I’ve recommended good comics for kids before, and even good superhero comics for kids, but I just keep finding more good ones! So here’s another collection of the best we’ve found, all appropriate for elementary school and up. Grab that library card, get to the bookstore, whatever works!
Little Robot by Ben Hatke. Ben Hatke is just amazing. We loved his graphic novel series Zita the Spacegirl (see Good Superhero Comics for Kids) and his picture book Julia’s House for Lost Creatures (see Spooky and Monster Books for Kids.) And now we’ve fallen in love with Little Robot.
It begins with a box falling out of a truck as it’s crossing a bridge. The box floats away down the river. A girl who’s skipping school drags it out and opens it, only to find a small (nearly) operational robot. Its disappearance does not go unnoticed at the warehouse, though, and a large, aggressive tracking robot is sent to recover the little one. For a book with two such bitty, cute protagonists, there’s a fair amount of danger in this one, so I didn’t recommend it for very young children. The growing friendship between the girl and the robot isn’t without its conflicts, and there’s depth of emotion in both characters’ reactions to their situations. It particularly moved me that Hatke created the girl as a person of color, with natural-looking hair, from a not-middle-class household (she lives in a trailer park) and made her a tinkerer. This kind of diverse representation is almost unheard of in comics for kids.
Bink and Gollie by Kate DiCamillo and Alison McGhee, illustrated by Tony Fucile. Three vignettes about two friends. Bink is short, wild, and irrepressible. Gollie is tall, sophisticated, and orderly. Does this make their friendship smooth? Not always. Do they always figure it out? Yes, absolutely. And they have plenty of adventures: Gollie climbs a mountaintop in the Andes, and Bink brings her pet fish to the movies. This is one of the best children’s comics I’ve ever read, so good that I’d have read the other two books myself even if Boy Detective hadn’t been interested. But we ended up reading them together, and they were also fantastic. DiCamillo and McGhee choose their words with exquisite care, and Fucile’s cartoons are a delight.
Bird and Squirrel On Ice by James Burks. Bird and Squirrel are best friends. While messing around on a glacier, an avalanche drops them at the feet of Sakari, a penguin gal who hunts, fishes, and packs a mean wallop when anything comes looking for trouble. Except for the Great Whale which is extorting fish from her village. No one’s been able to do much about that except wait for The Chosen One, and based on the prophecy… that’s Bird. Squirrel is alarmed, but Bird is too busy being adored to worry about how he’s supposed to defeat the whale. So Squirrel and Sakari do a little investigating.
Both Bird and Squirrel have some slapstick characteristics initially, but as the story develops they’re revealed as well-rounded characters. Sakari is a gem, clever and strong. She resists her father’s overprotective vibe without being a jerk about it. All in all, a solid story about friendship and being a hero. This is the second Bird and Squirrel book, after Bird and Squirrel on the Run which we didn’t enjoy as much. The third book, Bird and Squirrel on the Edge, came out recently and it’s quite entertaining. We especially liked the baby bear.
[Update March 2016: Always keep your critical thinking skills on when you see a “tribe” in fiction that seems to borrow from indigenous, Native, or First Nations people – and discuss it with your kiddo(s)! Is it respectful? Is it stereotyping?]
The Courageous Princess by Rod Espinosa. As happens to young female royalty, Princess Mabelrose gets kidnapped by a dragon. Being unwilling to stay kidnapped (and quite worried about how her parents feel with her missing) she sets about rescuing herself. What follows, across the three volumes, is a grand adventure full of magic, danger, and friendship. Adults may find Mabelrose suspiciously perfect, but I couldn’t resist loving her anyway. Espinosa’s art is lovely, and his world-building and plot design are incredibly strong. If you’re looking for epic fantasy, this is a great series. Bonus for those of us who crave diversity: Mabelrose is biracial/bicultural. Her mother is from a kingdom that appears to be based on Western European culture. Her father is from a kingdom that appears to be based on Middle Eastern culture. People from both sides of her family appear in the story.
Boy Detective’s thoughts: “It’s a very adventurous story, and also Mabelrose herself is very adventurous. It’s funny in parts, and it’s a tiny bit scary in parts. There are a lot of cliffhangers, which leave you wanting to read the next volume or the next chapter.” (He’s not wrong. Waiting between the second and third books was painful.)
Explorer: The Mystery Boxes, Explorer: The Lost Islands, and Explorer: The Hidden Doors, edited by Kazu Kibuishi. Each Explorer book is a collection of comic short stories on a theme. Any lover of fantasy, magic, action-adventure, or high-quality art in comics should at least borrow these from their library. They’d make especially good gifts for young comics lovers, or kids new to comics, because they can find their own favorites out of the tales in each book. Kibuishi is a master storyteller whose work has emotional depth while remaining very accessible, and he’s selected writers and artists with similar skills for these books. Across the stories, there is quite a bit of diversity in characters. I’m also a sucker for gorgeous covers, and these books rock on that aspect. I even love the title font.
Maddy Kettle: The Adventure of the Thimblewitch by Eric Orchard. This is strange little graphic novel about a girl whose parents were turned into kangaroo rats by the Thimblewitch. Maddy wishes her Mom and Dad could be human again. Things go from bad to worse when the Thimblewitch’s spider-goblins kidnap her parents. Maddy sets out to save them. The plot moves along quite briskly – almost racing from one point to the next without time for the story to breathe – but the unique art, the magic, and Maddy’s strength make up for it. There are definitely scary and spooky elements in this, which I think Boy Detective is going to enjoy, but everything works out in the end without anyone having to be defeated. I’ll be pre-ordering the second volume.
Monster Motors by Brian Lynch, with art by Nick Roche, colors by Leonard O’Grady, and letters by Tom B. Long. Arrogant auto mechanic genius Vic Frankenstein moves to Transylvania, Kentucky to open his auto shop in an abandoned junkyard. Little does he know, it has a dark secret! Before you know it, the town is covered with vampire and zombie cars, and Vic must work with a team of auto-monster hunters to save Transylvania AND THE WORLD! There’s a lot to enjoy here. The artists have lovingly filled the backgrounds with cars, gadgets, and debris of all kinds, which will delight any young tinkerer. The action is clear even in gloomy scenes. There are plenty of jokes for kids, and some for adults, especially those who are more familiar with the monster movie genre. I appreciated the competent female character who doesn’t become a love interest. And I can’t get over Vic’s ridiculous hair! Worth checking out around Halloween, or any time.
Nathan Hale’s Hazardous Tales: Big Bad Ironclad by Nathan Hale. First, a note about the names. Nathan Hale was a soldier and spy during the U.S. Revolutionary War who was executed by the British in 1776. Nathan Hale is (also) an author and cartoonist who was born in 1976, and who wrote and illustrated this book. The story begins on September 22, 1976, as the spy Hale is about to be executed by hanging. However, it’s revealed that he was (at some point) swallowed by a giant history book and has mystical powers of telling the future. So he’s granted a stay of execution to tell his captors a story about the Civil War.
I know it sounds completely bizarre. And honestly I find the whole impending execution part somewhat distressing. If he’d been hanged at the end, I wouldn’t be recommending this for children! Instead, he’s asked for another story, allowing the reader the fiction that he could keep going forever. And the stories he tells are hilarious. The personalities Hale depicts for so many of these historical figures are probably way over the top, but it makes the stories entertaining and compelling. Even if you have no interest in Civil War history, give this a whirl. After we read this, we read One Dead Spy, which is the first book from this series, and we really enjoyed it. I guess it would have helped if we’re read them in order, but it’s not necessary. As I’m writing this, Boy Detective just finished another book in the series, The Underground Abductor about Harriet Tubman and says it’s SO GOOD. [Edited to add: he was correct.]
Penny Dora and the Wishing Box by Michael Stock, with art by Sina Grace. A mysterious package arrives at Penny’s house on Christmas Day. She and her mother assume it’s a gift from her father. That day turns out to be the best Christmas ever, as quite a few things happen just the way Penny wishes they would. That night, she starts to hear whispers… coming from the box. Which knows her name. And her father doesn’t know anything about it. Penny and her best friend Elizabeth discover what the box can do, and must decide whether it’s a good or bad thing. I would recommend this to adults as well as children, it’s quite good. The subtlety with which the box begins to shape Penny’s life, and the transition from bland suburban life to fantastical danger, builds tension effectively. The only downsides: the letting is fairly small (C-Man had trouble with it) and the back cover has what I consider significant spoilers.
Phoebe and Her Unicorn by Dana Simpson. I am SO glad that my son is fine with pink and “girly” things, because I might have missed this book if he didn’t agree we should order it. And it’s so funny! When Phoebe accidentally hit the unicorn Marigold Heavenly Nostrils in the face with a rock, who knew it would be the beginning of a beautiful friendship? This online cartoon makes the transition to book form beautifully. This was one of Boy Detective’s favorite books in 2014. He even announced one day that he was VERY cross he hadn’t managed to read it again lately, which he had been PLANNING to, and all this OTHER stuff had gotten in the way! Both Phoebe and Marigold are so quirky, and the humor is so well-done, C-Man and I were cracking up just as much as Boy Detective was. The second book, Unicorn on a Roll, was just as fantastic. A third book’s just been announced, so we’re thrilled.
Roller Girl by Victoria Jamieson. When Astrid decides to sign up for roller derby summer camp, she assumes her best friend Nicole will do it too. Astrid’s mom agrees – in part because the girls will be together. So what happens when Nicole doesn’t want to? Let’s just say that Astrid isn’t the kind of girl to give up… which may or may not be a good thing. I love this book because it depicts pre-teens as people, even though they’re young and sometimes annoying. Astrid isn’t perfect. She’s fairly self-absorbed, occasionally mean, and even at the end of the book she isn’t handling social situations as thoughtfully as one might aspire to. But she makes progress. The art is cute without being cutesy, and there’s plenty of derby action in addition to some good lessons. Astrid and her mom and Puerto Rican, so yay for more Latina girl characters in comics.
Rutabaga the Adventure Chef by Eric Colossal. This book is so silly, and perfect for any fantasy fan. Chef Rutabaga grew tired of normal food, and travels far and wide seeking magical and rare ingredients to use in his cooking. He carries a complete kitchen in a backpack twice his size, and will risk almost any danger for the next perfect dish! Hopefully he’ll survive long enough to open the restaurant he’s compiling recipes for… The four chapters in this book are each their own stories, and they’re all great. You also get illustrated recipes for the cooks out there. A+ for action, humor, and cute little people running around with swords. I appreciated that there are major black characters, and that town scenes are a mix of people instead of the lily-white villages that you too often find in fantasy worlds.
Sky High by Germano Zullo, illustrated by Albertine. What happens when rich next-door neighbors decide to out-do each other with their remodeling? About what you’d expect. Agenor-Agobar Poirier des Chapelles and Willigis Kittycly Jr. clearly have more money than sense, and the book is a series of side-by-side depictions of their houses as they get bigger and grander, with captions for various elements that demonstrate the excess. (Watch for the highest paid architects.) I don’t know how long it took Albertine to do these meticulous, crisp line drawings but they are amazing to behold. Though the fate of one of the houses is predictable, you won’t expect the fate of the pizza. I guarantee it.
And that’s the list of good comics for kids we’ve enjoyed lately!! If you’ve read and enjoyed any of these, please leave me a comment! It’s always fun to hear from someone else who’s enjoyed something we’ve read. If you have any suggestions, please leave them in the comments – and thanks for sharing on social media or with friends!