Great Graphic Novels for Kids – March 2010

Reaction to my previous rundown of Great Graphic Novels for Kids was good, so I thought I’d bring you another installment. The items below were provided by the publishers as review copies, and they’re in color unless otherwise noted. I’m going to talk about these titles:

Familiar Favorites — Sequels and Followups

Frankie Pickle and the Pine Run 3000

Frankie Pickle and the Pine Run 3000 cover
Frankie Pickle and the Pine Run 3000
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by Eric Wight
Simon & Schuster, $9.99 US

The imaginative kid returns to face a new challenge, a model car derby, in this self-covered hardcover. As in the first book, much of the book is illustrated prose, with only the fantasy sequences in black-and-white comic format. I like the artist’s style — it reminds me vaguely of 50s art design, which reinforces the message of family unity, even though the characters are rather modern.

Frankie’s being left behind in comparison to the rest of his scout troop because his imagination distracts him from earning enough badges. But if he wins the Pine Run model car race, he’ll get the points he needs to advance. The lesson this time is learning when to be creative and when to focus on the practical. Oh, and that letting Dad help can be a good thing. Sometimes parents know more, and you don’t have to go it alone.

Frankie’s very cute, even when completely lost in his fantasies. I’d find him a handful if I ever met him, but reading about him is fun. Although I am surprised that his parents let him alone as much as they do — I certainly wouldn’t let the kid use tools and paint on his own. I was a bit disappointed that several of the details I was curious about were omitted by happening during the imaginary sequences. What skill does Dad have in building cars that makes his special? What strategy allows Frankie to win at least one of the races? I guess I’ll have to use my own imagination! At least it allows Wight to draw lots of cool-looking car sequences that reminded me of the Wacky Races.

Lunch Lady and the Author Visit Vendetta

Lunch Lady and the Author Visit Vendetta cover
Lunch Lady and the Author Visit Vendetta
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by Jarrett J. Krosoczka
Knopf Books for Young Readers, $5.99 US

It’s Author Visit Day, and Lewis Scribson, writer of the Flippy Bunny books, is coming to school, causing great excitement. Unfortunately, he’s a demanding snob. It’s also soccer tryout day, and one of the kids hopes to make the team even though the captains don’t like him. Unfortunately, the tryouts get canceled when Coach Birkby disappears.

The cafeteria worker with wacky gadgets and a taste for justice returns in this little graphic novel, done in black, white, and yellow. The scratchy, minimal style wouldn’t be out of place in a comic strip or webcomic, and I occasionally wished for a bit more background art, but the character work is very good, with plenty of attitude and expression. I especially liked Dee’s determination. When Scribson won’t sign Hector’s book because it’s ripped, Dee drags the other kids to his house to make him do the right thing.

The inventions Lunch Lady uses are also a high point and very funny. A spork phone, hamburger headphones, and a mustard bottle grappling hook are only some of the food-related gimmicks she’s got. The book is full of creativity, both from the author and the characters.

After I reviewed the first two books in this series, I gave them to a co-worker for her eight-year-old daughter. Ever since then, when we’ve talked about comics or graphic novels, she’s mentioned that her little girl keeps asking if there’s more Lunch Lady yet, because she’s loved it most out of any she’s read. I think that’s a much better recommendation than any I could give.

Classics Remade as Comics

Graphic Classics: Louisa May Alcott

Graphic Classics: Louisa May Alcott cover
Graphic Classics: Louisa May Alcott
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written by Louisa May Alcott, adapted and art by various
Eureka Productions, $17.95 US

Continuing the long-running series, now in color, this is the eighteenth anthology from the publisher. The centerpiece is, of course, the 50-page Little Women, ably handled by Trina Robbins (adapter) and Anne Timmons (artist). Given the space, events happen abruptly, and the art reminded me of manga, mostly emotional faces, again not unexpected given the dialogue focus. The girls are attractive and welcoming.

The rest of the book is described as “lesser-known gothic mysteries and horror stories”. Certainly not what I think of when I think of Alcott’s work, and personally, I’d have rather seen a full book Little Women instead of a woman killing her actress rival (“The Rival Prima Donnas” drawn by Molly Crabapple). The second long story is “A Whisper in the Dark”, a mystery about romance gone wrong and an inheritance thwarted by forced insanity, adapted by Antonella Caputa and illustrated by Arnold Arre. If you read Gothic Classics, you already know very similar stories.

Also in this volume are two illustrated poems, a short fable to teach a girl not to be dirty like a pig, a rather predictable mummy story, and Mary Fleener draws an odd little ode to a dead fly. The art styles are good choices for each, but the material overall I found forgettable. Perhaps there’s a reason all we know of Alcott are her four fictional sisters.

Classics Illustrated Deluxe: Treasure Island

Treasure Island cover
Treasure Island
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by Robert Louis Stevenson, adapted by David Chauvel, Fred Simon, and Jean-Luc Simon
Papercutz, $17.99 US
Due out March 16; also available in paperback

I’m not sure what to say about this beyond “It’s the classic pirate story in comic form.” That in itself should be enough to convince you, if you have young readers interested in pirates, especially this particular story with its treasure map and peg-legged villain. But I shall go on to say that the pictures are well-done and make the story more immediate. By showing another time and place, today’s readers will better understand the old-fashioned language and the feel of the boy Jim Hawkins’ life back then, as he goes on a journey (both literal and metaphorical) to become a man. The text is taken from the original, first published in 1883, so the pictures do help with comprehension sometimes.

The art is done in European thin-line style, easy to read and cartoony but with plenty of detail. The pages can be full, with up to 14 panels, but they never seem overly crowded. And there are plenty of them. The book, at 144 pages, is much longer than the typical comic classic adaptation. If you expect multiple readings, the hardcover is the way to go, since it’ll last longer. The size is such that it will feel like a serious book in young hands, but it’s not too large for them to manage.

New Works

Hamster and Cheese

Hamster and Cheese cover
Hamster and Cheese
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by Colleen AF Venable and Stephanie Yue
Graphic Universe, $6.95 US

This is the first book in a new series, Guinea PIG: Pet Shop Private Eye, in which the title character, named Sasspants, solves mysteries. It’s very cute — Sasspants lives in a glass habitat filled with books her size — and has some funny dialogue and character interactions. There is one running gag, about the shop owner being stupid, that didn’t work for me, since it’s reflected in calling all the animals the wrong things. The snake is labeled “llamas”, for instance, and the hamster thinks it’s a koala. That one part seemed to be trying too hard. But much of the other humor was good comedy, such as the forgetful fish and the sleepy hamsters and the inter-species spats.

The art is great, with Sasspants creating crazy little inventions to get around the shop and the animals being adorable. Sasspants has to (unwillingly) team up with a go-getter hamster to figure out who’s stealing the boss’ sandwich in order to restore harmony in the shop. (Thus, the title.) They mystery doesn’t play fair — you can’t guess the solution yourself — but it’s involving in its twists, especially with the malicious snake. Kids love pets, therefore kids should love this.

Possessions: Unclean Getaway

Possessions: Unclean Getaway cover
Possessions: Unclean Getaway
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by Ray Fawkes
Oni Press, $5.99 US
Due out March 17

It’s a crazy idea for a kids’ book, but it works surprisingly well. Gurgazon, a demon inhabiting a five-year-old girl, is taken away to the Llewellyn-Vane House for Captured Spirits and Ghostly Curiosities. Once captured, it only wants to escape, resulting in weird comedy. (See a lengthy preview at the publisher’s website.)

It’s done in black, white, and a weird light green the publisher appropriately describes as “sickly”. It’s billed as suitable for “all audiences”, but I think it’s best given to someone who’s a little familiar with monster/horror stories, so they can appreciate the twists Fawkes puts on the usual expectations. I found it quite funny.

Fawkes does an excellent job with the art, switching easily from innocent little girl to evil demon, as well as the conversation. My favorite line: “Gurgazon appreciates your sarcasm and will remember it fondly when Gurgazon eats your head.” The wiggly panel borders are a nice touch, emphasizing the uncertainty of the world and the readers’ impressions. He also comes up with visuals like a possessed jukebox and a headless Pale Lady who likes playing croquet.

I could relate to the way Gurgazon is determined to be grumpy and alone, instead of relaxing into the community of folks like him. That’s the core of the story, how to adapt to a new group of potential friends and deal with not always getting your way, and the spirit gag slapstick (Gurgazon and the poltergeist don’t get along) is a funny wrapper to keep the reader entertained along the way. Gurgazon is nothing more than a suspicious teenager; for all its dictatorial aims and grandiose claims, it’s not nearly as mature as it would like to be. I re-read it immediately after finishing, to catch all the details once I knew what happened; it’s my favorite of this group of books.

Zig and Wikki: Something Ate My Homework

Zig and Wikki: Something Ate My Homework cover
Zig and Wikki:
Something Ate My Homework
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by Nadja Spiegelman and Trade Loeffler
Toon Books, $12.95 US

This is something of a departure for the excellent Toon Books line of comics for early readers. It’s non-fiction, intended to interest kids in science.

Zig and Wikki are aliens, trying to capture something for the class zoo as a homework assignment. Zig is the one-eyed red one, with tentacle arms, while Wikki pops up factoids on his head screen. (That’s the educational part.) When they get lost and wind up on Earth, they discover some simple facts about flies, frogs, and raccoons.

I had a couple of questions about the material, since this is pitched as being educational. First, is “tricky bugger” appropriate language for second graders? Next, the teacher makes a big deal out of Zig needing to complete his assignment by himself, but Zig and Wikki head out together anyway. I think Zig is right — it’s better to not go exploring alone on a strange planet — but that’s not clearly explained. It just looks like Zig doesn’t need to listen to his teacher.

The story is a somewhat simple “get into danger, then run away and return home” structure, but the characters are approachable and entertaining to watch, while the animals look and behave in realistic fashion. Be sure to check out the Toon Books website, which has added a number of fun resources: kids can make their own cartoons or hear the books read aloud in various languages, while teachers can download lesson plans and other class ideas.

22 Responses to “Great Graphic Novels for Kids – March 2010”

  1. Jennifer Says:

    I adored Guinea PI – just got it for my library a little while ago. I thought the wrong-name-gag was kinda corny too, but I showed the book off in my tween book club and when I listened to the girls talking it up to another friend later, that was the part they thought was hilarious. Kids, who can predict them?

  2. Johanna Says:

    Ha ha! True enough. That’s why I love to hear examples of real kids reacting to books I talk about.

  3. Michael Says:

    Another great graphic novel for children is “Banana Tail” by Mark Mckenna. Check out the web link above!

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