Many people think the word “comics” means “stories about superheroes.” It’s understandable! But there are many other kinds of comics too, and we love to recommend the really good ones that our whole family has enjoyed.
How old should a kid be to read these books? I’d say you know the kid(s) in your life better than we do, but maybe as young as 4 years old, depending on your comfort level with the content. Many of these, C-Man and I read for our own enjoyment. They’re that good.
Adamsville by Michael Regina. We backed this book on Kickstarter, and I’m so glad we did! I read it first on my own and really enjoyed it, then re-read it to Boy Detective and he was immediately hooked. Chloe is the middle school’s start basketball player, and her life is pretty great. Until she sees a monster almost kill a kid in her neighborhood, and even worse, one of her neighbors seems to be controlling it. What the heck is happening? Who can she trust? Finally she confides in Todd, the class conspiracy theorist, and together they find an even darker secret than they could have imagined. It’s kind of like X-Files for the younger set.
(There is one unfortunate page in the book. Given how mean kids can be to other kids who need headgear or other orthodontia, I thought it was a cheap joke that the clueless dorky girl who never gets picked for basketball wears headgear. It was a stereotype that seemed really out of place with the rest of the writing. So after reading, you may want to discuss that part with the kiddo in your life.)
Adventures of Rabbit and Bear Paws by Christopher Meyer and Chad Solomon. YAY FOR THIS! Every library in the country should own a set of these books. Not just because it’s so hard to find books about Native Americans and First Nations people, which it is, but also because they’re really funny and enjoyable. This series is set in the 1750s and follows the adventures of two brothers, Rabbit and Bear Paws, who are part of the Anishinabek Nation in what’s now known as the Great Lakes region. The French and British are moving in nearby, so all three cultures interact quite a bit. Each Rabbit and Bear Paws book focuses on First Nations teachings, values, and traditions, but in a way that feels naturally integrated with the story. The brothers get into all kinds of trouble and have to get themselves back out. Highly recommended!
Bigfoot Boy Volume One: Into the Woods by J. Torres, with art by Faith Erin Hicks. Rufus escapes his grandmother’s soap operas to explore the woods behind her house. First he runs into an extremely crabby girl named Penny who doesn’t want him there at all… and then he gets turned into Bigfoot. Not kidding! Trouble ensues when it turns out there’s something in the woods even crabbier than Penny, and they want the Bigfoot totem back. Hicks is one of our favorite comics artists, and Torres has put together a fun, engaging story here.
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.
Broxo by Zack Giallongo. The title character is the only survivor of a mountain tribe. He spends his days hunting and hanging out with his sidekick, a gigantic snow beast. And avoiding deadly creatures. Everything’s going fine until Princess Zora shows up looking for a lost clan, and then suddenly it’s all zombies and witches and ghosts! What the heck! Before it’s over, a mystery will finally be solved. Solid fantasy and really good art.
Cleopatra in Space by Mike Maihack. Cleopatra of Egypt. Current princess, future queen… and savior of the galaxy? That’s what the future inhabitants of Nile Galaxy believe. So they zap her into the future to help them defeat the Xerx, led by evil tyrant Xaius Octavian. Which means combat training, yay! Oh, and algebra and stuff. Not her favorite. Can Cleo pass all her classes and also save the future? Towards the end of the book we also start to catch glimpses of tension among the Nile Galaxy’s leaders, and I’m interested to see how that plays out in the next volume!
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!
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.
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.
Lucha Lizards: Chameleon Cage Match by Donald Lemke, illustrated by Chris Eliopoulos. I had NO idea what to expect from this, since I’m not a fan of lizards or wrestling. LOVED IT. Leon the Chameleon loves wrestling just like every other lizard in Luchaville, but he’s never had a chance to prove himself. Until King Komodo attacks, vanquishing the other lizards one by one! The jokes are all clever and there’s plenty of real info about lizards. Eliopoulos is one of our favorite comics illustrators and he really knocks it out of the park here. (The art would appeal to even the youngest kids, but since there’s a bunch of fighting I put it here.)
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.
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.
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. (Update September 2014: we have now read all existing volumes with Boy Detective and he adores them!)
Robot City Adventures: City in Peril! by Paul Collicutt. Giant sentient walking lighthouse defends the city against a sea monster? Sign me up! This is so warm and funny, and has such a retro feel, I had a great time reading it with Boy Detective. (C-Man thought it was too cheesy, but good people can disagree.) If you’re a classic sci-fi fan, or love the Transformers, this is a great pick.
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 Wizard’s Tale by Kurt Busiek and (gloriously) illustrated by David T. Wenzel. Wonderful fantasy tale about Bafflerog Rumplewhisker, an evil wizard who’s supposed to help maintain the darkness that blankets the land of Ever-Night. His heart’s just not in it, though. And when he’s sent on a quest for a spellbook that will cause darkness to reign forever? Is it his chance to finally live up to his evil ancestors’ famous achievements, or something more? A well-crafted blend of traditional fantasy elements with more humor and a modern spin.
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.
And that’s the list of our favorite graphic novels and comics for kids! If you have any suggestions, please leave them in the comments – and thanks for sharing on social media or with friends!