Saturday, June 11, 2011

Some New Graphic Novels

I love graphic novels, even though they often take me longer to read than normal novels.  With graphic novels, I get caught up in the illustrations, examining them panel by panel and then as a complete page.  I check the backgrounds for clues, hints of back story, and little secrets.  If you're confused by the format of a graphic novel, or would like to know the difference between Manga, comics, and graphic novels, or are really interested in form, I'd suggest picking up a copy of Scott McCloud's Understanding Comics: The Invisible Art.  This book, itself a graphic novel, explains the terms, conventions, and history of the comic form and is an interesting and engaging read.  For any student having difficulty convincing a teacher of the merits and importance of graphic novels, this is a book to add to your arsenal.  But whether you've yet to pick up a graphic novel or are looking for something new, here are some graphic novels to try. 

Page by Paige
by Laura Lee Gulledge
Amulet, Abrams (on shelves now)
When Paige Turner (her parents are writers) moves from Virginia to Brooklyn, she feels lost and alone. Her first companion in this new place is her sketchbook. It is through her relationship with her sketchbook, and the drawings, doodles, and messes she makes, that she comes to learn about herself. With the support of her new friends (and boyfriend) Paige begins to define her identity and her home, while learning how to support her friends in turn. Ages 14+

Super Amoeba No. 1: Squish
By Jennifer L. Holm & Matthew Holm
Random House (on shelves now)
Let me just start off by saying my favorite graphic novel series for the 2nd-3rd grade crowd is Lunch Lady- hands down. But what do you give the kids who have exhausted that series? Squish is a great option, especially for teachers. Setting: a world much like our own, where kids read comic books, dream of being super heroes, and there’s always a class bully. The Catch: this world is populated entirely by amoebas. That’s right, our protagonist is a single-celled organism. The opening pages introduce amoebas, giving basic scientific facts that the narrator warns, “You’ll be tested on this someday so you’d better be paying attention.” And, most kids will be tested on this someday. So, fun graphic novel with a side dish of biology facts, what’s not to like? Arrows throughout the book contain snarky narrator comments for some additional humor. Ages 8+

Around the World
by Matt Phelan
Candlewick, October 11, 2011
Many local teachers have been using graphic novelizations of classic stories in their classrooms. Phelan's Around the World, though fiction, is grounded in historical fact and quotes from primary sources, proving an exciting base for history lessons or a path to the exploration of non-fiction. Phelan's book presents three famous individuals who each circumnavigated in the world in his or own way: Thomas Steves by bicycle, Nellie Bly by ship and rail, and Joshua Slocum by sail boat. The pacing and speed of each journey are captured by the graphic novel lay-out, which serves to combine writing, image, maps, and other materials, each adding a layer to the reader's understanding of the journey. Sprightly line drawings and colorful washes capture the emotion and drive of each character, bringing a rush of thrilling speed to each adventure. Ages 10+

Patrick in A Teddy Bear’s Picnic & other stories
by Geoffrey Hayes
Toon Books, Candlewick (on shelves now)
Toon Books are leveled beginning readers that use a comic book format. Comics, like true picturebooks, rely on both words and pictures in tandem to tell a story, allowing strength in one to foster comprehension in the other. Beginning readers will bond with Patrick, a little bear who knows that life is much too interesting for naps. Patrick’s adventures, run-ins with the frightening Big Bear, and family life are similar to the experiences of many children, yet hold many delightfully silly moments. Geoffrey Hayes packs Patrick with four stories- call the last three a sweet reward for making it all the way through the first one! Ages 4+

Zita the Spacegirl by Ben Hatke
First Second (on shelves now)
One day while Zita and her friend Joseph are walking, they come across a small crater. Inside is a strange device, and Zita, being an adventurous button-pusher, hits it. A vortex opens and something reaches out to grab Joseph. Luckily, Zita is a good friend, so she hits the button again and disappears into the vortex after Joseph, only to land in an alien world. What follows are the adventures of Zita as she tries to find Joseph and return to Earth- before an asteroid destroys the planet she’s on, that is.

Though characterization can sometimes suffer in plot-driven graphic novels, Ben Hatke has managed to create a number of multi-faceted, dimensional characters. The Piper, who initially helps Zita, is not good or bad, rather self-protecting. Zita, too, isn’t without her flaws. Though she is brave, she is also stubborn and impulsive, yet stilling caring enough to draw helpful misfits to her.

We find a resolution at the end, but I can’t help but wish the next installment of Zita’s fabulous adventures were waiting on a shelf for me today. Middle grade readers, especially those who love Bone will fall in love with Zita the Spacegirl. Me? I'm happy to see a strong young female on character join the graphic novel shelf. Ages 8+

Anya’s Ghost 
by Vera Brosgol
First Second (on shelves now) 
Anya's Ghost is a wonderful coming of age graphic novel. The twists and the turns of the story pulled me in for a one-sitting read. Anya's experiences of frustration, both because of her immigrant background and the usual difficulties of not fitting in at school, are accessible to all YA readers- for who hasn't felt alienated at one point or another? However, the layer of Anya's familial background adds depth to the story. Each twist and turn of the story is adeptly foreshadowed, creating a richly spooky story that will have readers frantically turning pages (unless, like me, you have to stop and remark about how beautifully composed certain panels are). Ages 14+

by Barry Lyga  
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, November 2011
A Manga boy falls from his fictional world into the world of a realistic high school graphic novel.  What follows is an unlikely romance and an exploration of the differences between graphic styles.  My favorite parts of this novel are the more metafictive elements- being hurt by motion lines, having thoughts actually appear over Mangaman's head, and movement between frames.  Teen manga lovers will enjoy the comics-geeks-only humor. With its exploration of eastern versus western storytelling techniques the book also has a place in classrooms, perhaps as a visual example of portions of Scott McCloud's Understanding Comics. Ages 14+

-Marika McCoola

No comments: