Since I can remember having eyesight, I’ve loved comics and graphic novels. As a child, I used to consume them like my dogs do bacon. Although I read my share of novels, especially as a teen, it has always been the combination of imagery with words that has magnetized me to a stronger degree. Unsurprisingly, I find my own children, and particularly my 9-year-old son Jackson, also love getting lost in the world of pictures plus print. And it’s a good thing, too, because there’s never been a better time to love reading graphically illustrated stories on paper and tablet. There are so many more well-written stories which move beyond the serial crassness of comics I read as a kid such as Archies. A common thread in many of them tends to be the quest for identity and friendship in an ever-confusing world. If you’re looking for some beautiful, hilarious, and relatable books to get your high elementary/middle school child engaged in literature, check out some of the following titles that require violence to pry from the hands of my son.
Awkward is an adorably illustrated manga title by Russian-born Canadian Svetlana Chmakova. It centres around the experience of “Peppi”, a young girl who arrives at a new middle school fraught with archetypal characters and drama. It’s the first one my son read dozens of times, and the one I noticed him falling asleep with on top of his face. Any child that loves stories of not fitting in will love this series. I especially loved the way Chmakova deconstructs the process she went through in creating the characters, story, and illustrations at the back of the book.
Quick, tell me about a graphic series you read as a kid which revolved around feminist girls that also represented the LGBTQ community! I’m waiting… A groundbreaking series which focusses on a group of misfits at camp, Lumberjanes is a hilarious and adventurous series with deep, underlying themes of equity and inclusivity. One of the coolest things I discovered from a parent’s perspective was that my son didn’t even realize the characters were girls due to their androgyny. I really think Lumberjanes has played a significant role in my young son being very comfortable with talking about gender diversity.
A well-known series for those who frequent Canadian school libraries, Amulet is a stunning tale of two siblings in a strange land who embark on a quest to save their mother. It is dark in just the right way for the junior reader.
The debut graphic novel from one of Lumberjanes‘ authors, the wise and talented Noelle Stevenson, Nimona follows its title’s namesake and her friends on a mission to prove that their status as “villains” is based on ignorance and hegemony rather than truth. Stevenson is so deft in inviting the young reader into dealing with ambiguity and complexity, challenging common Western tropes and simple binaries. This book is a perfect companion for the Lumberjanes lover.
Every time I tell my son that it’s time to return either Bravest Warriors or Adventure Time to the library, he squeals like a baby whale in pain. He’s even tried to hide them from me, library fines be damned. When I ask him what these silly looking books adapted from their respective television shows are about, or why he loves them so much, he simply gives me a look like this: And I wouldn’t have it any other way.
Do you know any kids that love comics and graphic novels? I’d love it if you recommended some more to my family in the comments below.