As the school year winds down, kids across the country are looking forward to lazy days ahead. Summer is an ideal time to introduce young readers to some new comics, which develop both verbal and visual literacy but are also just plain fun to read! Here are some suggestions drawn from our past Using Graphic Novels in Education columns by Dr. Meryl Jaffe.
For Elementary School Readers/All Ages
Larry Marder’s Beanworld looks at life with an unusual lens that allows us to reflect as well as laugh at its perplexities, its challenges, and all its wonderful quirks. Presented to us (originally) in black and white drawings that look two-dimensional and simplistic, they are anything but simple. These packed panels offer readers a refreshing look at life, while the playful language and illustrations teach us all about balance — balancing the fun, balancing the love, balancing individuality and community, and balancing responsibilities. What life’s ultimate secret is, however, may be different for each of us, but it’s all here for us to discover! The seeming simplicity of Beanworld and its ability to reach each of its readers on different levels is what makes this so wonderfully brilliant and unusual.
Babymouse is an award-winning graphic novel series that showcases the trials and tribulations of elementary school students and teachers, as seen through the eyes of Babymouse, a spunky, lovable mouse who wrestles with popularity, quirky lockers, competition — in the school band, school play, math Olympics, and even the best birthday party ever — and more. The series has won multiple Children’s Choice awards, the 2006 Gryphon Award, the 2006 ALA Notable Children’s Book Award, the 2006 New York Book Show Award. Babymouse is hates her curly messy whiskers, loves cupcakes, is an avid reader, seeks fame and adventure, and is constantly dreaming big — all while dealing with her nemesis, Felicia Furrypaws, and wrestling with a locker that’s more like a magical black hole that sucks her into all kinds of worlds. Whether she’s off fighting dragons, becoming Queen of the World, or just planning for the best birthday ever, she’s a ton of fun.
Squish is a comic book-loving, Twinkie-eating, blubbery, super-swell amoeba “kid” who wrestles with good and evil in life around him and learns about life’s responsibilities. He faces all sorts of challenges with his friends Pod, a nerdy, mooching amoeba who’s always working on some lay-brained science scheme to help him tame his world, and Peggy, a clueless, huge-hearted, super-sweet, happy-go-lucky loving paramecium. In the first four books, they face challenges in school, summer camp, soccer games, and much more. While Squish is a beloved series in its own right, the amoeba was first brought to life and introduced in Babymouse #14: Mad Scientist. Squish is a wonderful series full of fun, humor, and real-life problems facing middle school “microorganism kids.” And while each volume is under 100 pages and geared for kids ages 7–12, they will be enjoyed by older readers as well with their compelling themes and sharp, sophisticated humor. These endearing pond-dwelling microorganisms deal with issues of friendship, bullies, overcoming fears, and learning that doing the right thing is one of life’s greatest challenges — and rewards — whether you’re a superhero like Super Amoeba, or a plain kid like Squish.
The Misadventures of Salem Hyde is a wonderful series about a strong-willed, spunky, impulsive young witch living in a non-witch community, who has a slight problem: Her spells tend to backfire. However, with the help of Whammy, her companion cat, she slowly deals with her “spelling” issues while boldly facing her nemesis Shelly and her teacher Mr. Fink (who “dislikes all kinds of kids but especially Salem”). The Misadventures of Salem Hyde received starred reviews from Kirkus Reviews and Publishers Weekly, and was named one of the Top 10 graphic novels of 2013 by The School Library Journal. These books contain fun-filled adventures and wordplay that make them an awesome read for kids of all ages. The are currently three volumes in the Salem Hyde series.
Amelia Rules! is an empowering, heart-warming story about Amelia Louise McBride, who moves with her Mom to a small town in Pennsylvania to live with her uber-cool aunt Tanner after her parents’ divorce. Amelia, along with her friends Reggie, Pajamaman (or PJ), and Rhonda Bleenie (Amelia’s best frenemy) take on the world with some guidance from Tanner, a former rock-star. Through laughs, challenges, and spills, we learn about friendship, family, the truths of life, and the joys of not taking anything too seriously — as long as there are people (as flawed as they may be) to provide support when necessary. Amelia Rules! is a New York Times bestseller. It has been nominated for 13 Eisner Awards and five Harvey Awards, and was a short list finalist for the Howard E. Day Prize in 2002. In 2007, Volume 3: Superheroes won the Cybil Award for best graphic novel for readers aged 12 and under. In 2008, Gownley won the Pennsylvania Library Association One Book Award, and in 2012, Volume 8: Her Permanent Record became the first Amelia Rules! book to make the New York Times bestseller list. There are nine volumes in the series.
Amulet is an award-winning graphic novel series about Emily and her brother Navin who, through extenuating circumstances, find themselves battling for the freedom of a parallel world and face mounting dangers with newfound friends. This coming-of-age series continues to win awards. The Young Adult Library services Association named it one of the Best Books for Young Adults in 2009. In 2010, it won a Rhode Island Children’s Book Award and was included in a Library Journal list of “Graphic Novels for Reluctant Readers.” In 2011, it received a Young Reader’s Choice Award, and in 2013, it was ranked fourth on Goodreads’ “Best Graphic Novels for Children” list. These books received an Eisner nomination and are currently New York Times bestsellers. There are currently six volumes in the Amulet series.
For Middle/High School Readers
In this autobiographical coming-of-age graphic novel memoir, Raina Telgemeier ruminates with humor and honesty on the tumultuous challenges and perils of her teen years: from the trauma of falling one night on her way home from a Girl Scout meeting and severely injuring her front teeth, to dealing with boys, earthquakes and the true meaning of friendship. Smile is an empowering, heart-warming story about a typical teenager who feels out of place with her changing body, skin, and teeth, and whose only wish is to be a “normal” teen. What readers realize is that as Raina deals with accident traumas and earthquakes, navigates friendships with her childhood girl friends, and learns how to deal with boys in middle and high school, most of us have some kind of issue we must deal with in adolescence. As such, the book speaks honestly and humorously to us all. From beginning to end, Smile shows us how to gracefully embrace life’s twists and be more sensitive to others who are doing the same.
Drama, which is recommended for ages 9-14, is a fictional story about seventh-grader Callie, who, like many kids her age, wrestles with a pesky, snooping little brother while navigating middle school friendships and crushes. The interesting thing about Callie is her passion around being on the Drama Club’s tech crew and interacting with her friends in the club. What makes this book so special though, is its message to young girls. Specifically, what makes Callie happiest is not being cool or popular or even winning “the boy.” Instead, it’s working hard on her set ideas, becoming the best stage manager ever of the Drama Club, and refining her voice, her vision, and her skills within that role.
Chiggers is a graphic novel that takes an honest look at the timeless ritual of summer camp as seen and experienced first-hand by Abby, a young teen attending her last year at sleep-away camp. Chiggers is a Junior Library Guild Selection and YALSA Great Graphic Novel for Teens Nominee. It follows Abby from the moment her parents rush her out of the house and drive her through country highways and hills to get her to camp before any other campers arrive and concludes when her parents are the first car in line on the last day of camp to take her home. It’s a story about friendship, fitting in, love, and loyalty, and it interweaves realities and fantasies of summer life.
Told in warm prose and exquisite monochromatic blue images, This One Summer delicately balances the nostalgic power of summer traditions with the often harsh and intruding lessons of life. It embraces readers of all ages as two tween girls, local townie teens, and one set of parents all tangle in the delicate balances of friendships and relationships, grapple with the pains of growing up, deal with the torments of depression and of wanted and unwanted pregnancies, and cope with the heartbreaks and hopes of life. This One Summer has received outstanding praise and unprecedented honors for its stunning art and thoughtful, sensitive content. In 2015 it made history as the first graphic novel to be shortlisted for the American Library Association’s Caldecott Medal.
Ms. Marvel: No Normal encompasses the first five issues of Marvel’s new reboot. It features a Muslim Pakistani American superheroine who struggles with identity issues whether she’s in or out of her costume. Kamala Khan’s polymorph superpowers — which mean she can change her shape, size and form — are a wonderful metaphor that reflects her inner struggles as she stretches, bends, and recoils from the pressures all around her. Throughout this volume, Kamala not only struggles with her identity, but with the different ways and expectations of her religion, with the pressures and expectations from her strict (but nurturing) parents, and with her power as well. Throughout all these conflicts, Kamala must also be careful as a polymorph to not be all things to all people, which in the long run, might be very dangerous.
SideScrollers’ three protagonists are Matt, Brian, and Brad — three good guys who have just graduated from high school with no direction or prospects and who love playing video games and eating junk food. What gets them off their couch is a trip for more junk food and finding out that Amber, a new girl in town whom Matt has a crush on, is going to the concert of the century that night with Dick, the captain of the football team and high school bully. Trying to keep their gaming titles, find junk food, and save Amber, these three end up being chased by the football team (once they discover Dick’s dastardly plan for Amber) and by a vengeful troop of Girl Scouts who have been scammed by Brian. Infused with gaming-centric humor, SideScrollers is the story of three slackers who discover within themselves unexpected depths of real-life courage.
Nothing Can Possibly Go Wrong is a graphic novel adapted and drawn by Faith Erin Hicks from the young adult novel Voted Most Likely by Prudence Shen. It’s full of unlikely friendships and nicely nuanced characters who bend and shatter stereotypes and expectations. The central characters are Charlie Nolen, captain of Hollow Ridge High School basketball team and his (best) friend Nate Harding, president of the robotics club. In a twist of fate, the robotics club and the cheerleaders are vying for student council funding. In an effort to win the funding, Charlie decides to run for student council president. The “Gestapo” cheerleaders decide to have Nate run against him with the hopes that they can manipulate Nate into funding their new outfits and not the robotics club. And while each group is convinced that their strategies are flawless, things don’t work out the way anyone had planned.
These are just some of the great books covered in our ongoing Using Graphic Novels in Education series; check them all out here! And for more on the benefits of comics for developing young readers, don’t miss our free publication Raising a Reader! How Comics & Graphic Novels Can Help Your Kids Love To Read!