the happy little dude loves books (hooray! says his librarian mom). he “sneaks” them in his bed at night when he’s supposed to be falling asleep. he sinks into them when he needs to calm himself down. he’s not reading many words yet, but loves the independence of exploring books on his own. and so we’ve delved deeply into the world of graphic novels.
there are many, many graphic novels published today that are in no way appropriate for a 5-year-old. there are also many graphic novels that are close to being okay for a 5-year-old, but are just not quite right either. sometimes it’s content-related (too violent, too menacing, too abstract, just too mature — he doesn’t need to read high-school dramas) and sometimes its format-related (if the pictures are too busy and cluttered, if the storyline all happens in the dialogue and the images don’t really give any clues as to what’s going on in the story, etc.). along the way, we’ve discovered some solid family favorites. here’s a list of what we’ve found so far:
zita the spacegirl trilogy by ben hathke: these are the #1 hit with everyone. the happy little dude has read these each at least 5 or 6 times. we both love the illustrations and the storyline (it does have a few dark moments and there’s some magical zapping and laser action if that doesn’t suit your threshold for violent action). some of his favorite bits are the sketchbook excerpts at the end of each book.
bink & gollie by kate dicamillo: not technically graphic novels, but we are huge fans and i wanted to make sure everyone had heard about this series. quirky friends with quirky adventures and lots of pancakes.
owly (series) by andy runton: this gentle series is wordless, but uses pictograms (pictures in speech bubbles to represent speech) frequently. i soon discovered that if the reader isn’t sure yet what all those symbols represent (like an exclamation point or a skull and crossbones or a lightbulb), then those symbols are just as mysterious as words are. it’s not a bad idea to read these together at least the first time to interpret some of the images. if you like this series, you’re in luck! there’s a bunch of them!
polo (series) by regis faller: wordless and gentle, these are often shelved at libraries within the regular picture books, but they are stories told in series of boxed images, so i’m calling them graphic novels. we’ve only just begun to explore this series, and i’m not sure if it will hold his attention, but i think they’re really lovely.
bumperboy (series) by debbie huey: super cute tales of a boy who travels between worlds through “borp holes” with his dog, bumperpup. these are out of print, but you might be able to find them at your local library or at a used bookstore. also there are earlier self-published tales about bumperboy and bumperpup available on the author’s website.
flying beaver brothers (series) by maxwell eaton III: funny, slightly odd books about ace and bub, who are (you guessed it) beaver brothers who “fly” via giant sling-shots loaded with hang gliders.
hilda (series) by luke pearson: these have a magical, mystical element and occasionally hint at darker stories, but they always turn out to not actually be as scary and foreboding as originally suggested.
dragon puncher (with sequel!) by james kochalka: this one is completely bizarre and i didn’t “get it” at all until i read a review that pointed out that the author had authentically captured the type of play that really happens in backyards all the time. after reading that, this book (which the happy little dude has now memorized) makes total sense and is really kind of brilliant. also, fun to read dramatically. and there’s a sequel!
binky the space cat (series) by ashley spires: hilariously silly adventures of a cat who refers to anything outside his house as “outer space” and who feels compelled to protect his humans from the aliens (bugs).
odd duck by cecil castellucci and sara varon: sara varon has written several books that are sort of borderline okay for young readers. this is probably the most okay one? robot dreams (wordless) and bake sale are also mostly okay? here’s the thing–her books all feature very whimsical and friendly characters, but some of the underlying themes are really huge. odd duck addresses the concept of making assumptions about others and judging them and wanting to be your own person and…. all that might be somewhat lost on young readers, but they can enjoy the books anyway. reader beware that some of her titles (sweaterweather for instance) contain some more adult activities (like smoking) and should be previewed before sharing with children.
bird & squirrel by james burks: wacky antics of two friends, one of whom is a worrywart and the other who’s a daredevil. also has a sequel.
missile mouse by jake parker: these are a bit on the violent side for me, but the happy little dude loves them and i can live with them.
flight explorer vol. 1, ed. by kazu kibuishi: an anthology of short story comics by some excellent artists. there are other books in the “flight” series and the “explorer” series but some of those are really for older readers. flight explorer vol. 1 is much more friendly for young pre-readers.
the incredibles (graphic novel series based on the movie) by various authors: worth noting if you have a huge superhero fan in your house but you’re not crazy about the classic superhero comics. the happy little dude loves these more than i do, but i wanted to include them in the list anyway.
other notables (mostly untested on the boy, but all approved by me) include:
jim curious: a voyage to the heart of the sea by matthias picard :: a wordless book by a french author that comes with 3d glasses! (i was surprised by the lukewarm response to this book at my house. maybe you’ll have better luck with it?)
monster on the hill by rob harrell :: i previewed this one last night and can’t wait to share it with the happy little dude. it’s the surprising story of a town who wishes their monster were more fierce.
birdcatdog by lee nordling :: wordless book that tells the story of three animals. you can read a single animal’s (visual) storyline or read all the storylines at once to see how they intersect to tell the whole story. fascinating concept! curious to see if the happy little dude will enjoy it or not…
the emperor’s new clothes illus. by jeffrey stewart timmins :: the classic tale, told in the classic way, but with cartoony images in tea-stained tones. nicely done and perfectly appropriate for kids. glad to see there are also two other classic fairy tales in this series.
we’re looking forward to exploring more james kochalka works and the korgi series by christian slade very soon. when he’s working more on the actual reading-the-words part, i’m excited to introduce him to the “toon books” series at some point (i don’t want to show them to him now and have him memorize them before we can use them as incentive to learn to decipher all those letters!).
if you know of any other graphic novels that fit my picky descriptions and parameters above and that is not on this list, leave a note in the comments section. i’m always looking to discover more!
if you’re still not sure whether graphic novels count as “real” reading, read this.