Picture Books, Comics and Graphic Novels

Introduction

This is a selection of some of the best picture books, comic strips and graphic novels currently available for children aged 10-14. It is by definition a subjective list, but my main selection criteria were quality of text (in terms of words and graphics), suitability of themes (room for plenty of debate there) and likely appeal. I have not included the huge range of Manga comics, as they would be far too numerous to list and to rate, or anything which may be described as the “superhero” genre, simply because I am not very familiar with it and have no great interest in it. Teachers or others looking for these texts should have no difficulty finding them elsewhere. I have limited my selection of comic strip collections to a couple of personal favourites, but obviously there are many more out there – Tintin, Calvin and Hobbes to name a couple – which could just as easily be included. They are in no particular order.

 

dark.jpgThe Dark by Lemony Snicket. Illustrated by Jon Klassen. Orchard Books. Age 10+

A picturebook not to miss. (Children’s Book of the Week) (Sunday Times)

Simply told and evocatively drawn, this is an ideal book to read with young children. (The Scotsman)

A reassuring story for any children who may be afraid of the dark. (Sunday Express)

If ever there was a perfect creative pairing of words and pictures, surely this is it. (Daily Mail)

Thoughtful, perceptive and very reassuring. (Parents In Touch)

Captivating picture book for younger children that is sure to become a library essential in no time. A powerful narrative… evocatively illustrated. There’s really no good reason not to have this on your shelves. (Teach Nursery)

Brilliant. (Little Fiction Fascination)

A powerful and moving tale which will entertain and encourage others to fight their fear of the dark. (Bury Free Press)

Any child afraid of the dark will find solace in this elegant fable about everyday bravery. Beautiful images… charming text… a story as simple as it is timeless. (Financial Times)


boy

Little Boy Brown by Isobel Harris and André Francois. Enchanted Lion Books. Age 10+

This is the story of a four-year-old boy living with his well-to-do mother and father in a Manhattan hotel, in which the elevator connects straight to the subway tunnel below the building and plugs right into the heart of the city. And yet Little Boy Brown, whose sole friends are the doormen and elevator operators, feels woefully lonely — until, one day, his hotel chambermaid Hilda invites him to visit her house outside the city, where he blossoms into a new sense of belonging. A magnificent ode to childhood and loneliness, easily the greatest ode to childhood and loneliness ever written. Originally published in 1949, this timeless story has stirred the hearts of generations.  

holeThe Hole by Oyvind Torseter. Enchanted Lion Books. Age 10+

After unloading his moving boxes and making himself breakfast, our main character suddenly notices a hole clear through the kitchen wall leading into the laundry room, but when he goes into the laundry room to investigate, the hole isn’t where it was but has moved. As he goes back into the kitchen the hole moves again from the wall to the floor. He is perplexed by these strange events, so calls a science lab to tell him more. They tell him to bring in the hole so they can examine it. After a while he succeeds in capturing the hole in one of his used cardboard boxes and takes it to the lab, where they exam it. They tell him to leave it so they can do a more thorough examination of it. He goes home to wait for the final verdict as to what the hole may mean, how it got there and why it keeps moving around. But lo and behold when he gets home, what does he find but?????

Hugo

The Invention of Hugo Cabret by Brian Selznick. Scholastic. Age 10+

The story takes place in the early days of the Depression in Paris. Hugo Cabret is a 12-year-old boy who loses his parents and is taken in by his uncle, a timekeeper in a railway station. The uncle makes Hugo do all of the work, but won’t even feed Hugo who has to turn to stealing in order to eat. When the uncle disappears, Hugo is left to fend for himself. But Hugo has a dream. He will repair an automaton (an early type of robot) that he rescued from a museum fire. The experience of reading the story is much like following a labyrinth in a haunted castle: it’s always unclear where we are headed, but the trip itself seems quite rewarding. The black-and-white images nicely capture the mood of the characters and of the times as many noir films did in using lots of light and shadow. In fact, the images here could be story boards for a motion picture.

snow white

Snow White in New York by Fiona French. OUP Oxford. Age 11+

“Once upon a time in New York there was a poor little rich girl called Snow White. Her mother was dead and for a while she lived happily with her father. But one day he married again…” A wonderful update on a fairytale favourite, a terrific way of introducing the 1920’s style and a great jumping off point for discussion and project work in geography, art and design, music- playing different instruments, listening to jazz music, history- how people used to live and dress, food tech- designing and making ‘mock- tails’, literacy- invitations and group work on planning an event (the wedding) and much more. Winner of the Kate Greenaway Medal.

wolvesThe Wolves in the Walls by Neil Gaiman and D McKean. Bloomsbury. Age 12+

When Lucy hears noises from behind the wall she tries to warn her parents that there are wolves banging about. But her parents don’t listen. When the wolves finally take over the house and Lucy and her family are evicted to live in the garden, her parents realise perhaps they should have listened. But Lucy is no shrinking violet and eventually she talks her family into moving back into the once-wolfish walls, where they peek out at the wolves who are watching their television and spilling popcorn on slices of toast and jam, dashing up the stairs and wearing their clothes. When the family can’t stand it anymore, they burst forth from the walls, scaring the wolves, who shout “And when the people come out of the walls, it’s all over!” The wolves flee and everything goes back to normal…until the tidy ending when Lucy hears “a noise that sounded exactly like an elephant trying not to sneeze”.

Harris

The Mysteries of Harris Burdick by Chris van Allsburg. Houghton Mifflin Juvenile Books. Age 10+

It’s hard to say you have `read’ this book because it’s a collection of images that create a story in your mind. It presents a series of loosely related drawings each accompanied by a title and a caption which the reader may use to make up his or her own story.  The drawings are superb and each caption raises all sorts of questions, sparking off a discussion as to what the story could be. A truly fantastic resource for teachers as a writing stimulus for children, the unusual, thought provoking, black and white sketches along with their mysterious quotations inspire writers of all ages. The best part of the book is the “mysterious” letter on the opening page that explains the existence…and the mystery of the pictures.

ChineseAmerican Born Chinese by Gene Luen Yang. First Second. Age 12+

Three seemingly unrelated stories blend into a memorable tale of growing up Chinese American. The book begins with the ancient fable of the Monkey King, the proud leader of the monkeys. He is punished for entering the god’s dinner party by being buried under a mountain for five hundred years. Second is the story of Jin Wang, the son of immigrants struggling to retain his Chinese identity while longing to be more Americanized. The final story is that of Cousin Chin-Kee, an amalgamation of the worst Chinese stereotypes. Chin-Kee yearly visits his all-American cousin Danny, causing so much embarrassment that Danny must change schools. The final chapter unifies the three tales into one version of what it means to be American-born Chinese.

Hercules: Bampots and Heroes by Mathew Fitt. Itchy Coo. Age 10+

herculesZeus, high-held-yin o the gods and held-bummer o the universe, had a son and he cawed this son Hercules… When the mighty Hercules commits a terrible murder, his father, Zeus, punishes him by making him the slave of his step-brother Eurystheus. To win his freedom back, Hercules must perform twelve seemingly impossible tasks or trauchles. Hercules has to use all his strength and cunning to defeat terrible creatures, like the Lion of Nemea and the Bull of Crete, but not even he believes he can journey to Hades, the underworld, and come back alive with the fearsome fufty-heidit dug Cerberus. Matthew Fitt’s rich but familiar Scots will delight young readers and draw them into the ancient world of gods, monsters and mortal combat. Vividly enhanced by Bob Dewar’s energy-packed illustrations, Hercules is a perfect way to encourage children to read a sustained piece of Scots prose and also to introduce them to one of the greatest stories of all time.

Stormbreaker by Anthony Horowitz. Walker Books Ltd. Age 12+

Orphastormbreakern Alex thought he knew his Uncle Ian Rider–until the elusive banker is killed in a tragic car accident. Immediately, Alex’s life starts to get stranger by the day as his guardian’s friends and colleagues start showing up and contradicting everything Alex thought he knew about the man he’d called Dad for so long. Maybe Ian Rider was not a banker after all? Surely the bullet holes in his Uncle’s totalled car reveal that he had not died in an accident, but was murdered? Everything is explained when Alex decides to track down Ian Rider’s real employers, but Alex is in for a surprise when they decide to contact him. The truth is hard to take, but maybe by following in his uncle’s secret footsteps he might get the chance for revenge.

kidnapped

Kidnapped by Robert Louis Stevenson. Adapted by Alan Grant and illustrated by Cam Kennedy. Walker Books Ltd. Age 11+

It is 1751, Scotland has suffered a time of uncertainty and rebellion, and young David Balfour is alone and penniless in the world. He doesn’t realise that a letter from his dead father is about to launch him on the most frightening, exciting and incredible adventure of his life. As he sets out to find an uncle he didn’t know existed, David has no idea that he will narrowly escape being murdered – that a fortune is rightfully his – that he will be kidnapped and thrown from one escapade to another in the company of the dynamic master-swordsman and fugitive, Alan Breck. Together, they must make a dramatic and extraordinary journey across Scotland so that Davie can claim his rightful inheritance. This is an epic story of adventure, friendship, murder and revenge!

king kongKing Kong by Anthony Browne. Picture Corgi. Age 10+

“It was Beauty that killed the Beast”. King Kong is a giant gorilla, a massive monster of an ape, who lives on a remote island. The mighty beast falls for a beautiful girl, Ann Darrow, and desperate to have her, he finds himself lured into captivity. He is brought to civilization and put on show, but when he sees Ann, he breaks his heavy chains and begins to wreak havoc on the streets of New York …The enthralling story of King Kong, involves battles with dinosaurs, daring rescues and incredible escapes – endless thrills lead up to one of the most famous climaxes of all time!
And the text does not compromise the story or patronise younger readers. This is no simple picture book, but a well told, exciting adventure story, as gripping as the original.

rabbitsThe Rabbits by John Marsden and Shaun Tan. Simply Read Books. Age 12+

Bestselling author, Marsden, has created a dramatically moving allegory of colonisation told from the perspective of native animals, in this stunningly illustrated volume. Examining the consequences of the arrival of a group of rabbits with unfamiliar ways, the story shows how colonisation can result in the domination of the environment and its other inhabitants. A thought-provoking book, it earned its author and illustrator the CBCA Picture Book of the Year.

The illustrations are stunning. They vary from heavy oil-paint style – to almost comic colourful diagrams. They are wonderful representations of natural landscapes, and  their significance to those living in them, as well as the cities and technologies that are built upon them.

sad

Sad Book by Michael Rosen and Quentin Blake. Walker Books Ltd. Age 10+

We all have sad stuff – maybe you have some right now, as you read this. What makes Michael Rosen most sad is thinking about his son, Eddie, who died of meningitis at the age of 19 . In this book he writes about his sadness, how it affects him and some of the things he does to try to cope with it. Whether or not you have known what it’s like to feel really deeply sad, its truth will surely touch you.
Loss, immense emotions, pain, are hard things to explain to a child, but sadly they often find themselves trying to understand such things at any age. A book which would not always be appropriate for all children at the same age and one which would need to be handled sensitively.

ratSmelling a Rat by Paul Wright. Jonathan Cape Ltd. Age 11+

Trevor Gristle lives in Merton with his mum and dad and sister. He lives in a world of his own, dreaming of superheroes, and his stories are not always believed by his family. So when he returns home one day with a giant seven-foot-tall insatiably greedy spotted rat called Ratman, Trevor is over the moon and the rest of the Gristles for once are forced to believe him. From this starting point, Paul Wright tells and illustrates a brilliantly funny and surreal tale.

Paul Wright is an illustrator, painter and college lecturer. He is well-known for his book jackets and has won many awards. His character Ratman initially appeared as a comic strip in The Times.

emily

Emily the Strange by Cosmic Debris etc. Chronicle Books. Age 12+

Meet Emily, the 13-year-old with a wit of fire and a posse of slightly sinister black cats. Famous for her barbed commentary and independent spirit, this diminutive black, white, and red character has spawned an internet and merchandising phenomenon. Emily the Strange, her first book, captures the essential Emily, featuring her most beloved quips and host of new ones. So much more than a comic strip, this little girl with a big personality appeals to the odd child in us all.
Emily the Strange is created by Rob Reger and his company, Cosmic Debris Inc., based in San Francisco. Rob and his co-illustrators began their Emily drawings in 1992 in Santa Cruz, and they were a hit with the local skateboarding crowd before taking over the west coast. A book with few words but likely to appeal to anyone who thinks they too are a bit out of the ordinary.

ethelEthel & Ernest by Raymond Briggs. Jonathan Cape. Age 12+

Raymond Briggs has used his parents in his work before but this tribute to ordinary lives–no affairs, no illness before the end, no regrets–is inevitably a very personal work, but also serves as a fascinating social history. From when they meet as milkman and parlour maid, through the Depression, second world war, childbirth (Briggs himself gets a particularly good cameo role in the sixties, replete with magnificent sideburns), old age and death, we see a world in rapid flux while Ethel and Earnest’s loving relationship remains resolutely stable. The drawings are characteristically tender–the scene when his dead mother lies on a hospital trolley is particularly moving–and the simple text gives more than a taste of these people and the times they lived through.

fungusFungus the Bogeyman by Raymond Briggs. Puffin. Age 10+

Life in Bogeydom is full of snot, smells, slime, scum and other unspeakable things, and Bogeymen live under the ground revelling in all the nastiness imaginable. Briggs has created a whole new world in this sophisticated cartoon-strip picture book for older children which will entice the most reluctant of readers into books. The book is filled with visual and literary gags, e.g. hidden on Mildrew’s bathroom shelf there’s ‘FemStench’ perfume which is real Eau de Toilete (toilet water), plus you finally find out what Great Aunt Ada Doom of Cold Comfort Farm really saw in the woodshed as a child (and yes it was something nasty). This book would be of interest to any kid over 7, boys might go for it at an earlier age than girls – although be warned it’s not suitable for sensitive parents.

frankFrankenstein by Mary Shelley. Adapted by Jason Cobley. Classical Comics. Age 12+

More than a straightforward retelling, this edition invites readers to explore important social issues such as alienation, the consequences and ethics of scientific studies, as well as the nature of creation and destruction. Excellent lettering enhances the narrative without distracting from the images. An especially nice feature is the use of boldface to highlight key words and phrases. A table of contents, based on the original three-volume edition, helps readers follow the story’s progression. Back matter includes a biography of Shelley, a description of the novel’s origin and history, and a clear description of comic-page creation for this remarkable edition. Reluctant readers who start with the Quick TextA” will probably be enticed to try the Original TextA” and continue to explore this exquisite rendition of a gothic classic.

window

Window by Jeannie Baker. Walker Books Ltd. Age 10+

A wordless, visually compelling look at our changing environment. A mother and baby look through a window at a view of wilderness and sky as far as the eye can see. With each page, the boy grows and the scene changes. At first, in a clear patch of forest, a single house appears. A few years pass and there is a village in the distance. By the time the boy is twenty, the village has developed into a city. The young man gets married, has a child of his own and moves to the country, where father and child look through the window of their new home at the undeveloped wilderness outside. Illustrated with elaborate and gorgeous collage construction. This is a book which could be used as a stimulus for writing or simply for discussion.

zoomZoom by Istvan Banyai. Puffin. Age 10+

Another “text” which has no words. Istvan Banyai’s first book proves to be a strange animal in the world of children’s literature. His work features vivid images that effortlessly pull the reader into a  thoughtful progression, as each image turns out to be only a fragment of a larger picture. This is a book that has to be seen, no, experienced, to be understood, although the term “reader” is slightly inappropriate. Banyai’s book has no text, which heightens the individual significance of each image. The book is definitely cosmopolitan, ranging from metropolitan to Polynesian images. One of the great things about this book is that is not exclusively or even definitely for children. A stimulus for discussion or creative writing.

oyster boyThe Melancholy Death of Oyster Boy by Tim Burton. Faber and Faber. Age 14+

This is a beautifully produced book filled with fine line drawings–many in colour–illustrating 23 small verse stories which all centre on a surreal deformity–the eponymous Oyster Boy, Stain Boy, The Boy with Nails in his Eyes, Junk Girl, The Pin Cushion Queen…The tales are all quietly disturbing. As with Burton’s cinematic work (Edward Scissorhands and Nightmare Before Christmas) the book seems aimed at children but the subtexts feel too disquieting. This however is where Burton’s genius lies. Children are outcasts in the adult world and their own notion of what is important, grave, frightening and odd is different to ours.  As dark and unsettling as the fairy tales of the Brothers Grimm.

peanuts

The Complete Peanuts by Charles M Shultz. Canongate. Age 10+

“Peanuts” is the most popular comic strip in the history of the world. Its characters – Charlie Brown, Snoopy, Lucy, Linus, Schroeder, and so many more – have become dearly loved icons for generation after generation. Now Charles Schulz’s classic, “Peanuts”, is reprinted in its entirety for the first time. Children can sympathise with Charlie Brown, perpetual loser and child philosopher, and with his ever-faithful but more worldly-wise mutt, Snoopy. Many of the strips from the series’ first two or three years have never been collected before, in large part because they showed a young Schulz working out the kinks in his new strip. They include some characterizations and designs that are quite different from the cast we all know. And Snoopy debuts as a puppy! A beautiful book to pick up and hold.

Tuesday

Tuesday by David Weisner. Houghton Mifflin Juvenile Books. Age 10+

Tuesday is a wordless fantasy of people, animals, and plants that allows you to supply your own story. As such, it will provide endless opportunities discussion, prediction and interaction. What really is going on? What does it mean? What will happen next Tuesday? The book is illustrated very much like a graphic novel but without words. The book does have a few indicators of time and day of the week, that provide the minimal connection to reality needed to launch the story into space. The book uses vibrant colors, done in a low-key way. Stylistically, it is a take-off on the science fiction and super hero genres in pictures. You will be laughing out loud when you see what the frogs are up to. You will also enjoy the visual puns on textless pages.

Way Home by Libby Hathorn and Gregory Rogers. Andersen Press Ltd.way home Age 10+

It’s night and the dark is filled with strange sounds as Shane makes his way home. On a fence he finds a stray cat that at first growls and spits at him. But Shane talks and strokes the kitten to calmness, and decides to take the ‘Spitfire, Kitten Number One,’ home with him. No gang of boys, or avenue of dense traffic, or fierce dog can stop Shane carrying his new found friend to the place he calls home. Libby Hathorn is Australian. She read voraciously as a child, and the beach and the bush have had a big influence on her. Greg Rogers was born in 1957 in Brisbane, Australia. He studied Fine Art at the Queensland College of Art, and his sensitive use of charcoal and pastel create Shane and his cat in splendid city-at-night time scenes. The perfect stimulus for discussion or creative writing.

frank

Frank by Jim Woodring. Fantagraphics. Age 14+

Are the Frank stories fables, allegories or dreams? Is Frank a cat, a dog or something in between? The reader of The Frank Book will be left with these questions and more upon finishing this lavish,  350-page book. On a level of pure imagination, it is hard to think of any creatures as fully formed yet bizarre as those populating this work–oddities like the geometrical Jerry Chickens, the mischief-making, moon-faced Whim and Frank’s toaster-shaped companion Pupshaw. To open the book is to step into a universe as thoroughly realised and magical as Oz (although The Frank Book, with its occasional scenes of brutality, may not be suitable for younger children). As Francis Ford Coppola observes in his introduction, even at their most oblique the Frank adventures carry with them “a subtle sense of resolution, letting us now that in Woodring’s world the equation has been thoroughly worked out and presented, and that the results are worth understanding”.

The ArrivalArrival by Shaun Tan. Hodder Children’s Books. Age 12+

This book is worth it for the strength and beauty of the drawings alone, but it also tells a moving, compelling story. It captures well that first encounter with a new country, the “arrival” when one is geting to know a new place, new language, new foods and trying to make sense of it all. Is this world safer than the one you’ve left behind? What dangers forced you to leave? The reader doesn’t understand this world either, can’t read its language, doesn’t recognise its animals or know how its machines work. We aren’t sure what is safe and what is not. We would like to believe the world is benign, but we don’t know, and there seem infinite possiblities for things to go wrong. In this tension, it also captures the importance of the kindness of strangers and of fellow immigrants, whose sometimes painful back-stories are conveyed beautifully and concisely in one or two pages of images.

wireThe Man Who Walked Between the Towers by Mordicai Gerstein. Square Fish. Age 10+

On an otherwise normal day in August 1974, a young Frenchman pulled off what may be the most impressive wire-walking exhibition in history. New York City’s early commuters looked up to the almost-completed World Trade Center towers to see a man, experienced aerialist Phillippe Petit, walking back and forth across them on a wire. This amazing (albeit highly illegal) achievement has now been immortalized in impressive ink and oil paintings in Mordicai Gerstein in The Man Who Walked Between the Towers. Alongside the artwork is the story, economically told, of Petit’s dream and the manner in which he made it come true.

The Lost Thing by Shaun Tan. Orchard. Age 10+lost thing

A boy out collecting bottletops stumbles upon a strange creature whose body is enclosed in a metal case that looks like a discarded piece of machinery. He then finds a newspaper advertisement posted by the federal department of odds and ends. Their motto is ‘sweepus underum carpetae.’ He decides to hand the thing over to the department but a cleaner there tells him that if he really cares about the thing then he shouldn’t leave it there because ‘this is a place for forgetting, leaving behind, smoothing over.’ The cleaner directs him to a side street depicted in a picture which places the viewer behind the pipes and cogs which form part of an unidentified machine in the foreground while the thing and the boy stand before a ‘dark little gap’ below. The boy is dwarfed both by the thing and by the city which surrounds them, giving us a sense of its all encompassing giganticism. A modern fable of city life.

maus

Maus by Art Spiegelman. Penguin. Age 14+

Combining Maus I: A Survivor’s Tale – My Father Bleeds History and Maus II – And Here My Troubles Began, the complete story of Vladek Spiegelman and his wife, living and surviving in Hitler’s Europe. By addressing the horror of the Holocaust through cartoons, the author captures the everyday reality of fear and is able to explore the guilt, relief and extraordinary sensation of survival – and how the children of survivors are in their own way affected by the trials of their parents.. On first inspection, a comic strip depicting the suffering of the Holocaust through the use of  cat and mice seems to trivialise the enormity of the events. However, the moment you begin to read the Maus collection, you are drawn into an incredible world, the world of the Holocaust, and become part of it. The mice become as real to the reader as their own family, the Nazi cats as terrifying as any living nightmare. A contemporary classic of immeasurable significance.

Coraline by Neil Gaiman. Bloomsbury. Age 12+

Shortly after moving into an old house with strange tenants above and below, Coraline discovers a big, carved, brown wooden door at the far corner of the drawing room. And it is locked. Curiosity runs riot in Coraline’s mind and she unlocks the door to see what lies behind it. Disappointingly, it opens onto a brick wall. Days later, after exploring the rest of the house and garden, Coraline returns to the same mysterious door and opens it again. This time, however, there is a dark hallway in front of her. Stepping inside, the place beyond has an eerie familiarity about it. The carpet and wallpaper are the same as in her flat. The picture hanging on the wall is the same. Almost. Strangest of all, her mum and dad are there too. Only they have buttons for eyes and seem more possessive than normal. It’s a twisted version of her world that is familiar, and yet sinister. And matters get even more surreal for Coraline when her “other” parents seem reluctant to let her leave.

The Time Machine by H.G. Wells (Re-told by Terry Davis). Stone Arch Books. Age 10+

A scientist invents a machine that he claims will travel through time. His friends, however, laugh at the idea. So the time traveller climbs aboard his machine and ends up thousands of years in the future where he meets a race of gentle humans called the Eloi. But the time traveller is swept up in a fight for his life against evil underground creatures known as Morlocks. Even worse, his time machine, the only chance of escape, is trapped deep inside the Morlock caverns. Terry Davis has reimagined H.G. Wells’ classic novel with a delightful simplicity that remains faithful to the original while still appealing to a young modern audience.

Macbeth by William Shakespeare (Plain Text). Classical Comics. Age 12+

The complete play translated into plain English. It’s 11th century Scotland. Macbeth, Thane of Glamis, is one of King Duncan’s greatest war captains. Upon returning from a battle with the rebellious Thane of Cawdor, Macbeth and Banquo encounter three witches, who prophecy that Macbeth will become Thane of Cawdor and then King. They also prophecy that Banquo will become the father of kings. When Lady Macbeth hears this, she is determined to push her husband to take fate into his own hands and make himself king by murdering Duncan. Macbeth is reluctant to harm Duncan. But, when the King makes arrangements to visit Macbeth’s castle, the opportunity presents itself. Pressed on by his wife, Macbeth kills Duncan and blames the King’s drunken attendants, whom he also kills. Scotland is plunged into a tyrannical period of darkness before order is finally restored. The play is also available in Original Text and Quick Text versions.
Children of the Sea Volume 1 byDaisuke Igarashi. Viz Media. Age 11+

As a young girl, Ruka sees a fish turn into light and disappear at the aquarium where her father works, but no one believes her. Years later, the mystery of the ghost of the sea unfolds before Ruka and a pair of weird young lads, Umi and Sora. Both boys (who have spent most of their lives in the ocean) can hear the same strange calls from the sea that Ruka does. The kids gradually become involved in a worldwide mystery of disappearing fish.There is a mysterious and mildly supernatural feel to everything and the pacing of the book is fairly slow, reflecting the long summer days of a sea-side town, far removed from the bustle of city life.

Omega the Unknown by Jonathan Lethem. Marvel Comics. Age 14+

The story revolves around a teenage boy whose robot parents are killed in a car crash, leading to his adoption by a nurse living in New York’s Hells Kitchen. Having been entirely homeschooled and more or less isolated from the world, the emotionless and unsocialized kid has to come to terms with his environment, as well as with his strange dreams about a mysterious alien superhero who battles robots. Meanwhile, the reader is introduced to the mute superhero and his apparently neverending battle with a race of mysterious robots. Of course, the paths of the boy and the superhero cross, and their fates intersect with that of a self-promoting slimy superhero called “The Mink.” His agenda is entirely unclear, as is that of a mysterious sect which seems to be infecting the population with a nanotech virus which turns everyone into robots.

I Kill Giants by Joe Kelly and Jim Ken Niimura. Image Comics. Age 12+

Barbara Thorson is a new kind of hero. A quick-witted, sharp-tongued high school student who isn’t afraid of anything. Why would she be? After all, she’s the only girl in the school who carries an ancient Norse warhammer in her purse and kills giants for a living…..At least, that’s what she’ll tell you, but where does the fantasy end and reality begin in the heart of this troubled teenager? More importantly, what if she’s telling the truth? This critically acclaimed graphic novel is a quirky, bittersweet story of a young girl struggling to conquer monsters both real and imagined as her carefully constructed world crumbles at the feet of giants bigger than any one child can handle.

The Amulet of Samarkand (A Bartimaeus Novel) by Jonathan Stroud and Andrew Dorkin. Corgi Books. Age 12+

Nathaniel, a young magician’s apprentice, has revenge on his mind. Desperate to defy his master and take on more challenging spells, he secretly summons the 5000-year-old djinni, Bartimaeus. But Bartimaeus’s task is not an easy one – he must steal the powerful Amulet of Samarkand from Simon Lovelace, a master magician of unrivalled ruthlessness and ambition. Before long, Bartimaeus and Nathaniel are caught up in a terrifying flood of intrigue, rebellion and murder. This is a beautifully drawn and coloured graphic adaptation of a popular novel which will appeal particularly to sophisticated young readers with a sense of humour.

The Christmas Truce by Carol Ann Duffy. Picador. Age 10+

Carol Ann Duffy’s poem The Christmas Truce, illustrated by David Roberts, about the night in the First World War in which British and German soldiers sang carols and played football in no man’s land, is a wonderful story beautifully re-told. It is the night before Christmas and in the First World War trenches the British and German troops declare a temporary truce, during which they play football, sing carols and exchange stories. This is a sentimentalised account of a real event, though not without realism, the imagery and the illustrations combining to paint a vivid picture of mankind’s ultimate humanity even in times of conflict.

Tales From Outer Suburbia by Shaun Tan. Templar. Age 12+

Not only are readers presented with tales inspired by humour and often bizarre events, but they are also treated to unique, eye-catching artwork with each story. One story, titled “Stick Figures,” asks readers to imagine twig-like creatures that roam the neighbourhoods. Their stick bodies and sod heads are magical and mysterious.  “Distant Rain” is created on bits and scraps of paper. It presents the idea that all the snippets, phrases, and sound bytes people encounter daily might all blend together in a massive ball like bits and pieces of poetry. “A vast accumulation of papery bits that ultimately takes to the air, levitating by the sheer force of so much unspoken emotion” will have readers appreciating the written and spoken word on a whole new level.

17 thoughts on “Picture Books, Comics and Graphic Novels

  1. Bill,
    This is a great list and I’d be lying if I was to say I’d heard of all of them.

    I’d also recommend Maus as an all time classic, and given you have a couple of adaptations already, I really like the Manga Shakespeare series, especially the supporting materials and associated Ning.

    Not really a graphic novel as such, you should cast your eyes over Inanimate Alice… multiple uses and areas for investigation and study… and also some excellent support materials…

    Thanks for sharing!

  2. Thanks for that Neil. Given the immediate feedback I will add Maus to the list and have a look at the Manga Shakespeare. Inanimate Alice is certainly interesting as well – had a brief look at it a wee while ago but maybe it’s time to look at it again. It struck me that it really was a new genre of multi-modal text, somewhere between a film, a book and a computer game? Some interesting things happening generally with the conventions of “texts” and “reading”.

    Bill

  3. Hello Bill
    What a great list you have here. Thanks for sharing this with us all. Have you looked at Marjane Satrapi’s Persepolis: The Story of a Childhood? A childhood growing up in Iran helps personalise recent history. I think there is a film in the pipeline too (maybe …).
    Judine

    • Hi Judine,
      Yes, I have the book but I haven’t seen the film yet. The only reason I didn’t include it on the list was my reservation about its suitability for anyone below the age of fifteen. There will always be some debate about classifying texts by age but sometimes you have to make a call. It’s only my recommendation of course.
      Thanks for visiting.
      Bill

  4. Bill,
    Good list!
    The graphic novel version of Coraline by Neil Gaiman is worth a look. Very creepy but suitable for younger readers. I tried it out with some S2 pupils who enjoyed reading it. It won the Eisner award this year (or last?) in its category.
    Also- have you seen this site?

    http://graphicclassroom.blogspot.com/
    Steve

  5. Thanks for that Steve. I was aware of the graphic novel version of Coraline, and in fact I had a link to it on the front page of my blog for a while, so I can’t think why I didn’t add it to the list – I will now though! Somebody on Twitter had a link to the Graphic Classroom website and I added it to my bookmarks – great stuff.

    Best rgds
    Bill

  6. Thanks Jon. I’d be interested to know how dyslexic readers respond to graphic novels, especially when the sequencing is not obvious, as in ‘Jimmy Corrigan: The Smartest Kid on Earth’ where the panels are of varying sizes and there are pages within pages.

    Bill

  7. Great list, lots of things I’ve not read there. Upper Primary kids love Asterix books. And so do their teachers! On the manga front, there are manga versions of the Studio Ghibli films which are pretty good if you want a way in there. Many of the films were adapted from manga originals.
    But, what do you mean you don’t like superheroes??? Have you read anything by Alan Moore? If Maus is the cerebral comic book its okay to like (and quite rightly so) then Watchmen is its twisted twin brother superhero equivalent.
    Raymond Briggs is amazing. When the Wind Blows, I think, is in a league of its own and the artwork in the original The Snowman is stunning.

  8. Thanks again Athole. I didn’t quite say I don’t like superheroes, only that I have no great interest in them! I love the style of Raymond Briggs – especially Ethel and Ernest which is one of those books which makes you feel as if you are ‘inside’ it as you read. Always willing to try something new so I will check out Watchmen soon.
    Cheers
    Bill

  9. Hi Bill,

    Have been enjoying your blog for several months now. Very glad to see your list of graphic novels and more importantly picture books. Too often they are ignored once students reach the upper grades.

    Just read the Classical Comics version of MacBeth. Liked it a lot. Reading the comic and watching the Flocabulary video rap of it provided a very useful combo. Looking forward to sharing them with students next year.

    Have you done much with students creating their own Inanimate Alice stories? I’ve only found students using PPT instead of Flash.

    Cheers,

    Tom

  10. Hi Tom,
    Thanks for your kind comments, and glad to hear of your interest in the graphic novels and picture books. I have not been working directly with students for a few years now, but usually with teachers and organisations. In terms of Inanimate Alice, I presume when you mention PPT you are aware of the aliceandfriends wiki set up by Margo Edgar and Kate Story. The only place you may find flash-based student versions of Alice episodes is via Jess Laccetti’s blog ( http://www.engl-102.blogspot.com/) – Jess was responsible for writing the educational resources on the Inanimate Alice website.

    Best wishes
    Bill

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