For Kids and Tweens: Suggestions for Your Favorite Young ReadersA column article by: Penny Kenny
Given the snowstorms that hit around the globe before Winter even officially started, it's just possible that we might be in for one of those winters. The kind where the little, and not so little, ones are inside day after day, hour after hour. While DVDs/blu-rays and video games are the entertainment of choice for most children, graphic novels offer a strong alternative and can even encourage a non-reader to give reading a try. With that in mind, I offer the following suggestions from the Cinebook catalog. If you haven't heard of this company, that's your loss. Cinebook is translating long-running European series into English and they offer a wide variety of non-superhero material that appeals to all ages and both genders.
Yakari and the White Fleece: Yakari, vol. 8 by Denib & Job
When an eagle steals his tribemate's talisman, dooming him to lie a comatose state, Yakari heads into the mountains to recover it. This book is beautiful looking and features a brave and likable hero who can talk to animals. The story is told simply and visually so pre-readers can follow the action easily. There's humor and danger, though not enough of the latter to frighten young children. The positive values of friendship, courage, trust, self-control, forgiveness, and kindness are on display and play a role in the story without its being heavy-handed or moralistic. This book and series deserves to be on the shelves next to classics such as Lobel's Frog and Toad and Burgess's Old Mother West Wind.
< em>Bored Silly with Billy: Billy & Buddy, vol. 2 by Robor
This collection of one-page strips features young Billy and his cocker spaniel Buddy, whose personality is a cross between Snoopy and Garfield with a bit of Mutts thrown in. This is the book you hand to children who are only familiar with comics through newspapers and Garfield collections. The humor in these short stories runs the gamut from gentle to slapstick to sophisticated and generally has its basis in everyday concerns that children can relate to. The art is clean, bright, and appealing and is well-suited to physical comedy.
Dad's Got Class: Cedric, vol. 2 by Laudec & Cauvin
Cedric is eight-years-old, lives with his parents and grandfather, and loves the pretty Chen, though he has yet to tell her how he feels. Think of Cedric as Calvin from Calvin & Hobbes, only without the talking tiger and the philosophical bent of mind. Cedric is a dreamer, with bits plans that usually get away from him or backfire spectacularly. Older children, say 4th grade and up, will enjoy the antics here as Cedric tries to further his romance, goes camping with the scouts, and deals with his family.
The Class Struggle: Ducoboo, vol. 3 by Godi & Zidrou
I'm not sure younger children will get the humor of the teacher's war with the plumber, but I know they'll enjoy watching "hero" Ducoboo try to cheat his way to good grades. The writing is exuberant, mixing the mundane with the magical - Ducoboo's best friend is a talking skeleton and at one point Ducoboo magically changes bodies with his nemesis Leonie. This is a series for older children and tweens. Much of the humor is verbal, though on the visual side there are slapstick scenes and exaggerated expressions that help carry the point.
The Skyriders: The Bluecoats, vol. 3 by Cauvin & Lambil
The third and fourth grade boys in my school love this series and its humorous take on the American Civil War. In this volume, our heroes Blutch and Chesterfield "volunteer" to be observers in a spy balloon and keep an eye on the Confederate troops. Throw in a rescue mission behind enemy lines and you have a recipe for mayhem. "The Skyriders" is a perfect blend of action, humor, and heroics. Cauvin and Lambil don't hesitate to show the cost of the war in human lives and yet it's not done in an exploitive way. The cartooniness of the drawings mitigates the horror and allows Lambil to play many scenes for their slapstick effect. This series is a perfect way to introduce children to history.
The Stagecoach: Lucky Luke, vol. 25 by Morris & Goscinny
Cinebook has released twenty-five volumes of the venerable Lucky Luke series at this point and if you enjoy light westerns or humorous stories, you'll enjoy any one of them. In "The Stagecoach," Luke signs on to protect a Wells Fargo coach delivering a load of gold to San Francisco. Also on the stagecoach are six passengers, one of whom may not be who he seems to be. With bandits on their trail and Indian country in front of them, Luke has plenty of opportunity to prove his awesome shooting abilities. This is a fun, fast read. There's humor of the verbal and visual kind - I especially like the running gags of the gambler being run out of town on a rail and the names of the Wells Fargo horses. The historical character Black Bart, the poet robber, also makes an appearance. The character design leans toward the caricature style. There's a strong sense of movement to the action and the eye is able to follow the progression of events easily. The bright colors add to the book's attractive appearance.
While Cinebooks are priced slightly higher than many graphic novels, they offer a comparable, if not superior, value. They're oversized, making them easy for young readers to hold on to. The covers are of heavy stock and the bindings are good, able to hold up to repeated readings. Simply put, they're worth the price.