Tag Archives: graphic novels

Graphic Novels Round Up (Yet Again)

December didn’t have a ton of books other than holiday reads, so I thought I’d do another graphic novels round up instead.  The boys received a huge pile of them for Christmas, so they’ve been reading a lot of them.  You can find some previous graphic novels round ups here and here and here and here.  There’s even more if you want to dig through the archives.  Really, if it’s a children’s graphic novel, there’s a decent chance we’ve tried it.

City of Light, City of Dark (Paperback) ~ Avi Cover ArtCity of Light, City of Dark by Avi and Brian Flocca
This graphic novel by Avi is older but I had never seen it, so I was glad that it was reissued.  Two kids must find a special token to save their city before it’s too late.  The city is a sort of alternate New York, threatened by a race of beings called the Kurbs.  Avi is not usually a graphic novel writer and it shows in this wordy story with slightly rough black and white drawings.  Kids used to easier children’s graphic novels may be surprised by the amount of text on the page in this book.  But Avi is a great writer and it’s very worth the read.

George O'Connor PoseidonThe Olympians by George O’Conner
This full color graphic novel series about the Greek gods and goddesses is reasonably well done.  Because we’ve been deep in prep for the National Mythology Exam, anything that helps has been snatched up, so we have several of these out from the library at the moment.  The depiction of the stories is pretty accurate, but there’s nothing special about the art or the interpretation.  The mishmash of stories in each volume does reflect the best tales about each god, but also breaks up the continuity of some of the myths.  The kids haven’t been especially gaga for them either.  I’d recommend these mostly for myth mad kids.

Graphic Universe’s Mythology Series by various authors
Continuing on the mythology theme, we’ve also had several of these graphic novels out from the library recently.  I’m not a huge fan of this imprint, which churns out a number of educational comic titles (I previously wrote about my disappointment with the Max Axiom series, also published by Graphic Universe).  However, these simple, straight retellings were a much bigger hit with Mushroom and BalletBoy than the Olympians series.  We’ve had Perseus and Hercules here recently and they’ve been good, quick reads and the boys have taken out some of the non-Greek mythology titles as well.

To Dance CoverTo Dance by Siena Cherson Siegel and Mark Siegel
BalletBoy received this short autobiographical graphic novel about a young ballerina for Christmas.  The full color art is lovely and the story is realistic and well written.  BalletBoy was thrilled to see the main character reading A Very Young Dancer illustrated clearly.  There are a lot of adult and older teen graphic novels that are autobiographical or tell contemporary stories, but most graphic novels for kids still tend toward the silly or fantastic end.  This was a nice little change of pace.

Tommysaurus Rex (Paperback) ~ Doug Tennapel Cover ArtTommysaurus Rex by Doug Tenapel
This story about a boy who gets a pet dinosaur is funny and strangely sweet.  The main character’s dog dies and the dinosaur, who he finds while staying with his grandmother, becomes a sort of dog replacement.  The full color art is detailed and quirky.  The boys previously received Tenapel’s Cardboard for their birthday and BalletBoy really enjoyed this one just as much.

Super Dinosaur Volume 1 TP (Paperback) ~ Robert Kirkman Cover ArtSuper Dinosaur by Robert Kirkman
This collection turned out to be terrifically silly.  It’s definitely not on the literary end of graphic novels, but Mushroom really enjoyed it.  It’s about a boy whose father, a genius scientist, discovers that the earth is hollow and intelligent dinosaurs live inside.  With the help of a T-Rex and some other dinosaur friends, they fight another genius scientist who happens to be evil.  And did I mention that the narrator is a cocky child genius himself?  After some initial text, there’s not much to the dialogue and the superhero style art tells much of the story, so many kids newer to reading may enjoy the series.

The Dodgeball Chronicles (Knights of the Lunch Table, No. 1) (Bo... Cover ArtKnights of the Lunch Table by Frank Cammuso
This easy to read, full-color graphic novel was a hit for both boys, who took only an afternoon to read the first volume.  The story parallels the Arthurian legend, but sets the story at a middle school where the battles are dodge ball and the sword in the stone is a stuck locker.  The story is fast and silly.  Both the boys are excited to get the next two volumes.


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.

What We’re Reading

I’ve been doing a bit less book blogging lately, but we have, as always been reading.  Here’s what has passed across our shelves in the last few weeks:

Mushroom’s Bookshelf:

Frindle by Andrew Clements
Mushroom chose this to be his book for September required reading and then read it on his new Kindle and finished it almost in September.  He really loved it.  I think he gravitates toward these stories of everyday life, so I suspect more of Clements’s work may be in his future.  In case you don’t know it, this is the story of a fifth grade boy who invents a new word and manages to make it take off in popularity.

Tornado by Betsy Byars
This was the shortest book on our required reading list.  Mushroom picked it for October and finished it in a day.  It’s very easy, but it’s a sweet little story of a boy and a dog who comes during a tornado.  Mushroom gave it a general thumbs up, though no big raves.  He did like that it was such a quick read.

Junonia by Kevin Henkes
This story of a girl spending her birthday in Florida over the summer was a birthday gift from a friend and Mushroom picked it up to read.  He isn’t very far in yet (and neither am I), but so far the introspective tone is just right for him.  Henkes is better known for his picture books, which we love, so I hope this will also be a winner for us.

BalletBoy’s Bookshelf

Charlie and the Chocolate Factory by Roald Dahl
BalletBoy picked this to be his October required reading book and he’s about halfway through.  I’ll assume you already know the plot.  BalletBoy was especially delighted by what’s happened to the bad children so far.

Judy Moody and the Bad Luck Charm by Megan MacDonald
BalletBoy paused his other reading to tear through this newish Judy Moody book on the Kindle in a couple of days.  I haven’t read it and he only told me a little about it, but he laughed a lot while reading it so I assume it’s funny.  This is one of the only chapter book series that BalletBoy has really stuck with over time and finished all of and I really appreciate that about it.  And thank goodness it didn’t inspire him to collect chewed gum.

Ivy and Bean Make the Rules by Annie Barrows
BalletBoy also started this latest Ivy and Bean book, but he isn’t very far into it.  These are really easy reads for him now and I suspect he’ll get back to it.  Maybe.  He has a huge problem with finishing books.

Runaway Ralph by Beverly Cleary
This is, by mandate, BalletBoy’s September required reading book.  In reality, it’s part of a large pile of unfinished books from the last few months.  He’s very good at reading the first half of things.  He did finally confide in me that he was worried the book wouldn’t end the way he wanted, which is why he has left it with a single chapter to go for months.  In other words, it’s not from dislike of the book that he hasn’t finished.  Quite the opposite.  I made him pick it up again and read together with me.  It’ll be finished by the time this posts, come hell or high water.  Because, as you may have noticed, September is long past now.

Farrar’s Bookshelf

The Diviners by Libba Bray
Ooh, I love Libba Bray.  I love her versatility.  I love her style.  I have a little writing crush on her.  I’m not very far into this newest one about ghosts and flappers, so I’ll hold off judgment.  However, I’m sure I’ll love it.

Every Day by David Levithan
This was a weird little YA book about a character who wakes up in a different body every day but falls in love with a girl and does everything possible to get back to her.  It was an interesting premise, but David Levithan made it work.  I liked the moral issues that the characters faced and the way that having so many bodies allowed for lots of little stories.

Your Eight Year-Old by Louise Bates Ames
This series has some interesting anachronisms in its mention of toys and TV shows as well as its idea of how much freedom parents likely give their kids (big surprise – it’s a lot less now!).  However, the observational parts about age specific stages and behaviors are always useful to me.  I am looking forward to more confidence, less illness, and an increased engagement in the world from my eight year-olds.

Trading Hands and Being Read Aloud

Squish: Captain Disaster by Jennifer Holm
Another Squish graphic novel which both my boys read.  These are very quick and easy and devoured as soon as they come.  Both my boys want more!

Legends of Zita the Spacegirl by Ben Hatke
This is the second part in the Zita series of full-color graphic novels.  It wasn’t quite as good as the first, but both boys read it and loved it.

Avatar: The Promise by Gene Luen Yang
I posted about this series awhile back.  The third volume just came out and we all devoured it quickly.  Anyone who is a fan of Avatar: The Last Airbender should be satisfied by the writing in this story, which is like a season four of the show.  The characters grow and change, but are recognizable as themselves.  It’s a perfect series and I’m excited that a new storyline called “The Search” is coming next year.

Gone-Away Lake by Elizabeth Enright
This old-fashioned story about a lake in upstate New York is our current read aloud.  There are some lovely descriptions of the nature around the lake and the story, with its multi-generational friendships, is a nice one.  We’ll finish it very soon, but it hasn’t been a huge winner so I doubt we’ll read the sequels.

My Rotten Red-Headed Older Brother by Patricia Polacco
We had the immense pleasure of seeing Patricia Polacco speak at the National Book Festival a couple of weeks ago.  This book about sibling rivalry and friendship, based on her childhood, was a huge hit with the kids.  BalletBoy both read it himself and made me read it aloud, which was very unusual.

Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix by J.K. Rowling
This is our current audiobook in the car.  Slow going as we don’t always listen (and sometimes choose the subway).  It’s a dark chapter in the series, as most of you will know.  I hesitated about going ahead to do it, but the kids asked and I agreed.  They’re definitely enjoying it, especially Mushroom, who, as always, is brilliant at picking out the connections and foreshadowing in these intricate stories.  I’m thinking we’ll wait a good while before the next volume though.

Max Axiom

Max Axiom is a series of science comic books that I’ve been hearing about for awhile, but finally broke down an bought a few of.  Unfortunately, they don’t have them at my library. There are many volumes of the series out, covering a wide array of topics across the sciences.  The ones I bought were about cells and photosynthesis, to tie into our life science study this year, but there are titles about nearly everything.

There’s a lot to like about them.  The information in each volume is great and the concept is just plain cool.  I like that the main character, as well as many of the other characters, are people of color.  Sometimes series like this have very mediocre art, but the art in these is perfectly fine.  The writing is also fine.  Each volume is short and would be readable by most kids second or third grade and up and could be a good introduction to the topic all the way through middle school.

Sadly though, they weren’t quite what I hoped for.  The publisher advertises that Max Axiom uses, “powers acquired in a freak accident,” and that he can shrink down to explore an atom or actually ride on a sound wave.  Cool concept, right?  Reading that, I imagined Max Axiom was a superhero Mrs. Frizzle, using the powers of science to catch the bad guys.  I wanted him fighting El Seed and explaining plant reproduction at the same time or riding that sound wave to defeat some bad guy who made annoying noises while explaining how sound waves work.  Or something along those lines.  Regardless, I imagined there was a plot.  There’s not.  That description on the back of the book is more plot than is actually contained inside the book.  If Max Axiom did get his powers from a freak accident, it’s never referenced in these volumes.  Max Axiom just looks cool and explains the concepts for us or some random kid who asks about them.

Basically, I think these were a wasted opportunity.  They’re not bad or anything, and they do look appealing so they may get some kids reading about science and have probably sold well to schools looking for “fun” supplements.  If they did have them at the library, I would definitely check them all out.  However, they don’t really do anything more engaging than a Let’s Read and Find Out book (though at a slightly higher level of knowledge) and they’re not even as creative storytelling as a Magic School Bus book.

For a better, more nuanced comic about science, take a look at Jay Hosler’s work for older kids and adults.  For younger kids, the two Zig and Wikki books from TOON Books cover ecology topics and also have a lot more creativity to them than this series.

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 Roundup

We’ve been tearing through the graphic novels lately, so I’m posting an update.

We’ve found a couple of good new books.  As I write this, Mushroom is enjoying Earthling by Mark Fearing.  It’s the story of a boy who is worried about starting school as the new kid.  Through a bizarre accident, he ends up at an alien school where he sticks out even more than he feared.  It’s cute and humorous, and I like the art style.

BalletBoy, meanwhile, is reading Giants Beware by Rafael Rosado and Jorge Aguirre.  It’s a fantasy adventure about a young girl who is determined to fight giants.  Both the art style and the story would probably appeal to fans of the Bone series.  The heroine, Claudette, is one daring little girl.  I didn’t make it all the way to the end before handing it over to BalletBoy so I’ll have to swipe it later and finish it.

The other series that both kids have enjoyed is The Elsewhere Chronicles by Nykko and Bannister.  This is a series that’s up to volume five and comes in translation from French.  Because of that (at least, I assume that’s why) the text isn’t as integrated on the page as I personally like and has a bit of an added on by a computer feeling.  In general, I wasn’t that big a fan of the art in this series.  However, the story, about a group of friends who find a secret door to another place, is certainly exciting fantasy.

Mostly, we’re in the waiting game for September with graphic novels.  There are a slew of sequels coming out in the fall that both my boys have begged for already and we’ve had to pre-order.  We’re especially psyched for volume five in the Amulet saga and the second Zita book.

Raining Cats and Detectives (Guinea Pig, Pet Shop Private Eye)Legends of Zita the Spacegirl

Summer Reading Rewards

We went to the library and I let the kids sign up for summer reading last week.  I also made them pick mounds and mounds of books.  Nearly everything they picked was below their reading level.  We now have tons of Tintin, Lunch Lady, Stone Rabbit, Araminta Spookie and even an A to Z Mysteries title, which is a series BalletBoy first read part of nearly two years ago.  The one challenge was that Mushroom picked up the first Spiderwick book, which is probably right at his reading level or a slight stretch.

Come fall we’ll start doing a little bit of required reading along with self-selected reading, so I’m not worried.  Also, I’m mindful of the need to practice and build fluency.  Plus, there’s all that evidence that letting kids self-select books for summer reading helps a lot more than providing them with quality literature.  Take that, twaddle-callers.

I’m not usually for rewards programs, but as I’ve said before, I’m not going to prevent my kids from participating in them.  Last year, the library’s reward for summer reading was free donuts from a chain donut store if you read at least an hour.  This year, there are apparently cheapie prizes for reading for three hours and if you read for eight hours then you’ll get entered into a contest to win a free e-reader.  It’s like winning a bill for more books.

The kids came home so fired up to read that they proceeded to read for a shocking three and a half hours in the twenty-four hours following signing up.  They do read for pleasure almost daily, but it tends to be more in the half hour to an hour at most range.  And maybe that Spiderwick book wasn’t much of a stretch for Mushroom, as he read nearly the whole thing in one day, along with several graphic novels.

Sigh.  Kids, you’re proving the reward givers right.  Cut it out.

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.

Maybonne is the Funk Queen of Adolescence

I’m not sure what made me suddenly remember this book, but I suddenly wanted to read it only to find that while there is still a pile of vintage Lynda Barry sitting in the grown up comics section way up high, this one was missing!  Alas!  So here I am singing its virtues to all of you instead.

I discovered Lynda Barry’s short comics filled with teen angst and hard truths when I was a freshman in high school.  I used to clip every single one and paste them up on my wall week after week.  This collection, in which oldest sister Maybonne has her first love and basically gets used and trashed, always resonated with my adolescent self.  Maybonne’s life is hard.  Her family is poor, her sister is a pain in the neck, her younger brother has some serious issues.  In letters and diary entries, she spills her guts in this graphic novel about everything she sees, even the horrible, embarrassing stuff.  Maybonne sees drinking, creepy guys, and girls who stab you in the back.  There’s something so honest and real about these roughly drawn comics.

These are definitely for older teens, but in the waves of new graphic novels for teens, especially for teen girls, I think it’s time to see a new generation connect with these.  They’re out of print, but I wish they’d be reissued.  My Perfect Life is my favorite place to start.

Birthday Graphic Novels

Not graphic novels about birthdays.  Graphic novels the kids got for their birthday and subsequently devoured!

For Mushroom…

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.

For BalletBoy…

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.