Comic Relief: Thirty-nine graphic novels that kids can’t resist

Welcome to those lazy, hazy, crazy days of summer. And what better way for kids to while away the hours than with comics? Let's face it, comics are flat-out fun, and with their fabulous stories, colorful characters, and wacky humor, even reluctant readers find them tough to resist.

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In recent years, comics have become bigger than ever. Now, well-established publishers like First Second are offering graphic novels, such as the Printz Award–winning American Born Chinese and the much-raved-about Anya's Ghost, which stand shoulder to shoulder with the best young adult fiction. And smaller publishers, like Ape Entertainment and Top Shelf, are turning out lively works, such as Rob Worley and Jason Kruse's “Scratch 9” series, James Kochalka's Johnny Boo, and Chris Eliopoulos's Okie Dokie Donuts. Goofy humor is also making a comeback. Need proof? Check out Harry Potty and the Deathly Boring and Diary of a Stinky Dead Kid—Papercutz's hilarious parodies of, well, you know who…. There are also plenty of comics based on popular movies and TV shows, including Garfield & Co., fresh take on the famous cat, and Fraggle Rock, Archaia Entertainment's spin on the Jim Henson-created TV series that features live-action puppets. And if your kids are begging for bestsellers, there are graphic novel versions of Rick Riordan's Percy Jackson and the Olympians, James Patterson's Maximum Ride and Witch & Wizard books, and later this year, Hope Larson's adaptation of Madeleine L'Engle's classic, A Wrinkle in Time.

In this Article
Grades 3-5
Grades 6-8
Grades 7-10

The following 39 comics are titles that kids will actually want to read—without any well-meaning prompting from parents, educators, and summer reading lists. In other words, these are books that kids will read just for the joy of it.

Grades K-2

SLJ1107w_FTcomx_Beard(Original Import)Beard, George and Harold Hutchins (Dav Pilkey). The Adventures of Ook and Gluk: Kung-Fu Caveman From the Future.illus. by author. Blue Sky, 2010. Suckas beware, indeed! Ook and Gluck are two cave boys who find themselves in the middle of an invasion by an evil corporation. When the boys are flung through a time portal to the future, they discover a secret that may help them save their home in the past—kung fu! Captain Underpants creator Dav Pilkey delivers a genre-blending tale with unexpected laughs, gross-out humor, and Flip-O-Rama action that will entice even the most reluctant readers.

SLJ1107w_FTcomx_Hayes(Original Import)Hayes, Geoffrey. Patrick in A Teddy Bear's Picnic. illus. by author. Toon, 2011. Geoffrey Hayes, who won the 2010 Geisel Award for Benny and Penny in The Big No-No!, is back with a new character, Patrick the teddy bear. In these cozy stories for young readers, Patrick goes on a picnic with his mother, faces down a bully, and resists taking a nap. These stories are a bit reminiscent of the Amanda Pig early readers: the characters are cute, but as the bully episode shows, there's more to these tales than just sweetness.

SLJ1107w_FTcomx_Kanata(Original Import)Kanata, Konami. Chi's Sweet Home, vols. 1–4. illus. by author. Vertical, 2010. When a mischievous kitten gets separated from the rest of the litter, a little boy and his mother rescue her. There's just one problem: the Yamadas live in an apartment building with a strict no-pets rule! Though much of Chi's Sweet Home focuses on the Yamadas' efforts to hide the irrepressible Chi from their neighbors, the story also examines the evolving relationship between Chi and her owners, helping young readers imagine what it's like for a pet to adjust to a new home. Oh, and it's funny, too: Kanata lets us in on what Chi's thinking, whether she's viewing a shoe as “prey” or trying to escape a bath.

SLJ1107w_FTcomx_Morimoto(Original Import)Morimoto, Sango. Taro and the Magic Pencil. illus. by author. VIZ Media, 2010. Taro, a talented young cartoonist, is hard at work on a comic book when he finds himself pulled into the story by a magic pencil. That pencil comes in handy: not only does it allow him to draw whatever he needs, but it also helps him rescue characters that have been erased by evil King Crossout. The brisk pacing, imaginative artwork, and frequent sight gags make Taro a great choice for young readers. As an added bonus, Taro also includes a number of activities—mazes, connect-the-dot games, drawing exercises—that help advance the story line and encourage kids to make their own Taro-inspired artwork.

SLJ1107w_FTcomx_Raicht(Original Import)Raicht, Michael and Brian Smith. Finding Nemo: Losing Dory. illus. by Jake Myler. Boom! Studios, 2010. Based on the Pixar movie, this original story takes Nemo and his friends on another adventure-filled journey. Their short-term-memory-impaired pal, Dory, is lured away by a group of sailfish who promise to make her a star—but have more nefarious plans in mind. It's up to Nemo and his friends to brave the perils of the deep—and face their own fears—to rescue her. Artist Jake Myler brings the undersea world of Nemo to life with bright colors and lively characters, and the story is told with humor and plenty of action.

SLJ1107w_FTcomx_Sava(Original Import)Sava, Scott Christian and Christian Gonzalez Valdes.My Grandparents Are Secret Agents. illus. by Juan Saavedra Mourgues and Christian Gonzalez Valdes. Idea & Design Works, 2009. A routine family vacation turns into a slapstick adventure when Alyssa and Nicholas discover that their grandparents are really secret agents. All four of them team up with a robot dog to fight the least threatening super-villain ever, Purple Haze, who's plotting to bring back the 1960s with the help of a special gun that dyes the landscape purple and turns people into hippies. Plenty of gags, a colorful palette, and simple but dynamic art make this a fun, quick read.

SLJ1107w_FTcomx_Spires(Original Import)Spires, Ashley. Binky to the Rescue. illus. by author. Kids Can, 2010. In this sequel to Binky the Space Cat, Binky finds himself in outer space after chasing away some alien bugs inside his home. Facing a swarm of alien bees, Binky is rescued by his owner, only to realize that his stuffed mousie, Ted, has been left behind. Binky must venture back into outer space to save him. Spires combines an adorable main character with hilarious slapstick action and a hint of fart humor in an adventure that kids will love.

Grades 3-5

SLJ1107w_FTcomx_Chantler(Original Import)Chantler, Scott. Tower of Treasure (Three Thieves, Book 1). illus. by author. Kids Can, 2010. Chantler's winning heist adventure (even the title provokes the imagination... just how big isthat treasure?) stars a sly but practical teen acrobat and two opportunistic but goodhearted thieves. While epic loot is the original goal, plans go awry when political conspiracies and family secrets entangle our heroes, paving the way for the next installment. Fortunately, fans won't have to wait too long for the second episode: The Sign of the Black Rockis due out in August.

SLJ1107w_FTcomx_Hatke(Original Import)Hatke, Ben. Zita the Spacegirl, Book One: Far From Home. illus. by author. First Second, 2011. Curiosity gets Zita and her timid friend, Joseph, in more than a little trouble. In fact, they get zapped all the way across the universe! Now Zita must band together with a bunch of strange creatures to save Joseph from death. Hatke's old-school sci-fi adventure is exciting enough to read in one sitting and engaging enough to encourage rereads.

SLJ1107w_FTcomx_Krosoczka(Original Import)Krosoczka, Jarrett. Lunch Lady and the Bake Sale Bandit. illus. by author. Knopf, 2010. Lunch Lady doesn't just dole out mystery meat, she battles crime with clever gadgets—like fish-stick nunchuks and a banana boomerang—made from cafeteria staples. In this story, the fifth in the series, Lunch Lady tracks down the thief who stole goodies from the school bake sale—and kidnapped some students as well. An exciting climax pits her macaroni-and-cheese cannon against a mechanical Buszilla. The story packs goofy humor and lots of action into a familiar setting, and simple panels and layouts make it easy to follow.

SLJ1107w_FTcomx_McCranie(Original Import)McCranie, Stephen. Mal and Chad: The Biggest, Bestest Time Ever! illus. by author. Philomel, 2011. In the hunt to discover what he wants to be when he grows up, Mal sets off on a series of zany adventures. With his trusty canine sidekick, Chad, Mal uses his genius intellect to explore the deep sea via his kitchen sink, send a stuffed animal into orbit, and transform an old elevator car into a time machine. In this new entry on a long list of “smart dorks vs. dumb jocks” stories, Mal's spunky willingness to try anything once, combined with author McCranie's complete disregard for physics, makes for a fun read.

SLJ1107w_FTcomx_McGuiness(Original Import)McGuiness, Dan. Pilot & Huxley: The First Adventure. illus. by author. Scholastic/GRAPHIX, 2011. Pilot's overdue video-game rental leads him and Huxley into an interstellar adventure involving aliens bent on world domination, a transforming pirate, the Internet, the Grim Reaper, and a whole lot of snot. McGuiness's first book has the snarky slacker voice of South Park, but with kid-appropriate humor.

SLJ1107w_FTcomx_Renier(Original Import)Renier, Aaron. The Unsinkable Walker Bean. illus. by author. First Second, 2010. In order to save his grandfather, reluctant adventurer Walker Bean must journey to return a cursed skull to its rightful owners—two merwitches! But everyone else, including a mysterious doctor, a band of pirates, and even Walker's own father (who is unaware of the skull's evil powers) wants it for their own personal gain. In the tradition of high-adventure comics like Tintin, Renier's complex story is intricate and packed with visual delights, perfect for readers who love to pore over a complex tale.

SLJ1107w_FTcomx_Stilton(Original Import)Stilton, Geronimo. Dinosaurs in Action. illus. by author. Papercutz, 2011. Geronimo Stilton needs no introduction. While his prose books starring the reluctant adventurer have been grade-school favorites for decades, his graphic novels are more straightforward and may be easier for some readers to follow. In this story, the seventh in the series, the Pirate Cats try to change history by sending Professor Volt back to the Cretaceous period, and Geronimo and his friend must rescue him—and survive a series of close encounters with an assortment of different dinosaurs.

SLJ1107w_FTcomx_Tan(Original Import)Tan, Shaun. Lost & Found: Three by Shaun Tan. illus. by author and John Marsden. Scholastic/Arthur A. Levine Bks., 2011. Ever since Tan's breathtaking vision of immigration in The Arrival, fans of his work expect wonderment, startling landscapes, and just a touch of alienation from each new title. This collection of three Australian works previously unavailable in the U.S. doesn't disappoint. Tan creates intense and meticulously detailed landscapes that both enchant and unsettle the reader. In Lost & Found, as he did in The Arrival, he takes on complicated issues: relentless despair, the importance of belonging, and (with the help of John Marsden's words) the devastating experience of being a conquered people. What's amazing is how with a few words and astounding images, Tan manages to give every nuance and uncertainty in his worlds its due. The challenge will be to read this without peering at each corner of every page.

SLJ1107w_FTcomx_White(Original Import)White, Heather, et al. Fraggle Rock, vol. 1. illus. by various. Archaia Studio, 2010. This colorful anthology brings back the characters from Jim Henson's classic 1980s TV show in a set of fresh new stories by a variety of talented newcomers. Fraggle Rock encompasses several different worlds and groups—the Fraggles, the Doozers, and the Gorgs—all of whom live side by side but only vaguely understand one another. Their adventures and misunderstandings are brought to life in these stories with memorable characters, nutty humor, and plenty of slapstick.

SLJ1107w_FTcomx_Wight(Original Import)Wight, Eric. Frankie Pickle and the Closet of Doom. ––––. Frankie Pickle and the Pine Run 3000. ea vol: illus. by author. S & S, 2010. Nine-year-old Frankie Pickle is an ordinary kid who likes to pretend that he's a superhero. In Closet of Doom, Frankie refuses to clean up his room until the mess piles up and becomes so unbearable that only a superhero can manage to clean it up. In Pine Run 3000, Frankie wants to enter a match-car racing contest but gets into trouble when he refuses to follow directions. Not quite a comic, but a hybrid, these two Frankie Pickle adventures are great choices for reluctant readers.

SLJ1107w_FTcomx_Worley(Original Import)Worley, Rob. Scratch 9, nos. 1–4. illus. by Jason Kruse. Ape Entertainment, 2010. Scratch is a feisty cat, and when his owner, Penelope, tries to give him a bath—and make him wear a collar—he runs away and ends up getting caught by a mad scientist. An experiment gone awry gives him the power to summon up avatars of himself in his other eight lives, which proves useful as he tries to stay one step ahead of the evil Dr. Schrodinger, rescue his newfound friends, and perhaps one day reunite with Penelope.

Grades 6-8

SLJ1107w_FTcomx_Adachi(Original Import)Adachi, Mitsuru.Cross Game, vols. 1–2. illus. by author. VIZ Media, 2010–2011. A shared love of baseball ties a boy to a neighboring family of girls as they all move from elementary school into middle school. Their struggles with growing up, school, bullies, and loss are told with realistic humor, making this emotional sports read a good bet for both genders, and its over-size omni bus volumes make the series an affordable choice for libraries.

SLJ1107w_FTcomx_Goscinny(Original Import)Goscinny, R. The Stagecoach: Lucky Luke, vol. 25. illus. by Morris. Cinebook, 2011 Lucky Luke, “the man who shoots faster than his own shadow,” is back in action. When Wells Fargo begins losing customers after a series of attacks by bandits, the company hires famous gunslinger Lucky Luke to escort a stagecoach, carrying passengers and a cargo of gold, across the country to San Francisco. These stories, the latest in Cinebook's translation of this classic series, aren't as well known in the U.S. as they are in Europe and Canada, and that's a darn shame. Originally published in the mid-20th century, these funny, gentle parodies of Westerns are products of their time and, like Asterix and Tintin, sometimes use cultural stereotypes to provide humor, so some volumes in the series may be less appropriate than others, depending on your audience.

SLJ1107w_FTcomx_Kim(Original Import)Kim, Susan and Laurence Klavan.City of Spies. illus. by Pascal Dizin. First Second, 2010. In the summer of 1942, Evelyn's dad gets remarried and drops her off at her aunt's house in New York City. There, she meets Tony, the super's son, and together they get into a whole lot of trouble trying to find German spies—an idea that may not be as implausible as it seems.

SLJ1107w_FTcomx_Petrucha(Original Import)Petrucha, Stefan, and Rick Parker. Harry Potty and the Deathly Boring. Papercutz, 2010. Petrucha and Parker skewer the Harry Potter books with a style and humor reminiscent of Madmagazine parodies, condensing the whole series into one slim and very silly volume. Harry Potty and his pals Don Measly and Whiny Stranger must face down the evil Valuemart and his minions, the Debtors. Every panel is crammed with sight gags and topical references, and Harry's scar takes on a different shape on every page. Gross, juvenile, and hilarious. (For more in this vein, don't miss Papercutz's Diary of a Stinky Dead Kid.)

SLJ1107w_FTcomx_Roman(Original Import)Roman, Dave. Astronaut Academy: Zero Gravity. illus. by author. First Second, 2011. Former space superhero Hakata Soy now faces his greatest challenge: school! New friends and worries are all part of life at Astronaut Academy, where every student is a little bit, uh, different. But when a destructive robot shows up, who'll be the one to save the day? Roman's off-beat story is just right for a reader who's looking for something a little bit silly, a little bit cute, a little bit adventurous, and a little bit odd.

SLJ1107w_FTcomx_Sturm(Original Import)Sturm, James, Andrew Arnold, and Alexis Frederick-Frost. Adventures in Cartooning Activity Book. illus. by authors. First Second, 2010. The rain is coming down so hard, Knight has to reschedule his playdate, and the cable is knocked out. Knight's parents have confiscated his video games, and he's terribly bored. So Elf comes along to show Knight how he can entertain himself drawing comics. Sturm and his gang entertain young readers while guiding them through the basics of comic book drawing. Unlike its predecessor, Adventures in Cartooning, this is an activity book whose pages can be written on. It's a great pick for an aspiring comic-book artist.

SLJ1107w_FTcomx_Tanemura(Original Import)Tanemura, Arina. Mistress Fortune. illus. by author. VIZ Media, 2011. Looking through the pages of Mistress Fortune, it's easy to see why Tanemura has such a devoted following in Japan and the U.S.: she excels at drawing pretty teenagers in elaborate costumes. Her fans don't just adore her fashion-plate artwork, they also love the way she mixes sci-fi and fantasy with romantic comedy. Mistress Fortune delivers on both fronts, following the misadventures of two psychically gifted teens who fight aliens and fall in love while wearing wings and lace. The story's action sequences are tempered by plenty of PG-rated slapstick, making this a good choice for readers who like romantic comedy but like fantasy, too.

Grades 7-10

SLJ1107w_FTcomx_Beagle(Original Import)Beagle, Peter S. The Last Unicorn. adapt. by Peter B. Gillis, illus. by Renae De Liz. IDW, 2011. The Last Unicorn, which first appeared as a novel, then as a film, is an original fairy tale that's difficult to pull off successfully as a graphic novel. Beagle's story features classic elements—a unicorn and a mad king—and combines them with characters who aren't often given more than a glance, such as a mediocre magician and a middle-aged woman who has waited too long for magic. De Liz's rich art echoes the animated film's style but breaks away from that version's take, adding welcome detail and visual quirks to the characters. This volume is as rich as the original novel and will engage both readers who have never seen either source and those who are eager to have yet another interpretation of a favorite tale.

SLJ1107w_FTcomx_Delgado(Original Import)Delgado, Ricardo. Age of Reptiles Omnibus, vol. 1. illus. by author. Dark Horse, 2011. Delgado's stories about dinosaurs are so realistically drawn and fantastically plotted that reading them is akin to watching a movie. Give the book to kids who insist they hate to read and watch them become transfixed by this wordless story. There aren't even any representations of sound effects to get in the way of the action and grit in this tale of revenge, family, and the struggle to survive??all set in a once-real fantastic world.

SLJ1107w_FTcomx_Jacobson(Original Import)Jacobson, Sid and Ernie Colon. Anne Frank: The Anne Frank House Authorized Graphic Biography. Hill & Wang, 2010. Since the end of World War II, The Diary of Anne Frank has captured the hearts and minds of people all over the world. This authorized biography recounts the life of Frank, the poignant story of her family's struggle to survive, and their demise. The authors also infuse the biography with the relevant history of the time. This is a wonderful read for a generation that's in danger of forgetting what happened during World War II.

Lagos, Alexander and Joseph. The Sons of Liberty, Book 1. illus by Steve Walker and Oren Kramek. Random, 2010. Graham and Brody are young slaves on the run in colonial America. While hiding, they encounter Benjamin Franklin's son, whose experiment with electrifying humans leaves them with superpowers. Their mentor, the abolitionist Benjamin Lay (a real historical figure), teaches them African martial arts and encourages them to use their powers wisely, and their first adventure is to escape from their former master's cruel overseer—and his spike-collared dogs. Benjamin Franklin himself makes an appearance in this first story, which certainly isn't your mother's history. (Book 2 is due out this month.)

SLJ1107w_FTcomx_Medley(Original Import)Medley, Linda. Castle Waiting, vol. 2. illus. by author. Fantagraphics, 2010. Both volumes of Castle Waiting are vivid and enchanting, as any good fairy tale should be. Handsomely bound and printed on rich, creamy paper, the most important element—the story—is charming, filled with slowly building plots and compelling characters, and the slow pace means readers can spend the summer hours with some good company. This second volume adds welcome depth to the history of the heroine, Jain, and her past, while highlighting the everyday adventures and entertaining antics of the Castle's denizens. With clean black-and-white art and impeccable pacing, Castle Waiting remains a favorite for older kids and younger teens.

SLJ1107w_FTcomx_Petersen(Original Import)Petersen, David, et al. Mouse Guard: Legends of the Guard. illus. by various. Archaia Studio, 2010. Petersen has done something any devoted fan wishes every creator of an engaging, imaginative world would do: he has invited other creators into his world and asked them to tell their own tales in his universe. (Are you listening, J. K.?) With artists and writers handpicked and guided by Petersen, to ensure Mouse Guard's world stays consistent, the stories add a wonderful depth to the loyal and unflinching histories of the Guard. It's invigorating to see other artists create within the boundaries of the Mouse Territories, and fans of the original tales of bravery and conspiracies will find much to love here.

SLJ1107w_FTcomx_Spurlock(Original Import)Spurlock, Morgan, Barlow, Jeremy, et al. Supersized: Strange Tales from a Fast-Food Culture. Dark Horse, 2011 This book by the maker of the documentary Supersize Me is a behind-the-scenes look at the hijinks in the fast food world. Despite its provenance, this isn't a preachy book about nutrition but a collection of gross-out stories about what goes on behind the counter when no one's looking. It's not for the queasy, and most grown-ups will find it downright unpalatable, but the shock value makes it a natural pick for teens.

SLJ1107w_FTcomx_Tsang(Original Import)Tsang, Evonne. My Boyfriend Is a Monster, No. 1: I Love Him to Pieces. illus. by Janina Görrissen. Lerner/Graphic Universe, 2011. Storrie, Paul D. My Boyfriend Is a Monster, No. 2: Made for Each Other. illus. by Eldon Cowgur. Lerner/Graphic Universe. 2011. The road to true love is never easy, whether you're a jock, a nerd, or the new guy. But throw in zombies and Frankenstein's monster and things get really difficult! Terrific art and sweet romances make these fun stories winners for fans of the paranormal. Every volume in the series (more are planned for the fall) features different characters, paranormal creatures, writers, and artists, giving readers a chance to enjoy the variety.

SLJ1107w_FTcomx_Tsujita(Original Import)Tsujita, Ririko. The Secret Notes of Lady Kanoko, vols. 1–2. illus. by author. Tokyopop, 2010–11. Harriet the Spy, meet Kanoko—a tough, tart-tongued teen who also likes to spy on her classmates. Though Kanoko would like nothing better than to remain on the sidelines, her classmates frequently appeal to her for help with relationships, romantic and otherwise. The twist? Every time she cleans up a mess at one school, she transfers to another to work her mojo on a new group of students. What makes The Secret Notes of Lady Kanoko stand out from the pack is its heroine: Kanoko's devil-may-care attitude, unsparing honesty, and flair for zippy comebacks will ingratiate her with teen girls who are dealing with playground politics of their own. Cute artwork and a great supporting cast complete the picture. Unfortunately, Tokyopop has recently closed its North American publishing operation, so these volumes may be difficult to find.

Author Information
Brigid Alverson, Robin Brenner, Kate Dacey, Esther Keller, Scott Robins, Eva Volin, and Snow Wildsmith are regular contributors to SLJ's blog “Good Comics for Kids.”

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