How 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.
Not graphic novels about birthdays. Graphic novels the kids got for their birthday and subsequently devoured!
Guinea PI: Hamster and Cheese by Colleen Venable and Stephanie Yue
Someone blocked the letter “g” on poor Sasspants’s sign at the pet store, making her end up as a private investigator (get it, get it?). That pretty well sums up the punny, slightly random humor in this graphic novel series about animal mysteries. This first book is about a missing sandwich. The reading level is just above Mushroom’s level, but he’s been motivated and enjoying reading, plus the book is relatively short. It’s something a chapter book reader would easily read in one sitting. The full color art is cute and appealing and the concept is clever. It’s not the high art of the children’s graphic novel world or anything, but Mushroom is really enjoying them (he liked it so much, I bought him the second one, Then There Were Gnomes as well) a whole lot. I think it’s a good light and easy pick for jokey boys.
Usagi Yojimbo 1: The Ronin by Stan Sakai
I wavered a lot about what to get BalletBoy. I wanted to follow up on his love of both The Fog Mound series and the Amulet books. I almost went with Bone (even though I couldn’t entice him with it earlier), but I ended up with the first book in this long-running series (there are more than 25 volumes). It’s about a samurai rabbit in a world that is basically seventeenth century Japan, just populated by animals. It has the sort of drama BalletBoy is into right now in his graphic novels, but it also has a dose of violence that I think might be slightly too much. It’s not terrible, but it’s not a perfect fit. I haven’t read the later volumes, but I’ve read they get better that this collection which is just a series of vignettes. About halfway in, BalletBoy got very excited about it and told me it was so good. I’m going to preview the next volume a little more closely, but there’s also a lot of humor and good storytelling in this first book, so I hope we both end up reading and enjoying the series.
For both of them…
Spy vs. Spy: The Joke and Dagger Files
Friends gave the kids this big omnibus of old Mad Magazine Spy vs. Spy cartoons. They’re mostly wordless, but all of them are just as silly as you remember. Really, the best part is hearing young children try to explain to you why it’s funny that they accidentally blew each other up. Both the boys have been giggling over this off and on since their birthday and I even saw them reading it together on the floor at one point.
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.