There has been a LOT of children’s book world talk about Rebecca Mead in the New Yorker dissing (somewhat) Rick Riordan’s Percy Jackson books (especially PJ’s guide to the Greek Gods) and her assertions regarding ‘good’ vs ‘bad’ reading have been countered by many and wiser others Neil Gaiman for example, here.) Lord only knows what Mead and others like her would think of her kids reading comics. My first attempt at running a school book group with 9-11 year olds, about half each boys and girls. Our first topic was comics and graphic novels and what a hit it was!. Speculative fiction and comics go together like fish and chips or bacon and eggs of course, since the dawn of the superhero. But the rise of the single-creator art comic, the popularity of graphic novels among adults and many new non-fiction graphic treatments have given this sleazy old broad of a genre a new respectability. Teachers use comics in classrooms, graphic novels receive major literary awards…but does genre snobbery still exist? Are historical, biographical and ‘literary’ comics privileged over science fiction and fantasy topics? Well, yes. And perhaps at school in the classroom, this is as it should be. Schools have limited budgets after all. But in the book group I wanted books that would engage all kinds of children with all sorts of genre preferences, so I’ve included these new, fabulous and amazing comics, graphic novels and manga which are all very much in the spec fic category:
Foiled Jane Yolen and Mike Cavallero Girl with sword fantasy. Great story, inclusive and questioning of tropes and stereotypes, beautiful use of colour to evoke a magical world. I see some of the Good Reads reviews are mixed but I loved this. Take up from the children was less avid than for some of the other titles-not sure why, but those that borrowed it enjoyed it.
Ghostopolis by Doug TenNapel Garth Hale is terminally ill. But he’s not expecting to be whisked, accidentally into the underworld ruled over by the kingdom of Ghostopolis by a runaway skeleton horse and Frank Gallows, a washed up ghost hunter. A noirish, super cool and sometimes dark and scary read which got GREAT feedback from the kids: ‘really cool’ ‘very interesting’ ‘awesome fantasy adventure.’ . In Amulet Em and Navin move to an old house belonging to their great-grandfather after their father dies. On their first night there, Em finds a strange talking amulet. oh and their mother is captured by a sort of giant squid. So, not the best start. Zany, scary inventive. The children LOVED this one-so much so I had to buy the next three volumes in the series! ‘Like being in an amazing dream’ ‘Really good and inspiring’ ‘Best series ever.’
Zita the Space Girl and sequels by Ben Hatke were also hugely popular. Zita, our intrepid accidental interplanetary explorer is such an engaging character and the weird and wonderful creatures she encounters are great. ‘I couldn’t put it down!’ ‘I loved that she went to save her friend’ ‘Good and sometimes very funny!’
And to bring us right back to where we started: George O’ Connor’s Olympians series, Greek Gods, redux. I don’t know what Rebecca Mead would think of these, but the kids were IMPRESSED! Couldn’t keep these on the shelf! And I liked O’Connor’s references to his original sources at the end of each book. His website also has a wealth of information for keen middle grade classicists.
We’ve moved on to other topics including ghost stories, winter tales, science fiction and reworked fairy tales. I now ensure there are a sprinkling of graphic novels in my selection-not just to encourage the reluctant readers but because the current crop of graphic novels are SO great they deserve a place on any reading list.