This year, I was lucky to be chosen as a first round graphic novel panelist for the 2012 Cybils Awards. This is cool for a lot of reasons, but the main reason I'm thrilled to take part in this is because I'm actually not super into graphic novels. I think like a lot of people unfamiliar with the medium, I assumed that graphic novels were for comic book geeks who were into super heroes. While there are certainly lots of those types of stories, what I've learned since I read my first graphic novel in 2009 (I read two that year) is that within the medium of the graphic novel you can find any type of story you want. This year I've read about sixty graphic novels (so far!) and I'd like to share some of the coolest.
I'm grouping these roughly by the age of kid I would recommend these books for, but of course, I trust you know your own patrons/students/children and can match books accordingly.
The Flying Beaver Brothers and the Evil Penguin Plan by Maxwell Eaton
Back in the day, I was a fan of two silly cartoon beavers named Norbert and Daggett, and Eaton's Beaver Brothers Ace and Bub remind me of them. I like the wonky humor and the puns. These books aren't terribly sophisticated but neither are they so mind-numbingly inane that a grown up helping a new reader won't go super crazy reading along. It doesn't sound like a ringing endorsement, but I find Ace and Bub and their friends rather charming.
The Shark King by R. Kikuo Johnson
A good book for new, independent readers is The Shark King, a re-telling of a Hawaiian legend. I know Greek and Roman mythology is always super popular, but I love opportunities to read stories from other cultures, and this book tells a fun story about a little boy who is the son of the Shark King.
Bird and Squirrel on the Run by James Burks
Bird and Squirrel is an animal buddy comedy. The overcautious Squirrel spends his time saving food for the winter while Bird prefers to live in the moment. They end up on a wild adventure as they head south for the winter, making sure to keep out of the claws of Cat. I thought it was amusing, but my seven year old cousin was captivated by the bright drawings and exaggerated slapstick of the characters.
Nathan Hale's Hazardous Tales by Nathan Hale
The first book in this series, One Dead Spy, is about Nathan Hale, spy of the Revolutionary War. But, just as he's about to be hanged, a giant history book swallows him and allows him visions of the future. The rest of the series follow with Hale as an American Scheherazade, telling tales of American History (but his future) to the British general and the hangman who are about to execute him. The hangman provides excellent comic relief as Hale relates some of the more gruesome episodes from American history. And the teacher in me totally appreciates the Further Reading section at the back of the book (and the fact-checking babies - they are silly AND useful).
Mal and Chad: Food Fight by Stephen McCranie
Child genius Mal (who wears a lab coat, not a robe, thank you very much) and his talking dog Chad are best friends, so when Chad's dreams are taken over by a nightmarish beast, Mal is determined to find a way to help. But Mal also wants to be accepted by the kids at school, and when the cool girls won't let him in their club, he forms his own, only things don't go quite according to plan. I like the Calvin and Hobbes-esque vibe of Mal and Chad's relationship.
The Olympians Series by George O'Connor
Greek and Roman mythology -- super popular, perhaps overdone? Not in the hands of George O'Connor. His retellings of stories are exciting and funny. My favorite book in the series is Hades: Lord of the Dead, which is really more about Persephone than about Hades, but I like the way the characters were imagined as goth/emo-y rock stars. They're still illustrated with a nod towards the classical depictions, but the characters they decidedly modern attitudes. I was going to put this in the 4th-6th grade category, and while I think the books are fine and appropriate for that age group, older kids are more likely to pick up on the more subtle humor.
Explorer: The Mystery Boxes edited by Kazu Kibuishi
This is a collection of short stories by awesome artists like Emily Carroll, Raina Telgemeier and Kazu Kibuishi, and each story focuses on a mystery box. I love seeing what different artists and authors do with a common theme. I also loved the Flight anthologies, and Explorer is like Flight for a younger set. I do hope there will be more books in this series.
Marathon by Boaz Yakin
This is the story of Eucles, the Athenian messenger who ran from Athens to Sparta to get help against the Persians. I was expecting something along the lines of 300, but I was pleased to see that this book was not as violent as I expected, though it still had plenty of action -- less obvious, graphic violence means I'm more comfortable recommending this to patrons at my library.
The Silence of Our Friends by Mark Long and Darkroom by Lila Quintero Weaver
I'm grouping these books together because they are both memoirs of the Civil Rights era. Mark Long's father was a reporter and Lila Quintero Weaver's father was a minister. These are slightly more adult directed texts, but for students who might be reading about the Civil Rights movement in school, I think these stories offer interesting ways into the history. I found Darkroom to be especially interesting because Lila and her family immigrated from Argentina, and her book gives an outsiders perspective on the movement, but it's still personal.
Inchiro by Ryan Inzana
Ichiro was raised in NYC by his Japanese mother. His father was killed in Iraq when he was a baby. When his mother gets a job opportunity in Tokyo, Ichiro goes to stay with her father, a grandfather he's never met. While staying with his grandfather, Ichiro finds himself sucked into the realm of the gods. This book is an excellent coming of age story about a boy trying to figure out how to live between and in two cultures, with the added bonus of excellent and interesting stories from Japanese mythology woven into the story.
Binky the Space by Ashley Spires and Chi's Sweet Home by Kanata Konami
I read book four in the Binky series and book nine in the Chi series for the Cybils, but I am heartily recommending the entirety of both series to anyone who is having a bad day. I defy you not to be charmed or cheered when you read these books. In fact, if you are not charmed by these books, you are probably a Cylon and should be dealt with accordingly. Unless your cat has just died. Then I do not recommend these books.
I hope you'll find something you like in this small sampling. If you're interested in the other books I'm reading for the Cybils, check out (Library Lass) Adventures in Reading. You can also get a list of the nominees here.