Great Graphic Novels for Kids – January 2010

I’ve recently come across a large number of great graphic novels for kids (although I enjoyed reading them, too). The items below were provided by the publishers as review copies. I’m talking about these titles:

Babymouse Burns Rubber

Babymouse Burns Rubber cover
Babymouse Burns Rubber
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by Jennifer L. Holm & Matthew Holm
Random House, $5.99 US

I’m late in checking out the Babymouse series, with this 12th book coming out this month. I had no idea that this girls’ adventure was so long-running or wide-ranging. The books look fun and approachable (and affordable!), with the title character having all kinds of fanciful adventures, told in pink-tinted art that looks like a school friend could have drawn it in her journal.

The narrator tries to keep Babymouse out of trouble, but her imagination leads her into mishap, as when she dreams of becoming a race car driver and decides to enter the soap box derby. I like the way the series evokes classics — one of her Walter Mitty-like daydreams puts her in a version of Around the World in 80 Days, and competition appears to her as a Star Wars homage. Mostly, it’s funny without being mean and reinforces smart behavior while not seeming moralistic or lecturing.

Plus, with so many books in the series, there’s at least one for everyone. The previous volume, Dragonslayer, for example, uses a fantasy metaphor to show how Babymouse learns to conquer her fear of math and become a valuable member of the mathlete team.

Choco Mimi Book 3

Choco Mimi Book 3 cover
Choco Mimi Book 3
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by Konami Sonoda
Viz, $7.99 US

The wacky eighth graders return with more four-panel comic strips about school, friends, boys, and fashion. They’re drawn in such a cute, stylized way that everything they do seems silly but enjoyable. The longer pieces (a page or two) show more about the characters’ feelings, moving past entries that are just gags, and the fashion notes have all kinds of ideas for accessorizing.

In the space of this one volume, the characters move through the school year, visit the beach, start dating, celebrate Halloween and Christmas, go camping, and play with their pets. The sequence covering glasses, contacts, and eye patches reminded me of the kind of pointless conversations we had in high school, while the new character of sporty Bambi provides more diversity of type plus a rival with Choco for Andrew’s attention. It’s neat to see the characters progressing in how they relate to each other, but the material is still universal enough that someone could start with this volume. New this book is a series of strips with the characters dressed up as different animals in a magical forest, a kind of fairytale version of them.

Finding Nemo: Reef Rescue

Finding Nemo: Reef Rescue cover
Finding Nemo: Reef Rescue
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written by Marie Croall
art by Erica Leigh Currey
Boom! Kids, $9.99 US

Although many of Boom!‘s other licensed comics have been great, I figured that, when it came to these characters, it would be difficult to capture the magic of the movie on paper. I was wrong. Since they don’t have movement to remind us the fish are underwater, instead, the artists use detail, expression, and color to capture the watery world. Currey’s strong lines make for very expressive fish faces and fins with a great sense of movement.

I also appreciated the way that Croall recreates the quest nature of the movie — sending the fish to figure out why the coral reef they live in is sick — without needing to break up the family and friends again. Plus, kids will likely appreciate the environmental concerns, even though the cause turns out to be something other than pollution. As the fish swim to find out more, new creatures, both friends and foes, are introduced with lots of creativity, plus plenty of old friends reappear. The panel designs are also structured to emphasize the fish’s natures, such as Dory’s well-meaning pushinesses. (Her voice is the most authentic of the bunch, with lots of nameplay.) The funniest thing in the book, though, was the cover gallery at the back. Turns out there was a photo variant cover! Of digital fish!

Overall, a wonderful read for those wanting more past the movie.

The Good Neighbors Book Two: Kith

The Good Neighbors Book Two: Kith cover
The Good Neighbors Book Two: Kith
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story by Holly Black
art by Ted Naifeh
Graphix/Scholastic, $16.99 US

A year ago, Book One: Kin introduced us to Rue, who discovered that she was descended from faeries when her father was arrested for her mother’s murder. Now, her new relatives are having various encounters with her friends, and none of them will end well.

The shadowy toning of the art gives everything a menacing overtone. These magical creatures are not helpful or friendly, although they’re definitely supernatural in appearance. Unfortunately, the characters sometimes look a bit too much alike, making re-reading necessary to capture all the details. That’s not a horrible thing, since there are lots of layers to the story, with conflicting loyalties in place.

Rue’s mother wants her daughter to stay with her in the other realm, while Grandfather plots to transform the entire city, taking it out of the human world. The underlying theme is that of betrayal, with people who say they love each other still lying to those they love, or making choices that harm the other person. This modern fantasy will intrigue teens who feel out of place in the world (that is, all of them) and wonder about the form magic would take if it existed today. Rue’s torn loyalties, as she tries to determine who she is in the light of family conflicts, capture a universal feeling.

Although there’s a sufficient amount of story here to make a satisfying read, the real payoff will come in the next volume, when the events of the ending are played out.

Johnny Boo & the Happy Apples

Johnny Boo & the Happy Apples cover
Johnny Boo & the Happy Apples
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by James Kochalka
Top Shelf Productions, $9.95 US

The slim, color hardcover comes close to being a kids’ storybook, only it’s still in comic format throughout. The little ghost Johnny Boo has been eating ice cream to build muscles, but that results in him having droopy arms. His friend Squiggle (who resembles a talking teardrop) tells him he needs to eat happy apples instead to be strong.

It’s cute and charming and playful with a simple art style that’s approachable. Kids will understand Johnny’s embarrassment and learn with him what healthy fruit looks like. Plus, they’ll likely like the silly things that happen to the ghost, such as when he’s mistaken for ice cream himself — that’s what he looks like! Goofy, with the illogical flow of imagination. Check out this preview for yourself.

Salt Water Taffy: The Truth About Dr. True

Salt Water Taffy: The Truth About Dr. True cover
Salt Water Taffy:
The Truth About Dr. True
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by Matthew Loux
Oni Press, $5.95 US

This third entry in the boys’ adventure series has all the excitement of the first two books, but this time the supernatural influence is more obvious.

Jack finds out that the town of Chowder Bay, Maine — his vacation location — reveres Captain William T. Hollister, Civil War hero, old-time mayor, and pillar of the community. When brother Benny digs up a bunch of old bottles, the one that says “Dr. True’s Wonderful Elixir” leads them to a murdered ghost who wants help to get justice.

The ghost story brings history to life for the boys and sheds new light on the life of the town hero, and while it’s exciting — a real page-turner! — it’s the weird little jokes and asides that I enjoy most about this book. Like crusty captain Angus’ crusade against squirrels, or how the boys think hats are so immensely cool. A wonderful vacation read for escapism at any time of the year. Visit the book’s website.

The Secret Science Alliance and the Copycat Crook

The Secret Science Alliance and the Copycat Crook cover
The Secret Science Alliance
and the Copycat Crook
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by Eleanor Davis
Bloomsbury USA, $10.99 US

Julian is your typical science geek starting at a new school. He’s convinced he can act normal and fit in, for once, but he’s miserable pretending to be dumb, and he still doesn’t fit in. He’s happier once he makes friends who respect his intelligence, and they just happen to have a secret laboratory hideout. Together, they invent all kinds of crazy but cool devices. Then they have a run-in with a local scientist who hates kids.

The comic craft on display here is impressive, from creative panel designs to information-packed well-designed pages. Just the first four pages show how much Davis breaks away from the traditional grid. Julian is introduced with panels that are arrow-shaped, showing cause leading to a second-panel conclusion. Then there’s a beautiful establishing shot with insets, followed by two parallel character analysis pages, like schematic designs but for Julian’s brain. Yet for all the virtuoso technique, it’s perfectly easy to read.

The idea of a group of outcast kids who solve crimes and create gadgets isn’t a new one, but it’s presented notably well here. See a preview online.

9 Responses to “Great Graphic Novels for Kids – January 2010”

  1. Marc sobel Says:

    My son is two, and we got him the first Johnny Boo book from the library and I would say he requests it anywhere from 3-5 times a day. I will definitely have to look for this new one. He also loves some of the Toon Books, esp. Stinky by Eleanor Davis and Little Mouse Gets Ready by Jeff Smith.

  2. Kat Kan Says:

    I’m always glad to see more people praising these very terrific books! I just wish I could afford to get them all for my school library! I add what I can.

    And yes, the boys in my 3rd-5th grade Lunch Time Book Discussion Group love Salt Water Taffy – and so do most of the girls.

  3. Johanna Says:

    I forgot to mention Stinky when I talked about Eleanor Davis’ new book here! Thanks for the reminder, Marc, and I’m glad to hear your son likes Boo so much.

    Kat, I wish I could be a fly on the wall for that discussion group — I can only imagine how kids talk about graphic novels.

  4. Drew Thomas Says:

    Great list, we’ve got all of them at our library!

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  9. Jenna Says:

    I am the mother of a struggling reader and graphic novels are fantastic for them. They allow the child to read with pizzaz – pow, wham, etc… it helps make reading fun. I listed some other reasons why I love graphic novels for my son (show has dyslexia) here –

    Kids need fun and successful reading sessions. Graphic novels are perfect for this!!





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