fun, filled with funny little creatures of all sorts.  I highly recommend this one.  Zita is a great character, spunky and brave, but the author does a good job of showing how she can be vulnerable too.  The length and reading some of the minor characters’ dialects make it not quite a chapter book level read, so I would say it’s for early middle grades readers.

Finally, the kids have discovered the Ponyo graphic novel adaptation, which comes in four volumes.  In case you’re not familiar with it, Ponyo is an animated film by Hayao Miyazaki.  It’s a beautiful story about a boy who befriends a magical sea girl creature.  Not only is the story great, but the artistic style of the animation is similarly beautiful.  The graphic novel series is made in Japan and therefore is read like other Japanese manga, which is to say, backwards.  The kids have only read the first one, but it did take some getting used to.  Still, I kept thinking it was surely a needed skill for geeky kids to have.  The graphic novel is pretty much exactly the same as the film.  The amazing art comes off just as well on the static page, however, and the story holds up in any form.  Miyazaki’s other films, including Kiki’s Delivery Service, My Neighbor Totoro, and Howl’s Moving Castle, have also been turned into four volume graphic novel sets.

More Worthwhile Comics for Beginners!

Finally.  Finally!  I’ve been waiting with some frustration for some publisher to make some more good early reader comics.  The market is now swimming in amazing chapter book level graphic novels as well as many good wordless graphic novel options, but there are fewer options for early readers.  A bunch have come out, but some of them are so insulting to young readers.  Seemingly many publishers think that just putting anything out there with the words “graphic novel” on it is enough.  I’ve seen a couple of decent individual titles, but the big winner up to this point has been Toon Books, who publish the award winning Benny and Penny titles, as well as many others, including my personal favorite Stinky by Eleanor Davis.  Also, they have an amazing website, which is a nice perk.

But I just discovered some more great options!  Balloon Toons is a newish early reader graphic novel imprint from Blue Apple Books.  They have five titles so far with four more due out in the next year.  Mushroom and I read a couple of them and we’re in love.  Seriously.  I have never seen him laugh while he read a new book himself.  So this is a high recommendation.

The first title we read was Rick and Rack and the Great Outdoors by Ethan Long.  The art is simple and bright with thick lines.  It contains three slightly silly stories, a bit like reading three comic strips.  That was good, but even better was the zany book Adopt a Glurb by Elise Gravel.  The art was purposefully messy with a red and black focused color scheme. There is no story to speak of.  It’s basically an ad for keeping the strange little creature the glurb as a troublesome pet.  Mushroom cracked up when he read about getting the glurb tiny diapers and washing them in vinegar and cranberry juice.

Calvin and Hobbes

We didn’t get the paper when I was growing up, so I can’t say that I was into Calvin and Hobbes the way most other kids of my generation were so while other parents probably have already given this to their young readers, it never occurred to me.  Luckily, my step-brother and sister went through their old books and gifted a volume of the famous comic strip to Mushroom and BalletBoy.  We don’t get the paper either, so the format needed explaining before I could convince BalletBoy to actually read any of it.  Just looking at it, I think he assumed it was far too long for him because he’s so used to graphic novels.

It’s actually perfect for beginning readers in many ways.  Once you can read the vocabulary, a page or so of comic strips just the right length for a kid who is still building up that reading stamina.  The sense of imagination and play in the comic, while presented with a touch of snark, are certainly appropriate to the age as well.  Mushroom has it in the bathroom right now as his bathroom reading book, which might sound like an insult to a book, but is actually high praise.

Fables Ruined Me for Other Fairy Tale Retellings

Do you know the graphic novels series Fables by Bill Willingham?  It’s not for kids.  It’s a grown-up (or older teen) graphic novels series about characters from fairy tales who have fled their homelands and taken up residence in New York.  If you’re the sort of person who can appreciate graphic novels and can appreciate a premise like that, then they’re excellent.  In the near decade they’ve been coming out, the stories have run the gamut from funny to snarky to dark to emotionally touching and even thought-provoking.  In fact, they’re so excellent that they’ve ruined me for reading all these other modern takes on fairy tales.  Every time I try one, all I can think is, “Fables already did that and they did it better.”

Seriously, I’ve now seen two different middle grades series with similar themes to the grown-up Fables and not been able to appreciate them because Fables just did it better.  Usually, I find that children’s books tackle subjects in ways that I often find more interesting or at least as interesting as adult books.  But apparently not this time.  First, The Sisters Grimm series by Michael Buckley.  I read Fairy Tale Detectives and I tried to read The Unusual Suspects, but honestly, I just kept thinking about how they’d stolen Fables‘s idea.  The premise of this series is that there are refuges from the fairy tale world who are living in, honestly, I think it’s upstate New York.  If you’ve read Fables, they’re not allowed to leave their town, making it oddly reminiscent of the Farm.  Like in Fables, Jack of Jack and the Beanstalk same is the same Jack from all the tales and is a rapscallion who isn’t to be trusted.  The Big Bad Wolf has reformed and acts as the local legal enforcement.  It’s a funny series and reasonably well-written with lots of action and plenty of appeal.  I wanted to like it, but alas.  The trappings were just so similar.  I spent half the time wondering if Buckley had actually read Fables and thought, gee, what a great idea if you could make it for kids!

Now, I’ve just finished reading Shannon and Dean Hale’s Calamity Jack.  This is part of a graphic novel series from Shannon Hale, who has written several more traditional YA fantasy novels with fairy tale themes.  However, this fairy tale retelling, which begins with Rapunzel’s Revenge, has a very steampunk, early American feel to it.  Again, I can’t help but be reminded of Fables.  The character of Jack, while nowhere near as heartless or womanizing as in Fables, is still thrown into a similar setting as his spinoff comic series and is still the same brand of rogue.  It’s fine.  The art is pretty good.  The attitude is fun.  I would even recommend it to kids looking for graphic novels.  Yet, I just couldn’t enjoy it.  The husband, when he saw it on the side table, actually asked if it was somehow connected with Fables.

Now in the last year, I’ve also seen two Brothers Grimm themed quirky fairy tale books come out: The Grimm Legacy by Polly Shulman and A Tale Dark and Grimm by Adam Gidwitz.  It must be in the ether.  Both look interesting.  Both have gotten decent reviews.  Yet, I’m afraid to read them.  What if Fables really has ruined me for modern takes on the fairy tales?

Johnny Boo

When I spotted that the children’s section at our library had recently updated the comic books section with some new titles, I got all excited.  Especially when I found two titles that looked appropriate for early readers, the Johnny Boo books by James Kochalka.  I wasn’t familiar with these, but they looked cute, so they came home with us.

The illustrations are simple but amusing.  One character, the Ice Cream Monster, looks like he wandered in from an episode of Yo Gabba Gabba.  There’s even a quote on the back from DJ Lance Rock.  Unfortunately, like that much loved Nickelodeon show that makes me feel utterly uncool for not liking it, I just didn’t get these books.  The text and plots were too simple.  There was a lot of dialogue where characters actually said things like, “This is fun,” repeatedly.  It felt like something a kid would write instead of something written for kids.  BalletBoy set it aside after the first one.  He agreed that the Ice Cream Monster was funny, but I never saw him pick up the second book.

I’m dying for more early reader comics, but good ones.  I know BalletBoy (and Mushroom for that matter) will be on to the world of Lunch Lady and Babymouse very soon, but until then, we’ve read all the TOON Books.

Quick Comic Book Roundup

I read several graphic novels out of the children’s sections over the summer, so I thought I’d post about them all together.

First of all, Mushroom posted about the wordless graphic novels he loves here.  The Adventures of Polo by Regis Faller is a wonderful series for younger kids.  Next, BalletBoy posted about the graphic novel series Owly here.  These are also wordless, but are of a chapter book length and have more complicated plots than the picture book style of the Polo series.  They’re very different series, but both worth checking out.  I think they serve an interesting purpose in that they seem to be preparing the kids to sit and read longer works on their own without help.  However, they do so without the pressure of the newest element in their ability to read: the words.  Instead, they can focus on what they still like most about a book anyway – the pictures and the story.

Next, I finally got around to actually reading a Babymouse book.  It was just as adorable and excellent as I had heard.  The story in the first book is the very common story of a kid (well, a mouse) who wants to be in with the popular kids and can’t quite get there.  What elevates it is Babymouse’s “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty” feel.  Every time she gets bored or life gets difficult, Babymouse imagines a new, fantastical story that reflects her reality, such as when she goes to the wild west.  The visuals, which are all black and white with pink become much pinker when Babymouse imagines.

Also, I checked out a well-worn copy of Robot Dreams.  Like the comics the kids read, this one is also wordless.  However, the plot was probably slightly too complex for my kids not to mention that it was touchingly sad and evocative.  It’s amazing to me how some of the comics (and picture books) with the simplest, cartoony styles, can be so emotionally resonant with the reader.  I really enjoyed it.

However, I enjoyed reading the first in the Amulet series even more.  This book looked and felt like a Miyazaki movie.  I spotted it in the library and remembered that awhile back it was mentioned on Greenridge Chronicles in glowing terms.  I loved it.  The art was beautiful and the story of a sister and brother who lose their parents was fascinating.  The two must go into a strange underground universe and encounter bizarre creatures and danger.  I’m definitely going back for the next two volumes.

Finally, I also read a couple more from the YA section.  First, Prime Baby was enjoyable and short.  I love Gene Luen Yang.  This one wasn’t as brilliant as his The Eternal Smile, however, it was certainly amusing.  It had me laughing aloud.  Second, I read Megan Kelso’s Artichoke Tales.  Unfortunately, I didn’t really enjoy it.  I like Megan Kelso’s style, but the fantastical family saga of war and peace just didn’t connect with me.  The simple style was visually appealing but I kept getting lost about who was who, which is never fun in a graphic novel.


Guest post by BalletBoy, age 5

Owly is a book that has no words except some noises.  It’s a comic book.  It’s a chapter book.  I have to use a bookmark!  The books are funny and happy and sad.  I don’t know why they’re so good, but I think they’s so good!

My favorite Owly book was Flying Lessons.  Owly is an owl. There’s also Wormy.  Wormy is a worm.  He’s Owly’s friend.  Wormy meets a flying squirrel and then Owly meets the flying squirrel.  It was in the night.  They live in a tree house.  The flying squirrel was scared of Wormy and Owly at first.  Then they become friends.

[Mushroom did a post for me, so I thought it was only fair that BalletBoy get a chance too.  He sat curled up reading the first Owly novel with such intensity that I knew he was in love with the book.  For the first time I got to hear the words, “Go away, I’m reading!” from one of my kids.]