17 Good (Not Superhero!) Comics for Kids
Welcome to my series of comic and graphic novel recommendation for kids!
Many superheroes who started in comics have become household names. Many people think the word "comics" means "stories about superheroes." It's understandable! But there are also other kinds of comics. The first post in this series, Good Comics for Kids (Even Little Ones!), is almost superhero-free and lists books appropriate for the even the youngest set. Older kids will probably enjoy a lot of those books too. Along with its companion Good Superhero Comics for Kids, this post lists fun, high quality comics we'd recommend for the slightly older kid in your life!
How old should a kid be to read these books? I don't know! You know that kid better than we do. I'm guessing anywhere between 3 and 15, depending on your comfort level with the content. Many of these, C-Man and I read for our own enjoyment and we're 36 and 39 years old. They're that good.
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The Bone series by Jeff Smith. As C-Man likes to explain it, this is basically Lord of the Rings in comics form, for kids. An epic tale that we started reading to Boy Detective when he was three, and which took a year to get all the way through.
Three cousins, from a race called "Bones," mistakenly end up in a different kindgom where humans live in an uneasy post-war truce with the "rat creatures." Unfortunately that truce is about to break down, as a powerful sorcerer is moving to unleash an ancient, dark evil. The Bones team up with Thorn, a young girl who lives with her super-tough grandmother. Thorn's history is intertwined with the war, and the ancient evil, so as things begin to move, the Bones are right in the middle of it and have to decide what they're willing to do for themselves and their new land.
It's available as one big black and white book which is possibly more affordable, or single volumes in color which may be more appealing. Your library should really have it.
Delirium's Party: A Little Endless Storybook by Jill Thompson, based on characters created by Neil Gaiman in Sandman. The thumbnail sketch is that they're seven siblings who are archetypes: Dream, Despair, Destiny, Desire, Death, Delirium, and Destruction. In Delirium's Party, little Delirium the "technicolor Princess" decides to make her beloved sister Despair smile by throwing her a party. Unfortunately, what makes other people happy isn't what makes Despair happy, but the siblings finally succeed and rejoice because they truly love their sister even if she is a little different. Jill Thompson's art almost dances off the page, and is full of strange and interesting details that our kiddo really enjoyed. Kids who like to dress up may enjoy Delirium's ever-changing hairstyles and outfits.
This is the second of two Little Endless books, but somehow we read it first. It doesn't really matter as there isn't a continuous storyline. The first one, The Little Endless Storybook, is good too. A couple of things that didn't bother us, including our kiddo, but might bother you: Despair is naked (her belly covers anything below the waist), and Desire is spoken of as being both genders.
Cow Boy: A Boy and his Horse by Nate Cosby, with art by Chris Eliopoulos. Boyd Linney is a ten year old bounty hunter who has dedicated his life to tracking down and imprisoning his whole family. They're all criminals. At first it seems like a funny comic, and it is, but there are also many levels of emotion here. Especially in brief flashbacks to Boyd's younger childhood, where it's clear he was abused and neglected by members of his family. It's not a pain and angst book or presented in an upsetting way, but his history informs his mission.
I don't care much for Westerns, either books or movies. Cow Boy trandscends its genre. It also has one of the best fictional scenes calling someone out on their ignorance of racism that I've ever read. C-Man and I are looking forward to Book 2 so very much!
Hereville: How Mirka Got Her Sword by Barry Deutsch. The subtitle for this book is "yet another troll-fighting 11-year-old Orthodox Jewish girl" which gives you an idea of how unique this book is. One of the guys at my local comic shop won't read it because it has a talking pig in it, but he's missing out. I have told him this repeatedly. (Hi Eric!)
It's this wonderful mix of fantasy, magic, an 11 year old girl who craves adventure, her loving family's dynamics, and a window into life in her community and culture. The followup book, How Mirka Met a Meteorite, is another winner.
Jellaby by Kean Soo. This is a strange little book, can be scary and serious at times. Ten year old Portia is the new kid in town, and she meets a monster. Can you really call it a monster when it's purple and friendly? A local boy, Jason, ends up pulled into the secret of Jellaby's presence. When the kids think Jellaby is trying to lead them to his home, or at least a way back there, they embark on an unsupervised journey to Toronto trying to help. The story concludes in Jellaby: Monster in the City, and you really do need to read them both to avoid the cliffhanger feeling.
Miss Annie: Freedom by Frank Le Gall, illustrated by Flore Balthazar. The Miss Annie books, both the first and second volumes, were a perfect match for my cat-loving oldest niece at almost middle school age. Boy Detective was interested enough to read them once, at age four, but not many more times. They're quiet "slice of life" books about a cat, including dialogue from the people in the house (will sound familiar to any pet owner) and also Annie's interactions with other cats and her new best friend, a mouse whom she names Keshia. Very sweet and thoughtful little books.
There are a couple of mentions of "the operation" Miss Annie's going to have and some boy cats "courting" her but she doesn't really know what it means so it's not a big deal. One cat dies in the second book but while they honor his memory, it's not a huge trauma for anyone. Also cats have nine lives.
The Mouse Guard series by David Petersen, with guest stories by other creators in the Legends of the Guard anthologies. David Petersen is a genius. There's no other conclusion. His art is gorgeous, his stories impeccable in plot, character, and emotion. The mice of Mouse Guard are people, and they are also heroes and epic figures.
I struggle with words to describe its greatness. C-Man says that if you read one book from this list, it should be Mouse Guard.
My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic by Katie Cook, with art by Andy Price. Since Boy Detective is a Hello Kitty fan, I suspected that My Little Pony might be a natural next step.
I didn't know what to expect from the comic. Based on my recollections of playing with ponies when I was a kid, I thought it would be sweet and gentle. NOPE. Instead try funny, wacky, and a slight side order of "flank-whooping" the bad guys along with the friendship and magic that was advertised. Boy Detective was immediately in love with them. Magic! Fighting! Cute stuff! He read the first book so much that the pages started to fall out. I don't mind reading it with him, either, because there is some genuinely funny stuff. If your kid is pony-friendly, this is a much better option than any mass-manufactured junk.
New Brighton Archaeological Society by Mark Andrew Smith and Andrew Weldon. This turned up at our local library, and at first we didn't realize that Mark Andrew Smith also wrote Gladstone's which we love. Children from two families, all of whose parents were explorers and died on a mission, find themselves living in their parents' childhood home under their mutual godparents' care. Their parents were involved in more than just exploring, though, as the children start to discover in an old clubhouse, and then the magical forest outside the mansion.
It's refreshing that HALF of the four children are people of color. Ethnic and racial diversity is so hard to come by in children's literature in general, but even moreso in comics.
Ojingogo by Matthew Forsythe, and the followup Jinchalo. We usually avoid wordless books for "reading" with kids because we're lazy. But I broke my rule. I saw Ojingogo described as a "dreamscape" somewhere and that feels about right to me. A girl and a squid have adventures with robots, walking cameras, strange creatures and animals, all rendered in delicate, detailed line drawings with some soft shading. Gorgeous book. Boy Detective comes back to it over and over, and gets more out of it every time.
May be a little bit too creepy for sensitive kids, but it's perceived as whimsical in our house.
Over the Wall, by Peter Wartman. A young girl lives outside a walled-up city. Boys go in as a rite of passage, but her brother didn't come back out. She's forgotten his name, but she's determined not to lose him, even if it means fighting the magic inside the city. It's amazing what Wartman can do with such a limited palette. We bought this for ourselves and really liked it.
Pantalones, TX by Yehudi Mercado. This is a realllly strange book. Mercado lives here in Austin and I'd kind of like to run into him sometime, just to get an idea of what he's like. It opens with a joke about urinating outside. Normally that would put me off but we'd already bought the book, and I'm glad I kept reading.
Chico Bustamante is the coolest kid in Pantalones, TX, the town where underwear was invented. His best friends are Pig Boy, who's some kind of mutant? And a Jewish vegetarian from Brooklyn. Chico is the town sheriff's nemesis. He's determined to get his name into the history books of Texas, and not even the sheriff's giant chicken is going to stop him... even if he needs a bar mitzvah to become a man to gain admittance to the Soulbreaker mechanical riding bull in the back of the saloon to do it!
You see why I want to meet the guy? Like I said, it's a strange book.
Princeless: Save Yourself by Jeremy Whitley with art by M. Goodwin. Princeless is the takedown of the sexism and racism in fantasy literature (and American culture) that you may have never known you wanted - but trust me, you need to read it!
Princess Adrienne's father locks her in a tower just like all her other sisters so that she can wait for a knight to kill the dragon outside and marry her. Unfortunately, the knights are prone to saying things like "fair maiden" which Adrienne points out loudly means WHITE maiden. Also they get flambeed and eaten. At some point it's just too ridiculous and Adrienne takes matters into her own hands. She's going to save herself and her sisters. (To be fair, her brother probably needs saving too, since his father berates him incessantly for not being "manly" enough.) Adrienne teams up with the dragon and the half-dwarf daughter of a blacksmith and the rest will become history.
I'm not sure why we haven't read this with Boy Detective yet. He would dig it. The second book is out and thankfully was published in a full-size paperback. The "digest" size of the first one is hard on the eyes.
The Silver Six, by A.J. Lieberman and Darren Rawlings. In a corporate-run future, six orphaned children of a group of genius scientists all find themselves in the same oppressive state-run orphanage. When they realize they all have matching documents giving them part ownership of a moon, they realize it's time to escape and find out why their parents died.
There are a few harrowing moments in this one. The orphanage isn't terribly scary, but there is an extremely sad scene when one of the children's best friend, a robot, gives up his "life" so they can decode part of the mystery. Another character actually does give up his life to save them. Overall it's a book about determination and finding friends so the sad parts don't seem quite as bad. (And it's all okay in the end, of course!) Edited to add: Re-reading it lately, I did realize that one time one character uses the word "crappy." Could have lived without that when trying to read it to a six year old...
The Three Thieves books by Scott Chantler. Dessa is an acrobat in show that travels the kingdoms. Its members may make more money pickpocketing then entertaining at the castles and villages they visit. When her colleague proposed they rob the Queen's treasure chamber, though, that takes things to a whole new level. And how is the mysterious man in uniform related to the disappearance of Dessa's brother when she was a child? This is a darker and more powerful book than some of the other fantasy romps, especially in the flashbacks to Dessa's childhood. Boy Detective is not easily scared, and we read it with him at four and five years old, no problem.
The fourth volume is scheduled for April 2014. C-Man and I are really looking forward to it for our own reading!
The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, adapted from Frank L. Baum's novel by Eric Shanower and artist Skottie Young. This is a gorgeous adaptation of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, published in 1900. There are some scary parts, or I would have put it in the Comics for Little Kids list. It has more depth and detail than the movie, and in my opinion a richer world and characters. It's slower and talkier than many comics, so don't bust it out when a kid's been bouncing off the wall all day.
A Wrinkle In Time, adapted from Madeleine L'Engle's novel by Hope Larson. I always thought of A Wrinkle in Time as a book for older kids, since I remember reading it in junior high. Then I found out Boy Detective's preschool teacher was reading it to the older kids in her class during afternoon quite time, and they were digging it. They may not follow all the details, but honestly I was confused about the whole "tesseract" thing myself as a kid and I still loved the book. This adaptation by Larson is full of feeling and magic.
Thanks for reading! Please feel free to leave any suggestions in the comments, and if you're on Pinterest, I'd love it if you'd pin to help others find this post!