An array of vintage comic books

Tech & Media

Finding the Right Comic for the Right Kid

Sep 21, 2017

Whether in print or digital made by Canadian cartoonists or artists from around the world, there is an overwhelming array of comics out there, with one probably perfect for your kid’s interests and reading ability. The problem is, how do you find the right one?

Kid-lit comics have become huge over the last decade or so. This is great, but it also means there are so many out there it can be hard to know where to start — especially if you’re not lucky enough to live near a really great comic shop or independent bookseller with knowledgeable staff.

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To come up with some recommendations, we talked to Christine Rentschler, an expert with Toronto’s the Beguiling who helps schools and public libraries across Canada select the most appropriate comics for their collections. She had a few great suggestions, and we’re also drawing on our own personal favourites.

Of course, to make sure a comic is a good one for your child, you may want to read it first — or, better, you and the kids can read them together — families make the best book clubs!

1. Suggestions for the kid just starting to read early chapter books:

Book Covers: The Thank You Book by Mo Willems; Owly by Andy Runton; Korgi by Christian Slade; Johnny Boo by James Kochalka; Dragon Puncher James Kochalka and Yotsuba & ! by Kiyohiko Azuma

There are lots of series out there for younger audiences. Although many people think of them as picture books, Mo Willems’ Elephant and Piggie books fit most definitions of comics. For little ones who can’t quite yet read words, there’s Andy Runton’s Owly and Christian Slade’s Korgi — both fun series starring their titular animals. James Kochalka’s Johnny Boo and Dragon Puncher are also silly fun. Rentschler likes Yotsuba&! by Kiyohiko Azuma; it’s about a little girl and how she sees joy and wonder in everyday things. Translated from its original editions in Japan (a country with a deep history of kids’ comics), it retains the right-to-left reading order. Mastering how to read manga is pretty intuitive, but it might be tricky for very early readers.

Meanwhile, comics publisher Toon Books has a huge selection of titles with various styles and topics and age targets, with the only thing in common is they’re pretty much all wonderful.

2. Suggestions for the kid who wants to go on an adventure:

Book covers: Bone by Jeff Smith; Mermin by Joey Weiser; NewsPrints by Ru Xu; The Sand Warrior by Mark and Alexis Siegel, Xanthe Bouma, Matt Rockefeller, and Boya Sun; Soupy Leaves Home by Cecil Castellucci and Jose Pimienta; One Piece by Eiichiro Oda

Bone by Jeff Smith is a big entry point for many kids — a smart, funny nine-book fantasy series (plus spin-offs) that paved the way for other fantasy series. There are also other quirky, quieter series like Joey Weiser’s Mermin, which looks at how a sea monster fits in with the other kids at an otherwise-normal school.

Rentschler also suggests Ru Xu’s NewsPrints and the 5 Worlds series (the first volume, The Sand Warrior, is by Mark and Alexis Siegel, Xanthe Bouma, Matt Rockefeller and Boya Sun). For something rooted in a historical setting, she also mentions Soupy Leaves Home — a Depression-era travel story by Cecil Castellucci and Jose Pimienta.

There’s also Eiichiro Oda’s One Piece, which is about a boy who sets off to be the world’s greatest pirate. It can be cartoonishly violent and fairly lewd, but there’s a reason the series (85 books and counting!) has sold more than 416 million copies and is arguably the world’s most popular comic.

3. Suggestions for the school kid who wants to read about other school kids:

Book covers: Smile and Sisters by Raina Telgemeier; Brave by Svetlana Chmakova; Real Friends by Shannon Hale and LeUyen Pham.

The biggest name in kid comics is Raina Telgemeier, whose autobiographical stories like Smile and Sisters, and school-set comics like Drama and Ghosts, took over the New York Times best-sellers list.

Torontonian Svetlana Chmakova released Brave earlier this year, continuing the middle-school saga she started with Awkward. Another comic Rentschler recommends is Real Friends by Shannon Hale and LeUyen Pham — two-thirds of the team behind the popular Princess in Black — which explores school popularity politics.

4. Suggestions for the kid who loves a good mystery:

Book covers: The Creepy Casefiles of Margo Maloo by Drew Weing; Surfside Girls by Kim Dwinell, Night Air and Volcano Trash — both books by Ben Sears.

Drew Weing’s The Creepy Casefiles of Margo Maloo is about a kid whose family has moved into a city secretly filled with monsters. Margo is the fearless (and possibly vampiric?) hero who helps him navigate. The cartooning is great and Weing works in things for older readers, too. As a bonus, he regularly posts new pages on his site before the book comes out, so kids can follow along as the story unfolds.

Night Air and Volcano Trash — Ben Sears’ stories about Plus Man and his robot, Hank — aren’t really mysteries, but there’s a weird noir feel to them, mashed up with sci-fi, action movies, comic strips and everything that’s cool. For older kids, these would be fun reads.

5. Suggestions for the kid who really likes playing or watching sports:

Book covers: Haikyu!! by Haruichi Furudate; Fantasy Sports: No.1 basketball, Fantasy Sports: No.2 volleyball, Fantasy Sports: No.3 mini-golf — all by Same Bosma.

There are lots of Japanese sports comics aimed at kids, from basketball and baseball to soccer. One of Rentschler’s favourites is about junior-high volleyball — Haikyū!! The series, by Haruichi Furudate, reads right to left, and combines the action of the V-ball court with the interpersonal relationships of the athletes and their friends. It’s for readers on the older end of our age range.

Three volumes in, U.S. cartoonist Sam Bosma’s Fantasy Sports takes a decidedly different approach to athletics, combining sword and sorcery with (so far) basketballvolleyball, and mini-golf. There’s cartoonish violence, so it might be better for older kids.

6. Suggestions for the kid who loves tech, science, or nature:

Book covers: Secret Coders by Gene Luen Yang and Mike Holmes; Science Comics: Bats by Falynn Koch; Science Comics: Plagues by Falynn Koch; Science Comics: Volcanoes by Jon Chad; Science Comics: Robots/Drones by Mairghread Scott and Jacob Read; Sound of Snow Falling by Maggie Umber.

Rentschler suggests Secret Coders, a series by Gene Luen Yang and Mike Holmes. The books’ website calls it “a graphic novel series for computer nerds,” which tells you everything you need to know.

Publisher First Second has an ever-growing line of Science Comics that brings together emerging and award-winning cartoonists and authors to tackle a wide range of non-fiction topics, from bats and plagues to volcanoes and robots/drones. They’re smart, fun, and informative.

A longer shot may be Maggie Umber’s Sound of Snow Falling — a fully painted (almost photorealistic), wordless comic about a family of great horned owls. Meticulously researched, it’s slow paced. If some comics can be thought of as graphic novels, this one’s more of a graphic poem. In other words, it’s definitely not for every kid, but if you have an owl-obsessed birdwatcher in your house, it might be the perfect, unique gift.

7. Suggestions for that kid who really loves that particular video game/toy line/TV show/movie franchise:

Book covers: Yo-Kai Watch; Disney's Frozen; SpongeBob; Legend of Zelda; Adventure Time; Star Wars: The Original Trilogy; Star Wars: Princess Leia; Star Wars: Academy.

From Yo-Kai Watch and Frozen to Sponge Bob, Legend of Zelda and Adventure Time, if your kid is into a particular thing, odds are there’s also a related comic they can read. And, in many cases, those comics are pretty good. (When it comes to Zelda, the newer Twilight Princess books can be a bit scary — flip through them first.)

For big sprawling pop-culture phenomena, like Star Wars, they can choose from titles that summarize the movies, or feature new stories with familiar faces or completely different takes.

Are there are other comics you’d recommend for kids? Please sound off and share in the comments!

Article Author Erik Missio
Erik Missio

Read more from Erik here.

Erik Missio used to live in Toronto, have longish hair and write about rock ‘n’ roll. He now lives in the suburbs, has no hair and works in communications. He and his wife are the proud parents of a nine-year-old girl and a five-year-old boy, both of whom are pretty great. He received his MA in journalism from the University of Western Ontario.

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