Early Reading Round Up: Graphic Novels
March 10, 2022 Comments Off on Early Reading Round Up: Graphic Novels
A year has passed since my last Early Reading Round Up, where I shared recommendations for kicking off the daunting process of learning to read, as well as some early chapter books for those graduating into independent reading. (I also talked about my own parenting epiphany, learned the hard way, about how we can best support our budding readers.) Today, I thought I’d specifically highlight some new(ish) graphic novels targeted at beginning and newly independent readers.
With compelling visuals and an ability to tackle a wide range of genres and subject matter, graphic novels have become wildly popular in recent years, not just for that so-called “reluctant reader” but for nearly every kind of elementary and tween reader. So, it comes as no surprise that they’re also getting dedicated attention from publishers when it comes to younger kids, including those new to reading. THIS IS A GREAT THING.
If you’re new to the idea that “graphic novels count as real reading,” you can reference an older post with my Top Ten Reasons why encouraging your kids to read graphic novels (including comics) translates into literacy skills and a love of reading. And why, given a culture big on visual stimulation and light on free time, our kids are so enticed by this format. All of these things hold true for early readers, too. In fact, Mo Willems’ hugely popular “Elephant and Piggie” books—a big driver for both my kids when they were learning to read—are, in fact, graphic novels. They tell their stories through sequential art and speech bubbles, albeit in a highly simplified way.
The books below are presented in ascending order of reading level. All of them are a step up from “Elephant and Piggie,” and some are divided into chapters, ideal for the newly independent reader who is looking for momentum to solidify literacy skills and equate reading with pleasure. Plus, all of them are short enough to prompt repeat readings, a reason to feel extra good about investing in these books.
Fox and Chick: The Sleepover and Other Stories
by Sergio Ruzzier
The newest standalone title in the whimsical Fox and Chick series, The Sleepover and Other Stories, proves once again that Sergio Ruzzier is the master of writing unexpected friendships. Fox’s matter-of-fact deliveries, coupled with Chick’s uppity effusiveness, never get old. But it’s not just the odd couple dynamic that makes these stories stand out. It’s also the depth of feeling they invoke. There is a genuine tenderness underlying every exchange. It’s easy to see why Chick keeps winning over Fox and why Fox continues to humor Chick. They each give as much as they receive.
Couple that with the large, clear typeface of the speech balloons, text replete with repetition, and the distinctive palette and expressive faces, and you have perfection for budding readers. (Unlike most of the books here, which are designed for independent reading, this makes an equally enjoyable read aloud.)
Thunder and Cluck
by Jill Esbaum; illus. Miles Thompson
Last year, Simon & Schuster launched a leveled early reading series called “Ready-to-Read Graphics,” where each title begins with tips on deciphering graphic novels for those getting used to this format. The Thunder and Cluck series is classified as “Level 1”—for kids close to but not quite reading on their own—and is another twist on the odd couple friendship, featuring two dinosaurs with larger-than-life personalities. Thunder’s size makes him strong and intimidating, not to mention quick-tempered, but Cluck has smarts on his side, including calling Thunder’s bluff. If Thunder can keep from eating the “funny little featherhead,” the two might not only become great friends—they might be unstoppable! The shenanigans that begin in Friends Do Not Eat Friends continue in The Brave Friend Leads the Way and Smart vs. Strong.
Grumpy Monkey: Freshly Squeezed
by Suzanne Lang; illus. Max Lang
In Freshly Squeezed, the creators of the popular Grumpy Monkey picture books turn their attention to kids ready to read themselves. (Unlike the picture books, this title works best as an independent read.) The fast-moving graphic novel, complete with a little potty talk—after all, humor is the biggest motivator for mastering reading—follows Monkey (ahem, Jim Panzee) on his jungle quest for the perfect Stress Orange (“Squeeze, squeeze, mind at ease”). Only it’s hard to be a Zen master when your jungle is brimming with loudly-crunching gorillas, nosy giraffes, and sneezing birds. Is Monkey really so grumpy that he can’t see the value his eager companions bring? After all, sometimes the fun lies in the journey itself.
As a bonus the chapters are interspersed with facts about primates, a recipe for Frozen Banana Pops, and a guide to speaking Ob.
Narwhal’s School of Awesomeness
by Ben Clanton
You probably don’t need me to tell you that the sixth title in the widely adored Narwhal and Jelly series, Narwhal’s School of Awesomeness, came out a few months ago. But will you allow me a moment to sing its praises? Ben Clanton deftly manages humor, chaos, adorable personalities, a consistent and clean aesthetic, math, and science in his latest storyline, where Narwhal steps up to substitute teach a school of fish. What does Narwhal know about teaching? Absolutely nothing. But not to worry: he gets coaching on the fly by Jelly. The outcome is absurdly perfect: a never-before-tried class on waffles (because Narwhal’s hungry) with some math thrown in (that’s Wafflematics to you). Also, at a time when we need to be thanking our teachers on the daily, you’ll love how Jelly shows his appreciation to Professor Knowell at the end.
Weenie Featuring Frank and Beans: Mad About Meatloaf
by Maureen Fergus; illus. Alexandra Bye
If the canine star of this new series is mad about meatloaf, then I’m mad about him. Even the chapter titles, like “My Darling, My Meatloaf” and “Mortal Enemy in Aisle Three,” are hilarious. Narrated by Weenie the Wiener Dog, with some misplaced support from Frank the Cat and Beans the Guinea Pig, the first half of Mad About Meatloaf is dedicated to Weenie trying to reach the steaming pan of meatloaf that his human has left on the kitchen counter; and the second half is spent trying to make up for the fact that he has gone and eaten his human’s meatloaf. Shall I mention there’s a trench coat disguise and a vicious wolf involved?
by Maggie P. Chang
The Geraldine Pu titles are part of the same “Ready-to-Read Graphics” series as Thunder and Cluck, only these are rated Level 3 because they’re divided into chapters, introduce narration alongside speech bubbles, and boast tougher vocabulary. They also star a multi-faceted protagonist, thereby serving as a reminder that character development isn’t necessarily sacrificed in the graphics format. Geraldine Pu (“her last name rhymes with “two” and “moo”) is a spunky Taiwanese American girl, with a loving family, who learns to defend and celebrate her cultural heritage, even if it means standing up to intolerance.
In Geraldine Pu and Her Lunch Box, Too! Geraldine’s affection for the sticker-decorated lunch box she dubs Biandang is jeopardized by a classmate who spreads a rumor that Geraldine’s curry and tofu lunches are “gross” and “stinky.” It’s not until she watches the same treatment bestowed on a boy of Jamaican heritage that Geraldine finds her voice to stand up for families and the food they love.
Geraldine Pu and Her Cat Hat, Too! continues to explore self-love in a cultural context, this time as our sprightly heroine questions her straight, black hair, then takes drastic measures to try and change it to something “less boring.” Only she doesn’t account for a younger brother intent on always copying what she does!
Magic Tree House the Graphic Novels
adapted by Jenny Laird; illus. Kelly & Nichole Matthews
It’s an unpopular opinion, but I actually don’t care for Mary Pope Osborne’s original Magic Tree House books. Before you get all horrified, let me explain: I know these books have long been successful at getting kids interested in reading, owing to their terrific settings and time-traveling themes. And I don’t mean to undermine that. But, if I’m being honest, the writing is choppy, flat, and plot driven at the expense of character development.
But you know what? Turn these books into graphic novels, and they absolutely shine! The full color pages highlight the action beautifully, and the speech bubbles allow the dialogue to stand on its own. Two titles are out already—Dinosaurs Before Dark and The Knight at Dawn—with the third to follow this June!
The Hunger Heroes: Missed Meal Mayhem
by Jarrett Lerner
Who other than Jarrett Lerner could fashion superheroes out of taco ingredients?! The first in a wildly entertaining new series, bursting with clever word play and riotous banter, The Hunger Heroes: Missed Meal Mayhem stars the “superheroic foursome” of Mr. Toots (bold black bean), Chip Ninja (clever tortilla chip), Tammy (sassy tomato), and Leonard (paranoid cheese wedge). Together, they’re known as the Hunger Heroes. Their mission? Coming to the aid of “hangry” kids—in this case, a boy stuck in Mrs. Sternbladder’s elementary classroom, facing down a math test with an empty stomach from a missed breakfast. The trouble is the heroes’ taco hovercraft can only take them so far. How will our Hunger Heroes get inside the school and past flying dodgeballs, vrooming vacuum cleaners, and Mrs. Sternbladder herself?
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