It’s never too early to get a child hooked on reading comics. But what comics should you give a five or six year old? Watchmen? The Killing Joke? Probably not. (I’m going to sacrifice sarcasm for clarity’s sake here – DEFINITELY NOT. Please, please don’t give a young child either of those comics).
The recent boom of outstanding comics published for kids in upper elementary school (Amulet, Smile, El Deafo, etc.) has begun to trickle down to books for even younger readers. Hippopotamister by John Patrick Green and Little Robot by Ben Hatke are two titles that I love recommending to kids who are learning to read and are looking for a longer story than what a standard picture book has to offer. In Hippopotamister an industrious hippo and red panda duo suffer an identity crisis and attempt a wide range of careers (with amusing results) after learning that their beloved zoo may be closing. In Little Robot, a young girl in search of something to do while her family is busy befriends a lonely robot, who is possibly less alone than it seems.
Little Robot is largely wordless, but there are also tons of options for kids looking for a purely visual, or “silent” comic book. The Owly series by Andy Runton and Korgi series by Christian and Ann Slade both feature adorable protagonists (an owl in the former and a magical corgi in the latter) and heartfelt storytelling with nary a word to be found on the page. The wordless Polo series of picture books by Régis Faller features comic book style panels, but the books are size and length of a standard picture book rather than a longer graphic novel. Wordless stories can assist beginning readers with understanding conventions like direction of text (even though there are no words, the action in western comics reads from left to right), plot, character development, cause and effect, and sequencing. Besides, actually finishing a book should give anybody a sense of accomplishment, beginning reader or otherwise.
The publishing house, TOON Books, is an industry leader when it comes to comics for the very young and one of my personal favorite publishers for kids. Adult comics fans will likely recognize some of the names in their stable of creators — Art Spiegelman, Neil Gaiman, Jeff Smith, Eleanor Davis and Rutu Modan. While many of these creators are well known for their more esoteric, psychedelic, or political literary and visual creations, their books for children feature a high level of storytelling and artistic acumen. Some of my personal favorites from the TOON library of books include the Benjamin Bear series by Philppe Coudray; these books feature pitch-perfect kid-humor and visual gags (beware, adults might get less mileage out of these jokes), Flop to the Top! by Eleanor Davis and Drew Weing, which stars one of cutest ugly dog protagonists I’ve ever seen, and Tippy and the Night Parade by Lilli Carré, which beautifully captures the surrealism of dreams.
For folks who are looking for classic stories to share with their youngsters, Chris Duffy has edited three outstanding comics anthologies: Fable Comics, Fairy Tale Comics, and Nursery Rhyme Comics. The writing in these anthologies is best suited for advanced-beginners, or for a shared reading experience between parent and child. Each book includes dozens of very short stories (typically only a few pages) that range from traditional tellings of fables and fairy tales, to more modern fractured and twisted versions. The star creators in each collection like Raina Telgemeier, Craig Thompson, Roz Chast, Gilbert Hernández, and Gene Luen Yang are given free rein to interpret these classic tales as they see fit.
Is there a kiddo in your life who is just beginning to read? Start them down the nerdy path early in life – give them some comics.
Until next time, find the stories that make you stronger. #WorkOutNerdOut