Friday, August 13, 2010

Graphically Novel

We have fallen in love with the graphic novel. That's graphic as in "pictorial representation", not graphic as in "depicted in a realistic or vivid manner", although I suppose a graphic novel can be both. Regardless, we are "enthusiasts" and I'd love to share some of our enthusiasm with you here (as I hope its catching!).

It all started with Tintin, of course. My then 5-year-old pulled the Tintin books off my husband's bookshelf and began to read them. I was appalled for a few days, torn between not letting him read the overly violent parts (let alone the opium bit in The Blue Lotus) and supporting him in choosing his own reading material. I confess I did hide them for a while but eventually, after thinking it over, decided he could have them - and I'm glad I did.

My son loves to read many things anyway, but seems to really enjoy the added pictures. My philosophy around reading material has always been relaxed. I think children who are only offered "classic" books may feel discouraged because the reads take more effort initially. My hope for any child and reading is that he or she loves it, is confident in it, and will willingly choose from all types of reading materials. Enter the graphic novel. Good quality, highly entertaining and engaging, and worth every penny. Great in a restaurant. And fabulous for resistant or emerging readers, too.

Here is my list of brilliant graphic novels/books that we've encountered thus far that might work for your kids (not in any particular order, so please preview before giving to your kids)... and there are several you may enjoy, too.

    For the older reader, Jay Hosler's Clan Apis is a terrific scientifically accurate story about the life of honey bees. We liked it so much we bought our own copy. He has also written The Sandwalk Adventures about Charles Darwin, which we quite enjoyed.

    Jeff Smith's Bone series. We love Bone, all of us.We've spent hours and hours enjoying the adventures and once the last book was released as colourized, found ourselves feeling quite sad about not having more Bone books to look forward to, although we did enjoy the prequel.

    The Hobbit, in graphic novel format. We've been reading the traditional copy at the same time and Jr. loves to go to the graphic novel and reread what we've read as a family... and then read ahead.

    Travels of Thelonious: The Fog Mound. This book is interesting because chapters alternate between text and graphic format. There are two sequels. My son quite liked all the stories, although I recall he liked the first book the most.

    We love Tove Jansson's Moomintroll books. In fact, we adore them. We were so thrilled to find Tove Jansson's work in comic strip format. From School Library Journal: "Beloved around the world, the Moomins are fanciful creatures that look quite a lot like upright hippopotami. They are peaceful, dreamy sorts who occasionally yearn for adventure, but always come back to their home." There are currently 5 books published in the series.

    The Invention of Hugo Cabret is an interesting take on the graphic novel. This one is worth getting in hardcover as it is a big book and the illustrations are impressive.

    For the older child, Larry Gonick's books are great, such as The Cartoon History of the Universe, The Cartoon Guide to Chemistry, and (this one's for me), The Cartoon Guide to Statistics.

    The Good Times Travel Agency books are well-loved at our house. The adventures take place in 6 historial eras: The Middle Ages, Vikings, Ancient China, Ancient Egypt, Ancient Greece, and The Ice Age. Even if your child doesn't want to read all the "history facts" included on each page, the actual adventures of the Binkerton children are truly entertaining.

    We've also enjoyed the graphic versions of Kenneth Graeme's Wind in the Willows by Michel Plessix. There are 4 books in the series. The illustrations are delightful, although the text is rather small.

    Recent acquisitions are Barron's "Graphic Classics", including Journey to the Center of the Earth (Jules Verne), The Hunchback of Notre Dame (Victor Hugo), Kidnapped (Robert Louis Stevenson), and Moby Dick (Herman Melville).

    The two others in the series are Oliver Twist (Charles Dickens) and Treasure Island (Stevenson). These are a huge hit at our house right now.

    Prolific author Shannon Hale has dipped her toes into the realm of the graphic novel with her new books, Rapunzel's Revenge and Calamity Jack. "Newbery Honor-winning author Shannon Hale teams up with husband Dean Hale and brilliant artist Nathan Hale (no relation) to bring readers a swashbuckling and hilarious twist on the classic story as you’ve never seen it before. Watch as Rapunzel and her amazing hair team up with Jack (of beanstalk fame) to gallop around the wild and western landscape, changing lives, righting wrongs, and bringing joy to every soul they encounter."

    Raymond Brigg's Fungus the Bogeyman is an awesome read. Jr. says, "It's really cool stuff." Of course, Raymond Brigg also wrote The Snowman, which is a Christmas favourite at our house.

    We adore Marcia Williams. She has done very funny comic series on classic themes: Greek Myths, Bible Stories, Charles Dickens, Shakespeare, famous inventors and King Arthur. There's a new one on the Canterbury Tales.

    Amulet is a series of graphic novels by Kazu Kibuishi -- he also wrote Copper, the Flight series and edited Flight Explorer Vol. 1 (a sampler of a different writers in the genre, which introduced my son to Jake Parker's Missile Mouse). I haven't personally read Amulet but it has been greatly enjoyed by the young reader in the house. The third book in the series comes out this fall.

    Oh, Owly. We do love Owly. This series of sweet stories about Owly and his friend Wormy are completely wordless. From Booklist: "Owly is a delightfully sweet book. The whimsical black-and-white art is done with great facility for expressing emotion, and Runton's reliance on icons and pictures in lieu of the usual dialogue makes the story perfect for give-and-take between children and their parents; even readers older than the target audience will appreciate the book's simple charm, wisdom, and warmth."

    Not only is Binky a Space Cat, he's a Canadian cat. Even better, he's a BC cat as his creator, Ashley Spires, was born and raised in BC. This volume of Binky is apparently the first in a series... and it's a series to look forward to! In fact, the next book Binky to the Rescue is coming out this September 1 (2010).

    Eric Shanower, via Marvel comics, has embarked on creating a graphic series of the Wizard of Oz books. I haven't looked at these myself, but I'm certainly putting them on a list as they look quite promising. Shanower is the author of the acclaimed Age of Bronze graphic series about the Trojan War (which is definitely worth looking at for the older reader).

    No list of graphic novels would be complete without a nod to Japanese Manga and there's nothing better than retro Japanese Manga. Osamu Tezuka created Astro Boy first in comic form and then later turned him into the wonderful anime series.

    We've been collecting these books for a few years now and we love them!

    Fans of Hayao Miyazaki's fabulous Studio Ghibli's anime films may be pleased to learn that you can also get the stories in comic form. My son's favourite Miyazaki film is Castle in the Sky so this is the first series that we purchased in this format. The art of Miyazaki's films is so fabulous that we are happy to be able to hold it in our hands and spend time really looking at the images. Warning: some of these books are published as published in Japan, with the story going from back to front. It's a bit disconcerting at first, but you quickly get used to it.

    Jason Shiga is a genius. Meanwhile: Pick Any Path 3,856 Story Possibilities is a fabulous new graphic adventure book that explores the realm of possibility. "Chocolate or Vanilla? This simple choice is all it takes to get started with Meanwhile, the wildly inventive creation of comics mastermind Jason Shiga, of whom Scott McCloud said “Crazy + Genius = Shiga.” Jimmy, whose every move is under your control, finds himself in a mad scientist’s lab, where he’s given a choice between three amazing objects: a mind-reading device, a time-travel machine, or the Killitron 3000 (which is as ominous as it sounds). Down each of these paths there are puzzles, mysterious clues, and shocking revelations. It’s up to the reader to lead Jimmy to success or disaster."

There are a number of KidLit favourites that have been turned into graphic novels: Redwall by Brian Jacques, Artemis Fowl by Eoin Colfer, Alex Rider by Anthony Horowitz, Twilight by Stephanie Meyer, and so on. You can follow the "Customers Who Bought" trails on to find other similar titles. Plus, there are websites dedicated to reviewing graphic novels, such as the Graphic Novel Reporter. If you'd like to see their current reviews on kids' graphic novels, check here.

Here are some other favourites that are suited to older readers:
    Two-Fisted Science is the first in a series of books in comics form telling true stories about scientists. This 128 page trade paperback features tales of famous physicists including Hans Bethe, Niels Bohr, Albert Einstein, Richard Feynman, Galileo, Werner Heisenberg, Gottfried Leibniz, Isaac Newton, and Robert Oppenheimer, and Wolfgang Pauli. The stories offer a human context often missing when students learn the equations that bear the scientists' names. Readers, drawn to the book by the compelling anecdotes, will discover intriguing characters that lived real lives beyond ink on paper. End notes and references will lead them to further information on the scientists they've read about.
    It's worth doing an Amazon search on Jim Ottaviani to get a sense of the other science biographies he's been involved in creating... we have several of them and they are excellent.
    Maus by Art Spiegelman won a Pulitzer Prize in 1992. It's a Holocaust survival story and explores the impact of that survival into the following generation. I suggest parental preview on this item.

    Chester Brown's Louis Riel: a comic strip biography. From "Brown covers the Riel tale from the arrival of Canadian surveyors in the territory that would become Manitoba to Riel's martyr's death on a Regina gallows. Brown tells a highly subjective version of the story but provides maps, plenty of footnotes, and an extensive bibliography, making accessing the historical record very easy."

    Persepolis:the story of a childhood by Marjane Satrapi, a story of growing up during Islamic Revolution in Iran. There is a Part II, titled Persepolis: The Story of a Return.

One of our favourite books for checking out the genre is 500 Essential Graphic Novels: The Ultimate Guide by Gene Kannenberg.

If you are interested in keeping up on new releases for graphic novels, you may want to check out the Cybils' lists in the fall. I find they are a great source for new book ideas.

I've also gleaned some fresh ideas from Melissa Wiley's blog. Melissa's husband, Scott, is involved in the comic industry in San Diego so they were knee-deep in the most recent Comic-Con.

If you are in Vancouver, do pop into kidsbooks on West Broadway (in Kitsilano). In addition to being the most amazing children's literature store ever, they have a fantastic collection of current graphic novels, grouped by age-appropriateness (plus there are plenty of well-read, helpful staff). Tell them you homeschool and they'll give you a 10% discount.

Happy graphical reading!